Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Scalping of Daljeet Kohli: A Silly and Wasted Effort
In December 1997, this writer had gone to interview Pranab Mukherjee, then an ordinary MP of the Congress Party. The news of a Congressman, Rangarajan Kumaramangalam, joining the Bharatiya Janata Party had broken just an hour earlier. When I mentioned this to Mukherjee, he burst out with an incredulous look on his face: `Mohan-da’s son joining the BJP? How is that possible?’ 
For those who don’t know, Rangarajan (popularly known as Ranga) was the son of Mohan Kumaramangalam, a leading light of the Communist Party of India who joined the Congress in 1967 and became an integral part of Indira Gandhi’s leftist band. He had died in 1973 and so was spared headlines similar to those playing out a day after Manmohan Singh’s half-brother joined the BJP.
Mukherjee’s reaction to Ranga jumping parties and the current buzz over Singh’s brother shows one thing will never change in this country – the typical Indian refusal to see an individual and his or her choices outside of the family context.
Mukherjee’s reaction was not to a Congressman switching sides, but to a left-wing Mohan-da’s son joining a right-wing party. Daljeet Singh Kohli was just another businessman, whose decision to join a party would have been a `non-event’, as finance minister P. Chidambaram quite rightly put it. The only reason the BJP made his entry into its ranks a huge spectacle was his relationship with Manmohan Singh.
Modi’s reported statement on the occasion – `Dr Manmohan Singh’s brother has joined the BJP and this will add to our strength’ – reflects poorly, not on Singh and the Congress, but on himself. Is the BJP in such a bad shape that it requires the entry of a little-known brother of a man whom its leaders have never ceased to mock as the weakest-ever Prime Minister to give it strength? Does a party which is supposedly riding to victory on a Modi wave have to resort to such gimmickry?
Even as a political strategy – to show that everyone from the party to the family is abandoning Singh – it doesn’t make sense. It would have, if Singh was standing for elections and was prime ministerial candidate. He is not; he will retire from active politics and perhaps go into oblivion after his Rajya Sabha term is over. So what is to be achieved by `embarrassing’ him? It will only give a Congress which has already abandoned him a chance to say in private – see, we were right to junk him.
By the way, the Congress too has not shied away from splitting families on political lines, the most famous example being of the Scindia family, where Madhavrao was wooed into the Congress fold, deeply hurting his mother, Vijayaraje Scindia. So let the party not take a moral high ground on the Kohli affair.
The way the media has reported this is also a comment on its intellectual bankruptcy. Why should Kohli joining the BJP be an `embarrassment’ for Singh? Why is one brother said to have `deserted’ another?  Why is this a `psychological boost’ for the BJP? Didn’t the person writing this – and the editors clearing the copy – stop for a moment and think of the inherent contradiction between stories of a BJP on a high and requiring Kohli, of all people, as a psychological boost? Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this is Chidambaram being asked about it at a press conference where he was rubbishing Gujarat’s economic model. Shouldn’t the questions have focused on pinning him down on the UPA’s shaky economic performance, instead?
This is not the first time the media has tried to put Singh in a spot over the political leanings of his family members. The fact that his youngest daughter was working for a human rights organization in the Untied States criticizing the government’s counter-terrorism drive after 9/11 was, we were told, certain to embarrass him and affect his equation with the Bush administration. Didn’t it occur to anyone that this would be a non-issue in a culture which celebrates individualism and will not hold family members accountable for each other’s opinions and ideological leanings?
But why this obsession with family at all?
Why is Karuna Shukla quitting the BJP not about a senior party leader being sidelined but about Atal Behari Vajpayee’s niece on being ignored? If she were not Vajpayee’s niece would it have been alright for her to be ignored? Kohli too brings in the family angle. He says he joined the BJP because he was unhappy with the way the Congress treated his brother. So there is no ideological affinity with the party. (The irony of joining a party which has repeatedly mocked his brother in rather insulting terms is probably lost on him.)
Individuals can make choices that are different from that of their families. They are doing that all the time. They break away from the traditional occupations of their families and pursue their own paths. Children rebel against parents. Siblings take different paths. Families break up permanently with a lot of bitterness. And family members may even have irreconcilable ideological differences.
What’s more, this is quite common in Indian politics. Mohan Kumaramangalam’s father, P Subbarayan, who was a Congress leader, was supposed to have cried when his son became a communist. Subbarayan’s daughter, Parvati Krishnan, was also a member of the CPI. Ranga’s sister is in the BJP while his son has joined the Congress.
There are examples galore of families with members in different parties (apart from the Gandhi bahus, of course). Anil Shastri, son of Lal Bahadur Shastri, is in the Congress, while another son, Sunil, was with the BJP for several years before returning to the Congress, and a third son’s widow, Neera, is still with the BJP. One grandson, Siddharth Nath Singh, is in the BJP and another, Adarsh Shastri, has joined the Aam Aadmi Party. Noted lawyer, the late L.M Singhvi was in the BJP and his son Abhishek Manu Singhvi is a leading light of the Congress and was so even when his father was alive. Digvijaya Singh’s brother, Lakshaman Singh, quit the Congress for the BJP where he remained for 10 years before returning after a vituperative personal comment about his brother by Nitin Gadkari.
The ordinary public is quite aware of these differences in political families and their only reaction is one of amusement or cynical taunts about these families having ensured that they will benefit regardless of which party is in power.
How will they view the BJP holding up Kohli as a kind of trophy? There will be a few more jokes about Singh (mostly from die-hard BJP and Gandhi family supporters), some more about Kohli, but many more about the BJP. Is Kohli all that they could get, people are already sniggering. But mostly people will shrug it off. Singh is not even on their radar. That’s why the scalping of Kohli makes no sense at all.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Why Left’s intellectual bullying won’t work any more

`We cannot so easily hand over a good writer to the Modi camp, not without a fight. . .’
Those are the words of S Anand, founder-publisher of Navayana, in an interview with Business Standard.  Navayana is the publishing house that withdrew an agreement to publish the translation of a novel by noted Tamil author Joe D’Cruz because he praised Narendra Modi.
So, the intellectual world’s worst-kept secret is out. Writers and artists belong to `camps’. They don’t inhabit the free, boundary-less world of ideas where, yes, there are rightist and leftist slants, but only to give an edge to debates. Those belonging to one ideologically-rigid camp will not tolerate one of their members being tolerant of, or agreeing with, the other. Anybody doing that will be found guilty of apostasy and be bullied back into the fold. So, contracts will be reneged on, books and articles will not be published, and opprobrium will be heaped on the renegade. And if that fails, they will be blackballed.
What else is Navayana’s action, and the words Anand has used in the interview, other than bullying? `We genuinely hope and believe Joe will eventually reconsider his views, which have drawn flak in Tamil literary and political spheres’. The implication is clear - the publication of the book (perhaps with another translator) will depend on D’Cruz revising his views on Modi, or at least publicly saying so.
Even when he is admitting that Navayana’s action may have been a bit haste, Anand cleverly shifts the blame on D’Cruz, accusing the latter of airing his support for Modi after signing the contract because he sensed the translator and Navayana would not have come on board otherwise. As writer Mukul Kesavan (who can by no stretch of imagination be called a Modi sympathiser), asks very aptly in this piece in The Telegraph, what if D’Cruz had aired his views after the book was published – `would Navayana have physically withdrawn the book and pulped it? Stacked the copies up and burnt them?’ He adds: `just to ask the question is to know the answer: of course not.’ Maybe he is right, but that scenario is not entirely beyond belief or possibility.
The D’Cruz affair has shattered another myth - the left-of-centre intellectual brigade’s sanctimonious pretence that it is the sole defender of intellectual freedom against the right-wing - specifically the Hindu right-wing – ravagers of this space.
The intellectual terrorism of the oxymoronic left-liberal brigade has actually been the elephant in the room for very long. Navayana’s immature action and rationalisation has only brought into the open what has always been done silently and in a very sophisticated manner. The rabid right-wing has very stupidly got books, plays and art exhibitions banned, physically attacked independent writers and artists and vandalised buildings and very rightly attracted public revulsion for itself and sympathy for the objects of its attack.
The left clique, in contrast, has for decades labelled people who hold positions diametrically opposite to it – American agents, World Bank-IMF stooges,  corporate apologists, pro-establishment, Hindutva types, and, lately, sanghis – and banished them to intellectual and academic Coventry, far  more effectively and without any taint of censorship being attached to it. 
Sometimes, it has not been silent. There have been occasions when an award or a official post being given to someone perceived to be a right-winger, or supported by a right-winger, or simply opposed by a left-winger or two on some selection committee has been openly and hysterically attacked. Let us not forget how, through the sixties and seventies and even part of the eighties, universities and academic institutions were systematically packed with left-leaning academics and right-leaning ones effectively sidelined.
If D’Cruz hadn’t gone public with what happened, his would have been yet another unnoticed case of successful gagging of non-left voices. Anand sounds peeved that the author `chose to speak to the media before he responded to my and Geetha’s [the translator of D’Cruz’s novel] emails or calls’. Is that a grouse that D’Cruz didn’t give them space for intellectual intimidation?
Can you imagine the outrage that would have ensued if a publisher with a right-of-centre ideological bent had dared do what Navayana did to an author who criticised Modi or wrote something that would have got khakhi knickers all a-twist? The muted criticism of Navayana is almost akin to deafening silence, in contrast.
Instead, there are too-clever-by-half attempts at sophistry, drawing distinctions between right wing and left wing intimidation.  What happened to Wendy Doniger’s book was censorship, we are told; this is only a publisher exercising his right to freedom to publish only certain kinds of authors. So, here is a publisher saying his decision to publish a book will be determined not by its contents but by the political views of its author. That’s not censorship? Anand is not a left-wing Dinanath Batra, the self-appointed guardian of Hindu history? Seriously?
For far too long had the right-of-centre band (the economic and social/cultural liberals as well as the conservatives) been edged out of the public discourse space by the left-of-centre cabal. But they are beginning to challenge this mafia and reclaim their place. They will not be intimidated any more by either whispered calumny or open taunts, by social or intellectual ostracism or by allegations that they have struck cosy deals with the New Establishment. Their resolve to fight back will not be weakened by broad hints that their freedom is short-lived and dependent on their not criticising the New Establishment. If and when they face attacks from this New Establishment, they will not go running into the arms of the self-appointed Sole Upholders of Liberal Values and beg to be forgiven for their transgressions and be taken back into a left-leaning world.
Joe D’Cruz has shown the way by standing up. The country needs more of his kind.