Monday, April 14, 2014

Joe D Cruz's Modi Support: Writers and Politics

Tamil writer and columnist P.A.Krishnan aptly titled a column on his impressions of Gujarat as "Gandhi's India or Modi's India". I've a distinct memory of elections in India since 1984 and I can say that the last time this much excitement was in the air was in 1989. Older people may recall 1977 elections as more analogous situation. This election is possibly the first since the advent of social media in India.

Any election brings a country like India to cross roads. This election could be the defining one of the current generation. Modi holds great promise in the eyes of many and he holds in the eyes of many others, greater peril. Many want a Modi win on account of hopeful economic resurrection. Never before in my memory has any political candidate campaigned so much on the basis of his record in office, especially economic progress. However, Modi's record itself is an issue of debate. A good number of those who want to Modi to win do so out of their desire to make India a Hindu version of Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. 

India is witnessing a battle of ideas unprecedented in its history about not just the direction of economic policy but most importantly of what kind of a plural society should India be. The central figure is Modi. Battle lines are drawn amidst the so called 'intellectuals' who seek to instruct the Indian voter on whether to vote for or against Modi. Economists Jagdish Bhagwati and Aravind Panagariya are for Modi while Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze are scared of a Modi administration. Between them are a motley crowd of opinion makers like Tavleen Singh, Madhu Kishwar, Charu Nivedita, Joe D Cruz and others offer full throated uncritical support of Narendra Modi. Joe D Cruz's support of Modi ruffled quite a few feathers in Tamil Nadu.

Cruz shot into prominence with novels about coastal fishermen and his recent win of Sahitya Akademi. I've not read Cruz's novels hence I shall not comment on them. Interestingly militant Hindutva hate mongers like Aravindan Neelakandan exulted in Cruz winning a prestigious, at least nominally, literary prize. Gnani Sankaran raised the ire of Neelakandan and his cohorts for applying the label 'Hindutva' to Joe D Cruz. Subsequently I read an interview by Cruz and I completely agree with Gnani that Cruz, though born a Christian, is a perfect Hindutva ideologue.

I've no problems with Cruz's politics and if I get a chance to read his book his politics will not matter to me as long as it is not an integral part of his writing. If Cruz's politics affects his writing then it becomes fair game for debate. I said 'fair game for debate' not 'tarnishing'. If I rejected Hemingway's 'Old man and the sea' because he was a communist I'd be the loser.

As much as I disagree judging Cruz's fiction based on his politics I'd also disagree with the condescension that some showed towards to such people. The hapless Tamil reader was jeered at for not distinguishing between a writer's work and his politics. This is not exclusive to Tamil Nadu or the Tamil reader. When Solzhentisyn's 'Gulag Archipelago' was published it exploded the myths that were assiduously peddled about communism and Soviet Russia by the left wing writers. In fact there is still no writer who is not left wing. Many writers, especially the French intelligentsia, hated Solzehnitsyn and derided the literary quality of his book placing themselves as arbiters of literary taste. Ayn Rand's books are consistently derided more for her politics than for anything else by the literary class. So lets not heap ridicule on the readers alone.

A writer's politics should not be the sole touchstone to judge his/her work but nor should we turn a complete blind eye to it. Gore Vidal's series of historical fiction on America as Empire is tinged with Vidal's sense of history and left wing views. Fortunately for us Vidal's fiction is only 'tinged' with his politics not suffused with it. To Ayn Rand fiction was a tool to propagate her politics. Bernard Shaw, Albert Camus, Jean Paul Sartre etc cannot be read without remembering their politics. John Carey's 'Intellectual and masses' is a sordid read of how writers, as intellectuals, were horrific individuals who nonchalantly talked about extermination of masses of peoples.

Knut Hamsen, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound, Thomas Hardy were all outright racist or disdained the common plebeian and many cheerfully contemplated wholesale massacre. Hamsen wrote a laudatory obituary of Hitler after his suicide. Shaw whitewashed Stalin's purges of the 30's. Sartre inspired intellectuals who in turn influenced the murderous regime of the Khmer Rouge. If anything I'd say be wary of writers who seek to be didactic and instruct the masses. Ironically P.A.Krishnan, an admirer of Nehru and Gandhi, also admires Lenin and even Stalin.

Jnanpith awardee Mahasweta Devi invited ridicule when she endorsed mercurial and rabid politician Mamata Banerjee. Closer home Jeyakanthan invited scorn for calling the rampantly corrupt Karunanidhi regime as a 'golden era'. He further exulted that the award handed by Karunanidhi ranks higher than Jnanpeeth.

When Indira Gandhi declared 'Emergency' and took Indian democracy to the brink of totalitarian dictatorship the move was supported by Khushwant Singh and Jeyakanthan. Jeyakanthan, as a communist, was readily sympathetic to a dictatorship despite adoring Gandhi and writing characters that stand up for individual identity. In one of his prefaces Jeyakanthan would tell his readers that understanding violence as only physical violence is an 'elementary knowledge'. Using the ruse of 'love' as a tool to compel another person to do things is violence too, he says and then supported 'Emergency'.

Cruz, as an individual, has all the liberty to vote for whoever he thinks is best suited for India. Like any individual, including me, he is at liberty to even canvas support for his candidate. But, unlike me, Cruz seeks to invest the prestige he has earned by virtue of being a much lauded writer to publicly advocate a choice.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad was called, pejoratively, as the 'show boy of Congress'. Later Abdul Kalaam earned the same reputation when he accepted BJP government's nomination to be President. Cruz, a Catholic, is a prized mascot for the Hindutva brigade which lacked an intellectual firepower like him. Jeyamohan, in self interest of reaching a wider audience, has slightly distanced himself from any overt association with Aravindan Neelakandan leaving the Hindutva camp without a notable name. Also, Jeyamohan as a Hindu, an ex-member of Hindu organizations and perpetual proponent of 'Indian intellectual tradition' (as in 'vedic tradition'), lacks the mascot value of Cruz.

Any religion has its share of ills in both its distant past and present day. Cruz takes the Indian Catholic church to task for its emphasis on seeking to punish any church member who has even accidental or nominal ties to Hindu practices. In a lecture he narrates how a Catholic church member was ostracized for helping with a native Hindu festival. The line of demarcation where Indian tradition becomes a Hindu tradition is a very difficult one to draw and it is a difficulty that has often placed the Abrahamic religions in a tight spot that Hindutva ideologues gleefully exploit. Cruz happily delved into this mess on a Hindutva stage. One expects a writer to be more tuned to complexities of life and nuances but then Cruz happily plays to the gallery stoking embers of hatred. K.J. Yesudas, a Christian, goes on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala and has sung songs on Ayyappa that are played endlessly by the thousands of Tamil Hindu devotees trekking to Sabarimala. Yet, Yesudas is still not allowed into the Guruvayoor temple. In fact he was prohibited from singing at Madras Music Academy for a long time because he was not a Brahmin. Ustad Bismillah Khan was known to perform everyday at a Hindu temple in Varanasi. I cannot think of one Hindu carnatic musician who would sing at Cathedral Church or Nagore Dargah.

Cruz misses the point that in many Hindu temples even today a strict caste prohibition exists. The wrong caste member entering a temple can plunge a village into a murderous riot. An intercaste marriage inflamed two villages resulting in outright pillage recently in Dharmapuri. If Cruz had even as much as hinted at any of the above the very next day Hindutva brigade would find conspiracies to destabilize India with foreign influence.

In an interview to a Tamil weekly Cruz parrots template Hindutva propaganda that the Catholic church gave the unsuspecting natives Bible and a Church while looting native treasures. He blames the Roman empire as emasculating the intellect of his people with the imposition of the crucifix. I wonder what would his Hindutva supporters say if he just as much as mentioned the word 'Manu Smriti'.

Again, I've not read Cruz's novels but from his interviews one can say with certainty that this is a man who is not just interested in criticizing his religious establishment in order to reform but he is in his heart a hate monger. He is angry that the Catholic church did not enthusiastically take part in the anti-nuclear energy agitation in Kudankulam. Ironically Hindutva brigade considers that same agitation as funded by foreign governments through the Church to destabilize India. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. I pity the Church. Interestingly what unites Cruz and his critic Gnani is their opposition to nuclear energy.

Aravind Panagariya wrote, in his preface to his book "India: Emerging giant", that his father requested him to take as much time as he wants but to write a definitive book on India. Reviewing the book 'The Economist' gushed that he lived up to his father's wish. Panagariya recently co-authored a book "Why growth matters" with noted conservative economist Jagdish Bhagwati. While praising the book Economist pointedly noted that unlike their common bete noire Amartya Sen this duo "despite their broad, forceful thrust" lack "sound judgment" because "they shrug off worries over inequality and corruption a little too casually". Hence their endorsement of Modi should be taken with a liberal pinch of salt and with the caution that their endorsement is strictly for his 'economic policies'. Panagariya and Bhagwati are silent on the larger issues of what Modi represents.

Cruz in his ringing uncritical endorsement of Modi expressed hope that his policies might do good for the poor living in the coastal regions. Notably, The Economist, refused to endorse Modi because in a holistic sense of government, in their opinion, he falls short despite his supposed credentials on economic policies. It is an irony that a stridently capitalist magazine refuses to endorse Modi because they feel he is not sufficiently 'inclusive' and out of fear that he might tear apart the country.

Writers, as a class, have a very poor record of reflecting the will of any people across history and continents. Indian voters may very well elect Modi and it will have little to do with Cruz's endorsement. A reader may ask "If so why choose to write about it instead of ignoring it". Hatred, however small or insignificant, in whatever form it may creep in has to be astutely confronted every single time without fail else a society will have to pay a huge price.

Incidentally today I read that A.Marx is organizing a campaign to gather signatures of 'intellectuals' and 'writers' for a declaration against Modi. Marx expressed the hope and desire that an ailing Jeyakanthan would sign it. I'd treat such a declaration with the same disdain and contempt I've for Cruz's declaration of support. Both Marx and Jeyakanthan have very little understanding of politics or economics. Both are unrepentant and unreformed communists. As supporters of the worst socio-economic policy, that sent millions to their deaths, destroying vast swathes of civilizations and now consigned to the dustbin of history, they lack any credibility whatsoever to lecture anybody. I've more respect for the illiterate Indian voter in the villages than for any of these 'intellectuals'.


1. Cruz's interview with Vikatan -

பொதுவாகவே கத்தோலிக்கத்தைக் கடுமையாக விமர்சிக்கிறீர்களே... அதன் மீது அப்படி என்ன கோபம்?''
''நான் இப்போதும் ஒரு கத்தோலிக்கக் கிறிஸ்தவனாகவே வாழ்கிறேன். அதற்காக எனக்கு ஒரு பக்குவம் வரக் கூடாதா என்ன? எனது மூதாதையர்களை வணங்க ஆசைப்படுகிறேன். குமரித்தாயை வணங்குகிறேன். அவள்தான் என் மூதாதை. அவள் ஒரு மீனவத் தெய்வம். இது சிலருக்குப் பிடிக்கவில்லை. அதனால், கத்தோலிக்கத்துக்கு நான் துரோகம் செய்வதாகச் சொல்கிறார்கள். எனக்கு கத்தோலிக்கத்தின் மீது எந்த வன்மமும் இல்லை!''
''யாரும் எந்தக் கடவுளையும் வழிபடலாம். ஆனால், நீங்கள் இந்துத்வ மேடைகளில் ஏறி கத்தோலிக்கத்தை விமர்சிக்கும்போது, அது மதவெறி என்றுதானே கொள்ளப்படும்?''
''மதவாதம், எனக்குத் தெரியாத ஒன்று. எல்லா மதங்களிலும் எனக்கு நண்பர்கள் இருக்கிறார்கள். ஒரு நூல் வெளியீட்டு விழாவுக்குச் சென்றேன். அந்த நூல் எனக்குப் பிடித்திருந்த காரணத்தால், அதைப் புகழ்ந்து பேசினேன். அதில் என்ன தவறு இருக்கிறது? ரோம சாம்ராஜ்ஜியம், எங்கள் முன்னோர்களைச் சிந்திக்கவிடாமல் சிலுவையைச் சாத்தி அமைதியாக்கியது போல, நானும் சிந்திக்காமல் அமைதியாகிவிட முடியாது.
பைபிளையும், ஜெப மாலையையும், பிரமாண்ட தேவாலயங்களையும் எங்கள் பொறுப்பில் விட்டுவிட்டு, எங்கள் சொத்துகளை அவர்கள் எடுத்துச் சென்றுவிட்டார்கள். தொழிலை, மீனவர்களின் தலைமையை அழித்தார்கள். ரோமர்கள், தங்களின் நாடு பிடிக்கும் ஆசையால் எங்களை ரோமன் கத்தோலிக்கர்களாக மாற்றினார்கள். இது எப்படி ஆன்மிகம் ஆகும்? கத்தோலிக்கம், தன்னை வளர்த்த வேருக்கு வெந்நீர் ஊற்றிவிட்டது. தென்தமிழக மீனவர்களின் கடல்சார் வாழ்வு முற்றிலுமாகச் சிதைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. நாகையில் பல்லாயிரம் மக்கள் போராடிக்கொண்டிருக்கிறார்கள். அணு உலைக்கு எதிராக பல ஆண்டுகளாக மக்கள் போராடுகிறார்கள். ஆனால், கத்தோலிக்கம் மிகப் பெரிய கள்ள மௌனம் சாதிக்கிறது. இந்தப் பிரச்னைகளில் மதம் ஏன் தலையிட வேண்டும் என நீங்கள் கேட்கலாம். கொல்லப்பட்ட மீனவர்களில் பெரும்பான்மையானவர்கள் கத்தோலிக்கர்கள் எனும்போது அவர்களைக் காப்பாற்றும் பொறுப்பு கத்தோலிக்கத்துக்கு இல்லையா?
இந்த நிலையில் கத்தோலிக்கத்துக்கு எதிரான விமர்சனம் மீனவர்களிடம் பரவலாக உருவாகி வருகிறது. அதை நான் பிரதிபலிக்கிறேன்!''

2. Joe D Cruz's speech 'History and identity' -

3. Economist magazine review of 'Why Growth Matters' by Aravind Panagariya and Jagdish Bhagwati

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