Memorial lecture at the Editors Guild, New Delhi
The Editor’s Guild has honoured me with the task of delivering the Rajendra Mathur Memorial lecture this year. But as you know I am a filmmaker rather than a speaker and would like to intersperse my talk with a few film clips.
Clip from War and Peace: Gandhi Funeral – 1948
Gandhi’s assassin Nathuram Godse was a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). He was also in the Hindu Mahasabha like his mentor VD Savarkar. Nathuram’s brother Gopal Godse, was a co-conspirator. After serving his prison term, Gopal conceded in interviews that neither he nor Nathuram had ever left the RSS but told lies in court to protect the RSS as well as Savarkar.
Why Gandhi is hated, yet appropriated. 1885 to 2014
By the late 19th century the British desire to create an educated Indian elite that would do its bidding had begun to yield unexpected results. Education helped spread emancipatory ideas from the Enlightenment, which fed into already growing aspirations for freedom. By 1885 Congress was founded mainly by newly emerging classes of businessmen, industrialists and lawyers from the educated middle class. After the arrival of Mahatma Gandhi, the freedom movement acquired mass character and began to include workers and peasants. For the princely rulers and feudal and religious elite the alarm bells had rung right at the beginning. In August 1888 barely 3 years after the Congress was founded, Sir Syed of Aligarh and Raja Sheo Prasad of Kashi formed the United India Patriotic Association to convey their loyalty to the British. Later their constituents branched into religious offshoots like the Muslim League in 1906, the Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in 1925. It is this last body created by upper caste Brahmins in the city of Nagpur that has left the largest footprint.
Neither Muslim nor Hindu communal formations fought British rule. Virtually no RSS or Hindu Mahasabha people went to jail. An early exception was Savarkar who was arrested in 1910 and sent to the Andamans.
At this point Savarkar was not yet communalized as his Indian War of Independence 1857 published in 1909 eloquently shows. Renaming what the British had dubbed the “Great Mutiny” Savarkar praised both Hindus and Muslims who made common cause in the war against the British. In the Andamans Savarkar turned into an ideologue for Hindutva – the term he coined to distinguish his Hindu nationalism from the religion, Hinduism. In 1921 he finally emerged from Andamans jail only after giving numerous undertakings to the British that he would never oppose them again. He kept his promise. The rest of his life went in propagating Hindutva and attacking Gandhi whom he branded as a Muslim appeasing traitor.
When the Congress launched the Quit India movement in 1942, Savarkar opposed it and asked Hindus to enlist in the British armed forces instead to learn the “arts of war”. As President of the Hindu Mahasabha in 1937, he had advanced the slogan “Hinduize all Politics and Militarize Hindudom”.
Guru Golwalker, for 33 years the chief of the RSS and its most influential ideologue, was equally opposed to fighting the British. On August 14, 1947 at the dawn of Independence, the Organiser, the English organ of the RSS openly denigrated the choice of the tricolour as the National Flag in the following words: “The Tricolour will never be respected and owned by Hindus. The word three is in itself an evil, and a flag having three colours will certainly produce a very bad psychological effect and is injurious to a country.”
The RSS and other allies of Hindutva like Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray have often declared their preference for dictatorship over democracy and openly expressed admiration for Hitler.
Small wonder that Mein Kampf is a runaway best seller in this country.
In his 1938 book We or Our Nationhood defined , Golwalker approves the Nazi extermination of Jews:
“To keep up purity of the nation and its culture, Germany shocked the world by her purging the country of the Semitic races, the Jews. National pride at its highest has been manifested here. Germany has also shown how well-nigh impossible it is for races and cultures having differences going to the root, to be assimilated into a united whole, a good lesson for us in Hindustan to learn and profit by.”
Woman is an embodiment of the worst desires, hatred, deceit, jealousy and bad character. Women should never be given freedom. (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147)
Killing of a woman, a Shudra or an atheist is not sinful. (Manu IX. 17 and V. 47, 147)
If the Shudra intentionally listens for committing to memory the Veda then his ears should be filled with molten lead and lac (MS III-4)
In 1927 Dr. Ambedkar, a Dalit who had broken the taboo against education, together with multi-caste followers set fire to the Manusmruti to protest against its misogyny. The man who lit the fire was a Brahmin Ambedkarite named Sahastrabuddhe.
But the Manusmriti continued to be held sacred by the architects of Hindutva. Savarkar, stated that the Manusmriti was “the scripture that is most worshippable after the Vedas” and “the basis of the spiritual and divine march of the nation”. Golwalkar called Manu “the first, greatest and the wisest lawgiver of mankind.”
Opposing the Indian Constitution in 1950, the RSS demanded that Manu’s law be made the law of the land.
Long before Gandhi came to be hated as an appeaser of Muslims he was already despised for cleaning his own toilet and breaking Manu’s code against pollution by upper castes.
Clip from Jai Bhim Comrade: A scene from the play ‘I am Nathuram Godse speaking’
After Gandhi’s assassination, Golwalkar and other RSS workers were put in jail. Ramchandra Guha writes: “On December 6, 1947 (2 months before the assassination), Golwalkar convened a meeting of RSS workers in the town of Govardhan, not far from Delhi. The police report on this meeting says it discussed how to ‘assassinate the leading persons of the Congress in order to terrorise the public and to get their hold over them’.
Sardar Vallabhai Patel of whom Narendra Modi has promised to build the world’s tallest statue, had this to say: “All the (RSS) leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result of the poison…an atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy became possible…RSS men expressed joy and distributed sweets after Gandhiji’s death.” Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s letters to M.S. Golwalkar and S.P. Mookerjee.
Fortuitously for the RSS it had no written constitution and no official list of members so it could never be proved that RSS was involved in Gandhi’s murder. The ban on RSS was lifted in June 1949.
The condition of Dalits
Thanks to Gandhi’s intervention Dr. Ambedkar had drafted India’s Constitution and become India’s first Law Minister. As a step towards a Uniform Civil Code, Ambedkar drafted a Hindu Code Bill, which for the first time treated Hindu women on par with Hindu men. The bill was fought tooth and nail by Hindutva conservatives within and without the ruling Congress. Despite Nehru’s assurances, the Bill failed to pass and in 1951 Ambedkar resigned in disgust. Later virtually the same bill passed in stages but Ambedkar was no longer there to push on towards a Uniform Civil Code.
As casteism continued and Hindus failed to live up to Gandhi’s assurance that the upper castes could be transformed from within, in 1956 Dr. Ambedkar with more than a hundred thousand Dalit followers renounced Hinduism for Buddhism. It was the largest mass conversion in history.
Clip from Jai Bhim Comrade: Vitthal Umap sings ‘I will not die a Hindu’
Conversion brought Dalits self esteem and a hard won reservation policy brought economic benefits for some, but the attacks on Dalits never ceased. In fact it can be argued that with two Dalits killed and 3 Dalit women raped every day on average, there is a perpetual caste war in India that cuts across party lines.
Despite the wonderful sounding Right to Education Bill passed by the Congress in 2009, the neo liberal enterprise had already begun the exercise of dismantling the egalitarian principles embedded in our Constitution. The 86th Constitutional Amendment passed by a BJP ruled government in 2002 left out of its ambit children from the age of 0 to 6, thereby denying them early education and a mid day meal that gives crucial nutrition vital for the development of the brain. In 2004 just before its electoral defeat, the BJP led coalition compromised a constitutional right and offered education as a consumable commodity to the WTO GATT process thereby drastically diluting the State’s responsibility in education and opening the door to privatization.
The fact is that neither Congress nor BJP demands a common school system whereby the children of the rich and the children of the poor would go to the same schools. Instead in the name of “excellence” the emphasis is on privatization of education, which only means that a modern day caste system is perpetuated in which the poor are offered substandard and incomplete schooling so as to remain coolies, artisans and clerks in a large pool of cheap labour that serves a small global elite, educated to populate the corridors of international bloodsuckers.
To this horror scenario that is common to both large parties, add the communalization of education that the current regime stands for and the mind boggles. Dinanath Batra’s Vedic flying machines and rockets are a mere tip of the iceberg.
In Modi’s Gujarat, Hitler is a textbook hero
from The Times of India, Ahmedabad, Sept 30, 2004.
Gandhi is not so great, but Hitler is. Welcome to high school education in Narendra Modi’s Gujarat, where authors of social studies textbooks published by the Gujarat State Board of School Textbooks have found faults with the freedom movement and glorified Fascism and Nazism.
While a Class VIII student is taught ‘negative aspects’ of Gandhi’s non-cooperation movement, the Class X social studies textbook has chapters on ‘Hitler, the Supremo’ and ‘Internal Achievements of Nazism’ presenting a frighteningly uncritical picture of Fascism and Nazism.
Rehabilitation of the RSS
For two decades after the Gandhi murder the RSS remained abhorred by the mainstream. But away from scrutiny, it continued to organize local centres called shakhas, recruiting children from the ages of 6 to 18, getting them up at 4 am, imparting militaristic physical training and instilling in them loyalty, discipline and a brand of “patriotism” which included the inevitable dose of anti-minority hatred.
One such child, recruited from the age of 8 from a relatively poor family, is Prime Minister Modi. Another is Party Chief Amit Shah. 5 Chief Ministers and 17 of the 23 Cabinet-level senior ministers are current or former RSS members. In March 2014, The Guardian reported that the RSS has at least 50,000 branches across the country with over 40 million members. It also runs a network of 18,000 schools across India.
Anyone who hopes that the current Prime Minister has distanced himself from his roots should read his eulogy to Golwalkar, Shree Guruji: Ek Swayamsevak published in 2010.
And those who believe that the killing of Gandhi was an isolated act need only to scratch the surface.
Clip from Ram Ke Naam: Ayodhya bridge sequence
Back in 1948, a banned RSS began to give birth to new and sometimes “legitimate” organizations that remained controlled by the parent body. The first to emerge was the student wing, the ABVP, formed in 1948. In 1951 the Jan Sangh was created to engage in electoral politics. In 1964, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad or the World Hindu Council that recruited both nationally and internationally, reaching out the to a well heeled but poorly informed Indian diaspora. In 1952, the Vanwasi Kalyan Ashram to proselytize amongst adivasis. In 1984, the Bajrang Dal to target the 16th century Babri mosque. Together along with ever emerging newer outfits they form the hydra headed, multi armed and multi tongued, Sangh Parivar.
I am getting ahead of the story. After decades of unpopularity, the rehabilitation of the RSS came from an unlikely source, the Gandhian Socialist, Jayaprakash Narayan(JP). During the Bihar famine in the1960’s JP encountered RSS cadre doing relief work. Impressed by their dedication, JP began to see them as potential allies in nation building. When in 1974 an anti-corruption student movement in Bihar chose JP as its leader, people from Left to Right joined in. The most disciplined group was the RSS. I was then a volunteer in the Bihar movement and because my uncle Achyut had been a comrade of JP’s in the 1942 Quit India Movement and a co-founder of the Socialist Party, I had access to JP. JP expressed confidence that the communal mindset of the RSS would be transformed by contact with the broader Bihar movement. When Indira Gandhi called the RSS fascist, JP famously declared “If the RSS is fascist then I’m a fascist too.”
From this point on the popularity of RSS rose, despite minor setbacks. During the Emergency of 1975 to 1977 many RSS members went to jail along with thousands of others. Although from jail RSS chief Balasaheb Deoras wrote an infamous letter to Indira Gandhi begging to be freed, praising the Emergency and specially its forced sterilization campaign that had targeted Muslims, public perception of the RSS did not suffer. In 1977 a Janata Party coalition that included the Jan Sangh defeated the Congress and RSS leaders like LK ADVANI and Atal Vajpayee became cabinet ministers for the first time. In 1980 the government collapsed when some socialists objected to the dual loyalty of those who took their orders from the RSS. The Jan Sangh then morphed into a new party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Attacks on Christians
Hindutva violence against Christians in India began slowly. In the drive to proselytize amongst adivasis and win them over to Hinduism, or rather in Hindutva terminology, to “bring them back to the Hindu fold from where they had strayed” they targeted Christians who had opened schools and brought economic and medical benefits to adivasi and dalit areas neglected by the State.
To cite just one case, for want of time, Dara Singh a Bajrang Dal activist was sentenced to death for leading a mob that murdered Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons, Philip (aged 10) and Timothy (aged 6). Staines had been working with leprosy patients in the Keonjhar district of Orissa. In January 1999 while the Staines were sleeping in their station wagon, the mob set their vehicle on fire, preventing even the children from escaping.
Clip shot in 1999 when we protested against the Staines murder
The Wadhwa Commission appointed by a BJP led central government, stated that the Bajrang Dal was not involved in the murder of Staines, justifying their non examination of the role of the Bajrang Dal on the grounds that the Dal was a peaceful and legal organisation.
Dara Singh, who was also implicated in the killing of Muslim trader Shaikh Rehman and the murder of a Christian cleric, Arul Das, killed by an arrow as he was escaping after his church was set on fire, was sentenced to death. Dara Singh is still lauded on Hindutva websites as a Hindu Dharma Rakshak (Defender of the Hindu faith).
On appeal his death sentence was commuted. The Supreme Court upheld a life sentence commenting that in killing Staines and his two young children, “the intention was to teach Graham Staines a lesson for his religious activities, and not to kill him.”
From the 1990’s on, the murder of Christians, rapes and the destruction of Church property increased. In 2008 in Orissa’s Kandhamal about a 100 Christians were killed, with mobs torching 300 churches and 6,000 houses forcing over 60,000 to flee into the forests to save their lives. Police and administrative impunity is compounded by the lack of justice in the courts. The violence escalates in States where the BJP is in power by itself or in a coalition government and is often justified as a retaliation to Christian “conversions”. The simple truth is that since Independence, the percentage of Christians in India has reduced from 2.6 % to 2.3 % so all accusations of large scale conversions are blatantly false.
Attacks on Muslims
The population of Muslims has marginally increased since Independence to the present 13.4 % but the cause is not conversion or “love jihad” or because Muslim men are allowed 4 wives, as Hindutva would like us to believe. The fact is that the Muslim by every conceivable yardstick is impoverished. The Sachar Committee report makes it clear that Muslims in India are less educated, poorer and fewer of them can be found in the national and State legislatures and in the bureaucracy, leave alone in the military and para military. With BJP occupying the centre and many States, Muslims in government have become even more scarce.
The routine demonization of the Muslim remains the very raison d’etre of Hindutva. Historic myths of their cruelty, of temple destruction and rape is a steady diet fed since childhood. The Muslim’s allegiance to a foreign God and foreign holy shrine and the barbaric practice of eating beef is a source of unmitigated rage in the hearts of those indoctrinated by Hindutva. Onto this tinderbox if you throw a match by starting a rumour that a Muslim male has abducted or raped a Hindu female, no one will wait to ascertain if the rumour is true. Deadly pogroms are that easy to ignite.
And then there is the international corroboration, both the fact and the myth of Islamic jihad. So the popular saying “Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims.” If you add the paranoia of the USA and Israel to the mindset of Hindutva you have the makings and justifications of the counter terrorist.
Saffron terror disguised as Muslim terror
In 2006 and 2008 Muslims in Malegaon were accused of bombing their own graveyard and mosque. After 7 years of blaming Pakistan and arresting and torturing Muslim suspects, in May 2013 the National Investigation Agency (NIA), India’s leading anti-terror agency filed charges against 4 Hindu radicals, all former RSS workers.
Aseemanand’s confession before a magistrate
Swami Aseemanand an RSS activist confessed to his involvement in the terror attack on Hyderabad’s Mecca Masjid, while confirming that bomb attacks on the mosques in Malegaon (in 2006 and 2008) as well as the Samjhauta Express were carried out by Hindu radicals and he knew about it.
For those too young to remember, the Samjhauta Express was a train between India and Pakistan connecting thousands of relatives who had been separated for generations. The 2007 attack that killed 68 Pakistani passengers and Indian security guards achieved for saffron terror exactly what was achieved by Islamic terror in Mumbai one year later, the derailment of cross-border friendship.
In jail an ageing and ailing Aseemanand was looked after by a young Muslim prisoner. Before making his confession, Aseemanand reportedly told the magistrate that he knew he could be sentenced to death but still wanted to make the confession because of the arrest of the boy Kaleem, wrongly it now transpires, for the Mecca Masjid blast. Kaleem’s plight motivated Aseemanand to think of “atonement” so that innocents don’t suffer. ”
Aseemanand also linked Hindu radicals to the blast in Gujarat’s minority-dominated Modasa town. RSS pracharak Indresh, Aseemanand claimed, helped enlist members of the saffron terror plot, including Sunil Joshi.
From The Times Of India, Sept 17, 2014
RSS activist Sunil Joshi, a suspect in the Samjhauta Express blast case, was shot dead in Dewas in Madhya Pradesh on December 29, 2007. NIA charged Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur and three others for the murder of Sunil Joshi.
According to NIA chargesheet Pragya Singh Thakur, who is also a key accused in the 2008 Malegaon blast, got Joshi eliminated as she was wary of Joshi’s sexual advances and also scared that the plan for Malegaon blasts might leak.
Mumbai Police deployed Anti Terrorism Squad to assist the local investigating authorities in Malegaon. Police say that unsophisticated, crude bombs, identical to those that detonated in Delhi 3 days before, were used.
The investigation was led by Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, who was later killed in the 2008 Mumbai Attacks.
The arrests of ex-army personnel by the ATS, brought to light the workings of two groups, Rashtriya Jagran Manch and Abhinav Bharat. Abhinav Bharat derives its name from Savarkar’s Abhinav Bharat created in 1905. The president of Abhinav Bharat is the niece of Nathuram Godse, married to Savarkar’s nephew.
Uma Bharti, currently the Union Minister for Water Resources, and the Shiv Sena, publicly defended the accused. BJP parliamentary leader L. K. Advani alleged that “It has become clear that the ATS is acting in a politically-motivated and unprofessional manner. I demand a change in the present ATS team.”
When serving Lieutenant Colonel Prasad Shrikant Purohit was arrested in Pachmarhi, learning Arabic, call records between him and Major Upadhyaya around the time of the Malegaon blasts were said to be incriminating. It later emerged that he, along with the sadhvi, may be connected to the Samjhauta Express bombings. Facing reports of at least three more Army men under scrutiny, Purohit’s counsel claimed that the ATS was acting in “utter haste” and alleging that Purohit could even be eliminated by the ATS.
Late Hemant Karkare, then chief of ATS investigating the blasts came under severe attack from the Sangh Parivar. After Karkare fell to terrorist bullets in 2008 his wife, Kavita Karkare, refused to receive her portion of the Rs.1 crore reward announced by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi. The reason was stark. Modi along with other leaders of the BJP including prime ministerial candidate L. K. Advani and the Shiv Sena had been baying for Karkare’s blood for his investigations into terrorist activities by the saffron brigade.
The Global Context
From Independence till the 70’s, India was at the forefront of the non-aligned movement, equidistant from the USA and the Soviet Union. Internally the economy followed a Nehruvian mix of public and private sectors.
The Bangladesh War of 1971 pushed India closer to the Soviets with the USA supporting Pakistan and threatening India with its 7th fleet. Indira Gandhi’s Emergency nationalized banks and favored the public sector. After Indira’s assassination the Congress under Rajiv Gandhi inched back towards the USA, ushering liberalization as per the orders of the IMF and the World Bank.
In the neighborhood, since 1947, Afghanistan had been under the influence of the Soviet government and received large amounts of aid, economic assistance, military equipment and training. The pro-poor government is fondly remembered by many, specially women, who later in the name of Islam, came under the harshest of restrictive and punitive laws.
In 1979 United States President Jimmy Carter signed the first directive for covert financial aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. As Soviet troops entered to defend the Afghan government under rebel attack what followed was a proxy war between the USSR and Islamic militants promoted by the USA.
Clip from the internet: Brezhinsky exhorting Taliban
In India the fallout was seen in rising religious strife. For the USA destabilizing a perceived pro-Soviet Indira Gandhi would have seemed attractive. Whether by design or by co-incidence, Islamic militancy grew violent in Kashmir and a Sikh separatist movement in Punjab resulted in a horrific anti-Sikh massacre in 1984. 1984 was also marked by a Sangh Parivar meet which decided that razing a 16th century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya to build a Hindu temple to Lord Ram would be the fastest method of mass Hindu mobilization. In the wake of mayhem, BJP grew from 2 to 88 seats in Parliament.
The beginning of the liberalization era thus curiously coincided with the rapid, though zigzag rise of Hindutva. The culmination of these twin trajectories is Narendra Modi, an RSS man who is also a darling of big business and the corporate media.
Modi’s ascent from a Sangh Pracharak to the PM and ‘world leader’ needs to be seen operating in two correlated ideologies. The one related with the Sangh has been elucidated sufficiently. The more recent one has emerged in the context of global environmental changes post 1985.
The evidence of rapidly decreasing natural resources led to the consolidation of business interests and their alignment with Western super powers. Oil is what drove the industrial revolution and since then the world has already consumed half the available supply on the planet. Potable water is also running out, as are other raw materials. Milton Friedman and his Chicago Boys’ ‘Trickle Down’ theory of development has been force fed into dominant economic discourse all over the world. The logic that ‘only if the rich get richer will the poor live better!’ has been popularized by an oligopolistic media enterprise. Sovereignty of nations and Citizenship rights gained by Asian, African, South American countries during the 1950s present an impediment for profit-mongering for global business. The concept of Citizenship and Sovereignty that emerged during the 17th Century have became outdated; it’s a threat in the path of wresting complete control of fast dwindling resources. The ‘New World Order’ under WTO-GATT was launched to ensure that the rich would continue to get richer even as the pie began to crumble.
It needs to be understood that the financial power of the multi-nationals’ private business is huge. For example in 2007, the total volume of trade by private corporations world over was over $1171 trillion; the sum of the earnings of all countries was a mere $66 trillion, almost twenty times less!
Modi’s “development” ideology is not an accident. Nor were Manmohan Singh, Ahluwalia and Chidambaram accidents. It is just that they could not quite keep pace with the ever-increasing demands of resource capturing corporates. So if a Modi did not exist, he would have been invented.
Handing over common resources by interlinking of rivers, mining projects and disinvestment corroborated by the stock market is not enough. The ideology must sink roots. The Gujarat State Standard VIIIth Social Science Textbook of 2013 in it’s 8th Chapter of ‘Our Economy’ is evidence of the pervasive ideas of Liberalisation, Privatisation and Globalisation as panacea for all the problems our country faces today.
Consumer rights are showcased, a few individual cases of poor girls and boys making it to an IIT are touted as victory of a just system, while on the other hand mechanisms and policies pertaining to food distribution, education, health care are deliberately downgraded and withdrawn. The idea that the Welfare State has failed its citizens is sold through the mechanism of the Public Private Partnership, to pave the way for the take over of public assets by private interests. In this scenario a rags to riches story is the icing on a cake that few will actually taste. Modi’s triumph as a chaiwala’s boy becoming the PM fits the bill.
The current regime is in place to rapidly subsume any and all citizen’s rights at a faster pace than what the UPA could manage. Assurances of rapid environmental clearances for mega projects, weakening safeguards in the Land Acquisition Act, withdrawal of the Gram Sabha’s right to decide the fate of mega-projects by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, handing over large tracts of reserved forest land to corporates like Adani, amending the Coastal Regulation Zone to allow coastal lands to fall into the hands of builders, promoting the production of petrol and diesel driven consumer cars and expanding the already vast network of expensive highways and flyovers, increasing the Foreign Direct Investment in Defense and Retail, accompanied by the dismantling of elements of welfare like the withdrawal of free medicines in Maharashtra merely two days after the new BJP government is sworn in and the alarmingly high rate of malnutrition in the model State of Gujarat – these are a few symptoms of a phenomenon reminiscent of the close embrace between Hitler’s Germany and the mega-business of his day.
Arms and the Man
With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the decline of the Soviet Union, the USA was already the best armed, pre-eminent super power. But as Gorbachev sued for peace and disarmament, Ronald Reagan and the neocon lobby of the military industrial complex that controlled him, had other ideas.
American arms manufacturers export one third of the world’s weapons, often supplying to both sides in a conflict. If the collapse of the Soviet Union and the big bad commie reds had ushered decades of peace, it would surely have been bad for business. A new public enemy had to be invented. Islamic jihad stepped up just in time.
Overnight, friends became foes and vice versa. The Bin Ladens were partners with George Bush Sr. in an oil company in Texas. Osama Bin armed and abetted by the CIA became a champion jihadi in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
After the defeat of the Soviets, Osama turned against America and soon graduated to the post of the elusive arch enemy, taking care to pop up on videotape a few days before Bush’s precarious re-elections, to guarantee him victory.
In oil rich countries that dared to nationalize, the fatwa was out. So fell Mossadegh in Iran in 1956, Saddam Hussain in Iraq in 2003, and Gaddafi in Libya in 2011. The coup in Venezuela to displace Hugo Chavez failed but in the Middle East the sectarian conflicts of Islamic jihadis could be used to weaken any nation state. Today Osama is dead but his Al Quaeda, morphed into ISIS, can still be used in various theatres to serve the interests of America, Saudi Arabia, Israel and their allies, as it was in Libya and now in Syria.
If occasionally they behead some white reporters, it only adds to the dread of the jihadi and serves to sell weapons, or buy sovereignty
In India it was image makeover time. For Modi to become PM or even, just to get a USA visa, the first requirement was a clean chit about the massacre in Gujarat. What he got instead was the absence of a clear guilty verdict. The Supreme Court’s amicus curae had found enough evidence to prosecute Modi but the Special Investigation Team did not agree. The SIT report confirmed that while Modi claimed to have been unaware of the Gulbarg Society massacre in Ahmedabad for as long as 5 hours after the atrocity, in a contrary finding, Modi was shown to have held meetings with police officers throughout the day in order to continuously monitor the violence. The SIT also confirmed that Modi’s Gujarat state government was guilty of destroying a huge amount of incriminating evidence, including completely destroying the records of police communications and government meetings during the riots. For a relieved corporate media, all this passed as “a clean chit”.
The “clean chit” for Modi’s closest aide Amit Shah, is more astounding. He is accused of being a key player in the cold blooded false encounter killings of Sohrabuddin, Kauser Bi and Tulsi Prajapati. The case is still going on even though Amit Shah has been strangely allowed to skip court on a regular basis. Despite the grave charges against him Modi chose him to be BJP’s star campaign manager in Uttar Pradesh. Under Shah’s watch there was a communal riot in Muzzaffarnagar and polarized voters gave BJP a landslide victory. Shah was then elevated to BJP President and delivered further victories in Haryana and Maharashtra.
Corruption and control
It is common to think that the main reason for the rout of the Congress was corruption. Corruption is really a non-issue, or rather, like black money, merely an issue with which to fool the public. There is so little to choose between the Congress and BJP alliances. For every A. Raja, Ashok Chavan, Ajit and Sharad Pawar in one, there is Yedurappa, Nitin Gadkari, Manohar Joshi and Shivraj Chauhan in the other. When Enron came to India they bribed the ruling Congress/NCP to get a foothold in Dabhol. The BJP/Shiv Sena then defeated the Congess/NCP by promising to scrap Enron, but just “renegotiated” to expand the Enron project. Today the Dabhol plant lies abandoned and rusting, having eaten up our millions.
Indeed the real high level corruption is not even called corruption because it involves changing the law or changing policy. Once this is done what should have been illegal is declared to be legal. Imagine the money that can be made from building a giant mega dam or better still, embarking on an even greater environmental disaster by interlinking rivers! The large loot that happens in this country is largely legal.
With so many ministers still facing charges the executive has revealed great anxiety to control the process by which judges are appointed. Following Modi’s election as Prime Minister, India got a new Attorney General in Mukul Rohatgi, a lawyer who defended and facilitated the original acquittals of Jagdish Tytler and Sajjan Kumar, ringleaders of the 1984 anti-Sikh pogroms although investigations of Tytler and Kumar were later reopened. More pertinently Rohatgi defended Modi’s Gujarat state government against prosecutions by victims of the 2002 riots.
Gopal Subramaniam whose appointment as a Supreme Court judge was blocked, had appeared against Amit Shah in the Sohrabuddin encounter case. On the other hand senior lawyer Uday U Lalit, who had appeared for Amit Shah in the Tulsi Prajapati encounter case was appointed as a Supreme Court judge.
In 2002 several of the captains of industry had reacted to the Gujarat riots in horror and had been openly critical of Chief minister Modi. They included people like the head of HDFC, Deepak Parekh and Adi Godrej. Today they are all part of the widespread pro-Modi business chorus.
In 2005 U.S. officials denied Mr. Modi a visa just as he was preparing to travel to New York to address Indian-Americans at a rally scheduled in Madison Square Garden. The State Department invoked a U.S. law passed in 1998 that makes foreign officials responsible for severe violations of religious, ineligible for visas.
The lobby to get Modi’s USA visa drew not so strange bedfellows. Congressman Joe Walsh of Illinois, one of the loudest Tea Party Republicans in Congress wrote a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asking that Modi be granted a visa. Walsh told local reporters that he felt comfortable with Modi as someone “kind of like a Tea Party free market guy in India, which I found very appealing.”
With Modi unable to go to the USA, his place was filled by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, founder of the Art of Living Foundation. During a long interactive session with nearly 4,000 delegates of the Asian American Hotel Owners Convention Sri Sri was asked his views on Modi. He said “I don’t comment on individuals because individuals are just part of one wholeness.”
Sri Sri, the darling of the international corporate glitterati who has addressed the United Nations and the World Economic Forum in Davos, added “Everybody is what you call a nimitta — an instrument of the divine” “So branding someone good or bad or right or wrong and boycotting them is meaningless, is useless.”
Sri Sri then went on to talk about the unprecedented progress that was occurring in Gujarat under the Modi administration. He noted that more than 40,000 dams had been constructed in just one year. “The water level has come up in Gujarat so much. People are so happy”. No one seems to have told him that dams do not create water, they just take it away from those who cannot pay and give it to those who can.
“People are so happy” is now the theme song of our corporate controlled media. Those who refuse to sing it, or sing it out of tune occasionally are already getting the boot. I will not list the casualties.
In 2002 Celia Dugger of the New York Times had interviewed Modi a couple of months after the riots. “I asked [Modi] if he had any regrets about what had happened in his state in that period. : Women openly raped, hundreds of people killed. He told me his greatest regret was that he didn’t manage the media very well.”
It is a mistake he would never repeat. No media from TV to radio, print to internet is now left out of the ambit. Paid advertising has been taken to new heights. For weeks before the elections right up to polling day full blown Narendra Modi ads were on all the front pages. If the funds available seem inexhaustible so do the acolytes. Even with an X ray machine it is hard to spot a backbone.
And just in case some truths manage to rise to the surface, there is the triad of State censorship, extra state censorship and self censorship. Shubhradeep Chakravarty’s documentary that exposed how the riots in Muzzaffarnagar were engineered, is banned by the State. Following threats, Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism is voluntarily pulped by her publisher. And no mainstream paper deems it worthy to report that outside the Wankhede stadium even as an RSS man takes the Chief Minister’s oath in a lavish ceremony, 50 people are arrested for protesting the killing of 3 Dalits. Sunil Jadhav and his parents were brutally hacked to death because he allegedly had a relationship with an upper caste girl whose family is connected to the BJP, Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. No one has been arrested.
In 2009 Modi hired the American APCO company. Famous for doing public relations for dictatorships, APCO is a strong advocate of expanding armaments and the US military role in world affairs. Amongst its many notorious business clients is Monsanto. Its network and affiliates include conservative pro-Zionist lobbyists and consultancy groups including Henry Kissinger Associates, Heritage Foundation and the Jewish Policy Centre.
The makeover is remarkable. Modi wears different cultural hats (though his upbringing made him rebel when offered a Muslim one), garlands the statue of Dr. Ambedkar, talks to children on TV, picks up a broom to clean India, a feat that will remain purely cosmetic until the caste system itself is destroyed.
Modi even takes a photo op with the Chinese premier while spinning Gandhi’s charkha. This last photo is breathtaking.
Not only was Gandhi the man his mentors murdered, the spinning wheel was the symbol of Gandhi’s challenge not just to the corporate world but to the industrial revolution itself. It anticipated peak oil, global warming and the ravages of mad consumerism. I don’t suggest that we go back to the charkha literally, but the charkha clearly pointed to ideals of sustainability. The development model that Modi follows can only speed us along our way, over the edge.
Anand Patwardhan, November 2014
Grateful acknowledgements to Ram Punyani, Shamsul Islam, John Dayal, Simantini Dhuru