Saturday, October 29, 2011

Starting with the man in the mirror

I love India but no longer like much of what I see.

A billion people have swung on destiny's pendulum. From scarcity of means to scarcity of class. As if trying to compensate by escaping what we used to be. Bad and good.

The past is a place we don't want to be. So we're systematically erasing it all away.

Indians are becoming refugees in our own mind.

The 80s and the 00s can't be any more different in Indian consciousness.

80s was when fate switched off the light. We were riven by identity, suffocated by air, vulnerable to theft. Bluestar, Bhopal, Bofors. And most of us were poor.

00s was when fate shone on us. The earth became flat, India became young, the world accepted our bomb. Davos, Demography, Deal. And some of us became prosperous.

On the surface, this is a great narrative. And, yet, something seems amiss.

We used to be humble. Now we are brazen.

We valued achievement. Now we value accumulation.

We thought our birth made us Indians. Now we insolently ask for loyalty oaths.

The angry young man on a bicycle could still serenade with song. Now the angry young man shoots models in the face and rapes schoolgirls in cars.

The pendulum will swing back again some day. From a surplus of means to a surplus of class. But this will take a generation or two and a lot of effort.

The refugee in the mind may yet come back home. But he'll have to start with the man in the mirror. This is the hardest thing of all, alas.

Saturday, October 08, 2011


As long as I can remember, I've viscerally disliked Hindutva.

Visceral is a strong word. Deeply felt, intensely real.

This wasn't inevitable. My family and social context would have suggested otherwise. Even my personal sense of faith.


I think this has to do with doubt, reason, and free choice - ideas on which modernity is based.

My own politics are motivated by self-interest. I doubt the Government as an institution. I reason we'd be better-off if it got out of our way. And I make a free choice on who to stand with politically to achieve this goal.

Given the secular character of India and US (where I live), faith is rarely a driving motivation in any of this. I don't feel politically more in common with random co-religionists than with folks who share my social and economic reality.


Hindutva, in contrast, demands we make unquestioning common cause with other folks merely because they too were born into a common faith. This is imposed politics of incidental commonality, of religion over reason.

There's also some caprice here. There are many incidental commonalities based on birth. Wealth, class, gender, language, left handedness - you get the point. Why is faith any more important than any of the other such commonalities?

There is a cult-like character to this strain of politics. There is no room for doubting the central artifice on which the cult is built. If outcomes are not favorable, it's because of personality issues or implementation mistakes, never the ideology itself. Since there is no room for doubt, exercise of reason makes one's loyalties suspect. And if one exercises free choice of political (dis)association, one is hounded (as whistleblowers are) and sometimes even worse.

Does this not remind one of socialism, that other great cult that has afflicted India? Except that socialism pretends to be born out of doubt and designed by reason, although it too rejects free choice.


There is no doubt that Congress' socialist legacy has been debilitating for India.

Two generations lived through undeserved poverty. Hundreds of millions still do. India's entire politics was reduced to patronage by printing money. And pitting one group of Indians against another. This is a horrendous legacy of what is essentially a personality cult.

Even worse is the reactionary whirlwind all this has spawned.

Hindutva attempts to be everything Congress is not. And yet, it has become everything it is. The cult of personality has been challenged by its cult of othering.

Instead of asking Indians to doubt our ideological chains and asking us to use reason to make free political choices, Hindutva has made that choice for us in a presumptuous and patronizing act. The choice it has made is communal hatred. And it has sought to impose this on us in an imperious manner.

Hindutva is not Hinduism. It pretends that it is and brooks no dissent. The cost of dissent, ultimately, is violence. This too is typical of how cults act.

Arun Shourie is a leading modern intellectual within Hindutva. He is also a decent man who has suffered much personal pain in life. Yet, here is his reaction to 2002: Frankly, I must say, I was more affected by Atalji’s pain than by what had happened in Gujarat. Maybe this is my inhumanity or something. I can’t claim that I was that great liberal

This comfort with, and indifference to, violence is deeply ingrained in such cults.


It is not a surprise that such attitudes attract support from sociopaths.

We see this in the so-called "Internet Hindus" who stalk the by-lanes of cyberia.

Leading Hindutva voices contemptuously dismiss them as fringe elements, in private. In public, they say nothing as they watch these demented mobs mug decent people.

Even if we concede these are fringe elements, it is worth contemplating their nature. When I blogged harshly on Binayak Sen, I was challenged by those on the left but in a relatively civil way. My own politics also has a fringe - that would be Ayn Rand purists! I do think there is a qualitative difference between the trolling by Internet Hindus and the tortured argumentation by leftists and Randists. It says a lot, doesn't it?

Lest I be accused of letting off the Left gently, I should note that while the Maoists leave the internet alone, they do reserve their violence for the jungles of Dantewada.


Sonali Ranade has written about why Internet Hindus are on the wrong side of history (). I think, the same can be said for the entire Hindutva project. History is evidence that human advance has come not from unthinking obedience to cults but from doubt, reason, and free choice. Hindutva denies us all these and is not the antidote to socialism we've been looking for.

This is why I have visceral dislike for this false idea.