Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Sagarika Ghose and The Habit of Over-Interpretation

Sagacity is a precious commodity in the markets of collective wisdom. However for this gold, there is always a platinum, which needs to be identified by the term common sense. This commodity called common sense is indeed rare. For every thousand people, barely half a person will  display it. Such is its importance in the public discourse and governance that no less than a great thinker like Thomas Paine had to write a book to extol its virtues. Sadly, however, the people who control public discourse in India stake claim to this commodity, even though despite their perceived first right to use is contradicted by the sheer inability of their wit and wisdom to reach out to this, thus making it a much sought after valuable.

One may wonder why I am out to praise common sense today, especially given the circumstances. I lay heed to one woman's doorsteps who with her sheer brilliance has often left us poor minions gobsmacked, struggling to search for answers in the radiant light of her powers of perception. The High Priestess of the School of Nehruvian Secularism has often been bandied wrongly for branding dangerous working professionals as Internet Hindus, the Internet base of Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Hindu Rashtravadi Manch, who instead of trishuls of the sadhus and saints angrily brandish mouse and keypads (or touchpads in the case of smartphone users), threatening the 'temple of democracy' by striking its very foundations. So what if she calls a couple of questioners as guttersnipes and braggadacio (misspelt by the Priestess 'on purpose'); it was all in the light of the grave threats to the 'secular modernist foundation stones' that define our nation! Everything is exempt for this epitome of modernism in India, including great displays of peripheral awareness and perscipacity with these one sided 'interviews' of Narendra Modi, posing ten questions of grave importance. Some of this light was radiated in today's column in Hindustan Times.

I frankly love reading these sermons - if you cannot blame someone for the riots directly, try finding a comparison to navigate past this "Hindutvavadi wall" ala the Great Chinese Firewall. My only problem is that such sermons lead into false premises. Ms. Ghose is a habitual offender on the over-interpretation front. Repeated lampooning from sensible people makes little impact on her. One person's murder is a chilling reminder of communal violence perpretrated by the 'Hindus'- so what if there has been some meager stone pelting in the past month, or the fact that under the UPA regime, there were genocides in Assam and Kishtwar in Jammu and Kashmir or the shooting of Meo Muslims in Rajasthan? Books being pulled out of circulation is another threat to communal fabric of India - never mind that Praful Patel got a gag order on Jitendra Bhargava's book about Air India's chaos, or the ban imposed on Javier Moro's book on Sonia Gandhi. Much like Sharad Pawar's grand theorization, Ms. Ghose sees more than there is to the same thing, linking the incident directly to Narendra Modi. If one murder is linked to Narendra Modi, then by Sagarika Ghose's logic:
Just like these cannot be taken to be Congress party's official stance, should any right wing lunatic be directly linked to the BJP? By her own admissions, Ms. Ghose would make us believe that what the Ulema say is not representative of the entire Muslim community. Modi does not face any dilemmas - one just has to see the manner in which RSS and others have been systematically marginalized in the public space in Gujarat. What it shows however is that the state governments are responsible for maintaining order in their respective jurisdictions.

Perhaps it would be prudent to remind Ms. Ghose that Asoka is not the only homegrown model that we have of governance. There was a predecessor to Asoka who was ably guided by a brilliant mind - Chandragupta Maurya and Chanakya, who defined the outlines for a modern Indian state. This outline suggests practicing peace and aggression with equal caution, talks about giving tax breaks to its citizens, and was the first to figure that transfers of officials regularly may be used a means to tackle corruption in the state. Chanakya declared any man who spread rumours unnecessarily as an enemy to the state - a principle still followed today by many modern states. If only the grandfather and his adviser were extolled as much by Ms. Ghose as Asoka was, we would have a different narrative for India. Her obsession with Buddha and Buddhist pacifism as well as Asoka's reign may have virtue to it, but it stems from the eulogies that Westerners have given to it. Ms. Ghose should remember that we have also had such great rulers in India as Rashtrakutas, Gangaikonda Chola and Samduragupta, whose rules were called India's Golden Age. These rulers had to deal with greater diversity than Asoka, as evidenced by the patronage of Jainism and Buddhism alongside Sanatana Dharma that these rulers gave. Why should not those models be studied - all of them were great victors in battle as well, but did not convert to Buddhism at any stage. In fact, the Cholas took the Santana Dharma heritage to South East Asia, where it still survives in myriad ways despite the prevalence of Buddhism. Why should Dharma not be our guiding light instead of Dhamma, though both essentially would entail the same meaning? Why should India be embarassed about its Hindu past?

Spare us the sermons Ms. Ghose, and get a life for yourself. 

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