Saturday, June 07, 2014
From Print Edition
While canvassing, he wore every type of headgear, including a Sikh turban and an Arunachali hat with horns and petals, but pointedly, and repeatedly, refused to don a skullcap!
The Modi government’s moral apathy towards Muslims was even more eloquently conveyed by the sole Muslim in the cabinet, minority affairs minister Najma Heptullah, through her first public speech declaring that India’s Muslims are too numerous to be a minority; that term best applies to Parsis – India’s wealthiest and most educated community.
This makes nonsense of the idea of protecting the rights of underprivileged religious-minority groups against majoritarianism, the ministry’s liberal-democratic rationale.
Modi has shown no respect for settled democratic conventions in making appointments. Thus, instead of choosing someone with scholarly gravitas, interest in academic pursuits, or a deep understanding of the challenges education faces in India, he allotted the weighty cabinet-rank human resource development portfolio to former actress Smriti Irani who has shown no interest in or aptitude for education, and who filed contradictory affidavits about her educational qualifications, which may be a criminal offence.
Worse, Modi used the ordinance route to override the Telecom Regulatory Authority Act, which bars the TRAI chairman from ever holding government office. This public-interest bar – enacted, ironically, by a BJP-led government in 2000 – is meant to prevent favouritism and promote impartiality, and should have been respected.
Modi was in a rush to appoint former TRAI chairman Nripendra Misra as his principal secretary. He refused to wait for parliament to convene and amend the act. The ordinance violates the Supreme Court judgement in a 1987 case, which says the ordinance power “is to be used to meet an extraordinary situation and cannot be allowed to be perverted to serve political ends”.
Misra’s is clearly a political appointment. He is no ordinary bureaucrat. He was until recently on the executive council of the Vivekananda International Foundation, a well-funded Right-wing think-tank located in Chanakyapuri, New Delhi’s diplomatic enclave.
VIF (www.vifindia.org) is an offshoot of the Vivekananda Kendra, started in 1972 by Eknath Ranade, former RSS general secretary. VIF played a crucial, if silent, role in Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption protests beginning 2011. It runs several security- and foreign policy-related and “historical and civilisational studies” programmes.
VIF’s website carries hysterical pro-Hindutva and ultra-nationalist articles. One article describes US scholar Wendy Doniger as someone who delights in “denigrating Hinduism. Most of her own and her students’ dissertations/books … have often been described as pure pornography…” Doniger’s book on Hinduism was recently pulped – setting a nasty precedent of successful intimidation by the RSS-sponsored Shiksha Bachao Andolan, since carried over.
VIF’s director is former Intelligence Bureau chief Ajit Doval, now appointed the National Security Adviser. As I discovered during a television debate a few years ago, Doval belongs to a school of policing that believes “in shooting first and asking questions later – that’s the only way to deal with terrorists”, real or imagined.
Doval rationalises fake ‘encounter killings’ and advocates a militarist approach towards Maoists – regardless of legality and human rights consequences. He calls for a hard line against India’s neighbours, including friendly Bangladesh, who he believes, are bent on subverting India’s security.
Many VIF leading lights discount the potential for peaceful coexistence between India and Pakistan. India, they demand, should stop being overly “generous” towards its neighbours in economic cooperation, trade, visas, even water-sharing.
VIF, with other pro-Sangh Parivar outfits such as Deendayal Research Institute, Niti Central, Public Policy Research Centre, Friends of the BJP, Centre for Policy Studies and Rashtriya Seva Bharati, will provide policy inputs to Modi.
Under their influence, we are likely to witness a well-orchestrated campaign to shift India’s foreign, security, economic, social and cultural policies rightwards, in keeping with Modi’s own orientation, but with disastrous consequences.
It’s hard to see how the feeble and demoralised parliamentary opposition can resist this onslaught. Many regional outfits like the Samajwadi Party buy into the BJP’s paranoid ultra-nationalist premises and hardline approaches.
Where does that leave the recent elections’ greatest losers – the Congress, the Left, the BSP and the Aam Aadmi Party? The first two have suffered their worst-ever defeats, winning respectively 44 and 12 Lok Sabha seats (including two Left-backed independents from Kerala). The AAP, which showed great promise in December, has come a cropper, winning only four seats, all in Punjab.
These parties face an existential crisis. The Congress still deludes itself that the Gandhi family will somehow rescue it. The family refuses to own up to its leadership failure. Yet, no one demands that the party frees itself from this millstone and start afresh.
Unless the Congress rebuilds its base among the Dalits, Adivasis, lower OBCs and the urban poor, by agitating for their livelihood rights, it’s likely to go into steep, possibly terminal, decline – especially if it loses the coming assembly elections in Maharashtra and Haryana, as seems likely.
The Left’s base has been eroding everywhere, especially in its former bastion West Bengal, where it won the same number of seats (two) as the BJP. Its leadership should have responded to this with alacrity; several heads should have rolled, and the Left should have returned to vigorous mass activity instead of doing “politics from the top” based on unstable, sterile electoral alliances.
Unless the Left urgently corrects course, updates its programmatic perspectives, and develops a mass-based mobilisation strategy by taking up issues like healthcare, food security, employment, education and defence of people’s livelihoods threatened by predatory industrial, mining and water and power projects, it too will be doomed.
The solution lies in radical, painfully critical introspection, abandoning the democratic centralism organisational doctrine which prevents healthy debate, and joining grassroots struggles. This is a tall order, but the Left has no soft options.
As for the AAP, it must reinvent itself not as a political party, but as a political movement which offers new forms of participatory activity not narrowly focused on corruption or “crony capitalism”. The AAP must practise what it preaches – transparency, political honesty and inner-party consultation. It’s the lack of these that aggravated the AAP’s crisis, leading to Shazia Ilmi’s and Yogendra Yadav’s resignations, and to Arvind Kejriwal’s discrediting as an egoistic, unreliable leader.
The AAP must not shy away from ideology. It must link ‘crony capitalism’ to communal-neoliberal authoritarianism. The BJP embodies all these and is the main enemy. Rather than concentrate excessively on the coming Delhi Assembly elections, the AAP must join a broad-based national campaign against neoliberal Hindutva-capitalism. That’s the way forward.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and rights activist based in Delhi.