Friday, April 18, 2014


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

Narendra Modi: A Political Biography
Andy Marino
New Delhi, Harper Collins, 2014

Isaac Deutscher in his trilogy on Trotsky called the first volume, Prophet Armed and it dealt with the life of Leon Trotsky as a revolutionary first in the underground movement, it pursues his life through the tumultuous days of the Revolution and the Civil War until his expulsion from Soviet Union by Stalin.  In the case of Narendra Modi his most difficult days were before his undoubted rise to the Prime Minister-ship of India following the victory in the 2014 Parliamentary elections. As a political figure, few have had to endure the sustained campaign of vilification launched against him by the Congress party and its allies. Few political figures have had to endure the  relentless scrutiny of both the Indian Judiciary and the Indian Media for close to a decade. Modi has lived his public life under the shadow of intense hostility, a poison marinated environment that would have broken anyone else without that little detail called character. Narendra Modi has braved the storm, faced the adversaries both in the political arena as well as in the international arena and has emerged tougher and fitter. The rise of Narendra Modi from a small town in Gujarat to the position of the elected Prime Minister of India is the stuff of legend and all in all his biography offers an inspiring example to an aspirational and buoyant India. Long coddled by political dynasties which had perpetuated their stranglehold on the Indian electorate by a combination of identity politics and muscle power, the rise of Modi marks a decisive turning point in India's evolution as a Nation and  a Democratic polity. The book under review offers a fascinating glimpse into the life of the future PM of India.

The Indian political and "intellectual"  class has been intensely hostile to the Chief Minister of Gujarat and it is difficult to find an objective biography of Narendra Modi. He has been consistently demonized by the elite English Press and  electronic media represented by NDTV and the like that to raise doubts about the "complicity" of Narendra Modi in the 2002 Riots is to invite derision and accusations of "communal" bias. The author of this biography,Andy Marino has written a highly readable and accurate account of the life Narendra Modi. The author points out that the persona put on by Modi on the theater of Indian politics is quite the opposite of his true self: in real life Narendra Modi in reflective and cautious, with a penchant for self doubt. Of course he is animated by a sense of mission and is able to communicate his passion to an electrified Nation. The author sees Modi journey of life from selling tea in a stall near a major bus stand to his present position as one marked by struggle in which mistakes could be costly and unforgiving. After having joined the RSS Shaka, Modi became a protege of Laxman Rao Inamdar and remained loyal to the ideals of his mentor. During the Emergency when the entire Opposition was in Jail, Narendra Modi was the link between the political leadership and the jailed comrades.

Narendra Modi in China.

Factional politics within the Gujarat unit of the BJP ensured an exile to New Delhi as a Secretary of the BJP when L K Advani was the President of the Party. It of course rankles the old Patriarch of the party that his protege has earned his spurs in national politics and will soon be the Prime Minister of India.

The author discusses in great detail the Riots of 2002. In the burning of the bogie containing pilgrims traveling on the Sabarmati Express, the author has shown that Congressmen like Haji Bilal were involved.  Yet the Congress national leadership behaves as if the Party had nothing to do with the riots that followed. The author has shown that even in the attack on Gulgarba Colony in which Eshan Jaffri, the Congress MP was killed there were Congressmen in the mob. The involvement of the Congress Party in almost all the major riots all across India is well known and is documented. In the case of the 1984 Pogrom against the Sikhs the Congress is guilty not only of complicity in the killings which followed the gunning down of their leader, but also in the systematic manner in which the crimes of the Congress were suppressed over the years. In the case of the 2002 Riots in Gujarat, however, the Nanawati Commission and following theat Commission the Supreme Court appointed and monitored Special Investigation Team found evidence to suggest that contrary to the propaganda of the Congress and its allies, Narendra Modi did everything possible to bring the situation under control.

The book offers an excellent insight into the style of governance of Narendra Modi. The author points out that the Chief Minister of Gujarat provides an empowering administration by reducing  corruption. Almost all observers, both Indian and foreign have pointed out that there is little corruption in Gujarat and consequently governance and the delivery of services to the people is much better. Another important point is the wide spread consultation between stakeholders and the Administration before any major decision is taken. This sort of Shivir Smmalan as it is called is not the part of the Congress political culture and is a direct adaptation from the RSS mode of consultative decision making. Narendra Modi's own incorruptibility has turned out to be the biggest drawback for the Congress Party and is also the source of the immense moral energy that Modi brings on to the political arena.

The book under review is a factual well written and well documented biography of Narendra Modi as he stands at the cusp of a huge electoral victory. The Congress party with its dynastic politics and countier culture is out of tune with the changing India.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Jacques Le Goff the French Medievalist: A Tribute

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

When the twentieth century looks back on its past and tries to locate the intellectuals who strove to make sense of the past in a meaningful way, then the names of  Marc Bloch, Fernand Braudel, E J Hobsbawm, Georges Duby and Jacques Le Goff will crop up. With the exception of Hobsbawm all the others belonged to a school of historical thought, reflection and method which is generally referred to as the Annales School. While there is considerable disagreement between different historians on the themes, approaches and methods of writing history, all the leading members of the Annales School shared an ecumenical view of History one that skirted the primacy of the Nation State as the main motor or engine of History. Right from the days of Ranke the emergence of the Nation State was seen as the teleos of history, the end result of the long drawn struggle between Church and State and the religious conflicts which split Christendom in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Hegel even made the Nation State the informing ideal of History and the historical process. The wonton and savage destruction of a whole civilization in the battlefields of Somme, Ypres and Flanders during World War I raised questions in the minds of Historians about the validity of the nation state as the container of the historical process. From the ruins of World War I emerged a new way of looking at the past. Marc Bloch and his friend and collaborator Lucien Febvre  founded a journal in 1929 in which they espoused a Historiography unhinged from the political and ideological demands of the Nation State. The Annales remained a journal devoted to the study of History not as a mere narrative of events, the dance of kings, queens and their courtiers on the stage of History, but as problems posed as questions--histoire problematique.

The death of Jacques Le Goff on April 1, 2014 brings an end to one of the most creative epochs of European medieval  historiography. Born on January 1st 1924, Jacques Le Goff succeeded Fernand Braudel as the directeur of the Ecole  des Hautes Etudes en Science Sociales in 1972 and devoted most of his research energy to the uncovering of the deep structures of culture and ideology, the carapace within which society functions. The early Annales historians stresses the role of agrarian organizations and March Bloch famously demonstrated that the Open Field system  emerged in southern France with the gradual end of serfdom. Using the maps of the Revolutionary period, Bloch was able to uncover the earlier patterns of farming and field organization. Under Jacques Le Goff, the Annales turned its attention to what the French called mentalites, the structures of thought and behavior informing social life. In books such as Time Work and Culture in the Middle Ages, The Birth of Purgatory, The Medieval Imagination and several such contributions Le Goff vastl;y extended the domain of medieval history. Understanding the medieval world in its totality remained the inspiring ideal of Le Goff.

A great historian is no more. This blogger lives works and teaches in India, far away from the land of Le Goff. I have read his work with passion and I write these words as a tribute to a Historian who will forever remain an inspiration.

Now History has moved into the realm of language and language games. Le Goff rightly avoided the temptation of making  History a mere language game.

Friday, April 4, 2014

The Metaphysics of the Political Imagination: Narendra Modi, the Indian Intellectual and the 2014 Elections

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

A noted Indian "sociologist" in a center page article in the Hindu (April 5, 2014) has made some bold and superficially interesting speculations abort the brand of politics Narendra Modi represents.  I wonder why such eminent sociologists do not subject the Congress Party and its mascot, Sonia Gandhi to the same kind of rigorous scrutiny as many of his conclusions can with equal justification be extended to the Congress. In politics style matters as much as substance and when Indian intellectuals train their guns on one individual and suddenly find his ideological soul mates like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and l K Advani more authentic than Narendra Modi from a "civilization" point of view, then we know that something is seriously wrong about the logic behind such ideologically constructed posturing. Until not that long ago, Indian middle class intellectuals, particularly the tele intellectuals of the JNU breed were articulating  their wisdom in terms of sound bytes aired on NDTV which   drove home just one point: the BJP and its politics is a threat to the "secular" values of the country and by default must support the Congress party. The intellectuals found it both prudent and professionally rewarding to mouth the empty slogans of "secularism" and "inclusion", the stock in trade of high political discourse in India/.

The JNU brand of tele intellectuals were never enamored of the politics of the BPJ and if they start discovering  virtues in Atal ji and Advani ji it can only mean that any kind of rhetoric is justified when it comes to Modi bashing. All the three leaders named above share a common vision of an India that is strong, free from corruption and can hold its head high in the high table of world politics. Unlike the intellectuals who hog prime time television in India, Modi does not seek the approbation or approval of the western world. It does not matter whether Economist endorses Narendra Modi. However, the intellectuals like the author of the center page article referred to, thrive on signets of professional recognition from the Western media and institutions. This particular intellectual was opposed to the nuclear policy of India, and throughout  his long and distinguished career has not criticized USA for the slaughter in World War II  or the repeated acts of armed aggression all over the world. Yet when it comes to India they will pose as if they are the civilizational strength of India lies in its ability to produce publicists like themselves.As far as Narendra Modi is concerned his public rhetoric is civilized and yes, his language is strong and effective but does not degenerate into gutter rhetoric like Mrs Sonia Gandhi and her Congress courtiers. Why does this man not take the Congress woman to task for making public discourse so  vulgar and coarse.

As a sociologists, the writer must be aware that in terms of social inclusion as empirically measured by voting percentages and seats won, the BJP scores much higher than it rival the Congress. At least in North India, most of the SC reserved seats and ST seats have been won by the BJP and there is no use in taking recourse to the Marxist line that such figures only represents false consciousness on the part of the "subaltern" classes. At the end of the day the tele intellectual is always right and facts be damnned. Why let facts and empirically verifiable date come in the way of a politically correct and rewarding statement. The intellectual goes on to gratuitously advive the BJP   to be more "discursive" more "conversational". The discursive space in Indian politics is hogged by the Congress and its academic bandwagon who have monopolized public space in the name of secularism and nationalism. If they want to suggest that the hysterical style of ranting against electoral adversaries like the way Sonia, Rahul and other members of the First Family, the Royal Dynasty represents discursive expanse and a conversational style of politics, I am afraid that people will not accept. The electorate sees the shrill hysterical ranting of the Congress as hate mongering and it is time that the soft intellectuals like the author of the center page article recognize the political style of the dynastic fascists as divisive and fraudulent

To harp on Jaswant Singh has become fashionable. Suddenly the opponents of Narendra Modi have rediscovered the virtues of Jaswant Singh after his rebellion. But the same class of tele intellectuals were berating him until the other day for the views on Partition and his analysis that Congress too was responsible for the Partition and do In need to remind my readers of what they said about Jaswant Singh when the then NDA Government released the Taliban prisoners in exchange for the passengers of the Indian Airlines flight which was hijacked to Kabul. I agree Indians do not have a sense of History, but if "sociologists" who write about the civilizational strengths of the BJP should choose tom ignore recent events then it is not oversight but deliberate distortion for political purposes. Is there anything "civilizational" about Sonia Gandhi or Rahul Gandhi. If Narendra Modi is faulted for not being "civilizational" them I wonder if the hate filled rhetoric of the First Family is civilizational.

It is obvious that the writer has not followed the Campaign of Narendra Modi and therefore is unaware of the reasons why he resonates all around the country. He is not an "ersatz"version of the BJP as the writer inelegantly puts it, but rather one who has crafted his political message keeping the complex realities of an ever changing India. The fact is that Narendra Modi has jettisoned the old style identity politics and has changed the terms within which India debates its future. And "sociologists" of course are livid as he has out did them in their own game. He has crafted a message of social and economic development based on the principle that the State has to ensure that the basic structure within which resource transfers and nation building takes place is in tune by and large with the aspirations of the people. And he has successfully sold the argument that the economic downturn in India is linked to the massive and egregious corruption under the congress. What is offensive or objectionable about this fundamental message. Governemnts will be voted in and voted out not on the basis of real and invented identities but on the grounds of performance as seen by the common man. I do not see anything alarming in all this and wish the author had used the resources of his mind to reflect on the conditions prevailing all over the country. The sense of gloom and doom are there in the eyes of eveyone except the starry eyed wonder struck sociologists of JNU.

The upcoming elections will mark a decisive turning point in the history of India. Under Narendra Modi, India will be able to stand and take strides towards improving its economy, living standards and social harmony all of which were ruthlessly compromised during the past 10 years.

This writer can say that Dharampal will certainly endorse Narendra Modi.