Thursday, July 28, 2005

Good practice, bad theory

By Ramachandra Guha
The central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory. Communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties. This is why it is such a great pity that their often honourable practice is crippled with an archaic and outmoded theory.
In 1977, Left Fronts dominated by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) came to power in the states of West Bengal and Kerala. A year later, the CPI(M) leader, B.T. Ranadive, wrote a pungent critique of the parliamentary path to socialism. This took the shape of a review of a recent book by the Spanish communist, Santiago Carillo, entitled "Eurocommunism and the State". In a 30-page essay in the Marxist monthly, Social Scientist, Ranadive attacked Carillo as a renegade, the last in the shameful but, alas, long line of “revisionists” who had abandoned the path of revolution in favour of the softer option of reform.
The Indian communist charged his Spanish comrade with six heresies in particular:
First, Carillo thought that, at least in Western Europe, socialists and communists could now come to power via the ballot box rather than through armed revolution. In Ranadive’s paraphrase, “the central point of Carillo’s book is that there is absolutely no need for a revolution in the developed capitalist countries... According to him, socialism can be achieved peacefully, without violating any of the rules of bourgeois democracy...”
Second, Carillo claimed that communist parties did not necessarily possess a monopoly of the truth. According to him, the Spanish Communist Party “no longer regards itself as the only representative of the working class, of the working people and the forces of culture. It recognizes, in theory and practice, that other parties which are socialist in tendency can also be representative of particular sections of the working population...”
Third, Carillo held that private enterprise had a role to play in economic growth, albeit in alliance with the state. As the Spaniard put it, “the democratic road to socialism presupposes a process of economic transformation different from what we might regard as the classical model. That is to say, it presupposes the long-term co-existence of public and private forms of property.”
Fourth, Carillo argued that in the Cold War, the Europeans should keep their distance from the Americans and the Soviets alike. As he wrote, “our aim is a Europe independent of the USSR and the United States, a Europe of the peoples, orientated towards socialism, in which our country will preserve its own individuality.”
Fifth, Carillo believed that Marx, Engels and Lenin were not infallible, that their views were open to correction and even challenge with the passage of time and the evidence of history.
Sixth, Carillo believed that the Communist Party was not infallible either, that at least in non-political matters individuals should feel free to follow their own conscience. In the Spaniard’s formulation, “outside collective political tasks, each [party] member is master of his own fate, as regards everything affecting his preferences, intellectual or artistic inclinations, and his personal relations”. Then he significantly added: “In the field of research in the sciences of every kind, including the humanities, different schools may co-exist within [the party] and they should all have the possibility of untrammelled confrontation in its cultural bodies and publications.”
Reading Carillo through the quotes provided by Ranadive, one cannot help but admire his honesty and his vision, his overdue but nonetheless brave recognition that the bloody history of his country (and continent) mandated a radical revision of the communist idea. But Ranadive saw it very differently. He spoke with withering contempt of Carillo’s faith in those “miserable parliamentary elections”, and with even more disdain of his independence with regard to the Cold War. “Can any Communist,” he fumed, “put the enemy of mankind, the gendarme of world reaction, American imperialism, on the same footing as Soviet Russia?”
Carillo’s argument that other political parties can and should exist, indeed that these parties might even sometimes be right, was seen by Ranadive as tantamount to “giving a permanent charter of existence to non-Marxist, anti-Marxist and unscientific ideologies”. It amounted to nothing less than a “liquidation of the Leninist concept of party”. Further, the encouragement of a diversity of thought outside the sphere of politics was “the final denigration of the Marxist-Leninist Party in the name of freedom for all its members to profess any opinion they like on any subject”. In contrast to the heterodox Spaniard, Ranadive felt that “the Party’s outlook and the outlook of its members is determined by their firm allegiance to Marxism-Leninism and must be consistent with it”.
Ranadive’s own riposte to the renegade Carillo rested heavily on quotes from Marx, Engels and Lenin, the Holy Trinity whose works and words must never be questioned, emended, or — Heaven forbid — challenged. The Indian communist complained that “Carillo turns a blind eye to Lenin’s teachings”; worse, “a large part of his argument is lifted from bourgeois writers and baiters of Marxism”.
Reading Carillo as conveyed through Ranadive, one notices how akin his views are to those who wrote the Indian Constitution. Parliamentary democracy based on universal adult suffrage, the proliferation of political parties, a mixed economy with space for both public and private enterprise, a non-aligned and independent foreign policy, and freedom of creative expression — these were the ideals enshrined in the Constitution, and the ideals embraced by Santiago Carillo almost thirty years later.
Ideals, however, which were anathema to a prominent Indian communist. It is necessary to point out here that in March 1948, it was the self-same B.T. Ranadive who led the Communist Party of India in an insurrection against the infant Indian state, seeking to come to power the Chinese way, through an armed revolution. That line was later abandoned, with the communists coming overground to fight the general elections of 1952. In 1957, the undivided CPI came to power in Kerala; ten years later, the CPI(M) won again in that state. Also in 1967, the CPI(M) was part of the ruling coalition in West Bengal; 10 years later, it came to power in the state more or less on its own.
And yet, these successes could not reconcile some leading communists to “bourgeois” democracy. For Ranadive’s critique of Carillo was really a warning to those among his comrades who might likewise think of revising the classical postulates of Marxism-Leninism. It is quite extraordinary, yet also quite in character, that so soon after his party had come to power in three states via the ballot box, did Ranadive choose to let loose this fusillade against parliamentary democracy, the mixed economy, freedom of expression, and non-alignment in foreign policy.
I have resurrected Ranadive’s views here not simply out of a historian’s interest in the strangeness of the past. For the prejudices he held — and so vigorously articulated — are unfortunately still quite widespread in the CPI(M) today. In practice their ideologues seem somewhat reconciled to parliamentary democracy, but they retain an irrational hostility to private enterprise, are still hostile to intellectual debate and dialogue, and yet cling to a faith in their party’s infallibility.
I have long held that the central paradox of Indian communism is that its practice is vastly superior to its theory. Communist leaders and activists are probably more intelligent than their counterparts in other parties, and without question more honest. Where other kinds of politicians have eagerly embraced the Page 3 culture, many communists still do mix and mingle with the working people.
This is why it is such a great pity that their often honourable practice is crippled with an archaic and outmoded theory. For if the history of the 20th century teaches us anything, it is this — that parliamentary democracy is, despite all its faults, superior to totalitarianisms of left and right; and that the market is, despite all its faults, a more efficient and cheaper allocator of economic resources than the state. This history also teaches us a third lesson, one specific to this country — that, despite all their faults, Tagore, Gandhi, Nehru and Ambedkar are thinkers more relevant to the practice of politics in India than are Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin.
It is, however, that latter quartet whose works are discussed in CPI(M) party workshops, whose portraits adorn the podium at party congresses. From the continuing presence of those hard, unsmiling faces, we may deduce that while in his understanding and appreciation of democracy, the renegade Santiago Carillo may have been 30 years behind the framers of the Indian Constitution, he was still 30 years ahead of his comrades in the Indian communist movement.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Booze - officially banned, unofficially flowing

Tourism tip for Gujarat: beer on the beach
The Telegraph June 29, 2005
A glass of whisky can help you appreciate the Mahatma’s legacy better.So thinks Crisil, which has advised the Gujarat government to relax prohibition — in place for 44 years — if it wants to attract tourists.Asked by the state government to prepare a blueprint on improving infrastructure, the credit rating and information services agency has handed in a 700-page report.“Lifting of prohibition would be an ideal scenario from tourism industry perspective,” says the report, titled Blueprint for Infrastructure in Gujarat 2020, prepared by 20-odd consultants and experts from various sectors.The chapter on “tourism and recreation” says in the next five years, the state could attract an investment of about Rs 3,000 crore in the sector, which could go towards developing the Kutch adventure trail, central Gujarat heritage circuit, Gandhi legacy circuit, the Harappan sites of Dholavira and Lothal, Saputara hill station, reservoir-based projects and amusement parks.Only, the government needs to ensure “easy availability of good food and drinks’’ for tourists. Last year, 76.12 lakh tourists visited Gujarat. Only 21,000 were foreigners, the rest being domestic and religious tourists.“We are getting less tourists than neighbouring Rajasthan,” laments Ashwin Gandhi, the head of the tourism panel of the Confederation of Indian Industry in Gujarat. He says he told the government that tourism will get a boost and the state will earn some Rs 1,700 crore from excise duties if it “eases its policy of liquor prohibition’’, as the hotel owners’ associations have been demanding for a long time.But state prohibition minister Amit Shah disagrees. Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and Bengal are not dry, he points out, but they do not get more tourists than Gujarat.“There is really no correlation,” Shah says. “We are discussing Crisil’s report. But it is unlikely that we will relax the prohibition law. It is an ideological and social commitment which we cannot give up just to earn revenue.”S.V. Som, the managing director of the government-run Tourism Corporation of Gujarat Ltd, maintains prohibition is not a hindrance since “we already have a permit system. Anyone coming from outside the state can easily get a liquor permit’’.But hoteliers, industry and businessmen insist it’s not enough. They want the dry law abolished.“What use is the state’s 1,600-km coastline if a tourist doesn’t get a bottle of beer or his favourite liquor brand at the beaches?” asks Gandhi.He says most Gujarat-based corporate houses hold their annual conferences at Mount Abu (in Rajasthan), Daman or Diu, where liquor is available.Any move to relax prohibition is bound to face resistance from Gandhians and some NGOs, who feel that it will lead to a worsening of law and order.Gandhian activists like Mahdev Bidrohi and Chunni Vaidya say if tourism is to be promoted at the cost of prohibition, they are against it.“We do not intend to import social vices from other tourist destinations, some of them thriving on sex tourism. We do not want to promote such tourism here,” Bidrohi said.Gujarat has been a dry state ever since it came into being on May 1, 1961. It is the only state with prohibition in force.

And Not Even A Dog Barked

June 25 marks the 30th anniversary of the Emergency since its imposition by Indira Gandhi in 1975. And it's a tragedy that the BJP is the only political force left which is still interested in reminding the nation of the Emergency.They were a minor force then. Led by Jayaprakash Narayan (JP), the real forces of resistance were the socialists, followed by the Lok Dal, the CPM, Congress (O), and then, in that order, the Jana Sangh (now BJP). The Jana Sangh was not a political force at that time. All they could provide was infrastructure because the RSS had decided to back JP. But there was always a lurking sense of suspicion, a distance, a discreet lack of trust.The RSS and Jana Sangh were keen to participate and make their position acceptable in mainstream politics. JP told them, open your doors, let the Muslims enter. The RSS kept this in abeyance and ultimately did not accept it. The fact is that the BJP celebrates the Emergency because the Emergency opened the doors for them to enter the mainstream. And the truth is that Balasaheb Deoras, then RSS chief, wrote a letter to Indira Gandhi pledging to help implement the notorious 20-point programme of Sanjay Gandhi. This is the real character of the KSS. Whenever there is a ban on the RSS. it has always tried to save its skin instead of facing the government's wrath and go for a compromise. When the British in 1942 passed an order that no voluntary organisation will be allowed to do semi-military activities, the RSS happily accepted it. Guru Golwalkar, then sarsanghchalak (RSS chief), demolished the military department of the RSS and the status quo remains till this day. The RSS or the Sangh Panvar never participated in the freedom movement. They did not join the Quit India movement. After Mahatma Gandhis assassination. Sardar Paid banned it. Golwalkar immediately compromised: we will do 'constructive work', he said. In 1975 Mrs Gandhi banned the RSS, despite Deoras.You can decipher a line of action, a pattern. Even during the Emergency, many among the RSS and Jana Sangh who came out of the jails, gave mafinamas(apologies). They were the first to apologise. Only their leaders remained in jail: Atal Behari Vajpayee, LK Advani, even Arun Jaitley. But the Rss did not fight the Emergency. So why is the BJP trying to appropriate that memory?JP was disappointed that nothing was happening in terms of political movement or resistance when the Emergency was imposed. Do you remember his famous statement? "Ganga will be on fire and the people will not tolerate it!" But that did not happen. Fighting a real, anti-establishment struggle is not in the RSS character. They are not a fighting force and they are never keen to fight. They are basically a compromising lot. They are never genuinely against the government, and this happened during the Emergency as well. Their cadre did not revolt. The Emergency went unchallenged. That is why, Mrs Gandhi said, "When I imposed the Emergency, not even a dog barked."Despite this, JP understood the inner political dynamic. 1977 marked a watershed because this was the first time, in silence orotherwise, that there was a strong public opinion polarised against the Congress all over India. From 1947 to 1977, it was Congress domination in Indian politics. After 1977, the disintegration of the Congress began. It lost its sustainable strongholds and large sections of the Indian society went against it. This process was decisively unleashed after 1989: the Mandal-Kamandal politics.Who were the main actors during the Emergency? The socialists, young and old. They fought it, went to jail, faced torture. George Fernandes was a protagonist of rebellion: the dynamite case is a clear example. JP clearly said that this struggle is like revisiting the 1942 movement: when the freedom struggle's leaders were arrested, the people of India rose in revolt; in dozen places people even established their own government. The socialists fought the Emergency, the RSS did not.The saddest post-Emergency development is the decline of the socialist forces. George Fernandes is a pathetic figure today. These days when he gives interviews he never faces the camera. He talks as if he can't survive without the BJP. He is trapped in his own politics; he can't survive without the BJP. Since 1989, Mandal and caste politics have been crucial in the Hindi heartland, especially in Bihar. If George has to stay afloat he has to take the help of Laloo Yadav or Nitish Kumar. Laloo left him long ago. And Nitish knows that George can't be electedwithout his support-base, Kurmis, etc. That is why George wants to balance this dilemma by keeping a close liaison with the B.IP, which keeps him floating.Sharad Yadav used to be the socialist blue-eyed boy during the Emergency. He was the first Janata candidate elected from Jabalpur in 1974 from a non-caste, non-sectarian platform. Now, he too is a BJP ally.So how did the BJP grow? After the Janata disintegration post-Emergency, Indira Gandhi fought the 1980 elections on the slogan: Vote those who can rule. Garibi Hatao and socialism were dumped. We must realise that till now all elections were ideologically oriented. For the first time she fought with such a brazen stance: to get power, at any cost. Now, all kind of politics was only for political power. This was the end of ideology.In 1971, Mrs Gandhi fought on the garibi hatao plank. Earlier, Nehru always fought on ideological issues. There was always a socialist current in their political positions. In 1977, there was the alternate dream to the Congress dream. Ironically, both dreams were demolished.That is why 1977 marked a watershed in , post-Independence India. Ideology became extinct. Pursuit of power became the only goal. Mrs Gandhi used the Hindus in Jammu against the Muslims in the Valley to win the elections. She used the Akalis versus extremists clash to hold on to Punjab. Bhindranwale was her creation. She became a victim of her own politics.After her death in 1,984. Rajiv Gandhi won by a huge vote. The RSS helped him; or else the nation would break, they said. Rajiv followed his mothers politics. The Shah Bano case and the opening of the Babri Masjid locks totally exposed him.That is why, 1980 to 1990 was the decade of competitive communalism — one kind of communalism pitched against another. The BJP gained in this experiment because they were the original communal party. Hence, from two MPs in Parliament in 1984, they rose to 84 in 1989 and peaked to 182; but then, the Kamandal became outdated in 2004. The Emergency marked two things: the death of ideology and the gradual destruction of the basic parameters of Indian politics which was grounded by the values of the freedom movement when socialism was a dream. Swami Vivekananda said, "You should serve the daridranarayan" God was manifested in the poor. The South African experiment of Gandhi happened in 1906. Hind Swaraj was written in 1909. He said, "The last man should be the first man," adapting from Emerson. The Russian revolution occurred in 1917. but pro-poor ideas were founded in India much before the freedom movement. 1977 shattered all that.After that, reactionary forces took over, including Kamandal and Mandal. Narasimha Rao initiated the capitalist reforms. The socialist dream of the freedom struggle was thrown out. This changed the face of Indian politics. Idealism was finally killed in mainstream politics. That was the decisive contribution of the Emergency.As for RSS chief KS Sudarshan praising Indira Gandhi last week, it is predictable. Sudarshan praised her for 'winning' the 1971 war because Mrs Gandhi split Pakistan — for them that is more important than anything else she did. The RSS has always appreciated firm regimes, that is why they appreciated Emergency. They liked it that Mrs Gandhi had the will to go against popular sentiments and the RSS was never popular in India, it could never become a mass movement. She is their heroine (Durga etc,) because she broke Pakistan into two.Come to think of it, their Hindu nationalism is equivalent to Muslim nationalism, they feed on each other to increase their bargaining stakes: both helped the British when the Congress and others were fighting against imperialist forces. Savarkar pleaded to toe the British line. Jinnah in 1946" called for 'Direct Action'. Both were basically making deals with the British. Indeed, the Ram Janmabhoomi movement was a ploy for 'deal-making' with the establishment, and finally becoming the establishment. That is why they call it the 'freedom movement of the Hindus'.They say this because demolishing the symbols of Mughals/Muslims was more important for them than to fight the British empire. The RSS is not against the Two-Nation theory, despite the Akhand Bharat slogan. For them, Muslims were always the Internal Enemy Number One, not the British. For them, we were under ghulumi (slavery) of Muslim/Mughal rule for a thousand years. I lence, they did not join the freedom movement or fight the British. They can never fight the ruling establishment. For them, survival/compromise is the principle of their existence.Hence the praise for Mrs Gandhi and the vehement criticism of Nehru, even Gandhi. This is because Nehru founded the Republic of India on liberal, democratic, secular, pluralistic, socialist principles. And the RSS abhors these values.For you and me, the fight against the Emergency is a fight for the people's right to freedom and fundamental rights. Not for them. For you and me, Emergency symbolises the struggle against an authoritarian regime, for civil rights of a democratic civil society. For them it does not matter. This is the basic difTerence. The truth is the RSS does not believe in democracy.

The writer is former editor, Jansatta and this article appeared in Tehelka

Email What you think

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Layers of history

Ramachandra Guha

The histories of Indian cities are contained in the names of their streets and squares. These come in layers that have to be peeled off, one by one, to reveal the names that once lay below. A street might have been named after a colonial proconsul; later after a Congress nationalist; still later, after a local or regional hero. Or even a local international hero: as in the case of Calcutta's Harrington Street, which was renamed Ho Chi Minh Sarani at the height of the Vietnam War, simply because the American Consulate stood on it.
The names of streets and squares reveal a city's preferences, cultural and ideological, as they change over the decades and through successive political regimes. It was because communists found themselves in power for the first time that Harrington Street was renamed after a communist hero. Likewise, when the vigorously anti-Brahmin Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam first came to office in Madras, it removed caste names from the streets in Mylapore, these mostly honouring Brahmin patriarchs of the recent past. Thus "Kasturi Ranga Iyengar Road", became "K.R. Road". And "Iyer Street" became, simply, "Street". Again, where else but in Bangalore would you find a major junction named after a living (indeed, still playing) cricketer?
I was recently in Mumbai, a place that perhaps has had more reason to change street names than any other. For no other Indian city has had such a tumultuous modern history, no other such a multitude of castes, communities and special interests to be satisfied. Fortunately, the city's ecology here comes to the aid of politics and culture ? for no other Indian city has so many streets and intersections to play around with.
The names that Mumbai's margs and chowks carry are a curious mixture of chauvinism, courage and corruption. Thus the intersection opposite the grand old building of Bombay University is named "Dr G.S. Ghurye Chowk". A long-time professor of sociology at Bombay University, Ghurye was a formidable scholar, but also something of a Hindu parochialist. He wrote some solid works of Indology, but also some paranoid political screeds calling into question the loyalty of the Indian Muslim and the tribals of the North-east. As it happens, it was only in the last decade that this chowk opposite the university was dignified by a name. Since the Shiv Sena was in power, and since they needed a scholar who taught there, the name that naturally came to mind was that of G.S. Ghurye.
Instead of, for example. A.A.A. Fyzee. Fyzee was also a Bombay resident as well as a university man, an eminent professor of law and the author of classic works on Islamic jurisprudence. His academic reputation was arguably as high as Ghurye's. And he had other strings to his bow ? he was a top-class tennis player, and even served as secretary of the Bombay Cricket Association. Ghurye, on the other hand, never played a game in his life. As scholar and sportsman, Fyzee handsomely embodied the classical ideal of Mens sana in corpore sano ? a healthy mind in a healthy body. One would think that a university which respects scholarship, and whose graduates include Nandu Natekar and Sunil Gavaskar, might have chosen Fyzee ahead of Ghurye as a representative teacher to be honoured.
One does not know whether the university was at all consulted by the Shiv Sainiks in this matter. In any case, what Fyzee had going against him was his name. In truth, the jurist was a secular nationalist, whose modernist ideas were reviled by the mullahs. But the fact of his being born in a Muslim household would not have endeared him to the chauvinists on the other side. In fact, in the dozen (and more) visits I have made to Mumbai in recent years, I have noticed that there are very few Muslims after whom streets and squares are named. The chowk opposite the Prince of Wales (now Chattrapathi Shivaji) Museum was recently named after Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, although he had nothing to do with the city. It would have been more aptly named after Dr Salim Ali, the great ornithologist and Mumbai native, who spent his working life ? all seven decades of it ? in the museum nearby. (A friend tells me that a small side street somewhere has indeed been named after Salim Ali, but what he really deserves is a decent-size chowk, such as the one next to where he worked.)
There is chauvinism, and there is also corruption. On my most recent trip to Mumbai, I heard of a chowk being named after the son of a society singer who had died, while drunk and driving, at that very spot. The naming, I was told, had been paid for; making this a triple wrong, since the person was undistinguished in the first place, and was here being posthumously rewarded for breaking the law.
Fortunately, signs of an older and more honourable Mumbai survive. Bal Thackeray once expressed his preference for Nathuram Godse over Mahatma Gandhi, but even years of Shiv Sena rule have not been able to revert M.G. Road to its old name of Esplanade, or to take it further back to remember a reactionary ruler of the medieval past. And the charming circle opposite the Asiatic Society is still named after B.G. Horniman, the campaigning journalist who founded the Bombay Chronicle as a vehicle for Indian nationalist aspirations. Horniman was a traitor to his (British) nation, but in a higher cause ? namely, freedom for the subject people of the Empire. Exiled by the raj for his views, he later made a triumphant return to start a new newspaper (called Bombay Sentinel). Long after his death, the city he made his own chooses still to remember him.
Leaving Mumbai or flying into it, one takes a long, curving road that runs through the densely packed middle-class localities of the centre of the city. In Shivaji Park this road is named Veer Savarkar Marg, which fits, since this is mostly a Marathi-speaking area. But as it enters Worli, a suburb whose population is more multi-cultural, this acquires the name "Annie Besant (or A.B.) Road", in honour of a lady whose origins were Irish and whose love of Hinduism was expressed more romantically, that is to say less militantly, than was Savarkar's.
Like them or lump them, Annie Besant and V.D. Savarkar were both figures of considerable importance. (In Besant's case, the importance was nationalist and mostly in the past, whereas in Savarkar's case it is chauvinist and mostly in the present.) To divide up a major arterial road in Mumbai between them makes sense. Literally and figuratively, Besant and Savarkar collectively provide a path into the great city, and out of it. I have driven down "their" road many times. On my most recent drive, however, I took care to note the other, lesser names that were marked on chowks and side streets along the way. Most of these were Hindu as well as Maharashtrian, but one exception stood out.
This exception occurred at Worli Naka, not long before the lady Besant gives way to the machismo Savarkar. It was a sign that read "Peter Alvares Chowk", but in Hindi, a language that the man being remembered did not himself read. He would have been pleased anyway, as was I, seeing the sign all these years after his death. For Peter Alvarez was a man notable for his courage, and conspicuously free of both chauvinism and corruption. Originally from Mangalore, he made his mark as a trade unionist in Mumbai. Then, in the Fifties, he threw himself into the struggle to free Goa from Portuguese colonial rule. Alvarez led several satyagrahas into Goa, and also drew into the movement more celebrated socialist leaders such as Dr Ram Manohar Lohia. He was that unusual and still rare figure, a radical who was also a patriot.
To see the chowk named after Peter Alvarez positively thrilled me. For this was a good man in danger of being forgotten, here honoured for all the right reasons. Sadly, the signs of our cities mostly honour little men and for the wrong reasons.