Tuesday, June 17, 2014

If Amartya Sen was a Pandit, how would he vote?

“by winning 32.4 percent of the votes cast, the BJP has effectively become the single largest political party in J&K in terms of popular votes” 

Response: Naveen makes the excellent point that the BJP performance (and perception of performance) is exaggerated by the fact that the Valley Muslims do not vote either out of fear (of terrorists) or out of dislike (of India/Indians). At the end of the day it is the seat count (more so than the votes). The distribution is: 46 (Kashmir) and 41 (Jammu + Ladakh). BJP has announced a Mission 44 plan (with Article 370 as the winning formula). If the saffrons can capture even 40 seats it will re-create the politics of J&K

In the long run a partition (similar to Telengana/Andhra) may be the preferred path to unfreeze the frozen conflict, which may be healthy for everyone concerned.

Nilanjana Roy is mostly correct about her perceptions of our present day (Hindutva) over-lords. But then, if we discount the child-hood stories (which caused deep scars apparently) for the moment, she is also misremembering a golden age when the left was in charge of India (includes the Congress, Communists, and Left-Socialists) and the nature of freedoms enjoyed by the mango man. 

Rhetoric-wise Indira Gandhi was very much on the left (nationalization, garibi hatao etc.) but action-wise she was very much the dictator-in-chief. Not only did she ban foreign NGOs, she shut down the entire press and put the whole opposition behind bars. Her logic was that she was protecting the nation by defeating the RSS backed trouble-makers. If cartoon kids have managed to haunt Roy (her words) how come such an earth-shaking event had no impact on her? Is this because she agrees with one form of repression and not others?

The main problem with the left (as it is with the right) is that ideologues really cant respect democracy. Since the elections, leftists have gone hoarse in pointing out that BJP won 52% of the seats with 31% of the vote. The problem with this vote-share fetish is that suddenly all elections everywhere (except those in Syria, Egypt, Algeria, and North Korea) are illegitimate, because the majority did not vote for the ruling party (coalition). 

Instead of whining from the sidelines, the left should carefully (and urgently) examine the reason why BJP is suddenly the single largest vote winner in Jammu and Kashmir and may even be in a position to wield power. The left has traditionally benefited from minority polarization and mobilization. In Jammu it is now the Hindu minority community which is mobilized against the Muslim majority. Thus you have a strange situation whereby the BJP may come to power in Jammu and Kashmir by copying from the left rule-book. 

Can we please have some soul searching about what has gone wrong while the Left was in charge these many decades and how we can fix this? How did the Pandit-cleansing problem, which is basically a humanitarian one, end up as a stick on the Right with which to beat up the Left? Of the kilo-liters of ink spent on the Kashmir problem, did the New York Times spend even a few drops on the Pandit problem? If not, why not?

As the Guardian editorial points out, the British have finally left India (and presumably, the Mughals as well). The Indian people (read Hindus) are speaking in a new voice that will not defer to people who are better placed in life. The dictatorship of the left is over (even as the dictatorship of the right is rising). To win votes it will not be enough to invoke the magical Amartya Sen, one has to undertake the painful task of coalition building. How do you prevent Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalitha from joining hands with the BJP? If there is no strategy, no game-plan, then be prepared for a long night of right-wing rule.

Finally (Nilanjana) Roy makes a big point about how the wrong-headed, ancient-minded Indians (all RSS volunteers apparently) are unjustifiably suspicious about the well-intentioned West. Has she bothered speaking to (Arundhati) Roy? Even a small sampling from Roy's pen will make people completely paranoid about the devil that is the West. Bottom-line: is the West trying to control us or not?? Speak with one voice please.

Of all the pictorial charts used in Indian schools as teaching aids, it was the Ideal Boy that haunted my generation. The Ideal Boy woke up and brushed his teeth with care, saluted his parents, prayed, had his meals on time, helped others, performed sundry duties and, more puzzling, took “lost children to police post.”

The Ideal Boy embodied certain Indian values, and though these seemed innocuous enough, there was something about his smudgy features, identifiably mainstream Hindu and North Indian, and his expression of saintly smugness that scarred my child brain. Now that I am an adult, and that the right-wing has come back to power in India, I understand why I was so queasy back then. 

The feeling was a foreboding that otherwise unobjectionable traditional Indian values — respect for one’s family, obedience to elders, modesty for women — might be invoked to reject or repress certain groups.

The new Bharatiya Janata Party government seems determined to look to Asia for political and cultural inspiration. Prime Minister Narendra Modi projects an image of himself as an authority — even an authoritarian — figure, in keeping with the regional ideal of a strong leader. All the while he has been careful to reach out to his counterparts. His first scheduled trips abroad will be to Bhutan and then Japan: and the Chinese foreign minister has just ended a visit to India.

His approach isn’t just a personal predilection; it also reflects a wider shift within India: the search, especially among right-wing politicians and intellectuals, for a common set of Asian cultural norms that would help them create and strengthen a new sense of Indian identity.

In the 1990s, Lee Kuan Yew, the former prime minister of Singapore, triggered a fierce debate by drawing a line between Western freedoms and human rights, on the one hand, and on the other, an Asian vision of living in harmony, which might place individual rights in abeyance for the good of the community. In India, this “Asian values” debate found its way into discussions on development, among other things, notably in arguments trying to discredit environmentalists for being too heavily influenced by the West.

The problems with that position are the same now as they were then. As the economist Amartya Sen put it in 1997, “What can we take to be the values of so vast a region, with such diversity?” As a result, invoking an Indian, or Asian, identity in such a plural country, or region, often becomes an excuse for the majority to speak over many minorities.

And why assume, Mr. Sen also argued, that “Western notions” were “somehow alien to Asia”? Yet just a couple of weeks ago, a report by the Indian government’s Intelligence Bureau on the influence of NGOs was leaked to the media. One of its conclusions was that many local NGOs — some funded by “donors based in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries” — had been “using people-centric issues” to stall development projects. Another was that some of their work served “as tools for the strategic foreign policy interests” of Western governments.

This stiff-collared bureaucrat-speak isn’t just a peculiarity of the Intelligence Bureau: It reveals a suspicion of the West — and of a human rights culture seen to have been forged in the West — that is widespread in India, among politicians and businessmen and, indeed, many ordinary Indians.

Every major case of rape recently, for example, has prompted a belligerent reaction against the victim, often couched in terms that pit India against the West. 

On June 7, a leading ideologue of the extreme right-wing organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, S. Gurumurthy, raised a minor storm of protest when he tweeted: “If Indian women westernize rapes will rise by 50/60 times to reach the levels of West, But there will be no media report No UN intervention.” Among his next few tweets was this definition of Westernization: “Unbridled individualism which destroys relations and families.”

These days, the purportedly shady influence of the West is invoked not only to explain why women are victims of sexual violence, but also why Indian culture is in danger, artists should be censored or anyone who questions the costs of development is “anti-national.” In other words, the return of the Asian values debate in India has already become an excuse to assault civil and political rights.

The first time around, Mr. Sen had argued that “The so-called Asian values that are invoked to justify authoritarianism are not especially Asian in any significant sense.” This was a wise attempt to get beyond hopeless dichotomies. But it appealed to rationality, and lately rationality is a value that has seemed not Indian enough.

As noted by Firstpost before, “by winning 32.4 percent of the votes cast, the BJP has effectively become the single largest political party in J&K in terms of popular votes, ahead of the Congress (22.9 percent), PDP (20.5 percent) and National Conference (11.1 percent). In actual numbers, the BJP got 1.15 million votes, the Congress 8.15 lakh votes, the PDP 7.3 lakh votes and the NC just under four lakh votes.” 

This unexpected performance has enabled the party to up the stakes in the assembly polls and even think of a majority on its own. According to this Mint report, the party is planning Mission 44 – the halfway mark in an 87-member assembly – and will plan alliances in some regions for the same. The report even talks of the party announcing its own chief ministerial candidate. 

The J&K assembly has 37 seats for Jammu, 46 for Kashmir Valley, and four for Ladakh. Having won Jammu, Udhampur and Ladakh, which collectively account for 41 assembly seats, the BJP is wondering if it can sweep the polls in Jammu and Ladakh and come within striking distance of the halfway mark. 

The Mint report says the party plans to use the Article 370 issue – which politically divides the Muslim-dominated Kashmir Valley from the Hindu-dominated Jammu region – to maximise its gains in the latter region. To push its chances in Jammu, the home ministry is announcing a package of Rs 20 lakh for displaced Kashmiri Pandits to reclaim and rebuild their old homes in the Valley. While their actual return may be delayed due to continuing fears about safety and the still unsettled militant situation in the Valley, the BJP is clearly is mission mode with the Pandits and other prospective voters.

Link (1): http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/16/opinion/debate-over-asian-values-returns-to-india.html

Link (2): http://www.firstpost.com/politics/will-the-next-jk-cm-be-from-bjp-the-partys-big-plan-for-kashmir-1572573.html


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