Editorial/ Ode to the west wind
Thoughts in a temple
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the Editor

 
 
EDITORIAL/ ODE TO THE WEST WIND 
 
 
 
 
A spectre now haunts communism. It is the spectre of complete transcendence. To overcome its own identity, communism, through the tortuous process of Hegelian dialectics, has decided to embrace its other. Two recent developments in the Middle Kingdom confirm this statement. On May Day, China, still ostensibly a communist-ruled state, honoured private entrepreneurs as “model workers’’. Such a thing would have been beyond the imagination even a few years ago when China decided to step into the open world of the free market. This is of a piece with the more startling proposal mooted by none other that Mr Jiang Zemin, the president of China, that bosses of private enterprises should be admitted as party members. It would be idle to speculate whether these signal the adaptability of communism or the ultimate victory of capitalism. What is certain is that the great wall of Chinese communism has been breached. In the heyday of Chinese communism, despite its open hostility to the then Soviet Union, the Chinese communist party had been avowedly Stalinist in its organization and its orientation. Mao Zedong cultivated the personality cult and the system of purges within the party, the hallmarks of the Stalinist system in Soviet Russia. The central committee of the Chinese communist party after its conclave in October last year admitted in their 3,400 world communiqué that “the world is changing’’. It has taken the mandarins of the communist party a long time to realize this rather obvious fact.

Indian comrades, especially those who at one time upheld the “Peking line’’ against “Soviet right wing deviation’’, might consider taking a leaf or two out of the books their Chinese counterparts are rewriting. There are signs that this may already be happening. Time was when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) revelled in flaunting its taboos. Capitalists, running dogs of imperialism et al — all the abusive labels that drummed into the ears of comrades in party cells — were out. Only loyal comrades swearing allegiance to the dictatorship of the proletariat could be party members or fellow travellers. But now communists, especially those in West Bengal, are somewhat wiser. They not exactly admit the folly of their past policies but are willing to act with capitalists in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. Eminent industrialists, quondam class enemies, are not barred from entering the portals of the party headquarters in Alimuddin Street. And communist leaders wine and dine with the great and the good of the business world. The rhetoric remains unaltered, lip service is still paid to the revolution and wreaths are still laid at the foot of Lenin’s statue on his birthday, but the praxis has changed. West Bengal still does not have a capitalist who holds a red card. But Beijing might be setting the trend for the future.

These developments may not have any significance for the future of communism since it is already dead. But its historical significance for capitalism is an open question. But it can be answered with the memorable words of Zhou en Lai, who, when asked on the bicentenary of 1789 about the significance of the year, said, “It is too early to say.’’

   

 
 
THOUGHTS IN A TEMPLE 
 
 
BY AMIT CHAUDHURI
 
 
Two weeks ago, I went for a walk with my daughter to the Birla temple. It is not far from where I live; and I have seen it coming up for years, from a time when I did not actually live in Calcutta, but when, during long or short periods of transit, would look at it from the balcony of this flat. I can’t say I unreservedly enjoy going to this temple; there are, however, only so many places to walk about in Calcutta. My daughter, though, does enjoy going there, without reservation; and this was both her second visit and mine. The first time must have been almost exactly a year ago; I remember the warm marble floor under our bare feet from that excursion, the floor that must have absorbed the heat all day to give it out in the evening. I can also remember my daughter, a year younger, running across the space before the main shrine; on our second visit, the marble was warm again beneath our feet.

On this visit, the precincts of the temple were more crowded than the first time I went there; it was a site of recreation — men and women, and some children, sat in the large space before the steps that led to the sanctum in which the arati was being performed. They looked content, like people at the seaside. My daughter, easily frightened, was alarmed at the sound of the bell, and did not want to investigate the arati — the familiar tune, which one can hear these days even when certain domestic water filters are used, was being played on a tape — and so we roamed around the premises. A thought came to me: would these people condone, or at least defend, what was happening in Gujarat?

The question was probably grossly unfair, but impossible to keep out of my head, or leave unasked. In the last ten years, gradually, the idea of the “peace-loving Hindu” has been turned inside out. The most innocent-seeming of activities appear to be charged with unarticulated violence. To walk in the Birla temple was to sense — perhaps to imagine, but to imagine powerfully — that subterranean violence which Hinduism is now charged with in its totality: because you cannot isolate one kind of “religious” activity from another.

Perhaps it was the location; perhaps I wouldn’t have felt this discomfort if these people had gathered at a more ancient, less ostentatious, place of worship. I have never really cared for the Birla temple, for its security guards who hover not very far from you once you enter, its marble floor and enormous chandelier, its expansive air of a lobby in a four-star hotel, its spotless, garish, unimpeachable idols.

This spectacle is part of the production of a version of Hinduism that has been a steadily developing enterprise in independent India: Hinduism as a rich man’s, a trader’s, religion. Although aggressive exhortations are made on behalf of Lord Ram, the principal deities of this religion are Ganesh and Lakshmi: not Ganesh, the wily and rapid transcriber of the Mahabharata, but the bringer of good fortune to the black marketeer; not Lakshmi, the agrarian goddess, but the goddess who presides over the urban dowry-system. As ever, our divinities bless their devotees indiscriminately. I have heard Hinduism celebrated for the resilience with which it, unlike other religions, has embraced capitalism; but perhaps it has embraced capitalism a little too well. It has left the Hindu with an importunate will to fit into the modern world, and without a social conscience.

Hindutva does not so much promote religion as it does material success for the followers of the Hindu religion. Success, in the Nineties, has been its key-word, but success for the majority only; it will not barter or share it with anyone else; it will even pretend no one else exists; if they do, it will see to it that they cease to. I presume it is not a coincidence that the extreme measures of ethnic cleansing in Gujarat should be undertaken by those who have been the most effective proponents of the new Hinduism’s mantra of material well-being. Many of the sources that fund our new kitsch Hinduism are also those that fund, or quietly encourage, a government that has a chief minister who defends and protects murderers, and a prime minister who defends and protects that minister. Does it only take an arati to keep our gods happy?

Hinduism was never, in the past (unlike Christianity), at the heart of a revolutionary political movement, precisely because it was never an evangelical religion; it had no Word, or truth, to spread. The killings done in its name today are not part of a jihad, and nor are they the residue of a misguided evangelism; they are a brutal and calculated exercise of power in a moral vacuum: Hinduism as the punitive instrument of the powerful. Christianity has often had a quarrel with modernity, and the materialism it denotes in its eyes; Islam has a related quarrel with the West, modernity’s synecdoche. That is why Islamic militancy, even at its worst, has the dimensions of an ideology, albeit a distorted one. Hindutva, on the other hand, has no problem with modernity, or with the West; and it rushes to embrace the latter’s material benefits. This happy concordance, in Hindutva, of cultural extremism and materialism makes it less like a “fundamentalist” religious movement than like fascism.

“Hinduism” and the “mainstream”; how frequently are these words juxtaposed, and made synonymous, with each other by the ruling political party! “Mainstream”: the word that would mean, in a democratic nation, the law-abiding democratic polity, is cunningly conflated, in the newspeak of our present government, with the religious majority; and those who don’t belong to that majority become, by subconscious association and suggestion, anti-democratic, and breakers of the law.

Ironically, saffron is the colour of our mainstream. Saffron, “gerua”: its resonances are wholly to do with that powerful undercurrent in Hinduism, “vairagya”, the melancholy and romantic possibility of renunciation. At what point, and how, did the colour of renunciation, and withdrawal from the world, become the symbol of a militant, and materialistic, majoritarianism? “Gerua” represents not what is Brahminical and conservative, but what is most radical about the Hindu religion; it is the colour not of belonging, or fitting in, but of exile, of the marginal man. Hindutva, while rewriting our secular histories, has also rewritten the language of Hinduism, and purged it of these meanings; and those of us who mourn the passing of secularism must also believe we are witnessing the passing, and demise, of the Hindu religion as we have known it.

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THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

In desperation

Talk about the desperation of the cornered. Increasingly isolated in the NDA because of her flip-flop attitude and losing out on her anti-left constituency in Bengal because of her proximity to the BJP, Mamata Banerjee has decided that for her, salvation lies in becoming a minister again. The one-time tigress of Bengal politics is in a bad way, she can’t hold on to her increasingly restive followers. They can make out a sinking ship when they see one. Mamata has thus decided that she needs to look out for some loaves and fishes of power that she can throw their way to keep them quiet. But what ministry, is the million dollar question. The railway ministry seems too distant and ambitious a dream, since there is no way the prime minister is going to upset the former socialists, and especially George Fernandes, by taking away the railway ministry from Nitish Kumar. Didi has thus settled on the rural development ministry (M. Venkaiah Naidu, it seems, is all set to be re-inducted into the BJP as party president) or the surface transport ministry. But Mamata and her men are taking no chances — they have been busy spreading the good word. Selective leaks are being made to the media about how the BJP is just dying to get didi back into the fold, while it is she who is demurring. The reality, however, is just the opposite — but what’s a slight detour to one who has her eye fixed on the main road?

Reading the star signs

A desperate situation no less. Those around the PM think that his stars, particularly shani (Saturn), has been playing up a bit, hence all the furore over Gujarat. Counter-moves have been planned. A series of yajnas are said to have been organized all over the country — Prayag, Varanasi, Tirupathi, Ujjain and Delhi — to help save the gaddi for AB Vajpayee. The margin of 94 votes in the voting on Gujarat under Rule 184 shows that all the fire and ashes in the name of ABV are beginning to pay. But the godmen surrounding the PM think there is need for more. For June is only next month, and July after that. In June the VHP is expected to rake up Ayodhya again and in July the presidential elections will follow — time when the prime minister will need some real divine intervention to go through some more debates under Rule 184.

Heady, steady, won’t go

The other day, Jyoti Basu’s friends in New Delhi approached him and asked him to become the opposition’s nominee for the presidential elections. Basu’s reply was classically brief: “I am not well, but there is nothing wrong with my head.”

The PM in waiting

Troubled heads in the Congress. The party chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Priya Ranjan Das Munshi, is upset by the restructured AICC which has accommodated juniors like Mukul Wasnik, Salman Khurshid and Shelja, leaving out old warriors like Das Munshi. All their fingers seem to be pointing at Ambika Soni, who is alleged to have managed to include all her men in Sonia’s shadow cabinet. The grapevine has it that it was she who advised madam to allow Das Munshi in the Lok Sabha and thus leave him out of the new AICC. The Bengali is not the only one sulking. There is also Ramesh Chennithala, who was left out. The two will join leaders like Arjun Singh, ML Fotedar, Sushil Kumar Shinde, Jaffer Sharief, Najma Heptullah and others in the anti-Soni brigade. Who’ll succeed Vajpayee, Sonia or Soni? The latter, the old guard fears.

Changing face

Vijay Goel, minister in the PMO, has such big plans to revive the good old days of the walled city that some of his critics have named him “modern day Shahjahan”. Goel inaugurated his kite festival days back with participants from all over the country. A new park which resembles the India Gate lawns has come up behind the Red Fort for the pleasure of the residents of Purani Dilli. A small lake, fountains and lots of benches have found place in the lush green surroundings. The lighting arrangement has given a new look to the Diwan-e-Aam and the Diwan-i-Khas. Goel has also been planning a heritage centre around the Ajmeri Gate. He recently organized the Chandni Chowk festival. Fair enough. Till when will the enthusiasm last?

Mind your language

The parliamentary debate on Gujarat found MPs extra-agile, extra-alert. They had their antennae sticking out even at 3 am in the morning to detect any wrong word pronounced. So when the invincible Mani Shankar Aiyar talked about the Indian army only “pretending” to defend the country’s borders, he couldn’t expect to have it easy. The entire treasury bench in unison demanded an apology and eventual expunging of the words. Aiyar was unwilling to make amends and the deputy speaker, the ruling party’s nemesis, too decided to “pretend” to have not heard what was spoken by Aiyar. The ploy did not work too long. PM Sayeed had to ask Aiyar to apologize. Feet in mouths, should we say?

Man who will be king

As they put it, Omar Abdullah had his reasons to sing differently on the Gujarat debate. He is likely to succeed his father as chief minister of the Kashmir riyasat sometime later this month. A little bird says Farooq Abdullah has gone to London to bring his wife to watch their son being crowned king.

Footnote/ Still on the floor

Kissa kursi ka. One thought that the story, so far as the deputy speaker’s chair is concerned, was over — given that the Gujarat debate was. Not quite, if one goes by what PA Sangma has to say. What is the proper place from where speakers should give their ruling in the house? If you think why this strange query should be bothering the out-of-work former speaker of the Lok Sabha, he has an incident to relate. In one particular session of the Meghalaya assembly, the opposition clashed with the treasury benches. Voting followed but the sides were tied. The speaker descended from his chair and cast his own vote in favour of the government. That did it. The agitated opposition pounced on the speaker. The dear man fell on the ground and MLAs climbed on his chest. The speaker yelled, saying the house was adjourned sine die. Sangma’s question: would the speaker’s ruling be considered valid when it was delivered while the speaker was lying down, given that the rule stipulates that the ruling should come from the chair. Why not? It was delivered on the floor of the house!    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Freedom at last

Sir — The release of Yasser Arafat after a month-long siege is certainly a slap on Israel’s face (“Defiant Arafat released after 30-day house arrest”, May 3). Arafat was given a tumultuous welcome — evidence of the sense of relief among the Palestinians and international community and also perhaps of the future alienation of Israel in west Asian politics. But it would be foolish to expect Ariel Sharon to be cowed down by this development. Sharon has already managed to pressurize the United Nations into calling off the probe into the Jenin offensive. In the aftermath of Arafat’s release, it is time to ask: how long will the UN dance to Israel’s tune?
Yours faithfully,
Ramen Roy, Calcutta

Rise and fall

Sir — One detects a note of disappointment and disillusionment in Ashok Mitra’s “Distant thunder” (April 26). A Marxist hardliner, Mitra seems to have finally set aside the path of revolution and socialist upheavals and pinned his hopes on a possible “neo- colonial upsurge”, which will “overwhelm” the capitalist system and superpowers like the United States of America.

Mitra expects that the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will be forced to amend their policies and modus operandi under increasing pressure from disillusioned economists like Joseph Stiglitz. According to Mitra, India will never be lacking in funds from the two Bretton Woods institutions, no matter which party is in power at the Centre.

The only thing that might put off the IMF and World Bank is if the leftists — the socialists as well as the Marxists — come to power. Since this seems a distant possibility, Mitra has no alternative but to rely on some “neo-colonial upsurge” sponsored by disgruntled Western economists in the capitalist citadel of the US.

Yours faithfully,
Phani Bhusan Saha, Balurghat

Sir — Ashok Mitra seems to go along with Joseph Schumpeter’s belief in the imminent collapse of capitalism. But capitalism will never die because its proponents know how to “change horses midstream”.

Mitra would have been better placed to ponder over the reasons for the collapse of communism — and it wasn’t the result of some capitalist conspiracy. Even if capitalism is unsuccessful and is replaced, it will only be a temporary collapse. Capitalism will be back to replace communism as in the case of Russia and all the east European countries. Communism, with its outdated ideas, no longer holds good for the present times.

Yours faithfully,
A.C. Banerjee, Calcutta

Horror stories

Sir — The report, “Gangrape and murder for seeking Rs 5 more” (April 24), on Dalits in Bhaktakheda, an obscure village in Uttar Pradesh, was utterly shocking. The remark of the Samajwadi Party member of the legislative assembly, Sundarlal Kureel, that the victims, the Pasis and Chamaars, should not be spared, and that he would “look after the Yadavs” take the cake.

Unfortunately, the attention of most people in the country is fixed on the communal riots in Gujarat and so the gruesome incident went uncommented on. The communal disturbances have been rightly described as savage and barbaric by the intellectuals and pseudo-secularists. But similar condemnation was not directed at those guilty of committing the atrocities in Bhaktakheda.

When will the media, women’s organizations and politicians wake up to Bhaktakheda?

Yours faithfully,
Moni Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — The gangrape and murders in Bhaktakheda is symptomatic of the inhumane treatment meted out even now to the lower castes in India. Surveys by nongovernmental organizations and human rights activists reveal that bonded labour still exists in Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

The authorities should immediately order a probe into the Bhaktakheda violence and the culprits should be severely punished for their crime.

Yours faithfully,
B.N. Bose, Calcutta

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