Thursday, September 28, 2006

Loved this article on Gandhi... Felt like I was reading one of Lohia's lectures on Gandhi...

I am referring to an article by Mihir Shah in The Hindu on Gandhigiri... as against dadagiri!!!!!

And Cheri/Vibha/Abdus, recall our conversation sometime ago in this space on violence... and later on about nation and identity..on how these are nebulous categories. I think Mihir provides an explanation/way out of our dilemna in this article...

Like he says: ``Most ideologies of the oppressed contain the danger that they will only end up reinforcing the divisions they sought to fight against. History is replete with such examples. ''

or at another place: ``A natural question could be — does Gandhigiri work in the context of terrorism? It would be useful here to remember that ultimately all acts of terror (whether state-sponsored or of sundry groups) derive their legitimacy from a moral basis in perceived injustice. The battle is fundamentally an ethical one. Once the moral force is established, once the wounds heal, the power of the gun will gradually diminish. This should not be seen as appeasement, for it is a path we must be committed to quite irrespective of the terrorist. ''

Here is the link to the article... I think we will enjoy reading this several times....


Saturday, September 23, 2006

Subramanian Swamy and Renaissance!! What a paradox??

Dr.Subramanian Swamy is indeed a person who has walked through the national political discourse for about four decades. And by his ways, he has managed to place himself in the mainstream of the political theatre. He appeared in the media, this week, in the context of the release of his book. In a sense, he has returned to the political side where he belonged to in the Sixties. I mean, he was seen in the company of the RSS and BJP leaders in New Delhi.

I shall come to discuss Dr. Swamy and his ways a little later. Let me first comment on the way in which a section of the media captioned the book and his content. The book, we were informed by a section of the English language press, carries an appeal to the members of the Hindu community to work towards another renaissance. Well, this is how those who were present at the function explained the contents of the book. Let me enter into a caveat at this stage that I have not read the book. But it is likely that this description is closer to the contents of the book.

It is necessary, hence, to discuss the concept of renaissance in its historical sense. Historians refer to renaissance as the period in Europe’s past as something that happened along with the Reformation. In other words, this is the term used to refer to the phase when Christians challenged the authority of the Roman Church and set out to protest several sermons that were handed out to the rulers and the ruled. The challenge was not just restricted to the political sphere (though it all started from there and took the form of the political state asserting against the domination of the temporal state) and instead affected all walks of life. They called themselves Protestants and eventually formed themselves as another temporal authority over the lives of the people!

Renaissance, tied up so closely with this larger process, manifested itself in the blossoming of art, culture, theatre and a whole lot of human activity and in all this, the fundamentals of religion, as it was held at that stage, were turned upside down. It was, indeed, a phase in the history of Europe where the plebian and the commoner began asserting against the priest. And as the renaissance era unfolded, European society was turned upside down. I will even go on to say that the French Revolution of 1789 was a logical culmination of the process that was set rolling with the Renaissance.

In India too, social historians have located some sort of a Renaissance in various stages in history. The Charvaka tradition, the Bhakthi movement, the blossoming of poetry represented by Thyagaraja, Muthusami Dikshitar, Shama Sastri or the emergence of the commoner as represented in our own Silapadhikaram and Manimekalai (or even in Thirukural) are all seen by historians as reflecting and representing the renaissance in Indian history. The point is that Renaissance is referred to as the stage or phases in the history of a people where the human being is presented on the centrestage rather than celebrating the Kings and the Gods and the Priest.

This is where one finds the call for a Renaissance by Subramanian Swamy and that too in the company of the RSS and such men who inspire the worldview it represents as a problem. The problem is because this notion of Hindu identity attempts to restrict any form of questioning of whatever is handed down as faith leave alone a revolt as it happened in Europe after the middle ages. This notion of Hindu identity places the priest as the ultimate arbitrator between the common man and the God and also places religion at the centre of the scheme.

This notion of religion and identity is the same as conveying that men, born in a particular caste, are destined to do only those jobs that the traditional caste system ordains them to. It is the same as endorsing the odious view that women are expected to remain subordinate to the men. All these cannot lead to a renaissance in any sense of the term. And Swamy’s mission now cannot be seen as anything similar to the tradition that is known as Renaissance.

Having said this, it is necessary to add a few lines about Subramanian Swamy. He began as a Bharathiya Jan Sangh MP and was a known supporter, even then, of the cause of free market economy. He then joined the Janata Party, like all others in the Jan Sangh. But refused to get out of the Janata Party like the other Jan sangh men did in 1980. And was seen as a trenchant critique of the BJP and teamed up with Chandra Shekhar in 1990 to become a Union Minister. This Government that lasted for 4 months was supported by the Congress. He almost joined the Congress party in 1995 but his moves were aborted by a few senior Congress leaders who found him undesirable.

In Tamil Nadu, after running a campaign against Jayalalitha, he became her alliance partner to win from Madurai (in 1998), teamed up with her to topple the BJP-led NDA in 1999. He was shown the door by Jayalalitha in 1999 and he abused Vajpayee and the BJP in as vulgar words as anyone can. And is now in the same place where he began! Well that is Subramanian Swamy.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

September 1... I will remember this day for a lot of things reasons...

Among them was the fact that I decided to join an MDMK rally expressing solidarity with the struggle for Tamil Eelam and to condemn the genocide in Sri Lanka. Well, I have been clear, ever since 1983 when the government aided the mass murder of the Tamil people, that Tamil Eelam is a legitimate demand and the regime there was an immoral one, I had not participated in any such demonstrative actions then. Because, I was in an organisation that considered the demand for a nation for the tamils as seperatist. And, I was not too sure about the need to revolt against the organisation then. Revolted finally in 1991 when the organisation refused to speak out against the arrest (under TADA, a notorious Preventive Detention Law in vogue then) of a fellow student in the university. Yes. But the Tamil resistance movement had become a ``bad'' word in India around that time. Particularly after May 21, 1991! I would argue, with friends and others that my position on the issue need not and cannot be determined by the life and death of one individual!!!! Yes. I continued to believe that Tamil Eelam is the only solution and the just solution too.

On September 1, 2006, I realised that this ``position'' of mine did not mean anything unless I become part of that campaign. And moreover, like I do in the case of the Palestine cause and against the US invasion of Iraq, I must also be part of a demonstation that stood by the Tamil speaking people of Sri Lanka.

It is a different matter that I do not hold Vaiko with any regard. But that did not matter. The issue he took up was important and I joined the procession. And patiently sat there to listen to Vaiko... and more so to Pazha Nedumaran.

As the rally was coming to an end, I got a message that MS Appa Rao, that great man who battles against the British in 1942 and against Indira in 1976, had passed away. Well, MS uncle, I think the best way to pay homage to you will be to stand by the struggling people whenever ad wherever they are.

Friday, September 01, 2006

More on Vande Mataram!!!!

I discussed the subject with a few friends and others... well, certain things need to be clarified.. even though I love the song...

Vande Mataram, adopted as the National Song by the Constituent Assembly on January 24, 1950, was caught in a political storm once again in the past week. Now, a little more detail about the context in which the resolution was passed that day will help make sense of the controversy and the debate.

This resolution was adopted on the last day of the last session of the Constituent assembly and it was indeed in the form of a statement by its Chairman, Dr. Rajendra Prasad. In other words, there was no debate, whatsoever, immediately before or after it was made. Prasad simply declared ``the song, Vande Mataram which has played a historic part in the struggle for Indian freedom, shall be honoured equally with Jana-gana-mana and shall have equal status with it’’ and the House endorsed the idea.

It is not that the issue was not debated at all. The song, instead, was subjected to scrutiny by all sections of the nationalists for over three decades before it was finally declared as the National Song. And there were important leaders of the Indian National Congress, including Jawaharlal Nehru, who were not excited in the same way as many others in the fold with the idea of celebrating the song. That it was decided in 1937 to retain only the first couple of stanzas and not the entire song revealed this so clearly.

And this had a political logic. In the context of the Muslim Mass Contact Programme, that the INC had launched at that time, it was bad political strategy to yield grounds to the Muslim League. Moreover, it is also a fact that the portions of the song that they decided to delete were indeed added by Bankim himself to the text in 1881 when Anand Math was serialized in a magazine. In other words, the song, as conceived in the few years between 1872 and 1875 contained just 12 lines.

Thus, there was a consensus, more than a decade before Prasad declared Vande Mataram as the National Song that Bankim had added several stanzas to his original script and the lines that were added conveyed messages that were inimical to the agenda of building a secular, democratic republic. It is also necessary, to recall at this stage, that Prasad did represent the section in the national movement that was inclined to look at nationalism on the basis of cultural notions and hence closer to the idea of patriotism as it was expressed by Bankim in his Anand Math and in that sense with all the stanzas!

This indeed became clear with Prasad’s positions as President of the Republic and was the cause for the conflict that came up, at various stages, between him and Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister through the fifties. The most serious of this was in the context of Prasad’s attendance when the Somnath temple was refurbished and Nehru’s objections to that. Prasad was also criticized by Ram Manohar Lohia for his direct association with the Brahminical-Hindu order and the irony of the President of a secular democratic republic endorsing that order. Lohia’s reference was to the fact that Prasad had gone about cleaning the feet of the priests at the temple in Varanasi.

The point is that the adoption of Vande Mataram as the National Song did not, in any way, represent a consensus of any kind among the generation of freedom fighters at the time they embarked upon the nation building project on January 24, 1950. And in this sense, it was not imperative for generations that grew up in the decades after that to consider singing of the song as a necessary condition to establish their love for the nation. Lest it be glossed over, we did witness movements and leaders raising objections to the rendition of Jana-Gana-Mana too. Atul Bora, who led the student movement in Assam in the early Eighties spoke against the National Anthem on grounds that a song in Bengali language being treated the National Anthem offended the aspirations of the Assamese people at that time.

Well. The BJP and other sangh parivar outfits did not call the AASU and the AGP that was born out of it as anti-nationals in the same way they react to the objections by a section of the Muslim clergy to a rendition of Vande Mataram. The BJP and the AGP are allies in not just the electoral arena but in their attitude towards the members of the minority community too. This only points to the fact that the BJP’s ``love’’ for Vande Mataram does not emerge from any notions of patriotism or the legacy of the freedom struggle. Instead, it is just another handle for the outfit and its cadre to intimidate the members of the minority community. And a section of the Muslim clergy too facilitate this by declaring that the rendition of Vande Mataram by members of the community is un-Islamic!

Be that as it may. An important question that arises in this context is about the role of the RSS and the Hindu Maha Sabha, the two outfits from where the founding fathers of the Jan Sangh came from, in the struggle for freedom of which Vande Mataram had become a battle cry. Well. While the RSS had, time and again, declared its indifference to the struggle, the Hindu Maha Sabha, consisted of personalities who actually sided with the British for most part of the freedom movement. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee, the tallest of the Jan Sangh’s leaders had continued as Finance Minister of Bengal until February 1943; that is for several months after the Quit India movement was launched and thus played a role in crushing the movement.

When the BJP leaders, all of them being the proud legatees of Mukherji, now define patriotism only on the basis of the willingness of the Indian people to sing Vande Mataram, there is indeed a problem. It is another matter that Arjun Singh and his likes extol the citizens to sing that song on September 7, 2006, it amounts to nothing but reducing patriotism and nationalism to a synthetic category. In other words, teflon patriotism. A coating of Teflon, we know, ensures that nothing sticks on the surface and this brand of patriotism too is not meant to stick!