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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 8, February 7, 2009

Trying Times

Editorial

Wednesday 11 February 2009, by SC

While tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad do not show any perceptible signs of abating with the latter still in a denial mode mainly on the question of the Mumbai terror strike last November having been planned and executed from Pakistani soil, the attack by the Sri Ram Sene activists on women at a pub in Mangalore on the ground that their presence there was against “Indian culture” has once again exposed the Hindutva brigade’s intention of imposing its “cultural” agenda on the polity at large by resorting to not just intimidation but violence as well. (How they seek to enhance their own “culture” by such despicable acts is beyond the comprehension of anyone not subscribing to their agenda.) Needless to emphasise, such attacks militate against liberal values which anyway the Hindutva forces have no qualms in trampling underfeet in the name of defending their “culture” which they claim to be an integral part of the “nationalism” they preach.

The Mangalore episode raises certain disturbing issues. The attack was aimed at women—young girls—in the pub, not on others enjoying their drink. The hooligans were thus nothing but MCPs and hence their claim to defend their “culture” betrayed their anti-feminist attitude to life. If the country is to be mired in that “culture” (which in the eighteenth century had sanctified such an inhuman practice as sati and could not countenance a social reformer of the stature of Raja Rammohun Roy’s spirited crusade against that abominable ritual) then we should as well bury the twentyfirst century project of modernising India and turning it into one of the major world powers. The kid-glove treatment to the Mangalore hoodlums meted out by the Karnataka CM reveals the ruling BJP’s deeprooted links in the State with the SRS goons who are out to destroy the nation’s image worldwide and undermine our democratic structure from within. As such anyone wedded to the idea of a secular, liberal and progressive India would be most apprehensive of reposing one’s faith in leaders of political formations which are not only communal, sectarian and narrow-minded but also demonstrate their proximity to the Taliban: while trying to whip up chauvinist and communal sentiments against Pakistan on the plea that it was sheltering and nurturing jehadi terrorists, they, by their very deeds, increasingly show themselves up as the Hindu counterparts of the Islamic jehadists with every passing day.

Some political leaders outside the Hindutva fold have openly assailed the ‘pub culture’ of late and they include both the Rajasthan CM and the Union Health Minister, even if the Delhi CM has taken a different stance on the subject. It is good that these leaders have expressed their views in utter frankness though one would venture to ask: can one really target the ‘pub culture’ without decrying the ‘mall culture’ stemming from globalisation and the eagerness to ape the US (and not the West as a whole)?

But there is a vital difference between Ashok Gehlot and Anbumani Ramadoss on the one side and those in the SRS (whom B.S. Yeddyurappa painstakingly defends and protects) on the other: the former are not seeking to impose their views on the public by force and/or coercien unlike the latter. And that is how it should be in a democracy—there should be full scope for a democratic discourse on the subject (including what we mean by ‘culture’ and ‘nationalism’). However, the Hindu Taliban have no interest in such an exercise because they are afraid of any intellectual discussion or debate based on rationality; for they lack arguments capable of convincing their opponents. Hence the recourse to violent attacks thereby unmasking their criminal proclivities.

Meanwhile the Chief Election Commissioner’s recommendation to the President to remove a fellow Commissioner due to the latter’s ‘partisan’ behaviour and functioning has left the political establishment and legal fraternity as well as constitutional experts sharply divided with many questioning the ‘timing’ of the move when the next general elections are just a few months away and the CEC himself is to retire on April 20. However, the substantive issues dealt with in N. Gopalaswami’s communication to the President, based on a petition to him by the principal Opposition party in the Lok Sabha, fall in a different category and the charge of Navin Chawla’s ‘partisanship’ cannot be summarily brushed aside as noted figures in the ruling dispensation are doing. This brings out the growing complexities in the current political scenario which are bound to get accentuated in the coming days as the country grapples with the challenges posed by the worsening security situation and the global economic meltdown.

These are trying times for all of us as the people at the helm (devoid of any broad national perspective) continue to suffer from political myopia and wallow in petty squabbles.

February 3, S.C.

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