Mob Violence and Psychology

Mob Violence and Psychology

 

 

Mob violence remains a monthly occurrence in modern India; it gives the lie to our claims of political maturity and democratic development.

 

 

By SUBROTO ROY

 

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article December 10 2006

 

 

Mob violence certainly signals collapse of the Rule of Law and absence of normal political conversation and decision-making. Mob violence in modern India remains a monthly occurrence: a child is killed by a speeding bus, the driver if he is caught is thrashed to death by a mob of onlookers and the bus burnt down; a factory closes and workers go on a rampage; a statue or political personality or religious figure is perceived to have been insulted or desecrated, and crowds take to the streets to burn vehicles and cause mayhem; a procession is said to be insulted, and rival mobs go to battle with one another. (In fact, elected legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies frequently conflate mob behaviour like slogan-shouting with political conversation itself, carrying into the House the political methods they have learned to employ outside it. And contrary to what our legislators may suppose, they do need to be constantly lectured to by the general citizenry whose paid servants they are supposed to be).

 

 

Such may be relatively simple cases to describe or diagnose. More complex cases include the deliberate burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons by a mob in 1999 as they slept in their vehicle in rural Orissa, or countless deeds of similar savagery during Partition and the innumerable other riots we have seen in the history of our supposedly tolerant and non-violent culture.

 

 

We are not unique in our propensity for evil. French women knitted and gossiped watching the guillotine do its bloody work during the Jacobin terror. Long before them, as the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy reports in Faith of our fathers, Pope Gregory IX in 1233 had initiated the “Inquisition”: two anonymous witnesses could cause any person to be arrested as a heretic, tortured and then burnt alive. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII endorsed “witches” to be burnt, causing “deaths of countless thousands of harmless or eccentric women over the next 300 years. In all, as many as 25,000 people, most of them women may have been burnt as witches in Germany” alone. American history has seen countless cases of mob violence, from witch-burnings and other religious violence to cold-blooded lynching on trees of individual black men by white mobs, black mobs looting inner cities, street clashes between political groups etc. Soviet Russia and Maoist China saw systematic ideologically driven violence by Party cadres and “Red Guards” against countless individuals ~ forced to confess to imaginary misdeeds, then assaulted or shot. Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and many other countries saw mobs attacking, dispossessing or killing individual Jews and innumerable others, again in systematic ideologically motivated pogroms. Indeed as Hannah Arendt and others have noted, the similarities between totalitarian regimes as outwardly different as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or Communist China included the ideologically driven targeting of identifiable small minorities for systematic violence by majorities in power. Even Tony Blair’s supposedly Cool Britannia today, besides having the most notorious soccer hooligans in the world, is also a place where no individual, non-white or white, will pass a drunken mob of adolescent school-children on the streets on a Friday night without trepidation.

 

 

Every case of mob violence is different; yet what could be common is a temporary, if deliberate, suspension of the normal human sense of responsibility on part of a mob’s individual members. Reason and responsibility return if at all only after the evil has been accomplished ~ whether it is killing or assaulting someone or destroying something ~ and it can be accompanied by a sense of remorse and regret. Even where mob tyranny has been systematic, long-term, ideologically-driven and state-sponsored, as with the Inquisition or French Revolution or Nazi, Soviet or Chinese terrors, future generations look back at the past misdeeds of their ancestors and say: “That was wrong, very wrong, it should never have happened”. Moral learning does take place at some time or other, even if it is long after the evil has occurred. It is as if, when sobriety and rationality return, an individual participant in a mob realises and recognises himself/herself to have revealed a baser ignoble side which is shameful.

 

 

“Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole ~ mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control ~ that’s the id ~ sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him ~ that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super- ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…” Such was the description the Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom gave in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, when he translated into normal idiomatic language some of the difficult technical findings and theories of the mind propounded by Sigmund Freud in the previous half-century.

 

 

When the mob forms itself, its members individually choose to suppress their normal rational personalities and sense of adult responsibility, and permit instead their cunning animal or babyish instincts to take over and reign supreme within themselves. It must be a collective decision even if silently taken: for one person to behave in such a manner would look identifiably stupid and criminal but for him/her to do so in a group where everyone has simultaneously decided to abandon reason (whether spontaneously or shouting slogans together) allows the loss of individual responsibility to become hidden in the mass, and the collective to take on features of a hydra-headed monster, capable of the vilest deeds without the slightest self-doubt. The victim of their violence or abuse will often be an individual who stands out in some way ~ perhaps by natural or social attributes or even by heroic deeds: indeed Freud suggested that primitive tribes sometimes engaged in parricide and regicide, cannibalising their individual heroes in the belief that by consuming something of the hero’s remains those attributes might magically reappear in themselves.

 

 

In modern India, the presence of mob violence on a monthly basis somewhere or other in the country gives the lie to our claims of maturity of our political and democratic development. Those posing as our political leaders may make as many foreign trips and wooden prepared speeches on TV as they wish to, but their actual cowardice is manifest in having failed to address the real disjunction that exists in this country between political interests and political preferences at the grassroots on the one hand, and the lack of serious parliamentary conversation addressing these within our representative institutions on the other. The reliance by the Executive on often brutal police or paramilitary forces reflects failure of the Legislative and Judicial branches of our Government, as well as a lack of balance between them arising from our political and constitutional immaturity.

On a Liberal Party for India

NON-EXISTENT LIBERALS

By SUBROTO ROY

First published in The Sunday Statesman October 22 2006, Editorial Page Special Article


Communists, socialists and fascists exist in the Left, Congress and BJP-RSS ~ but there is a conservative/”classical liberal” party missing in Indian democracy today

We in India have sorely needed for many years a serious “classical liberal” or “conservative” political party. Major democratic countries used to have such parties which paid lip-service at least to “classical liberal” principles. But the 2003 attack on Iraq caused Bush/McCain-Republicans to merge with Hilary-Democrats, and Blair-Labour with Tory neocons, all united in a cause of collective mendacity, self-delusion and jingoism over the so-called “war on terror”. The “classical liberal” or “libertarian” elements among the Republicans and Tories find themselves isolated today, just as do pacifist communitarian elements among the Democrats and Labour. There are no obvious international models that a new Indian Liberal Party could look at ~ any models that exist would be very hard to find, perhaps in New Zealand or somewhere in Canada or North Eastern Europe like Estonia. There have been notable individual Indian Liberals though whom it may be still possible to look to for some insight: Gokhale, Sapru, Rajagopalachari and Masani among politicians, Shenoy among economists, as well as many jurists in years and decades gone by.

What domestic political principles would a “classical liberal” or conservative party believe in and want to implement in India today? First of all, the “Rule of Law” and an “Efficient Judiciary”. Secondly, “Family Values” and “Freedom of Religious Belief”. Thirdly, “Limited Government” and a “Responsible Citizenry”. Fourthly, “Sound Money” and “Free Competitive Markets”. Fifthly, “Compassion” and a “Safety Net”. Sixthly, “Education and Health for All”. Seventhly, “Science, not Superstition”. There may be many more items but this in itself would be quite a full agenda for a new Liberal Party to define for India’s electorate of more than a half billion voters, and then win enough of a Parliamentary majority to govern with at the Union-level, besides our more than two dozen States.

The practical policies entailed by these sorts of political slogans would involve first and foremost cleaning up the budgets and accounts of every single governmental entity in the country, namely, the Union, every State, every district and municipality, every publicly funded entity or organisation. Secondly, improving public decision-making capacity so that once budgets and accounts recover from having been gravely sick for decades, there are functioning institutions for their proper future management. Thirdly, resolving J&K in the most lawful and just manner as well as military problems with Pakistan in as practical and efficacious a way as possible today. This is necessary if military budgets are ever going to be drawn down to peacetime levels from levels they have been at ever since the Second World War. How to resolve J&K justly and lawfully has been described in these pages before (The Statesman, “Solving Kashmir” 1-3 December 2005, “Law, Justice and J&K”, 2-3 July 2006).

Cleaning up public budgets and accounts would pari passu stop corruption in its tracks, as well as release resources for valuable public goods and services. A beginning may be made by, for example, tripling the resources every year for three years that are allocated to the Judiciary, School Education and Basic Health, subject to tight systems of performance-audit. Institutions for improved political and administrative decision-making are necessary throughout the country if public preferences with respect to raising and allocating common resources are to be elicited and then translated into actual delivery of public goods and services.

This means inter alia that our often dysfunctional Parliament and State Legislatures have to be inspired by political statesmen (if any such may be found to be encouraged or engendered) to do at least a little of what they have been supposed to be doing. If the Legislative Branch and the Executive it elects are to lead this country, performance-audit will have to begin with them.

The result of healthy public budgets and accounts, and an economy with functioning public goods and services, would be a macroeconomic condition for the paper-rupee to once more become a money that is as good as gold, namely, a convertible world currency again after having suffered sixty years of abuse via endless deficit finance at the hands of first the British and then numerous Governments of free India that have followed.

It may be noticed the domestic aspects of such an agenda oppose almost everything the present Sonia-Manmohan Congress and Jyoti Basu “Left” stand for — whose “politically correct” thoughts and deeds have ruined India’s money and public budgets, bloated India’s Government especially the bureaucracy and the military, starved the Judiciary and damaged the Rule of Law, and gone about overturning Family Values. While there has been endless talk from them about being “pro-poor”, the actual results of their politicization of India’s economy are available to be seen with the naked eye everywhere.

One hundred years from now if our souls returned to visit the areas known today as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh etc, we may well find 500+ million inhabitants still below the same poverty-line despite all the gaseous prime ministerial or governmental rhetoric today and projections about alleged growth-rates.

If the Congress and “Left” must oppose any real “classical liberal” or conservative agenda, we may ask if the BJP-RSS could be conceivably for it. The answer is clearly not. The BJP-RSS may pontificate much about being patriotic to the motherland and about past real or imagined glories of Indian culture and religion, but that hardly ever has translated concretely into anything besides anti-Muslim or anti-Christian rhetoric, or breeding superstitions like astrology even at supposedly top technological institutes in the country. (Why all astrology is humbug, and a pre-Copernican Western import at that, is because all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around the Earth in a geocentric solar system; the modern West’s scientific outlook arose only after astrology had declined there thanks to Copernicus and Galileo establishing the solar system as heliocentric.)

As for a “classical liberal” economic agenda, the BJP in Government transpired to be as bad if not worse than their adversaries in fiscal and monetary profligacy, except they flattered and were flattered by the organised capital of the big business lobbies whereas their adversaries flatter and are flattered by the organised power of the big labour unions (covering a tiny privileged class among India’s massive workforce). Neither has had the slightest interest in the anonymous powerless individual Indian citizen or household. The BJP in Opposition, instead of seeking to train and educate a new modern principled conservative leadership, appear to wish to regress even further back towards their very own brand of coarse fascism. “Family Values” are why Indian school-children have become the envy of the world in their keen discipline and anxiety to learn – yet even there the BJP had nothing to say on Sonia Gandhi’s pet bill on women’s property rights, whose inevitable result will be further conflict between daughters and daughters-in-law of normal Indian families.

At the root of the malaise of our political parties may be the fact we have never had any kind of grassroots “orange” revolution. There has been also an underlying national anxiety of disintegration and disorder from which the idea of a “strong Centre” follows, which has effectively meant a Delhi bloated with power and swimming in self-delusion. The BJP and Left are prisoners of their geriatric leaderships and rather unpleasant ideologies and interest-groups, while the Congress has failed to invent or adopt any ideology besides sycophancy. Let it be remembered Sonia Gandhi had been genuinely disdainful of the idea of leading that party at Rajiv’s death; today she has allowed herself to become its necessary glue. The most salubrious thing she could do for the party (and hence for India) is to do a Michael Howard: namely, preside over a genuine leadership contest between a half-dozen ambitious people, and then withdraw with her family permanently from India’s politics, focusing instead on the legacy of her late husband. Without that happening, the Congress cannot be made a healthy political entity, and hence the other parties have no role-model to imitate. Meanwhile, a liberal political party, which necessarily would be non-geriatric and non-sycophantic, is still missing in India.

Racism New and Old

Racism New and Old

Subroto Roy

Editorial page, The Statesman September 8 2006

When Iraqi Sunni terrorists killed 11 Pakistani and three Indian Shia pilgrims on the same bus to Karbala the other day, they did not check passports or wait to hear discourses from their victims about the validity of Jinnah’s Two-Nations Theory or the RSS’s views on Akhand Bharat and Bharat-Mata. All Indians and Pakistanis of whatever religion are pretty much “Hindis” to the average Arab. If Pakistanis (much to their own chagrin) are indistinguishable from Indians in many Arab eyes, Hindus and Sikhs are (much to their own chagrin) indistinguishable from Muslims in many North American and British eyes. Matthai Chakko Kuruvila, the San Francisco Chronicle’s Religion Writer (and whose own splendid ethnicity may appear obvious to us from his name), reports Paul Silverstein, an American anthropologist, saying “Muslims are the new Jews… They are the object of a series of stereotypes, caricatures and fears which are not based in a reality and are independent of a person’s experience with Muslims.” Kuruvila says: “The Muslim caricature has ensnared Hindus, Mexicans and others” across the USA “with violence, suspicion and slurs”, giving new form to America’s “age-old dance around racial identity”.

Assimilation

The subcontinent’s Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and others are from pretty much similar racial populations, so when we wish to distinguish ourselves from one another as we tend to do on the subcontinent, we wear turbans, beards, long hair, veils, bindis etc ~ symbols about which the average New Jersey “dot-buster” or British “Paki-basher” cares not a hoot. London last year even saw Jean Charles de Menezes, a young Brazilian electrician on his way to work in the morning, pinned down by an elite squad of Britain’s much-vaunted policemen and receive seven bullets point-blank in the back of his skull ~ merely for having “looked Asian”.

Subcontinental immigrant families in the West experience a defining moment when the wife first bobs her long hair and takes to wearing slacks, skirts or even shorts, just so she can leave home and assimilate better in the workplace or shopping mall. The saris, salwars and real jewellery are kept for the weekends when she meets people who will understand her as herself, namely, her friends and kith and kin in the immigrant community. When salwar or sari-clad women start fake-kissing one another in Western-style greeting at those weekends, the alternation of their identities (and confusion in their self-knowledge) may have become complete. A limiting point of such attempts at assimilation is reached perhaps when an Asian woman becomes a BBC or CNN newsreader, reading what she has been told to yet still narcissistically indulging in the extent of her external transformation.

Muslim-Hindu differences of religious and cultural beliefs and practices between racially similar peoples may be contrasted with the main fault-lines that have existed in Western societies in recent centuries: fault-lines of race and colour between European and African, and of race and religion between Jew and Gentile.

An eminent American legal scholar once said African slavery had been “the living lie” in America’s official heritage of democracy and individual freedom. Black America took one hundred years from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to Martin Luther King Jr., to begin to overcome the impossible odds against it. Sports, music, show-biz and the arts were obvious arenas for public demonstration of individual genius. Athletes like Jesse Owens, Joe Louis and Arthur Ashe, musicians like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Eartha Kitt, “in-your-face” satirists like Sammy Davis Jr, Richard Pryor and Eddie Murphy upto and including modern rapsters and many thousands of others demonstrated that Black America was not going away anywhere, certainly not returning to Liberia, was going to stay in and permanently alter American life and culture, and wondered if anyone thought otherwise. The degree of assimilation into non-black cultures would be a matter of personal choice, not social or economic compulsion. During the Bush invasion of Iraq, Harry Belafonte re-ignited an old controversy when he referred to his fellow West Indian and perfectly assimilated Colin Powell in context of the “plantation slave”/”house slave” dichotomy: plantation slaves were externally oppressed but felt free within while house slaves had more comforts but were docile compradors inside their souls.

Immigrant communities from the subcontinent have had their share of the same. It has been all too easy for young people to reach academic highs in New Delhi or Kolkata only to escape to obscure corners of America and lead docile subservient unfulfilling lives forever afterwards, in exchange for material and ultimately meaningless rewards. It might be called the Madhuri Dixit Phenomenon of being transformed from celebrity-status in India to becoming a complete unknown in America.

Jewish-Gentile divide

The Jewish-Gentile divide in Western civilisation has been more insidious and damaging to mankind, and potentially remains so as the anger it generates has been transferred onto modern Muslims instead. At its unspoken roots is the frank Jewish theological assessment that Jesus of Nazareth was at most a wise and honest rabbi, not Christ Immanent ~ a veracious blow that seems to remove the corner-stone of all European culture and civilisation. The length of mutual recriminations and miscomprehensions as well as self-deceptions and cruelties over the millennia that have resulted on both sides, remains endless. On the Christian side there has been the vile persecution of Jews for centuries. On the Jewish side, there has arisen the vast myth that today’s Israel has something to do with the ancient Hebrews, when contemporary Jews likely descend mostly from the conversion to Judaism of the Khazar Khanate in the second half of the 9th Century (see e.g. Paul Meerts, “Assessing Khazaria”, International Institute for Asian Studies July 2004). In between Jewish and Christian self-deceptions and mutual misunderstandings has arisen Anti-Semitism, Zionism, and also Anti-Zionism (many thoughtful Jews having opposed the creation of Israel). As George Eliot, Hannah Arendt and many others noticed, the assimilation of 19th Century Jews into elite society in Vienna or London was only permitted where some exceptional individual genius was displayed, most prominently perhaps in case of Benjamin Disraeli who became Victoria’s Prime Minister. Even that acceptance of assimilated “exceptional” Jews came to disintegrate into the horrors of the 20th Century, from which we are yet to recover. Modern American foreign policy has been partly driven by the East and West Coasts’ understanding or misunderstanding of that history.

Diplomatic Wisdom

DIPLOMATIC WISDOM

by Subroto Roy

Editorial page, The Statesman, January 31 2006

Indian diplomacy has, almost accidentally, shown some wisdom. The King of Saudi Arabia should have been long ago invited to be Chief Guest on Republic Day. His Majesty immediately reciprocated with the most gracious words possible: “I consider myself to be in my second homeland. The relationship between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an historic one, we have been old friends and, God willing, this visit will renew these historic ties”. Indeed the King should be invited to make a full State visit in the near future travelling all over India, including Srinagar Valley ; where Khruschev and Bulganin went in 1955!

India has the second largest population of Muslim believers in the world after Indonesia, and it is only right the Keeper of the Holy Places of Islam should see for himself that India is indeed dar-ul-aman, not the dar-ul-harb that the propaganda of the Pakistanis and their terroristic protégés have made it out to be in Saudi and Gulf power circles.

Kalam and the King

The Vajpayee Government deserves a little credit for the present success, because it was they who caused the fact that His Majesty Faisal Ibn Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Al-Saud was hosted by an Indian rocket scientist born in a Muslim family in an impecunious fishing village of Tamil Nadu. The King and his princes would not have failed to feel the poignancy in that. India is also the second largest country of Shiá Islam after Iran, and Ayatollah Khatami was Chief Guest a few years ago when he was President of Iran. It has been argued in these columns (“Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1-3, 2005) that the solution to J&K requires Indian diplomacy with Iran and Afghanistan as well ; which, incidentally, will make the hollowness of Pakistan’s claims in J&K most obvious.

Now the President of the United States is due to visit India shortly. George W Bush is the third Republican President to come to India after Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. His predecessor Bill Clinton came as a single man at the end of his second term, on holiday from a rocky marriage, to dance with Rajasthani women and indulge his love of Indian food. Before Clinton in 2000, the last American President to visit was Jimmy Carter in 1978, who gave a stirring speech to Parliament about democracy after Morarji Desai had defeated Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. George Bush, also in his second term, will come to India amid controversy.

“You’re a good man”, Bush condescendingly said to Manmohan Singh in Washington, half-remembering that morning’s intelligence briefing memo. Had our PM been more experienced of the world he could have replied equally loudly: “Thanks, you’re not so bad yourself. Let’s chop some wood next time”. It is almost definite there will be no agreement on the nuclear collaboration deal, and that the dispute erupting over Iran may have enlarged itself. Platitudes will be exchanged but the fact that the President has chosen to combine his visit to India with a visit to his buddies in the Pakistani Government will not go unnoticed in the MEA.

“Balance of power” has been the motif of Anglo-American foreign policy in Asia at least ever since the Arabs were induced to revolt against the Turks by Allenby and Lawrence, followed by pitting Iran and the Arabs against each other. The same goes for India and Pakistan. Also, our rather uncouth Communists have vowed to make their presence felt in street-protests and boycotts of Parliament when Bush comes.

FDR & Martin Luther King Jr

In this tense atmosphere, where the summit may actually falter rather badly on substance, Manmohan Singh will need to make some important symbolic gestures. Going to meet the Saudi King at the airport was an appropriate gesture. Clinton had expected the Indian PM to meet him too, and was visibly disappointed to land in the middle of the night only amidst the lights of the TV cameras. The Bushes should be met at the airport by our PM and his spouse. The President is our honoured guest and guests are to be treated like gods.

In the same vein, four boulevards across India’s largest cities deserve to be named after four American heroes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln. The first two were Democrats, the latter two Republicans.

Naming a boulevard in New Delhi after FDR would belatedly acknowledge his small, spontaneous yet critical and principled role in support of Indian independence that, shockingly, remains unrecognised in India. Britain could not expect American support against German and Japanese imperialism while expecting the Americans not to support Indian aspirations for national freedom. India’s own academic historians, mostly under influence of either Communist or RSS methodologies, have failed even to produce objective biographies of major national leaders, let aside candid accounts of British rule, the development of the Indian nation-state, the Transfer of Power or Partition.

The same intellectual sloppiness has extended to economics too, and underlies the gross misunderstanding of India’s monetary and fiscal histories as was outlined recently in these columns. It has required a young American scholar, Dinyar Patel, writing in an official American Government publication to outline Roosevelt’s role during India’s independence (Span, March 2005).

Where FDR helped India’s struggle for freedom, Martin Luther King Jr adopted India’s method to lead America’s blacks (“Negroes” and “coloureds” as they were then called) to freedom within their own country. MK Gandhi had corresponded with Tolstoy after beginning his campaign of passive resistance to unjust South African laws, and he read Henry Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was already in jail for that very same offence. Many years later, the young Alabama preacher put to use Gandhi’s example of courageous peaceful defiance of injustice in his own sweet land of liberty. On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 1964, King said: “Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilisation and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that non-violence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation”. Of course, King like Gandhi would have been appalled by the religious, colour, caste and racial prejudices of contemporary Indians, Pakistanis etc today, and naming a boulevard in King’s name may do more for our own moral well-being than anything else.

Eisenhower and Lincoln

As for Dwight Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln, the former may well be seen in later centuries as the greatest of 20th Century American Presidents as the latter was of the 19th. Though they had nothing to do with India, naming boulevards after them would remind Indians of the existence of great men in world history.

Jyoti Basu’s Communists once named streets in Kolkata after Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, and still pay annual obeisance at Lenin’s statue with clenched fists and garlands. Ho Chi Minh was a great nationalist and may have deserved an Indian street but it was a cheap and gratuitous insult by the Communists to name the very street on which the American Consulate stood after the Vietnamese leader who was then their enemy. The Americans were mature enough at the time to ignore it and not pull out their Consulate from Kolkata — the very same Consulate that is so highly in demand with Basu’s successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Under influence of the well-known academic apologists for Communist China, Bhattacharjee has been recently extolling the virtues of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai too – apparently ignorant of the 40 million Chinese that Mao killed and apparently forgiving Zhou’s hatred of and perfidy against India. Before any further such nonsense occurs, we should name roads after FDR, King, Eisenhower and Lincoln, and the time to do it would be when George W. Bush makes his visit.

Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False

Assessing Vajpayee: Hindutva True and False

by

Subroto Roy

 

 

First published in The Sunday Statesman, Nov 13 2005 and The Statesman, Nov 14 2005, Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

 

Atal Behari Vajpayee, mentored by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee himself, became Prime Minister of India for less than a fortnight in 1996, then again in 1998 and again in 1999 and remained so until he was voted out in 2004.

 

 

He became PM holding the trust of India’s 120 million Muslims. He was supposed to be the genial, avuncular “good cop” who would keep at bay the harsh forces represented by the unpredictable “bad cop”, his Deputy PM and long-time colleague LK Advani. It was the first time RSS members had come to lead India’s government. How is the Vajpayee-Advani duumvirate to be candidly assessed? The question is important not only for the RSS and BJP engaged in their own introspection and petty politics but for the country as a whole. India needs both a competent Government and a competent Opposition in Parliament, and it is not clear we have ever had either.

 

 

Overall, Vajpayee-Advani, as the chief public symbols of the RSS-BJP, earned relatively high marks in office handling India’s strategic and security interests, including the nuclear issue and Pakistan. Equally, they failed badly in their treatment of India’s Muslims and religious minorities in general. This is a paradox that can be explained by the general failure of putative Hindutvadis to acquire an objective understanding of the processes that had led to Independence, Partition, and Pakistan’s creation.

 

 

Roughly, their comprehension of these processes has been one which sees all Muslims everywhere as cut from the same communal cloth, regardless of the beliefs or actions of individual Muslims. In such prejudiced eyes, there is no conceptual or ultimate difference between a Jinnah and an Azad, between a Salauddin who attacks India at Kargil and a Lt Hanifuddin who dies for India at Kargil. This is the product of a sloppy and erroneous philosophy of history, which in turn is an outcome of an attitude towards modern science and modes of rigorous reasoning that can only be called backward and retrograde.

 

 

It has been signalled most conspicuously by the extremely public adherence of many putative Hindutvadis (and millions of other Indians) to astrology — in apparent ignorance of the fact that all horoscopes assume the Sun rotates around Earth. Astrology, a European invention, came to decline in Europe after the discoveries of Copernicus and Galileo became widely understood there.

 

 

Like Indian Communists, Hindutvadi ideologues with rare exceptions played no role in the movement that led to Indian independence in 1947 and creation of the modern Indian Republic in 1950. They remained to their credit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards the foreign phenomena that were Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism. They remained to their discredit constantly suspicious of and hostile towards Indian Muslims, even at one point seeing virtuous lessons in Hitler’s attitude towards the Jews. They have in their own way subscribed to Ein Reich, Ein Volk but fortunately have always failed to find Ein Fuhrer (on a pattern e.g. of a modern “Netaji”).

 

 

Where Nazis saw communists and Jews in conspiracies everywhere, Hindutvadi ideologues have tended to see communists and Muslims, and also Christians and “Macaulayite” Hindus, in conspiracies everywhere. (An equal methodological admiration for Nazism occurred on the part of Muslims in the 1930s led by Rahmat Ali, the Pakistani ideologue — who saw “caste Hindus” as the root of all evil and in conspiracies everywhere.) The paradox of the RSS-BJP success in handling nuclear and security issues quite well and domestic issues of secular governance badly, is explained by this ideology of double hostility towards communism and Muslims.

 

 

On the positive side, Vajpayee-Advani advocated a tough clear-headed realpolitik on the issue of Indian’s security. “We should go nuclear and sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty as a nuclear weapons’ state. The whole world will recognise us by our power. We don’t want to be blackmailed and treated as oriental blackies. Nuclear weapons will give us prestige, power, standing. An Indian will talk straight and walk straight when we have the bomb”. That is what the BJP told the New York Times in 1993.

 

 

Three years later, the moment Vajpayee first entered office as PM in May 1996, the government’s scientists who had already secretly assembled the bomb for testing, were instructed to stand by for orders to go ahead. Vajpayee did not know if his Government would survive the vote of confidence required of them. When it was pointed out that if he tested the bomb and lost the vote, a successor Government would have to cope with the consequences, Vajpayee, to his credit and reflecting his political experience and maturity, cancelled the test. When he lost the vote, the public demonstration of Indian nuclear weapons capability was also postponed until May 1998, after he had returned as PM a second time. The bomb was a celebration of Hindu, or more generally, Indian independence in the world. India had nominally freed herself from the British but not from Western culture, according to the RSS. Where the Congress had been in the grip of world communism, the RSS-BJP led India to nuclear freedom – such was their propaganda.

 

 

In reality, a long line of prime ministers including Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi, VP Singh and IK Gujral had authorised India’s bomb, and a long line of scientists starting with Homi Bhabha had developed it over several decades.

 

 

Vajpayee’s decision finally flushed out Pakistan’s clandestine nuclear weapons developed with North Korea and China. Pakistan is an overtly Islamist state where liberal democracy shows no signs of starting even 65 years after the Lahore Resolution. Its nuclear bombs remain a far greater threat to the world than anyone else’s. Moreover, while India has renounced first use of such weapons, Pakistan has not only not done so, its Foreign Minister Gohar Ayub Khan boasted in 1998-1999 that the next war would be over in two hours with an Indian surrender.

 

 

Such glib talk about nuclear war is beyond contempt in its irresponsibility. A study by medical doctors estimated that a Hiroshima-sized bombing of Mumbai would cause 9 million deaths from blast, firestorms, radiation and fallout. An Indian retaliation would end Pakistan’s existence (though the Pakistani super-elite has long ago fled with its assets to Britain and America). An India-Pakistan nuclear exchange would leave a vast wasteland, finally ending all intellectual controversies about Partition and Jinnah’s theory. In reality, each is hardly able to cope with natural calamities like earthquakes, cyclones and floods, and also has very grave macroeconomic crises brewing because of unending deficit-finance and unlimited printing of paper money. For either to imagine itself a major power is a vain boast regardless of the polite flattery from visiting foreign businessmen. Of course, while each remains the principal enemy of the other, neither is a serious military force in the world.

 

 

After the exchange of nuclear tests in 1998, Vajpayee took the bus across the Wagah border to meet Nawaz Sharif in February 1999. He claimed it was a diplomatic and psychological breakthrough as indeed it was for a moment. But it had not been his original idea. AM Khusro, who accompanied him on the bus, had worked with Rajiv Gandhi in 1990-1991 when Rajiv was advised to make such a Sadat-like move. Furthermore, Vajpayee failed to see the significance of the Pakistani military chiefs led by Pervez Musharraf refusing to meet him formally, which would have entailed saluting him when he was their enemy.

 

 

Vajpayee also may not have known the Pakistani monument he visited was later “purified” with rose water by orthodox Muslim believers. So much for Indian diplomatic triumphs or Pakistan’s diplomatic niceties towards their kaffir guest. BJP foreign ministers later ingratiated themselves with Ariel Sharon because he was an enemy of Muslims — though again the BJP seemed unaware that “a single hair” shorn from idol-worshipping Hindu women at Tirupathi was enough for orthodox rabbis to declare as “impure” the wigs worn by Jewish women made from such hair. The evil of “untouchability” has not been a “caste Hindu” monopoly.

 

 

Kargil war

According to the Sharif-Musharraf plan secretly brewing during Vajpayee’s Pakistan visit, the Kargil infiltration followed. India’s Army and Air Force gamely fought back in the initial weeks suffering relatively severe losses, but the country seemed mesmerised by World Cup cricket and there was no significant political leadership from Vajpayee’s Government until the second week of June 1999. It was only after Brajesh Mishra was provoked by an analysis of how Pakistan might actually succeed (with the possibility of hidden Pakistani plans of a blitzkrieg and missile attacks), that Vajpayee’s Government seemed to wake up from its stupor, mobilised forces rapidly and threatened Pakistan with direst consequences, a threat made credible because it was conveyed by Mishra via the Americans. The Pakistanis backed down, which led soon to Musharraf’s coup détat against Sharif, and the world has had to deal with a Pakistani state synonymous with Musharraf ever since. The Vajpayee-Advani military triumph at Kargil was short-lived, as it was followed within months by an abject surrender to the Taliban’s terrorists at Kandahar airport.

 

 

In the meantime, on 23 January 1999, the Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were murdered by a savage anti-Christian mob as they slept in their car in rural Orissa. Vajpayee, the agreeable face of the RSS-BJP with allegedly impeccable secular credentials, responded without the moral strength that was necessary from a leader of all of India’s people. It was a model of weakness of political will and comprehension that would be followed in the larger catastrophe to occur in Gujarat.

 

 

On 27 February 2002, a train approaching Godhra station had a bunch of travelling rowdies bullying ticketed passengers, ticket-collectors and local tea-vendors. The vendors belonged to a lowly Muslim caste whose members were entrenched around Godhra and the nearby Signal Falia. During an extended stop at Godhra station, the altercations grew fiercer — the rowdies forcing people to shout slogans and roughing them up when they did not. False rumours flew that the rowdies had molested a Muslim woman and her two daughters who had been waiting on the platform. As the train left Godhra, a gang of rioters led by one tea-shop owner and other tea-vendors gathered before Signal Falia, stopped the train and assaulted it with stones and petrol-bombs.

 

 

One whole compartment was completely burnt, scores of passengers, including 26 women and 12 children, were incinerated, many of whom remain unidentified. (Some of those supposed to be in the compartment according to Railway lists were later found alive and well, as they had moved due to the rowdyism.) Throughout the day, Godhra District Collector Jayanthi Ravi stated on television and radio that a riot had occurred and appealed for calm. But after 7 pm, the State’s political executive called it a “pre-planned violent act of terrorism”, and an organised pogrom began against Muslims across the State. Over several weeks, thousands were killed and raped and turned into refugees inside their own country.

 

 

Political patronage

Gujarat’s chief political executive, a Vajpayee-Advani protégé, should have been immediately held accountable; instead he continued to receive their political patronage. Vajpayee, en route to a planned business trip abroad, made a perfunctory visit to the scene of the civil horror, then proceeded to Singapore, where he was shown moving around on a golf-cart wearing designer goggles. He had clearly failed to grasp the dimensions or the gravity of the nature of the office he held. Vajpayee thus came to lose the trust of India’s Muslims and minorities in general which he had earned by his moderation and maturity over many decades in the Opposition. The RSS-BJP had lost, perhaps permanently, the last opportunity to make their actions tally with their sweet words about a united Indian people living in bliss in a common sacred Motherland.

 

Vajpayee’s finance and economic planning ministers were as ignorant of the reality of India’s macroeconomics as the Stalinist New Delhi bureaucrats pampered by Congress and its Communist friends. These bureaucrats continued in power under Vajpayee. Plus the RSS’s pseudo-economists were enough to scare away all except a minor econometrician and a shallow economic historian. The latter led the BJP up the garden path in 2003-2004 with talk about India’s economy being on the point of “take off” (based on defunct American theory from the 1960s), which misled them into the “India Shining” campaign and electoral defeat. The BJP finance minister, thus misled, revealed his own ignorance of his job-requirements when he happily spoke on TV of how much he sympathised with businessmen who had told him CBI, CVC and CAG were the initials holding India back from this (bogus) “take off”. Equally innocent of economics, the BJP’s planning chief went about promising vast government subsidies to already-rich Indians abroad to become “venture capitalists” in India! Instead of reversing the woeful Stalinism of the Congress decades overall, Vajpayee’s Government super-imposed a crony capitalism upon it. Budgetary discipline was not even begun to be sought — another BJP finance minister revelling publicly in his ignorance of Maynard Keynes.

 

The signal of monetary crisis that was the UTI fiasco was papered over with more paper money printing. Privatisation was briefly made a fetish — despite there being sound conservative reasons not to privatise in India until the fiscal and monetary haemorrhaging is stopped. Liquidating real assets prior to a likely massive inflation of paper assets caused by deficit-financing, is not a public good.

 

RSS members and protégés appointed to government posts and placed in charge of government moneys revealed themselves as corrupt and nepotistic as anyone else. The overall failure of the management of India’s public institutions and organs of State continued under Vajpayee-Advani just as it had done for decades earlier. Vajpayee-Advani evinced no vision of a modern political economy as reformers of other major countries have done, such as Thatcher, Reagan, Gorbachev-Yeltsin, Adenauer-Erhardt, De Gaulle, even Deng Tsiaoping.

 

Irrational obsession

The overall explanation of the ideological and practical failure of the putative Hindutvadis must have to do with their irrational obsession over two decades with the masjid-mandir issue. Ramayana and Mahabharata are magnificent mythological epics yet they are incidental aspects of the faith and culture deriving from the Vedas and Upanishads. The motive force of a true Hindutva is already contained in the simple Upanishadic motto of the Indian Republic, Satyameva jayathe (let truth prevail) which is almost all the religion that anyone may need. The search for all truth necessarily requires individual freedom, and taking its first steps would require the RSS-BJP denouncing all their backward pseudo-science and anti-science. Who among them will liberate them from the clutches of astrology, and bring instead the fresh air and light of modern science since Copernicus and Galileo? Without rigorous modern reasoning, the RSS and BJP are condemned to their misunderstanding of themselves and of India, just as surely as their supposed enemies — literalist Muslim believers — are committed to a flat earth and an implacably stern heaven placed above it. Pakistan’s finest academic has reported how his colleagues pass off as physics the measurement of earth receding from heaven if Einstein and The Qúran could be amalgamated. The RSS and BJP need to free themselves from similar irrational backwardness in all fields, including politics and economics. It is plain Vajpayee, Advani or any of their existing political progeny cannot lead themselves, or Indians in general, to that promised land.

On Hindus and Muslims

On Hindus and Muslims

by

Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, Perspective Page, Nov 6 2005

The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Hindu Mahasabha was to thwart the Sarat Bose/Suhrawardy idea in 1946-1947 of a “United Bengal”, which inevitably would have led to Kolkata andWest Bengal becoming part of Pakistan. The one practical contribution made to India’s polity by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was to help defend against the Pakistani attack upon Jammu & Kashmir which commenced on 22 October 1947 and included the Rape of Baramulla a few days later. The RSS contribution may have been more than what Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference or Jawaharlal Nehru and the Government of India cared to admit because it had had an offensive aspect as well; RSS attacks on Muslim civilians in the Mirpur-Pooncharea later formed the basis of Pakistan’s justification for the October 1947 attack and the origins of the “Azad Kashmir” idea. Practical contributions were also made by individuals like Shyama Prosad Mookerjee, who, for example, as a member of Nehru’s Cabinet, responded immediately to information received from a young Government of India officer in Karachi in September 1947, sending ships and Navy frigates from Bombay to retrieve thousands of Hindu refugees in danger of being massacred. The one theoretical contribution made by the Hindutvadi organisations in India has been to establish that it is not a matter of shame and can be a matter of pride to be a Hindu, or, more generally, to be an Indian in the modern world. This is important, even though most RSS and BJP members today may have altogether failed themselves to understand its nature and significance. Indeed, the small handful of Muslims who have been part of their organisations may have understood it rather better.

To be Muslim, a person has only to believe that God is One and Muhammad is the last of the prophets, i.e. to pronounce the Kalma. Nothing else is either necessary or sufficient. Praying daily, facing Mecca (or Jerusalem before it), going on pilgrimage, fasting during Ramzan, giving to the poor, circumcising boys, polygamy, inducing the modesty of women though seclusion or the veil, have all been part of Muslim practice for ever because they were aspects of the Prophet’s life. But if a Muslim did not pronounce the Kalma, everything else he/she might do is rendered meaningless. The Kalma is necessary and sufficient for Islamic belief. All else is incidental and logically superfluous.

The first half of the Kalma is a commitment to an austere monotheistic ontology; the second half is an oath of fidelity to the Prophet because he was the original exponent of this ontology (in Arabic). Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without a doubt among the greatest of men, as may be measured by his vast impact on human history. His total self-effacement and abhorrence of adulation was signified when at his death it was famously said “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”.

Abul Kalam Azad understood well that there was no contradiction between being Muslim by faith and Indian by nationality. “My ancestors came to India from Herat in Babar’s time…” is how he began his autobiography. No one could think Azad anything but a proud Indian nationalist. No one ~ certainly not MA Jinnah ~ could think of Azad as anything but a Muslim and a scholar of Islam. Yet Azad’s respect and admiration (like that of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan) knew no bounds for the only reformer since Vivekananda that Hinduism has seen in the 20th century: a Congress politician by the name of MK Gandhi,who came to be murdered by Hindu fanatics. By contrast, Jinnah, the political founder of Pakistan, could see Congress only as a Hindu party and Gandhi the Hindu leader using Hindu symbols against whom he was juxtaposed in a struggle for power after the British left: “Congress leaders may shout as much as they like that the Congress is a national body. But …(the) Congress is nothing but a Hindu body,” he declared in 1938. Jinnah’s ambition, and that of the separatist Muslim elite, demanded that they rule themselves in isolation in corners of India.

Throughout the period of Hindu Westernisation in response to the opening to the world presented by the British Raj, the Muslim elite were instead chafing under the idea that an India free of British rule could possibly have Muslims living under governments composed of people who were not “People of the Book” mentioned in the Muslim scriptures. Even if British rule had been almost intolerable in Muslim eyes ~ rendering India’s territory dar-ul-harb at worst or dar-ul-aman at best ~ the British were at least “People of the Book”. After a British departure, rule over Muslims by a Hindu majority, supported by the much-feared Sikhs (“kaffirs with beards” in Muslim popular perception), was felt to be psychologically intolerable. Not only were Hindus, in Muslim eyes, polytheistic believers in idol-worship and practitioners of a caste-system, but everyone knew that the vast majority of India’s Muslims had been themselves converts from the same Hindu social and cultural origins, and there would be constant danger of relapse of Muslims into Hindu beliefs and practices if the country was governed by a Hindu majority. The slogan “Islam in danger” has always had substance in the sense that the faithful have constantly had to mind the dangers of yielding to temptations around them, including scepticism, syncretism and pantheism. Hence, insularity and communalism ~ a psychological circling of the wagons in terms of the American Wild West ~ was a natural political response of Muslims to the Hindu (and Parsee and Christian) modernisation of India in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Such were the implicit unspoken premises driving the Pakistan Movement which Iqbal and Jinnah came to lead in the 20th century. The origins lay in the thoughts and deeds of Shah Wali Allah (1703-1762) and his Arab contemporary in Nejd, Mohammad Ibn Abdal Wahhab, the founder of Wahhabism. It continued with men like Sayyid Ahmed Barelvi(1786-1831), and Titu Mir (1782-1831), until we reach the Islamic “moderniser” Sayyid Ahmed Khan who, while being the founder of Muslim higher education at Aligarh, was also the fountainhead of the separatism that led to the Muslim League’s creation in 1906. “We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride,” Wali Allah had said. Barelvi after him declared: “We must repudiate all those Indian, Persian and Roman customs which are contrary to the Prophet’s teaching.” “In the later 1820s, (Barelvi’s) movement became militant, regarding jihad as one of the basic tenets of faith. Possibly encouraged by the British, with whom the movement did not feel powerful enough to come to grips at the outset, it chose as the venue of jihad the NW frontier of the subcontinent, where it was directed against the Sikhs. Barelvi temporarily succeeded in carving out a small theocratic principality which collapsed owing to the friction between his Pathan and North Indian followers; and he was finally defeated and slain by the Sikhs (at the battle of Balakot) in 1831,” points out Aziz Ahmed, in AL Basham’s A Cultural History of India. Barelvi’s jihadi proto-Pakistan state near Peshawar was named Tariqa-yi Muhammadiya; it may have survived at Sittana until the First World War. Leaving to one side Rahmat Ali’s lonely scheming from England and invention on the top floor of a London bus of the name “PAKSTAN”, such was the genesis of Iqbal and Jinnah’s Muslim state.

Azad, on behalf of scores of millions of Muslim Indians including Sheikh Abdullah and Zakir Hussain and Ghaffar Khan among the most prominent, candidly raised objections to this entire exercise: “I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain. It suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure. Such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping with orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy – a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam. Islam recognises no such division and the Prophet says `God made the whole world a mosque for me’.”

Azad had seen that India is or can be dar-ul-Islam or at least dar-ul-aman and not dar-ul-harb, because the Muslim in this land of ours –bounded by the mountains and the seas, with the rivers in between them, all of which the Hindu finds sacred and imagines to be the home of the Hindu pantheon – is in fact able to practise his/her faith freely despite the majority culture superficially being or seeming to be one which is polytheistic and pantheistic. The majority culture in India has had no theoretical or practical difficulty with the recitation of the Kalma anywhere or anytime in the country. The handful of Muslims in the RSS and BJP today may have understood something of the same. Visiting Pakistanis today are amazed by two things in India: the presence of women in public life and the fact that Muslims are free to practise Islam. Muslims may privately believe their Hindu compatriots or cousins to be hopelessly ignorant of the truth, and vice-versa, but nothing in public life needs to hinge on such mutual beliefs people have about one another. That is what was meant when the present author said in the Introduction to Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy that Jinnah’s address to Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly was as secular as any that may be found.

My response to The Times’ editorial of May 29 1984

In August 1980, I went to Blacksburg in Virginia from Cambridge to work with James M. Buchanan’s Center for Study of Public Choice and to be Visiting Assistant Professor and later Assistant Professor at the Economics Department. When The Times editorial appeared in London on May 29 1984, I did not come to know of it for several days until foreign newspapers reached the Virginia Tech library and a friend phoned me with having seen it there. The Times (then under the editorship of Charles Douglas-Home) had been laudatory but also inaccurate as to what I did or did not have to say. My letter dated June 16 1984 corrected what was said about my work. The editorial is republished elsewhere here.