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Too Clever By Half

My Country My Life by L K Advani;

Economic & Political Weekly EPW July 26, 200831book reviewToo Clever By HalfG P DeshpandeMy Country My Lifeby L K Advani; Rupa and Co, New Delhi, 2008; pp xxxvii + 986, Rs 595. This is a massive volume quite rea-sonably priced, close to 1,000 pages for less than Rs 600. In a way it is perhaps best to begin these comments with the ordinary details and then move to more substantial matters. It will be useful, for example, to know that this volume is massive but not formi-dable. One might also add that the paper used is rather substandard. There are sev-eral pages in the early chapters where the lines on one page have got mixed up with the next page. For example, the lines on p 185 are readably visible on p 186 as well. There are some editorial and proofreader’s indiscretions. There is no letter that is transliterated as double ‘I’ in Sanskrit. The word ‘teerthani’ (or ‘tirthani’ if you are us-ing the diacritical marks) cannot be spelt as ‘tiirth’. Likewise, Strasbourg is not in Austria but in France. All such errors are either the editor’s or proofreader’s respon-sibility, of course. But they are jarring nevertheless especially when one is reading the autobiography of a prime minister presumptive. Sometimes it is his usage of words. For India, he prefers the term ‘Aryavarsha’ (the land of the Aryas) to the usual and more familiar ‘Bharatvarsha’. At any rate he has used the term more than once. It occurred to us that Savarkar, for example, would not use the term. In fact, he has probably never used the term. Indeed, it would have been useful to know if the ‘puranas’ have ever used this name. It is interesting to discover as one proceeds with Advani’s narrative that the people of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) parivar have little use for Savarkar either for the Swatantryaveer or his elder broth-er Babarao. (In Marathi, S H Deshpande has argued that case very well.) It was the latter who made the first formulations of the ‘Hindutva’ theory. Advani does not refer to any of the theo-retical writings of Savarkar brothers. He does not even discuss Hindutva. But generally speaking his interest in theo-retical work of any kind, let alone Hindutva, is marginal. The authors and books that find mention in his narrative are, for example,How to Win Friends and Influence People, or the Brazilian popular fiction-writer Paulo Coelho. He applauds Vajpayee’s exhortation to replace the term Hindutva with the term Bharatiyatva but does not do so himself.Business of PanthaAdvani uses the term ‘sarva pantha sama-bhava’ as against the ‘sarva dharma samabhava’. ‘Panth’ is usually used to re-fer to the systems that are cognates within a broader category. Basaveshwara’s Veer-saivism or Kashmir Saivism, for example, would be panthas. Or, protestantism and catholicism would be panthas of Christi-anity. But how can Islam or Christianity in India be called panthas (as against ‘dharmas’)? If panthas, are they cognate to Hinduism or even to Savarkar’s Hindutva? Advani emphasises the ‘sama-bhava’ between panthas. Shall we say that the intent or implication of Advani’s apparently innocent but in reality a poli-tical position is clear? In his framework the status of Christianity and Islam is and should be that of a pantha. If the Muslims or Christians were to accept that there would certainly be complete samabhava.This business of the pantha is interest-ing for yet another reason although Adva-niis probably unaware of it. Vinoba uses the term pantha. Advani does not refer to him at all. For a man who otherwise cele-brates Jayprakash Narayan has no time to take cognisance of Vinoba or his Bhoodan movement. Be that as it may, there is one crucial difference between Advani’s and Vinoba’s usage of that term. For Vinoba, mankind was yet to find a complete and true religion. What we have are proto-reli-gions, if at all. They merely show us the way. Pantha also means a way. I am sure that Advani would be appalled at this po-sition that makes all great religions includ-ing Hinduism panthas. Advani, or any-body brought up in the RSS tradition for that matter, would have nothing to do with that position. We went into all these details because when he uses expressions like ‘sarva pantha samabhava’ it is not an exercise in adopting Gandhian formula-tions but rather to differentiate his position from the Gandhian position.RSS IdeologyAdvani refers to theRSS repeatedly in this narrative. Going by his account the RSS is and has always been purely a “nationalis-tic” and “cultural” organisation. That is all there is to theRSS ideology. Curiously the author talks of RSS “ideologies”. It is not clear what he means by the plural. There is a spirited defence of the RSS and its ideology/ies in this book. But then the writing is spirited all right, but does not amount to much of a defence. It is rejec-tions of all charges against the RSS much in the manner of injured innocence speaking. He, therefore, assures us that “(the) Sangh’s policy was purely service of Hindus and Hinduism. It did not threaten any other community”. In the year of our Grace 2008 he thinks a state-ment of that kind is enough and, worse, quite persuasive. A similar nonchalance is to be seen in Advani’s christening of the Ayodhya affair as a movement. He then goes on to argue that the presumably overexcited volun-teers at the Babri masjid did not heed to the entreaties of the leaders of the move-ment and destroyed the mosque. So you can see all that happened was quite sim-ple. The sane voices of Advani and other leaders of “the movement” were not heard and the structure came down. And then there was that Belgian scholar (of what we are not told) who saw and heard a pained Advani appealing to the ‘swayamsevakas’ not to damage the structure. Advani defends himself in a very legalistic manner and never addresses the question
BOOK REVIEWJuly 26, 2008 EPW Economic & Political Weekly32if his politics or the politics of the self-styled movement caused the in-evitable in Ayodhya. Ayodhya MovementAdvani is however absolutely right in giv-ing pride of place to the account of the so-called “Ayodhya movement” in his book. Indeed, he is right when he avers “the BJP’s steady rise of power from 1989 on-wards, owed considerably to its spirited espousal of the Ayodhya cause”. That is why discussion of the Ayodhya “move-ment” is central to this autobiography. The Ayodhya mosque is demolished and Advani, the leader of the BJP and the Hindus, is born.Advani has likewise chosen to defend Narendra Modi and violence in Gujarat. Vajpayee had taken a position that Modi has forgotten his ‘rajdharma’ (duties of the rulers). According to Advani’s understand-ing, Narendra Modi is “a victim of (a) vili-fication campaign”. It is not necessary to say anything about Advani’s view. It is a simple matter of presenting the oppressor as the victim. Again the problem is the same. Speaking in the Rajya Sabha about the demand for removal of Modi from the chief minister’s position soon after the carnage in Gujarat, Advani had the following to say:We should look for a real solution to the situ-ation in the state, and removing chief min-ister Modi is not a solution. There has been a sustained campaign against him, which is not correct. It is also not correct or proper to allege….that there is gross communalisation of (the) Gujarat police… The problem with Advani’s position is that they are mere declamations. Perhaps as a response to a position taken by an opposition leader they might have been adequate (although that is more than doubtful); in the autobiography Advani should have been more forthcoming. He thinks or so it would appear that a few declamatory statements from him actually dissolve the problem. It has been very famously said that falsehood, if repeated frequently, is taken to be the truth. Advani’s position seems to be, “What I say is the truth”. It does not need any argu-ment or data. Why should home minister Advani’s statement not be enough? Authority decides the truth. So we have Modi presiding over the fortunes of Gujarat. Advani makes much of the man-date that Modi got in the 2007 elections. How does that prove that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was not a carnage?And so on and so on. There are any number of snippets in the book in which theRSS way of argument comes across. He even cites Sheikh Abdullah once to say that Nehru was “a great admirer of the past heritage and the Hindu spirit of India”. He says the Sheikh was not “too wide of the mark”. He brings this into his argument that “f (F)or Nehru secularism was an expression of India’s cultural- civilisational personality…” The argument works from end to beginning. Nehru and the Sheikh are appropriated for Advani’s notions of secularism. The book is full of such too clever by half arguments. I think we should stop here. The book is written in such a way that you cannot for-get that it is written by a person who may be the next prime minister. There are plenty of nice words and compliments to Vajpayee or more accurately Atalji. But they are compliments from a soon to be coronated king to a king who could not have done better than quietly retire. There was much hype about the book in the electronic media. We found the book interesting for its candidness, except that some would find it to be candidness of the self-righteous. Email: govind.desh@gmail.comStarving Indiakripa shankar The author begins with Amartya Sen’s contention that no famine has occurred in a democratic country. But the point is that has it prevented the process that generates vast undernourish-ment and destitution at the bottom which results in starvation, and in some critical situations may result in famines. Demo-cracy assures freedom of expression and free press along with equal voting rights to change the government. But does it as-sure guaranteed livelihood to every one? Behind the veil of democracy, there may be a highly inegalitarian structure, where the bulk of the population may be living in an exploitative and dependency relation-ship. If this relationship persists thepeople at the bottom will remainoutside the mainstream. Political democracy by itself cannot impact the ongoing process which may result in affluence at the top com-bined with destitution below.Anti-Poverty MeasuresIn India, this process is working with greater vehemence because of certain his-torical reasons. Britishers have created a class of rentiers and oppressors to per-petuate their rule, and they ultimately bequeathed power to them. Being a pro-duct of colonial order and alienated from their own people, the new rulers have every stake in maintaining the oppressive structure. It was more or less a coalition of rentier and exploitive classes interested only in increasing their share of the pie rather than increasing the size of the cake itself.The history of six decades of post-independence is largely a history of this fight for greater share among the priv-ileged groups in which equitable growth and social justice have become a casuality. Democracy and election process have not changed the equation although compul-sion of electoral politics forces the various political formations representing one or the other privileged group to come for-ward with a plethora of populist measures and anti-poverty programmes just to mis-lead the labouring masses into believing that the government is not hostile to the downtrodden. Such anti-poverty schemes number more than a hundred but the one peculiar feature is that all of them are so designed that a larger part of the benefits percolate Starvation and India’s Democracyby Dan Banik; Routledge, London and New York, 2007; pp xv + 224, $ 150.

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