Monday, 22 June 2009

A case for Bharatiyata

After a long long time, I have the possibility to spend hours reading different Indian newspapers every morning and get and un update on how India is changing.
For the past twenty-five years, ever since I moved to Italy, my knowledge of happenings in India had gradually substituted by memories of past. Till about a decade ago, there was no way to receive any regular news about India, except when there were big disasters or wars or events related to Sonia Gandhi. Like the Western world, Italy also knew India thourgh the narrow lenses of yoga, spirituality, Mahatma Gandhi, Tagore, poverty, religious conflicts, etc.
Short visits for work or family holidays were cocconed in their own spheres, rarely looking out to see how the India I knew had metamorphed into new directions. My knowledge of the changes remained quite superficial, limited mostly to physical changes like the new shopping malls, metro and fly-overs.
Then about a decade ago, arrived Internet and with it the possibility of reconnecting with India. For me, the reconnection has been more related to music, culture, films, literature, friends and family. Probably I was never very keen on politics and cricket, and whatever, little interest I had, had withered away in those long years of being unconnected.
Now, for the last three weeks, I am at home alone with my mother. Apart from an occasional visit of a friend or a relative, most of my time is passed reading newspapers and magazines, and watching TV. So I have plenty of time to meet the changed India through these mediums and reflect about it.
The impact of the recent election results is one area where I have been trying to understand more about the changing India. And, I have to confess that I am a little confused.
Like, I am confused about the leftist parties. The wiping out of the smaller regional parties from the national parliament and the loss of the left parties in West Bengal, their apparent inability to reflect systematically about their defeat, etc. occupies some space in newspapers everyday. Over the past few days, the development related to Maoists in Lalgarh have been occupying front pages, increasing that confusion.
In my area of work linked with voluntary organisations, development and health, I have frequent opportunities of meeting a lot of persons who hold sympathies towards leftist or socialist philosophies. In all those discussions, I have heard regularly about the possibility of the leftist ideals of an egualitarian, sustainable world that opposes the imperialist forces of liberalization, globalisation and privatization to avoid exploitation of the poor and the marginalised. They lament that with the congess rule, without the presence of saner left forces, thse forces of liberalisation and privatization would get momentum to the detriment of the poor and the margainlised.
Yet, I have yet to read anything that properly articulates, what went wrong with West Bengal? The left-parties had the opportunity to put into practice all the wonderful egalitarian and developmental policies for the past 32 years, then how come tribals and marginalised groups of persons in places like Lalgarh continue to live lives of poverty, lack of infra-structures and lack of justice, as they do in Orissa or Chattisgarh?
Like the better known on-off relationship between BJP and RSS, is there also a gap between all these people who know all about sustainable development and justice, and their leftist parties?
The squabbles in the BJP about power and control positions are also baffling, but are perhaps more predictable. Like all those wars fought by Bush in the names of justice and liberation, even the “party with a difference” is actually made of fallible human beings that are just looking for another clever slogan for their public image. Their insistence on continuing with hindutva, seems more like hiding behind the already-known because of an inability to come up with a vision for the future.
In fact looking at the visions, ideas and strategies of the different political parties, I see a similar lack of ability to look at the wider reality and a continuing narrow focus of debate on liberalisation, privatization issues, either for them or against them. Yet issues and areas that require a new vision are so many!
Isn’t it necessary to see why did the leftist vision of anti-liberalisation, anti-privatization lead to poor and marginalised being still poor and marginalised? If the rabid stupidness of hindutva, that sounds very much like the reborn evangelists or talibans, does not work, what else can be there that does not close itself in women in jeans-pubs kinds of medieval debates? If reservations have had such a limited impact on the lives of millions of dalits, can we look for newer ways of decreasing those disparities? Our environment, our rivers, our forests, our biodiversity, how can we safeguard them and yet without renouncing to our share of material and economic progress?
I have never been impressed by these “our gods and our culture are in danger and we need to protect them” kind of ideas that are behind concepts of hindutva or muslim or christian revivals. On the other hand, I feel that Bharat has long and glorious religious traditions of acceptance, sharing and tolerance that the world does not have, also because probably no oner country in the world has such a long tradition of living with multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual societies.
The kind of fearless debates that Hinduism could have about its gods, about its philosophies and about its spirituality, the way Islam could develop in directions of sufism and ganga-jamuni culture, the kind of different strains of religious doctrines of equality, peace and harmany such as philosophies of Mahavir, Buddha and Nanak, that could develop in India, how can we safeguard all those?
Can’t we think of Bhartiyata, the Indian way of looking at issues that does keep in mind our culture and our traditions, but looks fearlessly at the new and the future, including the ideas of progress that come from the more “developed” world, looking at them critically?
Where are such persons, such parties, such political manifestoes?
Tavleen Singh in her coloumn in Indian Express of 20 June, “Lessons from the Ayatollah”, had written, something similar:
“It (Iran) might wake them (BJP leaders) upto the reality that the party of Hindutva is dead, dead, dead until it severs its links with the RSS. It is this “cultrual” organisation that brought into politics all those sadhus and sadhvis whose only contribution to Indian politics was venom and bigotry. Whenever religious people enter the political arena, they have to find an enemy and, in my humble opinion, it was this very bad habbit that became the primary reason for the BJP’s defeat.
The more the BJP’s leaders vented their venom against Muslims, the better they made the “pseudo-secular” Congress look….
There is great deal about ancient, Hindu India that we should try and understand and preserve. It saddens me everytime I go to a Southeast Asian country and see the immense influence of Indian civilization that continues to exist there and that is almost totally lost here. We need to understand why it has been lost here if we are not to end up as a country whose only culture comes from Bollywood.”
Perhaps a new party or a new leader would look at the concept of Bhartiyata and articulate it in a way that makes all forward looking Indians, of different classes, castes and religions to feel that they have a stake in India’s future! I hope.

1 comment:

  1. I think more than coming up with a common concept of Indianness or Bhartiyaya would be the issue of making all Indians believe in it.

    India is a disparate and complex country with many groups and as many agendas. And who do I trust to come up with a concept of nationhood (at a deeper, not political level)?

    It's a good idea but I am pessimistic.


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