I didn’t know Gauri Lankesh

Each day I ask a question, how much more can we rot?

I asked this question again, when Gauri Lankesh was shot.

I didn’t know her at all, but knew of her concerns,

how not to stay silent as her beloved nation burns.

Gauri wasn’t alone, there were many more of the pen,

whose voices were stilled with bullets, again and again.

They knew that the fires within just needed a spark,

and so they were silenced with shots fired in the dark.

The tyrant fears ideas, and the bigot fears reason,

every dictator considers dissent as high treason.

They let loose their dogs of war, to snarl and to bite,

cowards, doing their evil in the thick of the night.

But ideas are like grass, the more you try to mow,

they sprout everywhere, the more they’ll grow.

Come use your words, raise your voices, shout in anger,

for we’re in the face of the most mortal danger.

You who feel the loss of Gauri, and share in the pain,

promise. take a pledge, that her death will not be in vain.

Her voice has been silenced, but her words ring true,

the fight she has left behind, is now for me and you.

I’ve been meaning to write something on Shehla Rashid shooing off a reporter belonging to the Republic TV from the Press Club of India, but I desisted for two reasons. First, the JNUSU elections were on, and I wanted to make sure that nothing I wrote could be even remotely read as interceding on a particular political constellation’s behalf. Second, Shehla is a student of JNU, and as a faculty member I have restrained myself from commenting on student-related matters, even at a time when a section of them had begun the most false, motivated and malicious slander campaign against some of my colleagues;  and no, I’m not referring to the ABVP, though they had done precisely that;  and therein lies another irony. I decided to break that restraint, and will break it again if I deem it necessary.
What Shehla did has evoked mixed reactions on social media, and I’m not referring to the gutter trolls for whom abusing her has become their dharma. I am referring to posts written by some more liberal-minded people who seem to be shocked that she didn’t let a journalist do his `job’. I’ve even read a post saying that though the journalist worked for the Republic TV, he was `secular’ and should have, for that reason alone, been allowed to do his `job’.
Those who’ve not forgotten the aftermath of 9 February 2016 will also remember how two vicious TV channels launched an all-out war against JNU. They will also remember the saga of `doctored’ tapes on which our students were hauled up on charges of sedition. They will also remember how Umar Khalid was invited by Times Now, and then heckled and abused by the anchor, who didn’t even allow him to speak. They will remember the vicious abuses which Kanhaiya, Umar and Shehla were subjected to, and the last two are still subjected to by the paid trolls of today’s political dispensation. They will remember how Kanhaiya, Umar and Anirban were subjected to death threats, and how Shehla was threatened with the most unbelievable and horrific forms of sexual abuse.
They should also know how each of them has stood up to every one of these threats, and fought tooth and nail to keep the progressive and democratic ethos of their politics alive. Agree or disagree with the specifics of their politics, but there can be no doubt that they’re all on this side of the fence, standing firm with people like us. against the wolves on the other side of the fence. They should also know how their commitments have prevailed over all odds, and how their voices have made a difference. They should also know how each of them have been able to balance rigorous academic demands with the equally rigorous political demands of their ideologies. They should also know that their politics is infused with deep humanism and empathy for the poor, the marginalized and the downtrodden. They must remember that each of them is a critical, well-read and articulate thinker who can take on anyone anywhere in a civilized debate.
They should also know that they are angry at the patent injustice they’ve faced and are continuing to face at the hands of the government, the university and the media. The journalist in question may have been `secular’, but are so his employers and the ideology they overtly support? That must weigh in somewhere in the discussion too.
Shehla was angry when she asked the journalist to leave, and I don’t see anything wrong in her anger.

AN Ode to Competent Authority

An Ode to Competent Authority

O, to be competent authority when the powers that be,

are with me, with me, and only with me.

I can do as I please for I have the numbers,

and even if I don’t I can fill them with cucumbers.

 

O, to be competent authority, what hubris I enjoy,

I can mislead, manipulate, or use any other devious ploy.

For I can do as I please because I’ve been told,

I’ll be rewarded if I bend, scrape and just fold.

 

O, to be competent authority, I now have no regard,

if what I look after is screwed, or simply buggered.

For I can do as I please, as long as I’m able,

to turn an institution into a gau-shala, or perhaps a stable.

 

O, to be competent authority, now the weather is good,

I know how to suck up, and I know I should.

For then I can do as I please, with nary a care,

I’ll send notices and warnings to all those who dare.

 

O,  to be competent authority,  it’s like money in the bank,

Just bend and scrape, and sometimes ask for a tank.

And when in doubt I’ll consult generals, offer salutations,

And to clarify procedures I’ll just invent regulations.

 

O, to be competent authority, my masters must stay pleased,

even though I must bravely intake all gases they’ve released.

For then I can do as I please, yet hope, and pray,

that they don’t change their minds and ask me to bray.

 

Maharana Pratap defeated Akbar…So?

Okay, so Maharana Pratap defeated Badshah Akbar. That’s what the RSS-led `historians’  are saying, aren’t they? It’s futile to get into a debate with these bigots whose entire world-view is determined by a Hindu upper-caste frame of reference. It’s better to throw facts at them, and in that spirit what follows is not an essay kind of evaluation of the Akbar-Pratap conflict, but some factual points and their answers about the epic struggle between these two iconic foes. I have divided my questions into two sections.
I. Questions pertaining to the battle of Haldighati and some related issues…

Did Akbar appoint a Hindu, Man Singh as the commander of the Mughal (Musli’m ?) army in Rajasthan to take on Rana Pratap? Yes.
On the other hand, did Pratap have the utensils and the seat given to Mansingh during their meeting in 1572 washed with Ganga water because Man Singh was an ally of the Mughals who were Muslims? Yes.
Did he shift his capital from Goganda to Kumbhalgarh to get as far away as possible from the Mughal armies? Yes.
Did Pratap’s chiefs make him give up the strategic position in the hills surrounding Kumbalgarh and move to a lesser protected site at Khamnur, despite the Mughal forces advancing towards them? Yes.
During the battle, was he successful in killing Man Singh despite managing to reach close enough to kill the latter on his elephant? No.
Was Pratap not saved by his ally Mansingh Jhala who deceived the Mughal forces by snatching Pratap’s standard and flying it himself, thereby diverting the Mughal attack upon himself, thus saving Pratap from certain death? Yes
Despite the battle going in his favour for a while, Pratap decided to charge into the thick of the enemy unassisted, to kill the enemy commander, Man Singh, purely out of personal animosity. Was that a sign of sound military judgment? No.
Did he or did he not quit the battlefield without informing his army, leaving them leaderless and in disarray? Yes.
Did or didn’t Man Singh occupy Pratap’s palace in Goganda on 23rd June 1576, after Pratap had abandoned it along with the battlefield on 22nd June? Yes.
Who suffered larger casualties in the battle, the Mughals or the Rajputs? The Rajputs, 380 to 120.
After his flight from Haldighati, wasn’t Pratap ousted from his stronghold of Kumbalgarh by the Mughal army in 1578? Yes.
Despite his opposition to the Mughals, Pratap was never able to make anything more than guerrilla attacks on Mughal forces, which did nothing to upset the balance of power in Mewar? Yes.
Didn’t Pratap flee from the Mughal forces in 1585 leaving his equipage and baggage behind? Yes
Despite his opposition to the Mughals, Pratap was never able to make anything more than guerrilla attacks on Mughal forces, which did nothing to upset the balance of power in Mewar? Yes.

II. Some other questions arising out of his `victory:

Did he defeat the Mughals by using gunpowder and cannons? No.
Did he fight the Mughals in open, pitched battles? No.
Did he chase the Mughal forces out of Mewar? No.
Did he pursue Akbar relentlessly back to Fatehpur Sikri and then out of India after his `victory’? No.
Was he able to reclaim an uncontested hold over Mewar? No
Did he reclaim his gaddi at Mewar? No.
Was he able to forge a unified front of the Rajputs against Mughal occupation? No.
Was he able to stop many Rajput chiefs giving their daughters in marriage to the Mughals? No.
Did he prevent the survey and settlement of 17 of the 24 sarkars in Mewar by the Mughals for revenue purposes? No.
Did Pratap ever manage to recover Chitor from the Mughals? No
Was he ever able to lead a stable life or rule after his flight from Haldighati? No
Did Pratap die in battle? No. He died from a self-inflicted arrow wound.

However, to be fair, Pratap was uncompromising in his opposition to the Mughals and to that extent he was a rebel. He gave a lot of trouble to the Mughal forces by his guerrilla tactics, but his activities remained confined to such tactics. He wasn’t able to prevent the hegemony of the Mughals, not only over his beloved Rajasthan but over the whole of northern India during his lifetime.

If this was victory, then what did it take to be defeated?

These Days

These days, who to believe, what to believe in,
Are thoughts which are randomly troubling me,
These days, it seems to me pretty much a sin,
To try to go a step beyond, to feel, to see.

These days, who to see, what to see and where,
Are concerns which are causing enormous stress,
These days, it seems that to know, to be aware,
Unleash uncontrollable urges to suppress.

These days, who to beware, how, and for what reason,
Are questions which we don’t need to anymore ask,
These day, we think of others as plotting treason,
And of conspiracies we need to unravel and unmask.

These days, conspiracies galore we’ll find if we look,
If not, the way out is to imagine them to be afoot,
These days, stir conspiracies well, slowly, let them cook,
But be prepared well to hit, hurt, maim and scoot.

These days, who’re these others who so worry  you?
Who cause concern, disgust, threaten, and  anger us,
These days, they are those whose religions we consider untrue,
Whose beliefs we besmirch and condemn as dangerous.

These days the glib charge of being anti-national,
Is thrown on anyone like so much loose change,
These days, what prevail are the reactionary and irrational,
Savage and repressive in their scope and range.

These days, what matters not an iota is adherence to law,
What matters not at all is respect, tolerance and acceptance,
These days, what matters is brutality to shock and awe,
What matters is the legitimization of cultural repugnance.

Post Bihar 2015: some reflections on the politics of secularism and a different historical insight

The intensity of opposition to the Modi phenomenon has been phenomenal. For the BJP the euphoria of the 2014 mandate is now increasingly turning into disappointment and this is in no small way because of the rapid erosion of the Modi phenomenon itself. He has lost much of his sheen and bluster and his on favourite hunting ground, the social media, is increasingly becoming his nemesis. First the AAP in Delhi and now the Mahagatbandhan in Bihar have really turned things around. The BJP is actually on the back foot. For all its hype and rhetoric, the economic agenda of the BJP is an extension of what was being pursued by the UPA, and the parameters of performance do not arouse and its show piece, the Hindutva agenda, will have to be placed on the back burner for the BJP and Moditva to survive till 2019. Both the party and the man have to reinvent themselves to remain relevant to the Indian electorate. Post-Bihar 205, this will be an insurmountable hurdle for both the party and the man.

The opposition has been enormously successful and it doesn’t matter whether it was `manufactured’, `fabricated’ or just spontaneous. What did BJP expect? Just because they had a convincing electoral win, all opposition had been swept aside? Opposition will continue and strengthen as the liberal voices become more vocal and as regional political parties hem in the BJP in the states. The Congress, shaken out of its ennui, will begin to play a crucial role in the days ahead. There is therefore reason to be optimistic.

But what is this optimism about? Is it just a matter of feeling good about hemming in the Hindutva agenda? Of course to be able to do so by whatever means is critical, but is that all there is to this? Isn’t there an alternative ideological and cultural space that needs to be opened up, protected or strengthened? Secularism has almost become a term of abuse in this country. Competing religiosities constantly make counterclaims over this word. Hinduism is secular, Islam is secular as is Christianity, say the advocates of of these faiths, while simultaneously accusing the other of sectarianism and communalism. Majoritarian voices conflate secularism with minority appeasement (so-called pseudo-secularism) whereas minorities, threatened by the stridency of the majoritarian (Hindutva) rhetoric, retreat into walls of sectarian seclusion or raise their voices against growing majoritarian intolerance, all in the name of secularism. Even hard-line Hindutva ideologues, of which Modi is an exemplar, while carefully avoiding this `S’ word do talk of it in roundabout terms like co-existence and pluralism. In India, secularism has become communalism’s alter ego.

The rhetoric of secularism is used to gloss over deep inconsistencies of political behaviour. Let’s take the example of the recently concluded Bihar elections. The defeat of Modi (and secondarily of the BJP) was a matter of great significance and caused justifiable euphoria. But once we look beyond the results the facade of secularism shows deep cracks. Using the discourse of secularism in order to garner votes on the basis of caste and then use the victory to consolidate a venal system of power is the most disturbing aspect of this triumph of this so-called secularism. The images of Arvind Kejriwal embracing Lalu Prasad Yadav just eighteen months after he had dubbed the latter as the epitome of corruption is equally unsettling. Secular responses to criticisms in the social media on contrary views about the rise of a new Yadava dynasty in Bihar have been justifying this as the unavoidable consequences of a greater good, a small price to pay for Modi’s defeat in Bihar. Political manipulation and venality with so-called secular credentials is justified by counterposing the existence of highly undesirable communal elements among BJP MPs.

One wrong is cited to justify another. The loser either way is secularism.

The political situation is one of despondency, but the resounding defeat of Modi is the silver lining. The silver lining has four components. First, the ideology of a majoritarian cultural nationalism (which had minority bashing as its corollary) has been decimated. Second, the BJP-RSS cohort has been forced on the back foot, and the so-called `fringe’ elements which were increasingly threatening to occupy centre-stage have been now actually relegated to the fringe. Their sporadic outbursts must can be now dismissed as such—merely outbursts of an inconsequential lunatic fringe. Third, Bihar has been the destroyed the Modi-Shah combo. The rest of Modi’s tenure will be a downhill journey, probably spent in overseas visits, for he has nothing left to offer to his Indian constituency. Fourth, and for me the vital point is that the idea of secularism as it has been practiced in the Indian politics now stands denuded. It is now bereft of any moral or ethical content because of the way it has been used to justify the most perverse forms of political behaviour. On the one hand by using secularism as a trope by Modi in his overseas demagoguery, he has made this concept malleable enough to be appropriated by communal politics in order to argue for a majoritarian-oriented secularism. On the other hand and the recent Bihar elections revealed how secularism is used to foster narrow familial, venal and casteist forms of politics. On what moral grounds can the latter be used to condemn or counter the former?

But herein lies the opportunity for the invention of a new political discourse which should seek a closer location in Indian history than this ahistorical adherence to the term secularism, which is a modern concept with very little bearings on the longer moorings of Indian history.

Despite dominant political narratives in medieval India which tended to privilege political and religious fractiousness, the real history of the medieval centuries was one of pluralism, co-existence and syncretism. The period between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries saw the apogee of these tendencies. Society remained intensely religious, but not divided on religious lines. The social discourse of these centuries, combining Vedantic, Bhakti and Sufi principles was one of liberalism whose public manifestations were unbelievably complex, mature and universalizing. This discourse was also uniquely non-elitist and non-urban for it was created, shared and propagated by all forms of subaltern religiosities, for example by people Kabir, Nanak and the Sufi pirs whose charismatic hold on rural societies was unquestioned and unquestionable. This universalizing religiosity was not `secular’ for religion permeated its very essence, but it was not communal for it critiqued all forms of denominational/scriptural faiths. It was a genuinely liberal discourse configuring itself on the conceptual terrains of `adar bhav’, universal humanism and `parupkar’, universal benevolence, espoused for instance by Kabir. For the fifteenth century savant Narasinh Mehta of Gujarat, this liberalism was honour and respect for all (sakal lok) and a universalizing vision for all (sama drishti).

Seeking roots of liberalism and universal humanism (not just tolerance) in Indian history is both culturally and politically necessary to deliver a stinging retort to ideologues of Hindutva who find nothing but destruction of temples and decimation of Hindus in the medieval centuries, and to structurally delink venality in Indian politics from the smokescreen of secularism.

Who is a Hindu?

Who is a Hindu? This question these days is doing the rounds
From social media, to the chatterati to the RSS’s shakha grounds.

A vexed question indeed, who precisely should in this feature?
For no one is sure about its being, about this particular creature?

Is Hinduism a religion, a creed, a belief or a just another way of life?
A belief system, a faith, a sect, cult or just another means to survive?

Are Hindus Aryans? That increasingly in many quarters is being said,
To get a purity of lineage and imagining themselves as pure bred.

Who are Hindus? Did all Hindus have commonly shared pasts?
When was this past? And how did they come to be divided into castes?

Being a Hindu does it not mean excluding many from their touch?
Staying pure at one end, but be free to have all others to besmirch.

Does it not mean that as Hindus all of them have in all probability?
Have practiced, or practice or believe in some form of untouchability?

The shadows of `lesser’ humans falling on their self-righteous path,
For Hindus this has been always been a justified cause for wrath.

Are Hindus only so because they pray in a place called a temple?
But debar others from entering these, the dalits for example.

Is not killing cows what makes a Hindu, or totally abhorring beef?
But is it Hindu to kill on suspicion of someone hurting this belief?

Hindus worship cows we’re told, they are as precious as their breath,
But plastic in the garbage they eat slowly smothers them to death.

Who is a Hindu? Who decides, who shall be included, who’s to be rejected?
In religion’s name so many people to so many wrongs we’ve subjected.