Wednesday, September 14, 2011

INDIA INK, SMART CARS, AND ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM


"India Ink": a clever title for a new New York Times online blog perhaps a week old at the time of this writing, but which doesn't yet appear to have received the attention it deserves. Even for college graduates, I think, the "Incredible India" marketed to tourists is more often than not "Incredibly Incomprehensible India." For anyone with a heart and half a brain, the atrocities that accompanied Partition in 1947, the anti-Sikh riots of 1984, and Gujarat riots of 2002 are beyond incomprehensible. And lo and behold, one of the Times' blog's first pieces was a "Newswallah" item reporting what the English-language press in India is reporting about the latest judicial developments regarding alleged state complicity in the Gujarat violence, a topic for which the "comments" section received a mere three posts. One was from a well-wisher encouraging the blog's editor, and another from "Guj", who compared Narendra Modi to George Wallace and the "Dixiecrats", suggesting that communal violence in India is not unlike the lynchings of pre-civil rights America. He added that Americans of that or any other time wouldn't want outsiders to come and lecture them about morals. He didn't raise the possibility of truth and reconciliation. Many Gujaratis seem to want it both ways: to forever be in the foreign public's eye as the Mahatma's homeland, despite having the worst record of communal violence since Independence of any state, yet have no truck with the calls for "Hindu-Muslim" unity that got him assassinated. Perhaps they and their Nano Smart Cars will, as Indians say, "give the fillip" to those who think they can out-develop them. They have vast diaspora resources of creativity and paise to tap, but as the "Guj" poster wrote, they are known to be conservative (read: tee-totaling, vegetarian, marriage-arranging, upholder of religious rather than secular values) but for many it also means being anti the 20% of the population who are not classified as "Hindu"(unless, like Tata, they are billionaires and tell foreign investors they are "stupid" if they are not investing in Gujarat). I love the Gujaratis with whom I am acquainted, but I am a hater of haters, no matter who they are, even when this paradoxical statement includes myself. America has changed in my lifetime (though recent developments among Republicans remind me how downright stupid and scapegoatingly-racist so many people can be). It remains difficult to discern a vast flowering of seeds for the flowering of MLK style brotherhood in India. I won't hold my breath for Anna Hazare, already lauded as a reappeared Gandhi, to fast for that cause. Pervasive casteism and class and religiously-based "vote bank politics" remain the order of the day. I recently listened to an interview with Varun Gandhi, who has audaciously hitched his star to that of the BJP, and hopes to attract the educated, supposedly rising, and well-intentioned middle class of his younger demographic. I'll take a wait and see attitude, just an outside observer on the sidelines. Oh---the third comment post to the Times was my own, which I reproduce below:

September 13th, 2011
Gujarat 2002 tops the list of floodgate-opening topics that I referred to when congratulating the Times for launching "India Ink". Most Gujaratis, whether in India or abroad, just want all mention of the 2002 pogroms to go away. They are disturbing reminders of: Pakistan's very existence (problematic in its own right), the atrocities of Partition and later anti-Sikh violence, the supposed weakness and peril of Hindus in their own Holy Land, the absence of true civil society (at its worst, police "without orders" to protect citizens of a certain type), ongoing Kashmir insecurity, etc. Couple these with a political culture of callous caste and class-based "vote-bank" politics, half the kids not in school, farmer suicides, environmental degradation, women's issues, the slums and decrepitude blighting urban landscapes, etc. and what you get is Modi as "Mahatmamodiji", leading "Shining Gujarat" forward, not into the past. Allegations of complicity in the 2002 atrocities become irrelevant. He is the pro-globalization, freely-elected Chief Minister they hope to see as future PM of India. Some of the most retrograde and most modernizing forces alike converge upon him. Distressing news, whether in English or any other of India's languages, upset India's rising middle class and world-class entrepreneurs, and divert the world's attention from the "vibrant" economic developments that have turned parts of Gujarat into a showcase of what a better-managed India can and should be. Gandhi as the apostle of a land of non-violence has been old news for a very long time. His latest "reappearance" in the form of the fasting, anti-corruption leader Anna Hazare is a dagger that the BJP, inconvenienced by investigations of itself, wishes to plunge even further into the heart of Congress rule. Is it little wonder that Varun Gandhi, a maverick scion of India's ruling dynasty whose age-demographic reflects most of the population, has thrown his hat into the BJP ring?

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