Sunday, 25 June 2017

David Kaye on Basharat Peer, Erdogan & Modi

Basharat Peer has written a book comparing India's Modi and Turkey's Erdogan.

David Kaye, a Law Professor, has reviewed Peer's book in the LARB. He writes-

'Peer describes how Narendra Modi and Recep Tayyip Erdoğan rose from humble origins to become leaders of their respective countries, and the “terrible human toll” their leadership has had on fragile democracies and their citizens.'

Kaye is not Indian and so it is not surprising that he does not know much about Indian politics. Still, when writing an article for publication, we do expect a Law Professor to check his facts at least with Wikipedia.

Kaye has not done so.

He says Modi's 'skill as a purveyor of Hindu nationalist tropes carried him all the way to appointment as chief minister of Gujarat in the 1990s.' Modi's friend from the RSS, Shankarsing Vaghela did become Chief Minister in Gujerat in '96- but joined the Congress Party whose candidate he remains. Modi only became C.M in late 2001. Why was he put in by the High Command? Not because he was a 'purveyor of Hindu nationalist tropes'- everybody else was in the same business- but because he was considered a 'backroom boy' who would fix organisational problems and soothe the bruised egos of the big guns in the Party.

Kaye speaks of Modi's 'terrible human toll'- what on earth does he mean?
Let us see.

'Think about Erdoğan’s statement following the failed bloody coup attempt of July 15, 2016, which he called a “gift from God,” or Modi’s role in — and silence in the face of — murderous anti-Muslim riots, such as the one in Gujarat in 2002 that left 1,000 people dead.'

Kaye is a Law Professor.

If he believes Modi committed a crime, why does he not check to see if the Indian Judiciary took action against him?

Perhaps Kaye knows of some fault in the Supreme Court's investigation of the allegations against Modi. If so, why does he not state them?

Kaye writes-

'It was during his tenure in Gujarat that the terrible carnage of the 2002 Hindu riots took place. Modi’s response? Refusal to apologize, lack of regret, and this quote from 2013: “If someone else is driving, and we are sitting in the back seat, and even then if a small puppy comes under the wheel, do we feel pain or not?” Quite a statement by the person responsible for the safety and security of vulnerable people in his province.'
Kaye teaches law. Suppose he himself were unjustly accused of raping and murdering me. If I ask him- 'don't you feel any sorrow for having bestially raped me with your tiny penis you disgusting little man, thus causing me to die of boredom?' He may reply 'I am sorry that you experienced distress'. I might reply , 'If you feel sorrow it must be because you feel remorse for your horrendous crime. This is tantamount to a confession of guilt. Resign immediately from your post. Hand yourself over to the police.' Is Kaye obliged to admit guilt because he feels sorrow at my distress? No. Why? Because he did not cause it. The Law does not take evidence of sorrow as proof of guilt. However, there is an older notion that an 'inauspicious' leader is responsible, in some occult manner, for anything bad which happens in his demense. If the leader himself subscribes to this heteronomous theory he should resign because he is not mentally fit to discharge his duties.

It may be argued that dogs are considered unclean in Islam and thus Modi's comment was offensive. However, small puppies are universally considered to be cute and innocent. Thus, Modi's choice of words conjures up pathos for the suffering of the innocent and helpless.

Does Kaye have any other evidence for 'the terrible human toll' taken by Modi?
No. Instead he writes this-
'Peer gives voice to Modi’s casual roadkill in piercing, personal reporting, including the stories of a young man rescued by a Reuters photographer in the midst of the Gujarat riots who became a global symbol of the violence, a Muslim man murdered by a hysterical mob for his supposed slaughtering of a cow, a student at Jawaharlal Nehru University who was charged with sedition for his advocacy for Kashmiri self-determination, and, perhaps most tragically affecting of all, a scholarship-winning Dalit graduate student who wanted to be the Indian Carl Sagan but who, after a suspension for political activism, “hanged himself from the ceiling fan with the blue flag of the Dalit movement.” These stories alone show the power of symbols, of caste, and of religious and sectarian traditions in Modi’s India. But where is Modi himself in Peer’s story? He’s a distant but pervasive presence, silently acquiescent if not loudly inciting, a figure who takes careful advantage of an environment in which nonconformity and dissent mark one as the enemy.

The problem here is that Modi stopped riots in Gujarat within a few months of taking office. That's why he got re-elected. The Muslim man killed for supposedly killing a cow did not reside in a State ruled by the BJP but by another party. Communal violence had become endemic in that State because of criminalised vote bank politics. One reason the BJP has won that State is because it promised to improve Law & Order- including implementing anti cow slaughter legislation which has long been on the books.

Kaye mentions the JNU student charged with sedition. But Kanhaiya Kumar has done very well out of it- as is quite normal in Indian politics.

Kaye may not know that Laws relating to sedition and cow protection were brought in by non BJP Governments many years ago. Prosecutions under those laws are independent of the Executive since they are classed as cognisable.

Finally, Kaye mentions the Dalit student who committed suicide because his father wasn't Dalit but OBC. It may be that as a result of his tragic end, the Law is changed so that young people can elect whether to belong to the father's or mother's caste. Since Modi himself is OBC and supports extending quotas for this Backward Class, it is difficult to see how he is implicated in any way in Rohith Vemula's death.

Why does Kaye think that, in Modi's India, ' nonconformity and dissent mark one as the enemy?'
If so, how does he explain the BJP's alliance with Mehbooba Mufti in Peer's native Kashmir?
In India, like the rest of the world, people suspected of wanting to kill us are 'marked as the enemy'.
In the US, after 9/11, turbaned Sikhs were attacked because Osama wore a turban.
Once people understood that Sikhs weren't followers of Osama, the attacks stopped.
It isn't 'non conformity' or 'dissent' but fear, often unjustified, which leads to enmity and violence.

Kaye more or less admits that there is no similarity between Erdogan & Modi.
Peer, being Kashmiri, has an interest in making it appear so in order to equate Indian policy in Kashmir with Erdogan's policy to the Kurds. However, thanks to Ghulam Nabi Fai's arrest, American politicians have become wary of specious arguments regarding Kashmir. In any case, Trump's America has lost all claim to moral leadership of the 'free world'.

Erdogan certainly fits the bill of a 'strong man' who has neutralised the Army and completely changed the politics of Turkey while also projecting power into former Ottoman territory. By contrast, Modi is just a good orator and efficient machine politician who had a good run as Chief Minister of Gujarat where, within a few months of taking office, he put an end to the communal riots which had blighted the State since 1969, by calling in the Army to shoot rioters belonging to the majority Hindu community.

 What followed was high growth and improved Governance. Modi was made the scapegoat for the 2002 riots and so his Party did not consider him to be a Prime Ministerial candidate. The only reason they didn't get rid of him was because the Gujerati people came to resent the innuendo that they were 'merchants of death'- i.e. turned a blind eye to violence provided their profits went up. In other words, the fact that his own party was willing to offer him up as a sacrifice, solidified Gujerati support for him. However, Modi was still not safe. The Indian Supreme Court is no respecter of persons. The Bench gave a lot of latitude to a Special Investigation Team to get evidence of Modi's complicity in the riots. Another Minister- a female Doctor whose family was ethnically cleansed from her native Sindh- was convicted because there was evidence against her. Modi got a clean chit.

Still the question remains, how did Modi become the Prime Ministerial candidate? Did he, like Erdogan repudiating Erbakan's populist ideology, craft a new platform for himself? Certainly, the old guard within his Party feel cheated at having been sidelined. But, the problem was that their default candidate- L.K Advani- was eighty five years old! Furthermore, the Brahminical cant of Hindutva ideologues like Murli Manohar Joshi was unacceptable to young voters. Modi turned out to belong to the 'Other Backward Castes' who are gaining in Political strength. Modi did run a slick campaign and is still quite popular because he is perceived as uncorrupt. But he isn't a 'strong man' at all. Indira Gandhi was a strong leader. She could topple a Chief Minister on a whim- but that was in the Seventies . Modi has no such power. Like the previous BJP administration, Modi's regime may fall over something as seemingly inconsequential as the price of onions.

 India is different from Turkey because it is the ballot box, not the barracks, which decides who holds power. But, even in office, no politician is safe from the Judiciary. This does not mean India can't have effective leadership- but it must be supple, not 'strong'. Modi has the ability to course correct- for the moment. Sooner or later, he may accept a Messianic image of himself. Once that happens, he is bound to over-reach himself and will be consigned to the dustbin of history. Indian writers have long indulged in vacuous verbosity. They yearn to picture themselves as part of a wider, essentially Western, political Oikumene. Thus bien pensant intellectuals thought they had finished off Modi by describing him as a Fascist and quoting some relevant passage from Gramsci or Hannah Arendt or Walter Benjamin. Basharat Peer, perhaps because his people have a genuine grievance against the Indian State, is not so complacent. He quotes Pratap Bhanu Mehta- who recently resigned from the 'National Knowledge Commission' because of increased quotas for the Backward Castes- as saying, '“The cultivation of collective narcissism to stifle all individuality, the promulgation of uncontested definitions of nationalism to pre-empt all debate over genuine national interest, the constant hunt for contrived enemies of the nation, is suffocating thought.” These are fine words. People belonging to the Backward Castes may well want to learn some of them. Yet, without affirmative action, how are they going to be able to do so? We may not like Indian Democracy because it is Indian but we can't deny that it is Democracy under the Rule of Law. Turkish Democracy may now be free of the threat of a Military Coup, but the question remains as to whether it is constrained by the Law in the same manner as Modi's India or Trump's America.

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