The Indian Express | 1 week ago | 18-03-2023 | 11:45 am
Speaking in Britain, Rahul Gandhi recently described India as a “union of states”. In a parliamentary speech last year, he had deployed a similar characterisation. Those who defend Rahul Gandhi refer to Article 1 of India’s Constitution, which does use the term “union of states”. Rahul Gandhi’s critics refer to the Constitution’s Preamble, which first lists the four key objectives of the new polity — justice, liberty, equality and fraternity — and then says that “fraternity” means “assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the nation”. The debate over the right term thus can’t be settled on a purely constitutional basis.Constitutional scholars, of course, should enlighten us on whether India’s Constitution, known as the longest in the world, uses the term “nation” more copiously in the main text. Be that as it constitutionally may, it is also worth pondering what the scholarship on nationalism says. Is India a nation? And if so, of what kind?First and foremost, the scholarship is unambiguously clear that a nation is not simply a cultural entity. Rather, it brings the political and cultural units together. In the famous words of Ernest Gellner, a nation means having “a political roof over your cultural head”. A civilisation, a cultural unit, thus is not the same as a nation, which is a sovereign confluence of the cultural and the political. An oft-cited example is that Europe is a civilisational entity, but it had more than 20 nations in the early 20th century, and many of these nations were so bitterly antagonistic that they even fought wars, including two World Wars. To cite another example, England/Britain and France fought no less than seven wars between 1689 and 1815, even though both were part of Europe.The difference between a civilisation and a nation was also the basis of a famous statement about the impossibility of Indian nationhood by John Strachey, a top British administrator in India, in 1888. “There is not, and never was an India, or… any country of India”, and “that men of Punjab, Bengal, the Northwestern Provinces and Madras, should ever feel that they belong to one Indian nation, is impossible. You might with as much reason and probability look forward to a time when a single nation will have taken the place of the various nations of Europe”. Not that Stratchey thought the British would leave India, but this reasoning conceptually meant that like Europe, India was a civilisation, from which in the future might emerge several nations — Punjab, Bengal, Madras — if and when the British actually left.One might recall that with the exception of Switzerland, Belgium and Spain, “one language, one nation” was the basis of nationhood in Europe. John Stuart Mill, among the leading British political philosophers in the second half of the 19th century, had no doubt that linguistic diversity was a “special, virtually insuperable, hindrance to nation-making”. Mill’s thought heavily influenced British administrators in India.After Independence, Indian federalism was indeed conceptualised in linguistic terms. Does it mean that India finally became a union of linguistic states, as Strachey and Mill implied, and it was not a nation?This is where Mahatma Gandhi’s striking originality about conceptualising nationhood comes in. Gandhi’s position on religion and nationhood is better known than what he thought about language and nationhood. On religion, Gandhi argued: “If the Hindus believe that India should be peopled only by Hindus, they are living in a dreamland. The Hindus, Muslims, the Parsis and the Christians who have made India their country are fellow countrymen… Followers of different faiths are not different nations”. And on language, it is not often realised that Gandhi was the father of India’s linguistic federalism.As early as 1920, Gandhi successfully campaigned for linguistically structured provincial organisations of the Congress party. Gandhi’s attempt was to break the elite-based pattern of Congress politics, in which only English-speaking politicians took part. He was more interested in eliciting mass support for the freedom movement. Mass politics without the mother tongue was meaningless, inauthentic and impossible. The masses did not know English, but they could easily comprehend ideas expressed in their own languages. In 1924, Gandhi got this idea extended to the governmental level. “The official language or provincial governments, legislatures and courts …(should) be the vernacular of the province.”To Gandhi, multilingual politics was essential to nation-building in India, not a violation thereof. He was anti-Mill and anti-Stratchey. A new kind of nation, non-European in substance and spirit, was to be constructed. It would not only be multi-religious (which was not a fundamental problem for the European theorists and practitioners), but also multi-lingual, which was a novel idea.But how would different linguistic communities be brought together? By a political movement driven by the ideas of pluralism, syncretism and tolerance. This “idea of India” had historical roots. In his newspaper Young India, Gandhi wrote that Indian culture “stands for synthesis of the different cultures that have come to stay in India, that have influenced Indian life, and that, in their turn, have themselves been influenced by the spirit of the soil” (November 17, 1920). Further, Indian culture is “neither Hindu, Islamic nor any other, wholly. It is a fusion of all and essentially Eastern. And everyone who calls himself or herself an Indian is bound to treasure that culture, be its trustee and resist any attack upon it” (April 30, 1931).In light of this formulation, let us return to theory for a moment. For Benedict Anderson, a leading theorist of nationalism, a nation is “an imagined political community”. The fact that it is imagined does not mean that it is false. Most French or Americans have not met each other, but there is still something called being French or American, which they share. For Gandhi, that glue was not language (or religion), but a set of cultural and historical ideas — synthesis, tolerance and coexistence. The violent periods of Indian history were outliers from this trend line of coexistence.Rahul Gandhi is not wrong that India is a union of states. But his formulation requires a Gandhian amendment. India is also a nation, but in a non-European sense. Steeped in a majoritarian European concept of nationhood, his critics, too, are unable to see this point.The writer is Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences at Brown University and contributing editor, The Indian Express
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who has been unseated from Parliament after his conviction and two-year sentence for defamation triggered Section 8(3) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, argued before the magistrate’s court in Surat that he had caused no personal damage to the petitioner, BJP MLA Purnesh Modi — and there was, in fact, no specific community called “Modi” in the country.At an election rally in Kolar, Karnataka, on April 13, 2019, Rahul referred to fugitive businessmen Nirav Modi and Lalit Modi along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and asked, “Why do all thieves have the surname Modi?”The next day, Purnesh Modi filed a private complaint before the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Surat, accusing Rahul of having defamed everyone with the name Modi.“Any person with the surname Modi across India belongs to the Modi Samaj-Modhvanik community and is found in the whole of Gujarat as a whole, and this community is also present in other states apart from in Gujarat… The accused by insulting the Modi surname of current Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, has insulted the 13 crore Modi surnamed people by calling them ‘chor’ for political selfishness,” Purnesh Modi said.Rahul Gandhi’s lawyer Kirit Panwala argued in court that there is no “identifiable and determinate” community called ‘Modi’. “It is Purnesh Modi who terms the Modhvanik community as the ‘Modi’ community; there is [actually] no evidence of it (the ‘Modi’ community). If the ‘Modi’ community comprises 13 crore people, it is not an identifiable and determinate community,” he told The Indian Express.“Only one sentence should not be taken as defamatory. He (Rahul) has not insulted any community. The Modi surname [does not belong to] only the Modhvanik community but also to [people from] other castes. If proper identity is established, [only] then this case is maintainable…here, identity is not established,” Panwala said.Although many people use the surname Modi, it does not denote any specific community or caste. In Gujarat, the Modi surname is used by Hindus, Muslims, and Parsis. There are people with the Modi surname among Vaishnavas (Baniyas), Kharwas (fishermen from Porbandar), and Lohanas (who are a community of traders).Purnesh Modi, the complainant in the Rahul Gandhi case, belongs to the Modhvanik community of Surat, as does Hasmukh Lalwala, who was Purnesh Modi’s lawyer earlier, and Kirit Panwala, counsel for Rahul.Members of the Modhvanik clan worship Modheshwari Mata, whose temple is near the Modhera Sun Temple in Mehsana district. Prime Minister Modi visited the Modheshwari temple in October last year, ahead of the Assembly elections in Gujarat.According to Lalwala, there are around 10 lakh Modhvaniks in Gujarat. They live everywhere in the state, though mainly in North and South Gujarat.No, they don’t. In fact, there is no community or caste by the name “Modi” in the central list of OBCs for reservation in jobs and education.Entry no 23 in the central list of 104 communities of OBCs from Gujarat reads: “Ghanchi (Muslim), Teli, Modh Ghanchi, Teli-Sahu, Teli-Rathod, Teli-Rathore.” All these communities have traditionally engaged in activities related to the extraction and trade of edible oils.Members of these communities who live in Eastern Uttar Pradesh usually use the surname Gupta and often, Modi as well.In the 136 communities from Bihar listed in the central list of OBCs, there is no “Modi”, even though there is a “Teli” (entry no 53 in Bihar’s central list of OBCs). The most prominent BJP leader in Bihar, Sushil Kumar Modi, has filed a separate case of defamation against Rahul.In the list of 68 communities of Rajasthan in the central OBC list, there is “Teli” as the 51st entry, but there is no community listed as “Modi”.Some were in the central list of OBCs from the beginning — when the first central list of OBCs was notified in 1993 after the implementation of the ‘Mandal’ reservations.On October 27, 1999, the Muslim Ghanchi community was added to the central list of OBCs, along with some other similar communities from other states. Subsequently, by a notification dated April 4, 2000, other communities from Gujarat such as “Teli”, “Modh Ganchi”, “Teli Sahu”, “Teli Rathod”, and “Teli Rathore” were added to the central list of OBCs.Thus, the caste to which Prime Minister Modi belongs — Ghanchi — was included in the central list of OBCs almost 18 months before Modi first became Chief Minister of Gujarat (on October 7, 2001).As mentioned above, there are Modis in UP and Bihar.This surname is also widely used by Marwaris, who are from the stock of Agrawals, who are said to belong to Agroha in Hisar, Haryana, and subsequently spread to districts like Mahendragarh of Haryana and Jhunjhunu and Sikar of Rajasthan.The grandfather of former IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi, Rai Bahadur Gujar Mal Modi, moved from Mahendragarh to settle near Meerut, and the town was later renamed as Modinagar.The fugitive diamantaire Nirav Modi hails from Gujarat’s Jamnagar, from a community that has been traditionally engaged in the diamond trade.The former chairman of Tata Steel Russi Mody, and the stage and film personality Sohrab Modi, were Parsis from Bombay (Mumbai).
THE committee under Finance Secretary TV Somanathan, announced by Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman last week, to relook at pension may not recommend a solution where the gains made over two decades are reversed, The Indian Express has learnt.That’s the big-picture sense from conversations with officials who have to balance the imperatives of politics in a pre-poll year and a reform that has withstood the pressures of time — and partisanship.There are options.One, increase the government contribution to the pension corpus of its employees from the current 14 per cent to such a level that the employee can expect 50 per cent of her last drawn basic pay as pension upon retirement.Indeed, one of the models being looked at is the Andhra Pradesh government proposal which has a “guarantee” that employees will get 50 per cent of the last drawn salary as pension.Officials said the government may also explore ways to make good for the increase in payout (dearness relief announced twice every year increases the pension by a certain percentage taking care of the rise in living expenses) as it happens under the old pension scheme (OPS).The NDA lost elections in 2004, the year NPS was implemented. But the Congress carried it forward. After a decade, when NDA returned under Modi, it consolidated the gains. But in 2019, just before elections, NDA hiked government contribution. Now, a fresh review again just ahead of 2024 polls.Whatever the formula that’s worked out, one thing is clear.The committee and its mandate mark a sharp turnaround in the Modi government’s support of the new pension system (NPS) — where contributions are defined, and benefits market-linked — which came into effect in January 2004, just a few months before the Lok Sabha elections.“There was no question of any looking back when the BJP under the leadership of Narendra Modi returned to power. His political conviction in pension reforms and fiscal conservatism meant the NPS was there to stay,” said an official.And yet there was no escaping the politics.In fact, the BJP’s electoral loss in May 2004 may have nothing to do with pension reforms – the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government was convinced of the economic rationale behind the move. But the party’s 10-year loss of power, between 2004 and 2014, is a memory that still stalks North Block.This when, in 2009, BJP’s loss in the Lok Sabha elections had not deterred the Congress from staying the course on pension reforms. With Manmohan Singh at the helm, and P Chidambaram as Finance Minister, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance government earnestly implemented the NPS, exhorted states to follow suit, and also introduced a Bill to develop and regulate the pension sector. This was one of the many reforms that earned bipartisan support.There were four good reasons the government reformed the pension sector at the time it did: i) with increasing life spans, pension bills were ballooning, putting to risk future finances of the Centre and states, ii) a safety net for a very small percentage of workforce was being funded ironically by even the poor taxpayer, iii) inter-generational equity – the next generation footing the bill for the previous – presented a difficult-to-ignore moral hazard, and iv) India was at the cusp of a 50-year demographic dividend opportunity beginning 2005-05 with the best working age population ratio (workers or those in the 15-64 age group age/ dependents or those under 15 plus 65 and over).However, after the first five years in power, the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre did not take any chances. Just before Lok Sabha elections in 2019, it increased the employer’s contribution to NPS to 14 per cent of the employee’s basic pay every month from 10 per cent earlier; the employee continued to contribute only 10 per cent of her basic pay.The timing was not lost on those keeping a tab on BJP’s economic thinking; this came into effect from April 1, 2019.Now with just a year to go for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the BJP is acutely aware of an altered economic and social landscape. The straws in the wind have been there for the past couple of years.Low growth that precedes the pandemic, job and income losses during Covid-19, stretched financial resources of people due to medical expenditure, and high inflation – which works like a painful tax on the poor, have highlighted the inadequacy of safety nets for a bulk of the country’s people. The political class cannot be blind to this. To discount the giveaways in recent Budgets by even fiscally prudent states like Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra as an election freebie will be drawing a wrong message.It is in this backdrop that government employees are demanding a return of the old pension scheme. At least five states (Congress-ruled Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Himachal Pradesh, JMM-led Jharkhand, and Aam Aadmi Party-led Punjab) have done so, having already notified the old pension scheme.The Congress win of the Assembly elections in Himachal, which most attribute to its promise to bring back OPS, has made the BJP leadership anxious. In Maharashtra, protests by state government employees prompted the Eknath Shinde government, whose finance minister is BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis, to set up a committee and address the NPS shortcomings. Some national employee unions continue to protest too, giving calls for rallies demanding restoration of OPS.Then, there is the insider bias. A section of senior IAS bureaucrats – who have the political executive’s ear – feel their juniors who joined service after January 1, 2004, can’t be left to the “mercy” of markets while seniors retire with the assurance of a continuously rising pension kitty.This conversation on NPS has been in the top echelons of power for a while now. Not that the Prime Minister is not aware of these noises around him. But if his preference for fiscal prudence is an indication, he will be happy only with a solution that doesn’t put the future of state finances in jeopardy.
Union Minister Smriti Irani on Tuesday came down heavily on Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi over some controversial remarks about her made by Youth Congress President BC Srinivas during a recent event organised by the Congress.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskaar Sonia Gandhi ke hain, bas zuban Yuva Congress ki hai (The words are Rahul Gandhi’s, the values are Sonia Gandhi’s, only the mouth belongs to Youth Congress),” she said.“Shabd Rahul Gandhi ke hain, sanskar Sonia Gandhi ka hain bas zubaan Yuva Congress ki hain” says Union Minister Smriti Irani on the reported “gungi-behri” remark on her by the President of Indian Youth Congress Srinivas BV pic.twitter.com/AIX1CLXfaB— ANI (@ANI) March 28, 2023“I am saying this because he’s not the first Youth Congress chief who is making indecent comments… Jab tak ye do hain, tab tak Congress ka neta jo promotion chaahega, woh is praakar ki abhadra tippiniya karta rahega (Till the time these two are here, any Congress politician who wants a promotion will continue making such indecent comments),” Irani added.The remarks in question were made at the Congress’ ‘Sankalp Satyagraha’ on Sunday (March 26). In a purported video clip of the speech, he can be heard saying in Hindi, “The BJP means inflation. These same people in 2014 used to say that there is inflation witch which has been made to sit… Smriti Irani has become a little mute and deaf. That witch (Daayan)… Inflation witch (Mehengaai Daayan) has been made a darling and made to sit in the bedroom.”Congress has become a cesspool of misogyny , hatred for women especially if she comes from a humble background & defeats an entitled dynastFirst abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women!Time & again, Congress has abused those… pic.twitter.com/8KwU01a9tH— Shehzad Jai Hind (@Shehzad_Ind) March 27, 2023The BJP has come out strongly to attack Srinivas over the clip. Party spokesperson said that Congress has become a “cesspool of misogyny”.“First abuse OBC, then courts, then throw papers at Speaker; abuse journalists now abuse women! Time & again, Congress has abused those who have risen up to the top by strength of their hard work – they called Rashtrapati as Rashtrapatni; they said Draupadi ji has evil mindset; they abused even the mother of PM; they chanted ‘Modi ki Kabr’ khudegi. The words are from BV Srinivas but the soch (thought) is of Rahul Gandhi. Will Priyanka & Sonia ji take action on him? Is this ‘Ladki hoon lad sakti hoon’ or a party of such disgusting misogynists?” he tweeted.Meanwhile, the Youth Congress has reacted strongly to the charges, claiming BJP leaders were sharing a doctored video of he speech made by Srinivas to tarnish his and the party’s image. “It is nothing but a disinformation and fake news campaign initiated by BJP supporters and office bearers,” it said in a statement.
The first session of the newly elected Meghalaya Assembly is set to conclude on Tuesday without a consensus among the non-treasury benches on who will assume the role of the Leader of Opposition.This deadlock is a result of the Congress and the Trinamool Congress (TMC), the two largest Opposition parties, insisting on the position. Both parties, with five legislators each, have written to Speaker Thomas A Sangma to put forward their claims.The recently concluded Assembly elections threw up a fractured mandate but the National People’s Party (NPP) led by Conrad Sangma emerged as the single-largest party with 26 seats in the 60-member House.After a few days of uncertainty, the NPP formed the government by stitching up a coalition with the BJP and several other regional parties, including the United Democratic Party (UDP), which was the second-largest party with 11 seats.Andrew Simons, the commissioner and secretary of the Meghalaya Assembly, said the final decision rests with the Speaker. “Since both sides have claimed, it will be taken up soon,” he said. Simons said that since the two parties had the same numbers, factors such as seniority would be considered by the Speaker before making a final call.The other alternative is for the parties to come to an understanding with each other and make an arrangement. However, both the TMC and the Congress are, for now, refusing to relent.Congress Legislature Party leader Ronnie Lyngdoh said, “At the national level we are not together with them. If they reach out to us, we can approach the high command, but they haven’t.”Meghalaya TMC vice-president James Lyngdoh also put the ball in the court of his party’s high command. “Our president has already written to the Speaker. We will discuss with the party leaders.”The other Opposition party is the newly formed Voice of the People’s Party that has four seats. The regional outfit has said it will not align with either the Congress or the TMC as it wants to be “independent”.
India’s political system is veering towards a full-blown tyranny. The targeting of Opposition leaders leading to the farcical disqualification of Rahul Gandhi, the hounding of civil society and research organisations, censorship of information, the suppression of protest, are harbingers of a full-blown system of rule where all the interlocking parts add up to the one objective of tyrannical rule: To create pervasive fear.These actions are alarming, not because this or that leader has been targeted. They are alarming because the current BJP government is signaling not just that it will not tolerate the Opposition. It will not, under any circumstances, even contemplate or allow a smooth transition of power. For, what these actions reveal is a ruthless lust for power, combined with a determination to use any means to secure it. Neither the form of power the BJP seeks, nor the ends they deploy to achieve it, knows any constraints or bounds. That is the quintessential hallmark of tyranny.In a democracy, a smooth transition of power in a fair election requires several conditions. The ruthless crushing of the Opposition and the squelching of liberty erodes these conditions. The first is that professional politicians treat each other as members of the same profession, not as existential enemies to be vanquished by any means. Once a regime does that to its opponents, it fears the consequences of losing power. It can no longer rest in the comfortable belief that democracy is a game of rotating power; transitions should be routine. Can you now imagine Prime Minister Narendra Modi or Amit Shah or their minions calmly contemplating the prospect that they could ever be in the Opposition, after the hubris they have deployed against opponents and critics? The hallmark of tyrants is impunity in power and therefore an existential fear of losing it.The issue is not whether the government is popular. It may well be. Tyranny can be a stepchild of democracy, as Plato knew so well. The insatiable show and assertion of power the BJP is engaged in traps them in a logic where they will seek to create the conditions in which a fair and open contest is no longer possible. Their institutional imagination is paranoid — desperately trying to shut out even the slightest opening from which light might appear. What else but a paranoid system would target small think tanks or civil society organisations that do social service? What else but a paranoid system would appear to politically orchestrate a disqualification of an Opposition MP?And this same paranoia will make the prospect of even risking a fair electoral contest from now on a non-starter. Paranoia is the seed of all repression and we are now seeing it in full measure.Political parties that situate themselves as unique vanguards of a majoritarian national identity find it difficult to relinquish power. In normal politics there are many sides to an argument, and we can all pretend that different sides are acting in good faith even when we disagree. But when the ideological project is singularly communal and wears the garb of nationalism, every dissent is treated as treason. Ideological parties like the BJP will play by the electoral rules when they are not in a position to wield power, or when they feel electorally secure. But once this regime is entrenched, it will think it is its historical destiny to act as a kind of nationalist vanguard, no matter what the circumstances.In its own imagination, this nationalism will justify everything: From playing footloose with the law to outright violence. It has institutionalised vigilantism, violence and hate into the fabric of politics and the state. But this culture is not just difficult to dismantle. It is also part of a preparation to exercise other options in case a purely political hold on power is no longer possible. Parties that have institutionalised structures of violence are less likely to give up power unless they are massively repudiated.But the logic of tyranny goes further. Increasingly, the issue is not just the weaknesses of the Opposition parties. Even in the wake of this disqualification, Congress’s political reflexes, the willingness of its members to risk anything, and its ability to mobilise street power, is seriously in doubt. Opposition unity is still a chimera, more performative at the moment than real.But has the psychology of tyranny now been internalised by enough Indians to make resistance more difficult? India still has the potential for protest on many issues. But what is increasingly in doubt is whether India wishes to resist deepening authoritarianism.To take one example, India’s elites, broadly understood, have gone well past the quotidian fear of those in power. This kind of fear often expresses itself in a gap between public utterances and private beliefs. But what is happening is something far more insidious, where a combination of fear or outright support for government is so deeply internalised that even private demurring from blatantly authoritarian and communal actions has become rare. Ask any victim, who has been the object of the state’s wrath, whether they are at the receiving end of horrendous violence, or targets of administrative or legal harassment. Even the private shows of support will disappear as swiftly as the state intervenes. This suggests either a deep-seated cowardice or a normalisation of authoritarianism.The hallmark of a successful tyranny is to induce a sense of unreality in those who support it. This sense of unreality means no disconfirming evidence can dent their support for the regime. In this world, India has little unemployment, its institutions are fine, it has ascended to the glorious heights of world leadership, it has not ceded any territory to China, and there is no concentration of capital or regulatory capture. But the unreality centres mostly on the lynchpin of this system of tyranny, the prime minister. In his hands, repression becomes an act of purification, his hubris a mark of his ambition, his decimation of institutions a national service.Institutionally and psychologically, we are already inhabiting a tyranny, even if its violence is not in your face. A regime that is paranoid and full of impunity will overreach. But what is the threshold of overreach? The threshold seems to be shifting higher and higher. Communalism was unleashed. No reaction. The information order collapsed. No reaction. The judicial heart stopped beating. No reaction. The Opposition is being vanquished by unfair means. No reaction. Such is the logic of tyranny that the ogres of oppression roam free, while we look on indifferently as justice and freedom are tied in chains.