I am grateful to Ravi Sinha for his post responding to the question of religion and politics that arises out of the brief exchange between Subhash Gatade and myself on Subhash’s post some time ago. Much has happened since the first draft of this response was written and with the advent of Narendra Modi as prime minister, ‘secularism’ too is back in public debate with renewed vigour.
Meanwhile, with Shiv Visvanathan entering the debate, flogging the long dead secularist horse, sections of the liberal and left intelligentsia seem to have gone into a tizzy. Shiv’s argument merely restates in 2014 what political analysts like Ashis Nandy had been saying at least since the mid-1980s and it does so without its nuance. The long and short of this argument is that secularism is the creed of a deracinated English-speaking, West-oriented elite which cares little about the beliefs and ways of thinking and being of the majority of their compatriots. (See also Visvanathan’s piece in Economic and Political Weekly, May 31, 2014, on ‘Narendra Modi’s Symbolic War’)
Somewhere between the two poles of the fast-dwindling tribe of the Leftist gung-ho secularist and the breast-beating liberal, the possibility of a serious debate dies a quiet death. The 1980s-1990s debate on secularism had raised all the important questions about secularism and its problematic practice that Shiv Visvanathan’s piece raises but which, it seems bypassed a whole generation of Leftists who either still seem to find it scandalous to relate to religion or are suddenly discovering their alienation or worse, the virtues of religiosity. Needless to say, such a rediscovery, in the face of political adversity is not likely to be anything more than instrumental use of religion.
The issues in 2014 invite us to revisit and indeed, go beyond what the earlier debate allowed for. Continue reading Religion, Modernity and Politics – Some Reflections on ‘Secularism’
Guest Post : P.A.D.S. (Peoples’s Alliance for Democracy and Secularism) Statement on Elections
The Loksabha election results of 2014 surprised everyone. They are beyond the wildest dreams of even the most ardent BJP and Modi supporters, and worse than the worst scenarios imagined by BJP’s political opponents. Even though these elections results are singularly stunning, phenomena like these have diverse reasons. A comprehensive understanding and meaningful response require that all these reasons be dispassionately explored and evaluated.
First, the votes behind these results. BJP polled 31% of votes. Never before has a party with so few votes won a mjority in national elections. Clearly, the first past the post system has benefited it disproportionately, more than any other ruling party in the past. This electoral system has amplified the BJP victory and made it look so impressive. However, BJP’s electoral achievements in other domains must not be discounted. For the first time it managed to dislodge the Congress as the main party to represent Assam in the Lok Sabha. Fighting alone, it garnered 17% of votes in West Bengal and made determined bids in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In all states where it fought a straight battle with the Congress, its vote share was above or close to fity percent. It ran the most expensive and well organised campaign. Among all contestants, only it appeared determined to win and left no stone unturned to achieve its objective. It played the communal card astutely in UP and Bihar, with full paraphernalia of communal riots, started more than a year ago, and unabashed use of Hindu religious symbols. At other places it was the ‘development’. The BJP victory is actually Mr Modi’s victory. For the first time since Mrs Indira Gandhi after the 1971 and 1980 elections, a single person has come to acquire such a mandate at the national level. These results show a significant shift of electoral politics to the right and marginalisation of non-communal forces. Continue reading Statement on the Loksabha Elections, 2014: P.A.D.S.
This is a guest post by R. Umamaheshwari
A wave, as in, something that engulfs, leaving you to suffocate and die, is a dangerous thing. It smothers to the point of numbness, listlessness, leaving the subject of that smothering out of synch with even a basic natural harmony of simple breathing. So, if at all, as the mainstream TV media brands are shouting at us to believe (all brands are included in this, with little difference in terms of projection of images or blaring of sounds couched in very urbane elite language of ‘dialogue’ that essentially means shouting down or politely stating the bias towards that so-called ‘wave’) that the idea of Modi is a ‘wave’, and if it indeed is a ‘wave’, then it is indeed dangerous. If the current spate of interviews with Modi are analysed, what I see is a man with the craftiness of a character playing with and teasing and flirting with the media, and making them hear just two words (to the exclusion of all else) – “good governance” and “development” (not necessarily value-less, non-problematic, opaque terms by themselves). He sits there pontificating to the journalists interviewing him about these two terms as if they existed in a vacuum; he is perpetually in a teaching mode to the journalist in question who is either listening in awe or seems to beam in a strange elite, urbane, civility and sometimes veneration and respectability even as he or she asks him questions on the Muslim massacres of Gujarat, almost empathising with him even as he plays ‘victim’ with such panache. This Modi cannot be a cruel perpetrator of crimes against humanity, it seems, from the image constructed through advertising and clever make-up and PR (obviously by industry that truly wants him to win for a never-before free-market loot that is expected from him as a token of appreciation post-elections, if at all he wins, which at the moment, is a mere idea, or a prediction based on the construct of the ‘wave’). Continue reading A Wave is a Dangerous Thing: R. Umamaheshwari
Guest post by UZAIR BELGAMI
I have been reading around of late and was surprised to see that there are actually still some people who think there is still a chance that Narendra Modi will not become PM of this country in 2014. Hah! Must be those minorities, or those Secularists, or those Communists who are saying and thinking this – all are Pakistan-lovers, Leftists and anti-nationals. I felt it is necessary I deal with these people through this article, in order to deal the ‘final blow’ before the elections. Continue reading Why Modi will become PM of India: Uzair Belgami
Guest post by KAMAL MITRA CHENOY
I first became conscious of politics as a student of economics in Kirorimal College, Delhi University in 1969 when I was elected to the students union executive committee. The same year I was persuaded by a senior to stand for the Delhi University Students Union’s Supreme Council. The latter body elected the DUSU office bearers. These were heady days with some of the leading pro- Naxalites students, students like Avdesh Sinha, who later became a highly respected IAS officer, and Rabindra Ray now a sociology professor in Delhi University. Another leading star who has written on his experiences was Dilip Simeon. I also became Left but did not agree with armed struggle. At this stage I watched the mainstream Left parties and along with Marxist texts read some Left Party pamphlets.
However, a deeper and much more expansive debate was snowballing where I joined in JNU in 1972. Prakash Karat who had earlier written a thought provoking book on the nationality and language question in India was widely respected as a political leader of the JNU students and a formidable theorist. In 1973, the Student Federation of India and the All India Students Federation of which I was the unit secretary aligned for the first time after the split in the communist movement in 1964. We called the alliance progressive democratic front. We were also attacked by an extremely erudite Trotskyist Jairus Banaji who considered us revisionist and quoted extensively from Marxist classics as well as literature, philosophy and the social sciences. Because of this challenge all of us had to do our readings. Continue reading Why I joined AAP and Quit the CPI: Kamal Mitra Chenoy
Guest Post by M AKHIL: Listen to the flourish. The stage is set, the side-kicks are in place and the sycophants are scampering tirelessly to welcome their emperor. Narendra Modi has started his journey to the high seat of Indraprastha.
Curiously enough, his current ride is being celebrated as a victory lap by his ardent supporters. A bit too quick, don’t you think? Especially for a man who was only a few years ago, in terrible danger of being convicted for one of the most gruesome state-sponsored genocides in the history of independent India. Of course, he hasn’t been convicted yet, but many of his ministers and close aides have been. Babu Bajrangi’s confessions on record must be more than enough proof for Modi’s culpability. 1 Alas! Facts get twisted in the most unimaginable ways as they threaten to blow away an edifice carefully built by a dominant plutocracy with immense help from the ‘State-Temple-Corporate Complex’. 2 Here, I shall attempt to bust the Modi bubble which is being ridiculously pumped up by the holy nexus, even as you are reading this. After all, the BJP is possibly the party with the highest following among Indian netizens and the online publicity team of the current supremo is meticulous. An alternative view will be stark, but hopefully it will serve as food for thought for those among us getting nauseated by the dominant narrative. Continue reading Lies, Damn Lies and NaMo – Why I do not support Modi and why you shouldn’t either: M Akhil
An obituary by ZAHIR JANMOHAMED: I first met Asghar Ali Engineer in January 2002 in Mumbai. I was a fellow with the America India Foundation and a few weeks later I would be posted to work with an NGO in Ahmedabad.
A few minutes before his presentation, I noticed him standing off to the side in silence, staring at the ground. I walked up and introduced myself. I was young, in my twenties, and I did not know what to say.
“As-salaam alaikum,” I said.
“Wa-alaikum salaam,” he replied.
I am not sure what response I expected but I thought that perhaps because he and I share the same faith that we might have a special bond, that my greeting would spark a conversation. After all, I always thought phrases like these serve less as greeting and more as an announcement, as in, I am part of the same religion as you.
But Asghar saab just held my hand and then put his hand on his heart. “Nice to meet you,” he said, and then stared at the ground again in silence. I thought it was odd, rude even.
As I continued to meet Asghar saab, I realized that he had very little patience for superficial connections. I witnessed this when I saw him greet crowds after his lectures. If you told him you were from the same caste or city he would not be as excited as if you told him that you also believe that we must fight patriarchy with the same vigor that we must fight communalism. Continue reading Asghar Ali Engineer (1939-2013)