It so happened that I was in Ahmedabad and met with a foreign correspondent who had come to cover the impact of Narendra Modi’s leadership on vibrant Gujarat. He had visited rural areas and had been to the Kutch region. After exchanging notes, as journalists do, he asked me if I knew a doctor who was an “eye and ear specialist”. Puzzled by the question, I asked him whether he meant an ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialist, as he appeared to be tormented by cold and cough. He said, no, he was looking for an eye and ear specialist. I said I don’t think there is such a specialist anywhere. But why this odd search at all?
He paused a little and with a snigger on his face said, “Well, I have been hearing a lot about the great development that has taken place in Gujarat, but I can hardly see any impact in the rural areas of the state. So it’s obvious that my eyes can’t see what I hear so loudly. Then it must be a strange ailment of eye and ear disequilibrium. Or else I would have both seen and heard the vibrations that this great man Modi has brought to his state.”
But then I realised that I too had suffered from this ailment in Modi’s Gujarat. That set me thinking about the possible parliamentary chaos that we are going to experience next month. Modi and the BJP claim that now he is a well-established national leader, of the stature of Vallabhbhai Patel. (Not Nehru please, because Nehru was a pseudo-leader who had usurped the stature which legitimately belonged to Patel). The foreign correspondent had visited the site for the Patel statue. He wondered how the huge cost of erecting the monument would develop the state or improve the quality of life of the people. But then, it was necessary for the Gujarati ego, masquerading as proud Gujarati identity.
This politics of identity-mongering has now gone too far and can actually endanger the delicate fabric of national unity, integrity and sovereignty. Jayalalitha, who is almost equally egocentric and autocratic, could erect a huge monument for Annadurai, to celebrate Tamil identity. it could be raised at the opposite end of the Vivekananda Rock memorial at Kanyakumari, and could be larger than Patel. That would be justified too, because Gujarat has only 26 Lok Sabha seats, Tamil Nadu has 39. If Jayalalitha sweeps the poll and wins all 39, or even 30 seats, that would be 4-13 more seats than Modi, even if he wins all 26 in his state.
Similarly, either Jagan Reddy or Chandrababu Naidu can fan the fires of the injured Telugu people to convert them into Telugu Rashtram, with someone ready to sacrifice his life in yet another fast unto death, a sort of sequel to the Potti Sriramalu martyrdom which led to the formation of Andhra Pradesh. Now it can be Andhra Rashtra. They can have a vastly larger-than-life memorial of either Akkineni Nageshwara Rao or N.T. Rama Rao, the rebel rabble-rouser who gave the Telugu identity that lustre and paved the way for the present Babushka-like leaders from the state.
The list is endless. Mayawati has already set a record of sorts of her statues and her brand of Dalit identity spanning all of Uttar Pradesh. Naveen Patnaik can evoke the memories of the legendary Biju Patnaik to further the Orissa identity cause. From Punjab to Gorkhaland, from Mizoram to J&K, everyone has identities and related grievances. And they may translate these grievances by seeking “financial packages”. But what they are actually seeking is greater and greater autonomy.
Cutout of the coming Patel statue, Ahmedabad. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 07 April 2014)
If in each state, some or other regional party or combination wins far more seats than the Congress and in the name of neo-federalism, the BJP supports a greater role for the Chouhans, Raman Singhs and Vasundhararajes of this world, then even Modi will be reduced to the status of leader of Gujarat, more satrap than the pan-India figure he wants to be. Indeed, any journalist or opinion pollster who has travelled across the country will have noticed that despite the impressive all-India ratings, Modi fails to score in the south, in the east, and in the Northeast. His claimed descent on the north, in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, is like a walk on water. The volatility and the internecine caste conflicts in these states may appear to have vanished, but politics of opinion polls cannot wish away the sociological reality—for that is determined not by ‘Modi mania’ but by production relations and the caste-community matrix. Even if the opinion polls are proved right and the BJP wins 40-plus seats in UP and 20-plus in Bihar, socioeconomic explosions will ensue. They cannot be “managed” by the development mantra or by the so-called Modi magic.
The rise of the regional parties and community satraps are not always a reflection of the local bourgeoisie (as against the domination of the national bourgeoisie). The oft-quoted crony capitalism grows more in the states/regions than at the pan-India level. This is because the cronies can “manage” the state politicians and governments more easily. The local mafia too is a product of the state-level crony capitalism. At the state level, the mafia and the police can work in perfect tandem. In the so-called neo-federalism, this is what will happen. In fact, it has started happening already and that is why this explosive rise of the state parties, parading themselves as the Federal Front. It is a parody of Marxism that the Left has begun to endorse the Federal Front in the name of anti-Congressism. This project of anti-Congressism of Ram Manohar Lohia in the 1960s is made to look like some advanced political philosophy, while actually it is a cover for lumpenisation grown at the state level.
The Federal Front (or whatever it morphs into, without changing the content of their politics) is essentially against the Idea of India. While the idea of India celebrates unity in diversity, this federalism leads to disunity by overemphasising diversity. The argument that “state leadership” must be allowed to flourish is in reality a euphemism for allowing local warlords to spread their tentacles, which in turn can threaten our very national identity and unity.
The Soviet Union was a multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-racial, multi- lingual country. The moment all those identities acquired chauvinist and aggressive agendas, violence was inevitable. The question here is not whether the Soviet state was good or bad, the issue we are discussing is the moment one starts granting sovereign status to all identities, all hell breaks loose.
Then it’s not just Hindus versus Muslims, then it is one caste against another, one language vs another, one class against another and then a free for all. Neither police, nor military, nor any “decisive leader” can bring the chaos under control. Because it can even be police vs military. The naive military and police brass which is joining the BJP with the hope of bringing “governance” to the country will soon realise that governance is not a law and order subject. It is not by strong diktats and decisive leadership but by politics that one can overcome antagonistic contradictions in society.
One can’t end corruption just with anti-corruption legislation or Lokpals or still stronger Jan Lokpals. Politics is a complex process, in which communication and accommodation, different opinions and perspectives, conflicting vested interests and personal ambitions, caste identities and individual egos, ideologies and ideals, people’s aspirations and hopes, rational or irrational have to be dealt with.
Politics is also sociology and psychology, not just ideology. But without the ideology of social good and inclusiveness, without some altruism and ideals, the invisible and abstract system will not work. Naked pragmatism or brazen governance will fail miserably. That is why the fascistic style of governance will fail just as the so-called authoritarian Communist model proves to be a disaster. Nazi Germany ruined itself, devastated its people and the Fuhrer shot himself. The Soviet Union disintegrated and the ideology and ideals of socialism got condemned.
It was Nehruvianism which kept the Idea of India together. In the name of reckless anti-Congressism, we are destroying the republic, built with effort and ideology by Pandit Nehru, Dr Ambedkar, Vallabhbhai Patel et al, who were all inspired by Gandhian ideals and secular, republican ideas which facilitated the backward castes coming into the mainstream and multi-cultural identities coexisting.
This election will decide whether we will destroy ourselves, the German way or the Soviet way. But there is an alternative, that of Gandhiji in conjunction with Nehru and Ambedkar—a legacy which is under threat.
Veteran journalist Kumar Ketkar covered the collapse of the Soviet Union for the Business and Political Observer
Kumar Ketkar suffers not from ‘eye and ear disequilibrium’ but from a jaundiced sight which makes him see red in everything not Congress (A Loose Argument of Statues with Big Egos, Apr 7). Why else would he dilute a perfectly valid case against the culture of erecting giant statues by starting off with a story about some foreign correspondent (and as he/she remains unnamed, one can’t be sure of its veracity either) and his/her Gujarat experience? And equating Sardar Patel with some eminent but regional leaders is really not on, neither is his glossing over the fact that the Congress does not lag in deification of its leaders, albeit by use of simpler means—naming welfare schemes after them.
Sandip K. Pitty, on e-mail
Ketkar’s analysis is, most often, spot on and he has not disappointed this time either. The growth of regionalism in recent times, with state leaders behaving like rajas and ranis—the country be damned— is not a good sign.
S.L.J. Gallyot, on e-mail
What was Ketkar trying to convey? He is comparing the ussr, Chechnya, Hitler et al, but with whom? Also, in his tale of statues, he forgot his home state Maharashtra where every scheme is in the name of Shivaji or Ambedkar and there’s a fight going on over erecting a giant cast of, who else, Shivaji out in the Arabian Sea. A useless article and a waste of space.
Keshav Kumar Prasad, Pune
Having witnessed the disintegration of the ussr first-hand, Ketkar is well-equipped to warn the nation about the dangers of hyper-federalism and authoritarian tendencies. The Nehruvian idea of India which includes every citizen without discrimination of any kind is what has held us together so far in spite of India’s diversities and differences. I only wish the young of India and the crores of first-time voters will have the wisdom to grasp this inclusive idea of India, unlike some of our naive, retired generals.
K.P. Luke Vydhian, Bangalore
It is the Congress which needs to learn the most from this story for it is they who have overlooked Nehru’s Middle Path. No use lamenting now.
Ashok Mathur, Delhi
You can see poverty in Gujarat too but just travel in UP to see the difference—mile after mile of slums, broken roads, obsolete industry and general chaos. And there are 200 million people in this state. The fact is, it is those states that are more politically coherent which have improved (however limited the case may be). PS: who are these strange journalists sneering at the legitimate aspirations of the average Indian. Upper-class twits? And what’s with the pejorative ‘state satraps’? Is this the Dilli durbar speaking?
M.K. Saini, Delhi
To some, the idea of India, like the India story, is an imperial construct, best represented by the grand vista that stretches around Rashtrapati Bhavan. To lot of humble folk eking out a day’s living, it is anywhere and anything that yield the rozi roti. If our masters interacted with them more often, they might understand better what makes this nation tick.
Ashok Lal, Mumbai
The Congress misrule will end soon, and I won’t be surprised if Ketkar starts singing a different tune in the future. Journalists like him live off patronage while they dole out precious gyaan to the public.
Prem Krishnan, Doha
Article after article against Modi, and all I can think of asking Outlook’s editors is the question a poor guy asked Sen Joseph McCarthy during the witch-hunt years, “Have you no shame, sir?”
P.B. Joshipura, Suffolk, US
Ketkar has made a number of important arguments and they deserve further elaboration and discussion.
Kannan Srinivasan, Melbourne
Ketkar is prone to selective amnesia. He needs to be reminded that the seeds of balkanisation were sown by Nehru when the country was divided into states on a linguistic basis.
M.A. Raipet, Secunderabad
So is it that Ketkar wants only Nehru-Gandhi statues to come up all over India so as to avoid ‘regionalism’?
Abhijit Kane, Mumbai
Thanks for publishing such an indepth essay on the real pulse of contemporary Indian political scenario.
The second half of the story is remarkably thought.It is the congress party which needs to learn the most from this story than anyone else.Unfortunately it is the Congress party which has overlooked the middle path of Socialism and Capitalism shown by Jawahar Lal Nehru.
Ketkar is right and Sathe is right. But it is alarming to see the tone of some of the discussants here.
>> Dick Chenney did use NYT report as a proof in support of his claim.
Dick Cheney's chief of staff fed the false WMD reports to the NYT, then Dick Cheney quotes NYT' reports on "Meet the Press"!!! Neat trick, don't you think?
Anwaar, my point was against your claim of fairness of NYT towards Muslims. Judith Miller was fired AFTER a big brahua against her and NYT. If you remember, Dick Chenney did use NYT report as a proof in support of his claim.
I saw the same when recruiting for Gujarat. Salaries are the lowest, even lower than in Kolkata. Gujaratis are begging for jobs. That is the harvest of decades of Communalism.
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