Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Troublesome Fascination with Sanjay and Indira Gandhi

Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi (Source: The Print)

On 25 June 1975, India saw the extension of the external emergency, imposed since 1965 into the domestic affairs of India. More than 25 years have passed; yet, the public memory of the Emergency is conspicuous by its absence. It is as if this event, the darkest episode in the memory of India since its long colonial slavery, never happened. There have been no protests by so called liberals against the event. Our youth have no inkling on the events of that horrid night and the subsequent two years of dissent crushing of the worst possible magnitude.

The amnesia of this country’s conscience is troublesome to say the least. Few accounts exist of what had transpired apart from the odd memorial of journalists – it is pathetic to note how our so called doyens of media of the time were hand in glove with the establishment of the time. Lal Krishna Advani’s adage - You were asked only to bend, but you crawled – was a tight slap on the face of the pliant journalists, and yet there was no self-introspection ever. To this day, the only things I have heard are how wonderful things were during the emergency; how there was discipline for a change. Leading this brigade of shame were people like Khushwant Singh, who more than placed himself at the feet of the Gandhis for this very act alone. To this day, hardly any books have been written, academically or journalistically, about the Emergency. Kuldeep Nayyar and Coomi Kapoor are the only two journalists who wrote books about it; Tavleen Singh discussed it in pieces in a book. Among the politicians, the only account that I have read to this day about the plight of the political prisoners is that of BJP leader and former Chief Minister of Himachal Pradesh Shanta Kumar’s memory of his stint as an Emergency prisoner, thanks due to his status as the Opposition’s elected representative. The two other books one sees are historical accounts; of course, those too are colored enough to identify the real danger in the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh as the real danger to India’s democracy, making one somewhat clear about the whitewash effort.

Contrast this with the marches that take place every day on 21 February each year in Bangladesh – a day when the citizens of then East Pakistan rose to fight language discrimination, to the point that Ekushe February became the International Mother Language Day. The tyranny is not forgotten to this day, and its memories are kept alive by the country’s citizens so that the young never forget.
While D. K. Barooah, Rajni Patel and S. S. Ray were the architects of the Emergency declaration, Sanjay Gandhi was the tour de force of the excesses that followed. While many try to delink Indira Gandhi from this ghastly episode, it is well understood that the sole reason behind the emergency was to save Indira Gandhi’s election. Forcible arrests, torture of kin, forced sterilizations, harrowed conditions in jails – these are barely some of the things that happened in a span of less than two years. People were jailed for uttering even a single grumble against the Emergency. Newspapers were forced to print blank pages. In this terrifying atmosphere of intimidation, lynch mobs of Sanjay Gandhi’s brigades roamed around everywhere, putting to task the steps necessary to enforce Sanjay’s writ. Constitution and the institutions were essentially rendered useless – illegal insertions, utterly incomprehensible but biased appointments and illegal extensions to the terms of governments were undertaken. Singers, poets and authors risked their lives, reputations and jobs if they uttered even a mere word critical of the establishment. People went into hiding, burnt their possessions and did innumerable things only to ensure that no harm befell on their families and their future. An atmosphere of fear had gripped the nation, and held its tongue such that it dared not even utter a single syllable of concern, let alone protest the outrage to its modesty.

In any democratic setup worth its salt, such people would not have been allowed back into politics, let alone power. However, these days, I see within the right wing this strange fascination with Sanjay Gandhi, even as Indira Gandhi’s hagiography continues unabated amongst the Lutyens Darbar, marvelling at her strength. The same set also has no qualms to eulogize Sanjay Gandhi in many ways, attributing his bullying nature and disregard for institutions to a ‘go-getter’ attitude. Many of these fail to remember just what Sanjay Gandhi and Indira Gandhi really reduced India to. It is shameful to say the least that the two are eulogized often just because of their actions at different stages against specific groups. How can these people forget just what was done to them, their families? I do not expect better from the socialist brand of politicians in this country, who despite having been jailed in hundreds continue to kiss the feet of the same dynasty and party – their existence essentially remains thanks to the ruling family’s politics. The muzzling of voices from the ground should have been unforgivable; and yet, the fascination with the two remains. Had Sanjay Gandhi been alive, a whole host of today’s pretentious right wingers would vote to make him the undisputable leader of this country. Do they really think that under the likes of Sanjay Gandhi, the voice of this civilization could have surfaced? The man who did not bat an eyelid when hitting his own mother only thought of this country has a backward hellhole. To this day, one does not acknowledge the fact that Sanjay Gandhi had mastered the fraud that was Maruti, which saw redemption only after Suzuki came to its aid, sensing a classical keiretsu style opportunity in India. In the words of Sunil Sethi:

Essentially, Maruti Ltd. turned out to be a huge land grab and financial scam-290 acres at throwaway prices in Gurgaon, a sycophantic loan mela by nationalised banks, extortion and blackmail to squeeze funds from business groups and traders. Bankers, cabinet ministers and captains of industry who opposed or resisted Sanjay's muscle-flexing were threatened or sent packing; Mrs Gandhi remained impervious to the outcry in Parliament or the raging disquiet in the PMO. Her most senior and trusted advisers, for instance, principal secretary and diplomat P.N. Haksar, or P.N. Dhar, the distinguished economist, were shunted aside. There was no roadworthy car, of course, only faltering Maruti front-companies to be milked for cash.

And yet, we have several of his coteries that continue to wield considerable influence within the Congress and Lutyens durbar. Kamal Nath, Ambika Soni, Navin Chawla, R.K. Dhawan and Ghulam Nabi Azad are just a few names of yesterday’s goon brigade leaders turned suave politicians, and we only see deference from eminent media personnel on the same. These people have even bigger crimes to their names, and yet the amnesia continues about them and their association with Sanjay Gandhi.

Strength is an attribute often associated with Indira Gandhi. However, it is laughable to say the least. The manner in which Sanjay treated his mother should be clue enough about her so called steely resolve. Both she and her son were essentially opportunists who benefited from the untimely death of Lal Bahadur Shastri, with the support of an anti-national group of leftist traitors in the country. Had she been so powerful, Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir would have been part of India in 1971. Had she been so powerful, East Pakistani Hindus would not have suffered so much in that war, a fact she and her government hid in every manner possible. The two wrecked India’s economy by only increasing license raj and encouraging cronyism. Favors were granted to those who curried favour with the darbar; the rest were supposed to rot. A decline starting from the late nineteen sixties, all the way up to the early nineteen eighties, in every sphere of India’s existence – economic, social, cultural - can be directly attributed to the two of them. Yet, the fascination within the right wing with respect to the two continues unabated. Many of us harbour impressions that simply don’t stand the mirror test. In a democratic set up, we would have seen the disappearance of the family from the political scene altogether. Yet, the irony remains that it is the right wing, that truly fought the excesses of the emergency, is accused of fascism and destruction of the ethos of India by the durbaris, who to this day are labelled eminent by many a people. Sanjay Gandhi was nothing but a goon, and Indira Gandhi was nothing more than an opportunist – I have no hesitation in saying that, much to the chagrin of some of these admirers I know. We are often told that one should not talk ill of those who cannot respond; however, should we just keep silent and forget what happened to the country’s spirit under the two of them, and let the hagiography continue unabated? It is time to call a spade a spade; those who killed democracy in India, and those who supported its murder at the guillotine cannot be allowed to get away by mere condoning. Tough questions need to be answered by many of them. I for one will continue to ask them from these supporters.

Monday, June 10, 2019

We Can Never Be the Original Khan Market Gang

While We Bribed Officials for a Scooter, Some People Just Called to get Cars
(Image Courtesy:

Yes, even I studied as a ‘Patelian’ back in the day, with the Khan Market in vicinity. And no, I am not part of the OG Khan Market Gang that Sowmya Lakhani so proudly belongs to. The problem with her limited periphery of sight, blinkered by holier than thou attitude, symbolizes all that is wrong with the Khan Market gang.

What is this Khan Market gang, one may ask. Let me tell you, being a peripheral player, what it means. Schools like Columba’s, Modern and Sardar Patel were for the longest time populated by the children of New Delhi elite, who actually had extremely privileged lives, and access to several things that people like us living on the periphery of the city did not get. Children in this school are divided by class consciousness of an acute kind, with groups living in bubbles –many of these children faced first world problems, with the others just looking on, somewhat puzzled, somewhat in awe, and sometimes in depression due to constant haranguing and bullying. I remember there was a big fight in school that never got to see the light of the day, where a new inductee was bashed by one of those elite children’s gang. Never on good terms with them, he was one of those peripheral children of Delhi. Much could be read into it, except one that will never be read – there was perhaps no acceptability for the likes of us. Their modern avatars today concentrate themselves in Sanskriti School today among others, with their lofty aims of changing the world, unlike us puny people who wanted to be empowered enough to get a decent job and perhaps move on in life. Our struggles of daily lives were alien to them and their parents, who could pontificate of course on all the ills of the country sitting in the Khan Market restaurants.

Let me tell something about Khan Market for the unaware. Khan Market is located next to one of the oldest localities of New Delhi, Sujan Singh Park, built in the late nineteen forties for the likes of Khushwant Singh’s father, who was a brown Sahib in British India, earning off contractorship. The apartments house the old elite, with ownership passing on to the new chatterati of New Delhi. The market was forged for this very elite, who would only have to deal with the minions on a transactional basis at best. Located close to housing meant for civil servants, the crowds that be would represent the ones who had everything, who could pull favors to get things streamlined without batting an eyelid. They would sit in their drawing rooms, while their children would use government backed facilities, each lamenting the state of affairs of the country. Would any of them share even a swimming pool with the peripheral residents? Not in their lifetime. All they would have in their minds is contempt for the country and its Hindu rate of growth, always remarking how nothing would ever change. I need not say much – Tavleen Singh gave an honest answer about this lot to which she herself belonged once in her window-into-New-Delhi book Durbar. Suffice to say that the mindset has never really changed.

Having passed out of such a school, these obvious faultlines become a part of your existence in more than one way. You wonder sometimes the reason behind this sense of entitlement that you encounter about these people. Those stereotypical Delhi people you see in comic videos? It was this very set of everyone-knowing-everyone that lived it on a daily basis, unlike us peripherals, who were always afraid of a dysfunctional legal system. We were not the ones who escaped as labour in other countries to better our lives, knowing that there was not even a glimmer of hope towards an improvement in our lives. They dialed numbers to get cars, while we paid bribes to get our hands on scooters. We were the ones who studied in candlelight while New Delhi glowed in the night time, and the children of Lutyens hung around in Khan Market in the night, knowing that they will be taken care off by their daddy or their mummy. And in their hallowed circles, even as they danced away to the latest tunes from the West, poking fun of the shabby Bollywood ripoffs, we were to be granted entry only as objects of curiosity and entertainment; never to be, however, seen on an equal footing.

You want to know what is the difference between India and Bharat? Just look at the distinction of Khan Market and Mayur Vihar, and you will know.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Marichjhapi - Lest We Forget

Image Courtesy: The Wire

Public memory is a strange beast. It takes little by way of throttling to erase it easily – restrict the discussion to intellectualism, or ensure a public amnesia about events by erasing the picture and its contents. However, memories of individuals fail to be erased. Truth can compete with official versions and public amnesia, but to what extent? When there is hardly anyone to do anything beyond reproducing the same arguments over and over again, even the proponent, the sufferer of the story is loathe to talk about it. After all, what does one achieve by scratching old wounds repeatedly except pain?

Marichjhapi is an island in the Sundarbans, and little beyond it is remembered to this day. Any talk of it is merely talk today – absolutely nothing has been done about it to this day. While the Sundarbans is an interesting cultural complexity to study, the island of Marichjhapi hides in its womb the horrific memory of the massacre that took place in 1979. While official figures still try to act as a horrific fig leaf, it is well recognized that thousands of Bengali Namasudra migrants from East Pakistan/Bangladesh, who had settled down to piece their lives again, were slaughtered by police and communist militia under the flimsy guise of ecological protection. Marichjhapi is just another incident about which our ostrich like liberals remain blind to this day. Perhaps it does not suit their worldview, where lives of people belonging to an oppressed community is literally ‘liberated’ from the clutches of this world by those claiming to struggle for the oppressed. Truth became the biggest casualty at the hands of these liberators, as to this day there is vehement denial of the brutal action that police undertook, forget the borgis of the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist). Perhaps, the Marxist should be replaced by Murderers to truly reflect the intentions of these people towards those who disagree with them even slightly.

Picture Courtesy: Deep Halder's Twitter Handle (@deepscribble)
A recent book by journalist Deep Haldar, who works with IBN Media, has come out. Blood Island is a snapshot summary of a few human stories, collected over a short period of time by Halder, attempting to connect back to his own memories as a Kolkata bhodroloki boy about this incident due to personal connects with some of the victims. The story, of how these East Bengali refugees, shunned from place to place by the government of India and the state government of West Bengal, decided to take matters in their own hands and settle down on the island of Marichjhapi, which had been pointed out by Opposition based left leaders prior to 1977, as some kind of promised land to them. What they got in turn however left a kind of bitterness that cannot be overcome even today by the survivors and their subsequent generations to this day. The nation failed a bunch of people who tried to belong to this country, dishonored them, brutalized them and spat the remnants of their honor and pride out after callously chewing on it. And yet, despite so much, outrage remains restricted to a few people. What has instead been achieved is perhaps mere intellectual posturing, while those who tried to get things done on the ground withdrew, tired and disappointed by a country’s system that otherwise claims equality. Perhaps they were not the right minority; perhaps they are still not oppressed enough on the oppression meter. A country where thousands of activists shed tears about certain ‘genocides’ conveniently look away at actual tales of misery and fast fading calls of justice that truly deserve attention.

In many ways, this quick read is a reportage on the cruelty that was inflicted on a people nearly forgotten by time. To many of the protagonists in this book, the exercise is no more than a waste of time. “Nothing changes,” they lament. Even the so called people’s government of Mamata Banerjee failed them alongside so many others. Many of them just want to move on with their lives, tired as they are with the repeated rantings to intellectuals who benefit from it while the victims rot. However, one must not forget the import of this book – it looks like the flicker of a candle that is struggling against the winds of time. Many issues are important to raise, for the need to bring about closure remains just as relevant as it was forty years ago. Marichjhapi was a timely warning perhaps of the fate that would befall those holding on to their Dharmic identity in many ways perhaps; that warning perhaps fell repeatedly on deaf ears, as history of systemic violence against various such communities that had covert and overt political support from so called voice of the oppressed. The book again highlights the need, perhaps once again, of a truth commission that can perhaps help to bury some ghosts.

Will this change things for anyone? Perhaps not. However, the need to tell, again and again, the fate of these people is necessary bto get some form of justice for those who survive.

Perhaps this will be a precursor to a change in tide on the discussion and call for justice for the Namasudras. Who knows? Till then, such books are necessary. Lest we forget Marichjhapi.

What Vinay Sitapati Has Missed Out –The BJP-RSS’ View of India As seen in Fictional Writings by Deendayal Upadhyaya

  There has been a lot of discussion about Vinay Sitapati’s book on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the pre-Modi era, especially the Ju...