Total Pageviews

Follow by Email

Sunday, February 23, 2014


By Swapan Dasgupta

Last week, I met a German writer who is studying the Indian general election. During the course of an enjoyable conversation, he expressed his deep unease at the casual way in which his liberal friends in India bandied expressions such as “fascism” and “Holocaust”. Hitler, he explained to me, was one of the most extraordinary aberrations in human history. It was extremely unlikely that such a phenomenon would recur, and certainly not in the 21st century.

Tragically, those who are urging a measure of intellectual restraint are in danger of being overwhelmed by the din created by a small but extremely well-connected minusculity. For them, the India of today is a mirror image of inter-War Europe.

Although he is too nuanced to fall for such claptrap, even my friend historian Ram Guha appears to have caught the bug somewhere. After a walking tour of North Kolkata—the old ‘black town’—a few days before Narendra Modi’s hugely successful rally in the city, he tweeted his appreciation of “Hindu/ Muslim/ Jain/ Christian influences, across the centuries, buried and alive”. The only “jarring note” he detected, “was that there were large photos of The Leader on every post, building, tree and turn, obscuring the stories of the past.”

The choice of the term “The Leader” was revealing. Although Guha doesn’t fall for the Modi equals Hitler slogan (he believes the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate is more akin to Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez), he fuels the liberal elite argument that the rise of Modi signals a drift towards authoritarian politics.

Curiously, such an argument was used in 1921by Rabindranath Tagore to express his misgivings over the mass adulation of “Gandhi Maharaj.” The poet, an extremely sensitive individual, detected “in the atmosphere of the country…a spirit of persecution, which is not that of armed force, but something still more alarming because it is invisible…What I heard on every side was that reason and culture…must be closured. It was only necessary to cling to an unquestioning obedience. Obedience to whom? To some mantra, some unreasoned creed.” Tagore, needless to say, horribly misread the mood of the country and the appeal of Gandhi. He later made amends by anointing the man from Gujarat the Mahatma.

Nor was Tagore the only one who detected the Mahatma’s contribution to the intellectual truncation of India. In Verdict on India, a now-forgotten book that was enormously influential when it was first published in 1944, the popular British writer and journalist Beverly Nichols saw in Gandhi, Congress and Hinduism the living incarnations of evil. Taunting the “warm-hearted Western liberals” who were bowled over by India’s freedom movement, he asserted that “Congress is the only 100 per cent, full blooded, uncompromising example of undiluted Fascism in the modern world.”

Compare this with a recent article by Professor Martha Nussbaum, a colleague of Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago in Indian Express. Arguing that Penguin was guilty of “cowardly capitulation” for compromising on an “eminently winnable” case, she went on to claim: “Fear of violence has won; the conglomerate caves before a vague (or perhaps not-so-vague) threat. Such things have, deplorably, happened before. This time, however, there is the prospect that the RSS will soon have the power to suppress all the books it doesn’t like.” Her message is clear and unequivocal: elect Modi and India will enter an era of book bans and persecution of dissenters.

This is a theme that is resonating in the liberal enclaves. Former Governor Gopal Gandhi drove home the point with a uncharacteristic measure of intemperate rhetorical flourish in an article on the Doniger kerfuffle: “(C)ommunal rhetoric has turned ‘positive’—forget all the others, they do not count. India is Hindu, we are Hindu, we are India. And now we have a leader of leaders who is what we are: Hindu, Hindu Indian…To the jargon of ‘Bharat Mata in danger’ is now added a fatherland vocabulary, where a leader is being fantasized in the shape of all that Nehru was not, his Congress successors have not, and never can be.”

I do not begrudge either Nussbaum or Gopal Gandhi their political preference. I cannot but sympathise with their horrible disappointment that the alternative leader with a five-day stubble whose face stares at us from billboards is increasingly becoming an object of mockery. However, it is extremely galling that through their espousal of Enlightenment values they are trying to forcibly inject into an election campaign issues that Modi has ignored. A man who is forever going on about how development unites, how tourism brings people together and how connectivity enhances national unity is being charged with imaginary offences.  

The problem, it seems to me, stems from wilful misreading. When Modi was catapulted to the national stage, his detractors gleefully expected him to raise the communal temperature, engage in Muslim-bashing and threaten Pakistan with nuclear annihilation. He has let down the critics who came with a pre-determined script aimed at scaring minorities. Modi has not deviated from his central theme: that India has not lived up to its potential and that the future lies in economic development for every Indian. He has not lived up to the liberal caricature of what he represents.

For an entrenched elite accustomed to defining what is ‘respectable’, Modi is a threat because he is not from their charmed circle. Modi’s intellectual critics don’t fear for India’s democracy because it is democracy that has heralded a viable non-dynastic alternative; they fear their own irrelevance.  


Anonymous said...

Awesome Article

However, Sir i didn't understand whom you were referring to in this sentence - "I cannot but sympathize with their horrible disappointment that the alternative leader with a five-day stubble whose face stares at us from billboards is increasingly becoming an object of mockery"

Anonymous said...

So called intellectuals and elites want to create an aura of fear in the soceity to save themselves from being called pseudo intellectuals in future.

Anonymous said...

Sir it is my belief that the so called liberals in India are so obsessed with Hitler that they see him everywhere. They even of him. This also might be to a hidden ambition to somehow prove a point to west that we indian liberals have not only identified our Hitler but also want to go one step ahead and kill him. And in doing so they want yo look up at west and say we did it , while you couldn't .you rightly pointed out that there now is a desperation in them that Modi id not giving them anything aand hence keep bragging about him leaving amidst an interview with thapar. They hope if asked persistently Modi might break. How they want Modi,to opion on Donger, #377, Khaap anything to nail him down.

anonymous said...

Excellent analysis and i hope the so called intellectuals will have noplace to hide after the elections.They are relevant only in a system led by mediocres.

Anonymous said...

" Modi’s intellectual critics don’t fear for India’s democracy because it is democracy that has heralded a viable non-dynastic alternative; they fear their own irrelevance".

Very true.

It was also pointed out much earlier by Cho Ramaswamy that those middlemen , politicians accustomed to taking bribes would always remain antagonistic to Sri.Narendra Modi as he does not LIKE bribe takers. This is an important point worth keeping in mind.

The very fact muslims & hindus have come together for the first time is one mighty disappointment to congress , leftists, dmk who enjoyed divide & rule.

In Middle Eastern countries lot of hindus have been peacefully coexisting with not just muslims but those muslims from Pakistan & Bangladesh too. (Leave out the aberrations as there are lots of law breakers among indians also hindus very much included).

As a hindu I have actually come to like ARABS' governance with their strict ENFORCEMENT of punishment.
In the name of democracy Indians have spawned forth anarchy in India.

This is one splendid opportunity for both Narendra Modi ^ J.Jayalalithaa to work towards cordial relations with Pakistan.
I am thoroughly BORED of glaring at them as in the name of 'patriotism' we are expected to glare at UK , America, Pakistan , China & so forth.

I have come to like BBC as they have been reporting from INSIDE Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Africa & so forth thus helping me get rid of lot of preconceived notions.
Far far better than indian tv channels.

Thank God , Jayalalithaa did NOT join the petulant fray when Devyani Khobragade was arrested.

I recall Murli Manohar Joshi literally GLARED at one BBC reporter who asked some pertinent questions about Puttaparthi SaiBaba reprimanding her:-

" How dare you talk to a minister like you know I am a talk like a minissterrrr".

This arrogance is widely prevalent among lot of Indians in high places. Which is heady potion for jingoistic idiots of India.

This streak of arrogance manifested again when Yashwant Sinhas etc screamed at America over khobragade's arrest. How far removed these ministers are from what aam janata feel.

anonymous said...

Excellent analysis and i hope the so called intellectuals will have noplace to hide after the elections.They are relevant only in a system led by mediocres.

Anonymous said...

Surprisingly, all that this piece draws from is the electoral facade of Modi, something carefully designed with a lot of money and professional assistance to distract from the reality and questions Modi or his clan can never face up to. It completely ignores the long and unenviable track record of this clan whose flag Modi today carries and whose shoulders he rides on, of ripping apart and destroying the very cultural fabric of ages that drapes this nation together of making a travesty of the constitution and the rule of law. It seems quite improbable that this clan will change colors overnight, let go of its barbaric, feudalistic and xenophobic obsession with power-play, especially when the man himself has earned his rite of passage in the blood of the innocent. I think history is on the verge of repeating itself in so far as facism has a winning chance again on singsongs of development and a large populace bereft of any historical perspective hungry for change can be easily misled, but then this is India...we'll have to wait and watch

Abhay said...

Well, your German friend is wrong. Nazi Germany was not a one-off aberration. Spain, Portugal, Italy and Japan all also developed some variant of fascism or the other at roughly the same time, and since then fascism has threatened to break out in countless countries -- both European and non-European -- across the world (arguably Iran has been a fascist state since the revolution, and in many ways the very premise of Pakistan is fascist). Nor was the Nazi genocide of Jews a one-off phenomenon. There was the Turkish genocide, the protracted genocide of native Americans and the genocide in Rwanda, to name a few. Note that Rwanda happened after the holocaust, undermining the idea that it will "never be repeated." Nazism/Fascism are tied to certain structures of thought -- a fetishization of nationalism is one, a messiah-like faith in a leader is another. Of course these alone do not necessarily produce fascism, but they certainly hint at the potential for a fascist project. The close alignment of big business with the state is another feature of fascism. Comparisons of Modi to Hitler are quantitative exaggerations (in that he has not, yet, produced anyway near the same scale of violence and cruelty), but not necessarily a qualitative exaggeration in terms of the thought processes that underpin his project.

Sagar said...

I hope, Mr. Dasgupta, when you compared Ram Guha with the national poet, you were aiming at mirth.

Anonymous said...

Its a nice article. But only if there was one point you could have stressed more. What happens if Modi is successful with his economic agenda tomorrow. I mean the socialist intellectuals and bleeding heart intellectuals would loose the debate and worse would become irrelevant. People would start to question why their policies have only kept India backward for so long(and they call it a hindu rate of growth). Not to mention the pain they have to undergo to change their loyalties. Its a question of bread and butter for many. Modi spells death for Congress. Congress it seems has outlived its utility for these intellectuals. Now they have to find new alternative. Clearly it is AAP. Expect more intellectuals after Amartya Sen to add an intellectual glam to Aravind Kejriwal.

Anonymous said...

Knowing my passion for music my father had bought a transistor radio for me.

After KILLING my father, Mohan snatched my Transistor from me ( we have always had fights as I have never been interested in cricket, football matches. And he derived malicious pleasure while snatching my radio from me when I was listening to Radio Ceylon & he being BRUTAL always won. He could speak English & I knew only Tamil & among Tamilians English speaking people always emerge victorious. Plus gender & he was my Lady Macbeth mother's fav first born son)& my Father's Seiko wristwatch moving into 8C, Wedderburn Road from 22B , Nakuleshwar Bhattacharya Lane.

That very night without breaking into the house , some Honourable "Thief" managed to take away only these two things Transistor & Seiko wristwatch. Through the window which had grills etc.

I felt so gratified. This is the first time I am reporting.

One man's food is another man's poison. I personally would NEVER consider Sri.Dawood Ibrahim a "terrorist/ villain".

Anonymous said...

Similarly politicians might thunder blaming China spoting words like "expansionism" " human rights" blah blah.

These Indian politicians are so myopic cannot look beyond Dalai Lama & who else but Dalai Lama again ?

I am least interested in alleged "no go areas" in China and/or North Korea.

My Paternal Grandmother was treated so bestially by my hindu sisters , mother & brothers (one of them is art of living teacher Bhanumathi Das Sharma & another one Mira dietitian in Debi Shetty Hospital)& my faux husband s.n.ramachandran a cfo in Kuwait now. She was denied entry into the washroom when she wanted to relieve herself. Denied water to drink & food. MERCILESSLY KILLED by them all collectively. My brother Parkash & my boundaries were long INVADED. My child's too.

So I PRAY & DESIRE China slaughters these hindu terrorists in the guise of aam janata & CFOs.
What does Indian Army do ? Stand at the borders & glare probably I don't know. The dangerous adversaries are WITHIN among hindus & converted christians.

Anonymous said...

I do not know what fascism means.

But I have had nothing but very bitter experience with shadow warrior (ensconced in USA ) as he would not allow FACTS written about art of living SSSSRavishankar , mata Amritanandamayi etc etc. Thus did not hesitate a bit in muzzling me.

YET , that "hindu nationalist" ( & his sycophants (san etc) find fault with New York Times labelling them "Atlanticists" & went apoplectic when Devyani Khobragade was "arrested".

There is one sendhil ( dutifully addressing Sandhyaji while fawning over her articles)who also justified SSSRavishankars etc by ludicrously citing christian padres' similar deceitful practices & extravagant lifestyles.

Extremely few Hindus are fair minded like Swapan Dasgupta.

One Tamil Muslim summed up hindus' mindset very well. "When christians(from Europe Italy included) embrace hinduism . hindus go euphoric celebrating it. Whereas if a Hindu embraces Islam they cry foul. If a Muslim bleeds it is tomato chutney for hindus. If hindus get hurt it is blood for them".

This is why I repeat lest we should forget:-

" Judge a man by his VIRTUES. Not religious belief systems" (Swami Vivekananda).

It is HINDUS ( my brother Mohan , his wife Vasudharini , my faux husband S.N.Ramachandran & lot of these expats in Kuwait) that were running a lucrative porn business to make extra quick money. How did they manage to hoodwink ARABS & their strict laws ? By BRIBING lots of hindus & converted christians of India. Till date no one has punished them. They have amassed lot of property in Canada, Kolkata , Karnataka etc.

I have seen my faux husband S.N.Ramachandran drinking many glasses of whiskey in Kuwait served free by Indian Muslim called Saeed with a wife called Mariam (from Mumbai) working in Kuwait Airways' Catering services called Kasco.And came out with some obscene dance moves. And they all sat & discussed about who else but Dawood Ibrahim for the umpteenth time.

These hindus regularly undertake trips to Tirupathi , Thiruvannamalai , Thiruvidaimarudhur etc etc.Donning veshti , the mandatory thread (punal) having memorized "Abivadhayae....".

And gorement of india recently screamed " some (sic)terrorist visited Tirupathi Temple...aiyo aiyo".

It is time we PUNISH HINDU terrorists. That presupposes we define terrorism. Hindus seldom own up their crimes & misdemeanours. That is the biggest THREAT posed by hindus.

Why pick on Headleys , Tundas , Yasin Bhatkals , Afzal Gurus & Kasabs???

Shantanu Khandkar said...

What is interesting is that these fear mongers seem to forget or ignore the fact that most book bans and censorship was imposed upon us before the 'repressive' BJP even existed.

Anonymous said...


while the liberals may or may not be right, what is certain is that the BJP hasn't done itself a favour by tryinig to rewrite history when it was in power. remember murli manohar joshi and nda rule? hence the fear is legitimate.