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Monday, 3 December 2018

Why The BJP Has Already Won The War

Why The BJP Has Already Won The War

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 03 December, 2018


The rise of Narendra Modi and the events of the last five years have fundamentally changed the nature of our body politic. We have irreversibly changed from a nation in which secularism was the norm and religious fundamentalism a fringe idea to a nation where religious fundamentalism is the norm and secularism and pluralism are fringe ideas.

The latest in the statue/temple one-upmanship contest currently underway in India is that Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee is going to build 100 sun temples in West Bengal for the Bihari votebank. This, of course, is after the 181 m Patel Statue, which has already been built; the 221 m Ram statue in Ayodhya, which has been announced; the 212 m statue of Shivaji Maharaj in Maharashtra, which is in the planning stages; a statue of Buddha in Bihar that has just been inaugurated; and a statue of Mother Cauvery that the Congress government in Karnataka recently announced.

Do you realize what has been happening?

No? Let me tell you.

Two things.

One, the entire sociocultural environment in India has been changed by Modi and the BJP. It is no longer acceptable for any mainstream political party to say they are not religious.

Every political party has seen the writing on the wall. As I have often said, politicians only reflect the will of the people in a democracy. The reason Modi stormed to power in 2014 is that Hindutva is now part and parcel of Hindu society today. 20 years ago, it was unacceptable, untouchable; fringe at best. Today it is indispensable, mainstream. It is social liberalism and secularism that have become fringe.

That's why you have a Rahul Gandhi pretending to be a Janeudhari Shivbhakt Brahmin. That's why Shashi Tharoor came up with a wishy-washy excuse of an argument to justify banishing menstruating women from Sabarimala.

The reality is that whether the BJP wins or loses in 2019, it has already won. Not the party, but its philosophy. That's because, as I will show below, the BJP's philosophy represents the views of the majority of the Hindus today.

Nobody understands the mood of the people better than professional politicians. So it behooves us to pay close attention to what they are saying and doing.

Simply put, all political parties in India have realized that secularism will not sell. They have realized that they must move to the social right, to openly embrace Hindutva.

Now that the process has started, a red line has been crossed. The entire country is inexorably moving towards the right. If the BJP wins in 2019, that process will be very fast; but even if they lose, they will be a formidable opposition and exert huge pressure on the government of the day to ensure that the government delivers on the Hindutva agenda.

That's because the BJP has fundamentally changed the debate because of its powerful showing at the polls in 2014 and in subsequent assembly elections (as well as in the assembly elections in 2013). The debate is no longer whether you belong to the Hindu right or whether you are “secular.”

No, the debate today is how far along on the Hindutva axis you are. And clearly, today a party does not feel the need to apologize for taking a stand favouring one particular religion. In effect, the BJP has achieved what Advani started saying, 30 years ago, in 1988: “Garv se kaho hum Hindu hain.” (“Say proudly that we are Hindus.”) That's why Rahul Gandhi isn't the least bit abashed about going on a temple yatra. Wearing your religion on your sleeve is no longer something to be ashamed of; if you are a politician in India today, it is mandatory. The fact that someone like Rahul Gandhi is today saying with pride that he is a Hindu is an affirmation that the BJP has already won the war, irrespective of whether it wins or loses battles such as elections. The Sangh Parivar has won the war for the soul of India … whether India should be a secular country or a Hindu country. The actual legal position is now irrelevant. Even if India is not officially called a Hindu country, it clearly is and will be for the foreseeable future an upper-caste Hindu-dominated country in which other communities exist at the pleasure of the majority community. I doubt that even Savarkar could have foreseen the extent of the Hindu right's victory today.

So whoever is in power, you can be sure that there will be a “grand Ram temple” at the Ram Janmabhoomi/ Babri Masjid site within the next 5 (BJP) or 10 (Congress) years at the most. Politicians will stop worrying about the hurt sentiments of Muslim voters - they cannot afford to care. The majority has spoken, and it has spoken with one voice; and no political party that is serious about its survival can afford to ignore its voice. The only difference is that the BJP will do it rapidly and in your face, whereas the Congress will do it gently. But, in effect, there will be no difference as far as the average Muslim is concerned. It might just be that, if the BJP were to be in power, a few Muslims will be killed once in a while to show the minority community who is boss, and this will be greeted with loud boasts by elected representatives of the BJP to that effect; if the Congress were to be in power, their leaders will not actively attack the Muslim community, but if someone were to attack and kill a Muslim, there will be little action to stop such things from happening or to put the perpetrators behind bars, even if a few sympathetic noises are made. The biggest losers will be religious minorities and the concept of pluralism. But they will not be the only losers. Even those belonging to the majority will lose, because now there will be no room for multiple interpretations of their own religion — there will be room for only one version of Hinduism — the version that the powers-that-be deem fit to allow. Every other interpretation will be deemed insulting and derogatory to Hinduism and hence outlawed. And by doing this, we will be sliding headlong down the same slippery slope that every religious fundamentalist state anywhere in the world has slid, whether it be Catholic, Sunni, Shia, or any other religious sect that is in the majority. (Our own neighbor to the west reminds us of the serious consequences of such a slide.)

That's because the Hindu public, by and large, have been sold on the Hindu grievance industry peddled since the time of Advani and Vajpayee in the 1980s — the idea that independent India since 1947 had been “bending backwards” to please the Muslims (even as surveys of the Muslim community such as the Sachar committee report tell a completely different story — that of a terribly impoverished and disenfranchised Indian Muslim community) — and as a result a large percentage of the Hindu population believe that a “correction” is overdue.

If the Congress does come to power instead of the BJP, it will have come to power only after half aping the BJP, as the Madhya Pradesh (MP) election campaign of the Congress showed. There is very little difference between the Congress and BJP positions in MP — both of them want to promote gomutra, cow shelters, and the like. As time goes on, the line separating the Congress and BJP positions will become more and more blurred.

The end result will be an India in which all religions are (nominally) equal, but Hinduism will be more equal than others. Criticism of Hinduism, Hindu icons and gods/goddesses will be met with fierce reprisals by fundamentalist vigilante groups, and the government of the day, whether Congress or BJP, will turn a blind eye to the violence. Any work of art that mocks or criticizes Hinduism or its scriptures, and even the discriminatory caste system of Hinduism, will be promptly banned by the government under the guise of not wishing to “inflame passions” — while criticisms of non-Hindu religions will be encouraged as “healthy scepticism.”

Be ready for that day. It is not far away.

The second point to note is that Hindutva, and more generally religious and cultural pride, is clearly more important for most people than their basic needs. Just think of what terrible economic shape a state like Uttar Pradesh is. Children die like flies in its public hospitals, young people have no jobs to look forward to, and corruption is rampant. One would think that the announcement of a statue that will cost thousands of crores of rupees in this context would evoke widespread anger from its people — but we have hardly heard a peep. Similarly, one would have expected a widespread outcry against a wasteful, Rs. 3600 crore Shivaji statue in Maharashtra, but apart from a few social activists and concerned citizens, people have generally accepted this wasteful monument. Similarly, relatively few people protested about the nearly Rs. 3000 crore Patel statue in Gujarat. It is almost as if people have given up on seeing any real improvement in their lives and are hanging on to pride as the only thing to look forward to.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Why Macaulay Deserves a Posthumous Bharat Ratna

Why Macaulay Deserves a Posthumous Bharat Ratna

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 25 October, 2018


Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay, has been a much-reviled man in India for his famous “Minute on Education” speech in the British Parliament, which induced the then-Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck, to stop state funding of Sanskrit and Persian, which were the official languages of India, and replace them with English.

This article explains why Macaulay’s sweeping reform in 1835 has been a great blessing for India and the Indian people, especially in today’s age of globalization where English is king, and makes the case as to why Lord Macaulay’s seminal contributions to India might even deserve India’s highest honor, the Bharat Ratna, if that honor can be conferred on a person who died so long before Indian independence.

A Special Birthday

Today, October 25, is a very special day.

It is the birth anniversary of an extraordinary gentleman who was born 218 years ago this day, and whose policies as an administrator in India had a tremendous positive impact on India 160 years after he instituted them, and still have a profound salutary effect on the economy, employment, and prosperity of Indians today: THOMAS BABINGTON MACAULAY.

Who was Macaulay?

A few words about this remarkable man may be in order on a day like today. Macaulay was a child prodigy, and was awarded the Chancellor’s Gold Medal while a student at Cambridge. Apart from mastering most of the classics in Latin and Greek, Macaulay taught himself German, Dutch, Spanish, and French.

Macaulay was considered a great scholar, essayist, and poet. In 1842, he published his “Lays of Ancient Rome,” a set of poems about heroic episodes in Roman history. But probably his most famous literary work was his series of five tomes on the “History of England from the Accession of James the Second,” which is considered a literary masterpiece, and which he started in the 1840s, and the last volume of which was published after his death in 1859.

But Macaulay’s most important contributions came when he served on the Supreme Council of India between 1834 and 1838. In 1835, Macaulay presented to the English Parliament his famous “Minute on Education,” his proposals on the reform of the educational system in India.

Macaulay’s Minute on Education

Macaulay strongly argued for changing the medium of education in India from Sanskrit and Persian to English. He urged the then-Governor General of India, Lord William Bentinck (the man who had been responsible for abolishing the savage practice of Sati, or the burning of widows on their husbands’ funeral pyres, and for ending the thuggee menace), to reform Indian education so as to impart “useful learning” - by which he meant western education, with its emphasis on scientific thought and reason.

Macaulay correctly argued that Hindus who learn Sanskrit mostly learn absolutely worthless things such as rituals, chants, fantastic stories about Gods and demons, and the like, while learning little of practical value such as mathematics and science. In one of the most brutal (and somewhat unfair) assessments of Indian culture, Macaulay said,

I have no knowledge of either Sanscrit or Arabic. But I have done what I could to form a correct estimate of their value. I have read translations of the most celebrated Arabic and Sanscrit works. I have conversed both here and at home with men distinguished by their proficiency in the Eastern tongues. I am quite ready to take the Oriental learning at the valuation of the Orientalists themselves. I have never found one among them who could deny that a single shelf of a good European library was worth the whole native literature of India and Arabia.

Macaulay went on to disparage the poetry and literature of India, both those derived from Sanskrit as well as those derived from Arabic and Persian, and then proceeded to opine that the historical knowledge in these languages could not hold a candle to western scholarship in history.

And finally, in what was to have the greatest impact on India, Macaulay proceeded to say:

I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern, – a class of persons Indian in blood and colour, but English in tastes, in opinions, in morals and in intellect. To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.

Macaulay’s views were accepted by Lord Bentinck, and in response Bentinck passed the English Education Act of 1835.

Macaulay’s final achievement in India was the creation of the Indian Penal Code, which is still followed in India, and has been the basis of the penal code systems in several countries, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe.

Modern Reactions to Macaulay, and a Re-Appraisal

Many Hindus today feel very bad about Macaulay’s sharp criticism of their culture and for replacing Sanskrit with English as the medium of education. People who follow a westernised lifestyle are often derisively called “Macaulay’s children.”

However, a lot of what Macaulay said about India and its educational system in 1835 was substantially correct, even if he did put it in a rather blunt way.

An educated person in India knew nothing about the tremendous advances in science that had been made in the west and that were responsible for the industrial revolution that helped England become a global superpower and helped Europe in general reach much higher levels of prosperity than countries elsewhere in the world.

While Macaulay was obviously ignorant of the greatness of Indian literature and poetry (as a person who did not know Sanskrit he could never have known the beauty of Kalidasa’s poetry, for instance), his recommendation has been extremely valuable to India from a utilitarian perspective.

Today, a city like Bangalore is full of foreign companies with their design, R&D, and software backend offices. This trend has been copied across India with other cities like Pune, Hyderabad, Gurgaon, etc. All this has only been possible because educated Indians can speak reasonably good English.

Knowledge of English is recognized by all Indians as the ticket to a better life. Today, it isn’t just the educated Indian: the flower seller, the maid who does dishes in the home, and the sweeper also try to educate their children in English. Even politicians who publicly urge people to study in their Indian mother tongues, such as the Thackerays or Fadnavises of Maharashtra, or the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh, make sure that their own children get nothing but the best English-medium education. Studying in Hindi or Marathi is a recommendation they will make for others to follow; not for their own family members to follow.

The Chinese Push Towards English

One look at our giant neighbor to the east, China, will tell us what a boon English has been to India. China is a superpower and a technological powerhouse. It is technologically so advanced that in a matter of a decade it might well surpass the USA in technical excellence. Yet, it is India that is an IT powerhouse. Why is that? Because India has oodles of English-speaking software engineers who can easily converse with their American and European clients and solve problems for them. This is the reason why US companies like establishing R&D centers in India – you get qualified talent with whom you can communicate easily. And all this is a consequence of that historic and momentous decision in 1835 to make English the medium of education in India.

China is well aware of this shortcoming and is working hard to bridge this gap. In 2006, the number of Chinese students learning English as a second language (ESL) was about 2.5 million. By 2013, that number had grown to 300 million. The value of ESL training in China was estimated to be $4.5 billion in 2016, and this was expected to grow at a rate of 12-15% in the coming years. A journal publication in English Today, in 2012, by Wei and Su, put the number of Chinese who had learned English at 390 million. One of the big disadvantages China faces relative to India is that it was never a western colony, and so there are not many opportunities for Chinese learners of English to use the English they learn in these training courses. Storefront signs and street signs are mostly in Chinese in China, unlike India where road names and store names are frequently printed in both English and the local state language.

Macaulay’s decision has led to greater prosperity for millions of Indians today. His reasons for his decision are not important today. We may not agree with his assessment of India and its culture; but his decision has helped millions of Indians live a better life.

Macaulay’s decision has also helped the percolation of science down to those with no knowledge of English. As he put in his “Minute,” “To that class we may leave it to refine the vernacular dialects of the country, to enrich those dialects with terms of science borrowed from the Western nomenclature, and to render them by degrees fit vehicles for conveying knowledge to the great mass of the population.” Terms of science from English have now penetrated every Indian language, and have, in turn, made those languages more scientific, relatively speaking, and more conscious of technology than they were prior to their contact with English.

Why English is Important for Science and Technology

It is important to understand why English is so important to the scientific and technological development of a country today. Modern technology, by and large, is a western accomplishment, and so most of the ideas of technology and progress are in western languages – German, French, Russian – but overwhelmingly, in English. One survey found that of the total number of scholarly journals, nearly half (45.24%) were in English, followed by German with 11.01%, Mandarin with 6.51%, Spanish with 5.66%, French with 4.94%, Japanese with 3.46%, Italian with 2.99%, Polish and Portuguese with 1.7%, Dutch with 1.48%, and Russian with 1.3%.

Another source (an article in Research Trends) says that 80% of the journals indexed in the indexing service, Scopus, are written in English. As the Research Trends article shows, even in a country with a storied tradition of science and scientific publishing in the local language like Germany, the current ratio of scientific articles published in English to articles published in German is something like 10:1. In the Netherlands, it exceeds 40:1, and in Italy the ratio of English to Italian in scientific articles is 30:1. Even when researchers publish a paper in French or German, the authors have to provide an abstract in English as well so that researchers around the world can understand it.

One can scream until one is blue in the face that somebody said Sanskrit might make a great computer language (see, for example, this link), but the fact is that nobody is writing code in Sanskrit today, and even people who do not speak English but speak other western languages such as French or German still have to program in English. You have “for loops” and “if statements” in programming, not “pour boucles” and “si déclarations” (French) or “für schleifen” and “falls behauptung” (German). (Apologies if my translations are off the mark - this is just to make a point.)

The Move Towards English in Other Countries: Rwanda and Korea

The Olympic movement has only two official languages: English and French. And the latter is simply a colonial hangover, from the time when France had a huge overseas empire. And while there are still many Francophone countries in the world, English has clearly overtaken French in extent of usage. And even in some traditional Francophone countries, such as Rwanda, English has replaced French as the language of choice. And the craze for English can go to extreme lengths, as this article in the Guardian reports:

The situation in east Asia is no less dramatic. China currently has more speakers of English as a second language than any other country. Some prominent English teachers have become celebrities, conducting mass lessons in stadiums seating thousands. In South Korea, meanwhile, according to the socio-linguist Joseph Sung-Yul Park, English is a “national religion.” Korean employers expect proficiency in English, even in positions where it offers no obvious advantage.

The quest to master English in Korea is often called the yeongeo yeolpung or “English frenzy.” Although mostly confined to a mania for instruction and immersion, occasionally this “frenzy” spills over into medical intervention. As Sung-Yul Park relates: “An increasing number of parents in South Korea have their children undergo a form of surgery that snips off a thin band of tissue under the tongue … Most parents pay for this surgery because they believe it will make their children speak English better; the surgery supposedly enables the child to pronounce the English retroflex consonant with ease, a sound that is considered to be particularly difficult for Koreans.”

There is no evidence to suggest that this surgery in any way improves English pronunciation. The willingness to engage in this useless surgical procedure strikes me, though, as a potent metaphor for English’s peculiar status in the modern world. It is no longer simply a tool suited to a particular task or set of tasks, as it was in the days of the Royal Navy or the International Commission for Air Navigation. It is now seen as the access code to the global elite. If you want your children to get ahead, then they better have English in their toolkit.

English as a Link Language, and the Demand for English Education in India

In India, English also performs the invaluable task of uniting the nation. Attempts have been made, and are still being made, to impose a north Indian language, Hindi, on the whole country, but they have been vigorously resisted by many, especially those in the state of Tamil Nadu, as an imposition of the language on those who have no desire to learn it. If you visited Tamil Nadu and knew only Hindi, you would have a rough time indeed, because the people there might speak English (albeit broken English), but many of them will not speak Hindi even if they know what you mean. Residents of other parts of India, such as West Bengal, also find Hindi imposition to be very offensive.

Although attitudes towards Hindi might vary across India, the general public all over India is very eager to learn English. Everyone in India views English as the ticket to a more prosperous life. You cannot get a job in a call centre helping overseas clients unless you know English. Ironically, in a country where politicians are trying to impose the language of the Hindi belt on the rest of the country, the common people of the Hindi belt are busy learning English.

A report by the British Council in 2012 mentioned from data sources that the size of the ELT (English Language Training) market in India was $2.76 billion in 2012, and was expected to grow to $4.7 billion in 2015. Notably, the report mentioned that English education among the K-12 segment (primary and secondary schooling) sector was growing at a CAGR of 31%.

The most backward communities in India, the Dalits (formerly called the untouchables or the backward or depressed castes), also view English as a ticket out of the oppression they have suffered for millenia. They view English as the tool that will empower them out of backwardness and ignorance, especially as their idol, the great Dalit intellectual who wrote the Indian Constitution, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, had mastered the language and studied for doctoral degrees in the USA and the UK.

Concluding Thoughts on Macaulay and English in India

182 years ago, Thomas Babington Macaulay took the decisive step of introducing English education to Indians and stop state funding of Sanskrit and Persian education to Indians. The consequences of that one sweeping move have been tremendous. While Indian languages might have suffered a loss of patronage and seen a decline in literary activity relative to what existed in the past, the introduction of English brought with it exposure to modern scientific ideas and became the bedrock of a modern nation-state when India finally became independent in 1947. In today's age of globalization, English has proved to be a powerful asset for a country like India, giving employment to millions of Indians. The IT sector alone today contributes 7.7% of India’s GDP, and it is fair to say that this would have been impossible without the widespread adoption of English in India.

English has not only been extremely useful for the economic upliftment of India; it has also proved to be an invaluable link language in India. Considering the prominent tensions about using any other Indian language (especially Hindi) as a link language, we need to expand what Macaulay regretfully stated in his vision for India in 1835: “I feel... that it is impossible for us, with our limited means, to attempt to educate the body of the people. We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern …” While that huge task (“educate the body of the people”) may have been impossible in 1835, it is certainly possible today, with the resources India currently possesses, to make English the national language. After all, if South Sudan, which hardly has any English speakers, but 50 different indigenous languages with Arabic dominating, could vote to make English their official language for reasons of national unity, there is no reason why India cannot. As this report explains,

“With English,” the news director of South Sudan Radio, Rehan Abdelnebi, told me haltingly, “we can become one nation. We can iron out our tribal differences and communicate with the rest of the world.”

One can only hope that one day, “With English,” Indians can iron out our differences of religion, caste, and language, and become one nation. And if that fortunate day ever dawns, our debt to Macaulay will be immeasurably greater than it already is.

Macaulay’s decisive step in 1835 has resulted in unimaginable positive benefits for India as a whole. And so, if at all it were possible to honour someone so far back in time, it might be a good idea to award the Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian award, posthumously to Shri Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

A Poem for Modi Supporters

A Poem for Modi Supporters

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 22 August 2018


A poem on the current state of things in India, inspired by the Reverend Martin Niemoller's famous poem, “First they came …” composed in Nazi Germany.

First they came for the Muslims …
And you supported them …
Because you are not a Muslim,
Because you think Muslims should be “taught a lesson” …
Because you believe India has “bent backwards” to accommodate Muslims.

Then they came for the Christians …
And you supported them …
Because you are a good Hindu,
And you do not like conversions.

Then they came for the Dalits …
And you supported them …
Because you are a good Hindu,
And Hinduism says upper castes are better,
And the Dalits should be “put in their place.”

Then they came for the women …
Who wear jeans and go to clubs,
Who link their hands with their boyfriends’ hands,
As they go out to parks and beaches and pubs.
And you supported them (even if you are a woman yourself) …
Because you like “traditional Hindu values,”
And women need to be “put in their place” —
cooking, cleaning, making babies and rearing children.

Then they came for the rationalists —
The Dabholkars, the Pansares, the Kalburgis, the Lankeshs …
And you supported them …
Because you are a good Hindu, not a rationalist
And you believe these people
Were destroying the cultural fabric of Hinduism.
You may not have wanted to kill them …
(After all, you are civilized and educated)
But hey, some excesses happen
When a larger movement is afoot.
Puppies get crushed under the wheel of a car …
And you feel sad about that — but what to do?
After all, these are only rabble-rousing rationalists.
And they are, after all, part of the same gang
That wants equality for Dalits, Muslims, Christians, and women,
That supports inter-religious and inter-caste marriages,
That wants you to open your temples to Dalits and women!
Hinduism is under threat!
And you are a good Hindu.

Then they came for the Leftists and the JNU types …
They beat up a Kanhaiya Kumar,
They stoned a Shehla Rashid,
and shot at an Umer Khalid …
And you supported them …
Because Uncle Modi told you that India was not great because of leftist influence
And Uncle Ahuja told you they use 3000 condoms a day
And Uncle Arnab told you they were anti-national,
Although in 2.5 years, not a shred of evidence
of that has been presented.
Because you are not a leftist,
And it is okay for people to beat and kill those who are different from you —
As long as you are not affected.
And Rashid and Khalid are Muslims, anyway …
And you are a good Hindu.

A few days ago, they beat up
Professor Sanjay Kumar of Motihari
And tried to burn him alive
Because he posted something critical
Of the late former PM Vajpayee.
And you supported them …
Because you are a huge admirer of Vajpayee
And who are these people who dare to insult him?
“They asked for it,” you tell yourself,
And if a “liberal” friend asks you about it …
You tell him to
“stop worrying about irrelevant things like this
and enjoy your life with people who matter to you.”

But think about this …
Sanjay Kumar is not Muslim
Sanjay Kumar is not Dalit
Sanjay Kumar is not Christian
Sanjay Kumar is not a JNU leftist
Sanjay Kumar is not a rationalist
Sanjay Kumar is not a jeans-wearing, temple-entry demanding woman.
All he did was voice a political opinion
And he nearly got killed — and may still die in the ICU.

Think about the progression …
Muslim, Dalit, Christian, Leftist, Rationalist, Leftist, Woman …
And now a Hindu man who is none of the above.

How long will it be before they come for you?
Maybe “they” will disapprove
Of something your son said
Or something your daughter did.
What if your daughter wore the “wrong” kind of dress?
What if your son fell in love —
With a person of the “wrong” caste?
Or, worse, the “wrong” religion?
What if she listened to the “wrong” kind of music?
What if he read the “wrong” kind of book?
What if she had the “wrong” kinds of friends?
You may not disapprove, but that may not matter
When they bludgeon or burn your son or daughter to death
For violating the sanctity of their religion.

If and when that horrible day comes …
We will not be around to speak up for you …
We will have either been beaten up ourselves
Or silenced by terror.

For we are not heroes,
Just folks with a conscience
Who have the courage to speak
When there is still freedom of speech.
When that freedom is taken away
By marauding gangs —
whom you have always supported —
I am sorry, but there is nothing we can do for you.

We hope you enjoy the New India you are creating …
Where every one of the above acts is supported …
By tacit approval from the top
And a violent chorus from the bottom.

But something tells me
History is repeating itself.
As Santayana famously said,
“Those who cannot remember the past
Are condemned to repeat it.”
History is rife with examples of peoples
Who willingly chose dictators to govern them
Only to lament their decisions.
The day you will lament, though,
You will lament alone.
And it will be too late.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Story of Rama - A Summary

The Story of Rama - A Summary

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 12 May, 2018


This is a quick primer for anyone who wants to understand the Hindu god Rama.

Early Life, Marriage, and Exile

The Ramayana is the story of Rama, a prince of the mythological kingdom of Ayodhya in North India (after which a town is still named today). It is said to have been written by the poet Valmiki.

Rama is the eldest of the four main royal sons of the King of Ayodhya, Dasaratha, through his three chief queens, Kaushalya, Kaikeyi, and Sumitra. Rama, along with his three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna gets trained in arms and statecraft, as royal princes do. At a young age, he gets advanced arms training under the king-turned-sage Vishwamitra, and during this apprenticeship kills the dreaded demon, Tataka.

Rama marries Sita, the daughter of the king Janaka of Mithila, by winning her in a contest set up by her father, whereby only those strong enough to lift and string a heavy, divine bow would be qualified to marry his daughter. Rama is the only one among the assembled princes who succeeds in stringing and even breaking the bow by his strength, and brings Sita home to Ayodhya.

Rama is anointed the crown prince by his father Dasaratha. But his step-mother Kaikeyi wants her own son Bharata to be king. So she calls an old debt in, whereby the king had promised her that he would grant any two wishes she ever wanted any time in the future. So Kaikeyi asks that Bharata become king, and that Rama be exiled to 14 years in the forest. The king is heartbroken but has to honour his word. He orders Rama to be exiled. Rama has to obey the order or rebel, and he chooses to obey. The king dies in grief soon after.

Sita's Abduction by Ravana

Rama’s loyal brother Lakshmana, and his wife Sita join him in wandering from forest to forest. Towards the end of their stay in the Dandaka forest, they meet the asura (demon) princess, Shoorpanakha, who falls in lust with Rama. Rama refuses her attentions as he is married. Shoorpanakha realizes that Sita is the reason Rama refuses her, and tries to attack her, upon which Lakshmana cuts off her nose as humiliation.

Shoorpanakha complains to her brothers, the asuras Khara and Dooshana, who attack Rama and Lakshmana in revenge and are killed. A humiliated Shoorpanakha goes to her brother Ravana, the mighty king of Lanka, asking him to avenge her humiliation. She tells him about Sita’s beauty to motivate him. Ravana’s initial reaction is to confront Rama directly, but Shoorpanakha convinces him that a better way would be to abduct Sita and let Rama die in grief.

Ravana agrees and recruits the services of his uncle Mareecha, who changes his form to that of a golden deer and prances about near Rama’s forest residence. The beautiful deer catches the eye of Sita, who asks Rama to kill the deer for her so that she can sit on the dead deer's beautiful skin.

The deer leads Rama on a long chase. Mareecha, being a demon, can run much faster than normal deer, and leads Rama far away from his hermitage. During this time, Ravana is waiting for a chance to abduct Sita, but Lakshmana has been left to guard Sita. When Rama catches up with Mareecha and finally kills him, the deer changes its form back to that of the asura. In his dying breath, Mareecha screams in Rama’s voice, “O Lakshmana, O Sita” - in a voice loud enough to be heard by Sita and Lakshmana.

Sita is worried and asks Lakshmana to go to Rama’s aid. Lakshmana tells Sita that he does not believe this was Rama’s cry, as there is no one in the world capable of injuring Rama. Upon this, Sita accuses Lakshmana of lusting for her, and tells him she will never become his wife even if Rama dies. Unable to bear Sita’s accusations, Lakshmana goes to help Rama.

Ravana takes advantage of Rama and Lakshmana’s absence, and abducts Sita and takes her to Lanka. On the way, he is confronted by the vulture king Jataayu, whom he mortally wounds in battle.

Rama's Search for Sita

Rama and Lakshmana return to the hermitage and find Sita missing. After much searching, they find the dying Jataayu and learn that Ravana had kidnapped Sita. But they do not know where Ravana is. After an encounter with the demon Kabandha, they learn that the person who could help them reach Ravana is the tribal prince Sugreeva (the tribals are also referred to in the story as “vaanaras,” or monkeys – which doesn’t make sense, because monkeys cannot talk; and so I have interpreted “vaanar” as tribal) who lives in the Rishyamukha forest with his faithful friend Hanuman.

When they meet Sugreeva, he tells them of his story. He and his elder brother Vaali were very close, until a misunderstanding caused Vaali to suspect that Sugreeva was trying to steal his kingdom of Kishkindha from him. So he exiled Sugreeva and even made Sugreeva’s wife his own. Sugreeva makes a deal with Rama: if Rama will kill Vaali and make Sugreeva king of Kishkindha, he will help Rama find Sita with all his tribal warriors. Rama accepts.

Rama realizes that Vaali is a formidable enemy whom he simply cannot defeat in face-to-face combat. So he asks Sugreeva to challenge Vaali to a face-to-face fight, and when they are fighting, Rama, hidden among the trees, shoots an arrow that kills Vaali. Sugreeva, true to his word, mobilizes his tribal army and they march towards Lanka. They reach the southern shore (i.e., modern Rameshwaram) and then build a bridge over the sea to Lanka.

Rama Defeats Ravana and Rescues Sita

Before they march towards Lanka, Hanuman jumps over the sea to Lanka and asks Ravana to hand over Sita to Rama. Ravana refuses, and orders Hanuman’s tail (recall that Hanuman was a vaanar/monkey) to be set on fire. With his fiery tail, Hanuman sets all of Lanka ablaze before returning to Rameswaram.

Rama’s objective of defeating Ravana becomes a lot easier when Ravana’s younger brother Vibheeshana sees an opportunity for himself in dethroning his powerful brother. He switches allegiances to Rama’s side and helps Rama win against Ravana by revealing all of Ravana’s secrets and those of his strong son, Meghnad (also known as Indrajit because he once defeated the king of the Gods, Indra, in combat). Without knowing these secrets, Rama would have been unable to kill Ravana. In return, Rama crowns him as king of Lanka after killing Ravana.

After killing Ravana and all of his warriors, Rama liberates Sita from her imprisonment. He tells Sita coldly that he did not engage in this great war out of love for her but because her abduction was a personal dishonour to him which he needed to avenge. He also tells her that he cannot accept her as a wife because she had spent all this time in Ravana’s kingdom, so her fidelity is suspect; and that now that he has liberated her, she is free to go anywhere she chooses.

Unable to bear these words, Sita prepares a fire and jumps into it. But the god of the fire, Agni, brings her out of the fire unscathed and hands her to Rama, vouching for her fidelity, and Rama accepts her as his wife again.

Return to Ayodhya and Sita's Exile

Rama comes back to Ayodhya with a hero’s welcome after 14 years and becomes the king. Sometime later, his spies overhear a washerman berating his wife for having spent the night at another man’s home, saying, “Rama may accept a woman who has spent the night at another man’s home, but I am not Rama.”

Rama is shocked that the people of his kingdom have a low opinion of him, and to set matters right, he immediately orders his brother Lakshmana to take his pregnant wife Sita the next morning to the forest, without even having a discussion with her on the matter. Sita learns of her banishment from Ayodhya only after Lakshmana leaves her in the forest with nowhere to go. Weak and pregnant, Sita faints in the forest after her abandonment by Lakshmana and Rama.

By a stroke of luck, Sita is found by attendants of the sage Valmiki who take her to his hermitage, where she recovers and later gives birth to her twin sons Lava and Kusha.

The Story of Lava and Kusha, and Sita's End

The two sons grow up to become fine warriors, educated by Valmiki. During their teenage years, Rama decides to conduct a sacrifice called the Ashwamedha sacrifice (a horse sacrifice) which signifies overlordship of the known world. Wherever the royal horse wanders is considered part of Rama’s kingdom. Anyone obstructing the path of the horse or capturing it would have to face the might of Rama’s army. When the horse comes through the jungle, the two boys capture it. The army of Ayodhya comes after them but is no match for them. Finally Rama himself comes to fight the twins, and is then told that the twins are his children.

Rama is delighted to know this, and accepts the twins as his children, but is unwilling to accept Sita as his wife. A mentally-exhausted Sita commits suicide.

"Maryada-Purushottam" Rama and the Story of Shambuka

Sometime later, Rama receives complaints that a Shudra (the lowest among the four castes of Hinduism) is performing prayer and penance in the forest. This being disallowed in Hindu scripture, he is told many bad things are happening in the kingdom. Rama sets out in search of the Shudra, Shambuka, who is performing penance and worship to the Gods as an ascetic. Once Rama confirms his identity, he immediately executes him without even as much as a warning. The Gods and the brahmin sages shower flowers and and sing songs in praise of Rama for upholding the social order.

Finally, after a long reign upholding the social order of the day, for which he is known as “maryada-purushottam,” or “one who follows social rules to the letter, better than anyone else” Rama and his brothers die, and the kingdom passes on to Lava and Kusha.

This is the end of the Ramayana.

For his various deeds, Rama is revered in Hinduism as the “ideal man.” He is one of the principal deities of Hinduism, and many temples have been constructed in honour of him.

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.

Tuesday, 13 February 2018

The Simultaneous Elections Debate: An Attempt to Fix the Ruling Party’s Achilles Heel?

The Simultaneous Elections Debate: An Attempt to Fix the Ruling Party’s Achilles Heel?

Written by Dr. Seshadri Kumar, 13 February 2018

The BJP has been pushing the idea of simultaneous elections to the Lok Sabha and the Vidhan Sabhas for some time. Just a couple of days ago, I saw a big debate on this topic on NDTV.

There is one point worth raising that most people are not talking or writing about.

The fact is that the BJP is a one-man party. They have no leaders of repute except the PM, and this is by design. Any prominent leaders, whether at the national or at the state levels, have been systematically marginalized, and the only ones in control are those who have no independent base, are unelectable and could not win an election for anyone else.

The argument that is made in favour of simultaneous elections are that when elections are spread out over 5 years in their natural course, the government is constantly in campaign mode and hence little work of the people gets done. It is also said that elections cost money, and wouldn’t we all want to save some money by synchronizing all elections?

The example of the US is given when it comes to “synchronized elections.” In the US, there is a Presidential election every 4 years, and there are midterm elections 2 years after the Presidential elections. Elections to the House and Senate are synchronized with the Presidential or midterm elections.

But many have pointed out that this system cannot work in India because we don’t have a two-party system, and because of this, and the widespread occurrence of defections, a party that comes to power in an election might not be able to hold power for 5 years. If they lose a motion of no-confidence in the state assembly due to defections, fresh elections may have to be held if no party has a majority. This kind of thing never happens in the US. All state legislators and governors serve their full term (except in the case of death.) So it is impossible to have synchronous elections in India.

Given all this, what is the real motive behind this concerted push to synchronize state and central elections?

The PM … is too busy running around the country to run the country.

The practical effect of all this running around is haphazard, poorly-thought-out policies like Demonetization and GST.

The fact is that the BJP is a one-man party. They have no leaders of repute except the PM, and this is by design. Any prominent leaders, whether at the national or at the state levels, have been systematically marginalized, and the only ones in control are those who have no independent base, are unelectable (like the honourable finance minister, Mr. Jaitley, who lost his Lok Sabha election in Amritsar and had to be nominated to the Rajya Sabha to continue in Mr. Modi’s cabinet) and could not win an election for anyone else. The state Chief Ministers are a bunch of nobodies – be it a Devendra Phadnavis in Maharashtra, a Manohar Lal Khattar in Haryana, a Vijay Rupani in Gujarat, a Trivendra Singh Rawat in Uttarakhand, or a Jairam Thakur in Himachal Pradesh – none of these could win elections in their own states without the fortifying presence of Narendra Modi. With a few exceptions like Shivraj Singh Chouhan in MP, Vasundhara Raje in Rajasthan, and Manohar Parrikar in Goa, the BJP needs Mr. Modi’s popularity to win elections.

And this is why Mr. Modi is in constant campaign mode. This is a one-man party, and it is so by design. Anyone who was popular enough to present a challenge to Mr. Modi was thrown out of active politics and sent to a defunct “Margadarshak Mandal.” The result is a party of yes-men and women and a party with only one viable leader.

And, of course, if the PM is constantly in campaign mode, he clearly cannot do the work for which he has been chosen – he is too busy running around the country to run the country. Those who think Yogi Adityanath won because of this own strength should remember that Modi addressed 24 rallies in UP in 2017. He also addressed 31 rallies in Bihar in 2015 (when the BJP lost) and 34 in Gujarat in the 2017 assembly elections (when they won).

Should the country’s entire system be changed (with all the attendant difficulties and costs) just to ensure the survival of one party and its leader? Should the entire political system change to solve the weakness of one political party?

The practical effect of all this running around is haphazard, poorly-thought-out policies like Demonetization and GST. Even for a Superman like Mr. Modi, there are only 24 hours in a day, and governance takes a backseat to winning elections.

This kind of involvement in state elections by the chief executive is unprecedented. Yes, past Prime Ministers have addressed rallies in poll-bound states, but they have usually been only a handful because they have been busy with the job of running the country. Even when the Congress was in the opposition in 2015, Mr. Modi addressed nearly twice the number of rallies (31) that Mrs. Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi addressed, combined (16).

If the country does try to move to simultaneous elections, the move will fail after a couple of cycles and elections will go back to being random. Two cycles, of course, is probably sufficient for the remainder of Mr. Modi’s political life (he is already 67) – which is all the BJP is interested in – milk Mr. Modi’s popularity as much as possible.

The question that needs to be asked is: Should the country’s entire system be changed (with all the attendant difficulties and costs) just to ensure the survival of one party and its leader? Should the entire political system change to solve the weakness of one political party?

Disclaimer: All the opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Dr. Seshadri Kumar alone and should not be construed to mean the opinions of any other person or organization, unless explicitly stated otherwise in the article.