Monday, October 27, 2014

Mr. Swamy, Let's Burn Ignorance and Prejudice, Not Books

Subramanian Swamy is vying to be India's chief peddler of hatred and bigotry. Swamy is a blot on Harvard, Hinduism and India, in that order. He is proof, if proof is required, that any religion can produce a fundamentalist and all it takes is a twisted mind.

Echoing the words of Nazis, who burned the works of Thomas Mann and Sigmund Freud, Swamy exhorted an audience to burn history books written by 'Nehruvian Marxists'. In a country where a goddess symbolizes learning it is appalling that one who swears by that heritage should ask for books to be burned. Hating Jawaharlal Nehru is a litmus test for being a Hindtuva bigot and Swamy passes his test in flying colors. What is it about Nehru that brings out the venom from the Hindutva brood of vipers?

Subramanian Swamy
The 'Selected works of Jawaharlal Nehru' runs to 50 volumes and thats just 'selection'. I've read all 3 of Nehru's books, various anthologies of his writings and a few volumes from the 'Selected works'. I've never found any of his writing to be boring or lacking sincerity or blind. Nehru's love for his country and countrymen shines through every page he wrote about India. The post-independence era is marked by letters and speeches that had only one agenda, how to make India better for the poorest Indian in every village and city. More than anything that Nehru did or failed to do what angers the Hindutva crowd is his agnosticism and unimpeachable secularism. All other criticisms of Nehru, across many areas, stem purely from the fact that he has laid down the foundations of a secular republic much to the chagrin of many of his colleagues and today's purveyors of hatred.

It is informative to look at what Nehru himself thought of history writing especially as it related to Indian historians. "So far as Asia is concerned, we have been grossly mistreated by most historians from other countries. And, as a reaction to that, sometimes our own historians have perhaps gone too far...On the one side there is the nationalist history which, starting from a strong nationalist bias, praises everything that is national at the expense of other things and, on the other side, there is the reverse of this". There were, in Nehru's own time, many a bigot prattling nationalist nonsense much like Swamy of today. Perhaps addressing those bigots Nehru, ever the intellectual sceptic, offers his criticism of Spengler's magisterial 'Decline of the West' "it seems to me that as soon as we start looking at history with any preconceived approach, it turns us away from some patent facts which do not fit in with our theory. And we select things which agree with our own thinking."The words spoken more than half a century ago still echo with prescience against the bigots of today. The question is will India pay heed?

The quintessential Nehru shines in his address to the parliament on the then burning issue, literally burning, of reorganized India's states on the lines of languages spoken. Worried that 'parochialism' might rule the roost Nehru cautions, "each Member of Parliament is a member of India and represents India, and at no time can we afford to forget this basic fact that India is more tan the little corner we represent". Ever the capacious personality that he was Nehru expansively suggests "all the great languages of India which are mentioned in the constitution- but I would go a step further- and even those that are not mentioned in the constitution like those in the North East Frontier Areas and elsewhere ought to be developed; secondly, that the development of one language should not be and cannot be at the expense of the other." Finally as only Nehru could've said he exhorts his fellow parliamentarians, "I would go a step further and say that the knowledge of a foreign language helps the growth of an Indian language". I cannot think of another Indian politician who could've said that. Nehru, also added, that he wished his daughter Indira Gandhi learned the languages of South India, for instance, Tamil. Ironically the linguistic chauvinists in Tamil Nadu berated that great man as a Brahmin and aristocrat.

A frequent charge against Nehru is that he molly-coddled Muslims. Speaking at the Aligarh Muslim University amidst the carnage of partition and barely six days before the assassination of the Mahatma Nehru tells his Muslim audience "I do not like this University being called the Muslim University just as I do not like the Benares University to be called Hindu University". Swamy recently raised a furore when he stated "all Indians are culturally and scientifically Hindus". During the recent parliamentary elections he wanted India's minorities to forfeit their right to cast a vote if they did not sign a declaration that they accept their Hindu ancestry. Nehru, mindful of the perilous times in which he was speaking and out of his innate nature of being secular, told the Muslim audience at AMU "You are Muslims and I am a Hindu. We may adhere to different religious faiths or even to none: but that does not take away from that cultural inheritance that is yours as well as mine. The past holds us together; why should the present or future divide us in spirit?" The words of Nehru and Swamy are separated by a vast gulf with one being the epitome of a lofty civilization and the other its twisted perversion. Nehru goes on to conclude his speech saying "do not think you are outsiders here, for you are as much flesh and blood of India as anyone else, and you have every right to share in what India has to offer. But those who seek rights must share in obligations also". I hope it warms the hearts of Hindutva bigots that Nehru identified himself as a Hindu. Incidentally Nehru was also given to quoting, where appropriate, verses from Gita.

Nehru with Gandhi
Do Marxists dominate India's cultural institutions? Without a doubt yes. Are they any more open to opposite viewpoints than the Hindutva crowd? Not at all. That said, the Marxist historians, at least not all, are propagandists. There is validity in a Marxist view point of history but it certainly has its limitations. The limitations of Marxist analyses should be countered with better history not by burning books. If Marxists have falsified history let them be shamed with better scholarship not by fascist silencing.

Germany while it rebuilt itself from the ashes of Nazism outlawed not just anti-semitism but even denial of holocaust as a theory. Such extreme measures had a place given what the society was trying to rebuild after the world's most horrific genocide. However, the ban on disputing holocaust does have a counterproductive effort because then conspiracy theories swirl, nevertheless, without being challenged with the power of academic scholarship. A telling example is how holocaust denier David Irving was finally shamed in a very public trial.

Another example would be the trial against 'Intelligent Design' in Dover, PA USA. 'Intelligent Design' is backdoor 'creationism' trotted out by Christian bigots to combat the 'Theory of Evolution' being taught in US schools. In the tradition of Scopes trial this case went to a court and academics shamed and exposed the creationists for what they truly are, bigots.

Swamy and his cohorts do not have any interest in objective history. Swamy recently asked on Facebook "why does Delhi have a street named after Aurangzeb? does Israel have a street named after Hitler". What he could've also asked is why Government of India run Construction Industry Development Council name its top architecture award after mythical Hindu architect Viswakarma instead of Shah Jahan, the man who built India's most famous landmark. Why does not Swamy ask that Indian Government's award for a sports teacher should not be named after Dronacharya, the mythical warrior-priest who was the archetype of everything that a teacher should not be?

The Hindutva love of history only extends to recounting in gory details the pillages of Muhammad of Ghazni's invasions centuries ago but not more recent massacres of Dalits and Muslims by upper caste Hindus or just Hindus. A survivor of the carnage at Keezhvenmani, where in 1968 44 Dalits, mostly women and children, were burned alive, recounted the ghastly events in an interview to a Tamil weekly magazine. Women, themselves burning, tried to save children by throwing them out of the hut that was set ablaze but the thugs threw the children right back into the fire. The details of such a dark day live in folk lore mostly and find no mention in any book of history let alone school textbooks.

The Keezhvenmani episode actually illustrates the limits of Marxist perspective on history. It was the Communist party that was supporting the indigent laborers who were Dalits too. Orthodox Marxism would see the conflict as classically between landowning capitalists and labor. But that's only part of the story. Laborers asking for higher wages was bad enough but that they were Dalits was what infuriated the zamindars most. The survivor in his interview recalled how in those days the lower caste, mostly poor, were practically slaves in the modern definition of the term 'slave'. Many Hindus would demur against the characterization that slavery existed in India. Slavery, the common Indian would think, existed in the West where blacks were treated like property and even worse. Yet, the zamindari system was nothing short of slavery. I'd love to see a history session on that in an Indian university with Swamy as chair person.

A newfound fad for the Hindutva louts is their love for Israel, which, in reality, is rooted in hatred for Islam and Islamic countries. These louts do not realize that a section of Israel, especially the left, is supportive of Palestine and there is a good amount of dissent against many of Israel's policies towards Palestine. Swamy, delivering a speech in support of Israel, amply demonstrated that his love for Israel is thinly disguised racist hatred of Islam and the real purport of the speech was to castigate Pakistan and by extension Muslims in India. Swamy insults Israel more than the nakedly anti-semitic critics of Israel.

The label 'Neo-Nazi' can be equally applied to K. Veeramani and Subramanian Swamy. Swamy and Veeramani are polar opposites in what they believe but literally indistinguishable in their attitude towards whom they perceive as the root of societal problems. Veeramani, a self-identified enemy of Brahmins and Hinduism, called the Bhagavad Gita a book that encourages murder. In his speech supporting Israel Swamy said "Muslims are clear, it is the Hindus who are confused. Look at Arjuna. Krishna had to convince him to kill his opponents". From the context it is clear that Swamy, when he says 'Muslims are clear', means that Muslims are not confused, like Arjuna, about killing. The Hindu audience lustily cheered Swamy without realizing that he had just reduced Hinduism's most venerated treatise to jihadi literature.

Sadly, Swamy is wrong about the Hindu reticence to kill. Hindus of Gujarat showed the Muslims of Gujarat that they, too, can kill with not just impunity but more effectively since they vastly outnumber the muslims. A Muslim member of parliament, not just a nobody, was dragged into the streets and gruesomely murdered by a Hindu mob that did not wait for any Krishna to exhort them to kill. In the land of a man who, cast out of a train onto a cold platform in the night, found courage by holding onto Gita there was no need for any god-head to explain why killing was necessary duty. Later, the MP's daughter penned a moving oped decrying the hatred and recounting her pain.

Terrorism is not the preserve of any one religion or any one section of a people. Once Sikhs terrorized India's most prosperous state and assassinated an unarmed woman Prime Minister. As a reprisal thousands of Sikhs of were killed and many raped for several days by murderous gangs, reportedly at the behest of the ministers of the then ruling party, Congress.

In this modern age of social media the cliche that lies travel half the globe while truth is putting on shoes is very true. Subramanian Swamy is very active in peddling wild conspiracy theories on Twitter and Facebook. Thousands subscribe to his social media pages and consume poison on a daily dose basis. His twitter profile states "former minister and MP, Harvard Ph.D in Economics;Professor, BJP member, I give as good as I get". His prestige as Harvard alumnus and former minister is what makes him all the more dangerous since his nonsense gets an academic sheen and is actively propagated by his followers with bated breath. Incidentally he was only a visiting summer  time faculty at Harvard, not a tenured professor, and he was fired by Harvard from that post too for a hate filled oped he had written.

Digvijay Singh, a Congress party leader, wrote a sham oped in The Hindu assailing Swamy's call to burn books by Nehruvian historians. Swamy, Harvard Ph.D in economics, now turned historian, wrote an equally sham reply in The Hindu. That two such non-academicians battled on an academic topic in opeds is the level to which academic rigor had sunk in India.

Swamy and his followers have a new found love for Sardar Patel whom they hold up as better leader compared to Nehru. Patel, called India's Bismarck for unifying the princely states under the umbrella of a nation-state, has earned his place in history duly and does not need the world's most expensive statue to commemorate him. Nehru was handpicked by Gandhi, overruling a party vote, to lead a free India with very good reasons. Much is made of Nehru not winning the party vote until Gandhi asked Patel to step down. Nehru, no less an activist and soldier in freedom movement than anybody else, always floated above petty party politics. Patel and others like him had a better grip on the party organization than Nehru which came handy in such a vote. The Mahatma, an astute judge of people, saw in Nehru an unswerving commitment to secularism, a crying need of the hour and one which his beloved Sardar crucially fell short of, and soaring visions of what a free country needs.

Compared to Nehru all the rest of the Congress high command come off as intellectual pygmies. Rajendra Prasad's biography and volumes of correspondences smack of a pedestrian mind that had nothing much to speak of. I cannot think of any idea of Patel as being visionary. People like Patel have a role and he fulfilled it adroitly.

Too much is made of Patel coaxing the truculent princes to accede to India. The princes were given a sweet heart deal to make them accede their territories to India. The princes were given constitutional assurances of astronomical sums of money as privy purses for perpetuity in lieu of conceding their role as titular overlords. In one of his letters to the princes Nehru, the stickler for constitution as an organ of democracy, literally pleads with them to reduce their expenses given the parlous state of existence of the majority Indians. The privy purses were later undone by Nehru's daughter by literally breaking Patel's promise of life in perpetual luxury.

Rajaji, Rajendra Prasad, Patel and a host of Congress leadership were all in reality crusty orthodox upper caste Hindus with little progressive thought or egalitarian vision of steering the country. Most were inimical to lower castes and Muslims. Their atavism and parochial attitudes were held in check only by their fealty to the Mahatma. Nehru was cut from a different cloth.

And then there is the charismatic Subhash Bose. He is yet another new found idol for the Nehru hating Hindutva brigade. Bose was patently asinine in equating the British with the Nazi regime. Nehru would never have been shortsighted like Bose and shook hands with Hitler. All of Nehru's mistakes, imagined and real, in the foreign policy area pale into insignificance before Bose's stupidity.

There are many myths about Nehru's economic policies (he was actually friendlier to foreign investment than is popularly assumed), failures in foreign policy, dreamy impractical ideas and weak leadership. In view of Nehru's upcoming 125th birthday I shall write on all that shortly. Suffice it to say that Modi's Indis, if ever such a thing comes about, will stand on the foundations of Nehru's India. Mangalyaan and Pokhran II owe more to Nehru than  to Modi or Vajpayee.

Swamy talking about science and incorporating scientific evidence in historical analyses is an irony given that the man believes that a mythical bridge exists between India and Sri Lanka.

A person like Subramanian Swamy is not to be brushed aside lightly as a crank or a wayfarer. He is a blot on a great country, a great civilization and a great religion. Hindus who cheer Swamy, like those jihadis who cheer Bin Laden or Anwar Al Awlaki, insult Hinduism and do not understand it. The saving grace of India is that Swamy's rants are continually challenged, mostly by Hindus themselves, not all of whom are leftists. However, as one who always lurks close to the citadels of power Swamy is one who should be watched with care, trepidation and caution.

India's poet laureate Rabindranath Tagore said it best in his Gitanjali:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.


1. Nehru's speech to Parliament on Linguistic reorganization and address to AMU students was from 'Nehru's India: Selected Speeches' edited by Mushirul Hasan.
2. Swamy's reply to Digvijaya Singh in The Hindu
3. Muslim MP, Ehsan Jafri, killed in Gujarat riots
4. Nishrin Hussain (daughter of Jafri) oped in Outlook 'Coping with Pain'
5. "All Indians are Hindus-Culturally and Scientifically, says Swamy"
6. "Indian Muslims have Hindu ancestry" - Swamy's interview with Karan Thapar- A must read -