India under Narendra Modi: Hoping to reassert our heritage
20th July 2018 will go down as a landmark date in the history of India’s Parliamentary democracy. PM Narendra Modi provided a master class in the Lok Sabha when he spoke at the conclusion of the daylong debate on the No Confidence Motion against his council of ministers, tabled by N. Chandrababu Naidu’s TDP, till recently a constituent of the NDA. The bifurcation of the erstwhile Andhra Pradesh was hastened by the UPA after the accidental death, on 2nd September 2009, of Y. S. R. Reddy, a devout Christian, who was the strong man of Andhra. YSR had accumulated vast amounts of wealth during his 5-years tenure as AP CM, some of which had been invested in a host of business enterprises by his son Jaganmohan Reddy.
There are a number of unanswered questions about his death – was it accidental or a deliberate act of sabotage? The facts, however, are that his son fell out with the Congress President Mrs. Sonia Gandhi, and formed a new political outfit, YSR Congress. His going has not been easy, spending 16 months in jail on graft and embezzlement charges. Yet, in 2009, he won the Kadapa Parliamentary seat by a margin of over 5 lakh votes. Opposed to the formation of Telangana, Jaganmohan undertook an indefinite fast in jail, and when his health began deteriorating he was moved to a hospital. His mother too went on hunger strike protesting the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh. In the 2014 General Elections he did not contest the Lok Sabha seat he had held but chose to become the leader of the opposition in the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly, representing Pulivendula, his father’s erstwhile constituency.
Let me hasten to explain that this post is not about the political fortunes of the YSR family. It is just an example to show how India’s destiny for the last thousand years has been to bear the brunt of a thousand cuts launched on its thousand-branched tree by forces outside that have been hostile to this land of Sanatana Dharma, and by those inside who have been converted and corrupted by them. From the time the greedy eyes of barbarians from the West saw the wonder that was India, began a thousand years of chipping, chopping, and axing of the branches of this magnificent tree. These attempts inevitably failed, and from time to time there have risen towering personalities like Sankara, Tulsidas, Kabir, Ramakrishna, Vivekananda, Sri Aurobindo, Sri Ramana Maharishi, among others to deflect them and to revive the flagging and demoralized spirits of the common people.
Although in 1947 India earned a victory in the form of independence from British colonial rule, yet this victory was nothing more than pyrrhic. The partition that had been engineered on religious grounds saw power going into the hands of a Congress party that seemed to have assimilated within its body the hostility of all the previous enemies of Sanatana Dharma. Nehru and his acolytes got down to the task of chipping away at the branches with rare zeal and earnestness, and tried to complete the unfinished agenda of the invaders. But however nefarious the designs of the new rulers might have been, the ancient spirit of India is unvanquishable, and all attempts to subdue it meets with the same fate – call it karma – that the previous invaders have had.
16th December 1971: the war in East Pakistan came to an end when the Pakistani Army led by Gen. Niazi surrendered to the Indian Army led by Gen. J.S. Aurora. Pakistan was dismembered as it lost its Eastern wing and the independent nation of Bangladesh was born. The events that led to this partition of a nation that by itself had been born out of a brutal vivisection of the sub-continent are well known and need no recounting here. Pakistan as a whole could not survive even a quarter of a century, and no matter how much spin its propaganda machinery may wish to put on India’s role in the events, the blame for the break-up rests squarely with the West Pakistani leadership symbolized by the adventurism of its Armed Forces represented then by Gen. Yahya Khan, and the reckless ambition of its political class represented by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto.
Despite the thrashing it got in this war and the generosity with which India handled the 90,000 POWs captured in East Pakistan, Bhutto always believed that he had outwitted Mrs. Indira Gandhi at the Shimla Conference. The truth, as always, lies somewhere in-between. Mrs. Gandhi could have extracted a more humiliating agreement from a vanquished foe, but despite her own dictatorial and imperious mentation, she could not resist the millennia-old civilizational imprint that Vedic thought would have left on her DNA. The generosity of India derives from the ingrained belief that we are all part of that one underlying reality of the Cosmos, and that there is none who can be called “the other.”
After the reality of partition had been rammed down the throat of Mahatma Gandhi by the Congress Party, Nehru had no choice but to come to terms with the changed circumstances and to buckle down to the task of building a nation out of the ruins of colonial rule and partition. Pakistan too could have undertaken the task of reconstruction and rehabilitation in real earnest and, I am sure, it would have found a more than willing partner in that task in the people of India. Instead, goaded by an ideology of a proselytizing Islam, it launched a military expedition almost immediately after independence to annex Kashmir on the pretext that the majority of the population in the valley was Muslim. Islam that had emerged from the sands of Arabia in the 7th century had practically swept everything that had stood in its way and had established its hegemony over vast nations ranging from Moorish Spain through North Africa, Central Asia, the Middle East, Indonesia and some other parts of South-East Asia.
Islamic armies had been invading the Indian sub-continent from the 8th century onwards and some Muslim kingdoms came up in the North long before the Mughals conquered Delhi and firmly established an empire ruled by Muslim kings. In its ambitiously self-confident and stridently Abrahamic way, Islam tried not only through coercion but also invited conversion to it of a large number of socially exploited Hindus. However, in spite of such a long, continuous political rule by Islam, India did not get substantially converted to the faith of the rulers. This is an “unprecedented Islamic failure,” as was noted by Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Ramchandra Gandhi. The culmination of this failure, according to him, “is the partition of India, and the seeking of a piece of land, Pakistan, by Muslim separatists not in battle but from a third party, the British, in petitionary negotiations, a final embarrassment.”
It is this ‘embarrassment’ and not the loss of Kashmir that is behind the continued hostility of Pakistan towards India. The ‘unfinished business of partition’ that its leaders keep reverting to is the failure of Islam to attract the majority of Hindus to its faith. Pakistan’s reaction to the military defeat in 1971 is not of an army having overreached its capabilities and engaged a far superior antagonist in combat, but the anguish of having been unable to impose religious hegemony over the sub-continent. Bhutto’s promise of a thousand-year war and Gen. Zia’s strategy to bleed India through a thousand cuts is not mere rhetoric. They are at the core of Pakistani ideology and the raison d’être for its existence.
The unabated hostility of Muslims outside and within is nothing but a manifestation of this millennia-old frustration of Islam with Hinduism. Having abandoned its pagan traditions it has come into direct conflict with “a belief that is both idolatrous and iconoclastic at the same time. Hinduism has the iconoclastic Advaita at one end of the spectrum, the other end of which is a riotous worship of images of all forms and shapes.” Islam is unable to comprehend that form could also be an attribute of the formless. It is due to this incomprehension that there is no immediate possibility of religious peace in the sub-continent. Attempts at political, cultural and economic rapprochement are important in their own way; candle-light vigils on the borders and Aman-Ki-Aasha invitations to Pakistani musicians and singers and resumption of sporting ties can only bring temporary peace; but they are unlikely to be abidingly successful until Islam abjures its self-imposed isolationism and suspiciousness.
Unfortunately, India under the Congress, did not build the democratic traditions that had been so carefully articulated in the Constitution by Dr. Ambedkar. The untimely death of Lal Bahadur Shastri within about a year-and-a-half of Nehru’s passing did not allow India enough time to develop the political maturity that a settled democracy requires. The Congress satraps at the Centre and in the states brought all their manipulative skills into play when they pitch forked Nehru’s daughter into her father’s chair in the misplaced belief that they would be able to pull the strings from behind the curtain and effectively control her to their material and political benefit. Indira Gandhi was too shrewd for them and by splitting the Grand Old party she not only marginalized the old men but also created a class of party members who had no political base of their own and were totally dependent on her for their survival. These courtiers multiplied in numbers as they saw the fortunes of absolutely worthless and insignificant individuals soar, only by virtue of their proximity to the lady.
By the end of 1971, with the dismemberment of Pakistan, she had become invincible and soon thereafter began to demonstrate the latent traits of dictatorship. The imposition of the emergency in 1975 completed this phase when like Mussolini she cleared the beggars off the streets and made the trains run on time, achievements which were thought to excuse Fascism. Stalin had told H. G. Wells in an interview that “obsolete classes don’t voluntarily disappear.” Indira Gandhi and her younger son set about this task of making “obsolete classes” disappear through such programs as forced sterilization, bulldozed evacuation, and wholesale incarceration of political opponents. The media was co-opted through economic and physical terror and made to fall in line with the official policy. The transformation of the Congress was complete and till date it has not recovered from the depredations of Indira Gandhi and her descendants. However, I believe that her voluntarily lifting of the emergency and calling for elections in 1977 was again due to an atavistic belief in her Sanatani origins.
Her violent removal from the scene did nothing to change the political health of the country and the diseased cells of the body politic continued to feed upon the national organism. But Indira Gandhi had one quality that has been lacking in the leaders who followed her. When it came to Pakistan, she, like Anthony Eden, “stood for peace, but would not appease.” Rajiv Gandhi, though well intentioned, was too inexperienced and naïve and soon found out that to survive in the murky power corridors of Delhi he needed the same courtiers he had initially shunned and railed against. The socialist Prime Minister of France, Leon Blum had once told the dramatist Jules Renard “the free man is he who does not fear to go to the end of his thought.”
Rajiv Gandhi dared but dared too little and eventually sacrificed his freedom when he was afraid to go to the end of his thought. The Bofors and other scandals that broke during the later part of his rule completely incapacitated him from providing any kind of effective leadership when Pakistan unleashed the second part of Operation Gibraltar that would make India bleed through a thousand cuts. The insurgency in Kashmir led to the exodus of nearly 4 lakh Pandits from the valley who became refugees in their own land. The valley today is almost 100% Muslim whereas the presence of the Pandits in Jammu put additional pressures on the economy of that province. The reaction from the Hindu right saw the demolition of the Babri Masjid followed by the Mumbai riots in 1992-93 that marked the complete polarization of the two communities.
All the Congress leaders who emerged after Indira Gandhi abandoned her policy of no appeasement and whole-heartedly embraced the politics of vote-banks. Indira had seen to it that there would be no challengers to her leadership in the Congress party and she deliberately set about emasculating it in every state. Her son followed her precept and by the time he was also violently removed from the scene the Congress party had vacated the corridors of power in most of the states. Regional satraps, who emerged from the debris of a post-Rajiv Congress exploited regional sentiments like language and caste, and economic issues like sharing of natural resources. Leaders and parties like YSR, KCR, Mamata, Lalu Yadav, Mulayam, Mayawati, DMK/ADMK/NCP and others sprung up like a veritable forest to claim power in the states and these have by now evolved into personal fiefdoms of their controlling bosses.
A new system of patronage and favouritism in contracts has led to immense fortunes being made out of nepotism. Corruption has grown permanent roots in this forest leading to a system that is best described in Harold Macmillan’s words who called English politics as one of “casino capitalism” by the “aristocracy of second class brewers and company promoters.” When PM Modi divulged that sixty years after independence the total bank loans that stood at 18 lakh crores, but between 2008 and 2014 it had increased to 52 lakh crores, he was putting this “casino capitalism” in proper perspective. Coincidentally, a “second class brewer” and many “company promoters” are now hiding in England to escape from their creditors.
The leadership’s preoccupation with the mundane task of building financial war chests has left them with no stomach for a fight and appeasement comes naturally to it. The surrender at Kandahar was the beginning of this phase of Indian capitulation, notwithstanding the heroic recovery in Kargil at a terrible cost in lives. The 2002 Godhra riots and the BJP’s inept response to the crisis were largely responsible for its ouster from the Centre in 2004. However, the Congress led by Manmohan Singh in the front and Sonia Gandhi in the background scaled even higher peaks of ineptitude, corruption and appeasement. Winston Churchill had called Ramsey MacDonald, the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the UK, “a sheep in sheep’s clothing.” He had also referred to Lord Attlee as a very nice modest man, “who had a good deal to be modest about.” I wonder what he would have had to say about Sonia Gandhi’s appointed Prime Minister. Borrowing another phrase from Macmillan, the Congress front bench today resembles a “disused slug heap.”
Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek once said: “If we perspire more in times of peace, we will bleed less in times of war.” Perhaps, as Leon Trotsky wrote, “the whole extremely diseased process can be ended only by a change in the entire social system.” The public reaction to the horrible gang rape that happened aboard a bus in Delhi on the 41st anniversary of the Pakistani army’s surrender in East Pakistan looked like it would finally tip the balance against this “diseased process.” For a moment we thought that we were witnessing the first stirrings of a nation whose soul had become dead in the blind pursuit of material wealth and had completely forgotten the tremendous legacy of the early Indians whose imagination dared to traverse and map the entire cosmos and who gave expression to such profound thoughts as “sarva khalva idam brahma.” However, this public outcry only resulted in the installation of a charlatan as another ruler of this benighted city of Delhi.
What can this “wounded civilization,” to use Naipaul’s phrase, do in the face of such a diseased process? Perhaps the answer can be found in the writings of Swami Vivekananda and Sri Aurobindo. Empty slogans of “democracy” and “secularism” will mean nothing since they are the catchwords of the dishonest and the insincere. Swami Vivekananda’s call was for strength and aggression. ‘Aggression in the religious sense only:’ its purpose to “find the common bases of Hinduism and awaken the national consciousness to them.” As the destructive First World War was winding down, Sri Aurobindo wrote in 1918, “I believe in an aggressive and expanding, not in a narrowly defensive and self-contracting Hinduism.” Ramchandra Gandhi writes: “India is not a Hindu state, but in so far as it is and must fightingly remain a vehicle of distinctive truth in the world, it bears a deeper Hindu stamp than any constitutional amendment can hope to achieve or exceed.”
The clear mandate that the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi won in 2014 has provided another opportunity for this diseased process to be ended. By and large, the first four years of Modi’s government have succeeded in holding the axe-wielders in check. But the ministries under him have not done enough; the main culprit being the HRD ministry that has failed to dismantle Sonia Gandhi’s reprehensible RTE act that so blatantly discriminates for minority educational institutions to the detriment of the non-minority ones. The continued attempts at interference in Hindu religious practices, customs, festivals, and the running of temples, especially by a biased judiciary, have not been suitably checked. A Uniform Civil Code still remains in suspension, and a settlement of the Ayodhya dispute keeps getting postponed on flimsy grounds. The bureaucracy inherited by Modi comes from decades of decadence and it sabotages every attempt at reforms. The partisan media continues to peddle lies and propaganda, planting seeds of fear and doubt in the hope that their old paymasters would be back in the corridors of power and they would once again be travelling on the Congress’s gravy train.
Modi’s handling of the No Confidence Motion, despite the childish and immature hug-and-wink of Rahul Gandhi occupying prime space in a bogus media, proved that he is the undisputed leader of the nation at this time. The final vote is a tremendous indicator of the trust people have in him. It is obvious that some from the opposition ranks also voted for him that evening. Modi looks all set for a second term that should give him the opportunity to undo most of the damage done by 60 years of Congress misrule, and to pilot this nation’s ship safely to harbour.
It is time for India’s ancient civilization to reassert itself on the people of this land; to explore and not deny our past and grow to our full potential as the true inheritors of a civilization that has given so much to the world in every field of human activity. Like the thousand-branched Banyan tree of the Rig Veda, assimilating thousands of diversities into one trunk, India must once again rise and provide cool and welcome shade to the materialistically wounded and weary explorers of the world.
Born in Kashmir. Indic by culture. Occasional writer, avid reader. Love serious cinema, but not TV. Eternal student.