Friday, May 16, 2014

Pankaj Mishra fires back at neo-Hindus

Now truth be told we are quite unhappy, the people we supported lost badly at the polls.

However there is always this guilty pleasure just a mm below our grief, first the dynasty goes out of the window, next USA is caught with its diplomatic pants down and now, Pankaj Mishra comes in with his machine gun and starts blasting away all neo-Hindus to kingdom come (so, when did the word neo- become a gaali?). Too much pleasure, really.

But to give the master his due, this article is huge and long and really tedious....someone please read it in full in order to get the fullest pleasure. One of things to do (while watching the paint on your fingers dry) is to make out a list of likes and dislikes of St Pankaj.

Likes: Ambedkar, Arundhati Roy, Vikram Seth, Amartya Sen, Jean Dreze, DR Nagaraj, Anand Patwardhan, Rahul Roy, Rakesh Sharma, Sanjay Kak

Neutral (good/bad mixed): Nehru, Gandhi, Indira, Rajiv

Dislikes: Vivekananda, Ratan Tata, Mukesh Ambani, Jagdish Bhagwati, Gurcharan Das, Rajat Gupta, Ayn Rand, Arvind Panagariya, Chetan Bhagat, George Bush, Vlad Putin, Thaksin Shinawatra (why is that? TS is a true champion of the poor)
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In A Suitable Boy, Vikram Seth writes with affection of a placid India's first general election in 1951, and the egalitarian spirit it momentarily bestowed on an electorate deeply riven by class and caste: "the great washed and unwashed public, sceptical and gullible", but all "endowed with universal adult suffrage". India's 16th general election this month, held against a background of economic jolts and titanic corruption scandals, and tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947.

Back then, it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging from an anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002 to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India's highest political office.

Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness". In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowed that he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".

Boasting of his 56-inch chest, Modi has replaced Mahatma Gandhi, the icon of non-violence, with Vivekananda, the 19th-century Hindu revivalist who was obsessed with making Indians a "manly" nation. Vivekananda's garlanded statue or portrait is as ubiquitous in Modi's public appearances as his dandyish pastel waistcoats. But Modi is never less convincing than when he presents himself as a humble tea-vendor, the son-of-the-soil challenger to the Congress's haughty dynasts. His record as chief minister is predominantly distinguished by the transfer – through privatisation or outright gifts – of national resources to the country's biggest corporations. His closest allies – India's biggest businessmen – have accordingly enlisted their mainstream media outlets into the cult of Modi as decisive administrator; dissenting journalists have been removed or silenced.

Absurdly uneven and jobless economic growth has led to what Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze call "islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa". The failure to generate stable employment – 1m new jobs are required every month – for an increasingly urban and atomised population, or to allay the severe inequalities of opportunity as well as income, created, well before the recent economic setbacks, a large simmering reservoir of rage and frustration.

Such extensive moral squalor may bewilder those who expected India to conform, however gradually and imperfectly, to a western ideal of liberal democracy and capitalism. But those scandalised by the lure of an indigenised fascism in the country billed as the "world's largest democracy" should know: this was not the work of a day, or of a few "extremists". It has been in the making for years. "Democracy in India," BR Ambedkar, the main framer of India's constitution, warned in the 1950s, "is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic." Ambedkar saw democracy in India as a promise of justice and dignity to the country's despised and impoverished millions, which could only be realised through intense political struggle. For more than two decades that possibility has faced a pincer movement: a form of global capitalism that can only enrich a small minority and a xenophobic nationalism that handily identifies fresh scapegoats for large-scale socio-economic failure and frustration.

In many ways, Modi and his rabble – tycoons, neo-Hindu techies, and outright fanatics – are perfect mascots for the changes that have transformed India since the early 1990s: the liberalisation of the country's economy, and the destruction by Modi's compatriots of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Long before the killings in Gujarat, Indian security forces enjoyed what amounted to a licence to kill, torture and rape in the border regions of Kashmir and the north-east; a similar infrastructure of repression was installed in central India after forest-dwelling tribal peoples revolted against the nexus of mining corporations and the state. The government's plan to spy on internet and phone connections makes the NSA's surveillance look highly responsible. Muslims have been imprisoned for years without trial on the flimsiest suspicion of "terrorism"; one of them, a Kashmiri, who had only circumstantial evidence against him, was rushed to the gallows last year, denied even the customary last meeting with his kin, in order to satisfy, as the supreme court put it, "the collective conscience of the people".

India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, appears in the novel as an effective one-man buffer against Hindu chauvinism. "The thought of India as a Hindu state, with its minorities treated as second-class citizens, sickened him." In Nehru's own vision, grand projects such as big dams and factories would bring India's superstitious masses out of their benighted rural habitats and propel them into first-world affluence and rationality.

The Harrow- and Cambridge-educated Indian leader had inherited from British colonials at least part of their civilising mission, turning it into a national project to catch up with the industrialised west. "I was eager and anxious," Nehru wrote of India, "to change her outlook and appearance and give her the garb of modernity." Even the "uninteresting" peasant, whose "limited outlook" induced in him a "feeling of overwhelming pity and a sense of ever-impending tragedy" was to be present at what he called India's "tryst with destiny".

But then the Nehruvian assumption that economic growth plotted and supervised by a wise technocracy would also bring about social change was also profoundly undemocratic and self-serving. Seth's novel, along with much anglophone literature, seems, in retrospect, to have uncritically reproduced the establishment ideology of English-speaking and overwhelmingly upper-caste Hindus who gained most from state-planned economic growth: the Indian middle class employed in the public sector, civil servants, scientists and monopolist industrialists. This ruling class's rhetoric of socialism disguised its nearly complete monopoly of power.

As DR Nagaraj, one of postcolonial India's finest minds, pointed out, "the institutions of capitalism, science and technology were taken over by the upper castes". Even today, businessmen, bureaucrats, scientists, writers in English, academics, thinktankers, newspaper editors, columnists and TV anchors are disproportionately drawn from among the Hindu upper-castes. And, as Sen has often lamented, their "breathtakingly conservative" outlook is to be blamed for the meagre investment in health and education – essential requirements for an equitable society as well as sustained economic growth – that put India behind even disaster-prone China in human development indexes, and now makes it trail Bangladesh.

Dynastic politics froze the Congress party into a network of patronage, delaying the empowerment of the underprivileged Indians who routinely gave it landslide victories. Nehru may have thought of political power as a function of moral responsibility. But his insecure daughter, Indira Gandhi, consumed by Nixon-calibre paranoia, turned politics into a game of self-aggrandisement, arresting opposition leaders and suspending fundamental rights in 1975 during a nationwide "state of emergency". She supported Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab (who eventually turned against her) and rigged elections in Muslim-majority Kashmir. In the 1980s, the Congress party, facing a fragmenting voter base, cynically resorted to stoking Hindu nationalism. After Indira Gandhi's assassination by her bodyguards in 1984, Congress politicians led lynch mobs against Sikhs, killing more than 3,000 civilians. Three months later, her son Rajiv Gandhi won elections with a landslide. Then, in another eerie prefiguring of Modi's methods, Gandhi, a former pilot obsessed with computers, tried to combine technocratic rule with soft Hindutva.

The Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), a political offshoot of the RSS that Nehru had successfully banished into the political wilderness, turned out to be much better at this kind of thing. In 1990, its leader LK Advani rode a "chariot" (actually a rigged-up Toyota flatbed truck) across India in a Hindu supremacist campaign against the mosque in Ayodhya. The wildfire of anti-Muslim violence across the country reaped immediate electoral dividends. (In old photos, Modi appears atop the chariot as Advani's hawk-eyed understudy). Another BJP chieftain ventured to hoist the Indian tricolour in insurgent Kashmir. (Again, the bearded man photographed helping his doddery senior taunt curfew-bound Kashmiris turns out to be the young Modi.) Following a few more massacres, the BJP was in power in 1998, conducting nuclear tests and fast-tracking the programme of economic liberalisation started by the Congress after a severe financial crisis in 1991.

The Hindu nationalists had a ready consumer base for their blend of chauvinism and marketisation. With India's politics and economy reaching an impasse, which forced many of their relatives to emigrate to the US, and the Congress facing decline, many powerful Indians were seeking fresh political representatives and a new self-legitimising ideology in the late 1980s and 90s. This quest was fulfilled by, first, both the post-cold war dogma of free markets and then an openly rightwing political party that was prepared to go further than the Congress in developing close relations with the US (and Israel, which, once shunned, is now India's second-biggest arms supplier after Russia). You can only marvel today at the swiftness with which the old illusions of an over-regulated economy were replaced by the fantasies of an unregulated one.

A transnational elite of rightwing Indians based in the US helped circulate an impression of an irresistibly "emerging giant" – the title of a book by Arvind Panagariya, a New-York-based economist and another aspiring adviser to Modi. Very quickly, the delusional notion that India was, as Foreign Affairs proclaimed on its cover in 2006, a "roaring capitalist success-story" assumed an extraordinary persuasive power. In India itself, a handful of corporate acquisitions – such as Tata's of Jaguar and Corus – stoked exorbitant fantasies of an imminent "Global Indian Takeover" (the title of a regular feature once in India's leading business daily, the Economic Times). 

A wave of political disaffection has also deposited democratic social movements and dedicated individuals across the country. Groups both within and outside the government, such as those that successfully lobbied for the groundbreaking Right to Information Act, are outlining the possibilities of what John Keane calls "monitory democracy". India's many activist networks – for the rights of women, Dalits, peasants and indigenous communities – or issue-based campaigns, such as those against big dams and nuclear power plants, steer clear of timeworn ideas of national security, economic development, technocratic management, whether articulated by the Nehruvians or the neo-Hindus. In a major environment referendum last year, residents of small tribal hamlets in a remote part of eastern India voted to reject bauxite mining in their habitats. Growing demands across India for autonomy and bottom-up governance confirm that Modi is merely offering old – and soured – lassi in new bottles with his version of top-down modernisation.

Modi, however, has opportunely timed his attempt to occupy the commanding heights of the Indian state vacated by the Congress. The structural problems of India's globalised economy have dramatically slowed its growth since 2011, terminating the euphoria over the Global Indian Takeover. Corruption scandals involving the sale of billions of dollars' worth of national resources such as mines, forests, land, water and telecom spectrums have revealed that crony capitalism and rent-seeking were the real engines of India's economy.

His ostensibly gratuitous assault on Muslims – already India's most depressed and demoralised minority – was another example of what the social anthropologist Arjun Appadurai calls "a vast worldwide Malthusian correction, which works through the idioms of minoritisation and ethnicisation but is functionally geared to preparing the world for the winners of globalisation, minus the inconvenient noise of its losers". Certainly, the new horizons of desire and fear opened up by global capitalism do not favour democracy or human rights. Other strongmen who supervised the bloody purges of economically enervated and unproductive people were also ruthless majoritarians, consecrated by big election victories. The crony-capitalist regimes of Thaksin Shinawatra in Thailand and Vladimir Putin in Russia were inaugurated by ferocious offensives against ethnic minorities. The electorally bountiful pogrom in Gujarat in 2002, too, now seems an early initiation ritual for Modi's India.

The difficulty of assessing his personal culpability in the killings and rapes of 2002 is the same difficulty that Musil identifies with Moosbrugger in his novel: how to measure the crimes, however immense, of individuals against a universal breakdown of values and the normalisation of violence and injustice. "If mankind could dream collectively," Musil writes, "it would dream Moosbrugger." 

There is little cause yet for such despair in India, where the aggrieved fantasy of authoritarianism will have to reckon with the gathering energies below; the great potential of the country's underprivileged and voiceless peoples still lies untapped. But for now some Indians have dreamed collectively, and they have dreamed a man accused of mass murder.
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Link: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/16/what-next-india-pankaj-mishra
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regards