Vande Mataram

The “dead issue” is brought back to life yet again by some Muslim clerics who issued a fatwa against the recital of Vande Mataram by Muslims. In response, Hindu hard-liners retorted that those who refuse to sing the national song should go to Pakistan.

Two connected but fundamentally different claims are made here: (1) that Vande Mataram is un-Islamic, and (2) that refusal to sing Vande Mataram is unpatriotic. While the former is induced by religion, the latter has national chauvinism written all over it.

We certainly can’t deny the communal and political motives behind such claims, but the falsity of the second claim deems the first one almost irrelevant. In a just and liberal society no one should be forced to sing a song, be it national song or national anthem. If I, for example, find Vande Mataram offensive for religious, personal, ethical or any other reason, I should have freedom to deny its recital.

As Amit Varma has argued in a compelling blog post (link), there are two types of patriotism: one is primarily driven by love, and the other from pride and self-esteem. The first type of patriot doesn’t impose his own love and reverence (for the country) on others. While the second type of patriot demands everyone else to share his fervor and passion. A love-driven patriot may feel bad if others don’t share his feeling, but unlike a pride-driven patriot he wouldn’t get offended by that. Symbolism (like national anthem, flag etc.) and display are very important to the pride-driven patriotism. But they don’t mean much to the love-driven patriot, who adores the real things (like food, culture and music) as opposed to symbols that represent them.

The other concern that this event raises is about the vices of an unbridled democracy. There is a detailed discussion in Fareed Zakaria’s illuminating book The Future of Freedom about this. The first source of abuse in a democratic society comes from the government, and the second source comes from the people themselves. The will of majority can easily transform into tyranny of majority. The will of majority is important, even crucial to a democratic system, but so is the protection of minority’s rights. Democracy is surely a good system, but too much of a good thing can be bad sometimes.

[See my earlier related post: Talibanization of India]

Clarification: It might appear from my post above that I am implicitly approving the fatwa declared by the cleric. I am not. What I am defending is: liberty. If one doesn’t want to sing Vande Mataram, he should not be forced to sing. And same way, if a muslim wants to sing Vande Mataram then he should be allowed to do so as well.

For the interested reader, here’s good summary of issues and controversies surrounding Vande Mataram.


Blaming Nehru

Here we go again. Nehru-bashing has been quite a popular fad nowadays (especially among the rightists) and so far he had been blamed for myriad things. But this recent assault, has a new edge.

jinnahI was quite excited when I heard about this new book on Jinnah written by Jaswant Singh: Jinnah – India, Partition, Independence. But then I read this interview between Mr. Singh and Karan Thapar, and found out that the BJP politician is actually blaming Nehru for the partition of India.

Now there are many things (said by Mr. Singh) in this interview that are plainly incorrect – like how Jinnah was born poor and was a self-made man, or how British offered India a dominion status in the 20’s; wrong and baseless, respectively – but this ‘demonization’ of Nehru proves yet again how lenient and eloquent we Indians are when it comes to criticizing Nehru (and often, Gandhi). [See my earlier post: Love to Hate Nehru.]

In response to Thapar’s question “How seriously has India misunderstood Jinnah?” he explains how we needed to create a demon for one of the most dreadful events of the 20th century in South Asia, and Jinnah ended up being our scapegoat – the villain of partition. How ironic! Because I think Mr. Singh himself needed a demon to ‘un-demonize’ Jinnah in his book, and he found a scapegoat in Nehru!

What do I think about this novel allegation (that Nehru, along with Jinnah, was responsible for partition)? I think it’s quite preposterous, if not outright ludicrous. I don’t have any problem with a new perspective on Jinnah. May be we (Indians) did misunderstand Jinnah to some extent. I would love to see a different point of view on one of the most influential figures in Indian history. But belittling Jinnah’s contemporaries with a hope that the fabricated contrast would help in elevating his personality is not a very honest approach.

Frost Modi

I know it’s ridiculous… totally hopeless, but while watching Frost/Nixon few days ago, I really hoped, rather yearned, that one day we’ll see Narendra Modi too breaking down in front of camera and commit his horrendous misuse of authority as the chief minister of Gujarat — like how Richard Nixon, the only man who ever resigned from the US Presidency, did in 1977.

Below are the three specific things that Frost (the interviewer) mentions when the defamed ex-president Nixon asks him “What do you want me to say?” —

… there are three things the American people would like to hear you say.

One, there was probably more than mistakes. There was wrongdoing – yes, it might have been crime too.

Second, I did abuse the power I had as President.

And thirdly, I put the American people through two years of agony and I apologize for that. 

And I know how difficult it is for anyone to admit that – most of all you. But I just feel if you don’t, you’d regret it for the rest of your life.

To this, Nixon, now perspiring, visibly shaken and ravaged, responds by committing his crime and admitting that he let the American people down.

When I heard Frost asking for those three confessions from Nixon, I couldn’t help but think how relevant they are with respect to Narendra Modi — admittance of crime, abuse of power and an apology. I know, I know, it’s too much to hope from Modi who evidently doesn’t share Nixon’s guilt-conscious and compassion (as I perceive from the movie).

So there. Hope in vain…

P.S. Thapar did try once to bring him to knees, but his arrogant approach was bound to fail.

P.P.S. If you haven’t watched Frost/Nixon yet, I highly recommend it. Isn’t it amazing that a political drama that exclusively revolves around an interview can induce an adrenaline rush as high as if you were watching a boxing-movie?

Congress or BJP?

One of my friends asked me few days ago which party I would vote for if I were in India. To that, I want to quote a small passage from a post written by the ace blogger Amit Varma.

I still prefer the Congress to the BJP. This is because the Congress stands for nothing, while the BJP stands for something pernicious. The BJP has, in its DNA, the politics of divisiveness. It is true that the Congress has also played such politics, but out of convenience, not belief. That makes their acts no less heinous, but, in my eyes at least, it makes them slightly less dangerous because there is less chance of things going wrong, of a repeat of 1984 [Anti-Sikh riots] or 2002 [Godhra riots]. 


And yes, rooting for the least worst party (or candidate) sucks but what other options do we have?

Talibanization of India

The CM of Karnataka (B S Yeddyurappa), Sri Rama Sene Chief (Pramod Muthalik) and the CM of Rajasthan (Ashok Gehlot) follow the footsteps of the Thackerays. Muthalik barges into a pub in Mangalore with his hooligan friends and they assault the girls for wearing Western outfits and dancing with their friends. (link) “We will not allow pub culture in Karnataka” says BSY and before you start thinking that this is a well known phenomenon that exists in the right-wing group, Gehlot, a Congressman, slams “pub and mall culture” and aspires to become a “moral police” of the state.

These incidents are aptly being labeled as efforts of “Talibanization of India” in some editorials (here’s one). Instead of learning to respect individual liberty and preserving the age-old tradition of tolerance and fairness, some elements in India seem to strangle the society with their dogmatic orthodox beliefs. Forcing their own ideals, however corroded they are, on others is exactly what the Taliban has done (and is still doing) in Afghaniztan. Because we live in a society that’s relatively more law abiding, the magnitude of their atrocities are limited, but their ideology is not far off from that of the Taliban regime.

The fact that some of these intolerant whimsical madcaps are democratically elected leaders, often heralded by many locals, makes it more saddening. It reminds us again of the dark sides of democracy. That democracy is not always liberal. Fareed Zakaria has elaborately explained this in his thought provoking political science book The Future of Freedom. The dilemma is this: what if elections are free and fair, but the elected are fascists, racists and separatists – illiberal in general? Zakaria writes:

For the people in the West, democracy means “liberal democracy”: a political system marked not only by free and fair elections but also by the rule of law, a separation of powers, and the protection of basic liberties of speech, assembly, religion, and property. But this bundle of freedoms – what might be termed as “constitutional liberalism” – has nothing intrinsically to do with democracy and the two have not always gone together, even in the West. After all, Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany via free elections.

In a democratic system, there are two potential sources of abuse: one from the elected autocrats, and another from the people themselves. The will of the majority can easily transform into tyranny of the majority. Because the politicians have to rely on votes to stay in the government, populism and pandering is embraced. One might blame the existence of vote banks for such attacks  (mentioned above) on liberty. But it’s important to distinguish between a symptom and the disease. Vote banks, and pandering in general, are side products of illiberal democracy. Their existence rely on things like religious fundamentalism and collectivism. Even Washington is not exempt from this phenomenon, where the special interest groups and lobbyists seem to run the show. “The more open a [democratic] system becomes, the more easily it can be penetrated by money, lobbyists and fanatics” writes Zakaria.

Today, India is genuinely free society and have a fully functional democratic system in place. But the frequency of “Talibanization efforts” have become more frequent and fervent. We need to remind ourselves yet again that protecting liberty and individual freedom should be the hallmark of a free and just society.

Let Kashmir Decide Its Own Fate

Just about five years ago, I was a strong believer in the authoritative proclamation: “Kashmir hamara hai.” Anyone who even wandered about other alternatives was automatically considered an anti-Indian (or pro-Pakistani, which more or less meant the same thing back then).

Thinking about that polemic and rather one-dimensional sentiment now, I think that belief originally stemmed from a strongly conceived notion that Pakistan was trying to snatch Kashmir out of our hands, and we can not let them succeed. It was by no means a wrong judgment of our neighbor’s motives. Pakistan did try (and is still trying) everything they could to make sure that Kashmir remained at the forefront of India’s major concerns for last 61 years.

Then there was another (rather indirect) justification that if we let Kashmir go then other states and regions will start (or, restart) making secessionist or irredentist demands. This was an obvious concern since India has seen many secessionist movements after its independence – Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Punjab, Assam and Mizoram.

Adding legitimacy to the belief was the fact that the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Sing, signed the Instrument of Accession in 1947 and according to that, Kashmir became a part of India. [Here is the full text of that Instrument of Accession]

Thus a strong national pride challenged by the malignant neighbor, a valid concern for the integrity of the nation, and legitimacy in the form of Instrument of Accession kept alive the staunch and stout belief that Kashmir is an integral part of India and we can not let it go.

My beliefs have changed over the years and now I realize that in all those rationalizations, I forgot to consider one vital point. The will of Kashmiri people. And how we promised to respect the will of the people by conducting a plebiscite. This promise remains unfulfilled, as it was contingent on Pakistan withdrawing their military presence from the Kashmir region. This is not totally unfair claim on India’s behalf. Pakistan does occupy the so called ‘Azad Kashmir’ and also another sparsely populated region known as ‘Northern Areas’.

Since then, Pakistan kept on infiltrating the region with terrorist, and training Pakistani as well as Kashmiri people in their camps. And India kept on sustaining and increasing its military presence in the region to counter-attack the terrorism, which came with the unfortunate side-effects of subjugation of the inhabitants and in some cases rapes and extortion of innocents. In the midst of power/dominance struggle between two nations, the fate of Kashmir remains uncertain. We never actually stopped and asked the Kashmiri people what they want.

In last 61 years, India had tried everything to please the Kashmiris (in the hope that they would stay amicably as a part of India). But  the situation have gotten only worse and more tenuous. What’s becoming more and more clear is that the Kashmiri people – especially in the Valley – don’t want to stay with us. They look at us as oppressors and consider Indian “occupation” of Kashmir as one form of colonialism.

Being a democratic nation, India is being unfair with a state that has no desire, and have never had any desire, to stay as a part of India. (Consider the following: Junagadh was a mirror image of Kashmir in 1947 – a Hindu majority state with a Muslim ruler. When the Nawab declared that he wanted to accede with Pakistan, India sent military to Junaghdh and the Nawab had to flee to Pakistan. Our justification for military intervention? The will of the majority is to stay with India, we said. But alas, we didn’t use the same yardstick with the situation in Kashmir. The will of the Maharaja took precedence over the will of the population.)

If we let Kashmir go, then following their streak, what if people from (let’s say) Punjab come up with the same demand, you might ask. First of all, that’s very unlikely. All secessionist movements in India had died away. And even if they get renewed, the case in point would be different and it would warrant a different solution than that of Kashmir. (Kashmir is the only Muslim majority state in India. The only state with majority of the population that never wanted to accede with India.)

It’s time to hear from the people of Kashmir. A plebiscite is long overdue. If Kashmir wants to stay with us (the Hindu majority Jammu and Buddhist majority Ladakh region are likely to vote in favor of India) – fine. If not, let them try independence or merge with Pakistan. (The Muslim majority Valley is likely to go either way.) This, obviously is not easy to implement overnight, and I am no political guru who can lay out the game plan for how India and Pakistan should proceed. But as a believer in liberal democracy, I feel that we should take necessary actions and move in the direction of holding a referendum in Kashmir. Let Kashmiris, not the military, not the politicians, decide the fate of Kashmir.

Further reading:

Vir Sanghvi argues that we should hold a referendum in Kashmir, not only because of democratic and ethical but also for economical reasons.

Swaminathan Aiyar writes about the farcical democracy of Kashmir that, according to him, started with Sheikh Abdullah in 1951. He compares Indian claim to the Valley with British claim to India before 1947. (I don’t agree with all of his point of views though.)

Pratap Mehta remarks that “The Indian state has a legitimacy crisis in Kashmir.” He also admits that “India has in the past sacrificed democracy in Kashmir to its own nationalism.”

Amit Varma believes that a plebiscite is desirable but impossible given the imperatives of Indian and Pakistani politics.

Update: More from Arundhati Roy. A shorter version of this essay is published (link) in Gurdian.

Comment Policy: Any comment that uses profanity, makes personal attacks or is irrelevant to the subject will be removed.

Socialist Leaders of The Pre-independence Era

Socialism was like the Spirit of the Age in pre-independence India. It’s not surprising, if a bit unsettling to some, that many of the freedom fighters got attracted to the lure of socialism as the correct medium for nation building while dreaming for an independent India. It was Karl Marx, the father of communism, who inspired many Indians through his writings during the Russian Revolution.

  • Bal Gangadher Tilak was among the first Indian freedom fighters to praise Marx’s philosophy and the Russian communist revolutionary Lenin. 
  • Subhash Chandra Bose, the fascist leader of the Indian National Army who was impressed by Mussolini, had inclinations towards authoritarian means for creating a socialist nation. He thought of Soviet Union as a role-model-nation for India and believed (post WW II) that democracy would not work in a country like India. He had major disagreements with Gandhi’s non-violent methods for attaining independence, and was an advocate for a violent resistance. [He was elected as the president of Indian National Congress for two consecutive terms, but resigned because of his ideological differences with the Mahatma.]
  • Another freedom fighter, Bhagat Singh, was also attracted to the Marxist principles of revolutionary Communism. After becoming the leader of Hindustan Republican Association, he changed its name to Hindustan Socialist Republican Association in 1928. Like Netaji, he also believed that a vast and diverse country like India could survive only under a socialist government. He wrote in his letter to the Governor of Punjab “Till Communist Party comes to power and people live without unequal status, our struggle will continue. It cannot be brought to an end by killing us: it will continue openly as well as secretly.” In the famous statement on June 6, 1929, Bhagat Singh said: “The whole edifice of this civilization, if not saved in time, shall crumble. A radical change, therefore, is necessary and it is the duty of those who realise it to reorganize society on the socialistic basis. Unless this thing is done and the exploitation of man by man and of nations by nations is brought to an end, sufferings and carnage with which humanity is threatened today cannot be prevented.” 
  • On the other end of the political spectrum, the Indian National Congress also believed in the socialist philosophy and set it as a goal for free India. Nehru, the first prime minister of independent India adopted socialist practices for industrial and economic development as well as for social reforms in India. While many believe today that the liberalization should have taken place as early as the 70’s (as opposed to the 90’s), it remains a topic of debate whether implementing free market economy right after freedom could have been a wise alternative to ‘centralized planning’.
  • The National Planning Committee (NPC), which was set up in 1938, was in charge of deciding economic policy for India that was soon to be free. The NPC took lessons from Russia and Japan where state intervention was needed and helped tremendously to annul the effects of late industrialization. This ‘late industrialization’ effect was even more prevalent in India which had been under colonial rule for over 200 years. So the NPC suggested “service before profit” policy, and notably the private sector agreed with this strategy.  In 1944, a group of leading industrialists published A Plan for Economic Development for India (which was later known as the Bombay Plan), in which they expressed the need for state intervention especially in  energy, transportation and infrastructure. These capitalists concurred that, positive and preventive functions of the state are essential to any large scale economic planning in the early stage of industrialization. 
  • Gandhi, however, was not very impressed by and attracted to socialism. In the following passage (that I took from Gandhi’s biography: Gandhi, The Man, His People and The Empire, written by his grandson Rajmohan), he talks about his thoughts on the role of state in the economy and the relationship between the state and the individual: “The sum and substance of what I want to say is that the individual person should have control over the things that are necessary for the sustenance of life. If he can not have such control the individual can not survive. Ultimately, the world is made up only of individuals.” This sounds somewhat libertarian to me, but they are definitely not pro-socialist. 
The word socialist was not added to the preamble of the Constitution of India until the Emergency of 1976. Below is the preamble:
having solemnly resolved to constitute India into 
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation; [link]
(Emphasis mine.)
Even after India has shredded off its socialist ideals in 1991, when the prime minister Narsimha Rao and the finance minister Manmohan Singh, introduced economic liberalization which spurted a tremendous economic growth in last couple of decades, India continues to be described a socialist republic in the preamble to the constitution! [Several months ago, the SC surprisingly refused to entertain a petition which urged to remove the word socialist from the preamble.]

Giant Douche and Turd Sandwich

Although I am not a conservative, as a libertarian my favourite presidential candidate is the Republican representative from Texas: Ron Paul.

I definitely don’t agree with all of his plans and policies (that I know of). Also he might be too old and doesn’t look like the “strong leader” that US is looking forward to have as a President, but I think Paul is the candidate whom I dislike the least. As one of the South Park episode has succinctly put: you have to make a choice between a Giant Douche and a Turn Sandwich!

Here’s a snapshot of some of his beliefs and actions:

– He opposes, and have always opposed, Iraq war.
– He wants USA to be out of UN and other such international groups.
– He believes in: Abolishing Federal taxes, dismantle Federal reserve and get back to god-backed currency.
– He supports Gun Ownership.
– He says no to US interventions in other country’s internal affairs.

Here’s a link to his web-site:

Giuliani, Romney and McCain are currently the forerunners at Republican presidential nominee race, but it looks like none of these candidates can win an election against Clinton. In fact, any Republican presidential candidates seems very likely loose election against Clinton.

Senator Clinton, who is considered a socialist by many people now, wants the Government to “take over” Health Care system. It looks like by increasing taxes, she would go on a spending spree if elected as a President. She must be stopped! But unfortunately if looks like no one will be able to do that.

I am not a US citizen, so I don’t vote here, but being in this country for several years, I have my emotional investments in next year’s presidential election.

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