Meghnad Lord Desai of St Clement Danes—not, mind you, of Dharavi—invites the wary reader to “enjoy” his book by “getting angry at the author, disagreeing...challenging his views”. I, for one, do all three. And am “yet having the fun” he urges “which takes you to the end”, as he lurches from a ludicrous preface to his hilarious final chapter, ‘Whose India? Which India?’—as if we natives did not know.
Our Bombay boy-turned-British peer believes, apparently seriously, that India began to experience nationhood only after Vasco da Gama brought the enlightened West to our benighted land, that “India is a creature of the 150 years since 1857”, and that “there was no Indian nation before then”. Moreover that, but for the British, independent India would never have discovered unity or democracy not only since we would not have been introduced to Bentham or ruled by Bentinck but also because India has had the good fortune of emerging as “a creature of global capitalism harnessed to the winner country”. Indeed, even the Mahatma’s contribution to contemporary nation-building is attributed to Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi having been “an England-trained barrister”.
Jawaharlal Nehru’s “myth” of an Indian nation is dismissed by Lord Desai as a devious Congress device to establish its “hegemony” over the freedom movement. Indeed, my noble lord concludes that it is not us poor Indians but “Pakistan” that has “cemented India”.
Not only Nehru, Gandhi too is not spared for having committed the outrage of squelching Ramsay MacDonald’s Communal Award of 1932, which would have given Dalits 72 seats from separate electorates, by the Mahatma offering them 142 through reservation. “Alas,” he says, the Congress portrayed the Award as “another ‘divide and rule’ ploy” (it wasn’t?!) and the native rascals got away with keeping the Dalits within the Hindu fold. Wah re mere Gujju bhai, you are not only Queen Elizabeth’s faithful servant, you have outdone Abdul Karim in your fidelity to Queen Victoria!
The book’s second half, about India after independence, is trite, superficial and riddled with inaccuracies, inconsistencies and omissions. He cannot even get right the sequencing of 26/11, for he places the attack on the Taj before the outrage at the CST and the Cama Hospital (and fails to mention the Trident, presumably because it lacks his preference for a “haven of luxury”). As for inconsistencies, he claims “economic policy was the biggest failure of Nehru” and, in the very next paragraph, begins, “Nehru himself was witness to a good decade of growth in India”. And as for omissions, he gives us a potted, patchy history of Rajiv Gandhi as PM without mentioning either panchayati raj, the action plan for a nuclear-weapons-free and non-violent world order, or his championing (against Thatcher’s machinations) of an end to apartheid, colonialism and invasion in Africa, which led to Rajiv being invited as the principal guest at Namibia’s independence day celebrations even after ceasing to be prime minister.
Strange how a coloured immigrant has to twist and turn to become a peer of the realm. And, shame on us, we’ve given not only Chatwal but even this guy a Bharatiya Pravasiya Puraskar.
Mani Shankar Aiyar’s problem seems to stem from the fact that Meghnad Desai has criticised the Nehru-Gandhi clan, and not from anything negative about India per se (The Supple Spine, March 1). So what’s new? Aiyar’s predilections are too well-known. But a man of his learning could have written about it in a better way. G. Natrajan, Hyderabad
The language employed by Aiyar is appalling: “coloured immigrant”, “Wah mere Gujju bhai”, etc. Those who can’t show respect do not deserve it from others too. Individuals like Aiyar, whose loyalties are due to a particular family demean the idea of India. Anil Kohli, Mumbai
Irrespective of the mistakes in Meghnad Desai’s book picked out by Aiyar, there are many Indians who agree with Desai that post-1947, the idea of India has only marginalised Hindus in the name of secularism and perpetuated dynastic rule. Aiyar’s bile can be attributed to his political unemployment after the last elections. S. Suriyanarayanan, Surat
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
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