Saturday, 19 April 2014

This anti-Modi battle cry is lazy, illiberal and an affront to Muslims — and to Hindus.

National Interest: Secularism is dead!

 Written by Shekhar Gupta | New Delhi | April 18, 2014 11:52 pm
   

If the opinion polls turn out to be generally correct, and Narendra Modi comes to power, it will unleash an angry flurry of obituaries of Indian secularism. Last week, some of India’s most respected public intellectuals signed a joint appeal to save the idea of India from Modi. That his rise is a crucial turn in the Hindutva project that began with the Babri Masjid demolition. That nobody and nothing will be able to resist this wave of saffron communalism. Not the liberals among the majority Hindus, not our great institutions and, least of all, Muslims.   
Nothing could be lazier, more cowardly, illiberal or unfair to all three. Let me try to explain.
I said in a television discussion on NDTV 24×7 last week that India was not a secular country because only its minorities wished it to be secular. India is secular because its Hindu majority wants it to be so. I said, also, that if I were an Indian Muslim, I couldn’t be faulted for thinking sometimes that both sides on the secular divide in this election were hell bent on fighting their ideological battle to the last Muslim. It drew quite a bit of comment and I think it deserves a more detailed elaboration than a sound bite would allow.
This is how the picture would look to an Indian Muslim. First, the BJP, it would seem, has accepted that Muslims won’t vote for it, and it couldn’t care less. It would simply contest this election with, to take liberties with a golfing metaphor, a handicap of 15 per cent. The BJP is therefore not even bothering to address Muslim concerns and fears specifically. The “secular” group, led by the Congress, on the other hand, is pitchforking India’s Muslims into this unequal fight against the BJP. As if the responsibility of saving our secularism lies with our Muslim minority. An Indian Muslim would find it both unfair and worrying.
To say that only Muslim consolidation can stop Modi, or at least limit his mandate, is unfair to the Hindu majority as well. It is as if all of the Hindus have joined the RSS and have no faith in constitutional secularism. This is rubbish. Because if such was the case,  Modi would probably equal Rajiv Gandhi’s 1984 mandate of 415, if not better it. No such thing is about to happen. The most generous opinion poll estimates put the NDA’s vote share in the mid-30s, which accounts for just over a third of India’s Hindus. The remaining majority will be voting for others. And most of these 30-odd per cent would vote for the BJP/NDA not because they want to build grand temples, spank the Muslims or banish them to Pakistan. They will be voting in search of an alternative to the weakest, most incompetent, uncommunicative and incoherent full-term government in our history. Having voted in the UPA so enthusiastically for a second time, they are going elsewhere, in search of jobs, more buying power, stability and confidence. To insinuate that this mass of Hindus will be voting Modi because they have suddenly turned communal is unfair to them.
It is also intellectually lazy, morally cynical and politically disastrous. Put more simply, it is a bit like saying that Hindus have been voting for the Congress and other “secular” forces all these decades because they were not given a convincing saffron option.
India gave itself a secular, liberal constitution because a vast majority of all its people, in fact almost unanimously, determined that this was the finest formulation for nation-building in a land as diverse and complex as ours. The Constituent Assembly had participation from across the many ideological divides. The document it drafted has now acquired the status of scripture and nobody in mainstream politics dares to question it. The man credited with leading that process, Ambedkar, has been added to our pantheon of all-party gods.
It is also unique. Unlike Western countries, where secularism means living with one or two faiths, Christianity and Judaism or Islam, India is a deeply religious country, and peopled by every religion invented, including the many thousand variants of Hinduism. As Wendy Doniger says in her magisterial book, The Hindus — the one Penguin pulped, quivering with fear in the face of a man called Dina Nath Batra — Hinduism is the “Ellis Island of religions”. Pluralism and diversity are deeply ingrained in it, “the lines between different beliefs and practices are permeable membranes”. That is why, she says, there are countless more narratives of Hinduism than the ones defined by Sanskrit, Brahmins and the Gita. And if I may dare to make my own risky addition to that list of defining three, by the RSS or VHP.
In a country where the determinants of identity change every 10 miles, from religion to caste to language to ethnicity to culture, tribe, sub-tribe and region, secularism is the glue needed to keep it all together. It isn’t just a charter to protect Muslims. The Hindus need it as much as them. That is all the more reason why India is secular, and must remain so.
Indian Muslims can, in fact, complain that over the decades, they have been taken for granted and offered a minimal political deal in return for their votes: to give them physical protection from the Hindu right. I know some will argue that even that promise was never really kept. But the truth is, the Muslim vote has been hostage to fear. Explaining why he had joined the BJP now, M.J. Akbar said to me that in the “Congress/secular” view so far, the Indian Muslim had to conform to one of three stereotypes: the decadent, decrepit feudal with sherwani fraying at the collar, as portrayed in the 1960s’ “Muslim socials” like Mere Mehboob, a riot victim like the crying Gujarati with folded hands in that infamous 2002 portrait, or a petty criminal in the image of Haji Mastan, even if sometimes with a sacrificing heart of gold.
Since he hasn’t delivered, despite my asking him several times to put this in an article, I am borrowing the idea. That mainstream, liberal politics in India has deliberately failed to treat the Muslim as a mainstream Indian. The extreme and most shameful manifestation of this was Azam Khan’s claim that the peaks of Kargil were conquered not by Hindu soldiers of our army, but by Muslims with the battle cry of Allah-o-Akbar. This is not a secular claim, but amounts to spreading communalism to the one institution that remains so secular, the army. It is true that Muslim soldiers fought alongside the Hindus and the rest in Kargil. Two of the battalions with mostly Muslim soldiers, 12 JAK LI and 22 Grenadiers, suffered heavy casualties.
But to now view them in isolation, through a sectarian prism, and pit them competitively against their fellow soldiers from other faiths is not secularism. It isn’t even pseudo-secularism. It is the most cynical, anti-minority communalism. That is why this newspaper and this writer had objected so furiously to the Sachar Committee’s misplaced idea of investigating the recruitment patterns and numbers of Muslims in the army (‘Kitne Musalman hain?’, National Interest, IE, February 18, 2006, iexp.in/FC79596)
The fundamental values of our secular Constitution sustain because of our institutions, which are trusted as fair and secular. The Election Commission can send Imran Masood to jail, ban Azam Khan and Amit Shah and then let one off with an apology. Some will call it unfair but nobody calls it communal. The Supreme Court, the UPSC, the armed forces, the mainstream media and the public intellectual class are, by and large, liberal and secular. Of course, these institutions will be tested by such a fundamental ideological shift on Raisina Hill.
But that is why the founding fathers invented them. We need to strengthen them, preserve their credibility and freedoms to protect and strengthen our secularism. It is too hasty to write its epitaph. Or to hunt for a sabbatical to a liberal campus on the American east coast until some post-Modi secular resurrection. I am conscious that this column is being written on Good Friday. But that is purely coincidental.

Friday, 18 April 2014

The future and AAP

Shiv Visvanathan in The Hindu


One of the most magical moments of this election, the moment when people saw politics once again as an act of faith and hope, was the rise of the Aam Aadmi Party. The story of AAP is not just its story, it is the story of these people reinventing politics and themselves

I want to begin with a story. Last night, I received a phone call from a friend of mine. She told me that she was on a truck heading for the Kolar Gold Fields to campaign for a friend who had joined the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). She hinted that AAP there spoke a different dialect from AAP in Bangalore or Varanasi.
AAP, she claimed, was a collection of dialects, a set of murmurings, whispers and silences. She did not use the word voice claiming that social scientists had wrecked the meaning of voice, divorcing it from speech. AAP, she claimed could be an amplifier of murmurings, little fragments of protest scattered across the landscape. Her candidate, Ramiah would not get the attention that a Nandan Nilekani commands but it is precisely why the former is important. AAP, she and others claim, is not a taproot like the Congress, or the CPI(M) or the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); it is like a rhizome ready to spring anywhere and connect to anything. In an organisational sense, AAP is not a hierarchical party, with a centralised voice. In recreating the idea of empowerment as an enabling exercise, AAP has to continue to be inventive. Murmurings were her label for the new politics. She referred to it as the politics of humility because it captures the power of small protests. Empowerment, she said, begins with the marginal, or the forgotten; it has to entice the music of politics out of the silences of our time. Politics takes storytelling to realms beyond the formal by translating the “murmurings” of our age, the still inarticulate protests of our time. The beauty of AAP is that it is full of surprises. It realises that the conscience of politics will come from these people.
I realise my friend was right. One of the most magical moments of this election was the rise of AAP. I am not referring to Mr. Kejriwal only but the AAP effect, that magical moment when people saw politics once again as an act of faith and hope. Thousands of people including students, retired professionals, journalists and housewives saw in AAP a new phenomenon which renewed their faith in citizenship. In fact, the story of AAP is not just AAP’s story, it is the story of these people reinventing politics and themselves. AAP may not win many seats but it is an exemplary exercise. It will continue to reinvent itself long after this election is over. It is a chrysalis for the future.
This essay asks itself what the directions in which an AAP can create new worlds and possibilities could be.
Incompleteness of citizenship
In reworking politics, it questions old classifications. It realises that citizenship is not a fully hatched word like a large ostrich egg. It is a growth, a promise, a hypothesis which has to be tested. Citizenship is not a guarantee of entitlements but a promissory note. What AAP has to emphasise is the incompleteness of citizenship. It is the recognition of the fact that the refugee, the scavenger, the nomad, the subsistence farmer, the pastoral group, the fisherman and others in the informal economy constitute over 70 per cent of India and lack rights or even a temporary claim to citizenship. To reinvent democracy, AAP has to retain the mnemonic of the informal. In challenging the temporariness of citizenship, AAP creates a durability, a competence around the fragility of the informal threatened by clerks, police and goons. Empowerment is a way of going beyond these obstacles to rework cities, offices, hospitals, villages and technologies.
Learning from Gandhi
The history of AAP begins with the politics of body because the body is the real site for politics. In claiming the body as a vehicle of being and protest, students discover the violence of the state and vulnerability of their bodies facing water cannons, stones or lathi charges. The body gives politics an immediacy which fine-tunes protest. It is a site for struggle. The body also prevents politics from straying into the abstractions of ideology or policy. It is a statement of presence, of sensing politics and suffering as part of a sensorium of sounds, smells, touch, taste and memory. In this world, poverty can never be a statistic, but a way of experiencing the world. Poverty can never be reduced to Rs.32 a day when it is lived through the body. The body keeps politics concrete, tangible, and personal and creates a space for ethics. This much the AAP generation learnt from Gandhiji.
An experiment in politics as truth begins with the body. It is the tuning fork for understanding poverty, well-being, torture, communication and time. It gives politics the depth of everydayness as it understands pain, joy or stigma. When Mr. Kejriwal was stoned and slapped repeatedly he realised that there were other messages beyond coercion. When he communes with Gandhiji at Rajghat, he articulates a new strength and vulnerability that is profound by moving. Language then becomes critical because language is not mere text but speech and dialect. AAP realises the world of manifesto as text comes alive in speech, in orality, in gossip and rumour as the nukhad and mohalla embrace and debate an idea. Because language is playful, politics can be playful, allowing for humour, ambiguity, translation. In being playful with language, AAP can liberate politics from its pomposity, its ideological heaviness, and the hypocritical impasses it has got into. AAP has to return magic to old tired words like secularism, development, security, participation, and nation state. It is more open to mistakes as it is constantly rereads its own politics. It creates a new language of error which liberates it from pomposity. What makes AAP refreshing is the ease with which it owns up to mistakes. AAP has a more relaxed view of its role in history so it can see the comedy of politics.
An experimental party
The politics of AAP cannot be an act of storytelling in linear time as history and most U.N. and World Bank reports are. The obscenity of development is that it has no sense of defeated or obsolescent time. One needs a plurality of time to dream of diversity. Tribal time, body time, peasant time, displaced time of refugee, the obsolescent time of a craftsmen need space, voice and articulation. They cannot be confined to indifference. The nation state seeks to create a uniformity of time while AAP politics should seek to pluralise time. One cannot think of an ethics of memory or an ethics of sustainability without it. In this sense, AAP is creating a link between the ethical and the political, pointing out to the lost times in each word. History eats up myth, development destroys nomadic time, and innovation hides obsolescence. Forces like globalisation only understand speed and instantaneity. AAP, by creating a commons of time, allows for memories, silence, new tales of suffering, and new kinds of ecology. AAP in that sense is not a specific timetable but an act of storytelling, which unfolds terms of its own rhythms. This variety of time allows for little experiments all over India. Instead of a million mutinies, AAP becomes the politics of a million inventions, many of which are life sustaining. Democracy without that diversity of experiments in technology and livelihood is doomed.
Finally, AAP is experimental. As a result, it is not inflexibly tied to any ideology or any charter of the future. AAP wants politics to be full of surprises. In that sense, it is not a planned rocket but a wager. It does not need the mass leader in a fascist sense but insists that citizenship, when it is no longer passive, is a form of leadership. It takes problem-solving in a modest way realising that solutions to work are contextual and local. AAP requires a million exemplars to sustain itself as a paradigm. In doing this, it breaks the fossilisation of democracy as a fetish of rights, elections and governance. It is the democratisation of democracy that makes AAP the party of the future. I think this is why we have to look at AAP differently, expect more but expect the less predictable from it. This is what makes it the party of the future and a party with a future.
(Shiv Visvanathan is a professor at Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.)

The politics of quota and merit

Suhrith Parthasarathy in The Hindu


There is unquestionable value in a general policy of reservation because it attacks caste-based inequities that have proved so damaging to our society; but through an ever-expanding scheme of reservation, we have lost sight of what our aims were in the first place


The Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manifesto, released on April 7, 2014, and its opponents’ reaction to the proposal, exemplifies the level of political debate in India today. In spite of an element of truth in claims that the manifesto is an impressionist’s version, the document nonetheless departs on certain crucial, philosophical issues. But, such is our reluctance to engage on matters of first principle that these departures are rarely, if ever, contested with anything resembling an intellectual vigour. Take, for instance, the issue of reservation. While the Indian National Congress and most other political parties have proposed detailed policy measures, including the prospect of reservation for Scheduled Castes (SC) and Scheduled Tribes (ST) in the private sector, the BJP’s manifesto is curiously silent on the issue. Even the promise contained in its 2009 declaration to introduce reservation for the economically weaker general class finds no mention in this term’s version. It is likely that this decision is a product of electoral strategy. But its failure to clarify its vision is nonetheless symptomatic of a larger malaise in the Indian political sphere: a mistrust of debate subsumed by core issues of moral concern.
Arguments on reservation

The Congress’ response is also familiar: the manifesto’s silence on reservation, according to the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram has been designed to “poison” voters with a majoritarian approach. If pressed further, Mr. Chidambaram ordinarily would tell us that affirmative action is not necessarily irreconcilable with merit. Yet, what he will not tell us is why the Congress’ approach to reservation is, in the party’s belief, the only means to fulfil the fundamental right to equality. And, he will also not tell us what the Congress intends to achieve through its reservation policies: are they aimed at ensuring more than mere formal equality (which would ensure that all castes achieve equal status) or are they a means to one day achieve a society that is completely rid of the caste system?
The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s answer to questions of whether there ought to be reservation along caste lines is similarly devious. He sings the same tune/s that he uses to counter any issue of economic inequality. According to him, the development and growth of the economy will bring with it a concomitant rise in both educational and employment opportunities, making the question of any community seeking reservation moot. But both Mr. Chidambaram’s claims about merit and Mr. Modi’s arguments about development skirt the real issue.
It is a matter of well-chronicled fact that the social and economic inequities prevalent in Indian society transcend ordinary conception. Any reasonable thinker would tell us that, as a matter of duty, our country’s resources ought to be dispersed evenly across all classes. But the argument on reservation, today, as evinced by Mr. Chidambaram and Mr. Modi’s public statements, is no longer about such considerations. The questions, therefore, are: how did we get here, and what do we do now?
Expanding reservation policy

At its inception, the Constitution envisaged very limited reservation. Articles 15 and 16, which today occupy the bedrock on which our entire policy of affirmative action rests, were meant to entrench a system where no discrimination was permissible on grounds of race, religion, caste, etc. Even clause 4 to Article 16, which permitted reservation in public employment for any backward class of citizens, was viewed as subservient to larger goals contained in clauses 1 and 2. Any such programme for reservation justified under Article 16(4) had to be shown to further the objective of ensuring equality of opportunity to all citizens. But over time, the original philosophical outlook toward affirmative action has waned.
Now, as a matter of a very specific policy of the state, not only are backward classes of citizens often identified solely on the basis of their castes, but reservation has also stretched well beyond the realm of public employment, at its first instance. These actions of the State have been brought forth either in response to particular, contrarian judgments of the Supreme Court, or in furtherance of judgments supporting the state’s larger outlook, according these programmes a constitutional sanction.
When the Supreme Court in State of Madras v. Champakam Dorairajan (1951) struck down a government policy seeking to arrange admission to engineering and medical colleges based on divisions of caste and religion, the government’s response was to amend the Constitution. Article 15(4) was introduced to allow the State to make special provisions for the advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SCs and STs. Yet, this amendment did not produce an immediate change in the Supreme Court’s thinking. The court continued to hold, as it did for example in M.R. Balaji v. State of Mysore (1963), that policies of reservation are exceptional measures, requiring strict constitutional defence. It also ruled that classification of backward classes of citizens could not be based solely on the caste of the citizen; such policies, wrote Justice Gajendragadkar, might “contain the vice of perpetuating the caste themselves.”
However, in 1975, the Supreme Court finally acquiesced to the state’s ever-expanding reservation policy. In a judgment that would have widespread consequences, the court ruled that Article 16(4) wasn’t as much an exception to the general rule contained in clause 1, as it was an integral component of the right to equality, properly understood (State of Kerala v. N.M. Thomas). In other words, Article 16(1), it was held, permitted classification on the basis of caste to achieve its broad goal: equality of opportunity for each citizen, as an individual. This was further validated in Indra Sawhney v. Union of India (1992), by a nine-judge bench, which ruled that the Constitution permitted backward classes to be identified on the basis of caste. In so holding, the court provided the government the jurisprudential basis for formulating sweeping policies on reservation.
Through a series of constitutional amendments, beginning in 1995, Parliament allowed the state to make provisions for reservation in matters of promotion to SCs and STs, to carry forward any vacancies created through a failure to fill-up the reserved category from one year to the following year, and to provide specially for Other Backward Classes or SCs and STs in matters of admission to educational institutions, including in private institutions. Each of these amendments and the laws made to enforce their aims (including reservation in favour of the so-called “other backward classes”) was challenged at various stages before the Supreme Court. But, the Supreme Court, after providing Parliament the legal justification for its general policy on reservation, could not now strike down the laws that emanated as a consequence.
Political discourse vs. debate

Apart from holding these amendments to be in consonance with the Constitution’s basic structure, the court also ruled in these cases that the laws made in furtherance of these amendments, including the identification of Other Backward Classes on the basis of caste, were valid. What’s more, it found the doctrine of creamy layer, which, in principle, disallowed benefits applicable to certain groups based on their economic status, which they would have otherwise been entitled to as members of a certain caste, as inapplicable to SCs and STs. These decisions, in M. Nagraj v. Union of India and Ashoka Kumar Thakur v. Union of India, are a product of a sustained change in the court’s jurisprudential thinking on the subject. But it ought to be asked: how does the exclusion of SCs and STs from the doctrine of creamy layer fit with the purported objectives?
Unfortunately, neither the Supreme Court nor our Parliamentarians are willing to engage with these fundamental issues. There is unquestionable value in a general policy of reservation because it attacks caste-based inequities that have proved so damaging to our society; but through an ever-expanding scheme of reservation, we have lost sight of what our aims were in the first place. We, therefore, need to address the debate at a more basic level.
We need to ask ourselves, once again, whether it is equality of opportunity that we strive for, or whether we want to rid our society of the caste system. If indeed the reservation policies are aimed at achieving both these ideals, we ought to be shown proof of how the present policies are working. If Other Backward Classes have to be equated with SCs and STs, the state ought to empirically prove why the doctrine of creamy layer should be applicable to the former and not to the latter, and how such thinking links to the larger goal of ensuring a supposed equality of opportunity. We also need to ask ourselves whether these policies, as Justice Gajendragadkar suggested in 1963, have the effect of perpetuating the caste system.
Regrettably, our political discourse appears unsuited for genuine debate on such questions. If the BJP supports a change in policy, it is its bounden duty to tell us what such new policy would be, and why it would work. If the Congress believes its present policy is effective, it ought to show us how the policy fulfils the Constitution’s ideals. Instead, we are left meandering in the politics of quota and merit. Our most ingrained social inequities are, in the process, further entrenched. And as a result, the abstract ideal of equality, which the Constitution guarantees, continues to wither toward insignificance.
(Suhrith Parthasarathy is an advocate in the Madras High Court.)

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Are you turning into your dad?

The top ten signs you've embraced dad-ism revealed as survey says 38 is age men turn into their father


Rob Williams in The Independent

It's a startling moment in any man's life.

You're sat on the sofa keenly scrutinising the money pages of the newspaper, looking forward to giving the lawn a good mowing and finding yourself unusually excited about an upcoming sale at B&Q, when it hits you (if you can keep your eyes open long enough): you've turned into your dad.

It's enough to make you slip on your sensibly priced comfortable shoes and retreat to your man cave with a pint of bitter.

According to a new survey by the TV Channel Gold, dad dancing, owning a ‘man drawer’ and believing that all modern music sounds the same, are just a few of the warning signs that men could be turning into their fathers.

The survey of 2,000 adults, which concludes that the average British man turns into his dad at the age of 38, details 30 potential warning signs that you are becoming your dad.

Topping the list of so-called ‘dad-isms’ was falling asleep in the front room (40%), followed by having ‘a chair’ (28 per cent), a special seating place at the dining table and around the television where no-one else is allowed to sit.

A quarter of respondents (25 per cent) said a man’s need for a man cave such as a shed, was a sign that they are following in their father’s footsteps.

The survey for also revealed that of those asked, British men admit to hoarding batteries (70 per cent), an assortment of leads and cables (58 per cent) keys of no use (29 per cent), takeaway menus (25 per cent) and even food (5 per cent) in their man drawers.

Steve North, General Manager of UKTV channel Gold says, “The future looks bright for men, more sleep, having your very own chair, letting loose on the dance floor and finding ourselves funny – it seems 38 is the age men officially lose their inhibitions.”

Top ten signs you could be turning into your father:
1. Fall asleep in the front room
2. They have ‘a chair’
3. Dad dancing
4. Spend time in the shed
5. Making awful jokes that only they find funny
6. Don’t know any artists in the top 40
7. Spending longer on the toilet
8. Keeping an eye on the thermostat
9. Excited about appliance sales
10. Embarrassing younger members of the family or children and thinking it’s funny