Saturday, November 17, 2007

Who wants to be a Fascist?

Budhdhadev Bhattacharya, the Chief Minister of West Bengal, commented upon the recent violence of Nandigram - 'they have been paid back by their own coins' - commenting upon his party-workers' recent assault on Nandigram, an unremarkable village in West Bengal where an unique people's resistance movement to the Government's land acquisition took form. The resisting few had outside help - from an assortment of opposition parties and left-wing guerrillas - and they have fought for their corner. They managed to cut off the roads, and embarrassed and terrorised police, who managed to torture and fire upon innocent civilians in some cases. Then came the CPIM Cadres, armed and facilitated by the state machinery, while police stood by and in fact blocked everyone else from reaching the village. The Governor of the state lodged a protest, but CPIM created a huge ruckus on his comments. The cadres invaded Nandigram and flushed out the resistance - while scores of central security force personnel was held back by the state and the protests in Calcutta changed nothing. Then, the Chief Minister announced victory, with these comments.

This would have been a standard tale of an industrialising society. Industry needs land, and the transformation is often cruel and violent. This could have also been an unremarkable story of political violence, which is commonplace in India, where armed cadres of one party fights with another. But the erudite Chief Minister, by staying silent when the violence continued for good many days, and then making comments justifying the violence, let this incident transcend both.

There was another story which grabbed headlines in India recently. The criminals of Gujrat riots recently confessed - on camera on a sting operation - that they had direct support of the Chief Minister of the state, Narendra Modi, who gave them three days to 'clean up' the muslim areas. Modi was termed a Fascist, for letting the state police stand aside, while the butchery continued unabated.

What's the key difference between what Modi did, and what the enlightened, secular Chief Minister of West Bengal did? Just that Modi did not justify the killers' actions officially. He made a similar statement to that of Budhdhadev's - implied that the muslim community has been paid back for their crimes in Godhra, 'paid back in their own coins'. BB went a step further, he said 'he can't deny his political self', which Modi, pragmatic as he is, did not say.

Modi is Fascist, as CPIM says. Indeed, he used the state machinery ruthlessly to run a brutal pogrom. But genocides are not only defined by scale, but by intention. Wiping out those who are dissimilar to ourselves is an equivalent crime of attacking those who don't agree with us. Fascism is not just about an ideology, or being right or left of the centre, but also about ignoring the rule of law for the sake of one's political self.

The cat is out of the bag, therefore. Meanwhile, we will continue to suffer. This is because we would keep thinking that we are unaffected, and this is about Muslims, the wayward peasants of Nandigram, madcap Maoists, and not us. And, yes, we shall forget Rev. Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Reluctant Fundamentalist - A Review

I read this novel by Mohsin Hamid non-stop, over a few hours this Sunday. It is written in a witty, engaging, conversational style, telling the story of a Pakistani boy who studied in Princeton and worked for a highly esteemed financial services company, only to find himself at odds with America in the wake of the tension of India-Pakistan stand off after the attack on Indian Parliament, 9/11 and the tragic turn in his love life.

There is a lot to like this novel. It is easy to identify yourself with the central character, the ambitions, constraints and reservations very familiar. Its style is engaging, and wit, disarming. The novel contains a subtle description of life in Lahore, its oldness, its markets and its people. It depicts New York too, may be with less conviction, but with no less love.

However, it suffers from - in my view - one crucial drawback. Conviction. It remains difficult to fathom why Changiz - the central character - does what he does. There is a certain unreasonableness in his demand on America. His tragedy in love does not convince us of the cruel inconsideration of the modern, material civilisation, which it plausibly could; it stands out like an accident, a sad turn but really an event unrelated but in narrator's mind.

I close the book - even after its intriguing end - thinking, but who is America. Changez does not think of all the kindnesses of life, but blames a whole country for what he thought was injustice, never trying to put it in perspective or assessing its fundamentals. He is poetic in his hate, poetically imprecise. And, that, in this world of real fundamentalists and real hate, sounds unconvincing and unreal.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Emergency in Pakistan

President Musharaf has made history by being the only Pakistani president in history to impose emergency twice. Lot of commentators say that the situation is alike Martial Law, which has been imposed on the country no less than five times in its sixty year history.

However, what’s interesting to me is what the President said in his TV speech – “I appeal to my critics – give us time! Your democracies have matured over centuries, but ours is a new one and needs time. We are making great progress, but it is necessary, from time to time, to correct the course.”

It is very similar to what a prominent Bangladeshi blogger wrote, in defending the martial law in Bangladesh: “Over the last thousand years, Bangalees have not had much autonomous democratic control of their destinies. We have been ruled during this time from Delhi or London or Islamabad. Even since 1971, our political leaders have often been autocratic leaders. So theoretically speaking we have had at best 15 years in the last 1500 years of free rule. Given this, should we be so sure of what democracy or which model of democracy suits us best? Should we not even spend some time on deliberating on our structure of government and representation?” [That’s Farhan – in his Conversation With An Optimist;]

I know this view is very prevalent in Asia, and I am sure the Thai generals also have some similar excuse. It is commonly believed by the elite that the people need to be told how they should vote [not far, in conceptualization, from the current US faith in Engineered Democracies].

However, despite this, the 'people' proved uncannily prescient. In Bangladesh, for example, governments were booted out for non-performance. In Pakistan, the experience has been similar. Even in India, which had a 20-month emergency period in its 60 year history, the dictatorial Mrs. Gandhi was taught a lesson by the electorate for suspending democracy.

So, I see the flip side of Musharaf’s argument. The democracy is immature, but so is the ruling elite. It is less a fault of people and democratic process, because they always voted well when given a chance, and more a fault of the ruling elite to improve the situation in these countries. Farhan is a very intelligent man and a keen observer of the political process, but he is indeed wrong – what the countries need is a restoration of democratic process, not the suspension of it.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Indian English

I visited an IELTS Training centre in Hyderabad today – Institute of Articulate Communication! Or, was it “Articulative (!) Communication”? Don’t remember, but this proves a point.

The point is – something new is happening to Indian English. Consider this: “The fast-growing, developing world uses the home as a sleeping bag and the office cubicle as a garden of courtship. Skin to skin is no sin, it helps to relax and truly pluralistic relationships are polygamous. Fidelity has many definitions and it is an insult to human heart when it is divided into categories in a reductionist manner.” I quoted that paragraph from India Today magazine’s round-table discussion on marriage and infidelity, and this is Dr. Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist.

Or, this – the anti-nuclear deal parties are ‘stone age obscurantist’ and pro ones are ‘stooges’ and ‘sell-out-ists’! Recently, in a business presentation, a very senior doctor was trying to impress my British associates by telling them that they can successfully recruit nurses from India by working with his hospital. He said: “Listen closely to what we are saying – by working with us, you will have millions [!] of trained nurses knocking at your door very soon.” My associates were probably frightened, but they did well to hide what they felt.

Jug Suraiya makes this point in today’s Times of India, in his essay ‘Let’s Stop Talking Like Brats’. ‘We won’t grow up unless our language does first’ – he says – and points out India’s ‘adolescent personality’. He points out that ‘bubblespeak’ – a take from Orwellian doublespeak and a spoken equivalent of speech bubbles of comic books – is an essential element of our language in use, and won’t go away despite our increasing hobnobbing with the emotionally matured world.

In the end, much of this is ascribed to the Indian character, brash, adolescent and uneasy. However, this is not happening to the native languages, I must point out. They are becoming funny, cosmopolitan, light and increasingly adopting bollywoody-ism, most famously the use of ‘Mamu’ and ‘Bole To’. The language is changing, undeniably, but these changes in local language project a new confidence to accept and incorporate a ‘national common denominator’, a sign of confidence and maturity. However, the English speaking in India is walking the reverse direction, obscuring itself into indecipherable flourish and ‘babble-speak’ and projecting its emotional insecurity in embracing the world.

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