Savarkar: Misunderstood Messiah?

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar commonly known as Veer Savarkar has attracted renewed academic interest in the country thanks to the highly successful biography by Author and Historian Vikram Sampath. While Savarkar has always been a device for shrill disputes in our country’s polity, this rare academic revival brought him and his biographer to the festival. Vikram Sampath, who is one of the founders of the festival was deftly interviewed by veteran Journalist and SwarajyaMag’s Editorial Director Mr. R Jagannathan. 

 

Mr. Sampath while replying to Mr. Jagannathan said, “The proponents as well as opponents of Savarkar know very little about him. He is discussed during every election for political gains and to some extent both the so called Left and the so called Right have misunderstood him. There are many positions that Savarkar takes which will make the current Indian Right uncomfortable. For example, his position on caste system, divinity of cows are things that today’s Right might not like. Also, a bulk of misunderstanding comes from the history books written by the Left historians.” Mr. Jagannathan went on to ask about the ensuing debate after the demands of Bharat Ratna upon Savarkar. “Ofcourse, this was done with an eye on the elections. In fact, Uddhav Thackerey set the cat among the pigeons in his book launch. Thereafter, the BJP picked it up. Now, both parties have together won the elections, so it remains to be seen what happens of the demands. Also, it is true that these awards of national importance have been the preserve of one particular ideology and family. Our freedom struggle has been narrated in a monochromatic way which is not true. So, maybe it will be some kind of recognition for him. Although, even if it is not bestowed, it won’t make any difference to him or his family.”, Mr. Sampath answered. 

 

Mr. Jagannathan asked several other questions pertaining to Savarkar’s shift in his outlook from when he wrote about Hindus and Muslims fighting together in the first war of Indian independence in 1857 to his idea of Hindutva and also his time in the Cellular Jail at Andaman. Mr. Sampath went into detail and explained how Savarkar was actually the one to start the first secret society in India called Mitra Mela which was later called Abhinav Bharat to create disaffection in the armed forces. For his book on the 1857 revolt, Savarkar spent five years in London, researching in libraries. He understood the Indian perspective of the mutiny and reinterpreted it as the First War of Indian Independence. The book was so popular and effective amongst the revolutionaries that Bhagat Singh got the second edition published. Similarly, Rash Behari Bose and Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose too got the book republished.

 

Savarkar was somebody who spoke of different communities being rainbow on Indian sky and in Mr. Sampath’s opinion, two particular events – first, his experience at the cellular jail where the British played the game of divide and rule and got the Muslim jamadars to convert the Hindus and second, Gandhi’s role in the Khilafat movement to mobilize an entire community to fight for a movement thousands of miles away that resulted in riots across the country, affected his positions and ideas. During the Moplah riots, Gandhi praised the rioters as great warriors fighting for their community and addressed Abdul Rashid, the killer of Swami Shraddhanand as his brother. Savarkar thought that Gandhi needed an intellectual counter and a small book called ‘Essentials of Hindutva’ that he wrote from Ratnagiri jail should be read. Mr. Sampath also stressed that the allegations of him being a coward because he wrote mercy petitions were unfair to him. Petition was a legitimate legal recourse available to the prisoners then and even Gandhi himself on requested for help by Savarkar’s brother, asked him to write a petition and wrote one himself. Also, the petitions were for the prisoners and Savarkar was ready to stay in the jail if others were released at his expense.

 

The discussion was brought to a close with Mr. Sampath explaining many points where Savarkar’s views would differ from the current Right of our country. There on a subject like caste system, his ideas were more like those of Ambedkar and not Gandhi. Savarkar believed that the cow must be treated as a utility animal and not a divine being and his idea of Hindutva was more cultural and nationalistic where allegiance to the country was the only identity marker. With a couple of questions from the audience members, Mr. Sampath explained the inclusive nature of Savarkar’s Hindutva and his idea of ‘equality for all, appeasement of none’.

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Parading Your Empathy Brings No Good to the World

Empathy plays out in our world in different forms. If you are someone who plays by group identities and the sufferer belongs to one of the groups you like, empathy certainly takes deeper colours. It is not impossible to empathize if you do not know the group identity of the individual victim but it just gets more difficult from there. From anonymity of group to a sufferer who belongs to a group you detest, empathy keeps fading till it becomes the exact opposite of itself. Magnitude matters too, although inversely. The expression of empathy is most intense when the victim is one and can be identified with markers like name, age, employment status, proximity from the observer, or photographs. When the sufferers cannot be identified as such and number in hundreds or thousands, a cursory sense of empathy appears but yields to indifference in quick time. Empathy manifests with deepest emotions when the object, event, or individual to be empathized with has an element of immediateness to our lives, for example, our family members or friends. However, as gaps of time and distance widen, empathy starts to come in short supply.

 

But is empathy in itself enough? Can empathy alone provide solutions? While many who have come to be known as ‘armchair activists’ would argue that it can, the history of humanity shows that technological progress right from the invention of the wheel has done more to take people out of their sufferings than empty empathy. Here, it is important to distinguish between people who use empathy as their driving force to act for the good of others and the ones who take credit for all the good happening in the world because they empathize for the weak and the sufferer.

 

A scientist working for the cure of a deadly disease may or may not be guided by empathy. If he is not guided by empathy, he might be driven by any or all of the following things – an obsession to solve problems that are difficult to solve, fame that would lead to greater wealth and personal well being, or peer competition. If at all such an individual is driven by empathy, he does not stop with expression of that empathy in words. He gets up everyday, walks up to his work, and channelizes his empathy with the help of his intelligence and skills towards solutions. If this individual lacks skills or intelligence, he will either stop at empathy with a whimper or make a living out of empathy exhibition. 

 

Though feeling true empathy is a great first step, we err when we stop ourselves at empathy. Empathy can play the role of a catalyst but a catalyst without reacting compounds can do little. True sympathy needs the reactants to come together in order to produce something more effective. Unfortunately, what we have today amongst  us is ‘manufactured empathy’ that is a product of media plots and schemes. What passes as empathy is often just a jolt out of our routine and a reckless expression of fear. Then, the engines of this artificial empathy – the news media and the social media among others take you on a guided tour of your favorite show that you missed last night or throw cute cat memes on your timeline and you are unconsciously driven to a ‘manufactured routine’.

 

Empathy in isolation is an exercise in self-gratification where you make yourself feel better by thinking that you think about XYZ cause and somehow that makes you a better person than everybody else. Some people who have taken to empathy as their full time job have it even worse. I see them on the front pages of the Internet, TV, and Print, showcasing their empathy as some sort of object to be revered and celebrated. They come, they display their empathy, and then they blame the entire world for the situation. That is their solution. Such empathy can lead you to dark places, mostly towards blaming the system and the society. True empathy will lead you to act to do something for the empathized apart from putting up a self congratulatory facebook status. If your empathy ends at empathy, it is veritably a manufactured empathy that has been cultivated from the outside, cultured for the external world, and waiting for a beholder. That empathy is not enough and it does no good to the world or even you.

 

Empathy doesn’t work in isolation. Empathy alone doesn’t make you a good person. It may hint at your goodness but it doesn’t mean you are good to the cause or individual you empathize with. All the empathy of the world couldn’t save the two-year old boy Sujith Wilson who died stuck in a bore-well. If empathy could solve problems, he and many others like him in India who die in bore-wells could be saved every time. Empathy must wed intelligence, skills, and action towards solving the immediate problems around you. An intelligent act is to either keep your bore-wells covered or keep your toddlers under supervision all the time. Another intelligent act is to not let your own child drown in a tub while you are busy letting news channels aggrandize your empathy for Sujith Wilson. 

Howdy Modi and Why They Hate the NRIs

There was a time when crossing the seas was forbidden in India for the fear of the mlechhas who if mingled with, could disturb the purity of character of the sanctimonious Indian. Out of this fear, many never dared to go to the foreign lands but the traders had to travel to do their trade, so, they would come back and undergo some sort of atonement. However, the worrywarts of the community would still continue to enforce the prohibition and condemnation. As decades and centuries went by, these stopped mattering to people, or at least to most of the people. Most, because, it seems the regressive trend has made a grand come back.

 

After the NRIs put up a commendable show with ‘Howdy Modi’ at Houston, a set of descendants of mlechha-haters has surfaced on social media to profane at these NRIs who according to them are enjoying all the perks that a developed country offers and yet want Modi to continue at the helm in India. This according to them, is a bad thing. Since, these NRIs have already left the country, they can no longer have any views about India. The US immigration department, it seems, has kept brain scanners at the airports that scan and delete any opinion on India from the NRI’s brain on arrival.

 

Let’s understand this with an example confined within the boundaries of our country. If an NRI cannot have an opinion on India or a stake in Indian story, why should a Kashmiri studying in JNU or a Bengali settled in Bangalore have any opinion on Kashmir or Bengal respectively? In fact, when all the hotshots of Indian media can spend weeks of prime-time discussing US politics and their favorite Satan Trump, why should the austerity of self-censorship be forced only on the NRIs? Or perhaps NRIs are not the problem. It is not the NRIs who generate the hate.

 

Just a few monsoons ago, Kangana Ranaut was the Iron Lady of Indian feminism, hailed and cheered from all corners of self-declared woke media. Then, she made a mistake and professed her liking for Mr. Modi. This was a gobar-on-the-face moment (gobar is cow-dung) for many people who were looking for a new member for the Modi-Haters group on whatsapp.  This was not the only time they had gobar on their face. Ranvir Shorey was a greater disappointment. Considering his filmography of off-beat and critic friendly cinema, he was to receive a wild-card entry to the group. Alas, he too spoiled his chances by backing Mr. Modi and was castigated by leading lights of the group on Twitter. The trend became predictable at one point after people like Kabir Bedi, Shekhar Kapoor, Anupam Kher, Vikram Sampath, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, Maurice Obstfeld voiced their confidence in Mr. Modi and were hounded by the touchy people who deactivate their social media accounts for a day and skip their leg day every time Modi gets an award outside the country.

 

Your enemy’s friend is your enemy. Your enemy’s nobody is also your enemy. The hate originates, primarily for Mr. Modi and after travelling a distance of about 14000 kilometers now, seems to have reached Houston. This anger is mostly for the NRIs in the US and not the other countries like Saudi or the UAE. A reason could be that one of the admins of Modi-Haters group was beaten fair and square in a full house wrestling bout by the NRIs at the Madison Square Garden in 2014. However, I wouldn’t count on that as the primary reason. The NRIs in the US are somehow amazingly tantalizing at displaying their affection for Mr. Modi and with their money and political muscle, they manage to organize these colossal shows that give Mr. Modi global platforms to laugh at people who effected his US-Visa denials while he was the Gujarat Chief Minister.

 

It is not only Modi who is hated with such gusto. His supporters are told to drink Gau-Mutra (Cow Urine) and eat Gobar (Cow Dung) by almost all of these self-appointed custodians of India’s secularism. You are told to not talk to Modi supporters, not have Modi-supporting friends, not marry a Modi supporter, and push the Modi-supporting old woman crossing the street under the bus. For this set of people, either you shouldn’t have a political opinion so that they have a shot at washing your brain and injecting hatred for Mr. Modi or if you have one, it must conform to theirs. If it is neither of the two, then either you would be requested to drink cow-piss or in case you happen to speak English, you would be shouted down at literature festivals. No matter how many trees you have planted in your lifetime or how many people you have helped with your abilities, if you like Modi, you become Public Enemy No. 1. Unfortunately for Modi-Hate hags, the Houston event was not a literature festival. It was a display of the growing power of India in global decision making. At such events, only a leader who is democratically elected and has the backing of a majority of his countrymen can make a mark. It is a far cry from a literature festival of the self-proclaimed intellectuals who lecture on moral standards during the day and entertain with their drunken fights during the night. There are so many individuals in our country today who have Modi-Hate as their only claim to fame.

 

I was on an author’s panel once. One of the panelists had published his first novel and even though the book was grammatically holding fine, he struggled while speaking in English. That notwithstanding, he went on about his book at length. This was not received very well by a lady poet sitting beside me who continued to smirk at his struggles with grammar and accent. Once the event was over, she ran up to me to share her opinions about this author and all she had were words of insult and condescension for this writer. Of course, I was expected to join her in her circus of snobbery. To her disappointment, I had only respect for this guy who could complete a book in spite of his limitations with the language. Of course, in an instant, I became an NRI-mlechha to her. If only I had conjoined my sur (tune) with hers, I could have been part of some non-native-speakers-haters group. When you find out that the person next to you is not thinking like you do, hate begins to unfold. When you find out that a majority is not thinking like you do, you start turning into a fanatic.

Rajagopal

More Lessons from Dosa King Rajagopal’s Death

How dear is your reputation to you? If you are an individual who is reputed and well respected in the world, and if it comes to a situation where you get to keep either your life or your reputation, what would you choose? It is not a trivial question, you’ve heard stories of men and women who died for their honour! I would like you to take some time and ponder. You may reach a point in your reflections where you will want to remember your actions that took you there. Take one-step further and now think of this – you are not going to die, that is not your option now but you lose your reputation and you would need to live without the dignity you had earned with mountains of efforts. Would you feel relieved to have your life spared? A fine line separates the two situations. In one, your life choice is in your hands where as in another, someone makes that choice for you. You must have heard a lot many people say that an honorable death is better than an ignoble life, but are you sure you would not choose that life over a death that promises to cover your sins?

Shift some gears. How would you see the situation if the imminent death is as ignoble as your life would be? You are not sure about things that happen after death. However, in life, you know you can control a few things even if people do not like you. Does it become easier to live then? You believe in God, so, you make him a promise – “let me live, I won’t kill anyone again.” You also know that God does not operate in your currency. You do not get a reply. Nevertheless, he is ‘your’ God, you know him well enough to believe that he will forgive you because you have atoned. God has done his work. Now, you need to come out and manage a few things in a world that is up for sale. You have powerful friends; you have wealth that injects fuel into these powerful friends. You may not know the other world but you know your way out of the incarcerations of the world-of-the-living. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. You and your powerful friends make your ignoble life a comfortable one. Slowly, you make yourself forget the reasons for your fall and buying time becomes a contest for you. You have won all the games of the world before this one. You are confident you will win this one too. So, you keep buying time until one day, you have spent all your money. You realize you were buying time from your own store. Your storekeeper throws you onto a hospital bed and whispers in your ears – “of course, you will not kill anyone again”. Your heart stops beating.

Dosa King Rajagopal evaded jail-term for 15 years before being sentenced to life-term. He surrendered with an oxygen mask on his face, developed heart problems, and went to a hospital before he died. In the face of his life and actions, how should we define ‘justice’? Is it nature doing what the oft-fallible and corruptible humans could not do? Does that mean a life sentence was not enough for his actions and he needed to die? Or should we come from the opposite side to say that it became all too easy for him in the end? A life term might have perhaps put him in a situation closer to that of the Prince Santhakumar’s family.

It may take some time for our society to understand this phenomenon. We are so bored of seeing criminals dying their natural death before the courts are able make up their minds that it comes as no surprise any longer. To me, death is not justice. Death may wear the mask of poetic justice but poetic justice does not care for time and proportion. In effect, poetic justice is not justice at all. It is the consolation prize of the losing side.

Rajagopal did not serve his sentence. He was never going to be living behind the bars but he has died with all his dignity crushed and ground to dust. The winds of the coastline that carried his fame to far-off lands have now drowned themselves in the sea. The chaos of renown has turned into a lull of condemnation. Saravana Bhavan’s story will always carry the blandness of vanity and the vapidity of overcooked lust. Its success tale will always carry the rancid odour of the ghost and that might remain our only consolation.

लिंच होने से बचने का रामबाण

कल जब घर से निकलना तो कुछ मत बोलना, सच तो बिल्कुल नहीं। ये पुराना वाला इंडिया ही है, इसे सच से एलर्जी है। इसके लिए सच वो कीड़ा है जो एक दिन अजगर बन कर तुमको ही निगल लेगा। ये नया इंडिया भी है, यहाँ सच का डेमोनेटाइज़ेशन हो चुका है। सच लीगल टेंडर नहीं रहा। यहाँ झूठ के अलग अलग ठेकेदार हैं, सबका अपना अपना यू.पी.आई. है। किसी के साथ भी खाता खोलो और झूठ के लेन-देन में शुरू हो जाओ। महफूज़ रहो।

कल जब घर से निकलना तो चुप रहना। कल जब बाज़ार में कोई जेब काट ले, दो गालियाँ परोस दे, धक्का दे दे, या सामने से आकर घूँसा ही बरसा दे, चुप रहना। ये वही पुराना इंडिया है, ये घर में घुसकर मुसलमानों को मारता है, ये बाहर निकलकर हिंदुओं को जलाता है। यहाँ आज भी वो सब मुमकिन है जो पहले मुमकिन था। ये नया इंडिया भी है, ये अब मारते वक़्त रिकॉर्डिंग भी करता है और 4जी स्पीड पर लाइव स्ट्रीमिंग भी क्योंकि ये इंडिया एक भीड़ है, कभी हिंदुओं की भीड़ तो कभी मुसलमानों की भीड़। इस भीड़ का कोई चेहरा नहीं, सिर्फ मज़हब और जात होता है। इस भीड़ को सबूत होते हुए भी गिरफ्तार नहीं किया जा सकता। भेड़ियों की भीड़ में तुम जज़्बाती मेमने – चुप रहना। आज ज़्यादा मिमियाओगे तो फिर कभी नहीं मिमिया पाओगे। शाम को घर वापस आ जाना, बिना कोई नयी दुश्मनी मोल लिये। समाज को ठीक करने की ज़िम्मेदारी जिसे दी थी वो बैट लेकर समाज को पीट रहा है। तुम कौन से समाज-सुधारक बनने निकले हो? चुप रहना सीखो, आदत डालो, आईने के सामने ख़ामोशी की प्रैक्टिस करो।

ये सब इसलिए बता रहा हूँ कि कल जब घर से निकलो तो लिंच न हो जाओ। हो सके तो भीड़ का साथ दे देना, उसमें सेफ्टी है। लिंच करने वालों में शामिल हो जाना, लिंच होने वाले तो कमज़ोर होते हैं। असली इंडियन लिंच करता है, होता नहीं। इससे पहले कि कल किसी लिंच मॉब के हाथों तुम्हारा फ्री एकाउंट खत्म कर दिया जाए, आज किसी लिंच मॉब के पेड सब्सक्राइबर बन जाओ। ये नया इंडिया है, पुराने इंडिया वाले अपने बाप वाली गलती को मत दोहराना। वो मेम्बरशिप टालता रहा, इसलिए लिंच हो गया।

और तुम – जो आज अपने घर वापस नहीं जा पाओगे, कहीं किसी चौराहे पर लिंच कर दिए जाओगे, मुझे माफ कर देना। मुझे ये हिदायतें आज सूझीं, वरना शायद तुम्हारी मदद कर सकता। पर ये सिर्फ हिदायतें हैं, इनसे किसी की जान बच जाये, ये ज़रूरी नहीं। वैधानिक चेतावनियाँ जारी करने का अधिकार सिर्फ सरकार को है, उसी सरकार को जो वैधानिक शराब का ठेका चलाती है। मेरी बातों को कौन मानेगा? मैंने तो कभी एक पान भी नहीं बेचा। सो तुम चिंता मत करो, ये नया इंडिया है। तुम कोई आखिरी लिंच होने वाले इंसान नहीं हो। लिंचिंग वायरल हो चुका है। वो भी ऑर्गनिकली। बस ऊपर जाकर न्यू इंडिया वाले चैनल को सब्सक्राइब कर लेना। सारे लिंच अप्डेट्स मिलते रहेंगे।

अल्लाहू अकबर। जय श्री राम।

More Lessons from John Allen Chau’s Death

Last year, the members of the Sentinelese tribe killed John Allen Chau, an American missionary. Apparently, John wanted to take his religion to the tribe to bring them peace and harmony. A few months later, as I take one more look at the unfortunate incident, I am compelled to wonder – in the death of this adventure blogger and the messenger of Christianity, do human beings have a few more lessons than originally understood?

 

Instead of going to the Sentinelese, what if John had come to me? I have never killed anyone, so this is a difficult thought to entertain. Of course, the constitution gives me the right to practice my religion and if John had come to me to proselytize, my first reaction would have been to ignore him. If John had persevered, I would have indulged him in a debate. Had I turned out to be a tough nut to crack, John would have perhaps quit accosting me. That would be the end of the meeting with John. I would have continued the chaotic life I had been living. However, John would not have stopped. John had a mission. He would have knocked on the doors of my neighbor. The neighbor, if gullible or genuinely impressed, would have converted to Christianity, or would have tried what I did. If this hypothetical neighbor were my friend, he would have called me to help with John. You would think John would have given up here and gone back to his home. However, John knocks on the third house. At this point, the entire community gets to understand John’s motives and they come together to drive John away. John goes back. Where? A different city. John is a committed missionary. He does not stop!

 

So, where does John stop? Sadly, John stops only where the Sentinelese stopped him. In a world where evangelism is not a crime, it might become difficult for some people to draw red lines for themselves. It is terrifying to see the scale of power the church wields over these promising young men who could have done anything else in their lives but chose to civilize the world and bring Jesus to ‘Satan’s last stronghold’. The Sentinelese people perhaps do not engage in debates with people they do not know and are smart enough to understand the dangers posed by such attempts to ‘civilize’ them. They fear obliteration of their race. They perhaps know that the meeting with Christ does not end with meeting with the Christ. They know that Jesus Christ will bring in a lot of not-so-Christ-like Christians to their land. Sentinelese might not have a Penguin or a HarperCollins but they remember their history well.

 

If I had killed John, I would have been, according to Indian law, sentenced to death or life imprisonment. This would be so because I am part of the civilized world and I had other means at my disposal to stop John. John, like me, was also part of the civilized world. In the civilized world, John has the freedom of speech and expression and I have the ability to forgive and forget. In our civilized world, John also has the responsibility to understand that people like their own kind of ‘peace’ and ‘civilization’, Satan is at best a philosophical idea, and if at all a Satan exists, he lives in and off the church.

 
John was just an innocent face of a much deeper crusade to create a world order controlled by the church. This order has the money and muscle power to allure people who are not ‘tribal’ enough to resist violently and not ‘civilized’ enough to resist peacefully? Fortunately for us, the ‘Satan’s last stronghold’ is still intact. But the church has an army of Johns operating to civilize the lesser Sentinelese of the world who do not kill at first contact. John Allen Chau has left us but the church lives to fight another day.

Why Kejriwal Wants a Free Ride to the CM Office?

A lot of how our life shapes up depends on how we are born. One of the more defining birth factors for quality of our future life is the financial health of the parents. There are more factors of course but I have picked finance and put it aside to start with because it is, in my opinion, one of the most difficult to get rid of. To the financial mess, add a mix of caste and gender, and things become a lot more complicated. I do not mention the hierarchy of caste or gender here because we are living in an age where any permutation and combination of this set has its own disadvantages. A poor and discriminated-caste born individual has to tide over his social suffering in addition to the wealth crisis. A meritorious upper caste but poor individual has no advantage over the reserved category candidate (financial status notwithstanding) who is inferior to him in intelligence and effort. Add gender here and we get into a whirlpool of problems.

 

Now take out all other factors and see the female case exclusively, women face discrimination for being born a woman in many social spaces. Now, here lies their problem. While you can still outgrow your caste or migrate to a more egalitarian society, you cannot get away from your gender. As gender is a biological truth, the discrimination takes a more hideous turn and can affect a woman of upper caste as severely as it can affect someone from the lower caste. From the first challenge of not getting sacrificed for a male child and ‘getting a safe birth’ to do everything that comes a tad easier for men, in our present society, women have to battle hundred things to earn a livelihood and lead an independent life. This becomes even more challenging if she is born to poor or discriminated-caste parents. Some do not try, some try but fail, some do not want to try, and then some try and succeed. During this struggle, these women ask many difficult questions to the society. They make themselves aware of their rights and then demand that their rights be protected.

The answers are more difficult than they seem to be at first sight. Therefore, our leaders promise many CCTVs to see the problem more clearly. Then, they realize that the metro fare hike has hit women the worst.  They throw a free bus and metro ride pass at them – “please take this free bus pass, you are safer now in Delhi buses. I am hereby buying your vote!”

Arvind Kejriwal is not the problem. He is just another politician who has mastered the art of milking the rotten ecosystem of bribing the electorate before every election. If our politicians had the integrity of thought, there would have been more and better buses on roads, panic buttons and GPS tracking on all buses. There would be more street lighting and better last mile connectivity for commuters, male or female. There could have been free public transport systems for all Indians without burdening the exchequer. Mr. Arvind Kejriwal likes to tell his voters to take the money other parties offer them and still vote for the broom, his party’s election symbol. Times can change quickly. Sadly, he is the one offering that money now. The voters will keep it, just the way he prefers. It remains to be seen whom they vote for next year. A party’s rhetorics and manifesto for the upcoming elections can easily posit themselves as the report card of its manifesto from the previous elections. A dropped promise means that the promise couldn’t be delivered as the Government was busy begging alliances and fighting other elections in the country.  A promise added with freebies means that the promise fetched votes last time around but couldn’t be implemented because they were never supposed to be implemented but have the potential to work again if made with some free gifts.  A promise finding a place again without any progress or addition means that the party is waiting for a majority in the Rajya Sabha.

 

The 2015 manifesto of AAP speaks about CCTVs in all buses. Delhi is going to vote again in 2020. AAP has promised to install CCTVs again. Of course, just CCTVs will not be safe enough for the AAP to secure their seats this time. They need some free passes to ride their luck in 2020.

What to Expect from Namo2.0?

Elections are over. The new government is set to arrive. As the Congress party keeps itself frozen on the cusp of change from where it can choose to advance into an acceptance of the changed realities to progress or just fall back into the pit of regression, the postmortem of election results will perhaps be an unending process. While the media and political pundits can spend all their time and efforts in this operation, the Government cannot afford to venture there. After the 2014 victory, the Prime Minister had shared his vision of ‘Minimum Government, Maximum Governance’; the 2019 victory should be a reason for renewed focus on deliverance of this aspirational vision. Keeping this in mind, I have a list of preliminary expectations from my government of 2019. This is not exhaustive and I might add to it as we move ahead in the year.

 

A separate budget for the agriculture sector

This can help in better allocation of resources for the necessary reforms in agriculture and help improve the implementation of government projects. Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for about 58 per cent of India’s population. Gross Value Added by agriculture, forestry and fishing is estimated at INR 18.53 trillion (US$ 271.00 billion) in FY18. Considering that and the kind of loan waivers each party has to announce every election season, the demand for a separate budget holds ground.

 

Reward good citizens

Rewarding good citizens can encourage a change in how citizens contribute to nation building. Citizens, who segregate waste, pay their loans in time, do not use plastic, follow traffic rules should get incentives with better interest rates on loans, better benefits on retirement, subsidized payments on insurance schemes etc. This can bring about a big shift in how we engage the electorate post the election season.

 

Invest in government schools and higher education institutions

A major failure of independent India has been its unwillingness and inability to bring up the standard of education in government schools. It is time that these schools accept the competition from their private counterparts and deliver the best in class education to their students. This competition will also substantially bring down the cost of quality education for Indian students. The monopoly of private players on cost of education will break.

 

Invest in government hospitals

Most of the patients wanting admission in a hospital of AIIMS have to wait for a good number of months, in some cases, a year to get their turn. Not having any way, patients take to private hospitals and clinics. In additional to the disease itself, the high costs break the patients and their families, both financially and psychologically. The government needs to invest big in structural reforms for its hospitals. Once again, the government must accept the challenge posed by the private counterparts. If that is not possible, a public-private partnership should be explored.

 

Establish better centers of education and healthcare in industrial belts and other neglected areas

While such areas earn huge revenues for the country, the state of most of these places remains miserable when it comes to education and healthcare. The industrial belts of India need their favor returned so that while citizens brave the not-so-comfortable lives, they can at least avail better healthcare services and send their kids to schools that are on par with any school from the urban centers of the country. All aspirants should have access to a benchmarked quality of education.

 

Encourage cancer research in the country through better facilities, improved funding, and enactment of research friendly laws

While celebrities and politicians can afford to skip levels and travel to other countries for their treatment, the common mass of the country has to make do with whatever is available in our country. While we have some good centers for cancer in the country, the waiting queues at such centers paint a gloomy picture of our patient to doctor ratio. Official data only corroborates this picture. By 2014, we had only about 1000 trained oncologists in the country and the ratio of oncologist to patient stood at 1:2000. This ratio in US is 1:100. Modi 2.0 should understand what creates this stark and disappointing difference and work towards better cancer research and training in our country. (Source)

 

Curb corruption in government institutions

Why should a Member of Parliament get priority over a common citizen for admission to the AIIMS? Why should the street hawkers must pay daily hafta to the Police to keep running their business? Why must the village mukhiya be paid INR 500 for the LPG cylinder which is coming free of cost from the government? There are a lot of low hanging fruits to pluck when it comes to corruption in government institutions. My government must be up to the task without losing any time.

 

Judicial reforms to deliver justice, in time

Indian courts have about three crore cases pending between them. Case AST/1/1800 of the Calcutta High Court was filed in the year 1800. The last hearing date was 20 November 2018. Appointment of Judges, insufficient number of courts, archaic laws are the areas I would like my government to look into.

 

Resettle Kashmiri Hindus in Kashmir valley

The ethnic cleansing of Kashmiri Hindus carried out in the valley remains a blot on the democratic ethos of independent India. The government must carry out this task with the seriousness it deserves.

 

Societal harmony as pet project

No blame games here. The law must take its own course but I believe that much like Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, societal harmony should become a pet project of our Prime Minister. He should avail all the platforms available to drive the message of unity, harmony, and peace throughout the country. It may not deter the criminals as such but might just prevent the conversion of an otherwise reasonable individual into a hate machine.

the-tashkent-files poster

The Tashkent Files

History is the most compromised field of study in our country and our political history has been the worst victim of a consolidated and considered cover up effort. Within our political history, the history of political India after independence is just a haze for the minds of today’s Indians. This obfuscation is not a coincidence. If nothing else, the movie ‘The Tashkent Files’ has been able to establish that much through its extensive research and simplified narration.

 

India doesn’t have a culture of routinely producing political thrillers, thanks to twin towers of our uninterested filmmakers who would rather portray the love story of one of the fiercest warriors of India – Baji Rao than his military and political programme; and a long, arduous rule of a political party that has been busy hiding its skeletons in the closet for far too long to be able to nourish a free and fair ecosystem for creativity, no matter how unpalatable this creativity becomes for the ones in power. For the uninitiated, watch this thread – freedom of speech by Mr Anand Ranganathan. The present film had its own struggles to see the light of the day. The Congress party with 44 MPs in the Lok Sabha tried different devices to stall the release of the film. One can make an intelligent guess about how vicious can such a party become with an absolute majority in the parliament. That the party considered to be the chief architect of our freedom struggle wreaked emergency upon us, no longer seems to be shocking.

 

Vivek Agnihotri has come back with his creation ‘The Tashkent Files’, which is running almost housefull even after a week of its release without suffering much of a dip even as Dharma Productions released its much anticipated and much hyped ‘Kalank’. This is Vivek’s second such film after ‘Buddha in a Traffic Jam’ where he has tried to cinematize the ‘war of narratives’ in our country. Although this time, Vivek’s script is not as tightly woven as his last time but given the difficulty of the subject at hand, the handicap of inaction by successive governments and law enforcement agencies of our country, he has achieved a major feat by just being able to connect the far flung dots of historicity.

 

This film seems to be well-researched with specific citations from books and newspapers, interviews of people connected with the case plugged in naturally in the script, the pointers to the cold war, CIA versus KGB, and narrations of the possible motives for ‘killing’ India’s second Prime Minister. While the motives are described in detail and the audience is left intrigued by the twists in the case, the treachery of the Communists, the Congress, and the Lutyens delhi  is established with solid presentations by the lead character of Ragini Phule played by Shweta Basu Prasad. While the film succeeds on this front, it has its own share of shortcomings. Most of the actors in the cast are underused in the movie. Add a few underdeveloped characters and you get confused about who represents what, much of the dialogues are shallow except the ones delivered by characters played by Mithun Chakraborty, Pankaj Tripathi, and Shweta Basu Prasad who get some of the best lines written for the movie. Mandira Bedi, Pallavi Joshi, and Rajesh Sharma execute their roles well. Prakash Belawadi and Achint Kaur don’t do much and are rather left on the bench for the complete innings. A bigger problem with the movie is its background score which is largely insipid and changes too abruptly to allow any emotion or mood to grow on you.

 

After having watched this movie and Buddha in a Traffic Jam before this, it seems Mr. Vivek Agnihotri, perhaps in his zeal to appear neutral or unbiased, keeps adding all the elements he comes across on social media. As a result, in one scene you will see a character accusing the other of sleeping with people for success, on the other hand, another character is portrayed as a racist who hates muslims. Although this is a noble attempt, it also creates a kind of overcompensatory khichdi about the characters and the purpose of a particular story. Mr. Agnihotri is seen trying too many subjects in one story where perhaps a subject like corruption of activists itself is too alarming an issue to be ignored for a separate project.

 

In spite of a few shortcomings, this film succeeds in providing some information to its audience about the life and times of Shastriji. That for me, is its biggest victory. Beyond all the conspiracy theories floating around about anyone’s death, it is more important to know and understand a person’s life, because that way, like the filmmaker would prefer, we can at least save our heroes from dying twice. Congratulations Anuj Dhar! More power to your research!

Did Swami Vivekananda support Caste Discrimination? No!

Was Swami Vivekananda a casteist? Did he vouch for caste based discrimination in the society? While there are a lot of instances where he denounced such systems, I reproduce here a few of Swami Vivekananda’s utterances on the issue so that we at least empower ourselves with his thoughts before making inferences. All these excerpts are taken from the Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda which is a collection of his lectures, conversations, letters, and writings.

 

He could never make peace with this aspect of Adi Shankara’s teachings.

Swamiji: Shankara’s intellect was sharp like the razor. He was a good arguer and a scholar, no doubt of that, but he had no great liberality; his heart too seems to have been like that. Besides, he used to take great pride in his Brahmanism — much like a southern Brahmin of the priest class, you may say. How he has defended in his commentary on the Vedanta – sutras that the non – brahmin castes will not attain to a supreme knowledge of Brahman! And what specious arguments! Referring to Vidura he has said that he became a knower of Brahman by reason of his Brahmin body in the previous incarnation. Well, if nowadays any Shudra attains to a knowledge of Brahman, shall we have to side with your Shankara and maintain that because he had been a Brahmin in his previous birth, therefore he has attained to this knowledge? Goodness! What is the use of dragging in Brahminism with so much ado? The Vedas have entitled any one belonging to the three upper castes to study the Vedas and the realisation of Brahman, haven’t they? So Shankara had no need whatsoever of displaying this curious bit of pedantry on this subject, contrary to the Vedas. And such was his heart that he burnt to death lots of Buddhist monks-by defeating them in argument! And the Buddhists, too, were foolish enough to burn themselves to death, simply because they were worsted in argument! What can you call such an action on Shankara’s part except fanaticism? But look at Buddha’s heart! Ever ready to give his own life to save the life of even a kid — what to speak of “[(Sanskrit)]– for the welfare of the many, for the happiness of the many”! See, what a large – heartedness what a compassion!

Disciple: Can’t we call that attitude of the Buddha, too, another kind of fanaticism, sir? He went to the length of sacrificing his own body for the sake of a beast!

Swamiji: But consider how much good to the world and its beings came out of that ‘fanaticism’ of his — how many monasteries and schools and colleges, how many public hospitals and veterinary refuges were established, how developed architecture became — think of that. life of the people. In a sense, he was the living embodiment of true Vedanta.

 

He denounced all forms of unfair discrimination, including caste!

The disciple is an orthodox Hindu. Not to speak of prohibited food, he does not even take food touched by another. Therefore Swamiji sometimes used to refer to him as “priest”. Swamiji, while he was eating biscuits with his breakfast,said to Swami Sadananda, “Bring the priest in here.” When the disciple came to Swamiji, he gave some portion of his food to him to eat. Finding the disciple accepting it without any demur, Swamiji said, “Do you know what you have eaten now? These are made from eggs.”

In reply, the disciple said, “Whatever may be in it, I have no need to know; taking this sacramental food from you, I have become immortal.” Thereupon Swamiji said, “I bless you that from this day all your egoism of caste, colour, high birth, religious merit and demerit, and all, may vanish for ever!”

 

He appreciated the progress that could be achieved in absence of caste botheration.

In the West I have found that those who are in the employment of others have their seats fixed in the back rows in the Parliament, while the front seats are reserved for those who have made themselves famous by self – exertion, or education,or intelligence.

In Western countries there is no botheration of caste. Those on whom Fortune smiles for their industry and exertion are alone regarded as leaders of the country and the controllers of its destiny. Whereas in your country, you are simply vaunting your superiority in caste, till at last you cannot even get a morsel of food! You have not the capacity to manufacture a needle, and you dare to criticise the English! Fools! Sit at their feet and learn from them the arts, industries, and the practicality necessary for the struggle for existence. You will be esteemed once more when you will become fit. Then they too will pay heed to your words. Without the necessary preparation, what will mere shouting in the Congress avail?

 

He understood the power that remained unharnessed because of caste discrimination.

The peasant, the shoemaker, the sweeper, and such other lower classes of India have much greater capacity for work and self – reliance than you. They have been silently working through long ages and producing the entire wealth of the land, without a word of complaint. Very soon they will get above you in position. Gradually capital is drifting into their hands, and they are not so much troubled with wants as you are. Modern education has changed your fashion, but new avenues of wealth lie yet undiscovered for want of the inventive genius. Never mind if they have not read a few books like you — if they have not acquired your tailor-made civilisation. What do these matter? But they are the backbone of the nation in all countries. If these lower classes stop work, from where will you get your food and clothing? If the sweepers of Calcutta stop work for a day, it creates a panic; and if they strike for three days, the whole town will be depopulated by the outbreak of epidemics. If the labourers stop work, your supply of food and clothes also stops. And you regard them as low – class people and vaunt your own culture!

 

He underlined the import of caste system and the necessity of taking everyone together.

Engrossed in the struggle for existence, they had not the opportunity for the awakening of knowledge.They have worked so long uniformly like machines guided by human intelligence, and the clever educated section have taken the substantial part of the fruits of their labour. In every country this has been the case. But times have changed. The lower classes are gradually awakening to this fact and making a united front against this, determined to exact their legitimate dues. The masses of Europe and America have been the first to awaken and have already begun the fight. Signs of this awakening have shown themselves in India, too, as is evident from the number of strikes among the lower classes nowadays. The upper classes will no longer be able to repress the lower, try they ever so much. The well – being of the higher classes now lies in helping the lower to get their legitimate rights.

Disciple: Sir, what you say is true, but there yet seems to be a wide gulf between the higher and lower classes. To bring the higher classes to sympathise with the lower seems to be a difficult affair in India.

Swamiji: But without that there is no well – being for your upper classes. You will be destroyed by internecine quarrels and fights — which you have been having so long. When the masses will wake up, they will come to understand your oppression of them, and by a puff of their mouth you will be entirely blown away! It is they who have introduced civilisation amongst you; and it is they who will then pull it down. Think how at the hands of the Gauls the mighty ancient Roman civilisation crumbled into dust! Therefore I say, try to rouse these lower classes from slumber by imparting learning and culture to them. When they will awaken — and awaken one day they must — they also will not forget your good services to them and will remain grateful to you.

 

He established a caste-free system for the Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission!

After a course of five years’ training these Brahmacharins may, if they like, go back to their homes and lead householders’ lives; or they may embrace the monastic life with the sanction of the venerable Superiors of the Math. The authorities of the Math will have the power to turn out at once any of these Brahmacharins who will be found refractory or of a bad character. Teaching will be imparted here irrespective of caste or creed, and those who will have objection to this will not be admitted. But those who would like to observe their particular caste – rites, should make separate arrangements for their food, etc. They will only attend the classes along with the rest. The Math authorities shall keep a vigilant watch over the character of these also. None but those that are trained here shall be eligible for Sannyasa. Won’t it be nice when by degrees this Math will begin to work like this?

 

He spoke of the ills of priest-craft that prevented other castes and women from studying the Vedas.

Swamiji: In what scriptures do you find statements that women are not competent for knowledge and devotion? In the period of degradation, when the priests made other castes incompetent for the study of the Vedas, they deprived the women also of all their rights. Otherwise you will find that in the Vedic or Upanishad age Maitreyi, Gargi, and other ladies of revered memory have taken the places of Rishis through their skill in discussing about Brahman. In an assembly of a thousand Brahmanas who were all erudite in the Vedas, Gargi boldly challenged Yajnavalkya in a discussion about Brahman. Since such ideal women were entitled to spiritual knowledge, why shall not the women have the same privilege now? What has happened once can certainly happen again. History repeats itself.

 

And he stood for freedom, absolute and of every kind!

This was the orthodoxy of India. What else was there? Everything was divided, the whole society,as it is today,though in a much more rigorous form then — divided into castes. There is another thing to learn.There is a tendency to make castes just [now] going on here in the West. And I myself — I am a renegade.I have broken everything.I do not believe in caste, individually. It has very good things in it. For myself, Lord help me! I would not have any caste, if He helps me. You understand what I mean by caste, and you are all trying to make it very fast. It is a hereditary trade [for] the Hindu. The Hindu said in olden times that life must be made easier and smoother. And what makes everything alive? Competition. Hereditary trade kills. You are a carpenter? Very good, your son can be only a carpenter. What are you? A blacksmith? Blacksmithing becomes a caste; your children will become blacksmiths. We do not allow anybody else to come into that trade, so you will be quiet and remain there. You are a military man, a fighter? Make a caste. You are a priest? Make a caste. The priesthood is hereditary. And so on. Rigid, high power! That has a great side, and that side is [that] it really rejects ompetition. It is that which has made the nation live while other nations have died — that caste. But there is a great evil: it checks individuality. I will have to be a carpenter because I am born a carpenter; but I do not like it. That is in the books, and that was before Buddha was born. I am talking to you of India as it was before Buddha. And you are trying today what you call socialism! Good things will come; but in the long run you will be a [blight] upon the race. Freedom is the watchword. Be free! A free body, a free mind, and a free soul! That is what I have felt all my life; I would rather be doing evil freely than be doing good under bondage.

 

For me, personally, this underlines the message of his life, Be Free. This freedom is unconditional, non-negotiable and certainly devoid of a caste/gender identity rider! It is here that he brings Adi Shankara and Buddha to a common point for the progress of the mankind. It is this what we all must aim to become. Iti.

 

The Reading Life

In a video that I watched yesterday, a bear cub made several attempts to climb up to his mother waiting on the top of a mountain that was hiding under the snow. The cub climbed a few scratches higher every time he tried but skidded down the slope on each of those spirited attempts. His failure didn’t bother him. He grew up again, gathered a lungful, and scaled a greater altitude than the previous time. He tried straight up, he slithered, and he traced his mother’s paw-marks, all to end up at mark zero. It was a devastating sight. A fall further from his start and death would have engulfed him with love much before his due time. He was beginning to look like a play-ball trying to get back to the shore riding on current knowing well that it had no utility in the ocean and in any case, the child at the shore expected the ball to rebound when he threw it away into the waters! So, the ball keeps riding the waves one after the other till it reaches close enough to be pulled up but the child falters, the ball gets withdrawn again before finally getting thrown outside on the sand with a splash on the child’s face. The cub likewise, kept on rising and falling till he finally conquered the peak and joined his mother. As I write this, my mind also wanders to Christopher Nolan’s treatment of the Batman in his third installment in the series. Bane puts Bruce Wayne in ‘the pit’ and we are treated to, artistically speaking, one of the most breathtaking sequences we will die having seen when Bruce attempts to escape the pit and after many failed leaps, conquers his fear of failure.

I watched this cub video more than once and kept thinking about what I saw. I gave my mind some time, an optimal pace to play and replay the cub’s conquest in slow motion in my head, and kept thinking about the myriad other ways it could have unfolded in. What if the mother bear had come down to rescue the cub? What if the cub had given up and stayed at one point without making any further attempts? What if the cub had continued falling never to reach the summit? What if the cub had renounced his yearning to reach the top?

The last bit lingered over me for some more time. I wondered about the possibility of the cub developing a taste, a fondness for the struggle itself. If the cub kept floating high and below over the snow, if Bruce found a liking for the hymns and cheers of other members of the pit, would we stop longing for the end of the conquest? What if the end of our struggles also means the end of our purpose? I read Annie Dillard’s ‘The Writing Life’ yesterday. She constructed a snow laden mountain for me to climb. She threw me into the pit of death so that I could come out alive. I kept at my futile attempts to reach the top. I studied the contusions on my knees, the concussions to my head in that one moment when you reach the zero velocity just before falling back from no matter how high. I held the doorknobs of time in that instant and stretched the doors to as far I could between my arms and looked carefully into myself – the reader; and just before I could let myself fly down to the boundless abyss, Annie held me by my neck and pulled me up. The reader they say, must behave himself.

Source for the image.

Whose Lie is it Anyway: #Fakenews

The fact that even the Panchatantra and the Aesop’s Fables have a story about the shepherd boy who cried wolf when there was no wolf, underlines the fact that the phenomenon of fake news is not something ultra modern or a product of the internet age. However, to discuss the cry-wolves of our times, Nitin Pai, founder of Takshashila brought together personalities of contrasting backgrounds and competing tones for the last panel discussion at the Bangalore Literature Festival 2018. In attendance were award winning journalist best known for her Bofors investigation and editor-in-chief of thenewsminute.com – Chitra Subramaniam, Paris born journalist and author who has been South Asia correspondent for Le Figaro, one of France’s leading newspapers – François Gautier, Editor of The Hindu – Mukund Padmanabhan, Editor of scroll.in – Naresh Fernandes, Founder and Editor of AltNews – Pratik Sinha, and Sreenivasan Jain, Managing Editor of New Delhi Television (NDTV).

In order to set the context, Nitin asked each panelist about what defined fake news. Naresh opined with an example that while misinformation could be an error of judgement, disinformation with malice would count as fake news. Pratik of the AltNews gave the example of the Amritsar train tragedy wherein a fake narrative had been peddled about the driver’s religion to create social unrest and stressed upon the fact that fake news was affecting people of all ages, including children. Chitra joined the discussion and asserted that the phrase ‘fake news’ was an oxymoron and according to her there was only good journalism and then there was bad journalism. She also added that fake news happens when people with motives manufacture events and news.

Sreenivasan Jain kept the central government and the party in power at the centre at the centre of his attack and went on to say, “I believe that the only way to solve a problem is to first identify the problem. Fake news is not just lying in the dark corners of the internet but the central power itself plays a game of fake news by churning out propagandist theories and cherry picked data. These institutions, be it the government or the party in power have mainstreamed what was on the fringe.” He claimed that love jihad, scare mongering in the name of cows were part of this fake news propaganda. François, on the other hand, maintained that the word ‘fake news’ was too strong a word. Journalists have strong opinions and they pick stories and derive from them according to their opinions. He cited the example of the Nun rape case at Jhabua where mainstream media rushed to point fingers at the Hindu right wing groups but soon it was found that there were tribals and christians involved. François also cautioned people against the impulse of demonising the politicians because they were the the elected representatives in the country.

Nitin Pai further wanted the panel to explore the doors where fake news could be checked and threw the question to Naresh. Naresh mentioned that the government was trying to bring in some technological solutions to this menace but that wasn’t going to help. The session grew hotter by second and Sreenivasan provided a counter to François by saying that to criticize politician is not demonising him and to criticize the BJP doesn’t mean one is anti-Hindu. For him, the fake news machinery run by the government itself is the most dangerous one when compared to the fake news being peddled on whatsapp. Chitra had a contrarian point of view and asserted that she had lived through congress regimes and remembered how she and her family were harrassed with spread of falsehoods for ten years. She also claimed that while the word ‘fringe’ gets quoted a lot, the lot on the stage was the actual fringe which didn’t really understand India and how India thought. According to her, journalists must earn the right to be read like the politicians earn the right to lead.

François added his own perception of the Indian media and said that the Indian people did not have much respect for the the Indian media. Also, according to him, most of the media establishments have been left leaning in India. He underlined the importance of his views because he was born a catholic and unlike other people who parrot what they had heard from their older generations, he had learnt India first hand. Nitin went deeper into the subject and asked the panel if there were prejudices of people playing out as well. Pratik explained the importance of giving due attention to the fake news happening on whatsapp. “For rural areas, the influential people do affect opinions of the common people because they own smartphones and have access to internet and news”, added Pratik.

The session concluded with an attempt to fix the accountability question. Mukund agreed that Whatsapp was one of the major vectors for fake news and as such should not be ignored or downplayed. Also, not only does fake news affect the ignorant or gullible but also the intelligent and the informed lot. He maintained that the damage done by fake news was much worse than the redressal options like retraction etc.. Journalists and media houses must learn to apologize more often because there is no shame attached with it if one makes a mistake”, opined Mukund.

The session came to a close with a wide array of questions from the audience members and seemed to reinforce the idea of diversity in discourse which the Bangalore Literature Festival stands for.