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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 34, New Delhi, August 8, 2020

Letter to the Readers of Mainstream’s Lockdown Edition 20 - August 8

Friday 7 August 2020

The remarks made by Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, on August 5, 2020 in the town on Ayodhya comparing the sectarian campaign of the Hindu right-wing to build the Ram Temple in Ayodhya with the anti-colonial movement for freedom in India are totally misplaced. In violation of secular norms, he acted more like an activist of the Hindutva ideology than as a Prime Minister of a secular country.

In the early days after India’s independence, when the Somnath Temple was being built the then President of India Rajendra Prasad wanted to go for the inauguration. At that time Prime Minister Nehru expressed his disagreement and said he should go there in his private capacity as a citizen and not as the head of state. There are no such secular riders for the men in power today. In the early 1990s when the Hindutva right-wing led by LK Advani was running its Ramjanmabhumi agitation across India, intellectuals, journalists, writers, former state officials, citizens groups and political activists proposed to go to Ayodhya to build a human chain to protect the mosque that was under threat from fanatical mobs of communalists. There was a zeal to defend India’s mixed cultural heritage among secular democrats till the early 1990s. But that was another time.

We live in another time zone today. The people who were seen as threats to India’s secularism are respectable politicians now and they call the shots.

We are all at the moment riders on a train that is moving every day taking us to a new stop on the Hindutva roadmap that is reconfiguring India, on a new route away from inclusive ideals enshrined in the Constitution — a symbolic blocking of the road for secular India. The wasteful August 5 politico-religious spectacle that took place in Ayodhya was one such big stop on the way. They have laid the foundation to their first monument as per Hindutva plans with the full participation of the Prime Minister in person in the company of the RSS Chief. The business of temple making was to have been organised by a non-partisan Trust, but key members on the trust are people who had been indicted by the CBI for their role Hindutva movement that led to the demolition of the Babri Mosque in 1992. These are sheep in wolf’s clothing - modern-day Nathu-Rams who keep invoking Ram for political purposes. More will come as India remakes itself in the mirror image of its non-secular neighbour Pakistan.

Under the guise of the pandemic, a New Education Policy has been introduced in India. It sheds all reference to socialist ideals and to secularism and instead brings in an obscure term ’nishkam karma’ from Bhagavad Gita — a book that a section of the population lends some socio-religious identification, obviously under guidance from navel-gazing traditionalists, the RSS apparatchiks. Let the Gita be for the connoisseurs and believers. we live in the 21st century and any education system today should be promoting a scientific temper and be geared to open our eyes to the world with cosmopolitan and internationalist ideals from here and there, Mandela, Azimov, to Tagore, Nehru.

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Financial inducements by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), intimidation or threats of court cases to destabilize Congress run governments is the order of the day. Congressmen should stand together, they have a very important role to play as the key opposition party in the country. It is mighty surprising that well-known former advisors, well-wishers and certain liberal intellectuals have now made it a past time attacking the Congress party which is already under sustained attack from the BJP and from the Left. A social democratic party like the Congress which is a loose liberal-democratic umbrella organisation is much needed for India’s future. We hope it revives itself and comes out strong. The Congress party must stick to founding secular ideals and not fall into political traps and be forced to mimic any Hindutva dialect for electoral gains.

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It is the 75th anniversary of the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima on August 6 and of Nagasaki on August 9 these bomb attacks had killed nearly 200,000 people, drawing huge international criticism; In the decades after Hiroshima, widespread anti-nuclear “ban the bomb” protests by peace movements like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in the UK, and others spanned the globe. Today, by comparison, an eerie silence reigns everywhere including in our country. Established international treaties for nuclear disarmament are being disregarded. The absence of public debate or any sense of alarm about the development of new nuclear, hypersonic and space weapons is striking.

We express our solidarity with the people of Beirut who experienced a massive explosion involving 2700 tons of explosive material, that has destroyed and impacted a large part of the city. It is utterly shocking that the city authorities allowed the storage of such potent explosive right in the heart of the city. Hoping that other major cities of the world will take heed and not show such negligence.

Remembrances and Tributes:

Comrade, Shyamal Chakraborty of the CPI(M) has passed away on August 6, he served as a Minister of Transport in the erstwhile Left Front govt in the state. He was also a member in the upper house of India’s parliament and functioned as a member in the Central Committee of the party. Incidentally he was among the CPM leaders who were for an alliance with the Congress to fight the BJP in West Bengal.

We are deeply saddened at the passing of a legendary figure in theatre, Ebrahim Alkazi who died on August 4 at the age of 95. Alkazi had been one of the very prominent actor and theatre director in Bombay of the 1940s and 50s. He later served as the director of the National School of Drama in Delhi the early 1960s. We join all theatre lovers in India to mourn his passing.

Ama Adhe, the iconic Tibetan freedom fighter who spent 27 years in a Chinese prison, passed away in her Dharamsala home on August 3, 2020, leaving behind a large number of Tibetan activists whom she inspired.

Emmanuel Farhi, the very talented and influential economist with a path-breaking work on keynsian economic macroeconomics just passed away in Harvard on July 23.
We join a wide range of commentators in offering our tributes to Farhi.

We pay homage to Comrade Satya Narayan Singh a leader of the Communist Party in Bihar who died of Covid-19 on Aug 2, 2020.

We would like to remember Sadia Dehlvi, the story writer chronicler of Delhi who lost her battle against cancer and died on August 5. Dehlvi owned the much respected Urdu magazine Shama.

August 8, The Editor

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