India's 2009 Election
The Ritual of New Beginnings, and the Sameness of Contentions.
Hear the voice of the Bard,
Who past, present, future sees.
When you think of it, there are few things as arbitrary as the naming of time.
Such naming, indeed, might be seen as the first gesture that the homo sapien made towards ordering Time into History.
Thus a new New Year is upon the world, a marker no doubt contested by cultures other than the Gregorian whose beginnings and ends fall elsewhere among the seasons, depending on whether they privilege the sun or the moon.
But till such time as a "new heaven and a new earth" fructify, the Dollar and the Gregorian fashion our weltanshuuang.
In India a general election to parliament is due early next year, and different Indians must desire to see different things happen.
India's power-elite will hope that Indian democracy finally (sic) matures into a suitably de-politicised two-party system, limiting electoral choice to the preferred agendas of the rich and the famous. In other words, a tweedledum and a tweedledee who may often be heard to be fiercely at loggerheads but, at bottom, doing one and the same thing.
However they come by their own riches, they will also want their politicians to be "morally above-board"; and, if not, then to be dislodged by a conglomerate of CEOs and upright military men who may conjointly multiply wealth and protect it from the marauders, both of the indigenous and the invasive kind. And they will want to decapitate "terrorism" at one fell blow through improved technology and canny management. If not, then by the war to end all wars.
And they will hope that the bulk of the labouring sort will learn to know and keep their place, and serve the "national interest" with pride and dedication.
Other Indians of an intermediate variety will hope that their time has come, coterminously with the decline and fall of the Congress and the Bharti Janata Party (BJP). They will look to exploiting creative instabilities and remain undeterred by the empty rhetoric of propertied, high-caste righteousness.
And among them, hoping against hope, India's Left parties will want to see something of Latin America float over the waves to New Delhi, as neo-liberal market-fundamentalism breathes its last. Even as many literate Indians will also hope that the educated turf wars among various sections of the Indian Left will yield to more united recognitions that their chief adversaries lie elsewhere.
In the midst of all that, many well-wishers of Indian democracy will wish to see democracy leap from out the ballot box into the resistant prisons of Indian habits of mind—indeed, one might say, into the ancien regime of changeless hierarchies and received wisdoms.
So that before another sixty years are past, electoral mandates, in addition to spawning new governments, may also spawn a greater willingness to jettison privilege and yield to common citizenship and equality before the laws of the land. Including of those who make the laws and pronounce upon them.
Recent elections to some Indian state legislatures also suggest that working people at large will wish to see religion confined to holy places, like the privacy of the self, the perimeter of the household, and the unobstrusive temple, mosque or church, and spared the profanity of the blaring loud speaker. So that free will is exercised more freely and benignly in matters temporal, such as touch the lives of those preponderant millions whom religious strife in the public sphere promises only untold misery. Often of the so bloody kind.
Which is not to say that there will not be other Indians hoping that exactly contrary things happen. Among them an even greater displacement of livelihood issues by passions about social and religious identity.
And that can mean an unsurprising convergence of agendas from ostensibly opposite ends of the organized social and political spectrum.
If Indian corporates and right-wing Hindutva ideologues will wish for a victory for the BJP, so will the Jihadists. Birds of a feather, truly.
And the latter will further wish that the honourable Jaswant Singh once again takes over the foreign office under a BJP-led coalition, a position he held during the NDA regime between 1998 and 2004.
Think that while the poor Mr.Antulay, minister for minority affairs under present dispensation, was expressing some tactless suspicions with regard to the death of the erstwhile head of the Mumbai Anti Terrorism Squad (ATS), and seeking an enquiry into the circumstances of his shooting, Mr.Jaswant Singh of the BJP was saying that he stood by the correctness of the NDA decision to swap dreaded terrorists for hostages when IC 814 was hijacked to Kandhar.
And who were the redoubtable worthies chaperoned personally by Jaswant Ji to Kandhar? Masood Azhar—source of most of Jihadi Indian troubles since then—Omar Sheikh, and Ahmad Zargar. Funnily, you might say, having reached them home safely, India now wants them back, and no one more stridently than the very people who reached them back home.
Round and round the Jihadi bush gives many people a lot to do.
But, wait, he (Jaswant) was further saying that "I will do the same thing if such a situation arises in the future" (Dec.,18 statement made to a TV channel).
So, for two straightforwardly excellent reasons the Jihadists will want the BJP back in power since such a return might promise a renewed communalization of the Indian polity, a circumstance that offers scope for Jihadist intervention; and, secondly, Mr.Jaswant Singh's reinstallation, since that clears the ground for more hijacks and more swaps, and by his own admission Indeed, as one columnist has recently pointed out, were he now in the saddle, a hijack might have been called for to get the lone Mumbai attacker in custody out again! (see Neena Vyas, "A Tale of Two Statements", The Hindu, Dec.,25)
As to Mr.Antulay, I fear much that 2009 might judge his faux pas more kindly than the current right-wing hype allows, although even now many, both within his own party and among other parties, have seen logic to his anxiety.
This is how I read what Antulay was saying: dear countrymen, do understand the enormity of the significance that secular Indians, most especially Muslim Indians, attach to the Malegaon probe in which, under the late Karkare's upright investigative endeavours, serving and retired army personnel and college professors, all with Hindu names, besides a saffron-donning sadhu and sadhvi have been found to have been involved in terrorist activity.
Considering that never thus far have state agencies worked up the will to nab culprits brazenly guilty of anti-Muslim pogroms, this one circumstance brought some assurance to Muslims that the Indian state might after all see its way to non-discriminatory investigation and law-enforcement, placing its boast of secularism on more credible ground than heretofore.
Consider also that Hemant Karkare had been receiving death-threats during the progress of the Malegaon probe which was beginning to throw up right-wing Hindutva culpabilities in a clutch of other episodes of terrorism, that while he was about it Karkare was being openly vilified by right-wing Hindutva organizations and individuals, and that the news of his violent death led to shameless celebrations in those same quarters—consider all that and you would know why his sudden and sure death in the very early part of the Mumbai attack might have crushed the hopes of many, and induced suspicions of a plausible kind.
In that sort of context, Antulay, who never questioned the fact that Karkare was actually shot by the terrorists who invaded Mumbai, was making the plea that an enquiry could help to clear up pretty widespread misgivings.
After all, the Kennedy assassination was similarly questioned, and rightly probed by sundry state agencies, including, most famously, the Warren Commission. Although, notwithstanding those exertions, we still can't be sure who wanted Kennedy dead.
While the BJP and allied Hindutva organizations continue to bay for Antulay's blood, I dare say that 2008 will not see an end to this seminal controversy.
Just as Antulay's understandable concern has all these weeks eclipsed the enormity of the Jaswant Singh position on terrorism—thanks in large part to a complicit media—it has also prevented many from noticing how the BJP's own secular ally, the Janata Dal (U) has now sought to extend the scope of Antulay's skepticism.
A much-respected senior leader of the JD(U), Shivanand Tiwari, has sought the removal of K.P.Raghuvanshi, the late Karkare's successor as head of ATS.
And this for two reasons that must have weighed also not just in the Antulay mind but among the wider secular polity:
One, Raghuvanshi "had publicly admitted on November 11 this year to have invited Purohit (the serving army colonel thought thus far to be the king-pin of the Malegaon killings) to the ATS headquarters during his earlier tenure";
And "Tiwari said that when the probe into the Malegaon blasts began during Raghuvanshi's tenure, Muslims were viewed with suspicion and rounded up. He said that it was after Karkare took over that the involvement of Pragya Singh Thakur, Purohit and others in the blasts were unearthed" (see Hindustan Times, Dec.,24,'08)
Imagine Antulay saying all that; india's TV channels would have been up in arms, screaming "off with his head."
But now that such apprehensions have been voiced not by a Muslim Indian but a secular-Hindu leader whose party runs the government in Bihar alongwith the BJP, Antulay's misdemeanour must rather pale and seem more cogent than it has tended to be seen, including by some forward-looking and famous secular-Muslim Indians.
Clearly, we have not heard the last of this; and 2009 could be decisively shaped by how these matters, especially the Malegaon probe and attendant right-wing Hindutva terrorist involvements (Nanded, Jhalna, Purbani, Ajmer and others) are conducted by the state.
Then there is the all-important poser with respect to what happens between India and Pakistan.
Without question, the Mumbai attack has put India's ruling classes in a bind which they will strive to break even at considerable cost. And the cost will depend on which among the many Pakistans emerges triumphant in the near term—the elected government, its peace-loving civil society and polity, or the Army and the ISI. Easier speculated than prophesied.
Especially when it is remembered that the American stakes in the region are equally riven, needing the Pakistan army to remain loyally engaged on the Afghan front, but also obliged to assure India that it means business on the question of seeking a termination of terrorist outfits and training camps that remain geared to inflicting mayhem on India, without much leverage on Pakistan to ensure that this agenda is realized, given its global concerns.
On its own, having provoked Pakistan to show its nuclear hand after the proud Pokhran II blasts in 1998 (trumpeted to this day by the BJP as the high point of NDA rule) India may no longer be in any position to resort to a conventional-war option. All of which makes for a 2009 that could actually worsen enormously should the Obama surge idea in Afghanistan take place.
And in the middle of all that the real prospects of an economy in recession.
Some 77% Indians who subsist on less than fifty cents a day will wonder how many meals—for want of another term—they might actually manage in a working week.
And should the many social schemes dry up for want of state funds, what might then result: proliferating instances of bread and butter related crimes, or more organized and collectivized expressions of disaffection? Who knows?
Nor must it be forgotten that precisely such conjunctions—receding economy, burgeoning lack of employment, a failing parliament and party political system, provocations of external threat, supplemented by homegrown jingoism—make the breeding ground of recourses to authoritarian/fascist "alternatives," as war and "national identity" are spruced up to deliver the undeliverable.
And how might the Obama presidency bear on all this? Will 2009 see some material realignments among nations and regions towards a more balanced and benign world order, or will it be more of the same, albeit modulated with a grammatically wholesome American presidency?
Will the fallen corporate icons bear with their abject fallenness, or will they seek redress in gruesome ways worldwide, bolstered by a Pentagon that could volunteer for the rescue? Not unheard of, exactly. And will then China and Russia stand by, or feel obliged to demonstrate something of their manhood as well?
And what will be the pace at which mother Nature deteriorates? Or the pace at which replenishments are furnished by the human species? All up for grabs for now.
So, compadres, breathe what clean air you can, make every effort on behalf of peace and sanity, build what dykes of brotherhood and sisterhood you may, shame the greedy predators and the shameless warmongers, institute poetry where the pulpit is, so that the beast is held back from slouching towards Bethlehem. Meanwhile, does Jesus look on this Christmas and not take a part?
We may not have a whole lot of time. Have I ever been this somber before? No.
Am I growing old? Yes.
Pinter, why didst thou go? The world hast need of thee, and the likes of thee.