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20 December 2014

In The Name Of Allah

n the midst of mourning in the subcontinent and inexplicable silence of the Arab world following the Peshawar attack where 132 children were butchered by terrorists came Tahreek-e-Taliban Pakistan’s justification for the massacre that is likely to lead to impressionable minds among Muslims seeing religious reason in violence and those among Hindus seeing Islam as an evil faith.
Official statement from Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan after the Peshawar massacre
The message in Urdu above (in white on black background) issued by the terrorist outfit reads:
Tālibān ke tarjumān Muhammad Khurāsāni: kā kahnā hai ke mujāhidi:n ko hidāyāt di: gai: thĩ: ke woh sirf baRe bachchõ kā qitāl karẽː. Peshāwar ki: kārwāi: sunnat-e-nabvi: kay a’in mutābiq hai kyõ ke Nabi: kari:m ne bhi: Banu Qurayzah ke qitāl kay waqt yahi: shart-e-mubārak ā’id ki thi: ke sirf un bachchõ ko qatl kiyā jāe jin ke zer nāf bāl dikhāi denā shuru: ho gaye haĩ. Bachchõ aur auratõ kā qatl a’in-e-Rasool-e-pāk ki: tā’li:m ke mutābiq hai, ai’trāz karne wāle Sahih Bukhāri jild pɑ̃ch, Hadis ek sau aRtāliːs ka mutāl’ah karẽː.
[Taliban spokesman Muhammad Khurasani says (his) holy warriors were instructed to fight (or battle with) older children alone. The Peshawar action is exactly in accordance with the practices of the Prophet, as the kind Prophet had laid down the same auspicious condition during the Battle of Banu Qurayzah (a Jewish tribe of that era settled in Medina) that only such children be killed whose pubic hair had appeared. The killing of children and women is precisely in conformity with the teaching of the Holy Prophet; those who disagree may refer to Sahih Bukhari’s Hadith No. 148 in Volume 5 (Book 58).]
An incomplete translation of the passage, copied from an American website, appeared in India Today. And the record was not set straight.
Sahih Bukhari’s Hadith No. 148 in Volume 5 of Book 58 (the book is not mentioned in the Urdu text) is as follows:
Narrated Abu Said al Khudri:
Some people (i.e. the Jews of Bani bin Quraiza) agreed to accept the verdict of Sad bin Muadh so the Prophet sent for him (i.e. Sad bin Muadh). He came riding a donkey, and when he approached the Mosque, the Prophet said, “Get up for the best amongst you.” or said, “Get up for your chief.” Then the Prophet said, “O Sad! These people have agreed to accept your verdict.” Sad said, “I judge that their warriors should be killed and their children and women should be taken as captives.” The Prophet said, “You have given a judgment similar to Allah’s Judgment (or the King’s judgment).”
One finds no mention of killing children and women in the order; they are supposed to be taken as captives. This citation by TTP is a classic example of what ails the Islamic community. Any idiot gets away with callous quotation and interpretation of the life and times of Prophet Mohammed when he/she has to add a halo of religious sanction to his/her fanciful claim. This malaise is not restricted to terrorists, militants and extremists among Muslims; it affects the Islamic population at large. In the last 23 years for which this columnist has interacted with Muslims following his formal training in Urdu, then Persian and finally Arabic, grannies and nannies have been observed trying to discipline little children with the claim that the Prophet had ordained such and such things! Back home when I would look for authentication of the claim, more often than not I would find no such Hadith.
But holding women and children hostage isn’t a good thing either, is it? That is where the situation must be described to get the context. What exactly had happened in Medina (or Yathrib) of Mohammed’s time? Those who know the history of Abrahamic faiths would recall that the Middle East saw Jews, Christians and Muslims — in that order — emerge on the scene, with each succeeding religion claiming that God had sent incomplete messages to the previous prophets and that the messages sent to their own prophet was the last word. For the sake of convenience, the reader may overlook the fact that Christians believe Jesus was the “Son of God” whereas Muslims regard Christ as Mohammed’s predecessor in the line of Apostles, arguing that the formless God cannot father a son in the physical form.
It is in the scheme of things of religions that when one claims that the previous one is “incomplete” or “incomprehensive”, the latter wouldn’t take it lying down. Hence, persecution of Jesus and his followers by Jews and animosity of both Jews and Christians with Muslims was only expected. The fable that they are all descendants of Abraham who went their separate ways somewhere down the family tree does not help in smoothing the ruffled feathers.
In this chain of violence to establish a new community’s dominance in an area over which its predecessor held sway appears the episode of Jewish tribes in West Asia that would simply refuse transit of Muslim traders and travellers through the neighbourhoods where they lived since they were displaced due to the Jewish-Roman wars and settled around the oasis of Yathrib to practise agriculture.
Banu Qurayzah was the last Jewish tribe standing; all others had been vanquished and subdued in bloody battles. This tribe was initially on friendly terms with Muslims. They had lent tools of warfare to Mohammed’s army during the Battle of the Trench/Confederates (Ghazwah al Khandaq/Ahzab in Arabic) and did not side with fellow Jews when the fight was on, thanks to the Prophet’s diplomacy, though they did not lend their men to participate in the battle.
Historians differ on the claim that there was a written pact between Muslims and Banu Qurayzah, but it is entirely possible that the Jewish tribe did not side with the Muslims for reasons of bonhomie; rather, it was what came across as a lesser risk to them since they had to cohabit with Muslim tribes Banu Aws and Banu Khazraj in Medina. This neutrality notwithstanding, Banu Qurayza readmitted Huyayy ibn Akhtab, the chief of Banu Nadir whom Mohammed had exiled during a previous invasion.
Much after the Muslim victory in the battle above, Mohammed happened to recite ‘revelations’ that virtually condemned Jews. This infuriated the people of Qurayzah and their relations with the Muslims soured. According to William Muir, the Qurayzah said, “Who is Mahomet (Prophet Mohammed), and who is the Apostle of God, that we should obey him? There is no bond or compact between us and him.” The Muslim historian who insisted the pact existed in written form, Abu Abdullah Muhammad ibn Omar ibn Waqid al Aslami aka al Waqidi, invited the ire of his community because he could not furnish hard evidence in support of his claim that Huyayy tore the agreement into shreds.
But the end of the treaty is not the ultimate reason Muslims give to justify the assault on Banu Qurayzah. They attribute it to an order of God delivered to Mohammed via Angel Gabriel (Jibraaiyl in Arabic) when the Prophet was spending a normal day washing clothes in the house of one of his wives Hind Bint Abi Umayya aka Umm Salamah!
The Messenger of Allah returned to al Madinah in triumph and the people put down their weapons. While the Messenger of Allah was washing off the dust of battle in the house of Umm Salamah, may Allah be pleased with her, Jibril, upon him be peace, came to him wearing a turban of brocade, riding on a mule on which was a cloth of silk brocade. He said, “Have you put down your weapons, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “But the angels have not put down their weapons. I have just now come back from pursuing the people.” Then he said, “Allah, may He be blessed and exalted, commands you to get up and go to Banu Quraiza.” According to another report, “What a fighter you are! Have you put down your weapons?” He said, “Yes.” He said, “But we have not put down our weapons yet, get up and go to these people.” He said, “Where?” He said, “Banu Quraiza, for Allah has commanded me to shake them.” So the Messenger of Allah got up immediately, and commanded the people to march towards Banu Quraiza, who were a few miles from al Madinah. This was after Salat Az-Zuhr. He said, “No one among you should pray `Asr except at Banu Quraiza.”
    Ismail ibn Kathir
Thence the Prophet declared Umm Maktum the ruler of Medina and ordered Ali bin Abi Talib to command an army of 3,000 infantry men and 30 horsemen of ansār (helpers) and muhājiri:n (migrants) to mount an assault on Banu Qurayzah. As the army approached the Jewish tribe, they could hear the Jews cursing Mohammed, Muslim narrators claim.
As the Muslim army’s stranglehold increased, Banu Qurayzah’s chief Ka’b ibn Asad mulled over three options: mass conversion to Islam, killing their own wives and children and then pouncing on the Muslims in an almost suicidal attack, or a sudden attack on the Day of Sabbath. None of the choices was acceptable to the tribesmen. They approached Abu Lubaba ibn Abd al Mundhir of Banu Aws, believed to be considerate to the Jewish plight. Abu Lubaba asked the women what they wanted to do; they were ready to surrender after learning from the mediator’s gesture that the other choice was inevitable death. Abu Lubaba then pleaded with Mohammed for mercy, but the Prophet pleaded helplessness in the name of ‘God’s order’.
Once Banu Qurayzah yielded on the 25th day of the siege, the Jewish men were handed over to a Muslim convert Sa’d bin Mu’adh who bore a grudge against the Jews because of the grievous injuries he had sustained during the Battle of the Confederates. In his custody, up to 900 Jews were beheaded, their properties confiscated while their women and children were taken as slaves and bartered against horses among Muslim customers. Prophet Mohammed approved of all this in the name of Allah (according to hagiographer Muḥammad ibn Isḥaq ibn Yasar ibn Khiyar and historians Francis Edward Peters, Norman A Stillman, Muhammad Adil and Muir).
Adulthood of the victims was decided on the basis of pubic (facial) hair in this part of the account by Indian historian Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri. I repeat, the Hadith cited by TTP does not have it.
Now, does the entire episode not smack of an utterly primitive and barbarian belief system, law and practice? It does, but Muslims were not the first to be so cruel. The judgment meted out to the victims was in accordance with the Law of Moses as stated in Deuteronomy 20:10-14. In terms of geography, therefore, can we say barbarism is integral to a collective and shared civilisation of the Middle East, which is not religion-specific?
Yes and no. It happened on innumerable occasions in the narratives of ‘Religions of the Desert’, but was never passed off as God’s will in ‘Religions of the Jungles’.
Jewish justice in the name of God
In the account of the Crucifixion, Mark 14:55-59 states that the chief priests had sought witness against Jesus to put him to death but did not find any, so they arranged false witness against him, but their witnesses did not agree together. Mark 14:61 states that the high priest then asked Jesus: “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed? And Jesus said, “I am,” at which point the high priest tore his own robe in anger and accused Jesus of blasphemy.
In Luke 22:67, Jesus is asked: “If thou art the Christ, tell us. But he said unto them, If I tell you, ye will not believe”. But, in 22:70, when asked “Are you then the Son of God?”, Jesus answers “You say that I am”, affirming the title Son of God. At that point, the priests say “What further need have we of witness? for we ourselves have heard from his own mouth”, and they decide to condemn Jesus.
Thereafter, in Pilate’s Court, the Jewish elders ask Pontius Pilate to judge and condemn Jesus — accusing him of claiming to be the King of the Jews.
Christian justice in the name of God
The Crusades in which thousands of Muslims — and also many Jews — were annihilated were military campaigns sanctioned by the Latin Roman Catholic Church during the High Middle Ages and Late Middle Ages.
Muslim justice in the name of God is explained above with the example of the invasion of Banu Qurayzah. That the worst imaginable ways of dealing with the ‘enemy’ is a West Asian phenomenon is undeniable.
Killing by Hindus may have divine sanction, fetish for bloodshed does not
Many instances of gore have been reported in India, too, but none came with the justification of the word of God. There are instances of brutalities in the Mahabharata, for example, but God — the form in which Krishna appears during the episode of Srimadbhagavadgita — only exhorts Arjuna to kill his kin for dharma. He does not prescribe means of killing such as beheading. The outrageous rape bid on Draupadi by Duhshasana and the obscene gestures at the hapless woman by Duryodhana following the dubious game of dice are not sanctioned by God. Neither is Bheema’s disgusting act of tearing apart Duhshasana’s chest during the war of Kurukshetra and drinking blood out of it — and an equally retributive and repugnant Draupadi soaking her hair in that blood — executed by the order of God. And there is no instance of taking women as slaves and selling them in the marketplace. Importantly, the Mahabharata is not a fight for dominance between feuding religions. Finally, for atheists and rationalists among Hindus, the epic is a myth, at best a well-written novel. Which means, in recorded history, Hindus have never been as barbaric!
Can a Hindu woman in this dreadful age when rapes are being reported at an alarming frequency mete out the kind of retribution Draupadi betrayed to her tormentor? In the nationwide demonstrations after the 16 December 2012 gang-rape, there were many voices demanding capital punishment for rapists, but none wanted the criminals to be released to a mob where they would be lynched [this writer received heavy blows of the police’s lathis during those demonstrations on 21-23 December that year].
I know of one incident that dates back more than a decade. A Hindu woman working in Saudi Arabia was molested by a local vendor. A qazi’s court was immediately put in place. The judge ordered the victim to chop off the hands of the perpetrator. She refused to be so sanguinary. She was ordered to leave the country for her defiance of the Shari’ah; she accepted the verdict though she badly needed the job, but was still not ready to play the role of the executioner.
The solution
This article, however, won’t end with condemnation of Abrahamic faiths. They have all found ways out of their respective theologies. While Jews in the United States and Europe are active in business and diplomacy, those in Israel attack Palestinians — rightly or wrongly — through conventional military means, not by dismembering the bodies of Arabs based on citations from the Torah. A massive chunk of European population turned atheists after the Second World War; their argument was, if God had existed, He would not have supervised over such widespread mayhem.
As for Muslims, hope exists in India even as turning a moderate means putting oneself in the line of fire of extremists in Pakistan and Afghanistan. There is a section, if not sect, of Muslims referred to as the “Koranists” by Western commentators. They do not go by the Shari’ah (code of Islamic laws) or the Ahadith (pl of Hadith — accounts of the life of Prophet Mohammed as narrated by his companions); they rely only on the Qur’an, the only book that all Muslims across all sects agree is the word of Allah (God), and not of a human prophet. Yes, there are verses in the Qur’an that inspire violence, but such verses exist in some holy books of all religions. That violence is not unexceptionable, and that it is to be used in extremely rare cases where all other options have been tried and ruled out are easy to establish if any verse is read with its preceding and succeeding verses — never in isolation — and then a scholar is consulted to know in what context they are applicable.
The Ahadith are untrustworthy not only because they differ from the narration of one Sayyad (Prophet’s companion) to that of the other, but also because their numbers have a margin of error of ±3,000 (as many alleged incidents may have actually never happened).
Of course, the Muslims will pooh-pooh any advice from a kafir like this writer. But challenge to the Ahadith is not a novelty I bring forth. A letter from Kharijite Abd Allah ibn Ibad to the Caliph Abd al Malik in 76 Anno Hegirae (695 Anno Domini) criticises the Kufans for taking the Ahadith for their religion abandoning the Qur’an:
They believed in a book which was not from God, written by the hands of men; they then attributed it to the Messenger of God.
A group referred to as Ahl al Kalam, who lived during the time of al Shafii (died 204 AH/820 AD) and mentioned in his Kitab Jima al Ilm rejected the Ahadith on theological grounds. Their basic argument was that the Quran was an explanation of everything (16:89). They contended that obedience to the Prophet was contained in obeying only the Qur’an that God has sent down to him, and that when the Qur’an mentioned the Book together with Wisdom, the Wisdom was the specific rulings of the Book.” According to them, “The corpus of Hadith is filled with contradictory, blasphemous, and absurd traditions.”
The Mutazilites, who represented one of the earliest rationalist Muslim theological schools, and are the later Ahl al Kalam (people of the Book), also viewed the transmission of the Prophetic sunnah as not sufficiently reliable. The Hadith, according to them, was mere “guesswork and conjecture” and “the Quran was complete and perfect, and did not require the Hadith or any other book to supplement or complement it”.
While Indian scholar and reformist Syed Ahmed Khan is abused by extremists in India and Pakistan alike, mercifully in India’s Muslim intellectual circles he is hailed and not vilified. He doubted and dismissed the Ahadith. In Indian society his memory is better placed than what Ghulam Ahmed Pervez, a friend of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, student of Allama Iqbal and critic of the Ahadith, could muster in Pakistan — a fatwa signed by more than a thousand orthodox clerics, denounced him as a kafir — or Kassim Ahmad could manage in Malaysia.
After a modernist Turkey fell into the hands of extremists, the Islamic stretch of the world from Arabian lands to Pakistan inspires little hope for reform. A recent article in Swarajya, containing a flurry of examples from history of Hindus, talked of a possibility of India regaining its ancient position of the vishwaguru (teacher of the world). Given Sir Syed’s exalted position in this country, India may well show the world how to be better Muslims swearing solely on the Qur’an.

09 December 2014

Why Bharat Doesn't Revolt Against India

is rationale is sound. And he has a way with words — he borrows the term “Californication” from the American comedy by that name to summarise Amartya Sen and Jen Drèze’s description of a liberalising India as “islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa” — which is remarkable, given that he went to-and-fro between electronic and print mediums of journalism, a transition the venerable Mark Tully famously did not find smooth. Hindol Sengupta in Recasting India depicts a country whose citizens have perhaps made more sense of freedom in the last two decades than what its politicians could muster. A member of the upwardly mobile middle class would be tempted to own it as his or her published title.
Binding: Paperback
Publisher: Palgrave
Author: Hindol Sengupta
Released: 2014
Beginning with Dwarakanath Tagore, Gurudev Rabindranath’s grandfather who had interests in coal, tea, jute, sugar refining, newspapers and shipping, the author speaks of the rut that Bengal politics, and hence economy, eventually fell into while not forgetting to mention that this linguistic community was not found effete when the situation demanded, first modernising a regressive society and then bombing its way into the history of India’s freedom struggle.
Before the reader could see regional parochialism setting in, Sengupta flashbacks to Bhimji Parekh of Surat of the 17th century. Parekh’s parleys with British trade representative Gerald Aungier that secured a place for Hindu Gujarati businessmen in Bombay makes the point that entrepreneurship is not always merely about managing to make profits but often about extracting assurances from the ruling class.
From there as the book hovers over Mukesh Ambani’s Antilia, defiance of reasonable budgeting by Suresh Kalmadi’s Commonwealth Games and A Raja’s 2G spectrum bidders jumping the queue, it turns into a compelling argument explaining why the disparity between the rich and the poor is not spinning into a civil war, all anti-corruption movements of the recent past notwithstanding. The poor of the unorganised sector, Sengupta argues with reason, are trying with their limited capacities to climb the ladder by making and selling whatever they can. This “per capita hope” — which his father dismissed as “per capita joke” — is keeping them from taking to the gun. For, an atmosphere of business does not support violence. The author sees even Maoist militancy in and around places buzzing with economic activity as a fight for Anitilia and not one against it; “We want to be up there,” the faceless protagonists of the story seem to be demanding.
In this roughhouse of course happens a scam like Saradha where old investors are paid high interest from the money of the new until the chain dries up. However, there is also the ilk of Shriram Chits that does not promise altitudinous returns but does something useful for trade: provide loans to truckers who would otherwise have to live with months of processing time if they were to apply to banks for the sum, a delay the business can ill afford. Lower down in the economic hierarchy, when the author talks to a Lakshmi Bala Das from Bengal’s Nadia district working with a certain Maids’ Company in Gurgaon, earning Rs 8,500 a month, we can relate it to the domestic helps in our households who have a similar story to tell. But this is no starry-eyed account based on anecdotes from the capital’s satellite townships.
Hiware Bazar, six hours’ drive from Mumbai, for example, has its own nonfiction to narrate. Juxtaposed with the Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s protests against the toll one has to pay while driving on the expressway between the state’s capital city and Pune is the calm intelligence of doing business in the backwaters. The environs described in this chapter refreshed my memory of Himmatnagar of Gujarat I visited just about a year ago: Pothole-free roads, clean water, round-the-clock electric supply, well-built and maintained houses and, most importantly, people making money and the poor turning middle class. And this capitalism comes with a good measure of social tolerance; there is just one Muslim family in the village, but Hindus have built a mosque to facilitate that family’s prayers.
Sengupta’s challenge to the inertia-ridden socialist political heads and dyed-in-the-wool demagogues is formidable as this tome is no armchair commentary. Born in 1979, the author himself exemplifies a change a relatively liberal India has brought forth that the book does not delve into: the emergence of a breed of right-of-centre ideologues equipped as impressively as communist activists in universities with statistics hard to deny. There is also an irony the book skips: the capitalist poor man does not know he is a capitalist; he has been fed with horror stories of Shylocks of the post-Shakespearean Industrial Revolution epoch; and so he votes for the promise of an interventionist government aka socialist government.

25 November 2014

None Of Our Business

here are five different manners in which the RTI application from Jashodaben Modi, estranged wife of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wanting to be assured of her safety, can be viewed: hypothetically, liberally, spiritually, historically and factually. None of the ways, as readers will see through this article, justifies the sudden advocacy by ‘social liberals’ (read detractors of Modi) that the prime minister must either accept Jashodaben in his family fold or divorce her — one of the two, normally accepted social conventions for partners in a couple.
No way is Jashodaben in a position comparable to that of Indira Gandhi who had irked an entire community with her mishandling of the Punjab situation by first hobnobbing with Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale and then sanctioning Operation Bluestar to let Army into the sanctum sanctorum of the Golden Temple of Amritsar. Invocation of the incident perpetrated by Mrs Gandhi’s bodyguards Satwant Singh and Beant Singh in Jashodaben’s RTI application is ludicrous.
Second, if Jashodaben feared that her life was imperilled because she was an embarrassment for the prime minister — with the presumption that Modi is evil — a politician is likely to avoid discomfiture by preventing the disclosure. Now that the whole world knows Modi was once married, what is the point silencing his separated wife?
Factoring in both the reasons above, and given that Jashodaben led a secluded, low-profile life till last year, chances are high that political rivals of the BJP — most probably, low-rung, too-clever-by-half Congress leaders in Mehsana district of Gujarat — are inciting the poor lady for trouble.
Liberal view
With all its flaws, the Indian mainstream media is better than the tabloid and paparazzi-driven European media that drove Princess of Wales Diana Frances to a fatal car crash while pushing a host of lesser celebrities to the brink of substance abuse and depression. What our public figures do in their private lives have never bothered our journalists in print, if insiders were to ignore the Press Club-style gossips that never turn official. Displaying equal maturity, voters have never brought in a government or dropped one on the basis of how the party’s leaders conducted themselves at home. So, what explains the zeal of this very crop of people who spent the whole of yesterday on social media, counselling the prime minister what he should do about his wife? The poking certainly did not behove those who love to be identified as liberals.
Ironically, while the ‘liberals’ are purportedly anti-Brahminism, they are today speaking the language of the Brahminical faction in the Sangh Parivar that was against an OBC Modi’s rise till the last year owing to his clash with Sanjay Joshi. They were the Brahmins in the Sangh that first carried out a whisper campaign about Modi’s marriage to counter the public humiliation a Brahmin Joshi had to undergo due to an allegation of sexual indiscretion.
Spiritual view
It is surprising to note that the Indian commentariat has not internalised Indian spiritual mores. In a nation where Gautama Siddhartha abandons his wife — coincidentally called Yashodhara, the pristine version of Jashoda — to answer his spiritual calling, some commentators are finding it difficult to come to terms with the fact that a teenager (more about this later) with an urge to renounce life excused himself from marriage and wandered about in the Himalayas in search of some greater meaning of life. The Buddha must be heaving a sigh of relief that his times did not see 24x7 television channels and an enthusiastic accompaniment by Twitter and Facebook to put his journey under constant scrutiny, more so because, unlike Modi, he also had a son whom he did not care for either. And that was perfectly acceptable to our ancestors who revered him for his Eight Fold Path and not held the act of abandonment of family against him. Where one can take a lesson from the Buddha and extrapolate it on Modi, many years later when the founder of Buddhism was far from being the old Prince Siddhartha, he ran into his wife and son again. He did not ask them to come back to his life.
The tradition did not stop there. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu left his wife Bishnupriya in search of Lord Krishna. He would meet his mother off and on after taking sannyasa. When he would visit his old house, he would call out for his mother from outside the abode. Mother Sachi Devi would urge the daughter-in-law to stay indoors as she would come out to meet her son. For the sannyasi, even the sight of his ‘former’ wife was forbidden!
Modi, focussed on the job of prime minister, wouldn’t be following the Buddha if he were to call Jashodaben back to his life. Following in the footsteps of Chaitanya, he still meets his mother Heera ba but never his wife.
This is not to raise a contemporary politician to the high pedestal of saints. But the whole village of Vadnagar bears testimony to the fact that Modi was driven by the idea of renunciation from early childhood. One may visit the Belur and Rajkot branches of Ramakrishna Mission whose records reveal that a young Narendra had approached Swami Madhavananda Maharaj and Swami Atmasthananda to make him a monk of the Mission’s order.
One may or may not agree with the ideology of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh that Modi joined later. That takes nothing away from the fact that he was convinced that was the right path for him, and family did not figure in his frame of mind or scheme of things at that point of time. Even today, his acquaintances say he has no social circle; he thinks nothing beyond his work.
Within this section on spirituality, I am impelled to bring in another hypothesis. What if this unifocal man decides to embrace his wife eventually? Remember Lord Rama from the Ramayana. The lord tried his best to be a good husband as much as a good king. Feminists will tell you how miserably he failed on the first count.
Historical view
Since the so-called liberals are also rationalists or atheists who pooh-pooh the Ramayana as mythology, let’s study the private life of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. He could neither keep wife Kasturba happy — imposing on her, for example, the strict code of cleanliness that entailed manual cleaning of toilets in the ashrams — nor could he satisfy his eldest son, a bewildered Harilal, who hopped, skipped and jumped from the dream of a Bar-at-Law from England, conversion to Islam and back to Arya Samaj, appearance in his father’s funeral in a state of dereliction and eventual death of a liver disease induced by alcoholism. Given that Modi is known to be a one-track mind that cannot think beyond work, what homely pleasure can he offer to Jashodaben?
Therefore, why not divorce, one might ask. But what is divorce meant for? Either one or both the partners want to remarry, or one is eyeing a lucrative alimony. The first is unthinkable for both Narendrabhai and Jashodaben. The second is not plausible; the wife could have demanded monetary help if she had to when the husband was Chief Minister of Gujarat for almost 13 years.
Jashodaben and Narendrabhai Modi
Photo courtesy:
The facts
Modi’s father Damodarbhai was a domineering personality in the family whose decisions none dared contradict, let alone challenge. He had promised his childhood friend that the latter’s daughter would be married to Narendra. The day elder sons Sombhai and Amritbhai were getting wedded together, Damodarbhai ordered Narendra to get into the wedding arena and tie the knot with Jashoda. The intimidated son, who had barely crossed 17 years of his life and was terribly in awe of his father, obliged.
That very day, however, he could speak to his newly wedded wife. He said he was never meant for grihastha (household life) and would leave to lead the life of an ascetic soon, which he did two years later. In the meantime, he hardly stayed home; his childhood friends recall his unfathomable quest for something otherworldly for which he wandered about in the region. The marriage with Jashoda was not consummated. Before leaving for the Himalayas, he told her she was free to marry again. From a distance, he ensured that Jashoda completed her formal education so that she could fend for herself. Indeed, she went on to become a teacher, thanks to her education inspired by the husband who wasn’t.
The whole of Vadnagar village knew about this one-day marriage, and so did the local branch of the RSS. This organisation does not accept married men as pracharaks, but the Sangh did accept Modi as one because it knew this marriage meant nothing.
Leave the separated couple alone. Modi’s primary organisation, with full knowledge of the facts pertaining to his conjugal condition, had accepted him and, for more than a year, fought with competitors within the Bharatiya Janata Party who nursed prime ministerial ambitions to prop him as the saviour of the country passing through a dire phase of economic slowdown and threats to national security. Now, it’s not the prime minister’s marital status that is holding the nation’s development and keeping its borders and territory unsecured. A public figure’s private life is none of our business.

25 October 2014

Politically Feasible Market Economics

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pro-market, but he wouldn't rush liberalisation without calculating the political implications of every capitalist measure proposed by economists.

ar better than the Congress, much less than liberal economics, but an urge to push it within the confines of political realism — that is how the Modi government’s performance can be summarised. Liberals who supported the Bharatiya janata Party’s campaign in the hope of a revival of the national economy, but who are not in touch with functionaries of the government, have had occasions of despair. Why so many foreign trips? Why has one minister been entrusted with two of the most important portfolios, both of which demand full-time involvement? Why no thrust on Hindutva? These are some of the FAQs the government must live with.
After meeting some economists the prime minister trusts, I sought to allay concerns of the Right-of-Centre supporters of the party on Facebook. In the group Youth for democracy, I wrote, “… the new dispensation is severely short of intellectuals, one of whom can replace him (Arun Jaitley) in the Finance Ministry. It is not politically feasible to bring someone from outside and abruptly place him on top. However, economists who have campaigned intellectually for the party will be acknowledged, if not rewarded. ‘Reward’ has been ruled out because
  • Many of them have said they did not do it for rewards;
  • They have said they are too independent by temperament to be part of a government, or
  • Some have been too demanding for the government’s comfort.”
Arvind Panagariya

Two names can be revealed in this article. Modi found Arvind Panagariya too demanding, say my sources, and hence asked him to restrict himself to the role of a consultant who would keep operating from overseas. When Surjit S Bhalla was contacted, he excused himself saying he was too fiercely independent to be part of a government, another finance ministry economist under the condition of anonymity confided in me.
To the above, if one added the clause that MPs aged above 75 wouldn’t be made ministers, one can reason why an economic stalwart in the right wing camp such as Arun Shourie couldn’t be invited to join the government. Shourie’s personal reasons wouldn’t have impeded his way into the dispensation, had the age restriction not been in place. The tacit rule also explains the exclusion of another crusader against corruption from the Cabinet: Subramanian Swamy stepped on 75 two months ago. In fact, Modi is so serious and sincere about this self-imposed discipline that he is reported to have told his confidantes he would retire after leading the party in the 2024 elections (he would be 74-year-old then). Lending credibility to this insider information, he told a child who had asked him what the qualifications of a prime minister were on the Teachers’ Day, “Prepare yourself for the 2024 elections!” If you thought that was a mere quip, you were mistaken.
Surjit S Bhalla
Further explaining the pace of change, I wrote subsequently, “Modi is also not happy with the top 10 bureaucrats who were picked up by the UPA regime, but he does not wish to stir a political storm by removing them all in one stroke. They will go in phases.”
“Big-ticket reforms will begin post-November after the prime minister’s trip to Japan. They will get a renewed thrust in the next Budget. Modi will calibrate his steps based on the levels of patience of different sections of population. He is believed to have divided the people into three broad sections: the most impatient media, which he has decided not to pay much attention to; the moderately patient poor, whom he will constantly work on, and the most patient middle class that has to wait till the end of next year for “achchhey din”. Modi is reported to believe that the middle class’s honeymoon with him will last one-and-a-half years after which he will take more measures to please them,” I wrote.
Bibek Debroy
As predicted in the post dated 25 August, reforms have begun right after the first phase of the prime minister’s foreign trips. Easing off the burden on a recuperating Jaitley, pro-market Arvind Subramanian and Rajiv Mehrishi have been brought into the government’s scheme of things. Barely a few weeks after returning from his US trip, Modi appointed Subramanian as the Chief Economic Advisor and shunted Finance Secretary Arvind Mayaram out of the Finance Ministry. Mehrishi, an IAS officer of the same batch and State cadre as Mayaram, was appointed Secretary, Department of Economic Affairs in the Ministry of Finance. Mehrishi is believed to be the chief architect of Rajasthan’s labour reforms initiatives. Bibek Debroy, the economist other than Bhalla whose pre-April 2014 articles used to clear the air about Gujarat economy, has already been working on reform of the Indian Railways.
Arvind Subramanian (L) and Rajiv Mehrishi
On 20 October, television was enthralled by Jaitley’s announcements pertaining to the coal sector. The Cabinet has recommended ordinance for reallocation of coal blocks; the reallocation will be completed in 4 months; there will be e-auction of coal mines for private firms’ end use. Now comes the policy’s political management. To pacify regional rivals, the government has decided that the revenue from mines will to go to the States. To keep breast-beating socialists at bay, Jaitley has assured Coal India’s future won’t be affected, even though the government is set to undertake restructuring of the public sector behemoth and world’s largest coal miner, Coal India Ltd (CIL), by creating multiple mega coal companies in line with the recommendations of a government-commissioned study by global consulting firm Deloitte. The jholawala brigade’s expected rants in response are not likely to receive public support when the reforms boost manufacturing and create millions of jobs. On the other hand, liberal economists who are lamenting the government’s act of stopping short of complete de-nationalisation of the coal sector have no more than academic importance on the political scene. Former secretaries at the Power Ministry EAS Sarma and Anil Razdan, for example, want an independent statutory regulator to de-politicise coal mine allotments and coal pricing. This is hardly a soul-stirring issue for activists.
NDTV's coverage of Arun Jaitley's announcement of a slew of reforms in the coal sector
Television missed three headlines that some newspapers caught on the 21 October: One, 88 infrastructureand industrial projects, involving investment of nearly Rs 3 lakh crore — which is more than the Centre’s budgeted income tax collections for the current financial year — have become operational over the past few months. This will help in adding jobs and easing pressure on banks, which had lent to the projects that got stuck due to lack of government clearances. Two, the government last Monday initiated a series of measures to make iteasier for companies to do business in the country by streamlining the processfor granting industrial licences as well as setting up a committee to look intoissues of corporate bankruptcy. At present, there is no bankruptcy law in India. Such a law will enable entrepreneurs to close down unviable businesses. The move will primarily help small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) contribute about 8% to India’s GDP. The government has earmarked Rs. 24,000 crore towards the sector under the 12th Plan against Rs. 11,000 crore in the 11th Plan. All public sector banks are expected to allocate at least 55% of credit to MSMEs, register a 10% annual growth in the number of micro enterprises and raise their credit growth to the sector by 20%.
Three, the content of bankruptcy law was perhaps too much to deliberate upon for cerebrally challenged television channels, but why did they miss the effort to sell off stakes in the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation? The administration’s top privatisation official met bankers on Monday in the financial capital, Mumbai, to discuss the sale of a stake of 5% in ONGC. The finance ministry hopes to raise up to $3 billion from the sale, almost a quarter of its target for asset sales for this financial year.
Earlier, it was announced on the day of launch of Shrameva Jayate that all 1,800 labour inspectors will be disallowed from swooping down on companies. Instead, a computerised system will randomly send them on inspections, based on data trends and objective criteria. Following inspections, they will have to upload their reports within 72 hours and cannot modify them thereafter. This was a low-hanging fruit to pluck.
Readers of Swarajya will get to hear another announcement sooner than the above, which I had foretold on 25 August: “The replacement of the Planning Commission will be a body to coordinate between the Centre and the States. It will certainly not be a planning organ by another name, and it will not be a typical think-tank as is being speculated in the media.”
he huge social media support that the BJP enjoys has also been revealing a less-than-charitable outlook for its government. Most of them don’t like Jaitley. Conspiracy theorists find him a Congressman in Modi’s team! More measured commentators call him status quoist. Whatever be the truth in these allegations — fuelled by the new Finance Ministry’s act of taking the same DTAA route as the UPA Government to bring back Indian black money from overseas, refusal to make the Henderson-Brooks’ report public and affidavit censuring Gen VK Singh — the prime minister is not banking on the finance minister fully. At the same time, the two will remain friends.
In a more recent post on Facebook, I explained on 17October: “When Narendra Modi was being vilified by political rivals and NDA constituents alike for the 2002 Gujarat riots, Arun Jaitley, then a Central minister, stood rock solid as a pillar of strength of the then Gujarat Chief Minister. Before that, when the tussle between Hajurias and Khajurias in Gujarat politics had cornered Modi, it was a room in the backyard of Jaitley’s 9 Ashoka Road bungalow where he spent his years of ‘exile’. Now that a large section of BJP supporters suspect the finance minister’s good offices with Congress functionaries to be responsible for the confidentiality of information on black money, of the Henderson-Brooks report and for a Budget that funded UPA Government’s pet projects all the more, the prime minister is in an unenviable position of having to balance between friendship, national interest and his core constituency’s perception. A seasoned politician that he is, Modi is delivering on the financial front by filling all economic wings of the government with advocates of free-market who will together steer policy rather than saddling the onus on the finance minister alone. Even as shifting Jaitley to some other ministry is ruled out, his relevance is reducing. This morning’s newspapers declare the first steps towards labour reforms in all their front page headlines as I had foretold some months ago on Facebook. Supporters of the government who don’t have access to insider information must repose their trust in the politics of Modi.”
“Actually, here is a leader who has no friend, no social circle, nobody to wine and dine with, unlike all of us. He is obsessed with a mission called India, and even his family and wife couldn’t come in his way. The equation with Jaitley is more of indebtedness and recognition of his connections in the political and industrial circles (the second was necessary for revival of the ‘India story’) than of friendship. This is pragmatism. Have faith in his patriotism. He will deliver on all the issues: Black money, rejection of obsolete laws, declassification of state archives (that will inter alia unravel the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose mystery), making the country a free-er market as well as a manufacturing hub etc. If the information I shared about the government’s calibrated economic measures has come true today, what is written in this post will certainly hold good some day.”

Finally, why is there no thrust on Hindutva? Well, who made Modi a “Hindu Hriday Samrat”? Following the 2002 Gujarat riots, not only did his detractors slam him for going soft on rioters, many who thought the gory incidents were Muslim society’s comeuppance began believing in the myth. In other words, Modi is hated and loved by two sets of incorrigible people: leftists and the far right. He is under no obligation to live up to the impression of their own creation. He is a true secular, who does not distribute fake smiles equally among all communities as is expected in Indian secularism; his focus is development irrespective of our communal identities. He talked of 6 crore Gujaratis as their chief minister; now all of 1.25 billion Indians are his constituency.

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.