Editorial / Exit without a flourish
Comparing chauvinisms
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / EXIT WITHOUT A FLOURISH 
 
 
 
 
They are changing guards in the Writers’ Buildings. From Monday, November 6, Mr Jyoti Basu will be described as the former chief minister of West Bengal. He took his last bow in the Writers’ Buildings yesterday. The Chinese communist, Zhou Enlai, a person Mr Basu admired at one time, once commented that it was too early to note the impact of the French Revolution. Those who live in West Bengal cannot afford that kind of luxury. They are forced every day to feel the impact of Mr Basu’s 23 year old tenure as chief minister. That experience will not provide Mr Basu with a very good report card. Industry in West Bengal is languishing. Haldia Petrochemicals — that white hope of industrial revival — appears to have been born spastic. Capital, which fled after Mr Basu’s vigorous waving of the red flag from the Sixties onwards, has refused to be persuaded by his sudden wooing of capitalists from 1995-96. Industrialists publicly respect Mr Basu for being a gentleman, but refused to take him seriously when he said that their investments would be safe in West Bengal. One way to look at Mr Basu is to see him as a man who tried to get investments back but failed despite his best intentions. Such a view isolates Mr Basu from his context. No evaluation of Mr Basu can overlook the fact that as a leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), he saw capitalists as the number one enemy and organized opposition to them. In the Nineties, it was impossible for Mr Basu to get his party to do a complete 180 degree turn and declare itself to be a friend of the capitalists. Mr Basu’s failure was embedded in his own past.

The ultimate measure of a chief minister is his success as an administrator. Here Mr Basu’s record is marked by a singular absence of innovation and boldness. Two incidents can serve as illustrations. In the mid-Nineties, Mr Basu took upon himself the responsibility of privatizing Great Eastern Hotel. This would serve, Mr Basu believed, as a showcase, of a new capital friendly West Bengal. It took Mr Basu nearly five years to get this project through and even now it does not appear certain that all the obstacles have been overcome. This cannot be seen as an example of administrative efficiency. The second incident has more serious implications since it involves the politicization of the bureaucracy and of the education system. Under the rule of the Left Front, the law and order machinery of the state has been made completely subservient to the CPI(M) and the education system, from the universities to the primary schools, has come to be controlled from Alimuddin Street. Mr Basu did nothing to stop this erosion of autonomy of the institutions of civil society. This legacy will haunt West Bengal for years to come and Mr Basu’s chief ministership will remain permanently associated with this deterioration.

Mr Basu’s singular political achievement has been the holding together of the Left Front. This is the secret of the left’s uninterrupted sway over West Bengal. Mr Basu knew this and took pains to paper over cracks and to smooth ruffled feathers when the CPI(M) appeared too domineering. Mr Basu has gone to the extent of saying that this alone has earned him a place in world history. This is, of course, a piece of vanity from a man who knows that under his stewardship, West Bengal, on many counts, has slipped back from the position it occupied before the left came to power. A popular mandate, even one that lasts over two decades, cannot by itself be reckoned as an achievement. The use of that mandate is important in history. Mr Basu and the left utilized the disarray in the West Bengal Congress to full advantage but failed to translate the power the people had reposed in them to transform West Bengal. Otto von Bismarck remarked that a measure of a man’s greatness is his intelligence minus his vanity. Mr Basu’s vanity perhaps surpassed his intelligence. No historian will be surprised if Mr Basu does not find a mention in the annals of world history.    


 
 
COMPARING CHAUVINISMS 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
After the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh gathering in Nagpur, it is useful to think about the ways in which some of India’s Asian neighbours have dealt with their minorities. Comparing chauvinisms might help us understand why some Asian countries have gone further down the majoritarian road than India has and, conversely, why the Indian state has generally resisted majoritarian pressure to stand out as the protagonist of the Hindus. A comparison might also help us assess the weight of the sangh parivar’s claim that India’s minori-ties, especially Muslims, have been pampered by a “pseudo-secular” state.

The complaints of Hindu chauvinists nearly all relate to Muslims. This is not unusual: chauvinism anywhere in the world is always directed against an “alien” community that doesn’t automatically “belong” to the nation in the way that the “host” community does.

In Malaysia, the Malays consider themselves the original owners of the country and see Malaysia’s Chinese citizens as outsider aliens whose citizenship is conditional on their recognition of the prior and organic claim of the Malays to Malaysia. Malays and their culture, in this view, define Malaysian nationality. The language of the Malays by its very name proclaims Malay ownership of Malaysia: it is simply called Bahasa Malaysia, just as its Indonesian counterpart is called Bahasa Indonesia. The Chinese nationals of Malaysia and Indonesia are pressed to acknowledge bhumiputra hegemony by taking on “indigenous” names, by incorporating a “local” (Malay or Indonesian) partner in any ethnic Chinese enterprise, by acquiescing in their de facto exclusion from high political office despite their numbers (a third of the Malaysian population is ethnic Chinese).

The idea of the bhumiputra or the son of the soil is central to the construction of national identity in these countries. Bhumiputra insecurities are fed by the success of the Chinese business community and the obvious importance of Chinese enterprise to the economic life of the nation.

Less than a decade after independence, the Sri Lankan state under Bandaranaike’s Sri Lankan Freedom Party, moved to enthrone the majority by proclaiming Sinhala as the sole national language, and by explicitly promoting and subsidizing Buddhist institutions. When Sri Lanka became a republic in 1972, the new constitution formally gave Buddhism “the foremost place” in the life of the nation. Given K.S. Sudarshan’s tirade against Christianity’s foreignness it is important to remember that Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s first government in the early Sixties nationalized all private schools in response to Sinhala Buddhist allegations that Christians had a stranglehold on the nation’s educational system. The Sri Lankan flag is a symbolic statement of Sinhala hegemony: the Sinhalese-Buddhist icon of the lion rampant dominates it and tolerated at the margins of this Sinhala standard are two coloured stripes, orange and green, symbolizing Sri Lanka’s Tamils and Muslims.

Language, geography, ethnicity and religion distinguish the Sinhalese from the Tamils. The Tamils were concentrated in the north and east, they were non-Buddhists, their language was Tamil and their social origins lay in India’s Tamil country. Sinhala chauvinists saw the Tamil minority as a threat well before the Jaffna troubles degenerated into civil war. The heterogeneous Tamils, made up of plantation workers, subsistence peasants and a highly educated and socially mobile middle class, were clubbed together and characterized as an encroaching elite minority with a presence in the professions and government service that Sinhala chauvinists decided was out of proportion to their population. It is worth remembering that the political flowering of Sinhala chauvinism in the Sixties was, in terms of law-and- order, peaceful. It took 20 years of majoritarian rule before the first anti-Tamil pogroms of the early Eighties were organized and before the civil war in the north began in earnest. The sangh parivar’s prescriptions lead us down that road.

In Bangladesh, once East Pakistan, the substantial Hindu minority was resented as an exploiting landed elite that had for centuries oppressed the mainly Muslim peasantry. Hindus were distrusted as an urban Babu community and, after relations with India deteriorated, suspected of being Indian fifth columnists. A pattern of systematic discrimination and second class citizenship forced large parts of this Hindu population out of East Pakistan/Bangladesh.

To be tolerated at the majority’s pleasure is no substitute for full citizenship in modern democracies. It is a state of limbo, a chronically unstable condition. Second class citizenship is so contrary to the basic assumptions of a democracy and such a reproach to its functioning, that a democratic polity which cannot accept its minorities as full citizens quickly moves to disenfranchise them politically or to expel them physically on the grounds that despite being resident they aren’t nationals at all, that they actually belong elsewhere, in India or China or Pakistan or Tamil Nadu or Palestine.

What is interesting about these examples and any others we may choose to examine — the Jewish community in Weimar Germany for example — is that the demonized minority in each case is resented for being socially or economically more powerful than the “indigenous” majority. So the Jews are rootless financiers responsible for the subversion of the German economy, the Tamils are guilty of monopolizing Sri Lanka’s professional and bureaucratic institutions, the Chinese in southeast Asia stand accused of shutting local populations out of business through racial conspiracy (besides being guilty of being different) and Bangladeshi Hindus are stigmatized for the centuries of oppression their educated and (relatively) prosperous co-religionists visited upon Bengal’s plebeian Muslims.

The Muslim minority in India doesn’t fit this pattern. Even before Partition, the much larger Muslim community of British India wasn’t economically dominant anywhere in the subcontinent. Punjab was a partial exception, partial be-cause Muslim prosperity, such as it was, was based largely on landholding; trade, commerce and urban business were dominated by non-Muslims. The United Provinces (modern Uttar Pradesh) was home to a class of influential Muslim landowners and Muslims had a larger share of education and government employment in that province than they did in the rest of the country but it would be hard to show that they dominated politics or administration or business anywhere in north India. There was a tiny Muslim community in Bombay province of which the visible and prosperous tip was a community of Ismaili merchants and businessmen; there was a Muslim elite in Hyderabad city parasitic on the Nizam’s administration but apart from these islands of privilege and prosperity, the Muslim com-munity contributed more than its fair share to the ranks of India’s urban and rural poor.

This partly explains the other difference between India and countries like Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh: the unwillingness of the independent Indian state to formally sponsor majoritarian demands or to systematically discriminate against its most significant minority. The independent states of Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh succumbed to the temptation of institutionally entrenching the majority’s interest partly because in these countries minorities could be shown to be or were perceived as more privileged, more prosperous or more powerful than the rest. In India it was hard to sell such an idea and not only because the Congress, the party of anti-imperialist nationalism, was a pluralist and secular organization, though this was important. Despite the catalogue of historical and political sins attributed to predatory Muslims, there was no general sense of resentment born of envy simply because it was clear to everyone that Muslims as a community were backward rather than privileged.

If the Muslim population of India was relatively backward just before Partition, its economic and social standing after Partition declined further. It was numerically weaker: the larger part of the community was lost to Pakistan and what remained was a rump, an impoverished rump because many educated Muslims from parts of India other than the Pakistan areas migrated to the new Muslim state. By every criterion used to measure development — education, income, employment, life expectancy — the Muslims of independent India were a depressed community even by the low standards of a poor country.

Today, 53 years after independence, Muslims lag behind every major religious community in India. If the United Nations development programme’s country reports on human development were to organize information in community categories, the visible gap between Muslims and other Indians would embarrass the republic. It is in the context of this demonstrable backwardness that I want to explore, the next time round, the appeal of the sangh parivar’s conviction that the Indian state has pampered minorities in general and appeased Muslims in particular.    


 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Helping hand

While Jyoti Basu kept his date with history and the Writers’ rolled out the red carpet for him for the last time, the building’s former occupants were busy with matters more mundane, like another round of bickering. What sparked it off was the recent adventurism of the state Congress committee chief, Pranab Mukherjee. On the eve of the party’s organizational elections, Pranabda dropped a large number of party functionaries, particularly ones who owe allegiance to the Congress chief whip in the Lok Sabha and MP, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, it is alleged. That got the goat of Das Munshi who in turn is supposed to have roped in some Mukherjee faithfuls, including Sukhendu Shekar Roy, to train guns on the PCC chief. “We may have to leave the party if important Congress leaders continue to be sidelined,” warned Das Munshi’s Man Friday, Saugata Roy, also a state Congress MLA. Roy is said to be planning a protest meeting against Mukherjee’s “undemocratic move”. Caught unawares by the onslaught, Pranabda has sought the help of the man he displaced to get over the crisis. At ABA Ghani Khan Chowdhury’s 74th birthday bash organized by his loyalists at his Salt Lake residence, a distraught Mukherjee made an unscheduled visit and spent the entire day with him. To keep the man in good humour? The problem is that dissidents have already roped in Khan Chowdhury to be their principal speaker at a forthcoming rally. So Barkatda’s next course of action will determine the future of the Congress in the state. Its back to square one, dear madam.

How to present yourself

When it comes to self-projections, there’s no beating didi. The just resigned-just reinstalled Union minister for railways, Mamata Banerjee, seems to have perfected the art of presenting herself as the politically correct, pious politician — a simpleton, that is gadhi in her own words — when the rest of her breed remain wallowing in corruption and greed. The other day, Mamata’s private secretary, Ratan Mukherjee, returned a box of the finest Darjeeling tea presented by the private secretary of her no-love-lost political ally, Tapan Sikdar. “We do not accept gifts,” is what Ratanda is said to have told his counterpart. But they also do a complete turnaround when it comes to showering goodies on scribes to keep good press relations. At a party hosted by didi’s MP, Akbar Ali Khondkar, all Bengali journalists were given an expensive shawl each. But journos also need to set the score straight sometimes. Mamata was taken aback when a scribe retorted, “Like you, didi, we do not accept gifts.” Not always, sometimes.

As we don’t like it

New Delhi is fuming. Who decides the postings of senior bureaucrats — the prime minister or his principal secretary, Brajesh Mishra? As things stand, AB Vajpayee seems to have been given the benefit of doubt. The axe has fallen on Mishra for putting square pegs in round holes in the capital’s administrative set up. The PM’s advisor is blamed for foisting Ajit Kumar, a non-finance man throughout his long bureaucratic career, as the country’s new finance secretary, and that too days before the budget. Kumar as defence secretary had caused a lot of controversy that ultimately led to the dismissal of the then naval chief, Admiral Vishnu Bhagwat. The removal of EAS Sarma, known for his competence and integrity, as secretary in the department of economic affairs, his replacement by a bureaucrat suspected to have strong links with a Mumbai based industrial house and his subsequent resignation has shaken babudom in Delhi. So are the rumours right? The PM is no longer the boss?

As holy as thou

Clearing polluted air. That is what the two estranged leaders, the condemned PV Narasimha Rao and India’s newest iron man LK Advani, were doing when they met at Murli Manohar Joshi’s house where a Satyanarayan katha was organized by the Union human resources development minister. In the pre-Babri Masjid demolition days, Rao and Advani had enjoyed cosy relations with the latter describing Rao as “one good prime minister after Lal Bahadur Shastri”. The hawala episode spoilt it when the modern day Sardar Patel was allegedly “framed” by modern day Chanakya. When the long arm of the law ultimately caught up with Rao in the JMM bribery case, many saw it as Advani’s way of getting even after a long time. However, Advani has clarified that he has had nothing to do with the JMM case and Rao too has made clear that Advani’s involvement in the hawala controversy was not inspired by him. But the two should know. Politicians are famous for words.

Footnote/ Make a due payment

Our famous weeklies better be prepared for this. No matter how much they try to woo readers with their flashy covers and colourful spreads, they will find it difficult to beat the Congress mouthpiece, Sandesh, which will soon be the largest selling magazine in the country. The Congress president, ingenious as she is, has devised a novel method both for increasing its subscription and generating money for the party. Sonia has made five year subscription to Sandesh compulsory for every primary and active member of the party. In the drive for the organizational polls all the two crore Congresswallahs have had to become subscribers to the magazine. The rates are five rupees per month, Rs 50 for a year, Rs 100 for two years, Rs 125 for three years and Rs 200 for five years. But the rest does not matter anymore. Its two hundred rupees from every fry, big and small. This however also indicates madam’s iron hand in ruling out corruption. All Congress members who self-advertised by making fake entries in the party’s rolls will now think twice. They now have to dish out Rs 200 for each new entry. Howzzat?    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Cracks in the red wall

Sir — Left unity has developed unwanted tensions, with both the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Communist Party of India going public with the unpleasant letters that the general secretaries wrote to each other. It is paradoxical that this was triggered off by the CPI’s desire to make the unity official. It was, however, naive of A.B. Bardhan, the CPI general secretary, to suggest a merger without deciding on a policy in states where the two parties have decided to go separate ways. Harkishen Singh Surjeet, on the other hand, has made a laughingstock of himself by rejecting Bardhan’s proposal. After all, a party relegated to the backyards of Indian politics can hardly trumpet such rejections.
Yours faithfully,
Sambaran Maitra, Calcutta

New relations

Sir — K.P. Nayar is burying his head in sand when he contends in his article, “Gates of bedouin land” (Oct 19), that “when it comes to Saudi Arabia, any admission of failure would be without any popular or political backlash”. The matter of the postponement of the visit by foreign minister, Jaswant Singh, should not be brushed aside as unimportant. These are the first signs of change in the attitudes of the world around us. It is even changing the foreign policy stance taken by India’s saffron establishment. The Bharatiya Janata Party’s unequivocal attempt to pull India out of its traditional set of relationships and get mired in a new entanglement of forces will bring about an isolationism that India will find too costly in the international arena.

The new shift has not received popular support. The BJP’s partners in the governing coalition are also uncomfortable with this new arrangement. They are accountable to their constituencies as well. They are going to have to explain to the people how a party with a thin majority in the governing coalition could engineer such a shift in foreign policy without paying any heed to public opinion.

Yours faithfully,
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai

Sir — Compliments for the editorial, “Balancing Act” (Oct 24). As it points out, India is finally abandoning its archaic Nehruvian baggage. New Delhi should involve itself in resolving the crisis in west Asia because India has a clear advantage over the United States. As a mediator, India is acceptable to both Israel and the Palestinians. The Telegraph is doing a splendid job in projecting India’s entry into international relations in a meaningful manner. Inputs by K.P. Nayar, Pranay Sharma, Seema Sirohi, Pramit Pal Chaudhuri and others is commendable.

But some of your columnists are hard core leftists. These people rant against anything that is even vaguely associated with the West. This is not desirable.

Yours faithfully,
Jayanta Dutta, Calcutta

Wasted art

Sir — The article, “In praise of Hindi films” (Oct 29), was an unnecessary exaggeration of the merits of Hindi cinema. Without a shred of social responsibility, makers of Hindi films are pushing visions of a grotesque subculture down the throats of the gullible masses. The majority of these films glorifies familial stereotypes. For instance, the ideal mother or the ideal son is immediately identifiable and they have their defined roles in all these films. Art films need to be rejuvenated urgently. Serious filmmakers should get together and make a concerted effort at resuscitating art cinema.
Yours faithfully,
Sangita Sultania, Calcutta

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