Open Letter From Mani Shankar Aiyar To Swapan Dasgupta

Published: July 05, 2017 12:33 IST
Dear Swapan,

Come off it, mate! You are just as much a victim of "rootless cosmopolitanism" as I am (your phrase from your infamous comment on human slaughter in the name of the cow in The Sunday Times of India . Else, why would you devote an entire column, as you once did, to decrying the quality of creme brulee in the Bengal Club? Your new-found saffron friends would not even know what you were talking about, let alone spell it correctly. Some years ago, I called you a "Hampstead Hindu". That is what you are and will always remain. There are surely better causes to which you should be devoting your sparkling talents (in the Queen's English, for your Hindi is risible - but don't let the RSS lot know that!) than becoming an apologist for murder.

You justify the spate of lynching we have been witnessing since the brutal killing of Mohammad Akhlaque two years ago by claiming, "There is a streak of underlying violence in India's public culture", adding, "India remains a violent place". Shhh! Don't let Modi hear that for he told his Sabarmati audience on 29 June, "We are a land of non-violence"! You could lose your Rajya Sabha seat for such insubordination.

Indeed, Modi went on to say, "We are the land of Mahatma Gandhi", adding, "No one spoke about protecting cows more than the Mahatma." And since it is you (not he) who holds several degrees in history from St. Stephen's and Oxford, perhaps you should gently lead Modi to a discreet corner and remind him that what Gandhi-ji actually had to say about banning cow slaughter on 25 July, 1947, days before we became independent, as recorded in indirect speech by the indefatigable DG Tendulkar in his masterly day-by-day rendering of Mahatma Gandhi's pronouncements on matters of grave importance, is this : "The Hindu religion prohibited cow slaughter for the Hindus, not for the world. The religious prohibition came from within. Any imposition from without meant compulsion. Such compulsion was repugnant to religion." Should Modi not have been quoting this to a gathering of gau rakshaks and not polluting the sacred precincts of Sabarmati Ashram by misrepresenting Gandhi?

You go on to say these deplorable acts of lynching that have gone on unabated since Mohammad Akhlaque was assassinated by a mob instigated by BJP supporters two years ago point to "weaknesses in state institutions and the shortcomings of our civic culture" - but not apparently to the political culture being fostered by the Cult of Modi. Yes, we have known violence in our society, as there is in every country of the world. But this successive series of Murder in the name of the Cow is a three-year old phenomenon brought about by religious fanaticism as explained by Uma Bharti in an interview she gave after Modi's 2014 victory: "RSS ideology flows through every vein of Narendra-bhai Modi. He is the very embodiment of its ideals, the best vehicle to translate its vision into reality." Quite.

This RSS take-over is symbolized by men like Modi's Presidential candidate who is on record as saying Islam and Christianity are not part of Indian culture and Yogi Adityanath  adding that the Taj Mahal has nothing to do with "Bharatiya sanskriti", as he delicately puts it. His Hindu Yuva Vahini chants: "Gorakhpur mein rehna hai toh/ Yogi, Yogi kehna hai". Is this not a direct invitation to fascist violence? Is this not "crude, neo-literate, insular" - which is how you believe we gentle souls on the other side of the political divide regard cow vigilantism. How would you describe it? Ah, we know, as "a popular culture centred on Hindu symbolism". Gandhi would be revolted at this traducing of a great spiritual and civilizational heritage.

Your celebration (what else is it?) of this senseless violence is based on the curious notion that "the ban on cow slaughter has become non-negotiable" Oh, really? Then why is cow slaughter rampant not only in non-BJP Kerala, but also in Arunachal Pradesh (under BJP rule) - and even in Goa under - guess who? - Manohar Parrikar, Modi's erstwhile Raksha Mantri. What of Mizoram and Meghalaya, not to mention Nagaland, where beef is the Naga equivalent of your mainland daal-chawal? And do you know that the first state in India to ban cow slaughter was Muslim-majority Jammu & Kashmir? Of course you do - but dare not say so for fear of being declared an apostate!

Oh, what a fall there has been, my countrymen. For Swapan Dasgupta, yesterday's crusader for every liberal cause (you even stood up for Salman Rushdie's Right to Blasphemy although Rushdie gratuitously chose to give four prostitutes in his book the same names as the Prophet's wives), is today's upholder of "the prohibition on beef" because this "carries a large measure of social sanction". "Social sanction" is another word for authoritarian majoritarianism. In a society as diverse as ours, it is precisely when "society" persecutes the dissenting individual that liberal democratic values protect the individual's fundamental rights.

Modi proclaims at Sabarmati, "Let us create an India our freedom fighters would be proud of". Of course, begging Modi's pardon, his forerunners were no part of the freedom movement. Where Gandhi, in the pronouncement quoted above, ended by emphasizing that cow slaughter could not be universally banned because "India was not only the land of the Hindus" but "belonged to all who claimed to be of India and were loyal to the India Union" - carefully enumerating in this regard the "Mussalmans, the Sikhs, the Parsis, the Christians and the Jews" - Modi's mentor, Golwalkar, fulminated, as Malini Chatterjee reminds us in The Telegraph, "The concept of territorial nationalism has verily emasculated our nation", declaring such inclusive nationalism as "unnatural, unscientific and lifeless". You have doubtless heard the saying from the Bible (that Modi probably has not, seeing as how it is from the Bible): "The Devil can quote from the Scripture". (Actually, the quote is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice as Swapan, being the Macaulay ki aulad that we both are, has quite rightly divined).

You justify Modi by describing lynching as "an ugly phenomenon that invited harsh comments by Modi". You are too much a scholar of history to not know that when Gandhi-ji was faced with communal madness, not only in Noakhali and Bihar, but on the eve of Independence in Calcutta (Kolkata), he did not limit himself to "harsh comments". He jumped into the fray. His action on the ground earned him the accolade of being described as a "One Man Boundary Force". He walked among the rioters to becalm them, and went on a fast to mark Independence Day that almost took him to his death to bring his people - Hindu and Muslim - to their senses. Nehru famously rushed into a murderous mob, flaying them with a stick, to keep them from killing each other. That, not "harsh comments", is the real way to keep the peace when the police fail their duty.

Modi resorts to the occasional "harsh" comment before rushing off to hug one beef-eater or the other around the world. His words have proved impotent in the past because there is no action to suit his words. This hypocrisy is what makes his "harsh comments" meaningless sounds. It is not we "sanctimonious liberals" with "organic links with the Congress", as you have described us in your parallel article in The Pioneer, but the fact that there is no "middle ground" between murder most foul and the "categorically fascist" forces that took us to Jantar Mantar. As Malini has so succinctly put it, the "cultural nationalism" of the RSS is the stark opposite of the "civic nationalism" enjoined on us by the Constitution.

And, Swapan, you really are at your worst and weakest when you pick up the most meaningless argument from your cohort that "Not In My Name" was a crass example of "selective indignation" because it had nothing to say about the lynching of a Muslim policeman by a Muslim mob in Srinagar. First off, the campaign actually did condemn the lynching of the police officer, Ayub; there was no "studied silence" as you quite wrongly claimed. Unlike you, I was there, among the "thousand or so individuals - educated, articulate, aware and well-off" - as well as "shocked, indignant and apprehensive for the nation's future" (as you failed to add). I stayed in the pouring rain, soaked to the skin but moved to tears by the dramatic denunciation by Maya Rao in Hindi, English, and Urdu, through dance and mime and declamation, of the horrors that we as a nation have witnessed. She was preceded by other artistes pouring out their anguish in Punjabi and other regional languages. We were not an Anglicized, westernized crowd. I was there in my usual kurta-pyjama. You were not, in your usual slacks and shirt. There were no political personalities on the stage. It was not, as you seem to imagine from your armchair - for you were emphatically not a witness to "Not In My Name" at Jantar Mantar, although you had worn a VHP scarf and, muttering "Jai Shri Ram", wandered among the goons breaking the domes of the Babri Masjid on Black Sunday, 6 December, 1992 - it was not "social disdain for Modi and the 'Hindu' trappings of the BJP" but disgust at these killings, consciously promoted by your crowd as the vocabulary of a new politics in what used to be our democracy, that brought us together that memorable evening.

We will continue to live in the "Left-Liberal ecosystem"- what a penchant you have for fine words - until we have driven you and your ilk out of the accidental perch of power from which, with under a third of the popular vote, you are ordering, supervising and monitoring the demise of every civilizational value that you, Swapan, used to stand for.

Yours in "emotional treachery",

(Mani Shankar Aiyar is former Congress MP, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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