Wednesday, June 25, 2014

INDIA NEEDS A “JP” TODAY! by -Fr. Cedric Prakash sj* (25th June 2014)

-Fr. Cedric Prakash sj*

Midnight of June 25th / 26th 1975 surely ranks as one of the darkest chapters of any democracy, the world over. The state of emergency declared by the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi not only suspended civil liberties of the ordinary citizen but censored free speech and suspended elections in the country for an indefinite period.

There were several factors that led to the imposition of emergency; among them: growing dissent all over, a paralysing railway strike, court judgments declaring Indira’s election as null and void and very particularly mass mobilization of the people in Delhi and elsewhere protesting against an insensitive Government. A good part of the credit for the latter has to be given to one man Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) who on June 25th 1975 brought Delhi to a halt demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister and calling for a total revolution (‘sampoorna kraanti’) while insisting that the military and the police disobey any unconstitutional and immoral orders given by the Government.

In 1972, as a student of St. Xavier’s College (SXC), Mumbai I had the privilege of being one of the group of students to invite JP to SXC. This was a little before he went centre-stage.  JP challenged our young and open minds, he insisted that the youth of India should show undaunted courage and unflinching commitment on national issues. He had already begun a movement in Bihar in which he called for social transformation, but in a non-violent way. Later on, in 1974, together with VM Tarkunde, he founded ‘Citizens for Democracy’ and in 1976, he founded the ‘People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL). The main objective of both these organizations was to defend civil liberties. On June 5th, 1974, JP challenged a massive crowd at the Gandhi Maidan in Patna saying that “after 27 years of freedom, people of the country are wracked by hunger, rising prices, corruption…oppressed by every kind of injustice. We want a total revolution, nothing less than that”.

Today, 39 years after that ‘infamous’ emergency, we once again seem to live in those ‘dark times’ that JP lived in; any form of dissent, all forms of free speech are meticulously quelled - sometimes blatantly but mostly in subtle ways.  Recently in Kerala, a group of college students were arrested because they had the courage not to agree with the status quo. A secret IB report on civil society organizations was carefully ‘leaked’ from the PM’s Office lambasting NGOs and individuals who critiqued mega-projects; strangely enough, among the NGOs mentioned is the PUCL which was founded by JP. Muzzling voices of dissent seems to be the prime objective of the report.

Prices have risen as never before and the burden of the common man is expected to increase manifold times in the not-too-distant-future. At the same time, the corporate sector seems to be on a roll, when even the mandatory environment clearances are officially allowed to be by-passed. About the media, the less said the better: the very media that was screaming hoarse on issues that plagued the country a few months ago has now hidden itself in a cloud of silence on matters which are much worse. The obvious one-sidedness on some issues by some of the electronic media does not fool a perceptive citizen. Efforts are made in all quarters to tactfully sweep the sins and wrongs of the past, under the carpet. Should one rake them up, one will have to pay consequences. …and there is much more!

More than ever before, India needs a JP to wake her up from her stupor!

25th June, 2014

(*Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad-based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

Address: PRASHANT, Hill Nagar, Near Kamdhenu Hall, Drive-in Road, Ahmedabad - 380052
Phone: 79 27455913, 66522333   Fax:  79 27489018  

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Mihir S Sharma: Dying canaries

Miners carry caged canaries down into the mine tunnels with them. If dangerous gases such as methane or carbon monoxide leak into the mine, the gases kill the canary before killing the miners, thus providing a warning to exit the tunnels immediately. The piece below in today's Business Standard is a must-read for every nationalist Indian who does not want to be fooled by what government say. Interestingly, as Mihir points out, it was the overjoyed RSS that flagged what other media failed to draw our attention to in the Prime Minister's maiden speech to Parliament, when he spoke of "1,200 years of slavery" that is "troubling us", and sapping our strength and confidence. "The RSS' Organiser, overjoyed, correctly flagged this, the only really new and important part of the speech." 

Mihir S Sharma: Dying canaries
There are signs that govt's first priority is a particular social agenda, at whatever cost to cohesion and efficiency - the exact opposite of the claims it made when seeking election
New Delhi Jun 20, 2014

Any government should be allowed a few months to settle in. It wouldn't be wise to jump to conclusions on the basis of Narendra Modi's first weeks on the job; regardless of how long or how eagerly he's been waiting to move into 7, Race Course Road, the sheer bandwidth required if you want to control, and not delegate, must still have come as a surprise.

Still, you've got to keep your eyes and ears open. True, it isn't easy, especially given the lack of any real stories means you instead endure endless cringe-worthy stories about how hard the prime minister is working - patently unsourced, mostly, and indistinguishable from similar puff-pieces written about other media darlings such as, for example, the last finance minister. But, suppose one wants to look beyond that - to be that one intrepid coal miner out in front, carrying the canary in the cage. (Though many of us feel more like the canary.) Is that canary still alive? Are there any early warning signals out there?

Some worry about the wholesale replacement of governors and commission members, and the politicisation of such posts - but the truth is that the horse bolted long ago. It is too much to hope that men like H R Bhardwaj, for example, not be seen for what they are - Congress time-servers in sensitive jobs. Let's wait to see who Modi comes up with as replacements before condemning him for this.

I'm less sanguine about the news, reported in the Indian Express on Friday, that no bureaucrats in important positions in the last government can be appointed to major posts, even in another ministry, in this one. And odd sort of collective punishment - indeed, the single biggest step towards politicising the civil service since the Indira era. A civil servant who knows he will not achieve a major position if the Opposition comes to power is forced into partisanship. Perhaps that's what's intended, actually. In any case, unmitigated bad news.

Then there's the government's reported rejection of the nomination of the former solicitor-general, Gopal Subramaniam, to the Supreme Court. There are too few Supreme Court judges with recent experience as top-flight advocates; whatever the other merits of his appointment, Subramaniam would have remedied that. Sadly for him, he also had a bit of experience appearing as amicus curiae in the Gujarat fake encounter cases. Naturally, the Modi government has refused to sign on to his name. A pity.

After this news appeared in The Hindu on Thursday, there was silence from the government - but various newspapers the next day published "details" from a Central Bureau of Investigation report. The purpose of the leaks: to imply Subramaniam was rejected because of a supposed closeness to lobbyist Niira Radia. Really?

But the thing about this sordid episode I want to flag is this: nobody is discussing it on the record. It is an open secret in Delhi that the government has stopped talking to the media. Sure, the last administration was destroyed by inept media management above all. But it's particularly strange to imagine that less transparency is the same thing as good governance.

OK, I hear you ask, but are these questions of personnel really that relevant, or important? Even if not, a couple of other scents should worry us canaries. Signs that the government's first priority is a particular social agenda, at whatever cost to cohesion and efficiency - the exact opposite of the claims it made when seeking election.
Surely a new government should seek, for example, to avoid relighting - for petty ideological reasons - a long-buried dispute that threatened to split this country? But no. Within a few weeks, the emphasis on the official promotion and propagation of Hindi has become unmistakable. A mark of how important this is: it comes well before any announcement of economic reform.

This is insane. A generation in the South has just about begun to accept the idea that Hindi is not necessarily the language of an oppressor and now comes news that the Centre will insist on talking to most states in Hindi, and that it will primarily use Hindi on social media. A clumsy clarification issued on Friday that the policy did not intend to impose Hindi will have convinced nobody.

What could be the pay-off for these decisions except some vague Hindutvavadi commitment to destroying the imperialist language of English? Could Modi's government have so misread his mandate? Or have the rest of us misread it? Have we forgotten the costs, human and economic, of a lack of social cohesion in the 10 years of relative harmony that the UPA gave us?

This is not to say that the prime minister himself is necessarily to blame. He can't control everything, however much he may like to pretend otherwise. He himself has every right to speak in Hindi. There has been some mean-spirited and elitist commentary following his decision to use Hindi when speaking to foreign leaders. But it is both unfair and mistaken to portray Narendra Modi as unlettered or untutored. In fact, he is very well read in certain fields - in those books and writings which would be part of an intelligent life-long swayamsevak's library.

It is this that he was reflecting when, in his maiden speech to Parliament, he spoke of "1,200 years of slavery" that is "troubling us", and sapping our strength and confidence. The RSS' Organiser, overjoyed, correctly flagged this, the only really new and important part of the speech.

Under the old dispensation, it was 200 years; Modi Sarkar has already stretched victimhood back a millennium. (And we know who we were slaves to in that millennium, eh, nudge nudge wink wink say no more.) A true achievement - and one, at least, for which the prime minister himself is clearly responsible.

That canary may have survived everything else in the first weeks of this government. But the "1,200 years" reference will have killed the poor bird. Because it makes one thing very clear: the social agenda is not off the table in spite of the deluded wishful thinking of so many.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Let’s debate secularism, not rubbish it by Hasan Suroor (The Hindu -June 6th 2014)

Let’s debate secularism, not rubbish it


June 6, 2014
Updated: June 6, 2014 00:48 IST

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social issue

All that has happened is that a certain kind of secular politics has been rejected and it will be wrong to deduce from this that the idea of secular India itself has been rejected. Yet, this is how it is being interpreted

Now that the election dust has settled, it is perhaps a good time to have a sensible debate on secularism, especially around claims that it is an oddity in a deeply religious society such as India; and, even worse, a political trick to “privilege” minorities in exchange for their votes.
Thanks to relentless propaganda, a view that was once confined to the religious right (not to be confused with religiosity or genuine believers) has now started to creep in even into the liberal intellectual discourse. When the chips are down and morale is low it is easy to slip into a sort of Stockholm syndrome and start sympathising with the opponent’s viewpoint. The election results, hailed in certain circles as a victory for Hindu nationalism over “pseudo secularism,” appear to be having the same effect on some liberal voices.
There is a mood of despondency and defeatism as reflected in the distinguished social scientist Shiv Visvanathan’s critique in this paper recently. Explaining “How Modi defeated liberals like me,” (May 22, 2014), he approvingly quoted a colleague who told him, “You English speaking secularists have been utterly coercive, making the majority feel ashamed of what was natural.”
 The Indian brand of secularism never discouraged religiosity or the celebration of religion. 
“The Left intellectuals and their liberal siblings behaved as a club, snobbish about secularism, treating religion not as a way of life but as a superstition … By overemphasising secularism, they created an empty domain, a coercive milieu where ordinary people practising religion were seen as lesser orders of being,” he continued. Narendra Modi, he argued, “turned the tables by showing secularism ...was a hypocrisy, or was becoming a staged unfairness which treated minority violations as superior to majoritarian prejudices.”
Such an analysis, fairly widely prevalent in some liberal quarters, is flawed at many levels starting with the dig at “English speaking secularists.” The notion that a tiny, English speaking elite is trying to impose western values on hapless “natives” is not only factually incorrect, but also an insult to millions of ordinary Indians who are instinctively secular irrespective of their social/linguistic or educational backgrounds.
Secularism and religion

Language has nothing to do with one’s cultural beliefs. There are as many, if not more, Hindi/Urdu/Punjabi/Tamil/Malayalam/Telugu/Bengali-speaking people who are as secular as their English speaking peers. By the way, some of Mr. Modi’s staunchest supporters belong to the upwardly mobile English-speaking elite. What does that say about Hindu nationalism?
But there’s a more fundamental flaw in the “secularism-has-failed” theory, and it is the argument that secularism is alien to a society such as India where religion is a part of everyday life. Or that it is an assault on religion and equates religious faith with communalism. It is an old argument which I first heard as a schoolboy growing up in a conservative Muslim neighbourhood in Delhi. Muslims did not want to vote for the Left because they said that in the garb of secularism it wanted to bring in communist-style atheism. Yet, the mullahs had no compunction doing deals with the Congress in the name of secularism. It’s this kind of wheeling and dealing whereby the Congress rewarded certain community members with leadership roles and other perks in return for votes that corrupted secularism. It’s just as well that this nexus has been exposed. Secularism will be the better for it.
The fact is that the Indian brand of secularism never discouraged religiosity or the celebration of religion. Not even in communist-ruled States like West Bengal and Kerala where secularism happily coexisted with religious beliefs and indeed their celebration. If anything, the Indian state has been guilty of “doing” too much religion and promoting a culture of competitive religiosity. India must be the only secular country in the world to have so many religious holidays. Its political leaders (from the President down), celebrities and the media all openly celebrate religious festivals and there are more places of worship in the country than worshippers.
Minority disillusionment

In which other country will you find main thoroughfares closed for hours because one religious group or the other is taking out a procession? Religion is so much in one’s face in India that it is impossible to escape it. Does it remotely seem like a country where people feel “ashamed” or “embarrassed” about their religion?
Another fallacious argument is that, somehow, secularism legitimised minority communalism or, in Prof Visvanathan’s words, “treated minority violations as superior to majoritarian prejudices.”
All over the world, the behaviour of the dominant group is invariably under greater scrutiny than that of smaller groups. Thus, in the West while white racism is always in the news, non-white racism doesn’t get the same attention. In Britain for example, Dalits have been complaining for years about discrimination at the hands of high-caste Hindus but it is only recently that the government has woken up to it. The issue was ignored all these years because it related to an ethnic minority group. None of this of course justifies any soft-pedalling of minority communalism. I have always been as critical of Muslim communalism as of anti-Muslim Hindu prejudices.
Admittedly, there is a lot that has gone wrong with secularism in India, and nothing illustrates it better than the fact that even minorities, especially Muslims, are deeply disillusioned and see themselves as its victims. The ignominy they heaped on the Congress and its secular allies reflects the depth of their anger. But is this a valid basis for saying that secularism doesn’t suit India, and dismissing it as an elitist conspiracy against religion? To do that will be to succumb to right-wing triumphalists to whom secularism has always been an anathema.
Analysing the backlash

All that has happened is that a certain kind of secular politics has been rejected and it will be wrong to deduce from this that the idea of secular India itself has been rejected. Yet, this is how it is being interpreted. There’s a lot of chest-beating going on with some liberals effectively raising the white flag as if conceding that their idea of a secular, multicultural and inclusive India deserved to be defeated by Mr. Modi’s alternative — supposedly superior — vision. And this when we don’t have a clue as to what his idea of India is beyond fuzzy claims of “genuine” secularism.
In effect, this amounts to unquestionably accepting what Hindu nationalists have been saying all these years — namely, that secularism is a liberal plot to appease minorities and build up a minority vote bank. For well-intentioned secularists to echo this argument sounds sadly like negating the values which inspired the post-independence national consensus around the so-called Nehruvian idea of India.
No doubt, honest self-introspection is important and there needs to be a serious debate over the causes of the punishing backlash that the liberal/secular establishment has suffered in the election. But we can do without self-flagellation.
I am reminded of what the progressive Urdu poet Asrar-ul-Haque Majaz wrote while reflecting on his rather chaotic personal life and the failures he endured. In one of his most memorable poems, he vowed never to succumb to defeatism saying, “Ba-een sail-e-gham-o-sail-e-hawadis; mera sar hai ki ab bhi kham nahin hai” (despite all the setbacks my head remains unbent).
If Majaz were alive today, he would have had something sharp to say about the pessimistic tone of the current liberal mood marked by cringing mea culpas and sighs of despair verging almost on throwing in the towel. By all means let’s debate where we went wrong and learn from the mistakes that have been made and abuses that have been committed in the name of secularism. But, in Majaz’s words, beware of defeatism.
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Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Bigoted accusations against Fr. Cedric Prakash condemned by Indian Americans

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Indian American Muslim Council
Bigoted accusations against Fr. Cedric Prakash condemned by Indian Americans
Goa Chief Minister in a smear campaign against the stalwart of secular voices in India
June 02, 2014
The Indian American Muslim Council (IAMC -, an advocacy group dedicated to safeguarding India's pluralist and tolerant ethos, has strongly condemned Goa Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar's recent accusations on Fr. Cedric Prakash. Speaking at a press briefing recently, Mr. Parrikar reportedly accused Fr. Prakash of spreading "religious discontent" in Goa ahead of the general elections, and equated the renowned human rights advocate with Pramod Muthalik, the notorious head of militant Hindu nationalist organization Sri Ram Sena.
Fr. Cedric Prakash is a Jesuit Priest and founder director of Ahmedabad based Prashant, an organization dedicated to advancement of human rights and social justice. He is a recipient of numerous national and international awards, including the Kabir Puraskar awarded by the President of India in 1995 for the promotion of Communal Peace and Harmony, and Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the President of the French Republic in July 2006 for life time commitment to the defense and the promotion of Human Rights in India.
Rejecting the Chief Minister's remarks as baseless and inflammatory, Mr. Ahsan Khan, President of IAMC, said,"The comparison of a renowned human rights advocate to an anti-minority militant like Pramod Muthalik is reflective of a dangerous blend of shallowness and bigotry. Coming from the Chief Minister of a state, these remarks are indicative of the culture of intimidation that the supremacist ideology of Hindutva has engendered whenever it has held the reins of power." As the head of militant Sri Ram Sene, Mr. Muthalik, has repeatedly called upon Hindus to arm themselves and has used violence against innocent citizens. "Fr. Prakash has been a stalwart of secular voices, a tireless force for good and a bulwark of moral strength to the Indian society. In comparing Fr. Prakash to Mr. Muthalik, the Chief Minister has only exhibited his own indifference to Fr. Prakash's notable work towards advancement of peace, social justice and human rights in India", Mr. Khan added.
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