What about 1984? - Pogroms and political virtue

Discussion in 'Politics & Society' started by Ray, Jul 26, 2013.

  1. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    WHAT ABOUT 1984?
    - Pogroms and political virtue


    Mukul Kesavan

    The stock response of the Bharatiya Janata Party to the argument that Godhra makes Narendra Modi politically untouchable is “What about 1984?” There are several inadequate comebacks to that question and the best of them is that no one should use one pogrom to justify another. I once heard this used to good effect by the columnist, Aakar Patel, in a television discussion. This answer has the virtue of not being party-political nor attempting in some grotesque way to demonstrate that the pogrom permitted and encouraged by the Congress government in Delhi in 1984 was morally less horrible than the pogrom that occurred on the BJP’s watch in Gujarat in 2002.

    The problem with this response, though, is that it doesn’t answer the questions that fly in close formation behind the “What about 1984?” question, namely, “Why is the BJP worse than the Congress?” and, relatedly, “Why is Narendra Modi any worse than Rajiv Gandhi?” specially given the latter’s infamous comment, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” which seemed, retrospectively, to rationalize the systematic killing of Sikhs in the days that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

    These are important questions regardless of who asks them. The fact that they are often asked by Narendra Modi’s unlovely supporters isn’t a good reason for not taking them seriously.

    It has been nearly thirty years since the earth shook, and for those who didn’t live through the horror of those days as reasoning adults, it is worth rehearsing the hideous significance of 1984 in the history of the republic.

    There had been communal violence right through the early history of the republic with mostly Muslims at the receiving end. The complicity of the lower echelons of the state apparatus in this violence — Uttar Pradesh’s Provincial Armed Constabulary was notorious for its institutionalized animus against Muslims — was widely recognized. But the scale on which Sikhs were killed, the participation of Congressmen at every level, the total complicity of the police and the fact that the butchery happened in the country’s capital, in Delhi, made 1984 a watershed in the history of the republic.

    In a previous column, I wrote about Modi doubling down on the Gujarat killings by refusing any expression of regret or responsibility and also by continuing to sponsor individuals like Maya Kodnani who had taken an active part in the violence. In this context, we should remember the way in which Rajiv Gandhi’s Congress exploited the Delhi pogrom by running a fear-mongering election campaign that suggested that 1984 was a feature not a bug.

    I remember a Congress advertisement that unsubtly suggested that Indians ought to vote for the party of firm governance if their taxi-drivers made them nervous, this, remember, at a time when Sikhs drove taxis in large numbers in Indian cities. I remember the Congress’s election doggerel: “Chunauti nayi, ek sandesh,/ Mazboot hai haath, akhand hai desh.” This, roughly translated, encouraged voters to vote for the ‘Hand’ (the Congress’s election symbol) if they wanted a government capable of preserving India’s unity. The use of the word, akhand, to indicate the unity and integrity of the nation was significant: the Congress, unprecedentedly, was using a word from the sangh parivar’s playbook, stealing the idea of a majoritarian “akhand Bharat”.

    Similarly, the reluctance of the Congress to purge itself of members accused of participating in the 1984 pogrom, its willingness to field them as parliamentary candidates and to appoint them to ministerial office, doesn’t add up to a record that can be virtuously contrasted with the BJP’s and Narendra Modi’s brazenness after Godhra.

    1984 had two major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in the days and months after her death. The Congress, after 1984, stood out more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand management in particular political contexts, not as principles that shaped its political agenda.

    The second consequence of 1984 was that Indira Gandhi’s assassination sealed the Congress’s long transition to dynastic rule in blood. The rhetoric of martyrdom that debases the political utterances of the Congress faithful dates back to that time. From being a great pan-Indian party that made a subcontinent cohere into a republic, the Congress after 1984 regressed into a de- natured dynastic rump.

    Let us return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is simple and unedifying. The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’. The difference between the Congress and the BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime minister for two terms.

    Try to imagine a BJP government headed by a Muslim ten years from now. It doesn’t work even as a thought experiment. And the reason it doesn’t work is that the BJP’s ideology is essentially the encrustation of prejudice around an inconvenient and irreducible fact: the substantial and undeferential presence of minority communities in the republic, specially Muslims who, for the sangh parivar, are the unfinished business of Partition. The idea that the BJP might appoint a Muslim head of government (as opposed to, say, the nomination of President Kalam to titular office) is unthinkable.

    It doesn’t follow from this that Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership is a sign of the Congress’s political virtue; it isn’t. It is, if anything, a symptom of the dynastic dysfunction that has diminished the Congress. But the reason his prime ministership is possible is that the Congress isn’t ideologically committed to anti-Sikh bigotry (despite 1984) in the way that the BJP is committed to Hindu supremacy and the subordination of Muslims. That’s why Narendra Modi so excites the sangh parivar’s rank and file: the Gujarat Model is the BJP’s test run for India, and it isn’t the economics of it that sets the pulses of its cadres racing.

    So the reason the dynastic Congress isn’t as dangerous as Modi’s BJP is dispiriting but straightforward: while the Congress is capable of communalism, it isn’t constituted by bigotry. With Modi, even when he’s talking economics and good governance, we get the “burqa of secularism” and Muslims as road kill. It’s not his fault; from the time that Golwalkar sketched out his vision of an India where religious minorities were docile helots, bigotry has been Hindutva’s calling card.

    What about 1984?

    ******************************************

    Mukul Kesavan teaches social history at Jamia Millia Islamia.and is more known for his comments on cricket.

    It is ridiculous to compare one riot with another since riots itself is reprehensible and cannot be condoned.

    Kesavan right comments that it is silly to think that the pogrom permitted and encouraged by the Congress government in Delhi in 1984 was morally less horrible than the pogrom that occurred on the BJP’s watch in Gujarat in 2002.

    His comment - The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is opportunistically ‘secular’ sums up the total confusion that the politics of India has bequeathed to the Indian nation on what is 'secularism'.

    This article raise very important issue for the contemporary citizenship to mull over.
     
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  3. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    A commentary on Mukul Kesavan and his views of Secularism as [practiced in India.

    ************

    It is only in the last section of the book, "Politics", that his tone rises to a kind of slog-overs crescendo, with a constellation of high-octane arguments about the distinctive colour and character of Indian secularism and nationalism.

    Kesavan's argument runs something like this. Indian secularism is not only highly unusual (all the neighbouring states in South Asia privilege one religious community or another), it is also confused, to its disadvantage, with the Western version of that practice. The origins of Indian secularism lie not in the battle to separate the church from the state, as in the west, but in our anti-colonial national movement, and in particular the strategies forged by the Indian National Congress.

    Unlike the other provincial political bodies that sprung up in India late in the nineteenth century, the Congress from the very beginning was self-consciously and pluralistically "national", of a mind to represent all the classes, religions and communities of India on the common plank of anti-colonialism. "The uniqueness of Congress's nationalism," writes Kesavan,"is its near-complete freedom from mystical and mystifying notions such as blood, soil, or national essence which are the stock-in-trade of narrower patriotisms”:

    The Congress, as its name suggests, saw itself as a cross between a party and a parliament (or at least an assembly of representative Indians). Typically, till 1939, members of the Hindu Mahasabha and the Muslim League could be members, even presidents of the Congress. For the Congress, being secular meant making different types of Indians equally welcome; secularism in this context was a way of being comprehensively nationalist. […] The emotional charge of Congress nationalism came from anti-imperialism – not the myth of a suppressed identity waiting to be born.

    Even if, in the beginning, the Congress's pluralist definition of nationalism was strategic, designed to bring the largest number on board in a Noah's Ark kind of way, over the sixty years of the independence struggle it became something like a reflex. Thus it was that, despite the horrors of Partition, India did not go down the road of being a Hindu nation. Our secular constitution, in Kesavan's telling, enshrined this liberal and hospitable nationalism in law. Although the Congress itself has been unable to live up to its legacy, the historical triumph of the Congress, writes Kesavan, "is that every party must now lay claim to the virtue of being secular. The meaning of secularism can be contested (truly secular/pseudo-secular), but it is a value, like democracy, that no mainstream party can publicly repudiate.”

    Because we don't fully appreciate the ingenuity of the Congress's construction of nationalism, argues Kesavan, we tend to confuse it with the more pedestrian, majoritarian ideas of nationalism that have forged nations around the world. Paradoxically, it is this race-and-religion conception of nationalism, which we bypassed, that is now advocated by a powerful force in Indian politics: the BJP and its allies. Although many secular Indians are horrified when their friends and family members support what they see as the bigotry of the BJP, the fact is that BJP supporters never think of themselves as communal, only as nationalist. And indeed, if we look at the history of the nationalist movements of Europe, it is possible to credit this argument. Hence,

    Since the dominant sense of nationalism the world over is derived from the European experience, when a Hindu chauvinist arguing for the primacy of Hindi asks rhetorically, “Doesn’t France have a common language?”, the French example begins to seem a sound nationalist precedent for supporting Hindi. When he asks, “Don’t the English acknowledge that their culture and morality are derived from Christian values?”, this becomes a persuasive reason to support the demand that all Indians acknowledge that they are constituted by Hindutva. The proper secularist response to this is that the nationalism of Gandhi that won us our freedom as a nation state and shaped the pluralism of our constitution has very little in common with this hectoring, homogenizing patriotism. These derivative arguments don’t apply. They’re irrelevant because they aren’t rooted in our experience of the freedom struggle; they don’t emerge from our nationalist practice.
    “For secular Indians, the dreadful track record of intolerant nationalisms [the world over] and their failure in containing secession or managing dissent is a gift,” Kesavan argues. "Instead of reflexively denying the BJP's claim to nationalism, secularists should ratify this claim enthusiastically. They should then distinguish it from the nationalism of Gandhi and the freedom struggle, and encourage an undecided public to study the self-destruction that BJP-like chauvinisms wreaked on countries misguided enough to harbour them" – in neighbouring Sri Lanka, for example, where an aggressive Sinhala majority and an embattled Tamil minority have been locked in a murderous conflict for decades. The day Indians accept that those in the majority deserve to have their beliefs and sensibilities deferred to by the rest – the prevailing climate in the rest of South Asia – our marvellous pluralist experiment will have foundered. "Invisibly, we shall have become another country" – that is the ringing close of Kesavan's book.

    The density of Kesavan's engagement with these questions, and the sophistication of his responses in general, is perhaps intentionally absent in his irreverent title-essay. "Some years ago I was struck by the contrast between the beauty of Hindi film heroines and the ugliness of Hindi film heroes," he writes. The explanation for this is simple: Indian women are radically better-looking than Indian men. Indian women are, to Kesavan's eye, "delicate and vivid"; Indian men "coarse, dull, and squab-like". Their native ugliness is accentuated by their deficiencies of hygiene (nose-picking, crotch-scratching), hair (moustache-wearing, nose- and ear-hair growing) and other assorted personal and sartorial habits.

    It seems to me that Kesavan has set up a slanging match here: responses to these assertions are likely to depend on whether the reader is a man or a woman. As for myself, I can only attest from that Indian women, even if they are more fastidious than men on the body-hair-removal score, are not the angels that Kesavan makes them out to be. Maybe those of his generation were.

    In fact, if the ugliness of the Indian male resided only in the list drawn up by Kesavan, Indian women might actually be quite happy to have them, since some of these deficiencies are surface-only and can be reversed with a little grooming, and since Indian women too have grave defects of their own (which for reasons of space I can't go into right now). The real ugliness of the Indian male resides not in his face, but in his mind: in his willing or unquestioning endorsement of patriarchy and chauvinism. But Kesavan's jocular survey of surfaces and appearances, his refusal for a change to probe any deeper, makes for an sly variation in a first-rate collection of essays. The Indian male may be ugly, but in certain instances his writing is remarkably fine.

    And here are some essays by Kesavan: "I, The Nation", "Three pivotal moments that shaped early nationalism in India", "How Pluralism Goes Bad", "No Escaping The Nation-State", "The Congress's pluralism became a reflex by the time of Partition", "One-Day Democracy", "Partition became inevitable once the Congress resigned in 1939", and "Memories of 1984".

    A long interview with Kesavan from 1998 is here, and Kesavan's excellent cricket blog Men In White is here.

    And two old posts on books of essays by Indian writers: "Amartya Sen's large India" and "Krishna Kripalani's faith and frivolity", and a review of Sumantra Bose's excellent book Contested Lands, which is among other things an examination of the temptations and the consequences of majoritarian politics around the world. And here is another old post on a writer greatly, and often annoyingly, stimulated by Indian pluralism, "Shashi Tharoor, banally in love with India", and a post on a somewhat more thoughtful and engaging commentator, "Mark Tully and India".

    Kesavan's book is published in India by Black Kite, an imprint of Permanent Black (which publishes some great academic books, often in conjunction with university presses in America) aimed at the lay reader. Among their upcoming titles which might be of interest to you is Amit Chaudhuri's new book of essays: Clearing A Space: Reflections on India, Literature and Culture, which should be out next month.

    The Middle Stage: On Mukul Kesavan's The Ugliness of the Indian Male
     
  4. SLASH

    SLASH Senior Member Senior Member

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    Ray sir, there is no way you can compare two riots. However, you can compare the response from the police during and after the riots. How many shots were fired to stop the riot? How many people have been convicted for the riots? On one hand Narendra Modi had asked people to stay calm, and on the other hand Rajiv Gandhi was justifying the anger of the mob. But yet, the former is demonised and singled out by all political parties.
     
  5. Ray

    Ray The Chairman Defence Professionals Moderator

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    I am not comparing the riots.

    I found the article very interesting and so I put it here for everyone to ponder over it and comment.

    Indeed no riot can be identical.

    At the same time, I reiterate that there should be no riots since it does no good to man or beast.

    The biggest advantage the Congress had in the 1984 riots was there was no private TV channel to telecast live the gory details that would have got the people's back up!
     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2013
  6. parijataka

    parijataka Senior Member Senior Member

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    Liberals are giving a free pass to Congress on 1984 - as per them 2002 riots cannot be justified by saying 1984 also happened. What they are trying to convey is do not talk about 1984 but 2002 must not be allowed to be forgotten.
     
  7. VIP

    VIP Ultra Nationalist Senior Member

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    Howmany congressi died in 1984 ?? ZERO....Then how can you call it a riot. It's a massacre. It's unfortunate that our media calls it a riot and identifies 2002 by words like massacre, mass murder which in the true sense was a riot. People from both side died.

    This is how propaganda works......

    Sent from my Nexus 4 using Tapatalk 4 Beta
     

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