Editorial / Crisis of Civilization
When blood speaks to blood
This above all / Man and superman
People / Jyotiraditya Scindia
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / CRISIS OF CIVILIZATION 
 
 
 
 
The spectre of violence now haunts the globe. The terrorist attack on Parliament House on Thursday demonstrates that the phantasm is a terrifying reality. It is a sociological fact based on the observation of violence in history that youth is the natural carrier of violence and of radicalism. A study of late 20th century violence might suggest a corelation between violence and Islam. One study shows that between 1983 and 2000, Muslims were responsible for 11 of the major acts of international terrorism. The state department of the United States of America has listed seven states as supporting terrorism, of these five are Muslim. The majority of the organizations listed as engaged in terrorist activities is Muslim. Islam has, in one way or another, been involved in all the major wars of the late 20th and early 21st century: Israel-Palestine, Iran-Iraq, India-Pakistan, Soviet Union-Afghanistan, US-Afghanistan, Yugoslavia and parts of the former Soviet Union. It is worth noting that there is a close association between youth and Islam since the latter has what sociologists call the “youth bulge’’. There are too many young Muslims who are not gainfully employed, who are susceptible to radical and messianic ideas. Even the wealthy — Mr Osama bin Laden comes readily to mind — react violently to what they perceive as Western domination, and then proceed to use Western technology to destroy the power of the West and to advance the cause of Islam.

It is not easy, of course, to accept this overlap between the incidence of violence and one particular religion. It would be unwarranted and illogical to conclude from this coincidence that the message of violence is embedded in Islam. Like all other faiths, Islam has had its militant phases and sections. The violence of the late 20th century and that of the post-September 11 world has a very specific historical context. That context grows not out of the nature of Islam qua Islam but out of the historical experience of some of the Islamic countries. The experience of these countries is imbricated with resistance to Western domination, to a resurgence of an Islamic identity and even to greater divisions, ethnic and cultural, within the Muslim population. The coming together of these with the youth bulge has produced an explosive cocktail. An added dimension has been the use modern regimes of power have made of this volatile combination to secure some of their own political goals. Witness the use the US made of the mujahedins to fight the Soviet Union in Afghanistan; and the use Pakistan makes of the same elements against India in Jammu and Kashmir.

It is convenient for those who demonize Islam to prophesy an apocalyptic clash on the basis of the present scenario. There already exists a gigantic clash and it is not between Islam and the West. Rather, it is between civilization and the forces of barbarism. The latter in the late 20th century conjuncture is identified with all kinds of religious fundamentalism and the use of violence linked to it. There is more at stake in the clash than faith.

   

 
 
WHEN BLOOD SPEAKS TO BLOOD 
 
 
BY AMIT BHADURI
 
 
The observation is attributed to Plato that the study of man is far more interesting than the study of physical objects, as man, knowing full well that doing something is bad, still does it. In some ways, this observation goes to the heart of an apparent paradox of terrorism of which we have all become so acutely aware since September 11, 2001. In principle, we all agree that terrorism is bad and should not have any place in any civilized society. And yet it occurs, and occurs far too frequently.

The difference between our human perception on the one hand and our political and social perception on the other is at the root of this paradox. From a human angle, those electronically transmitted daily images of violence, destruction and suffering are equally disturbing, no matter whether they come from New York, Afghanistan, Kashmir or Gaza. If the bombing and burning of Vietnam outraged our sensibilities in the Sixties, so did the senseless killing of ordinary people in New York on September 11.

Calling either “collateral damage” in pursuit of “a larger cause” does not pacify our anguish, or even a sense of disgust against such violence and suffering. And yet, the problem lies precisely here. We come to accept more easily some violence, some suffering inflicted even on the innocent, only because it is seen to serve a larger cause. In the modern world that larger cause is usually defined politically. In societies that are not so modern, it tends to get defined usually in religious terms or, in terms of ethnicity, blood relations and so on.

When the cause gets politically defined, the terrorist would see himself as a political fighter, fighting for a just cause. Quite often it is the liberation of the fatherland from foreign occupation; but it can also be fighting for a more abstract political ideal — freedom, democracy or the establishment of exploitation-free, ideal society. We live at a time when “nationalism” is so deeply entrenched in our consciousness that fighting for a “national cause” is considered almost automatically justified. It is even glorified as “patriotic duty”.

Not surprisingly then, the same people who are considered “terrorists” by the Israeli government are considered patriotic “freedom fighters” by the other side. And, if you are willing to see the irony of it, exactly the reverse is also true. Israeli soldiers are seen as defending the fatherland against terrorist attacks, while the Palestinians see them as instruments of “state terrorism” directed against them. The parallel is far too obvious to deserve repetition in the case of Kashmir, Sri Lanka or for that matter, the hi-tech United States of America getting at the taliban.

Societies, which are less modern, have similar syndromes, but their “causes” are usually played out in a somewhat different language, by defining the “larger cause” in religious terms. The terrorist is then fighting a “holy war” in the service of god, or something equally metaphysical. However, traditional societies may also encourage terrorism on a limited scale in a less metaphysical and a far more personal way.

Blood loyalties — loyalty to the family, to the tribe or to the ethnic group — may be seen as justifying terrorism, at least in the eyes of the terrorist himself. The culture of vendetta, the culture of revenge to save family or tribal “honour” is a common expression of this, with or without any further metaphysical justification. The way women were treated in Afghanistan under the taliban, or people with any “Western” education were treated by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia are reminders that state terrorism can also be directed against their own citizens, although in each such case it is justified for that “larger cause”.

We need to recognize with urgency in today’s world that the distinction between the “larger causes” defined by the modern nation-state and those defined by the traditional society is extremely blurred. After all, who has the prerogative of defining what that “larger cause” is — the national government, the religious leaders or the tribal chief, or even the head of the family? And, precisely because the distinction is so blurred, it is easy and tempting for leaders to manipulate their people about their “identity”, in the hope of expanding or deepening their hold and influence. Thus, a political leader may try to reconstruct the ideology of nationalism of the modern world by combining it with some loyalties present in the traditional societies.

Nationalism may be mixed with religion, with ethnicity, with language, with family values, even with the position women should have. Alternatively, nationalism may be reconstituted in an apparently more modern way, by interpreting it in terms of a particular form of government — “our type of democracy”, our type of defence of “human rights or our type of classless society”.

In a basic sense, all such reconstructed and reconstituted nationalisms are variations on the same theme. It is “cultural nationalism”, in a broad sense, where culture may mean religion, language, ethnicity or a complex combination of several such aspects of the “identity or honour of a people”. The problem goes even deeper than we usually realize. The definition of a culture may be extended imperceptibly to mean a particular political culture. For example, it may be “political correctness” attributed to a multi-party democracy at one logical extreme and the “historical necessity” of one party dictatorship at the other, with less extreme variations in between. They boil down to redefinitions of the “correct” political culture as a support to a larger national cause.

The history of the century that just went by has been a repeated reminder that the Wilsonian doctrine of the right to self-determination of a “people” has far too often turned out to be a dangerously flawed myth. Like a double-edged sword, this doctrine is capable of wounding as badly the nation which wields it as its adversary. Examples abound: the rise and fall of Nazi Germany which left Germany divided in ashes at the end of World War II; the Stalinist defence of the “socialist” state against dissidents, which crippled it as a political system; the attempts at ethnic cleansing to create a more “homogeneous people” which resulted in a disintegrated, blood-bathed Yugoslavia; or the ongoing killing resulting from a peculiar nationalist doctrine which claims in effect, that Israel’s right to exist as a secured nation entails denial of the same right to the Palestinians, or vice versa.

Nearer home, in our own country, we have dangerous political tendencies with similar overtones. Their common feature is failure to appreciate the most marvellous achievement of independent India, despite her so many failings, that, so vast and poor a country has survived as a functioning and stable democracy against all odds of bewildering diversity in religion, language, ethnicity, or almost any other aspect of identity one might like to think of — a diversity inherited from our rich history.

Instead of nurturing this diversity as our precious heritage, we have “cultural nationalists” who take pride in breaking mosques to build temples, to reinvent their version of national honour; or burn Christian missionaries for debilitating Hinduism through conversion. What price we would be paying in the future, if such “cultural nationalism” continues unabated, is anybody’s guess.

The author is former professor of economics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
THIS ABOVE ALL / MAN AND SUPERMAN 
 
 
BY KHUSHWANT SINGH
 
 
There is a popular saying in Persian that you may say anything against Allah but beware of saying a word against the Prophet. Bengalis have somewhat the same reverential attitude towards Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. In his preface to Terrorism &Tagore by Sisir Kar, Geetesh Sharma writes: “We Bengalis, when we talk about Tagore, we tend to glorify him as a flawless super human being. We are so sensitive and intolerant that we may hear the criticism of God but not of Tagore.”

Apparently, this was not so during the lifetime of Rabi babu. There was a group of writers known as Kallol, which criticized him severely before and after he won the Nobel prize for literature. Tagore took their criticism seriously and wrote back in defence.

In Terrorism & Tagore, Sisir Kar has picked on two of Tagore’s novels, Ghare Baire (Home and Abroad) and Char Adhyay (Four Chapters), in which Tagore expressed disapproval of terrorism as a means of achieving independence. Consequently, while Sarat Chandra’s Pather Dabi, Nazrul Islam’s Bisher Banshi, Bhangar Gan, Pralay Sikha, Chandra Bindu and prose writings were banned by the British government, it brought copies of Tagore’s Char Adhyay to distribute free among detinues, and encouraged the author to convert the novel into a play to be staged and screened. One letter dated February 25, 1925, from M.M. Stuart, district magistrate of Burdwan, admits “We are never likely to produce a Rabi Babu in the Publicity department and that coming from this source it is automatically a great advantage.”

Terrorism & Tagore is a disappointing book. For one, Tagore never made a secret of his disapproval of the use of violence to achieve political goals; nor did Gandhi and the vast majority of national leaders. So ferreting out classified material to prove a point that does not need proving is of little consequence. For another, for lack of material Sisir Kar has padded up his text with lists of Tagore’s other works, articles and opinions on terrorism which are not strictly relevant to the topic.

Lashing a vicious tongue

Some time ago I wrote about a discovery I made: a new Indian novelist of unusual talent named Anita Rao Badami. I read her second novel The Hero’s Walk which impressed me profoundly. Its jacket did not say anything about her nor carried her photograph. I could not find her first novel in any of the bookstores. Then, Ravi Singh of Penguin-Viking lent me a copy he had and told me it was not doing as well as anticipated. I read the first novel Tamarind Mem and suspect that it is the elusive title that did not give it a fair chance in the book market. Though not as put-downable as The Hero’s Walk, it is as well-written and a prelude to what followed. It also tells you a little more about the author. She is a Kannadiga living in Canada. It also has her photograph. She appears to be in her early thirties, attractive with a broad smiling face.

Both her novels are part auto-biographical and part fiction. Tamarind Mem is named after her mother, Saroja, who has an acerbic tongue as sharp as the taste of raw imli(tamarind). She came to be so named by her neighbours who were at the receiving end of her ill-tempered outbursts. She was married off to a man 15 years older than her, and an officer in the railways. It was a mis-match from the very start. She was a garrulous woman anxious to talk and get into arguments. He was a dour man of few words, a pipe-smoker given to hiding his face behind a newspaper when his wife wanted to engage him in conversation. Also a poor lover. It took him a few days to deflower his virgin bride, without any preliminary love-making and without ever fully undressing himself or her. They had two daughters. He was more devoted to them than to his wife. They reciprocated his affection. From their mother they got tongue-lashing for not doing their school-work, not being properly dressed, not eating what was laid out for them.

The father spent half of his time travelling to distant sites where new rail lines had to be laid or old ones needed checking. Every three years he was transferred to another town, and they had to set up a new home in a railway colony and settle equations with new neighbours. A very bored Saroja, saddled with an indifferent husband, had an affair with an anglo-Indian car mechanic who came periodically to repair her husband’s car. He fell in love with her and tried to persuade her to leave her husband and daughters to elope with him to Australia or Canada. She was unwilling to break up her loveless life. The poor fellow commited suicide.

Heavy smoking took its toll on Saroja’s husband. He got lung cancer and died. The days of living in large bungalows with hordes of servants were over. Her daughters migrated to foreign lands. The elder (obviously the author) to Canada, the younger perhaps to the United States. Saroja returned to her small apartment in Madras to spend the rest of her days day-dreaming of past days.

Badami’s characters come alive , everyone of them. She recreates scenes of towns and cities in which she lived with the skill of a master-painter in lyrical prose. This girl has a great future as novelist.

God onhis side

About 10 years ago Girish Khurana of Ludhiana came to see me. He was a tall, strapping, handsome young man in his early thirties. He told me that he taught yoga and meditation, and had quite a following in the industrial town. He was also into spiritualism (whatever that means). He had read Gurdi Jeff and Blavatsky, theosophy and psychology. Since I had a few books on these subjects which were of no interest to me, I passed them on to him. I could not understand why a young man bursting with good health was not in the service or an entrepreneur. He told me he had only passed his school finals and never gone to college: so any kind of government or private service had to be ruled out. His consuming interest in esoteric subjects distanced him from his family. He drew inspiration from the Gita and the Bible, while other members of his family were into ceremonial religious rituals.

From yoga, meditation and lectures on spiritual values, Girish became a counsellor to people with personal problems. He had to shore their lack of self-confidence by assuring them of good days to come. So he included the study of astrology, palmistry and other methods of forecasting the future. His following increased and he has become a cult figure in Ludhiana. All that remains for him to do is start wearing saffron clothes, take a vow of celibacy, build an ashram and change his name from Girish Khurana to Swami something or the other and the metamorphosis will be complete. Instead of coming to see me, I will have to go to Ludhiana to have his darshan.

   

 
 
PEOPLE / JYOTIRADITYA SCINDIA 
 
 
 
 

Here comes the son

When small town boy Manoj Bajpai took on the role of the polo-playing playboy prince of Jodhpur in Khalid Mohammad’s film, Zubeida, an interesting little debate broke out on just how suitable the very pleb-looking actor was for a royal portrayal. By that same token, 30-year-old Jyotiraditya’s baby-face is pleb enough to be disappointingly unroyal.

But that is about where the unroyalness ends. Though not quite cast in the typical polo-playing playboy princeling mould that much of the country’s erstwhile royalty still favours, Scindia, who has been described by an old classmate as “always more studious than sporty,” comes across as a lot like his father, Madhavrao Scindia. In other words, a rather subdued royal. “He is a very balanced young man...and I’ve seen him from the time he was a very small boy. And yes, he is a lot like his father,” agrees Dr Karan Singh, Jyotiraditya’s sister’s — Chitrangada’s — father-in-law.

Some two months after he went through the traditional coronation ceremony that officially anointed him as ‘king’ of Gwalior following the death of his father, the very balanced young man now prepares for the next logical step in the ritual of dynastic succession: his indoctrination into the Congress party.

And given that, “politics was inevitable”, as Dhiren Chauhan, member of the Congress party and Chitrangada’s brother-in-law says, the young Scindia’s initiation into that playing field began much before his father’s death. “As politics is a sort of family calling for the Scindias, Jyotiraditya was already preparing for it...though he didn’t expect to be catapulted into it this early,” says a family friend.

Fresh out of Stanford, armed with an MBA and some work experience at Morgan Stanley, Mumbai, what he was preparing for instead, was to take over the business interests of the Scindia family. Friends describe him as being far from a typical royal brat. Instead descriptions of the prince come tantalisingly close to the South Bombay prototype — the kind of kid who rounds off the right sort of schooling with an Ivy League business degree; gets an add-on of been-there-done-that cool; and an accented English that casually gives it all away. It is the sort of journey that Karan Singh describes as “a good educational career”.

For Jyotiraditya, the right sort of schooling meant a break with Scindia family tradition, as his father chose to send him to Doon instead of Scindia school in Gwalior, established by his grandfather Jivajirao in 1897. Madhavrao is said to have felt that the Scindia school would have been too much of a privileged environment for his impressionable young son. Much later as he studied business management at Stanford, Jyotiraditya lived a ‘normal’ student life once again, this time with his wife and young son in tow. The experience was to help round off still more royal corners.

College was another break with tradition when the young Scindia chose Harvard over his father’s alma mater, New College, Oxford, where his admission had been fixed by his father. According to Jyotiraditya’s former housemaster at Doon, Sumer Singh: “When he got into Harvard, his father called me up to say that he was delighted his son was taking his own decisions.”

But that’s about where the breaks with tradition ended. In 1994 the young prince returned to marry 19-year-old Priyadarshini, daughter of Sangram Sinhji Gaekwad of the Baroda royal family.

Even Jyotiraditya’s first semi-official brush with politics was orchestrated in the traditional way, with much help from his father. A fact which the BJP used to enjoy highlighting. According to a BJP activist in the Gwalior municipal corporation, Dr H.M. Purohit, when Jyotiraditya returned with his MBA from Stanford, Madhavrao had got in touch with local organisers close to the Congress to arrange a public felicitation for him. “What is so great about getting an MBA degree and that too when you are 30-years-old? This was done just to create an atmosphere for him to contest from Gwalior,” said Purohit.

Had fate not intervened, Madhavrao was planning a more formal political launch for his son on October 6 of this year. The plan was to organise a mammoth marathon run in Gwalior. Events like the marathon have always been popular in Gwalior and in fact had been instituted by the BJP two years ago as an annual event to commemorate the death anniversary of Rani Laxmibai, in an attempt to boost the party’s ratings in Gwalior.

Preparations were on for the Congress marathon, which included the setting up of stalls in every village where people could fill in the forms for participation in the race. In a sad twist of fate, posters and banners for the marathon which was to have launched Jyotiraditya were plastered all over Gwalior, even as Madhavrao’s cortege drove into the town on October 2.

“Once his father died there was no putting off the inevitable entry into politics, and being his father’s son the Congress party was a natural choice for him,” says Karan Singh. The personal and political rivalry between Madhavrao, his sisters and his mother is now well-documented. For the Congress, Jyotiraditya’s political choice was not open to debate. “By the time he was growing up the rift between Madhavrao and his mother was already wide, Jyotiraditya was not close to his grandmother or his aunts.

As a result the BJP as a political choice did not exist,” Karan Singh adds. “Given that the Scindias are a divided family, had Jyotiraditya not joined politics now, it would have been handing over Guna [Madhavrao’s and earlier his late mother, Viajayraje’s constituency] to his sister Yashodhara [with the BJP] on a platter,” says a friend.

Along with his father’s political mantle and the baggage of royal intrigue, Jyotiraditya has also inherited his father’s years of political goodwill. Observers believe that the Guna by-election will testify to this. “He is fated to win by a huge margin, whenever the by-election takes place. And if there is any opposition candidate, it will only be as a symbolic gesture,” says Dr Purohit.

What he makes of his mixed inheritance remains to be seen.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Staying in the limelight

Sir— Whether it is Madonna’s choice words during the Turner Prize ceremony, or Demi Moore posing in the buff, it is common knowledge that celebrities need publicity, however outrageous, crude or vulgar, to stay alive in public memory (“Mamma-Donna curses her way to self publicity”, December 11). By plastering Madonna’s image all over the foreign pages, all that the various newspapers have managed to do is give Madonna the publicity which she knew her comments would receive. The media should instead concentrate on the fact that her comments detracted from the ceremony being hosted, and drew attention away from the contestants and their exhibits.

Yours faithfully,
Meraj Ahmed Mubarki, Calcutta

Coffins scoop

Sir — According to Radhika Ramaseshan it was a “novel” strategy by the Bharatiya Janata Party and the sangh parivar to squeeze some emotive value out of Kargil by sending the bodies of slain soldiers back to their families in caskets (“Kargil coffin politics returns to haunt BJP”, Dec 12). She cynically ignores the fact that receiving the bodies of the deceased provides solace and closure to the families of the slain soldiers. Today, virtually every nation in the world attempts to return the bodies of soldiers to their family, and there is no reason why India should not extend the same courtesy to its soldiers.

Ramaseshan also declares that it is not surprising that the government has pocketed a large sum of money during the procurement of the coffins during the Kargil war, and the folly lies in the decision by the BJP and the sangh parivar in 1999 to return the bodies of the soldiers to their families. Even as corruption needs to be exposed and rooted out, the nation owes some responsiblility to the families of soldiers who have given up their lives to protect the country.

Yours faithfully,
Gopal Vaidya, Bhubaneswar

Sir — The latest controversy regarding the coffins which were bought by the government during the Kargil war is yet another slur on the National Democratic Alliance government (“Kargil coffin politics returns to haunt BJP”). The half-baked excuses made by the defence minister, George Fernandes, that he had resigned before the coffins were bought, in an attempt to absolve himself of all blame are not good enough. The Tehelka scandal has been swept under the carpet, and the same should not happen with the coffin controversy. An enquiry needs to be made and that is the least the government owes the tax payers and the families of these soldiers.

First, it is shameful that the taxpayer’s money might have been used in procuring coffins which were not even going to be used. It has been reported that the army is stuck with caskets valued at Rs 1.47 crore because they were made to the wrong measurements.

Second, it is an insult to the soldiers who lost their lives for India, and their families, that their deaths have only acted as an opportunity for the government to make money. To expect our government to feel guilty is, of course, expecting too much.

Yours faithfully,
Susan Guha, Puri

Sir — The coffins scandal could not have come at a worse time for the government. The National Democratic Alliance is already facing flak regarding such issues as the introduction of the prevention of terrorism ordinance, the poor economic development of the country, reforms promised in the budget that have not yet been implemented, and the disinvestment schemes which have not seen the light of day so far. Although the government is trying to ignore the report by the comptroller and auditor general of India, it is obvious that the report must be based on some facts.

The government has so far kept all defence dealings in the dark, and seems to be operating on the belief that matters relating to the security of the country are best kept secret at all cost. This lack of transparency provides ample scope for corruption in the system. Also, the controversy should not be used as a witch-hunt targeting George Fernandes, but as an opportunity to rid the government of the corruption prevalent in all departments.

Yours faithfully,
Harmeet Singh Chawla, Haldia

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