Monday, February 24, 2014

The Hindus: An Altyernative History by Wendy Doniger: Why it deserves to be banned

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Ever since Edward Said postulated the enduring link between western/ white scholarship and economic and cultural hegemony the world  has been sensitive to the fact that it is West which is capable of representing the non White societies and civilizations and in the process make the rest of the world accept the categories of thought and analytical models as "academic" discourse. I need not state the obvious" It is not possible for any non western civilization except China, to study, dissect, analyze and represent the Western world. Intellectual products are also representations of domination and hegemony, except that the Western World pretends that its constructions and representations of the non western world stem from its inherent intellectual strength: objective analysis, historical method, social sensitivity and the like. Any attempt by the non western world to turn these tools of analysis on the west itself is generally shrugged off as polemical and unworthy of academic respectability. In short, the non white world cannot represent itself, it has to be represented only by white scholars and academics. It does not matter at all that these academics are pursuing an ideological goal in which western hegemony is beyond the margins of debate.

It is against this background that wer have to see the book which has been at the centre of a major controversy in India. Wendy Doniger who sported the Irish O'Flaretty some years back when I met her at the campus of the University of Hawaii when I was a student there, has published a think volume entitled, The Hindus: An Alternative History. A little known social organization called Sikha Bachao Andolan has succeeded in making Penguin Books, her publisher pulp the volumes of this text and withdraw the book from circulation. Earlier there was Laine's book on Shivaji which suffered a similar fate at the hands of the Congress Party and its fringe elements in Maharashtra. Stanley Wolpert's Ten Hours to Rama was officially banned in India though the other books including Wendy's have not been banned. Therefore the state cannot be blamed for the tribulations of this book. In a soft state like India which has been made even more soft by corruption and mal administration, the state cannot be relied upon to protect the dignity of the Indian Civilization. Private groups have to come forward and defend India.

Wendy Doniger writes in an offensive manner about India and its civilization. What she has written is not History and to call the work an "alternative history" is just a rhetorical flourish.Revered Indian heroes and religious icons are subjected to unbridled attack in the name of academic study. I canmot understand how a woman like Wendy Doniger can write about Goddess Durga in a demeaning manner. Being a Jew perhaps a lapsed Jew, Doniger need not revere Indian Gods and Goddesses but she does not have the right to belittle them or speak in a tone and tenor that devalues the spiritual value of these icons. India is an idea that is animated by the images of these gods and goddesses and Wendy has no right to humiliate a civilization whcih has lasted for three thousand years.

Unfortunately India is not China and no American will take liberties with China. And India too is changing and it no longer regards the Westerner as having an inalienable right to demean his religion, society and culture.
                                                      I am extremely disappointed in the response of some of our prominent intellectuals who have come out in open defence of the book and have taken Penguin to task for not standing up to the  organization which succeeded in forcing the publishers to withdraw the book. I personally bought a copy of this book after the controversy broke out and am not sure if Penguin Books are really sincere about their offer to withdraw and pulp the copies of Wendy's book. Will any Western country including USA tolerate a scurrilous attack on their civilization in the name of acadelmic freedom. India has a coupe of centuries to go before it can even think of taking on the West on its own turf. Till then we have to defend our culture.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Telengana Issue stokes violence in the Indian Parliament

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Indian Parliament was rocked by unprecedented violence today over the vexed question of the division of the state of Andhra Pradesh by carving out the state of Telengana from the existing state of Andhra Pradesh. The Indian Constitution defines India as a Union of States and it is perhaps not quite legal for the Congress Party to separate Telengana from Andhra Pradesh when the state assembly rejected the resolution authorising the division. The Congress regime for reasons of gaining some electoral advantage decided to table the bill for the separation of Telengana from Andhra Pradesh in the Indian parliament. The Leader of the Opposition, Sushma Swaraj, has stated that there was no discussion with the Prime Minister over the introduction of the bill. Without a concensus the Congress decided to table the bill and pandemonium broke out.

The historical background of the demand for separate Telengana goes back to the heady days after Independence when Nehru decided to constitute the States Reorganization Commission in order the created linguistic states as the basic bulding blocks of the federal polity of India. In hind sight it is clear that the linguistic division of states that valorized language as the major marker of identity was a huge mistake as it has led to identity politics on a scale that is both complex and self destructive. Andhra Pradesh as irony would have it took the lead as it was the 90 day fast unto death by Potti Sriramalu which hastened the process of the creation of lingusitic states. The Telengana region which essentially consisted of the Nizam's dominions wanted to maintain its unique identity even as early as the 1950s and the region;s leaders made impassioned pleas for the preservation of what they though were the unique features of Telengana regional identity and pride. Nehru, the doddering and dithering man that he was gave the assurance that Telengan could opt out of the union with Andhra if it so desired. Just as this man made a mess in Kashmir, he was really responsible for this controversy too. Successive Congress regimes have won elections by pandering to regional aspirations and after the victory precious little was done. In the 2009 General Elections, the state of Andhra Pradesh was responsible for the return of the UPA as 33 Congress MPs were returned to the Lok sabha. Many of us feel that Andhra by voting the Congress is now paying a heavy price for its sin.

After promising statehood to the people of Telengana the Union Home mInister, P Chidambaram made an announcement on 9th December 2009 that the "process for the creation of the new state " would be set in motion. This announcement galvanized the people of the other two region of Andhra Prodesh, the Coastal region and Rayalseema. Stiff opposition was mounted in both these regions and the Central Government bought some time by setting up the Sri Krihna Committee to study the whole question whether the new state was viable or not. Sri Krishna recommended that division should  be the last option. The region of Telengana has suffered from economic backwardness and though there are hydro electic plants on the Krishna, the benefit does not accrue to the people of the region. The capital city, Hyderabad which attracted a lot of capital from the coastal region emerged as a modern and vibrant urban area with the Computer/ Soft ware firms, Central Government educational and research institutions  and offices. The money made in coastal Andhra Pradesh was invested in Hyderabad. Kurnool could have been developed as an alternate city/ capital but the emphasis was on Hyderabad.

The rise of a street smart politician, K Chandrasekar Rao and the party that he established faught the 2009 elections on the plank of separate Telengana and he could win only 2 seats out of 17 in the region. The failure to win a respectable number of seats clearly implied the rejection of the separate Telengana, but the Congress for its own cynical reasons decided to forge an alliance with the TRS and announced the intention of creating a separate state. The real issue here was the insecurity of the Congress whose performance was just deplarable. By dividing the state and merging the TRS with the Congress, the leaders of the Congress hoped to gain some safe electoral seats.

This morning when the bill was introduced in Parliament, the MPs from the coastal region and from Rayalseema created an unprecedented pandemonium in the Lok Sabha. One Congress MP Rajagopal even brought a knife into the Parliament and MPs attacked each other with paper weights and pulled out mikes. The Speaker of the Lok Sabha one Meira Kumar was forced to adjourn the house.

Now people are asking the question: Who is responsible for the mess. The Congress Party MPs were the main perpetrators of the violence as they felt that with the creation of a separate state of Telengana their political future would be doomed. Coastal Andhra hjas invested heavily in Telengana and there was pressure put on the central governemnt to protect the investments by making Hyderabad a Union Territory, a plea that was rejected by the TRS. The BJP which supports the creation of Telengana does not want to help the Congress get the credit for the creation of the new state nad hence has distanced itself from the whole issue. The BJP seems to say to the Congress" You created the mess now you clean it up. The violence and disruption caused by the Congress Party  by its thoughtless move to create a new state so as to get a few seats in the next parliament shows the depths to which the dynastic fascists can descend. Only the people of Andhra are suffering.

Saturday, February 8, 2014


A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Trnaquebar--Whose History? Transnational Cultural Heritage in a Former Danish Trading
Colony in South India

Helle Jorgensen
New Delhi, Orient Black Swan, 2014

Cultural Encounters in India: The Local Co-workers of the Tranquebar Mission 18th and 19th Centuries 

Heike Liebau
New Delhi, Social Science Press 2014

The recent changes in historiographical fashion has left its mark on these two books. The post colonial obsession with identity, ideology and self-refashioning has contributed to the gradual erasure of colonialism as a violent and at times racist attack on the cultures of non- White peoples. Post colonial nostalgia and the distance from the colonial past has made some of the more comfortable Europeans look back at the past of their societies with a certain degree of pride and conscious self awareness. Tranquebar, a small trading post of the Danish East India Company on the East Coast of India, better known as the Coromandel coast, has had a checkered  past; after the Napoleonic wars, the Danes essentially lost control over the trading post leaving a murky legacy of Christian evangelism, Slaving, Textile Trade and the most celebrated of all, the Printing Press. Print culture started in Traquebar and though there is some evidence to suggest that Serampore near Calcutta may have had an earlier start, the legacy of Tranquebar lives on both in popular memory and in scholarly texts.

In the first book, Helle Jorgensen looks at the interaction between the local population of Tranquebar and foreign tourists from Northern Europe who flood the place. Tranquebar has been the subject of a major experiment in restoration and conservation of the colonial buildings and tourists from Europe perceive a connect between their own subjective selves and the remote outpost of European settlement in Asia. Remarkably, the author seems to suggest that the presence of the old style European colonial buildings in the settlement are a boon to the local people whose economy revolves around catering to those tourists.  Partly an ethnographic study and partly an extended reflection on the meaning and significance of heritage and its conservation, this book completely ignores the Indian perspective. While India no longer frets and fumes at European colonialism as a new generation which has come of age in the post Independence period does not regard the eighteenth and nineteenth century past with great trepidation. However, it is utterly condescending to write as if the local context does not matter at all. Worse, in the name of heritage and tourism, the past cannot be whitewashed and made palatable.

The second book is a more substantial contribution and it explores the relationship between the Lutheran Mission and its leadership in Tranquebar and the Tamil population it apparently ministered. Bartholmaus Ziegenbalg, the Protestant missionary is the subject of an excellent biography by B Singh. He is rightly remembered in India as the man who introduced Print and thereby brought about a revolution in the social and cultural history of India. He studies Tamil and within a couple of years of his stay was able to write psalms  and catechisms or prayer books in simple Tamil for the people living in the hinterland of Tranquebar. His papers preserved at Halle  give us a picture of a man driven by a deep and abiding faith in religion who did not forget his European identity throughout his stay in India. While the contemporary Jesuits went native and adopted Indian dress and customs, Ziegenbalg was always attired in the frock coat and top hat.  He established a school where children were taught and even a factory for making paper. The site of this factory is unfortunately lost. He eventually dies in Tranquebar and is buried in the cemetry of the Zion Church which he built and consecrated.  The book gives details of the relationship with other Christian missions in the region such as SPCK. The issue of caste and identity cannot be wished away as many of the early converts came from the Vellala peasant background and eventually the other castes joined the Church raising issues which the Christian Church both Catholic and Protestant have not resolved until this day.

Both these books are significant contributions to the study of the early colonial past of Southern India.


The Fort facing the Coromandel Coast

Chinese Porcelain from Tranquebar

Danish Historical Documents

 The Zion Church built by Ziegenbalg
The Restored mansion of the Governor

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Election Campaign and the Prospects of a stable Government in India: May 2014

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The Election Campaign for the 2014 General Elections in India have started. All the major parties have started their run up for the elections with the BJP under Narendra Modi leading the pack. A few week back it appeared that the BJP was heading for a 300+ seats in the LOK SABHA. Now a new uncertain factor has entered. A clutch of regional parties like the BJD, the JD (U), the AIADMK and a number of smaller parties with limited electoral prospects have entered into an alliance of sorts, styling themselves, the Federal Front. From what we have been able to gather, this new front is only a rehashing of the Third Front whose stated objective is to maintain a equal distance from both the Congress and the BJP. However, in the name of fighting "communal" forces the Third Front can be expected to side with the Congress should there be a fractured verdict. The ease with which the Congress is able to muster support against the BJP makes the task of the National Campaign of the BJP that much more arduous. The anti BJP and anti Congress public stance will last till the elections as the regional parties do not want to share the responsibilty for the criminal acts of monumental corruption which has gone on under the Congress. The so called Federal Front expects the Congress to prop up its Government just to keep the BJP out. Since this game stands exposed let us now turn our attention to the BJP Campaign.

Narendra Modi has had a series of very successful rallies/ In Meerut, Gokarkpur and Kolkatta Narendra Modi addressed massive rallies. If the turn out in these rallies is any indication of ground reality, then we can rest assured that the BJP will sail through to victory. However, Indian politics is neither that simple nor predictable, In all these rallies Narendra Modi addressed a litany of local issues and was able to link them with major national questions: insecurity due to increased terrorist activities and the UPA;s lackluster handling of them, the massive price rise which has sapped the people and of course the monumental corruption have all been brought to the attention of the people. The issue of governance has now taken centre stage and India seems to be moving away from the old style identity politics to embrace a more inclusive and purposeful vision of politics. Narendra Modi worls his magic with the crowds and has the Congress really alarmed as the Congress does not have a single leader of stature who can conncet with the people. In most rallies the crowd was arounf 400,000 to 500,000 and is a huge figure even by Indian standards.

The BJP campaign strategy is three fold. First, it is selling the Gujarat model of economic development as one of successful developmement. In spite of obstacles placed on its path, Gujart has been able to notch up growth figures of 8 to 9% annually and the infrastructure in the state is almost of western standards. In all the rallies, Narendra Modi drove home the point: bijali, sadak, pani--electricity, roads and drinking water. Secondly, the BJP has successfully targeted the Congress and its top brass for Corruption. The 2G Spectrum Scandal, the Coalgate scandal and more recently the Westland Helicopter Scandal has landed the Congress in an unenviable situation and has made feeble attempts to deflect the charge, Now the impression has gained ground that the Corruption of the Congress is the one single factor that inhibits developemt and Narendra Modi and his Government may be guilty of unconventional politics, but corruption is not one of his weak points. None of the other state governments can match that record. Finally, the focus has now shifted from 2002 Riots in Gujarat to the Congress sponsored massacre of 1984 when the Congress party organized a massive pogrom of killing Sikhs when one of their leaders was eliminated. And for this shift of focus, the BJP has to thank bloggers like this one who relentlessly kept the 1984 in the public eye and of course, the rather inane and meaningless remarks of the dynastic mascot, Rahul Gandhi.

All national surveys show the BJP and its allies in the NDA reaching a figure of around 225+ out of 242 and the Congress Party may not cross even into three digit numbers/ The Federal Front is expected to do well and if it reaches around 200 or so then the Congress will extend support and encourage it to form thr next regime. However, the people of India are aware of the dangers of a fractured mandate and this time around we can expect a decisive mandate. The Congress party has started floundering. Its leader Sonia Gandhi's statements about the BJP have evoked hostile response and the Telengana issue has already started snowballing into a huge problem for the Congress. The ham handed manner in which Chidambaram as Home Minister handled the whole Telengana issue so that he could get a safe MP seat from Telngana has come back to haunt the Congress.

As usual let me end by making the prediction that BJP will emerge as the largest pre poll block in the next Lok Sabha.