RSS

Category Archives: Hinduism

Sabarimala Case – An Agonizing Verdict

Sabarimala Case – An Agonizing Verdict

In a recent judgement, the Supreme Court of India had in a 4-1 majority judgement decided to remove the ban on entry of women aged 10 – 50 into the famed Lord Ayyappa Temple at Sabarimala in South India. The case had generated a lot of interest – during the hearings as well as post judgement – all around the world. It is indeed a significant judgement since with the stroke of their pens, four judges reversed a practice that has been going on at the temple since time immemorial.

The four judges have averred that the practice “significantly denudes women of their right to worship”. Justice Chandrachud termed the custom as a form of “untouchability” which cannot be allowed under the Constitution of India.1

Justice Indu Malhotra, the lone lady member of the bench, has attracted a lot of attention and admiration. As member of this five judge bench, she wrote her dissenting judgement. She has provided some profound reasoning for her dissent that certainly deserves examination. Former Supreme Court of India judge Markandey Katju has complimented her for “the balance and restraint required of a judge of a superior court”.2

Judge Malhotra has pointed out that that “the petitioners were not directly affected and were not devotees” themselves and hence she found it “odd that the court was deciding on the entry of women into the temple at the behest of persons who do not subscribe to this faith”. This is an important observation, and has not missed the attention of millions of Hindus in the country.

She has further strongly argued for “heterogeneity in religion that allows diverse forms of worship, even if it were irrational”. Very pointedly she states that “in a secular polity, issues which are matters of deep religious faith and sentiment, must not ordinarily be interfered with by courts.”

Continuing her telling observations, Malhotra has said that permitting such public interest litigations (PILs) “in religious matters would open the floodgates to interlopers who are not followers of that faith, to question its beliefs and practices” since it would be a matter of grave concern, especially for minority communities. She has firmly concluded that the said writ petition “does not deserve to be entertained and the grievances raised are non-justiciable”.

But the majority judges thought otherwise. Their reasoning for the majority judgement seems to be a reiteration that the practice of forbidding women in the said age group was “a form of untouchability which cannot be allowed under the Constitution.” But many legal experts have already argued that this case cannot be viewed through the limited vision lens of gender equality and a broader view of Hindu religious practices was imperative in judging the case.

It is not that these points of law were not brought before the court during the hearings. In fact J Sai Deepak, who appeared before the Supreme Court in this case on behalf of the intervener organization People for Dharma, too had presented succinct arguments. For example, he had argued that “Lord Ayyappa has rights under articles 21, 25 and 26 of the Constitution of India, and his right to remain a naisthika bramhachari – or a perpetual celibate – falls under Article 25 and hence, women’s entry to the temple should continue to be restricted”. 3

Thus, restricting entry of women into the abode of a Lord who is a naisthika bramhachari – or a perpetual celibate – may not tantamount to gender inequality or discrimination against women, when viewed though a broader lens. Be as it may, the other four judges, in their wisdom have obviously not been convinced by these arguments and hence their opinions have prevailed and the judgement is there for all to see.

The impact of the judgement is expected to be felt far and wide. From breaking its own restraint in not entering into the domain of religious beliefs and practices that are not pernicious, the Supreme Court has opened the possibility of internecine litigations between religious faiths where one practitioner is now free to question and seek the quashing of practices of another religion. The outcome could be a judicial nightmare which could easily lead to bloodshed on the streets.

In multiple discussions I had with Hindu women, particularly millennials in Tamil Nadu, I got a sense of their disbelief. Many did say that they were suspicious of the motives of the petitioners since they themselves would never have approached the courts on such a matter. Many felt violated since Hindu women had traditionally revered the practice of naisthika bramhacharya vratam of Lord Ayyappa. They pointed out that the unprecedented heavy rains and consequent damage to life and property in Kerala as a sign of Lord Ayyappa’s anger.

Plural societies like India have diverse groups and interest and by definition have differing identities and belief systems which have to be celebrated. But they also have large and vulnerable underbellies that have to be carefully nurtured and protected, not exploited. But in India we seem to be witnessing the opposite.

.But if the average Hindu, particularly the women, feel outraged, they cannot be faulted for, here is a judgement that nullifies a centuries-old practice that they did not ask for. The certainly avoidable outcome, is that a growing number of reasonable Indians now think that the judiciary appears to have abandoned all shreds of caution and sensitivity when treading on matters of religious faith, however irrational they may appear.

Over the ages, Hindu social memory has been burdened with a lot of baggage – from flawed to gross miscarriages of justice – more than what many other social systems have experienced. But they have been absorbed and digested in the sands of time. So too this will be.

Despite the judgement, out of reverence for Lord Ayyappa, Hindu women have not come forward to visit the temple. And they are steadfast in their resolve. Nonetheless, many Ayyappa Sangams – groups or forums of Ayyappa devotees – do expect the usual suspects – activist women who have a track record of protesting against Hindu practices – to visit the temple. But like always, most of them will be a flash in the pan.

Advertisements
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2018 in Hinduism, Indology, Media, Sabarimala

 

A scandal unfolds in Tirumala Hills

A scandal unfolds in Tirumala Hills

The recent revelations of financial irregularities at Tirupathi Tirumala, the abode of Lord Venkateswara is indeed troubling. Dr. A V Ramana Dikshitulu, the former chief priest, who has served the temple for more than twenty years, has come out with a series of stunning allegations that has literally thrown the Tirupathi Tirumala Devasthanam (TTD) Board as well as the Andhra government under the bus. Ever since he went public, a continuous steam of alleged serious irregularities are tumbling out indicating that all is not well in the management of the famed temple of Lord Venkateswara.

The allegations range from missing jewels offered to the temple by various kings in the past to diversion of cash donations by devotees to fund government projects and expenses. Also the  discontinuation of the age old practice of annual public audits of the temple’s jewels and the secret digging up of the prasadam kitchen where huge treasure of  jewels were purportedly hidden during Muslim invasion around circa 1150 AD have stunned the public. Further, the TTD management seems to have deliberately employed non-Hindus at the temple in direct violation of its own rules and the matter is said to be in the courts.

The ‘Raj Pink’, a rare 37.3 carat diamond considered as the rarest of the rare variety of diamonds, donated by the erstwhile Maharaja of Mysore is also mired in deep controversy. The former chief priest claims that while a vigilance report by a senior IPS officer recorded it as ‘broken due to pilgrims throwing coins at it’, the actual stone was auctioned by Sotheby’s.

The allegation of diversion of temple funds to non-temple related expenses is nothing new. This has been going on for several decades in almost every temple in south India. For example, in Tamil Nadu, there have been several allegations of using temple funds to buy official cars for the use of government officers, building bus terminals etc. Many fear that the scale of diversion of funds and jewelry theft at Tirumala may be massive.

So what is happening at Tirumala? Some of the allegations are very serious. The TTD administration is yet to issue a convincing point by point clarification on the alleged irregularities – particularly the issue of jewels offered to the temple by Chola, Pallava and Vijayanagara kings – specifically Krishnadeva Raya.

The response of the Andhra government to these allegations is also far from satisfactory. The deputy chief minister has issued a statement warning the former Chief Priest, but has obviously not said anything about the allegations per se. This is on expected lines from a political party in India and unfortunately no one is buying it.

Secondly, in another response (TOI 5/21/2018,) the executive officer (EO) of the temple has offered to display the temple jewels if the Agama shastras so permit. While this is indeed a welcome move, this has raised more questions than it answers. For example why now and not earlier? Many question the timing of the offer too. The EO’s statement also conspicuously does not address the concerns or explain how huge ruby that bedecked the Lord was broken by impact of coins thrown by the devotees.

Thirdly, the Andhra government, in a move to punish Dikshitulu, has sacked the chief priest by changing retirement rules of priests. This is nothing short of political vendetta and a blatant attempt to silence him. Dr. Ramana Dikshitulu has vowed to fight it legally in the courts. Given that temple priests have no formal retirement age, it is unclear how this action by the state government will stand legal scrutiny.

To view the unsavory happenings at Tirumala in isolation is to miss the woods for the trees. Every temple in India has been violated and its jewels and offerings by public stolen. With nauseating regularity precious statues and deities have disappeared in India and reappeared in museums in the developed world or on the sale tables of world’s leading auctioneers. Yet this should not be dismissed as mere petty and isolated criminal offences but part of a larger design to desecrate holy temples of the Hindus.

India’s treasures have been repeatedly plundered – from the Muslim invaders to the systematic draining of the country’s wealth by the British. Now it is the turn of the corrupt political class to pillage. This hemorrhaging of India has to stop now. Period.

The unfolding scandal at Tirumala is yet another wakeup call for the Hindus who, over the ages, have suffered direct and indirect threats to practicing their religion in India. Despite all the hogwash of religious freedom and constitutional guarantees, the fact is that today the practice of the Hindu faith is under great pressure. It is fighting for its very survival in its own land.

The problem here is that the political ecosystem in India stinks and anything short of an impartial enquiry by a retired or sitting Supreme Court judge will only heighten the suspicion of the people. The findings of the inquiry must be published immediately to create confidence in the public. If the allegations prove true, the guilty – however high and mighty they may be – should face the full force of the law.

Regardless of the outcome of this inquiry, the central and state governments must bring in a new administrative body for the efficient and transparent management of temples all over India. It should be noted here that eminent Indians like Dr. Subramanian Swamy have advocated the return of control of temples from the government to the worshipping community, albeit with sufficient safeguards to prevent financial irregularities.

While the jury is still out on the veracity of the allegations of Dr. Ramana Dikshitulu, the TTD move to sack him only hints at a cover up on a massive scale. This has now made him into a martyr and endeared him to millions of devotees of Lord Venkateswara.

In another recent development Dr. Subramanian Swamy has tweeted (May 21st 2018) that he will seek   a Court monitored CBI investigation into the financial misappropriation of temple funds by TTD. He has also termed the sacking of the chief priest as illegal. This scales the problems to a new level of complexity and embarrassment for TTD. Given Dr.Swamy’s track record in filing public interest litigations and achieving the desired judicial outcomes, it could spell disaster for the TTD.

The unfolding Tirumala scandal also has a larger message for the Hindus. The price of religious freedom is eternal vigilance and never can they take it as a god given right, for mere mortals – be it the barbarians or the vile politicians – can pillage this precious right.

The scandal in the hills of Tirumala will be keenly watched. Most certainly, this will wind its way to the highest court of the land, and will also determine the future management of all temples in India. But for the present Hindus can only hope the Lord’s jewels and offerings by millions of devotees over hundreds of years are safe.

 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on May 22, 2018 in Hinduism, India

 

Kanchi Shankaracharya Attains Siddhi

Kanchi Shankaracharya Attains Siddhi

The Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, Sri Jeyandra Saraswathi Swamigal, attained siddhi on 28th February 2018 at the age of 82. He had earlier complained of breathlessness and was taken to the hospital where he attained siddhi. Millions of Hindus as well as his followers in India and around the world mourn his loss.

In 1954, the nineteen year old M.Subramanyam was anointed as the 69th pontiff of the Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam by his guru, the revered Sri Chandrashekara Saraswathi Swamigal. After the siddhi of his guru, he became the head of the Matam in 1994 and had since provided a unique combination of social and religious leadership that had endeared him to millions of his followers. The seer, well versed in traditional vedic scholarship, was also keenly aware of the fast changing socio-religious ecosystem in a developing India and swiftly adapted himself to the changes. He displayed from early on, a multi-faceted personality that went well beyond his traditional religious callings at the Matam.

PudhuPeriyava, as he was reverentially addressed by his followers, had shown keen interest in spreading the teachings of Adi Shankara to every section of the society. In this effort, the Kanchi Matam, like many other venerable Hindu religious institutions in India, has a glorious tradition of unmatched service to the community. His followers came from every walk of life. They included the rich and the famous, powerful politicians of every shade, the poor, Muslims, Christians, destitute folks and people abandoned by society.

Jeyandra Saraswathi Swamigal was always acutely aware of the sufferings as well as the worldly pressures on large sections of Indian society. For him, India’s true progress lay in uplifting these sections and he did his bit silently, often working below the radar.  As a Sanyasi, he was a pillar of support and succor to all of them. His demise, naturally, has saddened millions of people in India and all over the world.

During his lifetime, Sri Jeyandra Saraswathi Swamigal did not shy away from speaking out on issues that affected India at large. Obviously, this did stir up a lot of controversy. Following the footsteps of his guru, the Kanchi Seer too decided to meet these controversies headlong. But all along, he was laser-focused on serving the poor and underprivileged and did not allow the criticisms to deter him from his path of service.

Today it may be fashionable to speak of “inclusive growth”, but this Kanchi Seer had actually been practicing this for at least forty years. He had personally walked into housing communities of Dalits, fishermen, scheduled caste folks etc. in every nook and cranny of not only Tamil Nadu, but all over India. For instance his visits to the slums of Dharavi in Mumbai was well received by the residents there so much so that even today many have a picture of this great seer in their humble homes. This proved that in reality he was not just a religious leader to a small section of society as portrayed by many politicians and liberal media, but was the guru who had a pan Indian following.

The Shankaracharya was instrumental in opening innumerable free schools for children of the poor, irrespective of religion. Many of these schools also provide free food to the children. He had also established several hospitals for their welfare. Many of the super specialty hospitals he had set up now offer advanced treatments on a non-profit basis.

As mentioned, he was not a stranger to controversy. He had briefly left the Mutt in 1987, but returned shortly thereafter.  Later in 2004, much to the anguish of Hindus at large, he was arrested by the Tamil Nadu government on trumped up charges of murder. The case had dragged on, but the then state government headed by J Jayalalithaa could not prove the charges it had bought on in the court of law. Needless to say, the charges were dropped and the Seer and his disciple were acquitted.

It must be mentioned here that years later, Shri Pranab Mukherjee, the former President of India, in his memoir, has pointed fingers at the erstwhile UPA government, hinting that it was instrumental in framing the Shankaracharya for apparent political reasons. He has also written that in a subsequent Cabinet meeting he had vehemently opposed the arrest and disrespectful treatment of the seer.  The Seer’s arrest had left a deep scar in the minds of the Hindus since they perceived this as a wanton affront to their religious rights and freedom to practice their religion. Not surprisingly, the mainstream media in India had never raised a hue and cry about religious freedom or tolerance then.

The Seer was also instrumental in bringing together the leaders of Muslim and Hindu organizations to the discussion table to arrive at a negotiated settlement of the vexed Ayodhya Ram Temple dispute. Both Hindus and Muslims alike had admired the Seer’s pacifist approach and vowed to continue the discussions. It is indeed sad that the Seer did not have an opportunity to see the dispute settled in his lifetime.

Hindus at large have lost a true pillar of support , a sage who did not shy away from speaking up for them – be it conversion, Ram Janma Bhoomi , their right to manage their own temples or for that matter anything that encroached on the freedom of religion in India.

For the Dalits and the neglected sections of society – Hindus as well as non-Hindus, whom the politicians fashionably profess to court and serve – he was like a banyan tree – praying, caring and doing his bit for their welfare in every small way. For them the banyan tree of support has fallen and is indeed a colossal loss. Yet, life has to carry on and they will miss their beloved Swamiji.

The mantle at the Kanchi Matam now passes on to Sri Vijayendra Saraswathi Swamigal, the 70th pontiff. But the memory of Sri Jeyandra Saraswathi Swamigal, the 69th Shankaracharya of Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam, will linger on for ages to come. A widely admired and revered Swami is no more.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on March 2, 2018 in Hinduism, India, Indology, Tamil Nadu

 

Tags: ,

Stoking Hindu Anger in Tamil Nadu

Stoking Hindu Anger in Tamil Nadu

In the recent past Tamil Nadu had witnessed a resurgence of venomous attacks on Hindu beliefs and religious symbol heads. Much has been written on the crass insults that Victor James Vairamuthu, a Christian, had heaped on   Andal Nachiyar, the goddess revered by Hindus all over the world.  As if this were was not enough, Kanimozhi the self-acclaimed atheist Rajya Sabha member and daughter of M.Karunanidhi of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), had also made uncharitable remarks on Lord Venkateswara of Tirupathi.

The insults came during Dhanurmasa, the period of the year that Hindus consider most auspicious for reciting Andal’s Thiruppavai – a collection of thirty stanzas (paasurams) written in Tamil by Andal in praise of the Lord Vishnu. The timing of these insults were carefully designed to create maximum hurt to the Hindus. It certainly did.

It is not that the insults of Victor James Vairamuthu or Kanimozhi by themselves have stirred up the strong Hindu rising.  It has certainly proved to be the hot trigger for a huge swathe of the population that has been reeling under constant anti-Hindu harangue and endless taunts.

Unlike the past, this time around, these anti-Hindu claptraps had the shock of their lives. Hindus from all over south India – Tamil Nadu, Andhra, Telangana and Karnataka expressed their anger and took to the streets to protest the insults. The spontaneity and widespread protests, particularly by women and younger generation pleasantly surprised even the protesters themselves.

In the initial days, the protests were largely ignored by the main stream media, particularly the television networks in Tamil Nadu. However, the extensive use of social media – particularly Facebook and WhatsApp – had proved to be a game changer. It was the active and angry presence in the social media that forced the television networks to devote time. This only fueled the spread of anger to every household and only spawned even more protests.

Housewives took to posting angry self-made videos expressing their disgust at Vairamuthu and seeking his unconditional apology. Many exponents of religious discourses were also at the forefront addressing gatherings of angry Hindus. In fact youngsters – sub 30s something and women in particular – dominated the protest marches. In major urban and metropolitan areas, many retirees and elderly people also joined the protests.

At a time when the entire political class has shunned speaking out in public on the Vairamuthu fiasco, H Raja of the BJP and TTV Dinakaran of the breakaway AIADMK have been the two lonely voices that have unequivocally condemned it. Mr. H Raja has not only castigated the Dravidian parties but has also been at the forefront of the protests. Despite the negative portrayal by the main stream media, he seems to have gathered huge grassroots support across the state, particularly among the young people in Tamil Nadu.

Contrary to what the television networks have portrayed, the protests were well spread out and saw the participation of all communities across the Hindu faith. However, it is true that the crowds that were seen on the streets were not as large as would be seen in a popular political rally. But the diverse, spontaneous gatherings have sent an ominous message writ too large to ignore.

It must however be mentioned here that it would be perfectly legitimate to have differences and disagreements with Hinduism per se, its philosophies, its sacred texts or its belief systems. Hinduism itself has a well-established tradition of debating such differences. Hence the proper and acceptable forum to address such disquiet would be to invite both sides to debate publicly so the people can draw their own conclusions.

Insulting Hindu religious figure heads, on the contrary, has no room in a civil society and is a clear infringement of constitutional guarantees for religious freedom. It is a naked attempt to incite hatred that has the potential to spiral into religious violence and hence is a threat to law and order. It is time to read the riot act to Vincent James Vairamuthu. But unfortunately an effete government in the state has not shown the courage to act. Inaction will certainly not be forgiven by the people in the elections.

The Dravidian cults in all their hues and avatars are no more than a band of Hindu-baiting political opportunists who have unscrupulously played the pseudo secular card for several decades now. As many researchers and authors have already pointed out in their well-documented studies, these cults are but executing their alien masters’ bidding. It is obvious that these forces are tightly aligned with those who do not wish India well.

Despite their protestations and false propaganda to social reforms, the number of Hindus worshiping at the temples continues to swell and unbelievable numbers visit the temples every day. This stands as a grand testimony to the unshakable faith of the Hindus of Tamil Nadu. But to poke this huge mass of humanity is tantamount to committing political hara-kiri.

The obvious result, over the years, has been the creation of a large cesspool of latent anger and hurt among large sections of Hindus that has refused to drain or dry away. The insults heaped on goddess Andal Nachiyar and the sham regrets by Vincent James Vairamuthu and others of his ilk has definitely ignited this latent anger. The rancor and vitriol have only succeeded in passing the unmitigated hatred for these bogus cults from one generation to another. This is an unmistakably a red flag for the Hindu-hating Dravidian political tribes and could well be a harbinger of upcoming jet steam of political changes just round the corner in Tamil Nadu. It has the potential to blow the Dravidian cults to irrelevance and decimate them from the political scene once and for all.

 
1 Comment

Posted by on February 18, 2018 in Hinduism, India, Tamil Nadu

 

Tags: ,

The Rise and Rise of Narendra Modi

Image

I have long resisted the temptation to put down my views on Narendra Modi. It is common knowledge that the electronic & print media in India have consistently projected a perverse and dismal image of Modi, notwithstanding the fact that he has been unequivocally cleared of any wrongdoing by a special investigating team (SIT) appointed by the Supreme Court of India.

In the midst of this polarization manufactured by a very powerful section of electronic and print media,  a well informed and intelligent discussion becomes impossible. However, even at the risk of being ignored, I want to highlight some key issues that have not been widely discussed by mainstream political pundits.

India is witness to a huge transformation that is sweeping the country as a result of three simultaneously occurring and evolving phenomenon. This transformation will influence future course of events in India and will in due course determine who the next PM as well as impact decisions beyond 2014. Narendra Modi has fully understood these forces and has used them to his advantage. This has paid him handsome dividends already – as seen from the massive following at his rallies and the stunning electoral success in the recently concluded regional elections. The three forces are the people’s expectations to deliver on development, India’s ‘demographic dividend’ and the skillful deployment of technology and internet – specifically social media,  in governance and mobilizing the people. Let me elaborate;

Many so called pundits have us believe that using development as an election plank is a new phenomenon. They in fact accuse Modi of starting a new expectation cycle from the people on economic development. This is far from the truth.

For six long decades Nehruvian-socialist shibboleths were peddled as panacea for removing poverty.  Keen observers have always been aware that the political parties – all of them – have been guilty of keeping large sections of society poor and underprivileged. Their logic was that these sections were susceptible to enticements and could be won over with trinkets, gifts and cash disbursals that came in handy to win elections. This, arguably though, is one of the reasons why we find slums dwellers in every city across India. That this has become an uncontrollable eye-sore is another matter.

To cover up incompetent governance and rank corruption, they raised a host of phony issues  and engendering  what Nehru would have called ‘fissiparous’ policies  – like appeasement politics – that did not have any real mass approval  and ultimately ended up against India’s interest.  But today there is widespread anger and demand for governance from every section of society.  Modi has shown the courage to change the narrative from rigmarole sloganeering to execution & good governance. What Modi has done in Gujarat is not unique; he delivered what a reasonable leader in a democracy is expected to deliver and his government performed the duties expected of it.  The time has come where anyone with a good record of governance will win the heart of India. This expectation has taken deep roots and Modi  has positioned himself  at the right place at the right time to encash his good work. .

Secondly, Indian political class today is a genre of senior citizens desperately clinging to office. With over 65% of Indians below the age of 35, the gerontocracy has long lost its connect with people. Overwhelming incompetence and corruption have accentuated disconnect. On the other hand, this demographic segment has played a very significant role so far in independent India in courting and influencing public opinion on a range of issues that  have shaped national discourse – from the gang rape in Delhi to exposing a media personality’s sexual indiscretions or drumming up support for a transparent administration.

Modi has smartly influenced this segment by showcasing his record of governance in Gujarat and offering the ‘India First’ theme. The Gujarat government’s efficient delivery of basic service to the people of the state and the attendant transparency has attracted millions to his fold. From there on he has shown superb leadership in keeping and growing this following by reporting to them at huge rallies the accomplishments in Gujarat and his dreams for India. This has captivated the under-thirty fives as well as larger sections of middle class.

Thirdly, Modi is tech savvy and has not shied away from using IT to enable development. He has an overwhelming following on Twitter – over 3 million followers. His YouTube videos are a big hit.  He is creatively engaging this group by crowd-sourcing new ideas for the 2014 election. The India272 website is an outstanding example where he has requested his fans to suggest campaign slogans, new ideas for development and electioneering. On the contrary the UPA regime and other parties have not only not courted them, but angered them by censoring social media. Winning the hearts of this massive segment is the biggest win for Modi.

Modi has definitely won the hearts of the people in his fight to capture Delhi. He is the hot favorite and is all set to become the prime minister. However, it would be naïve to conclude that the battle is won. There are any numbers of inimical forces that are determined to keep him away from taking charge of India. These are both internal and external forces that are working in tandem to stop him in his tracks. These forces will mount as many challenges as possible – legal, constitutional, political etc to block him.  So his path to Delhi is not exactly a bed of roses and he is fully aware of it. But the most heartening thing is that he has awakened an India that was long suppressed and emasculated by a perverted political model that defied logic for six decades.  If the British divided and conquered India, the Nehruvian socialist perfected a new art of appeasement to further splinter India. Both have greatly damaged the soul of India, but have not succeeded in destroying India. Modi will have his hands full in cleaning up the mess in 2014.

 

Tags: , , ,

Anna Hazare’s Jan Lokpal – a puppet on a string?

Like most Indians, I have been following the anti-corruption movement that has taken center stage in India over the past few months. Anna Hazare and his Friends have been staging protests seeking a tough anti-corruption law. I must confess that the attention that this movement has commanded is indeed remarkable – I would say too remarkable for comfort to be a spontaneous venting we are used to seeing all these years in India. The speed and professionalism with which Anna Fast I and Anna Fast II have been organized has not missed anyone’s notice.  Further, many have also noticed the ultra-professionalism with which the media has been handled. Contrast this with Baba Ramdev’s fast at Ramlila maidan and the chaos that descended there when police sought to disperse the gathering.

Given the fact that Anna Hazare has risen up from humble beginnings and his work has largely been in rural Maharashtra, the display of slick organizational and media management skills stands out.  Let’s face it – in India only a large national political party – either the Congress or the BJP – has the muscle and means to pull off a national event like this.  Some regional parties – for example DMK or even the AIADMK – have shown their mettle in organizing such events but that skill is limited to the state level only. The fact that Anna Hazare with a handful of his notable friends could pull this off astonishes me.

It is this feeling of astonishment that bothers me.

The more attention I pay to Anna’s movement, the more reluctant I am to endorse it. Not that I do not support anti-corruption laws.  Far from it. A dynamic democracy like India periodically needs new laws for better governance. But that need cannot be a show stopper. The very fact that senior politicians have been arrested in 2G and Commonwealth Games scams and face possible convictions under existing laws shows that India’s problems has more to do with lack of political will than inadequacy of laws.  Most reasonable Indians know and understand this.  A real anti-corruption movement should seek to provide autonomy to the enforcement agencies to go after the corrupt.  Team Anna on the other hand has been silent on this and this bothers me.

Team Anna seeks to undermine the legislative authority of India’s Parliament and arrogates to itself powers to dictate the enactment of laws.  In other words, Anna and his Friends are now dictating to Parliament what laws should be enacted, when it should be enacted – and all on the terms and conditions it has dictated; Parliament may debate, but is not at liberty to even modify the Bill!!!!  However, well-meaning the intentions of Jan LokPal may be, undermining Parliament’s legislative powers is unacceptable.  Luckily India’s MPs are not easily outdone. They have summarily rejected the deadline set by Anna and his Friends for passing the Bill. This is correct and needs to be commended.

Team Anna is not accountable to the electorate or any parliamentary committee or for that matter anybody. They are setting a dangerous precedent for any group with money and muscle to bring people to the streets to dictate their own set of laws. This would be jungle democracy.

Unlike the banana republics and paper democracies of the world, India and its citizens have enjoyed a liberal albeit poverty stricken democracy since 1947. A consequence has been that any major and contentious legislation in India is a time consuming process because diverse views and opinions have to be heard and accommodated – a fact that has only made India a vibrant democracy. Hence I do not understand the haste and urgency in passing the Jan Lokpal Bill.  Fighting corruption is one thing but setting a deadline for the legislation in our plural society will deprive the many smaller and weaker sections of society – through their elected representatives – a say in the process. This has not gone down well with many Indians. For example, see the deafening silence and hesitation of many prominent non-political Indians (especially former Justices) who are otherwise eloquent.

Negotiation is the heart of politics. Often compromise is the happy midway meeting that resolves contentious political issues.  But the Anna’s intransigence and often belligerent posturing has cast a doubt on their seriousness to negotiate. All negotiations – whether intended or otherwise – seem to predictably breakdown.

One cannot but notice the complete lack of statecraft by  Dr.Manmohan Singh’s government.  This is not the first fast-unto-death protest in India.  Probably no other government in the world has more experience in handling such agitations that India’s Central and State governments. But the amateurish handling of Anna’s protest points more to dissent within the government than real incompetence. This has only compounded Dr.Singh’s woes.

The more I look the more disquiet I get.  I am all for rooting out corruption but, Anna’s movement seems to be manufactured. I am not sure if Anna and his Friends are fighting corruption or using corruption as a weapon to fight India’s democracy. Their reluctance to submit to a Parliamentary committee, their undue haste, their insistence on having only Magsaysay Award winning Indians in the Jan LokPal Bill ( at least in the early days)  – just to name a few– definitely do not point to the former.

Their agitations, albeit peaceful and non-violent – has come at a time when the Supreme Court has been cracking down on political corruption and has ordered the CBI to investigate major scams of recent times. The 2G scam comes to mind not only because of the huge monetary loss to the national exchequer, but also because of the galaxy of important political honchos that have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar.  Never before has India seen so many powerful netas, babus and corporate leaders crowded in the damp cells of Tihar for corruption. I am not sure if it is the intended or unintended consequence – the show put up by Anna has surely diverted national attention away from the court rooms where major scams are unraveling.

It is true that Anna and his Friends have attracted a huge crowds – many of them young twitterrati.  Anna’s protest has provided millions of Indians – who have been enraged by the scale of corruption in the UPA government – a forum and a meeting place to vent. It would be naïve to assume that all or most of them are committed Anna followers. They would continue to support and hit streets for anyone who calls then to fight corruption. Baba Ramdev has also attracted huge crowds. They will disperse as quickly and quietly as they gathered.

Anna’s fixation in passing his pet Jan LokPal Bill reminds me of a puppet on a string.

25th August 2011

Also Posted at

Boloji.com                       Vijayvaani.com           Vigilonline.com

 

An Anachronism called Karunanidhi

The Supreme Court of India in an extraordinary sitting called on a Sunday, stayed the October 1st 2007 ‘bandh’ or strike called by ruling parties in Tamil Nadu – to pressure the Central Government to implement the Sethu Samudhram Project. In a landmark ruling, the apex Court clearly let it be known that bandhs by governments / political parties would be a thing of the past. A visibly unnerved Karunanidhi, the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, said he would go on a day’s fast. But again on Monday, October 1st 2007, when the Supreme Court threatened to recommend dismissal of his government, Karunanidhi quickly ended the fast and went back to work. The court’s ruling itself has wide implications for the country. Political parties will have to think again about using bandhs as a political weapon. However, the rapidly changing fortunes of this octogenarian politician are a pointer to a fast changing political environment in India, and particularly in Tamil Nadu.

The DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) is part of the government at Delhi and consequently enjoys a national visibility. The Chief Minister’s slander against Lord Ram had created an upsurge of anger across the country and subsequent remarks only amplified the resentment against him. In fact his political allies in the Delhi – at least the Congress – now want to distance themselves from the remarks.

A seasoned politician, Karunanidhi has been in the news recently for the wrong reasons. His tasteless remarks on Lord Ram have ruffled feathers all over the country. He wanted to know which engineering college Lord Rama got his engineering degree from. Going a step further he called Lord Rama a drunkard. In the process he quickly lowered the language to what some national newspapers have called “bazaar language”. The violence that was subsequently unleashed by his party cadres all over Tamil Nadu as a show of muscle power has only aggravated his problems. Being part of the Central government in Delhi only helped in quickly transmitting his acerbic comments to a national audience.

In the end, Karunanidhi’s image had taken a severe beating. He got his daughter Kanimozhi, Member of Parliament to say that it was his “sense of humor” that made him call Lord Rama a drunkard. An avowed anti-Hindi politician, he even tried some rambling in Hindi to soothe the ruffled feathers. But the damage control came too little too late. Karunanidhi’s Rama-speak turned out to be an unmitigated disaster.

Shock & outrage as a political strategy is old hat. Over the years politicians have used it to retain the spotlight and steal a march over rivals in political battles. Say something extremely outrageous and follow this with calibrated sporadic violence – physical as well as mental / emotional – and you have a great recipe to stay in public mind in India. Or so the political pundits in India have postulated. The Congress and communists have used this very profitably in electoral battles. But the lion’s share goes to the Dravidian parties. Of course, as a grand practitioner of this strategy, Karunanidhi gets the cake. Anti-Hindu campaigns, anti-Hindi agitation, separate Tamil homeland – are recorded implementations of this strategy.

But what has come as a surprise is how a seasoned and clever politician like Karunanidhi can misjudge the sway of Lord Rama over the Indian psyche. He has been more provocative in the past with his acidic anti-Brahmin (read anti-Hindu) speeches. But that was confined to electoral politics of Tamil Nadu. Of course, like all Dravidian leaders who professed atheism, he was careful not to offend the Muslim and Christian faiths. For this brand of politicians, and there aplenty in India’s diverse political mosaic, insulting Hindu beliefs is tantamount to atheism while simultaneously respecting every other non-Hindu religion means being secular.

Personally, I am convinced it has more to do with the demographic changes that Tamil Nadu, like the rest of India, is undergoing. The electorate has far more younger people in their early twenties and thirties who have remained outside the traditional influence of these parties. Anti-Hindi agitation and “self-respect” movement – read anti-Hindu movement – are largely history to the younger generations. The Dravidian parties’ Tamil oratory apparently has little charm on these younger generations.

In the Tamil Nadu of the sixties and seventies Karunanidhi’s theatrics would have been a sure hit – not because people lacked faith, but lacked a cohesive structure to protest this monstrosity But today’s Tamil Nadu has come a long way. If the innumerable people thronging its countless temples are any indication, Hindu religious faith only appears to have deepened. TV and the internet have provided the inputs and means for ordinary citizens to participate and express their thoughts.

Further it is likely that Karunanidhi has misread the Indian middle classes. What worked in Tamil Nadu of yesteryears is not necessarily smart for the rest of today’s India. The degree of affection for Lord Ram varies across the country. Even computer models cannot guess how India’s diverse millions would react to a slur on Lord Ram. Also years of secular hypocrisy has helped catalyze the awakening of India’s middle classes who have kept themselves away from politics.

It must be acknowledged here that Ms Jayalalithaa has read the demographic change correctly and wasted no time in making political capital.. Her swift legal masterstroke has paved the way for the Supreme Court to put an end to the extortionist politics called ‘bandh’ that masqueraded as civil protest movement that had caused incalculable harm to the economy and untold hardship to India’s innocent billion plus. The proposed shipway in the Palk Straits is now a lost case.

Every leader has his or her share of the spot light. But there comes a time when he / she has to exit the stage. Karunanidhi’s Rama-speak has paved the way for his unceremonious exit. In today’s India, Karunanidhi stands out as an anachronism.

1st October 2007

Also posted at

Boloji.com 

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on October 2, 2007 in Hinduism, Indology

 
 
%d bloggers like this: