Sunday, July 22, 2012

Subramanian Swamy And His Parallel Universe

A friend invited me to attend an event featuring Subramanian Swamy at a local temple in NJ. I was hesitant in attending this meeting because it was titled 'Hindu Unity Day'. My friend assuaged me that it was a public event.

The function started a little later and in characteristically chaotic manner. A girl rendered US national anthem, famously difficult to sing, very well followed by Vande Mataram. The setting was overtly Hindutva with the table draped with a cloth emblazoned with 'Om'.

A group of kids performed a classical dance with kids of ages ranging from 6-10 and the dance reflected the age. They were elaborately attired but the choreography was pathetic with the poor kids being so totally out of sync. Why is it that Indian parents coax their kids to go on a stage and then feel proud for just being on a stage  without any thought of how ridiculously they perform?

Without much ado Dr Subramanian Swamy took the stage 30 mins after the scheduled time. His topic was "Relevance of Chanakya today". For nearly an hour Swamy was all over the map. If I am a blind Hindutva person I'd call it a 'tour-de-force'. Indian orators notoriously love to go extempore without adequate preparation. Result is they meander a lot and commit blunders too. Referring to Michael Jackson, Swamy said 'Negro dancer'. For a guy who studied in Harvard and taught in Harvard it is a shocking word. Not many in the audience even gasped. I've seen Indians , of all political affiliations, refer to Afro-Americans in words that I'd rather not repeat. Swamy's choice of word, I'd say, was not accidental.

Swamy apparently lives in a parallel universe where Alexander was defeated by Porus (not the other way), Aryan invasion (or immigration) did not happen, Steve Jobs was transformed in India (yes, he realized that going back to materialism was better, not the kind of transformation Swamy implied), Bobby Jindal converted to Christianity to become Governor, Baba Ramdev is humility personified compared to ostentatiously dressed Pope, Sai Baba lived a life of unimpeachable piety and poverty.

V.S. Naipaul in "India: A wounded civilization" intrestingly narrates "in April 1976, in London, at 'International Conference on the restoration of democracy in India" the audience was told, like Swamy did in 2012, that Porus defeated Alexander. Almost 30 years and the fantasy lives on.

Swamy excoriated the materialist culture of USA and praised the spiritual fiber of India. He said Chanakya, unlike Adam Smith and Karl Marx, saw that man was more than just an economic unit. That is why, Swamy continued, Julia Roberts found peace in India. If I earn $20 million a film I'll find peace in the Amazon forests or in Sahara too. Seeing a quote of Vivekananda printed on a pamphlet in Dutch West Indies, of course extolling India's spirituality, Naipaul trenchantly observed that merchant was "secure in someone else's economy and political system, the creation of another civilization".

Machiavelli, Swamy said, was, well, Machieavellian unlike Chanakya who led an upright life. Arthasastra, Swamy said, encourages being in up kids with a spirit of inquiry, lays stress of multiple intelligences, outlines emotional intelligence etc all of which are in vogue in modern western educational philosophy. I am sure since nobody in the audience has indeed read any 'definitive text' of Arthasastra one cannot say for sure.

In his stem winder of read meat speech Swamy waded into controversies gleefully. He called for resurgent Hindu assertiveness, he exhorted the sympathetic crowd to be a 'viraat hindu' not 'sathvik hindu'. Sitting in USA he glibly said no Christian country in truly secular. He repeatedly referred to Saudi Arabia and questioned why India should be secular. In a wave the red rag moment he called on Christians and Muslims to accept that they are Hindus first. He welcomed Christianity and Islam as tributaries that join the mainstream (Hinduism). Alluding to the topic of the meet, 'hindu unity', he said if  just 2/3rd Hindus voted in unison India could have a Hindu government.

India's model of secularism does have glaring defects like funding for Haj. Not even Saudi Arabia funds for Haj. Swami, in true Hindutva fashion, made full use of that to debunk secularism itself as a governing concept. His repeated references to Saudi Arabia made me wonder if in his mind that's what he wants India to be albeit a Hindu version.

Talking on Varnashrama Dharma Swamy said that no Hindu text says that one becomes a Brahmin by birth. Brahmanhood is to be attained. Of course he cited Viswamithra. Varnashrama reflects only a 'class structure' and people can slide in and out of classes. This is true and it is on this slippery slope that Gandhi, S.Radhakrishnan and even Jeyakanthan tie themselves in knots. Saying Varnahsrama nevertheless became fossilized Swamy called for abandoning it as if it is being practiced today or is being advocated as a dominant philosophy. Not incidentally he completely ignored the despicable social ills that flowed out of that philosophy. That Valmiki, Vyasa, Kalidasa were non-Brahmins and are accorded great respect does not mean diddle escaped this Phd from Harvard.

Swamy does not flinch from playing any role to stitch together fabricated history in service of his ideology. He played historian, anthropologist, sociologist, politician etc all rolled into one and all played with equal or more insincerity. In Swamy's world facts are an inconvenient irritant mostly.

The one area where Swamy had some credibility was on corruption. As one of the main litigators of the 2G scam he had choice jokes on Raja, Kanimozhi etc. His reference to Sonia Gandhi as 'visha kanya' (poisonous virgin) drew laughs from the sympathetic audience. It was despicable.

One person asked Swamy "since schools are where minds are formed how can we ensure that Hinduism is taught to students and ingrained in their minds". Swamy, with whatever modicum of decency left in him, replied "schools are not for that. Do that in your home". I was stunned that an American citizen would ask that question. How would this devout Hindu react if Christian America decided to make a Christian out of his child at school?

What can we make out of this spectacle. Here is a Harvard PhD with an audience of well educated, people and yet there is no attempt to have a decent discourse. How Swamy conducted himself with this audience is no different from Vetrikondan of DMK. Swamy did not elevate the conversation, he did not even try to elucidate any nuances in the topic. If anybody without knowing who Swamy is had strolled into the hall he/she would think this is Sarah Palin in Indian garb. Swamy's book on the fictional bridge between Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka is plain rubbish. Swamy and Chidambaram are intent on destroying the brand value of a Harvard degree.

The audience, barring me and my friends who really went out of curiosity, also deserves to be scolded. I can understand having concerns about the home country we left behind but what kind of an American citizen would applaud to rabid comments like "Christians and Muslims have to accept their Hindu ancestry and prove they love Hindustan". It was ridiculous to see a woman shout 'Bharat Mata Ki Jai' at  the end. While 'Jana Gana Mana' was sung no one on the dais, including Swamy, stood in attention. So much for all that Hindutva chatter.

I've now firmly come to the conclusion that Indians in America, with few exceptions, live a dichotomous life. Outside of their associations and sangams they are, in a very limited way, Americans. Within the confines of their associations they become, once more, with gusto, Indians. Academic achievements, professional status, regional affiliations, economic differences all not withstanding Indians show a despicable penchant for divisiveness, utter disregard for any sense of intellectual integrity, parochialism, fundamentalism, in short, no Indian vice is muted irrespective of how long they lived in a different culture. The worst part is when I expect simple things like a function starting on time, sticking to the agenda hand out, intellectual integrity etc I earn brickbats like 'acting white'. Pathetic. I'll address this more in my forthcoming blog on why immigrants should not be ashamed of imbibing what is best in the culture of their adopted homeland in order to enrich their own culture. Whenever I hear "oh this is an Indian function, learn to enjoy this chaos, kick back, relax and don't mind the shortcomings" I feel my adrenaline pumping. I did not come this far to be an Indian at least not the Indian as it is defined in general.

Indian-Americans are an insular lot. It is a concern for those, like me, who love America for its own culture. Long back I met Gnani, a columnist, from Tamil Nadu. He asked the group of invitees a hypothetical question, "what would you like to take back to India from USA, if you return for good". When my turn came I answered "I am not worried about taking anything from USA to India what gives me sleepless nights is that Indians continue to import India into USA". I'll return to this topic in my next blog.


Anonymous said...

"A group of kids performed a classical dance with kids of ages ranging from 6-10 and the dance reflected the age. They were elaborately attired but the choreography was pathetic with the poor kids being so totally out of sync. Why is it that Indian parents coax their kids to go on a stage and then feel proud for just being on a stage without any thought of how ridiculously they perform?"

Its probably the first question that I had against the society.. Wonderful.. Beautiful post. Linear. Questions that needs addressing. but sir. If I were you I wouldn have focused much on Swamy. The organizers brought him to that place and he didn fail their expectations.. The worst racists of the world are us Indians.. I would love to read your posts that attacks the so called fabric of the nation.. but meanwhile, we need to accept the fact, being open minded doesn necessitates the extremists organizations of other religions, including Christianity to return the favor. I oppose the religion sellers and the hindutva fanatics as much as alike..

Anonymous said...

There are multiple views on what happened to Alexander. Here is a 2ndlook at what happened

So it's not surprising that Thiru.Swamy holds a diffrent view, that suits his nationalistic interests.

There is nothing wrong in Thiru.swamy's assertion that Christians and Muslims's ancestors were Hindus. Don't the Indian immigrants accept the fact that US is a White, Christian country? why not the Indian Christians and Muslims accept that Their ancestry is Hindu? The answer to that riddle is that the Christian Church and the Muslims want to remake Hindu India into a Christisan and Islamistan. Thats why they Have to assert they are separate from the pagan, idol worshipping Hindus. That's why you have separate Muslim and Christian associations by Indians in us. So instead of blaming Dr.swamy for his assertion, the author has to get acquainted with this reality and speak against converting Hindu India.

Neel said...

Dr Swamy mentioned only about those Muslims and Christians who have Indian ethnic origin. They belong to the same race as Hindus. It has been proven by scientific DNA analysis. The author has either selectively left out the details or didn't listen to the speech fully.

'Breaking India' by Rajiv Malhotra has written in detail about all the tactics used by foreign invasion to divide India. Aryan invasion is a theory of their creation. There are scientific studies which disproves such a theory.

The social ills of the society were never preached in the scriptures but was a creation of some evil minded people in the name of religion/philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Well said Aravindan.

Swamy and friends are no different from everyday fundamentalists, calling them right wingers will give them legitimacy. Their talking points are moot and superficial. Educated Middle Class's (in India and outside) crisis with Hindu Identity is the raison d'etre, they thrive on the few genuine and lot of manufactured fears and feed on them.

In the case of Swamy its only after 2002 he became this Hindutva missionary. Before that he was thoroughly anti-rss, talked about rebuilding the mosque at Babri and tried all kinds of tricks against NDA 1 & 2. He is not a maverick as many construe, he is more a smart cookie operator who is always trying to latch on to a crowd to be relevant. Today that opportunity is available in the group consisting primarily of NRI/ PIO and Just Resident Indians(JRI), hence the right winger avatar.

Swamy's anti-corruption avatar is questionable. He was close to Chandraswami & Narasima Rao combo, during the same period he opposed Jeyalalitha's corruption. Later compromised with her giving clean chit. Similarly with Sonia Gandhi he thought he could become her confidant, manipulated Jeyalalitha, but found Sonia way to smart, not forgiving the defeat he started calling her corrupt. On 2G its to a larger extent Daily Poineer and Prashant Bhusan and with help from Maran Brothers, who opened the lid. Swamy as his wont joined later and hogged all limelight with his amazing media connection.

nikhil said...

The problem is actually straightforward. Islamic and colonial invaders performed worst human rights atrocities against hindus. for centuries. However, somehow, Hindus are the majority in India....unlike the americas and africa. However, islam and christianity is a minority. So the majority hindu has to forget all the atrocities committed by these relgiions and has to appease his converted bretheren. We need an honest academic debate about this..

unitedindia said...

you clearly seem to be one from so called lower caste which has been created in india even though it is a virtual thing you are strongly holding on to it.oh how did i find out, its blatantly obvious in your opinion cited in the article. stop acting like a white definitely i would say if i see u in person what is wrong in kids performing out of sync. did you record ur first album when you are 6 you are a child prodigy or what.if you are married and have kids you will enjoy those and cherish little things that you do to ur kid to make their world a better seem to be a loner who has no girl in your life.he has doctoral thesis under nobel laureate so dont need to validate his harvard credentials. the so called india has been already divided into different lands called pakistan bangladesh and india.india has more muslims than pakistan itself you dont know the terror threats and home grown terror outfits that are coming up. i really dont want to divide my country anymore.neither want to live in muslim majority community.hindus or sanatana dharma is the only religion which says u can reach god thru any means. we were always inclusive to all religions. when u say Hindu it automatically becomes secular. anyways article was worst meandering article i have read.there is no definitive start or end to it.just some loaded words thrown here and there.