Editorial / Maypole of inanities
Hindutva comes to court
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

Globalization is inherent in capitalism, and in the ideology opposed to it, communism. Capitalism for its own expansion looks for markets all over the globe. It does not respect in this search the barriers of race, religion and nation. The market unifies the world. This insight into the expansion of capitalism comes partially from Karl Marx, who also believed that workers of the world had to unite if capitalism was to be overthrown. Internationalism was at the very heart of communism. Thus, from 1889, in memory of the workers who were victims of police action in the United States, the first of May has been celebrated as Labour Day. It is the commemoration of the struggle of workers to ensure their rights, especially the right to have an eight-hour working day. What is important here is that because of internationalism, an incident limited to the US quickly acquired global acceptance. It became and remains an important date in the radical calendar. Its significance for workers, communists and all manner of radicals surpasses the original significance of May Day. Originally, in most parts of Europe, the first day of May heralded spring and joyful people celebrated the return of life after winter by dancing around the maypole. But this tradition, in most parts of Europe and the world, has been replaced by a set of rituals to honour workers. A new tradition was thus invented in the 19th century and it was strengthened and given the stamp of official approval by the spread of communism.

The robustness of this tradition is evident from the simple fact that it survives with some vigour even after the collapse of communism. May Day this year was marked by shows of solidarity and demonstrations in many parts of the globe. In London, the protests turned violent and 50 persons were injured in clashes with the police. There were arrests in Zürich, and in Berlin and Frankfurt, the police was forced to use teargas and water cannons. The targets of this year’s protests were globalization and the World Trade Organization. In this sense, these were carry-overs of the actions witnessed in the streets of Seattle when the WTO met there in 1999, and of the protests in Prague in 2000 and in Quebec this year when the WTO held summits in these two cities. These protests carry with them a kind of quaintness. They have the virtue of trying to whistle against a typhoon.

Nobody, except those belonging to a loony fringe, seriously believes that globalization is a conspiracy hatched by the developed countries of the West against the developing countries. There is enough evidence to show that countries like some of the south-east Asian ones, which have been open to the current of globalization, have benefited from it. Among the developed countries, there hardly exists the kind of unity that enemies of globalization assume. The irrelevance of the protests is heightened by the absence of any coherent ideology among the protesters.

The absence of ideology is a direct fallout of the collapse of communism. The latter, even its enemies admit, had provided a corpus of ideas which were a consistent critique of capitalism. Its complete disappearance from the stage of history has left anti-capitalist agitators without a coherent programme of action, and with very little intellectual justification. The protests are not only fragmentary but also at times funny. This may not be the fault of the activists themselves or a result of their lack of sincerity. It is related to their failure to realize that the entire context of capitalism and its antithesis has changed. History has passed the protesters by. Therefore they often appear to be cartoon characters and sound like a communist in a bad play. It is obvious that advocates of capitalism do not take these protests seriously, either politically or at the level of ideas. The protests constitute a minor distraction to the present march of history. The protesters’ appeal to the long run is meaningless since that is not of any consequence to the present.


The sangh parivar’s run of judicial good fortune continues. Its most recent stroke of luck is the dropping of charges by the special court constituted by the Central Bureau of Investigation against its more important leaders and allies: Advani, Joshi, Uma Bharti, Thackeray and others. The high court had pointed out a technical deficiency in the notification issued by the Uttar Pradesh government and the magistrate of the special court deferred to the high court verdict and reprieved the accused. On an earlier occasion, a technical snag had let Bal Thackeray off the hook in Mumbai and in 1996 the Supreme Court had struck down high court verdicts that had annulled the election victories of leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena on grounds of corrupt electoral practice.

The 1996 verdicts of the Supreme Court were important for the sangh parivar and its ideological ally, the Shiv Sena, not only because Shiv Sena and BJP leaders were absolved of corrupt electoral practice but also because the judgments set out the apex court’s understanding of that contentious term, “Hindutva”. The Supreme Court became embroiled in the definition of Hindutva because the Bombay high court had ruled that the elections of certain Shiv Sena and BJP leaders (the two parties being allied) stood cancelled because they had indulged in the corrupt practice of soliciting votes in the name of religion. India’s election law forbids appeals to religion, community and religious symbols, or attempts to promote feelings of enmity amongst communities in the course of electioneering.

While hearing the appeals against the high court judgments, the Supreme Court had to decide whether the lower court was right in concluding that the politicians in question had made an appeal to religion and community. In arriving at its conclusions, the Supreme Court set aside a great deal of “evidence” on procedural and technical grounds because annulling an election is a grave matter and the most stringent standards and procedures needed to be applied.

More substantive issues of interpretation, such as Hindutva and its meaning, became important because in these cases one of the charges against the accused was that they belonged to parties that had based their campaigns on the plank of Hindutva and the high court had equated Hindutva with the Hindu religion. The Supreme Court, while striking down the high court judgment (Manohar Joshi v. N.B. Patil) observed that “…that the word ‘Hindutva’ by itself does not invariably mean Hindu reli

gion and it is the context and the manner of its use which is material for deciding the meaning of the word ‘Hindutva’ in a particular text. It cannot be held that in the abstract the mere word ‘Hindutva’ by itself invariably must mean Hindu religion.”

The court went on to observe that the ideological plank of the political party could be used to establish the context in which an election speech was made but was not in itself sufficient to prove that a particular candidate was guilty of corrupt practice merely because he belonged to a party that subscribed to that ideology.

While it is hard to follow the court’s distinction between Hindutva and the Hindu religion (given that the term is commonly understood to mean the religious and cultural practice of Hindus) it is just about possible to argue that the apex court, in its anxiety to establish strict standards for annulling elections, was trying to rule out the promiscuous use of large ideological positions as a reason for disqualification.

The court’s reasoning becomes more intricate when in the course of the same judgment it deals with the allegation that the respondent, in his capacity as a candidate fighting an election, stated in a meeting at Shivaji Park that “…the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra”.

The bench ruled that “in our opinion, a mere statement that the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra is by itself not an appeal for votes on the ground of his religion but the expression, at best, of such a hope. However despicable be such a statement, it cannot be said to amount to an appeal for votes on the ground of his religion”.

A conventional reading of the sentence “…the first Hindu State will be established in Maharashtra” would normally conclude that it was an assertion of intent, not an expression of anything as tentative as a hope, unless the speaker had qualified it by adding “I hope the first Hindu State etc…” or by substituting the tentative “might” for the categorical “will”. When a statement as unequivocal as the one quoted in the judgment is made in the course of an election campaign it is reasonable to infer that a Hindu candidate is promising a Hindu state in return for Hindu support. On the other hand, perhaps it is possible to argue that in a matter as grave as the annulment of an election, the court discounts inference and demands more explicit proof that the candidate is using religion as political currency.

Such rationalization becomes more difficult when the Supreme Court in another judgment in 1996 (Dr Ramesh Yeshwant Prabhoo v. Prabhakar K. Kunte) tries to establish that Hindutva is normally understood as a synonym for Indianization. Instead of paraphrasing this vital section of the judgment, I quote it in full:

“Ordinarily, Hindutva is understood as a way of life or a state of mind and it is not to be equated with or understood as religious Hindu fundamentalism. In Indian Muslim — The Need for a Positive Outlook by Maulana Wahiuddin Khan (1994) it is said (at p.19):

‘The strategy worked out to solve the minorities problem was, although differently worded, that of Hindutva or Indianization. This strategy briefly stated, aims at developing a uniform culture by obliterating differences between all of the cultures coexisting in the country. This was felt to be the way to communal harmony and national unity. It was thought that this would put an end once and for all to the minorities problem.’

The above opinion indicates that the word ‘Hindutva’ is used and understood as a synonym of ‘Indianization’, i.e. development of uniform culture by obliterating the differences between all the cultures co-existing in the country.”

The troubling thing about the Supreme Court’s position here is that in trying to show that Hindutva has nothing to do with Hindu fundamentalism or sectarianism, it quotes a Muslim theologian and takes his description of a political strategy for an endorsement of it. If Hindutva is at all understood as a way of life it is understood as a Hindu way of life. The proposed obliteration of difference and the development of a uniform culture is to be effected by making minorities sacrifice their own identities at the altar of Hindutva, that is, the religious and cultural practice of the majority community, the Hindus.

This isn’t a hostile definition of Hindutva: it is how the protagonists of Hindutva themselves see their project. Hindutva is used and understood as a synonym of “Indianization” only by those for whom Hindu is a synonym for the ideal Indian. Surely such a majoritarian construction of the nation and citizenship is contrary to the plural secularism mandated by the Constitution?

That a judgment by the republic’s apex court should, even inadvertently, coincide with a narrow and divisive view of the republic’s identity should make all Indians anxious. The annulment or upholding of individual elections is a relatively small matter; for public life in India, it is much more important that the Supreme Court find a way of reviewing its current reading of Hindutva.

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Rally them around

What is sauce for the goose is not sauce for the gander. West Bengal may now be the stuff the Congress president’s sweet dreams are made of, but it is giving nightmares to the BJP high command. Although some bigwigs are trying to turn the situation around with a sweet smile— for the press and the people — there are others who are blaming the state unit for the mess. Union minister for information and broadcasting Sushma Swaraj made no bones about her disappointment with state leaders for the poor turnout in the string of rallies she addressed in the past few days as part of her campaign in Bengal. She was apparently the most upset with the Panihati rally in North 24 Parganas where less than 200 people had turned up. A senior BJP leader says that Sushmaji even refused to alight from her car when she looked at what lay ahead. Mrinal Das, who is supposed to have been the chief organizer of the rally and the BJP candidate for the Panihati seat had reportedly promised Swaraj a mammoth rally. The empty fields have obviously compromised the position of Das, who is also personal secretary to the Union minister of state for communication. Even Tapan Sikdar seems to have pulled him up for his failure to gather a crowd. Some hold Swaraj’s inability to speak Bengali as the chief reason for the bad attendance at her rallies. Others see the growing disenchantment with the saffronites in Bengal as the reason for the thin attendance. But saffronhood obviously considers these true lies.

Back to where he belongs

Forget me not. Rashtriya Lok Dal chief Ajit Singh is back on the political radar after having survived a lot of shelling. Only recently, he was turned away by the Congress with whom he had had an alliance in the 1999 Lok Sabha elections. Not to worry. Although Mandal somewhat eroded Singh’s Jat constituency, of late he has been receiving positive responses from the Jats in western UP. The BJP, from which Ajit had so long kept a safe distance in order to revive the OBC and Muslim support base of his father, Charan Singh, is also trying to get close to him. A little jittery in UP, the BJP is apparently eager to align with influential backward class leaders to fill up the vacuum created by Kalyan Singh. The victory of Ajit Singh in the recently concluded byelections from UP has suddenly raised his value in the eyes of the saffron brotherhood. Ram willing, there might be a tie-up between the two in the UP elections next year. In case Singh plays a Mayavati and insists on becoming CM, the BJP allegedly has kept a card up its sleeve — the creation of Singh’s much cherished Harit Pradesh whose gaddi Singh can take over. Winners all.

Resolving differences

World view. And Indians can have a look at it next month when a 63-member body meets in the cyber city of Bangalore to have an alternative United Nations. This is the e-parliament, after the successes of e-commerce, e-mail and e-governance. Political parties in India, who swear at and hit each other in Parliament, are sharing the camaraderie. The BJP and the Congress are allegedly rubbing shoulders together on the proposition. Two senior leaders of both the parties visited Venice recently to participate in the global conference on e-parliament. Both the parties seem to be enthused about holding the cyber meet in an Indian city. Ironically, this march of infotech will neither give virtual solutions to global problems nor to that of the rival parties whose differences have reduced Parliament to a farce. Maybe an e-parliament in India will make the legislature and legislators a little cheaper for the Indian taxpayer.

Some don’t have it so good

As usual, everything was done in all political correctness. There was a plebiscite in the Ganga hostel of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. And the warring parties were those who would have dogs on the premises and those who would not. An extreme situation. Many of the girls in the hostel had reared the dogs when they were pups on unsteady feet and would not have anybody touch the dogs. There were others, incidentally the majority, who would have nothing to do with them and were on the verge of summoning the dog squads to take the canines away. Animal rights groups and the undying breed of the politically right in the campus intervened in the ugly ruckus and insisted on a vote. But it was a conclusion foretold. The verdict went in favour of those who wanted the pariahs out. If you see dogs being marched out while out on a morning walk, you’ll know what it is for.

Footnote / Men have their problems too

It is not the Congress president alone who has a problem. Lesser mortals in 24, Akbar Road, the Congress headquarters, have their own share of problems. Take the case of the AICC secretary and royalty, Satyajit Sinh Gaikwad. His room at the above address is flooded with visitors every two minutes and none of them has any desire to meet him. Gaikwad was appalled by the sight of people rushing in and then leaving even faster, till he realized that the room he was occupying used to be AICC’s only public lavatory which both party workers and leaders used. After Sonia created 140 party posts, the acute shortage of rooms compelled the party to convert all possible space into rooms. Gaikwad’s luck ran out last week when there was a power cut late in the day at the AICC. Two gentlemen walked in and could see neither Gaikwad’s nameplate nor the man himself. They had come with a purpose and that having accomplished, left content. The situation at the BJP office is not too happy either. There is an acute shortage of water. But one hasn’t heard of anything as untoward happening there.    


Opening his innings

Sir — Shortly after Sharad Pawar saw the Mumbai cricket association as an extension of his political turf, Laloo Prasad Yadav seems to have discovered the unique advantages of heading the Bihar Cricket Association (“Laloo pads up to open account”, May 4). While Yadav turns the BCA into another of his mandalized bastions, the association can hope to be revived by the pots of money Yadav can easily dole out, thanks to the fortunes the Rashtriya Janata Dal regime has amassed. The casualties, as usual, will be cricket and talent. Let us pray Laloo Yadav identifies the cricketing needs of the BCA as deftly as he locates his own political needs.

Yours faithfully,
J. Sundar, Calcutta

Learning can be fun

Sir — The report, “Singapore tour to tame MPs” (May 2), is amusing to read. A 15-member delegation of parliamentarians will apparently soon leave for Singapore, Australia and New Zealand to study parliamentary proceedings in those countries. But our elected representatives are a role model for others to follow. They recently disallowed proceedings of the house for nearly a fortnight during the important budget session. The way the budget was passed and the abruptness with which the session ended show their complete lack of a sense of responsibility and discipline. The cost of the disruptions amount to Rs 4.6 crore. During February to May last year, the costs had been Rs 8 crore, and during the last winter session, it had been Rs 4.68 crore.

Considering the state of our economy, such colossal losses need to be given some serious thought. Our leaders are yet to reckon with the magnitude of the problem. All party meetings and the speaker’s frantic requests have yielded no result. Public opinion should be built up through the media to combat the menace and even the president could consider stepping in to ensure the smooth running of Parliament.

Yours faithfully,
Tarun Kumar Sarkar, Bokaro

Sir — “Singapore tour to tame MPs” will be another drain on the taxpayers’ pockets. It is unfathomable why a 15-member delegation has to travel all the way to Singapore and Australia just to get a lesson on discipline. The visit really looks more like a pleasure trip than a study tour. Perhaps the prime minister should sanction a study-tour to a good school in our country to teach his pupils discipline.

Yours faithfully,
Srabani Bandyopadhyay, Choudwar

No further delay

Sir — Debashis Mohanty’s “Damning criticism” (May 1) criticizes the recent judicial action with regard to the Narmada Bachao Andolan activists. But the Supreme Court seems to have taken the most just action in condemning Medha Patkar and her associates. The construction of Sardar Sarovar was taken up after about 15 years of effort by the Narmada tribunal. Patkar has caused the loss of millions of rupees in delaying the completion of the project. This she has done by misguiding millions of the illiterate poor in that region. Her contribution is the enormous increase in cost of construction of the project, which ironically is the only way to irrigate Rajasthan.

The rehabilitation of the displaced will be easy if the bureaucrats and politicians are willing. Patkar should take positive action on behalf of the poor, instead of misleading the movement.

Yours faithfully
N.B. Sen, Jamshedpur

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