Sunday, June 20, 2021

Dr. B.R. Ambedkar Grapples with the Communal Problem: India's Journey to Liberal and Secular Democracy.

A perennial issue of any constitutionalist is how to ensure that representative democracy while being representational also safeguards the interests of minorities and this is further compounded by trying to protect religious minorities in a climate that is strife torn. In a speech delivered on 6th May 1945 Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, lawyer and economist, alumnus of Columbia University and London School of Economics, grappled with what he called, “communal deadlock”.

Context and Need for the Book

Addressing the annual gathering of All-India Scheduled Castes Federation on 6th May 1945 Ambedkar formulated a set of proposals for India’s intractable communal problem. 

The address was delivered nearly a week after Hitler’s suicide and two days before Victory in Europe Day during World War 2. Jawaharlal Nehru, concluding his last and longest incarceration, had been released, along with the rest of the Congress leadership in March 1945 as England eyed a near certain victory in the war. The question of India’s independence was only a question of “when” and not “if”, despite Churchill still at the helm. As premier the bulldog warrior had declared, “I’ve not become his majesty’s first minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire”. In soon to be conducted elections the British voters, now tired of being an empire and looking dreadfully at reconstruction required at home, would vote out Churchill, ‘the defender of the realm’.

India, leaders thought, would at least become a dominion if not a sovereign republic. Talk of a Constituent Assembly was, based on Ambedkar’s remarks, perhaps in the air, to draft a constitution for a dominion or a free India. Mohammed Ali Jinnah, now clamoring for a Muslim nation, would launch ‘Direct Action Day’ more than a year later in which bloody communal riots would tear asunder West Bengal. 

In this backdrop Ambedkar puts forward constitutional solutions that he felt would address the “communal deadlock”. His key motivation, as he stated,  was to debunk the notion that Scheduled Castes were only interested in their own issues and were uninterested in other issues or incapable of proposing constructive ideas for other problems. 

The Sapru Committee

Ambedkar’s address is constructed as a rebuttal to what he perceived as the shortcomings of “Sapru Committee Report”, hence an introduction is needed to what it was.

Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru (Image: National Portrait Gallery)

‘Sapru Committee’, headed by Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru, was formed by the “Non-Party Conference” in 1941 drawing upon members who did NOT belong to the major parties of Congress, Communist Party and Muslim League. Rejecting the demand of Pakistan the Committee put forward proposals in 1945 addressing the communal question. “The Report was 343 pages long, excluding twenty appendices”. The report became, in the opinion of Ray Smith and V.P. Menon, a damp squib. Nevertheless eight members of the committee went on to become members of the Indian Constituent Assembly later on.

Sapru, a Kashmiri Hindu, was also related to Allama Iqbal who was a key architect of the idea of Pakistan. 

Breakdown Clause and the Dilemma it Posed

A section of Indians felt, in Ambedkar’s telling, that the British should address the communal problem and frame India’s constitution. Still contending with a possibility of India being a Dominion Ambedkar objects to that. 

The Government of India Act, 1935, had embodied a “notorious” clause whereby when there is a “breakdown” of constitutional governance a government would be imposed to maintain Law and Order. To Ambedkar this was an important and necessary imposition because a failure of constitutional governance is a “crime against society and civilization”. But this also means, in the Dominion setup, perhaps, a British government can dismiss and impose governance. This, Ambedkar cautioned, would be undesirable for a nation seeking self governance. 

The only way out of the dilemma was for Indians to frame their own constitution. Note, The Breakdown Clause is perhaps at the root of Article 356 which was later used, rather always recklessly, by governments in free India.

Sapru Report Critiqued

Ambedkar tackles Sapru’s report head on. Curiously Ambedkar rubbishes the idea of a Constituent Assemble stating that unlike the Founders of America who were groping in the dark to create a constitutional governance India’s leadership has well established constitutional frameworks to pick and choose from and thus no need for a Constituent Assembly. The only question worth tackling that remains for India is the communal problem.

Bringing, as always, the scalpel of a data analyst Ambedkar proceeds to show how Sapru, compared to Stafford Cripps’ plan given undue equivalence in numbers to Hindus and Muslims in the Constituent Assembly. While coming close to Cripps’ total number of seats, Sapru, quite egregiously, gives 51 seats each to Hindus and Muslims arguing that this was in exchange for Muslims being subjected to joint electorate. Ambedkar trashes that argument saying Cripps plan, giving 50 seats to Muslims and 77 to Hindus, too had, in effect, a joint electorate. “It (Sapru’s report) has given something for nothing to one element and thereby put the other communities in a hazard”.

The real data analyst part is in how Ambedkar studies the composition of legislatures and identifies unerringly, how, beneath the veneer of seats lies a real conundrum of minorities relying on majority communities for being elected to the constituent assembly. (See Reference for detail). “Hindus with their excess of 217 votes can elect 20 non-Hindus, who would be dependent on them; the Muslims with their excess of 44 seats can elect 4 non-Muslims” whereas “the Scheduled Castes with a shortage of 69 votes” will “for 7 seats” depend on Hindus and Muslims”.

“The excess representation granted to the smaller minorities is only an eyewash”, concludes Ambedkar.

Principles Vs Methods

The approach to the communal problem, says Ambedkar, is “fundamentally wrong” by focusing on “methods” instead of “principles”. The then current approach proceeds in a trial and error process of using one ‘method’ after another sans satisfying a principle. 

“When a community grows powerful and demands certain political advantages” the majority community responds, Ambedkar says, by conferring concessions to “win its goodwill”. “There is no judicial examination of its claim; no judgment on merits. The result is that there are no limits to demands and there are no limits to concessions”. 

Proposing that a “governing principle” be identified and made binding on all Ambedkar outlines the principle of representation in legislature, executive and administrative arms of the government. 

Representation and Majoritarianism

Before outlining the principle Ambedkar presents his mechanism of representation of the various communities in Executive and Legislature. In the Executive branch he proposes a proportional representation for Hindus, Muslims and Scheduled castes in relation to their population. About Christians and Sikhs, quite unsympathetically, he says, given their meager population, they cannot be afforded proportional representation without enlarging the Executive to a “fantastic degree”. While true, his tone comes across as dismissive. May I say, a touch Gandhian perhaps.

In addressing the issue of representation in the Legislature Ambedkar uses a formula. A community that has 50-60% population gets roughly 40% seats; a community that is second in population strengt, whether it is 10% or 30%, gets roughly 30% seats and then third largest gets another 20-30%. See the tables below.

The advantage of this system is that that the majority community, Hindus or Muslims, cannot legislate anything without adding the votes of one or other minority groups. On the other hand two minority groups could join together and legislate without the numerically majority community. This scheme and the principle behind it is sheer genius in constitutional governance. This’d become clearer when Ambedkar enunciates his principles.

To allay fears of shortchanging Muslims or Christians Ambedkar lays out in tables that Muslims actually get far more seats than the then Government of India Act gave them and the other communities preserved their then proportions with no injury. 

Combating a Permanent and Communal Majority

Perhaps the most important and puzzling part of the speech is where Ambedkar is rather ready to jettison any clamor for separate electorates. Ambedkar and Gandhi’s titanic clash on the question of separate electorate leading to the Poona pact echoes till today and yet here is Ambedkar saying “Joint electorate or separate electorate is a matter of machinery for achieving a given purpose. It is not a matter of principle”.

“The purpose is to enable a minority to select candidates to the legislature who will be real and not nominal representatives of the minority”. Perhaps he felt that his scheme achieves that holy grail and hence the issue of separate electorate becomes moot. 

Ambedkar is at his best articulating a case ‘against’ the proposition of ‘simple majority’. He leans heavily on lessons learned from American constitution here. In “A word to Hindus” he eviscerates the support for simple majority by citing the example of America where a simple majority does not suffice for major legislation. He also identifies that “in India the majority is not a political majority. In India the majority is born; it is not made. That is the difference between a communal majority and a political majority”. 

As I explained above Ambedkar’s governing principle in arriving at his formula for representation is that the numerical majority can never legislate independently of any minority group but allows the minority groups to become sufficient majority. In this he is as fair as Solomon to both Hindus and Muslims. “The representation”, Ambedkar concludes, “is a balanced representation. No one community is placed in a position to dominate others by reason of its numbers”.

Ambedkar and Muslims

Hindutva ideologues, turning a convenient blind eye to the very harsh rhetoric of Ambedkar against Hindus and Hinduism, harp on quotes from his “Thoughts on Pakistan” that paint an unflattering picture of Islam and Indian-Muslims. Sure they are as painful to any Muslim as Gandhi’s utterances on Dalits. But, like Gandhi on Dalits, that is not all there is to Ambedkar on Muslims. 

Ambedkar certainly felt that unlike Hindus or Muslims the Scheduled Castes were political orphans and lacked any powerful agency despite their numbers and he certainly felt that he owed unto them his all. He was not entirely wrong. 

About his proposal he says it is “for an United India” and that his proposal removes the “danger of a communal majority, which is the basis of Pakistan” demand. He is sympathetic to the demand of Pakistan as it is “founded on principle of self-determination” but argues that his “plan is better than the plan of Pakistan”. 

A more pertinent idea of Ambedkar that would’ve helped Muslims in India today is his suggestion to promulgate a law designed to make it illegal for a “social boycott”.

Published in 1945 as a book, “States and Minorities” is the clearest articulation of safeguards for minorities that literally presages even the American Civil Rights Laws against discrimination. He defines a “social boycott” as

“Refuses to let or use or occupy any house or land, or to deal with, work for hire, or do business with another person, or to render to him or receive from him any service…..”

Social boycotts are not uncommon in India. More recently during protests against CAA Muslims businesses or Muslims in businesses were ostracized by an organized social boycott by Hindutva lobbies via WhatsApp propaganda. 


Ambedkar’s chief concerns, based on my hitherto sparse readings, are a strong belief in the rule of law and constitutional governance as a protection against systemic racism that was characteristic of India, a search for the holy grail of political representation of minorities wherein the chosen representatives are true and independent representatives and not beholden to the Hindu majority. 

If there is a distinguishing characteristic between Ambedkar and Gandhi it is that he, unlike Gandhi, could never bring himself to trust Hindus. In this his reading of human nature is more in line with Rajaji than the idealistic vision of Gandhi and Nehru. Of course Gandhi and Nehru were no utopians but were using optimism to shape a new future and persistent suspicion would’ve doomed their national enterprise. 

The constant vigil against the tyranny of the numerical majority is very American in spirit. Probably he was familiar with the Federalist Papers written by Alexander Hamilton and John Jay where they too constantly struggle with curtailing numerical majority and wrestle with compositions of legislatures. Notably Federalist papers 55, 57 and 67 are worth reading in this context (see references)

The American system of Electoral College and restricting Senate membership to two, irrespective of size, protects against the harm of tyranny of majority but they also carry within it the seeds of giving minorities, in states like Iowa, too much power compared to a state like California. Essentially a white majority state like New Hampshire or Iowa stands on equal footing with a California or New York. 

On the question of Pakistan it could be argued that Ambedkar was quite prophetic. A nation founded on being homogenous failed to become a liberal and secular democracy. And Muslims in India are seeing how their representation has dwindled in the Parliament corresponding to the rise of militant and fundamentalist Hindutva that is masquerading as party of governance. 

A chief complaint against Gandhi by Ambedkarites is the paternalistic and at time uncharitably dismissive attitude of Gandhi towards Dalits. Ironically Ambedkar too falls prey to that when discussing the neglect of “Aboriginal Tribes” in his proposals due to the fact that they’ve not “developed any political sense to make the best use of their political opportunities and they may easily become mere instruments in the hands either of a majority or minority”. He suggests, based on an example from South Africa, a “Statutory Commission” to administer their areas. This perspective is dangerously close to how Dalits and their own leadership were viewed by others, notably E.V. Ramaswami who alleged that Ambedkar was duped by the upper castes. However, to be fair to Ambedkar, the literacy rates and leadership amongst Scheduled Tribes was indeed no comparison to even the Scheduled Classes. But, he could’ve chosen his words a tad more politely. In this he mirrors Gandhi. 

Ambedkar, unlike Gandhi and Nehru, wrote topical books and monographs. His felicity with language ranks along side any constitutional scholar of repute and his penchant for tables and formula, a challenge for a casual reader, show us that he is ever the professor. The communication styles of Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are as varied as their personalities were. 

While there are legions of Ambedkar scholars their discourse is still in academic halls and propagandistic discussions. On the other end of the spectrum there is deification. I’ve attempted to reach the common reader who is in the middle of that spectrum and this is journey for me too about man who until recent times was more spoken of than read or discussed. 

As always I am thrilled to learn one more facet of India's long march to becoming a liberal and secular democracy. So many who are less known today, like Tej Bahadur Sapru, have played important roles. From the Nehru Report of 1928 to Constituent Assembly post-Independence many sections of India's intellectual leadership were constantly engaged with making India a democracy. It is surprising given how much of that depended on an optimism that liberation would actually come. 


Ambedkar's data on insufficiency of Sapru Committee Recommendation

Ambedkar's analysis of how Sapru's allocation of seats in constituent assembly depends on seats in legislature and how each community has either an advantage (excess voters over the required number to help elect their apportioned quota) or disadvantage (shortage of voters below the required number to help elect their apportioned quota)

Ambedkar analyses mathematically the factor by which the legislative seats should be divided with to yield the final composition. I've simplified it here.

Total Seats by Sapru's Committee in Constituent Assembly == 160

Total seats in legislature = 1577

Factor required to divide the seats in legislature for proportional seats in Constituent Assembly = 1577/160 === approximately 11. 

Hence quota factor = 11 (Ambedkar really calculates these. I've merely paraphrased here). 

  • "The Hindus with their excess of 217 votes can elect 20 non-Hindus, who would be dependent upon them ; the Muslims with their excess of 44 votes can elect 4 non-Muslims, who would be dependent upon them and the Europeans with their excess of 35 votes would be able to elect 3 non-Europeans, who would be dependent upon them."
  • "The Scheduled Castes with a shortage of 69 votes will be able to elect only 13 members on the stock of their own votes and for 7 seats they will have to depend upon Hindu, Muslim or European voters. The Indian Christians with a shortage of 56 votes will be able to elect only 2 seats on the stock of their own voters. For the rest of the 5 seats they will have to depend upon Hindu, Muslim or European voters. Similarly the Sikhs with a shortage of 52 will be able to elect only 3 seats on the stock of their own voters. For the rest of the 5 seats they will have to depend upon Hindu, Muslim or European voters"

  1. Sapru Committee
  2. Sapru 
  3. States and minorities 
  4. Ambedkar's Writings Volume 1 (includes full text of Communal Deadlock and a way to solve it)
  5. Federalist Papers

Monday, May 31, 2021

'Jesus and the Disinherited': Howard Thurman, Gandhi and Confronting Hatred. A Gospel of Love

 The year 2020 was marked in United States not only for the pandemic but also for a nationwide upsurge in the quest for racial justice for Black America in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a White policeman. Amongst the many discussions I learned of Howard Thurman, a Christian theologian. Thurman's story thrilled me for he had met Gandhi and it was he who brought the message of Gandhi's non-violence to Black America that later animated the Civil Rights Movement. Thurman's "Jesus and the Disinherited" explores whether Christianity has a meaning for the African-American. 

It is my fervent belief that history echoes across societies and histories of repression and rebellion have, within, a universal message. In this blog I'll also touch upon how movements against caste oppression should pay heed to Thurman's message of love and listen to why it is dangerous to nurture hatred.

A Question from a Sri Lankan Hindu and Interpreting Jesus

In 1935 Howard Thurman was touring, with a delegation on a 'pilgrimage of friendship from the students of America, India, Burma and Ceylon. After a speech at the University of Columbo the principal invited Thurman for coffee and posed a question. "What are you doing over here?" The principal's question was more pointedly to Thurman, an African-Amreican, that his preaching of Christianity betrays what his people suffered at the hands of White men, particularly aided by the Church's teachings. Sir John Newton, author of the famous hymns 'how sweet the name of Jesus sounds' and the legendary 'Amazing Grace', was, the principal pointed, a slave trader. 

Stunned by the question Thurman then investigates what Jesus meant to "the disinherited". Jesus was a Jew, a minority community oppressed by the Roman regime, and poor. Vladimir Simkovitch, professor of economics at Columbia University and a Marxist, in his "Toward the Understanding of Jesus", quoted by Thurman, asks if it is correct to assume that Jesus should've been unmoved by the plight of his community and whether he took into account "the great and all-absorbing problem of the very people he taught".

The question of how a Jew could relate to the Roman regime and Romans, the oppressors, obsessed Jesus, says Thurman. "Again and again he came back to the inner life of the individual". "To revile because one has been reviled - this is the real evil because it is the evil of the soul itself".

How should the oppressed, be they Jews in Roman empire or a Black in America, respond to the "rulers the controllers of political, social and economic life?" Resistance and non-resistance are the two key options for the disinherited but they, Thurman points out, carry other choices within the broad categories.

Non-Resistance, in turn, features two forms. One is imitation of the dominant group by the oppressed, reducing "external signs of difference to zero, so that there shall be no ostensible cause for active violence". Herod was an example of this kind of assimilation. In this context it is worthwhile to recall the theory of Indian sociologist M.N. Srinivas's theory of "sanskritization". The other alternative that non-resistance chooses is isolationism. 

Resistance, chiefly takes the form of violence. Thurman cautions that the oppressor, in Jesus's case the Empire, has all the means to crush any such resistance. It is in this backdrop that Jesus proposes a different resistance. It is the resistance from within, "the Kingdom of Heaven is in us". No Indian can read that passage without thinking of Gandhi. 

Thurman, in blistering words notes, that the Christianity born in the mind of Jesus was different from that of what it became under the Church. "I belong", writes Thurman, "to a generation that finds very little that is meaningful in the teachings of the Church concerning Jesus Christ".

Thurman draws a sharp distinction between the Christianity that Paul creates from what Jesus created. Paul was a citizen of Rome while Jesus was not and this vital fact colors how they exhort the Jews to relate to the regime. Where Jesus calls the Jew to eschew hatred and look for Kingdom within Paul calls for obedience. 

Having this interpreted Jesus Thurman proceeds to identify the forces that operate on the disinherited and why they should choose the path of love.

Fear and the Children of God

Fear dogs the disinherited unlike any other. Fear of the oppressor stunts the life and soul of the oppressed. The dominant group does not even have to articulate threats because past incidents would weigh on the collective memory of the persecuted group. The threat of violence "is rooted in a past experience, actual or reported, which tends to guarantee the present reaction of fear".

Jesus confronts the sense of fear amongst his Jewish brethren but it applies to even an African-American terrorized in America or to a Dalit too. Assuring that his Father protects even a sparrow Jesus says, "fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows". This message is further amplified in the Sermon on the Mount. Allaying the fears and its attendant effects, anxiety and despair, Jesus tells the Jews, "take no thought, saying what shall we eat?....for your Heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God".

"This idea", exults Thurman, that God is mindful of the individual- is of tremendous import in dealing with fear as a disease". "You-you are not niggers. You-you are not slaves. You are God's children". Here is Gandhi telling a people who were deemed to be outside the pale of religion and therefore the graces of any God that they are, not outcastes, but indeed the children of God. 

Deception and Gandhi's Call for Truth

Thurman had met Gandhi during the tour mentioned earlier and this book was published in 1949. Yet, Gandhi's memory and philosophy hangs overhead for Thurman. 

The powerless, the oppressed and the disinherited resort to the well worn technique of deception. A Black pastor, unable to openly criticize policemen who had killed a blind Black man, resorted to deception in his sermon by talking to God what he'd talked to the congregation says Thurman citing an incident as an example of how deception is used by the disinherited to rebel.

"The pattern of deception", Thurman says, "by which the weak circumvent the strong and manage to secure some of their political, economic, and social rights is a matter of continuous degradation". "The penalty of deception is to become a deception".

Discussing alternatives to deception Thurman reaches Gandhi. "We come now to the third alternative-a complete and devastating sincerity". Gandhi exhorts in a letter, "Speak the truth, without fear and without exception". Thurman connects Gandhi's exhortation with Jesus's "challenge to the disinherited", telling them "let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil". 

What does sincerity give the disinherited? "In the presence of overwhelming sincerity on the part of the disinherited, the dominant themselves are caught with no defense, with the edge taken away from the sense of prerogative and from the status upon which the impregnability of their position rests". 


One day Thurman, seated in the segregated area in a train, overheard two black girls talk about two white girls on the street who were skating dangerously close to the train. The black girls wondered aloud about the prospect of seeing the white girls getting killed. A shocked Thurman wondered, "Through what torture chambers had they come- torture chambers that had so attached the grounds of humanness in them that there was nothing capable of calling forth any appreciation or understand of white persons?" I hail from that part of India where a supposed champion of the oppressed, E.V. Ramasamy, hailed as a messiah, inculcated precisely such hatred in equally blood curdling words targeted at the then oppressors, the Brahmins.

Thurman differentiates the hatred of the oppressed and the oppressor. "Hatred" makes a "profound contribution to the life of the disinherited, because it establishes a dimension of self-realization hammered out of the raw materials of injustice". "It is clear then, that for the weak, hatred seems to serve a creative purpose". Note, how Thurman acknowledged the creative purpose of hatred albeit one tied to the 'weak'. 

Having acknowledged the impulse for hatred by the disinherited Thurman is unsparing in decrying the effect of hatred in the long term. "Hatred destroys finally the core of the life of the hater". "Hatred bears deadly and bitter fruit. It is blind and non-discriminating". "Once hatred is released, it cannot be confined to the offenders alone". This is very evident amongst castes that were once oppressed by Brahmins who nurtured, chiefly by E.V. Ramasamy and others like him, a hatred towards all Brahmins, eventually showed hatred towards other castes and especially towards those below them in the caste hierarchy. Gandhi's life, unlike E.V.Ramasamy's, was a message against hating anyone.

"Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, death to communion with his Father". It'd be worthwhile to recall that James Baldwin, who pretty much forsook Christianity, also cautions against hatred because he saw it as corrosive to the soul of his fellow black Americans. 


What does it take, for a Jew, to love a Roman? "To love the Roman meant first to lift him out of the general classification of enemy. The Roman had to emerge as a person". "There had to be a moment when the Roman and the Jew emerged as neither Roman nor Jew, but as two human spirits that had found a mutual, though individual, validation. For the most part, such an experience would be impossible as long as either was functioning only within his own social context". 

"Love of the enemy means that a fundamental attack must first be made on the enemy status". It does not mean, however, "ignoring the fact that he belongs to the enemy class". "The first step toward love is a common sharing of mutual worth and value. This cannot be discovered in a vacuum or in a series of artificial or hypothetical relationships. It has to be in a real situation, natural, free".

When the Lord says "vengeance is mine" He takes away the need for the disinherited to be vengeful or hateful. It is in Lord's hands.

Gandhi and Thurman

For sake of completeness I'll briefly cover Gandhi's meeting with Thurman that is the subject of another book. In February 1936 Thurman and his entourage met Gandhi at Bardoli. Newspapers run by Black community had for long paid close attention to Gandhi and his movement. Newspapers like the Chicago Defender and giants of African-American leadership like W.E.B. Du Bois had deep admiration for Gandhi. 

Gandhi was inquisitive and asked questions about lynchings, interracial marriages, black history and more to the visitors. When it was their turn to quiz Gandhi the delegation asked him about excluding blacks in South Africa during his Satyagraha. Gandhi was forthright in saying that he feared they would not have understood his new technique. The delegation took Gandhi's reply as being cautious about worrying that Satyagraha campaigns could go out of control. 

Surprisingly Gandhi and Thurman agreed that Islam was a "more congenial religion for many Africans than Christianity". Gandhi told Thurman about the spirit of brotherhood in Islam and underscored the absence of such brotherhood in all other religions including Hinduism and Christianity. Thurman, surprisingly, is more sympathetic to Islamic evangelism than Christian evangelism in India. 

Eventually the conversation turned to the topic of ahimsa. Gandhi regretted that paucity of English language compelled him to give a negative definition of ahimsa as "non-violence". Though Gandhi cited Paul's idea of love to illustrate and add that his, Gandhi's, idea of love was beyond even love of God. Both Gandhi and Thurman agreed that Paul's Christianity was a detour from Jesus's idea. Thurman was stunned to hear Gandhi add that a physical reality, physicality, is an added dimension to non-violence as an idea. 

Sue Bailey Thurman asked Gandhi, what was she to do if she had to witness the lynching of her own brother. Gandhi gave her a lengthy answer of what he meant by self-immolation, not a physical act but one that calls for refusal to wish ill will with Whites and refusal to cooperate. 


On January 30th 1948 Gandhi was assassinated by Nathuram Godse. Jawaharlal Nehru told a shocked nation, "the light has gone out of our lives.... the light that shone in our lives was no ordinary light. It was a beacon of hope". Martin Luther King Jr was drawn to Gandhi by his confidant Bayard Rustin who brought to MLK Jr's attention about Thurman and Gandhi. In this cycle of history we see a Indian Hindu learning about Tolstoy and Christ in South Africa and then an African-American Christian theologian learning from Gandhi and taking his lessons to a very different society. Is there no message here that the oppressed of India could learn from? I think there is. 

James Baldwin, Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King Jr and many others of Civil Rights movement repeatedly circle around the topic of corrosive effects of hatred as a response. No one was naive in thinking that hatred was not justified or even natural but they were more worried about what it did, eventually, to the soul of the disinherited. 

For all his genuineness about being sincere in speaking truth and in not hating the perpetrators of violence Gandhi's prescriptions, notably about Ethiopians and Jews to have offered their lives to their conquerors, had its limits in real life.

Arguing for interactions to reinforce mutual value and respect Thurman, for all his criticism of the Church, does not offer secular alternatives as venues or occasions for such interactions. For all of Thurman's criticism of Paul's version of Christianity Arvind Nirmal, originator of Dalit Liberation Theology in India, is drawn towards Paul. 

Amidst all the societal strife we see around us the central message of Thurman and even of Gandhi, the criticisms notwithstanding, still remain the best hope if we are to rise about hatred and to move towards an egalitarian society. 


1. Jesus and the Disinherited - Howard Thurman

2. Visions of a better world: Howard Thurman's Pilgrimage to India and the Origins of African American Nonviolence - Quinton Dixie and Peter Eisenstadt

3. Howard Thurman Meets Gandhi



6. Howard Thurman Documentary by PBS

Monday, May 10, 2021

வ.வே.சு. ஐயர்: ஓர் அறிமுகம்

 தமிழ் நாட்டில் எதிர்மறையாகவே மட்டும் அறியப்படும் ஆளுமைகளுள் சமீப காலமாக இணைந்திருப்பவர் வ.வே.சு. ஐயர் என்றறியப்படும் வரகனேரி வேங்கடேச சுப்பிரமணியம் ஆவார். ஐயர் நிறுவிய சேரன் மாதேவி குருகுலம் சார்பான சர்ச்சை சமீப காலத்தில் பிரபலமாகும் வரை அவர் மதிப்பு மிக்கவராகவே அறியப்பட்டார். 'வ.வே.ஸு. ஐயர்' என்று தலைப்பிட்ட தி.சே.சௌ.ராஜன் அவர்களின் புத்தகத்தைப் படித்த போது அது ஒருவரை பற்றிய அறிமுகம் என்பதை விட இந்திய வரலாற்றில் முக்கியமான ஒரு காலத்தின் அறிமுகமாகத் தோன்றியதன் விளைவே இப்பதிவு. 


இந்திய விடுதலைக்காக முனைந்தவர்களை வேவு பார்ப்பது காலனி அரசின் முக்கியப் பணியாக இருந்தது. உளவுச் சொல்வோரின் அரசாங்க அறிக்கைகள் மிக முக்கிய ஆவணங்கள். ராஜனின் இந்த எளிய நூலில் லண்டனில் விடுதலை விரும்பிகளின் முக்கிய ஸ்தலமாக இருந்த இந்தியா ஹவுஸ் உளவுப் பார்க்கப்பட்டதை விவரிக்கிறார். ஆச்சர்யமான திருப்பங்களுடன். 

உளவுப் பார்த்தப் பலர் வெகு சாதாரணர்கள். வ.உ.சியை வேவுப் பார்த்த ஒருவரை வ.உ.சி. தனக்குப் பணிவிடை செய்ய வேலைக்கு வைத்துக் கொண்டார். அது பற்றிக் கிண்டலாக அரசு தனக்குச் செய்த கைங்கர்யம் என்றாராம். 

கீர்த்திகர் (Kirtikar) - இவருடைய முழுப் பெயர் கிடைக்கவில்லை- இந்தியா ஹவுஸில் தங்கிய போது அவரைக் குறித்துச் சாவர்க்கர், ஐயர், ராஜன் ஆகிய மூவருக்கும் ஐயமேற்பட்டது. ஒரு நாள் கீர்த்திகர் அறையில் இல்லாத போது அவர் உடமைகளைச் சோதனையிட்ட ஐயர் சந்தேகத்தை ஊர்ஜிதம் செய்தார். பின்னர்க் கீர்ரித்கரை மூவரும் மிரட்டி ஒப்புக் கொள்ள வைத்ததோடு அவர் சமர்ப்பிக்க்கும் அறிக்கைகளை ஐயர் சரி பார்த்தப் பின்பே அனுப்ப வேண்டும் என்று ஒப்புக் கொள்ள வைத்தனர். மேலும் உளவுப் பார்க்க அரசு அவருக்குக் கொடுக்கும் கூலியில் ஒரு பகுதியை இந்தியா ஹவுஸுக்கு செல்லுத்தவும் ஆரம்பித்தார். இந்தியா ஹவுஸில் இருந்த "சுறுசுறுப்பும் நல்ல முகவெட்டும் உள்ள வேலைக்காரி"யுடன் கீர்த்திகருக்கு தொடர்பும் ஏற்பட்டது. 

தங்களை அரசு உளவுப் பார்ப்பதைப் போலவே தாங்கள் அரசை வேவுப் பார்த்தாலென்ன என்ற யோசனையின் விளைவு லண்டனுக்கு வந்து இந்தியா ஹவுஸில் அடைக்கலம் புகுந்த எம்.பி.டி.ஆச்சார்யாவை ஸ்காட்லாண்டு யார்டுக்கு வேலைக்கு அமர்த்தினார்கள் சாவர்க்கரும், ஐயரும். ஆச்சார்யா இப்படியாக ஸ்காட்லாண்ட் யார்டில் பணிக்கு சேர்ந்து அந்த வருவாயையும் இந்தியா ஹவுஸுக்கு கொடுத்தார். ஸ்காட்லாண்ட் யார்ட் ஏமாந்தார்கள். 

மொராக்கோ போன திருமாலாச்சார்யார், துப்பாக்கிப் பயிற்சி எடுத்த ராஜன் 

ஆயுதப் போராட்டமே விடுதலைக்கு வழியென்று சாவர்க்கரும், ஐயரும் பிறரும் தீவிரமாக நம்பிய காலக்கட்டம் அது. அதற்காக லண்டனிலேயே துப்பாக்கிப் பயிற்சிக்கு முயன்றார்கள் ஆனால் எந்த இடத்திலும் அவர்களுக்கு அனுமதி கிடைக்கவில்லை. இந்நிலையில் ராஜனுக்கு மட்டும் ஓரிடத்தில் அனுமதி கிடைத்தது ஆனால் அதுவும் மூன்று நாட்களுக்குப் பின் ரத்தானது. மனம் தளராத ராஜன் பாலிடெக்னிக் ஒன்றில் சேர்ந்து இன்னும் கொஞ்சம் பயிற்சிப் பெற்றார். 

துப்பாக்கிச் சுடுவது மட்டும் போதாது போர் நடத்த அனுபவம் தேவை என்றுணர்ந்தவர்கள் அப்போது, 1909-1910, மொராக்கோவுக்கும் ஸ்பெயினுக்கும் இடையே நடந்த போரில் பங்குப் பெற்றால் படை நடத்தும் அனுபவம் கிடைக்குமென்று எம்.பி.டி. ஆச்சார்யா மற்றும் இருவரை மொராக்கோ அனுப்பி வைத்தனர். அதில் ஒருவர் இஸ்லாமியர். முயற்சி பலனளிக்கவில்லை எந்தப் படையும் இம்மூவரையும் ஏற்கவில்லை. ஏழு மாதங்களுக்குப் பின் ஆச்சார்யா மட்டும் மிகவும் நலிந்த நிலையில் இந்தியா ஹவுஸ் திரும்பினார். 

M.P.T. Acharya

1907-இல் சாவர்க்கரும், ஐயரும் லண்டன் வந்திருந்த துருக்கியின் பிரமுகர் முஸ்டாபா கெமால் அடாடுர்க்கை சந்தித்திருக்கிறார்கள் என்பது குறிப்பிடத் தக்கது. 

காந்தியை சந்திப்பது 

1909-இல் காந்தி லண்டனுக்குச் சென்றார். அப்போது சாவர்க்கரும் ஐயரும் அவரைச் சந்தித்தார்கள். காந்தி ஏதோ பெரிய ஹோட்டலில் தங்கியிருப்பார் என்று தேடி அலைந்து பின் அவர் ஒரு சாதாரண இடத்தில் இந்தியாவிலிருந்து வந்து சிற்றுண்டி நடத்தும் ஒருவரின் வீட்டில் சந்த்தித்தார்கள் சாவர்க்கரும், ஐயரும். சுரேஷ் பிரதீப் சமீபத்தில் "காந்தியத்தின் முதலைப் பற்கள்" என்று எழுதிய போது இந்நிகழ்வை படித்துக் கொண்டிருந்தேன். என்ன முதலைப் பற்களோ. மூன்று நாட்கள் சாவர்க்கரும் ஐயரும் காந்தியை மீண்டும் மீண்டும் சந்தித்து விவாதிக்கிறார்கள். அவ்விவாதங்களுக்கு எதிர் வினையாகத் தான், குறிப்பாக மேற்கத்திய நாகரீகத்துக்கு எதிராகவும் தீவிரவாதத்தை நிராகரித்தும், காந்தி "ஹிந்த் ஸ்வராஜ்" புத்தகத்தைத் திரும்பிச் செல்லும் போது கப்பலிலேயே பித்துப் பிடித்தவரைப் போல் எழுதி முடித்தார். 

24 அக்டோபர் 1909-இல் இந்தியா ஹவுஸில் தீபாவளிப் பண்டிகையைக் கொண்டாடினார்கள் (மற்ற சரித்திர ஆசிரியர்கள் எல்லோரும் இதனை விஜய தசமி விழா என்றே குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள்). பண்டிகை பல இந்தியர்களை ஒருங்கிணைக்கும் என்று எண்ணியவர்களுக்கு ஒரு சிக்கல், அப்போது லண்டனில் தங்கியிருந்த பிரபலமான இந்தியர்கள், கோகலே, விபின் சந்திர பால், லாஜபதி ராய், எல்லோரும் விழாத் தலைமையேற்க மறுக்கவும் காந்தியை சாவர்க்கரும் ஐயரும் அழைத்தார்கள். 

விழா நாளன்று இந்தியா ஹவுஸ் வந்த காந்தியை அங்கிருந்தோர் அடையாளம் தெரியாமல் விருந்துக்கு வந்தவர் என்று நினைத்து அப்போது நடந்து கொண்டிருந்த சமையல் வேலையில் ஈடுபடுத்துகிறார்கள். ஐயரும் சாவர்க்கரும் வீட்டுக்கு வந்து இவர் தான் காந்தி என்ற போது மற்றவர்கள் திகைக்க அந்த முதலைப் பற்களுக்குச் சொந்தக்காரர் சிரித்தார். 

காந்தியின் உரையை விடச் சாவர்க்கரின் ராமாயணம். பற்றிய உரை மிகவும் ரசிக்கப்பட்டது. காந்தியை சந்தித்த முதல் நாள் மாலை ஐயர் ராஜனிடம், "மனித சிருஷ்டியில் உயர்ன்ந்த்அஅவ்அஅர்உஉம் ஒப்பற்றவருமான ஒருவரை இன்று சந்தித்தேன்" என்றாராம். ராஜன் வருடத்தைத் தவறாக 1908 என்று குறிக்கிறார். 

மேடம் காமா

மேடம் காமா (Madam Cama) என்றழைக்கப்பட்ட பிகாஜி காமா ஒரு பார்ஸி பெண்மணி, விவாகரத்தானவர், தேச விடுதலைக்காகப் போர்க் குணத்தோடு செயல்பட்ட ஆச்சர்யபடத்தக்க பலருள் ஒருவர். இந்திய விடுதலைப் பயணத்தில் தான் எத்தனையெத்தனை ஆச்சர்யப்படத்தக்க ஆளுமைகள். ஓ அது ஒரு காலம். 

காமா செல்லுமிடமெல்லாம் தான் வைத்திருக்கும் மூவர்ணக் கொடியை "மேஜையிலோ அல்லது நாற்காலியிலோ ஒரு சன்னக் குழாயை நிறுத்தி அதில் பறக்கவிட்டுப் பிறகு தான் பேச ஆரம்பிப்பார்கள். ஆங்கிலப் பத்திரிக்கைகளில், "கொடி தாங்கி அம்மையார்" என்று எழுதுவது வழக்கம்". 

சாவர்க்கர் வழக்கும் துரோகிகளும் ஐயரும்

அக்காலத்தில் பாரீஸ் இந்திய விடுதலைப் போராட்ட வீரர்களுக்கு அடைக்கல நகராகச் செயல்பட்டது. இந்தியாவில் பாண்டிச்சேரி போல். ஜனவரி 1910-இல் சாவர்க்கர் லண்டனில் தான் கைது செய்யப்படலாம் என்று பாரிஸுக்குப் போனார். பிறகு 13 மார்ச் 1910 லண்டனுக்குத் திரும்பும் போது விக்டோரியா ஸ்டஷனில் கைது செய்யப்பட்டார் (ராஜன் இதை டோவர் துறைமுகம் என்று எழுதுகிறார்). சிறையில் இருந்த சாவர்க்கரை அடிக்கடி சந்தித்தது ஐயர் தான். சாவர்க்கரை தப்புவிக்கும் ஒரு முயற்சியில் ஈடுபட்டார் முயற்சி பலனளிக்கவில்லை ஆனால் அம்முயற்சிக்காக லண்டன் போலீசால் கைது செய்யப்பட இருந்தார். ஏப்ரல் மாதம் ஐயர் பாரீஸுக்கு சீக்கியர் போல் வேடமிட்டு தப்பினார். அதற்கு அவர் தாடியும் தோற்றமும் துணைப் புரிந்தன. 

ஜூலை 1910 சாவர்க்கரை இந்தியாவுக்கு அனுப்பி வழக்கை எதிர்கொள்ள வேண்டும் என்று லண்டனில் முடிவானது. ப்ரான்ஸில் இருக்கும் மார்ஸே வழியே தான் கப்பல் பயணிக்க வேண்டும். மார்ஸே துறைமுகத்தில் சாவர்க்கர் கழிப்பறை துளை வழியே தப்பிக் கடலுக்குள் குதித்தார். ராஜன் சாவர்க்கர் நிர்வாணமாகக் குதித்ததாகச் சொல்கிறார். வழக்கு ஆவணம் ஒன்று "almost naked" என்கிறது ஆனால் சாவர்க்கர் வாழ்க்கை வரலாறு எழுதிய விக்ரம் சம்பத் அது பற்றிச் சொல்லவில்லை. 

கடலில் குதித்த சாவர்க்கரை போலீசார் நீந்தி துரத்தினர். நிர்வாணமாகக் கரையேறிய சாவர்க்கர் தனக்காக வண்டியுடன் கரையில் காத்திருக்கும் வ.வே.ஸு. ஐயர் மற்றும் மேடம் காமா நோக்கி ஓட பின்னால் போலீஸ் துரத்தி அவரைப் படித்து விட்டது என்கிறார் ராஜன். சம்பத்தின் புத்தகம் ஐயரும் காமாவும் வந்தடைய தாமதமாகி விட்டதென்கிறது. எப்படியோ சாவர்க்கர் பிடிப்பட்டார். 

சாவர்க்கரின் கைதுக்குப் பின் ஐயர் ஓர் இஸ்லாமியராக வேடமிட்டு இந்தியாவுக்கு "எகிப்து, பம்பாய், கொழும்பு, கடலூர்" வழியே தப்பி வந்தார். "அந்தணர் குலத்தவர் இஸ்லாமியப் பக்கிரியாக மாறினார். அதற்கான சின்னங்கள், முஸ்லீம் பழக்கங்கள், பேச்சு இவைகளுடன் உளவுப் போலீஸ்காரர்களுக்குத் தெரியாமல் தப்பினார்" என்கிறார் ராஜன். 

சாவர்க்கர் வழக்கில் முக்கியமானவர்கள் ராமராவ் என்பவரும் அரிச்சந்திர கோரேகாவகர் (Harishchandra Khoregaonkar) என்பரும் முக்கியமானவர்கள். 

பாரீஸில் துப்பாக்கிகளையும் ரவைகளையும் எளிதாக வாங்க முடியும் என்பதால் அங்குத் தங்கியிருந்த காலத்தில் துப்பாக்கிகளை வாங்கி இந்தியா செல்லும் ராமராவ் மூலம் அனுப்பினார் ஐயர். ஆனால் பாரீஸில் இங்கிலாந்து உளவுத் துறை இதை மோப்பம் பிடித்து விட்டதை ஐயரும் ராமராவும் உணரவில்லை. பாம்பே வந்திறங்கிய ராமராவ் கைது செய்யப்பட்டுத் துப்பாக்கிகளும் பறிமுதல் செய்யப்பட்டன. பின்னர் ராமராவ் கொடுத்த வாக்குமூலம் சாவர்க்கரை நாஸிக் வழக்கில் சிக்க வைக்க உதவியது. 1917-இல் காங்கிராச் மாநாட்டில் ராமராவை சந்தித்ததைக் கசப்போடு நினைவு கூர்ந்தார் ராஜன். 

கோரேகாவ்கர் மிக முக்கியமான சாட்சியம் வழங்கினார். இந்தியா ஹவுஸில் தங்கியிருந்த போது சாவர்க்கரோடு உரையாடியது, திங்கிராவின் கொலைத் திட்டம், இன்னும் பல விவரங்களை அளித்துச் சாவர்க்கருக்கு எதிரான வழக்கு வலுப் பெற கோரேகாவ்கர் முக்கியக் காரணம். அரிச்சந்திரன் என்று பெயர் கொண்டவர் இப்படித் துரோகம் செய்து விட்டாரே என்று வருந்தி எழுதுகிறார் ராஜன். 

இந்தியாவில் ஜூன் மாதம் ஆயுள் தண்டனை விதிக்கப்பட்டு அந்தமானுக்குப் போகும் வழியில் சென்னை வந்தார் சாவர்க்கர். 17 ஜூன் 1911-இல் ஆஷ் துரையை வாஞ்சி கொன்றிருந்த செய்தி சாவர்க்கரை அடைந்ததென்றும் அவர் அச்செயலுக்கு ஐயர் அனுப்பிய துப்பாக்கிகள் உதவியிருக்கலாம் என்று உணர்ந்ததாகச் சாவர்க்கரின் வரலாறு எழுதிய விக்ரம் சம்பத் சொல்கிறார். (ஆதாரம் எதுவும் கொடுக்கவில்லை). 

குருகுலமும் முடிவும்

1920-இல் புதுச்சேரியை விட்டுச் சென்னை வந்த ஐயர் 'தேசபக்தன்' என்று ஒரு இதழில் எழுதிய கட்டுரைக்காக 9 மாதம் சிறையில் இருந்தார். சிறையில் இருந்து வெளி வந்த ஐயர் திருநெல்வேலிக்கு அருகே சேர மாதேவி என்ற இடத்தில் "பாரத்துவாஜ ஆசிரமம்" என்ற பெயரில் காங்கிரசிடம் இருந்தி ரூ.10,000 பெற்று (முதல் தவணை ரூ. 5000) ஒரு குருகுலம் ஆரம்பித்தார். 

குருகுலத்தில் சில பிராமண மாணவர்களுக்குத் தனியாக உணவு பரிமாறியது பெரும் சர்ச்சையைக் கிளப்பியது. குறிப்பாக வரதராஜுலு நாயுடுவும் ஈ.வெ.ராவும் முன் நின்று எதிர்த்தார்கள். ஐயங்காரான ராஜன் தானும் தனியே ஐயரிடம் இப்படிச் செய்யலாகாது என்று கூறியதாக எழுதுகிறார். இன்றளவும் இந்த ஒரு விஷயத்தை வைத்தே ஐயர் பேசப்படுகிறார். சம காலத்தில் அரசுப் பள்ளிகளில் மதிய உணவுத் திட்டத்துக்காகத் தலித்துகள் சமைத்தால் தங்கள் பிள்ளைகள் சாப்பிடக் கூடாதென்று இடை நிலை சாதி இந்துக்கள் எதிர்த்த போது திராவிட இயக்கம் பாராமுகமாக இருந்து விட்டது. 

இந்தச் சச்சரவு "1924-ஆம் வருஷம் துவங்கிற்று. 1925-ஆம் வருஷம் ஜூலை 3" அன்று "பாபநாசம் நீர் வீழ்ச்சியில் தம் மகளைக் காப்பாற்றும் பொருட்டு ஐயர் உயிர் நீத்தார்". வ.வே.சு. ஐயருக்கு வயது 44. 


முதல் கேள்வி ராஜனின் புத்தகம் வரலாறா? நிகழ்வுகளை நம்பலாமா? விக்ரம் சம்பத் எழுதிய சாவர்க்கர் வாழ்க்கை வரலாற்றோடு ஒப்பிட்டுச் சொல்கிறேன் ராஜன் எழுதியது வரலாறு. ஆச்சர்யமான விஷயம் சம்பத் எங்குமே ராஜனின் புத்தகத்தைச் சொல்லவில்லை, ராஜனின் புத்தத்தில் மட்டுமே கண்டிருக்கக் கூடுய ராஜன் துப்பாக்கி பயிற்சி பெற்றது பற்றிக் கூட எழுதியிருக்கிறார் சம்பத் ஆனால் ராஜனின் புத்தகத்தைச் சுட்டவில்லை. மற்ற நிகழ்வுகளுக்குச் சம்பத் வேறு ஆதாரங்கள் தருகிறார் ஆனால் அவை எல்லாமே ராஜன் எழுதியதோடு ஒத்துப் போகின்றது. 

T.S.S. Rajan (1880-1953)

1946-இல் வெளிவந்த இந்நூல் ஒரு காலத்தின் சித்திரத்தை கூட அல்ல மாறாக ஒரு நிழலை, silhouette, அளிக்கிறது என்று தான் கொள்ள வேண்டும். இந்திய விடுதலை என்பது நீண்ட பயணம். அதில் மிக ஆச்சர்யப்படத்தக்கவர்கள் பயணித்திருக்கிறார்கள். "தண்ணீர் விட்டோ வளர்த்தோம், சர்வேசா இப்பயிரை கண்ணீரால் காத்தோம்" என்ற பாரதியின் வரி சத்தியமான உண்மை. 

ராஜனின் வாழ்வே ஆச்சர்யமானது தான். வைதிக குடும்பத்தில் ஶ்ரீரங்கத்தில் பிறந்து திருச்சி செயிண்ட் ஜோசப் கல்லூரியில் படித்து, ரங்கூனில் பணியாற்றி, லண்டனில் படித்து மருத்துவராகி, விடுதலைப் போராட்டத்தில் இரண்டு முறை (இரண்டறை வருடம்) சிறையில் இருந்தவர், தமிழ் நாடு ஹரிஜன சேவா சங்கத் தலைவர், சென்னை அரசில் இரண்டு முறை அமைச்சராக இருந்திருக்கிறார். 

எம்.பி.டி ஆச்சார்யா எப்பேர்ப்பட்ட வாழ்வு அவருடையது. வைஷ்ணவர், இந்தியா பத்திரிக்கை நடத்தியவர், இங்கிலாந்துக்குப் போய் உளவுப் பார்த்தவர், பின்னர்க் கம்யூனிஸ்டாகி லெனினை சந்தித்தவர், மிக ஏழையாகப் பம்பாயில் இறந்தார். 

காந்தி, பாரதி, வ.வே.சு. ஐயர், நேரு, சாவர்க்கர் இவர்கள் எல்லோருமே மாஜினியையும், கரிபால்டியையும் பற்றிப் படித்தும் எழுதியும் இருப்பது உலகத்தின் விடுதலை மற்றும் ஒருங்கிணைப்பு முயற்சிகளையெல்லாம் நம் தேச விடுதலைக்காகப் படித்து ஆராய்ந்ததைச் சொல்லும். 1850-1950 நூற்றாண்டை இந்தியா உருவான நூற்றாண்டு என்று சொல்ல முடியும். 

எப்படியாவது தேசத்துக்கு விடுதலை கிடைத்து விட வேண்டும் என்று தமக்குச் சரி என்று தோன்றிய எல்லா வழிகளையும் தேச பக்தர்கள் கையாண்டிருக்கிறார்கள். இதில் முக்கியமாகப் பிராமணர்கள், தன்னளவில் ஆசார நம்பிக்கைகள் கொண்டிருந்தாலும், நிறையச் சாதிய கட்டுப்பாடுகளை மீறி இருக்கிறார்கள். இன்று நாம் தட்டையான சித்திரங்களால் புரிந்து கொண்டிருக்கும் பலரும் மிகச் சிக்கலான வாழ்க்கையை வாழ்ந்திருக்கிறார்கள். 

எளிய மொழியில் எழுதப்பட்ட சிறிய நூல் ஆனால் இன்றைய சந்ததியினர் அவசியம் படிக்க வேண்டிய நூல் ராஜனின் 'வ.வே.ஸு. ஐயர்'. வ.வே.சு. ஐயர் பற்றிய இன்னொரு முக்கியமான நூல் பெ.சு. மணியின் "வ.வே.சு. ஐயர் அர்சியல்-இலக்கிய பணிகள்". ராஜன் தொடாத ஐயரின் இலக்கியப் பணிகள் குறித்து மணி எழுதியிருக்கிறார். 


2. வ.வே.சு ஐயர்: அரசியல்-இலக்கியப் பணிகள் - பெ.சு.மணிவ.+வே.+சு.+ஐயர்#book1/

Wednesday, March 31, 2021

A Historian Reflects on the Meaning of Good Friday

Quintus Lucilius Balbus (c 100 BCE), quoted by Marcus Tullius Cicero, said, "To sum up, the existence of the gods is so abundantly clear that I regard anyone who denies it as out of his mind". Voltaire famously went to war against the Church but insisted that "if God did not exist it'd be necessary to invent him". India's own Jawaharlal Nehru, an atheist, understood that "religion had supplied some deeply felt inner need of human nature, and that the vast majority of people all over the world could not do without some form of religious belief". Religion, irrespective of whether you practice it or not, is a subject to be engaged with. 

While religion or its practice has little value or interest for me I am always fascinated by how the philosophical upper reaches of religion captivates human minds, minds that I tend to respect for their intellectual breadth. Thanks to my father, a devout Christian who took pride in calling himself a 'humanist', I've a healthy appreciation of the religious instinct and a definite distaste for bigotry. A person's religion is his own private matter as long as it does not color his profession, whatever that may be. When I came across Pulitzer winner and historian Jon Meacham's "The hope of glory: Reflections on the last words of Jesus from the Cross" I was intrigued to read what a person like him could say on a matter of faith. 

Tamil writer Jeyamohan recently ruffled quite a few feathers with an article addressed to a skeptic of Hinduism. As is his wont Jeyamohan did not stop with making the case for Hinduism but happily extended to offer prejudiced criticisms of Christianity and Islam based on partisan cherrypicking of history. Meacham's book, a slim one, that had hitherto been gathering dust on my bookshelf, became an urgent need to be read and contrasted with Jeyamohan's style of writing on religion. 

Not an Evangelist

Meacham declares in his prologue. "I am, however, in no sense an evangelical, for I do not share the view that faith in Jesus is the only route to salvation, nor am I determined to convert others to my point of view". As a biographer of Thomas Jefferson, the president who most notably laid the foundations of secularism in America, Meacham quotes the sage from Monticello, "It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god". 

So, why did Meacham bother to write this book? "I am sharing these meditations in the hope that a sense of history and an appreciation of theology might help readers make more sense of the cross". Meacham walks a tightrope as a historian, his known avocation, and a man of faith, his private world that he is now opening to wider and open scrutiny.

What is history and what is theology? Meacham answers, "History is what happened in time and space. Theology can be understood as what people think history means in relation to a presumed order beyond time and space". "History is horizontal, theology vertical, and their intersection is a motive force behind our religious , national, and personal imagination." 

To Meacham the crucifixion and the existence of Jesus is factual but he is comfortable in referring to the last words of Jesus as "may or may not have been spoken". The crucifixion is to Meacham, "a reminder that at the center of the Christian story lies love, not hate; grace, not rage; mercy, not vengeance". India's Mahatma, a devout Hindu, saw the same message as the heart of Christianity and was moved when he visited the Sistine Chapel. 

The life of Jesus, if we were to accept the narrative of the Bible, is very unlike most other Gods. The life of Jesus is bookended by helplessness. He's born in a manger and the people who know of his birth are nomads. He dies, flagellated and nailed to the cross. He preached a religion which rewarded the poor, for being poor and the weak for being weak. No wonder Nietzche, preaching a gospel of strength, repudiated Christ. 

The "Last words of Jesus" are meditated upon by the faithful on Good Friday. It is a day of reflection of what Christ and Christianity mean to each of them and to society at large. Jon Meacham offers us his reflections.


Probably the most famously known words of Jesus are "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do" (Luke 23:32-38). The crucifixion is a foretold event and Jesus was fulfilling a prophecy and in essence His mission on Earth. If crucifixion was a prophecy then perforce there should be the executioners who were merely playing their parts in a drama orchestrated from beyond human realm. The immortal Bard of Avon had the blind and desperate Earl of Gloucester lament, "As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods". 

If the Roman executioners were playing out their parts did they need to be forgiven? The last words of Jesus, seven phrases, are spread across the various Gospels and this, the first, come from St. Luke. Meacham reasons that Luke included these lines not because Jesus perhaps said them or that the Roman executioners needed forgiveness. The gospels were written, supposedly, decades after Jesus's crucifixion and were addressing a different audience. Luke, by ascribing these words to Jesus as he hung on the cross, was meant to lift the sense of guilt that his Jewish and Gentile audience might have for what their forefathers did. 

Rejecting the notion that scriptural text is to be read literally Meacham exhorts us to "engage with the texts of the faith with reason, a critical intelligence and a capacity to distinguish history from legend, narrative from allegory, and fact from apologetics". 

"Woman, Behold thy son"

Two stories from Indian mythology always strike me for their similarity with these words of Jesus addressed to his mother. Philosopher extraordinaire Adi Shankara, a sanyasi, sensing that his mother is ailing rushes to her side to be with her as she draws her last breath. Tamil devotional poet Pattinathar also rushes to be with his mother at her death and famously, instead of cremating her with wood, lest it hurt her, sets the pyre alight with verses. 

As a Child Jesus admonishes his parents who come looking for him, thinking he's lost, that he's "about his Father's work".  Yet, as life ebbs from him and hanging from the cross he looks down and sees his distraught mother. Like a man taking care of his family that he leaves behind he speaks to his mother, referring to his disciple John, "woman, behold thy son" and to John he says, "Behold thy mother" (John 19:25-27). To Meacham this act of a dying man showing love to another person and not himself is an act that Jesus wants his follower to, well, follow. 

That a man whose skin had been shredded to His bones and nailed to the cross would spare a thought for others might strain the credulity of any listener and Meacham concedes, "you may well find that the whole story is not something you can accept". Then he assures us that we share company with none less than Benjamin Franklin himself.

Franklin, writing to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, confesses his belief in "one God, creator of the Universe". "The most acceptable service", Franklin continues in the letter, "we can render him, is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this." Franklin then tips a hat to other religions, "These I take to be fundamental principles of all sound religion, and I regard them, as you do, in whatever sect I meet with them".

America's founding Father aside from casting aspersions that Jesus's message, with the passage of time and other factors, would've been corrupted voices what could be blasphemous doubt about the very divine nature of Jesus. "I have....some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatism upon". To Franklin the divinity of Jesus is doubtful and not even a pre-requisite to value his teachings or following his teaching of brotherhood and doing good to others.

"Into Thy hands I commend My Spirit"

Having taken care of his mother Jesus cries out fin desperation, in a very human moment, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me" (Matthew 27:45-46). Then he asks for water, "I thirst" (John 19:28-29). Having tasted water he then resignedly recognizes the moment is drawing close, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The last gasp is when he let's out his sprit saying, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit" (Luke 23:46). 

It is this moment of surrender that to Meacham is a call to all Christians to "committing ourselves to a habit of mind and of heart that tends toward love and order rather than selfishness and disorder". Willam James, Meacham says, "put it well, saying 'We and God have business with each other; and in opening ourselves to his influence our deepest destiny is fulfilled". 

Good Friday, marking death of the Son of Man, is a moment of darkness but beyond the darkness of the moment lies hope, the resurrection and salvation. Faith, to Meacham, is not magic but mystery. Mystery, for Meacham, holds the promise of hope. That faith embodies hope, not uncertainty or fear, is best shown in the words of T.S. Eliot, that Eliot had himself borrowed, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well". 

Leap of Faith and Hope of Glory

As Jesus commended his spirit unto his Father's so should we, says Meacham quoting the famous words of Coleridge (1772 - 1834), have a "willing suspension of disbelief". The idea of "willing suspension of disbelief" dates back to Aristotle and in this context Coleridge and Meacham argue that such a suspension of disbelief opens our souls to an enriching experience. What would that help for? 

Meacham calls forth the reader to "seek the means of grace, and the hope of glory" irrespective of which God you choose to worship. Seeking grace is all there is to it. 

Meacham further presses his case for faith by calling forth the mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662). Pascal argued, in Meacham's words, "It is smarter to bet that God exists, and to believe in him, because if it turnout that he is real, you win everything; if he is not, you lose nothing. So why not take the leap of faith. 


Jon Meacham sets himself a tall task in a field populated by intellectual giants of the highest order and writers of great merit. Writing about Christianity and what faith means for an audience of common reader has a very long tradition that includes the likes of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, William James, to name a few. Then in recent years we have highly regarded writings of Elaine Pagels and Jack Miles who approach the question of religion and God from academic perch. Meacham, for all his erudition and culling of quotes from a vast repertoire of theologians and poets pretty much loses steam after the second or third "word of Jesus". History, not theology, is Meacham's forte. 

Of course one could say that the book is meant for the faithful and it'd fail to strike a chord in a secular reader or an agnostic. Fair enough. But Meacham set himself out "not to convert" and hence the aim to impress upon the reader, the meditative truth that the author found, in language that appeals to the mind in such a way that the reader could at least say, "if I were faithful I'd enjoy this more". On that Meacham fails. 

Now, once we cross the Western academic nature of writing that Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan and S.N. Dasgupta did and we reach particularly the likes of Jeyamohan who have a cultivated animosity for the Western intellectual tradition we find that the writing is not just uneven but lacks a balance. The writing suffers from an eagerness to court a reader to join the fold and despite any good intention to keep the courting positive it inevitably lapses into enveloping irrelevant negativity. Meacham, who functions as secular historian, while being faithful member of the Church, is still trying to speak to a secular reader. Elaine Pagels, historian of the Gnostic Gospels, is sympathetic to the religious instinct but is careful not to sound like a televangelist. Jeyamohan's problem is he tries not to be a televangelist but his impulses get the better of him. Sad.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

US Presidential Election 2020: Trump is Defeated. Will Trumpism Survive?

 On November 8th 2016 election day dawned in America with many, including  Donald Trump himself, believing that he’d lose and Hillary Clinton would win and make history. As the night wore on and bled into the wee hours of the morning of Nov 9th 2016 in a seismic shock to American politics Donald Trump was declared the 45th President Elect. 

While one part of America let out a primal scream of joy of having staved of the forces that threatened their “way of life” another part of America watched in bewilderment wondering, “how did this happen in America?”

Confession, I voted for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden and in my opinion Donald Trump is not only unqualified to be President but he threatens the very idea of a pluralist and egalitarian society. Trump’s appeal, I’ve always reiterated, should never be glossed over as anti-establishment without mentioning the demagoguery that undergirded his campaign starting with the ugly and racist birther conspiracy against Barack Obama. 


My objective here is to outline how Trump won in 2016, rather shortly, and why he lost in 2020. Also, we are witnessing a rare and very disturbing spectacle of a sitting American president who, having lost the election, is seeking to not just discredit the election but is actively working to overturn the verdict of a democratic exercise. What kind of long term effect will Trump leave, beyond the current attempt to discredit and overturn the election, on American politics?


Was the 2016 election won by Trump or lost by Clinton?


Instead of framing the 2016 election as Hillary Clinton’s loss if we framed it as ‘How Trump won in 2016?’ then we would re-orient the discussion in a completely different manner. A short overview. 


The electoral map shows Obama support literally halving or worse in 2012 compared to his    2008 run. Noticeably Pennsylvania, with African-American dominated large cities like Philadelphia saw a real decline in support. What Florida was to the 2000 race Pennsylvania was to the races in 2016 and 2020. Trump, in both races, had no plausible route to the presidency without Pennsylvania and in that scorching battleground state the ground was shifting towards GOP even in Obama’s hey day.

James Carville, legendary political analyst, memorably characterized Pennsylvania as “Philadelphia in the east and Pittsburgh in the west and Alabama in the middle”. Pennsylvania provides the perfect lens to capture the Trump win in 2016. While Black vote dipped significantly, by an alarming 6 points (59.6% in 2016 vs 66.6% in 2012), Hillary matched the black vote, it should be noted, with John Kerry. Naturally Obama’s historic candidacy drove Black voters in record numbers to match White voters in 2008 and exceed in 2012. 

Too much is made of Hillary losing the Black vote without contextualizing her as a White candidate. Not to mention that other factors played into the Obama coalition not turning up for Hillary.


Even as Black voter turnout declined White voter turnout surged to 2008 levels surpassing the dip in 2012. Trump stood to benefit. Trump’s racism predated 2016 election to a long history. It is intellectually dishonest to ignore the racial appeal of Trump.

Known as the Central Park jogger case an attack on a white woman escalated into racial conflict when 5 Black and Latino men were charged of the crime. Trump released a full page ad in New York Times calling for the death penalty. “Bring back the death penalty. Bring back our police” said the ad in all capital letters. The five accused were wrongly convicted and were exonerated in 2002 based on DNA evidence. They had served, on average 6 years before being paroled and later exonerated. 


Asked about his role in the publicity of the trial in 2019 Trump, by now President, used his famous formulation to equivocate on racism “You have people on both sides of that”. Referring to white supremacists in a riot in Charleston, VA Trump had said the same. 


A Reuters/IPsos poll of 16,000 voters in June 2016 about racial attitudes had important data points. “Nearly half of Trumps supporters described African Americans as more violent” than whites. The same proportion described African Americans as more criminal” than whites, while 40 percent described them as more lazy” than whites”. To these voters Trump, unlike McCain and Romney, was a god send. 

Americans loved to hate the Clintons and especially Hillary Clinton. To understand the sexism that Hillary faced it’d be instructive to watch the documentary “The People Vs O.J. Simpson”. 

Every sexist attack and mischaracterization that the lead prosecutor Marcia Clark faced was lived by Hillary too. Not to mention the radioactive racial politics depicted in the documentary. 


Fear of losing status, not economic anxiety”


“Fear of losing status, not economic anxiety” was a key motivating factor for voters say studies in the post-2016 election. Trump, popular narrative said, catered to the disaffected millions who felt left behind in a world of globalized economic treaties and foreign competition. Too many analysts shied away from stating the obvious that economic anxiety was a veneer to a darker truth, fear of loss of status by White voters. 

The 2016 GOP candidate list featured a wide spectrum of Republican ideology ranging from Jeb Bush to Ted Cruz, John Kasich and others. Despite or because of such a wide field Trump who had a committed base broke through and became the nominee. Trump’s slogan of “Make America Great Again” was a verbal slap to the Obama era, the nation’s first Black president. 

Diana C. Mutz conducted a study and concluded, “Its much more of a symbolic threat that people feel. Its not a threat to their own economic well-being; its a threat to their groups dominance in our country over all”.

“Dr. Mutz noted two reasons for skepticism of the economic anxiety, or left behind,” theory. First, the economy was improving before the 2016 presidential campaign. Second, while research has suggested that voters are swayed by the economy, there is little evidence that their own financial situation similarly influences their choices at the ballot box.” Note, that many voters who actually depended on Obamacare voted for Trump, who promised to upend Obamacare. 

Summarizing for a New York Times article, in 2018, Dr. Mutz said, “It used to be a pretty good deal to be a white, Christian male in America, but things have changed and I think they do feel threatened”.


Thomas Edsall who teaches political journalism at Columbia University and writes for New York Times also, in Dec 2020, concurred in his column, “Rising anxiety over declining social status tells us a lot”. “In politics, status competition has become increasingly salient, prompting a collection of emotions including envy, jealousy and resentment that have spurred ever more intractable conflicts between left and right, Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives”.

Research, cited in an article in Vox, in January 2017, by “Political scientists Brian Schaffner, Matthew MacWilliams, and Tatishe Nteta puts the blame back on the same factors people pointed to before the election: racism and sexism”. “Sexism and racism correlated much more closely with support for Trump than economic dissatisfaction after controlling for factors like partisanship and political ideology”.

A corresponding survey by Five Thirty Eight points to how Republican voters carried more racial and gender resentment than Democratic voters did.

2020 and the Warning from Arizona Republic Editorial of 2016

Arizona went blue in 2020 and elected Joe Biden. How did it happen? The editorial by Arizona Republic, in 2016, offers clues. More importantly it presages the conduct of Trump in office and his post-election craziness now.

The Arizona Republic, published since 1890 and had never endorsed a Democrat for the Presidency, in its editorial endorsing Hillary Clinton, positively, had written ominously, “Trump responds to criticism with the petulance of verbal spit wad….When the president of the United States speaks, the world expects substance. Not a blistering tweet…Trumps long history of objectifying women and his demeaning comments about women during the campaign are not just good-old-boy gaffes….They are evidence of deep character flaws. They are part of a pattern…stunning lack of human decency, empathy and respect”

A stunning aspect of 2020 election was Arizona turning blue. But, the Arizona Republic warned 4 years ago:

“Whats more, Arizona went down the hardline immigration road Trump travels. It led our state to SB 1070, the 2010 show me your papers” law that earned Arizona international condemnation and did nothing to resolve real problems with undocumented immigration.

Arizona understands that we dont need a repeat of that divisive, unproductive fiasco on the national level. A recent poll shows Arizonans oppose both more walls and the mass deportations Trump endorses.”

Trump said he could be “presidential” if he chooses to and not be the brash candidate that voters see on the campaign trail. Fat chance. The candidate we see is the president we get. Trump voters and many others, post-election, trotted out excuses like, “take him seriously not literally”. A presidential candidate should be taken seriously and literally. 


How The Electorate Voted. Biden Scores in Suburbs and Wins


Even after GOP got a drubbing in the mid-term elections David Graham, writing for The Atlantic in November 2018, cautioned that “Trump is the Favorite in 2020”. The economy was roaring and rarely has a sitting president ever been defeated. The last sitting president who lost a re-election was George H.W. Bush in 1992 and that too after GOP had held the presidency for 12 years. 

It is entirely possible that if the election had been conducted in Dec 2019 instead of November 2020 that Trump may have easily won re-election, albeit, again only via the electoral college and not the popular vote. In an election conducted amidst a pandemic that cost thousands of lives and a nation torn apart by racial conflagration even what mattered to voters was partisan. Voters for Trump and Biden had very different set of concerns.

New York Times exit polling (see below) shows that the economy, at 35%, remained the chief concern for 35% of the voters while racial inequality (20% of voters) and Coronavirus  (17% of voters) were second and third. Of 5 issues Biden led Trump on 3 issues. (Numbers in blue indicate support for Biden and red for Trump).

CNN exit polling tracked the shifts amongst voters in 2020 compared to 2016. While Biden had softer support amongst colored voters than Hillary Clinton did he closed the gap with the crucial segment of male White voters. Trump marginally increased his support amongst Black and Latino males. Explanations for this increase in support for Trump amongst non-White males ranged from being drawn to Trump’s machismo and possible reaction to Kamala Harris on the ticket. Losing the White male vote was crucial for Trump.

The pattern repeats in shifts of voters along educational criteria. Biden ran lower margin with colored voters than he did with White voters but closing the gap with white voters, larger segment of voters, especially in crucial battleground states, delivered the election to Biden.

Five Thirty Eight blog ran a column cautioning that even a man as nominee by Democrats will still face tough challenge against Trump given Trump’s machismo that has an allure for males, across races. Males who identified themselves as “completely” masculine disapprove of Trump’s handling of Coronavirus crises by a very small margin unlike those who considered themselves less masculine or the women voters. (Graphic from Five Thirty Eight).

The real coup-de-grace that delivered the presidency, besides colored voters and women, were particularly votes from suburban counties. Brookings Institute analyzed exit polls and declared, “Biden’s victory came from the suburbs”.


“Large suburban areas in 2020 registered a net Democratic advantage for the first time since Barack Obamas victory in 2008. This is significant because more voters reside there than in the other three categories. In terms of aggregate votes in these large suburban counties, there was a shift from a 1.2 million vote advantage for Trump in 2016 to (at last count) a 613,000 vote advantage for Biden—a nearly 2 million vote flip. In addition, Biden benefitted from more modest Republican margins in small metropolitan areas. These advantages for the President-elect were even greater in key battleground states”

A key component in the suburbs going blue is Trump losing with white women voters. Five Thirty Eight pointed to the changing trend. Alarmed that he’s losing the suburban white women 

vote Trump, at a rally, railed that he had saved “your damn neighborhood”. The not so subtle racial dog whistle was about his administration undoing Obama era rules to create affordable housing in affluent suburban neighborhoods. Affordable housing invariably catered to Black and Hispanic citizens. 


The Scrambled Electoral Map and Narratives Messed


Trump caused a political earthquake in 2016 by blowing up the Democratic Blue Wall in Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Heading into 2020 Democrats fretted that Biden could be defeated by a softer support amongst Hispanics than even Hillary got. As seen above Biden won PA by running up the suburbs and narrowing the White vote. That pathway helped Biden deliver a bigger bi-coastal earthquake in essaying his win.


Biden won Georgia, which had not voted for a Democrat since 1992, and delivered a blow to GOP and Trump in the redoubtable South. And he did it with a bi-racial woman running as his vice-president. 


An article pointed out the revolutionary nature of the win, “the predominantly white enclave of Sandy Springs, whose white leaders vowed in the 1960s to build up a city separate from Atlanta and your Negroes””. What changed, besides the demographics of the state itself with influx of Asian-Americans and charged up to vote Black voters? White voters were turning progressive. Five Thirty Eight notes, “the counties north of the city of Atlanta—Cobb, Gwinnett, the upper part of Fulton—were no longer homogenous conservative strongholds.”


Arizona, on the West Coast, delivered another blow to GOP and Trump. Arizona, home to the most important ideologue of Republican Party and Presidential nominee, Barry Goldwater, and senator John McCain now has two Democratic senators and voted to turn the state blue. Demographic changes driven by migration into the state, led by Hispanics and a surge in strong support from Native Americans helped put the state in Biden’s column. This, too, is a significant win. Trump, notoriously disparaged Arizona senator and one time prisoner of war, John McCain and then, pandering to racist xenophobia, pardoned convicted sheriff Joe Arpaio. 


Texas tempted the Democrats with hopes of turning blue and delivering a crippling blow to GOP and Trump but it stayed reliably red but it did so importantly by turning up the Hispanic vote for Trump. Democrat strategies of treating ethnic minorities as monoliths met its limits notably amongst Hispanic. Venezuelan and Cuban Hispanics delivered Florida for Trump. In Texas the Tejanos, who don’t like to be called Hispanic, delivered a crucial county for Trump. Not all Hispanics consider immigration to be a top concern. To many Trump’s economic message and especially his clamor to avoid COVID shutdowns, hat devastated livelihoods, echoed with many minorities. Whether it is Asian-American or Hispanic the alarm bells for Democrat one size fits all approach will not work.


So what does all this mean for 2024? At this point we cannot really say much but alarm bells are ringing for both party. The GOP certainly cannot rely, for one more election cycle, to depend on White vote. They also will lose with a Trump like candidate. Democrats, meanwhile, need to realize that flaunting “progressive’ slogans like ‘New Green Deal’, ‘Defund the Police’ etc really scare the voters and that’s while they defeated Trump they could not only not flip the senate but also saw their House majority whittled down dangerously. If anything the American voter is saying be careful of going too far.


In a normal year and a normal presidency that’s where we should stop but we live in the age of Trump and we’ve to tarry a little longer dear readers.

Trump’s Assault on US Elections


 Nearly 158 million voted in 2020, a record, over the nearly 130 million in 2016. In 2020 both the winner and loser got the first highest and second highest votes, respectively, in a US presidential election. Biden, according to Popular Vote Tracker by Cook Political report (see below), got 81 million votes and Trump got 74 million votes. Third party candidates were


effectively sidelined. Trump did not just lose but lost decisively to Biden and ironically Biden’s electoral college vote of 306 was what Trump got in 2016. And Trump, in 2020, got 232 to Hillary Clinton’s 227 in 2016. In 2016 as soon as the networks called the election in the wee hours of the Wednesday Hillary Clinton made the call she thought she’d never have to make, conceding to Donald Trump. Trump then took to the stage and celebrated his win. Obama, eager to protect the traditions of democracy, promptly invited Trump to the White House and transition started right away. Of course they were patriotic and decent citizens unlike Trump.

Preparing for a pandemic states ensured that mail in ballots, usually a side show, became the primary voting method. However, in many states the infrastructure to count mail in ballots is very manual and in states like PA mail in ballots are counted ‘after’ election day in-person voting. On election night Trump led Biden by nearly 600,000 votes but as mail in mail in ballots were counted, agonizingly over the next 4 days, Biden surged and finally led Trump by 80,000 votes in PA, more than what Trump’s margins in 2016 was. Trump yelled ‘FRAUD’ and launched the most unprecedented and treasonous assault on American democracy.


Trump’s lawyers filed nearly 50 cases in battleground states and lost all but one where they got a notional victory on a minor issue that had little impact on the result. Most lawsuits were thrown out by judges, including those appointed by Trump. A Pennsylvania judge and a Trump appointee noted, “Voters, not lawyers, choose the president”. In Georgia another Trump appointed judge noted that if the lawsuit was allowed to proceed it “would breed confusion and potentially disenfranchisement thatI find no basis in fact or in law”. Finally the Supreme Court, where one third of the judges are Trump appointees, refused to even hear the lawsuits.


These attempts by Trump were in no way analogous to the Bush v Gore of 2000 when the presidency hung on 500 votes in one state and dispute was about repeated recounts. Bush’s own lawyers, Ted Olson and James Baker, disavowed any comparison to 2000. 


Trump, unlike Bush or Gore, was alleging, without any evidence. widespread fraud, even in a state like Michigan where Biden won by 150,000 votes. “Stop the Steal” became a new slogan as Trump’s supporters stormed vote counting centers and later, more alarmingly, electoral vote certifications. Trump himself, unprecedented for a presidential candidate, let alone a sitting president, lobbied directly with certifying officials and state legislatures to overturn the elections. More disgustingly national GOP leadership played along as a sitting President threatened American democracy. 


Finally the courts and state GOP leadership in key positions held the line and American democracy survived. Question is what if the margin was narrower and what if it came down to one or two states? Can the republic and its system withstand another Trump? That’s a scary thought.

‘America, We’ve a Problem’ - The Future

Thomas Edsell’s column, “America, We’ve a Problem”, quotes Eli Finkel, “a professor of psychology at Northwestern” and researcher on political sectarianism, that the real danger is not Trump but, the GOP who “exhibited such fealty along the way, including a willingness to cripple the founding document they claim to view as sacrosanct. 


To be sure, in any closely fought election feelings are raw and 2020 was not the first year that aw electoral college members being threatened or election officials facing death threats but this is the first time that such acts were egged on by a sitting American president and, as usual, with racial dogwhistles. 


While it is fair to despair if Trumpism would survive longer than we’d like I remain unconvinced that it’d be so. America, trust me, has seen worse. Anyone remember the 60s when the country saw a President assassinated, a Civil Rights icon assassinated, students shot on campus, race riots were the norm, the Democratic party convention erupting in riots in a major US city, the President covering up a break in of the opposing party’s offices and eventually resigning? Part of the reason why Trump’s supporters have found it easy to support him is that his bark is often worse than his bite but his assault on elections is possibly the worst. Even that led to greater transparency. The electoral college certification, a boring ritual, was live telecast on news sites and was watched for any usurpation of democracy


Here’s a silver lining. Asked, in a CNN exit polling, if “racism in the US is: the most important problem or a minor problem”, amongst those who thought it to be an important problem nearly half are Trump’s voters.


Edsell, concluded his column writing, “One question that will be answered over time is whether Trump will continue to be uniquely gifted in putting a match to the gasoline. Or has the political, cultural and economic mix become so combustible that any spark can set it off regardless of which party or person is in office?”

A new President awaits to be inaugurated and Christmas is upon us, making the lines of W.B. Yeats, apt coda to this article. “what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?” Only time can tell us.

PS: This blog was first published in an online magazine, Tamizhini.