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w w w. o p e n t h e m a g a z i n e .c o m


2 0 au g u s t 2 0 1 8 / R s 5 0

India’s Reactionary Modernism


DESCENDANTS A Personal History of Freedom AZAAN A Short Story by Unni R
20 august 2018

Editor S Prasannarajan
managing Editor Pr ramesh
ExEcutivE EditorS aresh Shirali,
ullekh nP
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(mumbai Bureau chief),
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v Shoba (Bangalore), nandini nair
crEativE dirEctor rohit chawla
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(mumbai), lhendup gyatso Bhutia
(mumbai), monalisa S arthur,
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6 20 august 2018
By S Prasannarajan

he amazing thing about freedom is that it
remains contested forever. the word appears on the cover of this
issue of the magazine as a commemorative reminder, and it brings
back conflicting histories of occupation, struggle, separation and
liberation. even as nehru made his poetic tryst with destiny, the
orphaned ghosts of Partition were uninvited guests at the midnight
rite. seventy years on, they still remain unresolved stories of freedom,
in memory and art. not just in india, but elsewhere as well, history
has the habit of adding a spectral subtext to epic tales of freedom. We
overcome the past only to be confronted with new struggles that keep
the word as unifying as ever. and as disputed as ever.
is india passing through such a phase in its political life?
the answer takes us back to the rupture of 2014. ironically, only a
section of the ruling establishment sees it as a normal election, or as
a necessary eviction of an anodyne prime minister. for the india that
shed its inherited virtues of left-of-centrism, it was history at play as
an entire belief system collapsed to reveal a new covenant—political,
cultural, and moral. Politically, this right turn was made possible by
a singular argument that relied more on the promise of the future
rather than on the negativism of the past—a past longer than the ten
years of the manmohan singh government.
narendra modi came into the arena with a plan that was bigger
than the purposes and pieties of politics as usual, even though it took
a while for his own party to catch up with his mind. as a candidate, he
earned a place in the club of originals by redeeming the word ‘change’
from the banalities of salvation politics. (though it must be said that
only a few of the originals managed to remain so while in power.) it
was one of those moments in which the personal and the political
complemented each other in the passage of struggle and freedom, and
for modi on the stump, the campaign was a counter-narrative of the

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 7


nation. a rejection and a re-imagination. an active idealist, whose idea of truth can seldom exist with
the personal set him apart from the familiar power. these groups are alarmed by the cultural militancy
subcontinental story of power: the divine rights of the of the hindu right; they are appalled by the assault on
bloodline. in modi’s case, biography set the tone; it was not a cosmopolitanism and the rise of an intolerant ‘mainstream’,
test of rights but a fable of possibilities. elsewhere, the man even though the trend is a fringe phenomenon.
who came from the ‘wrong’ race, after a spectacular run as a any political awakening with a religious content has
candidate, was playing out a historic mandate in uninspiring to live with the mad fringe. When the mad becomes the
ways. and here, modi, while tapping into the resentments of mainstream, as happened in the middle east, arguments
the world’s most disparate democracy, turned his backstory die. there is only one, controlled reality. india will never
into a rejoinder to the hereditary mythology that had swayed be that place. indian democracy has consistently curtailed
indian voters for so long. the worst temptations of power. the mad fringe may not
the political was daring: contrary to conventional belief, it have official sanctity, but it should not be allowed to
de-ideologised politics. modi didn’t win on the temple, or on become the loudest cultural expression of our time. the
hinduism as a wounded religion. he campaigned and won stories modi told on the stump need to be retold to silence
on the issue of how we were governed and how we deserved to cultural extremists. freedom requires sobering storytellers of
be governed as a people punished by the worst instincts of the nation. modi, contrary to claims by the sceptics and
borrowed ideologies, redundant isms. unlike the previous alarmists, remains one. maybe we need not just a retelling,
candidate of the right, LK advani, he did not travel back in but a re-imagining as well. modi is still the most capable one,
time in search of displaced gods. for the cult of the deliverer, and the most authentic, too.
modi did not need hindu mythology. he only needed a to equate his india with the india of the mad fringe is to
self-portrait. no ordinary indian before him had attempted— misread the man and his methods. he nevertheless continues
and succeeded—in projecting himself as the one. it was his to be misread by those who just can’t accept him. for the
ideas of the future—set against a political tradition that last fanatics of the left-liberal class, he is the usurper, the
combined ideology and privilege,
genealogy and entitlement—that
made him the Choice. the ascetic
in the self-portrait brought a
moral as well as civilisational
THE STORIES MODI told on the stump need to be
dimension to his argument, retold to silence cultural extremists. Freedom
which was in essence a pitch for requires SOBERING STORYTELLERS of the nation.
an indian renewal Project. a Modi, contrary to claims by sceptics, remains one
freedom project.
has the project run its course?
or has it been abandoned for
expediency? or, is it a vindication of the adage that poetry on man who destabilised their world, though that world is
the stump is incompatible with the prose of governance? or, is shrinking. Liberals, here and elsewhere, built their argument
it that this very question—in its many variations—is an on the twin pillars of identity and rights, with minimum
expression of the visceral anti-modi-ism of a section of the responsibility. the struggle for freedom today, lazily labelled
so-called thinking class that’s still wallowing in liberal as ‘populism’, is more than a struggle for individual liberties,
nostalgia? or, is it the resentment of the class that lost its especially in affluent societies. a people striving for a national
establishment membership? or, is it a plain failure of those ideal are not necessarily what hillary Clinton would call
who won the mandate to realise the historical importance of it? ‘the deplorables’. the struggle in politics is always about
each one of these questions tells a story. and every freedom. in india, it is a bad joke only when a loose alliance of
story is an exaggeration. and it is questions that make communists, sub-nationalists and sub-rural socialists lead the
democracies meaningful, so long as they are born of a sense struggle. freedom from the alternative is a sentiment shared
of moral responsibility. some questions thrown at modi are by the saner majority here.
manifestations of impatience. there are still admirers out still, no other idea is worthy of a permanent struggle. and
there who expect Prime minister modi to be as dramatic, as no other idea is so elastic that it can accommodate every aspect
kinetic, as Candidate modi. then there are professional of human identity, from the religious to the ideological, from
sceptics, who by the nature of their trade are inclined to put the inventive to the incendiary. the challenge is to remain free
any ruler on trial because, in their book, rulers are not meant to talk freedom, even if it hurts. With an open mind, as in the
to be adored but questioned. the dissident is the sceptic as following pages, where ideas alone have a free run. n

8 20 august 2018
open diary
Swapan Dasgupta

T he Monsoon session of
Parliament was a bit too short for
my liking—from July 18th to August
Leader of opposition Ghulam nabi
Azad is instinctively not a very
confrontational man and prefers
10th—but it proved remarkably debate to disruption. This is also the
productive. Unlike the second half of case with leaders of the Biju Janata
the Budget session that was a complete Dal, AiADMK, samajwadi Party and
washout in the Rajya sabha thanks to the much-truncated CPM. Most of
the Telugu Desam MPs who trooped the disruption of the Monsoon
into the well of the house and chanted session has been courtesy the
slogans, the Monsoon session Trinamool Congress (TMC).
witnessed relatively few disruptions. i have known Venkaiah naidu individually, most Trinamool MPs
indeed, Parliament functioned smooth- since the early-1990s when he arrived are sober and rational individuals.
ly from 11 am to 6 pm on most days. in Delhi as a BJP central office-bearer Their leader Derek o’Brien was once
The main reason for this, i believe, from hyderabad minus an adequate prominent on Kolkata’s social scene as
was public pressure. At the beginning supply of warm clothes. Always affable a quizmaster of repute. The problem,
of the session, many MPs i spoke and blessed with a sense of humour it seems to me, is that as a collective,
to were quite candid in admitting that relies heavily on alliteration, i was the party is remote-controlled from
that the public reaction to the struck by the ease with which he im- somewhere. Consequently, their
all-too-frequent disruption of proved his ability to speak confidently disruptions are often contrived and
proceedings—which they can in hindi. Moreover, unlike some end up embarrassing the rest of the
witness thanks to the live telecast politicians who are prone to bitching opposition. This is what happened
of both houses—was one of disgust. about colleagues and highlighting when the TMC—without any other
There is an exaggerated perception their faults, Venkaiah naidu always support—prevented an important
of the perks and privileges that MPs are thought positively. it was his ability to debate on Minimum support Prices
entitled to. But it would be hard to deny be the great conciliator that prompted of agricultural commodities. some
that they are reasonably well looked one of his southern colleagues—i say that the TMC merely wanted to
after by the state. Consequently, when won’t name him—to dub him ‘elder prevent BJP President Amit shah from
they don’t do what is expected of them, Brother’. it is a name that has stuck, speaking. Whatever the reality,
there is a sharp and negative public at least in some BJP circles. the party has not done justice to
reaction. i am a nominated MP and There was initial concern over how parliamentary democracy.
consequently not as exposed to grass- the new Chairman would manage a All ruling parties in West Bengal
roots opinion as my elected colleagues. house where the Government didn’t since 1977 have been regional
Yet, even i felt a tinge of embarrass- have a clear majority. it is reassuring parties. Though the CPM claimed
ment admitting that i was one of those that he has managed this with charm, to be internationalist in orientation,
paid by the taxpayer to oil the wheels wit and, above all, fairness. Most in reality it was a party that reflected
of a democracy that we had helped important, he has given backbench the Bengali ethos. This is also true of
make dysfunctional. if this was my MPs, who have often complained of the Trinamool Congress, and quite
limited experience, you can imagine being ignored, a chance to speak. understandably so.
what professional politicians felt. Additionally, he has deliberately been of late, however, i have been
The second reason for the smooth short and sharp in his disapproval detecting a twist in the Bengali-ness
functioning of the Rajya sabha was of verbal padding. ‘What is your of the TMC. There is now a conscious
its Chairman M Venkaiah naidu. question?’ is a query from the chair attempt to project the BJP and its
The election of its Deputy Chairman that has forced many verbose MPs to supporters as being anti-Bengali. This
happened only on August 9th, the get to the point. can have unfortunate consequences
penultimate day of the session, so Most of the opposition has been for the political culture of the state,
most of it was conducted almost quite generous in extending a hand and i hope it remains in the realm
single-handedly by Venkaiah naidu. of cooperation to the Chairman. The of posturing. n

10 20 august 2018
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in memoriam

End of an Epic
M Karunanidhi (1924-2018) scripted
the MOst endurinG shOw OF
draVidian pOlitics
By Vaasanthi

“I have written the opening history of this movement—and

Karunanidhi will write the latter part of it,” CN Annadurai, the
founder of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its first
Chief Minister when the party came to power in Tamil Nadu
in 1967, had said at a public meeting. Recalling those words,
K Anbazhagan, a senior member of the DMK, told a gathering in
Villupuram soon after the demise of Annadurai in 1969: “It was
Anna’s wish that Kalaignar (Karunanidhi) should take over after
him. On seeing Kalaignar’s hard work, his writings, his service,
his sacrifice, his sharp wit and his power of argument, Anna had
getty images
in memoriam

no doubt that Kalaignar would succeed him.” The crowd, consist- Respect Movement and the Dravida Kazhagam (DK), revered as
ing of party workers, cheered in endorsement of what Annadurai Periyar (‘the elder’), and organised the students wing of the DK.
had said of Kalaignar (‘artist’ in Tamil). One of the jokes about He soon began to look after Periyar’s magazine, Kudi Arasu.
discipline in the DMK had it that if party president Muthuvel
Karunanidhi were to tell a party colleague to stand on his head
in a corner, the latter would not ask why, but which corner! Such
was Karunanidhi’s influence in the party even before he became
Chief Minister after Annadurai’s death.
W HEN ANNADuRAI BROKE away from Periyar,
Karunanidhi followed. Anna founded the DMK and
Karunanidhi rallied under his banner and played a vital role in
On August 7th, Karunanidhi passed away at a hospital in its growth as an alternative to the Congress in Tamil Nadu. Like
Chennai. He was 94. For more than 50 years, he had been the Annadurai, Karunanidhi mastered the art of oratory and became
undisputed supremo of the DMK and one of Tamil Nadu’s most a successful journalist. As treasurer of the party, he was instru-
influential ever leaders. Born on June 3rd, 1924, in Thirukkuvalai mental in collecting Rs 11 lakh for a General Election by staging
village, Tanjavur district, to Muthuvelar and Anjugam of the Isai special plays and charging an entrance fee for meetings.
Vellaalar community that prides itself in having nurtured the The 1950s were the DMK’s heady days of protest against Brah-
arts of music and dance ‘of ordinary peasant stock’ in the state, min hegemony in the state. The silver screen became a weapon in
Karunanidhi had a troubled childhood and was exposed to the in- the hands of Anna, who deftly used two youngsters, Karunanidhi
equalities and brutalities of a caste-based hierarchy. He distanced and MG Ramachandran, to further the Dravidian cause. While
himself from Brahmins, identifying himself with the masses. MGR was the Puratchi Thalaivar (revolutionary leader) and
Circumstances did not permit him to study beyond Class five, swashbuckling hero on screen, Karunanidhi, with his rabble-
but he acquired proficiency in Tamil and became a successful rousing scripts, was the real force behind the show. Listen to the
scriptwriter. He gravitated towards politics when he came un- dialogues that Karunanidhi penned for Sivaji Ganesan in the film
der the spell of EV Ramasamy Naicker (EVR), founder of the Self- Parasakthi, for example: its fierce Brahmin-bashing cuts through

Karunanidhi’s funeral procession on its way to Chennai’s Marina Beach where he was buried on August 8
Photos getty images

was the
patriarch of the
DMK family
and when he
claimed from
every platform
that the DMK
was a family, it
was not without

Family and DMK members

mourn the patriarch’s death

every syllable and pause expressed by the veteran actor. The film He seemed disgruntled, prone to asking too many questions.
was a runaway success and Karunanidhi became instantly fa- While it was easy to effectively undercut others, this man’s
mous. He was now Kalaignar (‘the artist’) to multitudes of fans. appeal and base were too strong.
A born fighter, he showed signs of leadership early in There were complaints of rampant corruption at high places.
his political career. He was at the forefront of all agitations MGR demanded that he be given control over party finances, and
organised by the DMK and courted imprisonment sev- in his capacity as treasurer, asked for explanations of discrepan-
eral times. He created a big stir to have the name of Dalmia- cies in DMK accounts. His demand went unheeded. He went
puram (named after a North Indian) changed to the original ahead and publicly criticised the growth of corruption in party
Tamil name Kallakkudi by laying himself on a railway track ranks and challenged ministers and legislators to disclose the
with the words ‘Udal mannukku uyir tamizhukku’ (the body assets of their families and other relatives.
for the land and life for Tamil); he would rather give up his The DMK executive, loyal to Karunanidhi, expelled MGR
life than suffer Tamil Nadu’s humiliation. The scene was from the party for indiscipline. One week after his expulsion,
immortalised by Mani Ratnam in his film Iruvar, based on on October 18th, 1972, MGR announced the formation of a new
Karunanidhi and his political rivalry with MG Ramachandran. political party—the Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam—with
Karunanidhi was arrested and imprisoned for six months, the his own supporters and rasigar manrams (fan clubs). Karunanidhi
first for a DMK leader. The man who had joined the campaign remarked that the party started by MGR was ‘merely an illusion’,
against Hindi at the age of 13 cut his hand and wrote ‘Tamizh arguing that the DMK was a fortress that could not be shaken by
vaazhga’ (‘long live Tamil’) on the walls in blood. anybody. For all his shrewdness, he did not realise his hasty act
As a trusted lieutenant of Annadurai, he was given a berth in was about to change the political landscape of Tamil Nadu for
the state’s first DMK cabinet and he creditably held the portfolios decades to come—to his regret.
of public works and transport. He was the author of the plan for When Indira Gandhi declared the Emergency, it became easier
the nationalisation of bus transport in Tamil Nadu. for MGR to push his demand for the dismissal of the state’s DMK
government. Karunanidhi would not have imagined at the time
that after the dismissal, he would be left in political limbo for 13

T HERE WAS ONE man who was a worry to Karunani-

dhi, the man who had insisted he succeed Annadurai as
Chief Minister. MGR’s popularity was growing at an astonish-
years, as long as MGR—who seemed invincible—was alive.
MGR’s protégé J Jayalalithaa audaciously took over the
ADMK mantle after his death, posing a threat to Karunanidhi’s
ing speed. After the 1971 elections, MGR had become a mem- plans for the DMK and also the political future of his son MK
ber of the legislative assembly, besides being party treasurer. Stalin. A former actress, and a Brahmin as well, and that too from

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 15

in memoriam

the neighbouring state of Karnataka, Jayalalithaa remained a for- off without even an arrest warrant showed.
midable leader till her death in 2016. But Karunanidhi did not The impassioned cries of ‘Aiyyo’ were disturbingly haunting.
take her seriously at first, and so little did he imagine back then The media, which was always soft on Karunanidhi, was aghast.
that one big blunder during a budget session in the Assembly on His followers were grief stricken. The insult to their leader was
March 25th, 1989, would earn him the wrath of a woman scorned. hard to bear. In Kallidaikurichi and Madurai, three persons
Pandemonium had broken out over a point-of-order demanded attempted to offer their lives in sacrifice. In MGR’s time, when
by Jayalalithaa as leader of the opposition, and she was physically Karunanidhi had been arrested, some 20 people had immolated
assaulted by DMK members. Karunanidhi did not realise how themselves in protest.
powerful the lady would emerge one day and how her hatred of There was no visible chasm between the DMK leader and
him would influence every action of hers from then on. his partymen and cadres, as existed between Jayalalithaa and
Various corruption cases filed against her did not finish her her minions, who looked upon her as a kind of goddess. It was
career, as political analysts had expected. She arose like the prover- regarded as one of the great strengths of the DMK that demo-
bial phoenix after every fall. She bit the dust in the 1996 polls, was cratic procedure was followed even in party elections. Yet, that
arrested and sent to jail for nearly a month. Belying all predictions the party had only one leader, Karunanidhi, could not be denied.
and calculations, Jayalalithaa’s AIADMK came to power again in
2001 on the strength of a huge majority. A great fear, worse than
the defeat itself, seized the DMK: the memory of Jayalalithaa
having been sent to jail took the form of a dreadful apparition.
Their leader was past 75 years of age. If the AIADMK slapped
H E WAS HAILED as the state’s undisputed leader cutting
across caste, creed and religion, as the ‘custodian of social
justice’ (samooga needhi-kaatha-kaavalar) for his efforts to ensure
defamation cases upon him, these would take a slow course in 69 per cent reservation for backward classes.
the courts. What was the worst that could happen? It did hap- After the DMK’s humiliating defeat at the Assembly elections
pen, however, as the spectacle of Karunanidhi being dragged in 2001, the then octogenarian proved he could still muster sup-

getty images

With Indira Gandhi during her General Election

campaign in Delhi, January 3, 1980

16 20 august 2018
in memoriam

While MGR
was the
hero on screen,
with his
scripts, was
the real force
behind the show

With (right) MG Ramachandran

port and lead the party to victory in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections. defeat, when the DMK was an ally of the Congress at the Centre.
He also proved that his mental agility was intact, belying the ap- Pro-Eelam Tamil activists in the state never forgave him for that.
prehensions of his partymen and close relatives that he may
have been left devastated by the death of his nephew, Murasoli
Maran, who was closer and dearer to him than his own sons. The
General Election proclaimed to disheartened opposition parties
what leadership like his could do to turn the tables on them. His
K ARuNANIDHI WAS THE patriarch of the large DMK
family. When Karunanidhi claimed from every platform
that the DMK was a family, that everybody in the party was
Democratic Alliance bagged an unprecedented victory, snatching ‘udanpirappugal’ (born of the same womb), and that they were
away all 40 Lok Sabha seats. the ‘raththaththin raththam’ (blood of its blood), it was not without
Karunanidhi’s long innings at the helm of his party and his significance. Members of a family and siblings shared a responsi-
past relationship with Periyar and Anna won him much respect bility for maintaining the family’s honour and prestige.
and political credibility. His leadership represented continuity Before Karunanidhi was admitted to ICu in Chennai, every
with the past, which Jayalalithaa could not claim. His supreme letter he wrote to his beloved udanpirappugal in the columns of
confidence meant that his party would accept every decision of the party organ Murasoli expressed a torrent of feelings; though
his, even an electoral alliance with the BJP, whose ideological the style was archaic, there was no mistaking his sentiments.
stance clashes with that of the DMK. He was an early riser, read all the papers before breakfast,
Most party members were against an alliance with the BJP as and did his yoga and walks till he became wheelchair-bound.
something ideologically unthinkable, but could not prevent it When criticism arose outside the party that he was grooming his
because Karunanidhi, influenced by Murasoli Maran, decided son Stalin as his successor, every second-rank party leader rose
that political expedience had to take precedence. Jayalalithaa, his to his defence, declaring that there was nothing wrong in it. The
political foe, was also making pragmatic moves for power. Ideol- message: those who want to be in the DMK had to accept Stalin as
ogy became secondary in this exercise of realpolitik and it was successor; those who could not, would find themselves out in the
determined that there need be no sense of shame in changing with cold. After V Gopalasamy (Vaiko), an emerging DMK leader and
the times. Karunanidhi was a reliable ally and would adhere to the a fiery speaker, who was seen as a threat to Stalin, was expelled
rules of a pact he had made with a national-level party even if it was for anti-party activities, he formed his own party, the Maruma-
at the risk of losing popularity at home—as, for instance, during larchi Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, but has never been able to
the last stages of the civil war in Sri Lanka that ended in the LTTE’s make a large enough impact on Tamil politics.

18 20 august 2018
A country can only be healthy
if its people are healthy...

Be Indian, Buy Indian

ExprEss archivE

In the autumn
of his life,
worried about
the image of the
party he took
such pains to
build. It had
been damaged;
and he knew
of murmurs
within the party
that he was to
blame for it

With his mentor (left) CN Annadurai, 1967

Even MK Alagiri, the elder son of Karunanidhi, was expelled too had grown weak.
from the party when he tried to challenge Stalin’s succession and After his crushing electoral defeat in 2001, he had said, “I
sibling rivalry came out in the open. His loyal followers took it as have seen this and more. Gone are the days when I was emotion-
reassurance; they felt Karunanidhi went by the norms of inner ally swayed.” But he was emotional. Though an atheist, Tamil
democracy when it came to party discipline. He did not even spare hymns moved him to tears with the sheer beauty of their poetry.
his own son, Alagiri. He was an artist at heart and his creativity never left him.
He had always said, “the party is my family”, but as age ad- He did not think it a contradiction of his beliefs to write a TV
vanced, the mind became weak, making him blunder—putting play on the 11th century Vaishnavite theologian Ramanujan,
the family before the party cart. Suddenly, it was the talk of the whom he admired as a secularist. He loved to read and write;
man in the street. His family members were everywhere—in the the media loved him because he usually read a lot of what was
film world, the Central Cabinet, in Parliament. published, and he was accessible to journalists.
In the autumn of his life, he worried about the image of the The nonagenarian Karunanidhi, five-time Chief Minister of
party he took such pains to build. It had been damaged; and he Tamil Nadu (a position he held for nearly two decades in all), was
knew of murmurs within the party that he was to blame for back on the road to meet Tamil voters along the campaign trail of
it. That was worse than the sense of shame he had to endure the last Assembly elections. By then, he had been in politics for
when the then Union Telecom Minister A Raja, his handpicked more than seven decades. The year 2016 marked the start of his
man whom he had defended stoutly in ‘good faith’, was asked 59th year as the DMK’s star campaigner. The crowd was moved
to step down in November 14th, 2010, following national-level to see the old man clutching at the microphone.
revelations of the 2G spectrum scam, and later arrested At 94, he was still waiting to write a fresh script. A dramatic
and jailed; or the agony he had to suffer when his daughter finale that would bring down the curtain with ‘Shubham’ (all is
Kanimozhi was also arrested and put in Tihar jail. He was left well) for all to read.
utterly helpless. When the final call came, he was perhaps still
His hesitation to anoint his son Stalin, whom he had care- working on it. n
fully groomed for years to lead the party, was puzzling to party-
men. It would not have been a reluctance to declare his formal Vaasanthi is the author of Cut-Outs, Caste and
retirement and give up his post as much as his fear of an eruption Cine Stars and Amma: Jayalalithaa’s Journey
of sibling rivalry all over again. Not only the body, but the mind from Movie Star to Political Queen

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 27


Pratap Bhanu Mehta

India’s reactionary modernism
Illustrations by Saurabh Singh

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 35



it is difficult to find a word that describes the tenor of our times. But if, at the pain
of gross simplification, one were to choose a word to characterise the times, ‘cre-
tinism’ might not be a bad candidate. This is an age of both moral and political
cretinism. The term ‘moral cretinism’ was perhaps first used by Alan Bullock in
his biography of Hitler. It referred to a peculiar immunity that fascists had to any
moral considerations or motivations. Bullock was not entirely clear whether
this was simply a deep incapacity, a pathological trait, or a willed condition. But
what the term captured quite startlingly was the idea that one could imagine a
politics which was increasingly immune to any of the normal moral sensibilities.
It referred to a condition where our ordinary sense of compassion and decencies
get immobilised. They get immobilised to the point where a total inversion of
values becomes possible: those who lynch get more political support than those
who are lynched; those who indulge in extraordinary brutal sexual violence
are protected; the ‘other’ is demonised to the point where their basic humanity
disappears from plain sight. The ordinary moral terms that should be positively
valued—pity, compassion, sympathy, civility—become terms of contempt, sup-
planted by new virtues like pitilessness, indifference, antipathy and incivility.

In some ways, all societies have elements of moral cretinism built in. At various points, cretinism’ was coined by Marx to describe
even the most morally progressive individuals can act like cretins: incapable or unwilling a condition in which political representa-
to be moved in the face of manifest moral demands. Radical inequality, where our fellow tives acted under the illusion that they, as
citizens almost seem like some other species, whose existence places no moral demands representatives of the people, were actu-
on us, can also produce a quotidian kind of cretinism. Collective identities can sometimes ally the drivers of politics. These repre-
abstract our thoughts away from the humanity and individuality of others, and make sentatives could bring about a just society
us particularly prone to cretinism. We are immune to the moral values at stake beyond through political means. Political cretin-
the fulfilment of our own collective narcissism. Our morality is defined by the need to ism is a generalised version of the same
seek new enemies. Nationalism can sometimes lead to a profound moral regression in illusion: a stunted political imagination
just this sense. Caste identities can sometimes combine both of these features, making that is consistently out of touch with real-
the privileged immune to any moral considerations. But what is distinctive about our ity. The ceremonies of politics go on, while
times is that cretinism itself becomes a high moral standard. It is hard to imagine a time its capacity to manage conflict and gener-
in recent history where political leaders openly support a culture of violence without ate hope diminishes. It refers to a politics
compunction or any trace of self-consciousness, public discourse routinely carpet-bombs that is prone to illusion at multiple levels.
fine distinctions with a view to making any nuanced moral responses impossible, and Our priorities are out of whack—the fun-
sympathy is routinely so partitioned along partisan lines that the possibility of any hu- damental challenges society faces often go
man response to tragedy and atrocity seems like a distant gleam. There is an instrumental- unaddressed, as energies get dissipated in
ism to every argument, such a relentless unmasking of motives that the very possibility manufactured conflicts. Those in power
of having a moral motive seems like an oxymoron, and the language of outrage is now so are so besotted by their hubris that they be-
tired and wearied by being made to repeat itself that there is no language left to register come immune to knowledge; those not in
the next moral horror: yet another lynching or a newer form of sexual violence. The power are too concerned with survival to
danger is not the existence of cretinism; it is its routinisation and elevation: a stunting of even contemplate principles. Even with
our moral imagination and the supplanting of it with an aggressive coarseness. the BJP’s bravado, it is difficult to describe
Moral cretinism finds its match in a kind of political cretinism: a corresponding in- the subtle diminution in expectations that
ability to imagine the means to bring about political progress. The term ‘parliamentary now plagues our politics. Historical mem-

36 20 august 2018
ory is short. But there was a time, in the takes the exposure of hypocrisy in an unexpected direction. Rather than seeking to
mid-2000s, when India finally looked like close the gap between what we are and what we claim to be, it takes the prevalence
it was turning a corner: a consistent 8 per of hypocrisy to be a licence for a new kind of moral nihilism. On this view, the expo-
cent annual growth rate, the moderation sure of hypocrisy does not just become a tool for psychic warfare (to use Judith
of social conflict, imperfect institutions shklar’s phrase) against opponents, it becomes a licence for anything goes. Cretinism
but ones capable of self-renewal, a pride in exploits a moral asymmetry. Hypocrisy is, as the saying goes, the homage vice pays
India’s pluralism, and a basic political civil- to virtue. It still operates within the realm of moral distinctions; and it is a charge that
ity all seemed within grasp. India’s power shames us precisely because it points out that we are not morally living up to our own
could be the power of its example. That standards. But the spreading of a belief that hypocrisy is everywhere has the effect of
hope came crashing down, felled by a fatal liberating us from answering to any morality at all. In such conditions, the immuni-
combination of plutocracy and paralysis ty to moral argument itself begins to carry a new charm: ‘Whatever else I may be, I
in India’s ruling classes. But despite four am not a hypocrite’ becomes an epitome of morality. But this is a stance easier to take
years of the Modi government and great for those immune to moral considerations in the first place. The politics of cretinism
faith in the Prime Minister, that hope has exploits a certain moral asymmetry: so when liberals are accused of hypocrisy, the
not really recovered. India’s economic per- charge sticks because liberals are expected to operate in the realm of moral distinc-
formance is middling at best, more compa- tions. But when the BJP is accused of hypocrisy, the charge does not stick because the
rable to what would have been 5 per cent easiest way to protect oneself from hypocrisy is to remove moral considerations al-
growth under the old way of measuring it, together. But a society where the entire focus of moral argument is on the motives
social conflict across every cleavage seems and character of those making moral claims, rather than on the rightness or sub-
to be intensifying, most institutions from stance of the claims being made, is also a society that will at some point become deep-
the judiciary to the media are now gasping ly inured to any moral considerations. The relentless focus on hypocrisy creates a
for survival, pluralism has been replaced moral coarseness in its own right. In its will to relentlessly take off our masks, it ends
by majoritarian domination, and political up scratching most of our faces as well. It does enough damage to delegitimise the lib-
civility by an itch to fight. The dominant eral centre or even the left; but in turn, it paves the way for the pure instrumental-
register of politics has moved from hope to ism and power politics of the Right. since we are all hypocrites, anything goes.
fear. But the ultimate cretinism of the times
is the kind of democracy we have become: THE CulTuRAl POlITICS OF REACTION
we yearn for simplistic solutions that can The persona of Narendra Modi looms so large over Indian politics in its commanding
promise deliverance from the complexi- and ubiquitous presence, his will seems so superimposed upon the destiny of the nation,
ties of democracy. We accept with docility that it is tempting to place the entire burden of the ascendancy of moral cretinism on his
the assault on our liberties and the deci- persona. He certainly has a share of blame in the moral condition of the Republic. But
mation of institutions. We are willing to there is a disquieting thought we need to confront. Is Modi a symptom or cause? Most
risk heightened social conflict under the likely, he is both: a product of the times who also exacerbates some of the worst tendencies
illusion that it will come in such controlled within it. But does his triumph, and continuing political hold, signify an emerging new
doses—targeted largely against vulnerable social order? Is the fate of this new social order tied solely to his electoral fortunes, or has
minorities—that it will not singe us all. We it seeded something more enduring, something that will outlast his political fortunes?
are willing to live with a politics of illusion This question is sometimes too difficult to contemplate because it is hard to avoid the
peddled with firm conviction rather than deep misanthropy it implies: it is easier to project our moral smallness on our leaders
bear the burdens of truth. than it is to contemplate the possibility that our own moral norms and sensibilities may
be shifting for the worse. In order to understand the reactionary character of the present
moment, it is important to confront this uncomfortable question. But let us first outline

RETINIsM Is A sTANCE that the sense in which India is in the midst of a reactionary moment and the conditions that
the nation can become powerful have made it possible.
only by becoming morally small. There is no doubt that India is in a full-blown reactionary moment. It is hard to grasp
It has a moral psychology behind it. The the nature of this reaction because it wears the garb of deep democratic legitimacy; it is an
moral psychology is a critique of hypoc- admission of despair described as the politics of hope. All the attributes of a reactionary
risy. It draws its sustenance from expos- politics are now gathered in one coherent form. The question is which elements of this
ing the hypocrisy of anyone or any polit- politics transcend political lines.
ical force that would claim the moral The first element is open majoritarian politics. Hindu nationalism was, first and
high ground. Moral cretinism has a plau- foremost, as Vinay sitapati has pointed out, the idea that Hindus, qua Hindus should
sible starting point: that the existing cus- never again lose political power in the subcontinent. This combined two deeply modern
todians of power in any society are often impulses: a modern democratic obsession with a majority in numbers and the quest
full of hypocrisy and mendacity. But it for a Hindu identity that could paper over all other differences of caste and region. The

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 37


obsession with majoritarian power makes modern Hindu nationalism obsessed with ciety handles the question of gender will
demography in all its forms. Every single cause it champions has demography at the heart be a key to the possibilities of reactionary
of it: conversion is an attempt to alter demography; marriage outside the religion is an politics. There is some good news here:
attempt to alter demography; differential birth rates in communities are not symptoms some of the worst performing states like
of uneven development, but a vast conspiracy to alter demography. Any special rights Rajasthan and Haryana are beginning to
given to minorities, no matter how slight the burden they impose, are a violation of the see a turnaround in sex ratios at birth;
laws of demography. They suggest the giving of power to a community beyond what its enrolments in higher education are up
numbers warrant. This was the intractable dilemma in the negotiations leading up to even though workforce participation
Independence, and the BJP has consistently peddled the charge that minorities are given remains low. But for the cultural politics
a veto over domains of national life. The affront in this is not about the moral claims in of reaction, three things are important.
the rights thus given; the affront is that these rights violate the demographic laws of first, the social order is often about chan-
politics. As BJP leaders are fond of saying: minorities had a veto, now we will make them nelling and restraining sexual energies,
irrelevant in all aspects, from political representation to cultural significance. The year and perhaps more creatively sublimating
2014 was a watershed in this respect, for it showed that minorities could be made elector- it. But what happens in a society where
ally irrelevant. While other political par-
ties may not go so far, making minorities
invisible will become the default mode,
the common sense of Indian politics. THE ULTIMATE CRETINISM of the times
This would not have been a bad thing if it is the kind of democracy we’ve become:
had made for a political world in which
the rights of citizenship and identities we yearn for SIMPLISTIC SOLUTIONS for
of citizens were not so closely allied. In deliverance from its complexities
other words, if it made the distinction
between ‘majority’ and ‘minority’ irrel-
evant to the rights that individuals enjoy.
Instead, this project seeks a different kind of invisibility: one that retains majority cultural not only is desire suddenly liberated
privilege and naturalises its idea of the nation. but notions of self-esteem get bound in
But a demographic imagination is, always, at its core, reactionary. It is no accident that it in a new and insistent way? Eroticism
it is fuelling a reactionary politics in America, Europe and India. for its concern is not with rather than sublimation becomes the
freedom and mobility, but with the political privilege of a community and the fixity of new mode of channelling. What does it
its identity. Its moral psychology is the imagined or potential victimhood of the majority. do to the identities of young men whose
In India, this politics often finds its hook in the obvious fact that liberal establishments social location is a toxic amalgam of tra-
often like to position themselves as noblesse oblige protectors of minorities—often at the ditional entitlement, modern liberation
risk of empowering the most reactionary amongst them. It tells you something about and a culture that manufactures new ide-
how reactionary Congress politics had become in relation to minorities that the BJP is ologies of pleasure? second, there is the
able to run away with the social reform agenda when it comes to minorities. But the de- sheer fact of sexual violence—something
mographic anxiety is something that transcends debates over what rights people should always prevalent but now taking on new
have and how best to liberate individuals from the tyranny of compulsory identities. It and brutal forms. And finally, there is the
shades over into the idea that particular communities are a threat by their very being, fact that modern freedom requires more
by simply being who they are. This sensibility has cast a dark shadow on Indian political discernment and responsibility rather
and cultural life since Partition; it ebbs and flows. But the question is: has it now been than less. But what produces the forms of
given open legitimacy to the point where even other political parties will adapt to it? discernment that can lead to fulfilment
The second element of a reactionary politics is an obsession with culture as a form rather than the chasing of chimeras? If it
of control. In their different ways early in the 20th century, both Nehru and Premchand is ‘good riddance’ for traditional institu-
had pointed out a curious feature of modern politics: the association of the politics of tions, what are the new forms that will
culture with reactionaries. As Nehru asked of Iqbal, “Why is it that whenever such so- channel these sexual energies? In part,
called cultural and similar matters are pushed to the front, political reactionaries take there is a susceptibility to the politics
the lead in them?” The short answer is that the reactionary take on culture is driven by of reaction because of this triple crisis:
two related fears: a fear of freedom and a cult of identity. the crisis of masculinity looking for an
The relationship between culture and freedom in modern politics is a vexed one, outlet to prove itself, the crisis of sexual
but there is one particular space that makes propitious ground for reactionary poli- violence, and the strange oscillation be-
tics: sexual morals and gender relations. It is an understatement to say that India has tween a traditional politics of repression
handled this transition badly. If gender is often the site of cultural reaction, the way a so- on one hand and an undiscerning free-

38 20 august 2018
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dom on the other. The anxiety over sex has become palpably central to our politics, complex answers. But a characteristic of
and will provide a constant hook for the politics of reaction. a reactionary age is an easy acceptance of
state and sometimes corporate surveil-
lance, the acceptance of new chains in

uT THE POlITICs of culture is not about free minds inquiring into higher the name of satisfying our own desires
values; it is about playing out expected scripts that flow from identities. It’s a and satiating our own fears. Technology
form of culture where identity colonises all inquiry: what history we believe, promises to liberate us from fear, but in
for instance, is simply a function of what identity we have. All aesthetic modes of ar- doing so, it permanently institutionalises
ticulation are reduced to the identity of who produced them. Often even well-mean- fear in our politics. We will soon reach a
ing defenders of pluralism fall into this trap where the significance of a piece of art point where the only answer we can give
or music or architecture is reduced simply to its political form: what is the identity to the challenge of any social evil will be
of the person who produced it? Considerations of meaning beyond identity, the abil- more surveillance: the ultimate triumph
ity of art to produce forms of transcendence, or the principles of composition, or the of a reactionary modernism, in which we
values inherent in a book, for example, all get short shrift. In this sense, a reaction- have surrendered all powers to the state.
ary approach to culture where it is just about identity, not about meaning, has be-
come a default common sense that transcends political lines. This paves the way for THE INSTITuTIONAl
the majoritarian reactionary who simply says: ‘I don’t care about your culture.’ What POlITICS OF REACTION
makes this reactionary move possible is the view that what matters is whose culture There is good reason to think that the
it is, not that it is culture. In that sense, the question of culture in politics becomes a cultural grounds for reactionary politics
question of policing boundaries, not liberating thought. will outlast this government. The task
Third, a reactionary politics will use fear to underwrite technology and surveillance. of moral repair will not be easy. But the
It may be a ‘militant nostalgia’, as Mark lilla observes in his book The Reactionary Mind, politics of reaction also has other dimen-
a longing for a return to an imagined world before the corruption of the present set in. sions that will make it hard to roll back.
A concern with culture in all its forms, aesthetic valuation and a sense of values that are first, the unexpected scale of the BJP
higher and enduring, is healthy for any democracy. Indeed, it can be a necessary bulwark victory in 2014 enshrined a new style
against an easy moral cretinism. But it is too simplistic to call this present moment re- of politics. That victory itself took place
actionary in the sense of trading merely
in nostalgia. That nostalgia is too inter-
mittent and farcical to have any potency.
What the language of nostalgia misses INDIA IS in a full-blown reactionary
out is a feature of the present form of moment. It is hard to grasp its nature
reaction that is quite distinctive and
anti-nostalgic in some respects: the fas-
because it wears the GARB OF
cination with technology. The present DEMOCRATIC LEGITIMACY
moment is closer to what the historian
Jeffrey Herf had once insightfully called
a ‘reactionary modernism’, one that is
able to combine an affirmative belief in technological progress with fuzzy dreams of against an overwhelming concern with
the past. In fact, the characteristic danger of this kind of reactionary modernism is that it plutocracy. The tumult of the last four years
fetishises technology itself to the point of romanticism. Both culture and technology are may have dimmed memories, but in 2014,
elevated to means of social control. The appeal of technology is not just the efficiencies the fear of plutocracy was one of the domi-
it brings: it is also its anti-political character. Technology itself is presented as a neutral nant themes of Indian politics. Plutocracy
political choice, simply a calculation of means and ends. The hope is laid out that technol- presented such a disfiguring spectre, with
ogy can solve the problem of political division, social fear and accountability by cutting almost a free-for-all where Congressmen
out all intermediaries. But technology is also presented as the cure of our fears. It is a were not only cheating the public but un-
commonplace observation that our societies are beset by fears: it is a measure of the deep dermining their own party as well. It led to
breakdown of moral trust in our societies, and a reflection of our experience of violence, fears of economic paralysis and a crisis in
that we now look to technology as modes of disciplining one another. It is the pervasive- the banking system from which we have
ness of fear—always the sign of a reactionary age—that legitimises the idea that citizens not recovered. It was a plutocracy with
be made totally transparent to the state and often to each other. All liberal democracies a great sense of entitlement, so much so
are struggling with this new technological age: our institutions of oversight, our legal that it did not take criticism seriously.
vocabularies, our moral distinctions between what is public and what is private are It was so insidious and spread across so
struggling to come to terms with a new technological reality. These questions will require many institutions, from the judiciary

40 20 august 2018

42 20 august 2018
to the universities, that when the BJP institutions. The government also quickly realised that the range of ‘independent’
arrived in power those institutions were institutions—from the judiciary to the auditor general—needed to be reined in so as
already hollowed out from within. An not to risk a repeat of what happened under the uPA, where unelected institutions
honest introspection requires us to con- became so large they could diminish the authority of an elected government. And other
cede that the left was right in pointing institutions of law enforcement, always working at the discretion of the government,
out the destruction Modi could bring. But, could be useful pawns in a game of political skullduggery against opponents. so the
equally, it must be conceded that India’s an- will to institutional simplification, that power is best concentrated, became the default
cien régime had also been so delegitimised common sense of Indian politics. Total institutional control is now thought of as a
that it was bound to collapse. Its refusal to panacea, not as something we should fear. It gave the politics of reaction a decidedly
embark on a course of self-correction only authoritarian turn, one with great resonance in politics.
gave people the sense that it was a party But the second implication of the desire for institutional control is a politics centred
that had lost the will to govern. The anti- on personality. for, in an era impatient with institutions, salvation had to be found in
corruption movement of the preceding charismatic individuals who could stamp their destiny on the nation. Here Narendra
years discredited the uPA government, Modi had, and despite the sheen wearing off, continues to have a decisive advantage. In
and the BJP stepped into the breach. an age where the collapse of partisanship and analysis is so complete, opponents have
But the BJP’s victory was accompanied always underestimated his political appeal. To even suggest that it is foolish to deny
by three elements of a politics of reac- Modi’s political appeal is to risk being complicit in what he does with his political power.
tion. The first was a belief that India had But one cannot understand the power of reactionary politics if one does not bring the
become a plutocracy, with a govern- sheer distinctiveness of Modi into the picture. He shook up Indian politics by appearing
ment unwilling to take action against its to empower new constituencies, converting a parliamentary election into a presidential
own, in part because of weak leadership. one, and promising to destroy an ancien régime that was imploding. The first element
It is precisely the fragmentation of insti- he displayed, like all authoritarian characters, was the sheer will to power. He came
tutions and the dispersal of political pow- across as effective for the sheer energy and single-mindedness he put into his political
er that had produced the fatal combina- pursuits. Confronted with opponents who had, it seems, almost lost the will to pursue
tion of plutocracy and paralysis. Electoral power, his Will stood out. The second was his ability to produce affective identification.
victories are a combination of many He managed to portray himself as India’s success story, the everyman who could fight
different factors. But the yearning for adversity and rise to the top on his own effort. He had a visceral dislike of the gandhi
dynasty, but in the critique of dynastic
politics, he positioned himself against
a corrupt and entitled order. The more
moral and intellectual contempt that
THERE IS ONE particular space
was heaped on him, the easier that iden-
that makes propitious ground for tification became. Third, he positioned
reactionary politics: SEXUAL MORALS himself as a moral paragon—in whom
and gender relations self-interest was not even possible. In
India, it is very common for kinship
relations to override any conception of
public and private. But paradoxically,
institutional simplification, the idea it makes the appeal of someone who stands apart from kinship—and who thereby
that power needs to be concentrated for claims to have no self-interest, only a concern for the general good—all the more reso-
reform and quick decision-making, nant. This is not simply the virtue of the allegedly celibate pracharak, it is the virtue of
caught hold of the public imagination. a leader who did not inherit a family mantle and will not leave one. fourth, this was a
This did three things to our institutional speaker for whom identification was created by his perlocutionary campaign. The truth
imagination. first, it made for a politics is made through the act of speaking; it is not an independent test of veracity. The very
that was more inherently contemptu- thing that commentators find a weakness, the refusal to answer questions or seriously
ous of checks and balances. This theme face a press conference, was the very thing that shored up his power. To acknowledge
has continued for much of the four years someone else’s questions is to cede possibility to the idea that someone else might have
since. The idea of ‘one nation, one elec- the truth. The fusion of truth and conviction is the hallmark of reactionary politics: the
tion’, for example, as a necessary condi- perfect antidote to liberals who cannot take their own side in an argument. And finally,
tion for progress is just a rerun of this idea there was at least in 2014 the ability to cleverly craft messages, the ability to tell differ-
that politicians are held accountable too ent audiences that he was speaking to them. He made himself the Representative of the
frequently, that the flow of power re- Nation, with all his contradictions enfolded within him. His followers made him the
mains obstructed by a set of overlapping ultimate apotheosis of the Indian nation.

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 43


EVEN MONTHs Is a long time in Indian politics. But in effect, 2019 will be a larisation, distraction, anti-intellectualism,
test of two things. first, is India ready to put up with a messy—but perhaps mendacity and hate. This, the enlistment
safe—dispersal of power? Can it overcome its own will to political simplifica- of private capital in an attempt to totally
tion? second, is the sheen beginning to wear off Modi’s persona as a representative capture public discourse, is a new dimen-
individual who transcends our petty contradictions, lifts us out of our banal ambi- sion of state-capital relations that a future
tions, and has the power of communication to even make a lamp-post win in uttar historian will have to unpack. In an ex-
Pradesh? There is some reason to be optimistic on the second score. While the extent traordinary inversion, the state has shown
of personal identification with Modi remains high, and he has been given an unusu- that the private media is, in some senses,
ally long leash by the electorate, the mystical identification of him as the saviour of more effectively manipulated, cajoled and
the Nation is wearing thin. But it is still an important political factor. On the first coerced than even the state media.
score, however, there is some reason to be a little cautious. Of course, much depends But one development with the more
on alliances, whether the opposition can actually form a front that, if not coherent, far-reaching effect will be the empower-
at least displays a minimal ability to work together in ways that overcome the spec- ing of new and institutionalised forms of
tre of paralysis. In the two states that matter most, uP and Bihar, there is a possibili- violence. In the 70s and 80s, towns and
ty that this could happen. so, Indian politics looks a lot more competitive than be- cities used to have what Paul Brass had
fore. But it would be premature to conclude that the fear of fragmentation and the termed ‘institutionalised riot systems’,
personality cult that drive the politics of reaction have been entirely overcome. structures that were activated to foment
It is the third dimension of the institutional politics of reaction that will have the politically useful violence. These struc-
most far-reaching effects. Modi is one of the few leaders who have managed to combine tures often had state support. It is hard to
centralisation and a personality cult with a veritable social movement. To some extent, quantify the extent to which its modern
a shake-up of India’s power structure—the media, intellectual class, organisational equivalent, controlled vigilantism de-
street power—was inevitable with the change of regime. But the scale of Modi’s victory, signed to teach minorities a lesson and po-
his willingness to commandeer civil society till it came to heel has meant that India is larise politics, has now taken institutional
roots. But the sheer geographic spread
of new forms of violence—lynchings
across at least nine states, artists threat-
DOES MODI’S TRIUMPH signify an ened, journalists murdered—suggests a
emerging new social order? Is its fate tied new machinery waiting to be deployed.
There is a diabolical political imagination
solely to his ELECTORAL FORTUNES in how this violence is used. It is mindful
or will it prove more enduring? of the fact that a large-scale riot may recoil
on the governance record of the govern-
ment. It wants to be able to plead a statisti-
cal innocence (‘Oh, the numbers are not
witnessing the closest alignment of the state and civil society in a long time. bad’). so this violence is like a burner in a
There are three key institutions in this alignment: the institutions of propaganda, the kitchen, slowly turned up when needed
foot soldiers of violence, and the ideological apparatus of education. Much has been written to send multiple messages. The first is to
about the third: the state’s desire to make the education system, particularly public educa- emphasise that the cultural norms of ma-
tion, an appendage of the state. But this does not elicit much comment, in part because joritarianism are inviolable; the second is
that has, alas, been the default DNA of the Indian state when it comes to education. The to create a fear that shock troops are avail-
old cabals had so delegitimised themselves that the wholescale destruction of the freedom able in case anyone steps out of line; and
of public universities is passed over in silence. The politics of education in the reactionary the third is to convince the base that the
imagination would require a whole essay in its own right. But what is new is that private mission of an ideological takeover of civil
capital has been enlisted in a project of aligning the media with the ideological purposes of society is on, with violence if necessary.
the state. It often has to mobilise its resources in alignment with state goals and policies. But But this form of violence does not just
most importantly, can you think of any liberal democracy where so much private capital happen: it is now routinely legitimised
has been enlisted in not just supporting the government, but also its whole ideological by the highest functionaries of the state,
agenda? The state-capital nexus is not so much a matter of secret deals, hidden money by omission or commission. It’s a form
trails or transactional bargains. It is hidden in plain sight in the Indian media, where cor- of violence in which cretinism is on full
poratisation and privatisation have not brought more variety or competition. Nor have display: the victim is guilty, the govern-
they particularly brought a concern for intelligent thinking about markets. There are ment’s heart bleeds for the perpetrator,
some exceptions. But a shockingly large section of the private media is now the ideologi- and the argument of culture immobilises
cal vanguard of the state, its rhetorical storm-troopers in a politics of communalism, po- all human sympathies. It should worry

44 20 august 2018
20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 45

48 20 august 2018
us how easily this—and so many other other. But here is the dilemma for Indian politics. Modi has neither turned out to be the
forms of violence—are available. But the saviour he presented himself as, nor is he such a disaster that economics alone can defeat
question is: has this form of violence now him. In many ways, in economics he represents more continuity than change. Most In-
penetrated Indian society deeply enough dian governments since the first NDA government have tried to avoid too much macro-
that it can even survive a BJP electoral economic volatility; they do a couple of big things right, do a couple of welfare schemes,
defeat? To be sure, other political forma- progress incrementally on a few others, and pray that the things they leave undone do not
tions like the left and Trinamool in West come to haunt them. The uPA-II, especially during Pranab Mukherjee’s disastrous stint
Bengal have also produced their share of as finance Minister, was an exception in being wilfully irresponsible, and it paid the price
political violence. But the endurance of for it. This is not a place to go into a detailed assessment of Modi’s economic performance,
those institutionalised systems should but it is worth focusing on a couple of things that matter to the politics of reaction.
not be a pretext for whataboutery: they
are a salutary lesson in how difficult it is to

dislodge entrenched violence. These foot HEN MODI CAME TO power, state-capital relations were the central piv-
soldiers of political violence are not easy ot around which his economic agenda revolved. The relationship between
to decommission. Now that they have state and capital is an important capillary of power in a modern democra-
tasted the elixir of political legitimacy, cy. This relationship is governed by many contradictory impulses. In a democracy, pol-
the genie will not go back into the bottle. iticians need capital for elections and for sustaining politics as a career choice. But pol-
In that sense, the triumph of reactionary itics also has to be responsive to the demands of social legitimation. There is a second
politics should not be measured only by issue: there is often a tension between seeking policies that favour particular business-
its electoral victories or entrenchment es and policies that favour a level-playing field based on principles that produce growth.
in the state. It should be measured by the The third tension is between the imperatives of looking business-friendly on one hand,
fact that wherever it has gone, it is break- and incorporating genuine public goods into regulation on the other—like environ-
ing apart whatever modest social capital mental and human rights. These tensions are perennial in any democracy.
India had. What Wittgenstein once said The uPA badly mismanaged these tensions. Corruption had reached a point where the
of tradition applies equally to social insti-demands of social legitimation had become nearly impossible to meet. This spawned not
tutions: Once they are broken, the task just an anti-corruption movement that delegitimised the Congress at the time, it led to a
of reviving them is akin to repairing a whole series of hit-and-miss judicial interventions. The inability to meet the demands of
spider’s web with one’s own hands. The legitimation produced a policy paralysis of sorts. The second tension was manifest largely
biggest threat of reactionary politics is that
in the way the government doled out credit. The exercise of discretionary power in this area
it does not understand the central insight brought the banking system to its knees. It produced a protracted crisis that still continues:
of conservatism: societies are fragile and private investment is still tepid. And third, on labour and the environment, the govern-
interconnected webs. They cannot survive ment doled out symbolic protections, but by and large, capital always had the upper hand.
a politics of Will and Violence, even if car- The BJP therefore had the task of re-managing these tensions. The jury is still out on
ried out in the name of the Nation. whether India is less plutocratic than before. But the BJP has sought to manage the tensions
by three devices. The first lesson it learnt from the Congress debacle was this. under Con-
THE ECONOMICS OF REACTION gress rule, individual Congressmen were benefitting from the use of state power, but the
surely, it could be argued, the underly- party was losing. This was double jeopardy for the Congress. On one hand, it meant lots of
ing malaise that facilitates the politics of Congressleaderswereexercisingtheirindividualchannelsofinfluencewithoutthebenefit
reaction is economic in character. surely, accruing to the party. The result was individual Congressmen are rich but the party is poor.
it was the fear of an economic slowdown Thisstillhauntsit. Ontheother hand,thesystemcreateda free-for-allwhichmagnifiedpop-
that created the conditions that propelled ular perceptions of corruption. The BJP has the advantage that its state-capital dealings are
the rise of Modi. If faith in technology was more centralised, so while benefits accrue to the party and its centralised leadership, it also
one aspect of reactionary modernism, the hastheadvantageofreducingtheappearanceoftransactionalcorruption—since,iftheparty
promise of economic deliverance was an- has an efficient resource mobilisation strategy, it can often afford to rein in transactional
corruption by individual leaders. The sec-
like electoral bonds that are opaque to the
THE RELENTLESS FOCUS on hypocrisy publicbutprovideanewchanneloffund-
creates a moral coarseness in its own ing. Third, it tried to occupy the space of
anti-plutocratic politics with decidedly
right. In its will to take off OUR MASKS, mixed results. Demonetisation was one
it ends up scratching our faces as well element of this gambit. There have also
been a slew of measures that empower

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 49


governments to go after economic offenders (attaching properties, making bribe giving force-fed formalisation of the economy, no
as much an offence as receiving it). But the results are yet to accrue. matter what the cost. The gsT was a good
idea whose effect was somewhat blunted
by multi-party complicity in making the

HENEVER INDIVIDuAl businesses extract too much from the state, tax more complex. But like demonetisa-
there is a logjam. Arguably, the 1991 liberalisation was a result of pro-busi- tion, it also demanded a language of sacri-
ness policies of the previous decade having reached a dead end. so liber- fice from small and medium enterprises.
alisation involved a shake-out of existing players that was needed. for the sake of And Aadhaar, a tool that could have been
growth, the economy needed to create new players or have old players play a differ- judiciouslyused,hasbecomeanepitomeof
ent game. The recent investment crisis, produced in part by the mess in the banking reactionary modernism: high technology
sector, could result in exactly such a shake-up, one that is arguably needed. The to make citizens legible to the state while
Insolvency and Bankruptcy Bill and new regulators of real estate markets are poten- the state itself remains unaccountable in
tial instruments of such a shake-up: getting rid of some crony firms and allowing for so many areas. The net result is that state
a re-allocation of capital. But this process has a long way to go before its credibility is power looms larger in our lives.
established. Meanwhile, just like the shake-up of 1991 initially led to a slowdown, the
process of cleaning up banks will also dampen private investment. This shake-up is CONCluSION
meaningful, but like the 1991 process, it is not, in principle, incompatible with cen- The reactionary modernism of this mo-
tralised corruption. In short, the pivot the BJP brings about is to try and increase the ment is a matter of projecting a moral
allocative efficiency of capital and also ensure that big capital stays at its command. persona in politics: a persona of deliberate
With private investment tepid, the Modi government decided to go for signalling. It cretinism. It is a way to place culture and
created a new obsession with analytically dubious indices like ‘Ease of Doing Business’. identity at the centre of politics to secure a
To overcome the appearance of policy paralysis, it seems to show no urgency in creating majoritarian nationalism and tap into the
sensible regulatory protections for public goods like the environment (except where it anxieties that modern freedom generates.
It is an institutional style that foments hos-
tility to fragmentation of power, shifts the
locus to a politics of strong leadership and
RATHER THAN seeking to bridge what virtue, and revels in the use of violence to
we are with what we claim to be, moral secure its agenda. It does not have any star-
tlingly original economic ideas, except the
cretinism takes the prevalence of hypocrisy elevation of technology and surveillance
as a LICENCE FOR MORAL NIHILISM to an explicit ideology rather than a tool.
Can this ideology be defeated?
One might think that the economic
disappointments of the Modi govern-
can be turned into a business proposition in its own right). This government is not unique. ment would provide a political opening. It
The tragedy in Tuticorin—where companies can literally poison the earth and water, get has certainly made the political space more
away with it, and then demand protection from labour unrest—is a stark reminder of just competitive. But, as suggested earlier, the
how much capital still rules the roost. But the biggest irony in India is that even after a long sense of disappointment is not yet deep
stretch of pro-business policies, where the state bent over backwards to accommodate busi- enough to produce a counter-movement.
ness, India today has to rely on public investment or foreign capital, not domestic private Instead, we are settling into an equilibrium
investment,tokeeptheeconomyonanevenkeel.Indianmodernismstillhastobestate-led. of measured expectations on the theory
Thesecondpivotalrelationship,onethatmayprovetobemoreconsequentialpolitically, thatitwilltakemorethanfiveyearstoclean
is the relationship to farmers. In the imagination of reactionary modernism, farmers were, up the mess this government inherited.
in the first instance, relics of past regimes exulting in poverty. The neglect of rural India in Can India’s traditional social cleavages
the first couple years of this regime began to extract its political costs, and the government of caste and region provide an antidote to
pivoted around to a policy of prioritising farmer incomes. But like governments in the the concentration of power? The answer
past, India does not have a coherent agricultural policy and we seem destined to live from is that there is potential. But it depends on
one political crisis to another, one humanitarian crisis to another in this area. But what is a very delicate balance. It is true that there
striking about this government is that the three biggest gambits it has made—demoneti- is a lot of social disquiet amongst Dalits,
sation, gsT implementation and Aadhaar—as a way of shoring up state capacity had this whom the BJP had incorporated into
in common: a fascination with state power to produce revolution. Demonetisation began its agenda. But this disquiet is matched
with the language of virtue, calling upon citizens to sacrifice, so that the scourge of black by two countertrends. The first, as so
money can be expunged. On that score, it proved to be a hoax. But what it left was a trace of many elections have shown, is a division

50 20 august 2018
amongst Dalits as their experiment with single issue on which any of the opposition is breaking new ground. let us not forget that
more alternatives has grown. As one ac- the Congress just lost Karnataka and was saved by the BJP’s hubris. The regional arith-
tivist recently put it, there is a division be- metic is far from settled. The opposition is preoccupied instead with not appearing anti-
tween ‘mombatti Dalits’ (of candles) and Hindu. But it has not learnt a new language that can effectively speak of individual rights
‘agarbatti Dalits’ (of incense sticks, those and dignity. It is not signing onto a new charter of individual freedom, or speaking the
who have made peace with the BJP). language of institutional regeneration. In some ways, it wants to play on Modi’s wicket:
This may be too simplistic, but it is a on the level of personal virtue. This is a tricky wicket for any opposition leader to bat on.
sign of how politically complex social It is a bit early in the game, but mostly the opposition seems to be banking on the idea
identities have become that one should that disgust with the BJP’s politics will rise to a level where the nature of the alternative
not presume simplistic oppositions be- becomes an irrelevant question. This is a strategy based on a hope and prayer. suspicion
that ‘the best lack all conviction’, in Yeats’
words, still remains.
fourth, there is the distinct possibil-
ity of multiple forms of polarisation
THE BIGGEST IRONY is that even after
getting exacerbated between now and
a long stretch of pro-business policies, the general Election of 2019. One should
INDIA’S ECONOMY has to rely on not underestimate how many Congress
public investment or foreign capital failures on national building—in As-
sam and Kashmir, for example—are
coming back to haunt the party and
make it speak a language similar to that
tween social identities and projects like of the BJP. It is striking the degree to which the counter to the BJP does not represent a
Hindu Nationalism. One of the lessons new politics, but a throwback to the 1980s: the potential of violence in border states,
other parties need to learn from reaction- like Kashmir, Assam and now possibly Bengal; the proliferation of dominant OBC vic-
ary modernism is that identities can be re- timhood amongst Marathas, Jats and Rajputs; and Dalits still searching for a party that
cast in a new political language by leaders. promises genuine empowerment. But the question is that if politics looks like returning
There is no direct line from social identity to the status quo ante, will the fear of disorder help the BJP rather than help bring it down?
to political behaviour, except in the minds finally, there is the international context. International norms have changed. As
of those in the grip of wishful thinking. hypocritical as the liberal world order was, it at least acknowledged a more helpful set
But the second countertrend is that a mod- of norms. Now ethnic cleansing, closure of borders and attacks on the free press to shore
icum of clarity over leadership will matter up powers of the state will not just be tragic occurrences, they are going to be the new
in national elections. And here, there are normal. Also gone is the easy optimism that the world will not be consumed by zero-
tensions to manage. Opposition leaders sum conflicts, that China will be incorporated into the existing system without much
with a social base like Mayawati are still disruption, that global trade will continue to expand in a way that benefits India. But most
to transcend their regions and bases and importantly, there are now no limits to how democracies present themselves to the rest
achieve a national profile (and there is rea- of the world. Empowering moral cretins has no international penalty; it may now be the
son to think that there is enough casteism form modernity takes for some time to come. In short, the international conditions for a
that makes such transcendence difficult). reactionary modernism have never been more ripe.
Modi assiduously built one up for years It is not clear what form the opposition to reactionary modernism will take. Even if it is
before 2014. On the other hand, for the electorally defeated, it is not clear whether this will be enough to defeat it as a social current,
Congress to cede space to regional forces unless the political defeat is emphatic. In India, it is possible that the protest may not even
is to open the spectre of a coalition without take a political form: it will get reflected more in social anomie and pathology, and will
a centre. The alignment of social engineer- give up the hope of political redemption. It is also likely that the ultimate form of political
ing and a national perspective will not be cretinism, the fascination with a politics of illusion that detaches the process from the fun-
easy to pull off, necessary though it is. The damental realities that shape us, will continue. Modi was a master illusionist, presenting
BJP did it in its own way, but with years of reaction as a form of regeneration, offering unity as an antidote to division, and projecting
preparation, organisation and messaging. personal virtue as a substitute for institutions and principles. He spoke of India’s destiny
Third, there is the striking fact that while destiny seems to be passing India by. But this politics also provides psychic comfort,
there is really no ideological opposition to especially if you turn an eye away from its cruelties. The question is how long India will
reactionary modernism. The cretinism of avoid looking itself in the mirror. There is a long dark night ahead. n
the BJP is an important but low bar to beat.
given the poison it represents, it may still Pratap Bhanu Mehta is vice-chancellor of Ashoka University. He is one of India’s
be a relief to get rid of it. But there is not a most influential columnists and public intellectuals

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 51


sia’s rapidly changing
and new power
equations have necessitated
the rise of a resurgent,
more powerful India having
strong economic, political
and military credentials.
Leveraging on its unique
geographic position and
commanding one of the
largest and mightiest
militaries in the world, New
Delhi has also expanded
the horizon of its strategic
interests for overall growth
and development of the Asian region Born out of a Joint Venture (JV) importantly the earnest efforts towards
in a peaceful manner while maintaining initiative between India’s DRDO and its indigenisation and development of
power equilibrium in the continent. Russia’s NPOM in 1998, BRAHMOS has more advanced, futuristic versions of
The military might of India has established itself as the “Market Leader” BRAHMOS in partnership with Russia.
undergone dramatic transformation in worldwide cruise missile domain. With The spectacular maiden test firing
in recent years. Deployment of the BrahMos JV programme completing of the missile’s advanced air-launched
modern, high-technology platforms 20 incredible years of its supersonic configuration, BRAHMOS-A, from the
and weapon systems have bolstered journey, it has produced and delivered Indian Air Force’s Sukhoi-30 strike fighter
the country’s defence preparedness a world-class missile system which has on 22nd November 2017 brought the
while safeguarding national sovereignty galvanized India’s military strength in an attention of the whole world towards the
and security. unprecedented way. successful realisation of a highly intricate
A modern, state-of-the-art weapon “The BrahMos JV has given India a and challenging mission in modern missile
which has reinforced India’s military vigour unique, incredibly powerful weapon technology.
manifold in the 21st century is supersonic no other country in the world has With that successful test, India became
cruise missile BRAHMOS. Developed as ever possessed. Over the years, the the only country in the world in possession
a formidable tactical missile with multi-role universal missile has evolved and of a supersonic cruise missile system
capability and multi-platform deployability incorporated several technological which can be launched from land, sea,
to devastate high-value ground and sea- advancements to meet divergent sub-sea and air. As New Delhi has decided
based enemy targets, BRAHMOS has conflict situations and new warzones. to arm more of its Air Force’s Sukhoi-30
validated itself as the “ultimate weapon” Our Armed Forces have time and again frontline fighters with the formidable
which can influence the outcome of bestowed their unflinching faith on the BRAHMOS-A, it has surely and strongly
modern warfare in a major way. BRAHMOS Weapon System as their signalled to the world a powerful India with
The precision strike missile, with its ultimate weapon of choice,” says Dr. an unparalleled military edge.
high speed and a large warhead, is lethal Sudhir K Mishra, distinguished scientist Moreover, the powerful futuristic
enough to effectively obliterate critical and Director General (BrahMos), DRDO, versions of the weapon, including
enemy positions and installations, be it who took charge of the prestigious a hypersonic BRAHMOS II(K) to be
in the ground or sea. Capable of being BrahMos programme on 1st August designed and developed jointly by the
fired from land, sea, sub-sea and air, the 2014. In the last four years of his two partner nations, promise to bring
highly versatile weapon has emerged association with BrahMos Aerospace, in a paradigm shift in India’s warfighting
as a “force multiplier” of India and has the JV company has achieved greater capability in the coming years and
been successfully operationalised in the heights and added newer dimensions establish it as one of the invincible military
Indian Army, Navy and Air Force. to the missile programme, most powers in the world.<

An Ultimate Missile Power in
India’s Defence Arsenal
World Leader in Cruise Missile Family



16, Cariappa Marg, Kirby Place, Delhi Cantt.,
New Delhi-110010, www.brahmos.com



economic lessons
from the raj
The myth of colonial plunder

Illustrations by Saurabh Singh

t’s a sad paradox of our history that
national independence came with the
loss of the economic freedom India en-
joyed for a century-and-a-half under Brit-
ish rule. that may come as a surprise to
of delhi in 1739 extracted in one month an estimated Rs 70 crore worth of plunder, many
times anything creamed off by the Company sahib during its most rapacious years in
Bengal, and a blow from which the Mughal economy never recovered.
Myth number two is that India declined from being an economic superpower un-
der the Mughals to a de-industrialised colonial wasteland. true, Mughal India in 1700
Indians brought up on nationalist myths accounted for 25 per cent of world Gross domestic Product, a statistic often misquoted
about colonial rule plundering India, de- to prove economic success, except when one remembers that India also had 25 per cent
industrialising its economy and draining of the world’s population. Far more revealing are statistics of per capita GdP compiled
off its wealth. More recent economic stud- by the Maddison Project, generally accepted as the most authoritative guide to global
ies show that colonial India, well ahead of prosperity from ancient Roman times to the present.
other developing countries, had built up the Maddison figures show that India’s per capita GdP was only half that of Britain’s
a trading and industrial base that would in 1600, when the Mughal Empire was at its peak. thereafter India witnessed steady eco-
have made it the envy of the Eastern tiger nomic decline, with its trade heavily dependent on textile exports increasingly unable
economies, had Nehruvian socialism not to compete with cheaper European cloth. that’s because the Mughal economy offered
cut it off from global markets after 1947. neither incentives nor opportunity for labour-saving technological innovation. Eighty
Let’s take the myth of colonial per cent of its territories were allocated to a rentier class of jagirdars, who creamed off any
plunder first. during the early phase of agricultural surplus for their own luxurious lifestyles. Because their tenure was restricted
conquest, British generals and common to a few years, they had no incentive to reinvest their rents in improved productivity.
soldiers undoubtedly acquired much war Capital costs were prohibitively high, with interest rates double the 6 per cent average
booty, then regarded as the legitimate in Britain and peaking as high as 40 per cent in pre-colonial Bengal.
spoils of victory. But their plunder was that’s not the propaganda of colonial apologists but the judgement of eminent Indian
minimal compared with that of Indian historians as diverse as the Marxist Irfan Habib and the nationalist tapan Raychaudhuri.
contemporaries like the Marathas and ‘Not only was the Mughal state its own gravedigger,’ concluded Habib, ‘but no new order
tipu sultan or other foreign invaders was or could be created by the forces ranged against it.’
from Iran and afghanistan. Both Habib and Western economists like angus Maddison have agreed that the Mu-
Much before the East India Company ghal land revenue system was far more exploitative than anything later devised by the
took over Bengal, the Marathas had rav- Company sahib or the Raj. It’s estimated that the Mughal elite creamed off an average
aged the province with six plundering 15 per cent of national income for its own consumption, compared with a mere 5 per
raids in the course of a decade, killing off cent by the British. Under the rapacious warlords who succeeded the Mughals, land
hundreds of thousands and exacting huge revenue demands soared as high as 50 per cent of production to fund their local wars.
sums in chauth from its Mughal Nawab, India in 1750, on the eve of the British conquest, had no scientific or technological
estimated at Rs 2.5 crore per annum in research, no machinery, no mechanical tools. Its labour-intensive textiles were bound
today’s money. It was these attacks and to suffer dramatically, whoever ruled, once cheaper European industrial goods captured
the inability of the feeble Mughal admin- their markets. this economic challenge coincided with a period of fierce regional wars,
istration to resist them that led the Hindu following the collapse of Mughal authority, which devastated both agriculture and
business community, led by the powerful manufacturing across vast swathes of the subcontinent. It was a situation which left the
Jagat seth banking house, to plot the Brit- European-ruled ports as the only safe havens for Indian commerce, prompting a migra-
ish takeover of 1756-64. tion of business communities like Marwaris from declining inland cities like Benares
delhi was less fortunate than Bengal and Mathura to Calcutta, Madras and Bombay.
and suffered devastating invasions by the first two decades of Company rule were undoubtedly a period when private
Iran’s Nadir shah, followed by the afghan trade carried on by its corrupt employees, in defiance of the Company’s own monopoly,
ahmad shah abdali. according to con- damaged indigenous competitors. But the Company itself had no interest in such abuses,
temporary estimates, Nadir shah’s sack relying as it did on a steady supply of high quality Indian textiles that it could export to

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 55


Europe. after 1773, when the British Parliament took direct oversight of the Company’s reviled by Indian socialists, allowed scarce
finances and administration, such privateering was firmly stamped out. managerial skills to be pooled across com-
Myth number three is that our colonial rulers deliberately de-industrialised India panies, while protecting them from hos-
by flooding it with machine-made British goods at the expense of Indian manufactur- tile takeovers.
ing. the Company certainly had no links with the satanic mills of Lancashire, nor any By the 1850s, India’s own industrial
interest in selling their products. Its own trading interests lay in selling Indian goods revolution was taking off, fuelled by a
to Europe, so it lobbied hard to lower British tariffs on them and also to raise protective virtuous economic circle of faster inter-
Indian tariffs. that it failed to do so was a measure of the extent to which Europe’s In- nal transport, increased commerce and
dustrial Revolution was inevitably turning the economic tide against traditional cottage agricultural productivity, rapidly ex-
industries worldwide. panding export markets and the resulting
Even so, recent research has demonstrated that European industrial competition, much-needed capital accumulation in an
though far from being a zero-sum game, created winners as well as losers. Cheaper economy long starved of venture capital.
factory-made British yarn may have hit Indian spinners but was a boon for weavers, Far from blaming colonialism, develop-
who could now source cheaper supplies and produce a more competitive end-product. ment economists now agree that India’s
although textile exports declined, domestic demand grew, with per capita cloth con- chronic capital shortage was largely due
sumption increasing from 5.8 sq yards per year in 1750 to 7.4 sq yards in 1850. Handlooms to geographical and climatic factors.
held their own in the production of saris, but lost out to machine-made men’s clothing. If globalisation is defined as the capac-
Far from being wiped out by colonial competition, actual numbers in the handloom ity to buy the knowledge, goods and ser-
sector remained stable throughout most of the colonial period, ending with the same vices one needs in global markets, the Brit-
number in 1947 as in 1750. Cheap yarn imports also freed weavers from being tied to re- ish Empire led the modern world in the
gional spinning centres and enabled them to move closer to the ports, where they forged first great wave of globalisation in the 19th
new links with mercantile houses, sowing the seeds of India’s own infant textile factories. century. India was at its heart and a ma-
India’s population increased from 170 million in 1750 to 425 million in 1947, a sure indica- jor beneficiary of the new openness and
tor of reduced famines and improved public health. cosmopolitanism. the Empire offered
Myth number four is that imperial trade was a one-way flow, with cheap Indian free movement of capital and labour and
raw materials extracted to supply British industry. the Raj created a subcontinent-wide relatively free trade in goods. a Bombay
single market or customs union, which would have been the envy of the European Union mill-owner could set up with borrowed
today and which hugely expanded both internal and foreign trading opportunities for British capital and the latest machinery
Indian merchants. By the 1850s, a massive road-building programme by the East India and skilled foremen from Manchester.
Company had given Indian trade 2,600 km of newly metalled highways, including, of India’s first cotton mills opened in 1851,
course, the Grand trunk Road. By 1913, India also had the world’s largest canal system preceding Japan by 20 years and China by
and its fourth largest rail network. 40. they were soon beating Manchester
this new transport revolution transformed agriculture and commerce by enor- at its own game, supplying 76 per cent of
mously speeding up flows of goods and price information. the railways lowered freight India’s textile demand by 1945.
costs by as much as 90 per cent in the mid-19th century, compared with their prede- Not surprisingly, thriving merchant
cessor, the bullock-cart. Based on
the volume of freight traffic in 1900,
the social savings brought by rail
amounted to as much as Rs 1.2 billion BY THE 1850s, a massive road-building programme
or 9 per cent of national income. de-
by the East India Company had given Indian trade
tailed statistical studies at Cambridge
University and the Massachusetts 2,600 km of newly METALLED HIGHWAYS,
Institute of technology (MIt) have including, of course, the Grand Trunk Road
demonstrated that railways raised
real incomes by an average of 16 per
cent in the districts they reached.
India’s foreign trade also benefitted from British command of the seas. Imperial naval communities strongly backed the Compa-
protection helped Gujarati merchants like the Khojas trade with East africa and the Gulf, ny during the 1857 revolt, and the smooth
establishing business networks that still survive. the other hugely lucrative opportu- supply of crucial goods from the ports
nity for Indian merchants was the British-protected China trade in tea, cotton, indigo, helped turn the tide against the rebels. ac-
jute and, notoriously, opium. the wealth from such commerce found its way into new cording to economic historian tirthankar
banks and joint stock companies, established on the basis of newly introduced Western- Roy of the London school of Economics:
style company law, and fed infant stock markets. the managing agency system, later ‘the Indian merchant saw the Raj to be a

56 20 august 2018
FROM 1913 to 1938, Indian manufacturing output
grew at an annual 5.6 per cent, well above
the world average of 3.3 per cent and a
GROWTH RATE we would welcome today

shedpur. By 1935, India produced 50 per cent of all the world’s steel made outside Europe,
North america and Japan. Firms like tata steel profited enormously from government
contracts during both World Wars; and these profits were ploughed into new industries
like sugar and paper. Between 1850 and 1940, employment in Indian factories went from
near zero to two million, while per capita output of industrial goods rose by one-third,
hardly a mark of de-industrialisation. India’s per capita industrial output at independence
was higher than anywhere else in asia except Japan, and more than half its exports were
manufactures, not raw materials.
Myth number five is that British governments, companies and officers drained
off India’s wealth through foreign remittances of their ill-gotten gains. the actual fact
is that by 1913, colonial India had attracted an enormous and very welcome injection
of £380 million (£23 billion in today’s money) as inward investment by British capi-
tal. In the same year, the so-called ‘Home Charges’, the money remitted back to Britain
by government and private transfers, amounted to the comparatively tiny sum of £11
million. Economists recognise that all foreign capital comes at a cost of foreign remit-
tances. Calculated as an annual return on British investments in India, the Home Charges
force working for the kind of capitalism in amounted to an average of only 3.4 per cent, a far lower return than British capital could
which they had built a stake, a better bet have earned in world markets at the time. amounting to an annual average of only 1.5
than the remnants of Mughal feudal war- per cent of India’s national income, such remittances were hardly a drain of resources.
lords who led the other side.’ British Indian ‘the so-called drain,’ writes tirthankar Roy, to whose research I owe many of these
cities, thanks to public and private endow- figures, ‘was also a payment for skills, and it is impossible to imagine an economy short of
ments, soon sported some of the world’s skills dealing with the world without having to buy skills from abroad.’ Ironically, World
best municipal services and world-class War II allowed India to reverse the flow of remittances, with the imperial government
educational and medical institutions. paying New delhi handsomely for the deployment of Indian troops abroad. the result
Far from becoming a dumping ground was that at independence, the Reserve Bank of India held the enormous sterling balance
for British products, India maintained a of over £1 billion (£36 billion in today’s money), a golden handshake if ever there was one.
trade surplus with Britain throughout the Myth number six is that major infrastructure developments like the railways were
colonial period, and export earnings paid inspired by British commercial greed and fleeced India with extortionate royalties. any-
for the services bought in from abroad by one who knows how difficult it remains for developing countries to secure infrastruc-
both public and private sectors. true, 19th ture investment to this day can only marvel at the ability of the colonial state to do so.
century British governments at home and the Raj has been accused of guaranteeing private investors an excessive return of 5 per
in India were committed to economic lais- cent, which allowed them to inflate costs. What that overlooks is guarantees as high
sez faire and free trade and did little to pro- as 7 per cent in independent countries like Brazil and argentina, which had equally
tect indigenous industries. Nevertheless, challenging geographical terrain.
young Indian industries like textiles and the average global lending rate at the time was 4.8 per cent, only slightly lower than
steel were given tariff protection during the allegedly extortionate 5 per cent. after 1880, the Government of India guarantee fell
the world depression in the 1920s. From to 3.5 per cent, and the Raj took advantage of cheaper credit to set up its own railways and
1913 to 1938, Indian manufacturing out- buy out private operators. By the 1920s, India’s entire rail network was state-owned, a
put grew at an annual 5.6 per cent, well brilliant example of the public-private partnerships we aspire to today.
above the world average of 3.3 per cent and the British left us with a 5 per cent share of world GdP, not a measure of economic
a growth rate we would welcome today. decline since the much quoted 25 per cent of Mughal India, but of how exponentially
From the 1920s, the colonial govern- world GdP had expanded with industrialisation and globalisation. World trade had
ment made India’s railways buy their en- stagnated during the inter-war years, but was poised for a major take-off in the 1950s,
tire rail requirement from tata steel at Jam- and one which India might have led with its existing trading advantages.

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 57


NdIaN INdEPENdENCE NEEd not have meant the end of the open econo- swatantra, despite the odds, did well in
my under which colonial India had prospered. the new state might have focused both the 1962 and 1967 General Elections,
on sectors such as educational infrastructure, which the Raj had neglected, while rapidlyexpandingtobecomethelargestop-
allowing private enterprise to do the rest. Instead we moved towards a flabby imita- position party in the Lok sabha. My father
tion of soviet-style state planning. functioned for several years as Leader of the
the rot began during World War II, with increased wartime state regulation by the Opposition,inwhichcapacityheledthean-
Raj. then came the Bombay Plan of 1944, which reflected an alliance of big industrialists nual debate on the Union Budget. I remem-
and nationalists to promote industrialisation with protectionist policies at the expense ber his budget speeches as a devastating cri-
of foreign trade. the Congress came to power with a long-held distrust of India’s traders, tique of two decades of creeping socialism
dating back to the swadeshi Movement’s boycott of foreign goods. thathadcorrodedthefoundationsoftheIn-
Each successive Five-Year-Plan took the process further, severely damaging not only dian economy. His alternative was a mix of
trade but industry too. Macroeconomic stability was compromised, because of the Western free enterprise and the Gandhian
decline of exports needed to finance imports for heavy industry; and the vast foreign concept of minimum government, with
currency reserves left by the Raj rapidly evaporated. the Licence Raj that followed is a the state confining itself to infrastructure
familiar story, leading to the collapse of previously thriving industries like textiles, which and leaving private enterprise free to do the
were then nationalised and run as a huge drain on the taxpayer. Private banks were in- rest. the swatantra alternative died in In-
creasingly undermined by political pressures for uneconomic lending and eventually dira Gandhi’s 1971 landslide, but surfaced
nationalised in 1969, a blow from which Indian banking has not yet recovered, with again in the Congress-led economic liber-
severe consequences for our capacity to finance new investment. alisation of the 1990s.
average Indian tariffs of 100 per cent were the highest in the developing world and With governments now committed
no lower for industrial imports, thereby inflating the price of final products. a high to freer enterprise, is the wheel turning
export tax and an overvalued exchange rate hit traditional exports like tea, which fell full circle back to the economic openness
from over 20 per cent of total exports in 1947 to 10 per cent by the late 1960s. the export of the colonial era? the dismantling of
of agricultural goods was banned. Indian annual per capita income growth from 1950 to state controls still has a long way to go; and
1980 dropped well below the world average growth at 1.5 per cent, and poverty increased Messrs Modi and Jaitley could certainly
in both absolute and relative numbers. take lessons from the Raj in how to attract
Government attempts to protect the consumer were an abysmal failure. the new foreign capital for India’s infrastructure
state trading Corporation was a disaster, packed with bureaucrats who knew nothing projects, lagging so far behind China’s.
about trade. Price controls on essential
goods just led to intense and corrupt
political lobbying.
Foreign companies were a favourite WITH GOVERNMENTS now committed to freer
target for Nehruvian socialism. tax in-
enterprise, is the wheel turning full circle back to the
centives to foreign staff were abolished
and foreign shareholding reduced to a ECONOMIC OPENNESS of the colonial era? The
maximum of 40 per cent. Valuable dismantling of state controls still has a long way to go
foreign capital fled to more welcom-
ing climes. Foreign direct Investment,
which had been 10 per cent of Indian
capital stock pre-World War II, dropped to a mere 2 per cent soon after independence. some analysts have heralded the arrival
Ironically, the main beneficiaries of Congress socialism were the flabby, big busi- of a new kind of cosmopolitan capitalism,
ness houses which benefitted from protectionism and became adept at buying up led by technocrats rather than traditional
politicians and bureaucrats. ‘Its major failure,’ writes tirthankar Roy about Nehruvian business families, focussing on informa-
planning, ‘was to imagine that the state could substitute for the world economy. dis- tion technology and epitomised by firms
couragement to openness led to an unravelling of not only protectionist industrialisa- like Infosys, tata Consultancy services
tion, but industrialisation itself.’ and Wipro. But the jury is still out on
that was the situation in 1959 when C Rajagopalachari (Rajaji) and my father, whether their success can translate to the
Minoo Masani, founded the swatantra Party, India’s first and only attempt at a secular, more capital-intensive world of manufac-
free enterprise-oriented political party. It was an uphill task, because businessmen who turing. n
funded the Congress were reluctant to win the opprobrium of backing a party which
openly espoused their interests. Nehru himself berated JRd tata for making a modest Zareer Masani is the author of
donation to swatantra. JRd replied that tata was giving swatantra less than half what Macaulay: Pioneer of India’s
it paid Congress, to which Nehru scowled and made no reply. Modernisation

58 20 august 2018



for whom? The flaws of India’s equality doctrine

T hAS beCome one of the defining features of Indian politics that seen as individuals; we do not want them
disaffection among a section of the population amid broad-ranging gov- to remain hostage to the identity that they
ernance failures invariably translates into a demand for reservations. have been forced to hold.
The present moment is no different. While the maratha agitation for At its conception, India’s original con-
reservations continues in maharashtra, the question of reservations in stitutional text revealed a remarkable
promotions in public employment has resurfaced before the Supreme understanding of the subtleties involved
Court. In proceedings that have commenced before a five-judge bench, in any public policy that treats some citi-
the Attorney General has urged that a larger bench revisit precedent and zens differently from others. There was
set new standards. a broad appreciation of factors ranging
Ironically, the source of legal controversy is a 2008 decision in the M from beneficiary identification to the are-
Nagaraj case, which gave the state enormous leeway in framing reserva- nas for special treatment to the ends that
tion policies. The case upheld a constitutional amendment providing for reservations such treatment were meant to achieve.
in promotions with consequential seniority, on the condition that the state has ‘quantifi- The thorough collapse of that apprecia-
able data to show backwardness and inadequacy’ of representation. It is this elementary tion over the past several years has made
requirement for data that is under challenge. The Attorney General’s initial arguments a mockery not merely of India’s textual
question this need to demonstrate backwardness and inadequate representation, under- commitment to the abolishment of caste,
lining the discrimination experienced by Scheduled Castes/Tribes and the difficulty of but also of its equality guarantee under the
providing data in circumstances where appointments to posts are part of a constantly Constitution. The recent case regarding
ongoing process. reservations in promotions is but an in-
There are important arguments to be made in favour of affirmative action. The rea- stance of the same.
son why policies that preferentially target specific groups in society are necessary, and In the famous 1992 Indira Sawhney
were seen as essential in the Indian context, is that the social constraints on a group case, the Supreme Court declared that
may be so great that despite a formal commitment to individual freedom, individuals reservations in public employment were
who form part of that group would struggle to be seen as individuals. The suggestion permissible but were to exist at the entry
sometimes offered that individual and group rights are in tension and need balancing is level. The Court found quotas in promo-
thus only superficially true. Understood properly, policies that favour particular groups tions unjustifiable on the ground that, af-
are ultimately motivated by the idea that we want individuals within that group to be ter a level-playing field had been created,

60 20 august 2018
there would be no basis to institute reser- This judicial process is merely a requirement that state action be justified. All forms of
vations. Constitutional amendments al- state action carry the possibility of overreach and arbitrariness; they all carry the potential
tered this position, enabling reservations for abuse. To be governed by a constitutional order and the rule of law is to require that
in promotions along with consequential state action has a basis, and under our constitutional schema, courts are meant to in-
seniority. M Nagaraj did not strike down quire into that basis. To argue that the state should be permitted to discriminate between
these amendments. As mentioned, it sim- citizens without providing a justification for doing so is no different from allowing it
ply held that in instances where such to ban beef or criminalise homosexual acts. many readers of this column will be more
reservations occur, ‘the state concerned sympathetic to reservations in promotions than to a beef ban or Section 377 of the Indian
will have to place before the court the req- Penal Code. but that is neither here nor there. At the level of principle, all signal a form
uisite quantifiable data in each case and of majoritarian politics—in the sense that they have the support of a majority of the
satisfy the court that such reservations legislature—but can present no case for legitimacy independent of their representative
became necessary’. character. They can offer no justification outside of the support they carry.

Illustration by Saurabh Singh

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 61


The distinction between reservations at the entry level and in promotions is some- individual freedom, popular energy shifts
times seen as one between equality of opportunity and equality of outcomes. Defenders away from state accountability to citizen
of promotional quotas may challenge this, however, and point us toward the fact that rivalry. Yet many who might acknowl-
the limited number of higher posts occupied by SC/STs suggests that equality of oppor- edge some of these facts would also accept
tunity is not, in fact, achieved by quotas at the entry level. At least two answers might be that the reality of caste-based discrimina-
offered to this important defence. First, if outcomes are wanting, then the question to tion in India is horrific, and that, even if
be asked is how access to opportunities can be improved. To merely fudge outcomes as our schemes of reservations are imperfect,
to suggest that all is well, because a certain number of SC/STs have reached the highest perhaps this is all we have for the moment
posts in the bureaucracy, is simply to provide symptomatic relief as well as to feel that to address this reality.
the disease has been cured. one can sympathise with this ac-
The second answer is that the present debate is not about reservations in promotions knowledgment but also see that an air of
at all. Such reservations are constitutionally permissible. The debate is about whether the pessimism and cynicism is bad for poli-
state must show that data warrants the reservations that are provided for. It is hard to see tics and constitutional law. There can be
how any constitutional right to equality could exist without such a requirement. ‘The little debate about the reality of caste-
concept of equality,’ as the Supreme Court observed in Nagaraj, ‘allows differential treat- based discrimination or about the neces-
ment but it prevents distinctions that
are not properly justified.’ What the
state is in effect arguing is that it wants
the power to discriminate between THE SINGLE-MINDED focus on reservations has not
citizens, and the right to not offer any
foundation for such discrimination. only limited the FORM OF DISCRIMINATION that is
This should raise alarm bells across addressed within our legal framework, but also the
the spectrum. Today, the state might kinds of victims and beneficiaries that are involved
be using this power for groups that
we believe require preferential treat-
ment; tomorrow, it might use this for
any group it likes. If the state is, in fact, committed to special treatment for those whose sity for reservations as a general matter.
condition demands it, it should have no problem in demonstrating the same. Today, the The debate must instead be on the form
state is arguing that it should not have to demonstrate backwardness or inadequacy in that it takes and how best it can be used
representation; tomorrow, it could use this power for preferentially supporting groups to further its ends rather than be hostage
that are neither backward nor inadequately represented. It is impossible to reconcile the to passing political exploits. Without a
state’s claim with the basic doctrine of equality. The state must defend any action that conversation on that, the Indian equality
discriminates among citizens; it cannot escape that burden. This question of law is an doctrine risks becoming a caricature of its
elementary one, but the present moment is a further reminder of the more general form founding mission, and the reality on the
that our equality discourse has taken in India. ground risks remaining the same if not
growing worse, for the extant narrative
has little space for institutional changes

he SInGle-mInDeD focus on reservations has not only limited the form that alter long-term opportunities. In
of discrimination that is addressed within our legal framework, but also the noting that, it is also worth mentioning
kinds of victims and beneficiaries that are involved. We have, for example, no that the intellectual position of fixing out-
appropriate mechanism for dealing with discrimination in the private workspace. comes without even attempting to build a
Class has entirely dropped out of our narratives on substantive equality, raising the narrative around fixing opportunities
troubling question of whether all of our current policies are convenient ways to divide is not merely one that gives up on the
the spoils among elite actors within different groups and keep the poor in their place. enterprise of genuine equal opportu-
If we care so deeply about backward caste groups, why do we not even pause to wonder nity. It reflects a deeper malady of the
about whether the benefits to members of such groups are eaten up by those who might mind: the belief that however many
be placed in more advantageous social and economic positions within the group? opportunities are given to low-caste mem-
The reality of reservations in India is an open secret. It is accepted by many that the bers, such members are doomed to fail. n
link between reservations and substantive equality has broken down, that such policies
are now ways to placate different groups rather than create the conditions for meaning- Madhav Khosla is co-editor of the
ful inclusion, that such policies interact with caste-based politics in specific ways that oxford handbook of the Indian
further both and thereby take us away from the aspiration to transcend caste, and that Constitution. He is a junior fellow at the
when citizenship is built around groups competing with one another rather than around Harvard Society of Fellows

62 20 august 2018

A P e rsonA l H i sto r y o f f r e e d om

Illustration by Saurabh Singh

64 20 august 2018
living witH memory And legAcy
ushar Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s great-grandson, reveals that he was taught very early in his childhood

that there was nothing called a ‘greatness gene’. Which is indeed a sensible warning by responsible parents
to anyone who may develop a sense of entitlement, confuse his or her inheritance with inborn merit, and
perhaps become an incurable snob. This is not only true of those in politics, but also in various walks of life
where indulgent parents flatter and give their children a misplaced ego and false sense of pride in having been
born to a family with an awe-evoking lineage. in a country where equality of educational opportunity remains
a distant dream and extreme disparities in the chance people get to take up various professions—especially
those where ‘connections’ and the patronage of elites count for a lot—persist, genetic claims to privilege could
contribute to social disaffection. in this section of ‘The Freedom issue’, our focus is on politics in general, and on descendants of great
men associated in one way or another with india’s struggle for independence in particular. some time ago, a new party offered a ray
of hope for political entrepreneurship in india, offering those unconnected to established parties through ancestry or money an en-
try into the challenging field of power politics. The lowering of barriers to politics meant that new entrants could compete with the
power-hungry and flag-bearers of elitism to bring about change. somehow, the hope that this new entity once offered now lies dashed.
among numerous aspirants and rent seekers exists a rare breed: those who do not wish to use their lineage to get ahead in their
fields. and there are other great personalities whose legacy is largely forgotten, notwithstanding the stellar roles they performed to
make this country a better place. Luckily, there are a few indians who are taking pains to either unearth lost history or preserve what
is at threat of vanishing; india would have been worse off without the efforts of these men and women whose dedication is invaluable
to our understanding of the past.
Our search has taken us to citizens of the republic who are away from the usual media limelight.
For naval students today, BC dutt may be a class of tugboats. But for any of his generation and historians who have followed his role
in the freedom struggle, he is nothing short of a legend. dutt wrote Mutiny of the Innocents, a first-person account of the royal indian
naval rebellion of 1946 for which he was arrested. it stunned the British that the soldiers took an openly political position. We met
90-year-old ansuya dutt, wife of the late BC dutt, and their son Tanuj to capture their memory of the man who contended that ‘we
had our Battleship Potemkin but no [filmmaker sergei] Eisenstein’.
We also narrate the stories of a few others through their descendants with the aim of placing a spotlight on their
illustrious ancestors. sir C sankaran nair is a nearly forgotten name even in his home state of Kerala, though he was the first person of
Malayalam linguistic origin to be president of the indian national Congress, a reformer who pioneered work on legal solutions to end
discrimination against indians in British india. his emphasis on land reforms also won him plaudits. We tell the story of his legacy
through his granddaughter, Parvathi Thampi.
Gour hari das’ is a heart-wrenching tale of a man’s three-decade mission to obtain a certificate to prove he had taken part in the
freedom struggle, despite having suffered imprisonment as a teenager fighting the British. he was put through a harrowing experi-
ence by our new rulers.
in the next few pages, we also look at the life and times of freedom fighter alluri sitarama raju with the benefit of hindsight, draw-
ing upon new references. The descendants of raju—his siblings’ children and their families—live in obscurity and those of his trusted
lieutenants Gam Gantam dora and Gam Mallu dora struggle to make ends meet.
The descendants of Madan Mohan Malaviya, the founder of Banaras hindu university and Congress leader who first proposed
‘satyamev Jayate’ as india’s motto, back in 1918, recall him and his principles in ways that might surprise many who now associate
him more with the hindu Mahasabha, of which he was also a member. Malaviya, they are emphatic, cannot be considered either
a rightist or leftist, though different branches of the family seem to differ in what he would have made of political issues of the day.
shivnath Jha is a breakaway from the mould of others featured here: he is a former journalist, tireless crusader and a chronicler of
the forgotten stars of the freedom movement from 1857 to 1947 and their living descendants, of whom he has traced more than 70. it
is of public importance, he believes, to collate the history of these families for the sake of posterity. Memory may be fickle, but a nation
must remember the origins and heroes of its modern nationhood. n

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 65





The legacy of Madan Mohan Malaviya
as a naTion builder varies
even wiThin his faMily
By Aresh Shirali

amar deep

66 20 august 2018
hat sort of further downstream. time, I have been MP, and also vice-chancellor of BhU. as an
‘satya’—truth— warned, can go cosmic or acrobatic at eight-year-old, says the former judge, “My
might Madan short notice around here, and my quest father told me, ‘son, you’ll not be able to
Mohan Malaviya could be at threat of being overwhelmed add any feather to the cap of your grand-
(1861–1946) have by whiffs of faith. In saffron-inflected father, but I’ll be only too happy if you
had in mind when times such as these, it’s all the more easy would not in any way tarnish the image
he championed ‘satyamev Jayate’ as to go with the flow, as they say. of your grandfather’.” It left him struck, he
India’s motto at a 1918 Congress session Yet, it’s unclear how fair it is to think says, “and I decided to conduct my life by
held in Delhi some two years after he set of the founder of BhU and stalwart of In- his principles.” he was all of 10 when his
up Banaras hindu University (BhU)? dia’s freedom struggle as an early hindu Dadaji died, but remembers him vividly
that it’s an Upanishadic mantra, this nationalist. What clues could this ancient as a soft-spoken person “who never spoke
maxim on the triumph of truth, has al- city of Kashi, his chosen site for the uni- harshly ever in his life” and was “very
ways been clear; ‘Na anritam’—‘not false- versity, have to offer? and what could the firm in his determination”. as an editor
hood’—is what follows in the original memories of his own progeny tell us? of Indian Opinion and prime mover of The
sanskrit text. that Mahamana (as his hon- some 200 km upstream lies the conflu- Leader, a publication he launched with the
orific goes) had probably meant ‘truth’ as ence of the Ganga and Yamuna, the sangam aid of Motilal Nehru, Malaviya held views
something eternal makes itself slowly of allahabad, the city of Malaviya’s birth. It resonant enough within the Congress to
apparent in shades of haze as I marvel at is also the hometown of his grandson, Jus- have him elected the party’s president four
the expanse of the Ganga in monsoon tice Giridhar Malaviya, 82, a former judge times during the freedom struggle, but
spate from a fifth floor balcony over- of the allahabad high Court whose father there are stories aplenty of how delicately
looking assi Ghat, where the holy river Govind Malaviya was the youngest of the he dealt with views he disagreed with.
of sanatan Dharma (his preferred term) patriarch’s four sons, a freedom fighter the grandson recounts a run-in with Go-
curves into its so-called dhanush (bow) or who spent several years in jail, a member pal Krishna Gokhale over an Indemnity
chandrakaar (crescent) towards raj Ghat of the Constituent assembly, a Congress Bill under the raj that Malaviya thought
would let British oppressors off too lightly.
Gokhale, in his telling, came and placed his
ashish sharma
turban at his grandfather’s feet, pleading
with him not to oppose the bill (for tactical
reasons) at the Central Legislative assem-
bly, a gesture so heartfelt that it made him
pace about the house all night. at the end,
Malaviya had just one question to ask of his
“If he had been alive,
colleague. he’d be a traitor to his country,
the national interest
he felt, if he did not go against the bill, so
would be paramount, what should he do? oppose it, or consider
winning votes would himself a traitor? Gokhale had to relent.
be secondary” and what of Malaviya’s differences
GIRIDHAR MALAVIYA with Gandhi? “there was no question of
82, grandson of
differences!” retorts Giridhar Malaviya.
Madan Mohan Malaviya
Not even on the anti-raj protest of Chauri
Chaura in 1922 that turned violent and
made Gandhi call off the Non-Coopera-
“A soul is a soul tion Movement? It was Nehru and others,
is a soul, he he says, who asked his grandfather—
would insist. He who’d quit his law practice—to get back
was against into his lawyer’s robes to defend the 173
casteism and protestors being sent to the gallows for
religious divides” the violence, and he not only saved 143
RAJEEV MALAVIYA of them, he so impressed the judge with
75, great-grandson of his argument that the latter bowed to
Madan Mohan Malaviya him after the trial in a mark of honour
“unknown in the history of the judiciary”.

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 67


though yes, “there were some differences
at Congress Working Committee meet-
ings,” he admits, “But [Malaviya] never
insisted on his views being followed.”
odd as it may sound today, Malaviya
wasn’t just a staunch Congressman, he
was a stout member of the hindu Maha-
sabha as well. Which of the two he is better
remembered as, Giridhar Malaviya won’t
say, opting instead to speak of his “slightly
different” stance on various issues of that
era. he wanted hindi kept distinct from
the Urdu-laden hindustani that was com-
monly spoken, for example, and not only
expended much effort to revive Devana-
gri as a script, he campaigned to have it
adopted as a court language, thereby end-
ing the dominance of Persianised Urdu Gandhi and Madan Mohan Malaviya (second from right) in London, October 1931
in officialdom. on human relations, he
adds, Malaviya was all for equality. “‘Un- Not that he is entirely satisfied with the BJP, traditional line of descent, however, he is
touchability is of recent origin,’ he used to though: for one, the party has persisted a direct heir. “My father was the executor
say, ‘It’s wrong.’ ‘there are no two types of with caste reservations, and for another, it of Mahamana’s will,” he says, displaying
people, all must sit together and perform has retained parts of the sC/st atrocities a copy as proof, and his mother saraswati
puja’,” he elaborates, referring to his grand- actthathethinksneedtobestruckoff.“Ma- Malaviya, who died last year at 95, was
father’s initiative of having Dalits granted hamana would never have compromised meant to have been the sole recipient of
a mantra and welcomed into temples as on it,” he thinks, “If he had been alive, the the Bharat ratna at first; his two uncles
devotees. “he was not dogmatic,” and national interest would be paramount, and an aunt were invited later, and he re-
while he’d be closer to Indian rightists winning votes would be secondary.” veals some displeasure at what he took as
than leftists today, in his estimation, “he Giridhar Malaviya’s pushy conduct at the
was a liberal person” all the same. ceremony. “We refused to join politics,”

that it was a BJP government that ac- UDDLED soMEWhat by offers rajeev Malaviya, though Indira
corded Malaviya the country’s top honour, what Malaviya has come to Gandhi had once wanted his mother to
the Bharat ratna (in 2015), doesn’t surprise mean and riveted somehow by contest the Phulpur seat in UP and him to
Giridhar Malaviya, who was among the the Ganga’s evening hues, thoughts of the join the party. she turned the offer down.
proposers of Narendra Modi’s name as the man’s other descendants leap to my aid. “feroze was a close friend of my father,”
BJP candidate for the Varanasi Lok sabha Premdhar Malaviya, a former director he says, showing me a family heirloom,
seat in the last General Election. “Except general of police who lives in Bhopal, is an autograph book that has an early 40s’
one family, all other families that contrib- another grandson. Contacted by phone, signature of ‘Indira Nehru’ in hindi.
uted to the freedom struggle have been he brusquely says he wouldn’t be able to according to rajeev Malaviya, the role
sidelined,” he says, convinced that BJP is help me. But then, great-grandson rajeev of his great-grandfather in the making
the real inheritor of Malaviya’s legacy. “he Malaviya, 75, who lives in Delhi, seems of modern India can be judged by the
insisted that we abide by our culture… [But] especially keen to rescue his ancestor’s fact that Gandhiji himself saw him as a
the present Congress has made a departure memory from distortions. his father, guiding force in his life. annie Besant, an
from that.” “It has shifted,” in his view, sridhar Malaviya—whose life was cut admirer, had described Malaviya as ‘the
“from its original stand on culture and short by medical negligence in prison af- purest specimen of classical hinduism’;
minorities.”thelatterwerefavouredbythe ter his arrest for a Quit India protest—was sarojini Naidu was emphatic that he ‘did
British,hebelieves,whileMalaviyawanted the eldest son of Mahamana’s own eldest not recognise divisions between human
fraternity among followers of all faiths son, ramakant Malaviya. a PhD in Inter- clans and classes’; and Mahamana always
based on equal status with no privilege for national relations, rajeev Malaviya had lived by those ideals, says rajeev Malaviya,
anyone. today, he doesn’t see why being a long career at National fertilizers Ltd, touching upon how he’d gone out of his
“soft on minorities”, as he puts it, should but says he never let anyone know of his way for a Jagjivan ram faced with caste
be considered a “definition of democracy”. lineage. Modesty came in the way. By the prejudice as a student (“he asked him

68 20 august 2018
to stay at his house”). a soul is a soul is a bars on the other as it winds round yet describes Malaviya as an “avatarik puru-
soul, he would insist. “he was against cas- another ‘disputed site’ of sacred strife, sh”, a divine incarnation who must have
teism and religious divides,” says his great the 17th century Gyanvapi Mosque now picked Kashi as his site for BhU after many
grandson, “he was not a kattar hindu, but encaged for its own safety. It shouldn’t be years of “manthan chintan” (churnful cogi-
his legacy has been hijacked by the ex- difficult to sigh and move on, but my cu- tation). as Pandey sees it, BhU is a blessing
treme right of hindu society.” as for his riosity of the esteem in which the devout from above, no less, an “Eeshwar dwaara
place on the political spectrum, “he was hold Malaviya stands ever more piqued. prapt vardaan”, an institution ordained
neither a rightist nor a leftist. [alongwith By legend, one of Malaviya’s favourite to be located at the assi-raj Ghat ‘bow’
sanskrit and other subjects] he also had shlokas as a sanskrit scholar was a prayer for a good ‘aatmik arrow’ of the soul to be
Urdu and Persian taught at BhU, and the not to die in Banaras, for that would im- aimed at the ‘evil of kalyug’. Destiny has
Nizam of hyderabad also donated money ply Moksha, while rebirth—rather than now assigned Modi that task, he drones
for the university. Mahamana’s philoso- a release from its cycle—would let him on, virtually casting the Prime Minister as
phy was to unite Indians of all religions.” return and help people in pain. alas, Ma- a yatha-yatha-yug-yug saviour by dropping
on the evidence of Malaviya’s leader- laviya eventually did breathe his last in a hint of that verse from the Gita. “Yeh koi
ship record, he was no less steadfast than this city, and the room in which he did so vyakti nahin kar raha hai,” he assures me,
Gandhi and Nehru in his idea of India as is now an ‘upaasna griha’ (adoration cham- “Yeh swayam prakriti kar rahi hai.” so it’s
an inclusive country. “India belongs to ber) that’s part of a large memorial called no man at work here, it’s creation itself.
hindus, Muhammadans, sikhs, Parsis Malaviya Bhawan on the BhU campus. Just as arjun was told by Krishna, he adds,
and others,” he said in his call for unity at With a plaque of the said shloka on display, as my eyeballs strain not to ascend. rapt
a 1913 Congress session in Kolkata, “No it houses a yoga centre and Gita studies it must’ve made me look, for Pandey takes
single community can run [roughshod] hall, apart from the university museum. it as a cue to launch into a full-fledged
over the rest. Your hand has five fingers. If the aims of BhU listed include the study sermon on our common aatma.
you cut off the thumb, the power of your
hand will be reduced to one-tenth of its
original power.” By this speech alone, one
could perhaps count ‘unity in diversity’ as ON THE evidence of Malaviya’s leadership record,
a crucial aspect of the truth that Malaviya he was NO LESS steadfast than Gandhi and
envisioned for the country.
Nehru in his idea of India as an inclusive country
rajeev Malaviya agrees. “all these
divides are absurd!” he exclaims as he
watches my eyes wander from an image

of Lord Krishna that adorns his living of hindu shastras and sanskrit literature hE GrEat UNsEEN of Banaras
room to settle in slight-if-needless surprise along with science and arts, the advance- isnopatchonthatsoul.theinternet.
on an arabic inscription of the Islamic ment of scientific research and knowledge, Whether or not airwave connectiv-
Kalma above the mantelpiece (gifted by and character inculcation ‘by making ity features on the har har Maha-develop-
a friend “for peace in the house”). religion and ethics an integral part of edu- ment agenda of this city, nobody seems
cation’. In Malaviya’s own words: ‘[BhU] to know. My phone’s network bars blink
will not promote narrow sectarianism on and off like a graphic equaliser’s, and

t taKEs a minor expedition to lo- but broad liberation of the mind and a while the local wi-fi offers respite enough
cate the Kashi Vishwanath temple religious spirit which will promote broth- for a brief webscan of what else Malaviya
in Banaras, the shivling of which erly feeling among man and man…. In- might have said, it’s now merely a matter
Malaviya had demanded all be allowed struction in the truth of religion, whether of yielding to the realisation that much of
to worship (Dalits included). It’s a short it be hindu or Mussalman, whether it be what’s unknown is unknowable.
walk away from Dashashwamedha imparted to students of [BhU or aMU], or vice-versa, maybe—in the spirit of
Ghat—which hosts a Ganga aarti every will tend to produce men, who, if they are those wondrous words in affirmation of
sundown mounted on the scale of a rock true to their religion, will be true to their the truth and rejection of what’s false.
show, complete with saffron-clad devo- God, their kind, and their country.’ awakening to the sound of a riverside
tees in raptures amid clangs of bells and Upendra Pandey, 55, a sanskrit profes- raga rousing all of assi Ghat up at dawn,
cries of ‘Har Har Mahadev’—and looks sor who has been Malaviya Bhawan’s hon- my grasp of Malaviya’s interpretation of
like the most fortified part of town. the orary director since 2016, offers a far more India’s motto remains exasperatingly
path to Lord shiva’s sanctum is flanked expansive story of BhU’s conception and nebulous—except that it’s meant to be
by surly cops on one side and thick vertical purpose. speaking in shudh hindi, he universal, the truth. n

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 69





InternalIsIng MahatMa gandhI’s Ideas
requIres a constant study of the Man, hIs quIrks,
about-turns, strategIes and ManageMent technIques,
says hIs great-grandson tushar gandhI, who
undertook a study of the great Man’s works after
an unsuccessful stInt In polItIcs
By Ullekh NP

nside his spartan Mumbai on them, you expect him to lounge in an and close associates of the man revered as
home on the second floor of an age- opulent home in a tonier locality. in vid- the ‘Father of the nation’.
ing building with narrow, dark stair- eos i had seen of tushar, with his locks, though he was born 12 years after the
cases and walls with peeling plaster fashionable beard and kurtas, he could assassination of the Mahatma—tushar
that remind one of Fassbinder movies easily be mistaken for a corporate hot- keeps using the word ‘murder’ for some
that portrayed life in post-World War shot, prosperous and haughty. strange reason—he was made aware of his
Germany, tushar Gandhi, great-grandson it is when he begins to speak—and he legacy very early in his life. But he was also
of the Mahatma, looks out of place. For a is a natural conversationalist—that the made to realise, especially by his grand-
man of his size, bearing and composure, real tushar arun Manilal Gandhi steps mother and father, that he didn’t have to
dressed in a t-shirt and walking shorts, he out. Born in 1960 to Gandhi’s grandson live according to others’ expectations. the
looks as if he should be elsewhere. that arun, son of sunanda and Manilal, one difficulty was that, tushar concedes, “My
is the first impression. For a Gandhi of the great man’s more obedient sons, legacy could be simply overwhelming. it
scion—and a real one at that—who had tushar had lived in santacruz West as a could be oppressive too.”
made a controversial pact with Mont kid where he grew up interacting with Mahatma Gandhi’s name evokes
Blanc almost a decade earlier to sell high- visitors that included the likes of C raja- not only the grandest idea of passive re-
end pens with the image of the man who gopalachari and Maniben patel (daughter sistance and simplicity, but also unfath-
led india’s freedom struggle embossed of sardar patel), among other Gandhians omable respect for a human being who,

70 20 august 2018
Tushar Gandhi

Photograph by RITESH uTTamcHandanI

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 71

attired in a simple dhoti like the majority books and plays, including Gandhi, My for his 2009 deal with Mont Blanc. he
of his poor followers, brought to its knees Father. though harilal had fathered five still receives flak for it. how can a man
an empire on which it was said ‘the sun children, he led a miserable life towards born to the Gandhi family—as opposed
never sets’ and went on to become one of the end. at Gandhi’s funeral, nobody rec- to the ‘pretend’ Gandhi family that holds
the tallest icons ever among those fighting ognised him, an incident colourfully de- the reins of the Congress party and has
for liberation from oppressors, inspiring scribed in the book, Freedom at Midnight, ruled the country for decades—sell out
leaders of various political hues across and he died within months of his father’s Bapu? Under the agreement, 241 hand-
the world, from ho Chi Minh in Vietnam assassination, from tuberculosis. crafted Mont Blanc pens were to be priced
to Martin Luther King Jr in the Us and Manilal, on the other hand, questioned at $25,000 apiece and a ‘Limited edition’
nelson Mandela in south africa. his father at times, though he was mostly version at rs 1 lakh. tushar became a vil-
taciturn and accepted Gandhi as his guru. lain for editorial writers overnight when
he did defy Bapu more than once, tushar he accepted a rs 72 lakh donation for his

here is nothinG called remembers. the first time was in alla- Mahatma Gandhi Foundation in lieu of it.
a ‘greatness gene’—that is habad when his father demanded that he tushar’s argument is that throughout
what i was taught,” recalls the and some other members of the phoenix the controversy, he had no remorse be-
58-year-old, sitting back in his living room settlement (an ashram he had set up off cause the deal was not intended to make
that also doubles up as a dining area next durban,southafrica)pledgethemselvesto him rich, buy a luxury home in a posh
to a modest kitchen. his father, he says, brahmacharya (celibacy). Manilal refused, area or an expensive car. “Bapu’s image
taught him the value of austerity by refus- but offered to stay celibate for 15 years, not was being used for commercial purposes
ing to fall for the trappings of being Bapu’s beyond. his two younger brothers were and that was why i took money from
grandson. arun Manilal currently lives in ramdas Gandhi and devdas Gandhi. them,” he maintains, emphasising that
the Us where he researched and worked Bapu also experimented with com- the whole sum of money was used for
on subjects related to political freedom
and social issues.
though arun was born in south
africa in an ashram set up by Bapu, in his UNDERSTANDING Mahatma Gandhi needs an
later years he refused to follow a rigid, aus- open mind because HIS EXPERIMENTS
tere life compared with his grandfather
were meant to improve upon himself
or father Manilal. nonetheless, he val-
ued Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings and
picked up cosmopolitan values. Yet, from
tushar’s ways, it is clear that it isn’t easy mune members, including at phoenix, buying five acres of land in Kolhapur and
to kick the habit of being austere. after tolstoy Farm off Johannesburg, and later to set up a home and school for rescued
all, he says, gorging on Bapu stories from in india in the ashrams he had built af- child labourers.
school textbooks and listening to rela- ter he took his plunge into the freedom the Foundation, he says, has no
tives and comrades-in-arms speak about movement. tushar feels that since fam- building, and it comprises just a group of
him did leave a deep impact. When he ily ties were obliterated by Bapu to make members of the family and nGos. When
was in Class V, he was put in a school run room for a larger family of followers, the people began to say that the Foundation
by a Gandhian couple where the idea of satyagrahis, the kin had to endure rigor- was his and that any proceeds of such a
cleanliness—including of toilets —was ous discipline and sometimes suffer hu- transaction would benefit him, he added
a routine affair. miliation and rejection. that’s why he representatives of new institutions to its
it is natural that he was groomed to attributes much greatness to Gandhi’s board. as of now, to support his family of
celebrate simplicity, especially because wife Kasturba, who some would look four, he gives talks in india and abroad; his
he comes from the lineage of Manilal, down upon as ‘Bapu’s illiterate wife’. she sole consolation, he says, is that his wife is
who also bore the brunt of Bapu’s nu- was a revolutionary in her own right, says employed with Bank of Baroda and earns
merous experiments with life in silence. tushar, who has named his daughter, a a steady income.
Manilal’s elder brother harilal had first-year Ma student of public policy at
strained ties with the Mahatma because he st Xavier’s College, Mumbai, after ‘Ba’. his

was the son who rebelled. Later, in his let- daughter’s name is Kasturi, and his son rained as a printer, tushar
ters, Mahatma Gandhi accused harilal of Vivan is a lawyer for an nGo that works to took a dive into politics in the mid-
being an alcoholic and a debauch. Bapu’s rescue and aid trafficked women. 1990s after he felt his life was going
relationship with him was a subject of tushar feels that he was demonised nowhere in business and other activities,

72 20 august 2018

somewhat like Gandhi’s predicament in in the 1970s and 1980s, senior Gandhi-
his Bombay days as an unsuccessful law- ans within and outside Congress began
yer.hethoughthewasafailureonallfronts to either retire or die, leaving a spiritual
because he didn’t have a financial brain. he vacuum in politics. the 1990s ushered in
was the third of the family to enter politics. a politics of divisiveness, which, according
the others are sumitra Gandhi Kulkarni to him, institutionalised a weird political
and rajmohan Gandhi. policy for the first time in independent
tushar joined the samajwadi party india. it was then that he earnestly decided
in the late 1990s and contested as a joint to rediscover the “cement that Gandhian
candidate of the Congress and sp in 1998, thought provided to stop indian society
the year they had an alliance in Maha- from completely being fragmented”.
rashtra. he was friends with raj Babbar, it was around then he realised that
who was then an sp leader. it was Babbar merely being a descendant didn’t make
who persuaded him to join the party. in him an expert on Gandhi. “Being taught
those days, tushar held that the party had Gandhi by others is different. i had to un-
a “grassroots” leader who could take on derstand him myself,” he remembers. it
communalism. during the poll campaign was at this juncture that he began to take
in his Bombay north West Lok sabha seat, an interest in politics, and later, gradually
he told Rediff.com in an interview that he exited it only to focus full-time on spread-
entered politics out of “a simmering de- ing the word of the Mahatma through
sire to fight the killers” of his great grand- various means, including the Foundation.
father. around then, he had already made in the late 1990s, the internet took
a name for himself fighting a prolonged urban india by storm. the Government,
legal battle to recover an urn containing too, woke up to its power. With the help Gandhi after his assassination
the Mahatma’s ashes from a state Bank of a handful of early local internet buffs, in New Delhi, 1948
of india vault in orissa. the ashes were the late Vijay Mukhi, Miheer Mafatlal

later immersed in the Ganga at allahabad. and others, he set up a website called s soMeone Who has lived
Jaunty and defiant, he made it a point back Mahatma.org.in. initially, tushar wanted with the Gandhi surname and
then to take potshots at anyone who at- to create a Cd and his friends laughed at studied him, especially after he
tacked Gandhi. he had famously said that him for being outdated. Mafatlal had a pri- quit politics, tushar regrets that Bapu is a
unlike Bapuji, he wouldn’t turn the other vately-leased broadband line in his house whipping boy for both right-wingers and
cheek when slapped. and often hosted single-page websites for leftist thinkers. he feels that it is because
Looking back, he is glad he got out of others. tushar wrote a one-page brief on Gandhi was brave enough to experiment
the dangerous world of power politics Bapu and it was posted on Mahatma.org.in. and never codify his teachings.
after he lost the polls by a relatively early the next morning, Mafatlal even gau rakshaks quote him because
slender margin. it was then that he felt called him in what he thought was a he had said he worshipped the cow. But
a diligent study of Bapu was in order. state of panic and anger, saying that his let’s not forget that when demands for a
armed with new knowledge, he analysed broadband line was out of order and the ban on cow slaughter grew intense, he
various phases in Free india’s history. First website had crashed. When tushar began resolutely opposed it, avers tushar. the
was 1948, when the Mahatma’s mar- to apologise for the trouble he thought Left, which occasionally lauds his vision
tyrdom reined in communal senti- he had caused, Mafatlal said in a serious and his understanding of india, blames
ments that were running high, even tone before breaking into laughter, “do him for far too much even as it slips into
neutralising for several decades forces you know what you are sitting on and the a morass itself.
that wanted india polarised along reli- kind of appeal it has to the world?” he feels that understanding Mahatma
gious lines. Unfortunately, after Janu- however, he says, unlike various other Gandhi needs an open mind because his
ary 30th, 1948—when Gandhi was websites, especially those abroad that sell experiments were meant to improve
assassinated by a right-wing zealot, old images of Gandhi at steep prices, he upon himself, figure out his limitations
nathuram Godse—his ideology also does not use his digital platform to make and go beyond them. For instance, he says,
began to stagnate because his teachings money. as for the Mont Blanc deal, he says, the swadeshi movement started as a boy-
became a kind of gospel. “this was a gross “i would go for such deals again in which i cott protest, and later, it became a ‘Made in
injustice to a great man who had always take not a penny. that is my consolation, india’ movement. From boycott of foreign
experimented with life and politics.” then and my conscience is clear.” goods to reinventing indian crafts and

74 20 august 2018
For example, the salt March of
1930 had multiple objectives. Many of
Gandhi’s well-wishers had discour-
aged him from embarking on a move-
ment of that scale. Gandhi had himself
planned a smaller agitation to break the
stringent law that imposed punitively
high taxation on salt production.
When he started off from ahmedabad
in March 1930, the British authorities
treated it as a joke. even indians weren’t
terribly impressed. Gandhi himself had
decided to collect salt and defy the law
within four days of the march at the Ma-
hisagar estuary. But he soon realised that
world opinion on Britain was changing
too. after all, World War i had sounded
a death knell for unipolarity by carving
out a multipolar world. he invited “world
sympathy in the battle of right against
might”. then it became larger and larger.
says tushar, who authored the book, Let’s
Kill Gandhi!: A Chronicle of His Last Days, The
Conspiracy, Murder, Investigations and Trial:
THE MAHATMA strategised mass movements in “he was a master strategist. he employed
all the strategies of a battlefield general. his
such a way that he ALLOWED LONG GAPS core team came from his ashrams or com-
between countryside agitations munes, where he replicated many facets
of training in a military academy—auster-
ity and devotion—for the cause, topping
all other priorities.” he feels that those
industry, it had myriad dimensions, and leader. none of the war generals in history who criticise Gandhi over his attitudes to-
proved that even an ordinary individual was able to replicate that model ever in any wards the Varna system, race and religion,
could become an industrialist. of the wars,” says tushar. haven’t properly studied how his approach
Gandhi always learnt to unlearn. he contrasts Gandhi’s modus operandi to these issues evolved over time.
however, the man who transformed a with that of leaders of the first War of Meanwhile, tushar had questioned
Lion’s Club-of-sorts Congress into one of independence in 1857, when a desire the motives of those who wanted to re-
the world’s largest mass movements has for freedom spread far and wide but it open the Gandhi assassination case, argu-
been the butt of jokes and target of ridicu- still proved easy for the British to quell ing that it was an attempt to glorify some
lous research papers. the uprising once they nabbed its lead- men who had plotted his killing.
according to tushar, the greatest qual- ers. Gandhi understood this and created Gandhi, tushar believes, didn’t want
ity of the Mahatma was that he could disciplined volunteers who could work indian villages to stay the way they were,
make himself dispensable—this could be tirelessly among the people to sustain as some people tend to project now. rather,
a case study for management students at the momentum of any movement he he wanted them to change and elimi-
any good university. tushar argues that had launched over long periods. nate biases of caste and religion and lead
whenever the movements he launched the Mahatma also planned his mass a rural renaissance. Fulfilling his dreams
acquired a national character, Bapu was in movements in such a way that he allowed remains a far cry in india, unfortunately,
prison. he strategised movements in such long gaps between various countryside because this country is so full of his blind
a way that his presence at their forefront agitations. “i think he was a master of the followers and sworn haters. and, as
wasn’t required at all. this was how the salt public psyche. he understood that people Gandhi t-shirts say, ‘they don’t Make ‘em
satyagraha continued for three years after will take time to comprehend the impor- Like him anymore’.
his arrest. “even in his absence, he was the tance of a movement,” tushar says. tushar can’t agree more. n

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 75





BC Dutt, who lit the spark for
the naval mutiny of 1946, is
still an animateD memory

tender age of 22 years the young sailor BC Dutt, a bhadralok Bengali who as a teenager
By Amita Shah Dutt was writing Indian National army had left his ancestral Meral village in West
(INa) slogans on the wall of HMIS Talwar Bengal’s Bardhaman district, married in

in Bombay, he would have hardly imag- court in 1955. “I forgot my mother tongue
s the sea breeze wafts ined he would be acclaimed an icon who and spoke Bengali,” she says.
in through the windows, lit the spark for a ‘Potemkin’ moment asked if she wanted her son, tanuj
90-year-old ansuya Dutt’s and still later be acclaimed as chronicler Dutt, to follow in the footsteps of her
thoughts drift between to the revolutionary events that caused husband and join the armed forces, she
the past and the present. the sympathetic link that energised the minces no words. “No—because I am a
the television in the room hearts and minds of our sailors, infantry non-violent person,” she laughs. Dutt,
beams images of Pakistan’s general elec- soldiers, airmen and RIaF pilots, ordinary in his memoirs later, tried to drive home
tion. “the outcome there is dictated by the mill-hands, students, workers, citizens in the point that the ratings (Naval soldiers
army,” she says. With her grey hair tied up many cantonments, military stations as below the rank of petty officer) did not
in a knot, her frail hands resting on the far afield as Karachi, the Punjab, Calcutta incite the violence. ‘the national leaders
sofa and voice soft but crisp, she speaks and the port cities of the peninsula.’ might have been discredited effectively if
using sparse words, non-judgemental Over seven decades after the revolt, we had practiced non-violence in spite of
about either the past or the present. ansuya, a senior lawyer who practised British provocation. the British had no op-
how was it living with a hero of the for 50 years, lives neither in the shadow tion but to crush the uprising…. so far as we
Naval uprising during India’s freedom nor the glint of that bygone era. In her one- were concerned, we were mere sailors, not
struggle? “Very difficult,” she laughs. “We bedroom apartment on Mumbai’s Marine saints… consequently, we were rather poor
were both strong personalities. there was Drive, there are few signs of the past. she practitioners of non-violence. It, of course,
a lot of conflict,” says the widow of Balai speaks of it only when asked. It was at helped the leaders. We provided them with
Chand Dutt, who had played a prominent meetings of the Praja socialist Party that all the arguments for their disavowal of our
role in that uprising of 1946. Dutt and she met. at that time, Dutt was cause,’ writes Dutt in his book.
Dutt and several others were dismissed working with the Free Press Journal and she, tanuj, who joined his uncle in an ex-
from the Navy after a five-day rebellion, 27, was an executive with standard Vacu- port business of electrical and engineering
an episode almost forgotten till he chron- um. he would accompany her all the way goods, did have some fleeting thoughts
icled it in Mutiny of the Innocents. In the from Colaba to sion, a distance of around about joining the Navy when he was in
preface to the book, former Chief of Naval 20 km. ansuya, a Punjabi from Ludhiana school, but those did not fructify.
staff Vishnu Bhagwat wrote: ‘When at the who had studied at shantiniketan, and Dutt’s own desire to be in the Navy had

76 20 august 2018
Ansuya Dutt,
widow of BC Dutt,
with her son Tanuj
in Mumbai
abhijit alka anil

been nipped in the bud. It lasted five years, was futile. ‘so I tried to wipe the Navy out told his family about his days in Burma,
ending with the uprising. he had tried of my mind and get down to the neces- when they slept on a beach. the British of-
again to join the Navy when Vallabhbhai sary task of earning a living. But, which- ficers slept behind rows of Indian soldiers
Patel declared after Independence that rat- ever way I turned, my past pursued me. I to safeguard themselves. Yet, in the morn-
ings who were discharged from the Royal could hide from my people but not from ings, some officers would be found dead.
Indian Navy (RIN) for participating in the my past. Nor was I allowed to forget,’ Dutt the Japanese would come silently at night
uprising could return to their ranks if they writes in his book, in which he describes and slit their throats. tanuj remembers his
wished. By then, the RIN was the Indian himself as an actor in the ‘tragic drama’ of father telling them that some of the British
Navy and Pakistani Navy. Dutt reported to the uprising. For several years to come, he officersweresounpopularthattheyusedto
the Indian Navy but was turned down. he suffered nightmares. getshotbyIndiansoldiersonthebattlefield
persisted with his efforts and even wrote ansuya recalls that it was very difficult and nobody would know who killed them.
to Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. It to get him to talk of his life in the Navy. he One of the anecdotes Dutt narrated about

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 77


BC Dutt (extreme left) with Alyque Padamsee and other colleagues at ad agency Lintas
his life as a rating on the HMIS Talwar, a
shore-based signal school in Colaba, was
how they used to go to George Restaurant
for biryani and jump off the second floor
to escape paying the bill. after a couple of
such instances, the manager ensured that
the waiters kept an eye on them.
Bad food, one of the manifestations
of discrimination between Indian and
British soldiers in the RIN, had left a bit-
ter taste among the ratings. Dutt later
described the stew of mutton, vegetables
and gram as ‘witch’s brew’ which no rat-
ing liked and the tea as ‘boiling black
liquid’. It was used as ground for the first
open revolt. On the morning of February
18th, 1946, when the ratings on the Talwar
gathered at the mess for breakfast, there
was an uproar over bad food. someone
shouted, “No food, no work!” that no officer had been manhandled and disobedience in the ranks. Dutt says in his
after his stint in the Navy, Dutt never that no cash, belongings or arms and am- book, ‘Many of us would have been proud
fussed over food. “he would eat anything munition had been touched. the uprising, to be called mutineers, if only our faces had
you put before him without complaints,” which reverberated with cries of ‘Inquilab not been besmeared with wrong paints.’
says ansuya. zindabad ’ and had flags raised of the Indian surrounded by paintings, includ-
three months after the ratings sur- National Congress and Muslim League, ing one by Vs Gaitonde and a portrait of
rendered on February 24th, an inquiry had several aspects: it was about fighting her done by her granddaughter Disha,
commission report into the causes of the British discrimination against Indians, ansuya recalls how Dutt was disturbed
uprising said it was set off by a few men service conditions, hindu-Muslim unity by both Partition and the emergency.
disgruntled over inadequate and unclean against a common foe, and also impatience Gaitonde, who was part of Bombay’s
rice and daal, an impression Dutt later said with non-violencein the questfor freedom. influential Progressive artists Group,
was falsely created to discredit them. Little wonder that many versions of the was a family friend of the Dutts, whose
his son resents how the uprising was five-day revolt emerged in its aftermath. home was a hangout for aspiring artists,
made out to be a riot over bad food served “In the hastening of Independence, the actors and politicians. today, ‘Gai’, as he
to Indian soldiers. “there was an unmis- uprising became the last big act,” says Com- was called, is one of the country’s most re-
takable swatantra (freedom) angle to it,” modore Odakkal Johnson, curator, Mari- nowned painters, but he had to leave the
says tanuj. For him, life as a descendant of time history society. he had heard stories city back then because he could not afford
a freedom fighter is “not any different from about the uprising in bits from his father to live there. the Dutt family gave shelter
those of others”, barring journalists asking Odakkal Mohammad, who had joined to several politicians opposing the emer-
questions, his mother getting a freedom the RIN in 1944 at the age of 18 and partici- gency, putting pieces of furniture together
fighter’s monthly pension of Rs 1,000, a se- pated in the revolt. some time after 2000, a to make beds for them. “We were never
ries of tugboats (service watercraft) named kind of consensus came about among top told who they were, but I remember that
after BC Dutt and a memorial at Mumbai. Naval officers, historians and others that when we were staying at Breach Candy, a
his father brought his discipline, integrity it should be called an ‘uprising’ and not a friend living on Peddar Road gave shelter
and uncompromising attitude into their ‘mutiny’ since it went far beyond military to atal Bihari Vajpayee,” says tanuj.
lives. tanuj remembers how in 1968 a tele-
phone landline was not fixed because the
telephone services employee who came
to install it wanted a bribe of Rs 10. they THE OUTCOME of the war that Dutt and his
finally got a phone twelve years later
without paying speed money. Royal Indian Navy colleagues fought against
It had saddened Dutt that after it was the British LEFT HIM DISAPPOINTED
all over in 1946, they could not tell people

78 20 august 2018
Ansuya and BC Dutt in their younger days

LL Dutt haD once wanted
was to be a good sailor. But cir-
cumstances in the country al-
tered his course and goal. “the most
difficult part of living with him was his
discipline. But it is his discipline that took
him far,” says ansuya, who saw him do
head-stands every morning when she
awoke. Dutt passed away in 2009 at 86. a
sense of pride imbues her voice when she
says that he practised what he believed.
he believed in the “religion of man” and
was a voracious reader, particularly of
history, henry Miller and Germaine
Greer. tanuj wishes he could follow his
father’s sense of discipline—exercise
each morning and read or write 25 pages
after work every day.
Dutt, along with two others, had man-
Dutt’s disillusionment with the politi- had little knowledge of politics. the war aged to get land for a voluntary organisa-
cal leadership went back to the days of the fought alongside the British against Nazi tion named after Yusuf Meherally, who
Naval uprising. Feeling let down by nation- Germany opened his eyes to his own role is said to have coined the ‘Quit India’
al leaders, the young Indian sailors, fresh as a sailor, one faced with the question, slogan, on the outskirts of Mumbai with-
from fighting wars for the British, came to ‘Whose war did I fight?’ out paying any bribe. after his retirement
regret the way their own war had ended. Over two months before the uprising, from Lintas, an advertising agency where
Later, sipping his favourite hercules rum, December 1st, 1945, was chosen for the he worked for around two decades, Dutt
Dutt would at times go down memory first act of sabotage. the civil population spent his weekends at the Yusuf Meher-
lane and speak of how the uprising got had been invited to visit docked ships ally Centre, which helped rural residents
little support from leaders like Mahatma and onshore establishments. the night and cottage industries. It was like fight-
Gandhi, Vallabhbhai Patel and aruna asaf before, the ratings got down to upsetting ing a new war.
ali. he wrote that the national leaders the authorities’ plans. In Dutt’s words: ‘By the outcome of the one where he and
disowned the ratings who had dreamt of dawn, the Talwar, meant as an exhibit be- his Naval colleagues fought against the
capturing the Navy and placing it at the dis- fore an admiring Bombay public, was in British had left him disappointed. the
posal of their freedom campaign, and this shambles. the parade ground was littered February 18th revolt had gained momen-
had left them sorely disappointed. ‘None with burnt flags and buntings; brooms and tum within 24 hours. By the evening of
of the national leaders came to Bombay. all buckets were prominently displayed from February 19th, the British had lost control
those who were filling the political arena the masthead. Political slogans in foot-high over a complete unit of their Indian fight-
with heroic calls for revolution discreetly letters were staring from every wall: ‘Quit ing forces as the strike spread to 74 ships,
kept their distance.’ India’, ‘Down with the Imperialists’, ‘Re- four flotillas and 20 onshore establish-
the exposure that Indian soldiers got volt Now’, ‘Kill the British’.’ ments. ‘Bombay went to bed that night
to global events during World War II had Dutt had painted some slogans and with revolution in the air, rioting, looting
turned them acutely aware of the situa- pasted seditious leaflets on the barrack and acts of violence having broken out in
tion in their own country. ‘at their age walls, calling upon the ratings to rise in re- all parts of the city. added numbers of
and with their training and experience, volt against the rulers. he was arrested and patrol cars equipped with radio sets were
they could understand and appreciate a taken into custody. When the Command- on the streets to deter would-be rioters.
subhas [Chandra] Bose more easily than ing Officer, Commander King, shouted if troop reinforcements were brought up
a Mahatma. the barrack walls were no he understood the consequences of what from Poona but their turn for action came
longer high enough to contain the tide of he had done, he replied, “save your breath, only the next day,’ writes Percy s Gourgey,
nationalism,’ Dutt wrote. sir. I am ready to face your firing squad,” who was a junior RIN officer in Bombay
he admits in his book that he and and pulled up a chair to sit down. Dutt had at that time, in his book The Indian Naval
the other ratings, who were mostly ‘in- become a hero, an inspirational figure for Revolt of 1946.
experienced teenagers’ from rural India, the ratings bristling to get at their masters. But on February 20th, the uprising

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 79


started losing steam. By the fifth day, newspaper reports, hundreds were killed of C.O. Infuriates the Ratings’.
‘when the workers were challenging and a thousand injured, but the figures In March last year, artist Vivan
the might of the British empire with bare were refuted by the authorities. sundaram and cultural theorist ashish
hands on the streets of Bombay and the Gourgey writes, ‘In the space of one Rajadhyaksha together worked on an
ratings were still behind the guns’, they short week, the whole gamut of emotions installation, Meanings of Failed Action:
were completely isolated, with both the experienced in the national liberation Insurrection 1946—a 40-foot long
Congress and Communist Party aban- movement were manifested—fear, sus- container with a sound-and-light show.
doning them. the Flag Officer Com- picion, jealousy, frustration and courage.’ “It has BC Dutt’s melancholy voice.
manding RIN, Vice-admiral Jh God- the national leaders appealed to the the work speaks of how people came
frey (the highest authority in the RIN) ratings to remain calm and negotiate with together to participate in the freedom
reached Bombay on February 20th. Rep- the authorities. ‘Political innocents that struggle. It does communicate some-
resentatives of the Naval Central strike we were, the significance of that advice thing of that time,” says sundaram, who
Committee, set up on February 19th and was lost on us…. Finally it boiled down to had met Dutt in Mumbai in 1973.
headed by leading signalman Ms Khan the fact that where the RIN mutiny was a report by Lieutenant Colonel haq
and Petty Officer telegraphist Madan concerned, the rulers and the leaders of Nawaz had said that Indian officers and
singh, met him. the committee returned the ruled were no longer adversaries, but ratings had nationalistic feelings, but
with a request from Vice-admiral God- allies,’ writes Dutt. did not nurture political ambitions.
frey that all ratings should return to their among the reasons for the uprising, he
respective ships and establishments by cited the racist behaviour of British of-

3 pm. ‘a majority of the ratings were un- N 1945, as World War II ended, ficers, major discrimination against In-
prepared for such a denouement. But, around 9,000 ratings were waiting to dian ratings and the perception of being
of course, as in all mass movements, we be demobilised. all political parties misled at the time of recruitment with
also had our share of compromisers and had started looking forward to Indepen- promises of assured post-war jobs. Dutt
bargainers, dissenters and day-dreamers,’ dence. Commodore Johnson recalls his managed to get a job as a journalist at the
Dutt noted in his book, which came out father telling him that during the war, Free Press Journal. ‘Basically, the ratings
over two decades later. the number of British officers were nice to Indian sol- were completely devoid of commu-
casualties on February 22nd when Brit- diers, but once it ended, their attitude nal feeling which was a tremendous
ish tanks cleared the streets after several changed. they used abusive language that asset for any newspaper,’ writes s Nata-
were shot, was not known. according to the ratings found distasteful. the sense of rajan, who was the editor of Free Press
soldierly camaraderie was over. “as a serv- Journal, in the foreward to Dutt’s book.
ing officer, I can see things from the ring Dutt admits that it was in the
side. In an organisation and disciplined advertising industry that he found his
military force like the Navy, a mutiny is post-Naval career groove. During
unacceptable. however, those who took his days at the Free Press Journal, Dutt
part in the uprising were caught in a worked in the same room as Balasaheb
whirlpool of post-war mismanagement thackeray, who was its cartoonist, for
of their demobilisation and the national- three years. tanuj recalls him saying
ist environment,” says Johnson. that in those three years, he never saw the
his father told him that he would have cartoonist smile.
done it the same way all over again but Meanwhile, ansuya got busy with her
wished there was another way it ended. work, dealing mostly with divorce cases.
“One always joins the Navy with a sense “Divorce is no longer a stigma that it used
of pride, but many on HMIS Talwar and to be. so business for divorce lawyers has
at Castle Barracks, who fought glorious- increased several times,” she says.
ly in war, actually received a paper that ansuya, however, does not like to be
said ‘discharged with disgrace’. they left called a divorce lawyer. she is unhappy
dishonoured,” says Johnson. his book, with the “deterioration” and “unethical
Timeless Awake, in which he devotes a practices” in the legal profession nowa-
chapter to the uprising, has images of days. splitting her time between reading,
newspaper clippings sourced from the watching television, playing Snakes and
National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, Ladders and offering legal consultation at
News of the Naval ratings’
uprising in The Bombay Sentinel; London. a headline in one dated Febru- times on cases, ansuya has been fighting
(top) Dutt’s book on the event ary 19th, 1946, says ‘Insulting Behaviour her own battle. n

80 20 august 2018

Photograph by NATHAN G



Parvathi Thampi with a

of her grandfather 20 august 2018
C Sankaran Nair
Former President oF the indian national Congress
sir C sankaran nair was one oF the builders oF
modern india. his granddaughter Carries Forth
his legaCy in her own Private and erudite way
By Nandini Nair

he sun decided not ter whom the centre has been named, the ment, and that of a nationalist within the
to play spoilsport this Tues- other is his son-in-law KPs Menon. constitutional set up of British india. he
day evening. After days of The csn Foundation was established can be best understood through the book
endless rain, clouds yielded in the late 70s, in memory of one of the C. Sankaran Nair written by KPs Menon,
to the light over Ottapalam. ‘foremost builders of modern india’. A first published in 1967. The slim and eru-
situated in central Kerala, non-political organisation, its first task of dite volume is part of a series on Builders
Ottapalam is not a must-see tourist spot business was to bring out a complete col- of Modern India dedicated to ‘the story of
of the state. Like the heroines of Victo- lection of the writings of sankaran nair. the struggles and achievements of the
rian novels, she is neither cooing damsel Thanks to the patrons and secretaries of eminent sons and daughters of india who
nor full-throated woman; neither back- the trust over the years, the Foundation have been mainly instrumental in our
waters nor beach; neither village nor hasn’t remained stuck in time. its legacy national renaissance and the attainment
city. she is still growing up. her railway to Ottapalam is audible in the hoots and of independence’, published by the union
stationhasonlytwoplatforms,butshealso whistles of the players and spectators at Ministry of information and Broadcasting.
hosts hypermarts and shopping arcades. the badminton court. it is an inheritance KPs Menon (1898–1982), husband of
Mundu-clad men on motorbikes whizz that extends beyond the perks of blood- sankaran nair’s youngest daughter saras-
down gullies laced by paddy fields. Apart- lines, and echoes into the evenings of a wati Menon, was himself a well-respected
ment blocks abut heritage homes. The town. With the arrival of an indonesian author and diplomat who served as am-
town has the charm of the old, and a brio coach, ambitions on the court have ex- bassador of india to china and the soviet
which suggests youth. panded from the state level, to national, union. KPs Menon had direct access to
Today the action is at the csn centre, as to perhaps even international some day. sankaran nair and his diaries, but his book
it is the inauguration of the 17th KPs Me- The players thwacking a shuttlecock is written with the temper of an archaeolo-
non All Kerala senior shuttle Badminton over the net are unlikely to know much gist and not the indulgence of kin. This bi-
Ranking Tournament 2018. Players clad in about sankaran nair, a man who was ography of sankaran nair (1857-1934) is a
shorts and tee-shirts mingle with ladies in chosen as president of the indian national deeply reported account of a lawyer, judge,
Kanjeevarams.Thetwocourts,sprucedand congress (interestingly, the only Malayali politician and Member of the Viceroy’s
shined to perfection, are watched over by to have held that post) in Amaravathi council who strove for the ‘emancipation
two elderly men in large framed portraits. back in 1897. his role was that of a con- of his country from the bondage of foreign
One is sir chettur sankaran nair (csn), af- stitutionalist within the national move- domination and native custom’.

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 83


in the pantheon of freedom fighters, cal self-government. Menon writes, ‘These MeeT One OF sankaran nair’s oldest
sankaran nair is often overlooked be- measures were far more liberal than the living descendants, Parvathi Thampi,
cause as a constitutionalist he opposed paltry proposals which had been put for- 93, at a recently opened Malayali restau-
Mahatma’s Gandhi’s methods. in his ward by the Government of india in 1916. rant in chennai. Thampi, the daughter of
treatise Gandhi and Anarchy, he writes, For this the credit must go largely to the un- KPs Menon, is immediately tickled by its
‘non-cooperation as advocated by Mr compromising stand taken by sankaran mouthful of a name—Kappa chakka
Gandhi may be a weapon to be used when nair in the Viceroy’s executive council.’ Kandhari (meaning tapioca, jackfruit,
constitutional methods have failed to nair’s probity was celebrated by india bird’s eye chilli). A great grandmother
achieve our purpose. non-violence and when he resigned from the Viceroy’s ex- to three, Thampi’s family is often heard
passive suffering will lead to bloodshed ecutive council after the Jallianwala Bagh saying, “hope we can be like Kunja Velli-
or be unfruitful of any satisfactory re- massacre. Wanting to rouse British public yamma (her family title) when we grow
sults.’ Published in 1922—the same year opinion about the magnitude of events in old,” as age has neither dimmed nor dulled
as the chauri chaura incident which led Punjab, he set out for england. he wrote her ardour for life. While she is the matri-
Gandhi to suspend the non-cooperation in his memoirs, ‘i was determined that if arch of an unwieldy family, she has the
movement at a national level—the book i could possibly manage it there would be spunk and curiosity of the little prince
did voice valid reservations for that time, no Jallianwala Bagh again in india.’ At the on an asteroid. A skilled raconteur, she
but also ensured that its author would be secretary of state’s council, nair insisted often prefers drama to facts. her sister
sidelined from common halls of fame for the British Government condemn the Malithi nair who is also at the lunch often
not seeing eye to eye with the Mahatma. travesties committed by General dyer and has to rein in her sibling’s imagination.
sir surendranath Banerjea in his book, others in Punjab. he also criticised Michael Thampi is hard to pin down, as she is
A Nation in the Making, rightly wrote of nair O’dwyer in his book Gandhi and Anarchy, always busy with something in the house
as one of the ‘founders and early builders as he believed that ‘O’ dwyer caused or orbeyond.Thelunchcannotdragonfortoo
of the indian national congress whose
achievements the present generation is
apt to forget, but who placed india firmly
on the road to constitutional freedom’. NAIR PLAYED A pivotal role in the Reforms Act
nair— ‘averse to extremism in words of 1919 which EXPANDED THE PARTICIPATION of
and deeds’—was prescient in many ways,
as he saw the danger of mixing religion
Indians by introducing diarchy in the provinces
and politics, a folly that many patriots
could be accused of, and the amplifica-
tions of which still resound. A believer in
constitutional agitation and social reform, was responsible for the commission of long as she has a packed schedule: lunch, si-
he opposed fanaticism of all kinds. KPs that atrocity’. O’ dwyer sued him for libel. esta and then the ‘50-50 club’. she explains,
Menon notes, ‘even exaggerated nation- in the case O’Dwyer vs Nair 1924 before “it was a club started to encourage young
alism, he thought, was a curse.’ the King’s Bench division in London, musicians. it is 50 per cent music, 50 per
As a social reformer, he advocated the jury decided by a majority of 11 to 1 cent saapad (meals).” With her signature
the ending of polygamy and infant that General dyer had not committed an humour, she adds, “during music, there
marriage; equality for women; abolition atrocity at Amritsar’s Jallianwala Bagh, will be 10-12 people. By saapad time, it is
of the caste system; introduction of a and sankaran nair, the defendant, was packed. Many of the musicians here think
proper marriage law; free primary educa- accordingly held guilty of libel. The sole the louder the better. But i have been going
tion for the disadvantaged and the spread dissenting juryman was none other than for years and have seen some of the finest
of higher education in the interests of harold Laski, the well-known political musiciansperformhereintheirearlydays.”
scientific knowledge. economist. since the verdict of the jury she has few memories of sankaran
nair played a pivotal role in the Re- was not unanimous, it was open to nair nair as she was not yet a teenager when
forms Act of 1919—recommended by not to accept it and seek a fresh trial. he he died. she remembers a headline that
edwin Montagu and the Viceroy, Lord chose not to do so, saying, “Who knows described nair, as he of ‘Atlantine shoul-
chemlsford—which expanded the what another 12 english shopkeepers ders fit to bear the weight of monarchy’.
participation of indians by introducing would think.” O’dwyer offered to forgo she sees him as an imposing 6-foot tall
diarchy in the provinces, under which the damages of £7,000 if nair tendered gentleman who would eat two chickens
elected ministers were responsible for an apology. he refused point-blank, even a day. Whether the latter is fact or fantasy,
subjects such as education, health and lo- though it was a large sum. it is impossible to know. she grew up on

84 20 august 2018
stories of his fabled strength: he could
rip apart an entire deck of cards with one
swift move. A strict disciplinarian, he en-
sured his daughters (he had one son and
five daughters) studied sanskrit seven
hours a day. her mother saraswati Me-
non was a sanskrit guru and taught her
husband hundreds of shlokas.
Like most women of her genera-
tion, she is perplexed to learn she is the
protagonist of a story. she mentions
achievements of other relatives and
descendants, believing them to be more
appropriate for coverage and poster-
ity. There was her uncle, a captain in the
Army, who kept a pet tiger. he gave it away
only when a doctor told him once it tastes
blood it can never be tamed, she tells me. C Sankaran Nair with his wife Parvathi Nair and children
There are siblings and nephews who have
built illustrious careers in academics, the
foreign service and indian bureaucracy. of them confided later, had expected a a few days later, she is poring over the
But to me, it is her story that merits tell- dhoti-clad, betel-chewing, Brahmin with morning newspapers. An avid reader, she
ing. Our culture of biographies is so fixated a caste mark, and not the agnostic, Oxford- is right now immersed in Manu s Pillai’s
on masculine glories in the public field educated individual my father was.’ Rebel Sultans and is enjoying it as she has
that we spurn the rich interior and intel- she flew in 1951 with two infants to visited hampi, but knows little about the
lectual lives of countless women. the us. As a 25-year-old with three chil- history of the period. her other project
Thampi was born in Ottapalam, and dren in new York, she initially hated it, is reading the biographies of American
travelled with her parents to sri Lanka, the overwhelmed by the domestic chores presidents. she says, “i have read nearly
north West Frontier Province and china. and child rearing. she recounts setting a all their biographies, except George Wash-
she spent 1943-46 in china and even hot cup of coffee in front of her infant and ington. he seemed rather dull.” she has
studied at Ginling college in chengdu. stuffing toast into her husband’s mouth, chugged through more than one on Abra-
To this day she remembers some Man- as she mistook the two. But after making ham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
darin. she lived for more than 20 years in friends who lasted a lifetime, she fell in With a cataract surgery scheduled
new York with her husband, KP Thampi love with the city and Americans. Always soon, reading is proving to be hard. Re-
(who worked at the un). They retired to dressed in a sari, in snow and rain, she says cently she has discovered the joys of net-
Madras on november 5th, 1977. “it is Guy she never faced racism in the 60s or 70s. “At flix and finds Narcos, on the colombian
Fawkes day,” she says. she is the author of that time they liked foreigners,” she adds. cocaine trade, particularly rivetting. she is
two children’s books Geetha and the Village she enrolled at the new school for social still adept with her cellphone and refuses
School and Moon Uncle. Research and even took courses on hindu- to save contacts, choosing to remember
in a 2014 article in The Hindu, ‘A dream ism and the West and another one on ‘Man, phone numbers instead. her memory is
childhood in Balochistan’, she writes Biology and society’. every Wednesday, laser-sharp, as every Friday she recites the
about her experiences: ‘i was just entering she’d watch a matinee play on Broadway. entire Lalita Sahasranama (a hindu prayer
my teens when my family entered a world she’s transplanted her new York habits that is 1,000 names of devi) nine times.
totally new: a brave and barren world, so to chennai, where she is a regular at all cul- Thampi is looking forward to visiting
different from the strait-laced bureaucrat- tural and musical evenings. As a patron of her tharavad in Ottpalam. it is a place she
ic world of delhi-simla and the lush and the Music Academy, she says with evident holds dear for the innumerable meals and
languid world of ceylon, where we had pride, “in the last 40 years i have not missed conversations she has shared over red din-
spent the preceding four years. We were a december season (the annual classical ing tables and chairs with her family. The
taken aback; so, i think, were the Pathans dance and music extravaganza of chen- legacy she has inherited from her parents
of Balochistan! When they heard my fa- nai). The only time i have is the three years and grandparents is that of wisdom and
ther, a south indian hindu, was coming my parents and husband passed away.” grace; to her progeny, she passes this on,
there as the Political Agent, they, as one When i call Thampi on the phone coupledwithlaughter—always,laughter. n

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 85

Photographs by HarsHa Vadlamani



Busts of (L-R)

Gam Gantam Dora,


Alluri Sitarama Raju


and Gam Mallu Dora


in Nadimpalem village,
Visakhapatnam district

A two-yeAr-long rebellion thAt shook the
ghAts of AndhrA PrAdesh. A Pious PlAinsmAn who
turned revolutionAry to leAd nAtive tribes
AgAinst An unjust AdministrAtion. ninety-four
yeArs lAter, A seArch for the legAcy of Alluri
sitArAmA rAju And his lieutenAnts gAm gAntAm
dorA And gAm mAllu dorA
By V Shoba

86 20 august 2018
Alluri Satyavati with her sons Laxman Varma, Rama Raju and
Sri Rama Raju in Burugupudi
‘To be a hero in undiscovered territories is to be
obscure; these territories and their songs are
lit only by the most anonymous blood and by
flowers whose name nobody knows’
—Pablo Neruda

early a ceNtury
ago, the low hills of north-
eastern andhra Pradesh
were aflame with revo-
lution. the ‘fituri’, as the
British dubbed it, was
rather randomly christened the ‘rampa
disturbances’ after a taluk in the hilly belt,
although the epicentre was Gudem, an
inaccessible block of about 1,865 square
km where the conditions were ripe for
rebellion. today, it is hard to imagine
these forests, in full monsoon livery, ring-
ing with the crack of .303 rifles. a veil of
historical obscurity hangs thick over the
ghats of Visakhapatnam and east Goda- ALTHOUGH ON some level estranged from his
vari districts—the tribal ‘agency’ areas community, Alluri Sitarama Raju could never give up
that erupted in an early revolt against sub-
jugation by colonial forces between 1922
the CULTURAL INHIBITIONS he had grown up with
and 1924. Here, the name alluri Sitarama
from the plains who became the unlikely would have been thrilled. the looting of ‘SriSri’ Srinivasa rao’s inspiring anthem
architect of an organised resistance, is like a chintapalli, KD Peta and rajavommangi ‘Telugu veera levara’ (Wake up, telugu war-
river whose mutinous course is etched into police stations, in a carefully planned rior), still plays to packed audiences when
the land, a canyon deepening over time. string of attacks that left the administra- screened in agency towns on festival
Washedawayintheweatheringarethesto- tion reeling and signalled the beginning of nights. Of raju’s two trusted lieutenants,
ries of dozens of unaccredited heroes who, a sustained rebellion, had yielded enough the brothers Gam Gantam Dora and Gam
exhaustedbytheirstrugglewithwant,nev- weapons—26 muskets, 2,500 rounds of Mallu Dora, who not only enlisted the sup-
ertheless betook themselves to the forests ammunition, scores of bayonets, swords port of locals and identified hideouts, but
for a severe contest with authority. and knives—that the guerrillas no longer were likely the invisible strings tugging
chased by rainwinds on a dour, wet felt defenceless. today, a truck, seized with raju towards the revolutionary road, pre-
morning, we enter KD Peta, or Krishnade- a thousand kilograms of ganja suspected to cious little is known. “Gantam Dora is our
vipeta, a scrap of a town in Golugonda have originated at the border with Odisha, god,” says Gam Bodu Dora, a small man of
mandal, Visakhapatnam district, which is stands parked outside the KD Peta police about 70, emerging from a circular hut in
the gateway to alluri country and the site compound. locals still have a strained lanka Veedhi, a hamlet in Battapanukula
of his grave on the banks of the thandava. relationship with the law in these parts panchayat, Koyyuru mandal. a grandson
From here on, nearly every junction—in known for Maoist sympathies. “It is not of Gantam Dora, Bodu and his family live
Nadimpalem, rajavommangi, Makaram, safe for me to go out there alone, but you in poverty, subsisting on old-age pension
Mampa—features the golden figure of a will be fine,” says S ramesh, the young sub- of rs 1,000 and four acres of land where
hermit with a flowing beard, a bow and inspector who recently assumed charge. they grow chillies, urad, red gram and
a quiver full of arrows. the old police the hill people are affable enough, other pulses he does not know the names
station building in KD Peta where raju’s furnishing threadbare tributes to alluri of. “We do not remember him—he died
guerrillas tasted their second consecutive Sitarama raju, drawn liberally from the soon after raju in 1924, leaving behind a
victory on august 23rd, 1922, is mostly in- 1974 telugu feature film starring a histri- son and a daughter. But Mallu Dora died
tact, but presently out of bounds, stocked onic G Krishna. the film, which made a only in 1969, and he would tell us stories of
as it is with arms and ammunition. raju popular hero out of raju with Srirangam the fituri. at the peak of the movement, it

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 87


had been raining heavily, just as it is raining “Bastian behaved very cruelly and did so ed—he served a part of it at the cellular
now, and the canals were swollen, but the many wrongs to the people in this taluk Jail in the andamans—and he was elected
brothers crossed a foaming stream—we that I do not find time to narrate them. He from Visakhapatnam to the first lok Sab-
call it chedipigadda—near here without deprived me of my lands and gave them ha. even so, what we know of him today
fearing for their lives. they knew greater away to Sumarla Peddabbi. I begged him is something of an extrapolation from
dangers awaited them,” he says. in so many ways not to ruin me. I sat at locals’ accounts of his cloak-and-dagger
a Bagatha tribesman, Gantam Dora his feet on a particular day entreating him exploits. “He was fond of me,” says Gam
had been munsif of Battapanukula, a vil- not to ruin me and he kicked me with his Balamma, who was a companion to Mallu
lage in Makaram mutta (estate) perched at shoes, thrice. I was not given the entire por- Dora’s wife and lived next door with the
the lip of the forest to the north of KD Peta, tion of the land ordered to be delivered to couple, who had no children. Balamma
but his lands were seized by a Bastian, the me. I afterwards clung to the feet of raju had fled an unhappy child marriage in
much-reviled deputy tehsildar of Gudem, garu (sir) and I am determined to see the Sarabhannapalem and found love in
citing alleged irregularities. under colonial end,” Gantam Dora told British officials in- lanka Veedhi with Bodu Dora, whom
rule, muttadars who had earlier enjoyed vestigating the allegations of cruelty and she married with Mallayya’s blessings.
the authority to collect and to levy taxes, venality against Bastian that were cited as “Thatha (grandpa) had a booming voice
were reduced to being agents of repression. one of the causes leading up to the fituri. and wore a white shirt, coat and dhoti.
an agrarian discontent had been brewing the only bus to town would sound its

in the hills, both among peasants and mut- allu aKa Mallayya horn and wait for him as he took his time
tadars, since the ban on podu cultivation— Dora, who took part in 58 en- getting dressed. He was aggressive, never
the sustainable practice of clearing small counters with the police, was afraid to fight. a story goes that when he
patches on the slopes for one-time cultiva- captured at Nadimpalem on September and raju came upon a policeman striking
tion, after which the land was allowed to 18th, 1923, convicted under Sections 121, a young mother, Mallayya put him over
be reclaimed by the forest—and restric- 121a and 122 of the IPc and sentenced to his shoulder and brought him here to give
tions on the gathering of forest produce. death. His sentence was later commut- him a good thrashing, but they let him go
only after serving him lunch,” says Balam-
ma, shrivelled to the bone with age, as her
elder daughter Daram Malleshwari, 35,
“EVEN TODAY, we are at the government’s mercy,” helps her onto a string cot. the folds under
Babu Rao says. “It could not even build a house her eyes ripple as Balamma unwinds the
each for the FIVE DESCENDANTS of Gantam Dora” knots of her memories in her front yard
amidst the pecking of chickens. “I spent
45 days in Delhi on the invitation of Indira
Gandhi,” she says, clinging to the only
instance when an Indian Government
recognised the freedom fighter’s family.
there may or may not have been a coca-
cola drinking competition with Sanjiv
Gandhi, and a gentle rebuke by Indira as
a young Balamma innocently wandered
off into Pandit Nehru’s quarters, but one
cannot blame the family for reconfigur-
ing the past on its own terms.
Much of history, in any case, is ruled
by the imagination, even structured by
it. For how else does one explain a pious
plainsman’s rise as hero of the hillfolk?
alluri Srirama raju—‘Sita’ was prefixed
later, either in honour of his sister, or in
an attempt to canonise him—was born
in Pandrangi, Visakhapatnam district,
Gam Bodu Dora, Gantam Dora’s grandson, with his wife Balamma on July 4th, 1897, to Suryanarayanam-
in Lanka Veedhi, Visakhapatnam ma and alluri Venkata rama raju, of

88 20 august 2018
Mogallu, West Godavari district. upon dest son who bears a striking resemblance
the death of his father, who ran a pho- to the photo of raju with bullet wounds to
tography business from rajahmundry, the chest, provided by Bastian in the 1930s
when he was 11, his uncle prevailed on and published in 1971 by V raghavaiah in
him to continue his schooling, first from his book on tribal revolts. Sri rama raju
Kakinada and Visakhapatnam and later and his brothers rama raju and laxman
in Narsapuram, but he soon left home Varma, twins who are now 25 years of age,
to pursue astrology, Sanskrit and native went to a missionary school for tribal chil-
medicine at tuni. Wandering the agen- dren. three years after their father’s death,
cy wearing red khaddar, and dispensing A 1938 notice by the Madras the eldest brother dropped out of class 8,
herbal remedies and mantras, he came government banning a book unable to juggle studies and a job as a milk
to be revered as a ‘devudu who had come on Alluri Sitarama Raju delivery boy making rs 150 a month. “I
to liberate them from the jubberdust rule learnt to drive the milk van, so I could
of the British’, writes atlury Murali, “you must remember that raju came make rs 1,500 a month,” says Sri rama
professor of history at the university of from a traditional Kshatriya family. His raju, who now drives a school van. rama
Hyderabad, in a 1984 research paper on mother was orthodox and short-tem- raju and laxman are halfway into their
alluri Sitarama raju and the Manyam pered—she did not allow people from Btech courses, and moonlight as lab tech-
rebellion, 1922-1924. It must have been a lower castes to enter their home. But he nicians to supplement the family income.
staggering passage to self-discovery—an left at a young age, and for the rest of his For the first time, the family was invited to
anchorite living off milk and fruits in a life, remained a guest, visiting every cou- attend their Thathayya’s jayanti at the me-
remote corner of andhra finding, quite ple of months or so,” says alluri Satyavati, morial in KD Peta this year—the moment
by accident, his calling as a revolutionary. 50. although, on some level, estranged of pride and awe they had waited for their
Influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, he was from his community, raju could never entire lives. “until ten years ago, no one
nevertheless convinced that a violent de- give up the cultural inhibitions he had even knew we existed. actor Krishna was
nunciation of British policies was needed grown up with, preferring for instance the only one to track us down, to present
to liberate the natives. News of this strap- milk tinged with the thangedu flower (Sen- a panchaloha idol of rama when the film
ping stranger and his plans to organise a na auriculata) over the food of the tribals, was released. the rest of our family—Saty-
rebellion reached the authorities early in and believing in the power of mantras to anarayana raju’s four other children—is
1922. When interrogated by the agency heal the body. the widow of raju’s brother well settled in Hyderabad and Visakhapat-
Deputy Superintendent of Police at KD Satyanarayana raju’s son tirupati raju, nam. We had been allotted five acres of
Peta on January 30th, raju admitted Satyavati lives with her three sons in a land, but because of a dispute with a local
that the people saw him as “a very holy two-room house with unplastered walls. contractor who sabotaged my husband’s
man” and believed that he was going to these are rented quarters but they are an project—a tank bund—we suffered losses
start a fituri. “everybody comes and asks improvement over their ancestral home and had to take out a loan. We eventually
me about it but most of them do not ac- across the street—an old hut with a straw sold off all the land to repay the loan and
cept my denial. I cannot say whether the roof that caved in this monsoon. a govern- to pay for my only daughter’s wedding,”
Non-cooperation Movement is good or ment school teacher, Satyanarayana raju, Satyavati says. Of late, she has been receiv-
bad. I attended two meetings before of upon retirement, had settled down at the ing invitations from neighbouring villag-
the Non-cooperation Movement. I only place of his last posting—J Burugupudi, a es to unveil statues of alluri Sitarama raju
asked the people here not to drink. I have village in Kirlampudi mandal, east Goda- and to participate in community events. It
not taught them non-cooperation,” he vari district. “He died 26 years ago. My hus- is rewarding to be recognised, she says, to
said, in a statement that is preserved in band was a contractor and a small-time be picked out in a crowd and summoned
the telangana state archives at tarnaka, businessman, and after he died young, I on stage. “For the government, though, we
Hyderabad, a treasure trove of fituri files took up tailoring to support the children,” are as good as dead,” says laxman Varma.
enclosing reports of local officials and says Satyavati, serving tea made in a make-
muttadars on early rumours of raju’s shift kitchen in the shadow of a flight of

political activities, letters written in his stairs. One would think the alluri family ccOrDING tO aN exhaus-
own hand in telugu and english, copies name was enough to assure a livelihood, tive report on the causes of the
of non-bailable warrants issued to rebels, if not a pension, in Independent India. rebellion, submitted on april 21st,
prosecution details and government no- “Growing up, we did not make a show of 1923, by aJ Happell, Officer commanding
tices informing the muttas of the new pu- our identity. No one would have believed agency Operations, forced labour on the
nitive policy towards rebel sympathisers. us anyway,” says Sri rama raju, 28, the el- government’s road-laying projects, agrar-

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 89


ian crisis and grievances of ex-village mun-

sifs and ex-muttadars against Bastian had
created a combustible environment in the
agency, jolting the tribesmen into action.
Some of these rumbles echo through the
hills even today. a British-era ghat road,
opened to traffic in 1921, winds gently up
to lammasingi, a hill station wrapped in
tattered quilts of vapour. Drive north, leav- Satyanarayana Raju, brother of Alluri Sitarama Raju
ing the tourists behind, and you get a sense
of falling off the map. there are no cellular could not tolerate it,” says Gam Babu rao, a rebels and 182 people related to them. On
towers in sight, just a strip of asphalt head- surprisingly smooth orator. He tells a story, May 7th, 1924, alluri Sitarama raju met
ed straight for the lammasingi dam, snak- a parable of the plunder of their lands, em- his end in Mampa, caught unawares by
ing through tiny settlements and sloping bellished with great detail. It was a year an assam rifles team that was scanning
fields of corn and pineapples. Peddabarada, before the fituri and a party of 12 British the forest for rebels. “the version that he
a slushy hamlet perched at a slight incline police officers was rampaging through a surrendered willingly has no historical ve-
amid toddy palms, with undulating hills village near Sarabhannapalem, ransack- racity,” says Pala Krushna Moorthy, retired
for a backdrop, is home to a branch of Gan- ing a mosambi orchard. When Mallu Dora Deputy Director of archives, Hyderabad,
tam Dora’s family that claims to possess and Gantam Dora got word of the attack, who has authored a book on the rebellion.
the last of his weapons—a country sword they set out brandishing thorny bushes “In their zeal to glorify and appropriate al-
and a knife covered in rust, fished out from for weapons and sent 11 officers to their luri, the raju community has forgotten
an aluminium chest stuffed with clothes graves, cutting off the ear of the lone sur- several truths, the most important among
and household sundries. Babu rao, 50, vivor. “even today, we are at the mercy of them that he was a champion of pro-tribal
Neelakanta rao, 40, and ram Babu, 35, are the government,” Babu rao says. “It could reform—an enlightener for the times.”
grandsons of Dora’s daughter Sanyasam- not even build a house each for the five de- local newspapers had never shied of
ma. they grew up whispering imagined scendants of Gantam Dora.” acknowledging raju’s rising popularity,
recipes to a secret family potion that made but true legitimacy came only with the
Gantayya’s bones invincible, their hearts congress ratifying his martyr status. Gan-

warmed by the sense of justice that made Or all tHe passions stoked by dhi, in the July 18th, 1929 edition of Young
him a hero. there is a curious integrity to the clampdown on the rebellion in India, paid the ultimate tribute: ‘I was
these folksy fictions that rush in like flood- the agency, alluri Sitarama raju’s presented with a portrait of a young man
water to fill in the cracks of history. the army of a few hundred men did not act out as that of a great patriot. I did not know
Bagathas, a hunting-gathering-toddy tap- of impulse. they cultivated a network of anything about alluri Srirama raju. upon
ping-sheep rearing tribe, are facing a long informants, mastered the art of subter- enquiry, I was told many stories of his ex-
twilight that began with the arrival of the fuge, and attacked only from a position of ploits. I thought them to be interesting
British in the agency. For as long as anyone advantage—take for instance the ambush and inspiring as an instance of sustained
can remember, come summer, they would and murder of two British officers at the bravery and genius, in my opinion misdi-
commence their most important festival, treacherous Damanapalle ghat—retreat- rected. I therefore asked for an authentic
itukula panduga or the festival of the brick, ing when local support or supplies dwin- record. M annapoornaiah, editor of the
with a ritual hunt. a jackfruit would be dled. they had managed to outsmart the telugu paper called The Congress, has
shot down, declaring open season. the Malabar special forces, which were sent kindly sent it to me. I have considerably
men and women of the village would then back in 1923 after months of dormancy. abridged it. though I have no sympathy
disperse into the forests, returning days When the rebels resurfaced, stronger than with and cannot admire armed rebellion,
later with wild game—deer, rabbit, boar. before, the government decided to send I cannot withhold my homage for a youth
For six years now, there are no animals to be for the assam rifles, who rolled into Nar- so brave, so sacrificing, so simple and so
found in the forests around the village, and sipatnam on January 27th, 1924, under the noble in character as young Sri rama raju.
it is risky to sneak deeper inside. Deprived leadership of Major Goodall. at around If the facts collected by annapoornaiah
of podu rights, the Gam brothers cultivated the same time, tG rutherford, appoint- are true, raju was (if he is really dead) not
among them a two-acre parcel of land be- ed as special commissioner in charge of a fituri but a great hero.’ Dozens of fami-
sides two more acres of coffee. “Our people agency operations, imposed punitive tax- lies in the agency areas await the day they
helped build the roads for the British, but es on villages that sympathised with the can build such thought-monuments in
they got paid very little for it. Gantam Dora rebels. Warrants were issued against 55 memory of their forefathers. n

90 20 august 2018




one man has made it his
mission to trace the bloodline
of freedom fighters
By Lhendup G Bhutia

Photograph by ashish sharma

Shivnath Jha

92 20 august 2018
here are several dis- it, he mixes the two names up repeatedly. even though discussed at home when Jag-
agreements over the story “When Shaheed Udham Singhji killed ga was a kid— was little more than a name.
of the Indian revolution- General Dyer, he did not think what will “My grandparents and elders used to talk
ary, Udham Singh. Some happen to him,” Jagga says. “he was kill- about him a lot, but I didn’t pay much at-
accounts place him in Jal- ing General Dyer for the country. My el- tention. When I was growing up, I never
lianwala Bagh during the ders used to say...” understood much about him. and life was
massacre of april 13th, 1919. he was Michael O’Dwyer, not General Dyer, he very tough for us,” he says. “Nowadays, I
apparently serving water to the crowd is reminded. “Yes, yes, Michael O’Dwyer,” have come to realise what he did. It fills me
when the shooting happened. Others he says, and resumes. “My elders used to with respect and pride that my ancestor
claim he was nowhere around the area; he say the whole family was shocked when did such a brave thing.”
was probably working somewhere in east they heard he killed him. Because [after the If you ask Jagga how he came to such a
africa. Then there is the story of a book he massacre], whenever he visited, he did not realisation, he is ready with the year when
carried to Caxton hall in London, whose show how affected he was. he never gave it all began: 2011.
pages had apparently been cut in such any hint he was going to take revenge.” he was at the shop where he worked
a manner that he could conceal the gun Butasherecountsthestory,Jaggaissoon then, he says, when he heard someone
with which he killed Michael O’Dwyer, wrapped up in passion, and before long, from Delhi had come to his house looking
the Lieutenant Governor of Punjab dur- O’Dwyer becomes General Dyer again. for him and his family. “I was surprised be-
ing the massacre. But this too is contested. One cannot fault him much. By his cause nobody ever comes from another
apparently, the book was just a pocket own admission, Jagga and his immedi- place like Delhi to meet us,” Jagga says.
diary, far too small to hide a firearm. ate family have had such a hard life that The visitor, Shivnath Jha, hadn’t just
But perhaps the most enduring dispute he never understood the importance of dropped in. he had been travelling all
amongst these is the question of who he Udham Singh until recently. Descendants around Punjab for months to trace the
intended to kill in Caxton hall. That day—
13th March, 1940, almost 21 years after the
massacre at Jallianwala Bagh—‘a burly
Sikh’ (according to the book Murders of JHA CLAIMS to have traced the bloodlines of
the Black Museum, which details some of
Britain’s most famous crimes of the last
around 72 freedom fighters. These include
century) walked to the front of the hall at REVOLUTIONARIES of the 20th century’s first half
the end of a lecture attended by an estimat-
ed 160 people, and emptied the contents
of his revolver into the platform, killing
O’Dwyer, a speaker, almost immediately, of aas Kaur, Udham Singh’s sister (Udham family. “I was moving around every-
while injuring several others. By assas- Singh was never married and did not have where,” he says. “I first went to find them
sinating O’Dwyer, ‘the burly Sikh’ was any children), once owned farmland, in amritsar. Somebody there told me to go
avenging the Jallianwala Bagh Massacre. he says, but over the years, the land was to Kurukshetra. Until somebody pointed
But some have wondered if Singh had not gradually sold for sustenance. By the time me towards Sunam.” Jagga remembers be-
mistaken O’Dwyer to be General reginald his father Jeet Singh came of working age, ing very surprised by his questions. “he
Dyer, the man who ordered the killings. In he had no alternative but to work as a con- was asking us, ‘are you the descendants
his diaries, Singh had reportedly misspelt struction labourer, earning until recently of aas Kaur?’ ‘are you the grandchildren
O’Dwyer’s name as ‘O’Dyer’, resulting in a daily wage of about rs 120. his elder of Bachan Singh, aas Kaur’s son?’ he
this theory. Murders of the Black Museum brother supplements the family income was looking through our ID papers,” he
also claims, ‘It seems that Singh may have by painting homes. Jagga, who quit educa- recalls. What Jha was doing was trying
confused O’Dwyer with General Dyer.’ tion after completing Class 10, found em- to establish if Jagga and his family were
That there was a mix-up has been vigor- ployment in a small cloth establishment. indeed related to Udham Singh.
ously disputed. Many historians have They lived in a rented tenement of a single according to Jagga, nobody had ever
pointed out that Dyer died many years room until recently, steeped in debt. done that before. apart from a few people,
before the assassination, and Singh would The figure of Udham Singh as a mar- nobody really knew about their relation-
certainly have been aware of it. tyr, through films, memorials and events, ship with Udham Singh, and no one had
Today, so many years after the event, Ud- looms large over Punjab even today. But ever expressed any interest in exploring it.
ham Singh’s descendant Jagga Singh does for the son of a construction labourer just But to Jha, finding the descendants of
little to nix the mix-up theory. Speaking of about making ends meet, Udham Singh— Udham Singh wasn’t just his sole objec-

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 93


tive. Shocked to see their financial state, varam rajguru (hanged along with Bha- ago. he now focuses entirely on locating
and to see Jeet Singh, well over 60 years old, gat Singh) and ram Prasad Bismil (hanged and raising finances for descendants in
working as a labourer at a construction for the Kakori case); and also 19th century poor financial shape, he says. he lives with
site, he wanted to rehabilitate the family. ones such as rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, his wife and son. The wife, a school teacher,
In the next few months, Jha managed Tantia Tope and Bahadur Shah Zafar in- earns for the family.
to raise rs 11 lakh from an MP (Vijay Dar- volved in the 1857 Uprising. he says he Jha first got interested in this mission
da, who also owns a newspaper). he ar- has managed to help about five so far. “The when he was acquainted with the shehnai
ranged press conferences and interviews stories of most freedom fighters are gradu- maestro Ustad Bismillah Khan. he had
for the family. With the money, Jagga says, ally being forgotten. There are a handful been working on a book of photographs
they were able to buy the house they lived we still know of, people who made big on Khan’s life and work, and often vis-
in and rebuild it. They also paid off all their contributions like Mahatma Gandhi and ited the ageing musician at his Varanasi
debt and ensured, Jagga says, that his fa- Nehru,” Jha says. “But the story of our free- home. he was deeply moved with the
ther Jeet did not have to work anymore. dom struggle is more complicated, more Ustad’s simple manner, living in a run-
But their troubles, although attenuat- vast, and there are contributions of many. down house, surrounded by a vast fam-
ed, haven’t all gone away. Jagga wants the
stability of a government job. Back in 2006,
some elders in his family had managed to
meet amarinder Singh, Chief Minister of
Punjab then, and managed to secure a let-
ter recommending Jagga for a government
job. a year later, before the promise could
materialise, the amarinder Singh govern-
ment lost power and Jagga was left in the
lurch. Jagga has spent the last several years
trying to secure state employment. “any
government job will do,” he says, “even a
peon’s.” What has not helped is the pres-
ence of a vast array of cousins and relatives,
all of them in poor financial condition and
using their links with Udham Singh to de-
mand jobs and financial support. Jeet Singh, descendant
of freedom fighter
Jagga now routinely threatens to com- Udham Singh (above)
mit suicide or embarks upon fasts-unto-
death. he recently returned from a protest
in Delhi, and is currently planning to orga-
nise another one in his hometown. UDHAM SINGH looms large over Punjab even
Jha, however, has moved on to the next
today. But for Jagga, the son of a construction
worker, it was LITTLE MORE than a name

ha, a fOrMer journalist, has
an unusual preoccupation. Born
and raised in Bihar and now based We can’t just forget them.” ily of innumerable sons, daughters, their
in Delhi, he looks for the descendants of Jha himself had a tough childhood. spouses, nephews and grandchildren.
what he calls ‘forgotten freedom fighters’. Growing up in small-town Darbhanga Khan, despite his fame, was going
he claims to have traced the bloodlines of in Bihar, he used to sell newspapers while through a hard time financially. Jha
around 72 freedom fighters. These include completing his schooling. he later became managed to raise the issue online and in
revolutionaries of the 20th century’s first a journalist and worked at newspapers in newspapers, eventually managing to get
half, like Udham Singh, Batukeshwar different cities. In 2006, he got involved in the then Science and Technology Minis-
Dutt (Bhagat Singh’s companion, who what he calls “this location business”. The ter Kapil Sibal to loosen his purse strings
unlike his better known friend, lived on last job he held was at an australian radio in 2006. But it was the musician’s other
to see the country’s Independence), Shi- station’s hindi language service a few years wish—performing at India Gate one last

94 20 august 2018
time in memory of those who had died
for the country—that Jha most wanted
to see fulfilled. Khan was already 91 then.
By the time an invitation came from the
home Ministry, the musician had fallen
ill. he died soon after. “I felt very bad that
Ustad couldn’t do this. That is when I began
to think, even if I couldn’t fulfil his wish,
maybe I could focus on the martyrs who
Ustad wanted to honour. at least I could try
and honour their families,” Jha says.
There are an estimated 170,000 people,
Jha says, either freedom fighters or their de-
pendants, who each draw a monthly pen-
sion close to rs 30,000. The home Ministry
had told the Central Information Com-
Mirza Mohammad Bedaar Bakht, great grandson of
mission in 2009 that so far 170,000 cases Bahadur Shah Zafar, and his wife Sultana Begum
had been sanctioned pension from about
700,000 applications. The Ministry, howev-
er, did admit that it had no consolidated list markably easy, although no less shocking. Today, Begum remembers herself as
of all 170,000 pensioner names. according This happened a few years ago when a 13-year-old in the mid-1960s playing
to Jha, the entire system is a complete mess. he began to look for descendants of the outside her home in Kolkata, being told
he has learnt there are several dependents last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. by her mother that she was to get married
who don’t receive anything at all, or only Several years prior to that, as a journalist that day. “My mother said, ‘he is from ak-
get a measly fraction of the sanctioned pen- working in a Kolkata-based newspaper, bar raja’s family.’ I said, ‘Hoga koi akbar-
sion. “Nobody really knows what is hap- he would occasionally hear from his col- Shakbar (Must be some akbar-Shakbar),’”
pening,” he says, “Who is receiving the leagues that a direct descendant of the last she recalls. her marriage to Bakht, already
pension? Is the recipient even genuine? Mughal emperor called Mirza Moham- 45, had been fixed by an aunt. So she was
Or, who is siphoning off the cash?” mad Bedaar Bakht lived in the city and bathed, dressed and married off that day.
The key to locating descendants so that he was financially in a bad way. Very It was only later, Begum says, as she
many decades and, in some cases, even a few newspapers outside Kolkata had then grew older and fonder of her husband that
century or more after their freedom fight- written about Bedaar Bakht or his family. she understood the importance of his an-
er ancestor has passed away, is simply by So in 2007, when Jha returned to Kol- cestry. “he used to tell me stories of how he
looking hard, Jha says. he usually starts by kata to look for him, he found himself, in was moved from one place to another in
zeroing in on a particular district or village just a matter of days, on the outskirts of the secret before he finally reached Kolkata,”
where a particular freedom fighter hailed city, seated in a tiny tenement in a slum by she says. “I used to listen in awe.”
from or died, or where his family was last the river hooghly. Bedaar Bakht, the only after the 1857 War of Independence, Ba-
heard from, and then he works his way officially recognised direct descendant hadur Shah Zafar was stripped of his prop-
from there, contacting the elderly, local of Bahadur Shah Zafar in India, had died erty and banished to rangoon along with a
journalists and government officials. “I many years earlier. But his wife, Sultana Be- few surviving members of his family. This
can go from the panchayat to Parliament. gum, and six children—five daughters and included Prince Jewan Bakht, according
Very often people like postmen are very a son—were still around. all the children, to some accounts, the king’s only surviv-
helpful.” Sometimes the family will have except a daughter named raunaq, had left ing son. Jewan Bakht had a son, Jamshed
moved, he says, and this will mean a time- SultanaBegumbehind.andthewifeofadi- Bakht, who in turn had Bedaar Bakht from
consuming process. But usually there is rect descendant of the once famed Mughal his second wife Nadir Jehan. Bedaar moved
someone in the area the family hailed family was eking out a living by running out of rangoon as a youngster under the
from who has heard where they have a tea stall. “It was very shocking for me,” care of a guardian, and travelled to various
moved and may even have an exact ad- Jha says. “I had heard they were in a bad parts of India, before finally settling in Kol-
dress. Often, especially in cases where the way. But I never imagined things would kata. for a long time, he drew only rs 400
descendants are poor and under-educated, have been this bad.” Jha managed to raise from the Government as pension. This has
many of them will not have migrated. around rs 2 lakh for Begum and secured a now been increased to rs 6,000.
Sometimes, the find turns out to be re- job in Coal India for raunaq. Jha’s intervention has helped, Begum

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 95


admits. But she claims she needs more aid.

She has wound up her tea stall and is now
completely dependent on the pension. “I
need some [financial] safety. I would like
to spend the remainder of my life in a bet-
ter house,” she says.
according to Jha, most of the descen-
dants he has found so far are invariably
in a state similar to Begum. families who
have educated themselves are living fairly
stable middle-class lives (he mentions
Bharati Bagchi, the daughter of Batuke-
shwar Dutt, who recently retired as a pro-
fessor of economics in Patna). But a vast
majority are people who have been left
behind by the country’s progress.
One of his favourite success stories is Vinayak Rao Tope, a
descendant of
that of Vinayak rao Tope. a descendant Tantia Tope (inset)
of Tantia Tope, the fierce and celebrated
revolutionary from the 1857 war who had
led several raids against British forces, even
seizing Gwalior once while fighting along-
side rani Lakshmibai, Jha found Vinayak Jha found vinayak, a descendant of Tantia
in Bithur, a town close to Kanpur, running
a small grocery store and doubling up as a
Tope, in Bithur, running a small grocery store and
priest to supplement his income. doubling up as a PriesT to supplement his income
Vinayak is the grandson of Lakshman
rao Tope, one of Tantia Tope’s six brothers.
Tantia had no child of his own and apart
from the brothers, also had two sisters. time locating the Tope family, given the priest because the job gives him satisfac-
after Tantia was captured, the rest of his news that all his brothers had split up. tion. Both his daughters are married. and
family was also arrested. They were re- But when he began to make the rounds he would like his 26-year-old son to get a
leased later and returned to their home in Kanpur, he found that one of Tantia’s job, he says. But he is not too worried.
in Bithur, Vinayak recalls, but the family brothers, Lakshman rao, and his descen- There is a lot more fame and respect
then soon split, some moving to Nepal, dants had never left Bithur. They, in fact, accorded to his family in the neighbour-
some to other parts of India. lived in the same house. and when Jha vis- hood now. and four years earlier, betting
as a child, Vinayak says, he listened ited Vinayak, every few minutes he would that this new-found respect could translate
with fascination as his father and other disappear somewhere inside the house into electoral votes, a political party (Swara-
relatives discussed Tantia and his exploits. and emerge with a sword or some other jya Party of India) convinced him to stand
They would frequently talk about how all ancient weapon that Tantia had once used. in the General election. “They told me
of Tantia’s family was arrested, and how, according to Vinayak, very few out- they would help me win the election. and
until the country’s Independence, the fam- side the town knew about their ancestry. maybe in the future, with enough votes,
ily kept a low profile, never revealing their Jha managed to secure a meeting of the I would become their CM candidate,” he
identity in fear of being arrested again. One Topes with Lalu Prasad Yadav, the then says. Vinayak suffered a massive defeat.
of the myths surrounding Tantia is that the railways Minister, who got Vinayak’s The winner, BJP’s Murli Manohar Joshi,
revolutionary was never hanged in 1859 two daughters, Pragati and Tripti, jobs as got close to 475,000 votes. Vinayak got 780.
at Shivpuri. Someone else was hanged in commercial assistants at the Kanpur ter- “The party didn’t support me much.
his place, as this story goes, and Tantia lived minal of Container Corporation of India, a and so I lost,” he says. “But back then,
on in hiding for the rest of his life. Vinayak subsidiary of the railways. Monetary help when they said I could become a CM can-
says he’s heard this story too. But his family of over rs 5 lakh was also arranged. didate, I was very happy. Just to think that
has always believed Tantia died then. Since then, Vinayak has shut down Tantia Tope’s descendant could become a
Jha thought he would have a tough his grocery store. he still moonlights as a CM made me very happy.” n

96 20 august 2018
the Photograph by RITESH uTTamcHandanI



As A teenAger, gour HAri DAs went to jAil
for tHe freeDom movement, AnD tHen As An
olD mAn, spent 32 yeArs trying to get tHe
government to recognise His contribution
98 20 august 2018
certificate I had applied to the government he then told him, “Is this your eti-
By Madhavankutty Pillai of Maharashtra for recognizing me as a quette? a senior citizen comes to see you.
freedom fighter and to sanction pension as Won’t you even offer a seat to him? forget
12th March, 1976 per existing rules. In this regard the Collector those outside in your office. Over there
From: Gour Hari Das of Bombay Suburban District has requested people come and go. But at least you can
To: The Collector of Greater Bombay you under their letter number 1/G.E.N/ offer a seat [in the cabin].”
Sub: Tamrapatra and Sanmanpatra FF/91-92/361 dated 29-11-91 to confirm the the under-secretary stood up, apolo-
I, Shri Gour Hari Das s/o Shri Hari Das correctness of those certificates after verifica- gised and then himself brought the chair
working in Khadi and Village Industries tion. Fortunately or unfortunately that to Das. It is a telling anecdote for what it
Commission, Bombay, is a freedom fighter letter was written to your office in Marathi illustrates. that a man can be reduced to a
and have suffered in Jail imprisonment in language which you may find difficult for file even if those who do such a reduction
1945 at Balasore Jail in Orissa State for compliance. I therefore through this letter have the capacity for empathy if aroused.
which I have obtained the jail certificate request you to please send your comments on It is, however, a rare occasion.
which is enclosed herewith for your perusal the following address… Born in 1931, Das’ childhood was
and reference of the same. I therefore request spent in Jharpipal, a village in Orissa. his
you to issue a Sanmanpatra as well as 24th September, 2007 father had come here from Ikidi, another
recommend for Tamrapatra. I am staying From: Undersecretary to Government of village at the Bengal border. he worked
here since 1956. Maharashtra for a zamindar and also had some land.
Your Faithfully, To: Chief Secretary, Orissa State When sparks of the freedom movement
Subject: Freedom Fighter Pension, Shri touched Jharpipal, his father was among
4th March , 1981 Gour Hari Das the first to join and in his wake followed
From: Gour Hari Das Shri Gour Hari Das has applied for getting Das and his elder brother. he was barely
To: The Collector of Greater Bombay tamrapatra and recognition as the freedom in his teens and was part of what was then
Sub:-Tamrapatra to freedom fighter Shri fighter. Hence, you are requested to convey known as the Vanar Sena, a group which
Gour Hari Das that if the applicant has been getting the had children contributing to the struggle.
Please refer to your above letter where in Freedom Fighter Pension from your State, One of his roles was to get messages across
you requested the Dy.Commissioner of Po- please send the Pension order & give the veri- to leaders who were underground.
lice to submit the report by return of post. It fication report about the jail Certificate from freedom fighters in the village had
is a matter of great regret to inform you that Superintendent, Balasore District Jail started an ashram and undertook con-
after lapse of more than 3 years the pending structive social and political activities,

matter could not be settled so far…I again making people aware and getting lead-
request you to do the needful on priority basis… he year after this let- ers from outside to speak. In 1945, when
ter, Gour hari Das finally Das was in his 7th or 8th standard, a flag
17th June, 1989 got recognition from the hoisting function was to be held in the vil-
From: Office of Dy Commissioner of Police Maharashtra government as lage. the previous day, they gathered to
To: Shri Gour Hari Das a freedom fighter. the first make preparations, struck some posts and
Sub:- Enquiries regarding freedom fighter letter was written in 1976. marked areas for who would stand where.
Will you please make it convenient to call at It took 32 years, when all his documents two constables came and demanded to
this office within four days on any working were in perfect order. What can be more know what was happening. When in-
day between 11 A.M. to 5 P.M. lonely than fighting a battle in which formed of the next day’s function, they
there is no enemy on the other side? and said it was prohibited. “We said ‘We will
16th February, 1992 how enormous is the betrayal if this invis- do it’ and they said ‘We will have to arrest
From: GH Das ible antagonist is something that you are you. We said ‘We are doing our work, you
To: The Jail Superintendent, Balasore Dist. not only a part of but also helped create? do yours’,” recounts Das.
Jail., Balasore, Orissa there was a moment in Gour hari after the flag had been hoisted the next
I, Shri Gour Hari Das originally from Das’ life when he stood in the cabin of an day, the police came and courteously told
Jharpipal village Balasore district at present under-secretary in the Maharashtra gov- them that they had broken the law and
settled in Bombay was admitted to Balasore ernment. he was by then already an old took five or six of them, including Das, to
Jail as undertrial prisoner on 27-1-45. I was man and as he stood there, he was tired. the police station. the next morning, they
sentenced to eight months RI. I was released Das therefore asked, “Sir, can I sit?” were taken by train to a court in Balasore
on bail on 23-3-45. Two separate certificates the IaS officer gestured him towards a town. after a few hearings, they were sen-
(copy enclosed) to that effect were issued stool even though there was a chair on tenced to eight months rigorous impris-
to me for record. On the basis of those jail the other side. Das sat on the stool. onment. “We had not told our homes yet

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 99


and asked to be allowed to go and arrange I had been blessed and their coming has
our affairs. they said, ‘you will have to go gone waste. My father and other elders ex-
straight to jail’,” he says. plained that if I got his blessings, it meant
Jail wasn’t much of an ordeal. In fact, all of them had got it,” says Das.
Das says, as a 14-year-old he had a lot of fun On august 15th, 1947, he was at a
there. “Political prisoners and criminals stream washing his clothes when he saw
were separately kept. But the boys would a procession with flags and slogans being
get together and play,” he says. he partici- shouted move through the village. Inde-
pated in a small agitation. Prisoners were pendence had come. Das joined them and
only allowed to clean their eating plates in the evening they had a meeting to decide
with brick powder so that they would what what to do next for nation building.
look polished during inspection. “It was after Independence, Das took part as a
only being done in this jail. We told the volunteer in a conference in Uttar Pradesh
jailer we wanted to wash it with water. called by the akhil Bharat Charkha Sangh
he said, ‘Tumhara kanoon nahin chalega’ which would later go on to merge with the
[your law won’t work]. We came back and Sarva Seva Sangh. Das and other volun-
started banging the plate with the katori teers organised food, drink, bathing and
and making noise. We also complained toilet arrangements. after the conference, to Orissa to andhra,” he says. after Das
to the jail superintendent. finally they a leader of the organisation invited Das to returned to Sevagram, he finished his
agreed to let us wash with water,” he says. work at Wardha, where the Sevaragam training, specialising in spinning. While
after one month and 26 days, they were ashram established by Gandhi was. “I said still there, he became associated with the
let out on bail and returned to Jharpipal. I would have to ask father. he gave the ad- Khadi and Village Industries Board.
their reputation had got a leg up. “People dress. My mother was not ready to let me “We were mandated with developing
felt that we had been in jail and it was not a go and kept crying the whole night. I saw the spinning wheel to make it better. In
small thing. We started doing propaganda she was not going to be consoled. In the tamil Nadu someone had made a model
for the movement. Since the British were night, I took a small bag of cloth, a jug for that we were given to test, develop and
going to leave, we wanted to keep up the water, a sleeping mattress and left,” he says. make ready for the market. I was sent with
the charkha model to Bombay to give a
demonstration,” he says. the charkha was
being tested in a textile technology labora-
AFTER ONE MONTH and 26 days, they were let tory. the person in charge of it asked Das
out on bail. Their REPUTATION had got a leg up. It to stay back and learn textile technology.
“I stayed there for three months. for the
impressed people that they had been imprisoned final test of the charkha model, I was sent
to an institute in ahmedabad. the results
were published and we decided to give
pressure and hasten it,” he says. he reached Wardha by train and be- this model in the market. I became well
Once, a few of them went to West gan work at the ashram the very next known in this field. I knew everything,
Bengal to take part in Mahatma Gandhi’s day. “the main thing then was svavlam- from a to Z of the model. Wherever the
public meeting. Gandhi said while they ban, self-sufficiency. all of the ashram’s charkha would go, I would have to go, train
got money from businessmen, he also requirements needed to be made in the spinners and check for problems,” he says.
wanted common people to contribute in ashram itself. I was asked to work on the the Khadi and Village Industries,
whatever way they could. he asked the farm in one of the many groups of boys which later became the Khadi and Village
Vanar Sena boys to go across the crowd and and girls,” he says. he also continued Industries Commission, took him on as a
present their topis for people to contribute. his studies there. three months later, he full-time employee. Das shifted to Bombay
“Some gave one anna, 2 anna, 4 anna, ring, was put into a training programme that and worked there till he retired in 1989.
earring. When we went to Bapu to give the involved four courses of nine months
collections, the other boys were bigger and each in spinning, agriculture, dairy and

ahead of me. I went last. Bapu looked at me education. towards the end of it, Vinoba he trIGGer fOr Das’ second
and put his hand on my head. after the Bhave started his Bhoodan Movement in struggle was his eldest son apply-
meeting, as we were returning home, the telangana and Das joined him. “Vinoba ing for admission to VJtI, one of the
other boys stared complaining that only Bhave took us all over India,from Bihar country’s leading engineering colleges.

100 20 august 2018

further.’ She wrote a letter that I had gone
for 1 month, 26 days in jail. Meanwhile,
a letter from Orissa government had
also come that I wasn’t getting any ben-
efit from there which meant that I was
eligible here. then I got it. a clerk’s letter
was acceptable.I had spent decades on this
and they didn’t believe me,” he says. In his
home, Das has six files that has correspon-
dence going back to 1976. It was in 2008
that he finally received his tamrapatra.
In 2011, the filmmaker ananth Ma-
hadevan read about Das in a newspaper
article and his story moved him. he felt it
could be a movie. “It was a human drama,
A scene from Ananth Mahadevan’s Gour Hari Dastaan a man against the system in a country that
he had helped free,” he says. What struck
Das told him there was a freedom fighter’s catch was that whatever benefit he would Mahadevan about Das was the total ab-
quota. his son was reluctant but he said get, the broker would take a percentage. sence of negativity in his long struggle. “It
why not avail of the facility if it exists. But Das refused. is extraordinary that he went through this
his son came back from the institute say- It became Kafkaesque. his jail certifi- without anger or hatred,” he says.
ing they were demanding evidence. then cate clearly mentioned both the date that the movie Gour Hari Dastaan was well-
Das himself went there and was told noth- he had entered and left the jail. the num- received at film festivals but didn’t do as
ing could be done without a document. a ber of days added up to one month and well commercially because of the manner
government document called tamrapa- 26 days. according to the government in which the film industry’s distribution
tra recognises a freedom fighter and Das formula, a freedom fighter would be rec- network is structured, Mahadevan says.
hadn’t applied for it. ognised if he or she had been inside jail a plea by him to get a multiplex chain to
his son subsequently got into an In- for a minimum one month. “even after reduce its ticket prices went unheeded.
dian Institute of technology on merit, seeing this, they still said it was only 19 Some critics called the movie slow. But
but it rankled Das that his son had been days. after many years, they accepted it. despite all that, even now, three years later,
asked whether his father was actually a a letter came from the police asking to Mahadevan receives messages of appre-
freedom fighter. he wrote his first let- verify. One policeman came, talked to ciation by those who see the movie. “I am
ter to the Collector of Greater Bombay me and submitted his report. then one not disappointed. these are timeless sto-
in 1976 asking for the tamrapatra. and more letter came asking to meet the po- ries that will go on forever,” he says.
then waited. Without any reply, he wrote lice again,” he said. When Mahadevan was in the process
again. he went and met bureaucrats. the Once he was told that his file couldn’t of making the movie, he told Das to pen
police came, verified his existence and be located and then a clerk took pity on down whatever came to his mind about
jail certificates which he had. then again him and asked him to go to a department his life and it ended up as a book of sorts.
there was silence. and Das wrote again. on the ninth floor of Mantralaya. “till Das often gets invited to speak in schools
he met the bureaucrats again. and so, then my file had not been traced. Where it and he uses those notes. his message for
in a journey that took superhuman pa- was lost was not known,” he says. he was the younger generation during such talks
tience, he kept at it. “the Collector gave also told that since he had participated in is to get out of an obsession with their own
the green signal. But the middlemen the movement in Orissa, he should try well-being. “I tell them, ‘you only think
blocked it,” he says. there. “I wrote to them that I won’t go to of yourself. you ignore even your parents,
Das would be told the file had gone to Orissa. When I was in the movement, forget society. first, serve parents, then
Mantralaya, the seat of the state govern- there was no Orissa, only India,” he says. home, then society. Don’t forget society.
ment, and was directed there. he kept go- finally, a clerk from Mantralaya, re- you are there because society is there. If
ing. Once a man who had seen Das being sponding to a query from a minister as to society is good, good will happen to you.
shuttled around approached him. “he why the matter was pending for so long, If there is vileness in it, you will also have
was like a broker. he said, ‘Kya dhakka called Das and asked whether he had to suffer it.’” It is a somewhat ironical mes-
khaate ho. Maine aapke baare mein suna complained. “I said, ‘Of course. If you do sage from a man who didn’t get nearly as
hai. Main sab karke doonga’,” says Das. the like this, won’t I complain? I will go even much from society as what he gave it. n

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 101

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PLUS: Health insurance on the path of standardisation

RegulatoRy Changes ImpaCt

A peek into the new categorisation

of mutual fund schemes and what
it means to investors now

t’s been a long 25 years since In all this growth, the industry has aspects like asset allocation
the private sector mutual funds also faced criticism over too many and investment strategy among
started operations in the country products for the common man to other traits.
and it’s been a journey which has choose from. At some point, more SEBI wanted to bring uniformity
evolved with time. Today, some of than 2000 schemes were available within the characteristics of similar
those early ventures no more exist in from over 40 asset management schemes to make sure investors
the same fashion thanks to mergers companies (AMCs). Mutual fund could evaluate various options before
and acquisitions over this period. The schemes with almost similar making any investment decisions.
whole mutual fund business has been investment themes, names and So, in the past few months every
one of change in this period and from sometimes the same fund manager since the new nomenclature and
products that had little to choose, they existed to create difficulty among categorisation was announced, fund
have emerged to offer a choice to investors to choose a fund to invest houses have been fast to make
investors to select a scheme that meets in. Taking note of this complicated changes to their offerings to merge
their needs. So much has the influence functioning, the market regulator schemes where necessary to fall into
of mutual funds grown in recent years SEBI came up with a circular last the SEBI given categories of funds.
that it is now among the most preferred year to ensure that schemes named The categorisation is effective for
investment avenue for scores of Indians. differently are clearly distinct in all equity, debt and hybrid schemes

104 20 AUGUST 2018

Av e n u e s

All New Equity Schemes

Category of Minimum Description of scheme
Schemes allocation
Multi Cap 65% in equities An open-ended scheme in-
Fund vesting across large cap, mid
cap, small cap stocks
Large Cap 80% in large-caps Scheme will predominantly
Fund invest in large-cap stocks
Large & Mid 35% in large- and Scheme will predominantly
Cap Fund mid-caps invest in large- and mid-cap
Mid Cap Fund 65% in mid-caps Scheme will predominantly
invest in mid-cap stocks
Small cap 65% in small-caps Scheme will predominantly
Fund invest in small-cap stocks
Dividend Yield 65% in equities Scheme will predominantly
Fund invest in dividend yielding
Value/ 65% in equities Schemes to respectively
Contra Fund follow value investment or
contra investment strategy
Focused Fund 65% in equities Schemes to invest in a maxi-
mum of 30 stocks
Sector/The- 80% in sector or Schemes to respectively in-
matic Fund theme vest in the mentioned theme
or sector investment strategy
ELSS (Equity- 80% in equities Scheme with a statutory
Linked Saving lock-in of 3 years and tax
Scheme) benefit

making it uniform across AMCs for and sub-categories within for a total of which will now have limited number of
easy understanding of investors. 36 different categories of mutual funds. offerings and well-defined investment
The new categorisation has already mandates, doing away with duplicity of
Investor gains de-cluttered the fund offerings across fund offerings due to past mergers.
The change is thoroughly aimed to AMCs and made fund nomenclature The changes in the fund offerings
convenience investors, with five main easy to understand for investor’s has been an on-going process over the
categories – equity schemes, debt benefit. With this change, investors will past few months even as the 41AMC
schemes, hybrid schemes, solution- have a better grasp and understanding review their schemes to fit their existing
oriented schemes and others, which of what they’re investing in. The offerings to the available categories
are outside the purview of the first four change is also beneficial for AMCs by merging overlapping schemes into
a single one and explore options to
launch more schemes where they see
an opportunity. Some of the changes
in names and scheme types are
cosmetic, but in case of some others
it is drastic and needs the intervention
of investors, who need to decide on

20 AUGUST 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 105

RegulatoRy Changes ImpaCt Av e n u e s

continuing their investments in such

schemes or exiting them altogether.
For instance, in case of Mirae Asset Investor Benefits
India Opportunities Fund, the new
• Grouping of schemes into five categories (Equity,
name of the fund is Mirae Asset India
debt, hybrid, solution-oriented and others)
Equity Fund and it is no categorised as
a multi-cap scheme. Likewise, Franklin • Ease in comparing mutual fund schemes offered by different AMCs
India Prima Plus also falls in the same • Naming convention of schemes, especially debt schemes
basket, and has been rebranded as • Transparent and easy to follow nomenclature
Franklin India Equity. That is not the
• Helps investors align their financial goals with the right set of funds
case for some other funds such as SBI
Emerging Businesses, which is now • Scheme mergers bring down the number of funds offered
SBI Focused Equity. It is the same for • Brings in efficient fund management
Franklin India High Growth Companies,
which is now Franklin India Focused
Equity and HDFC Core and Satellite, pattern, and change to the benchmark take on considerable credit risks.
which is now HDFC Focused 30. and fund’s investment objectives. Any Moreover, loose category definitions
All these funds have been reclassified change to these attributes, and you made scheme comparisons almost
as focused funds. However, it must should check if holding the fund makes impossible and it was common for
be noted that these funds, always any sense for you or move to a fund funds to change their orientation
had a highly concentrated portfolio, that meets your investment needs with changing economic and policy
which it will continue to do so after the based on the necessary attributes. changes, without mentioning the
change in name as well. Interestingly, Even if schemes have merged, it should same to investors. The change in the
in case of Axis Equity Fund, the name be a reason to evaluate the change. categorisation of these funds is likely to
has been changed to Axis Bluechip Monitoring fund performance takes bring in greater changes than the equity
Fund to underscore its positioning as a a new definition now as many funds category, despite the greater number of
large-cap fund, which is also the case will no more have a clear history of sub-categories.
for HDFC Balanced Fund, which is now performance to rely on. As investment Similarly, the days of vague
known as HDFC Hybrid Equity, which strategy changes or the objective of the investment objectives and confusing
better reflects its equity orientation in fund, it is in your interest to monitor the investment themes in the name of
the hybrid fund category. performance and decide on an action uniqueness or differentiation will be a
o stay invested in the fund scheme or thing of past. In its effort to ensure fund
Evaluation of funds make a change to a new fund, which is schemes delivered what they promised,
The change does impact your more in sync with your investment need. SEBI has laid down precise definitions
investments, considering the future The universe of debt funds had a of what constitutes each fund type
of some of these schemes, especially different type of complication prior to right from defining market capitalisation
those where the fundamental attribute categorisation, especially considering in case of equity-oriented schemes
of the holdings have changed. Take a the inherent complex structure of to duration, type of investment and
look at your investments and then the these funds. For instance, some duration in case of debt funds. A further
change in attribute of the funds such as short-term funds would invest only step is being taken considering the
the new category, new asset-allocation in AAA bonds while another would dynamic nature of stock markets by the
regulator to publish a list of approved
large-, mid- and small-cap every six
months through the industry body AMFI.
Effectively, fund managers will have
a clear level-playing field as they will
have to pick their stocks only from
a defined universe and follow an
investment strategy which has been
laid out to them with the categorisation.

106 20 AUGUST 2018

Av e n u e s

In the debt category, schemes have to

adhere to specific duration limits to label
themselves as low, short, medium or
long duration.

Killing competition
With little to differentiate in objectives
in fund schemes, fund manager’s style days and T20s, with very little common calm and have a relook at the funds in
and experience will come in handy in the formats of the same game. line with your financial goals. If the fund
to showcase performance. However, A lot of funds were recommended you have invested in still fits into the
the scenario also does away with any based on past performance and suitability criteria, then there is no need
unique proposition to generate returns comparisons were drawn on the long to make unnecessary changes. Do not
among funds, making it tough for fund history of many of them. With most be in a hurry to exit and enter funds
managers to outperform each other of the funds starting anew, it will be at this stage. More so just on basis of
significantly. Another aspect that comes some time before performance history returns or change in fund attributes.
into play is the past performance of can be used as a factor to suggest At the same time it is critical that you
the funds and ratings, which may not investments in a fund. At least for the relook at your investments and closely
matter anymore as it did in the past. If next 3-5 yeas ratings and history will follow how they fare over the next few
not for all funds, at least for some the not be an important factor to choose quarters before making any changes to
them. The ability of fund managers to
Solutions-oriented and other funds generate returns will be limited with the
defined scope of investment that they
Category of Schemes Scheme Characteristics now need to follow, which could pose
Retirement Fund Scheme having a lock-in for at least 5 years restrictions to the way they have been
or till retirement age whichever is earlier investing so far. The word of caution is
Children’s Fund Scheme having a lock-in for at least 5 years equally important for new investors who
or till the child attains age of majority are just about planning to invest over
whichever is earlier the next few years.
Index Funds/ ETFs Minimum investment in securities of a Mutual funds are still among the
particular index (which is being replicated/ best investment option for small
tracked)- 95% of total assets investors compared to other available
FoFs (Overseas/ Minimum investment in the financial products. However, the times
Domestic) underlying fund- 95% of total assets are interesting to track the way fund
performances change and investors will
need to take risk inadvertently because
past performance will no more matter a fund to invest in. As investors you if they stick to a fund which has
as much as it was a talking point. should be careful about this aspect and changed its orientation has changed, it
The reason why past performance not be taken by sales pitches rattled by is a risk and if they exit to another fund,
and ratings do not impact much distributors on a fund being superior to which does not have significant history,
now because change in category another based on past performance, it is equally risky.
or investment strategy renders past when past is no more as critical as it The SEBI move is good for investors
performance based on a different used to be. in a larger sense with standardisation
category and strategy no more a recipe working for the benefit of investors in the
for a winning fund performance. After Investor action long run. A passing shot – mutual fund
all, a change in strategy or category But remember that just because a investments are subject to market risks,
cannot expect to have the same past mutual fund scheme is changing to read all scheme related documents
performance which was achieved under adjust to the new SEBI-proposed carefully takes utmost importance
different conditions. The scenario is amendments, doesn’t mean that it now because you will need to read the
somewhat akin to how the top slot should be thrown out of your portfolio. documents carefully to know what is in
cricketing nation is different for test, one As long term investors, you must remain store for your investments.<

108 20 AUGUST 2018

RegulatoRy Changes ImpaCt Av e n u e s

The insurance regulator has sought standardisation of ‘exclusions’ in

health insurance policies and uniformity in wording the exclusions
which will make it consumer friendly

fter years of allowing More recently, the stock market The change
companies in the financial regulator, SEBI asked mutual fund The IRDAI order on forming a
services business to device companies to follow a standardised committee to rationalise the number of
complex products in the name of free nomenclature for their fund offerings. In exclusions in health insurance comes
market and product differentiation, fact, SEBI has gone far to restrict the at time when there is no standard
regulators are now clamping down number of products an AMC can offer exclusion list among insurers and
on financial institutions to tone down post the standardisation. So, sometimes even within policies of the
their complex product offerings with it is not surprising when the insurance same insurer. This has risen because
simple and standardised versions for regulator IRDAI has now asked for for every new product filing, the insurer
easy understanding and comparison. standardisation of ‘exclusions’ in health submits exclusion sets which may
It’s now six years since the Reserve insurance policies and uniformity in be linked to the product cover or the
Bank of India asked banks to provide a wording the exclusions by insurers and changing scenario on diseases and
basic savings account (in place of the has set up a working group to make its occurrence. A common talk point
erstwhile no-frills account) with recommendations among insurers is that their offerings
zero balance facility along with ATM- on exclusions. While no clear timeline are unique, because of the mentioned
cum-debit cards without any extra is mentioned for the recommendations, included and excluded diseases
charge. This was perhaps the first step it may not be for long that insurers and illnesses. Some insurers have
towards standardising the ubiquitous can function in the manner they have gone that far to use this as a unique
bank account. been till now. selling proposition.

110 20 AUGUST 2018

RegulatoRy Changes ImpaCt Av e n u e s

The outcome of these varied complications, insurers take umbrage especially true in the case of critical
exclusions is that even insurance under exclusions and policy wordings illness covers, where exclusions are
brokers are unable to clearly identify a that either denies the claim fully or many a times open-ended leaving
policy which could be recommended partially. There are also instances when the interpretation of the same for the
to a prospect or fine-tuned to suit their medical intervention is necessary and benefit of the insurers.
specific needs. For the digital savvy different from the standard procedure, The move by IRDAI and the
consumers, who like to compare policies which becomes an excuse for insurers committee should work towards
on their own, find it extremely difficult to reject the claim by citing the ensuring clearly mentioned exclusions,
to choose a policy. Moreover, the not intervention to be either unnecessary which also define medical conditions
so easy policy wordings also act as a of not part of standard cover. This is clearly. The same approach must
deterrent for many buyers to understand especially true when the hospitalisation be taken with pre-existing disease
policy benefits, which in turn defer the is prolonged and there are several clause, as there many instances when
purchase decision. In this context, measures taken by the hospital to treat a policyholder is genuinely unaware of
uniform wordings on exclusions will have the patient. the pre-existing condition at the time
a positive impact on buyers who will be of taking the policy, only to find he has
able to choose policies easily given the Protocol review developed a condition later and a nasty
ease of understanding. Different hospitals follow different surprise when he tests the policy to
The task for the working group is practices which makes it difficult to use. The committee should also look
well cut out – rationalise exclusions by have a standard treatment procedure into exclusions that are introduced at
minimising their numbers, which will for the same disease. Moreover, there the time of policy renewal by ensuring
also enhance the scope of the cover are instances when the same exclusion the policy contract is unchanged at the
in the policy. The working group will
also be able to use the time to focus
on exclusions and policy wordings
based on medical advancements with
new treatment and technology which
will help them increase the scope of
cover in health policies and also check
the exclusions which on many counts
is used as a tool to disallow policy is interpreted differently causing distress time of renewal.
proceeds at the time of raising a claim among policyholders at a time when Imagine a situation when certain
by the policyholder. they need the policy to work for them. cancer treatment or cardiac treatment
One of the outcomes of the proposal The exclusions or deductibles kick-in drugs are excluded by your insurer at
will also act on a recent Delhi High cases where investigations are more the time of renewing your policy. The
Court and IRDAI directive to insurance or call for treatment needing expensive idea of health insurance is to bring
companies which stipulate them techniques such as robotic surgery or as many people under a health cover
not to reject claims arising out of interventions with technology. for their benefit when it is needed
genetic disorders. Genetic disorder Further, the technical jargon and rather than solely become a profit
is a disease or abnormality that is legal language used in the policy centre for insurers who can then take
passed on to the next generation wordings does not augur well for refuge under the garb of complex
through genes such as asthma, the policyholder who finds it difficult interpretations to the policy wordings
cancer, diabetes or heart disease. to understand and relate to. Health and the open-ended exclusion set
Many insurers use this as a reason to insurance policies should follow which can render the policy benefits
deny claims and in some cases even the spirit of insurance by offering immaterial. This change could be
deny policy in the first place. Such a policyholders inclusion and not just the right opportunity for insurers
situation puts prospects and insured exclusions to diseases. Currently, to work towards the betterment of
in a situation which is difficult to cope policy wordings and exclusions are their practises and provide the right
financially in the absence of a policy. such that they appear to have been cover which is simple to understand
Moreover, in instances where devised to exclude rather than include and relate to by policyholders and
medical conditions lead to multiple treatments for coverage. This is prospects.<

112 20 AUGUST 2018




the idea
deFicit The walled world of academia

f Asked whAt it is that Indian academics needs to get ahead in the world inevitable when quality and achieve-
today, most well-meaning people will tell you ‘funds’. I say ‘freedom’. ments are assessed mechanically. Yet,
Of course, this includes freedom from want, and so funds certainly play despite putting in the long years now de-
their role. And no, freedom of expression is not what I am speaking of, since manded (perhaps the longest anywhere
Indians enjoy a good deal of it already and perhaps that is why many don’t in the world) and despite meeting—even
realise or value it. As søren kierkegaard put it, people demand freedom of exceeding—the API required, there is no
speech as compensation for the freedom of thought they seldom use! guarantee of getting your promotion,
As a historian of early south Asia, teaching and supervising research at two given the arbitrary interpretation of the
of India’s premier public universities for the past 17 years, I think the freedoms confused rules by different institutions
that higher education in India needs to aspire to are the following (in no particular order): and their largely unsympathetic or help-
less bureaucracies. Ironically, the whole
Freedom From bureaucratic strangleholds system is ranged against the genuine
As anybody who is familiar with the rules that seek to quantify teaching-learning and scholar-teacher who may take five years
regulate (deny?) promotions in Indian universities since the sixth Pay Commission was to research and write a great book but will
introduced in 2006 will tell you, it would appear that there is an inverse relationship be awarded a mere 20 points for all that
between quantity and quality in higher education today. so while the earlier system of even as a colleague, publishing an article
promoting teachers just by virtue of their having lived out a certain number of years in of dubious substance in one of hundreds
the system allowed many individuals to slip into a complacent disregard for research of spurious journals which have mush-
and continued learning, the tyranny of the Academic Point Index (API) system now in roomed overnight to cater to the API in-
currency, in the hands of recalcitrant universities, may have injustice built into it. dustry, laps up 25 points per article in a
teachers must now garner a certain
minimum number of points every year
in a variety of academic and ‘extra-curric- IF THE NEW private universities are to remain
ular’ activities and compile enormous fo-
lios of ‘proof’ of all this to submit to the
privileged islands in the sea of INDIAN HUMANITY
powers that be, which then adjudicate thirsting for and deserving of quality education,
on what is indeed admissible and what they can hardly do justice to their own cause
is not—a deficit of trust that becomes

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 113


timely fashion. similarly, a host of administrative duties, membership of committees also be recognised that a great deal of the
and financial grants are essential if you have to meet the required points, whether or not teaching done and knowledge dispensed
they do anything to make you a better teacher, scholar or human being. at these formal centres of higher learning,
It is also proposed that now the teacher must sit in office from 9 to 5, so to speak: the especially in our metropolises, tends to
number of hours you teach is important, it seems, not what you teach or how. Nor is it rely on imported theories and concepts
important that research is something that many conscientious teachers have to do on and methods and ideologies, only a few of
their own time as a result—after they return from the workplace, during weekends whichmayillumineIndianhistoryandhis-
and holidays and ever-shrinking vacations—as if it were their personal affair and a side- torical sources, while the rest may indeed
issue to their teaching. Any wonder why our course curricula are stagnating and many inflict varieties of epistemic violence on en-
students regard admission to Master’s and research degrees as convenient ‘time pass’, or dogenouswaysofknowing.Canyouname
stepping stones to institutions abroad, rather than rigorous and creative opportunities any Indian thinker, past or present, ancient
to excel in their own country? ormodern,whoistaughtandappliedinhis-
while we seek to ape the west in many other respects, there are few takers among tory classrooms today in mainstream Cen-
education policymakers in India for the emphasis on bare naked merit in job selection tral universities which otherwise resound
that you will find in the best western academic institutions (notwithstanding their with foucault, heidegger and the like?
own bureaucracies and other limitations). Instead, here all kinds of considerations other the very discipline of history contin-
than academic calibre may apply. from which big scholar’s student (follower?) you are ues to creak under the burden of 19th cen-
to which community you or your relatives influentially belong, to whether you are old tury european enlightenment notions
enough for the job—yes, literally old and greying seem to be the qualifying criteria to be of scientism, objectivism and material-
considered for a full professor’s position, not necessarily your curriculum vitae. ism, as if history were a physical science
rather than a humanistic field. this has
Freedom From commercial monopolies led to the delegitimising and rejection of
At the other end of the spectrum are private-run educational institutions, heavily charg- vast swathes of traditional Indian litera-
ing students who can pay and sourcing teachers from public institutions, just as private ture and thought for their emphasis on
hospitals lure away doctors who have gained incomparable experience in government human values and ethics or liberation as
hospitals but who gladly flee to private
pastures for fat pay-cheques and different
degrees of glamour. such professionals, in
the process, leave to their fate hundreds of IN CHAMPIONING Western notions of history
thousands of students and patients who today that are becoming dated in the West
have no alternative but to go to govern- itself, we are perpetuating AN IMPERIALISM
ment universities or medical institutes that is of our own making
in this country.
this is not to say that some of the new
private universities that have come up in
India in the last ten or 20 years are not propelled by noble impulses or do not have a wor- the substance and ends of history. sterile
thy vision of ameliorating the ills of higher learning; it would seem some do. But if they facts versus meaning and values are two
are to remain privileged islands in the sea of Indian humanity thirsting for and deserving different civilisational world views. In
of quality education, they can hardly do justice to their own cause. championing western notions of history
Also subject to commercial controls of access today is scholarly knowledge in general, today that are becoming dated in the west
what with the steep price of academic books and journals, and prohibitive copyright itself, we are perpetuating an imperialism
fees, the bulk of which by far goes to the publisher, not the author who may have little that is of our own making.
say in the matter. what is needed in academia today is more equitable structures of Mind you, let me underline that this
knowledge production, dissemination and access. the internet and social media have is not a call for nativism or some brand of
certainly opened up new avenues, but they also bring with them a great deal of fake indigenist reaction. far from it. this is a
news, unsubstantiated narratives and disinformation. It is mainstream education and call for radically rethinking anachronistic
academics itself that must reform if authentic versions of truth and knowledge are to and etic approaches to India, and letting
be widely available, as they should be. rich and profound Indian traditions—in
every one of the thousands of languages
Freedom From colonial epistemic hierarchies and dialects we have—speak for them-
however, what defines an authentic version of knowledge or history? Indeed who defines selves. this will enrich and refresh inter-
what history is in the first place? And who can be regarded as an authority on it? even as it is national academic discourse as well, just
essentialtoreformIndianuniversitiesandinfuseinthemgreaterrigourandquality,itmust as all other thought from the Global south

114 20 august 2018

Illustration by Saurabh Singh

is doing, and the world will thank us for language over others. Our students need the confidence to know that language is a
it—for being what India always was in the skill, not a liability, and must be the medium for trans-cultural conversations, mediat-
past, a true intellectual giant. ing faithfully between their own vernacular systems and world views and those of the
world. If this conversation has to be in english for now, so be it; what is more important
Freedom For the than decolonising the tongue is decolonising the mind.
this is the way forward for Indian aca- Freedom From labels
demics, in my opinion. there has to be a the Colonial ‘Other’ is not the only colonising force when it comes to Indian intellect.
dialogue between Anglophone academ- Academic circles in the country are also in the thrall of a different kind of regime: the
ics and vernacular scholarship, and on warring twin camps of Left and Right politics. One hesitates to call them ideologies since
equal terms. And here in the vernaculars there seems to be next to no genuine intellectual engagement between the two in India
I include the whole range from classical today. there is instead mutual disdain, name-calling and power lust. worst of all, there
pan-Indic languages like sanskrit to re- is little space for independent scholarship that does not toe either line, and which is un-
gional languages and dialects, and from hesitatingly labelled if it is unpalatable to respective political causes.
texts and literary cultures to oral tradi- I have no doubt that there are a large number of independent scholars in this country,
tions and folk narratives. doing wonderful new and creative work on their own terms, who are tired of being asked
All too many students come to large to see and show things through the prism of politics; people muted and invisibilised by
universities in the metropolises from labels and camps. Many of them represent our vibrant vernacular traditions of thought.
the small towns and villages of India here is a conspiracy of silence within the very bastion of freedom that academics like
diffident and on the backfoot—because to believe they represent. to those who speak for education’s powers of resistance and
they don’t know english or don’t know calling out oppression, here is the challenge within. will we overcome it? One can only
it well enough. while multilingualism hope so. “for to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that
is the need of the hour in the globalised respects and enhances the freedom of others” (Nelson Mandela). n
world we inhabit today and we encour-
age students to learn english, there is Shonaleeka Kaul is associate professor at the Centre for Historical Studies,
nothing intrinsically superior in one Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 115




the Nature
of Soul Re-reading Tagore to become human

n 1922, RAbIndRAnATH TAgoRe published one of his most impor- rai, the valley of villages which is denied
tant works, the play Mukta-Dhara. The story, rich in symbolism, is a simple water after the dam comes up. The king
yet powerful one. is also interested in getting the dam built
A child of mysterious birth is found abandoned by a mountain waterfall. since it would enable him to dominate
He is adopted by the royal family and raised as the crown-prince, Abhijit. As better the villagers in the Shivterai. He
he turns into a young man, Abhijit continues to feel close to the falls. He even- has his son arrested, but the villagers set
tually learns that he is not a prince by birth. He discovers a spiritual kinship him free. The dam is completed. However,
with the falls. He goes and sleeps below the waterfall at night. When asked one night Abhijit breaks open the dam at
by his father, King Ranjit, why he does something so outlandish, he replies, a weak spot. The released torrent of water
“In the sound of this water, I hear my mother’s voice.” carries him away. In the cause of defend-
The king has other designs on the mountain stream. He appoints an ap- ing the waterfall and the people, he will-
propriately named figure, Yantraraj bibhuti, a famous, pompous engineer, to construct ‘a ingly sacrifices his life. In the end, he is
machine’ to build a dam across it. Those building the dam sing an anthem to the machine, united with the waters that bore him and
chanting, ‘Namo yantra, namo yantra.’ When told about the damage from the new dam even the king is forced to acknowledge
to the fields of peasants in the valley below, bibhuti boasts that “the purpose of my dam regretfully that “in her freedom he has
was that human intelligence should win through to its goal, though sand, stone and found his own!” Humanity and nature are
water all conspired to block its path. I had no time to think of whether some farmer’s united at last. In Abhijit’s visarjan (sacri-
paltry crop of corn would die.” He lacks the heart to consider the ‘collateral damage’ that fice through immersion and drowning)
the execution of his technocratic ambition brings. He is captivated by the old dream of is also his mukti (freedom).
what digital business commercials today call ‘building a smarter planet’. Among the many questions that
All this upsets Abhijit immensely and he joins the protesting villagers of Shivte- Rabindranath prompts the reader to ask

116 20 august 2018

Illustrations by Saurabh Singh

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 117


through such a vivid story, perhaps the most important, and readily forgotten one relates The Mulshi dam was built and continues
to the matter of human freedom and the intimately related spiritual and ecological con- to supply water and electricity to Pune and
ditions under which it truly obtains. What is the relationship between nature and the Mumbai to this day. This is one of the old-
free spirit? Are we not in denial of our own spirit when, mesmerised by the vast, global est modern dams in India.
man-made artifice in which we live, we altogether fail to notice our inevitable roots in Mukta-Dhara has proved to be pro-
the natural world? Isn’t the rediscovery of the spirit essential to the recovery of an imper- phetic in that it presages the future of
illed earthly ecology? Can human society ever be free unless ‘nature’ is, in some subtle development in India over an immensely
complementary sense, also free? If the waters in the rivers are instrumentally impounded, eventful hundred years. Rivers have suf-
drowning rainforests in the bargain, what does it say about a society founded on such fered one insult after another in Inde-
ecological violence? Is it not a delusion for it to regard itself as ‘free’ when it is premised pendent India. Rivers constitute the cir-
on structural avarice? Power is hardly the same thing as freedom. Rabindranath makes culatory system of the earth. They are to
one of his protagonists in the play, the king’s uncle, Visvajit ask his nephew at the reli- the earth what the bloodstream is to our
gious festival held to consecrate ‘the machine’ built by bibhuti to dam the stream: “god bodies. To repeatedly build large dams
pours out his water freely for all, for every thirsty soul on earth. Why have you blocked across them is much like inserting giant
the stream?” A question we are surely entitled, as citizens of a putatively free country, to artificial stents across the network of our
ask those elected to office. veins and arteries to convert the human
Interestingly, Rabindranath wrote this play just when the world’s first mass protest body into an efficient blood bank.
against large dams was taking place in Maharashtra. (It is not clear if he was aware of this While inaugurating the bhakra dam
fact). between 1920 and 1924, a veteran gandhian leader, educated in england, Senapati in Punjab in 1954, the nation’s first Prime
bapat led a large number of peasants in the famous Mulshi Satyagraha against a dam that Minister had taken recourse to a religious
the Tatas were building on the Mula river in the Sahayadri mountains of Maharashtra. metaphor and described large dams as
bapat and other leaders of the movement were imprisoned by the british government. “the temples of modern India”. However,
within just four years, while speaking to
an audience of irrigation engineers, nehru
himself, in a rare moment of developmen-
MUKTA-DHARA has proved to be prophetic in that tal regret, referred to the “disease of gigan-
it presages the future of development in India over tism” that had gripped India. Today, this
gigantism is a national pandemic and
an eventful hundred years. Rivers have suffered
takes the form not just of large dams like
ONE INSULT AFTER ANOTHER in independent India Sardar Sarovar, Pancheshwar and Pola-
varam, but of oil refineries (the world’s
largest one planned in Konkan, threaten-
ing 17 villages and 2 million mango and
cashew trees across 15,000 acres), impres-
sive airports, expressways, shopping
malls and the like.
dam-building yields high returns
in the short run to builders, developers,
and their government patrons. We do
not ordinarily hear about this. nor do
our governments share information on
communities uprooted, numbers of fami-
lies displaced, livelihoods and forests de-
stroyed. What reaches our ears are the of-
ficial justifications for ambitious projects
couched in the language of the purported
public benefits of large dams in terms of
energy and water. In the long run, such an
approach to questions of energy and water
can only be disastrous. Recent reports
suggest that thanks to diminished water
released from the Sardar Sarovar dam,
the ingress of the Arabian Sea into the

118 20 august 2018

narmada river estuary near bharuch
could be as much as 72 km, putting in
IN ITS HUNT for water and energy, rapidly
jeopardy thousands of hectares of arable
land due to salinisation. The irony ought industrialising metropolitan India has built over
not to be missed: farmers in this region 4,000 LARGE DAMS during the last ten decades,
of gujarat were meant to be among the uprooting the lives of an estimated 40 million people
intended original beneficiaries of the nar-
mada project.
At a deeper level, Mukta-Dhara also
foretells the manner in which people most political discussions. needless to add, the enormous spiritual meaning of the
across the country, despite repeated pro- natural world is repressed out of human awareness.
tests, have been losing their freedom— by contrast, in virtually all his creations and utterances, Rabindranath never loses
those uprooted by development quite sight of this salient fact. Where others see mere soil or water resources, the poet notices
obviously so, those ‘benefitting’ from it the soul hidden in our relationship to the elements. In his important work for modern
(mostly living in cities) more subtly and readers, Sadhana, he writes: ‘The man, whose acquaintance with the world does not lead
invisibly. In its hunt for water and energy, him deeper than science leads him, will never understand what it is that the man with
rapidly industrialising metropolitan In- spiritual vision finds in these natural phenomena. The water does not merely cleanse
dia has built well over 4,000 large dams his limbs, but it purifies his heart; for it touches his soul. The earth does not merely hold
during the last ten decades, uprooting his body, but it gladdens his mind; for its contact is more than a physical contact—it is a
the lives of an estimated 40 million people, living presence.’ These are not the poetising excesses of a raving mystagogue. They are
though the actual figure is perhaps higher. the calm, sober reflections of a spiritually illumined mind.
Can those who have lost their way of life The metropolitan, modern world has come to dwell in a matrix of habits which must
in such upheavals, their healthy habitat, meet the stressful demands of a complex, highly processed man-made environment, as
their communities, their livelihoods, per- removed from the natural world as it is possible to imagine, in effect enforcing a default
haps in exchange for the compensation of regime of conformity to a realm of abstractions, both mental and physical. Think of the
an insecure ‘job’ they may not have liked security equipment one has to negotiate at stations, airports and all public institutions
even if it sometimes yielded more cash nowadays, as also of the many passwords one must remember to navigate cyberspace
in hand, be said to be ‘free’? And how just in order to manage one’s credit card or bank account. In order to facilitate the smooth
are we to judge the freedom of those like operation of the money machine of the global economy, our lives have become thor-
ourselves who were born—ecologically oughly alienated from any living link to the natural world.
estranged from birth—in urban or met- do we have the privilege of such convenient abstraction anymore? The fact that we
ropolitan India, where the air we breathe may now be living in what geologists term ‘the anthropocene’ prompts the fundamen-
and the water we drink is more contami- tal question: what will remain of liberty if humanity in significant parts of the earth is
nated by the day? This is the ecologically overwhelmed by climate events in a now foreseeable future? In such a predicament,
fatal price of ‘progress’. Rabindranath will we still be discussing, by lazy habit, things like citizenship and individual rights?
anticipates much of this, not only in the or wouldn’t the potentially catastrophic turn of events (even much more frequent wars)
play, but in many essays, lectures, letters, force us to think in a meaningful and imaginative way about collective rights, with the
poems and stories. help of which communities that still live in underprivileged parts of the world, in relative
intimacy with nature, may be in a better position to protect the habitats, crafts, cultures,
and languages that have long sustained them? Is there any well-founded hope for the cities
the blINd Spot of moderN unless the rural cultures of this land are ecologically renewed, unless the last people on
polItIcal thought earth who know something about living sustainably and creatively with nature have a
Political philosophers and social sci- chance to keep their way of life? blind to much that should be obvious, there are over 800
entists usually think about freedom— million Indians in the villages of India who our governments want to urbanise. There
or even liberty—independent of the aren’t quicker roads to ecocide.
ecological context in which humanity If India is turning into a voracious ‘graveyard of languages’, as the famed linguist ga-
lives. A utilitarian calculus is blithely nesh devy has frequently drawn attention to, surely the reasons for this lie in the familiar
assumed in the background of these ecological violence of modernity and development? devy has argued, for instance, that
discussions. Some of the natural pre- hundreds of Adivasi tongues have disappeared because of the government’s insistence on
conditions of liberty and human well- the modern idea that a language, in order to be recognised as such, has to have a written
being—climate stability, sufficiency of script (this, when, as devy points out, languages have far more variety before they are
clean air and water, to remind ourselves written down). Many more languages have disappeared because entire modes of socio-
of the obvious—are taken for granted in economic life have been rendered obsolete or impossible on account of ‘development’.

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 119


If communities of fisherfolk and pastoralists have lost their languages, cultures and they glut their lives. each of them, living
communities, it is because the elite-driven technocratic processes of development and apart, is as a stranger to the fate of all the
modernisation have rudely pushed them out of their habitats, colonising them with an rest; his children and his private friends
avarice all too structural and predatory. In arrogant negligence of all the accumulated constitute to him the whole of mankind.
knowledge of the life-sciences, earthmovers have taken the place of earthworms. Is it As for the rest of his fellow citizens, he is
so difficult to imagine what this will ultimately do to the soils so desperately needed to close to them, but he does not see them; he
provide for ten billion human stomachs? touches them, but he does not feel them;
In the modern world, such violence is routine. Whether a country is democratic or he exists only in himself and for himself
not, these are not ecological injustices that can be redressed with narrow notions of in- alone; and if his kindred still remain to
dividual rights. We are in need of an entirely different imagination which draws at least him, he may be said at any rate to have
a significant part of its cultural and spiritual inspiration from the natural world and the lost his country.
communities that still in relative contact with what modern civilisation would rather Above this race of men stands an im-
cast out of contention as ‘the wilderness’. mense and tutelary power, which takes
An environmentalism in which nature becomes a token afterthought to upon itself alone to secure their grati-
the economy, which habitually takes facile exemptions from geography (and fications and to watch over their fate.
history), turning real places into portable, exchangeable abstract spaces, and That power is absolute, minute, regular,
whose foundations are not allowed to be questioned, can only serve to temporar- provident, and mild. It would be like the
ily ‘greenwash’ self-destructive growth. In the long run, the damage will not be authority of a parent if, like that author-
possible to correct—for the sort of problems we are discussing here are well ahead ity, its object was to prepare men for man-
of us, and perhaps not clearly visible from the road being travelled. Technological hood; but it seeks, on the contrary, to keep
opacity brings structural ecological idiocy with it. We are at that critical point in human them in perpetual childhood…For their
history when the cumulative consequences of possibly runaway climate change and happiness such a government willingly
the rapid deterioration of vital ecosystems across the earth are spinning so rapidly out labours, but it chooses to be the sole agent
of human control as to put our species survival itself in question. What then of actually and the only arbiter of that happiness; it
existing democracy? Is it even democracy, properly speaking? provides for their security, foresees and
supplies their necessities, facilitates their
pleasures, manages their principal con-
are democracIeS really free? cerns, directs their industry, regulates the
The real question is whether we can still afford the shallow notions of human liberty descent of property, and subdivides their
which are themselves responsible in no small measure for the precipitation of such inheritances: what remains, but to spare
a state of affairs. There is perhaps nothing more dangerous than illusions of freedom. them all the care of thinking and all the
And—regardless of the fact that social science usually pays little attention to it—we trouble of living?
may have been enticed into an operative definition of liberty more akin to licence After having thus successively taken
than to freedom. This, in fact, might be necessary to condition human cognition in each member of the community in its
such a manner as to turn us into restless
Those who live under obvious despo-
tism or a brutal dictatorship know palpably SUCH IS THE condition of today’s famed
the cage they live in. Citizens of totalitarian democracies that even citizens of privilege
consumer democracies are twice unfree for move around in a DIGITAL DAZE, in a state
occupying invisible—now digitised—
cages. We may seem to enjoy all the of perpetual suspicion
official liberties, such as free—if ineffec-
tive—speech (though today even that faces
threats everywhere). but our spirit is mired
in a morass of often unspeakable oppression brought on by fears sustained by own col- powerful grasp and fashioned him at will,
lective greed (which serves the interests of gluttonous global corporations) as well as the the supreme power then extends its arm
hidden eye of an orwellian State. over the whole community. It covers the
After visiting America, the French traveller Alexis de Tocqueville had prophesied surface of society with a network of small
such a predicament with chilling accuracy almost two centuries ago: complicated rules, minute and uniform,
‘I seek to trace the novel features under which despotism may appear in the world. through which the most original minds
The first thing that strikes the observation is an innumerable multitude of men, all equal and the most energetic characters cannot
and alike, incessantly endeavouring to procure the petty and paltry pleasures with which penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will

120 20 august 2018

lISteNINg to rabINdraNath
Among many others, on various continents, Rabindranath Tagore anticipated in broad
outline, a century ago, the onset of authoritarianism in the Western world. on a visit to
America, he noticed that people there believed themselves to be free, but this was in fact
very far from being the case. nor, in his view, was this atypical of the modern world. He
wrote to his close friend CF Andrews: ‘The freedom of unrestrained egoism in the indi-
vidual is licence and not true freedom…The idea of freedom which prevails in modern
civilisation is superficial and materialistic. our revolution in India will be a true one
when its forces are directed against this crude idea of liberty.’
Fatally, it is precisely ‘this crude idea of liberty’ which has triumphed in the
world after World War II, and especially after the end of a bipolar world a generation
ago. Consumer modernity in the digital era builds precisely upon this crude idea of
liberty which inevitably brings us an ever more imperilled world as the planetary
of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, ecological crisis worsens.
and guided; men are seldom forced by it That harmony in the human relationship to the natural world is a prerequisite to
to act, but they are constantly restrained human freedom is a theme that recurs throughout Rabindranath’s writings. To him,
from acting. Such a power does not de- an intimate kinship with our natural surroundings is essential to realise ourselves as a
stroy, but it prevents existence; it does not free, illumined humanity. It is nature which inspires ‘song, art, beauty’, in the absence
tyrannise, but it compresses, enervates, ex-
tinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each
nation is reduced to nothing better than a
flock of timid and industrious animals, of
which the government is the shepherd. THAT HARMONY in the human relationship
I have always thought that servitude to the natural world is a prerequisite to
of the regular, quiet, and gentle kind HUMAN FREEDOM is a theme that recurs
which I have just described might be throughout Rabindranath’s writings
combined more easily than is commonly
believed with some of the outward forms
of freedom, and that it might even estab-
lish itself under the wing of the sover- of which ‘the soul is denied nourishment and remains neglected and starved’ and it
eignty of the people.’ becomes really difficult to ‘bear our sorrows’. We are normally unconscious of this great
Such is the condition of today’s famed need, and often realise it only once it is attended to. While he was looking after his family
democracies in which even citizens of estates in east bengal (now bangladesh), in sylvan surroundings, and was living on a
privilege move around in a digital daze, boat on the Padma river, he wrote to his niece: ‘People cannot even begin to believe that
in a state of perpetual suspicion, yet all things like these are absolutely essential for anybody. I too slowly begin to forget that
too often unmindful of the fact that they almost none of the roots that feed myself are getting any nutrition. In the end, when
are under the ceaseless surveillance of the suddenly one day some little source of nourishment becomes available, and I feel the
State and the Corporation. Under such intensity of my eager heart, I remember that all these days I was starving, and that this
conditions, freedom can be but a fragile is an essential requirement…’
belief, subject to forces the individual may We do not have to accept Rabindranath’s piercing critique of the modern idea of
hardly suspect. The tragic element in this liberty and his ecological notion of freedom. We may merely consult the price list of
solipsistic, Kafkaesque arrangement is any real estate dealer in the city where we live. between two otherwise identical
that isolated individuals all too often be- apartments in any building, the price of the one which looks onto a freshwater lake,
come a party to their own unfreedom. one a wetland or a forest would be predictably higher than the one that instead faces a
significant consequence of this is that they neighbour’s store-room. In other words, we are all willing to pay a premium to expe-
toss between the devil of suspicion and rience natural surroundings which offer nutriment to the soul. We are merely un-
the deep blue sea of gullibility. The harvest aware of the full meaning of this for our inner selves. It is to this that Rabindranath
is reaped by a predatory media, the strange wishes to draw the attention of the modern mind, which he believed was normally
thing about which is that virtually every- too intoxicated with power to realise the simple truth of freedom and the conditions
one thinks they are not fooled by it and under which it obtains. n
yet are often led to believe it because they
pridefully believe that everyone except Aseem Shrivastava is the co-author of Churning the earth: The Making of global
they themselves believes it. India. He is working on a book on the ecological thought of Rabindranath Tagore

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 121




The banaliTy
of offence
Illiberal instincts in the public square

Illustration by Saurabh Singh

122 20 august 2018

guide to lost travellers, and even disclaim his religious identity.
Taking a nonchalant liberty with the grave, mysterious Khizr, he writes: ‘Mila jo ishq
ke jangal mein Khizr maine kaha/ ki khauf-e sher hai makhdoom yahaan kidhar aayaa’ (‘Meet-
ing Khizr, the Green one, the Guide, in love’s forest, I said/ Lord, this place is swarming
with tigers, have you lost your way?’) And in another poem, he goes so far as to say: ‘Mir
ke deen-o-mazhab ko ab puchhte kya ho unne toh/ qashqa kheencha dair mein baitha kab ka
tark Islam kiya’ (‘Don’t ask Mir about his religion, he’s drawn himself/ a tilak, gone to the
temple, given up on Islam long ago’).
How would this stand up in a TV studio today? “Mr Mir, Mr Mir, Mr Mir, Mr Mir, I am
sorry, we have just 30 seconds before the break and I want a straight answer from you.
Are you or are you not religious? Are you a Muslim or a Hindu? or a heretic? The people
ne of our greatest failures, seven de- of this great nation want to know, and they deserve an answer.”
cades after Independence, is the produc- Ghalib (1797-1869), who was a teenager when Mir passed from this world, also cul-
tion of a public sphere that is violently tivated an adversarial relationship to authority. His poems, collected into the Divan-e
illiberal, inimical to reason, disdainful of Ghalib, are replete with send-ups of social convention and religious belief. The preacher,
dialogue, and dominated by the trading of the jurist and the scriptural scholar are at the receiving end of his mischievous wit. He
aggressive slogans, inflammatory label- does not hesitate to question the supremacy of piety, or to subvert symbols associated
ling, unsubstantiated condemnations, with holiness. We think, particularly, of his disputatious addresses to God, and of the
hearsay and abuse. We shouldn’t be sur- play he makes with pre-Islamic prophets such as Moses, Solomon and Jesus, figures who
prised that a public sphere of this kind, have been folded into the Islamic tradition. Ghalib was treated as the resident eccentric
which at one end takes its cue from the and contrarian at the late-Mughal court. An aristocrat, although a penurious one, and a
heckling, blood-sport mentality of televi- highly regarded if also controversial poet, he was eventually appointed as ustad or tutor
sion anchors and the hectoring attitudes to Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor, himself a poet. Ghalib, of course, was
of party spokespersons, should descend, not an enthusiast of the emperor’s verse, and approached his responsibilities as an ustad
at the other end, into the mayhem of the in a somewhat breezy spirit.
lynch mob. Whatever became of the Here goes Ghalib, taking a swing at Moses/ Musa: ‘Girni thhi hum pe barq-e tajalli na Tur
classical idea of a liberal public discourse par/ dete hain baada zarf-e qadah-e khvaar dekh kar’ (‘The lightning of revelation should
that guarantees the right to dissent? or, is have struck me, not Moses on Sinai/ make sure the drinker can hold it, before you pour
that too ‘anti-national’ a question? India’s him a drink.’ Solomon/ Suleiman and Jesus/ Isa get short shrift too, in another ghazal: ‘Ik
public sphere today is a testament to the khel hai aurang-e Suleiman mere nazdeek/ ik baat hai ejaaz-e maseeha mere aage’ (‘Solomon’s
constriction and loss of freedom. winged throne is just a fairground trick/ the miracles of Jesus are just hot air to me’).
Imagine that the 18th-century urdu It’s just as well that Ghalib is protected by the aura of literary genius and accepted
poet Mir Muhammad Taqi ‘Mir’ (1723- without question as a legendary contributor to India’s culture. Had he published such
1810) were alive today, and continuing to transgressive verse today, it would undoubtedly have provoked the usual agitated re-
compose his sophisticated, kaleidoscopic, sponses that greet contemporary writers who challenge the grain of social and political
often irreverent poetry. remember that, conformity in India: the claims that religious sentiments have been offended and com-
of Mir, even the great Ghalib—who rec- munal harmony disturbed, the appeal to laws pertaining to slander, the inevitable cen-
ognised no equals, leave alone superi- sorship, whether by the lobby or mob, the state apparatus, or some tactical continuum
ors—wrote: ‘Mir ke sher ka ahvaal kahun between these entities. All of which seems positively comforting by contrast with the
kya Ghalib/ Jis ka divaan kam az gulshan-e situation among our neighbours in South Asia. Any number of Mir’s and Ghalib’s pro-
Kashmir nahin’ (‘Ghalib, what can I say nouncements would have been castigated as blasphemous or heretical today. In Pakistan,
about Mir’s poetry?/ His collected works they might have risked punishments ranging from public flogging to execution. In
rival a garden in Kashmir’). In his ghazals, Bangladesh, ultra-reactionary Salafist groups would probably have assassinated them.
collected into six vast volumes, Mir dem- Paradoxical as it might seem, the Mughal empire in its final centuries offered con-
onstrates that he is no respecter of conven- siderably greater latitude to poets, thinkers, musicians and artists than the republic of
tional pieties. As he wanders through the India—and South Asia at large—does today. Poets like Mir and Ghalib, even when they
forests of love and feels the full moon of were beneficiaries of state patronage, adopted what we would recognise as an avant-garde
passion bathing his body in its fire, he can position for the artist—as an explorer of the mind’s passions and irresolutions, who is
laugh at religious teachers who turn away ahead of the general consensus and opposed to it, who can negotiate playfully with au-
from the senses and the shared sociality of thority, who resists the twin tyrannies of orthodoxy and common sense. That position
life, poke fun at Hazrat Khidr, the Green is far, far more difficult to assert for writers and artists in the India of 2018.
one, guardian of the waters of life and Mughal society, whose cultural transmission lines wove in complex ways across

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 123


oral, scribal and print contexts, was—from this evidence—capable of extending greater the performance, the assertion and vin-
hospitality to difference than our own society, which is immersed in ceaseless print and dication, of a group identity. While these
digital communication, and given over to the cult of individuality. People who lived, group identities are presented as primor-
performed, experienced and experimented with their distinctive cultural identities as dial—reaching back, ahistorically, to the
subjects of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual and trans-regional imperium dawn of time—they do not, in fact, predate
were, evidently, open to the subtleties, ambiguities and paradoxes of the inbetween colonial or national modernity. These are
condition, because that was their natural environment. what I would think of as transactive identi-
By contrast, we as citizens of a republic who are assured—at least in theory—of an ties, produced by political formations eager
equality that overrides social, cultural and other identities, can be indifferent or even tomobilisegroupsenblocforelectoralgains.
hostile to such penumbras of meaning and nuances of significance. Seduced by the each such identity is built on an appeal
promises of a politics of competitive populism, willing to allow powerful forces to play to a sense of historical wrong—real or
on our real and imagined resentments, we constitute ourselves in our flimsy, defensive imagined, often inflated and generalised
religious or regional or linguistic identities, vindicate ourselves by our right to take of- beyond a local setting—which, its cham-
fence, and box ourselves into the binaristic logic of either-or. pions argue, must be bloodily avenged.
This binaristic logic has unfolded with relentless vigour since the early 1990s. over each such identity is sustained by one
the last quarter of a century, we have borne alarmed witness to the manner in which or several of a cornucopia of syndromes,
groups, varying in scale from minuscule cells to mass mobilisations, can claim the right including geographical dislocation and
to take offence—and to demonstrate that sense of offence in the most virulent manner social anomie, runaway economic aspi-
possible. To provide only a few representative examples of this tendency, let us revisit ration and binding material constraints,
various moments that set us on this particular path. There was the campaign of vilifica- and a theatrical hyper-masculinity called
tion launched against Mf Husain in 1996 for his alleged depictions of a ‘nude Saraswati’ into question by liberal values and legal
(the supposed evidence was a set of drawings he had made, decades before, at the behest reform. once in play, these identities ad-
of the stalwart leader and thinker ram Manohar Lohia, and which had been widely dress and inspire those who have been
published in the Hindi print media at the time). There was the disruption by Shiv Sena left homeless in the grand vistas of capi-
activists, in 1998, of a concert by the Pak-
istani vocalist Ghulam Ali in Bombay.
Also, the campaign to stop Deepa Meh-
ta from working on her film, Water, in PARADOXICAL as it might seem, the Mughal
Varanasi, by auxiliaries of the rashtriya
Swayamsevak Sangh in 2000. And the
Empire in its final centuries offered considerably
vandalising of The Bhandarkar oriental greater latitude to artists than the REPUBLIC OF
research Institute, Pune, by members of INDIA—and South Asia at large—does today
the Sambhaji Brigade in 2004.
At the more proximate end of this
trajectory are the assassinations of
critical thinkers narendra Dabholkar, MM Kalburgi and Gauri Lankesh, as well as tal, adrift on the sea of modernity. And so,
the protests over Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s film, Padmaavat, and threats to the creative this combustible combination of cultural
freedom and even the well-being of many writers, including Perumal Murugan, MM materials and psychic discontents is un-
Basheer, S Hareesh. leashed in the public sphere as a destruc-
This sequence of events forms part of the same curve that included, at a tragic macro- tive imagination, which presents itself
level, other distortions during the late 1990s and early 2000s. I think here of the systematic as the only viable wager on the future.
violence against the Christian, Tribal and Muslim minority populations in Gujarat, the Any questioning of its foundational syn-
subversion of the state apparatus to the ends of reactionary political formations, and the dromes, any resistance to its game plan,
cultivation of an annihilationist attitude towards difference, dissent, or even the mere is decried as treason, and therefore a fair
happenstance of otherness. An integral part of this brutal narrative, therefore, is the es- target for annihilation.
calating violence against women, Dalits and Muslims in recent years—and its attempted This is the hell of unfreedom into
‘normalisation’ by social and political actors who can no longer be dismissed as ‘fringe which, in a betrayal of Tagore’s prayer for
elements’, since the mass media endows them with a multiplier effect far beyond their a ‘heaven of freedom’ for a postcolonial
local or communitarian standing. The infringement of cultural freedoms in India during country that would be born six years after
the last quarter of a century is umbilically connected to other theatres of social, political his death, we have steered ourselves. n
and cultural activity, where the systematic promotion of unfreedom is in the ascendant.
each of these situations, whether cultural or more overtly political, is an occasion for Ranjit Hoskote is a poet, critic and curator

124 20 august 2018




KAMA RAjyA Independence through eroticism

oday wHen we speak of eroticism, we either see it as some- household while thinking like a hermit.
thing predatory, usually associated with men, or, if women Thus, the mind (dehi) is liberated and func-
speak of eroticism, consider it cheap and vulgar. eroticism is tions on a spiritual plane, though the body
certainly not associated with independence and liberty. That (deha) functions in the material world.
is for the west. This concept of hermit-householder
yet, independence, freedom, liberty or Moksha is one of the is manifested through the character of
four main goals of human life, as per ancient Indian scriptures, Krishna, who is a householder but still
the other three being dharma or responsibility, artha or suc- considered one who is completely free,
cess, and Kama or fun. The traditional idea of liberty in India in his various roles as cowherd, chari-
is very different from the idea of liberty in the west. western oteer, son, lover, husband, brother, father.
independence is individualistic and social; it is the freedom to do things, guaranteed by His story is told in the Mahabharata, the
the state. Moksha is also individualistic but relational, spiritual, and it is about freedom Harivamsa, the Bhagavata and the Brah-
from material and sensual attachments as well as from social burdens. mavaivarta Puranas, in Gita Govinda and
In Buddhist, Jain and Hindu thought, all living creatures (jiva) are trapped in an eco- thousands of regional works composed
system of fear, which is nature (prakriti). we are continuously seeking to escape it. one by poet-saints across India over the past
method of trying to escape is to create a safe ecosystem within society (sanskriti) or the thousand years.
household (grihasthi), but the household comes with its own challenges, the obligations Krishna expresses his independence
that bind us. So, the escape from the forest takes us to a world full of obligations, and through eroticism. He is shringar-murthi,
many people find these obligations burdensome and want to escape from it. But this the most beautiful one, who loves to be
escape does not liberate us from our desires, our anxieties, which make us crave the dressed beautifully with flowers and san-
material and the sensual. dal paste, and silks and jewels. He loves
Those who escape to the forest are hermits (shramana), those who live in society are music and good food. He loves festivals
called householders (yajamana). Indian thought is essentially a tension between the liber- and dancing. He enjoys life, but he is at-
ated ascetic in the forest and the responsible householder in the settlement. Monastically tached to nothing. He even has no prob-
inclined religions like Jainism and Buddhism favour the hermit, while Hinduism favours lems in cross-dressing, indicating a gen-
the householder. Hinduism also offers an innovative solution by which one can live in the der-sexuality comfort. He is surrounded

126 20 august 2018

Illustrations by DevDutt Pattanaik

Krishna and Radha

were married to
each other, and
faithful to each
other, poetic and
artistic evidence
to the contrary

by hundreds of adoring women. He is mythological character is Radha, the milkmaid, who is first referred to in Jayadeva’s
equally joyful while giving discourses on Sanskrit poem, Gita Govinda.
war and peace.
This idea of independence through

eroticism is best revealed when one ex- ndal waS a foundling. The temple priest who found her and raised her as
plores the Krishna lore through three his own daughter used to collect flowers and prepare garlands for the presid-
characters—two historical and one ing deity of the temple, Vishnu, known in the south as Perumal. Krishna is the
mythological. mortal earthly form of the celestial Vishnu. In the south, the forms of Vishnu-
The historical characters are andal Perumal and Krishna are not separated, and seen as one.
from the south, who lived about 1,200 andal had a habit of wearing the temple garlands before they were offered to the de-
years ago, and Meera from Rajasthan or ity. This meant that the flower garlands were contaminated by human touch and not
the north, who lived 500 years ago. The suitable for worship. She was admonished by her father, but the deity appeared in the

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 127


father’s dream and told him that he preferred those ‘soiled’ garlands given by the daugh- she wants. we don’t see in their songs a
ter, revealing an intimacy between the deity and andal. In time, andal became a great yearning to live a life of desire rather than
poet and wrote many songs about her love for Perumal, and they are sung even today. one bound by rules and responsibility and
However, the conservative lobby prefers to focus on songs that are sterile and sanitised, regulations, one that is continuously con-
and stripped of eroticism. They ignore some of the best songs of andal that are rich in trolled. we refuse to see the yearning for
eroticism. It embarrasses people that a saint who is almost considered a goddess would independence in this splendid language
speak an erotic language. of eroticism.
In her images, andal holds a parrot in her hand, the bird being a symbol of eroticism,
associated with Kamadeva, the God of desire, the God who is killed by the Hermit-God

Shiva, yet is resurrected on the insistence of Goddess Shakti who calls herself Kamakshi, He MyTHoloGIcal RadHa,
she whose eyes evoke desire. The tension between the householder and the hermit is however, embodies this passion
evident in the visual representation of andal as a mortal-bride of the divine, and the and even independence in full
public discomfort with viewing andal as a human with desires, not all transcendental. glory. Her roots are clearly Tantrik, not
This trend is repeated, 700 years later, in north India with Meerabai, a Rajput prin- the more monastic Vedic, because in
cess who lived in times of tension between Rajputs and the Mughals. She was given in folk poetry found in eastern parts of
marriage to a Rajput king, but she never acknowledged him as her real husband. She India, Radha is repeatedly visualised as
insisted that she was married to Krishna alone, and when her husband died in battle, a woman who is married to another
she refused to perform sati. Instead, to the horror of her conservative and proud family, man (parakiya), not belonging to
she wandered the streets singing of Krishna; and her songs are full of passion, longing Krishna (svakiya). She is older than
and desire. we are told her family tried to stop her, but they couldn’t stop her. attempts Krishna, and in some stories, his aunt.
to kill her failed. She just loved wandering the streets of her city and then wandered to Therefore, the relationship between
Vrajbhumi, Mathura, singing her songs of God before finally disappearing in dwarka.
In art, she is visualised as a widow with a lute in hand, almost like the abandoned
widows of Mathura and Kashi. yet the metaphors in her songs show that there is a strong
physical and sensual component to it. She is not denying the body; the body is very much
there, not rejected.
now, both andal and Meerabai are imagined as holy and pure and there-
fore, as per patriarchal code, have to be located outside desire. They need to be
virginal. while andal is dressed as a bride in her imagery, the tendency is to see
Meerabai as a widow. andal, we are told, dresses up for Krishna, not human eyes.
Meera abandons her princess finery as she lives on a spiritual plane. a patriar-
chal ecosystem looks down on desire, views it as a cause of suffering and regu-
lates it through strict rules of matrimony. a woman is allowed only three roles in
Indian society—either she is a wife, subservient to a single husband; or a harlot who
serves the desires of many men; or a nun who rejects desire completely. all three kinds
of women are found in Buddhist, Jain and Hindu literature. The nun is highly regarded
in Buddhism and Jainism, the chaste wife is highly regarded in all three, and the harlot
is admired so long as she submits to the superiority of the nun and the chaste wife. a
woman who desires many men, or one who is open about her desires, is seen as an aber-
ration. It is not seen as freedom; it is seen as debauchery. a man who loves pleasure is a
hedonist, the cause of a society’s downfall. Greater preference is for the man who shuns
all pleasure and views every woman as his ‘mother’.
we are not allowed to see the desire of andal and Meera as a longing for a perfect man,
Purshottama, an expression of a woman’s desire to be loved for who she is, and what

THE TENSION between the householder and the

hermit is evident in the visual representation of Andal
as a mortal-bride of the divine and the public discomfort
with viewing ANDAL AS A HUMAN with desires

128 20 august 2018

Krishna and Radha is transgressive at
many levels, the hallmark of Tantrik
ideas that reached their zenith a thou-
sand years ago. This was the time that
Buddhism also acknowledged the fem-
inine principle through the Goddess
Tara. This was the time when in odisha
we had the circular temple of 64 yoginis
built, where women are represented in
all their forms—wild and domestic,
macabre and sensual, animal-like and
wise. There are no men as guardians.
This Tantrik period challenged the
sterility and sanitary nature of the mo-
nastic orders of Buddhism and Jainism
as well as Hinduism. The monastic order,
by contrast, venerated the celibacy of Ha-
numan and of male monks, and looked
down on the courtesan cultures of India.
It is from this period that India sees the
rise of akharas and mahants. The Islamic
period followed, and in many ways the
flowering of women’s desire in Tantra
was blamed for Hinduism’s and Bud-
dhism’s downfall. Those who blamed
Muslims and Victorians for India’s puri-
tanism do nothing to encourage female KRISHNA EXPRESSES his independence through
erotic expression in the post-colonial
period. Patriarchy thrives even after the
eroticism. He is shringar-murthi, the most beautiful
end of Muslim and colonial rule. Men one. HE ENJOYS LIFE, but is attached to nothing.
may want to be free so long as they can He is surrounded by hundreds of adoring women
control the desires of women. The fear
that a woman may actually choose an-
other man terrifies the patriarch. Hence,
the stories of women being tormented for herself to be the flower fixed to the branch of a tree, who enjoys the fact that the bee
being unfaithful to their spouses. But not visited her and indulges her memories of him and uses these to transform herself from
in the Krishna lore. flower to fruit. She finds independence in thought and emotion, although bound by
Radha is a woman who desires and social rules. In no song does she resent her husband. Krishna helps her cope with the
consumes her lover as much as her lover regulations of the household.
consumes her, and her songs show some- of course, puritanical versions of the tale, popular among women-hating patronising
one who is not submissive but demand- patriarchs in positions of power, will prefer explanations that claim all talk of clandestine
ing. In the pre-Radha Krishna poetry, or illicit relationships in sacred literature is delusionary. In truth, Krishna and Radha
milkmaids yearn for Krishna. Radha, were married to each other, and faithful to each other like Ram and Sita, all poetic and
however, is a demanding consort. when artistic evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.
Krishna has to leave and make his jour- That being said, we find narratives of independence in Krishna literature
ney out of Vrindavan and go to Mathura, that have the voices of the women who adore him. Krishna himself speaks of
she is angry with him for leaving, but liberation not from responsibilities or from desire, but from attachment—the
then reconciles with his departure and attachment to a person or emotion that makes us clingy. Here, heartbreak is
eventually finds fulfilment in the memo- appreciated, not feared. I think that is the kind of internal independence that we need
ries of that union, however brief. Indeed, to think about this Independence day. n
there are songs where she engages Ud-
hava and calls Krishna a black bee who Devdutt Pattanaik is the author and illustrator of Shyam: an Illustrated
moves from flower to flower and declares Retelling of the Bhagavata

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 129


‘Allah’—the little word, ‘Look here, this business with religion, God and all are
Uttered with such flowing tenderness and belief highly inflammatory. Leave that, dearie, and pick another
By Lord Nabi pleading with the Father of three worlds one,’ Deepa said.
with a heart surging with intense love to pardon the sins Rasiya didn’t say anything.
of the subjects, ‘Hey, you think again and come up with something
even the sword raised to kill the Guru thrilling,’ Shameena put her hands around Rasiya’s
Slipped from the hands of the assassin! shoulders and said: ‘For the time being, leave this.’
Rasiya didn’t utter a word.
—From the poem Allah by Vallathol Narayana Menon When they were returning from college, Jyothi said:
‘Do you really want to call Vanku? Do you really wish to?’

Rasiya nodded.
WAnT To KISS the hairy hands of the Head of It was when she was five years old that Rasiya went to
our department,’ said Deepa. Thiruvananthapuram for the first time with her Vappa
‘I want to tell John from English that I love and Umma. At the zoo, from the moment she saw the first
him,’ said Jyothi. animal in the first cage, she started crying. Even when her
‘I want to watch a film with Ashraf,’ said Umma and Vappa assured her that it won’t do anything,
Shameena. she didn’t stop crying. Rasiya asked her Vappa to open the
Even after the three of them had expressed their cage. Vappa said if he opened it, the animal would hurt
wishes, Rasiya remained silent. them. Rasiya was not ready to listen to him, and went
‘Why are you keeping mum?’ Jyothi asked her. on crying. Umma and Vappa came out of the zoo with
‘nothing,’ Rasiya nodded in answer. Rasiya. Vappa took a vow that he won’t go anywhere
‘Don’t mess up things. Classes last only for a month with such a rascal. It was a Friday. Vappa went to Jumma
now. We should fulfil whatever wish we have before mosque to offer prayers. Rasiya and Umma sat on the
that,’ Deepa was getting angry. steps of a closed shop in Connemara market situated
Even after hearing that, Rasiya remained there, silently opposite the mosque. Rasiya was still crying. It was all of a
looking out from the class. sudden that the Vanku call from the Jumma approached
‘Come on, Rasiya, open your mouth and say some- her. Rasiya gazed at the sweetness of the Vanku, and
thing,’ Shameena turned Rasiya’s face and told her: ‘once stopped crying. Looking at that voice looming over the
we are out, nothing of this sort can happen. That’s why sunlight at noon, she fell asleep. While returning to
we are asking you... please tell us if you have any.’ Kottayam, the music of the Vanku call rested close to her
Rasiya adjusted her headscarf that was slipping from ears like an ornament invisible to others.
her head, and looked at all of them with a smile on her
face. Her friends waited anxiously. ******
‘I have a wish... but I don’t know if it could be
fulfilled…’ ‘It seems that boy—Asharaf Master’s son—likes you
‘Come on, dear, you want to hug our Principal? or very much,’ Umma said, standing at the veranda, while
you want to have a drink? or else, you want to sleep with she was stepping into the house.
someone?’ Shameena asked her, ‘Just tell us what you Umma was like that; time, place or situation—noth-
want... aren’t we here with you? Come on, speak up!’ ing mattered to her if she felt like saying something.
Rasiya kept silent for a while and then said with her Rasiya, tilting her head sideways to check whether
usual smile, ‘I want to make a Vanku call.’[1] the neighbours heard it, queried: ‘Which one? That fair,
Suddenly, an uninvited silence descended amidst the muscular boy? And what reply did you give, Umma?’
four of them. ‘I told him after finishing your studies you are going
Shameena at once admonished her. ‘Are you mad? Let no for IAS coaching, and so you are not marrying now. Then
one hear that!’ they said they’ll send you for coaching after marriage.
Rasiya still continued with that same smile and asked: Then I said no need for that coaching.’
‘But you said you are with me?’ Rasiya told Umma, laughing: ‘Great! But don’t let
‘My dear, I am with you,’ Shameena continued, Vappa know of this!’
slightly scared, ‘but not for things like this.’ After dinner, when they were chatting, Rasiya told
‘Is it such a big issue?’ Jyothi expressed her doubt. Umma: ‘Listen, today Deepa and Shameena asked me

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 131


what my greatest wish was.’ group had rushed to the window of the Malayalam
‘What did you say?’ Department.
‘I told them my wish.’ ‘Dumbfound!’ said Jyothi.
‘I am asking, what it is?’ ‘As you touched pani (hand) from now on, you’ll be
When Rasiya brought her lips close Umma’s ear, she called Panini [4],’ Rasiya said, looking at Deepa.
turned her head away saying, ‘You are tickling me.’ Jyothi decided to tell John of the English Department
‘As if you are a little girl to get tickled!’ that afternoon itself that she loves him. Even before she
‘Hey, tell me what is wrong with me? I was married off went near John, she was panting slightly. Maybe because
at 18. otherwise I would have smartly roamed around of that, John, after surveying Jyothi, said: ‘Listen, girl! I am
alone like you.’ in love with your classmate Krishnakumar, so…’
‘Agreed! People even ask if you are my younger sister! Is At first Jyothi, taken aback, didn’t know what to say.
that enough for you?’ Then, gathering strength from somewhere, she feebly
‘Why do you say ‘enough’? Isn’t that the truth? You told him: ‘That is okay. But I like you.’
suckled my breasts till you were three-and-a-half! Yet, if With a slight whimper, John told Jyothi: ‘Don’t say like
my breasts are not sagging, it is not a small thing!’ that! Consider me as a brother.’
‘That is thanks to Balaswagandhadhi oil and also In front of that sentence of John’s, Jyothi’s impatience
Vappa…’ raised its voice: ‘Impossible! I already have too many
‘You’re crossing the limits!’ brothers at home!’
Their laughter suddenly filled the house. John looked at Jyothi helplessly. Jyothi, pretending
‘now tell me.’ that she considered that small failure insignificant, and
‘Yes,’ Rasiya looked around and lowered her voice a bit: biting her lips that were about to whimper, took a few
‘ I said I want to make a Vanku call.’ steps, and then even her legs didn’t know where they
Astounded, Umma stood there for a minute, looking were running so fast.
at Rasiya. Saying nothing, she left the room. If Umma For some days, a tiny sadness floated around Jyothi
doesn’t like something, she never says ‘no’ or ‘don’t’. In like a breeze. She came out of that after she went to a
such instances, silence is her answer. movie with Shameena. Shameena sat near Ashraf, and
That night, Umma didn’t talk to Rasiya. When every- his friend sat near Jyothi. A few minutes after darkness
one was asleep, Rasiya asked the Creator: ‘Is what I wish fell in the theatre, Ashraf’s friend whispered to Jyothi: ‘I
something wrong?’ feel cold. Shall I hug you?’
The cloud that covered the moon dispersed. A small Before the tiny little time that it takes for the tongue
ray of light entered Rasiya’s room through the window. to rise and shout ‘Bastard, how dare you!?’ and all, a
palm, tender as cotton, held Jyothi closely. Just before
****** the lights came on during interval, it loosened. After
the interval, it rejoined. never did it seek a kiss or sneak
Deepa came running to the place where they all its way to her breasts or anything like that. When they
gathered after lunch. Panting, she took hold of Rasiya’s were returning after the show, Ashraf’s friend gave
shoulders and said: ‘I kissed!’ Jyothi a nice smile.
no one believed it at first. Deepa, bringing her lips ‘Hey, my dress is all crumpled,’ on the way back Sha-
close to Shameena, asked: ‘Look! Can’t you see the vapour meena asked bashfully, ‘Will people suspect anything?’
rising from my cheek?’ It was not that question which Jyothi answered.
‘True. There is a Manipravala [2] smell’, Shameena said. ‘Maybe he really felt cold and that’s why he did that...?’
Even before she finished describing with metaphors
and all how she went to the Malayalam Department ******
library, took the Keralapanineeyam [3] book from the hands
of Varma sir, then leapt like a kingfisher to peck at the Because the surge of time was faster than what they all
sweat from its hairy surface and flew away, the whole imagined, the calendar repeatedly reminded them that

IT WAS ALL OF a sudden that the Vanku call from the

Jumma approached her. Rasiya gazed at the
SWEETNESS OF THE VANKU, and stopped crying

132 20 august 2018

there were only a few days left. The friends felt sad that Jyothi didn’t understand what Shameena said. Both of
there was no decision in Rasiya’s case. In a week, the col- them sat in the class for some time, and while walking to
lege would be closed. the bus stand, Jyothi asked: ‘Were you serious?’
‘Look, Rasiya,’ Jyothi said, ‘tell us another wish. Leave Rasiya nodded.
this one.’ ‘Do you want to call Vanku tomorrow?’
‘Say any wild thing you wish, we are with you!’ Sha- ‘no,’ Rasiya said.
meena touched Rasiya’s head; ‘God Promise!’ ‘Then?’
Rasiya remained silent for some time and said: ‘But for ‘next Friday, for the Jumma.’
that, I have no other wish.’ Though she didn’t know what Jumma was, Jyothi
‘She’s mad!’ Deepa got angry. ‘When we all say playful understood she meant Friday.
things, here she comes with something damn serious! ‘That day, we will go together,’ Jyothi said.
now let us stop this game here!’ ‘Where?’
‘That’s better!’ Shameena agreed. ‘There’s a limit to ‘Some 10-15 kilometres from here, there is a small for-
everything! We don’t want any revolution crossing that!’ est. There’ll be no one there. You have no problem going
‘Shamee, I didn’t want to make any revolution! You there, isn’t it?’
asked for my wish, and I said it. I’ve been carrying it since ‘no problem at all,’ Rasiya said, holding Jyothi’s hands
my childhood.’ with love.
‘At your age now, you can have ever so many other on Thursday night, as she lay down to sleep, Rasiya
wishes. Why don’t you say any of that? Why insist on the recalled the music of the Vanku she heard that day from
impossible?’ Palayam mosque. She had never heard such a sweet
‘Why are you getting angry with her?’ Jyothi asked Vanku after that. Later, it was in the timepiece that Vappa
Deepa. brought from the Gulf that she heard that heart-kissing
Saying, ‘I never said anything to anyone,’ Deepa took call. She also felt that as a rare moment when one felt
her bag and began to walk away. ‘Shamee, if you are com- music was an invitation to God.
ing, let us go. I am leaving.’ The next morning, Rasiya stood in front of the college
Before she left with Deepa, Shameena told Rasiya: with the prayer mat of her grandmother, and water in a
‘Look dear, try and become a devout, law-abiding woman.’ jar with a lid to take vulu [5]. After some time, Jyothi arrived

20 august 2018 www.openthemagazine.com 133


IN THE DARKNESS of the green, that voice, clarified by the

lapping waves of centuries, TOUCHED THE PINNACLE of
the sky and the roots that rose up to the depths

accompanied by a boy of their age. ‘The boy too is tiny,’ the other one replied.
‘He is Ashraf’s friend,’ Jyothi said with a laugh, ‘Didn’t I nodding his head, he asked: ‘Shouldn’t we call the
tell you that day?’ others too?’
Rasiya nodded. ‘Yes.’
‘There is no bus to that place. Autorickshaws also don’t ‘Then don’t waste time.’
go there. You better go with him.’ He ran outside the forest.
Rasiya didn’t answer. Like uttering a bunch of words, one of the trees shed
‘Afraid?’ Jyothi asked. some leaves.
Without answering, Rasiya smiled at her and climbed Rasiya asked him the time. He told her the time.
on to his bike. ‘West is this side?’ pointing at a direction, she asked.
They walked between the trees that had grown and ‘Yes.’
spread branches into the dark. Like the smell that still Along with the one who went out of the forest, two
hung over small plants from the life of a skin of a snake more men came. Stamping the plants and slashing with
that has just crawled away, it was a novel experience for the machete the branches that obstructed their path, they
Rasiya. The vines that plunged from the branches, as if to rushed in. All of a sudden, silencing the wind, the leaves
touch the ground, brushed the necks of both in the breeze and their legs, a female voice calling Vanku, ‘Allahu Akbar...’
like long fingers. Some of the branches aimed at their eyes. resounded. In the darkness of the green, that voice, clarified
‘There’s a hornet’s nest.’ by the lapping waves of centuries, touched the pinnacle of
‘I haven’t seen a hornet,’ Rasiya said. the sky and the roots that rose up to the depths.
‘When it comes to sting, don’t wait and watch, just run!’ When they returned, Rasiya didn’t find those standing
Rasiya laughed. in the dark of the forest strangers. She looked at them and
It was after noticing a bike parked outside the forest smiled. They didn’t smile.
that the two young men who were on their way to the Rasiya went to the college with him, and they went to
toddy shop stopped midway and entered the forest. the toddy shop. n
Brushing aside the leaves and branches while they
walked, they heard the voices of a boy and girl walking Unni R is a Malayalam short story
ahead of them and beyond the screen of trees. They and screenplay writer. This story,
hastened after those voices. When they turned around originally written in Malayalam
a tree’s trunk, they saw the two of them. They looked at as Vanku (The Islamic Call to
each other. Prayer), or ‘Azaan’ in Urdu, is
‘It’s a tiny little girl,’ one of them said. translated by CS Venkiteswaran

[1] Vanku is the Malayalam word for ture in Tamil nadu and literary works in sidered to be an epoch-making work on
‘A Muezzin’s call to prayer’ Kerala. Much of the love poetry of a genre the growth and structure of Malayalam.
[2] Manipravalam was a literary called ‘sandesa kavya’ (message poems) [4] Pāāini (6th–4th century BCE) was
style used in medieval liturgical texts in was written in it. a Sanskrit philologist, grammarian, and
South India which used an admixture [3] Keralapanineeyam is a treatise on a revered scholar of Hinduism . He is con-
of Proto Tamil- Malayalam language Malayalam grammar and rhetoric, writ- sidered the father of Indian linguistics.
and Sanskrit. ‘Mani- pravalam’ literally ten by AR Raja Raja Varma, grammarian, [5] Vulu is the Islamic procedure for
means ruby-coral, where ‘mani’ means litterateur and one of the pioneers of washing up before offering prayers. It
ruby in Tamil while ‘pravalam’ means Malayalam Language studies. The book involves washing the hands, mouth,
coral in Sanskrit. Malayalam is referred to was first published in 1896 and earned its nostrils, arms, head and feet with water
as a ruby and Sanskrit as coral. This was author the sobriquet, Kerala Pāāini, after and is an important part of ritual purity
prevalent in Vaishnavite religious litera- the Sanskrit grammarian Pāāini. It is con- in Islam.

134 20 august 2018

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getty images

holly wood reporter By Noel de Souza

Rami malek

‘I too felt like an outsider sometimes’

RoM HIS HIT TV show Mr. Robot to playing British singer Freddie Mercury of the rock band
Queen in the film Bohemian Rhapsody (2018), Rami Malek has made the transition smoothly,
but not without angst and much nervousness. He did not know if he would ever get the part,
but he wanted it so badly that he spent two years researching and immersing himself in the character
of Freddie, trying to absorb the essence. Born to an Egyptian immigrant couple in 1981, Malek studied
theatre at the University of Evansville, Indiana, and later worked in restaurants and made falafel for a
living. His drink of choice is canned beer with tequila.

How did you prepare yourself to play people can relate to him. There’s one And I’m very fulfilled that if there’s any-
Freddie Mercury? moment in the film where I’m talking thing that crosses paths between the
I’d be hard pressed to find something on to someone as Freddie, and he says, two of us, I consider that very flattering.
Freddie Mercury that I have not seen. “What is it that sets you apart?” And the
Even now when the film is done, I’m so band can’t find an answer. But Freddie Freddie was a bisexual who died
enamoured of him, I find myself search- chimes in and says, “We are all misfits of AIDS. That’s a different set of
ing for something more. I knew early singing to other misfits, the ones right emotions that you have had to portray.
on that this part may be mine, but I’ve at the back of the room, the outcasts Was it difficult?
been in this situation before where you who feel that they don’t belong, we Yes. They are massive feelings and I
get promised something but you could belong to them.” And for me, it’s the think it’s difficult because I had to put
never be rest assured until you sign same thing I can connect with. I’ve aside all the music and everything, and
on the dotted line. I thought that if felt like an outsider sometimes, and look at him and say, ‘This is a person
it was going to happen, I had better be here is Freddie, a young man who was struggling to discover his identity. A
prepared. I even had a set of teeth made born in Zanzibar, shipped off at a very complex person who in an interview
because Freddie had teeth that protrude young age to Bombay to go to boarding can be one way and be in an entirely
a little bit, and every night I would school, and upon his return to Zanzibar different form of himself around his
practise without even knowing if the he finds the country is in this revolu- family and girlfriend Mary Austin, with
role was mine. And when I had a break tion and he is forced to flee to London, whom he was completely open and who
from filming Mr. Robot, I flew to London seeking asylum. So I can understand; he called the love of his life.’ And then,
and went to Abbey Road. I paid my my family came to the US [from Egypt] when he’s finding himself in how he
own way, hoping that someday I will be seeking a better life—growing up in identifies sexually, he’s another person
reimbursed. I hired a movement coach the US feeling different, and having a and at one point not wanting to know
instead of a choreographer because household where you’d go home and if he was HIV-positive—that was a big
Freddie just picks up and does whatever speak a different language, and being tell for me. And the identity struggle
happens to him instinctually. As I said, I made fun of because you were differ- throughout his life, which is reflected in
flew to London whenever I had a break ent, and you have an unusual name. I the early lyrics he wrote. He’s got some
from filming; so I was doing two things can also identify with the fact that be- lines where he says, ‘I’m forever search-
at the same time. It was a daunting ing on stage or in front of a camera fills ing high and low, but why does everyone
experience, but I think it was worth it. me with a certain confidence that I may tell me no?’ And I observed how the
not have had in my regular life. I feel lyrics changed throughout his life.
In what way do you relate to Freddie that I can interact with other people in Freddie, it must be noted, never took
personally? ways that hopefully raises some aware- singing lessons but he had a very wide
I think in the same way that so many ness of who we are and who we can be. vocal range. n

www.openthemagazine.com 137


Tabu as a Mentor in Hollywood same approach as the first season, Anurag Kashyap will shoot
When Tabu was invited to join the Academy of Motion the flashback portions featuring Nawazuddin Siddiqui as
Picture Arts & Sciences some weeks ago (along with other Mumbai crime-lord Ganesh Gaitonde, and Ghawyan will
Indians like Shah Rukh Khan, Anil Kapoor and Ali Fazal), helm the modern-day track starring Saif Ali Khan as Inspector
she wasn’t quite sure what it involved. But having worked on Sartaj Singh.
‘legit’ Hollywood productions like Mira Nair’s The Namesake Saif also revealed the second season would deliver “more
(2006) and Ang Lee’s Life of Pi (2012), she realised the value of action”, delve deeper into Sartaj Singh’s relationship with
the honour and accepted the offer. his ex-wife, and “go more into the ‘sacred’ part of the story”.
Since then, she’s reportedly committed to participating in Those who watched the first season may have also noticed
the Academy’s mentorship programme and sharing her wis- that Pankaj Tripathi’s character, Guruji, was poised to have a
dom with newer professionals. It’s something she’s often done more central role as the narrative progresses.
back home in India. Recently, on hearing that a talented
young actor had been conned into doing a ‘sub-stan- When Ties Don’t Entirely Snap
dard’ film in America in exchange for a Screen Actors Last year, rumour had it that a top star had fallen out
Guild card, she volunteered to sit down with the with his director after their last film bombed at the
actor and take him through the process of acquiring box office. Those close to the actor said they weren’t
one, crucial for those seeking acting work in the US. even talking now, after having made three films
In Bollywood, she’s been filming with old together. Some said the star was upset the director
friend Ajay Devgn for Sonu Ke Titu Ki Sweety had insisted on giving the film a tone contrary to
(2018), director Luv Ranjan’s next produc- the star’s image and on sticking with his ‘vision’
tion, even as her film with Sriram Raghavan, despite the star’s reservations. Others said the
Andhadhun, gets ready for an October release. actor had been led to believe there were irregu-
She’s got a big project lined up that she’s larities in the budget. Either way, plans for more
itching to begin work on, but won’t speak films together seem to have been scrapped.
about it till the producers announce it. Just In the months that followed, the actor had
know that it reunites her with one of her taken another director under his wing, and the
favourite directors, and it’s an epic project, filmmaker in question had announced both an
likely to generate much excitement when it goes ambitious mini-series for a streaming platform
into production. Watch this space. and a film with another top actor. They weren’t
seen together at social gatherings or even the
New Director for Sacred Games actor’s birthday celebrations—the message was
The cat is out of the bag. Saif Ali Khan revealed loud and clear.
to me recently that Vikramaditya Motwane Throughout, however, the director’s wife
won’t direct the second season of Sacred Games. kept up social graces, ‘liking’ and commenting
“He was under too much stress both directing on Instagram posts by the actor’s family,
and being the showrunner on the series. As a especially his sister. Earlier this week, she
result, he wasn’t able to enjoy himself on the agreed to host at an event involving the actor
job,” Saif said, adding they were bringing in and his family. It’s hard to predict if the men
someone new to take over from Motwane. “It’s will patch up, but it’s refreshing to see things
someone quite exciting,” Saif teased. don’t have to remain ugly. n
It appears that the Masaan (2015) director
Neeraj Ghaywan has been offered the gig, and Rajeev Masand is entertainment editor and
will likely take it on. If the makers adopt the film critic at CNN-NEWS18

138 20 august 2018

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