Monday, March 14, 2016

Smriti Irani Vs Sugata Bose: Bombast Triumphs and Truth is Casualty

How did a mediocre institute like Jawaharlal Nehru University and a pedestrian student leader like Kanhaiya Kumar become the symbol of dissent and gain worldwide fame? Both JNU and Kumar owe Narendra Modi and his college dropout turned tinsel town talent turned education minister Smriti Irani a big thanks.

On a good day neither JNU nor Kanhaiya Kumar will earn my love or respect. Kumar is a product of a Marxist cesspool that is JNU. Institutions where Marxism rules the roost intolerance is a virtue and intellectualism is defined as parroting Marxist nonsense, condemning US imperialism will earn additional brownie points and clothing the rhetoric in a blather of social justice with Ambedkar's name thrown in will earn a halo. Thanks to Irani and Modi today I've the unpalatable task of defending JNU and Kumar.

Smriti Irani - Courtesy 'The Wire"
Of the many things that my father taught me one was to avoid and distrust bombast in speeches. Having weaned himself away from the Dravidian political leadership that peddled bombastic nonsense in sham rhetoric he taught me to identify when speeches are empty. That is why I remain completely inoculated to the supposed rhetorical talents of Barack Obama. Smriti Irani's fiery performance in the parliament is better than anything Obama could've managed and ranks along side the histrionics of Sivaji Ganesan.The only difference is that while Ganesan was the mouth piece of dialogue writer Karunanidhi Irani wrote her own verses.

Irani's shrewish speech has now been touted by the crazed worshippers of fanatic Hindutva as 'fitting reply' to those they tar as anti-nationals. The speech was certainly entertaining to watch and Irani rolled on like a juggernaut pulverizing a feeble opposition that was no match for her lung power or theatrics. Waving sheaf after sheaf of papers Irani seemingly pummeled the hapless opposition into submission with unrelenting verbal assault. Time and again the minister reminded all that she was asking in an 'august' body. She probably had learned the word a day earlier and had a childish enthusiasm to use it as often as she could without understanding what it meant. The parliament is an august body not because it is an ornate edifice or because it has the largest gathering of the high and mighty but it is august because it is the custodian of a nation's soul, the parliament is where the nation's poorest have sent their elected representative to forge a destiny. Yet, it is in that august body the minister delivered a blistering speech that had everything but truth. Smriti Irani has besmirched the highest legislative body of the world's largest democracy and for that she should be ashamed.

It takes a diabolical chutzpah to equate a letter by Hanumantha Rao, that sought the minister's attention to the plight of Dalit students, to another letter seeking the minister to intervene against students. Context and truth were inconvenient roadblocks that the battering ram of rhetoric trammeled into dust. The minister, a woman, sought to portray herself in maternal symbolism by referring to Rohit Vemula as 'child' and proceed to assert in the 'august' body a grotesque lie, that the 'child' could've possibly been saved if only urgent medical attention had been provided. This turned out to be a blatant falsehood as it is now proven that Rohit Vemula was found hanging and dead. The minister railed against those who used the death for political scores but it is the minister who has shamed herself and an august body by her falsehoods.

The minister made a virtue out of forwarding letters her ministry receives. Is Irani a minister or a post master general? A responsible minister is not expected to just 'forward' letters but action on them intelligently. She knows fully well what the implied meaning is to a university Vice-Chancellor when he/she receives a letter forwarded by the HRD ministry. This makes the moral equivalence game of equating a letter conveying concern with a letter calling for expulsion of a select group of students as base, repugnant and shameful.

The Irani juggernaut rolled with complete reckless disregard for facts. The minister summoned outrage to express how authorities not appointed by this government had conducted investigations and called for action in the universities of Hyderabad and JNU. Both cases had more to it than just that.

Smug with the arrogance of a prosecutor having nailed the defense Irani proceeded to make a larger case and picked on the celebration of Mahishasura in a festival organized in the premises of JNU. With prosecutorial glee alloyed with a manufactured outrage for her religious sensibilities the minister railed that the truant students had insulted in derogatory manner a beloved goddess of Hindus, the majority of India. An MP from her own ruling party, Udit Raj, had taken part in the 'Mahishasura Martyrdom Day' event. The Durga legend is a colorful mythology in the Hindu canon and Hinduism is not averse or new to re-telling of myths or re-interpretation of myths. The Hindutva brigade often makes inflated claims about the catholicism and tolerance of Hinduism for the many groups that jostle within that umbrella with their own gods and myths.

Fancying herself as the demon slaying Durga Irani then pivoted to the favorite bug bear of the Hindutva Khaki crowd, the textbooks that, in her opinion, helped create such counter currents which have, again, in her opinion, an offensive strain. What Irani referred to as a textbook material on Shivaji was in fact a teacher's manual and that too long since withdrawn. The Maratha warrior Shivaji, like Durga, is being held hostage by the Hindutva crowd and any nuance, let alone plain facts, of his era that is inconvenient to their own chauvinistic narration are silenced.

If her speech was a litany of falsehoods delivered in high decibel with theatrical gesticulations her failure, to address the grotesque incident of assault of Kanhaiya Kumar within court premises by lawyers , was not even mentioned. and that's the real shame. What kind of a nation allows an accused to be beaten black and blue inside the court premises and the thugs who beat him brag openly on TV of what they had done? This is the kind of nation that the minister and a mob, calling themselves the majority, expect Kanhaiya Kumar to be proud of and sing its praises. What kind of a government doctors videos and whips up a jingoistic frenzy?

The events surrounding the contentious charges of sedition are very murky. The students, including Kumar, are charged with inciting and participating seditious slogans in the university. India, the Hindutva crowd never tires of pointing out, is a country with an ancient history, a glorious one at that. Post independence India has seen many separatist movements across the length and breadth of the country and I come from Tamil Nadu where such a political strain was vibrant for nearly two decades since 1947. India has overcome many of those because of public apathy towards such claims or in equally many cases with the iron hand of the state. The rag tag rabble rousers of JNU lack the ideology or cause and most importantly the will and means to action on any of their supposed anti-national impulses. What should have either been laughed off as hot blooded adolescent activism or at best met with counter propaganda has morphed into lionizing an effete crowd by slapping the charge of sedition on hapless students. It is an insult to the draconian provision of sedition charges to apply it to these students, intellectually incapable of articulating any serious sedition or attracting mass support.

While India is a country with a history stretching back into several millennia India the nation-state is a very young one and is practically, in the perspective of historical timeline, in it's infancy and is still learning the alphabets of modern political ideas of nationhood, secular state and liberal democracy.

The objections to Kanhaiya's alleged conduct ranged from the ludicrous to the mildly absurd. The most ludicrous one was the outrage that JNU students, subsidized by the Indian tax payer, are anti-national. By that yard stick it is the IIT students who are the worst turn coats and that goes for many an Indian thumping his chest in pro-Indian fervor sitting in Silicon Valley. Opposing the government of the day is clumsily equated with opposing the nation. Opposing the state is not the same as opposing the nation. More harm has been done by holding aloft the slogan "my country, right or wrong".

In the 1960s Tamil Nadu colleges saw a rash of anti-national and even seditious protests clamoring for Dravidanadu. Today many of those who cried hoarse in those rallies are busy communicating with their children in Western countries and worrying about rain water clogging the streets of Chennai and other places. The JNU protests and Kumar were unnecessarily lionized and given publicity. The inept and effete state has given oxygen to an asinine group of adolescents.

An interesting question that popped up in several commentaries, especially by the motley jingoistic crowd, was "would this be allowed in American universities?". Some even cited the police firing that happened at Kent state on May 4th 1970 that killed 4 students and implied that no such thing happened at JNU.

The Kent state firings happened during the dark Nixonian era when the country was plunged into literally civil unrest over the Vietnam war and universities across US were battlegrounds at the forefront of the anti-war movement. Even a president as sinister and unsympathetic as Nixon was forced to form a commission. The commission, the president appointed commission, called the firings unjustified. A memorial at the site today commemorates the lives lost on that shameful day. Can JNU erect a memorial to commemorate the shameful state tyranny on hapless and mindless students guilty of nothing other than empty sloganeering? America certainly makes mistakes but the difference between America and India is that America learns from it's mistakes whereas India has an inflexible intrinsic hatred towards learning anything.

Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of Kent State Shootings. Courtesy Wikipedia
Today if any student were to cry anti-American slogans at the top pf his/her lungs inside a university campus the First Amendment will certainly protect the student. Forget students making such noises there have been professors who happily dish out anti-Semitism in the name of supporting Palestine and others who openly accuse that US deserved 9/11. Prof. Ward Churchill said those who died in the WTC attacks were not victims but 'little Eichmanns'. Noam Chomsky, from his perch at MIT, writes screed after screed scolding US imperialism. A stunning majority of US university professors voted against then sitting President Bush in the election of 2004.

A more recent example shows how even a professor cannot intimidate a student reporter. During the recent rash of protests by african-American students across university campuses when a student attempted to film a protest at the University of Missouri a faculty member threatened him and told him to leave. The student reporter calmly said "this is a public place and I've rights". The professor then called for 'some muscle' to have him removed and the video of that exchange went viral and resulted in the professor getting fired.

Aravindan Neelakandan, a known rabid Hindutva hate-monger, cited the suspension of Habeas Corpus by Lincoln during the civil war and suggested that the Indian government may have to do the same. First, Habeas Corpus is the corner stone of modern jurisprudence and a cherished right that established that not even the monarch (later the state) has the power to imprison a citizen without trial and this writ exists as a check against that whereby a court of law can compel the state to produce the arrested person in the court just to prove that the person had not been harmed. The sinister advice that Neelakandan is suggesting is to suspend this sacred right and the only outcome of such a suspension would be a police state where dissent is not just stifled but terminated.

Curiously Neelakandan is citing the American example and that too the hallowed name of Lincoln. Neelakandan's guile would make a viper look tame. The layered meanings are that even in the so called land of the free and that too by none other than the guy revered as the Great Emancipator this right was suspended and therefore its ok for a mere mortal like Modi to do so in India. It is not without reason Neelakandan conveniently forgot that Indira Gandhi had suspended Habeas Corpus during Emergency and unlike Lincoln's example this applied to all citizens and terror regime was unleashed that resulted, at least, in one famous death, a student in Kerala who was tortured and killed in police custody.

P. Rajan - Student Killed in Police Custody in Kerala during Emergency. Courtesy Wikipedia
America learned from it's mistake and successive attempts to suspend Habeas Corpus were either extremely restricted or plainly unsuccessful after courts overturned them. India learned nothing from it's dalliance with totalitarianism. The much hated MISA was replaced successively by TADA and then POTA each more draconian than the predecessor.

The only silver lining to the shameful performance of Smriti Irani was the prebuttal by Sugata Bose. Bose gave a passionate speech calling for tolerance. Unlike Irani Bose was not all bluster but just erudite and passionate. My only criticism of Bose's speech is that it was too much Bengal centric, he could've picked a few eclectic choices from across India to buttress his call for diversity and tolerance.

It was interesting to see an intellectual dichotomy on social media with one group, in large numbers, thumping their chests and sharing Smriti Irani's bombast while another group, in much smaller numbers, sharing Bose's speech and beseeching attention to sanity. It almost appeared that the crowd was more in favor of Barabbas while a prophet of peace is ignored.

The High Court judgment that released Kanhaiya Kumar on bail is a head scratcher. The judge reminded Kumar that India's army guarantees the freedoms of it's citizens. Yes, there are thousands of soldiers who are defending India from external enemies but they do so only to protect the rights of citizens and the rights include criticizing the country, it's army, the judiciary and most certainly the government. The rights, as Thomas Jefferson sagely said, were 'inalienable rights endowed by their creator' not from courts or mortals. The Declaration, called America's most sacred scripture, then rolls on in staccato verse laying out the vision of a people who dared to declare themselves free of foreign yoke, "that to secure these rights, governments are instituted by men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter it or abolish it". Rarely in human history has man's mind spoken more pregnant words and set the destiny of a nation for ages to come.

Another sick viral video is of a Indian army general weeping that the nation he defended is turning anti-national. Indians, by and large, admire and whole heartedly support the Indian army for it's sacrifices but how many Indians know about atrocities committed by the Indian army in the North East Frontier States, that too with impunity because they are shielded from prosecution? That too, is the face of the Indian army and speaking about it is not anti-national.

PS: Much of this blog was already completed when allegations came out that Kanhaiya Kumar had been charged with improper behavior towards a girl. Apparently, he was found urinating on the campus by a girl and he behave 'improperly'. The JNU administration fined him Rs 3000 and warned that future acts would invite more stringent actions. This is nonsense. Laws against sexual harassment are very lenient in India. Charges should have been filed against Kumar, not let off with a paltry fine and a warning.

I also condemn a newspaper headline referring to Smriti Irani as 'aunty-national'. Irani is certainly a disgrace to the office she occupies and is unworthy of being listed along side Abul Kalam Azad but ridiculing a minister in sexist terms is gutter we should keep away from.


Note: Contrary to my habit I'll NOT give the youtube URL to Smriti Irani's shameless speech. Readers can easily google it. I don't want to give any more advertisement to that dishonest drivel.

1. Full text of Smriti Irani's speech

2. Factual errors in Smriti Irani's speech

3. Fact check on Irani's speech

4. On the Mahishasura legend

5. Kent State Firings

6. Habeas Corpus use in United States

7. Rajan murder case (during Emergency)

8. Sugata Bose's speech


Arjun said...

"...but the difference between America and India is that America learns from it's mistakes"
Hahaha. If some people specialize in histrionics, you specialize in cherry-picking of facts to suit your rhetoric which you invariably resort to in every blog you write. You are just as dishonest as those you accuse of being so.

Sudhindra said...

Superbly written views, it was a pleasure to read this post.

Sudhindra said...

Wonderfully written article, I enjoyed reading the articulate post very much. Keep up the great work!

anilkurup59 said...

What amused me is the comment here from this gentleman , who has let known his leanings. I'm tempted call all these blokes who frown at criticsm of Modi and his brand of governance by the name "Sanghis".
Indeed you have dealt well in this post and apart from some little comments to which I cannot agree I find your opinion worthy of endorsement.