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Soul-keepers

Since its inception in 1925, the RSS has perplexed observers with its organizational skills, military discipline and single-minded quest for influence in all walks of Indian life. Often seen as insidious and banned thrice, the pace of its growth and ideological dominance of the political landscape in the second decade of the millennium have been remarkable.

Delhi-based journalist Dinesh Narayanan is deeply interested in understanding the interplay of politics, society and business and the impact of these on our lives, both as individuals and collectively as a nation.

 

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In June 2018, the Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) discussed a proposal to train a million young men and women annually to prepare them for the purpose of creating a disciplined nationalist force of youth. Titled the National Youth Empowerment Scheme (N-YES), the year-long training was proposed to be an essential qualification for enrolment in the army and paramilitary services. The scheme was aimed at instilling values of discipline, nationalism and self-esteem in young people, the Indian Express reported.  The government called the report sensationalizing but did not deny the meeting in the PMO. It said the meeting had discussed strengthening the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and the National Service Scheme (NSS).

Established in 1948, at the instance of then prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, and home minister, Sardar Patel, in the wake of the invasion of Kashmir by Pakistan-supported tribesmen, the NCC’s stated aim is ‘developing character, comradeship, discipline, a secular outlook, the spirit of adventure and ideals of selfless service amongst young citizens . . . and creating a pool of organized, trained and motivated youth with leadership qualities in all walks of life, who will serve the nation regardless of which career they choose’. The NSS was established to provide ‘hands on experience to young students in delivering social service’. These organizations’ values aligned with those of the RSS although the latter’s definition of ‘secular outlook’ is  different. It contends that India is a Hindu nation, and a Hindu by nature and definition can be nothing but secular. Like the NCC, the RSS also considers itself as a reserve force.

The RSS || Dinesh Narayanan

The N-YES proposal sounded very close to the RSS’s idea of creating a militaristic society. Sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat has claimed that although the RSS was not a military organization, its discipline was like that of the army. While the army may require six to seven months to ready a force, the RSS could raise a trained force of its volunteers in three days.

Organizers of Hindus often rue that they are pusillanimous compared to other communities. V.D. Savarkar, one of the early ideological mentors of the RSS, wrote: ‘At the time of the first inroads of the Muhammadans, the fierce unity of faith, that social cohesion and valorous fervour which made them as a body so irresistible, were qualities in which the Hindus proved woefully wanting.’

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The RSS is a close and relevant insight into the current socio-political landscape of our country.

Sadguru Patil and Mayabhushan Nagvenkar answer questions on the life of Manohar Parrikar and the process of writing a biography

Over the last two decades, the exploits of one man, an IIT-Bombay alumnus, changed the way mainstream India looked at Goa and the political goings-on in the country’s smallest state. An Extraordinary Life traces the life and times of Manohar Parrikar through the informed voices of his relatives, friends, foes, bureaucrats and IIT contemporaries. The daily battles of a gifted individual are brought to the fore as he encounters love and vices. But more importantly, it showcases his rise in politics from the son of a grocery store owner in a nondescript town, a sanghachalak in Mapusa town, an Opposition MLA and leader, to a chief minister (on multiple occasions) and, finally, to a defence minister.

Read below an interview with the authors:

 


 

Writing a biography needs an author to write without bias. How difficult is that and how did you make sure of it?
The battle with bias is a constant one. A biography is less about relaying everything about a person’s life. It involves a process of curating a selection of events, personality traits and portrayal of relationships, so as to convey an account of one’s life, which is as accurate as it can get. The key is of course getting the selection right. It’s like a well curated menu, which has the right balance of hors d’oeuvres, main courses and desserts. You simply can’t make do with desserts alone. 

 

Could you share a moment while writing this book which made you pause in awe of Manohar Parrikar’s life?
The account in the book narrated by a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh functionary Ratnakar Lele. He talks about a young Parrikar drawing water from a well when everyone else was asleep, using a coir-rope tackle and a pitcher for four hours from 11 pm to 3 am, because an electric water pump malfunctioned at an RSS camp attended by hundreds of swayamsevaks.  After he was told about Parrikar’s feat, Lele even checked the calluses on his swayamsevak’s palms to verify the story. 

 

To make sure you cover all angles while writing biography involves extensive research; could you share with us the research process?
Manohar Parrikar as a subject wasn’t a new one for us. As journalists we had covered developments involving him and the BJP extensively for our respective media publications. There was a blind spot though; his family. We laid a lot of emphasis to weave his family, including all his siblings and children, into the biography’s narrative. Their stories helped add fresh facets of his personality and familial relationships which were rarely discussed before, to the manuscript. 
The discipline of research involved meeting up with Sadguru and drawing up multiple questionnaires for resource persons we had identified. The questionnaires would be constantly updated ahead of second, third visits. Sadguru did a bulk of the information-gathering for the biography. Every time we met, we would discuss the day’s draft which needed to be written which was my responsibility. This research was complimented with both short and long deadlines to complete the daily quota of writing and for finalising individual chapters and eventually the manuscript. 

 

Do you have any advice for writers wanting to delve into the biography genre?
If you are diligent enough, the obvious won’t be missed. But one still has to look for the scattered pearls. And sometimes, you need to know which oyster to shuck open to get to that missing pearl. 

 

The life of a politician involves tremendous sacrifice; which one incident from Manohar Parrikar’s life did you think made him rethink how to balance work and personal life?
Just to set the context right, the word ‘sacrifice’ tends to read with a positive overtone. Something about it does not seem to be in harmony with the word ‘politics’, the way we see it in India in general. As far as Parrikar’s life goes, there appeared to be an imbalance between his family life and his political mission. The latter seems to have overwhelmed his time, leaving little for the former. But there is one incident, where Parrikar, who was rarely known to indulge own sons when they were young, made time during an official trip as Defence Minister to China, to buy a toy excavator and a truck from a shopping mall, for his grandson Dhruv. 

 

Do you think there should be more representation of youth in positions of power?
For the sheer need to break the status quo of stagnant political thought, yes. 

 

 You’ve covered politics extensively over the past years; any suggestions for people of this generation who wish to join politics?
If you are looking for tips from writers vis a vis joining politics, then maybe you don’t have it in you to make it there. If you feel you are cut out for it, just take the plunge. You will either learn to swim or be cast ashore by the tide. 


 

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Take a close-up look at what went on behind the scenes in Maharashtra elections 2019

On 28 November 2019, Uddhav Thackeray, the Shiv Sena chief, was sworn in as the eighteenth chief minister of Maharashtra. This event marked the culmination of a high-voltage political drama that had the entire nation glued to their television sets for days on end. With no party being able to claim a majority in the assembly, President’s Rule was imposed in the state. This book takes its readers through the twists and turns of the dramatic political crisis that unfolded as Maharashtra waited for its chief minister.

What really went on behind the scenes?

With access to inside sources and private conversations, this book reveals the hitherto untold story of this political drama, with a comprehensive overview of the state’s politics in the last few decades.

Read below an excerpt from the book:

 


After leaving the Maha Vikas Aghadi meeting at the Nehru Centre (Worli) on 22 November 2019, Ajit Pawar arrived at his Churchgate residence. He again left the house at around 10.30 p.m. He asked his driver to stop on the way. He then asked the driver to return to his house with the car. Pawar stepped into another car and left for the western suburbs. Around the same time, Fadnavis also left his chief ministerial convoy and, in a different vehicle, arrived at the Hotel Sofitel in BKC, around midnight. Both leaders chose to avoid the public glare and media attention. They entered the five-star luxury hotel from a back door. It was an hour-long meeting. After hearing the name of Uddhav Thackeray as a possible candidate for the position of the chief minister of Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis panicked and informed Ajit Pawar that they had to take the oath the very next day, on 23 November 2019, at Raj Bhavan. Ajit Pawar asked him about President’s Rule and other procedures and requested Fadnavis to not be in a hurry. Ajit Pawar told Fadnavis that Sharad Pawar had given the green signal but the final discussion was yet to happen. However, according to an NCP leader who spoke with the author, Fadnavis told him that discussions could take place later.According to Fadnavis, it was of utmost importance to take the oath as soon as possible and then resolve other pending matters.

Meanwhile, Ajit Pawar had come to know that his uncle was reluctant to align with the BJP. A person close to Ajit Pawar said to this author that while planning the formation of the government with the Shiv Sena and the Congress, the state NCP president Jayant Patil’s name was finalized for the position of the deputy chief minister with the home portfolio. It was a big shock for Ajit Pawar. There seemed to be a plan afoot to systematically sideline Ajit Pawar, and to later bring in Supriya Sule as the chief minister of Maharashtra for the half term once Uddhav Thackeray’s two and a half years were over . . . It seemed like the end of Ajit Pawar’s career.

Perhaps, therefore, Ajit Pawar also panicked and decided to go ahead with what must have seemed to be his last resort—joining hands with the BJP despite his uncle’s reluctance. …

Ajit Pawar and his close aide had called the thirty-eight NCP legislators in Mumbai and had asked them to assemble at Dhananjay Munde’s bungalow in front of the Secretariat House (Mantralaya) at 12.30 a.m. Sunil Tatkare, Dhananjay Munde and Praful Patel had been kept in the loop. …While leaving their own constituencies, the NCP legislators started calling each other, mentioning that Ajit Pawar had called them for a meeting. It turned out that the other legislators who were not a part of the thirty-eight had no clue about this meeting in Mumbai. … Finally, out of thirty-eight, only fifteen NCP legislators reached Mumbai. This was perhaps the first signal that Ajit Pawar’s coup would not be a cakewalk.

The NCP chief, Sharad Pawar, got wind of this development around 12.30 or 1 a.m. on 23 November. At Raj Bhavan, the engineers had asked the sound and microphone system operators to remain there only. This news spread and there were suspicions that something was up at Raj Bhavan. The NCP legislators who were directly in touch with Sharad Pawar informed him that Ajit Pawar had called them for a meeting. However, after speaking with Sharad Pawar, many of them decided not to attend the meeting. Pawar thus had an idea about his nephew’s plans, but he remained doubtful about its success. Later, around 3 a.m., on Saturday, Pawar sought an update on how many legislators were siding with Ajit Pawar. He knew that if only these fifteen legislators went with his nephew that would not help him to form the government. The BJP had 105 seats and the support of fifteen independent legislators; it needed at least twenty-five to thirty legislators to cross the 145 mark. Ajit Pawar teaming up with the BJP would not only be a fiasco but he would also lose his credibility

As per his interview with ABP Majha, Sharad Pawar said that he went to bed late, around 3 a.m., at Silver Oak, hardly a fifteen-minute drive from Raj Bhavan. Around the same time, Devendra Fadnavis was getting ready to take the oath as chief minister of Maharashtra for a second time. As per a local television channel, around 4 a.m. in the morning, Fadnavis and his wife, Amruta Fadnavis organized a mirchi havan (a sacred ritual around a fire), which was performed by the priests from Nalkheda’s Baglamukhi temple in Madhya Pradesh. Baglamukhi is a tantric deity in Hinduism. Fadnavis was told that this same havan was performed to save the Harish Rawat government in Uttarakhand. When the Rawat government lost the majority in the house, his brother Jagdish Rawat rushed to the Baglamukhi temple to perform the mirchi havan and, eventually, apparently, Rawat was able to save his government. Since then, this temple town had become famous among politicians and businessmen. The report of the channel stated that Fadnavis was convinced that if this mirchi havan was performed by him at Varsha Bungalow, his official residence in Mumbai, he would again be chief minister of Maharashtra. Earlier also, Fadnavis had conducted the same mirchi havan on several occasions to retain the chief minister’s chair whenever it was in trouble. Once the havan was done, the tantriks were paid dakshina (donation) and they left for Madhya Pradesh; their return journey was coordinated by Prasad Lad.

It was time for Fadnavis to get ready for his second swearing-in ceremony at Raj Bhavan. Rather than choosing his favourite blue jacket, he had, as per the instructions of the tantrik, opted for the colour black to ward off evil spirits. Ajit Pawar, as leader of the NCP’s legislative party, had with him two original copies of the signatures of the fifty-four NCP legislators, in Marathi and in English. A copy of the list was handed over to Maharashtra’s chief secretary, Ajoy Mehta, who was waiting at Varsha Bungalow. As per an Indian Express report dated 2 December 2019, Mehta had been specially flown in from Delhi to expedite the Devendra Fadnavis–Ajit Pawar swearing-in ceremony on 23 November.


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When Fundamental Rights became a Roadblock for Nehru’s Congress

The year was 1950. A feeling of euphoria was palpable as, after three years of deliberation, the Constitution of a newly independent India had come into effect. The Nehru-led Congress was ready to hit the ground running till their grand plans came to a screeching halt in the face of an expansively liberal Constitution that stood in the way of nearly every major socio-economic plan in the Congress party’s manifesto. With a judiciary vigorously upholding civil liberties and a press fiercely resisting his attempt to control public discourse, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru created the constitutional architecture for repression and coercion in the form of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

‘Four months after the Constitution’s inauguration, it was becoming increasingly clear that the champions of personal freedom had feet of clay, that beneath the surface of an ostensibly democratic leadership lurked deeply authoritarian instincts.’  writes Tripurdaman Singh as he revisits the Sixteen Stormy Days in 1951 when fundamental rights—the heart and soul of the Constitution- become lacunae in the same Constitution.

Read on to find out how fundamental rights caused grave difficulties for the government in power-

 

                             The right to fight indefinite detention

On 6 February 1950, 28 detainees filed a petition before the Bombay High Court challenging the validity of the Bombay Public Safety Measures Act on the basis of the new Constitution which, under Article 22, made indefinite and open-ended preventive detention, without an advisory board to approve detentions beyond a period of three months, unconstitutional. The unprepared government took the first hit.

‘The detainees were no longer subjects seeking the government’s leniency and clemency; they were free, rights-bearing citizens, newly empowered by the Constitution written in their name, with the ability to knock on the doors of the highest court of the land to demand the liberties guaranteed to them.’  

                               The furore over right to free speech

Barely three days after the twenty-eight communist detainees were freed by Bombay High Court another battle for Constitutional rights erupted in the Madras province when over 200 communist prisoners, demanding the status of political detainees rather than common criminals, went on strike. The violence that followed accelerated the downward spiral of the government and led to more strikes by other prisoners.

‘The enraged policemen retaliated by locking the 200-odd offenders in a hall with no means of escape and opening fire on them, killing twenty-two people in cold blood and injuring 107 others in a gruesome demonstration of the new republic’s lack of respect for the life and liberty of its citizens.’   

                                The blurred promise of land reform

Land reform had been a major part Congress agenda and Zamindari abolition and land redistribution promised to herald a new phase of equality for a new India. However, even before the constitution came into effect a legal battle began to erode the promise made by Congress. Suits filed by pre-eminent zamindars led the courts to examine the constitutional validity of the entire Management of Estates and Tenures Act.

‘Observing that the drastic and far-reaching restrictions placed on the power of the proprietors to deal with their property with no corresponding compensation left them practically without any rights over their own property, the court held the law to be void ab initio—both before and after the creation of the Constitution.

 The decision came as a bombshell, leaving the Bihar government and its Congress leaders shocked and rattled. The judgment reiterated the judiciary’s commitment to fundamental rights…’

                      The first legal challenge to the idea of reservation

Petitions filed against the discriminatory practice of reservation led courts to examine the issue of admissions being strictly regulated according to set communal proportions, instead of merit, which infringed upon fundamental rights. The violation of both Article 15 (1) of the Constitution of India, which protects citizens from discrimination on grounds of religion, race, caste, sex, place of birth and Article 29 (2) formed the basis of the case. Noted lawyer Alladi Krishnaswamy Aiyyar laid bare the glaring issues in the ‘Communal Government Order’ in court-

‘Aiyyar argued that the right granted by Article 29 (2) of the Constitution, which in unequivocal terms prevented any discrimination in the matter of admissions to state or state-aided institutions, was an individual right personally granted to each citizen. It could not be sidestepped by granting restricted community-based opportunities, it was not a right granted to people as members of a particular caste or religion.’

The essential foundations of the Constitution, which Sardar Patel called its ‘idealistic exuberance’, had now become a real, multifold problem for Nehru who, irked by constitutional restraints obstructing his political goals, eventually wrote to his chief ministers-

‘Recent judgments of some High Courts have made us think about our Constitution. Is it adequate in its present form to meet the situation we have to face? We must accept fully the judgments of our superior courts, but if they find that there is a lacuna in the Constitution, then we have to remedy that.’  

Thus began the story of the First Amendment to the Constitution.


Read Tripurdaman Singh’s riveting account of what transpired during those Sixteen Stormy Days in 1951.

Is Secularism a Colonial Concept?

How did India aspire to become a secular country? Given our colonial past, we derive many of our laws and institutions from England. We have a parliamentary democracy with a Westminster model of government. Our courts routinely use catchphrases like ‘rule of law’ or ‘natural justice’, which have their roots in London.

In Republic of Religion, eminent scholar Abhinav Chandrachud presents well-researched reasons to argue that the secular structure of the colonial state in India was imposed by a colonial power.

Find an excerpt from his narrative that sets up this argument while exploring the nuances of secularism as a concept.

 

Though scholars disagree on the meaning of secularism, broadly speaking, two factors go into making a secular state: no religion should be established by law as the official state religion and all citizens should have the freedom to practise their own religious beliefs.7 Unlike the US, England has an established religion. If India derives so many of her laws and institutions from England, how is it that there is no established religion in India?

In the coming pages, we will see that secularism was artificially imposed by the British colonial government in India even though it did not fully exist in England. The law in England assumed only Christianity to be the one true religion, and Indian religions like Hinduism and Islam were considered to be ‘heathen’. Therefore, though England had an established religion—Christianity through the Church of England—it could not declare an Indian religion, like Hinduism or Islam, as the official religion of India. It could not force Christianity on India probably due to the fact that this would have made the colony ungovernable.8 Instead, it decided to separate religion and the state in India. Though government officials in England were entangled with the administration of churches there, colonial officials felt uncomfortable associating with ‘false’ Indian houses of worship like temples and mosques and therefore assigned them to the administration of Indian trustees.

British officials adopted a policy of secularism in India—in contrast to England—which will be referred to here as ‘colonial secularism’. Though ‘secularism’ is itself a relatively new9 word and one of imprecision,10 broadly speaking, colonial secularism in British India meant that the government did three things. Firstly, the colonial state would not endorse or get itself entangled in the administration of any local religions. So it disentangled itself from the management of temples—a function which was historically performed by Indian rulers—and handed temple administration over to trustees. This was despite the fact that a parallel nineteenthcentury campaign to disestablish the Church of England failed in the metropole.11 Further, before taking up office, public officials in India were made to solemnly swear or affirm their oaths, though they might have had no conscientious objection to swearing in the name of God, Vishnu or Allah. In other words, any mention of the word ‘God’ was removed from the oaths administered to public officials in India—an accommodation which was only available to Quakers and some others in England. Secondly, the colonial state provided heightened protection to religious minorities, often feeding into a sense of paranoia that they would be left helpless without its imperial

intervention. So the personal laws of different religious groups were, in theory,12 left alone,13 though England did not have a separate set of ‘personal’ laws for its religious minorities like Catholics and Jews. Adopting the old Roman strategy of retaining the laws of conquered territories in order to make them more easily governable, colonial officials decided against adopting a uniform civil code in family law matters. Cow slaughter, though reviled by much of India’s majority Hindu populace, was permitted to be carried out by Muslims during the festival of Bakr Id and Hindus who objected to it were considered ‘hypersensitive’. Seats on legislative bodies were filled by voters on the basis of separate electorates. Thirdly, the government tacitly, though nervously, encouraged Christian missionaries to preach Christianity and obtain converts though a Hindu or Muslim preacher who might have tried to do the same in England would have put himself at risk for criminal prosecution.


Secularism is one of the most celebrated ideals of a diverse India. Republic of Religion is a unique narrative presenting a never-before explored perspective and colonial ties that can potentially lie behind this term.

 

 

Troubled Neighbours: India, China and His Holiness the Dalai Lama

In 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped from Tibet into India, where he was granted refuge. Few know about the carefully calibrated operation to escort him safely from the Indian border.

Political officer Har Mander Singh successfully managed this operation, and kept diary entries of his time. His niece, Rani Singh, brings to the fore the story that forever changed relations between India, China and Tibet in An Officer and His Holiness.

India’s relationship with its neighbour China was quite troubled back in the 1950s. The excerpt below, taken from Rani Singh’s book, presents a glimpse into how this troubled backdrop became a precursor to His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape and refuge into India.

 

The key reason for the disagreement between India and China was that contrary to India’s perception of matters, the Chinese saw themselves as leaders of the new world order. They therefore expected— indeed demanded—the prestige, respect and servitude that went along with it.

When China overran Tibet, partly as a way of securing its western flank, India did not react. Instead, elephant-like Delhi sat and waited patiently for the aggression to abate.

It did not. Instead, it grew in intensity.

During the 1950s, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai had been on two ‘goodwill’ visits to India. But Zhou Enlai’s polite gestures at diplomatic meetings had not stopped him from laying claim to India’s vulnerable northern flanks outside of these discussions: Ladakh and territories in the NEFA, now known as Arunachal Pradesh. Moreover, China was eyeing Barahoti in Uttar Pradesh, just south of Tibet. Indian troops were based there, and when Chinese soldiers tried to cross the southern border into India, the elephant finally protested. But the dragon did not blink.

In the late 1950s, China denounced the McMahon Line, challenging its international validity. At the end of that year, Zhou Enlai visited Nehru in India with soothing words, assuring him that the border issue with Tibet would be resolved peacefully. In that same meeting, China also recognized the Indian boundary with Burma.

By that time, Chinese soldiers were actually in Barahoti and had marched ten miles into Indian territory. The latter had taken too passive a role and now sat helpless as the dragon advanced, fired up. The following year, talks took place between the two countries. China was persuaded to withdraw its military but left its civilians in the territory.

In January 1959, Zhou Enlai formally claimed Ladakh and NEFA for his country, giving orders for his command to be reflected in Chinese maps.

Just four years earlier, India had formally handed over control of communication services in Tibet to China. When the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, asked Nehru for refuge in India because of increasing Chinese pressure on him and the Tibetan people, Nehru who was balanced precariously on a political tightrope, chose to side with Peking and refused the request.

By March 1959, the eyes of the world were on the highly charged power plays. Following a crackdown on the Tibetan capital of Lhasa by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the Dalai Lama managed to escape possible capture and containment. He again sought refuge in India.


An Officer and His Holiness presents extracts from  Har Mander Singh’s diary entries, detailing some escape plans for the Dalai Lama. Full of never-seen-before pictures and account of this operation, the book also presents a relevant and comprehensive overview of socio-political relations between China, India and Tibet today.

About Rethinking India: Why the Series is Relevant for Today’s India

India is a richly diverse country. To celebrate diversity, it has become important to accommodate equally diverse ideas and visions of what India means as a nation.

Editors Ashis Nandy and Aakash Singh Rathore have taken a step towards this through a fourteen-volume series titled Rethinking India. The series is a highly relevant narrative in today’s times to revisit our idea of a ‘nation’.

The series is a byproduct of numerous working groups coming together to critically rethink social, economic and political spaces to encourage a transformative spirit. Over 400 of India’s foremost academics, activists, professionals and policymakers have come together to constructively engage in this process.

What are some of the challenges that the series brings to light? We take a look:

Government pays lip service to values our Constitution was founded upon

Our Constitution, as the preamble so eloquently attests, was founded upon the fundamental values of the dignity of the individual and the unity of the nation, envisioned in relation to a radically egalitarian justice.

The government policy however, merely pays lip service to egalitarian considerations, while the actual administration of ‘justice’ and implementation of laws are in fact perpetuating the opposite: illegality, criminality, corruption, bias, nepotism and injustice of every conceivable stripe. The rapid rise of social intolerance and manifold exclusions (along the lines of gender, caste, religion, etc.) whittle down and even sabotage an inclusive conception of citizenship, polity and nation.

Most basic constitutional principles under attack

All the public institutions that were originally created in order to fight against dominance and subservience are in the process of subversion, creating new hierarchies instead of dismantling them, generating inequities instead of ameliorating them.

The uprising against those who merely pay lip service

There are in fact new sites for sociopolitical assertion re-emerging. There are new calls arising for the reinstatement of the letter and spirit of our Constitution, not just normatively (where we battle things out ideologically) but also practically (the battle at the level of policy articulation and implementation). They witness the wide participation of youth, women, the historically disadvantaged in the process of finding a new voice, minorities, members of majority communities, and progressive individuals all joining hands in solidarity.


A series like Rethinking India not only brings such structural problems to light, but also propose disruptive solutions to each of the pressing challenges that we collectively face.

Inputs have been organized and assembled from jan sunwais (public hearings) and jan manches (public platforms) that have been conducted across several states. These ideas have also been discussed and debated with leaders of fourteen progressive political parties, in an effort to set benchmarks for a future common minimum program.

The series begins a conversation that we’d want each and every civilian of this country to be a part of.

The inaugural volume of the series is titled Vision for a Nation: Paths and Perspectives, and champions the idea of a plural, diverse, inclusive and prosperous India.

 

Who is an Indian and Whose India Is It? Shashi Tharoor’s Quest into the Idea of a Nation

Inundated with a barrage of politically charged agendas, citizens of the world no longer have the luxury of being ignorant aboutin the dynamics of the state. In a nation as diverse and fluid as India, one’s very identity gets threatened by the discourse on nationalism.. Taking us right into the crux of the issues that affect each one of us are the intelligentsia of this vibrant nation, who have come together in Vision for a Nation: Paths and Perspectives to champion a plural, inclusive, just, equitable and prosperous India.

To put in perspective the sheer range and depth of this discussion, Shashi Tharoor writes: ‘Just thinking about India makes clear the immensity of the challenge of defining what the idea of India means. How can one approach this land of snow peaks and tropical jungles, with twenty three major languages and 22,000 distinct ‘dialects’…, inhabited in the second decade of the twenty-first century by more than a billion individuals of every ethnic extraction known to humanity?’

 

Read on to get a glimpse of the five Visions of India presented by Shashi Tharoor in his essay ‘A Land of Belonging’:

 

The Plurality of India

The pulsating energy that abounds in every corner of this vast land is the result of a unique convergence of diverse communities that are united in the fact of their nationality yet distinct in their culture. Tharoor points out the anomaly of looking at India in the singular-

There are, as the hackneyed phrase goes, many Indias. Everything exists in countless variants. There is no single standard, no fixed stereotype, no one way. This pluralism is acknowledged in the way India arranges its own affairs: all groups, faiths, tastes and ideologies survive and contend for their place in the sun.’

*

The Unity of India

Symbolic of the heritage of this great civilisation are the epics that demonstrate the impulse of unity, woven into the fabric of India despite the many episodes in Indian history of fractures that render this belief suspect:  

The epics have acted as strong, yet sophisticated, threads of Indian culture that have woven together tribes, languages and peoples across the subcontinent, uniting them in their celebration of the same larger-than-life heroes and heroines whose stories were told in dozens of translations and variations, but always in the same spirit and meaning.’

*

The Duality of India

The preamble of the Constitution encapsulates the vision of India’s founding fathers who believed in a glorious future where the Indian Republic would stand strong on the pillars of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity. And yet, the dichotomy of modern India is evident:

‘Caste, which Nehru and his ilk abhorred and believed would disappear from the social matrix of modern India, has not merely survived and thrived, but has become an instrument for highly effective political mobilization.’

*

The Complexity of India

With pluralism and diversity being the foundation of this nation, India is unique in that the only commonality in its inhabitants is the awareness of their many differences. The identity of an Indian cannot be contained within descriptions of language, ethnicity, religion or geography-

‘It is the idea of an ever-ever land—emerging from an ancient civilization, united by a shared history, sustained by pluralist democracy. India’s democracy imposes no narrow conformities on its citizens.

*

The Secularism of India

The notion of majority and minority in a nation that celebrates diversity can create a dangerous discourse which has the potential to incite violence in the name of religious identifications. Reiterating the essence of Indian Secularism, Tharoor writes:

Western dictionaries defined secularism as the absence of religion, but Indian secularism meant a profusion of religions; the state engaged with all of them but privileged none.’

 


At a time in history when the world is rife with conflict, India’s foremost intellectuals, academics, activists, technocrats, professionals and policymakers open a discourse on nation and identity. First in a fourteen-volume series titled Rethinking India, Vision for a Nation initiates a discussion on some key issues of our time.

To delve deeper into a subject that is both relevant and challenging, read Vision for a Nation.

Is Policy Impeding India’s Tryst with Destiny? An Excerpt From In Service of The Republic

Etched in India’s history as a period of remarkable growth, the decades spanning 1991 to 2011 saw a surge in wealth creation for the rich, considerable advancement in material comforts for the middle class and a noticeable decline in the number of people below the poverty line.

‘There was an optimism in this period of a kind that was perhaps last seen immediately after Independence. Finally, to many of us, India was getting on its feet,’ write economists and authors Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah.

Post 2011, the slump in the high growth performance of those two decades raises important questions about Indian economics and policymaking. In Service Of The Republic investigates policy and its impact on nations.

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In mature countries, one element of the privacy problem is well established: the need to restrict government access to information about individuals, i.e., to tie down surveillance by the government into rule-of-law procedures and limit the extent of surveillance. This has evolved in the UK and in Europe over centuries. The conflict between state access to personal information, and human freedom, is particularly seen in the authoritarian governments of the twentieth century. This is the prime problem in the field of privacy, and is a largely settled matter in mature democracies.

In recent years, there is fresh concern about the abuse of information about individuals by firms such as Facebook. European policymakers have pushed to the frontiers of the field with the ‘General Data Protection Regulation’ (GDPR) in the EU.

A simple reading of the contemporary literature on privacy in mature democracies is, then, quite misleading. Such a reader would see the bulk of the contemporary policy discourse as being the debates around GDPR and its enforcement. A reader of this literature would think that Facebook is a major problem in the field of privacy. Policy recommendations in India may flow from this study of the international experience that we have to block information access about Indians by Facebook using a legal instrument on the lines of GDPR. This position would be treated warmly by persons in India who are hostile to foreign companies.

Such transplantation of the international experience would, however, be incorrect for two reasons. First, access to personal information by the state is far more dangerous for individuals as compared with access to this information by private firms. Second, a law like GDPR makes assumptions about UK or EU state capacity. To favour creating a new privacy regulator that will coerce private firms on the question of privacy, without the checks and balances prevalent in the EU, would work out poorly in India.  In the Indian discourse, we have rapidly run ahead to proposing criminal sanctions, in the hands of the proposed ‘Data Protection Authority’.

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Having developed a nuanced perspective on economics, political philosophy and public administration in their careers as professional economists as well as former civil servants, Vijay Kelkar and Ajay Shah offer remarkable clarity on the art and  science of policymaking in the meticulously researched In Service of the Republic.


 

5 Things you learn about Hindu Nationalism from ‘Awakening Bharat Mata’

The inspiration for the right in India has come from multiple and, often, contradictory sources. The proprietorship of Hindutva does not, for instance, belong to Veer Savarkar, although his contribution is seminal. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) too deserves serious attention, not merely for the influence it exercises on the BJP leadership, but for its approach to the larger question of national regeneration. Equally important is the influence of individuals such as Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay, Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo, not to mention the Arya Samaj movement.

In Awakening Bharat Mata, Swapan Dasgupta, BJP Rajya Sabha MP, brings an erudite insider account of the phenomenon of Hindu nationalism. Here are some points he brings forth:

  1. So intense was Nehru’s distaste for what he used to call the ‘RSS mentality’ that he even subordinated the challenge posed by the communist parties to the more pressing battle against ‘Hindu right-wing communalism’

  2. During the Jayaprakash Narayan–led movement (1973–75) against Indira Gandhi’s government and the patchy struggle against the Emergency (1975–77), a host of non-Congress parties, including Lohia-ite socialists, Gandhians, free-market liberals, and even a section of the communist movement, were willing to rub shoulders with the ‘Hindu right’.

  3. Under the Modi dispensation, when the BJP commands an absolute majority in the Lok Sabha and controls more state governments than ever before, the attacks against right-wing subversion have become sharper and to the point where the term ‘fascism’ is bandied about continually.

  4. Vajpayee, writing in 1973, he described the Jana Sangh a ‘centrist party’ that ‘has been subjected to attacks from both the extreme right as well as the extreme Left.

  5. Hindu nationalism was equated with fascism in Europe in the 1930s and a distinguished American professor of law, in an unexpected foray into Indian politics, described the BJP-led coalition government of Vajpayee as ‘increasingly controlled by right-wing Hindu

Swapan Dasgupta’s Awakening Bharat Mata is a collection that attempts to showcase the phenomenon of Hindu nationalism in terms of how it perceives itself. AVAILABLE NOW.