Thursday, 6 November 2008

Our Obama Moment?

Those who have followed my blog will know that I disagree with Leftits on practically everything. But there are times when I have to acknowledge that they have done or said something right. The latest being the suggestion from the CPM that governors of states should not be ex-officio chancellors of universities. This is part of a paper on Centre-State relations. There could be other suggestions in that which I may seriously disagree with, but on this particular point I think the CPM is right.

The immediate provocation for this is the incident where the vice-chancellor of Kanpur University having to resign following a rebuke from the Uttar Pradesh governor, T V Rajeshwar, for denying Rahul Gandhi permission to hold a meeting in the university premises.

A niggling thought - would the CPM have taken the same position if it was still on good terms with the Congress? It is now cosying up to Mayawati and the vice-chancellor's action in denying permission to Rahul Gandhi was said to be prompted by instructions from the Uttar Pradesh government.

But that still doesn't take away from the larger point - should governors be chancellors of universities, considering most governors are highly political. Would Rajeshwar have rebuked the vice-chancellor if Rahul Gandhi were not involved? He, after all, was appointed Uttar Pradesh governor by the UPA government.

That brings me to another point. Ever since Barrack Hussein Obama, all of 47 years old, became the President of the United States, we've had this chorus about when we will get our own Obama moment. And I wonder - will we ever?

Obama's win is the triumph of talent. Can we say the same about young people in politics? Do any one of them (barring Rahul Gandhi) have even a remote chance of getting to - forget the top job - even a job that is commensurate with their talent? If Rahul Gandhi is not holding any significant post, it is only because he hasn't taken it up for his own reasons. Otherwise, there are enough Congress leaders who insist he is Prime Minister material.

Maybe he is. Maybe I am wrong in dismissing Rahul Gandhi. Maybe he is learning from his father's mistakes and is preparing himself for the top job. But look at the difference between him and Obama. He is preparing for a job that he knows will be his one day. Obama dreamed what could have been an impossible dream and got there out of sheer dint of hard work.

I would have no issues if other young people in the Congress got the same chance as Rahul Gandhi. But they never will.

Take the other parties. Are they any better? No. The BJP's prime ministerial candidate is 80-year old Lal Krishna Advani. The so-called younger generation comprise a bunch of 50-plus year olds!

Take the regional parties. Sukhbir Badal is heading the Akali Dal because of his father Prakash Singh Badal. When Mulayam Singh Yadav steps down as head of the Samajwadi Party, his son, Akhilesh Yadav, will take over. Omar Abdullah heads the National Conference because his grandfather founded it. In the Janata Dal (S) in Karnataka, the people who reign are H D Deve Gowda and his sons. Ditto for the DMK.

Mayawati is often spoken of as the Indian answer to Obama. I disagree. She has come to where she is because she was spotted by BSP founder Kanshi Ram who recognised her talent and groomed her - the same way Rahul Gandhi, Sukhbir Badal, Omar Abdullah and Akhilesh Yadav were and are being groomed. Like Rahul Gandhi, she knew the top job was hers. She didn't have to fight her way up, struggle the way Obama has. Kanshi Ram didn't give the same opportunities to other young people in the BSP as he gave Mayawati.

Till Indian political parties start recognising talent - genuine talent - and giving it space to nurture and grow, I am afraid we will never have our Obama moment.

And quite separately, listening to Obama's speech gave me goosebumps. When was the last time any of our leaders has given such a stirring speech, outlining a vision for the country. The closest would be Rajiv Gandhi's speech at the Congress centenary celebrations in 1985, the famous one in which he lambasted the powerbrokers in the Congress. But that was a vision for the party. What about the nation?

I was also moved by John McCain's speech conceding defeat. How gracious and dignified. Again, when was the last time we saw such dignity in defeat in India? Leaders of parties that have lost promise to play a constructive opposition role and after that token statement, indulge in petty and absolutely graceless barbs.

We, as a nation, will have to address all this before we can have our own Obama moment.

Let's talk communal for a change

A wonderful piece in DNA.

R Jagannathan

Why does the emergence of terrorism in the Hindu fold come as no surprise to anybody? My answer: every community in India, at some level, has a sense of aversion or ambivalence towards the "other", whether that "other" is defined in religious, caste, racial or linguistic terms. We all know it, but pretend otherwise.

Raj Thackeray has Biharis, Hindus have Muslims or Christian as hate objects, secularists have their Sangh Parivar, the Marxists have their class enemies. Everyone has an "other" - real or imaginary foe - to fight with. Once we are sure there is no "other" within earshot, our true feelings emerge. Xenophobia, bigotry and insecurities emerge centre-stage.

We cannot be truly secular unless the unstated fears and insecurities of all our peoples are acknowledged and addressed. Once we let it all hang out, we can learn to be less communal, less sectarian. Bigotry thrives only when we fail to acknowledge our deepest worries and concerns, however unreal they may be.

If Muslims fear that their identity is going to be overwhelmed in a Hindu-majority India, let us acknowledge it. If Hindus are worried about conversions, let them say so without fear of ridicule. We can find ways to address these fears. Instead, what we have done is de-legitimise these concerns by branding it all as communal. This leaves the Sangh Parivar as the sole torch-bearer of Hindu concerns.

So how do we build a truly tolerant and secular society from here? I have four broad suggestions.

First, we should never accept any justification for violence by anybody. If Hindu extremists justify the Malegaon blasts as retribution for earlier acts of terror by Muslims, the latter can justify their handiwork as revenge for the post-Godhra massacres. Hindus can then talk about the Godhra train fire. There is only one way to end mindless violence - and that is by ignoring all rationalisations for it.

Second, we should abolish all politically-appointed commissions of inquiry and replace them with a permanent Truth Commission manned by people with impeccable personal credibility. Two enquiries were set up to look into the Godhra fire - one by Lalu Prasad and the other by Narendra Modi. Both gave out findings convenient to their political masters. If commissions have to have any credibility, they have to be citizen-oriented and depoliticised. A permanent Truth Commission that is charged with the responsibility of finding out the truth - and improving on it with more evidence - would be able to do this much better and with far less rancour.

Third, all histories must be recognised as partly true. Historians tend to think of history as their property. This is not simply true. Every history has a bias, and there are several ways of telling it. If histories are not told openly, they will be told subversively - feeding communalism. Just as there is a Marxist view of history, there can be Hindu and Muslim views. There can be Dalit and OBC views. There can be psychological and sociological renderings of history. In short, all history is a work-in-progress. History gets communalised when there is no space in it for alternative versions. The only way to decommunalise it is by giving partial legitimacy to all versions.

Fourth, all communities must take responsibility for violent elements in their midst. Hindus must deal with Hindu extremists and Muslims with Muslim ones. To keep saying "no Hindu/Muslim can be a terrorist" is a cop-out. It is also easy to take cover under motherhood statements like "Islam is a religion of peace" or that "Hinduism is the most tolerant" of faiths. There is no such thing as Islam or Hinduism outside the minds of the faithful. A violent Hindu makes Hinduism intolerant. Religions take on the hues of their believers. So it is we who make Hinduism or Islam tolerant or peaceable, not the religions themselves. No community can thus shirk its responsibility for people from their own faiths who turn violent. In the end, terror in the name of Hinduism can only be defeated by Hindus.