Sunday, April 15, 2012

The Dunciad

Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall
And Universal Darkness buries All | Alexander Pope


Mamata Banerjee is merely one more petty dictator in our dunciad full of them.

You see them in buses and airplanes, on bylanes and highways, in pawn shops and palaces. Elbowing for space, clamoring for attention, snarling for effect.

Everyone is an emperor in their own mind. Everyone else is a serf to be trampled on. Our culture's apotheosis of political strongmen is to be seen in this context. They are national role models.

To be credible in this dystopia, Mamata di really has no choice. We should be kind to her.


Of course, it's not at all natural for a civilization to be this way. This is a warped way to compensate for something that's broken in the civilization's psyche.

Easiest way to see this is in Pakistan. We find the venom of Zaid Hamid amusing, the baseless boastfulness of her army mirthful, and the stylized propaganda from her analysts absurd.

Still, deep down, we sympathize because we know this lashing out compensates for dreams gone sour.

Much harder is to stare in the mirror. Our petty dictators are compensation too.


Going from serfdom to suffrage has not come easy to our profoundly class-obsessed society. Equality of vote has only served to expose every other inequity that scalds the Indian psyche like molten lava.

These inequities are perceived as grievous wrongs which must forcibly be reversed.

For some, the wrongs go back to Manu. For others, to Mohammad bin Qasim. For still others, to Robert Clive. From Bluestar to Babri, Godhra to Gulbarg, Kalahandi to Kargil, Naxalbari to Nelli - wherever one turns, there the wrongs are.

When we stare into history, to coin a phrase, it stares back into us. We all feel wronged in this eternal abyss.

Thence flow envy, bitterness, resentment, and rage - all jostling in a cauldron of deep-seated complexes - inferiority, mostly, which masks itself as superiority in some.


All humans have some degree of inferiority in us. A healthy response makes us better ourselves. An unhealthy response makes us lord over others.

This "will to power" is perfectly understandable in a traumatized people. This is how we compensate.

Sensitivity to harmless cartoons and disproportionate aggression are just one example of this. Violence against women is yet another. Also road rage. A more trivial illustration are internet trolls who delude themselves into thinking they are equals of more accomplished persons they abuse without provocation.

Once you understand the psychopathy, a lot of behaviors become crystal clear.

Institutional checks and balances can certainly keep a lid on such outbursts. But they can't cure them.


There are no easy answers here.

Part of the cure, however, is an honest acceptance of the malady. Dialogs of truth and reconciliation are a crucial place to start.

It then requires a mature people to look ahead, not with a view to reverse or avenge past wrongs but to make a world where all of these grudges have been set aside and buried.

But none of this is remotely possible as long as we keep looking up to leaders who can't overcome their own personal demons.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Indian Right

National Review, founded by the late William F Buckley, has long been the intellectual fuel behind the American conservative revolution.

When faced with John Derbyshire, one of its prized writers, having penned an astonishingly racist screed, it fired him.

This is what human decency and moral courage required.

It's also what conservatism demands. We conservatives, after all, respect people as individuals. Demonizing people on the basis of their group identities is the very antithesis of conservatism.


It's worth contrasting how the self-proclaimed Indian "Right" dealt with a near-identical situation recently.

Subramanian Swamy publicly demanded that Indian Muslims acknowledge their ancestral conversion from Hinduism or forfeit their vote.

When he was confronted, the Indian "Right" reacted with fury. They stood by Dr Swamy over fellow Indians whose right to vote he had brazenly challenged.

They cloaked their indignation in intellectual terms. Freedom of Speech is at stake, they falsely claimed. Then, they welcomed Dr Swamy into their political embrace.

The only morally appropriate response came from Harvard where he will no longer be allowed to teach.

There is no circumstance in which thought leaders of the Indian "Right" would have repudiated someone like John Derbyshire in their midst. Instead, their defensive reflexes would have kicked in and they'd have viciously - and personally - attacked attacked attacked anyone who had the temerity to challenge him.


The Indian "Right" is in crisis.

It has no intellectual foundation, no political coherence, and no moral courage.

Intellectually, its views seem indiscernible from social bigotry that litters history's discard pile.

Politically, its machinations seem identical to the establishment it seeks to replace.

Morally, to coin an expression, it has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to stand up for what is right.


The Indian "Right" seems to bundle pride in pre-modern tradition with a wooly notion of modern conservatism.

Not much more needs saying on its intellectual pretenses.


A social media star on the "Right" told me once (and I paraphrase) that pandering to India's sub-intellectual communal polity is a necessary means to come to power. Once in power, he asserted, the "Right" would do the right things.

Think about this for a minute.

He was saying that the political support Indian "Right" enjoys comes from people who he didn't think would support anything but the raw meat of soft bigotry.

He was also saying that the rabid views of these supporters could be ignored once the "Right" was in power.

The cynical and patronizing nature of this perspective is breathtaking.

Reminds one of the liberal establishment that this so-called "Right" seeks to displace, doesn't it?


The Dr Swamy episode is just one where the "Right" failed a moral test.

There are others.

What if the CM had gone to Zakia Jafri's home and said to her: you are like my mother. I can't possibly fathom your pain but I am sorry that you had to endure it. I can't reverse the horror of what happened and I can't make you less angry, but I can give you justice. This people, this state, this nation - and I -  owe you that.

She would still not forgive him. But he would be a mensch for doing this.

But being a mensch is not what the Indian "Right" does. Instead, its words and actions drip with a cauldron of complexes that are frequently ugly.

Even those who eschew such attitudes feel perfectly at home with those who embrace them.

The Indian Right needs to be reinvented.

God knows, we desperately need an intellectually honest, politically vital, and morally strong Right to confront the mediocrity of the Left-Liberal establishment.

But this Right will not emerge from sewers of bigotry, echo chambers of hate, or cultish adulation of individuals. Nor will it ride the horse of establishment mimicry.

Not until the Indian "Right" purges the bigots from its ranks, no matter how seemingly "respectable", will it have the legitimacy to confront the evil of the Left.

Too bad the self-proclaimed Indian "Right" couldn't be more ignorant about this reality.