Sign of politics
Devil’s handiwork
Letters to the Editor

On Sunday it will be Calcutta’s turn to choose those who will determine the city’s civic future for the next five years. Civic polls, common sense would suggest, should be dominated by civic issues. In other words, local problems, local grievances and local aspirations should determine the choice of voters in every municipal ward. A sitting councillor who has failed to address local issues should be unseated and a new one elected. But Calcutta, often, is not a city strong on common sense. The tenor of the election campaign has made it clear that the two principal rivals are not concerned about local problems at all. The campaign has been a highly politicized one. Ms Mamata Banerjee, the leader of the Trinamool Congress, is treating the Calcutta Municipal election as a dress rehearsal for the next Assembly polls. Her election speeches in the various wards have not been directed at the problems that confront those who live in the area. Instead she has chosen to recount the various misdeeds of the Left Front and the Communist Party of India (Marxist). The latter has also campaigned on a similar vein. Defeating Ms Banerjee has taken precedence over any programme to improve the civic amenities of Calcutta. Leftist leaders too are not concerned with local problems. Rather, their main effort has been to rouse the people against Ms Banerjee. Under the circumstances, it will not be wrong to conclude that voting on Sunday will be along political party lines: voters will not cast their ballot according to the individual merits of candidates but according to their political preference. This will reduce a civic poll to a mockery of its intentions.

This situation is a direct outcome of what can only be described as the curse of politics. Most people who live in Calcutta — and indeed in West Bengal — see everything through political filters. Calcutta takes pride in the fact that it is ideologically driven and in its belief in the primacy of politics. This is taken as an index of its heightened and mature consciousness. In reality, this kind of consciousness produces and is the product of a tunnel vision. It fails to discern that there are areas in the life of a city that are outside — and one could even say above — the domain of politics. Waterlogging in streets, availability of uncontaminated drinking water, clean and well-maintained roads, buildings free of graffiti and hoardings, pavements on which pedestrians can walk without hindrance, an atmosphere that is relatively pollution free, a programme to eradicate malaria and other diseases — these are issues completely unrelated to politics. These have nothing to do with the shadow boxing between Ms Banerjee and the CPI(M). These issues are the basic rights of every citizen of any civilized city. Any councillor who has failed to provide these amenities in his ward does not deserve to get re-elected; and any candidate who cannot present a clear action plan to provide these rights does not deserve to be voted to power. Party affiliations should not determine voters’ choice in a civic poll.

The polls on Sunday catch the city at crossroads. In the last couple of years there have been some noticeable improvements in civic amenities. This has been most apparent after some of the major roads were freed of hawkers. But attempts to improve civic life in Calcutta is always constrained by political considerations. The left, because it carries with it an enormous populist baggage, is unwilling to push through hard decisions that undo some of the harm leftists inflicted on the city in the past. Ms Banerjee is no better since she has nothing better to offer except an anti-left rhetoric and a bagful of not-so-honest promises. That neither political group care for civic life has been obvious from the campaign: in the manner in which election meeting and rallies have disrupted traffic and caused jams, the scant regard political parties have paid to legal restrictions on noise levels. The people of Calcutta have to choose between Twiddledum and Twiddledee. If they do believe in the primacy of politics and ideology then perhaps they deserve this. Sunday is the day the city can look into its own conscience.    

It should surprise no one if some busybody, or even the Constitution review commission in its wisdom, decides that the best way of coping with the rising tide of violence against Christians would be yet another constitutional amendment to proclaim some kind of explicit proscription. I hope that the All India Christian Council, which is planning a campaign of national solidarity on July 8, will not allow itself to be bought off with such meaningless window-dressing.

Karan Singh’s attempt to fight the evil at a doctrinal level is more relevant. The man who founded and wound up the Virat Hindu Samaj because he wanted no confusion with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad can hold the advocates of Hindutva to a strict reckoning through interfaith meetings and dialogue. The VHP is reportedly in high dudgeon because it has no means of rebutting his argument, based on the authority of the Rig Veda, that “no one religion can claim monopoly over the truth”.

Normally, I would have said that the truth has nothing to do with the devil’s handiwork. Nor with men like Dara Singh and Dipu Das, said to be implicated in the brutal immolation of Graham Staines and his two small sons, or Sunil Kumar Sharma and Dinesh Upadhaya, the two policemen, one suspended, the other serving, who are accused of murdering Vijay Ekka after his master, Brother George Kuzhikandam, was done to death.

Rampaging mobs, slum thugs and sadistic cops will not even know what Karan Singh is talking about. The Vedas are wasted on riff-raff. But such men are never independent agents. Even if no particular authority or organization ordered them to maim and kill, they were able to do so only because powerful political forces have created a climate that condones, if not encourages, sectarian violence. It is to these political and ecclesiastical champions of Hindutva that Karan Singh’s argument is addressed.

If the highest Hindu oracle rules out exclusive virtue, the debate will tilt in favour of the secular synthesis and not a ruthless polity that destroys mosques and compels Christian converts to return to the fold in sackcloth and ashes. The sangh parivar and its patron and beneficiary, the Bharatiya Janata Party, must face up to that scholarly challenge or suffer derision for professing to be more Hindu than the Vedas. One can but hope that leaders who swear glibly that they oppose only “minorityism,” not “minorities,” will appreciate the logic of their own scriptures.

Their anti-secular mischief would not have succeeded to this extent if tolerance and non-violence had not been fond myths rather than actual attributes of Indian thinking. Even so, the instances of reconversion, intimidation, looting, torture and murder do not still amount to a national pogrom. Nor, it must be admitted, has the definition of an Indian been narrowed as yet to exclude anyone who is not a Hindu.

Both could very easily happen however. If governments in state capitals or at the Centre continue to gloss over atrocities, if home ministers do not insist on the police doing its job, and if courts are not obliged to mete out expeditious justice, we might find ourselves worse off than China and Pakistan where religious prejudice is institutionalized. The answer lies in the hands of the prime minister who can, by his exertions and example, try to convince the nation that the BJP provides government for all Indians irrespective of denomination, and not only for the semi-literate urban Hindu trading classes.

Meanwhile, the outrages that are reported with increasing frequency are to some extent motifs in the overall criminalization of Indian life. The bloody handiwork of Bihar’s Maoist Communist Centre or Ranvir Sena, the competitive murders of Tripura’s tribals and Bengalis, or the corruption of cable-laying in Gujarat, are aspects of the jungle raj that is engulfing India. Amnesty International speaks of pressure being brought to bear on organizations fighting caste discrimination, domestic violence and for trade union rights. Apparently, non-government organizations that uncover embarrassing facts are threatened with loss of registration.

Specific factors exacerbate passions within this overall degradation. The animosity against some Christian schools is actually a compliment, for it is fuelled by the disappointment and envy of those who fail to gain admission. Loot can be the motive, well-to-do Christians being the target of attack in some rural pockets. Petty politicians might covet church lands and property, and resent the respect and influence enjoyed by many pastors. At the same time, most Christians are poor and the weaker sections of society are always more susceptible to exploitation. They become doubly vulnerable when religion sets them off from the mainstream, which can muster the strength of numbers and feels that it enjoys the backing of a sympathetic state apparatus.

This mixture of social and economic motives needs no other excuse to explode into cowardly attacks, arson and bloodshed. But no rational explanation fits the gruesome slaying of innocents like Graham Staines, his sons and Brother George. These crimes against humanity can only be attributed to the faith that the victims professed.

Yet, it is difficult to believe that the men who did the job were themselves moved by passionate religious conviction like Catholics during the Inquisition. They were probably instruments of darker and more powerful forces – inevitably, people mention the sangh parivar — that were impelled by two motives. First, those who worship alien gods have no place in India, that is Bharat, and must be exterminated. Second, the selective killing of locally high-profile Christians who are not powerful enough for their death to invite punishment might serve as a warning to others.

If enforced, the law is adequate to deal with those at the bottom of the line of command. A strict and impartial judicial machinery – which we no longer have – can contend with the thugs who actually perpetrate these crimes. Their mentors, on whom the real guilt lies, are beyond the reach of legislation, reminding us once more of Alexis de Tocqueville’s wise advice that a sound democracy depends more on good customs than good laws. The truth of that observation is all the more obvious when we remember that institutional innovation, like Constitution review, has to be entrusted to the very people who in their other vocations and avocations contribute just as much as any other Indian to the debasement of values and the demolition of standards.

Gone are the days when you might have been able to pick out six pure souls in public life and set them up to guide the rest. Purity in public life is now a contradiction in terms. Anyone who is prominent enough for official nomination is likely to be tainted with the same brush.

There are no quick remedies. Tinkering with penal procedures or the Constitution would be just the kind of folly that satisfies conscience and offers an escape clause to highly-placed patrons of crime, without making any impact on the ground apart from bringing the law into further contempt. But enlightened men and women whose own impeccable Hindu credentials entitle them to demand scriptural justification for whatever is meant by Hindutva can hold the BJP and sangh parivar leadership to a strict reckoning of their actions and save social harmony from collapse.

Alan de Lastic has been removed from the scene at a critical time for India. The authorities look the other way while lumpen elements attack targets that their betters have identified. If it is Christians today, it will be Sikhs tomorrow and Muslims the day after. Perhaps the hope is that what remains will be a secure Hindutva. It will not be a happy home for any self-respecting Indian. But, then, that definition too might be abolished if enlightened Hindus do not object now to monstrosities being committed in their name.    


Squandered trust

Sir — Isn’t it strange that Farooq Abdullah should wake up to the virtues of autonomy for Kashmir just when the Centre had decided it would ignore him and talk to the Hurriyat leaders directly? Abdullah might be the elected head of the state, but he has long since lost the upper hand in the valley. He does not have the support of either the Kashmiris or New Delhi. And it is all his fault for playing politics with the sentiments of the people. For Abdullah, the people’s mandate is not a sacred trust, it is a bargaining counter to wrangle ministries and benefits from the Centre. Abdullah should beware what they say about fooling all the people all the time.

Yours faithfully,
M. Pal, Calcutta

Defining morality

Sir — Dipankar Gupta (“Unethically yours”, June 11) overlooks the fact that morality and ethics are two facets of the same coin. Both are derived from the eternal and universal instinct for survival that drives mankind. According to the Vedanta, the individual is a part of the larger society and hence there is no conflict between the laws governing the self and those governing mankind. In other words, if a man is true to himself, he ought to be true to the rest of mankind because moral laws are universal. Morality and ethics contradict each other in Gupta’s analysis because it is premised on the Western socio-religious concept of man as an essentially sinful being and not the moral being as elucidated in the Vedanta. Continuing in the same vein, philanthropy is a virtue, not a moral conduct. And virtues are not universal but closely related to a particular culture. They are not accountable to either ethics or morality.

Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Dipankar Gupta’s analysis of the difference between morality and ethics may be correct if morality were a constant factor. With society undergoing various changes, the nature of morality too must change. What was moral a decade ago may be insufficient today because the boundaries of ethics have been redefined.

Yours faithfully,
H.K. Dwivedi, via email

Errant pages

Sir — I read The Telegraph regularly. The promotional strip featured on the top of page one of the May 28 edition said that there was an account on “The Chronicle of a Chechen nightmare” on Page 11, while the answer to “Why Fiji’s Chaudhary is an outsider” was to be read on page 17. However, the pagination was just the reverse.

The inner pages of the Dak edition frequently do not carry the date. Will the proof readers be a bit more careful?

Yours faithfully,
Badr Aurangabadi, Gaya

Sir — The caption to the picture of K.G. Srivastava pulling a vehicle with his teeth says it was a “Tata Sumo”, when it is evident from the picture that the vehicle was was anything but a Sumo (May 17). The picture on page eight in the same day’s edition makes a similar mistake.

The vehicle overloaded with passengers in Samastipur district is a jeep, and not an autorickshaw. Again, the picture illustrating the success of a nationwide bandh call in Ranchi (May 12) is of the city’s main road, not a mere “street”.

Yours faithfully,
Kamal K. Kedia, Ranchi

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