Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 'riot' game!

Those who instigate riots know the rule to be 'fireproofed'—and to thrive on dangerous fundamentals. Beyond such calculated moves, the sufferers and their humane observers live in oblivion.

Quite often, we see the frail silent image of Manto hanging on wall and his literatures meeting disdained responses, likewise as: I'll fly all from here--not to listen, these are at service, always at service!

Akbar Illahabadi wrote: “They hold the throne in their hand. The whole realm is in their hand. The country, the apportioning of men’s livelihood is in their hand. The springs of hope and of fear are in their hand—in their hand is the power to decide who shall be humbled and who exalted.” But who they are? Why they enjoying such sinful authority?

Their authority powered from the effects of fragile public dismay—and by the electoral design, which allows the representative of particular interest group, winning the ground. The riot cannot be secular—however time and again, political parties have tried falsifying this kind of simple argument.

Most recently, the Samajwadi Party government in UP termed their handling of Muzaffarnagar riots as ‘secular response’—though outside the ‘ambit of reasons’ and nailed in no time, its leaders and sycophant bureaucrats have made all efforts to keep the state government away from imminent legal and moral scrutiny.

As a nation, India was born in the atmosphere of fractured communal harmony—by that account, year 1947 was intensely grim coated. That year, the partition theory reached swift action mode and resulted the bloodiest outbreak of riots and exodus across the imagined borders of two nations in making.

The ‘two nation theory’ worked as planned by the ‘White Sahibs for Brown Sahibs’—and British left not one but two ‘free countries’—both scare-faced and terribly handicapped in keeping alive the momentum of great sacrifices, made during the independence movement.

The scores of people butchered, displaced to never return their home—and most shockingly, women raped for being identified with particular religious identity, had not really shook the minds and souls of system.

But the man who spearheaded the non-violent fight against the tyranny of empire, Gandhi, was in deep shock. He avoided the well deserved happiness for independence and tried to control the frenzied communal clashes in Calcutta.

Sadly, the ruling political classes at that time and later in the history of modern India— remained unflinchingly inactive and unimpressed with an option of ‘straight shooting’ against the hooliganism of unparalleled distort.

Why so? Because only being complicit in the communal riots goes against the ‘law of the land’? Then such law must come under the scanner, which spares the state’s role in commanded violence—with a few rounds of hiccups. Beyond the political overplay, ‘riots’ need to be relooked—much more seriously than the other currents of history.

And this must start with India’s partition, which not only bifurcated the nation but left it permanently vulnerable, to be marred by the ‘communal elements’ and opportunist users of secularist ideas.

During the Delhi riots in 1984, Bhagalpur riots in the late 1980s, Gujarat riots in 2002 and most recently at Muzaffarnagar, the superficial political inquisitions surpassed the real grief of human tragedies. Thousands were murdered, most of them without realizing the actual spectre of politics behind the riot—they simply vanished, as easily as they appeared destined for it!

The ‘riots’ in Indian contexts have been driven through certain ‘political intents’—and communal assertion intermingle them at certain stage. In such wild state of affairs, ‘personification’ takes place at high stage. With each incident of riot, our collective memory recalls a face behind it—the real issues get no attention in public memory or by the restless and assumptive media.

Henceforth, the riot victims presented as numbers and court seeks evidences—only evidences, and not anything reasonable.
Those sheltered in riot camps are treated like ‘citizens on margin’—and ‘the rulers’ of state claims such inhuman arrangements, charity.

A young—undeserving—and untimely CM of UP, Akhilesh Yadav will never ever understand what his government has done in follow-up action on the wake of communal outbreak in politically charged Muzaffarnagar.He could have easily done without Saifai extravaganza or Europe trip for his party rank and file, when people were freezing in relief camps, away from their homes.

They are still in camps, winter was harshest for them. Most of them are facing health issues, which arise by the lack of basic nutrition and hygiene. Like normal human being, they too require elementary amenities—circumstance to go back home, which are burnt and need to be repaired. Though they know, the soul of their home has withered away—as only a few good neighbours want to see them back.

Something similar happened in Kashmir in 1990—still we talk about relief camps, and we recall the grim faces of Kashmiri Pandits. Now they are settled everywhere, except at their home in valley—my fear is the same for those uprooted from the villages of Muzaffarnagar.

The victims live in reality—as they have no command on resources. Their ‘dignity’ is compromised—the kids are trying to learn the lessons, through experiences and self efforts. But there is a limitation of self-learning. The young girls are being married, to suppress the extra amount of insecurity and helplessness.

The terror outfits are, reportedly visiting these camps to negotiate with ‘anemic sheltered citizens of India’—and they return without much success, as people have still trust in state, if not in leadership. They collect relief to survive—as survival is not less than a virtue, for both ‘fit& frail’.

This way, the riot works in India. Knowingly or unknowingly, political animals help each other to float in the dirty stream—and they really triumph the alternative wisdom. In the coming general elections, the ‘secularism claim’ must be tested by the electorates in UP, and wherever the land is India!
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Governance Now on March22,2014)

Spoilers of the democratic drive

Maoists in Nepal have in the past, with greater share in power politics, done immeasurable harm to the chances of healthy democratic movements in that country. They have unfailingly and deliberately created problems for the Government

Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, is a worried man these days, principally coloured in red — not for the lost ideological claim of his party, but because his command and credibility inside the party and in national politics is on the wane.

He has kept mum for months after the humiliating performance of his party in the 2013 parliamentary election. But after the customary soul searching, he is now trying to reunite the different Maoists camps and revive the party’s character in its rank and file.

In this endeavour, Prachanda is looking to the working class and the marginalised sections of society but he has also almost given up on his former colleague and now CPN(Maoist) chairman Mohan Baidya. This is his version of struggle for survival, but while doing this he has displayed his and indeed his party’s deep rooted desperation towards the new developments in Nepali national politics.

Another big factor is Mr Baburam Bhattarai — a powerful Maoist comrade who turned dubious to match Prachanda’s ambitions. There are open theories about their dualism in public life and none are refuted by these two giant leaders of the Himalayan nation. Mao is not alive but it seems like these two leaders believe in the old saying that ‘China’s leader is our leader’.

So much like Mao, they too, time and again, have committed follies, cheated the poor Nepali people of their aspirations, and damaged the delicate democratic fabric of Nepal.

Nevertheless, it will be wrong to say that Nepal doesn’t have place to accommodate radicals. But it is the wrong moves of the radicals, which have falsified the conception of progressive political manoeuvring. This amounts to a big setback for a democracy that is still trying to cross many hurdles.

Since 1996, when Maoism formally haunted the nation, almost two decades in Nepal have been wasted. Governance is broken, infrastructure is decaying, industry is in a mess — and the people are fleeing to Gulf countries where they live perilous lives.

Who are these Maoists representing then? Why they are still sticking with their false ‘ism’s and not focussing on national issues that are getting more serious day by day? In recent years, outbound human trafficking from Nepal has seen unbelievably high. Abroad, Nepalis live in a kind of exile and are routinely exploited.

Barring the elite, it is tough to find a Nepali who lives in dignified state. This was not the case earlier when Nepal was still poor but at least its political leadership had better control. Still, there has hardly been a ‘golden phase’ in Nepal.

Maoism was a stream forced to flow in an authoritarian China, where democratic tributaries were seen as rival counter-currents. It kept revising over the years in the country of its origin and, so cunningly, that it made China not only a closely-guarded, ruthless communist regime but also amusingly a hub of crony capitalism as well.

So, today, many communist leaders from China find themselves on the Forbes billionaire list even if their socialistic convictions stop them from making flashy style statements.

Sadly, this kind of an unhealthy cocktail of social and economic policies is being seen as the cure that can fix the ills of socio-economic disparity in Nepal. However, this will be at the cost of democracy, that will otherwise benefit the masses, unless the leaders turn into looters of resources. Such endemic tussles are, of course, long-standing. And resolving them is perhaps the toughest challenge for democracy.

Writing on Nepal’s last two decades appears tough, given how fast-evolving trends and developments boggle the commentator’s mind. One can see endless political activity and the unstoppable movement towards factionalism as well as the lust to grab the top seat of power, even if for a short while.

The Maoists brought these changes with bigger effect, and in the course of time, their brand of politics was borrowed by the old parties and narrowly-shaped the Madhesi and ethnic groups. And within this flurry of opportunistic moves, Nepali democracy has suffered. It has never recovered enough to support the country’s progress in different areas.

In the past, the Maoists, who then had a greater share in power politics, did immeasurable harm to the chances of healthy democratic movements in the country. Even now, they are creating trouble for the existing Government run by Mr Sushil Koirala.

It will be worthwhile to recall that Prime Minister Koirala is not a conventional representative of the Koirala family, rather he is detached from the aura of power. He has given the mandate to lead; he has not fought for it.

But his success is doubtful. The Constitution-drafting process is threatened by a motley group of Maoist comrades and it is unlikely that they will allow Nepal to stay the democratic course. The Maoists mock Nepali democracy and democracy here betrays masses and their humane expectations. On the other side of the tunnel, there seems to be no light.

Tough times will remain in this country that has no king but is not free from king-size maladies. And for that, the people cannot be blamed for an error of judgement as they were always without better choices.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on March25,2014)

Maps for a mortal moon

Book Review: Fiction/Maps for a Mortal Moon: Selected prose by Adil Jussawalla—Edited& introduced by Jerry Pinto, Aleph, 340pp; Rs495 (Paperback)

Maps for a Mortal Moon should be in the essential reading list.

The worst thing about being a human being is being a human being. ‘I wish I was bird’, as the railway clerk in Nissim Ezekiel’s poem says. But if I were, the worst thing about being a bird would be being a bird.

Adil Jussawalla supremely talented literary world is uniquely diverse and unwaveringly at peace with others’ writing—so you read many such good pointers while turning the pages of this beautiful book. Jussawalla, a prolific poet, columnist, critic—and all together is a person in existence, for moving with the carefully chosen letters.

And no one could have a better choice as an editor like Jerry Pinto to compile the selected prose of Adil Jussawalla—he is another gem from Mumbai, who kept distance from limelight to succeed on humane grounds—in writings and at personal front.

The book is uniquely rich through the essays and entertainments, mostly published earlier as well—but here in collection, those appear giving better sense of collectiveness. And on another count, this book seems getting good success in offering Adil Jussawala’s specific and less known works to the new genre of readers—and while doing this, the coverages go in great deal on language, poetry, ethics, aeroplanes, death, addiction, travel alienation etc.

The protagonists of Jussawall could be anyone and from locale—conventional or exceptional.The book remarkably comes on Bombay of pre 1990—hence we see a greater coverage of Jussawalla’s own perspective on the city. That part charms most, especially when Jussawalla’s appearances surface in different form—from a journalist, book critic to a writer with less noise and all sensibilities.

Earlier, Jussawalla has written four anthologies of poems: Land’s End (1962), Missing Person (1976), Trying to Say Goodbye (2012) and The Right Kind of Dog (2013)—and put together a great book, New Writing in India (1974).

Recalling these five books is meant to see, how elusive and infrequent this writer has been for his untargeted readers, who yet stayed incorrigible and waiting for his books. As Jussawalla’s writing and his own self is inseparable from the unusual urbane construction of Bombay—so a greater degree of attention on this city makes him a near-legendary chronicler of a certain timeframe, in which this city had seen transformative changes.

Unvaryingly, Jussawalla’s writings maintain intelligent poignancy, wit, melancholy—Maps for a Mortal Moon easily gets breakthrough in following his own standard, set effortlessly.

The readers would find like winning an strategy, if they would read this book for the purpose to know the cultural shifts and political changes over the past forty years—that strongly inserted ‘change’ as virtue to be not missed. That has been fairly damaging and we see eruption of unheard complications at individual and at mass level.

Both Adil and Jerry has known their city closely and in daily struggle—can same accuracy one can have on the city from living in a house cruelly priced $2billion or looking on Arabian sea from the thick glasses of Taj Hotel?

The point is not in subverting the ‘grandness’ but bringing back the issues at fore and with fair reasons. The much celebrated tag ‘maximum city’ is certainly a caricature on Bombay, which helps keeping it in a sort of euphoria, an escaping route from its ugly underbelly.

Sometime directly and on occasions with smoke signals, Jussawala puts forward the complex realities, not so obvious to the species lost in efforts of saving their fragile existence. Certainly, Jussawalla is an existentialist but a maverick at same time—that reasonably keep his writings at distance from the fashioned existential philosophy.

Not to gain or lose, Jussawall is a writer with consine—who has seen the suffering and not stopped delving with the harsh realities. This is an extraordinary accomplishment of him— and something, with which, many writers don’t go far ahead. A great gift to the serious prose readers, Maps for a Mortal Moon should be in their essential reading list.

This book is one of the major non-fiction entries in 2014— Adil, Jerry and Aleph publications deserve praise for coming out with this standard project.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on March26,2014)

India at turning point:Interpreter of curable maladies

Book Review: Non-fiction/ India at Turning Point: The Road to Good Governance by T.S.R. Subramanian, Rainlight/Rupa, 274 pp; Rs595 (Hardback)

T S R Subramanian – with an insider’s insight and outsider’s rage – has made a frontal attack on the ills of Indian government and bureaucratic setup in his latest book India at Turning Point: The Road to Good Governance.

This is remarkable since Indian babus, in general, are not known for practicing forthright polemics and coming out with scathing criticism of issues plaguing their own bastion, the bureaucracy.

What is even more striking about the book is Subramanian chooses not to pepper the narrative with recollections of his own foregone privileges as a civil servant. Evidently, he doesn’t think much of those hallowed yet conceited ‘benefits’; hence, quite rightly, his narrative does justice to the underlying intent of writing this much-needed book.

The essays are incisive, and the compilation as an anthology – covering wide ranges of political and administrative issues – works at many levels.

Subramanian’s experiences travel well and far, not only into the power corridors of the Capital, but in fact, journey into the hinterlands and gather spectacular wisdom. While recalling different stages of his career, he, fortunately, doesn’t come across as either a white or a brown sahib.

Instead, he turns out to be someone who has learned his way up, cutting through the grinding formality of official procedures and the unnecessarily encumbered and slow-moving wheel of Indian administration. There are, of course, the occasional tributes.

But what really hooks you to these well-written pages is his pointed criticism of the system as well as the policy movers and shakers. Frankly, the unputdownable elements add a dash of fun and frolic to this weighty hardback.

Particularly, when he chooses an eminent politician like N D Tiwari to detail how high-ranked former cabinet ministers pick their itinerary, preferring to go Thailand and roving around in the city after sunset! Of course, flouting security and other protocols.

As an ‘India book,’ this one starts with gloom and reaches the opposite end with optimism. Primarily, India at Turning Point seeks to highlight the factors – Parliament, intelligence agencies and even cricket – for keeping governance in check and good health. The argument develops further: why our perfectly ‘curable maladies’ are not being treated?

Since 1947, India as a nation has made significant strides. However, those were not enough. The realisation is growing stronger, as democracy is deepened everyday. Despite having followed a ‘reluctant revivalist’ tendency for over six decades, now, in an increasingly technocratic situation, the overall ‘governance discourse’ is gaining ground to charter something as desired by the people and emerging directly out of the compelling necessities.

This book will be in circulation for strong reasons, foremost among them being its timing. India is passing through an unprecedented cusp of changes and really calling it the ‘turning point’ makes perfect sense.

But hope is not on the wane in this book or the atmosphere it tries to capture. Irrespective of tough challenges, the tribe of ‘incorrigible optimists’ still fires up the engines of its centre and periphery. As Subramanian asks if India has stopped following sustainable political and economic principles, we wonder if his question has an answer at all.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Millennium Post on March2,2014)

In praise of new Bihar

Book Review: Non-fiction/The new Bihar: Rekindling Governance and Development by N K Singh and Nicholas Stern (edited), Harper Collins, 387 pp; Rs799 (Hardback)
Among India’s states, Bihar has long been considered something of a ‘political laboratory’, owing to how, during the anti-colonial movement of the 20th century or in the decades post-independence, it had hosted a series of political movements with overarching effects.

Most noticeable among these had been the JP Movement, which resulted in a national emergency, the imposition of which was proof of the intolerance of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi for a new kind of reactionary politics, led by arch socialist and close friend of Nehru’s, Jay Prakash Narayan.

The movement produced many other leaders over time, including Lalu Prasad Yadav, Nitish Kumar and Ram Vilas Paswan—three individuals who have been at the helm of Bihar’s politics in the post-Mandal Commission era.

In the years between 1990 and 2004, Bihar had dropped alarmingly low on the developmental indices. But change was at hand when the people brought Nitish Kumar and his allies to power. And it’s the immediate impact of that shift, and the policies that made it possible, that the book The New Bihar: Rekindling Governance and Development, edited by NK Singh and Nicholas Stern, deals with. Comprising the input of well-known developmental economists and policy experts, this anthology aims to highlight the Bihar model of development.

In the 1990s, Lalu Prasad Yadav, an early beneficiary of Lohiaite socialism, had made Bihar a ‘governance-free’ entity of sorts. The state had been set on a downhill trajectory then, which was further sped up by Yadav’s conviction in a fodder scam, following which he passed the mantle to his politically clueless wife. In those years, India was growing at an unprecedented pace, but Bihar appeared to be losing out.

Then came Nitish Kumar. Unlike his predecessors, he took major initiatives to improve governance, infrastructure, education, health, power and agriculture—the reason why, in the last six years, Bihar has achieved such accelerated development compared to other states in the country.

In the book, eminent economists like Amartya Sen, Kaushik Basu, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, Meghnad Desai, Shankar Acharya and Arvind Virmani analyse the remarkable turnaround witnessed by Bihar, while policy experts Tarun Das, Deepak Parekh, Lord Billimoria, KV Kamath and Isher Judge Ahluwalia speak of the opportunities and challenges ahead. Most pieces are written in praise of Nitish Kumar, particularly the steps taken in the initial five years of his governance that ensured the functional mainstreaming of the state.

The New Bihar comprises 29 essays altogether. Among these, Sen, who also heads the Nalanda University Project in the state, looks into its distinguished past; Basu, in brief, skims over the fall and rise of Bihar in the last few decades; Acharya, Virmani and Desai discuss the state’s journey to such high economic growth; and Ahluwalia stresses on the importance of urbanisation—although her remarks don’t really seem adequately well-informed regarding Bihar’s ground realities.

Also included is a piece by Swaminathan Anklesaria Aiyar, among the earliest endorsers of Nitish Kumar’s work, who identifies the critical role of leadership in shaping the developmental agenda against the many odds.

We also have Rukmini Banerjee, who follows the grassroots efforts in uplifting education around the country, and her essay incorporates a lively first-hand account of Bihar’s exceptionally well-functioning primary and girl education policies.

All the accomplishments enumerated in this book paint a picture of a state that was in shambles only a few decades ago, not just in terms of infrastructure, but also how firmly it was in the grips of identity politics back then. But Nitish Kumar and his friend Sushil Modi were able to take an almost bankrupt Bihar and turn it into a state of surplus revenue.

Maintaining this momentum, and reaching the next level of inclusive development, however, is a different story, and the book also touches upon what is to come. The Bharatiya Janata Party is no longer with Kumar’s Janata Dal (United), and it appears unlikely that he will be able to return alone after the assembly poll that has been scheduled in 2015.

However, it is certain that he will remain a key political figure in the state, and the legacy he leaves—particularly the notion that good work earns the good will and trust of the masses—will hopefully keep successive governments from straying too far from the development agenda.

Indeed, whatever Kumar and his ilk have done in the first five years of taking over Bihar have been extraordinary to say the least. He is an acclaimed leader, whose celebrity has stretched beyond India’s boundaries as well. Time and again, for instance, he has tried forging an understanding with Nepal on issues concerning the state and adjoining areas beyond the borders.

However, in a federal polity like India, the head of a state has limited say, more so when the centre is ruled by a different political entity. But there is much Nepal could take away from Bihar’s story—for a country that has been grappling with political deadlock for so long, and which has resulted in a sagging developmental track record, the Bihar model offers up a great many suggestions on how to bounce back with an eye on progress.

The book essentially recognises the passion and effectiveness of a doer, who did not take the luxury pass to power. But it’s also careful not to over-glorify, and stresses time and again on the hurdles ahead for the state and others like it.

The majority of the pieces in The New Bihar are engaging and thought provoking, and will no doubt take the Bihar story, and the story of Nitish Kumar—a ‘thinking politician’, as historian Ramachandra Guha was inclined to call him—to wider audiences than ever before.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on April12,2014)