On Audrey Truschke and racist bigotry

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I have generally avoided commenting on the writings and other interventions of, the now globally discredited, Audrey Truschke, Assistant Professor of South Asian history in Rutgers University, Newark. In response to the near universal ridicule she has faced over her racist and bigoted remarks about Shri Ram, she has recently published her defense in an extremist-left, obscure Indian website.  This post is intended to respond to some of the gloss she has tried to put on the documented history of distortions and mistranslations.

1. Translation vs. Interpretation: The entire issue arose because she chose to ascribe to Valmiki, what was in fact a creation of her own bigoted mind.  Had she mentioned it upfront, that this is “how I interpret  Shri Ram” there would be no debate at all. Thousands of bigots through millennia have tried to impeach the character Maryada Purushottam. They have perished in the sands of time, while Shri Ram and the civilization he embodies have not only survived but flourished. One can find countless jihadis, evangelists and loony leftists on the net who every day spew venom on the Hindu way of life. Truschke would have been one more addition to this list of lunatics had she been upfront about it – that this is her view of Shri Ram. She is entitled to her view and no one would have bothered. She however, clearly and repeatedly ascribed to Valmiki, what is now obvious were her own way of looking at Shri Ram. Translation has a very specific meaning, understood by even those acquainted only minimally with English language, and therefore Truschke chose this word with specific intent. Not only this, despite being challenged, the original Sanskrit verses have still not been produced by her, neither on Twitter and nor in the defence apologia. The best she could do was to incorrectly refer to the English translation done by Professor Goldman who has also trashed her scholarship. 

Some, albeit very few, have sprung to her defense by terming it as loose translation or a  colloquial rendering (although Truschke herself claimed it was an accurate translation) . One could argue that the “N****R” word is a loose translation and indeed accurately describes in colloquial English, the black people in America. One would encourage Truschke to use the “N****R” word in public discourse in Rutgers university and tell us about the reaction !

2. On being trolled on the net: One defense, frequently deployed by propagandists, has not surprisingly been deployed by Truschke as well – that she was trolled in the vilest form on the net. There can be no question about this – no one should  have to face  abuse or any kinds of threats whatsoever for their views.  Whenever possible, such people should be reported to law enforcing authorities. But here is the thing. The net is not a monolith controlled by one person or a group of people who can direct niceties or etiquette of conversation. Indeed in that respect, the net is like real life itself – each person to his own, millions and billions of them.  

The response to Truschke’s  tweet  were of all kinds – just as it would be in real life. There were handles that put out the complete original text in Sanskrit (which Truschke has not done till date). Others gave verse by verse English translation of the original Sanskrit. A renowned Sanskrit scholar in India intervened and gave his version. Truschke chose not to respond to or engage with any of these. Instead, she chose the standard  left tactics of highlighting abuses from anonymous handles to claim victim-hood. Think of it this way – a politician makes a controversial claim about a particular matter. Scan his timeline and there would be all kinds of responses – serious rebuttals, well framed questions as well as ridicule and abuses thrown at him. Do these abuses absolve the politician from offering explanation for his remarks?

Truschke uses the name of a University and the veil of a scholar to make her claims.  She would know what  the word translation means. Having used it, and never retracted it, should she be absolved of her responsibility to explain her actions just because an unregulated internet did not respond to her in a nice way?  

3.  The charge of white-supremacist and racism : What has compelled Truschke to write her apologia? Not the referencing of original Sanskrit text by many people on social media. Not the authoritaive words of a renowned Sanskrit Scholar in India. Not the explanation and questions that were raised by highly respected and published Indian authors on Hinduism. What compelled Truschke to respond was the disapproval and  the way she was disavowed by another white skinned Sanskrit scholar. Think about it. That the opinion and the scholarship of brown-skinned Indians on their own text did not matter at all as long a white-skinned person also did not lend his voice to them. For referencing abuses and threats, brown-skinned Indians mass muster but for scholarship, the white skin is a must. What is this if not classical white supremacist person baring her true self?

4. On whether non reverential persons can interpret religious texts:  Sure they can. But it is THEIR interpretation and NOT them ascribing their own views to someone else by terming it as translation. That is pure and simple fraud. 

On a side note, it is not surprising that the extremist left obscure publication was the platform that Truschke chose to pen her apologia. It was and has been the instinct of the Congress party to promote and defend all such attacks on the Hindu religion. Driven by this ingrained instinct, The National Herald, owned and run by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, was the first to jump to Truschke’s defense by first tweeting and then even writing a detailed article justifying the words of this ’eminent scholar’. However, there is a small matter of getting votes as well for the reinvented ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu, Shri Rahul Gandhi. Finding no support whatsoever from any  quarters for the abuse heaped on Shri Ram and fearing a political backlash, The National Herald quickly deleted its article as well its tweets and even tried cleaning up the web archives of the same. This was for public consumption. Privately the agenda remains the same – and if National Herald cannot come out openly in support then what is the next best in-house mouthpiece of the Congress party? You guessed it right.

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2G Verdict – The Issues

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The 2G verdict by the CBI judge Saini has attracted a lot of attention for the seeming way the accused have been let off, even though the 2G scam was considered to be real enough and it is on this basis the SC had actually cancelled 122 licenses in 2012.

The judgement by CBI court Judge Saini seems poorly argued and one that does not appreciate vital evidence. In one instance it even seems to rule against the SC decision on the same issue. Some of these have been hotly debated in the media and on social media since the judgement was delivered by Judge Saini on 22nd December 2017. This post attempts to structure some of the issues arising out of the judgement.  

What did Modi Govt do after 2014? 

An argument has been made that the charge sheet was filed in 2011 and that it was primarily this inadequate charge-sheet, and faulty prior investigation, that allowed the accused to be let off. However, others have argued that what did Modi government do post 2014 if this was indeed the case? 

The entire 2G case was being monitored by the SC, including appointment of prosecutors.  Investigation was finished in in 2010-11 and charge-sheet was filed in 2011.  The CBI between 2011-14 had built its entire case, with filing of evidences and other documents. It is important to remember that no new investigation was ordered in 2014 when government changed. For the trial court,  it was a continuing case since 2011 and not a new case with new investigation or with evidence discovered from scratch. The change in the political party leading the government meant nothing for the trial court since ostensibly it was dealing with a government agency in continuum. This has important bearing on what happened post 2014.

Between 2011-14, the CBI had filed multiple documents and evidences and at various junctures. Now it is a settled judicial doctrine that the prosecution must in advance reveal to the accused the charge they are making so that the accused have an opportunity to prepare their defense. In exceptional circumstances, additional documents or evidence, or supplementary charge-sheet can be brought in. However, it cannot be an endless practice and the SC has ruled as much. Why is that so? So as not to prejudice the defense of the accused by endlessly filing new material and compromising his defense. Now for the trial court, lot of material had already been filed by 2014. Hence, when the government changed and it sought to file fresh material the court frowned but allowed only once in Aug 2014. When the government tried again in Feb 2015, the court expressly refused.  So essentially, the trial was entirely based on material and evidence collected and framed before 2014. 

Below are extracts from the 2G judgement affirming the same.

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There is an additional point of note here which pertains to material and conduct of CBI before 2014. Ashwani Kumar was CBI Chief from 2nd Aug 2008 to 30th November 2010. This is a crucial period as it was during his tenure that initial investigation was delayed as the court has recorded in its judgement. From 30th November 2010 to 30th November 2012, A.P. Singh was the CBI chief.  It was during his tenure that the final end of investigation was done in a manner that the court has now decided not to consider those evidences. Also the charge-sheet was filed and initial documents and evidences produced during Singh’s tenure. From 3rd December 2012 till 2nd December 2014, Ranjit Sinha was the CBI chief.  Now all of these names are important. How?

Ashwani Kumar was made governor of Manipur and Nagaland after his retirement as CBI chief. The next chief, A.P. Singh,  is now an accused himself and facing CBI probe in a case of corruption along with meat exporter Moin Qureshi. And what about Ranjit Sinha? He was in fact barred by the SC from 2G case in November 2014, because of allegations of trying to scuttle it. 

So, every CBI chief under UPA era, during the time-frame of the 2G case, has some suspect antecedents. As for for what Modi government did in the 2G case after taking over? Remember, the only time it was allowed to file any fresh document was in August 2014. At that time Ranjit Sinha was still the CBI chief.  SC just 2 months later asked him to keep off the case for trying to scuttle it. After Sinha’s  retirement, when the CBI tried to file fresh material in 2015, the CBI judge disallowed it.  So essentially, as the case stood,  all the material and evidence on basis which the 2G judge ruled, was from UPA era and in tenures of people with suspect antecedents.

Faulty investigation and how it compromised evidence

We have already seen the kind of CBI chiefs that were there while UPA was in power. But what impact would evidence collected (or not collected), and the process followed in that period, would have on the judgement? Just one example would suffice. Additional P.S. to Raja became an important witness in the case and he testified in court (and not in front of police) that Raja used to meet the other co-accused in the conspiracy, some of them as many as 20 times and more during the months the scam was perpetrated. But what did the CBI judge did with this testimony? Read the extract from the judgement below and why the court said his testimony is of no value? We have seen the antecedents of both the CBI chiefs during this period during which  this delay took place. 

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Questionable Findings by 2G Judge

The crux of the charge against Raja was that he changed the cut-off date for 2G license application from 10th Oct 2007 to 1st Oct 2007 to benefit one company. The SC had already ruled on this in 2012 and found it arbitrary and capricious.  Curiously, the 2G Judge now has found that there were good reasons for this change. This seems rather strange, for a trial court to to rule on a subject matter already decided by SC ! Below is an extract form the judgement of the trial court. 3

However, the SC judgement in 2012, in which it had cancelled the 2G licenses, had clearly ruled that this exercise was capricious and with the intent to benefit one company. Below are extracts from SC judgement in 2012. 

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The role of PMO, Manmohan Singh and “Unknown Hand’

The 2G court of Judge Saini has made scathing remarks against Manmohan Singh’s PMO officials – Pulok Chatterji and TKA Nair. The court has found that Raja was very clear what he wanted to do but Pulok Chatterji deliberately misinformed Manmohan Singh so that scam could take place. In essence, Raja had written letters to Manmohan Singh informing him that licenses would be issued to those who made DD payment by cut-off date (and cut-off date was arbitrarily preponed so that those who were of it in advance could comply while rest were unable to do it). This was the crux of the scam. However, as per court,  Pulok Chatterji misinformed Manmohan Singh therefore allowing the scam to take place and only when the scam became national news did he went into damage control. Below are extracts from court’s findings.

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Now who is Pulok Chatterjee? He has long history of association with Gandhi family, serving in PMO of Rajiv Gandhi and then in Rajiv Gandhi foundation and then as OSD to Sonia Gandhi. The media has consistently described Chatterji as a family loyalist, when he was appointed as Additional Secretary in UPA-I and when he became Principal Secretary in UPA-II.  So the question is, whose loyalty and interests was Chatterji serving when he concealed information from Manmohan Singh as the CBI court judge has found? And if Manmohan Singh was actually misled or was completely unhappy with the events of 2007-08, why did he allow Chattreji to return in 2011 at even higher grade, this time as head of PMO?

What Happens Now?

The CBI has already come out with a statement that it will appeal the case. When the case will go in appeal, the government / CBI will have liberty to argue the case from start (not trial but fresh arguments without history of previous arguments under UPA). CBI will also have independence to appoint a new prosecutor. Evidence of eye witnesses and approvers, discarded by 2G Judge for mere technicality, will be argued again. The fact that trial judge has apparently ruled against SC finding will surely be noted in appeal. All this makes a strong case for appeal and possible overturning of the judgement. And finally, the light thrown by CBI judge on role of PMO can also be looked at. 

 

Meaning of Rahul Gandhi – End of Dynasty

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We have variously discussed the destructive effects of dynasty in a democratic polity. As the generation changed in the Congress party today, 16th December 2017, all the ill effects of dynastic succession are captured in this historic picture – of Sonia Gandhi passing on the mantle to Rahul Gandhi. The purpose of writing this piece, however, is not to delve in the same debate again. Instead, for a moment, let us assess Rahul Gandhi on the basis of his Presidential acceptance speech alone, as an individual, divorced from the burdens of his dynasty. Why the acceptance speech? Because this was his and his alone moment in the sun. No pulls and pressures. No diktats from someone else. He alone would decide the contents of the speech and set out his vision.  

There are obviously many, many committed Congress party supporters in the country and no amount of  argument would ever convince them to vote for any other party,  leave alone Modi or the BJP.  They genuinely believe in the ideology of the Congress party and their views deserve respect.  This piece is especially directed towards such people. 

Acceptance speeches are always important. They go down in history. They are transcribed, translated and disseminated immediately after the speech and for years and decades later. This speech of Rahul Gandhi will also have the same trajectory. Congress party will transcribe the text of the speech in its newsletters, in its party magazines, on its website, in pamphlets – each and every means will be used to make it reach the largest audience base. But what will a reader, who is genuinely interested in Congress party, take out from it?

That BJP preaches hate and Congress preach love? That BJP divides and Congess unites? That BJP ignites fires and Congress douses them? That they abuse and we are pristine pure. That they are uncivilized and we are cultured. That they are upstarts while we have long elite history.  That BJP has no contribution to Indian cause while all that India has achieved is courtesy Congress party.?

As a contrast, compare this with one of the similar occassion speeches of Prime Minister Modi. Since there is no equivalent ‘acceptance speech’ of Modi, the SRCC speech in early 2013 is a close approximation – for that is when Modi formally began his national foray on a new slate, quite like Rahul Gandhi today. 

That speech of Modi is remembered even almost five years later. For the way he set out his agenda in detail. For how he said he will focus his energies on the three pillars of growth – manufacturing, services and agriculture. For how he will empower the new entrepreneurial class with access to structured financing. For how he will reinvent Made in India brand. For how he will work for the empowerment of the girl child, giving example of how 100% school enrollment was ensured in Gujarat. For how he institutionalized processes – that even though his future as CM was uncertain since Gujarat elections were being held in December 2012, yet the team worked parallelly and ensured that 121 countries participated in Vibrant Gujarat summit in Jan 2013, just 10 odd days after Modi was sworn in again. 

The thing about speeches by the top leaders of parties is not that they are an event in themselves and are associated with the leaders alone. That is of course true. But they serve purposes much more and beyond. It is these speeches that set the tone and agenda for the party workers. It is these speeches that give talking points to the supporters and the faithful.  It is these speeches that spur dining table conversation and now increasingly WhatsApp conversations. It is the substance of these speeches that  get  impinged in the common memory of the faithful, as they debate and defend their party beyond the glares of the camera. These speeches are not just theater. They are the very lifeblood of the program, policy, vision, idea and thinking of the party.

Now imagine the take-away a Congress faithful would have after coronation of Rahul Gandhi? What new talking point he would have, in friendly conversations, to propagate his party? That we will show love and not hate? That he is full of ‘pyaar” and not “gussa”? That BJP is uncultured while he is noble? Sitting in protected islands of Lutyens’ Delhi, such one liner rhetoric, on which you can get the faithful in media to swoon, is fine but out there in the country an ordinary Congress supporter would become the butt of unstoppable mirth and ridicule if he would approach with this agenda.  Is it surprising then that why there are so little, if any, proud Congress supporters on social media? Why there are so few who wear their support on their sleeves as the BJP supporters do? Or why most of those who are Congress supporters couch themselves as neutral citizens or activists for one obscure cause or the other? Or why they paint themselves as apolitical, not wanting or willing to carry the burden of being identified with Congress or Rahul Gandhi? 

Would such ‘apologetic’ Congress supporters ever be able to accrue more supporters to their side? Who among the Congress party ordinary supporters would go out and defend and propagate the beliefs of their party every day? 

What the Congress party in general and Rahul Gandhi in particular have not learned is that the country has changed permanently. It no longer will be satisfied with empty, meaningless rhetoric, coined by the latest film star in the good books of the party. Social media has additionally ensured that the citizens educate themselves directly and the role of middlemen media, who you could corrupt to project yourself, has been rendered irrelevant. 

The problems with  the speech of Rahul Gandhi is not incidental. They are systematic. As the generation changes,the dynasty invariably becomes more incompetent. It is bereft of any new ideas of policies. It has no vision for the future. No policies for the present. No commitments and beliefs of its own. No unshakable fundamentals that it would never compromise. All it has, is to cling on to its past glory and the tired rhetoric of mediocre image makers. Rahul Gandhi is an important person in the history of India. We are lucky to be in the same time and space as him. For we are witnessing in live motion, how dynasties eventually implode and fade away in the sands of time.

End of Triple Talaq-Beginning of New Era

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How should we look at the Supreme Court verdict on #TripleTalaq, delivered on 22nd August 2017? There are various dimensions to it and let’s consider some of these.

1. The Muslim Women
No one should underestimate the courage and the fortitude with which the Muslim women fought this case to its logical conclusion. I witnessed a debate on the topic on Times Now just a day before the judgement (21st August). The venom that the self-appointed guardians of the religion had for women, on Live TV, who were fighting against Triple Talaq was to be seen to be believed. It is to the great credit of the women that they fought for the change, sought all help that they could get – from the government and from civil society and media – and ultimately triumphed.

2. The Congress Party and its Ecosystem
Everyone you may have seen till now who is a “Professional Secularist’ was unsurprisingly in favor of Triple Talaq. The most prominent lawyers batting for the most regressive elements and filing their absurd pleas were all top Congressmen. The extended ecosystem of Congress party – the busybodies that we see on TV, the astro-turfed columnists in print and self-appointed rights activists – all were doing their best to sabotage the fight against Triple Talaq by indulging in irrelevant ‘whataboutery’ or indulging in communal rhetoric. Even now, post judgement, their rhetoric is still not to celebrate it as a victory for women but more on how to communalize the discourse.

3. The Modi Government Stand
There are two strands to this. First is that of Women Empowerment. If one looks at the trend of 3 years+ of Modi government, an unmistakable thrust in most of the high-profile policy positions has been this – Women Empowerment. Think of the massive drive to build separate toilets in schools, lack of which was one major reason for high drop out rate among girls. Or think of Mudra Yojana – of the over 8.6 crore people funded so far for small businesses, 70% are women. Or consider the Ujjwala Yojana where 2.7 crore women in BPL families have been given smoke-free lives. All these schemes have been designed and delivered to empower women. Similarly, the unambiguous stand of the government, that Triple Talaq must go, was driven by the same urge of empowering women. The practice was arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional – violative of Article 14. The Supreme Court has agreed with all the arguments made by the government and has thus delivered its verdict and struck down Triple Talaq.

There is, however, a political strand as well in the government’s position. Remember Shah Bano judgement in 1985? Then too the SC has been on the side of women. But the Rajiv Gandhi government had not been. In fact, it used its brute majority in Parliament to overturn the SC judgement. THAT is the difference between that majority government of Rajiv Gandhi and THIS majority government of Narendra Modi. That this government was willing to put its money where its mouth is. That this Modi government was willing to stand up to the ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ brigade and the regressive elements. The government ran the risk of being painted by the Lutyens’ brigade as being driven by communal considerations. But it takes an unshakable belief in one’s core belief – of women empowerment – to stand up to what is right, even in the face of possible adverse fallout. And the SC ultimately came down on the right side of the debate.

4.The Turn of History
Beyond the immediate context of the judgement, if we pan out to May 2014 and see in a snapshot of all that has happened since, or is in the process of happening, we would see that the turn of history on topics which were once presumed to be unsolvable or intractable has been on the side of resolution, one-by-one, issue-by-issue. Border agreement with Bangladesh pending since 1947 (East Pakistan till 1971) – resolved. OROP pending since 4 decades – done. Netaji files declassification – done. Triple Talaq – gone. In some senses, we are living through historic times – the momentum of history is shifting right in front of our own eyes. Issues that have hobbled us in the past are being tackled one-by-one, as the country is finally shedding its sloth and gearing up to punch commensurate with its size, aspirations and civilizational heritage.

Delhi Smoke House – The Real Tragedy

The pollution emergency faced by National Capital Region (NCR) in general and Delhi in particular, in the past few weeks, has become international news. But why should it have been so? This question – why should it have been so – is not merely rhetorical but at the very root of what is happening with governance in Delhi ever since the government led by Arvind Kejriwal was sworn in Delhi in February, 2015. But more of that later, first let us consider the situation leading to the pollution emergency.

As almost all of Delhi residents would recall, the alarming situation with respect to pollution was faced by Delhi during last winter  – in the months of October to December, 2015, and indeed the year before that as well. So what was done during the last two and half years of present Central Government, and specifically since the Kejriwal government was sworn in, which could have prevented the situation that has arisen in last few week? 

  1. In the last two-and-a-half years, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has held at least 09 meetings with Officers and Ministers of GNCT of Delhi impressing and insisting upon the compelling requirement to take comprehensive and effective action to mitigate air pollution in Delhi.
  2. Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change held meeting with Ministers of NCR and Punjab on 6-4-2015, 13-4-2015, 24-7-2015, 6-11-2015 and 27-4-2016. Secretary level meetings were held on 10-11-2014, 11-2-2015 and 3-3-2015 and 4-11-2016. The last meeting by Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was held on 30-9-2016 with officers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi.
  3. A 42-point Action Plan to control pollution covering vehicular emissions, road dust suspension, air pollution from bio-mass burning, industrial pollution, air pollution from construction and demolition activities were finalised by Central Government and accordingly statutory directions were issued to Government of NCT of Delhi by CPCB.
  4. On most of these issues the action taken by the Delhi Government has been well below satisfactory. No additional buses have been procured to augment the public transport in Delhi by the Government of NCT of Delhi for the last two years or so.  In fact the number of buses in Delhi has actually come down.
  5. Large scale open burning of bio-mass and municipal solid waste continued  unabated, contributing significantly to generation of particulate matter and has not at all been contained by GNCTD.
  6. The landfill sites of Delhi are continuously burning and effective steps have not been taken to prevent fire from landfill sites and to control pollution from landfills.
  7. Very little has been done by Government of NCT of Delhi to tighten and strengthen the ‘Pollution Under Control’ system and the action taken against the number of visibly polluting vehicles is insignificantly low compared to the number of vehicles plying on Delhi roads. As per reports only 486 challans were issued in 2015 and only 21 challans issued up to September 2016 against visibly polluting vehicles by the Government of Delhi.
  8. The Supreme Court order banning entry of pre-2005 registered trucks has not been strictly enforced.
  9. No steps have been taken for retrofitting of diesel vehicles with particulate filters.
  10. The action taken to control air pollution from construction and demolition activities to control fugitive emissions has been totally unsatisfactory. Various steps like sprinkling of water, putting of curtains at construction sites etc. have also not been undertaken.
  11. No vacuum cleaner procured or wet/mechanised vacuum sweeping of roads introduced, even on the main roads of Delhi. Sprinkling of water to control dust on roads has also not been started. 
  12. No efforts have been made to control burning of coal tar by road construction agencies.
  13. Nothing has been done to prohibit use of coal in hotels and restaurants in spite of clear directions to that effect.
  14. About Rs.450 crore collected as Environmental Compensation Charge over a period of one year is lying unutilized with GNCT of Delhi and the money has not been used to mitigate pollution in Delhi. No Action Plan for utilization of the same has been prepared so far.

It is not as if only the Central Government and other statutory bodies were advising the Delhi government to gets its act together. Active social media users and other activists were indeed periodically reminding Arvind Kejriwal directly through social media to start acting before its too late. Just as an example, consider what Nikhil Pahwa was doing on Twitter on the issue: 

This is on 27th July: 

This is on 29th August by Nikhil

On 10th September

On 21st September

On 3rd October

On 4th October

Citizens like Nikhil and other activists have raised questions, many valid, against other authorities and governments too, including the central government. But the residents of Delhi elected a government to deliver and should not the buck stop with that government?

It is possible that Arvind Kejriwal may have missed the directions, advice, action-plan and other suggestions from the Central Government and statutory bodies, considering his busy travel schedule in election bound states. But what about advice coming to him directly on Twitter, where he always found time to retweet inane tweets or publish movie reviews? He missed that too? Or what about taking action on his volition? 

A ready excuse that the Kejriwal has, for all his failings, is that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi does not allow him to execute his plans. This is an excuse that is given further salience by his apologists and propagandist in the media . But consider this – there is not any serious policy decision that Kejriwal government has taken and has processed it in the correct constitutional framework and which has been then blocked by the LG. All that the LG has been asking for, and which the High Court of Delhi has upheld in its ruling, is that the Constitutional Provisions be followed before a government decision becomes policy. To consider an analogy, the Central Government does get a nod from the President of India for any ordinance or law that it gets passed from Parliament. It does not say that since we have been elected with a majority so we no longer need the President’s nod for our decisions. On the other hand, just because the President’s nod is required does not mean the Central Government can abdicate its responsibilities and start blaming the  President of India for its failures. It is still the Central Government that has to take decisions and get them executed. The same is the scheme at Delhi level as well  – between the LG and the elected government. But this is the sum and total of entire shenanigans of Kejriwal and his machinery – rejecting the perfectly working constitutional scheme for personal grandstanding  and then indulging in blame game and name calling when the situation gets in crisis mode. 

However, it does not mean that the Kejriwal government has not done anything at all on the pollution front ! In January of this year and then again a few months later, it inflicted the Odd-Even absurdity on Delhi. As every study has since proved, it had no effect on pollution, since vehicular pollution from cars is not the cause at all for Delhi’s high level of PM 2.5 pollution. But of course, that move was hailed as revolutionary by the propaganda machinery of Kejriwal – after all, it eased the traffic congestion for the cheering classes that had a different chauffeur driven car each day to drive them around. 

Meanwhile the situation is precarious. The crop stubble fires in Punjab present an alarming situation. As can be seen from the various satellite images of burning fires in Punjab, the crisis like situation in Delhi requires a full time Chief Minister, for taking action this year and preparing for the next year. Instead, Delhi has a politician who is in Goa one week, Punjab the next, and Gujarat the third, his party touting him as the possible CM candidate for the upcoming elections in all these three states ! In between, when Mr. Kejriwal gets time, he instigates peaceful protesters to break the law and if nothing else, the Chief Minister of Delhi spends time on Twitter either tweeting himself or retweeting obnoxious tweets about constitutional functionaries. Somewhere in all of this, the citizen of Delhi has been literally left gasping for breath !

Note: This article has been written with inputs from note prepared on the subject by a team of researchers. 

Distorting History – Dalrymple style

William Dalrymple is a famous historian, especially when it comes to the history of Indian subcontinent. Some even consider him to be a credible historian and his volume of work, especially on the Mughal era, has won him a legion of fans and supporters. In 2007, he along with a few others started the Jaipur Literary Festival and it soon acquired a cult status among those in pursuit of serious academics. From Tarun Tejpal (later jailed for an alleged rape attempt) to Javed Akhtar, the festival attracted all the bright names from the world of books and academics. Dalrymple has thus quite naturally acquired a constituency as some sort of an India expert, especially in the western press, and is often invited to write on important issues related to India.

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Consider what Dalrymple wrote just before the results of the Indian general elections were announced in May 2014. The world interest in India was at its peak and naturally Dalrymple was asked to provide a glimpse into the history related to the man who could be India’s next Prime Minister.

William Dalrymple

This piece first appeared on 12th May 2014 in New Statesman and has subsequently been reproduced in many other publications and above is a screenshot from one such reproduction :

There are many noteworthy flashes of the genius of Dalrymple and the way he interprets history in a certain way. Quite apart from the deliberate slant in the entire piece, just consider the paragraph reproduced above.

The Babri Masjid was destroyed on 6th December 1992. The tenth anniversary of its destruction would be on 6th December 2002, actually more than 9 months AFTER the Godhra train carnage took place (27th February 2002)  and therefore those burnt inside the train could NOT have been returning after celebrating 10 years of Babri demolition. It is not as if Dalrymple did not know this. But he counted on one thing – that most of his readers would not be aware of this, especially those of foreign origin, and even if being nominally aware of the actual date of Babri demolition, most would fail to see the sleight of creative history writing. For them, the credibility of Dalrymple would be enough to carry the day that the innocent men, women and children (15 children and 25 women) were deadly beasts who not only first destroyed an ancient holy mosque but were ghastly enough to even celebrate its destruction 10 years later. Perhaps they then even deserved their fate for being such insensitive creatures? And what fate was that? Of being burnt alive in a train.

And how did that train burning take place? Trust Dalrymple to tell us the ‘truth’ about that too – that a malfunctioning gas cylinder actually caused the train fire. Now this piece by Dalrymple has been written in 2014 and not in 2002 or 2006. Earlier, there could have been contesting claims about the cause of fire (although there were never really any contesting claims) but by 2014, a judicial determination had already been made that train fire was caused by a pre-planned conspiracy and 31 Muslims were convicted for it. 11 were given death penalty while 20 others were given life imprisonment. Again, was Dalrymple unaware of this? Most certainly not. So why would he indulge in such a hideous misinformation campaign about a historical fact?

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Now, I had forgotten about this piece by Dalrymple but recently two more articles, that appeared in international press, caught my attention and that is when I remembered the original Dalrymple piece.

Hartosh Singh Bal in the Politico and Reihan Salam in Slate  both wrote articles after Modi’s much publicized US visit. Since this was written for an international audience, references to Gujarat 2002 riots were mandatory. But consider how both Bal and Salam describe events related to the Godhra train carnage – either simply as a “burning train” or a “train fire” – not a case of ghastly pre-planned conspiracy of mass murder but more like an accidental fire?

This is then how narratives are manufactured, ‘truth’ is established and soon it becomes the established version. A vicious chain of each successive writer quoting from previous ‘truth-manufacturer’ soon forms, and ultimately, within a short span of time, the manufactured truth becomes THE truth while all other versions, including the real true version, either become controversial or versions of fanatics. Indeed, the power of such narrative setting is so seductive that  many times even those not formally in the club of “truth-manufacturing” start believing  the manufactured truth, as evidenced by the praise that Salam’s piece received from many quarters otherwise critical of such eminent writers !

Hartosh Singh Bal

Reihan Salam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2002 is not about some ancient or even medieval history where there is either a dispute between historians about the correct sequence of events or there is simply not even enough material to deduce a certain way. This is about 2002. About an incident which happened right before our eyes. In front of TV cameras. Events which have been documented in minute detail in thousands of hours of TV debate and print articles. And yet, within 12 years of the event, a historian does not balk at distorting the facts to suit a particular ideology. Others pick up the cue from him and soon it becomes the received wisdom.  If this can be done about  as recent an event as 2002 , imagine what would have been and has been done about ancient and medieval history? About Mughal history? About Islamic invasions and destruction of temples and universities? About converting historical bigots into inclusive rulers? In fact what we have is actually a LIVE demonstration of how history is distorted.

Arun Shourie recently exposed in great detail the dubious art of Indian history writing in relation to the burning down of Nalanda University (as per another eminent historian, Nalanda was not burnt down by Khilji but by ‘Hindu fanatics’ ). The modus operandi remains the same – the aggressors become the victims, the victims become the villains and the historians become eminent !

Scotland Vote – Lessons for the world

History is a subject that has fascinated me right from my school days. Although I went on to study engineering in college, the deep fascination for history never ended. Indeed, in later years, history would continue to animate me, especially history that delved into the rise of different empires over time.  Quite naturally, also perhaps in part due to our colonized past, the rise of British Empire is one historical story that has seemed most compelling to me. 

As luck would have it, my first foreign travel was to Britain. In a remarkable incident, the commander of the British Airways, in which we were flying, made a rather dramatic announcement as the flight just crossed the Black Sea and entered into European airspace: “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Europe, the birth place of modern civilization”. For a history buff like me and one who was flying to this part of the world for the first time, this seemed both incorrect and yet with a certain truth to it. Over my stay in Britain, and although I was on a business trip, this question of historical legacy would never leave me.

As I write this post in the context of the historical events that have taken place on the 18th and 19th September 2014, I purposefully use the name Britain and not England, because of the cities I visited during the trip – London, Edinburgh and Glasgow.  The people of Scotland have voted, in a decisive manner, for staying as part of Great Britain and thereby the United Kingdom.  So what is this British history and what are the special lessons one can learn, if any, from it? Does the Scottish referendum, and the No vote also teach us anything? 

First, the most remarkable phase of British history, and one which the world knows for its scientific, cultural and technological advances, is all a product of the period after Scotland and England came together. Although the union was formalized only in 1707 AD, but for a hundred years before that, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, the two nations had already been living in harmonious union. This union took place after centuries of war. It is no accident of history that Britain saw its most prosperous phase only when it ended the phase of hostilities in its immediate neighborhood. The merger of Ireland into United Kingdom in the early 19th century only accelerated this trend. United States followed a similar path of geopolitical stability before it could succeed Britain as the world’s preeminent power in the 20th century. The neighbors of United States, Mexico and Canada, are not countries the keep the US military awake at night. The 21st century is being talked of as Indian and Chinese century. There is a lesson to be learned for both of them from the British experience.

Second, the very fact that Scotland went for this independence referendum contains vital historical lessons. Although Scottish nationality was never totally subsumed, but it never manifested itself in a way that independence became an almost near possibility. Even two decades ago, the Scottish National party was thought of as a freak phenomenon but in the referendum it managed as high a vote as 45%. So what has changed in the last two decades and specifically since 1979, when Scotland actually voted for not even having a Scottish assembly? The answer is the decline of Britain as a world power. Decline not just as a military power, for that happened decades ago, but decline as an economic power as well. National identities, long papered over in the shared prosperity, resurfaced when that preeminent prosperity was no longer guaranteed. The United States has had almost a similar bloody history of formation before it became the present peaceful union of 50 states. But it is no surprise that today no state wants to leave the union. Shared prosperity does tide over many historical cleavages which become accentuated again when the prospect of that prosperity goes. 

Third, it is impossible to miss the difference between London in England and the biggest Scottish cities – Glasgow and Edinburgh. Compared to the energy, expanse and dynamism of London, the Scottish cities almost seem like small towns. The industrial revolution was powered by Scotland and Scottish people but it would be impossible to make it out from the present Glasgow town if one were unaware of it. Indeed London is the driving engine of present day Britain, with no other city even remotely close. It stands to reason whether the question of Scottish independence would have gained as much traction if Scotland had even one city on the scale of London? It is in this respect that the United States growth model has been different with multiple cities, across the geographical span, driving the US dream. For a large country, with diverse population, that is the only sustainable way. Again a lesson that China and India have learnt but need to broad-base it even more. 

Fourth, the projection of soft power plays an indelible part in forging an empire. An important institution that played a major role in projecting the British soft power was the British media. For a long period it set the standards for world media – of  professionalism, ethics, enterprise, indeed almost about everything related to journalism. In the last few decades this mantle passed on to the Unites States. The narrative of what constitutes just and what is unjust, what is moral and what is amoral, what is right and what is wrong, is written by the preeminent power of that era. As the world economic order changes, there is both a lesson and an opportunity in this, more so for India than China. On most issues India is with the mainstream of world opinion and yet it can provide a perspective different from the Western consensus. India’s felicity with the English language and its democracy gives it distinct advantage over China when it comes to projecting soft power. As the world gets reshaped, there is opportunity for enterprising Indian entrepreneurs to create the next global media houses – ones which are on the right side of history, ones which encapsulate the best practices of the past and yet simultaneously represent the forces of the future. 

Finally, the No vote does tell us that when it comes to the crunch, shared history has a subconscious impact much more than it is normally credited with. It is the skill of the respective generation political leaders to leverage it in a way that it lends itself once again to future building.

During my trip to Scotland, a middle aged lady was our tour guide. While taking us around the Edinburgh castle, she did remind us of all the Scottish historical personalities – from William Wallace to J.K. Rowling.  I could not resist asking the independence question (this is much before the talk of a possible referendum even started) , to which the lady rather enigmatically responded, “not in my generation, but who knows it may be possible in yours” !

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A version of this article first appeared in Swarajya Magazine on 20th September, 2014. Here is the link: