Territory is not a big deal

People are.

From a liberal nationalist perspective, it is impossible to agree with Jaswant Singh’s judgement that territorial integrity of pre-Partition India was worth preserving at the cost of having “Pakistans within India”. His praise for Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is based on this notion. Yet a constitutional arrangement where citizens come in different types based on their religion and where different types of citizens have different rights and entitlements might not even preserve the territorial unity it set out to preserve. It would be impossible for such a state to achieve stability in its domestic politics and consequently, it would be impossible for such a state to operate with the unity of purpose necessary to protect its geopolitical interests. Indeed, it would be difficult to pin down a definition of its interests in the first place.

Territorial unity is meaningless unless it defines a state that realises individual rights and freedoms—the foremost among them being equality. Nehru might have had his faults—but his uncompromising stand on a liberal democratic constitutional structure was not one of them. If anything, his fault was that his liberalism didn’t go far enough to respect fundamental rights when they got in the way of his social reform project. [For a more detailed response to Mr Singh’s contentions, see GreatBong’s post]

Should this warrant Mr Singh’s summary expulsion from the BJP? Well, that’s the BJP’s call. It is entirely within its rights to take action against a member who it sees has having strayed from its values. Of course, you would expect the biggest opposition party in the world’s biggest democracy to do this with due process, decorum and dignity. That it didn’t speaks of the type of office-bearers it has. It also begs the question of the kind of values the BJP has when you consider that it stood behind a thug who spewed communal venom but thought it fit to expel an urbane statesman who expressed a heterodox intellectual opinion. If the BJP’s leaders wish to face the electorate with such a prospectus, then it is entirely their call. [See Rohit Pradhan & B Raman on this]

But nothing justifies the Gujarat state government’s decision to ban the book. That it is silly and impractical should not subtract from the fact that it is an assault on the freedom of expression. Under Narendra Modi, Gujarat has been among India’s better governed states. Even so, it is presumptuous for Mr Modi to impose his likes, dislikes and political compulsions on the the aesthetic and intellectual life of Gujarat’s residents.

Unlike Mr Singh’s expulsion, the Gujarat government’s ban is not an internal matter of the BJP. It must be challenged in court. If the ban is symbolic, its revocation will be more than that. It will set a precedent.

Finally, let’s be clear—as The Acorn wrote in 2005, Jinnah doesn’t matter (and there’s some empirical evidence too). The debate over Jinnah’s legacy is taking place on the wrong side of the border he created. For India, the question of whether or not he was a secularist is pointless—Pakistan is an Islamic republic. Besides, Jinnah’s fear of majoritarian rule was hardly based on principle—if it were, his Pakistan wouldn’t deny its own minorities the protection against majoritarianism that he sought in pre-Partition India.

Unsurprisingly, it is in India that fundamental rights—equality of all citizens the first among them—provide a bulwark against majoritarianism. This hardly means that the situation is perfect. Rather, it tells you how important it is to be intolerant to any attempt to erode, abridge or subvert those rights for reasons of low politics or high policy.

That’s why those who disagree with the argument in Mr Singh’s book must oppose any attempt to ban it.

They are Ravana’s armies

…and must be defeated

The outcry over a bunch of thugs going about their thuggery donning the mantle of ‘Hindu’ armies of Rama might well distract attention from other, more pressing, security issues. But it is well-deserved. The UPA government’s dismal record on stamping down terrorism and bringing terrorists to justice has created a cynicism that is, in turn, breeding a mindset that it is somehow acceptable for citizens to gang up and use terrorism to combat terrorism. So it is extremely important—even if it is our hyperventilating and frequently irresponsible media that does it—to highlight these events and raise the threshold for their acceptance.

Because the vandals who broke into the Mangalore pubs did so, and publicly justified doing so for ideological reasons, it is important to take them head on. No, Ram’s armies didn’t molest women. On the contrary they went to war against the army of a king who committed a crime against a woman. And by no stretch of imagination can a prohibition against alcohol be justified on account of Hindu religion—the earliest traditions of which celebrated mystic intoxication through the routine consumption of Soma. Social conservatives in Karnataka might have reasons to prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but if they wish to impose it on their fellow citizens, they have to take the political-constitutional route. Barging into pubs and molesting women is clearly an adoption of the credo and tactics of Islamist extremists such as Srinagar’s notorious Asiya Andrabi. As they sink deeper into their paranoia and intolerance, Hindu extremists—whether Mr Muthalik or mindless idiots like Lt Col Shrikant Purohit and Sadhvi Pragya Singh Thakur—are becoming more like the Islamic fundamentalists they so hate. In doing so, paradoxically, they are departing from the fundamentals of Hinduism.

Repudiating their repugnant line of thinking is not only the right thing to do, but, as the BJP discovered after its unfortunate conduct over the Col Purohit-Sadhvi Pragya case, also politically astute. So it was good to see Rajnath Singh, the BJP’s president condemn it as “an unacceptable act of hooliganism”. Karnataka’s chief minister, B S Yeddyurappa says that his government will stringent action against the thugs and has also promised that a repeat of such incidents will not be allowed. He will be judged by his actions, but his feet have to be kept to the fire. On the other hand, he would do well not to pursue the stale old Bangalorean grouse against “pub culture”. The energies of the police force are better employed against thieves, thugs and terrorists, and not for enforcing virtue and preventing vice.

Nationalist terrorism is terrorism

And is as abhorrent is any other kind of terrorism

Even as we await more details of the plot behind the terrorist attacks in Malegaon, and even as media and political reactions to the affair take on even more grotesque forms, some commentators have argued that there can be no moral equivalence between a form of terrorism that seeks to destroy the Indian state and a form that does not seek it.

This argument is fallacious. Political violence of any form is morally repugnant and indefensible. Terrorism—a form that involves the indiscriminate targeting of civilians—is perhaps the most repugnant. It is repugnant if carried out by nationalists, separatists, secessionists, Leftists, jihadis or Hindu extremists. The first step in a national strategy to defeat terrorism is the realisation that political violence, leave alone terrorism, must not be tolerated by civil society.

So “Hindu terrorists” are being suspected of having carried out the bombings in Malegaon. Even as segments of the political spectrum delight in emphasising the adjective “Hindu” in that phrase, it is the noun “terrorist” that must be the focus of our attention. And our condemnation.

The communal overtones of the debate over the Malegaon terrorist attacks only underline the fact that that UPA government’s failure to maintain internal security, its yielding to competitive intolerance and its viewing of counter-terrorism through a communal prism risks sparking off political violence on a wider scale. The descent to matsya-nyaya is palpable: and unless arrested immediately, will have grave consequences in the near future. For the normative illegitimacy of political violence requires the state to enforce and be seen as enforcing the rule of law.

The only solution is a complete, resolute and unambiguous intolerance of political violence and terrorism—regardless of scale or perpetrator—by the government. And yes, by Indian society.

Ill-conceived dialogue

…played into the Hurriyat’s hands

Praveen Swami’s indictment is damning: “New Delhi’s well-meaning but ill-conceived dialogue process communalised Jammu and Kashmir and laid the ground for the ongoing crisis”

Experts have been telling New Delhi that the solution to this Islamist upsurge lies in negotiations which will give power—if not independence—to secessionists. Both the premise of this received-wisdom and the prescriptions it lends itself to are false. In fact, the crisis now unfolding in Jammu and Kashmir can also be read as the consequence of New Delhi’s peace process. In its effort to make peace with the Islamist-led secessionist movement in Kashmir, this counter-intuitive argument suggests, India ended up fuelling competitive communalism in each of the State’s three regions.

New Delhi deferred the (round table conference) dialogue process until after the Assembly elections scheduled for October. Islamists in Kashmir, though, feared that the elections would lead to their annihilation, and began sharpening their knives. To anyone other than Prime Minister Singh’s house-intellectuals, whose eyes seemed to have been paper-clipped shut, the brewing crisis was evident. [The Hindu emphasis added]

The dialogue process in Jammu & Kashmir was in piece with the UPA government’s policy DNA: entitlements based on communal socialism, accepting competitive intolerance and yielding to the resulting political violence.

Three thoughts on Independence Day

On socialism, constitutionalism and curbing intolerance

For contemplation on Independence Day—on the need to expunge socialism from the Constitution in letter and spirit; on the norms of public activism; and how competitive intolerance might be reined in.

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Intolerance insurance

Markets in everything*

If the Indian government is failing to clamp down on competitive intolerance, the film and insurance industries have devised their own solution:

Politics and public sentiment, Bollywood has learned the hard way, can wind it at the box-office. With community protest increasingly becoming part of the noise accompanying a film release, the industry has decided to hedge its bets. And what better way than buying insurance cover. Most new Bollywood films are insured against everything from bans to terrorism, says producer Punkej Kharbanda, who made the controversial Matrubhoomi (A Nation without Women).

“…producers buy cover on an approximate and not actual budget,” says a trade insider. Apart from traditional cover for cast/key members, props and equipment, raw stock, negatives and extra expenses, a film producer is also protected if a movie is hit by adverse weather or if there is an illness in the family.

“Another attractive policy,” says leading Bollywood lawyer Shekhar Menon, “is the Multimedia Liability Insurance (Errors and Omissions) which protects directors from a quiver of legal claims, including those arising from defamation, libel or slander; copyright infringement (such as in the Raakesh Roshan-Ram Sampat Krazzy 4 spat or the Manoj Kumar-Shah Rukh Khan Om Shanti Om encounter); trademark infringement; invasion of privacy, plagiarism; emotion distress; negligence and even imprisonment.” [TOI]

There you go: the insurance markets may now help define the practical limits of freedom of expression.

* With due regards to Tyler Cowen who loves finding markets in everything

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.

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]

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.

Three cheers for the Delhi High Court

Its verdict should halt the tendency to use the law to flaunt competitive intolerance

Excerpts from the verdict of a single-judge bench of the Delhi High Court (Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul):

In a free and democratic society, tolerance is vital. This is true especially in large and complex societies like ours where people with varied beliefs and interests mingle..

It is very unfortunate that the works of any artist today who have tried to play around with nudity have come under scrutiny. These artists have had to face the music, making them think twice before exhibiting their work of art.

India’s new Puritanism, practised by a largely ignorant crowd in the name of Indian spiritual purity, is threatening to throw the nation back into the Pre-Renaissance era. Criminal justice system should not be used as an easy recourse to ventilate against a creative act.

Today, each painting has a story to narrate. Art to every artist is a vehicle for personal expression. An aesthetic work of art has the vigour to connect to an individual sensually, emotionally, mentally and spiritually.

The test for judging a work of art should be that of an ordinary man of common sense and not that of a hyper-sensitive one. Therefore looking at a piece of art from the painter’s perspective becomes very important, especially in the context of the nude.

Art and authority never had a difficult relationship, until recently…Our greatest problem today is fundamentalism, the triumph of the letter over the spirit. [IE]

Thus bench disposed off a slew of charges against M F Hussain (See Retributions). The plaintiffs will probably take their intolerance to the Supreme Court, but Justice Kaul’s judgement applies the brakes on the march of competitive intolerance. The big challenge, of course, is to make the ordinary man less hyper-sensitive. This judgement helps.

(We are trying to get hold of the full text of what looks like a very well-composed judgement.)

Update: Read Sandeep’s view, because it’s different.