Wednesday, July 22, 2015
An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi
Dear Shri Rahul,
You have, in the past few weeks, been hopping across places sharing the distress with the farmers and showing concerns on their suicides. It is, indeed, important for those in public life to reach out to the people and especially when you are in the opposition. Let me make it clear, at the outset, that I am not yet among those who have turned cynical to all such political activities.
On the contrary, I still believe that changes are not only inevitable but are possible in the lives of individuals and more so in those in public life. In other words, like it happened in the life of Jawaharlal Nehru, your great grand-father whose life from a rich kid with a law degree whose father had a flourishing legal practice was transformed into one who dared incarceration in the cause of independence. He could have inherited his father’s briefs and even flourished as a lawyer; but he refused to do that and if I am right, wore the black gown only once and that was to defend the INA soldiers charged by the British legal regime of treason.
It is, hence, that I thought of conveying a few things to you with regard to the crisis in the farm sector and hoping to see you transform and in the course of such a transformation help bring about a change in the lives of those who feed us even in this age where everything is sought to be done in the virtual world.
The point I want to make here is that it is not the first time in history that the farmers have faced a crisis of the kind they are facing now. The peasant in our own history (as well as in the history of all societies) had been exploited and this is a fact ever since agriculture was transformed from being an activity for subsistence into an activity for trade. In other words, the coming of the market and trade exposed the sector to externalities and the earliest crisis in that context led to Ricardo describing as the Primary Accumulation of Capital. Karl Marx joined issues with Ricardo and compared this with the `original sin’ as in the biblical tradition. The so called Primitive Accumulation of Capital, is a chapter in Capital Volume 1 and unveils the violence and the sinful way in which the peasantry was dispossessed during the Enclosure Movement in England.
This approach to land as property and commodity was at the base of the colonial governments policy over land and agriculture in India. The peasantry was forced into cultivating crops such as Indigo and Cotton, whenever the textile industry in Manchester and Lancashire wanted that and they were forced to sell their produce cheap or sometimes dump it according to the vagaries of the metropolis. The peasants were forced into debts in the course of this (what historians call the commercialization of agriculture) and when they were forced to dump their produce, they landed in a debt crisis.
It should be easy to comprehend that the crisis in the farm sector we are now witnessing has a lot in common with that the great grand-fathers of the present generation of farmers are facing today. If it was colonial some two hundred years ago (when the Deccan peasant was lured into shifting to cotton because the American Civil War had disrupted supply of raw cotton bales to the European textile industry) the neo-colonial context has led to the same consequence even while the cause may be the shift to GM seeds and crop failure for reasons that we may not get into here.
But then, there is indeed a substantive difference in the manner in which the great grand-fathers of present day farmers responded. In the Deccan, they rose in revolt, setting fire to the buildings where the titles to their lend (that were pledged by them when they took loans from money lenders) were preserved and the money lenders were attacked. In North Bengal, around the same time, the farmers who were forced into indigo cultivation and left at the mercy of the planters revolted too. They set fire to the factories and attacked the planters. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose Vande Mataram turned into a battle cry, captured the insurgency that had rocked the tracts of Bengal in the wake of a famine and the challenge these posed to the colonial administration. Such examples from our history, are many and let me leave it here as such.
It was this tradition of insurgency that Mahatma Gandhi could invoke and put to use in Champaran, where the impoverished peasants stirred into revolt. Champaran and Kheda were the template on which the mighty struggle against colonialism was conducted subsequently. The lessons learnt from this laboratory – let me insist that it includes the glorious tradition of the Deccan Riots, the Indigo Riots and such insurgencies across the country culminating in Champaran and Kheda in 1917-18) that went into the making of your great grand-father’s transformation into a leader of the masses.
His contribution to the making of the Karachi resolution in 1931, when the peasants and other such sections of our people were brought into the core agenda of the Indian National Congress, led him to push the movement to draft the Congress’ Agrarian Programme in the 1930s. All these, you may note, influenced the making of what is known among historians as the Nehru-Mahalanobis model and the post-independence economic policies. You will have to concede now that your own Prime Ministers acted against this principle and exposed the farmer, once again, to similar pressures as did the colonial regime. The Neo-liberal policies that you and your party were pushing since 1991 are behind the current crisis.
It may be argued that you were not involved, directly, in pushing such policies through. Those were times when you were in school and then in college before entering public life. It is also possible for you to transform yourself, at least now, when you can not only afford to but also will have to. In that event, it is imperative for you to embolden yourself to admit that your perspective then was based on incorrect reading of the situation. Your great grand-father did that when he realized his idea of India while writing his autobiography (in 1934) had changed significantly between 1935 and 1937, thanks to his exposure travelling into the villages across the country campaigning for the Indian National Congress in the provincial elections during that period. IIn other words, you may spend some time reading all that your great grand-father wrote by way of letters to his daughter, i.e. your grand-mother. Incidentally, your mother enjoys the copyright for these publications now!
This will help you to evolve into a leader and in the process the make a difference in the lives of the farmers. In doing so, you will have to remind yourself that it is no use to present yourself as their savior. Neither did your great grand-father try doing that and more importantly his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi resisted that temptation and even detested that idea. `Real Swaraj’ he stressed, `will come not by acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the 'capacity' by all to resist authority, when abused’.
You may consider reminding the farmers, whenever you decide to visit them, that they are the proud inheritors of the legacy of the insurgencies in the Deccan, in Bengal and elsewhere and that such acts by their own grand-parents had not only liberated them in their own times but also the nation on August 15, 1947. You may remind them that they may have died too. But then, they did not kill themselves but were killed while fighting their oppressors.
I am marking a copy of this letter to Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the reason that many of these that have been raised are also relevant for his party too.
Cc: Mr.Sitaram Yechury,
General Secretary, CPI(M)
Wednesday, June 24, 2015
Emergency: 40 years
The 19 months since Indira Gandhi’s proclamation of the Emergency (it was her decision though proclaimed by Fakruddin Ali Ahmed as required by the Constitution) late in the night on June 25, 1975, were perhaps the darkest phase of our young democracy. It should, however, be added that the few weeks, between January 18, 1977, when she announced her decision to hold elections, and March 20, 1977 when the election results began trickling in, confirmed that the people of India cared for political democracy most. The summary defeat of the Congress party, when Indira and her son Sanjay too were defeated was beyond anyone’s expectation. And this forced Indira to hold a cabinet meet on March 21, 1977 to recommend withdrawal of the Emergency.
A lot has happened since then and the Constitution amendments have rendered it impossible for any regime to repeat what Indira Gandhi could do on June 25, 1975. Article 352 now makes it imperative for a written resolution by the Cabinet before the President proclaims Emergency; and `Internal Disturbance’ has since been replaced with `armed rebellion’ as condition precedent for such a declaration. Article 359 has been amended to ensure that the Right to legal remedy (under Article 32 and 226) shall not be suspended insofar as the freedoms guaranteed under Article 20 and 21 are concerned. In other words, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, which was denied by the infamous decision by the majority in the ADM Jabalpur vs S.K.Shukla (when Justice H.R.Khanna was the lone dissenter) during the Emergency, shall now hold good even during an Emergency.
In short, the democratic edifice stands stronger today insofar as political rights are concerned and this indeed was the outcome of the mandate of March 1977 and the Constitution (44th Amendment) Act, 1979. The Janata regime, that learnt its lessons from the 19 months of Emergency, ensured this much.
However, the Emergency was not merely about tampering with the Constitution and indiscriminate arrests and denial of political democracy. The 19 months also witnessed the might of the Indian state against its people, especially the poor. The Turkman Gate action, for instance, was about throwing out the poor, forced t live in urban slums, to ensure that the city was cleansed of dirt and squalor. Such forced evictions were carried out during the Emergency elsewhere too and such poor people voted against Indira and her party, in March 1977, to redeem democracy in India.
In the four decades since the intervening night of June 25/26, 1075 and many changes in the regime in New Delhi and in the States, we do find slum dwellers evicted with impunity. And the Supreme Court’s judgment in the Olga Tellis case (AIR-1986-SC-180), has since been rendered meaningless by successive regimes and even the judiciary. The violence unleashed on people to ensure their displacement is indeed a matter of fact detail of our own times. Emma Tarlo, in her 2003 book (Emma Tarlo, Unsettling Memories: Narratives of India’s Emergency, Permanent Black, Delhi, 2003) reminds us of this part of the Emergency and yet we have not cared to learn; and it may not be an exaggeration to hold that this dark aspect of the Emergency lingers, with approval from politicos across the spectrum (and not just the Indira dynasty) to this day.
For a generation that was born after the dark age, is indeed, oblivious of this and is even one that approves that. We may not have had another Emergency, thanks to the changes in the Constitution. But then, one of its dark faces persist without such official curtailment of the Fundamental Rights; It happened in New Delhi in the early 1980s (while preparing for the Asian Games) and as recently for making Delhi look good for the Common Wealth Games. It has been happening in the Narmada valley for over two decades now; in almost all our cities where farmers are dispossessed of their land for building houses and fantasy parks; and in the forests where adivasis are forced out of their forests to facilitate handing over the mines and the minerals to exploitation. And in all these instances, we hear the rulers declaring any resistance to such atrocities as `anti—national and even as the largest threat to the nation.
This is reminiscent of Indira’s declaration that those who opposed her were enemies of the nation and that the Emergency was needed to defend the nation! It is here that we will also have to take stock of the media in our times, 40 years after the Emergency. True that the media, as it is now, cannot be dealt with the same way as the Indira Gandhi regime could during the Emergency. Technology today has ensured this. 24 X 7 TV now brings developments to the drawing rooms and the possibility of beaming visuals from anywhere in the world to anywhere in India will ensure that such largescale arrests (over a lakh men and women detained across the country without specific charges and held under Preventive Detention Laws) cannot be kept away from the people as could the regime do in 1975-77. Similarly, the internet media has shown that such measures will not work.
Contrast this with the Baroda Dynamite Conspiracy case: George Fernandes and his comrades, then, had to attempt smuggling of 500 Low Power Transmitters that they intended to locate in various parts of the country and intervene into the AIR sound waves in a synchronized manner to transmit sound waves with messages against the Emergency! They were caught before doing that and sent up for trial. One does not have to do all that in the event of another Emergency thanks to the advances in satellite broadcast! But then, it is mere wishful thinking given the corporate influence over the media and the nexus with the liberalized Indian state as such.
The fact that the media today is so much under corporate control is a fact that raises the spectre of propaganda control in a different way than we saw some 40 years ago. And the fact that the concerns of evictions and mass displacement of the people or the life in the slums are no longer the concerns of our mainstream media is something that conveys that we may no need an emergency to achieve what the Sanjay-Jagmohan-Maneka kinds did during the Emergency. And the Emergency will have to be remembered not only because it curtailed political freedom but for the fact that such attacks on political freedom also meant denial of social and economic freedom.
Some recent experience, with the present regime, and the use of the media, apparently free from state control, is worth discussion in this context. The fact that the media took the nation for a ride celebrating the public spectacle of yoga on June 21, 2015 is a case in point. Public institutions, including universities and schools, were goaded to observe the International Yoga Day (not very different from such other days as Valentines Day or the Mothers Day, etc.,) with the media playing it up should remind us of one of the Emergency’s horror stories: The Compulsory Sterilisation programme when hundreds of thousands of young men and women were herded into camps by the cheer leaders of the Emergency regime.
The point is that it cannot be denied that even four decades after the Emergency, there is no institutional mechanism to resist such designs by a regime to impose a certain idea upon the people; if the compulsory sterilization programme thus pushed during the Emergency was bad, the manner in which the people are told about the virtues of yoga (let it be clarified that this writer has no issues against yoga and has practiced it at various points of time) and forced institutions across the country to organize events on one day where its members are goaded to fall in line is indeed undemocratic. That the media industry earned substantial amounts of money by carrying advertisements of this and even turned the event at the India Gate into a spectacle is certainly something that reminds one of the Emergency.
Here are links to my books where I have discussed the Emergency in detaile:
Sunday, May 17, 2015
Sunday, April 26, 2015
My take on the Bose papers that are yet to be declassified
In a voluminous text that he wrote in 1992, when the Soviet Union and the Socialist bloc had turned into history, Francis Fukuyama, held that the world has come to settle down and that there was no further movement of history beyond the capitalist system. Rooted firmly in Hegelian scheme, Fukuyama’s arguments were found to have been made in haste. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt, in 2000, also Hegelian, argued that things have not settled down and that history was bound to move beyond the present; they took this further in their two other publications in 2004 and 2009 to establish that man continues to make history and that the circumstances in which he lives determines the course of history. 
Alhough Negri and Hardt argued just the opposite of what Fukuyama did, there is something that binds them (apart from their Hegelian premise) and that is their approach to history. Neither Fukuyama nor the Negri-Hardt duo were willing to treat history the way Leopold van Ranke or Lord Acton sought to do: as merely the quest for the absolute truth. Instead, both Fukuyama and the Negri-Hardt duo considered history as ``a continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past’’ as held by E.H.Carr. The point is that events in history are understood differently by different historians, whether from the same generation or by historians of different generations and this indeed is what makes history an interesting discipline and not merely a compilation of facts. Carr, however, went on to espouse the importance of facts for a historian. ``The duty of the historian’’ he stressed, ``to respect his facts is not exhausted by the obligation to see that his facts are accurate. He must seek to bring into the picture all known or knowable facts relevant, in one sense or another, to the theme on which he is engaged and to the interpretation proposed.’’
With this espousal of history -- as a continuous dialogue between the past and the present and that facts are to be held sacrosanct in this exercise – it is then imperative that the classified documents in the vaults of the various departments of the Government are declassified and thrown open to historians. Where the law sanctions those documents older than 30 years do not warrant to be held as secret, it is baffling that the Netaji papers should have become the basis for investigative journalism in 2015!
Such expose’ in the media and the debates on television have taken the usual course: Anchors screaming against snooping and such conclusions drawn that Nehru was threatened by Netaji still alive and to such absurd extents that one journalist concluding that if Netaji was there we would have had the first non-Congress government in New Delhi in 1962 (and would not have had to wait for it until 1977)! The challenge to Nehru in 1962 came from the Swatantra Party, perhaps the first ever in our short political history to have spoken against the socialist pattern and favoured the market economy, winning 18 seats in the Lok Sabha securing 7.9 per cent of the votes polled. However, it is necessary to stress that Netaji certainly was as much socialist (or even more) as Nehru was and it is absurd to presume that he would have teamed up with the Swatantra Party in 1962.
Netaji’s approach to the struggle for independence, which was best enunciated in his two volumes titled Indian Struggle should serve as evidence against concluding that Netaji would have teamed up with the Swatantra party, the Jan Sangh and such others in 1962. Similarly, his differences with Netaji and his activities post-1942 did not prevent Nehru from donning the robes (that he had hanged as early as in 1920 in response to the call for non-cooperation and boycott of British courts) in defence of the INA prisoners. It is also a fact that Netaji’s close aides in the INA went on to join the Congress and the Communist Party while many others went on to rebuild the Forward Bloc as a political party leaning to the Left. There is no evidence of any substantial movement of those in the INA moving towards the Bharathiya Jan Sangh.
The developments in the past few weeks: A news story in a magazine that Netaji’s kin were spied by the Intelligence Branch personnel; excerpts from those files, yet to be declassified being meshed with speculations on why such a thing was done; all these being debated from TV studios; and conclusions drawn that all these will change the way we as a nation perceived Nehru; and the Government setting up a committee consisting of officers from the RAW, IB and such other agencies to take a call on declassifying these papers, are all reflective of a certain disrespect to the practice of the discipline called history. Diplomatics now an essential part of the historian’s craft warrants that these documents are thrown open for the historian (rather than depend on what the investigative journalist passes on) and is also made available to any other historian to verify. This is what it takes for a document to be treated as a source for a historian.
In other words, we have such documents as the Fortnightly Reports by the Director Intelligence Bureau for all the years when India was under British rule in the National Archives of India (NAI); these are compilation of the reports from the IB from each of the districts in British India and apart from the NAI a scholar of history has access to these in the various State Archives. We have such IB reports on the underground resistance that Jayaprakash Narayan, Achyut Patwardhan and Yusuf Mehrali organized after 1942 in the Saran and the Satara divisions in British India; we have reports by the IB on the strikes across India since the early 20th Century or on the RIN mutiny, available to historians in the NAI. The list is only indicative and not exhaustive and historians worth their names have published works that are critical of Nehru as much as they have lauded him. Hence, it is not as if all hitherto existing works on the history of modern India have only praised Nehru. Marxist scholars have found holes in Nehru’s personality and gaps in his precept and practice. But then, this was possible because of the access they had to the Private Papers, the IB reports and such other sources and they did not give up the rigours of diplomatics when they went about their work.
The debate over the Netaji papers and the need for their declassification will have to be raised from this context. The records, particularly of the Home Ministry, are not available in the NAI for the period since independence. Notwithstanding the 30 years rule what we have, for the period between 1947 and 1985 (going by the 30 years rule as in 2015) are documents that are absolutely innocuous. As for instance, we do not have the notes, correspondence and records of meetings that led to the listing of the ban on the RSS and some other organizations, imposed as they were in the aftermath of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi on January 30, 1948; nor do we have such documents pertaining to the lifting of the ban (imposed in the aftermath of the Calcutta thesis) on the Communist Party of India in 1951, ahead of the first general elections. This has led to historians holding all these to Nehru’s unflinching commitment to liberalism. Throwing open of the papers may help us understand things better as we do, now, with the prisoners in the cellular jail in the Andamans.
In the same way, writing a history of such events as the dismissal of the elected governments in Kerala (1959) the rise and the fall of many non-Congress governments in the various States across the country between 1967 and 1970, the IB reports on the Navnirman movement in Gujarat and the students movement in Bihar in the early 1970s, the secret reports involving the trade unions in the Railways and on the historic general strike of 1974 (on which the National Archives has only such files that are innocuous and useless at the moment), the IB reports on Justice Jagmohan Lal Sinha of the Allahabad High Court and such reports on individual leaders of the opposition political parties before the imposition of the Emergency and all those files in the Home Ministry including the IB reports, that are still in the realm of speculations that Indira Gandhi was informed by her sleuths that she stood a chance to win elections if they were held soon and that it led to her decision to hold the general elections in March 1977 are declassified. It will also help in writing history if the records that explain why some leaders were released by the emergency regime sooner than others and as to whether some of those in detention had written apology letters to her from jail.
It will also help in the writing of our history if the IB reports on the agitations in Assam, Punjab and elsewhere are declassified in the same way as we have the secret correspondence between the Viceroy and the Secretary of State to India before independence. It will help history writing, in the way E.H.Carr stressed and as the business of diplomatics demands to know whether the IB had reported anything on the events that preceded the opening of the locks of the Babri Masjid in February 1986; it may be that we should wait for another year before the 30 years rule is applied to this. And a decade later we should know all that was recorded by the IB and such other agencies on the events that led to the demolition of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992.
In the end, it is not only important that records are declassified, as a matter of routine and this is done without getting paranoid about national security and such concerns. Such nations as Germany and Italy have not crumbled because historians across the world were given access to secret papers that belonged to the times of Hitler and Musolini. After all, when the Soviet Union crumbled and the secret papers were thrown open, one of our own eminent historians, Suranjan Das Gupta could access them and would unravel material that certainly should be of use for the communists. Likewise, knowing what was reported about Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his kin will only help in the writing of history.
It is another matter that we as a people will also come to know the intensity with which the state was watching its people and no party was innocent of this. Michel Foucault helps us understand why the state does this: pan optican is the concept he uses by which the mere knowledge that one is being watched is bad enough to create a sense of scare in the people and thus make them conform. The ethics and the rightness of snooping and the state doing that is another matter for another debate. Meanwhile, where it is known that anyone and everyone has been snooped by the state should leave us with one demand. That such reports are declassified as a matter of routine, after 30 years or even before that. This is necessary In Defence of History, to borrow the title of his seminal text from Richard J Evans.
 Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, 1992. The book was an expansion of his 1989 essay, with the same title. Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt Empire (2000), Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (2004) and Commonwealth (2009) are part of a trilogy by the two authors.
 E.H.Carr, What is History? Penguin, 1961. p 30. Carr’s book was based on a set of five lectures he had delivered as part of the George Macaulay Trevelyan Lectures at the University of Cambridge between January and March 1961 and is held a basic text for all students of history.
 Ibid. p 28
 Indian Struggle, was a trenchant criticism of Gandhi and his economic ideas as well as political and was written in the early 1930s, banned by the British administration, and first published in 1948, when Nehru was India’s Prime Minister. Netaji had handed over a copy of his proscribed book to Benitto Musolini when he visited Italy in 1935. Netaji’s differences with Nehru lay in the approach to fascism; while Netaji held it good to ally with the fascists against British imperialism (and this approach took him to Japan after escaping the British police and the revival of the INA with Japanese and German support) Nehru was firm that the struggle against British imperialism shall not be pursued in alliance with the fascist forces. This difference was not a secret and the debate was carried out in the open in their times.
 It is a recorded fact that the Defence Committee for the INA soldiers, charged of treson and for court martial by the British Indian Government was constituted by the Indian National Congress and this included Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai and Asaf Ali taking the brief for the defence of the soldiers. Historians have argued that Nehru and the Congress were guided by political expediency in doing this but this was possible only because the documents are available for historians to research into.
 Diplomatics is the branch of paleography that deals with the study of old official documents and determines their age and authenticity. Historians do apply this to the study of documents and its use is no longer restricted to paleography in modern times.
 There is a certain lack of clarity here in the sense that it is not mandatory for documents to be declassified after 30 years; nor is there any bar on such declassification before 30 years. There is a large grey area in this and it emanates from the discretion given to the government of the day to either declassify a certain record or not; and governments in independent India have pulled all the stops to keep them classified.
 Penal Settlement in Andamans, a collection of documents pertaining to each and every prisoner in the cellular jail, including details of why some were released prematurely, was put together by R.C.Mazumdar and published by the Government of India in 1975. This was possible only because the records were made available to the historian; and all those records are available, to this day, for any other person to read through and verify.