Pankaj Mishra is an angry man. Rightly so. His people back home have let him down big time. They went and voted for Narendra Modi even though he told them not to.
Fortunately, the Guardian newspaper
has given him space to vent his spleen.
Some of his more egregious points are-
' India's 16th general election this month
... tainted by the nastiest campaign yet, announces a new turbulent phase for the country – arguably, the most sinister since its independence from British rule in 1947.
Is Mishra right? Surely the most turbulent phase for the country was in the Nineteen Seventies? By comparison, the recent poll was a tea-party- actually, it was a tea-party held after Rahul gave Modi a walk-over. What were the worst accusations made during this election? Did anyone say that Rahul was sleeping with his own mother? They certainly said that about Sanjay but all Rahul got was the tag of 'Amul Baby'.
As for Modi- from being a 'Merchant of Death' he was downgraded, by 'Snoopgate' to just some elderly Uncle perving on a pretty young architect.
Mishra says-' Back then, *in 1951) it would have been inconceivable that a figure such as Narendra Modi, the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat accused, along with his closest aides, of complicity in crimes ranging from an anti-Muslim pogrom in his state in 2002to extrajudicial killings, and barred from entering the US, may occupy India's highest political office.
Is Mishra right? Take Shaheed Shurawardy who presided over Direct Action Day in which thousands of people lost their lives. Was it 'unthinkable' for him to aspire to the Prime Ministership of Bengal? If so, how come, Sharat Chandra Bose was still talking to him?
Was it inconceivable that Muhammad Ali Jinnah, whose Muslim League presided over ethnic cleaning on an enormous scale, become Governor General of a successor state to the Raj?
Reality check- according to Wikipedia, that's actually what happened.
Perhaps Mishra means that it is inconceivable that a Hindu, not a Muslim, become Head of State in a Hindu majority area because...urm... Hindus are just different from Muslims, okay?
Mishra writes- Modi is a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a paramilitary Hindu nationalist organisation inspired by the fascist movements of Europe, whose founder's belief that Nazi Germany had manifested "race pride at its highest" by purging the Jews is by no means unexceptional
among the votaries of Hindutva, or "Hinduness".
Mishra is wrong about the RSS. Its origins pre-date the Nazi party. It wasn't anti-semitic. There was an actual Indian Nazi Party run by the husband of Savitri Devi but this had nothing to do with the RSS. Now, it is quite true that the 'Two nation theory' wasn't confined to the Muslim League. Savarkar wanted India to be known as Hindustan and so did Jinnah. However, whereas the Muslim League was very successful in carrying out Ethnic Cleansing (as were various Sikh groups) the RSS, by itself, has no similar track-record.
Mishra continues- ; In 1948, a former member of the RSS murdered Gandhi for being too soft on Muslims. The outfit, traditionally dominated by upper-caste Hindus, has led many vicious assaults on minorities. A notorious executioner of dozens of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002 crowedthat he had slashed open with his sword the womb of a heavily pregnant woman and extracted her foetus. Modi himself described the relief camps housing tens of thousands of displaced Muslims as "child-breeding centres".
Such rhetoric has helped Modi sweep one election after another in Gujarat. A senior American diplomat described him, in cables disclosed by WikiLeaks, as an "insular, distrustful person" who "reigns by fear and intimidation"; his neo-Hindu devotees on Facebook and Twitter continue to render the air mephitic with hate and malice, populating the paranoid world of both have-nots and haves with fresh enemies – "terrorists", "jihadis", "Pakistani agents", "pseudo-secularists", "sickulars", "socialists" and "commies". Modi's own electoral strategy as prime ministerial candidate, however, has been more polished, despite his appeals, both dog-whistled and overt, to Hindu solidarity against menacing aliens and outsiders, such as the Italian-born leader of the Congress party, Sonia Gandhi, Bangladeshi "infiltrators"
and those who eat the holy cow.
Okay, suppose all of the above is true. Then, why doesn't every politician use the same method to win elections? After all, there's a lot of money to be made in politics. All one needs to do is to recruit a bunch of psychopaths and get them to start stabbing pregnant women. One needn't even pay them very much money to do it. Indeed, the whole thing can be just a one-off expense. After having established your credibility by killing a few innocents, you can rely simply on rhetoric to keep getting re-elected. Why? Indian people are evil bastards. They hear you once killed some pregnant women and immediately think to themselves- 'gotta vote for this dude. He's too cool for school! What's that? His twitter followers are all paranoid hate-mongers? Well, that seals the deal! I mean, obviously, guys who spend their time stabbing pregnant women are gonna do a great job representing us in Parliament because...urm...well, it's something to do with like Capitalism and Globalization and stuff.
Bhagwati, once a fervent supporter of outgoing prime minister Manmohan Singh
, has even publicly applied for anadvisory position with Modi's government
. It may be because the nearly double-digit economic growth of recent years that Ivy League economists like him – India's own version of Chile's Chicago Boys
and Russia's Harvard Boys
– instigated and championed turns out to have been based primarily on extraction of natural resources, cheap labour and foreign capital inflows rather than high productivity and innovation, or indeed the brick-and-mortar ventures that fuelled China's rise as a manufacturing powerhouse. "The bulk of India's aggregate growth," the World Bank's chief economist Kaushik Basu warns
, "is occurring through a disproportionate rise in the incomes at the upper end of the income ladder." Thus, it has left largely undisturbed the country's shameful ratios – 43% of all Indian children below the age of five are undernourished, and 48% stunted; nearly half of Indian women of childbearing age are anaemic, and more than half of all Indians still defecate in the open.
Absurdly uneven and jobless economic growth has led to what Amartya Sen and Jean Dreze call "islands of California in a sea of sub-Saharan Africa". The failure to generate stable employment – 1m new jobs are required every month – for an increasingly urban and atomised population, or to allay the severe inequalities of opportunity as well as income, created, well before the recent economic setbacks, a large simmering reservoir of rage and frustration. Many Indians, neglected by the state, which spends less proportionately on health and education than Malawi, and spurned by private industry, which prefers cheap contract labour, invest their hopes in notions of free enterprise and individual initiative. However, old and new hierarchies of class, caste and education restrict most of them to the ranks of the unwashed. As the Wall Street Journal admitted, India is not "overflowing with Horatio Alger stories". Balram Halwai, the entrepreneur from rural India in Aravind Adiga's Man Booker-winning novel The White Tiger, who finds in murder and theft the quickest route to business success and self-confidence in the metropolis, and Mumbai's social-Darwinist slum-dwellers in Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers point to an intensified dialectic in India today: cruel exclusion and even more brutal self-empowerment.
So there you have it. A guy who gets people to stab pregnant ladies is the man to vote for because then them Evil Capitalists will all come crawling to him and open factories in his Province and deliver Electricity and generate Tax Revenues for redistribution because...urm...dunno, there's just something about stabbing pregnant ladies which just naturally attracts Right Wing Capitalists and Technocrats and such like. The only reason Manmohan Singh failed was because he neglected to have his goons go out and stab some pregnant ladies in the belly. I'm not saying 1984 didn't happen- just that the stabbing pregnant ladies bit should have got more air-time so that UPA 2 could attract enough Investment to enable us to muddle through a little longer.
Such extensive moral squalor may bewilder those who expected India to conform, however gradually and imperfectly, to a western ideal of liberal democracy and capitalism.
What's this Mishra Sahib? Are you denying that one billion Muslims have been killed by Western powers sine 2001? What about the London riots a couple of years ago? Are you denying that fourteen trillion pregnant women were beaten to death by drunken Merchant Bankers while David Cameron, wearing a top hat, looked on smiling benignly? Mishra Sahib, how you can be so naive? Every High School boy in your old Mohalla knows these things. You must return to your native land to find out the truth of what all is going on in so called 'liberal' democracies of the West.
But those scandalised by the lure of an indigenised fascism in the country billed as the "world's largest democracy" should know: this was not the work of a day, or of a few "extremists". It has been in the making for years. "Democracy in India," BR Ambedkar, the main framer of India's constitution, warned in the 1950s, "is only a top dressing on an Indian soil, which is essentially undemocratic." Ambedkar saw democracy in India as a promise of justice and dignity to the country's despised and impoverished millions, which could only be realised through intense political struggle. For more than two decades that possibility has faced a pincer movement: a form of global capitalism that can only enrich a small minority and a xenophobic nationalism that handily identifies fresh scapegoats for large-scale socio-economic failure and frustration.
So, Mishra says Democracy can't work in India because it is alien to the soil. Okay maybe 'intense political struggle' can enable it to survive some 'pincer movement' involving powerful international and national forces. However, the moment some guy gets some other guys to go stab pregnant women that 'intense political struggle' is powerless. So why bother with it? Now you may reply- 'well, if we have the Rule of Law, then a guy who gets other guys to stab pregnant women is hanged and that's an end to the matter.' But, in that case, it is 'the Rule of Law' and not 'intense political struggle' which can rescue Democracy. Of course, if the pregnant women being stabbed are imaginary, then the 'Rule of Law' can do nothing. But, neither can 'intense Political Struggle'. According to Mishra, people are voting for Modi not because they have seen him egging on people to stab pregnant women with their own eyes but because they have heard allegations of that nature. Modi denies it. He says he is a 'Rule of Law' man, but- Mishra believes- the voter is not so easily hoodwinked. They have voted for Modi because he's the guy who gets pregnant women stabbed and that's a good thing because Capital and Enterprise just naturally gravitate to locations where pregnant women have been stabbed. Nothing to do with Good Governance at all. Why would you think it?
In many ways, Modi and his rabble – tycoons, neo-Hindu techies, and outright fanatics – are perfect mascots for the changes that have transformed India since the early 1990s: why does a 'change' need a 'mascot'? Are structural socio-economic 'changes' actually like Sports Teams? Do they have a Team Captain and a Marketing Manager and a Mascot?
the liberalisation of the country's economy, and the destruction by Modi's compatriots Mishra was Modi's compatriot at the time
of the 16th-century Babri mosque in Ayodhya. Long before the killings in Gujarat, Indian security forces enjoyed what amounted to a licence to kill, torture and rape in the border regions of Kashmir and the north-east; a similar infrastructure of repression was installed in central India after forest-dwelling tribal peoples revolted against the nexus of mining corporations and the state. The government's plan to spy
on internet and phone connections makes the NSA's surveillance look highly responsible. Muslims have been imprisoned for years without trial on the flimsiest suspicion of "terrorism"; one of them, a Kashmiri, who had only circumstantial evidence against him, was rushed to the gallows last year, denied even the customary last meeting with his kin, in order to satisfy, as the supreme court put it, "the collective conscience
of the people".
So, Mishra is now telling us that the Indian State was very evil and genocidal and constantly stabbing pregnant ladies long before Modi. Indeed, the foetus torn out at sword-point meme has been with us since the Moplah uprising.
What he doesn't explain is why the Indian Economy didn't boom even despite all this blood-shed? What makes Modi different?
The answer, for Mishra, is that India is hurtling over a cliff-face- like the Austrian Empire in 1914.
"People who were not born then," Robert Musil wrote in The Man Without Qualities
of the period before another apparently abrupt collapse of liberal values, "will find it difficult to believe, but the fact is that even then time was moving faster than a cavalry camel … But in those days, no one knew what it was moving towards. Nor could anyone quite distinguish between what was above and what was below, between what was moving forward and what backward." One symptom of this widespread confusion in Musil's novel is the Viennese elite's weird ambivalence about the crimes of a brutal murderer called Moosbrugger.'
Why is Mishra mentioning Musil? Is India a member of a military alliance which it will soon drag into a World War it is bound to lose? No. Is the Indian Parliament really a hopelessly divided Bear-garden like the Viennese Parliament? Not under Modi- he's got a convincing majority. So what deep point is Mishra making? The answer I think has to do with his stabbing-pregnant-women theory of Indian politics. 'At night we all dream Moosbrugger'- i.e. one fine day everyone in India will wake up and go out and start stabbing pregnant women so as to rise up the way Modi has done because that's the only explanation of Modi's success, isn't it?
Certainly, figuring out what was above and what was below is harder for the parachuting foreign journalists who alighted upon a new idea of India as an economic "powerhouse" and the many "rising" Indians in a generation born after economic liberalisation in 1991,surely Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh get the credit for that? who are seduced by Modi's promise of the utopia of consumerism – one in which skyscrapers, expressways, bullet trains and shopping malls proliferate (and from which such eyesores as the poor are excluded).who were born before 1991, and did not know what time was moving towards, might be forgiven for feeling nostalgia for the simpler days of postcolonial idealism and hopefulness – those that Seth evokes in A Suitable Boy which neither Seth nor Mishra has personal experience of. Set in the 1950s, the novel brims with optimism about the world's most audacious experiment in democracy, endorsing the Nehruvian "idea of India" that seems flexible enough to accommodate formerly untouchable Hindus (Dalits) and Muslims as well as the middle-class intelligentsia. Rubbish! In Seth's book the 'secular' liberal Hindu Minister loses out because his son goes and stabs his former lover, a Muslim, because he thinks his old boy-friend is trying to sleep with his mistress, whereas in fact the fellow was trying to get it on with the daughter of the mistress who was actually his own half sister because his father, the Nawab, had raped the courtesan in question when she was just a little girl. The novel's affable anglophone characters radiate the assumption that the sectarian passions that blighted India during its partition in 1947 will be defused, secular progress through science and reason will eventually manifest itself, and an enlightened leadership will usher a near-destitute people into active citizenship and economic prosperity. This is pure hogwash. The one ray of hope for India is the young Bata executive who can make a shoe with his own hands and thus win the respect of the workers. But, this young executive is more at home in Hindi than English and only represents progress because he incarnates American style 'know-how'.
By contrast, the 'box wallah' is a sham- we know he will 'lock out' labour in the Sixties, like a character in a Satyajit Ray film- while his IAS officer brother is a drunken buffoon with a chip on his shoulder which, under license permit Raj, he will have ample opportunity to indulge. There is also an ineffectual poet but least said about him the better. As for the old landed elites, it is clear that their horizon is one of communal politics punctuated by Grace and Favour appointments abroad or at the Center.
India's first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, appears in the novel as an effective one-man buffer against Hindu chauvinism. Actually, the novel highlights the role of Rafi Ahmed Kidwai."The thought of India as a Hindu state, with its minorities treated as second-class citizens, sickened him." In Nehru's own vision, grand projects such as big dams and factories would bring India's superstitious masses out of their benighted rural habitats and propel them into first-world affluence and rationality. The Harrow- and Cambridge-educated Indian leader had inherited from British colonials at least part of their civilising mission, turning it into a national project to catch up with the industrialised west. "I was eager and anxious," Nehru wrote of India, "to change her outlook and appearance and give her the garb of modernity." Even the "uninteresting" peasant, whose "limited outlook" induced in him a "feeling of overwhelming pity and a sense of ever-impending tragedy" was to be present at what he called India's "tryst with destiny".
Okay, we get it. Nehru was a fuckwit who wrote worthless tripe. So what? That's what politicians do. The truth of the matter is that Resource Constraints in the early years of Independence were such that Nehru himself wore a frayed jacket- he couldn't dress himself let alone the country in the livery of modernity.
That long attempt by India's ruling class to give the country the "garb of modernity" has produced, in its sixth decade, effects entirely unanticipated by Nehru or anyone else: intense politicisation and fierce contests for power together with violence, fragmentation and chaos, and a concomitant longing for authoritarian control.
Is Mishra mad? We have just witnessed an election where only one man said 'I want the job of P.M'. He won a landslide because India really does want a PM who actually wants the job and feels he'll be good at it and can this to the voters. Yes, there has been violence- in Congress controlled Assam where a coalition partner unleashed an anti-Muslim pogrom to signal displeasure at Police activism- but that had nothing to do with 'fierce contests for power'. Similarly, Trinamool violence against Left Front candidates was simply a matter of pay-back and demonstrating ascendancy. The truth is Narendra Modi had a walk-over. Everyone seems to believe that only he can get the Economy back on track and so the patriotic thing is to do a Rahul and give Modi the majority he needs.
Modi's image as an exponent of discipline and order is built on both the successes and failures of the ancien regime. He offers top-down modernisation, but without modernity: bullet trains without the culture of criticism, managerial efficiency without the guarantee of equal rights. The problem with Mishra's fine phrases is that Hindi speakers can simply go on YouTube and listen to Modi and decide for themselves. As a matter of fact, that is what Indian voters have done. Modi says 'I don't do any work. I organised the Teams and Delegated. Yes, if anyone has a problem they can ring me and we will sort it out quickly.'
Perhaps, Mishra means by the word 'Modernity' some super-rational Weberian construction. If so, nobody wants it. What people want is a guy you can call when things go wrong and have him call you back in a couple of days explaining how he's fixed things or offering you a refund or something of that sort. We call this 'customer service'. It existed in ancient times, it exists now and we want it to be ubiquitous. How does it benefit anybody to replace a feudal, Thymotic, type of regime with some pseudo-Marxist ideology of 'intense political struggle'? In the old days, if I get robbed and the Police say 'sorry, the other guy is an Aristo, you are just a pleb- so we can do nothing'- fair enough, I have to pocket the insult- but what great benefit is it to me if, instead, the Police say to me- 'Due to the dialectics of Political Struggle, though subjectively you feel you have been robbed, still, from the point of view of Transcendental Objectivity, what really happened was you raped the other guy and then stabbed his belly and dragged a fetus out of his womb at the point of a sword while simultaneously sowing BT cotton and making disparaging remarks about Gramsci.'
Mishra, like Rahul, seems to have bought into the 'Rights based approach'. Nothing wrong with that- so long as Customer Service then becomes the Govt's raison d'etre. However, like Rahul, Mishra doesn't think Governments need to deliver on Customer Service. Why? It's because he has a paranoid fantasy about evil Indians who are all very rich and who look down on ordinary people and who want to ethnically cleanse India to turn it into Singapore.
And this streamlined design for a new India immediately entices those well-off Indians who have long regarded democracy as a nuisance, recoiled from the destitute masses, and idolised technocratic, if despotic, "doers" like the first prime minister of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew.
But then the Nehruvian assumption that economic growth plotted and supervised by a wise technocracy (sic!) would also bring about social change was also profoundly undemocratic and self-serving. Seth's novel, along with much anglophone literature, seems, in retrospect, to have uncritically reproduced the establishment ideology of English-speaking and overwhelmingly upper-caste Hindus who gained most from state-planned economic growth: the Indian middle class employed in the public sector, civil servants, scientists and monopolist industrialists. This ruling class's rhetoric of socialism disguised its nearly complete monopoly of power. As DR Nagaraj, one of postcolonial India's finest minds, pointed out, "the institutions of capitalism, science and technology were taken over by the upper castes". Even today, businessmen, bureaucrats, scientists, writers in English, academics, thinktankers, newspaper editors, columnists and TV anchors are disproportionately drawn from among the Hindu upper-castes. And, as Sen has often lamented, their "breathtakingly conservative" outlook is to be blamed for the meagre investment in health and education – essential requirements for an equitable society as well as sustained economic growth – that put India behind even disaster-prone China in human development indexes, and now makes it trail Bangladesh.
Needless to say, Pankaj Mishra is a High Caste English speaking Hindu. Modi is a backward caste Gujerati speaker. Amartya Sen himself knows the answer to the question 'Why is investment in Education meager?'' The answer is Govt. School teachers play truant. Voters don't want more money being handed over to truant teachers- they want teachers held to account first. But since teachers count votes at Elections so the political will to do a deal with them is lacking. Sen's own suggestion- ban private tuition- needless to say, would kill off Education once and for all as a potential avenue of advancement for the least well off.
froze the Congress party into a network of patronage, delaying the empowerment of the underprivileged Indians who routinely gave it landslide victories. Congress, like other parties, was a Patronage machine in the Nineteen thirties. Nothing to do with dynasties.
Nehru may have thought of political power as a function of moral responsibility. Or he may not. He said contrary things.
But his insecure daughter, Indira Gandhi, consumed by Nixon-calibre paranoia, turned politics into a game of self-aggrandisement, arresting opposition leaders and suspending fundamental rights in 1975 during a nationwide "state of emergency". She supported Sikh fundamentalists in Punjab (who eventually turned against her) and rigged elections in Muslim-majority Kashmir. In the 1980s, the Congress party, facing a fragmenting voter base, cynically resorted to stoking Hindu nationalism. After Indira Gandhi's assassination by her bodyguards in 1984, Congress politicians led lynch mobs against Sikhs, killing more than 3,000 civilians. Three months later, her son Rajiv Gandhi won elections with a landslide. Then, in another eerie prefiguring of Modi's methods, Gandhi, a former pilot obsessed with computers, tried to combine technocratic rule with soft Hindutva.
Urm...I don't get it Mishra Sahib. I thought you said Modi becoming P.M was like some wholly unprecedented disaster. Now you are saying Rajiv and indira where his forerunners. Of course they killed a lot more people. Still, why stop there? Why not blame Nehru for the killing of Rezakars and the suppression of the Telengana insurgency and so on? Actually, you probably have blamed Nehru for these things in the course of your article. Still, this begs the question, what's so special about Modi? What urgent message are you sending us?
Breaking news- Nothing has changed in India for sixty years- the Prime Minister is a blood soaked tyrant and this will always be the case. Why? It's because Indians are very evil and wicked. Instead of 'intense political struggle' they want to buy stuff- like a cup of tea, or a chocolate biscuit, or a mobile phone- which may sound innocent and harmless but is actually CONSUMERISM and that's totally evil coz it plays into the hands of Globalized Capital and that's very bad coz the big Capitalist countries tend to be Liberal Democracies and India isn't really a Liberal Democracy because Modi doesn't speak posh English and kills babies and so it's like miscegenation- I mean a pure blooded Liberal Democracy shouldn't share a meal with a low caste Illiberal Democracy because ... I mean, what if they have a baby together? How are we to classify the baby? Is it a half Liberal Democracy or a half Illiberal Democracy? Anyway, why risk? Better we just keep separate, I say. That's why Visa ban on Modi should stay in place. What if he gets jiggy with David Cameron? What would Queen, God bless her, say? Anyway, I hope all you illiterate desis have taken my words to heart. Kindly go and do prayaschitam and purify yourself with cow dung for the 'maha-paap' of voting for some Ghanchi fellow what is not even knowing English good. Mind it kindly.