Downside of Using Woke Jargons for Hindu Narrative

Whenever I oppose the attempt of Hindus to be a participant in the identity politics madness of Western world which emanates from the fusion of theories and concepts emerging from the broad fields of Literary Theories, Postcolonial Studies and Postmodernism, I get a predictable response along the line of turning the existing concepts on their own heads and utilizing those for our interests. The response is a characteristic of the great deal of confusion which these theories have created and for a person not very well versed in the terminologies of these fields, it does appear that these concepts can be used for our leverage. There are many examples of such concepts such as the concept of referring us as indigenous (already critiqued in the past), subaltern, epistemic violence, neocolonialism etc. by people who at least theoretically claim that they’re helping Hindus in building their narrative in global world. Their confidence is probably a reflection of their entry level position in Western academia where such theories are in vogue.

The first question is why can’t we use these terms if they’re so malleable and lack a definite meaning? Why can’t Hindus refer themselves as subaltern in the global context since we have been the recipients of Islamic and British colonialism for past 1200 years broadly? The answer is relatively simple – because these terms are the exclusive creation of the Left and they’ve complete monopoly over how these words are defined. The definition of the words and the groups which will be covered under the definition are dependent on the Left’s political considerations rather than the actual realities. Irrespective of the space and time, Hinduism is seen as an evil system which needs eradication by Left while Hindus need to be freed from the clutches of Hinduism. Alliance of Left and Islam in global context is a complex phenomenon which is based on the ability of Islam to inflict violence on its enemies and the assessment of Left which considers Islam to be the counteracting force of Western civilization.

To give a very simple example of how Left defines the meaning of these words, take the word ‘subaltern’ into our consideration. A general reader understands subaltern as someone who doesn’t have any privileges, faces multiple disadvantages in the current world, lacks access to power etc. But that’s very superficial understanding of the term and Left doesn’t understand the term in such generic way. Last year, an Indic portal had published an article on Holi using the paradigm of subaltern to argue that Hindus are subalterns whose opinions are being excluded from public discourse. The word ‘subaltern’ in the context of Postcolonial Studies has been popularized by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak who is extremely influential postcolonial theorist. She is the one who popularized Derrida in American universities to a great extent. How does she define subaltern? She defines subaltern as someone who has no access to cultural imperialism. A Hindu will think that we have no access to cultural imperialism, so we are by definition subaltern. But in the world of Postcolonial theories and Postmodernism, Hinduism is seen as vehicle of cultural imperialism which deprived the real indigenous people of India their own narrative and cultural understanding by replacing it with their Brahminical values. So, Hindus are seen as cultural imperialists while Muslims, Dalits and tribals are seen as subalterns in India.

But a more persistent person will say that we will appeal to the Global Left that what their colleagues from India have been informing them about Hinduism is not true and we will show that we are actually oppressed. This is based on the assumption that Global Left doesn’t know the reality of Hinduism and it’s an impartial collectivity which provides equal space to everyone. If one believes so, it’s a testimony of their complete ignorance of history and ideology of Left. Left will immediately brand such person as Hindu supremacist who uses the theories meant for real subalterns for their benefits, and such attempts should be treated as the crime of cultural appropriation. In fact, Meera Nanda has written on how Hindutva movement tries to use Postmodernism for their own benefits from a critical perspective. Left doesn’t only create the new concepts but guards its zealously against the ones who seek to appropriate those, as these concepts are the expression and tools of Left’s power dynamics.

Gayatri Spivak had clarified it in 1980s that subaltern doesn’t mean oppressed and if someone wants to claim subaltern status because they’re from a minority group in college campus, they can’t be granted the status of subaltern. In current context, Rashmi Samant of Oxford University who was bullied by Left, doesn’t deserve the protection accorded to a subaltern since she has access to cultural imperialism (Hinduism). In their framework, she is an oppressor who still undertakes the endeavour of cultural imperialism by practicing Hinduism. Epistemic violence which is used by a certain individual now and often is another term coined by the very same Gayatri Spivok by utilizing the concept of Episteme as defined by Michael Foucault. Like the term subaltern, it has their own criterion to classify something as epistemic violence. All these concepts are already being taught to Hindu students in Indian universities in relevant disciplines which alienate them from Hinduism and bring rich dividends for the Left. Whatever may the be case and irrespective of the person propagating Critical Theories, Postmodernism, Postcolonialism etc. should be opposed with all the efforts because once can only confuse and mislead the Hindus who aren’t well acquainted with Left and their power dynamics.

Feminism, Intersectionality and Transgender Movement

In recent days, I had made many satirical tweets couched in the language of transgender politics and as expected, European feminists descended on my timeline to call me misogynist who was taking away women’s rights. The result was along the expected lines and it was the primary reason why I had made those tweets. Though I had to protect my account for a while because they were acting like crazy, it affirmed what I have been tracking for a year now.

As it’s getting increasingly evident, most of the feminists now a days due to intersectionality principle align themselves with the broader LBGT movement which also include transgender rights. But within the feminist movement, there exists a strand which is extremely critical of patriarchy and toxic masculinity while at the same time, it’s also critical of transgender movement which in their view is a male supremacist movement. Feminist Current is one such feminist publication based out of Canada which adopts this view. But why are they against the transgender movement? I’ll try to explain their rationale without a critique of their position.

In the classical feminist theory, sex is considered to be biological and innate while gender is assumed to be a social construction based on the sex. As sex is biological, the expression of womanhood and the associated developments are also biological. In this framework, feminists advocated for women being proud of their womanhood and more aware about their distinction from men. At the same time, gender roles by the virtue of being patriarchal products were something to be shunned and eliminated. But, this didn’t mean that women had to give up things such as motherhood which is essential to women alone but they were encouraged to embrace and celebrate this distinction.

In the transgender movement, the basic premise of feminist understanding of sex has been demolished. It assumes that sex is a social construction while gender is innate to the body but not necessarily biological. Gender is more to do with feeling than biology. In this framework, as sex is not biological, transgender movement argues that one doesn’t need to be born as woman to be referred as woman. This is the reason behind the campaign for letting men who have transitioned into women to allow in women’s sports, change of language such as renaming mother to birthing parent, letting them into women’s washrooms etc. The kind of feminists whom I’ve described in the above paragraph are extremely critical of such attempts.

According to these feminists, transgender movement is a male supremacist movement which seeks to snatch away the rights which women have received as a result of their prolonged struggle. Heather Brunskell-Evans who is a feminist ideologue of this class argues in her book ‘Transgender Body Politics’ that ‘transgender movement is a regressive men’s rights movement’ under the guise of liberalism. They believe that the men who transition into women by undergoing surgeries are not necessarily women yet they ask for all those rights which women have due to their struggle. Not only that, by arguing that getting pregnant or giving birth is not limited to women alone, they’re eroding the most basic aspect of womanhood.

In Feminist Current, an article was recently published in which the author Brenda Brooks argued that due to transgender movement, there existed a significant number of girls who were currently undergoing puberty, were being forced to transition into men by the heightened sense of gender dysphoria. She writes, “In the UK, the number of children being referred for gender reassignment went from 77 in 2009 to 2,590 in 2018-19. But most striking of all is who is being referred — in 2017, according to The Guardian, 70 per cent of referrals were female.” She further adds, “The most authentic betrayal is leading girls into surgeries that remove their healthy breasts, endanger their health, and doom them to a lifetime of medical oversight.”

What’s interesting for people like us who prefer to watch Feminist movement from sidelines is that with the recent push of transgender movement due to Biden’s presidency will further increase the chasm within the feminist movement. The difference between intersectional feminists and the feminists adhering to its classical form will only grow to produce more such entertainment. It will be good to see whether the spectre of intersectionality prevails or the monster of old feminism gets another round of rejuvenation.

The Economic ‘Non-Logic’ of Reservation for Locals in Private Sector

The socialist paradise of India doesn’t leave any stone unturned in destroying the businesses and labour market because it believes that it can change the rules of Economics by political maneuvering because such attempts often bring vote. The latest entrant in this field is M L Khattar whose government has brought the law to provide 75% reservation for the locals of Haryana in private sector jobs in organized sector which pay monthly salary up to ₹50,000. Companies will have to provide the demographic data of workers in every 3 months to the government to show that they’re compliant to the new law.

While the Economic illiteracy of BJP leaders is on different plane, what nobody seems to ask is what is the current composition of migrant workers in the work force of Haryana in the sector for which the new law will be applicable. According to 2001 Census, the population of interstate immigrant into Haryana was 14% of the total population which included every type of migration such as migration due to marriage, education etc. However, the share of people migrating for jobs is the highest for interstate migration. I tried finding the data of interstate immigrants in the labour market of Haryana but was unable to find, though there must have been studies around it.

The state government while introducing the bill hasn’t cited the figure to justify that the share of interstate immigrant labour is more than 25% in the category under consideration. Looking at the broad figure which I’ve cited above, it’s quite likely that the percentage is already below 25 and the 75% rule will only increase the cost of businesses while providing political dividends to the government. Coming to the economic rationale of imposing such quota in private sector, there exists none. The government has absolutely no authority to determine on what factors a private firm hires its workers though it’s increasingly being the norm. When the government brings such arbitrary criteria, the labour market has to deal with an additional variable which is completely driven by political consideration. At the firm level, the primary consideration to hire a worker is the skills of the worker and the wage at which he will be ready to work. A company has no reason to discriminate against a person based on his place of birth or residence as it brings no positive economic output for the firm.

What will be the possible consequences of the law? First, the harassment of the businesses by the government will further increase which already have to follow hundreds of regulations under labour laws, environmental laws etc. Control breeds corruption and the companies will try their best to show that they’re compliant even if it means paying the bribery. As the cost of the business increases, the companies which are planning to establish themselves in Haryana will be dissuaded from doing so in the event of added cost. From the hiring perspective, as the pool of available worker shrinks, the companies will be forced to pay higher wages without getting commensurate economic outputs. But there is the catch. A government can impose restrictions of all sorts only when the job exists in the market but when companies shift their base and jobs vanish, who will be under their purview? Simply none and everyone else will be worse off and especially the natives who will be forced to migrate elsewhere.

As the law will apply for organized sector primarily, it also provides incentive for the unorganized sector to remain unorganized lest they’re ready to face another compliance burden. It’s very similar to MSME sector of India where the firms have incentive to remain small, inefficient and less productive as government provides several advantages to businesses in this sector. Business owners typically go for the vertical separation of businesses when they wish to grow to ensure that their old and new corporation will enjoy the same status under MSME instead of making the existing firm grow bigger.

In India, the laws provide incentive to remain economically inefficient and this will be another addition to the list. I had hoped that the governor wouldn’t give assent to the bill but since it has been provided, the saffron socialists open the another path of madness which will be followed soon by many states.

Physis and Nomos: The Building Blocks of Political Philosophy

The beginning of Western Political Philosophy starts with an important distinction between two aspects of the world – nature (physis) and convention (nomos). This was the conception of Classical Greek Philosophy which shaped how the field of political philosophy will evolve in the future. But why do we start with that distinction in the first place? Is there really a rigid distinction between nature and convention or there is an interdependent relationship between these two? To answer it, we will have to understand how Greeks understood nature and convention. For Classical Greek philosophers, nature was not created nor it was grown artificially. A tree is not grown or created by a human in the same sense as we create a terracotta figure. The latter is definitely an art. In contrast, convention or law is by tradition since we have been doing things in a particular way. Here, by law, I don’t mean legislation enacted by modern nation states where legislation is intended to achieve specific social, political or economic objectives. I consider law to be evolutionary and self emergent instead of constructed rationally. It has been elaborated by F A Hayek in details in his seminal work ‘Law, Legislation and Liberty’.

To determine what right humans should have in a political community, the distinction between nature and convention was important. Humans definitely fall in the realm of nature, but it’s undeniable fact that we are governed by conventions which are either explicit or implicit. The explicit conventions are known as laws which are formally implemented in the sense a violation of law attracts punishment. But there are implicit norms such as social conventions around marriage which are generally not violated, though there is no authority punishing you for violation. The question emerges regarding whether these conventions created by human institutions curtail our natural freedom which we get by the virtue of being humans. Is it possible that we have certain set of rights which exist automatically without any convention? For example, we have the ability to write after learning alphabet but what script one learns is more a function of convention. In Classical Political Philosophy, these rights were termed as natural rights which humans get by the virtue of merely being humans, while rights granted by law or convention are positive rights.

When we accept that there are natural rights which exist independent of convention, aren’t we arguing for establishing the rule of nature? And what are the characteristics of the rule of nature? In Hindu Political theory, when there is absence of rule of Dharma, it’s termed as मत्स्यन्याय (matsyanyay) which roughly means the stronger preying on weaker. Inequality of human beings in different domains is a fact which can’t be denied by anyone. So, the genius of Hindu Political theory advocates the fundamental fact that rights of humans can’t be protected unless there is an external authority enforcing it. This is not to say that there is no natural order of things which is also known as Rta in Hindu Philosophy, but natural order of things need to be upheld as it’s done by Varuna. In Arthashastra, Acharya Kautalya recommends establishing the murti of Varuna in prisons showing the importance of Varuna in upholding the natural order of things.

Coming back to our distinction of natural and positive rights in the context of strong preying on the weaker ones, isn’t it obvious that an external factor needs to be employed to protect natural rights? If we consider freedom to be a natural right of humans and there is another personal violating the freedom of the first person, the natural right of the first person becomes an imaginary object. How will the rights of other person be protected? And the answer lies in positive rights established by convention or law which will protect the rights of one against another. In Renaissance era, political philosophers used the concept of natural rights to argue for the formation of state such as social contract theory in which humans enter into a contract with each other to form a political institution which will safeguard their rights against one another. At the same time, natural rights can be used to argue against every human law by postulating that a law created by humans can never be just since it’s not rooted in natural order of things.

How did Hindu political thinkers postulate the origin of state? We have two divergent views. The classical view espoused in Mahabharata and Aitreya Brahamana is based on social contract theory. As the story goes, members of the society decided to elect a king who will execute rule of the law in the return of 1/6th of payment of produce to the ruler. There is no divine rights of kingship here, but a basic recognition of political factors. The other view has been elucidated in Panchatantra, which is closer to the actual political realities. Panchatantra espouses the position that the origin of state lies in the will to power and it’s the power which determines the rulership instead of any form of social contract. The kings in Panchatantra are seldom sagacious while it’s generally the council of ministers deliberating on citizen centric policies which shield them from the despondency of the king. In either case, at the fundamental level, the distinction between physis and nomos was rooted in empirical realities which shaped the direction of Western political thought for almost two millennia.

References:

1. History of Political Philosophy, edited by Leo Strauss

Constituents of the State in Hindu Polity

Hindu Political thinkers and texts dealing with polity have deliberated on the conception of elements of state or what factors constitute a state quite comprehensively. Though there exists sort of consensus on what are the elements of the state, but there exists some interesting variations as well. I’ll be considering the views of Arthashastra, Manava Dharma Shastra (Manusmriti), Yagyvalkya Smriti, Kamandaka’s Nitisara and Brihaspati’s Arthshastra to provide a synopsis of the concept. The elements of the state in Hindu polity are often referred as limb (अंग). Starting with the Arthashastra of Acharya Kautalya, he considers that state has 7 elements: The sovereign (King or Republic council depending on the type of government), The Ministry, The country (राष्ट्र or जनपद), Capital (दुर्ग/नगर), State exchequer, Army and Allies.

The view of Acharya Kautalya is the traditional view of the Hindu Polity as this is accepted by Yagyvalkya Smriti as well. Kamandak in Nitisara upholds the position of Acharya Kautalya and as Kamandak also quotes from Brihaspati’s Arthshastra in his Nitisara, we also know that Brihaspati was of the same opinion. The text which differed from this was Manusmriti which didn’t consider the sovereign and allies as elements of a state. The exclusion of allies might be explained by the fact that the time period in which Manusmriti was written and the place where it was written, the kings of the neighbourhood states were antagonists which reduced the importance of allies. But Kamandaka in his Nitisara gives a glimpse of international affairs of the Hindu Polity. According to him, there was a concept of मंडल (mandala) in which four states were allies of each other which ensured the twin purpose of maintaining the balance of power and strategic peace.

Then exclusion of sovereign from the list of elements of state is due to an explicit proclamation in Manusmriti regarding the question of real sovereign. In the eyes of Acharya Kautalya, a king is sovereign as he is the one excutes the law (दण्ड) since without a king, there will be no enforcement of law. Obviously, the old principle of Hindu Polity was still upheld in this arrangement that Dharma is supreme and the king doesn’t enjoy Sovereign Immunity. If a king errs in administration of law, he will be fined as per Acharya Kautalya. He is subject to the trial of law and not above it. This is in direct contrast to the maxim of ‘Queen can do no wrong’ of Britain or Bhutan’s prevalent law that the king can’t be subjected to the law. Even in Nepal whrn Hindu monarchy existed, they had abandoned this principle of Hindu Polity and accepted that king can’t be subjected to the law.

Manusmriti says that the real sovereign is धर्म (dharma) and a king should never administer the law alone. It’s a fact that king never administered the law alone in Hindu Polity and the concept of trial by jury and independent judges (धर्मस्थ) have been mentioned in Arthashastra, but as Manusmriti provided a common law code for both Dharma (religious/sacerdotal) and Artha laws (civil and criminal laws), this provision of real sovereignty was made more explicit with the provision that only a Brahmin could be the judge of civil court while making no such claim on the judgeship of criminal court. Manusmriti also limits the law making authority of the king.

When it comes to the question of which element amongst the seven is the most important, Acharya Kautalya gives the rule that the element mentioned first is the most important and the importance of succeeding elements decreases in series. This is logical in the view that allies who are external to the state have been mentioned at the end. The high importance of council of ministers is the reminiscent of the old vedic tradition of समिति (samiti) which had the law making authority of popular will. Vedic literature has termed सभा (sabha) and समिति (samiti) as the two daughters of प्रजापति (Prajapati). Council of ministers has been treated as king-maker in Brahmana-s such as Aitareya Brahman while Acharya Kautalya had termed council of ministers as eyes of the ruler. The importance of capital, state exchequer and army is fairly obvious and perceptible to modern eyes as well.

Farewell, Mr. Donald John Trump!

Farewell, Mr. Donald John Trump. I never wished that we will have to write it in 2021 but like everything else, it had to end either in 2021 or 2025. Despite all the attempts to tarnish your legacy and presidency, you’ll go as one of the greatest Presidents of US in the history for the ones who seek the truth. You were not meant to be the president. You weren’t ever meant to be a political leader. You were everything which we despise in a political leader – loud, uncouth, flamboyant, and questionable demeanour. But your greatness stemmed from this very aspect of the personality which people despise.

In 2016 President election, you rose through the ranks surprising everyone irrespective of their political ideology. Conservatives despised you because you were not a neo conservative establishment figure nor someone who was known to be a conservative. Liberals despised you because you grabbed ’em by pu**y. It was inconceivable in 2016 that Hillary will be defeated. Not because Hillary was an inspiring leader but Church of Liberalism had fixed the moral responsibility for everyone to ensure that a female becames the president of the US for the first time. Well, all the aspirations of ‘Madam President’ were buried by you in the deep abyss of Atlantic ocean.

Even after your extraordinary electoral victory, liberals started the well organized campaign of destroying the legitimacy of your presidency. They started calling for your impeachment even before you had taken the oath. They created another imaginary creature of Russian interference to undermine your presidency. They labelled your supporters as white supremacists and Neo-Nazi. Everyone who wasn’t against you was against humanity, empathy and progress. They made you the very embodiment of evil. Anyone who was remotely associated with you was declared to be categorically evil.

Amidst all the challenges, you behaved like a warrior. You ensured that the mainstream media will never regain its credibility again. You ensured that America will at least be aware about the impending challenge of Leftist totalitarianism. You never minced your words. You called Islamic terrorism what it’s. You had the courage to call out the fraud of Critical Race Theory and Leftist dominance in academia. We didn’t expect because you were never involved in any ideological battle prior to your presidency. US economy did extremely well before Covid-19 changed the dynamics but that doesn’t negate your greatness.

Amidst a Covid hit economy, nationwide riots engineered by BLM and Antifa, and widespread electoral frauds, you gave such stiff competition. You could do everything because you were never conventional. You represent a new set of ideas which will have their enduring impact. Trump may go, Trumpism is going to remain. You couldn’t drain the swamp but you agitated the swamp. When you had won, I called it as significant event as fall of Berlin wall. I may have overestimated it that time but I feel that I was right considering what we have witnessed this month. And yes, you were a good friend of India (not NRIs). You’ll be sorely missed but who knows, there might be interesting times ahead.

The Conundrum of Sanskrit ‘Non-Translatables’

Rajiv Malhotra’s recent book ‘Sanskrit Non-Translatables’ has kindled important discussion on the problem associated with translation, especially in the context of concepts. This book has the stated aim of Sanskritizing English as the author believes that translation of Sanskrit words into English results in loss of authority for Sanskrit. I won’t go into the stated aim and rather focus on the technical aspect of the issue with translation. The choice of word ‘non-translatable’ is bit odd as the standard word used for denoting the problem of translatability in Linguistics is ‘untranslatability’, and the words which can’t be translated are known as ‘untranslatables’. It’s a fairly standard term used in Linguistics with which translators have dealt with for years.

When it comes to Untranslatability, it’s divided into two categories – Linguistic Untranslatability and Cultural Untranslatability. In Linguistic Untranslatability, the difficulty in translation from source language (SL) to target language (TL) is due to morphological or grammatical reasons. For example, Sanskrit verbal roots have their future tense form as well while English verbs don’t have that. There are multiple such examples, but the issue discussed by Rajiv Malhotra is Cultural Untranslatability which arises due to having no equivalent word of any concept/idea/object etc. in the target language. Though Malhotra claims it to be innovative idea, there is nothing innovative about the problem nor the solution.

In the case of Cultural Untranslatability, there are multiple options for a translator to still go ahead with the task, because the primary objective of a translator is to overcome the linguistic barrier by translation. What Malhotra has suggested is known as borrowing. So, if one has to translate Dharma into English, rather than trying to find an equivalent word in English, Dharma will be retained as Dharma. The advantage of this method is that the reader gets his vocabulary enriched, but perhaps with loss in meaning as it’s not expected from a reader of English to know words from Sanskrit without an explanation. This method has other problems as well.

When it comes to translation of the objects such as food or cloth, using the borrowing method is very useful as you don’t have to translate Dhoti in English as ‘unstitched single piece cloth’ but when it’s employed in translation of ideas and concepts, new issues are encountered. The development of any language and its concepts is intimately connected with the cultural sphere in which it originated and became popular – as language is not the fundamental reality – but a device invented by humans to convey the reality. Two languages which belong to radically different cultural spheres will seldom have affinity of ideas and concepts, and if borrowing method is used without applying strict control, the fundamental purpose of translation will be lost.

Take the case of word as simple as ‘विवाह’ (vivaha). The English translation is ‘marriage’ but the meaning of विवाह and marriage are different due to their different cultural and religious significance. For a Hindu, विवाह is one of the sixteen sanskaar-s while in Christianity, marriage is considered to be sacred institution strictly monogamous in nature. So, the translation of विवाह into marriage is prevalent and even accepted because translation doesn’t aim toward near certain accuracy, but an attempt to transmit the meaning. So, when a Hindu hears the word marriage, he doesn’t understand it in the Christian sense but in the Hindu sense because his understanding is on the basis of his own religious and cultural understanding.

Even in the political context, such difficulties are plenty. The popular translation of राजा (raja) is king but when we see the difference in concepts, it’s again incorrect. In the Western political context, a king has divine right of kingship enjoying legal sovereignty while in the Hindu polity, the authority of a राजा is on the basis of social contract regulated by Dharma. If we insist on borrowing, there will be no further communication possible between different groups of people who understand only one common language as each of the languages will insist on sticking with their own terms for the sake of accuracy leading into loss of semantics in the communication.

The approach which I find more sensible is using the nearest possible equivalent word in target language followed by an explanation. In Nyaya Darshan, शब्द (shabd) is one of the valid methods of knowledge and it’s often translated as ‘testimony’ by Hindu philosophers operating in English language, but they follow it with explanation to ensure that the readers in the target language understand the concept, though not necessarily learning another word from the source language. Such method becomes even more critical in translating words such as बुद्धि (buddhi) which has different meaning when used in Nyaya Darshan and Yogachara Darshan of Buddhists. In such cases, it’s imperative to choose the closest equivalent word followed with explanation.

The project started by Rajiv Malhotra is laudable in the sense that it will be quite helpful for translators in understanding the difference of meaning even if they’re using the near equivalent word in English unlike the current scenario in which many translators aren’t even aware about such significant conceptual differences. However, I’m bit skeptical about efficacy of the project if taken too far as it will result in our reduced ability to communicate outside the group, or even within the group since most of the Hindus themselves have very superficial understanding of Sanskrit and other Indian languages.

Rao and Modi: Difference in the Politics of Economic Reforms

Amidst the orchestrated and well-planned agitation against the Modi government by alleged farmers, there emerges clear difference between the approach of P V N Rao and Modi in managing the political aspect of economic reforms. A comparison can be done keeping in mind that both of them were facing different challenges, but the crux of the issue was economic reform. The magnitude of Rao’s economic reforms was much more than what Modi is trying and has done so far. Rao became the PM of India in June 1991 and within a month, he had taken three key economic decisions – devaluation of rupee in two steps, bringing the new industrial policy which did away with public sector monopoly and licensing, and a truly transformative budget. The only excuse which Rao could give was the imminent Balance of Payment Crisis but, that didn’t mean a justification for the means adopted by Rao.

Rao faced opposition from all the directions – within his own party, Communists, BJP, trade unions, big industrialists and others. And Rao adopted a different strategy to deal with each of the groups. For the committed Congress party members, Rao realized that the mental slaves of Nehru clan would only understand the language in which Nehru and his descendants hold the key importance. To this group, Rao said that he is merely continuing the legacy of Nehru’s industrial policy which was later distorted by others. In the Tirupati session of Congress in 1992, his rhetoric of linking reforms with Nehruvian socialism was enough to make economic liberalization feature in the resolution document symbolizing a formal approval of reforms within the party. Rao obviously didn’t have any respect whatsoever for Nehruvian socialism, but he was employing the rhetoric effectively.

After the 1991 budget, 50 Congress MPs had signed a letter criticizing the budget which favoured economic liberalization. The commitment of Rao for economic reforms could be seen from the fact that he had asked Intelligence Bureau to prepare a note providing the list of all Congress MPs who were against the liberalisation and also the particular aspect of liberalization on which they had disagreement. [1] For Communists and Left wing economists, Rao practiced indifference as he knew that they’re incorrigible and it’s futile to waste time with them. When the big industrialists expressed their discontent over allowing foreign capital, he didn’t roll back any of his policies though he met them personally and conferred Bharat Ratna on J R D Tata.

Rao also played an extremely smart move of projecting Manmohan Singh as the face of economic reform. He let Manmohan face all the questions on economic reform within the parliament and outside it as well. This ensured that Rao didn’t have to explain what he didn’t know, and divert attention from himself which he had learnt through experience. Until Rao became the PM of India, he was a committed socialist. When he was the CM of Andhra Pardesh in 1970s, he brought legislation on land ceiling for which his justification was completely ideological while making himself the face of this contentious act. The result was disastrous for Rao culminating into being forced to resign.

Let’s look at the Modi government now. The biggest drawback of Modi is that he is surrounded by people who are either less competent than him or completely incompetent. The three bills which have become the subject of controversy, Modi’s communication on them is unclear. He had the best option of advertising it as bills which would enhance the economic freedom of farmers but his communication has been more focused on addressing the concerns of MSP. MSP in this particular case has been used as a diversion tactic which would have been supplementary to the central narrative for the government.

The government’s figures counting the numbers of text messages and mails sent to raise awareness are simply nonsensical because most of the people don’t read such things. Modi was telling his party workers to raise awareness about these bills in September, and if his party workers indeed did so, it doesn’t add up when we consider that government allowed such well-planned agitation to grow while it would have had considerable intelligence input on the brewing protest. The lesser said about his ministers is better. Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar seems to have the sole competence of telling the media that his government would talk with the farmers. Nirmala Sitaraman is a liability who can neither do anything good with her economic policies nor put a spirited defence of government on economic issues. At least Jaitley had the ability to defend the government formidably. This government has already squandered the first six year in bringing incremental economic changes and the current protests would probably make the government skeptical of any big changes in the remaining tenure.

References:

1. Half-Lion: How P. V. Narsimha Rao Transformed India by Vinay Sitapati

Sri Aurobindo on Nirukta of Yaska

When I read ‘The Secret of Veda’ by Sri Aurobindo around 5-6 year ago, I had not read Nirukta of Yaska then and accepted his assessment of etymology of Yaska. However, after studying Nirukta, when I revisited the same text again, it became apparent that Sri Aurobindo was being unfair to Yaska in his assessment or he didn’t study Nirukta thoroughly.

Aurobindo writes in ‘The Secret of Veda’:

Yaska the etymologist does not rank with Yaska the lexicographer. Scientific grammar was first developed by Indian learning, but the beginnings of sound philology we owe to modern research. Nothing can be more fanciful and lawless than the methods of mere ingenuity used by the old etymologists down even to the nineteenth century, whether in Europe or India. And when Yaska follows these methods, we are obliged to part company with him entirely. Nor in his interpretation of particular texts is he more convincing than the later erudition of Sayana.”

While it can be accepted that Sayana’s interpretation is much more erudite, one has to consider the scope of the work of Yaska. The objective of Yaska was not to write bhasya (commentary) on Veda-s but to find the etymology and meaning of words which appear in Samhita-s while interpreting only those mantra-s which helped him in illustrating the meaning of words under the consideration. But agreement with the views of Aurobindo on the etymological methods of Yaska is difficult considering his methods were not only far advanced compared to his time but comparable to modern philology which Aurobindo considers a scientific discipline. Though a detailed discussion on these aspects have been done by Dr. Lakshman Sarup and Dr. Siddheshwar Varma, I’ll give some of the examples to showcase how Aurobindo’s assessment was not accurate.

Yaska broadly follows three principles in finding the etymology of a word: 1. If the verbal root can easily be identified in the word and the word can be derived from the verbal root following the rules of grammar, the etymology should be done on the basis of verbal root. 2. If the verbal root can’t be identified clearly, or the verbal root identified has a different meaning contrary to the meaning of the word, different forms of verbs need to be compared with different forms of verbal roots. 3. When no such similarity can be found, the etymology can be done by finding common syllables between the identified verbal root and the word.

Out of the three methods explained above, the first method is still the backbone of modern linguistics and well accepted. The second method is prone to errors while the third is non-standard. In reality, the third method is not employed by Yaska too often but he followed that because he was so committed to etymology that he believed that the meaning of every word can be found by following the methods of etymology. But if Yaska committed errors by following the latter two rules in some cases, does the modern linguistics get these aspects right?

The answer is unfortunately, no. Comparative philology which Aurobindo rated very highly borrows rules such as Change of Syllable, Elision of Syllable, Metathesis etc. from Phonology. Take the example of elision of syllable in which one or more sound may be omitted by native speakers. If I take the example of English, speaking ‘cannot’ as ‘can’t’ is one such example. But this method when employed in comparative philology for finding the etymological meaning is imperfect as elision of syllables is not consistent across even within the languages of same language family.

The genius of Yaska can be understood from the fact that the primary method which he followed for etymology is still the primary method for the etymology of Sanskrit words. His etymology is more often connected to a definite meaning. For example, the way he transfers the meaning of the same word to mean vagina and space in different contexts or same word denoting cow or rays of sun signifying the transfer of meaning based on similar actions is a work of pure genius. Yaska didn’t only surpass his predecessors, but most of his successors as well.

Did PM Rao Want Babri Masjid to Fall?

On Shaurya Diwas, as it happens every year, the question of the role of PM Narasimha Rao in the demolition of Babri Masjid resurfaced, but the Left and Right both are incorrect on it. The Right in the recent years has started believing that Rao was performing Puja when Babri was being demolished, while Left has maintained it since 1992 that Rao was the mute spectator of an event which permanently destroyed the ‘secular’ fabric of India and whipped up ‘communalism’. Apparently, neither of these is true which I’ll try to illustrate.

First, the claim of whether Rao was performing Puja between 12 PM and 2 PM when he was unreachable to politicians such as Jairam Ramesh and Arjun Singh who tried connecting to Rao. This myth is based on the assertion of Kuldip Nayyar who claimed that he was apprised about it by Madhu Limaye. Unfortunately, this is not true as Madhu Limaye had no knowledge of what was happening in PM’s residence. Left had a different version which claims that Rao was sleeping. Vinay Sitapati in the biography of Rao has shown that Rao was neither sleeping nor performing Puja. During the hours when Hindus were reclaiming Ayodhya, Rao was in conversation with Naresh Chandra (His special advisor), Godbole (Home secretary), Vaidya (IB Chief) and others monitoring the developing situation.

The obvious question is, if Rao was monitoring the situation, why couldn’t he act? The reason is straightforward – Rao had no option. The central government has no control over either the state police nor paramilitary forces unless President Rule is imposed. Even if Rao decided to impose President Rule, it would have taken at least couple of hours to call the cabinet for it and get the decision approved. Meanwhile, the action was over by 2:30 PM while had begun after noon. But, another precarious question was even if he imposed President rule and asked paramilitary forces to mobilize, the force couldn’t have achieved anything amongst the sea of more than 2 lakhs people unless there was violence of unimaginable proportion.

We also have to consider Rao’s political understanding here. Unlike Mulayam, Rao was concerned about dwindling popularity of Congress amongst the Hindu voters. He had written later that the Congress suppressed every visible expression of Hinduness by terming it non-secular. Rao was no anglicized elite, nor a Marxist though he had very strong socialist leaning. He was a practicing Hindu to the extent that he had decided to head an ashram in 1990 while contemplating his retirement from politics. He had excellent relationship with the Honourable Sringeri Shankaracharya and despised the likes of Mani Shankar Aiyer.

But did Rao really want to fall Babri Masjid? The unequivocal answer based on what’s available publicly is no. Rao was given the option of dismissing Kalyan Singh government in November after the announcement of Kar Seva on December 6. But Rao didn’t agree to it as he couldn’t invoke Article 356 in the anticipation, which would have later been politically unforgiving and legally untenable. Instead of it, Rao met BJP leaders, VHP leaders, RSS leaders, heads of many monastic orders etc. in the month of November to secure an assurance that the mosque will remain unscarred on December 6.

In the last bid to protect Babri Masjid constitutionally, Rao’s government filed for the receivership of the site in November end in Supreme Court which was later dismissed by the court as UP government assured the apex court that mosque will be protected. So, though Rao was sympathetic to Hindu concerns due to his own background, he can only be praised or blamed for not invoking Article 356 to impose the President Rule. The real hero was Kalyan Singh who had given written orders that irrespective of the circumstances, firing on Kar Sevaks won’t be allowed. The Hindus will remember the name of Kalyan Singh for centuries for his role in paving the path for the reclamation of Ayodhya.

References:

1. Half-Lion: How P V Narasimha Rao Transformed India by Vinay Sitapati