October 24, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Yesterday at Facebook, I posted this
with the caption: “Guess who came to dinner? A thoughtful portrait of perhaps the most influential graduate student of the late 20th Century….”
Then today I made this more explicit posting the photograph a second time and saying
“Subroto Roy notes that when a 23 year old Barack Obama Sr came to the USA and met Ann Dunham to become the most influential graduate student of the late 20th Century, it was more than a half dozen years before the great Sidney Poitier acted in “Guess who’s coming to dinner?” — and those half dozen years were crucial in the Civil Rights Movement…”
And on the same lines I posted yet again, saying
“Subroto Roy wonders if the meeting of Barack Obama Senior with Mr and Mrs Dunham was a bit like this portrayal in a famous film more than a half dozen years later”
attached to a photo of the Sidney Poitier character meeting with the Spencer Tracy-Katherine Hepburn characters
and finally I have posted a fourth time a short while ago saying
“Subroto Roy notes, in reference to his analogy of the 1960 meeting between Barack Obama Sr and Ann Dunham and the characters in the 1967 movie “Guess who’s coming to dinner”, that in both cases the meeting occurred in Hawaii, and the parents of the girl were on the West Coast…. Hmmm…. coincidence? Or did the writer of the movie adapt from a real tit-bit of news?”
Perhaps I have discovered something here, perhaps not. Either way, American popular culture and American politics have had a felicitous confluence.
I forget the details of the movie but seem to recall the Sidney Poitier character had to rush off to serve a good cause in….. Africa….
March 4, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP, Sena Etc Reveal Equally Bad Traits
By Subroto Roy
First published in
The Statesman, March 4 2008,
Editorial Page Special Article
A “black” American, born of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, and having a Muslim middle name Hussein though Christian by faith, may become the freely elected President of the USA in January 2009. He has stood up himself and anyone who knows Western cultures will know how hard it would have been to overcome workplace prejudices. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of America becoming a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” might start to be fulfilled.
Can the same be said of modern India, ever? When will Muslims, Dalits, tribals and whomever become well enough integrated with mainstream Hindu societies ~ and vice versa ~ that we have army generals, fighter pilots, submarine commanders, nuclear scientists, media moghuls, top executives, and yes, freely elected Prime Ministers of India from any externally identifiable group without batting an eyelid? The policies followed by the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc., exemplified by Mr Chidambaram’s pandering Budget-Speech last week, suggest that the answer will be never.
Mr Chidambaram mentioned “Scheduled Caste” six times and “Minority” (meaning “Muslim”) five times in his speech~ if he or the Sonia-Manmohan Government genuinely felt any of the schemes mentioned were in the true interest of these groups, these schemes could have been simply and quietly implemented without fanfare or political advertisement. Making a big deal about them in Parliament during a Budget-Speech precisely reveals the actual underlying cynicism and hypocrisy. The fact may be it is not the schemes themselves that are important but the illusions created and sold about them, illusions that have electoral value because they deceive the purported beneficiaries into thinking that somebody powerful cares about them and controls their well-being.
A quarter-century ago in Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, I applied the arguments of the black American economist Thomas Sowell to the Indian case. I said: “the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like “race”, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups: members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the State’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race”.
Sowell himself (in Knowledge and Decisions) put it like this: “costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected ~ that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’”
What Sowell said about American blacks may well apply to India’s religious and caste minorities today. Problems of tribal India are more subtle requiring more technical sociological and anthropological study.
The Leftist idea common to the Congress, Communists, BSP etc has been to perpetuate dependency of Muslims, Dalits, OBCs etc upon the whims of State power (as wielded by such Leftists themselves). By contrast, the Rightist/Fascistic idea of the BJP, its RSS parent, the Sena etc has been to try to bludgeon Muslims, Dalits and everyone else into submission whereby they must adopt majority customs, habits or political beliefs or (in true Nazi fashion) come to be exiled or banned from mainstream society. Both Left and Right in India have also promoted new government-induced “Sex Wars” between males and females ~ passing laws drastically raising the risk and cost of maintaining marriages and family households, which then simply collapse as has happened elsewhere.
In general, the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc have been united in being wholly incapable of seeing India’s people as individuals in their own right in all the diversity and complexity that entails ~ as free citizens who possess individual rights to belief, property, security, privacy etc. Instead the idea has been to politically categorize people as members of mass-groups that may be then manipulated as puppets using State power in one direction or another. The result has been a general failure in the country to develop the notion of responsible individual citizens (hundreds of millions in number) dealing with responsible public and civic institutions including the State.
Citizens and State
Even in nations that are heirs to a long history of democratic political development, the link often has not been made in the public mind between enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of public services, and costs upon individual citizens from whom resources must be ultimately raised. In a fiscal democracy “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries” (JM Buchanan); conversely, those who demand public services must pay for them in real resources one way or another. If citizens feel they receive little or nothing of value from government, there is an obvious loss of incentive to be counted as responsible voting members of the same community, and instead reason to evade taxes or flee the country or cynically believe everything to be corrupt.
On the other hand, if citizens demand public services without expecting to contribute private resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a wish to be free-riders on the general budget. While Indian citizens have been arbitrarilty partitioned by government according to religion, caste etc., widespread cynicism has prevailed about secular provision of public services by government at any level. At the same time the idea is far from understood that beneficiaries of public services must sooner or later expect to bear real resource-costs one way or another. Everyday politics thus becomes highly irresponsible. Political New Delhi has created such a state of affairs over decades and continues to contribute to it.
September 11, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Author’s Note: Shortly after this, I published in The Statesman beginning October 2007 more than a half dozen articles on China, Tibet, Taiwan, etc beginning with “”Understanding China”. https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/
Dalai Lama’s Return: In the tradition of Gandhi, King, Mandela
The Dalai Lama must exercise his traditional right in international law, enshrined in the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to enter his own country, namely Tibet. After he left Tibet as a young man to seek political asylum in India decades ago, the de facto sovereign over Tibet had become the new People’s Republic of China following the brutal attack its armies had made upon the Tibetan people. It was not clear if the de jure sovereign over Tibet was the PRC or Republic of China (Taiwan) though since then the PRC has been included in the United Nations at the expense of Taiwan. The Dalai Lama may declare his intention to exercise his right to return to his country, and then simply do so – walking across the Nathu La Pass or any other convenient location, and then travelling on foot or by other means to Lhasa. The Government of China may ask to be assured that there will be no public disturbance to law and order by his followers, and subject to that mild and reasonable condition, it shall have no right to stop him from entering his own country. At the same time, the Government of India (e.g. at the behest of the Government of China) will have no right to prevent him from leaving India. The same body of international law that gives a person the right to enter his/her own country also gives a person the right to leave any country. The Dalai Lama is manifestly a man of peace and non-violence. His return to his own nation and his people is long overdue. He has been in forced exile in Dharamsala, and even if he has been a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize during this time, his heart and soul are in Tibet and that is where he must be free to return to. It will be a walk similar to Gandhi’s to Dandi, or Martin Luther King’s in Alabama, or Nelson Mandela’s first walk in freedom. They are similar men, all four of them, men of courage and peace and non-violence and yet of firm political principle who shall be remembered with love for all time by their peoples. The Government of the People’s Republic of China must demonstrate to the world that it is a civilised, legitimate and magnanimous authority. It must not kill, shoot at, assault, arrest or otherwise stop the Dalai Lama from returning to Tibet. Rather, it must encourage him to walk home in peace and freedom as is his right to do.
September 8, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Racism New and Old
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”.
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.
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.
January 31, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
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.