What else did you expect from Sehwag?

Source: http://www.india.com (http://bit.ly/2mKuaHh)

Cricketers are highly skilled people. Doesn’t make them eligible to be discerning about the nuances of politics and policy. From a young age they lose touch with education in an effort to hone skills and spend most of their lives on the ground.When they get selected at the age of 18-23 usually at the highest level; from then to 40 they live in a bubble of luxury and glamour in the highest echelons of society.

They enjoy prestige as representatives of the nation in a Cricket obsessed country. Of course, they would like everything to be looked at from the point of view of Nation and Nationalism because that sustains their identity, privilege and relevance! As a result they buy into toxic jingoism. I’d be surprised if some Cricketer takes up issues of the marginalised! It is foolish to expect this!

No doubt they are highly skilled but sample this: Kohli thinks Demonetization is the best move in the history of Politics. Obviously he does ‘t know Mahad Satyagraha or the devastation caused in the informal sector by demonetization. He spent Lakhs on International Wifi to watch an episode of Comedy Nights with Kapil to bide his time on an Airport; and can afford to joke about it! Ravindra Jadeja said he always dreamt of marrying within his caste! Imagine his idea about the society. He wouldn’t know what happened in Khairlanji or Godhra or that it was due to sticking to caste identities. Sehwag thinks trolling a 20 year old peace activist is cool because he gets popularity on social media and increases avenues for future employment. These people always bow down to authority because these people are dependent on power for making money – especially post-retirement – which is obviously what they want to do and there’s nothing wrong in that.

Leave aside speaking on morally difficult and complicated issues like women’s rights or war and peace; they don’t even have the gumption of criticising the Indian team and the BCCI and speaking their minds in the commentary box! Harsha Bhogle was kicked out because he rightly once said that Bangladesh deserved to win a contest against India and didn’t and was critical of the BCCI! That happens in Sport! These cricketers if they have to keep their jobs; can’t criticize selection or comment on the corruption of the BCCI. Outside India, Moeen Ali was barred for wearing an arm band in solidarity with Palestine and he fell in line. If you expect them to have the right opinion on politics; you are wrong. These people have been reduced to highly paid entertainers.

No doubt their skill gives a lot of joy to billions of fans like me and that’s fine. If you love the game you can appreciate their prowess. But they do not have opinions very different from what their elite masters and friends feed them. Of course, some of them might have an understanding; but by and large, what Sehwag did was expected.

Just because they come on TV for 365 days doesn’t mean they should be taken seriously on important matters. But because in this era, celebrity status translates into acumen somehow – Donald Trump being a shining example – these people are taken seriously. It is also indicative of Right Wing hegemony which scorns upon intellectual rigour and pursuits in the garb of democracy. Their logic is, my stupidity is equal to your informed and well thought out position; or moral blandness like my hate is equal to your arguments for inclusion. That’s a huge malaise of our times. And so we must respectfully disagree with them. If and when power equation changes; these people will change sides. So enjoy their Cricket and support them on the field. Don’t take them seriously on other issues. Or think of it like this: Would you have taken an outstanding banker’s opinion in your local branch on Gurmehar as seriously? I think not.

Who Wants Demonetization: The Politics of Governance Through Surgical Strikes

Source: Business Standard: Demonetization: Daily Wagers Fighting Crisis By Skipping One Meal A Day

In 2014, the PM Narendra Modi,  came to power promising the electorate to check corruption, putting an end to the policy paralysis and ensuring “development” by putting the economy back on track. Mr. Modi fashioned himself as the “vikas purush” who was all about development and “good governance” which would ensure growth. While on the economic front, things have been sluggish, to say the least; the promise to tackle black money and corruption was much awaited.

On November 8th, PM Modi took the drastic decision to demonetize “high denomination” currency at a short notice of a few hours. This move led to the withdrawal of 85% of the currency in circulation in one go; leading to an induced decline in purchasing power which would have an overall adverse effect on the economy for two quarters. It is not as if demonetization hasn’t been adopted by governments before, with little success, it must be added. However, such a move, with enormous logistical consequences, at such short notice, is unprecedented.

Does Demonetization Qualify as Good Governance?

The UN definition of good governance lists out the following features of the term: participation, transparency, rule of law, responsiveness, consensus oriented, equity and inclusiveness, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability. Demonetization fails on all these counts.

The decision has caused immense hardship to the ordinary folk by bringing economic activity to a grinding halt. Government has estimated 50 days for a return to normalcy, although other estimates indicate that a longer period would be required. On last count, 50+ demonetization related deaths have been reported. The decision has impacted small businesses and the informal sector – which accounts for 80% of the employment and 45% of the GDP – the most; with reports of daily wage labourers being forced to skip meals due to non-payment of wages and lack of work. Add to that the increasing law and order problems across the country, recalibrating new ATMs etc. has led to a logistical nightmare for billions of common people; leading the Supreme Court to observe that the hara-kiri caused by the move could lead to a riot-like situation, if not set right at the earliest.

While it is true that any macro change causes some inconvenience as it shakes up the systemic inertia; there is a consensus evolving among the economists across the ideological spectrum from the Left to Right that the costs of demonetization far outweigh its benefits. Then was this a prudent decision; or did political considerations trump economic and governance considerations?

From Good Governance to “Governance through Surgical Strikes”

While paying lip service to the slogan of good governance, Mr. Modi, prefers to govern by surgical strikes; which it seems are meant more for public consumption and less for long term structural transformation. Public deliberation, one of the hallmarks of Indian democracy, has been replaced by absolute personalization of decision-making; so much so that many ministries and institutions seem redundant in this regime. The announcement of demonetization which could have been made by the RBI Governor was made by the Prime Minister himself, emphasizing its personalized and political nature. The decision was veiled in secrecy and even cabinet members, reportedly, had little idea about such an important decision. Moreover, this secrecy was presented as a positive to the media, which readily lapped it up.

For Mr. Modi, fighting corruption and black money, it seems, is not a matter of establishing strong and transparent institutions to guard against these ills. He prefers to fight it by publicized and personalised surgical strikes even though they may have little systemic impact in the long run.

Such an approach is not restricted to the economy but runs through the entire Modi regime. Whether it was PM Modi’s abrupt meeting with Mr. Nawaz Sharif ending Pakistan’s diplomatic isolation post 26/11 to the unprecedentedly publicized surgical strikes post the Uri attacks to this abrupt move to demonetize currency; there seems to be no consistent rationale or long term vision guiding these actions or statements, except reinforcing the personal authority and projection of strength on the part Mr. Modi. What is worse is that the bug seems to have caught on to the other cabinet ministers with Defence Minister Parrikar giving callous remarks on India’s “no first use” doctrine regarding nuclear weapons; when apparently this government has made securing a seat at the Nuclear Suppliers Group a priority!

The principle of collective decision making and integrity of institutions and public deliberation under a democratic setup – which act as checks and balances in the system – has been supplanted by faith in the wisdom of Mr. Modi and his coterie; and the public must fall in line or risk being labeled unpatriotic or now corrupt.

Demonetization – The Vicarious Revolution of the Elite

How can Good Governance and centralization of authority go together? The answer might lie in the social base of those who share this idiom of politics. Aijaz Ahmad in one of his essays on Hindutva, poses the question, “Can fascism be built within a liberal democratic framework?” The provisional answer to that, unfortunately it seems, is yes. What we are witnessing is the rise of hegemonic right across the world; which does not disavow democracy but uses it to undermine and erode those very structures – from Trump to Erdogan to Modi.

In India, the ideological base of such an assertion is found in the elite, urban, Hindu middle and upwardly mobile classes while not being restricted to them. If one were to unpack the ideological content of the term – Good governance – one would find its resonance with the urban elite’s version of squalor free politics inherent in the idea. The world of the urban, Hindu elite whose precarious upward mobility has been secured by prosperity built on the back of a post liberalization boom in the technical and service sector and who are products of a highly technocratic and uncritical system of pedagogy want to ensure and safeguard the boom in their consumption and affluence at all costs.

This increasingly politically assertive, homogenized cultural mass has little patience for democratic articulations of cultural difference – religious or based on caste – or demands of redistributive justice by the poor. That is why a redistributive program like the MGNREGA or AAP’s subsidies on water and electricity would be called out for its inefficiency, corruption, bad governance or simply appeasement of the poor; but the “surgical strike” on black money – which has cost 50+ lives and makes no economic sense at all – is the best move in the history of politics or loan waivers of billionaires an incentive for growth.

While Mayawati and Lalu – the leaders of the excluded – would be denigrated and slighted; the unrooted and unrepresentative politicians like Subramaniam Swamy or Arun Jaitley would find backers among these folks for they speak their language. Moreover, they will find ready echo chambers in the mainstream English media with studio demagogues like Arnab Goswami reinforcing their worldview from studios in metros claiming to be the voice of the nation.

This elite bloc or mass stripped off all particularities except the identity of consumer or tax payer then uses “Nationalism” to draw ideological sustenance and coherence for its project of accumulation and dominance. Its ideological symbols are no longer oppressed caste leaders or social reformers/workers or those who fought British colonialism like in the past; but the Army, the corporate honcho, the self-made cricketer or the actor – all free of particular identities. Their “other” or enemy won’t be the exploitative businessmen or dominant castes who perpetrate atrocities but poor students termed parasites for getting “subsidized” education on “their” taxes and still not falling in line; or human rights, environmental activists or anti-land grab activists for hindering the prospects of growth of the “nation”.

In the era inaugurated by the financial crisis and the resultant global recession leading to a sluggish economy; this elite bloc/mass requires a strong and decisive leader who ensures accumulation, therefore, is openly pro-big business and uses the language of Nationalism – where minorities are projected as the constant other – to sweep claims of poverty, inequality, difference and oppression under the carpet. One who can firmly deal with this “democratic squalor”; a politician who does not invoke the language of redistribution, recognition or right but of duty and a vaguely defined national interest; the apotheosis of that is of course – Mr. Narendra Modi. The identification of this bloc with their leader and their leader with the nation and its interest is total and indisputable.

For long the Indian, Hindu elite have toyed with the idea of dictatorship setting India straight during idle conversations. It is among this bloc that we can locate the support for Mr. Modi’s style of governance through surgical strikes and policies like demonetization. The tendencies towards authoritarianism and unprecedented centralization of power are passed off as decisive leadership and initiative in this narrative.

Manufacturing Consent in the Post-Truth World

So what happened to Modi’s signature slogan of good governance?

In a world where interpersonal connection is the highest in human history ironically we are living in times when social polarization is so massive that making sense of the world is becoming increasingly difficult. That is why pollsters across the world are having a hard time gauging the public mood; from the decimation of Congress in 2014 to AAP’s Delhi landslide to Mahagathbandhan’s Bihar sweep to Trump’s upset – the media did not have a whiff of what was going on.

The polarization of opinion on Demonetization is similar. The Indian Elites are just not ready to believe that this “surgical strike” is causing immense strife to the working people who are completely absent from the mainstream narrative anyhow. For them this monumental governance disaster is a minor inconvenience to be borne with a grin for the greater good.

In the post-truth world, controlling the narrative is often considered more important than producing demonstrable results. Mr. Modi is a master narrator and the elites haven’t been that affected by the cash crunch. Those affected by demonetization don’t have a voice in the mainstream media. Hence, deaths and chaos due to demonetization has been called a “minor inconvenience” and not be painted as a “breakdown of governance” but the odd-even scheme or worker strikes are painted as such.

The absence of public deliberation and a lack of consistent rationale guiding such massive policy decisions of the government, and their endorsement by the elite, are disconcerting signs for any democratic culture. While the Left tries to debate whether the present conjuncture is authoritarian or fascist; an admixture of both is unfolding in front of our eyes but with the backing of a vocal hegemonic public within a liberal framework. Maybe these terms – fascist or authoritarian – will derive closure only in retrospect; but in the present, the opposition seems woefully ineffective in countering the Leader.

Like Ambedkar, Rohith had no Nation!

Rohith Vemula

The suicide of Rohith Vemula is being met with two kinds of responses – while the Dalit and Progressive sections are calling it an ‘institutionalized murder’, where a Dalit boy was driven to suicide by the administration; the other response paints it as an individual act where caste had no role to play nor could anyone be blamed for it. One must not politicize a tragedy goes the refrain. The Union Minister for Human Resource Development seems to be of the latter view, as she repeated again and again that we should not make this an issue of caste discrimination, not now that we are in 2016.

So was it an act of a distressed individual who happened to be a Dalit or an act caused because of caste discrimination? In other words, was it a political act? To answer these questions one needs to examine Hindutva’s approach to identities and caste within its larger project of Hindu Nationalism.

Why such keen interest?

The question we must ask is: If this was just a regular skirmish between students; why was the MHRD, which has the herculean responsibility of educating millions of Indians, so interested in disciplining these five boys in the entire country? What explains this special attention to these students?

In the course of this hearing two Union Ministries got involved. Bandaru Dattatreya, MoS Labour and MP from Telangana personally wrote to Smriti Irani, MHRD, Government of India, to take cognizance of the matter and ever since the MHRD followed this case keenly with the administration with a series of letters being sent from the highest authority urging the administration to act in this case.

The anti-national Dalits: The Political Context of Rohith’s punishment

Bandaru Dattatreya in his letter to the HRD Minister calls Rohith and his friends anti-national because they protested against the death penalty awarded to Yakub Memon. Dattatreya wrote:

“Hyderabad University … has become a den of casteist, extremist and anti-national politics. This could be visualized from the fact that when Yakub Memon was hanged, a dominant student’s union, that is, the Ambedkar Students’ Association has held protests against the execution”

Abolition of capital punishment is a legitimate debate which has been going on across the world. Even if we overlook the difficult moral question of giving the State the legitimate power to take the life of a citizen; the glaring inconsistencies in the awarding of death penalties in the recent past in India; the proven fact that it is not a deterrent in stopping violent crime and that majority of the civilized world has done away with the penalty; should have been reasons enough to question capital punishment. But according to Mr. Dattatreya, organizing and protesting for the abolition of death penalty, which it must be noted, Babasaheb Ambedkar was himself against, was an anti-national act for which these students needed to be punished.

Don’t talk about caste before we gain independence if you are a nationalist –

This is not the first time that Dalits are being labeled as anti-national. Even during our anti-colonial struggle, Dr. Ambedkar and many non-brahmin, anti-caste leaders were accused of being anti-national. At the time the mainstream nationalist discourse asked the Dalits to overlook the violence, discrimination and humiliation inherent in the caste system; and unite to overthrow the British. However, the British legal system of equality before the law was liberating for the Dalits as opposed to the codes governing the Hindu society; where the Dalits were treated as inferior and impure by accident of their birth – something which Rohith also refers to in his suicide note – and there was no scope for equality or justice. So the non-brahmin and Dalit movement kept on petitioning with the British Raj, until untouchability eradication and the violence of the caste system was acknowledged as an evil by the mainstream nationalist movement led by Congress.

Even after this acknowledgement, while the non-brahmin movement and the nationalist movement could build a strategic consensus on the goal of attaining independence, it was not without disagreements and debates. So while they were together in the fight against the British Raj, they maintained separate positions on many issues. This stark difference has been well documented in the debates that Ambedkar had with Gandhi and the Congress.

Don’t talk about caste at all: Now we are independent and we are Hindus:

We seem to have come a full circle. Today’s dominant nationalist discourse is based on Hindutva; which aims at culling out claims of difference of particular communities from the social and the political discourse. In the Hindutva imagination, we are all Hindus, which in turn is synonymous with being Indians, as this is our “punyabhoomi” or holy land. The fact that the Hindu social order itself is based on graded inequality and ritually sanctioned violence, discrimination and humiliation is supposed to be ignored.

The major challenges from the point of view of the Hindutva project in the unification of the Hindu fold and therefore, the challenge to Hindu power, is the challenge to the Hindu social order from the Dalits from the inside and from the Muslims and Christians from the outside. This political – cultural project to forge a semitised Hindu identity entails twin maneuvers of internal assimilation of hitherto oppressed castes into the Hindu fold and the domination and stigmatization of non-hindu minorities outside of it.

Unlike the Left or the Congress, the politics of the Hindutva brigade aims at reinvention of the self, the creation of the “new hindu man”, and therefore, takes an everyday form. This politics includes rewriting histories of Dalit groups and reinvention of their traditions to integrate them into the Hindu fold. In the past Eklavya who was wronged by Dronacharya for not being a savarna has been co-opted in to the pantheon of Hindu gods; similarly Shabri, the tribal woman in the Ramayana has been elevated to the status of a Goddess by the Hindutva forces.

Be a Harijan, not an Ambedkarite:

In India, defining oneself is itself a political act. The Dalit identity has sought to be defined predominantly through two approaches. Gandhi sought to define the Dalit identity from the prism of Hinduism. He coined the term “Harijan” and said that everyone was equal in the eyes of God, and that the Dalits were children of God as well. He also initiated campaigns to end untouchability and took measures like encouraging inter dining, asking upper caste Hindus to clean toilets, which in those times was a challenge to upper caste orthodoxy. However, this was an approach at accommodation within the Hindu fold.

The Dalit movement, however, contested this coinage as insufficient and patronizing. In their view, it was insufficient to be equal in the eyes of God; it is the equality in the here and now that one needs to achieve. It is for this reason, that Ambedkar opted for converting out of Hinduism. It was a means of de-anchoring the Dalits from the intellectual, moral and spiritual codes of orthodox Hinduism. His conversion to Buddhism was an act of defining the self outside the moral gaze of Hinduism. In other words, it was a rejection of Hinduism.

It is in this context, that the self definition of Rohith and his friends, in opposition to Sanskritised Hinduism, becomes a political act. It was this rebellion which was irksome. According to the Hindutva project, the Harijan is not a challenge, unlike a Muslim or a Christian and has to be co-opted; however, a Harijan cannot define herself but must let herself be defined by the Hindutva forces. In other words, a docile Harijan is a nationalist, but an Ambedkarite is an anti-national.

It must be borne in mind that the Ambedkar Students’ Association (ASA) had organised beef eating programmes in the past, which is a direct political cultural challenge to the Hindutva forces’ claim that the cow is revered by all Hindus. However, what is an even bigger challenge to the Hindutva dispensation is the advocacy for the human rights of Muslims by a Dalit organisation. It should be noted that Dattatreya had called the MHRD’s attention to the anti-national activities of ASA. The ASA had screened ‘Muzzaffarnagar Baaki Hai’ and protested against the death penalty of Memon. A similar kind of response awaited the Dalits of Bhagana, Haryana. When they lost hope of attaining justice from the State, they did a strange (?) thing. They converted to Islam. In response, they were beaten up by the Hindutva organizations.

The alignment of Dalit – Muslim interests: A Nightmare for the Hindutva Project:

In a competitive electoral system, the electoral strength of these two communities makes for a formidable coalition. This solidarity of interests amongst those internally oppressed by Hinduism and those dominated outside by Hindutva is an unprecedented political and cultural challenge.

The political approach of Hindutva at dealing with caste therefore, is: firstly, not to speak about it or make it subservient to an abstract nationalism; and secondly, to pit Dalit interests against Muslims to prevent a cultural and political coalition. It is in this context that one needs to see the Union Minister for Social Justice and Empowerment Thaawarchand Gehlot’s letter to MHRD congratulating them for questioning Jamia Milia Islamia University’s minority status; for he argues that it is undermining the interests and representation of the Dalits, Tribes and the OBC’s in higher educational institutions. Similar attempts at pitting Dalit – Bahujans against Muslims were made by none other than PM Modi in his election rallies in the run up to the Bihar elections when he warned the electorate that if the Mahagathbandhan came to power it will give your reservation to a “particular community”.

In its strategy with regard to caste, the saffron forces have coined the slogan of “Samrasta” (harmony) in opposition to “Samata” (equality). This has guided their strategies of co-option of castes within the Hindu fold. The 2014 general election which propelled Modi – led BJP to power was noted for smashing the Congress off the electoral map. However, two important events must be mentioned. One was the comprehensive rout of Mandal parties. Since the Babri Demolition, after an initial opposition to reservations, the RSS-BJP has strategically been co-opting OBC’s within its fold. This is reflected by the volte – face of the RSS on reservations; of course it continues to speak in a forked tongue as it has to consolidate its essentially upper constituency. So for the first time BJP’s PM candidate was showcasing his non-brahmin credentials in an electoral campaign. A stagnation in Mandal politics forced by the erosion of employment opportunities within the ambit of the State with increasing privatization and advance of the Market along with anti-incumbency paid rich dividends in the elections.

The 2014 general elections which propelled Modi – led BJP to power was noted for smashing the Congress off the electoral map. However, the most significant victories registered by the BJP were in the states of UP and Bihar which were unable to return even a single Muslim MP this time around despite a huge Muslim population. Interestingly the BSP retained its vote share but was unable to return even a single MP this time around. This was seen as a defeat of so-called vote bank politics.

It was this raw nerve that Rohith and his friends touched when one excluded identity spoke for the other. It was this potentially politically subversive act which invited such intense scrutiny from the highest echelons of power in Delhi.

In 1931, when Gandhi questioned Ambedkar about his criticism of the Congress which he construed as criticism of the Indian national struggle, Ambedkar replied by saying, “I have no homeland. No untouchable worth the name would be proud of this land.”

The consolidation of the power of Hindutva has successfully “denationalized” the “suspect” Muslim community in 2014. It is quite logical then, that if Dalits spoke out for Muslims in Muzzaffarnagar and against the death penalty, it was only a matter of time before they shall be labeled anti-national as well. The attempts at building a coalition of those excluded from the Hindutva public are in their nascent stages, and it is difficult to predict whether it will materialise in the future or not. However, the charge of anti-nationalism levelled against Rohith and his friends tells us how easily a marginalised community can be “denationalised” and in turn what ideological function the category of nationalism performs in the Hindutva project.

Make no mistake; Rohith’s suspension and suicide, both were profoundly political acts. And like Ambedkar, even after six and a half decades of independence he had no nation.