Tag Archives | society

Three thoughts on Independence Day

On social trust, on leaving welfare to society and on the problem of identity-based parochialism

For quiet contemplation on Independence Day—how distrusting fellow Indians and institutions is costing us; why a welfare state is not suited to India; and why parochialism based on identity is our big problem.

The Three Thoughts Archive:
It is a tradition on this blog to use Independence and Republic Days as opportunities for contemplation, reflection and introspection.

Three thoughts on Independence Day 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.

and on Republic Day 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005;

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Santa Singh on Train Number 2627

A parable of contemporary India

Photo: Sid Ganesh/Flickr
Photo: Sid Ganesh

Santa Singh’s love for Indian Railways was legendary. Everyone in Medi Mallasandra, Santa’s ancestral village, knew about his famous attachment to trains, tracks, stations and almost everything to do with the railways. In fact, Santa’s great-grandfather, Master Bantokh Singh was instrumental in bringing the railway line to the erstwhile Mysore state, while his grandfather and several grand-uncles had spent lifetimes working for the railways—trains, you could say, were in Santa’s blood.

So it was not surprising that Santa looked forward to his journey on KK Express (or, Number 2627, as Santa called it) on his way to New Delhi, to make his annual pilgrimage to Rail Museum. He had been doing this every year from the time he could afford the fare—it was his little way of paying his respects to his illustrious grandsire, the great Master Bantokh Singh.

With each passing year, Santa looked on with increasing disappointment as railway property continued to be vandalised (or, desecreted, as Santa termed it). He wrote letters to the Railway Minister, the Railway Board, various General Managers and Station Masters. He admonished Railway Guards and Railway police constables. He even filed a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the higher judiciary. To no avail. The high officials did not bother to write back. Some low officials just shrugged and asked him to take it easy. Others said they were helpless, and pointed out that the magazine vendor on Platform 2 makes more money than the Station Master. The PIL had yet to come up for hearing, years after Santa had filed it.

As he chained his trusty old VIP suitcase (the kind that didn’t open when it was upside down) to his berth, he noticed that the mirror just outside the lavatory had come loose. He opened the VIP (right side up), pulled out his pouch and fished out the screwdriver that had once belonged to his grandfather. He walked over to the mirror and tightened the screws, and then, settled on his berth, dozed off.

It was close to midnight when he woke up to the sounds of squeaking metal and groaning man. What he saw shocked him. A man in a brown jacket was trying to unscrew the mirror. Another man who somehow reminded him of Brylcreem was egging him on. Santa saw the plot instantly—they were attempting to steal Railway Property! It took him less than a second to get there, and just over two to chase Brown Jacket and Brylcreem away, but ten whole minutes to locate the TT or whatever-they-called-him-now and register a formal complaint. It took him thirty more to register, informally, just what he thought of how the Railways were being run.

The train stopped somewhere at 4:30am for one of those inexplicable reasons they do. Santa decided to give his day an early start and headed to the lavatory with his toothbrush. And surprised Bryclreem, who gave a shout. Brown Jacket hurt his finger and withdrew it, and reflexively thrust it into his mouth, evidently in pain. And in this state, they jumped out of the train, onto the platform and disappeared into the darkness, even as the signal sounded.

Santa was livid. He berated the TT or whatever-they-called-him-now for not being alert and threatened to make a complaint to his superiors. Santa’s anger increased when he saw a hint of a smile on the TT’s face. Before either could do anything, the train jerked to a start. Leaving the rest unsaid, Santa proceeded to brush his teeth.

They would reach New Delhi in a few hours. By this time, Santa Singh’s mind was clear. Brylcreem and Brown Jacket had made three more attempts to steal the mirror, and had succeeded in stealing two screws. Santa knew that they would remove the remaining two before long, perhaps after he disembarked. Santa knew that neither Indian Railways, nor the Railway Police nor the Railway Protection Force could prevent this from happening. And then, Brylcreem and Brown Jacket (and who knows how many accomplices they have, for they surely must have them) would do the same to the next compartment. And the next. And the next. And after KK Express it would be Rajdhani. And then Shatabdi. This was not a S2 problem. It was not a Number 2627 problem. It was a problem for the Indian Railways. And the people whose job it is to protect Indian Railways property were failing to do it properly. Who knows, the officials might secretly be in league with the Brown Jacket & Brylcreem gang.

No, it was in his hands now. Santa Singh had to save his beloved Indian Railways. In one of those moments when a passing ray of sun injects perfect lucidity he knew exactly what he had to do.

He squeezed his VIP suitcase shut, with only a little extra effort. He smiled as he got off Number 2627. Those who loved Indian Railways had finally gone one up on those who didn’t. He could imagine the expression on Brylcreem’s face when he saw four empty holes where the mirror had been. Yes, it was time for those who love Indian Railways to save Indian Railways.

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On the importance of history

Connecting strategy, law and history

This is an extract from the brilliant introductory chapter of Philip Bobbitt’s remarkable The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace and the Course of History. Bobbitt disputes the view—including The Acorn’s—that law exists in practice because of the state. Be that as it may, what is interesting about Bobbitt’s thesis is his perspective on the role of society and what it believes of itself in the theory of the State.

We scarcely see that the perception of cause and effect itself—history—is the distinctive element in the ceaseless, restless dynamic by means of which strategy (ie, foreign policy—ed) and law live out their necessary relationship with each other. For law and strategy are not merely made in history—a sequence of events and culminating effects—they are made of history. It is the self-portrayal of a society that enables it to know its own identity. Without this knowledge a society cannot establish its rule by law because every system of laws depends upon the continuity of legitimacy, which is an attribute of identity. Furthermore, without such a self-portrayal, no society can pursue a rational strategy because it is the identity of the society that strategy seeks to promote, protect and preserve. One might say that without its own history, its self-understanding, no society can have either law or strategy, because it cannot be constituted as an independent entity.

History, strategy and law make possible legitimate governing institutions.

The State exists by virtue of its purposes, and among these are a drive for survival and freedom of action, which is strategy; for authority and legitimacy, which is law; for identity, which is history. To put it differently, there is no state without strategy, law and history, and, to complicate matters, these are not merely interrelated elements,they are elements each composed at least partly of others. The precise nature of this composition defines a particular state and is the result of many choices.

Law cannot come into being until the state achieves a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. Similarly, a society must have a single legitimate government for its strategic designs to be laid; otherwise, the distinction between war and civil war collapses, and strategy degenerates into banditry. Until the governing institutions of a society can claim for themselves the sole right to determine the legitimate use of force at home and abroad, there can be no state. Without law, strategy cannot claim to be a legitimate act of state. Only if law prevails can it confer legitimacy on strategic choices and give them a purpose. Yet the legitimacy necessary for law and for strategy derives from history, the understanding of past practices that characterise a particular society. [Bobbitt, The Shield of Achilles pp5-6]

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Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.

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Incitement to murder

…must be punished

There is an urgent need to crack down hard on ‘leaders’ (especially in Uttar Pradesh) who issue public calls for assassination.

In the Gurjjar stronghold of Sarsawa in Uttar Pradesh’s Saharanpur district, Akhil Bharatiya Gurjjar Mahasabha president Chaudhary Virendra Singh has put Rs 5 crore reward on Vasundhara Raje’s head. “The Rajasthan CM is a murderer, responsible for the death of innocent activists,” said Singh. [IE]

The reporter’s next question is truly bizarre.

When asked as to who would arrange for a sum as hefty as Rs 5 crore, Singh claimed that the entire community would collect money to reward “the brave man who would behead her”. [IE]

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Monumental folly

A statue to end all your troubles

A bunch of violent thugs attacked the residence of Kumar Ketkar, editor of Loksatta for writing a satirical piece criticising the Maharashtra government’s decision to engage in monumental folly. In support of Mr Ketkar’s freedom to write what he thought was right, and in support of writing what was right, here are excerpts from the English translation of his editorial.

Naturally, the government felt that having solved all the problems of the people, what remains to be done is to tell the whole world of the greatness of Shivaji. The government has decided to have more than one acre of land inside the sea acquired and filled so as to build the monument, which will attract all global tourists. All facilities will be given to the tourists. There will be a museum near the statue, artifacts of the 17th century, Shivaji’s personal effects, swords and shields and attire. There will also be directives issued by the Maharaj to his administrators on how to govern and make the people happy. Along with the museum, there will be shopping malls, selling T-shirts with Shivaji’s painting. There will be Shivaji key chains, Shivaji gift items, including cutlery.

Of course, there will be no beer bars. So obviously, there will be no dance bars, which the Deputy Chief Minister R.R. Patil detests so much. There will be perhaps wine, which according to the leader of NCP, Sharad Pawar, is not alcohol. So wine will be sold and served along with Coke and Pepsi and other soft drinks. There will be swadeshi McDonald’s as well as vintage Marathi vada-pau, which has been renamed by Uddhav Thackeray as ‘Shiv Vada-Pau’. There will also be ‘pani puri’ sold by the MNS activists of Raj Thackeray. No ‘bhaiyyas’ will be allowed to do business, only locals will be engaged. [IE]

Those concerned about Maharashtra and Mumbai need to explain their quiescence when the plans to revitalise Mumbai city and to turn into into an international financial centre were put in cold storage.

Having nothing much to show for its term in power, the Congress Party-led government is merely stoking up Marathi-chauvinism to distract public attention ahead the coming elections. Voters in Maharashtra should see through the trick.

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Instrument of social control

Epics out of proportion

Over at Varnam, JK has pithy on a commenter:

T.R.Ramaswami: Would you not also classify epics like the Mahabharatha and Ramayana, whose historic authencity is doubtful and also other religious texts as instruments for political and social control?

JK: No. Socialism has been used for political and social control in India. [Varnam]

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Non-opposition is costly

The BJP didn’t forcefully counter the UPA government’s communal socialism. It’s paying for it in Rajasthan

Let there be no mistake: those who organised the violent mass agitation demanding entitlements that go with a scheduled tribe (ST) status, including its leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, are responsible for the deaths and injuries that resulted. Surely in a country where Chauri Chaura is taught in history textbooks, public protests involving burning down police stations and public transport buses can’t be called non-violent protests? Mr Bainsla’s claim to a Gandhian parallel—he was fasting while blocking railway traffic—is a macabre parody. The Gujjar riots are not about non-violence. They are about cynical use of violence and the threat of violence to press political demands.

And let there also be no mistake that even ‘non-violent’ tactics that disrupt normal life—blocking railways and holding up traffic—have no place in a constitutional democracy. As B R Ambedkar said, such methods are the “grammar of anarchy“. The political demands that the Gujjar protesters had should have been pressed in constitutional ways: through electoral politics and the judicial system. Arson and vandalism are crimes. Nothing in the Gujjar agitation must desensitise us from seeing them for what they are.

The police and law-enforcement authorities acted correctly. The loss of lives is unfortunate. But the police were not firing on a group of peaceful satyagrahis, but rather, on mobs that were resorting to mass violence. Mr Bainsla and his colleagues cannot escape moral responsibility for these deaths. They also cannot escape responsibility for diminishing the legitimacy of whatever genuine grievances some in the Gujjar community might have had.

These riots have come at a time when tensions between the BJP government in Rajasthan and the UPA government at the centre came to the fore after the terrorist attacks in Jaipur. The Congress Party is revelling at the Vasundhara Raje government’s discomfiture, at the hands of a monster that the UPA government nursed back to health.

It’s useful to be blunt about it. The rhetoric of ’social justice’, ‘reforms with a social face’ and ‘inclusive growth‘ is largely about doling out entitlements based on group identities. The prize—the status of ‘backwardness’, with its attendent benefits in terms of reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and if the UPA government were to have its way, in the private sector too. The designation of backwardness was subject to electoral promises, not hard-data or economic rationale. Do this long enough and you run into the Gurjjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab. Continue to persist along this path, and such incidents will be repeated in hundreds of places. [The Acorn, 4 June 2007]

Dr Frankenstein will face his creation eventually, but the BJP cannot escape its share of blame for failing to prevent, or at least draw attention to, the UPA’s larger project of divide and rule. It did complain when entitlement were sought to be handed out along religious lines, calling it minority appeasement. But it remained cynically silent when entitlements were handed out along caste and ethnic lines.

A party claiming to represent the whole of India should have protested loudly inside and outside parliament when the UPA government began its divide and rule project. Why, even a party claiming to champion the interests of the Hindu majority should have protested loudly when its base was being vivisected. If the Congress Party has succeeded in pulling the rug from under the BJP it is only because the latter could not muster up the leadership and courage to speak out against entitlements. As the Gujjar riots indicate, it will have to play the game by the rules set by its opponents.

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