Category Archives: Politics

India at 70 – Into that heaven of freedom…

“The 70th anniversary of Independence, Madam Speaker, call for soul-searching introspection rather than chest-thumping celebration,” said Sugata Bose, Trinamool MP from Jadavpur in Lok Sabha during a discussion to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Quit India Movement. His words resonate in my ears as I sit down to pen my thoughts on the meaning of freedom, 70 years after the British left India.

“The social habit of mind”, Rabindranath Tagore wrote in his essays on nationalism, “which impels us to make the life of our fellow-beings a burden to them where they differ from us even in such a thing as their choice of food is sure to persist in our political organization and result in creating engines of coercion to crush every rational difference which is the sign of life.”

FREEDOM FROM MOB VIOLENCE

The visionary that he was, Tagore’s words sound like a prophetic warning for the times we are living in. Not many weeks ago, a teenage boy, Junaid, was lynched in Ballabhgarh on the suspicion of carrying beef. Like Pehlu Khan in Gujarat, Akhlaq in Dadri, or Asgar Ansari in Jharkhand, Junaid’s fault was his religion.

2017 witnessed one of the most grievous riots in the State of Uttar Pradesh where the upper-caste Thakur communities razed and burnt Dalit villages in Saharanpur, bringing back memories of Dalit attacks in Una last year, and the suicide of Rohith Vemula before that.

A spike in mob lynchings, specially by the state-sanctioned vigilantes who call themselves ‘gau-rakshaks’, and attacks on Dalits and minorities, has bruised India like never before. These incidents lead me to think, are we truly free?

FREEDOM FOR WOMEN

Chandigarh was in the news recently after a Facebook post by a girl went viral. Varnika Kundu, the girl in question was chased through the streets of the city, in the wee hours of the night, for seven kilometers by the son of the State BJP President, and his friends. While the stalking case shocked us to the core, it also brought back memories of 2012 Delhi gangrape case. While Varnika waged a war against the system, too eager to shield the neta’s son, the ruling party at Centre, and its cyber army, was out in full force to tarnish her character.

FREEDOM FOR CHILDREN

Incidents like Varnika’s are a reflection of how morally degraded the society at large has become. More so, when one hears of politicians being involved in child trafficking rackets, charging anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh as commission. While children are not safe from the clutches of self-serving politicians, even new born babies are sacrificed at the altar of inept governance. The 70 odd babies who were suffocated to death in Gorakhpur might be wondering what freedom means.

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT

চিত্ত যেথা ভয়শূন্য, উচ্চ যেথা শির, জ্ঞান যেথা মুক্ত…

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high, where knowledge is free…

Rabindranath Tagore had dreamt of an India that thinks freely, fearlessly. Sadly, in the ‘New India’ that is being trumpeted around the world, freedom of thought is just a euphemism. Debate and discourse are disbarred on campuses; a student who chooses to speak her mind on social media is insulted and threatened by none-other-than a Union Minister.

While funds for research are denied to scholars, the government engages itself in mindless exercises like installing the national flag on campuses and Vice-Chancellors suggest placing tanks inside campuses to instill a patriotic fervour in students (sic). Is this the free-flowing knowledge that Tagore imagined in India?

FREEDOM FROM FAKE NEWS

We live in a post-truth world. With the advent of Facebook and Twitter, every user has virtually become a broadcaster of news. But as Peter Parker’s uncle told him, with great power comes great responsibility. With complete lack of accountability, the digital space has become a breeding ground for the virus called ‘fake news’. Morphed images, fake photos, false videos and articles filled with bigotry and bile spread like wildfire, often resulting in communal clashes and violence. Freedom from fake news is pre-requisite for building a strong and resurgent India.

FREEDOM TO LOVE

India is a land laden with ironies. The country that produced the Kamasutra squirms at the very mention of the word sex. There have been petitions from right wing outfits to ban ‘obscene’ statues at Khajuraho temple. A girl and a boy in love need social sanction to be in a relationship; often they meet a tragic fate based on what caste or religion they are born with.

And hapless, unfortunate hacks like me, who were ordained by nature to fall for species of their own gender, have to live like a criminal in this country. Freaks, psycho, mental, impotent – definitions are many, compassion none. Gay means happy as per the English dictionary, but more often than not, our lives are devoid of happiness, because of the constant struggle with the society, for our right to love.

Whether it is a boy who loves a boy, a girl who loves a lower caste boy, a Hindu boy who loves a Muslim girl or a girl who desires another girl – any freedom is incomplete unless one has the right to live with the partner of their choice, without being judged or ostracised.

INTO THAT HEAVEN OF FREEDOM

A country is nothing without her citizens. Seventy years ago, India had her tryst with destiny at midnight. It is for us to bring to fruition the dream that our founding fathers envisaged. Freedom will present herself to us if only we make ourselves worthy enough. If that requires standing up to the State, we should not dither.

Bandh bhenge daao….

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Jayalalitha and Mamata – The Iron Ladies of Indian Politics

mamata-banerjee-and-jayalalitha

The Iron Ladies – Photo Courtesy: Political Mirror

As Jayalalitha’s cortege reached MGR Memorial near Marina Beach in Chennai, the solemnity of the occasion triggered a volley of thoughts in my minds. A panelist on some English news channel casually remarked how similar the struggles of Jayalalitha and Mamata Banerjee have been and I could not agree more.

Jayalalitha, who ruled the silver screen before taking the political plunge, was the protege of MG Ramachandran, the founder of AIADMK. She was the Propaganda Secretary of the party and went on to become a Rajya Sabha MP in 1984, the same year Mamata Banerjee emerged as a ‘giant-killer’ in Jadavpur, making her way to Lok Sabha.

After MGR’s death, Jayalalitha had to face stiff competition from within her party. Late MGR’s wife Janaki Ramachandran apparently did not even allow Jayalalitha to attend MGR’s funeral. The party headed for a split with the political future of Jayalalitha under question. AIADMK faced crushing defeat in the 1989 Assembly elections.

Mamata Banerjee’s feud with West Bengal Pradesh Congress is well-known. In the 1990s, the State Congress had virtually turned into a party of watermelons (green on the outside and red on the inside). Some senior leaders colluded with the Left to keep their Delhi ambitions afloat. From the famous ‘Outdoor’ Congress Party meet in 1996 to the subsequent formation of Trinamool, Mamata Banerjee’s struggle followed similar course as Jayalalitha’s.

Both Didi and Amma battled it out in a man’s world. With grit, determination and strong will-power they held on to their forte of mass appeal and galvanised the cadre and won the trust of the people. While Jayalalitha rode to power in 1991 as Tamil Nadu’s first female CM, Didi swept the polls in Bengal two decades later.

Even as the administrative heads of their respective States, Mamata Banerjee and Jayalalitha pursued similar policies. Inclusive governance through social empowerment seems to have been their guiding force. From fair price medicine shops to fair price vegetable stores, subsidised food to affordable healthcare, both the leaders have worked for the masses. In fact, despite the ‘populism’ economies of both Tamil Nadu and Bengal have prospered under the leaderships of Jayalalitha and Mamata, respectively.

There are very few mass leaders in India who command the love and respect of millions of people. The outpouring of grief and the sea of humanity at Marina Beach today is a testimony of Amma’s popularity. And Didi’s charismatic popularity can easily be gauged during her district visits, or from the massive turnout on annual 21 July rallies in the heart of Kolkata. Interestingly, the support of women forms a big pillar behind the success of both these leaders.

With Jayalalitha in heavenly abode now, the future of India rests on the Tigress of Bengal, specially in these tumultuous times. The days to come will determine how posterity scripts the history of the times we call the present Indian political scene.

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