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Thursday, February 25, 2016

We need a liberal arts revolution

I am pleased to share another good piece about what is going on in India.

As Indians we are going thru a phase of facing ourselves and our shortcomings, the ugly side of us is surfacing baldly in the last six months. If we do not take a stand and restore our pluralistic ethos, we will be facing turmoil that will be difficult to handle.

 The events and JNU, the intolerance towards dissent, and reject of $6 Million grants by a university are all worth thinking and not reacting. 

Mike Ghouse

Courtesy - The Hindu  Sabith Khan
India ought to show the world how to conduct its affairs — by managing dissent and giving it scope to thrive. Without it, we will slide into an authoritarian morass

A recent report by the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) pointed out that of the millions of engineers that India produces, 75 per cent are unemployable because they lack practical, work-related skills and soft skills though they may be theoretically sound. As has been pointed out by several policymakers and thinkers, technical education has been privileged over liberal arts education in India. In the recent debate on the role of higher education in nation-building, liberal arts education has come under attack.

The latest episode at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in the ongoing fracas is an example of this debate. Observing the daily chatter on social media and the noise generated by television anchors, one can only be surprised at how this occurred. We don’t need more engineers and doctors; we need more lawyers and poets. We need more artists and thinkers who will critically challenge the status quo and those in power. All of these arguments are relevant in the face of the political attack on JNU and the recent wave of ‘patriotism’ that has swept India. The discourse around patriotism, nationalism and education seems to be defined very narrowly and without any consideration for different points of view and the need to accommodate diversity of thought, a hallmark of Indian society.

As Vishakha Desai’s piece in this newspaper (“The case for liberal arts education”, May 11, 2015) argued, we need more than just technical skills in the globalised world we live in. We need skills that help us relate to those who are not like us. We need soft skills, more exposure to global languages as well as critical thinking. These are the outcomes of a good liberal arts education. She further argues that liberal arts education is seen as a privilege of the elite few, while technical skills are privileged and are seen as part of the process of nation-building. While there is no doubt that there is a need to focus on development and offer a good standard of living for everyone, it should not come at the cost of building a free society where debate, discussion and disagreement are luxuries as well.

The current turmoil in Indian society is a mix of factors: slowing economic growth, restlessness among the youth, and a political environment dominated by exclusivity and hypernationalism. While it is true that India is a democracy where every political party has the right to espouse its view, it seems as though a dominant and majoritarian strand of political discourse seems to have taken root unfortunately — one that refuses to give any scope for dissent or questioning of its politics.

Model of education

It is true that we need to create more jobs for those who need them. To address this and have a more inclusive system where the country produces technically competent staff, we could potentially develop a more robust apprenticeship model, such as the one in Germany. But over and above the merely ‘technocratic’ model of education, the model that India needs is the one envisioned by Rabindranath Tagore. With the world becoming a proverbial village, the citizens of this village need a new vision. As Tagore wrote: “I try to assert in my words and works that education has its only meaning and object in freedom — freedom from ignorance about the laws of the universe, and freedom from passion and prejudice in our communication with the human world.” We need to discover what it means to be free in today’s India. Have we somehow become so enamoured of our past glories and imagined conquests that we forget how we got to be a great civilisation? As he argued, “the spirit of commonality with others and hospitality” is what makes civilisation possible and it is this fact that made India’s civilisation as vibrant as it is today. We need to develop the kind of adventurous spirit that Tagore spoke of — one that explores, connects with the surrounding world and is open to possibilities, not one that is closed, parochial or conceited.

If Mahatma Gandhi had been trained as an engineer, perhaps we would all be riding better trains run by the British. There is a reason for most political leaders being trained in law or being educated in the liberal arts. The leaders who earned freedom from the British were critical thinkers and those who chose to challenge people in power. They examined the facts before forming their opinions. These are skills that are acquired through a good liberal arts education, which remains a need in contemporary India.

We need more liberal arts colleges, not fewer. JNU is a great institution that needs nurturing, not shaming. And as the largest democracy in the world, India ought to show the world how to conduct its affairs — by managing dissent and giving it scope to thrive. Without it, we will slide into an authoritarian morass. That would be a great tragedy for the entire world.

(Sabith Khan is a visiting researcher at Georgetown University, Washington D.C. Views expressed are his own.)

Burkha Dutt - A Letter To PM Modi From 'Anti-National Sickular Presstitute' Barkha Dutt

Burkha Dutt is a savior of India | MikeGhouseforIndia.blogspot.com

Modi is not in in charge any more, the members of his party are harassing fellow Indians and he cannot do anything about it,  or may be he does not want to do anything about it. Those Indians who do not like criticism of the way Government is run, need to understand how democracy works, particularly those who live in America.

This is a good piece by Burkha Dutt, she makes me proud of India to produce fiercely independent reporters.

Mike Ghouse 

# # # 


A Letter To PM Modi From 'Anti-National Sickular Presstitute' Barkha Dutt

Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

I write to you today because like so many of my fellow citizens, I am both angry and anguished. I am aware that a missive from someone like me - "presstitute", "bazaaru",  "sickular" and worst of all, "anti-national"- will be most likely junked by your office as not worthy of your time.

In any case, ever since I reported on the 2002 riots in Gujarat, I am among the journalists you have clearly shunned and disliked - that is, of course, entirely your prerogative. But this week, I read that you told opposition parties that you are the PM of "all of India, not just of the BJP", and I thought I would hold you to that promise and ask for your attention as a citizen's entitlement.

Modiji, I take you back to the years before you became Chief Minister and began the "othering" of large sections of the English media whom you were convinced were out to get you: when you were the approachable and friendly General Secretary of the BJP, and I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. If you remember those years - and I am told you never forget (or forgive) - you would recall that I first cut my teeth as a journalist reporting a war from the frontline in Kargil in 1999. I was still in my 20s, and the intimacy and immediacy of that overwhelming exposure would make me a life-long admirer of our military. My emphasis, even back then, was to humanize and personalize the stories of soldiers in the trenches and ensure they would not remain faceless, nameless statistics. Over the years, the bonds I forged with the Fauj only grew deeper - my reporting has often taken me back to the border, to the Line of Control and a variety of conflict zones to where they've been deployed. Over the past two decades, I have done hundreds of news programs devoted to the Soldier - the discrepancies in hardship allowances between jawans and bureaucrats, the shameful mountain of government litigation against disabled soldiers who are dragged to court for pensions, the pending promise of One Rank One Pension, the bottlenecks in defense procurement, and the many sacrifices of our men and women in uniform.

So I write this as a sentimental and proud Indian who has often been teased by my more left-leaning friends and colleagues for my rather maudlin and unintellectual patriotism. I would submit that the binaries that spokespersons of your government have created (aided by the hyper-nationalist drum-beating of channels like Times Now and News X) are absolutely false. It is entirely possible to deeply respect the military and feel ashamed of the multiple manipulations, doctored videos, police excesses, government heavy-handedness, brazen hooliganism and ominous environment of intimidation that the crackdown on JNU has revealed. In fact, for your party to use the death of ten Siachen bravehearts to validate the gross over-reach we have seen in JNU is to, in my view, cynically exploit the honour of the uniform. I wish there was half as much outrage when your good friend Jayalalithaa's photograph was placed on the coffin of one of the Siachen soldiers by her minister, who was then proudly photographed with it.

Modi ji, I would also like to take you back to a man whose name you love invoking - Atal Bihari Vajpayee. I remember the tingling excitement of hope and optimism that ran through my veins as I stood among the crowds in Srinagar in 2003 and heard him discard the rigidities of legalism and offer "Insaniyat" as the framework for reconciliation in the Kashmir Valley. Sadly, in its handling of the JNU controversy, the government has subverted the Vajpayee legacy in one fell swoop - I assume with your approval.

Where Vajpayee promised that Humanism would override the literal application of the law as he stretched out a hand even to pro-Azaadi separatists, this week we have seen a singular absence of generosity or empathy from the team you lead. The Home Minister went so far as to link students to the dreaded Lashkar terrorist Hafiz Saeed, based on a police endorsement of a fake Twitter account. Not just have we not seen any evidence of terror links, but it now appears that the video used to slap a sedition charge on Kanhaiya Kumar, the JNU student leader, has been doctored, with the audio spliced onto images from a different day.

In a country that took pride in giving even Ajmal Kasab, a 26/11 perpetrator, a fair trial, a young man whose worst crime (and that's if you stretch it) is that he could not stop a handful of other students from raising some admittedly disturbing slogans - has been slapped and pushed around in court in the presence of a police that failed or perhaps refused to protect him. The HRD Minister Smriti Irani speaks of how the anti-India slogans were an insult to "Mother India".  But aren't Mothers benign, forgiving, broad-minded and all embracing? Stern, yes, when a child needs it, but surely never heartless.

Yet, heartlessness and hypocrisy combined with sneering aggression is what's been on display this entire week. As goons in black robes rampaged through the Delhi court house where Kanhaiya Kumar is being tried, they assaulted journalists not just on day one, but then once again, a little over 24 hours later, emboldened by the knowledge that no cop was going to come after them and in open contempt of a Supreme Court directive. Euphoric from the taste of blood, they congratulated each other on social media for being the "shers" who did "what the government and military could not do". The Chief Goon, Vikram Chauhan, photographed with a slew of BJP leaders - everyone from Rajnath Singh to LK Advani - has been garlanded on the court premises; candles have been lit in "solidarity" for him. The alacrity with which the police arrested Kanhaiya Kumar is in cruel contrast to the inaction against these lumpen lawyers who enjoy political patronage. 

There are police raids across the country to find the sloganeering students who have gone underground; friends who knew them are being identified from Facebook and summoned by the police from towns outside the capital; there are reports of hostels being searched, and landlords ousting JNU students to avoid "trouble". But the rowdies in robes are free, though surely the brazen violence and anti-constitutionalism by men meant to represent the law is a graver danger to democracy than mere words - no matter how awful and offensive -  could ever be.

Yet, after all this, it was students of JNU who marched peacefully in their thousands carrying the tricolor and roses, using the gentleness of Gandhigiri to respond to the Goondagardi of the thugs in court. 

Through all this, they may have wondered - as we do - what our Prime Minister thinks. Do you approve of the decision to send police onto a student campus? Might it not have been wiser and more mature to let the university administration tackle the issue, as the Jadavpur Vice-Chancellor has done? Now that it's clear that the "Azaadi" Kanhaiya Kumar spoke of was not from India, but from Hunger, Inequality, Communalism and Caste Bias, will the government apologize to him? And in any case, do you really think the Indian State is so fragile that it would come undone by a clutch of "Hum Kya Chahate - Azaadi" cries?  Because if that's the new thinking, we may have to arrest an entire generation of Kashmiri youth instead of politically engaging with them.

Do you not, Mr. Prime Minister, agree that if you can visit Lahore to greet Nawaz Sharif on his birthday despite the specter of terrorism (and I thought it was spectacularly bold of you), if you can negotiate with Naga secessionists and proudly announce a peace accord (the details of which are still awaited), if you can ally with the PDP whose leader Mehbooba Mufti believes not just that Afzal Guru should not have been executed, but has, as part of her father's "healing touch", often visited the families of dead militants because she does not think their children should be punished - if you can take these decisions and never have your patriotism questioned, do you not think it's a crazy over-reaction of the government to arrest a young man for slogans that it now turns out weren't even his own? Is battling young students - first at the Pune Film Institute, then in Hyderabad, and now at JNU - really the war you want to lead your troops into?

Do you agree that "cooking beef" and "worshipping demons" should be part of a police report to explain the "anti-nationalism" of young men, doubly ironic because the police reports to a Minister who is from the beef-eating state of Arunachal Pradesh? Did your heart not break, just a little bit, when you saw Kanhaiya Kumar being dragged and pulled, his eyes worn by physical fear? And what was your thought when you opened the morning newspapers to see a legislator of your party pounce on an opposition activist who lay flat on the road with hands folded in fright, an image that made national and international headlines for both the asymmetry and abuse of power it conveyed?

We do not know the answer to any of these questions because you have just not spoken. You have become curiously Manmohan-esque in your silences after mocking your predecessor for them. With one crucial difference - he hardly ever spoke on anything, whereas you are voluble on a host of issues, except the festering crises that are often self-creations of the government. With respect, Mr. Prime Minister, given that you are a masterful orator and won the 2014 election at least partly on the back of effective communication, these silences are bewildering.

When you do break them, it's almost always far too late to contain the damage. Think Dadri.  More recently, think how a young man called Rohith Vemula was driven to suicide in Hyderabad. By the time you did express your grief, party spokespersons had defiled the debate with conspiracy theories about whether he was a Dalit or not. Then, like now, they had forced their construct of nationalism onto the debate with whispers about how slogans were raised by Vemula against the execution of Yakub Memon.

Modiji, naturally, none of us like a slogan that calls for India's ruin.

But thought cannot be policed, and nationalism cannot be regimented; it's for every Indian to define it for herself. I still get goose-bumps every single time I hear our anthem, I leap to my feet to stand and sing it out loud in my foghorn voice. But I would never support punishing or intimidating those who sit through it in a movie hall, as we saw happen in Maharashtra recently.

We are all getting on in age, but let's for a moment think back to our years in university. Being young and being rebellious is all about non-conformism and anti-establishmentarianism, It's about questioning everything - marriage, love, sexuality, caste, religion - and yes, for some, even the Nation-State. As long as this sloganeering is not accompanied by an incitement to violence, surely we need not use the sledgehammer of sedition against young people.

You wouldn't need me to remind you of the famous case Balwant Singh Vs State of Punjab - the Supreme Court overturned the charge of sedition and acquitted those who had shouted, "Khalistan Zindabad, Raj Karega Khalsa" a few hours after Indira Gandhi's assassination. If the highest court of the land can show that maturity in a much more volatile and sensitive case than the JNU controversy, why can't the government? Do we even need a sedition law that was given to us by the British in the 1860s? (Britain incidentally scrapped it in 2010.)

Whatever the BJP calculations were on converting the JNU crackdown into political advantage have clearly dissipated. Given legal precedence, Kanhaiya Kumar is sooner or later likely to be acquitted by a higher court, and will walk out a hero. Given the writing on the wall, wouldn't you, Mr. Prime Minister, think it's wiser, kinder and yes, politically smarter - apart from it also being the only correct thing to do - to drop the charges against him, order the police and the Home Ministry to concede its mistake and apologize, drop the criminal charges against the other students, and hand back the case to the JNU administration to handle it as a disciplinary issue from here on?

Gurudev Tagore, who gave us our stirring national anthem, also wrote, "Patriotism cannot be our final spiritual shelter; my refuge is humanity. I will not buy glass for the price of diamonds, and I will never allow patriotism to triumph over humanity as long as I live".

Modi ji, India belongs to its young. The tricolor is in their hands. And so is our future. 

What Passes for Sedition in India

The following statement by Nilanjana summarizes this article, "It has been a turbulent year on Indian campuses, with students speaking out more and more — against caste prejudice, sexist housing rules or the appointment of B.J.P. loyalists as university administrators. Senior members of the B.J.P. and the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), a Hindu nationalist organization with major influence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have responded not with dialogue but with persecution, not with negotiation but with clampdowns."


# # #

What Passes for Sedition in India
Courtesy – New York Times

By Nilanjana s. Roy
Hours into the protest march on Thursday, the students were still streaming in. They came from Delhi’s prestigious Jawaharlal Nehru University (J.N.U.) and from at least six other universities across the country.

They held red roses and long-stemmed saffron cosmos, and with chants, steady and deliberate, called for freedom, equality and the right to express themselves freely. Some of their placards read, “Dissent is not sedition,” or “Save Constitution! Save Democracy! Save University!”

Flowers and words of hope: These are small things to hold out against the toxic lies of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (B.J.P.) and its violent pseudo-nationalist propaganda.

It has been a turbulent year on Indian campuses, with students speaking out more and more — against caste prejudice, sexist housing rules or the appointment of B.J.P. loyalists as university administrators. Senior members of the B.J.P. and the Rastriya Swayamsevak Sangh (R.S.S.), a Hindu nationalist organization with major influence over Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have responded not with dialogue but with persecution, not with negotiation but with clampdowns.

On Feb. 13, Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of J.N.U.’s student union, was arrested on sedition charges. Mr. Kumar, who is from an underprivileged caste, had recently given a speech at an event organized by a group of other students to mark the third anniversary of the hanging of Muhammad Afzal, also known as Afzal Guru, who was found guilty of being involved in the 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament. Afzal Guru’s execution and the Supreme Court judgment upholding his death sentence are still the subject of intense debate.

A bruising, high-voltage clash soon played out in the gladiatorial arena of news television. Prominent B.J.P. members declared that the government would not tolerate any “anti-national” activities, accused the students of having links to terrorists and called for closing J.N.U. NewsX broadcast footage which it claimed featured Mr. Kumar shouting “Long Live Pakistan!” and other purportedly seditious slogans. A TimesNow anchor harangued Umar Khalid, one of the students who had organized the event, calling him a “secessionist” and “unpatriotic.”

ABP News has since proved that these clips were doctored. Some participants in the event had indeed shouted, “As many Afzals will rise from homes as the number of Afzals you murder” and asked for “Bharat ki Barbaadi,” the destruction of India. But it is unclear whether it was students who made these statements, or outsiders trying to cause trouble for them. And Mr. Kumar wasn’t among them.

In his speech, Mr. Kumar had said, “We are of this country and love the soil of India. We fight for those 80 percent of this country’s people who are poor.” He had called for “azaadi,” freedom, picking up a slogan long popular among Kashmiri separatists and women demanding greater rights. And he had attacked the B.J.P., the party’s student wing and the R.S.S. as “traitors to the nation.”

Mr. Kumar had also talked about the suicide of Rohith Vemula, a dalit student at Hyderabad University who killed himself last month after enduring weeks of pressure. The university had stopped paying his stipend and suspended him over a political dispute between a group of dalit students, including Mr. Vemula, and a prominent right-wing student leader.

This is what passes for sedition in India today.

And when Mr. Kumar was taken to court for a hearing last week, he was assaulted. A couple of days earlier, at the same courthouse, a group of lawyers had attacked journalists and J.N.U. faculty. The police had made little attempt to stop the violence. Vikram Chauhan, a lawyer who led the assaults and identifies himself as a B.J.P. party worker, was not arrested. Instead, he was allowed to lead a march of self-appointed patriots to India Gate, the iconic war memorial in the heart of official Delhi.

The message is clear: Violence in the name of ultra-nationalism is acceptable. Not even the courts are safe spaces. Challenge the state, or the B.J.P., at your peril.
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Budhia, a 55-year-old factory worker who had traveled with a friend from the neighboring town of Manesar, said, “The B.J.P. doesn’t like the poor. You will find it’s mostly the poor and the backward castes who are called seditious in this country. I am here for Rohith. I am here for Kanhaiya. I am here for Umar Khalid and all the people in this country who suffer from the lies thrown at them.”

In his suicide letter, Mr. Vemula had written: “The value of a man was reduced to his immediate identity and nearest possibility. To a vote. To a number. To a thing. Never was a man treated as a mind.”

At the back of the march, a cluster of students held up handmade signs in rejoinder, echoing Mr. Vemula’s despair with a new hope: “We are no longer just a vote, a number, a thing. We are young. The future is ours.” For now, this imagined future, of true democracy and equality, is under siege.

Nilanjana S. Roy is the author of “The Wildings,” “The Hundred Names of Darkness” and “The Girl Who Ate Books.”

    I am proud to be ‘anti-national’, says Rajdeep Sardesai

    Will the Indian Rednecks (short on ability to think)  understand this?

     # # #

    I am proud to be ‘anti-national’, says Rajdeep Sardesai

    • Rajdeep Sardesai |  
    • Updated: Feb 20, 2016 14:03 IST
    If support for Afzal Guru is to be seen as ‘sedition’, then at least half the erstwhile Cabinet in Jammu and Kashmir would be held guilty. (PTI Photo)

    In the 1990s, the country’s polity was divided by secular versus pseudo secular faultlines; now, another divide, and frankly far more insidious, is sought to be created between ‘national’ and ‘anti-national’ forces. 
    When I was first accused of being ‘anti-national’ on social media, I was angry. Now, a few years later, the current coarse political discourse, where desh bhakti certificates are being liberally distributed, tempts me to scream: garv se kaho hum desh-drohi hai (proud to be ‘anti-national’). Let me tell you why.
    Yes, I am anti-national because I believe in an expanded definition of the right to free speech as spelt out in Article 19 of the Constitution. The only two ‘reasonable restrictions’ are incitement to violence and hate speech. What constitutes hate speech may be open to debate. Is, for example, the slogan of the Ram Janmabhoomi movement ‘Jo Hindu hit kee baat karega vahi desh pe raj karega’, which openly calls for a Hindu Rashtra, to be seen as violative of the law or not and does it spread enmity among communities? Is ‘Raaj karega khalsa’, the slogan of the Khalistanis, to be seen as seditious or not? In Balwant Singh versus State of Punjab, the Supreme Court ruled in the negative.
    Yes, I am anti-national because while I am discomfited by the slogan shouting at JNU in support of Parliament terror convict Afzal Guru, I do not see it as an act of sedition. The sketchy video evidence made available shows the ‘students’ (we still don’t know if all of them were, indeed, students) shouting slogans like ‘Bharat kee barbaadi’, and hailing Afzal’s ‘martyrdom’. 
    The speeches are primarily an anti-government tirade but is it enough to see the students as potential terrorists or rather as political sympathisers of the azaadi sentiment? And is that ideological support enough to brand them as jihadis who must be charged with sedition? 
    Yes, I am anti-national because in a plural democracy I believe we must have a dialogue with Kashmiri separatists as we must with those in the North-East who seek autonomy. I will listen to student protestors in Srinagar or Imphal as I will to those in an FTII or a JNU. 
    Prosecute all those who break the law, incite violence, resort to terror but don’t lose the capacity to engage with those who dissent. The right to dissent is as fundamental as the right to free speech: shouting down alternative views, be they on prime time TV or on the street, is not my idea of India.
    Yes, I am anti-national because I don’t believe in doublespeak on issues of nationalism. If support for Afzal Guru is to be seen as ‘sedition’, then at least half the erstwhile Cabinet in Jammu and Kashmir, where the BJP is in coalition with the PDP, would be held guilty. 
    After all, the PDP’s stated position has been to protest Afzal’s hanging as a miscarriage of justice. If the Kashmiri youth today see Afzal as someone who was framed, they should be challenged to a legal and political debate but can they be branded as ‘jihadists’ simply because their views are repugnant to the rest of the country?
    Would we then by extension also suggest that the Hindu Mahasabha, which even today glorifies Nathuram Godse every January 30, even as the rest of India mourns the Mahatma, is an anti-national organisation? Should BJP MP Sakshi Maharaj’s defence of Godse be seen as an anti-national act or not, or will definitions of nationalism be shaped by the convenience of power politics? 
    Yes, I am anti-national because while I am a proud Hindu who wakes up to the Gayatri mantra, I also like a well done beef steak, which, according to BJP minister Mukhtar Naqvi, is a treasonous act, enough to pack me off to Pakistan. I celebrate the rich diversity of my country through food: Korma on Eid, pork sorpotel with my Catholic neighbours in Goa during Christmas and shrikhand during Diwali is my preferred diet. The right to food of my choice is again a freedom which I cherish and am unwilling to cede.
    Yes, I am anti-national because I will fight lawless lawyers who attack defenceless women journalists in the name of ‘Bharat mata’ (don’t forget women journalists were targeted on a fateful day in December 1992 also) while policemen do little to stop the pseudo-patriots. 
    I am a proud Indian who admires the sacrifice of our jawans, which is why I believe our men on the border must get higher wages rather than be trapped in a bureaucratic tangle. I support gay rights, am against the death penalty on principle, find any violence in the name of caste, religion or gender unacceptable. And yes, I like raising inconvenient truths in the public domain: if that makes me anti-national, then so be it.
    But above all else, I am anti-national because I believe in Ambedkar’s concept of a republican constitution that places the citizen and rule of law at its core. No one has the right to impose their vision of ‘cultural nationalism’ on a diverse society in the guise of ‘one nation, one religion, one culture’. 
    And when I get weary of the ‘desh-drohi’ abuse I will seek solace in the legend of my original icon, Muhammad Ali, who, as Cassius Clay, threw his gold medal into the river in protest at being denied entry into a whites-only restaurant. His act led him to be termed ‘anti-national’ and stripped of his Olympic medal. Several years later, as he lit the torch at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, it was America’s way of apologising to one of its greatest folk heroes. I hope some of you say sorry to me too one day! 
    Post-script: Last week, at the Delhi Gymkhana litfest, I suggested that the right to free speech must include the right to offend so long as it doesn’t incite violence. A former army officer angrily got up and shouted, “You are an anti-national who should be lynched right here!” When even the genteel environs of the Gymkhana club echo to such strains, we should all be very worried. 
    Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author. The views expressed are personal.

    Godhra Train Blaze Was BJP’s Pre-planned Political Stunt

    This is a news shocker and I hope to read counter narratives. Will this news get traction?

    Mike Ghouse

    Angry Patels Spill the Beans; Say Godhra Train Blaze Was BJP’s Pre-planned Political Stunt

    in Big StoryIndiaWHAT'S HOT 4 days ago 7 Comments 66,935 Views
    This February 27, 2002 photo shows the burning S-6 coach of the Sabarmati Express in Godhra. Credit The Hindu
    Abdul Hafiz Lakhani | Caravan Daily
    AHMEDABAD – The ongoing Patidar agitation in Gujarat has taken unexpected turns with Patidar Samiti leaders Rahul Desai and Lalbhai Patel lashing out against the governing BJP for its communal politics. “The BJP is fundamentally a communal party that has been planting its ideology of Muslim hatred for years now,” said Desai. “I can tell you with certainty that Modi would never have been re-elected as the chief minister in 2002 if it had not been for the Godhra train burning.”
    In February 2002, a fire in the Sabarmati Express killed 59 commuters, many of them Hindutva karsevaks. Thirty one Muslims were later convicted of their alleged involvement in the fire. The Godhra blaze was followed by anti-Muslim pogrom across Gujarat in which more than 2,000 people died. Desai, who was in school at the time, remembers being shown videos of the Godhra train burning in class.
    “They were doing it to propagate the idea that all Hindus need to come together or else the Muslims would kill us,” said Desai. “I don’t know if the men who burnt the train were Muslims or not, but I know that the Godhra train burning was a pre-planned political stunt by the BJP to win the state election later that year.”
    When communal thinking takes root, says Desai, it is very difficult to get rid of. “Because of the BJP’s propaganda, all of us began to think communally, and I feel kind of cheated now,” he said. “Even today, people are afraid that Muslims will riot against them, but honestly, even if they don’t, the BJP will get it done.”
    Desai acknowledges that he may not be speaking for all Patidars in Gujarat, but he is certain that all other members of the Patidar Andolan Samiti share his views.
    In Mehsana, Laljibhai Patel could not agree more. “Of course, Godhra and the 2002 riots were orchestrated by the BJP. It is obvious to us now, but back then it wasn’t,” said Lalbhai Patel. “Last time they targeted Muslims. Now they are allowing the Patels to be persecuted. This is exactly the kind of politics that leads to the creation of Naxals.”
    For now, Patidar leaders are in no mood to support the party they were once loyal to in the state Assembly election next year. But even as the community accepts help from the Congress to fight various cases against Patidar men, Desai and Lalbhai are firm that the Patel allegiance will not blindly bend towards the Congress this election.
    “We will vote for whoever gives in to our demands – both reservations and justice for the police atrocities,” said Lalbhai Patel. “The Patidars are already now building connections with OBC Thakors and Muslims so you never know – even a third front might come up.”
    On Congress’ improved performance in local bodies polls held in November, Lalji Patel admitted that their stir had helped Congress, as Patels had decided to teach BJP a lesson. The large-scale protests by Patidars last year had triggered violence in many parts of the state, culminating in the arrest of Hardik Patel and his aides under the charge of sedition.
    Speaking about the Congress’ offer of giving reservation to Patels and other upper castes under the EBC (Economically Backward Class) category, Lalji was heard saying that other upper castes will reap maximum profits if the EBC reservation is accepted, while the Patels would not gain much.

    Understand India, Modi ji

    Understand India, Modiji | Mike Ghouse for India

    I urge my fellow Indians to read this powerful letter addressed to the Prime Minister of India, it calls for critical thinking and to look at the other side of the coin. Will Prime Minister Modi understand this? More than that, will you understand its depth and breadth?
    It was a joy to read the words of Guruji creating an India without fear.  Please let me what this means to you.

    Please note, I am posting my own writings and writings of others that require thinking at my India blog. Your comments, regardless of what you express are also included.

    # # #

    Honourable Modi ji,

    I believe every citizen has the right to directly communicate with his Prime Minister. And if the mode is a letter, one can avoid the hassle of a hard-to-get appointment. So, I have chosen to write this letter to you.

    Of late, the country has witnessed a string of incidents. I don’t think I need to recount them to you. It is true that in a large country like India, many kinds of things will keep on happening and I would not like you to waste your valuable time in taking notice of petty incidents. But there are some incidents, which shake us, which are a threat to our very existence as a nation. And to my mind, what happened recently on the campus of Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University and what followed in the capital and other parts of the nation fall in that category. What happened was out of the ordinary and I would request you to seriously reflect on the chain of events and its implications. I am requesting you to give the issue personal consideration as I feel that you are somewhat confounded on this issue. By prostrating at the gate of Parliament and raising full-throated slogans of “Bharat Mata ki jai” you have given us some idea of your mindset. Have you ever tried to analyze your psychology? Please do find time to do that. That is because the country’s future depends on it. Russian writer Chekhov had said, “Just show a man his real self and he will reform.” That is why I see a possibility of reform in you. 

    Mr Prime Minister, Sir, begin with comprehending the power you wield. You are presiding over the destinies of 125 crore people. And you have been elected by them. You are the de facto ruler of this great nation – just as Chandragupta, Ashoka and Akbar were at different times. But even they were not ruling such a huge India. During the reign of Chandragupta and Ashoka, India extended much farther in the west than it does now but the south was not under the control of the Mauryans. Akbar’s India was also not as big as today’s India.  

    But India is not just a geographical entity. There is cultural India also. As Rabindranath Tagore had said, “India is a thought; not a geographical fact.” India has not been created by its rulers. It has been built by its poets, scholars, philosophers, saints and, in fact, by nature herself. This India has evolved over centuries. The process of its creation was simple and complex at the same time. One doesn’t know how many sagas, legends, poems, songs, pasts and futures and have gone into its making. And today, this India beats in the hearts of 125 crore Indians.

    Just peep into its past – into its cultural legends and mythology. You must be aware that it was named “Bharat” after the one who was born out of the love and matrimony of Dushyanta and Shakuntala. Bharat was not brought up in a palace. He grew up in the ashram of a rishi. These ashrams were located deep inside forests. Today, your government has embarked on “Greenhunt” because you think traitors are hiding in these forests. The story of Bharat and his mother Shakuntala is enchanting and touching. Then, there was the great sage Dwapayan Krishna, who is also known as Ved Vyas. He wrote the awesome epic Mahabharata, which was initially called Jaibharat. The Mahabharata is our greatest cultural heritage. Not more than 100 years ago, some people turned this Bharat-Mahabharata into Bharat Mata. 

    Have you ever thought how Bharatvarsha became Bharat Mata? The British called their nation motherland. In India, the tradition was of describing one’s place of birth as fatherland. You have been a pracharak of the RSS. You must be aware of these facts. Influenced by the British culture, some people started associating India with motherhood and turned Bharat into Bharat Mata. Since those who did this were the rich gentry and feudal landlords – whose drawing rooms were adorned with skins of tigers and lions – they perched Bharat Mata on the back of a tiger. How could the mother of these great men ride a cow or a buffalo?  Have you ever given a thought to what Bharat Mata would be doing had she been the creation of the common man? Maybe she would have been breaking stones like the woman in Nirala’s poem Woh Todti Patthar. Renowned Hindi poet Pant has also woven an image of Bharat Mata:
    “Bharat Mata Gramvasini,
    Bharat Mata Tarutal Niwasini”
    (Bharat Mata lives in a village,
    she dwells under a tree)

    Pant’s Bharat Mata thus lives under a tree, Nirala’s breaks stones. If the rural proletariat had created the image of Bharat Mata, then maybe she would have been grazing goats or spinning a charkha.

    But you are not the prime minister of this Bharat. You are the prime minister of only that Bharat, which has been described as “that is India” in the Constitution. This India was shaped by our great freedom struggle and was given the final touches by the Constituent Assembly. We adopted this Constitution on 26 November 1950. “We, the people of India…adopt, enact and give to ourselves this Constitution”. We adopted a political India that had grown on a great cultural foundation. The Constitution became our soul and as you say – our religious scripture.

    But some people did not imbibe or adopt it. Our Constitution exemplifies the values of quality, liberty and fraternity – which had evolved from the French Revolution. It forbids all kinds of discrimination and assures equal opportunities to all. It is not rigid; It is amenable to alternations, deletions and additions in keeping with the changing times – and we have have seen this happen. Attempts were made to tinker with it – as in 1975, when Emergency was imposed. But these attemps were destined to fail. 

    And today’s India rides on the back of this Constitution, not on the back of a tiger or a lion. It is not Bharat Mata. It is the India that has been built with consensus. It is our strength and we are its strength. It is somewhat like the relationship of a drop of water with the ocean. The moment the drop separates from the ocean, it is obliterated. We will be obliterated if we separate from India.

    Prime Minister, Sir, some people have reduced worshipping India to mockery. They understand neither politics nor culture. They are only interested in creating an illusory world that they can use to pepertuate their domination. In the times gone by, some people maintained their domination through socio-cultural deception. Since the present Constitution has tied their hands, they are exploring new ways to do it. It is unfortunate that these great men, who once hung tiger hides in their drawing rooms, have now hung the skin of Bharat Mata and as the self-appointed priests of India, are dishing out certificates of patriotism. They do not have faith in the Constitution. They believe in Manusmiriti and other similar Indian codes.  Their India is the India of sadhus, beggars and charlatans – as that India would not challenge their Manuvaad. This is their country, this is their nation. 
    What happened at Jawaharlal Nehru University is being talked about everywhere. I am one of those who see this in a positive light. I believe that free debate and discussions strengthen a nation. But I would request you to keep a close eye on the entire issue and discourage forces that are socially retrograde, because they want to weaken the nation. In today’s world, no country or society with an outdated and conservative mindset can grow and progress. We move even when we move backwards but that is retrogression. We have to decide whether we want to forge ahead or move backwards. We cannot forge ahead if we hold on to religious bigotry and narrow-mindedness. In this century, we can forge ahead only by tapping into the knowledge and wisdom granted to us by science and by adhering to scientific reasoning. As globalization continues, the challenges before us are growing. Unless we take a big leap, we will fall by the wayside. And once that happens, we will never be able to recover.

    So, please do clean up yourself. You and your associates talk of nationalism at the drop of a hat. I don’t known whether you have ever given a thought to what it exactly means. It is not possible to explain nationalism in detail in a letter but I would like to say something about the circumstances in which a country becomes a nation. The way Western nations evolved was a bit different from how India evolved. But both here and in the West, nation is a modern phenomenon. It evolved along with the industrial revolution and, for different reasons, flourished in the capitalist era. When the Western nations were evolving, besides a piece of land with definite boundaries, sovereignty, population and language, what contributed to their making was the common good of their citizens. This common good is interpreted by our Constitution as equality of opportunity.

    But nationalism took an ugly form in Europe and today, no one wants to talk about it. Bearing the badge of nationalism on their chests, the Western nations fought two ruinous world wars among themselves and turned Europe into a massive graveyard. Nationalism, ultimately, proved to be a Frankenstein’s monster that took the largest number of lives in human history. In this context, our great poet and thinker Rabindranath Tagore had lambasted nationalism. On 14 April 1941, shortly before his death, he wrote an article and delivered a speech on “Crisis of Civilization”. Prime Minister, Sir, you should find time to read this article.

    India did not witness an industrial revolution and here, feudalism formed the lifeblood of capitalism. The Indian nationalism was very different from its Western cousin. While its political face opposed colonialism, its social face took on the priestly class. In both cases, freedom was the objective. The creators of this nationalism were Tilak, Gandhiji, Subhash, Bhagat Singh and others on the one hand and Jotiba Phule, Ranade, Ambedkar and the like on the other. After the end of colonial rule, freedom from social-economic domination became more relevant. Like a true statesman, Jawaharlal Nehru drew the contours of the new India. Retrograde ideas had no place in his scheme of things. His new India was to be built not by sadhus and sanyasis but by scientists, workers and farmers. He stressed on the need to develop scientific temper.

    But Prime Minister, Sir, you do not talk of the nationalism of either of these two streams. Your nationalism is the nationalism of Shivaji, Savarkar and Golwarkar, which, to say the least, has been controversial from day one. The nationalism of Savarkar and Golwarkar is not Indian, it is Hindu. This kind of nationalism requires a prop – in the form of a counter-balance, in this case another theocratic nation. Shivaji’s Hindvi state was pitted against the Mughal Empire and Savarkar’s Hindutva was juxtaposed against Islam. The Hindu nationalism of Hedgewar and Golwalkar will also require a Muslim or Christian nationalism to sustain itself. In contrast, the Indian nation can survive independently; it does not need an “other” and it has the capability to ensure that all its subjects have equality of opportunity.

    As far as I undertstand, JNU is the best school of this nationalism – Indian nationalism. I visit it off and on and I have felt that most of the students there want to build an “India without fear” – as Gurudev dreamt. It is true that it was a bastion of Marxists and to some extent continues to be so. The Manuvadis somehow tolerated the Marxists but their patience gave way when the new students started talking about Phule-Ambedkarism and for the first time, the Marxists joined forces with them. The first flashpoint was the Mahishasur issue. The Manuvadi students had started worshipping Durga there. The Phule-Ambedkarite students started observing ‘Mahishasur Day”. Durga and Mahishasur are not parts of our history, they are parts of our mythology. And Prime Minister, Sir, not only the dominant sections have their history, their mythology and their culture. Those who are the ruled, those who are the members of the so-called lower castes – one of which you had become during the elections – too have their own history and mythology. If the dominant classes have their mythological Durga, the backward classes have their mythological Mahishasur.

    You must have heard about the Devasur Sangram (Battle between the gods and the asurs). The dominant class uses its mythology to strengthen its stranglehold; those who are left behind reinterpret their mythology to offer cultural resistance. The dominant class asks us to worship Rama; we are reminded of Shambuk whose head was severed by Rama only because he wanted to gain knowledge. Have you ever thought what a Dalit-OBC sportsperson must be feeling when the Arjun Award is conferred on him? Will he not remember Eklavya?

    Just put your hand on your heart, Prime Minister, Sir and think who Mahishasur, Shambuk and Eklavya were. Were they foreigners? Did they belong to some other religion? Talking about them, underlining their contribution – how is that you consider this sedition? The time has come for you to ask the members of the RSS to do a re-think on their Hindutva. Their Bharat is not akhand (united), neither is their Hindutva. Their Hindutva is fragmented. It is brahmanical Hindutva. You only talk of this brand of Hindutva.

    Now, let us revisit the JNU incident. It happened on 9 February. If any student raised anti-India slogans, it was patently wrong. I have been told that statements like “War will continue till India is ruined” were made. I condemn such statements in the harshest possible terms. We should not wish the ruin of anyone – not even of Pakistan. It is our neighbour. Let it grow and prosper. Let all countries of the world grow and prosperous. I really love your slogan “Sabka saath, sabka vikas”. But let it not remain a mere slogan. Let it become a reality.

    Universities are meant to bring about “Sabka saath, sabka vikas”. In times of yore, we had our Nalanda. Hiuen Tsang and Fa Hien had come to study there. In the British era, students from our country went to Oxford and Cambridge. There, they talked about freedom of India. They formed their associations and organizations. But the British government never charged them with sedition. Your Savarkar had also studied in England and had written his famous book, Indian War of Independence: 1857 while living in that country. He had also established “Free India Society” there. Let us give the same degree of freedom to our universities. Let us allow the students and the teachers to think, discuss and debate freely. Please take note of “vishwa” in the word “Vishwavidhyala”. Do you want to convert them into Saraswati Shishu Mandirs? Universities discuss problems and issues confronting the whole human race. Don’t try to make them schools of patriotism. Don’t send out the message that we do not even know how to run universities. Suppose 100-200 students from Pakistan study in JNU. Will they not talk about their country? Our students study abroad. Don’t they talk about India?

    Let us touch on the Kashmir issue too. Some students talked about Afzal Guru. By kicking up a furore about him we have only highlighted the Kashmir problem and brought it into the limelight. This is nothing but foolhardiness. Kashmir’s problems are a bit different and more complex than the problems of the rest of India. In Kashmir, you had formed government with the PDP, which considers Afzal a martyr. Not that there is anything wrong in aligning with the PDP. Only dialogue can take us forward. That is the right way, the only way. Despite Pakistan engineering heinous acts of violence on our soil, we are trying to hold a dialogue with it. Kashmir, in any case, is ours. I believe that you understand the Kashmir issue much better than I do as I have been told that you have spent some time there. The Kashmir problem is a complex one. It was never a part of British India. It was a separate state. It became part of India under particular circumstances, which was natural. It is like a child adopted by a family. That is why there is a special article in the Constitution for that state. This article should be respected. Such special provisions may, in the times to come, persuade other countries to become a part of the Indian confederation. And these countries may be even Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nepal. We should not stop dreaming. Sometimes, dreams come true.

    So dear Prime Minister, Sir, the need of the hour is a dialogue – not wrangling – with citizens, especially students, who are angry for one reason or the other. Patriotism cannot be thrust upon anyone, such as through punishment. I think your disciples, who are sporting the badge of patriotism and looting the country, are a much bigger threat than a handful of angry young men. Did you ever ask your friend Ambani why he is building a Rs 1000 crore home for himself when farmers are committing suicide in the country over loan defaults of petty amounts? You have announced waiver of loans worth lakhs of crores of rupees taken by capitalists but you are hardly concerned about the workers and farmers of the country. Rohit Vemula, a promising student of Hyderabad University, was forced to commit suicide. 

    You were nearly in tears. I can understand you. In your own words, you come from a lower caste, a backward community. You are a proletariat in Marxist jargon. You are the son of a great mother who used to work in other people’s homes; you sold tea as a child. I have some faith in you. Maybe a dialogue with you can help. Sometime back, when you were garlanding a bust of Ambedkar, I just thought how good it would have been had you put a garland of his thoughts around your neck. It would have initiated a silent revolution. So, I will borrow Vivekananda’s words to say, “awaken, rise, march and do not stop”. You are not steeped in the value system of the Sangh, you should revolt against the Manuvadis, destroy them. Their country is phoney, their religion is phoney, and their nation is phoney. Come out of this palace of deceit and lies, Modi ji. It will benefit you – but it will benefit the country more.  

    Premkumar Mani