Prof. DN Jha, Cow and a commonsense critique!

The passing away of Prof. D. N. Jha marks the end of an era in the Marxist historical school in India. He along with D.D. Koshambi, R.S.Sharma, Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib were considered to be the ‘Big five’ of this school. As a historian, the two greatest controversies that he generated was his argument that (a) Babri Masjid was built on virgin land and not on a destroyed temple and (b) cow was not a sacred animal in India, and beef was consumed regularly in ancient India. This was elucidated in his book, ‘The myth of the holy cow’. In this article, I concentrate on the second argument, that of widespread prevalence of cow slaughter and beef consumption in ancient India, since on the first issue, archeological evidence unearthed under the Babri Masjid had proved that the Masjid was not constructed on a virgin land.

In an interview published in the Frontline magazine on 30th October 2015, titled ‘The cow was neither unslayable nor sacred in the Vedic period’, he stated, ‘In my book, ‘The myth of the holy cow’ I have tried to show that far from being the ‘baneful bequeathal’ of Islam, beef eating was common in the Vedic period’. To justify the argument, the book quotes verses from the Rig Veda, Taittiriya Brahmana, Gopatha Brahmana and Brihadaranya Upanishad. While reading the book (had done when it was published) the following points came to my mind;

First, arguing that cow slaughter and beef eating was ‘widely’ and ‘commonly’ practiced during Vedic times based on selective quoting of verses from texts, is hardly convincing for the same texts contain verses which forbid the killing not only of the cows, but all animals. Here are a few examples;

Manusmriti (5.51) states that ‘Those who permit the slaying of animals, those who bring animals for slaughter, those who slaughter, those who sell meat, those who purchase meat, those who prepare dish of it, those who serve meat and those who eat it are all murderers’.

Atharvaveda (10.1.29) states that ‘It is definitely a sin to kill innocents. Do not kill cows, horses and the people’.

Yajurveda (1.1) states that ‘Animals are not to be killed. Protect the animals’.

Seeing such verses, which clearly prohibits the killing of animals, including of cows, to argue that the practice of cow slaughter and beef eating was widespread in Vedic times appears slightly farfetched. Common sense should suggest that even if the practice existed, it was contested and not commonly practiced.

Second, in the same interview in Frontline he concedes that available evidence suggests, that from the post Mauryan period (now that is from 200 BCE by conservative estimates) onwards, the Brahmanical attitude towards cow killing began to change, and sacred texts started repeatedly stressing that cow killing was not permissible in the Kali age. These texts accorded the cow a special status and forbade its slaughter. So the learned Professor does concede that in India, for thousands of years, cow slaughter has faced a religious taboo amongst the Hindus. This fact however does not prevent him from twisting the issue and projecting it as a conspiracy that has recently been created by the Hindu right.

Societal norms are never static and keep changing with changing times. Let us take the taboo that Islam places on alcohol. A reading of the Holy Quran (I quote from The Holy Quran by M. Pickthall here) clearly reveals that alcohol ban was imposed gradually for the Muslims. The first reference to alcohol is found is Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah) verse 219 (2:219) which states, ‘They question you about strong drink and games of chance. Say, in both is great sin, and (some) utility of men, but the sin of them is far greater than their usefulness.’ As we can see here, the Quran does not prohibit the consumption of alcohol in this verse. Hadith has it that one day one of the drunk led his companions in the Maghrib (sunset) prayers and mixed up the ayats in the recital. Thereafter, a stronger message was sent in Chapter 4 (Al-Ni’sa) verse 43 (4:43) which states, ‘O you who believe! Draw not near to prayer when you are drunk, till you know that which you utter, not when you are polluted..’ Alcohol was finally prohibited in Chapter 5 (Al-Ma’idah) verse 90-91 (5:90-91) which states, ‘O you who believe, strong drinks and games and chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan’s handiwork. Leave it aside in order that you may succeed…’.

Now how logical and rational would it be to ignore this verse in Chapter 5 of the Quran, which declares alcohol as haram for the Muslims, and write a book titled ‘The myth of alcohol as haram in Islam’ by selectively quoting verse 2:219?

Third, the argument that the acts done today are justified, for they find mention in ancient texts is fraught with serious moral hazard. Texts like Vajasaneyi Samhita (Yajurved), Taittriya Brahmana, Kalika Purana etc mention Purush Medha (Human Sacrifice), (though I must add that the sacrifice of Purush here is symbolic (the sacrifice of human ego) than of his body), but can a literal interpretation of these references in these texts be used to justify say the recent killings by a mother of her two children in Andhra Pradesh, wherein she justified the killing saying the children would come alive in two days?  

Four, now to the role of the defenders of secularism and protector of Indian Muslims that these leftist historians, our learned Professor included, have self-appropriated for themselves. In doing so, (a) they illogically conflate and seek to establish a relationship between today’s Indian Muslims and the Muslim rulers of the medieval era, which has no rational basis, (b) try to sanitize history with a view to airbrush the religious atrocities carried out by some of these Muslim rulers. Their approach was to create a ‘selective amnesia’ about these events of the past, but what these professional historians of the leftist school fail to understand is that history is not only a subject matter of text books, but also has an oral tradition to it. This history based on an admixture of facts and folklore are passed from generation to generation. Seeking to justify cow slaughter and beef eating linking it to Vedic texts, with a view to somehow protect the Muslim rulers who indulged in these acts, was not only childish but extremely disingenuous. Not all Muslim rulers who ruled India disregarded the Hindu sentiments about cows. Many amongst then imposed restrictions, banned cow slaughter and gave up eating beef voluntarily. While we have references in Al Baruni’s work about Muhammad bin Qasim getting cows killed and defiling idols with cow meat during the conquest of Multan, historical evidence of an Ahmed Shah Durrani, getting the sacred pool of Golden Temple with the blood of cows, Aurengzeb defiling Chintamani Parasvnath Jain temple by getting cows killed inside it, on the other hand we also have references of the ‘Wasaya’ (Will) of Babur where he warns Humuyun against cow slaughter (some however argue that the will is forged). In the book Tezkerah-al-Vakiat written by Gouhar, a domestic help of Humuyun (translated by Major Charles Stewart of East India Company), Humuyun opposed cow slaughter, and when he was offered beef after driving out his rebellious brother Kamran from the city of Kabul, he refused to consume it. Akbar is said to have banned cow slaughter during his reign.

It is surprising that the learned leftist historians ignore these exceptions and tar all the Muslim monarchs as beef eaters (thereby needing to defend them doing so), it is rightist and nationalist historians like Dharampal (completely ignored by the leftist cabal) who in his work ‘The British origin of cow slaughter in India’ argues that by 1700s beef eating was an exception rather than rule amongst the Muslims in India. This was because most of the Indian converts to Islam still carried the Hindu tradition of treating beef as taboo. Cow slaughter and beef eating was actually promoted by the British as an important instrument of their policy of divide and rule. Much of the demand for beef in India was not from the Muslims but from the British. In her letter dated December 8, 1893, Queen Victoria wrote to the Indian Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne that, ‘Though the Muhammadan’s cow killing is made a pretext for the agitation, it is, in fact directed against us who kill far more cows for our army than the Muhammadans.’ The demand for a ban on cow slaughter was not only raised by the Hindus, but also by many in the Muslim community. In 1919, many nationalist Muslims like Maulana Md Ali, Hakim Ajmal Khan, Shaukat Ali among many others, openly called for the Muyslims to give up beef eating. Khwaja Hasan Nizami, a leader of the Sufi Chistia Silsila wrote a book, ‘Tark-e-gaw-kashi’ (Refrain from cow slaughter) in 1921, calling upon his followers to give up cow slaughter.

Unfortunately, instead of writing and recording history as had happened, the leftist historians tried being too smart by half, instrumentalised history so that ideals like secularism could be promoted. However, since this approach clearly militated against facts and (also) commonsense, it produced exactly the opposite results in the long run. Communal differences got aggravated, conversation between communities broke down, legalese triumphed over common sense.

I conclude by paying my respects to the departed Professor. As it is with all the big names of the leftist historiographic school, his scholarship can never be doubted, but their intellectual dishonesty and instrumentalization of history, did more harm than good. May Bhagwan grant sadgati to the departed soul. Om Shanti!  

सरकार सब कुछ बेच देगी..’वोक’ की बकैती

मेरे मित्र हैं, सुबह उठ कर दातुन या मिसवाक नहीं करते, जो हमारे जैसे छोटे क़स्बे में आज भी आसानी से मिल जाती है, कोलगेट के ब्रश और टूथ्पेस्ट इस्तेमाल करते हैं, बाथरूम में हर फ़िटिंग हिंदुस्तान पैरीवेऑर का है, मुँह भी उसी के बेसिन में धोते हैं, टट्टी भी उसी के कमोड में बैठ के करते हैं! फिर नहाते हैं डव के साबुन से…बाहर निकल कर बॉम्बे डाइइंग के तौलिए से शरीर पोछते हैं और रेमंड का चकाचक शर्ट और कलर प्लस का पैंट पहन कर दफ़्तर जाने की तय्यारी करते हैं। अच्छा कुर्ता, पैजामा और बंडी रखे हैं, wardrobe में, सब Fab India का। सरकारी खादी ग्रामोद्योग की दुकान बग़ल में है, पर वहाँ कभी तसरीफ ले जाने की ज़हमत नहीं की…

घर का सारा फ़र्निचर डूरीयन का बनवा रखा है और स्कूटर भी डिज़ाइनर वेस्पा। साथ में गाड़ी भी है सुज़ूकी की! मोबाइल खूब इस्तेमाल करते हैं, सैमसंग का, और अब वही इस्तेमाल करते हैं, BSNL की landline कब की कटवा डाली, की अब कोई क्या करे landline का, जब मोबाइल है ही। मोबाइल में कनेक्शन जीयो का डलवा रखा है और जम के इंटर्नेट पेलते हैं, addiction की हद तक, सोशल मीडिया में खूब ऐक्टिव हैं…

पिछले साल चाइना वाइरस के आने पे पहले माँ बाबूजी को इंडिगो हवाई जहाज़ से जम्मू ले गए और फिर वैष्णोदेवी…माँ बाबूजी ज़िंदगी में पहली बार बैठे थे हवाई जहाज़ में! जब सिर्फ़ air India उड़ता था, टिकट इतना महंगा था की मेरे मित्र तक सोच नहीं सकते थे उड़ना, तो बाबू जी कहाँ से सोचते। ऊपर से हवाई अड्डा तो इतना साफ़ सुथरा की लगता था विदेश में हों, बाबू जी excited हो के बोल रहे थे…मित्र मेरे सोच रहे हैं, अगली छुट्टी में Singapore हो आएँ, अब टिकट सस्ता कर रहा है इंडिगो।

और यही मित्र आज ज्ञान भी दे रहे थे बजट सुनके की सब बेच देगी सरकार। जब मैंने उनसे पूछा की दातुन क्यों नहीं करते, सरकारी NTC मिल का कपड़ा क्यों नहीं ख़रीदते, BSNL की landline काहे कटवा दी, जब जीयो नहीं था, कितना इंटर्नेट पेलते थे? (उन किसानों की तरह जो परसों तक जीयो का इंटर्नेट टावर तोड़ रहे थे, और कल इंटर्नेट बहाली की बात कर रहे थे), सरकारी scooter India का स्कूटर क्यों नहीं ख़रीदे, (जैसे किसान सरकारी कम्पनी HMT का ट्रैक्टर छोड़ कर प्राइवट कम्पनी का ट्रैक्टर ख़रीद कर उसको बंद करवा दिए – क्यों नहीं ख़रीदे HMT का ट्रैक्टर ये कॉर्प्रॉट विरोधी?), ख़रीदते तो बंद नहीं होती कम्पनी। क्यों उड़ते हैं इंडिगो से, सरकारी air India छोड़ कर? मित्र जी नाराज़ हो गए। 😂😂😂

Air India नहीं बेचें? 30,000 करोड़ रुपया झोंक चुके हैं उसमें, ज़बरदस्ती ज़िंदा रखने के लिए इसको…और ये एक कम्पनी है। कितने स्कूल खुल सकते थे इससे, कितने बच्चों को खाना दिया जा सकता था, कितने सैनिकों को अच्छा समान। पैसा पेड़ पे नहीं उगता जनाब, वो गरीब जो बीड़ी और माचिस ख़रीदता है, वो भी टैक्स देता है उनपर और उसको आप झोंक देते हें ऐसे खर्चे में जो प्राइवट कहीं बेहतरीन तरीक़े से चलाती ही नहीं, नए रोज़गार भी देती हैं। पता करिए पिछले दस साल में जीयो ने कितने लोगों को रोज़गार दिया है!

दिमाग़ तख़ा पे रख छोड़ा है इन लोगों ने। और इतना दोगलापन की खुद सरकारी कुछ इस्तेमाल करते नहीं, लेकिन सरकार ग़रीबों के टैक्स का पैसा बर्बाद करती रहे। क़ानून तो ये होना चाहिए की जो भी leftism बतियाता है वो क़ानूनन सरकारी छोड़ के कुछ और इस्तेमाल ही नहीं कर पाए। strategic sector समझ में आता है, अब सरकार ब्रेड बनाए, होटेल चलाए, वो भी टैक्स पेअर का पैसा झोंक कर…क्यों भई?

PS: अभी पूरी दुनिया में भारत का डंका जिस वैक्सीन के बदौलत बज रहा है, वो वैक्सीन जो रेकर्ड समय में बनायी गयी, जो दुनिया की सबसे सस्ती वैक्सीन है, जो करोड़ों भारतीय लोगों की ही नहीं, विश्व भर के लोगों की जान बचाएगी, वो सरकार बना रही है?

भारतीय दर्शन और सेकुलरिज्म

अपने Watsapp समूह में आज एकक मित्र इस बाबत मुझसे बिफर पड़े जब मैंने ये लिख दिया ‘The current definition of Indian secularism is divorced from the genius of this soil. भारतीय सेकुलरिज्म की परिभाषा भारतीय दर्शन से परे की ही नहीं जा सकती, जो बात नेहरू जी नहीं समझ सके थे’. बस क्या था  कर उन्होंने लिखा की ये हिंदूवादी सब का rhetoric है, Genius of soil क्या होता है, क्या है भारतीय दर्शन?  सब soil एक ही होता है, दर्शन वर्शन रूढ़िवादी विचार है, scientific temper  की बात कीजिये. हम कुछ बोले नहीं, बेकार था बहस करना, सो बस एक स्माइली मार के छोड़ दिए!.

तो क्या वाक़ई इस देश की मिटटी में कोई जीनियस है के नहीं और और भारतीय दर्शन के बिना भारत में सेकुलरिज्म की सही अवधारणा की भी जा सकती है? मैं जब भी इस्लाम या क्रिश्चियनिटी के बारे में पढता हूँ तो एक बात दिमाग में हमेशा counter-factual के तरह कौंध जाती है की फ़र्ज़  कीजिये अगर प्रोफेट मुहम्मद का जन्म उस समय के भारतवर्ष में हुआ होता, तो क्या उनकी ज़िन्दगी की कहानी वही होती? क्या इस्लाम का स्वरुप वही होता? क्या उनको इसलिए कौशाम्बी से मगध (मतलब एक example दे रहा हूँ) रात के अँधेरे में हिज़रत करना पड़ता क्योंकि वो एक अलग तरह की विचारधरा या मज़हब (जो नाम उसका देना चाहें, आप दें) को फैलाना चाह रहे थे? इस देश की परंपरा ने तो भाई हर धर्म गुरु छोड़िये, हर किसी को खुल कर अपनी बात कहने की इज़ाज़त दी, चाहे वो किसी को पसंद आये या नहीं, किसी भी established विचार से मेल खाये या उसके विरोध में खड़ा हो जाये. किसी ने भगवान बुद्ध को अपनी बात रखने पर हिज़रत करने पे मज़बूर नहीं किया. क्या आप सोच सकते हैं की भारतवर्ष में किसी गैलेलिओ को इस बात पे फांसी की सजा सुनाई जाती की उन्होंने ये कह दिया की धरती सूर्य की परिक्रमा करती है? उसी तरह अगर इसा मसीह भारतवर्ष में जन्मे होते तो क्या उनको इसलिए सलीब पे चढ़ा दिया जाता की वो ये बोल रहे हैं की वो ईश पुत्र हैं? अरे, यहाँ तो उनको भी कुछ नहीं किया गया, (बल्कि इज़्ज़त से ही नवाज़ा गया) जिन्होंने अपने आप को ईश  पुत्र तो क्या ‘अहम ब्रह्मास्मि’ की घोषणा कर खुद को ही ईश कह डाला. लेकिन मेरे लेफ्टिस्ट लिबरल मित्रों को फिर भी अपनी भारतीय परम्पराओं में सेकुलरिज्म नहीं दीखता, पिछड़ापन दीखता है.

अब चलिए थोड़ा और कल्पना की उड़ान लागते हैं … मान लीजिये अगर प्रोफेट मुहम्मद की पैदाइश भारत में होती और उनको divine revelation भी यहीं मिलता, और फिर वो उसके प्रचार प्रसार के लिए निकलते तो फिर क्या होता? मेरे हिसाब से तो यह देश न सिर्फ उनको स्वीकारता, वरन उस विचारधारा को भारतीय दर्शन में उच्च स्थान देता जैसा की यहाँ जन्मे अन्य धर्मों के साथ हुआ. भारतीय धर्मगुरु शायद अपने सूत्रों में प्रोफेट के विचारों की व्याख्या कुछ इस तरह कर रहे होते;  ‘निराकार अद्वैतवाद’ के दर्शन में एक और शक्तिशाली धारा का उद्भव हुआ है, जो पूर्ण अद्वैतवाद नहीं है, और इंसान के स्वर्ग की प्राप्ति को उसके कर्म से जोड़ती है, सो निराकार अद्वैतवाद और कर्म मार्ग का समायोजन है ये विचार.. .हाँ, थोड़ी पूजा पद्यति में भिन्नता है, वो साल में एक महीने उपवास करना पड़ता है, दिन में पांच बार मन्त्र जाप है, और मन्त्र जाप करते समय उठना बैठना पड़ता है, गरीबों का ध्यान रखने के लिए अपने कमाई का कुछ हिस्सा गरीबों में बांटना पड़ता है आदि आदि!  उसी तरह येसु के विचारों की व्याख्या प्रेम मार्गी धारा का एक अंश कह कर की जाती। मतलब सब इस भारतीय दर्शन का हिस्सा मान लिए जाते, भारतीय दर्शन उनको पूरी तरह अपना बनाकर अपने में समाहित कर लेती, जैसा की अन्य सभी मतों और विचारधाराओं के साथ हुआ जो इस sacred geography में जन्मीं। 

दिक्कत यही है की हमने जो सेकुलरिज्म की अवधारणा की है उसका फ्रेमवर्क भारतीय दर्शन और उसकी समग्रता के विपरीत पाश्चात्य experience पे मबनी  है. चूँकि भारतीय दर्शन के परंपरा में किसी के  ‘othering ‘ की कोई जगह नहीं है (सब कुछ उसी ब्रह्म का एक अंश है), धर्म (जो भारतीय सन्दर्भ में रिलिजन हीं है, वरन कंडक्ट है ) या दर्शन को व्यक्तिगत (private) domain  में restrict करने की कोई ज़रुरत नहीं है. सेकुलरिज्म की जड़ें इस देश में गहरी करनी हों तो उस समग्र समावेशी भारतीय दर्शन का प्रचार बढ़ाने  की ज़रुरत है, न की उसे private domain में सिमित करने की, जैसा पश्चायत्य सेकुलरिज्म करता है. वो अब करे भी तो क्या? पश्चिम  जिसमे सारे मज़हब सेमिटिक थे, और जिनका प्रिंसिपल आइडियल ही अपने मज़हब को न मानने वाले को ‘other’ की संज्ञा देना था, उसे अगर सामाजिक सद्भाव चाहिए था तो बिना रिलिजन को प्राइवेट डोमेन में बाँध देने के चारा क्या था? भारतीय दर्शन में कोई भी वर्ग ‘condemned’ नहीं है, जिसकी नियति में नरक जाना लिखा ही हो क्योंकि वो किसी एक सेमिटिक मज़हब में विश्वास नहीं रखता, ये ज़िम्मेदारी किसी भी मताबलम्बी पे थोपी नहीं गयी है की बाकि ‘condemned’ लोगों को कन्वर्ट करो और उनका उद्धार करो.  ये भारतीय दर्शन कोई बुद्धिजीवियों के ‘हाई फलसफा’ वाली बात नहीं है, बल्कि ये भारत के आम जनमानस में पूरी तरह समाहित हो चुकी है. आप किसी गांव  के सबसे अनपढ़ और गरीब व्यक्ति से भी ये पूछ कर देखें की वो जो हिन्दू देवी देवताओं को नहीं मानते, क्या  निश्चित ही नरक जायेंगे, तो १० में कम  के कम ९ व्यक्ति आपको यही जवाब देगा की ‘ये तो उसके कर्म पे निर्भर है, जैसा काम करेगा, वैसा ही फल मिलेगा’.

दूसरी समस्या जो आयी है ये वेस्टर्न सेकुलरिज्म को अपनाने से वो भाषा, lexicography की है. विदेशी कांसेप्ट की भाषा  विदेशी ही होगी. अब इस शब्द को लीजिये, जो खूब प्रचलित है अभी, ‘Toleration’; inter community संबंधों को डिफाइन करने के लिए मुझे इससे घटिया शब्द नहीं दीखता. मतलब एक दुसरे को ‘बर्दास्त’ करना। कितना नेगटिव शब्द है! कहीं आपने भारतीय दर्शन परंपरा में ये सुना या पढ़ा है की भाई क्या करें, अब बौद्ध हो गए हैं लोग तो उनको ‘बर्दास्त’ करना ही पड़ेगा, या फिर जैन हो गए हैं तो उनको बर्दास्त करना ही पड़ेगा? ये ‘बर्दास्त’ शब्द सेमिटिक मज़हब के ‘फ्रेम ऑफ़ रिफरेन्स’ से ही आ सकता है जहाँ आप उनको, जो आपके मज़हब नहीं मानते, उनको ‘धिम्मी’ बना कर उन्हें ‘बर्दास्त’ करते हैं, उनको कभी अपना नहीं मानते. ‘सर्वे भवन्तु सुखिनः, सर्वे सन्तु निरामयाः’ के दर्शन वाले ‘बर्दास्त’ नहीं करते, सब को अपना मान कर उनको ‘accept’ करता हैं . Indian civilizational ethos had no concept of tolerance, but acceptance.

ये सेकुलरिज्म की परिभाषा और लेफ्टिस्टों की दी हुई शिक्षा पद्यति के दो बेहद अफ़सोसनाक परिणाम निकले हैं. एक तो अपनी सभ्यता और दर्शन से कटने के कारण हिन्दुओं में एक ऐसा ‘सेमिटिक’ तपका  खड़ा हो गया है जो न सिर्फ अपने दर्शन के समग्रता और उद्दात्तता से अनभिज्ञ है बल्कि  सोशल मीडिया में ‘विराट हिन्दू’ बनकर कहर मचा रहा है. यहाँ तक की वो अपने पूज्यों तक को नहीं छोड़ रहा. अभी अभी जिस तरह की बातें स्वामी विवेकानंद के बारे में कुछ लोग लिख रहे थे, उसके बारे में क्या कहा जाये?  पर आप लगा दिए हैं आर्टिकल ३०, अब हिन्दू अपने दर्शन को जानना चाहे तो जाने कहाँ से? गूगल बाबा से?

दूसरी तरफ हैं वो जो माइनॉरिटी का ठप्पा लगा के घुमते हैं. हर समय ये शिकायत की हमारी ‘आइडेंटिटी’, हमारी ‘शकाफत’ पे खतरा है. भाई अब थोड़ा unpopular संवाद कर लें….ऐसी आपकी कौन सी एक्सक्लूसिव आइडेंटिटी हैआपकी, कौन से शकाफत है, जो मेरी या अन्य हिन्दुस्तानियों की भी नहीं है? पैजामा पे कॉपीराइट चाहिए की टोपी पर? बिरयानी पे की कबाब पर? हुज़ूर, भूल जाइये, नहीं मिलेगी. आपकी नहीं बची है वो , हिंदुस्तानी हो गयी है. पैजामा कुरता पहन के जाओ अरब मुल्क़ों में और बोलो मुस्लिम ड्रेस पहना हूँ, दौड़ा के मारेगा अरब, बोलेगा तुम इंडियन ड्रेस पहने हो, मुस्लिम ड्रेस तो वो है जो मैंने पहना है. अब आप आओगे उर्दू पर…. वाह मियां, उर्दू की परीक्षा पास करने के लिए पढोगे गोपीचंद नारंग, और ठोकोगे उसपे अपना कॉपीराइट? गोपीचंद जी ने क्या इस्लाम क़बूल कर लिया था? मतलब हज़ारों भाषा इस देश में उपजीं, सब पर सब का अधिकार, आप उसमे से एक ज़बरदस्ती चुनके अपनी बना लोगे? हम लोग जो उर्दू पढ़ रहे हैं, वो ऐसे ही, पराए लोग… आपके मज़हब मानने वाले ज़्यादा तादाद में करते होंगे इस्तेमाल, लेकिन जैसे एक ज़मीन जिसपे पहले एक मकां  हो, पर बाद में उसे बिल्डर तोड़ कर मल्टी स्टोरीड बिल्डिंग बना दे, तो फिर उस पे उन सारे फ्लैट वालों का हक़ हो जाता है, वो ओरिजिनल ज़मीन वाले का खली नहीं रह जाता, वैसे ही अब आपकी सारी चीज़ हिंदुस्तान में सभी की हो गयी है।

Sir Syed – the man, his reforms and his legacy.

I was recently reading an article which described Sir Syed as a great social and religious reformer. He surely was a great religious reformer, but was he also a social reformer? I have my doubts for other than from his advocacy of widow remarriage, his voice on all the other social ills plaguing the then Muslim society is pretty muted. On religious matters of course his views are nothing short of revolutionary. He surely qualifies as the ‘reformation’ man for Islam. A thorough rationalist, his entire religious theology was premised on the basic postulate that there couldn’t be any contradiction between the Word of God (Quran) and the Work of God (Nature).  He argued that in case there was any contradiction between a scientific fact and a religious ruling/precept, the latter must be reinterpreted in accordance with the former. He challenged the Hadith as a rational basis of Islamic jurisprudence, criticized the practice of Taqlid (to follow), stressed on Tafsir (rational interpretation) and supported free exercise of ijtihad (independent reasoning). For him, no Jinns, Satan or Hoors existed, neither did heaven or hell. He argued that the miracles mentioned in the Quran were not to be understood literally but as idioms. For example, he argued that Isra and Miraj (Prophet’s accession to heaven and vision of God on the night of beatitude) were not a physical or spiritual experience but only a dream. The traditional Ulemas of course were not impressed and dismissed him and his theology as Nechari. He also earned a lot of fatwas in the bargain.

So how do we assess this great man? What was the impact of Sir Syed on the social and political lives of the Muslims of the subcontinent? I would argue that his philosophy of political quietude asking Muslims to stay away from the national movement and depend on the British for promoting Muslim (elite) interest rather than on the larger Muslim society (which included the Pasmanda Muslims) not only created fertile soil for the rise of religious separatism but also laid the foundation of a Muslim society which abhors reforms (till date). His belief that the foundations of an enlightened society could be laid only through modern education and religious reform ignored the reality that religion and education do not constitute the ‘whole’ of society and no society can progress without addressing issues like political participation, removal of social ills, inequality and discrimination. Further, the practical problem that any scholar who seeks to reform societies by reinterpreting religious texts faces is that others who do not agree with him, are bound to challenge him with their own interpretations. More often than not they sound convincing (too), for it is the nature of religious texts that more often than not, they contain mutually contradictory verses.  Religious reform movements that base themselves purely on reinterpretation of religious beliefs and practices while ignoring mass participation/support have limited shelf life with limited overall impact/following (for example the Brahmo Samaj).

While followers of Sir Syed may challenge my assertion, I believe that the fundamental audience of his religious reforms were not Muslim masses (may be the Ashrafs were) but the British colonialists. His writings like the Tehkik-e-Lafz-e-Nasara, The Mohamedan Commentary on the Holy Bible, Asbab Baghawat-e-Hind and Risalah Khair Khawahan Musalman were all directed at the British. The first two books were written with a view to promote the idea of similarity between the Semitic religions of Islam and Christianity, whereas the latter two books sought to project the loyalty of the Muslims to the British. The Khutbat-i-Ahmaddiya, which he wrote in response to William Muir’s (bakwas – interpretation mine) book on the life of the Prophet, as well as his reinterpretation of the Quran was done keeping the British audience in mind. Islam was sought to be projected as a religion that was compatible with modern sciences and thus did not qualify as a backward religion.

The primary focus of Sir Syed was not to address the concerns of Muslim society as a whole but only those of the Muslim elites. His focus thus remained on providing modern education to the Muslim upper castes, their representation in the Viceroy’s executive council and jobs in the government. While he was a votary of excellent inter-community relations with the Hindus at the social level (he was delighted that Muslims were not slaughtering cows during Bakr-Id), when it came to politics he was paranoid about any cooperation with the Hindus, lest Muslim interests (which he considered to be antagonistic to the Hindus) be compromised. He also feared that any political cooperation with the Hindus would jeopardize his argument of unflinching Muslim loyalty to the British.  This made him advocate with some ferocity that Muslims follow a policy of political indifference and not join the Congress – even though the Congress was hardly demanding anything radical those days.  

This political apathy proved detrimental to both India and Muslims in the long run. Political apathy as a policy became untenable when the British introduced limited representative institutions in India. The legitimacy that scholars like Sir Syed provided to the concept of Muslim and Hindu interests being antithetical to each other (Govt. jobs, members of viceroy’s council etc.) not only foreclosed any chance/experience of a common Hindu Muslim struggle, but also led to the rise of Muslim separatism. By constantly evoking unflinching loyalty to the British, he not only provided legitimacy to their rule (if only in the eyes of the Muslims) but also provided the British with the theoretical/ideological rationale for their policy of divide and rule. They could now argue that since a section of India (Muslims) considered them to be legitimate/just rulers of India, it was their responsibility to ensure that the interest of that community was protected.    

This policy of not joining the mainstream and political quietude also had an adverse impact on the Muslim society.  The Indian National Movement was as much a movement for political reforms as it was for social reforms. All communities and social groups who participated in the national movement also worked to eradicate the social ills plaguing their community (like abolition of untouchability amongst Hindus, the reforms in SGPC and formation of Singh Sabha for Sikhs). The national movement which sought to challenge the might of the British empire could not do without mass participation. To enthuse the masses, their pressing concerns like exploitation and social discrimination needed to be addressed and made a part of the nationalist discourse. The policy of political quietude ensured that Muslim politics, dependent on the British and the elites could do without addressing the concerns of the Muslim masses. Since then, (till date) Muslim politics has remained hostage to elite politics and revolves not around substantive but emotive issues.

This political indifference also changed the character of the Indian National Movement to fundamentally Hindu, when seen in the context of social reforms. Unsure about Muslim commitment to composite nationalism, Muslims were left to tackle their social reforms themselves – a hands offish approach that continued even after independence, much to the detriment of Muslim society.

In conclusion it can be said that while his religious ideas were revolutionary, his neglect of social reforms (some might argue very deliberate) and dependence on the British and the Muslim elites, who were more interested in preserving their privileges, rather than securing socio-economic rights for ordinary Muslims led to the condition of the Muslim society remaining hostage to its elites. His ferocious opposition to securing political rights for India within a composite national movement laid the foundation of Muslim separatism, represented by the Aligarh movement.

PS: One important influence over Sir Syed was Adam Smith’s theory of demand and supply, whose works he discovered during his trip to London. In his writings at many places, we find reference to this theory. For example, when he pleads for the adoption of modern education, he argues that during the Mughal period there was demand for traditional religious education but with the advent of the British, who was going to demand such an education? I was intrigued that the genius that Sir Syed was, did he not understand what facilitated the ‘demand’ for religion? Isn’t it the solace that religion with its belief in the supernatural provides, more so when the times are tough? If religion was all about science will it be a source of such a solace, will it be demanded by the masses then?

(The views expressed as personal)

Khadim Hussain Rizvi and the rise of Barelvi extremism in Pakistan

The massive crowd that gathered at Minar-e-Pakistan, Lahore at the funeral of the firebrand, radical Ameer of the political party Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP), Khadim Hussain Rizvi shocked many observers of Pakistan who considered his sect, the Barelvis, quietist and peaceful. Seen as adhering to Sufi Islam and revering saints and the Prophet, many believed they represented the moderate face of Islam providing an antidote to radical Islam.

The Barelvi movement was founded by Ahmed Raza Khan of Bareilly in the late 19th century as a reaction against the reformist Deoband, Ahl-e-Hadith and Ahmadi sects of Islam. Unlike the latter who emphasize upon the ‘humanness’ of the Prophet, the Barelvis consider the Prophet as God’s light (Noor), ever present (hazir-o-nazir), and having knowledge of the unseen (ilm-e-ghaib). They are the lover of the Prophet (Ashiq-e-Rasool) and for them the protection of his sanctity and veneration for him are non-negotiable. The Barelvis have a long history of supporting murder and violence when they believe that the Prophet has been insulted. In British India (1929), they eulogized Ilm-ud-Din as a holy warrior (ghazi) when he murdered the Hindu publisher of the book ‘Rangeela Rasool’ which was considered libelous towards the Prophet. They were most vocal in their condemnation when caricatures of the Prophet were published by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten in 2006. In 2008 they hailed Amir Cheema, the Pakistani immigrant to Germany, as a hero when he attempted to assassinate the German publisher of these caricatures. The Barelvi ulemas condemned Governor Salman Taseer when he argued for amending the blasphemy law in Pakistan. When Taseer was murdered by his bodyguard Mumtaz Qadri, not only did they defend Qadri but also pleaded for his release. Fatwas were issued against offering funeral prayers for Taseer based on which the Imam of Badshahi mosque refused to lead the ritual prayers for Taseer. The violent sit-in in Faizabad led by TLP this month, demanding the expulsion of the French ambassador from Pakistan was in protest against the re-publication of cartoons of the Prophet in France.

The TLP led by Khadim Hussain Rizvi has its genesis in ‘Tahreek-e-Rihai-Mumtaz Qadri’, a movement launched to secure the release of Mumtaz Qadri, the earlier mentioned murderer of Governor Salman Taseer. Building his politics around the twin emotive issues of the finality of the Prophet-hood of Mohammad (khatam-e-nabobat) and strengthening of blasphemy law (tauheen-e-risalat), this charismatic leader established instant connect with his followers through his demagoguery, easy accessibility and smart use of social media platforms. After Mumtaz Qadri was hanged in 2016, the movement was renamed ‘Tahreek-e-Labbaik-ya-Rasulallah’ (TLYRA) which finally converted itself into a political party, TLP. It contested the 2018 elections and surprised many by bagging 2.2 million votes, emerging as Pakistan’s fifth largest political party and the third largest in Punjab. It also won two seats in the Sindh provincial assembly. This political performance was creditable considering that the Barelvi religious political parties like Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) had remained fringe players in the space occupied by religious political parties which was dominated by Deobandi parties like Jamat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamat-e-Ulema-e-Islam (JUI). The partisanship that the ‘deep’ state of Pakistan showed towards the radical Deobandi groups at the cost of the Barelvis, further aggravated their marginalization. This emboldened the Deobandi extremist groups like Sipah-e-Sahaba (SS) and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ), who considered the Barelvis to be heretics to attack Barelvi shrines (Abdullah Shah Ghazi, Data Durbar, Sakhi Sarwar, Shahbaz Lal Qalandar) and murder their religious and political leaders. The LeJ practically wiped out the entire leadership of the Barelvi Sunni Tehreek in 2006 in the Nistar Park attack in Karachi, where nearly 50 Barelvi leaders were killed. Saleem Qadri, the Chief of Sunni Tehreek (ST) was killed in 2001 and Allama Sarfaraz Naeemi in 2009.

After he burst onto the political scene in 2011, Rizvi organized several violent rallies, sit-ins and blockades against the perceived dilution of the twin laws of blasphemy and finality of Prophet-hood. Most of his rallies and sit-ins ended with the government conceding to his demands, which showed their weakness and further emboldened him. When the Election Bill, 2017, proposed changing the wording of the oath from ‘I swear’ to ‘I declare’, Rizvi and his followers held a sit-in at Faizabad arguing that this diluted the finality of Prophet-hood of Muhammad. The then PML (N) government sought the help of the army to disperse the protestors, but they declined showing their tacit support for the sit-in. The beleaguered government capitulated, accepting all demands of Rizvi. Not only was the proposed amendment reversed, the Law Minister, Zahid Hamid who had piloted the amendment resigned and all cases against the protestors were dropped.  The ‘deep’ state’s support to the sit-in was further confirmed when Director General (DG), Rangers Punjab, Major General Azhar Navid Hayat was seen handing over cash filled envelopes to protestors. The Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking suo-moto cognizance of the Faizabad sit-in, castigated the armed forces and its agencies for acting in a partisan manner during the protest. A couple of days before his death, Rizvi had again been leading a protest movement against the re-publication of the cartoons of the Prophet in France. Reports state that the government, in an agreement with the TLP had conceded to all their demands.

The question which many ask now is about the future of TLP and the issues championed by Rizvi. Ironically, while Rizvi riled against the dynastic character of the mainstream political parties in Pakistan, much like them his elder son Saad Rizvi has been named the new ‘Amir’ (Chief) of the party. How far he can keep the party united remains to be seen. The TLP witnessed factionalism in 2017 when Asif Ashraf Jalali broke ranks with Rizvi after Rizvi unilaterally called off the Faizabad sit-in. As for the issues championed by TLP i.e blasphemy laws and finality of Muhammad’s Prophet-hood, both these issues enjoy widespread support in Pakistan. Minorities and Ahmedis are regular targets of these laws. The crisis of governance, declining credibility of mainstream political parties, a failing economy, rising urbanization, unemployed and underemployed young population and above all support of the ‘deep’ state to radical groups will ensure that parties like TLP will sooner than later convert their street power into substantial electoral victories. This does not portent well either for Pakistan or for the region.  

Chinese aggression in COVID times!

(Illustration: Nichole Shinn for Bloomberg Businessweek)

While the world fights the pandemic of COVID 19, China is busy fighting the world and its own people. Apart from mobilizing troops in Eastern Ladakh against India, it has been actively militarizing the South China sea, crushing protests in Hong Kong, threatening Taiwan, Japan and the other South East Asian counties. Internally, it has been quelling dissent in Tibet and Xinxiang with an iron hand. So what drives this aggressive Chinese behavior?

President Xi Jinping and his China Dream
Since his ascent to power in November 2012, President Xihas become the most powerful person in China. Not only has he built a personality cult around himself but with the abolition of presidential term limitsin 2018, he is now President for life. He heads both the Communist Party of China (CPC) and Chinese Military Commission (CMC) thereby controlling all government, party and military institutions of China. He has centralized the conduct of foreign policy under his leadership with the creation of the National Security Committee (NSC) in Nov 2013 thereby limiting the influence of other institutions and interest groups. His ‘China Dream” providesfor ‘two centennial goals’. First,that of China becoming a ‘moderately prosperous society’ with a per capita GDP of $10,000 by 2021, (the 100th anniversary of the CPC), and second,of China becoming a ‘fully developed, rich, and powerful’ nation by 2049 (the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China).As against Deng Xiaoping’s mantra of ‘hide your capability and bide your time (taoguangyan hui), Xi in October 2013 gave the slogan of ‘strive for achievement’ (fenfayouwei) signaling a more aggressive and pro-active foreign policy. The PLA, under Xi has acquired a larger voice in foreign policy, a fact helped by Xi’s military experience (he served as vice-premier in the Central Military Commandbetween 1979-82). Xi has brought about military modernization and reforms and exhorted the armed forces to be ready for war to defend China’s core interests. Xi seeks to promote China’s political and moral vision and international leadership through his advocacy of ‘great power diplomacy’ (daguowaijiao) with Chinese characteristics. His vision is of a hierarchical international order wherein China is at the ‘core’ of the international order and the other states at the ‘periphery’. China as ‘core’acts as the international rule maker and the‘peripheral’ states depend on it for prosperity and survival.

Return of the ideology
While pragmatism defined the conduct of Chinese politics during Deng and Jiang, under Xi ideology has become an important component of Chinese politics. In 2013, he issued Document 9, which warned against the infiltration of western ideas and values in China such ashuman rights, media independence, neo liberalism and civic participation. In his article published in Qiushi, he sought further strengthening of CPC rule over China. China was asked torefrain from copying the model and practices of other countries. This ‘return to ideology’ and the attendant complications of Chinese international engagement however precedes President Xi starting with his predecessor, Hu Jintao. Since 2002, Huhad started rolling back the limited economic and legal reforms initiated by Deng and Jiang. State PSU’s were supported and subsidized at the cost of private enterprises. Jintao aggressively pushed China’s maritime interests, redoubled China’s efforts to build ports and naval bases throughout the Indian Ocean under his ‘string of pearls’ strategy, Chinese navy started regular patrolling and exercising in the South China sea including the territorial waters of other countries, they harassed foreign companies exploring oil, militarized the islets, strengthened the Sansha administrative district tasked with governing territories in the South China sea and extended control over Scarborough Shoal. Alarmed by democratic movements like the Arab Spring, he ruthlessly quelled all dissent through his powerful internal security czar Zhou Yongkang. He humiliated President Obama during his trip to China in 2009 lecturing him on US economic policy and human rights, and disallowed him from speaking to ordinary Chinese. In many ways President Xi has continued with the policy of Hu Jintao.

Slowing economy, rising nationalism
As to the question as to how close is China to achieving Xi’s ‘China Dream’, the path does not seem easy. Economic growth has slowed down from the double digits in the 2000s to 6.1 per cent in 2019. The lack of transparency in arriving at the growth figures – the same person Ning Jizhe is responsible for both setting the targets of GDP growth as well as measuring achievements – makes many analysts skeptical of the veracity of these growth figures. Brookings Institute estimates that China has overestimated its GDP by 1.7 per cent every year. Revenue growth of China has slowed to 3.8 per cent in 2019 compared to 6.2 percent in 2018 (was 7.4 per cent in 2017), while expenditure continues to grow at 8.1 per cent. This has led to widening fiscal deficit at 4.9 per cent of GDP in 2019 with the IMF estimating the shortfall in government revenues at more than 12 per cent of GDP. These have impacted fund commitments for OBOR and induced cuts in funds of military modernization. China now seems reluctant to pay for the construction of a port in Myanmar and no progress has been made on road and rail building to Nepal as was agreed to in 2015. According to the estimates of Centre for Strategic and International Studies, Chinese defense spending may actually fall in real terms in 2020. The J-20 fighter programme is experiencing problems as are the construction of the proposed six aircraft carriers. The plans for four nuclear powered carriers has been shelved indefinitely. With foreign firms seeking to relocate out of China and Chinese firms facing a push back from other nations, unemployment figures are as high as 70-80 million in China. Though Xi still remains all powerful, voices of dissent have started to grow. CPC leaders like Ren Zhiqiang and intellectuals like Xu Zongrun, Xu Zhiyong, Yu Linqui have asked Xi to step down.
Aggressive behavior against other states and promoting nationalism domestically, has long been the chosen strategy of Chinese leadership during periods of domestic discontent and challenge to their rule, Xi being no exception. This helps him externalize his problems.

Chinese self-perception, historical narratives
China is an ancient civilization ruled bypowerful dynasties who subjugated and ruled over peripheral states. Chinesehave long considered themselves to be the ‘centre of the world’, the Middle Kingdom (zhongguo). The Sino-centric world view is reflected in the expression ‘tian xia’, meaning ‘all under the heaven’,which belonged to China. This perception of greatness continues to influence the Chinese mind till date. However, the Chinese were in for a rude shock when the Treaty of Nanking (1842) was imposed on the Qing dynasty by the western colonial powers after the first opium war (1839).Apart from Britain, China was defeated by the Russians and the Japanese. The territory of the Chinese empire shrunk to nearly one third and in public perception,China was ‘carved up like a melon’ (guafen). The Chinese Communist Party (CPC) considers this period from 1839 till October 1949 as the ‘century of humiliation’. During this period, not only did China lose territory but also control over its internal and external policies and its international standing.This narrative of ‘century of humiliation’ continues to impact the imagination of the Chinese – both people and its government. The Chinese government led by the CPC seeks to undo this humiliation and regain the power, prestige, dignity and territory of the erstwhile Chinese empire. The west (including Japan) are still projected in the propaganda narrative as rapacious powers seeking to expand their territories and power at the cost of a peaceful China. China can resist these hostile powers only by being strong – both economically and militarily – and by being led by a strong government under the CPC.
It is this will to power that has made China follow policies that has made it emerge the giant it is today. Not only is it the second largest economy (largest in PPP terms) in the world (14.14 trillion dollars), it is the number one country in manufacturing output (28 per cent in 2018) and global trade (12.4 per cent in 2018) with the largest foreign exchange reserves (3.15 trillion dollars). Its military budget at 181.1 billion dollars (2020) is just second to the United States. In 2019 with 58,000 patent applications, it overtook the USA to become the country filing the largest number of patent applications with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It is one of the world leaders in emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Quantum Computing and semi-conductors. It proposes to spend a trillion dollars to build transport infrastructure around the world so that Pax-Sinica can be realized.

China’s core interests
That this powerful China is never ever humiliated again,CPC has from time to time spelled out certain non-negotiable‘core interests’. These are protection of national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of China, national unification, protection of Chinese communist political system, social stability and economic development. The CPC believes that these core interests were compromised when China was weak,and now that it is powerful it should pursue its core interests with vigour, even if the world considers it aggressive. Therefore,China takes an uncompromisingly hard line on the South China sea, brands Tibetans and Uyghurs as ‘splittists’ and represses them, clamps down on democratic protests in Hong Kong and passes the ‘anti-secession’ law in 2005 allowing it to use force for the unification of Taiwan with the mainland if that does not happen peacefully.
In conclusion it can be said that a host of factors, both personality driven as well as historical and structural lie at the root of this aggressive behavior by China. With the economy slowing, international push back, rise of nationalistic sentiments and growing dissent against Xi domestically, the world needs to brace up for more aggression, not less from the Chinese.

Is political correctness and a fractured polity killing political humour in India?

Last week a repartee by the PM on a laughing Congress Member of Parliament Ms. Renuka Chaudhary drew the ire of the opposition members as well as some feminists who accused the PM of being disrespectful to women. Ms Chaudhary reacted by stating, ‘Even if a woman laughs in Parliament today it is seen as being unbecoming of her. Some men have this perception of women, but men who make laws in parliament cannot have such perceptions. They are expected to give the country direction with their status. But if they continue to behave in this manner, how many years will it take us to give the girl child and females the equality they deserve’. Earlier in February 2017, the opposition decided to boycott Parliament accusing the PM for having insulted Dr. Manmohan Singh by what was referred to as his ‘raincoat’ jibe.

Speaking to Times Now in June 2016 Prime Minister Narendra Modi lamented that ‘there is no humour left in (Indian) public life….In this era of 24×7 news channels, anybody can lift a small word and make a big issue out of it. But I will tell you the truth; the reason for the absence of humour in public life is this fear. Everyone is scared. I am not conscious. I am in fear. My speeches used to be humorous earlier. I see it in Parliament, that humour is finished there, too. It is a matter of concern’. While there might be some truth in what the PM said about the media ‘manufacturing’ and ‘creating’ controversies by taking liberties to ascribe its own motives and meaning to what has been said, an important reason according to me for Indian politics becoming more and more humourless and sterile is the premium currently being placed on political correctness as well as our highly fractured and deeply divided politics today. Parties (in connivance with the media and their supporters) have made an industry out of being ‘hurt’.

There was a time when wit and repartee flowed in the Indian Parliament and the state legislatures. Quips, repartee, jibes, poetry, couplets formed a regular part of parliamentary debates. Here are a few exchanges and anecdotes that I would like to share;

During the Nehru era Dr. Ram Manohar Lohia was scathing in his attack of Nehru and his government. He called Nehru a ‘bald man’ often. Once in anger he stated in Parliament that Nehru’s ancestors were no aristocrats, but instead ‘chaprasis’ in the Mughal court. Unlike the vicious response that the present PM was subjected to by the Congress on his so called ‘raincoat’ jibe, the Congress members then did not either demand an apology or disrupt the house. Instead Nehru smiled and retorted that the honourable member has at last accepted what I have been telling all along; that I am a man of the people.

During the discussion on Chinese aggression in 1962, Nehru thunderously roared in Parliament that not an inch of Indian territory will be surrendered to the Chinese. On this Shri H.V.Kamath got up and asked, ‘In your map, one inch is equal to how many miles?’. Once on the breakfast table Nehru had got better of another MP Shri Mahaveer Tyagi when Tyagi ji seeing Nehru peeling an apple before eating it said, ‘Pandit ji, the skin of apple contains vitamins.’ Pandit Nehru said, “Tyagi ji, you can have the vitamins, I will eat the apple.’ Tyagi ji however got the better of Nehru in parliament when in response to Nehru’s comment that not a blade of grass grew in Aksai Chin, pointed to his bald head and stated that not a single hair grew on his head either, so should he surrender it to the enemy?’

TTK Krishnamachary, Nehru’s finance minister had a running battle with Firoze Gandhi, Nehru ji’s son in law. He argued that the latter owed his political rise to Nehru and called him Nehru’s ‘lapdog’. In response Firoze Gandhi stated that since TTK Krishnamachary considered himself to be a pillar of the nation, he would do to him what a dog usually does to the pillar.

In the days when the opposition members, especially of the Swatantra Party, were being accused of being CIA agents, the redoubtable Mr. Piloo Mody came to the house wearing a placard which read ‘I am a CIA agent’. He was ordered by the Chairman to remove it. He did so announcing loudly that he was no longer a CIA agent.

Once Mr. Mody was heckled by the Congress MP, Mr. J C Jain. Irritated, he reprimanded him and asked him to ‘Stop barking.’ Mr. Jain took umbrage at this and complained to the Chairman that Mr. Mody had used unparliamentary language and called him a dog. The Chair agreed and said Mr. Mody’s comment would not go on record. Hearing this Mr. Mody said, ‘All right then, stop braying’.  Since Mr. Jain did not understand the meaning of the word braying, it remained on record. Piloo Mody was accused by a Minister to have shown his back provocatively to him while the Minister was making an intervention. To this Mr Mody remarked ‘Mr. Speaker Sir, please take a good look at me. I have no front, no back and no flanks. I am round all over. So how could I have shown the honourable minister my back?’ The house was all in giggles!

Much is made today of personal comments and the umbrage that politicians and their supporters seek to take on these comments. Members of Indian legislatures have had a tradition of making jocular remarks on persons sometimes even questioning their intellect. This was hardly ever misconstrued or taken offence at. When Kurshid Alam Khan congratulated Minster in Charge Prof. Madhu Dandvate for the plying of mini buses in Delhi, but reminded him that he had chosen, April fool’s day to start the service, Prof Dandvate quipped that this was done ‘keeping you in view.’ During the discussion regarding the lease of forest in NEFA to a British concern, Shri Bhupesh Gupta rose to ask a supplementary question in the following words, ‘Let me ask a relevant question. Is the PM aware..’, but before he could complete Chairman of the house Dr. Radhakrishnanan remarked, ‘For the first time he is going to ask a relevant question.’ The house burst into peals of laughter, Shri Gupta included.  Acharya Kriplani was known for his acerbic tongue and sharp interventions in parliament. During a debate his anger was directed at the civil servants of the country and their lack of quality. He started by narrating an anecdote about a boy who was no good and so did not manage to get a job for himself. When he came home dejected, the boy’s father told him that he should not lose heart for he was useless and so sure would land up with a government job, meant as they were only for worthless people like him. During his reply John Mathai, the then Finance Minister said, it seems the venerable Acharya ji is fast becoming ripe for a government job.

Nothing was beyond light hearted leg pulling, even the personal lives of members. Bachelors and the spinsters in the house had their legs pulled regularly. During a debate on Maintenance of Internal Security Act (MISA) Bill, Shri Nawal Kishore said he rose with a heavy heart to support the bill.  Shri Bhupesh Gupta then remarked that before he continues further, he should be put through a medical examination so see if he was indeed speaking with a heavy heart. Shri Kishore retorted back saying, ‘What would Mr. Gupta know of matters of heart as he was a barren bachelor?’ When the debate on the Salary, Allowances and Pensions of members was going on, Kumari Saroj Khaparde who was single, demanded that ‘Companion’ passes for rail travel should also be issued for single members like her and Shri Bhavesh Gupta. Shri Gupta stated that while he sympathised with her, but wanted to place it on record that he had no companion. To this Dr. Bhai Mahavir quipped, ‘Both the honourable members can solve each other’s problems.’ During a debate on increasing population, Mr Mohan Dharia lamented the rapid pace at which the population was increasing in the country. Shri Chitta Basu stated in jest that while other married members of the house were responsible for population rise he was not, as he was a bachelor. To this Mohan Dharia responded, ‘My friend will agree with me that to be a bachelor is not enough to say that he is not responsible.’

When I witness passionate debates in parliament these days with the speaker all charged up, I am reminded of the incident wherein C M Stephen the Union Minister was speaking with great excitement and passion on the issue being discussed. His excitement was such that his dhoti was on the verge of falling down. The Speaker of the House, Balram Jakhar intervened and said that while he respected the Minister’s vehemence and passion, he would not allow his dhoti to be put on the floor of the house.

Repartees and quips during legislative discussions have enlivened the house as well as reduced tensions during passionate debates. During a heated debate on Ayodhya, V.P Singh asked Atal Bihari Vajpayee that being a believer in Hindu tradition of rebirth, what would he do if he was born in an Arab country in his next life. Pat came Vajpayee’s reply, ‘I will not borrow your cap to wear.’ The whole house burst into laughter. Staying with VP Singh’s cap, once he came to the house without wearing his trademark fur cap. On being questioned where his cap was he stated, ‘What is important is not the cap but what is under it.’

This tradition of political humour in India is a continuation of a tradition which was developed during the freedom movement. Though Gandhi was considered as dour by many, he did possess a very strong sense of humour and repartee. Who can forget his remark on what he thought of the western civilization wherein he responded, ‘I think it would be a good idea.’ Similarly, on being criticised for going to meet the queen and the king in a loincloth he famously said, ‘His majesty has enough clothes for both of us.’ The doyens of the national movement never took umbrage at being joked upon by their junior colleagues. Sarojini Naidu famously remarked about Gandhi, ‘If only he knew how much it costs to keep him in poverty.’ Was this not a personal attack on Gandhi calling him a hypocrite? Similarly, on Sardar Patel’s cultural tastes, she said, ’The only culture he knows is agriculture.’ There is no evidence that either Gandhi or Sardar took offence to her comments.

Staying on political humour I am tempted to quote British and American politicians too. The rivalry between the British politician Benjamin Disraeli and William Gladstone is well known. Once Disraeli was asked to explain the difference between ‘misfortune’ and ‘calamity’. On this he remarked, ‘Now, observe Mr. Gladstone on the opposition benches. If he fell into the Thames, it would be a misfortune. But if we pulled him out of it, it would be a calamity.

Churchill and Ronald Regan were master political campaigners. Campaigning against Jimmy Carter, Regan had said, ‘Recession is when your neighbour loses his job. Depression is when you lose yours. And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his.’ During his campaign Churchill is said to have met a person who stated that he would rather vote for the devil than for him. Churchill replied back, ‘I understand, but supposing your friend decides not to run, can I count on your vote?’ I would really like to know how the guy voted!

(Here is an interesting video of the attack on the then British PM (Gordon Brown) by the British leader of opposition (David Cameron)).

Getting back to the humorous exchanges in India, what surprises me the most is that leaders like Shashi Tharoor too have now started defending this act of umbrage taking on quips. In his book, ‘The Elephant, the Tiger & the Cell phone: Reflections on India in the 21st Century’, he devotes an entire chapter on political humour in India. A history of Renuka ji’s intervention in Parliament also shows that she too is full of wit and not likely to take offence easily. Here is an incident from the Rajya Sabha in which Renuka Ji is being addressed and her reaction. Does she come across as a lady without a sense of humour or one who would be offended for calling her not so sober?

‘Shri A G Kulkarni: Sir, I only request through you that a friend and a fair lady Renuka in mythology is a sober lady. She is not a Chandika. She should be sober.

The Vice Chairman (Shri Jagesh Desai): She is sober. Sit down please.

Shrimati Renuka Chaudhary: आपके लिए तो कुछ भी करूंगी. मैं  तो फ़िदा हूँ. (I will do anything for you..I admire you)’

So Renuka ji if leaders like you too start getting offended so easily, parliamentary debates would indeed become very dour and uninteresting. A quip should beget a repartee and you are totally capable of that!

(The views expressed by the author are personal and have not been done with a view to hurt anyone)

Is India democratic only because of Nehru?

Chacha Nehru is in news again. The critics of the present NDA government have been vociferous in their condemnation that this government not only refuses to acknowledge the contribution that Nehru made to this country but also wants to undermine his legacy. According to them the biggest Nehruvian legacy has been the survival of India as a democracy. Critics of Nehru, on the other hand, argue that Nehru’s contribution to democracy in this country has been overemphasised. Speaking recently in parliament, the Prime Minister stated, ‘Loktantra Congress ya Nehru ji ki den nahi hai, Loktantra hamari ragon mein hai, hamari parampara mein hai.’ (Democracy is not a gift (to this country) by Nehru or the Congress. Democracy is in our blood, our traditions). So where does the truth lie? I would argue that while Nehru significantly contributed to strengthening Indian democracy and that that his tendencies were basically democratic, yet attributing the survival of democracy in this country only to his legacy would qualify as hyperbole. Lest we forget, Nehru also betrayed significant anti-democratic or authoritarian tendencies. Here are a few examples:

First, let us have a look as to how he forced his way to become the PM of the country, post-Independence. Nehru was not the unanimous choice for the job of the President of the Congress in 1946. The President of the Congress who was to be elected by the Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs) would have subsequently become PM of India after independence. 12 of the 15 PCCs wanted Patel as President while 3 PCCs abstained from naming anyone. It was only at the insistence of Mahatma Gandhi that Patel backed out from the race, paving the way for Nehru to become President of the Congress and subsequently the PM of India. Not only had Nehru made it clear to the Mahatma that he coveted the post but had also made it clear that he would not serve as deputy to anyone. In his book “Nehru: A political biography”, Michael Brecher wrote, ‘If Gandhi had not intervened, Patel would have been the first Premier of India, in 1946-47’.  Is it democratic to get popular opinion overturned by bringing Mahatma’s moral pressure to bear on one’s opponents?

Second, while there is no denying the fact that Nehru attended Parliament regularly and took active part in parliamentary debates, he also used constitutional provisions to, at times, bypass parliament. One such provision was ruling through Ordinances. Article 123 of the constitution allows the executive to issue ordinances when either house of parliament is not in session but it should be resorted to only when circumstances dictate that immediate action is warranted. Promulgation of ordinance as a matter of routine to avoid seeking timely parliamentary approval is neither good governance nor a very democratic practice. Lately, President Pranab Mukherji had voiced his concern about the repeated promulgation of the Land Acquisition Ordinance by the present Government. Shubhankar Dam in his book ‘Presidential Legislation in India: The Law and Practice of Ordinances’ writes that the practice of promulgating Ordinances had become so commonplace under Nehru that the first speaker of India G.V. Mavalankar had written to Nehru warning that ‘the house carries a sense of being ignored and the Central Secretariat, perhaps, gets into the habit of slackness,’ neither of which ‘was conducive to the development of the best parliamentary traditions.’ Nehru, however dismissed his warning. Three ordinances were issued by his government on the very first day of the promulgation of the Constitution i.e. 26 January 1950. During his tenure (till 1964), Nehru government issued 102 ordinances, thus setting the tone for and providing justifications for future governments. Dam’s research shows that during the period 1952 to 2009, different governments brought 177 ordinances either 15 days before the commencement of a legislative session or within 15 days of the end of the legislative session. Not a very great democratic legacy to leave behind!

Third, the undemocratic practice of misusing Article 356 by the Central Government to destabilize governments not to their liking started during Nehru’s term. In his tenure as PM, Nehru used Article 356 eight times to dismiss elected state governments. Nehru dismissed the Gopi Chanda Bhargav government in Punjab even though he enjoyed the majority in the house. In 1954, he dismissed the Andhra Pradesh Government on the specious plea that the AP government was about to be taken over by the Communists. Similarly, in 1959, the first elected non-congress government in Kerala was dismissed by the Centre even though it enjoyed the majority in the legislature. The Governors had become instruments in the hands of the Centre with Granville Austin writing that the Congress had “blended its interests with questionable national needs to take over a state government”. This abominable tradition was carried on by the future governments with his daughter Mrs Gandhi, imposing President’s rule 50 times, Rajiv Gandhi imposing it 6 times, PV Narsimha Rao 11 times and Dr. Manmohan Singh 12 times.

Fourth, nothing surprises me more than the ambivalence that Pandit ji displayed in controlling corruption in public life. It is indeed a paradox that while he was a person of absolutely unimpeachable personal integrity, he condoned and tolerated financial impropriety amongst his colleagues. V.K Krishna Menon, then the High Commission of UK was indicted in the Jeep scam of 1948 but ended up becoming Defence Minister in Nehru’s cabinet. Similarly, TTK Krishnamachary was indicted in the LIC Mundra scam (exposed by his son in law Firoze Gandhi) by the Chagla Commission of Inquiry, but Nehru took him back in his cabinet as Finance Minister in 1963. Despite serious charges of corruption against him, Nehru always had high praise for Pratap Sing Kairon, the Chief Minister of Punjab, whom he considered to be ‘a man of the people, simple in his life’. Incidentally, this simple man was indicted by the Das Commission of Inquiry for corruption in 1964, thereby forcing Lal Bahadur Shashtri to seek his resignation.

Fifth, one cannot but feel bemused when the critics of the present government lament the supposed curtailment of free speech by this government. It would be worthwhile to remind them that the first amendment which curtailed the right of free speech, as enshrined in the Constitution was brought in 1951 by the Nehru government. Interestingly, Nehru was even opposed to incorporating the term ‘reasonable’ before restrictions for he thought the word reasonable was ambiguous and gave the courts too much leeway in deciding the cases as per their interpretation. The Press (Objectionable Matter) Act, placing restrictions on what could be published was also promulgated by his government in 1951. In his interview with Michael Brecher, Nehru justified the promulgation of this Act stating that the press here was doing terrible things, was no good and so had to be restrained.

The left liberals of this country who never tire of calling this government a fascist incarnate and go the ridiculous extent of calling the PM a Hitler need to be reminded of the democratic tolerance of their liberal hero, Pandit Nehru.  When India joined the Commonwealth post-independence, Majrooh Sultanpuri, the leftist poet composed and read out the following poem in a worker’s rally;

Aman kaa jhandaa is dharti pe
kisney kahaa lahraane na paae
ye bhii koii Hitler kaa hai chelaa,
maar le saathii, jaane na paae!
Commonwealth ka daas hai Nehru
maar le saathii jaane na paae!’

 

अमन का झंडा इस धरती पे

किसने कहा लहराने पाए

ये भी है हिटलर का कोई चेला

मार ले साथी जाने पाए !

कामनवेल्थ का दास है नेहरू

मार ले साथी जाने पाए।

The democrat that was Nehru was so agitated by these lines that a warrant of arrest was issued against Sultanpuri and he was put behind bars in Arthur Road Jail for two years. Similarly, the Times of India was forced to discontinue the column that civil servant A.D Gorwala wrote under the pseudonym ‘Vivek’ as Nehru found those pieces too critical of him. So much for the present government and the PM being a fascist!

In the final analysis, while uninterrupted Nehruvian leadership of 17 years’ post-independence did allow democracy to take roots, institutions to entrench and their capabilities to enhance, equal credit is also due to all the other players in the democratic game as well as the capable personnel who manned many important institutions of the state. If Nehru played by the rules of the book, so did the opposition who never questioned their democratic defeat at the hands of the ruling Congress party. Thankfully, we did not have an opposition like in Pakistan where the losing party never accepted/accepts the democratic verdict. India was indeed lucky to have as its founding fathers, both in the government and the opposition, leaders who were seeped in the tradition of constitutionalism and rule of law (most of them lawyers), be it rightists or leftists. Thankfully this great tradition continues till date.

Let us not forget that democracy cannot be a gift to a country by any one person how so ever great he or she might be. It needs constant nurturing and reaffirmation to its core values. If Nehruvian tradition was all that the country needed to continue as a democracy for ever, how come Emergency happened in 1975? How was it that all democratic rights were curtailed and all institutions muzzled? God alone knows what would have been the future of democracy in this country had Mrs. Gandhi not been misled by the false reports of her impending victory and called for elections in 1977? If the Nehruvian democratic tradition was so strong then what was the need for the further checks and balances on the authoritarian power of the executive by the 44th amendment?

So while we must respect and celebrate Nehru, let us not delude ourselves that democracy was only his ‘gift’ to this country and continues to survive only because we were fortunate to have him as our leader in the early years of our Republic.

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

Jauhar as protest! If you protest self immolation how come you cheer and support Gandhi’s or Anna’s fast on to death, ‘progressives’?

The release of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Padmavat has reignited the controversy surrounding patriarchy and misogyny, a women’s right to life and the glorification of the traditional practices of Sati and Jauhar. A very passionate open letter was written to Mr. Bhansali by actor Swara Bhaskar who stated that at the end of the film she felt ‘just like a vagina’. Many other columnists and writers mostly of the so called ‘progressive’ and the left liberal hue have come out in support of Ms. Bhaskar.

The critics however, seem to have decontextualized and missed the nuances, when pontificating on issues like self-immolation and a women’s right to life. Ms. Bhaskar and other so called ‘progressives’ rightly argue that a woman has the ‘right to live’ even if she has been raped. Nobody in the right mind would contest that. However, comparing an act of rape with sexual slavery is an illegitimate comparison. Such a comparison completely decontextualizes and obliterates the societal milieu in which these abominable acts take place. Rape is a criminal offence and in all civilised societies, the one subjected to rape is considered a ‘victim’. No civilized society justifies rape, and a rape victim is considered not only as having a right to live with dignity, but also seek legal redressal through the instruments of state like police and the courts. On the other hand, sexual slavery during the medieval times was considered legitimate by the society. It had religious and societal sanction and women usurped as war booty were subjected to mass rape, forced marriage and sexual depredations. Needless to say unlike rape in modern society they had no redressal against such depravity and also no way to escape. As a result, they were condemned to sexual slavery for ever. In the modern times the proto state created by the ISIS is a case in point. It was a state which not only allowed but also justified keeping women as sex slaves. A glimpse of the horrors perpetrated by the ISIS brutes on women subjected to sexual slavery can be found in the book, ‘The Last Girl’ by ISIS survivor Nadia Murad, who called her experience in ISIS captivity as ‘a slow, painful death – of the body and the soul.’ She was repeatedly raped, spat upon and her body burnt with cigarettes. She says that many women captives killed themselves. There were reports of Yazidi women setting themselves on fire to make themselves less attractive for ISIS men.  Would it be fair to brand the acts of these women for attempting suicide or burning themselves as perverse?  Will that not amount to victim blaming? Of course it would be. Padmavati did exactly what these Yazidi women did; embrace death rather than be completely dehumanised and be reduced to a sexual plaything of the Khilji invaders. The right to life does not mean only the right to ‘exist’ but inherent in it is the ability to lead a life with dignity. What dignity could Rani Padmavati have in a life which condemned her to perpetual sexual slavery till her last breath? So before anyone condemns her ‘choice’ of death with Jauhar, is it not important to understand the context in which the decision was taken? Interestingly the so called ‘progressives’ have always been at the forefront of protesting against the commodification of women (rightly so) but then, what would Rani Padmavati and other women of Mewar be, other than a commodity in the Khilji harem? They would have been reduced to dehumanised playthings to be enjoyed, traded amongst men, tortured and raped at will.

Let us also not forget that while Jauhar as a form of protest may have formed part of a by gone era, the act of embracing death, either slowly or instantaneously, in myriad forms, continues as a form of protest to this day. The Arab Spring was triggered by the self-immolation of the Tunisian street vendor Tarek al Tayeb Mohamed Bouazizi as late as December 17, 2010, in protest against the humiliation heaped on him by the municipal authorities. Isn’t it strange that while ‘progressives’ of one hue condemn Rani Padmavati for her act of self-immolation, ‘progressives’ of other hue (European Parliament) award the Sakharov Prize to Bouazizi in 2011! What about his right to live despite all adversities?

The act of self-immolation as a means of protest has also been a part of Buddhist tradition for long. Who can forget the protest on the street of Saigon by monk Quan Duc on June 11, 1963 against religious persecution of the Buddhists by the Catholic government of Ngo Dinh Diem. This self-immolation shook the conscience of the world and hastened the fall of the Diem government.

(The burning monk Quan Duc. Photo courtesy: Wikipedia)

Similarly, since 2009, 151 Tibetan Buddhist monks have self-immolated themselves in Tibet and China protesting against Chinese occupation and its policies in Tibet.

One interesting fact to note however is the ambivalence shown by these so called ‘progressives’ in their condemnation of this practice of seeking death. If right to life is absolute then all attempts at embracing death, whether slow or immediate, should be treated as unacceptable. This however does not seem the case. Many of these ‘progressives’ who are at the forefront of condemning the practice of Jauhar were also at the forefront in their support for Anna Hazare’s fast unto death for Lokpal. They also speak pretty glowingly of Gandhiji’s repeated fasts on to death, which brought him close to death many times, during his long struggle as the leader of India’s independence movement. Now this begs the question as to if indeed they condemn all forms of suicide or their unequivocal condemnation is reserved for ‘Hindu’ practices like Jauhar? So a fast on to death is justified as in case of Potti Sreeramulu, who died fasting for the creation of Andhra but a Jauhar is not?

In this debate on Jauhar, the issue of ‘gender’ too has been mentioned by some, projecting women as victims, for it is mostly they who are subjected to such ‘regressive’ practices like self-immolation. The examples that I have quoted above however disproves any such generalizations. Men too have killed themselves. It is also worthwhile to note that in many cases powerful women have played exploiters and served as catalysts driving hapless men to self-immolation. The trigger for Bouazizi’s self-immolation was the public humiliation inflicted upon on him by a women municipal officer Ms. Faida Hamdi. Similarly, on witnessing the self-immolation of monk Quan Duc in Saigon, Madam Nhu, sister in law of Diem and a member of the powerful ruling family in South Vietnam is said to have remarked with contempt that she would “clap hands at seeing another barbecue show.”

The film has been pilloried by some for glorifying Sati and Jauhar, indirectly implying that the movie may influence people to either commit such act themselves or induce others to do so. Is this not a very elitist way of thinking, infantilizing an average the movie goer? Unfortunately, the so called ‘progressives’ of this country have generally infantilized the masses and have appropriated the right to think for them. This author is still to meet anyone so far who has seen the film and seeks to emulate the act of Jauhar in her personal life. Like the release of the ‘Last Samurai’ did not induce the Japanese to restart the process of committing hara-kiri, samurai style, no portrayal of any Jauhar in the film, howsoever glorified, will make Indian women jump in fire. So relax!

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

 

My imaginary conversation with an Eminent journalist on the impartiality of the Election Commission

My conversation with a progressive, concerned and enlightened Eminent Journalist on the Election Commission in reference to the article by The WIRE

https://thewire.in/189435/cec-k-joti-didnt-vacate-official-ahmedabad-bungalow-made-representaion-gujarat-government/

Eminent journalist (all smug and derisive): Read this! Do you still believe that this Election Commission can be trusted with such a partisan CEC? Kudos to the journalist who did such an investigative piece. Absolutely kickass! And partisan guys like you seeped in naivety still harp on institutional independent. Get over of your delusions Mauli and smell the coffee. EC has become totally partisan under Mr. Joti. It cannot be expected to act in an impartial manner….

(I interrupt)..but Sir mein zara padh loon article (Can I read the article please)

Eminent journalist: Man, this is kickass investigative stuff. padh le, padh le! (Read Read!)

(He moves around the room continuously, spring in his feet, all super excited while I read and soak the kickass investigative stuff).

Me: Err…But Sir!

Eminent Journalist: Kya..Kya but be?

Me: Sir kuch doubt hai (Sir I have some doubt). I find some sentences difficult to understand. It says “..chief election commissioner (CEC) Achal Kumar Joti had not vacated a bungalow allotted to him by the Gujarat government in Ahmadabad while he was in government service until at least late 2016 – more than a year after he had taken charge of a constitutional position that requires his complete independence from political parties and governments.” …..Well Sir, Government accommodations are meant for government servants and it says that he did not vacate the bungalow that was allotted to him while he was in government service. Now why should a government servant vacate a government accommodation allotted to him when he is in government service?

Eminent journalist: Bloody idiot! Read it carefully. He did not vacate it even after he became EC. Isn’t that a conclusive proof that he is beholden to the Modi government of Gujarat?

Me: But Sir, there are rules related to the retention of government accommodation by Government Servant. The Director of Estates prescribes it for the central government and it is also on the website. Similarly, there must be retention rules prescribed by the government of Gujarat. The author should have checked if it was as per the prescribed…

Eminent Journalist: (now getting pretty angry): Kya check be? We are journalists. We do investigative ‘stories’, find the ‘essence’ of the story and draw ‘our’ conclusions. Rules kyon dekhen (Why should we check the rules).

Me: (muttering to myself): No wonder you call your pieces ‘kahani’ (stories)!

Eminent journalist: Kya bhunbhuna raha hai be? (What are you muttering?)

Me: Kuch nahin Sir. (Nothing Sir)

Eminent Journalist: Ok, so maybe he did not check the rules of retention, but so what? Uss se kya? Does it behove a constitutional authority to seek government accommodation from the government in power? Does it not compromise his/her independence?

Me: But Sir CEC and other ECs are allotted government accommodation by the Government of the day Sir. The controlling Ministry is Ministry of Urban Development.

Eminent journalist: Again you are indulging in obfuscation. Yeh ‘controlling’ Ministry kya hota hai?(what is a controlling ministry?) Ministry ministry hota hai, jisko neta head karte hein. (Ministry is ministry headed by Neta) and since all ministers are controlled by Modi….

Me: (interrupting): So Sir what you are basically saying is that even if he had not asked for the retention of the bungalow in Gujarat, it would have been Modi who would have anyway allotted his accommodation here in Delhi….!!

Eminent journalist: (all excited, looks like will jump out of his chair) Yes, Yes! Now you get it. CEC is ever beholden to Modi, he will only do his bidding. He was his Chief Secretary…no institution remains nonpartisan now…. Read what P. Chidambaram has written about the EC…..It will only do Modi and Amit Shah’s bidding!….EC is partisan…CEC asking for retention of his bungalow even after he moved to Delhi as EC…What destruction of all the institutions of this country…!

Me: (fearfully interrupting him): Sir, but a couple of months ago a very prestigious Rajya Sabha election happened which you had covered, (what I  meant was that you covered that story happening in Gandhinagar sitting in Delhi, with your favourite stringers filling in for you) in which it was reported that the President of BJP had put his prestige on line to defeat a certain Congress leader. But alas, he could not influence the same EC, under the same CEC, whose request for retention of his bungalow was still pending before the Gujarat government, over which according to you the President of BJP and PM has unlimited influence. Yeh kaise ho gaya Sir? (How did that happen Sir?)

Eminent journalist: Where is your rest room?

Me (smiling): Sir aap pehle bhi to mere ghar aa chuke hein (you have visited me earlier too)
Eminent journalist: Yes, of course. I know, straight and right.

(He gets up to go to the rest room)

Me: (while he is still on his way): Sir, as to what Mr. P. Chidambaram has written today, do you know what Scroll (who can challenge scroll) reported about what Madam Sonia ji said about the same EC under the same CEC, whose request for retention of his bungalow was still pending before the Gujarat government then? She said ‘Thank God for the Election Commission’!

I don’t know if he heard me for I could see Mr. Eminent journalist hurrying towards the rest room. Lest he disbelieve me, I try to access database of scroll and thankfully find the link easily. (https://scroll.in/latest/846651/thank-god-for-the-election-commission-sonia-gandhi-on-congress-win-in-gujarats-rajya-sabha-polls)

However, I wait for long. Looks like Mr. Eminent journalist is in no hurry to get out of the rest room. May be in there he can think better!

(This conversation is a work of the figment of my imagination and is meant to entertain. All characters (except me) bear no resemblance to anyone dead or alive. It is also NOT meant to offend anyone either dead or alive, so please ‘adjust’)

The views expressed by the writer are personal.

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