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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 28, New Delhi June 30, 2018

Remembering Nikhil Chakravartty

Saturday 30 June 2018, by Barun Das Gupta

When a great personage, far above the average run of men with their narrow compass of mind, passes away, it creates a temporary or transient sense of void. It is only with the passage of time that the immmensity of the void starts sinking in our consciousness. The absence of Nikhil Chakravartty, or N.C., as he was known and called in his wide circle of friends, is one such. The more time takes us away from the day of his demise, the more acutely we miss him, the more acutely do we feel his absence. He was the founder-editor of this journal and through it he presented his perspicacious analyses of current events, week after week. Many of his writings continue to be relevant even today.

India is passing through a critical period the like of which it never experienced in the 70-odd years since independence. The values which had evolved out of our long decades of freedom struggle and were subsequently enshrined in our Constitution, the values which constitute the bedrock of our polity and nationhood, are sought to be supplanted by a phoney nationalism championed by people who never participated in the struggle for freedom but collaborated with the colonial masters—the British. The characteristics of their nationalism are religious chauvinism, intolerance, vigilantism in the name of cow protection or for preventing inter-religion marriages, targeting not only the minorities but also those of the majority community who hold contrarian views.

The philosophy, if ‘philosophy’ it can at all be called, which inspires them is of hatred, blind and corrosive hatred. Take, for example, the statement made by the murderer of Gauri Lankesh to the police. Newspaper reports have quoted him as saying he did not know who he was killing but he did know that he was killing to “save the Hindu religion”. It betrays the mindset of the murderer and the ‘philosophy’ that he had imbibed from the parent organi-sation that inculcates the cult of violence and glorifies it in the name of Hindu culture. And he is not alone. There are others like him. They have appeared on TV channels to express solidarity with him and express the same sentiments with the same vehemence, venom and vitriol.

One pauses and thinks, how would N.C. have reacted to this growing tide of hatred that threatens to shiver our country to smithereens, were he alive today? When a furore was made after the police allegedly found an alleged letter from an alleged Maoist, suggesting an airy-fairy conspiracy against the Prime Minister, would N.C. have drawn a comparison between this and the Reichstag Fire which the Nazis themselves did in less than a month after their coming to power? The Reichstag Fire was an excuse to start a nationwide pogrom of the German Communists.

Regular readers of Mainstream will remember N.C.’s expose of Reganomics and its implications, especially for the Third World countries. How would N.C. have analysed the impact of Modinomics on India’s farmers, workers and salaried white-collar people? Tall claims are being made about the quantum of FDI flows in India. Nobody questions, nobody disputes. N.C., one feels tempted to believe, would have raised uncomfortable questions: how much of the FDI is going to the consumer sector and how much to the capital goods sector.? And what kind of consumer goods? A foreign investor setting up a chain of restaurants in India does not mean industrialisation. They make easy money on a day-to-day basis and repatriate the profit. How does it enrich the economy?

The BJP has publicly said that its immediate objective is a Congress-mukt Bharat. What it has not yet said is that once it succeeds in its primary objective, it would announce its next objective: an Opposition-mukt Bharat and then its ultimate objective: a ganatantra-mukt Bharat in which one slogan will echo and reverberate all over the country: one country, one religion, one language, one party and one Leader. Prime Minister Modi may have derived fresh inspi-ration from his new-found friend Xi Jinping who has made himself lifelong President of China.

Here is a tell-tale passage from one of N.C.’s writings, written about thirty years ago:

“Religious beliefs are made use of to rouse mass anger among innocent people, but those who whip up such passions do so only for political gains.” Does it not remain true and valid even today? Further on in the same piece he writes:

“In our immediate context, this comes out clearly in the current controversy over the Ram temple and the Babri mosque.. Let us look at this question a little more carefully. While this place was locked up from 1949—a period of 37 years which has seen the birth of the Jana Sangh and its transformation into the BJP, the rise of the RSS and, in recent times, of the VHP —this issue hardly figured in their activities. Had their hurt and resentment really been as acute as is made out today, why was the campaign not sustained as it has been in the last two years? Had it been a matter of faith, undying faith, why these seasonal vagaries?..... The BJP National Executive adopted the Ayodhya controversy as a major campaign issue at its Palanpur meeting in June, 1989, and party President L.K. Advani had quite candidly observed at that time: ‘I am sure it will translate into votes.’”

How relevant the comment is even today! On the eve of a number of by-elections in UP, some nationalists burning with patriotic fervour suddenly discovered a great sacrilege. A portrait of Mohammed Ali Jinnah was adorning the wall of the Students’ Union of the Aligarh Muslim University. The portrait has been there since 1930, when Jinnah was given life membership of the Union. Nobody took notice of it or talked about it. But on the eve of the UP by-elections this was noticed and a strident and raucous demand was made for its immediate removal. These patriots were, however, eloquently silent about the Jinnah portrait adorning the wall of the Lok Sabha. And after the UP by-elections were over, with heavy defeat for the BJP, the burning zeal of the instant patriots evaporated into thin air! There was not a word about Jinnah and his portrait. Naturally, because Jinnah as a vote-catching issue in the immediate context had lost his utility. In the battle of slogans, “Jinnah ya ganna” was a catchy one. The voter decided that the issue was not Jinnah but ganna (sugarcane) and gave his verdict asser-tively.

Talking of Jinnah, I am provoked to take a peep into the past. Jinnah was history’s irony. When the founding conference of the All India Muslim League was being held in the palace of Khwaja Salimullah, the Nawab of Dhaka, on December 30, 1906, a young Muslim barrister, sitting in Calcutta, was issuing a press statement denouncing the birth of the Muslim League and warning the Muslim community that it was a British conspiracy and they must not fall into that trap. With uncanny prescience he said: “It is a conspiracy to divide the nation.”

The name of that young Muslim barrister was Mohammed Ali Jinnah. That he lived on to fulfil his own prophecy of ‘dividing the nation’ is the greatest irony of modern India’s history. It will be rewarding for inquisitive readers to go through Dr Rafiq Zakaria’s book The Man Who Divided India where this episode has been described in detail.

The man who remembered such anecdotes aplenty and could use them with telling effect in his writings was N.C. A student of history, he could perceive things which escaped the sight of the common man and visualise their final denouement. In the present deadlock over our relations with Pakistan and the myopic, unimaginative and counter-productive policy of our present rulers on Kashmir, the absence of N.C. is felt all the more acutely. His was a voice of reason, of sanity, of persuasion, of reconciliation. He knew that the Kashmir problem was essentially a political problem and not a law and order problem. It had to be resolved politically. Strong-arm methods of the state may succeed up to a point but becomes counter-productive after that.

The anti-terrorist operations being carried out by our security forces under orders of their political masters are only accelerating the process of alienation of the Kashmiri people from India. You kill one militant, a dozen join the ranks of the militants. This endless cycle of violence and killing has to be put an end to and a new beginning has to be made. The murder of Shujaat Bukhari, Editor of Rising Kashmir, underlines the reality that neither side is willing to see the futility of senseless violence. Someone has to tell the powers that be: “You are going further and further into a blind alley. Retrace your steps. Come back to sanity. Take the path of dialogue and discussion. Win over the people of Kashmir.” Were he alive, N.C.’s could be that lone voice in the media which has tamely surrendered to the Modi Government and lost the courage to tell the truth.

The vacuum created by N.C.’s departure is being felt every day, every moment in these trying times when history is being rewritten and constantly falsified (like UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath claiming it was Rana Pratap and not Akbar who had won the battle of Haldighat). How one wished N.C. were alive today wielding his mighty pen week after week!

The author was a correspondent of The Hindu in Assam. He also worked in Patriot, Compass (Bengali), Mainstream. A veteran journalist, he comes from a Gandhian family and was intimately associated with the RCPI leader, Pannalal Das Gupta.

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