Mainstream, VOL LIX No 34, New Delhi, August 7, 2021
Prashānt Mamatā as Rājdharma | Pradip Baksi
Saturday 7 August 2021#socialtags
by Pradip Baksi
“Bā rayat sulh Kun wa’z jang i khasm aiman nishīn / Z’ānki Shāhinshāh i ādil rā rayat lashkar ast.” (“Be at peace with subjects and sit safe from the attacks of foes / Because his subjects are the army of a just Shāhinshāh.”)
—Saʿdī Shīrāzī (1258), Golestān, Book I, Story 6, the last 2 lines; quoted in Roy 1832:118.
1. This is a note about the contemporary importance of prashānt (quiet) mamatā (compassion) as rājdharma (principle for governance). This principle is extremely desirable for the subjects as it gives them at least a chance to breathe. It is also extremely beneficial for the legitimacy of therulers, as has been pointed out by Saʿdī in the thirteenth century, and reiterated by Rajah Rammohun Roy in London in the nineteenth century, to enlighten the handlers of the Company Raj.
2. Two decades later in the same nineteenth century an anāgarik freelance journalist wrote the following from the same city of London, about the course of high politics in India leading to the British Raj: “The paramount power of the Great Mogul was broken by the Mogul Viceroys. The power of the Viceroys was broken by the Mahrattas. The power of the Mahrattas was broken by the Afghans, and while all were struggling against all, the Briton rushed in and was enabled to subdue them all”. Towards the end of the twentieth century the present observer noted a striking similarity between the events described above with the drift of our high politics of that period, and wrote: “The provincial Subahdars of the Indian National Congress have destroyed the exclusive hold of its High Command over them. The power of those Subahdars has been pulverized by the United Front. The power of the Subahdars of the United Front is being broken by the Bharatiya Janata Party and its allies. Amidst this war of all against all has arrived transnational capital, manoeuvring to subdue them all” . It seems that right now our high politics is once again entering into a comparable state of flux.
3. The recent electoral victory in West Bengal of a politics of quiet compassion, inclusion, and plurality championed by Mamata Bandyopadhyayjee and her strategist Prashant Kishorjee, over a politics of rabid anti-Bengali, anti-Muslim, and anti-women frenzy and lurid verbal aggression of the hooligan bhailog from the Savarkari-Salafi family currently soiling our imperial throne, has sent out a loud and clear signal. It is about the possibility of some future clean-up of our throne room. The voice of compassion and inclusion from the East has openly declared: khela hobe—the contest for the next round of political supremacy in India is now wide open. Whatever be their future in Indian politics, the resurrection of prashānt (quiet) mamatā (compassion) as rājdharma (principle for governance), both on the road to political power and thereafter, will remain their lasting contribution in the domain of power politics in contemporary South Asia. Intolerance and arrogance of the rulers only delegitimizes political power. Tolerance and compassion are the time-tested option for its legitimization, so long as it exists.
4. A concerned elder has requested me to write something about the “class character” of Mamatajee within this short note. My response to this request is going to be extremely biased. Reason: Mamatajee, Prashantjee, me, and all of my concerned elders belong to the same social “class”. Long ago, a person whose name is frequently associated with the discourse of classes and class-struggle the world over, had coined a new word collocation to describe our class character. He could have used, but did not use the West European words “bourgeois”, “petit-bourgeois” etc.; instead, he decided to describe us as the members of a “fresh class” . It is the class of bhadramahilas-and-bhadraloks  not to be found in western Europe; and hence the adjective “fresh”. This class has evolved from our dominant castes of ashrāf-brāhman-vaidya-kāyastha... literati, partly exposed to the new sciences and the new crafts of governance of modern western Europe since the nineteenth century. Here I would like to underline that I endorse a descriptive understanding of the fresh class of bhadraloks proposed by Marx in  and Sarma in  above, which is usable for the sciences, and reject a pejorative use of the term bhadralok in the contrived academese of the “subaltern school” of anglophone historiography, because that use is ideological. The political platforms patronized by this fresh class of bhadraloks in undivided Bengal and in West Bengal have changed several times since the 1880s: from the moderates and extremists of the Indian National Congress, to the Anushilan Samiti, the Jugantar, the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha, the Forward Block, the Communist Party of India, the Communist Party of India (Marxist), the many Maoist groups, the BJP, and presently, the Trina Mool Congress (TMC). The bhadralok-bhadramahila political operators of West Bengal have shifted their allegiance serially from one platform to another and carried their yajman supporters together with them. Following this route, the Trinamool Congress has now become the main political refuge for many erstwhile cadres of the INC, the CPI(M), and the BJP. Through them our current rulers have inherited all that was and is good, bad and ugly in the bhadralok-bhadramahila political culture of the previous ruling platforms of West Bengal.
5. At this point one may ask: but what about the past track records of Mamatajee and Prashantjee as individual power operators vis-a-vis the BJP? Here I open my response by repeating what a character in one of the plays of Oscar Wilde had famously said: “The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future” . I have not come across any claim of Mamatajee and/or Prashantjee to the effect that they are working hard to become saints. It is well known that they are in the business of political power in our present empire, consisting of several premodern and early modern societies, stretching from those of the stone age hunter-gatherers of our natural forests to those of the hunter-gatherers of our corporate jungles overwhelmed by multiple overlapping industrial cultures. It is a messy business indeed, and it is certainly not saintly. Further, it is very much on record that in the past both of them have been in the company of the Savarkari-Salafis. Mamatajee was a central cabinet minister in two governments led by the BJP; and, Prashantjee strategized the image makeover of the self-serving bhailog tainted by the communal riots of 2002, and installed them on the imperial throne in 2014; and, here they are in “august” company.
Most recently, courtesy the sibling jealousy of the bhadralok leaders of the CPI (M) and the INC with those of the TMC, the BJP is now the main opposition party of bhadralok politics in the West Bengal Assembly, reminding us of the horrid days of rioting frenzy and communal violence in the run up to the partition of Bengal in 1947. Mamatajee has evolved as a politician since the 1970s within the INC, till she founded her own political party, the TMC, in 1997. It is on record that successive INC governments in Uttar Pradesh and at the centre continuously helped successive Savarkari-Salafi outfits from 1949 to 1992, to spread their grotesque mytho-politics around the image of a warrior prince created by an ancient poet , that was subsequently redone and deified by some medieval poets , to generate a continuous stream murderous frenzy against our Muslim population to further their own short-sighted realpolitik. And that is not all. The seeds of the surveillance state now being developed by the hooligans in power, trying to out-ape the mandarins of the middle kingdom beyond the Himalayas, were originally sown by the C-DOT, under the control of the earlier governments run by the INC. Here the CPI (M) also has matching contributions to their credit, to boast about. They have directly helped the Savarkari-Salafi family to emerge as one of the major, if not the major, power broker of the land in 1977, when Jyoti Basujee synchronized his tactical moves with those of Jayaprakash Narayanjee against Indira Gandhijee, for whom one of them had friendly feelings and the other familial affection, but at that time both were annoyed with her, owing to her many political misdemeanours and transgressions.
If Mamatajee and Prashantjee have internalized the bitter lessons they have learnt from the days of their association with the family of the Savarkari-Salafis, then they are most welcome. Subah ka bhula agar sham ko ghar wapas aa jaye to use bhula nahi kehte. If these two political operators from two different parts of the ancient Magadhan empire have now decided to walk in the footsteps of Kauṭilya, Aśoka and Akbar-i-azam, then so be it. Der Ayad, Durust Ayad. Our other political operators sitting in tainted glass houses of their own making would do better if they stop throwing stones at them, and join them to remove the abominable hooligans from the imperial throne.
6. The visible consolidation of Savarkari-Salafi hegemony over our body politic since 1947 happens to be the end product of a long historical process. The roots of this process are traceable to the stubborn resistance of our ruling castes towards further religious and social reforms within their own milieu. After the medieval reforms associated with the Sufi-Bhakti movements, we had the less well-known Awadh Scientific Renaissance (circa 1750-1820) , followed by the more well-known Bengal Renaissance  and, similar other renewals ushered in by our new intelligentsia in various other parts of the subcontinent. However, these renewals remained confined to a very small minority of people like the ashrāfs of Lakhnaū, the bhadraloks of Kolkata, and their counterparts elsewhere. It has failed to spread to every corner of the empire and among all of our castes and tribes, with comparable momentum. Especially stunted remained the process of cultural renewal of some of our trading castes hailing from some nationalities. They became more and more rich over time; and then, not remaining content with unpredictable political patronage, sought to grab the emerging new political power, while retaining their old medieval world views. The result is before all of us to see: a regime run by some ruffians in the interest of their cronies and sundry other fly by night operators. This extreme form of political decadence did not arrive in a day.
7. In ancient and medieval India we had some elaborate and lengthy systems of instruction for the training of our hereditary princes in the arts and crafts of governance . Individual princes were trained by one or more teachers. In those days the political economies were relatively stable and so were the requirements of statecraft. With the arrival of the Company Raj came its own administrators. They were replaced by the colonial civil and military services trained within the English metropolitan imperial culture. They often stumbled here, miserably failed to rule, and finally left. The first few generations of our new rulers from the INC were trained as agitators against colonial rule. They had no experience of ruling their subjects. The same is true of our subsequent rulers belonging to the JD, CPI(M), BJP, SP, BSP... All of them have ruled by the gut level instincts, intuitions and values of their respective castes. However, that is not enough for ruling a large empire. It is even more inadequate at the present time of multiple fast paced transformations of our political economies. What could be the possible ways out before us?
Like our children, our political economies too learn in concentric circles and return to the same stuff at more and more high and deeper levels. For the last few years our rulers have been trying to overcome their multiple inadequacies in administrative performance and public opinion management with the help of some Political Action Committees, like the I-PAC promoted by Prashant Kishorjee. It appears to be a return to the tradition of brahman teachers providing advice to kshatriya rulers on a new plane. Presently, however, both our rulers and their advisers appear to be brahmakshatriyas , like the ancient Śuṅgas and medieval Senas. For a change, our modern brahmakshatriya political advisers use fast algorithms to handle big data. The emergence of our future hybrid rulers through intensive interactions among these advisers and their current crop of employers lies ahead of us.
Let our aspiring rulers not promise the distant moons of “democracy”, “rule of law” and “socialism” and then tumble down to wallow in the putrid gutters of power politics in a state of drunken stupor, like their predecessors. As of now universal literacy and universal health care would be a fair enough goal for them. For that they will have to ensure durable prashānti (peace) and mamatā (compassion) for the subjects throughout our empire.
28 July 2021
(Author: Pradip Baksi is a freelance translator and editor.)
- Bakśi, Pradīp (1998), Samakālīn Samājer Uttaraner Samasyā (Problems of Sublation of Contemporary Societies), Rammohun Roy Memorial lecture, read at the Bosu Vignan Mandir, Kolkata, 18 March 1998; for a revised and extended version of it see: Mizanur Rahamaner Troimashik Patrika (Dhaka), Vol. 20, No.4 (2003): 9-43.
- Datta, Michael Madhusudan (1861), Meghanādavadha Kāvya, Calcutta: The Author; an English rendering of it: The slaying of Meghanada: A Ramayana from Colonial Bengal, translated with an introduction by Clinton B. Seely (2004), Oxford etc.: OUP.
- Kauṭilya (Circa 2nd Century BCE-3rd Century CE), Arthaśāstra, in: The Kauṭilīya Arthaśāstra, Ed. by R.P. Kangle, Part I (1960) and Part II (1963), Bombay: University of Bombay.
- Khan, Iqbal Ghani (2003), “The Awadh scientific renaissance and the role of the French: C. 1750-1820,” Indian Journal of History of Science, 38.3 (2003): 273-301.
- Marx, Karl (1853), “The Future Results of British Rule in India”, New-York Daily Tribune, Nr. 3840, 08 August 1853; in Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Collected Works (MECW) 12:217-222.
- Nizam al-Mulk (1086-1091), The Siyar al-Muluk or Siyasat-nama [The Book of Government or Rules for Kings], Eng.tr. by Hubert Darke, London and New York: Routledge.
- Roy, Rajah Rammohun (1832), Exposition of the practical operation of the judicial and revenue systems of India..., London: Smith, Elder & Co., Cornhill.
- Sarma, Jyotirmoyee (1980), Caste dynamics among the Bengali Hindus, Calcutta: Firma KLM Pvt. Ltd.
- Saʿdī Shīrāzī (1258), Golestān; Golestān-E-Saʿdī:
- Śāstrī, Pandit Śivnāth (1907), Ramtanu Lahiri, brahman and reformer: a history of the renaissance in Bengal, an English rendering of Rāmtanu Lāhiri O Tatkālīn Banga Samāj (1904) edited by Roper Lethbridge; London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co. Ltd., and Calcutta: S. K. Lahiri & Co.
- Śāstrī, Rajnikant (1949), Mānas-Mīmāṃsā..., Ilāhābād: Kitāb Mahal.
- Viṣṇuśarman (Circa 300 BCE-200 CE), Pañcatantra, Eng. tr. by Arthur W. Ryder (1925), Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
- Wilde, Oscar (1894), A woman of no importance, London: John Lane.
 Marx 1853; MECW 12: 217.
 Bakśi 1998.
 Marx 1853; MECW 12: 218.
 Sarma 1980:102.
 Wilde 1894: 97.
 For a modern Bānglā retelling of parts of it see: Datta 1861.
 For some critical reflections on its medieval Awadhi retelling titled ŚrīRāmacaritamānas, see: Śāstri, R. 1949.
 Khan 2003.
 Śāstri, P.Ś. 1907.
 For instance: the Arthaśāstra, Book I: Concerning the Topic of Training; the Pañcatantra; andthe Siyar al-Muluk or Siyasat-nama.