Indian Thought

A Cry in the Wilderness …

Posted on September 12, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

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Parables …

Posted on September 2, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

'Hitopadesa' for Our Times

From The Wire –

A most mighty yagna was performed, in which cause a thousand forests were cleared and the timber felled from them set ablaze in order that Mother Nature might be propitiated and requited for her bounteous gifts to the land.

And in a great sacrificial gesture, under the benign gaze of a million ornamented sacred cows, even as the wind carried in all four directions the mingled scent of their bovine alimentary produce and the sandalwood paste they had been smeared with, the king fed a few thousand slaves of the lowest order to the flames, that a citizenry still unaccustomed to the refinements of the higher realisation might learn the virtue of venerating sacred beasts in favour of inferior humans.

And the king, in the presence of the great assembly, touched his feet and paid obeisance to the foremost of all the revered seers and teachers who from the beginning of time had fasted and penanced to achieve enlightenment, that they might impart their knowledge and wisdom to their rulers, and so guide them in the conduct of the affairs of their kingdom and their subjects.

And this foremost, this unequalled, this nonpareil was, of course, the most venerable sage and scholar Tantrabuddhisarman, who had reared and instructed the king from early childhood under his careful tutelage, educating him in the finer aspects of the moral and political sciences, and the principles of ethical statecraft and a king’s sacred obligation to the king’s subjects, in a manner that was best suited to the task of piercing the thick encasement that protected the precious if elusive grey matter of the Royal Brain, to wit, through the medium of fables about donkeys and elephants and the like, which could be relied upon to appeal to His Radiant Majesty’s simple mind.

And so it was that, at the conclusion of the mighty yagna, the revered sage Tantrabuddhisarman, in the presence of the great assembly, delivered himself of speech and addressed his king and disciple, even thus, and in these words:

‘O King! Thou hast come a long way in the last five years of Thy reign, but that was just the groundwork for the cataclysmic changes that Thou art about to embark upon in Thy quest for leaving behind Thy indelibly immortal Footprint upon the palm leaves that will chronicle, for all the ages to come, the history of Thy Kingdom. So pay heed, O King, to thy old Teacher, that Thou mayest learn how work well begun may be well completed. Listen to these stories, and learn their simple truths, that Thou mayest implement them as Policies of the Realm, with the help of Thy trusted lieutenants and obedient law courts and obliging screed-writers.’

And Tantrabuddhisarman told many tales and fables, of which just three are re-told below, as examples of how well the king learnt from his most cherished and esteemed mentor.

The first story

Once, on the banks of the river Drishavati, there lived a deer called Mriganayani, whose best friend was a crocodile called Magarmachchhini. This was a bit strange, because as we all know, crocodiles tend to eat rather than chat with deer. However, Mriganayani and Magarmachchhini were exceptions to this rule. Being of a somewhat intellectual bent of mind, they loved to talk to each other about freedom and democracy and other such tiresome things.

It turned out that Mriganayani was a much quicker learner than Magarmachchhini, as we shall shortly see. When the edict on the Right to Information was repealed by the forest king, Magarmachchhini became very agitated. When Mriganayani came by to the river for a drink of water, Magarmachchhini waded up to her and asked her if she did not think it was a shame that the Right to Information had been repealed.

Mriganayani disagreed. She said that it was best that there were certain things one did not know about, such as that one was going to be imminently eaten by one’s best friend. So saying, and darting a quick look to right and left, she opened her mouth and ate up Magarmachchhini.

This story upholds the moral that insisting that you have a right to know can be injurious to your health. Just then, Mriganayani saw another friend of hers, Hissavardhini the Snake, to whom she told..

The second story

Once, on the banks of the river Lauhitya, there lived a fox called Nirmala-nyaya, so named for the supposed purity of his logic and reasoning. Nirmala-nyaya was the forest king’s finance minister. He was a very versatile minister who had done many things for the forest economy. He had demoned it, gsted it, busted it, disemployed the forest creatures, promised to double their produce and halved it, appropriated the forest reserves from the forest bank, and found a naturopathic remedy for of all of this by concocting the data in a heady brew of hallucinogenic herbs.

Bheevananda the beaver was a friend of Nirmala-nyaya’s who discovered that his hard work was being less and less rewarded over time, while the wealth of Ālasi, the rich alligator, kept increasing over time.

When upon a certain day Bheevananda chanced upon Nirmala-nyaya, he asked the latter what he proposed to do to revive the economy, apart from concocting the data. Nirmala-nyaya said the economy needed a stimulus, so he proposed to reduce the taxes he had earlier announced on the wealth of Ālasi and various other rich animals.

Bheevananda questioned the purity of Nirmala-nyaya’s logic. (This happened because Bheevananda had an unhealthy admiration for the writings of the worldly philosopher Jāna-menāda.) He pointed out that repressing the wages of the poor creatures and offering tax concessions to the rich creatures in an environment of inadequate effective demand was going to do nothing to revive the economy. Apart from which, was this fair and equitable?

Nirmala-nyaya said that such criticisms were outlandish. So saying, he opened his mouth and ate up the beaver, upholding the moral that a beaver should be a beaver and not an ass. Just then, Nirmala-nyaya saw another friend of his, to whom he related..

The third story

Once, on the banks of the river Vetravati, there lived a clever little fly called Makhiavalli who had learnt that the best of all possible ideas anyone could have was to be on the side of the powerful. So, when the Three Hundred and Seventieth Edict of the Laws of the Land was abrogated by the king, Makhiavalli, who had been appointed as the Defender of the Freedom of the Palm-leaf Screed-writers of the Forest Kingdom, merely hid her lips behind her hairy front legs and smiled.

When the king forbade all palm-leaf screed-writers from reporting on events following on the revocation of the Three Hundred and Seventieth Edict, Makhiavalli applauded the decision whereas one mentally deficient screed-writer – Pandu-ranga-natha-nanda, the panda – protested, and moved the Highest Court of the Kingdom against the revocation.

The king’s counsel, Vakra-svabhāva-maitreyan, the monkey, argued that it was not the Three Hundred and Seventieth Edict, it was only the provisions of the Three Hundred and Seventieth Edict that had been revoked. On hearing this, the judge of the highest court, Nyaya-dhisha-murthy, the owl, woke up from his slumber and winked at Vakra-svabhāva-maitreyan, who then nudged Makhiavalli, whereupon Makhiavalli opened her mouth and ate up Pandu the panda, the moral of the story being that whereof one may wink and nudge, thereof one may not speak, thus proving that it is wiser to be a live crook than a dead idealist.

S. Subramanian is an economist who lives and works in Chennai.

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State Violence in Punjab’s ‘Terrorist’ Period …

Posted on May 12, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Here is a Drop in a Bucket regarding State Violence in India’s Punjab against ‘Terrorists’ and their Sympathizers in the late 1980s and early 1990s …

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Gauri Lankesh – A Brutal Murder …

Posted on April 3, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought, Personalities |

“One of the feelings I have thought about the most, is pain.  And not the kind of pain one feels when you are physically hurt, but the kind of pain you feel when you lose someone. I used to think about it a lot when I was little, afraid that there will come a day when I lose those who are dear to me, but it never felt real until it actually happened. ….. ”

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Leapords Galore …

Posted on March 23, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

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India 2019 by a Pakistani …

Posted on March 2, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Javed Naqvi – Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi. ‘It is in the nature of fascism to find a scapegoat for the gross imperfections of capitalism’.

A BJP supporter in my neighbourhood buttonholed me on the eve of the 2014 elections and asked which candidate would Pakistan want to win.

I said Narendra Modi, and deliberately didn’t say that I.A. Rehman or Mubashir Hasan or the late Asma Jahangir or Sheema Kermani and millions others would prefer a left-of-centre coalition to emerge victorious, while the mullahs and the generals were likely to have an opposite view — a habit that goes back to the anti-left crackdown of Ayub Khan.

I calculated it would be too fine a point for an Indian adult with a closed mind to grasp.

The media is sanguine in its ignorance that, as with India, a complex skein of ideas — often mutually hostile ideas and interests — constitutes the polity of Pakistan too.

“Why would Pakistan support Mr Modi?” the neighbour asked.

I said neither Pakistan nor China could harm India with their military might as the BJP candidate could do single-handedly by destroying the idea of India.

And since the essential idea rested on India’s secular, socialist and democratic constitution —- that has beaten Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders by decades — the only way to wreck India was by destroying the soul of its hugely disparate, intensely beautiful and mostly abused people.

Are the corporate puppeteers, who back Hindu fascism, also prescribing the divisive route that the Congress is taking?

Actually, the cross-border kinship that I discussed with my neighbour has a telling past.

Indira Gandhi liked Mujibur Rehman and was fond of Badshah Khan. But she was allergic to Gen Zia. So Zia took his revenge by according Pakistan’s highest civilian award to her rival, Morarji Desai.

Claiming to fight for democracy in India, Desai was happy with the military dictatorship in the neighbourhood, and stubbornly turned down appeals to intervene against Bhutto’s hanging.

That was also the context of India’s first right-wing foreign minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Pakistan in 1978. Ironically, liberals on both sides celebrate it as a landmark event.

Vajpayee’s tour included a warm meeting with Zia, but not a word on the condemned Bhutto. Indira Gandhi went hoarse in her futile effort to save Bhutto.

The late Fahmida Riaz had guessed that Pakistan’s mullahs were Hindutva’s kindred spirits, not its adversaries.

The bear hug accorded in Delhi to their patron saint from Saudi Arabia was not misplaced. The dialectics of ideological kinship applies to the tragedy of Pulwama.

Whoever has committed the dastardly act has lent the right-wing ruling establishment in India a helping hand in an election season. Does the Indian opposition have the wherewithal or even the will to staunch the widely feared adverse fallout?

In my view, the opposition’s shortsighted disunity is a bigger setback for democracy than any war drums can create.

Unlike Pulwama, the Mumbai carnage, the plane hijack, and the parliament attack were acts of terror that callously targeted unsuspecting civilians.

Yet terrorism failed to ruffle India’s democratic soul.

Let me say this upfront. I don’t believe the tragedy in Pulwama or its militarist echoes can harm India or defeat the opposition.

What can damage democracy irreparably are the shortsighted and self-harming manoeuvres of the Congress party and the communist-led Left Front.

Just when they were expected to offer sacrifices to save India, they seem so absorbed in eyeing their own electoral chances that they have seriously weakened opposition unity.

Are the corporate puppeteers, who back Hindu fascism, also prescribing the divisive route that the Congress is taking? Let’s not forget that it was Dalit leader Mayawati’s game-changing move to throw her weight behind her former bitter rival in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav’s Samajwadi Party, that first punched gaping cracks in Mr Modi’s invincible veneer.

She promoted Akhilesh and didn’t put up her own candidates in critical by-elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The defeat of Modi’s handpicked parliamentary candidates in the BJP’s strongholds of Gorakhpur and Phoolpur was rightly accepted as the way forward for the opposition.

The unselfish experiment was repeated in Karnataka where the Congress support enabled a local ally to form the government against the BJP’s bid. That alliance is now living dangerously with reports of petty squabbles between Congress satraps and the regional ally over power-sharing.

Who are the strongest suits for the opposition in the populous states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal?

In Uttar Pradesh, the Congress should be helping Mayawati and Akhilesh to trounce Modi, but it is curiously going separately. The Rahul-Priyanka duo may make a novel team, but by going it alone they would cut into the tested combine that could defeat the BJP.

In West Bengal, the Congress was reportedly talking to the communists to weaken Mamata Bannerji, a strong opposition asset. In fact the communists have declared Mamata an enemy at par with the BJP. That and not the fallout from Pulwama should worry democracy-loving Indians.

To make it even more curious for the opposition’s strategy, the Congress has so far refused to join hands with Arvind Kejriwal in Delhi.

Kejriwal is reportedly ready to surrender all seven seats in Delhi if that is what it takes to defeat the BJP. Kejriwal had taken a staunchly anti-corporate position. Is the Congress being guided by that?

While trying to come together in West Bengal to waylay a fellow opposition leader, the Congress and the Left are fighting each other in Kerala.

We hear that Modi will use Pulwama to win the elections. One can’t see how that should adversely impact on Mayawati or Akhilesh or Lalu whose men died in the Pulwama tragedy.

Modi may or may not use the tragedy, but the self-destructive opposition parties will certainly need it to explain their defeat, should they miss a great opportunity to defeat fascism. There may not be a second chance.

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1984 – Sikh Massacre …

Posted on January 24, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Siddharth Varadarajan in The Wire –

The only thing more shocking than Rahul Gandhi’s attempt to deny the involvement of the Congress party in the 1984 massacre of Sikhs is the cynicism with which so many of us speak of one of independent India’s most heinous crimes after being complicit in its covering up.

Consider this. Despite the truth of the involvement of Congress leaders in the mass murder of citizens, the party won the largest number of seats in the Lok Sabha elections that were held barely four weeks later.

Even if we assume “sympathy” over Indira Gandhi’s assassination trumped all basic considerations of humanity, the collective failure to recognise the need for justice has lasted much longer – and runs far deeper – than we would like to admit.

From 1985 to 1989, the media and the middle class provided uncritical adulation to Rajiv Gandhi.

Remember, this was a prime minister who made light of the massacre with his crack about the earth shaking when a big tree falls …

… and then employed every administrative and legal trick in the book to ensure there would be no effective criminal prosecution of the politicians, police officials and street thugs who had the blood of thousands on their hands.

When Rajiv Gandhi’s public stock eventually fell, it was not because of his culpability for the 1984 massacres and the denial of justice which followed but because of the Bofors corruption scandal.

His rule was followed by V.P. Singh, who had the support of both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left, and then by Chandrashekhar. It is a matter of record that nothing substantial was done during these two years to punish those responsible for the massacre.

The BJP, in any case, was more interested in fighting over something Babur had done in the 16th century to bother about a crime committed in more recent times.

In 1991, P.V. Narasimha Rao – who as Union home minister had presided over the November 1984 killings and subsequent cover-up – became prime minister, to be followed by H.D. Deve Gowda, Inder Gujral and Atal Bihari Vajpayee. Manmohan Singh became prime minister in 2004 and Narendra Modi has led the country since 2014.

At various points, non-Congress prime ministers, especially Vajpayee and Modi, have paid lip-service to the idea of justice for 1984, only to end up appointing toothless and ineffective commissions and committees.

Enhanced relief packages – arbitarily designed to favour the victims of certain massacres as against others – are no substitute for the criminal prosecution of those involved.

It is worth asking why non-Congress governments have consistently failed to deliver justice despite the obvious political advantage this would yield.

The answer is simple. ……………

Because it would require attacking and dismantling the impunity granted to the police – and to supporters of the ruling dispensation – to commit crimes against the people without fear of legal sanction.

What India needs is a doctrine of command responsibility – a concept well understood in international criminal law – but neither the Congress nor the BJP will ever risk such a provision on the statute books.

In the years since 1984, India has seen large-scale communal killings in Malliana and Hashimpura near Meerut (1987), Bhagalpur (1989), Bombay (1992-93), Gujarat (2002), Kokrajhar (2012) and Muzaffarnagar (2013).

In all of these instances, the state’s failure to control the violence or arrest and prosecute the perpetrators after it was over is writ large.

Among these, the one incident which bears striking similarity to Delhi is Gujarat. The administrative and political technology that the Congress used after Indira Gandhi’s assassination on October 31, 1984 served as a direct inspiration for what the BJP did after 58 Hindu passengers were burned alive on February 27, 2002.

The manner in which the legal cases were wilfully sabotaged by the Narendra Modi government in Gujarat was also a carbon copy of what the Delhi police did under Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao.

The only difference between the two massacres was the role played by the Supreme Court. After 1984, the highest court of the land remained a mute spectator to the denial of justice.

But thanks to the role played by National Human Rights Commission in 2002, the Supreme Court not only got involved but actually took concrete steps to ensure the delivery of basic justice in at least the most high-profile of the massacre cases.

The court, which had no faith in Modi as chief minister, did so by either transferring some cases outside the state or directly monitoring the progress of others.

The victims of November 1984, sadly, received no such help. The BJP and other parties continued to speak of the massacres, but only in order to score points over the Congress and not out of any commitment to delivering justice.

Such is the BJP’s cynicism that its top leaders were happy to unveil a plaque at the Bangla sahib gurudwara in Delhi calling the mass killing of Sikhs a “Genocide” but as a government they now insist the G word does not apply.

If Rahul Gandhi were really serious about being in politics and about making a positive difference, he should stop repeating worn-out denials to a truth the whole of India knows.

He would instead have had the courage to say something along the following lines:

“Culpability cannot  be limited to the guilt of someone being established in a court of law. When you are a leader and people are killed in large numbers on your watch, you cannot escape responsibility for failing to save lives. At the very least, you cannot escape blame for failing to deliver justice to the victims. It is because of this failure that innocent people have continued to fall victim to communal violence.

“Yes, the massacre of innocents happened when the Congress was in power. Yes, it happened while my father was prime minister, Yes, the Congress and its leaders – many of whom were involved in the violence – cannot escape the blame for this”.

Manmohan Singh apologised to the nation as prime minister but this did not satisfy the victims or the nation, nor could it. The time for an apology can only come after justice is done, after the guilty have been punished, and after we have ensured that such heinous crimes can no longer happen in our country.

“If only the media of this country had questioned my father when he was prime minister on what happened in 1984, things might have been different.

“Democracy can only survive and be strengthened if journalists have the right to ask questions to politicians and officials and fearlessly exercise that right. When the media fails to do its job, politicians will fail to do theirs.”

I doubt Rahul Gandhi will ever be able to make a speech like this, even though it would be in his political interest to do so.

The moral compass he has inherited will warn him against moving in that direction.

After all, Modi who has the same compass – and obtained it not through inheritance but by his own exertions –has done pretty well for himself.

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New Year Cheer …

Posted on January 2, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Extracted from The Wire – The poetry of fearlessness –
Avijit Pathak

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
   Where knowledge is free;
   Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
   Where words come out from the depth of truth;
   Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
   Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
   Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening
thought and action
   Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

I begin my journey towards the ‘newness’ in the New Year with this extraordinary poem of Rabindranath Tagore.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am reading Tagore at a time when the psychology of fear invades our existence. Fear paralyses us. Can we overcome this life-killing fear?

Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way.

At this moment I find the blend of Raj Kapoor and Mukesh once again. What a lovely song in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Anari! I close my eyes, and begin to absorb the song (thanks to lyricist Shailendra, and music director Shankar Jaikishan):

Falling for someone’s smiles
Borrow, if you can, someone’s strife
Open your heart for someone’s love  
That’s the pleasure of life.  

When social Darwinism or the doctrine of the survival of the fittest becomes the language of the neoliberal market, it is not easy to borrow someone’s strife.

Furthermore, as the glitz of consumerism seduces us, and the ‘having mode of existence’, as Erich Fromm said beautifully, generates a sense of chronic restlessness for more and more, it is not easy to acquire the richness of simplicity, and sing:

What if I have no wealth
Yet I’m rich at heart
Falling for love
That’s life.

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2018 – Year of Frauds …

Posted on December 31, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Sharp Increase in Fraud Cost Indian Banks Rs 42,167 Crore in 2017-18, Says RBI
Nirav Mody

Despite “stringent monitoring and vigilance,” data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reveals that fraudsters have looted India banking institutions of Rs 42,167 crore in 2017-18.

This is a sharp increase of 72% from Rs 23,933 crore from the previous year, according to the Indian Express.

And another –

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Swatch Bharat …

Posted on December 31, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

According to a 2015 study on the costs of poor sanitation authored jointly by the LIXIL Group Corporation, Water Aid and Oxford Economics, poor sanitation cost the world $222 billion in 2015. India accounted for almost half of that cost at $106 billion, or 5.2% of the country’s GDP. 

Kabir Agarwal’s series on open defecation in Uttar Pradesh stood out for me. Kabir has a knack for making the reader feel like they are embedded in the story, which he does here as well through his extensive reporting. The three-part series brings out the issues with the crucial Swachh Bharat Mission, with evocative narratives of false government claims and the daily struggles of people on the ground.

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