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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.

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

 

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.

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

 

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India’s Surgical Strike – Calling Pakistan’s nuclear bluff

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A lot has been written about the surgical strike carried out by the Indian army deep inside Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) on September 29th. Media reports have indicated that India is likely to share more details of this daring operation. But first things first. India needs to be congratulated on the planning, flawless execution, post-strike information and media management of a surgical strike that changed everything about India forever. It was a retribution for the attack on the Indian Army Brigade Headquarters at Uri in which 19 soldiers were killed. It was a punishment that a resurgent India handed out that Pakistan will not forget for a long time to come. Experts believe the strikes are only a preface to more such operations that India will impose on Pakistan.

Concern has been raised in the media about Pakistani response. There are justified apprehensions about possible tactical nuclear strikes. While nothing can be taken for granted, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a possible retaliatory nuclear strike would have been factored into India’s strategic calculations. India’s readiness to respond would be a given.

How Pakistan reacts, and suffers the consequences of its response will be seen in the coming days. For now, they clearly seem to have been severely whipped. It has also left the door wide open for future cross border strikes by India.

A central piece to this episode is the message it has delivered. The optics of the strike itself have unambiguously broadcast India’s larger strategic intent to the world – Pakistan in particular and through it, China.

Some analysts have expressed the view that India has turned a new leaf only after the dastardly attack in Uri. A closer observation of available pointers paints a different picture. In fact, the writings were on the wall soon after Prime Minister Modi took office. Many may not even recall that Modi’s first visit outside Delhi in June 2014 was to the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. He also spent Diwali with the Indian troops in the rarefied heights of Siachen Glacier.

Modi’s top priority was to focus on India’s military strengths and vulnerabilities that play a pivotal role in his grand vision to transform India, particularly the economic transformation. As the Chief Minister of Gujarat, he became painfully aware that any such vision would be susceptible to terror campaigns from across the border.

It was no surprise then that Modi upped defense spending making India the world’s largest defense buyer. The massive arms purchases have yielded important diplomatic dividends – a huge leverage with major powers that came in handy in pursuing India’s regional and global strategic agenda. The recent US smack down of Pakistan, for voicing a nuclear threat against India was no accident. It was a well-deserved end result of two and a half years of dogged diplomacy.

In retrospect, the twin focus – building military competence and refurbishing diplomatic ties with key nations and international institutions – was a deeply thought out strategy that became a keystone to Modi’s pet initiatives.

Many only see Modi’s focus on rapid economic growth and miss the underlying twin focus. But a sufficient and necessary condition for India’s economic transformation is military might and relief from cross border terror.

While the painstaking preparations were afoot over two and a half years, the killing of Indian soldiers on Myanmar border in the east created an opportunity for India to test its new doctrine. The much acclaimed ‘defensive offense’ mandated a new normal involving hot pursuits and strikes on foreign soil. But Pakistan failed to see the writing on the wall and continued to live in a la-la land of bogus nuclear deterrence. They even mocked India retorting that “Pakistan was no Myanmar”.

The Uri attack provided a perfect opportunity for India to execute an already fine-tuned and tested doctrine on its western front. It was ripe and ready for whipping Pakistan and calling its nuclear bluff. However, it has to be mentioned that the Uri brigade camp had shown surprising incompetence in allowing the attack – given that post-Pathankot, there was sufficient intelligence to up the vigil.

On another front, India’s self-imposed taboo on mentioning Balochistan, POK, Gilgit, Pashtun etc. together with the lobby of peaceniks, Aman ki Asha types, et al had succeeded in holding back the country. But Modi’s Independence Day speech on August 15th this year actually broke this shackle. It succeeded in opening the flood gates of discontent in the local population in those areas, encouraging them to rise against an oppressive state. It has provided India a new set of levers against Pakistan.

The optics of the surgical strike referred to earlier, as well as the Independence Day speech, have helped launch the country into a new international orbit. This molting of India has provided three key visuals for Pakistan, China and the West, in that order.

First, India has called Pakistan’s nuclear bluff. Any future terror attacks on the country will invite retribution that will impose high costs on Pakistan. However, there is no guarantee that Pakistan will cease and desist its cross border terror. But there is no doubt that there will be a befitting retaliatory strike deep inside its territory.

Secondly, it had a powerful message for China. The China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) runs through territory over which India has legitimate claim. China is investing over US $46 billion in the project and has been concerned about the constant security threats from unrest in Balochistan and POK. By raising the Balochistan issue, India has successfully put a spoke in China’s wheel. It has raised serious doubts about the security and hence the very viability of the project. It is a warning for China not to fish in troubled waters. Again, it has opened new bargaining positions for India against China.

Striking deep into enemy or foreign territory is a capability that currently only the US and Israel are known to possess. The surgical strike into POK announced India’s entry into this elite club. India can execute hot pursuits or deep strikes in enemy territory to enforce its regional agenda and achieve strategic objectives.

India’s surgical strike shows a new and assertive paradigm where terror attacks will no longer be business as usual, notwithstanding Pakistan’s nuclear fig leaf. Burying the now dead self-imposed ‘strategic restraint’, India seems determined to act upon safeguard its strategic interests.

 

Digital India –Technology for economic transformation

Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power with a massive mandate in May 2014. His mantra has been good governance nasscomand economic development. Given the massive scale of poverty in India – in spite of the impressive growth witnessed in the last decade – the path to economic salvation complex and merits serious thought and policy initiatives. As Modi seeks to put the Indian economy on a high growth trajectory north of 7%, his government is betting on deploying a broad spectrum of cutting edge technologies as the catalyst to enable this massive economic transformation. Digital India initiative will play a pivotal role in facilitating this transformation.

The reliance on technology rather than ideology is a refreshing paradigm shift. Unlike the socialist ideology forced upon the nation for over six decades that resulted in stagnating poverty and measly growth rates, technology has proved to be a reliable catalyst in economic transformations of nations. More importantly India, where a majority of whom are under 35 years of age, is impatient and in no mood to suffer economic hardships any longer.

Industrial Revolution of yesteryears is a striking example of how new inventions and technology spurred western economies. In more recent years, the advent of mobile phones has enabled widespread reach of telecom and mobile enabled services to remote areas in poorer economies of Africa and Asia. Kenya’s mobile banking is a shining example. Hence the reliance on technology is prudent and has the highest odds to success in enabling this massive transformation.

Digital India will provide both government and non-governmental service providers a platform to co-create and co-share a transparent, leak-proof – read corruption free – and efficient delivery of services to every nook and corner of the country. This connectivity will hasten a feedback loop to the federal and regional governments by providing instantaneous data on various program implementations and other vital data.

In fact Prime Minister Modi, in his recent address at the NASSCOM summit on 1st March 1, 2015 stressed the importance of digital technology in service delivery, governance, transparency and an effective deterrent to corruption. Even at a minimum, this will be a phenomenal achievement that will set the stage for rapid economic resurgence. The benefits are immense.

However this reliance on technology is fraught with the obvious risk of obsolescence. Rapid changes in technology can render huge investments redundant and can hurt developing economies badly. Hence the window of opportunity for deploying extant technologies as an agent of transformation is minimal to small. This is precisely why we find the almost obsessive pace with which the government is working to execute the digital India initiative.

Leveraging digital technology as a transformational catalyst envisages three key prerequisites – technical knowhow, ability to consume digital technology and capital. They will dictate the success of Digital India campaign.

Unlike cryogenic engine technology of the yesteryears when the country was held to ransom by western technology, India has access to the best in class digital know-how via its very own home grown IT majors. Hence access to know-how and skilled human assets would not be a problem.

Secondly, mobile usage in India is at a record high and growing and consequently the ability to consume services via digital technology is high. India currently has approximately 90 crore mobile users! This is a vast user penetration and an incredible service delivery platform for the government.

However, availability of capital could be a major challenge. The Modi government has been investor friendly and has produced the right sound-bytes to attract fresh investments. Many analysts who have followed the Modi government for the last nine months believe that the government may not face serious challenge in raising funds externally. Internally, the recent auction of coal blocks that netted over 1 lakh crores points to new financial muscle and determination of the government.

That leaves the execution and delivery of the project which may be the weakest link in the chain. While PM Modi has the right credentials in delivering, as seen from the Gujarat experience, he is on test as to how these lofty ideas are translated on a broader canvas to benefit the country.

It is, however, imperative to point out that for the first time in over six decades, the Indian government has mustered the courage to dream big – a clear vision rooted in pragmatism and not on empty ideology or rhetoric. This has gladdened the heart of middle India. For starters, the Digital India initiative has prevailed over its biggest obstacle – selling the vision and winning hearts; it is a major victory at that. But risks persist in making this dream a reality.

India today stands at the cross-roads – a poor nation with lofty dreams that has squandered away its resources and treasure to corruption and a perverted politico-bureaucratic ecosystem bent on exploiting the country rather than serving it. It is this very same system that will help execute and deliver on Modi’s lofty vision for a digital India. Modi will need all hands on deck since Digital India is fraught with high risks, but the rewards are huge too.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2015 in Economics, India, Indian Economy, Indology, Trade

 

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The Rise and Rise of Narendra Modi

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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.

 

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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

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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

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Posted by on October 2, 2007 in Hinduism, Indology

 
 
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