Monday, October 2, 2023

GANDHI: AN ICON OF PEACE & YET AN OBJECT OF HATE?

GNADHI: AN ICON  OR A SUPER SOUL?

   In recent centuries, no other man, or woman, has influenced human consciousness as profoundly as an English educated Indian Barrister - Mohan Das Karam Chand Gandhi - turned Mahatma or messiah. The title Mahatma given to Gandhi ji by eminent poet, intellectual and Nobel laureate Rabindra Nath Thakur stuck as forename of the man who was later hailed as father of the Indian nation. 

    Gandhi Jayanti or birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, popularly referred as Bapu, has always been a very special day in history of independent India. Mahatma Gandhi has been acknowledged and respected by last few generations of Indians and others as an apostle of peace, an icon of truth, a practitioner of non-violence, a proponent of universal justice, and an advocate of compassion towards all living beings. 

    Still, he was not perfect. Many have always questioned him; some had even defied him. But, of late, few have charged Mahatma with malice. Social media of 2023 is full of hate towards a man who was once loved, adored and respected by generations of Indians and non-Indians in a way that no other man has ever been in recent history of human race. 

    Gandhi himself never claimed to be an embodiment of absolute perfection and infallibility.  

    He is believed to have always reminded people around him of his own follies. Despite receiving huge adulation during his life-time, Mahatam Gandhi never lost his psychological balance to behave like an incarnation of divinity. 

        No human can ever be absolutely perfect and infallible. Even the most brilliant scientists can't create an absolutely perfect artificially intelligent robot. Hence, expectation of perfection itself is flawed.

    It particularly sounds like a cruel joke when it comes from those who themselves appear morally, ethically and intellectually challenged and spiritually disabled.  

   It is true that Mahatma Gandhi's legacy was hijacked and usurped by people who had no respect for Gandhian principles.  In retrospect, inheritors of his legacy, who were not his biological progenies, were psychologically weak and insecure. They fiddled with democracy and discarded integrity to survive in power.

    Consequently, Mahatma, that Gandhi was, has been attributed with sins that he may never have imagined.  

 GANDHI: AN UNAPARLLELED MASS MOBILISER 

     The generation that had seen Bapu in blood and flesh and had experienced the phenomenon named Mahatma is almost gone. Hence, what we hear, read and understand about Gandhi depends upon who says and writes and with what intent. It also depends upon orientation and capacity of the listener or reader to interpret the same.  

    Probably, the larger social and political context of India itself has undergone such drastic transformation that it would require enormous cerebral energy to even attempt understanding Gandhi and draw right lessons from his life and ideals. 

    To be fair to Mahatma, despite all his flaws and imperfections, he remains peer-less as mass-mobiliser of recent centuries.  He was able to rally nearly one fifth of humanity against the most oppressive, unethical and formidable imperial power in whose domain sun never set. His example inspired not only his own followers, but many a times overwhelmed even his opponents. 

We live in an era, where people all across the world are scared to stand up for truth and justice or utter a word even against their own elected Governments in relatively open societies. Many dread the prospect of foregoing even minor comforts of life.

    His idea of Satyagraha -embodying truth, non-violence, courage and compassion - emerged as the most powerful political weapon of democratic politics. His principles and vision entailed universal and comprehensive well-being of entire humanity and malice towards none. No politician of mass leader had imagined and espoused something like this, which could unify entire human race. 

    Gandhi's ideals of peace and justice gave a big fillip to the very idea of decolonization and democratization. His impact on Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was more than visible, even though he himself did not contribute to the same.   

    Without Gandhi, world may not have experienced the phenomenon of either Martin Luther King, and his racial equality movement, or that of Mandela and his anti-apartheid movement. It is doubtful that without Martin Luther, an Obama could have reached anywhere close to US Presidency or without sacrifices of Mandela, abolition of apartheid was possible.  

  Whether peaceful movement helped India win independence or the British left India out of fear of Subhash Chandra Bose, and his impact on British Indian soldiers, is irrelevant discourse at this juncture. Of course, Azad Hind Fauz and Subhash Bose left a strong impact and generated fear in minds of the British. But Bose, despite all his defiance to Gandhi, had remained respectful towards the latter. Without a unifying mass movement that Gandhi ji spearheaded in a diverse and divided India, Bose or so many other freedom fighters may not have reached the stature or generated the impact for which they are known. 

GANDHI: A SOCIAL TRANSFORMER? 

    It is logical to contend that Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals helped relatively peaceful transition of post-colonial India towards a stable and relatively humanist democracy. We need to cover a lot of distance to build a society that Gandhi had envisioned. But still there is no other example in human history where such a diverse, plural and huge country, with such formidable challenges, has not only held together, defying predictions of naysayers, but emerged as one of the key stakeholders of the global order while staying an open society. 

    Ideals of Gandhi ji had a role in this. But Gandhi ji had also acted as a big unifying force, of course with some imperfections, shortfalls and failures. He did it both during his lifetime and even after his death.

     Most of the first-generation leaders of independent India were proteges of Gandhi ji. They could curb their personal aspirations for the sake of national good to a great extent.  It is true that Gandhi ji could not persuade a large section of Muslim leaders led by Jinnah. But it must be kept in mind that a significant section of Muslim leaders too remained equally committed to Gandhi ji and his ideals of peace, non-violence and universal fraternity among mankind.  

    Had India attained freedom through an armed revolution, or even a military campaign, we may have struggled to build not only a democracy but even political stability or unity. India has suffered in the past on account of hordes and hordes of invaders and even local oppressors.  Strategic myopia of domestic rulers and social decay and generation had built its own momentum. But yet resilience of its values and ethos were manifest in its spirit of defiance, regeneration and resurrection. Violence and coercion on their own are insufficient towards building a trust-based political order that we associate with open, transparent and stable states and societies.   

    French revolution of 1789 was probably the biggest landmark of its kind that fueled the idea of democracy in Europe. There is no bigger example of violent mass resistance to exploitative oppression and coercion by rulers. It had brought almost entire French masses together in fight for a just and fairer society and inspired nearly rest of the mankind. For the first time in recorded human history, it had reminded rulers of limitations of their power. 

    But what followed, in the immediate aftermath of revolution, was the worst possible orgy of violence in form of 'reign of terror". Luckily, rise of Napoleon and his military exploits helped the French stay cohesive for a while. But it took more than a century for France and Europe to transition towards mass democracy, enduring multiple convulsions like 1848 revolutions.  

        Africa, yet another home of Gandhi, where he had perfected "satyagraha" and "non-violent resistance" as political weapons, witnessed far too much of conflict and violence following decolonization. Yet, from Mandela to Desmond Tutu, to a host of idealist leaders, claimed to have drawn inspiration from Gandhi. White races had remained reluctant, for a long time, to relent their grip on resource rich states of the region and induced innumerable domestic squabbles and conflicts. But Gandhian ideals have helped fuel voices for truth and justice. British newspaper -The Guardian - had filed a report a few years back in which it had quoted many African leaders who described Gandhi as their spiritual grandfather. Hence, Mahatma Gandhi remains a powerful symbol of truth and justice even now.   

    It is true that violent partition of the country that accompanied independence, marked a big failure of Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals of truth and non-violence. A receding imperial force unleashed some of the dirtiest principles of covert mass warfare against Indian people and Indian civilisation. It ignited medieval Arab and West Asian identity-based xenophobia and hatred by Muslims against Hindus to script one of the worst man-made carnages, genocides and mass rapes in human history. 

    It created a monster way bigger than any Frankenstein that human mind could conceptualize in the form of Pakistan. Principal collaborator of the British designs in this direction was not an Arab or Turkic Muslim. It was a malignant lot of converts from Hinduism and Sanatan only - like Jinnah- who unleashed mass murders against followers of faith of their own ancestors.  

GANDHI'S SOFTNESS TOWARDS MUSLIMS: AN OUTCOME HUMANIST IDEALS 

    Gandhi's repeated gestures of protecting or even favouring Muslims had no malice. Gandhi never favaoured his own biological children. How do we expect him to act like a parochial Hindu? 

    Gandhi always indulged in practices that involved sacrifices on part of those who were closer to him. This is not considered fare in our era and time. But that was the era, where most respected elders of joint families often promoted their nephews and nieces at the cost of their own biological children.  

    This was a flawed notion. But it was probably necessary for protecting extended families in the prevailing values of that time. This was considered test of benevolence of family heads, who often made such sacrifices to keep their extended families together. 

    We have become wiser with passage of time. Families have become smaller and we acknowledge value of every life. We have evolved. We realise that such measures for fostering artificial cohesion was neither fair nor sustainable. 

    Fairness and equity are more important than appeasement and unfair concessions for keeping families and communities together. Because, there may not be a limit to sacrifice for a few. Simultaneously, no amounts of concessions, privileges and entitlement can satisfy people addicted to these. Besides, this is the surest route to cripple a society, nation and family and make them seriously vulnerable in a competitive world.    

      There is no doubt that India needs firm rule of law and Indian secularism must not be equated with tolerance to Islamic radicalism. We need to find a mutually empowering equilibrium between Sanatan and Islamic values, beliefs and practice systems for a stronger India. A lot of scientific research on anatomy of human mind, human behaviour and evolutionary course of cultures is required alongside actions with integrity to reconcile these. Our Muslim friends must be persuaded that cannot go back to past and Hindu majority should be convinced that all Muslims are not terrorists and radicals. Islamic concept of Iztema may be useful in persuading or even forcing changes in obscurantist forces of Islam and Hindus too need a scientific reconstruction of their beliefs and practice systems.  

    A society that squabbles on follies or failures of the past, instead of learning lessons from the same, digs a hole for itself. Statesmanship is not about exploiting these fissures but about finding ways to building cohesion among societies and states in pursuit of comprehensive excellence.    

     GANDHI: NOT A FUZZY UTOPIAN BUT A ROBUST THINKER

    Mahatma Gandhi was not merely communicating through symbols and actions or simply mobilising masses. He has been acknowledged as a profound thinker and philosopher as well. His world view may appear simple and idealist. But it was based on robust intellect. Given normal human vulnerabilities to lies, deception and selfishness, most may find it too utopian. But these definitely constitute the bedrock of an ideal society.   

    Gandhi's truth, as popularly known, was not a weapon of the weak or timid. His truth required enormous courage and self-belief. Gandhi's ideal of non-violence was not the choice of a helpless timid. It required exceptional psychological strength not to get provoked. This remains relevant for all real and aspiring leaders at any level. 

    But somehow, one feels that his message of non-violence has been badly interpreted. There are many sources that suggest that Gandhi ji is believed to have told that when it came to prevent certain types of violence, especially from rapists and molesters who harm dignity and safety of women, even murder was justified.  He had maintained that violence was preferable over cowardice and in certain contexts violence may become necessary. But still he never faced such extreme and exceptional situation himself and hence it could never be tested.   

    Hence, Gandhian concept of non-violence is neither absolute nor a rigid ritual. 

    One also has to appreciate that Gandhi was a social reformer and not a Military General or a statesman wielding state authority. He never considered anyone as his enemy. He had repeatedly asserted this. To reach a psychological stage where you don't find even your worst detractors or haters as your enemy is simply super-human.

    Gandhi's ideal of trusteeship of public property pushes him closer to socialist ideals. But at the same time, it appears more in tune with ideals of both a healthy social order and even what we describe the most contemporary principles of corporate governance or corporate probity. 

    Only a great society, driven by the highest principles and practices of national or civilisational security has wisdom to invest in quality of human resource. From physical health of people to their education, skills and values as well as ability to harness human energy to both material and moral strength constitutes the bedrock of national security. Gandhi's emphasis on character building, besides cognitive and technical skills, could probably be a game changer. Education is not about memorising information. Education can be real tool only if it empowers people to do what is right for society as a whole or to stand up against what is bad for society.    

    Integrity and truthfulness remain eternally relevant for any great society. Without empathy, altruism and kindness we can never ever have social trust or social cohesion or even a healthy family or community. Violence begets violence. Gandhian philosophy of countering violence through non-violence was not about surrender of a meek with humiliation. What he said may have been relevant in a lawless society where he was seeking a wider transformation. But countering violence from a position of psychological strength and self-belief and not anger or revenge appears a stronger option. 

    Gandhi ji may not have had access to knowledge about working of human brain or role of genes, environment and social practices on human behaviour. We are far more aware today on these issues. But Gandhi ji's contribution did push us in direction of trust-based social order where all could thrive better. 

DOWNSIDE OF GANDHI

    Mahatma Gandhi was one of the greatest among the great. He was looking at world from his own unique vantage point. He was trapped in his own context and may be his own priorities. Hence, he too appears to have faltered. But these were  on far too fewer occasions and issues compared to most mass leaders. 

    Gandhi ji definitely does not appear fair to Subhash Chandra Bose. He may have sensed a penchant for a militant armed struggle in Bose. Hence, he wanted to keep Bose away from Congress. But as Mahatma and father figure, he was expected to stay fair and impartial. During Haripura Session of Congress in 1938 when Pattabhi Sita Ramaiah challenged Subhash Bose, Gandhi ji should have stayed neutral. His decision to throw his plight with Pattabhi  projects him in poor light. 

    The Charisma that Subhas Bose enjoyed, especially among youth of his time, was much bigger. Bose won the election but still Gandhi ji made it so difficult for Bose that the latter had to quit Congress and explore independence of India through different means. 

    Gandhi ji also kept quiet on judicial murder by the British of the most romanticist revolutionary and hero named Bhagat Singh. This lapse of Gandhi ji appears unpardonable for most Indians. There cannot be a more romantic ideal image of an innocent young man who decides to happily give up his life for the same cause for which Gandhi ji was spearheading mass movements. Gandhi ji's silence remains baffling and dents his saintly image. 

    This was especially after disclosure that Bhagat Singh was not involved in any murder and the bomb that he had thrown in the Assembly was only for drawing attention to important issues like passage of a draconian Public safety bill besides protests over Simon Commission, Govt inaction over Jallianwalla bagh massacre and killing of Lal Lajpat Rai by police. His actions had not killed or harmed anyone. Bhagat Singh became a more towering persona in death and left a profound impact in the process. 

    Gandhi ji is also seen as someone who made too many concessions to Islamist radicals and restrained and curbed Hindus far too much. From his indulgence with Khilafat to concessions to Jinnah and efforts to appease Muslims and tolerance to genocide by Muslims in Noakhali in East Pakistan and Kolkata in West Bengal to nearly whole of West Punjab and Sindh generated a sense of dejection and pain among large sections of Hindus and his followers. Many believe that Gandhi ji's decisions brought huge sufferings to Hindus and encouraged rabid Islamists with a sense of entitlement to slaughter Hindus and rape their women with impunity. 

    There is no doubt that Gandhi ji's presence gave a sense of security to Muslims in India. But he could not equally persuade Muslim masses either in India or Pakistan to refrain from violence. Even his comrades like Khan Gaffar Khan were largely rendered irrelevant in Muslim majority ideas of Pakistan.

        Alongside these, the most prominent politically family of India has been charged with usurping surname of Gandhi and virtually monopolized his legacy. Earlier also Gandhi ji was considered instrumental for overruling Congress party's internal decision to appoint Sardar Patel as Prime Minister of India and foist Pandit Nehru in his place. There may not have been any devious personal agenda in the same. But in retrospect, Gandhi ji also held responsible for all the ills identified with rule of this family and their associates.  

    Another issue that has invited controversy for Gandhi ji is his so-called experiments to test his own celibacy with much younger women, especially his grand nieces. This appears horrendous from our contemporary sensibilities. Whether Gandhi ji took consent from those young women are not is neither known nor relevant. But that was the era, when a great and even the most empathetic appears to have failed to show enough empathy. Yet we do not know the entire story but something of this nature whether correct or incorrect, remained wrapped up under the cover and none knew or spoke about these.  

  GANDHI: NOT PERFECT AND YET THE GREATEST MASS LEADER OF THE MILLLENNIUM 

     The extent to which Gandhi ji should be hailed as an icon of peace or treated as target fit to be vilified depends upon political orientation of individuals concerned. 

    But his ideals and practices do command a romantic appeal cutting across boundaries of state, civilization and culture.

    But Gandhi ji was a hardcore Indian and nationalist who was not liked by the West. Incidentally, the West never conferred Nobel Peace prize on Gandhi even though the same was given to his proteges like Martin Luther King and Mandela. One can say that Gandhi ji was disliked and distrusted by white colonial powers.  

    Gandhi ji lived in an era and what he contributed in the most selfless manner is exceptional and inspirational. We can neither reject Gandhi nor adopt his values universally. For an individual living in society, both means and ends need to be pure. But when it gets down to use of instruments by state for protection of entire the test of purity rests with their efficacy. 

    Gandhi is one of our greatest icons. He is probably most well-known too in recent times. But we have had far too many other icons too. We must not supplant Gandhi as the sole icon. Each of the icons from the earliest times have shaped and influenced our civilizational journey.  

     Gandhian principles must not be rituals. Whatever we do, we cannot be driven by anger or greed. If an Indian soldier kills a Chinese or Pakistani counterpart or a terrorist, it is a moral and otherwise duty. But after killing the enemy soldier or terrorists, Indians hand these over to family of deceased or perform their last rituals with dignity. Violence of a soldier or deception of a military leader or espionage master is a professional necessity, which too has to be performed without anger, hatred or greed. If a Gandhian state vanquishes the hell created by some criminal lackey of the white imperialists, it must be for ushering in civility and Gandhian society in that land. 

    Hence, without Kautilyan principles of Dharma or protective cover of  Kautilyan State, Gandhian principles can't survive. But without Mahatma Gandhi and his ideals, world and society would indeed be a dangerous and unsafe place for all. Hence, we must progress, howsoever incrementally, towards a Gandhian society protected by a Kautilyan state. 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

BBC AND HINDENBURG MUST BE IGNORED BUT INDIA NEEDS SERIOUS INTERNAL DISCOURSE & REFORMS

    Over the last two weeks, two incidents have dominated the discourse in Indian media. One concerns controversial BBC documentary indicting PM Modi of Gujrat riots of 2002. The second concerns Hindenburg report on an Indian tycoon whose wealth has meteorically risen over the last few years defying all logic.  

    Reaction in India’s political and media space has been on the expected lines. People have taken positions depending upon their political loyalties and personal preferences. Entire public domain resembles a psychological or propaganda warzone. 

Under these conditions, I am not sure how an attempt to place a sane perspective in public domain shall go down. 

    The timing of BBC documentary after two decades of a forgettable incident certainly arouses suspicion. It has reopened wounds that had healed over time. Given the track record of BBC, and certain forces in the Western world, especially those known for supporting Pak linked organised crime networks, it would be fair to suspect that the documentary is not driven by noble professional intentions. It has attempted to drive social and political wedge in India and undermine credibility of its institutions, including the apex court. But at the same time, I do not endorse panic bans. Ideally, our institutions and credibility should have been strong enough to prevent something like this. Simultaneously, a strong Supreme Court of India could have hauled up BBC to deter such psychological warfare.  

    While it will be disaster for political dissidents in India to seek solace in such malicious propaganda by a media institution whose sections have always been under influence of Islamic organised crime networks, it will not serve our interests if we ignore deficiencies in our own institutions. Ideally, the twin attacks must inspire our stakeholders to come together to address our deficiencies in this direction. However, it looks improbable at this stage.  

    Over the last few decades or since independence, India has been facing a pernicious psychological warfare from sections of Western media and even their state establishments. They have always sought to put India on the same pedestal, or at times even lower than, as the Pakistani state controlled by a notoriously criminal Army. The objective appears undermining and scuttling rise of a powerful democracy. This is not to say that we do not have strong pockets of support in these states. Unfortunately, most Western democracies themselves have been divided. It is influence of slush funds and lobbying as well as larger organised-crime networks on some of the Western democratic institutions that is worrying.   

    From the turn of 21st Century, there had been noticeable abatement of hostility from the Western states. This is largely due to protests in these states over increasing disclosures of Pakistani involvement in terrorism and organised crime in their territory in the wake of 9/11 attacks. However, the situation is far from satisfactory. Simultaneously, the world has increasingly witnessed a difference in the quality of Indian and Pakistani diaspora. The latter has dominated prisons and ranks of organised crime, whereas the former have been gainfully contributing almost everywhere to economic and technological empowerment of host nations.  

    Over the last many centuries, Islamic identity has been frequently abused not only by hardy marauders but even neo converts to Islam to unleash violence, terrorism, extortion and crime against so-called non-Muslims. Near complete exodus of non-Muslims from Kashmir or prior to that complete cleansing of Hindus and Sikhs from Pakistan have been cited as examples of violent parochialism inbuilt in Islamic practices on the subcontinent. These have been backed by pernicious propaganda to paint Hindus negatively all over the world. Indian state remained a moot spectator not only to what has continued to happen against non-Muslims in Pakistan but also in most Muslim majority areas of independent India.

    It was extension of same tendency when 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned alive in a train in Godhra on Feb 27, 2002 without any provocation. The perpetrators had the audacity to do so even in an overwhelmingly Hindu majority state where a Hindu nationalist Government was in power. It would be insane to claim that the Government of the day had colluded in a pre-planned gruesome killing of these train passengers, as state police had failed to detect and prevent. 

    This was not an isolated incident. Terror attacks from Mumbai (1993) and Surat (1993), besides violence in the Kasmir Valley (since late 1980s), had built a momentum of their own. A strong clandestine infrastructure of Islamist terrorism and organised crime networks had come up in different countries as well as in different parts of India, including the economically important and peaceful state of Gujrat. Innocent civilians were regularly killed in such attacks.  It is no surprise that India had remained the second most impacted state by terrorism as per Global Terrorism index (GTI) since 2001. 

    The Godhra train carnage had outraged people in the state. Tempers were running high as Indian state had appeared incapable of protecting Hindus from violence in name of Islam. Ideally, the Indian state should have acted promptly and arrested all the culprits involved in this mass murder and launched a massive hunt for such Islamic terrorism and crime networks in the state and beyond. Probably our institutions were not strong enough to do so. 

    The media reports stated that the then Gujrat Government had sought reinforcement of security forces from neighbouring states and Government of India. Bureaucratic procedures and political considerations appear to have delayed the process. These gave opportunity to malignant sections of society to take law into their own hands. Whatever happened was a shameful chapter in history of India. It was one of the rare episodes in independent India where spontaneous gangs of thugs came up killing scores of innocent people. But it would be unfair to assume that Muslims alone were killed in this so-called retaliatory violence. Against 790 Muslim killed, 254 Hindus were also killed. However, none of the Western or even secular media at home have ever highlighted this fact. Would 250+ Hindus have been killed if the entire state machinery was partisan and 90%  Hindu population of the state were communal? 

    The rampaging mobs did not spare even some of the high-profile privileged Muslim families who had traditionally enjoyed wider respect and influence in their localities. This was reminiscent of attack on wealthy Hindus in West and East Pakistan before partition. But the scale was much lower. Such failure of police institutions drew immense flak from all concerned including their Hindu friends and civil society groups. There were some gruesome attacks that could have been easily avoided and social cohesion could have been protected. Despite such allegedly state-backed violence against Muslims, vigilante and criminal groups were also able to do the same thing in name of their Muslim identity against Hindu families right under the nose of a "biased" police institution. Efforts were made to use these episodes for political gains. In the process, the larger failure of the state and even pain of ordinary masses - both Muslims and Hindus - never received due attention.

Another unfortunate part of 2002 episode was emergence of a few criminals and rioters as mass heroes and saviours of people. Some of them have joined politics even though a large number of them were indicted and sentenced.  But on a positive side, a large number of Muslims have also been in the inner circle of PM Modi. 

    There is absolutely no justification for any mob-killing of anyone- whether a Muslim or Hindu. It was shameful that our police institutions failed to protect innocent train passengers and subsequently they looked the other way when approached by Muslim civilians for help. Malignant lot in Indian police and security forces have had a long history. Some of them have been suspected of collaborating with organised crime networks linked with Islamist groups and act otherwise only to protect their turf or themselves. But large sections of them definitely protected all people irrespective of their identity. But a credible democracy like India needs absolute levels of impartiality and efficiency from its police institutions. 

    Political opponents of Shri Modi, who was Chief Minister of Gujrat at that point of time, targeted him individually. As head of the government, he was responsible for collapse of state institutions. But none of the agencies could ever establish his direct role in abetting violence against Muslims. It is pertinent to mention that a different political party had ruled at the centre for 10 years. Rather, it was his resolute handling of the episode that helped near complete elimination of well-entrenched organised crime cartels in Gujrat. No major communal violence ever recurred in that state. People praised him for securing public spaces and eliminating crime. But the damage had already been done. 

    It was a Catch 22 situation for the Indian state.  Enemies waging all out covert war against India seemed to be mocking: “Heads I win; tails you lose”. If the CM had allowed the situation to drift and terrorists to have their sway, he may have been doomed. If he acted decisively, he could still be discredited with charges of excesses. 

     But people of India gave him a resounding mandate. The Indian state has also been able to significantly fend off sustained covert war from Pakistan, which was eventually exposed globally over its complicity in terrorism and organised crime. Simultaneously, several clandestine cartels are believed to have quietly changed their colour in quest of state patronage, without which they just can't survive. They are suspected of sabotaging any transition to real rule of law for which reforms in political parties and criminal justice system are unavoidable. Indian PM has consistently spoken of these, but such strategic reforms are nowhere on the horizon. 

    Dysfunctional and subverted institutions have remained a long-term reality in India. These have given rise to powerful forces with strong vested interest in status quo. Most astute politicians have been cautious in dealing with them to avoid risk of public disorder and unmanageable levels of turbulence. But visionary statesmen do find ways and means to address such difficult challenges.  A robust security and dynamic criminal justice system is a fundamental necessity for a stronger India. 

        Simultaneously, corporate sectors all over the world have been battling varying degrees of erosion in integrity and transparency. Only the means and methods have varied. Congressional Research Committee of United States to various Nobel prize winning economists have alleged that mega corporates have rigged the entire regulatory capacity of state even in the West. Ill-effects of unrestrained privatisation or unhealthy nexus between politicians and corporates, to the detriment of collective interests of the communities, is a global reality. However, the entire process is too discreet and sophisticated in the West compared to what we have in India. Democracies need to find an answer to this both for the sake of their credibility and optimal governance efficiency.  

    If we adhere to the strictest levels of probity and integrity, probably no mega corporate entity anywhere in the world can come clean. Some of the local detractors of PM Modi have been flagging that crony capitalism has been a longstanding reality in India but the scales were never that high and mode never so direct. We all know that crony capitalism and opaque political funding share a symbiotic relationship. Many political and corporate leaders have admitted in private that high levels of integrity and transparency were simply not viable in our ecosystem. This is neither a new nor an isolated phenomenon. With onset of strict anti-graft laws in the West, Indian corporates run the risk of being targeted by their global rivals over such soft underbelly. Sharp decline in stock prices of such entities, directly hits average consumers or investors for no fault of theirs. Govt is duty bound to protect such people for which it needs to build a much broader consensus and understanding among various stakeholders.  

    I have always maintained that an economy of our size cannot afford so many billionaires. Such sudden rise in wealth of any individual does not appear possible under normal circumstances.  Real economic strength of a nation like ours does not rest on number of mega corporates and billionaires. It needs a larger culture of industry, enterprise and innovation where several smaller enterpreneurs rise on the strength of innovation and excellence in multiple niche areas. 

     Under-performing institutions and deficient criminal justice systems have remained a perennial reality in India. But at the same time, India is the only stable democracy in the entire post-colonial world whose rise is often linked with larger stability and security of this region and beyond. Hence, both BBC and Hindenburg reports do not deserve the kind of attention that they are enjoying. But we shall ignore need for serious reforms in both political parties as well as corporate sector of India, only to our own peril. These reforms are not luxury but critical necessity for optimising our economic strength and external security.   

    I am also posting a clip of part of a lecture of Jan 2020 during which I had emphasized on centrality of reforms in political parties and private sector.     




Tuesday, January 10, 2023

TURMOIL IN BRAZIL: LESSONS FOR DEMOCRACY

 

Rioting in Brazil Over Disputed Electoal Results

The ongoing turmoil in Brazil over disputed electoral results is a stark reminder of fragility of the entire idea of democracy in most parts of the world. It appears increasingly unsustainable in countries with long traditions of authoritarianism, heavy clout of corporate leaders or organized crime networks and deficient mechanisms of rule of law. 

Barely a week after incoming President took office, violent supporters of his predecessor and right-wing populist former President Jair Bolsonaro stormed the main city centre in Brasilia. Wrapped in yellow green colors of national flag or official jersey of Brazilian soccer team, they shouted slogans in favor of their fatherland and liberty to claim their rioting as acts of patriotism to salvage the nation. They tried to avoid confrontation with police by shouting at them “may God bless you and prevent you from attacking us patriots”

Protestors vandalised Presidential office building - Planalto Palace, Congress and Supreme Court premises and occupied the main public square in the area, in what appeared a clear replay of insurrections at Capitol in Washington DC two years back. Security forces claimed that by the evening of January 8, they had cleared all government buildings from rioters, arresting nearly 1200 of them and charging 700 of them with violence. But thousands were on the run following five hours long pitched battle with the police. The incident has scarred democracy in Brazil and invited world-wide condemnations.

These attacks have been described by sections of media as the biggest assault on rule of law and democracy since 1964 military coup that had deposed the elected government of President Joao Goulart a.k.a. ‘Jango’ of Brazillian Labour Party. It took 21 years for this Latin American behemoth to transition to what is described as 6th Republic since 1985 through protracted negotiations with Military leadership that had led to enactment of 1988 Constitution, which came into force on Jan 01, 1990.

A Planned Insurrection?

Available media inputs suggest that the so-called mass-eruption in Brasilia was not spontaneous. Rather it was well-planned and well organised. Social media posts have been detected inviting “patriots” to take part in this march with promises of free food and free bus rides. Bolsonaro supporters, from countryside and other cities, had started milling around the protest venue as the weekend approached.

There are videos of Bolsonaro instigating violence by urging his supporters to take arms much before these protests. In fact, there are far too many indicators suggesting that more than a year back, he had expressed apprehension of elections being rigged to deny him a second term. Many Brazilian experts had predicted in 2021 itself that in case Bolsonaro lost lections, he could act like Trump to debunk results, cry foul, and incite his supporters to take up arms to overthrow democracy.

One such video of discussion of 2021 by David Rockefeller Centre of Latin America, captioned as “The State of Democracy in Latin America” is available at:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3YVP1Shpyc.

Bolsonaro did not disappoint such predictions. Once he lost elections, he skipped inauguration ceremony of the incoming President Lula. Rather he left the country and camped at a location in Florida in the United States and kept drumming up charges of stolen election results. He not only kept quiet when the riot was building up, he rather actively abetted it. There are also videos, though one does not know how authentic, where he describes Brazilians as martial race, urging them to take up arms or spurring even military to take over government. Even his supporters demanded military takeover to prevent Lula from returning to the helm after 12 years. He showed immense reluctance to even condemn the violence initially. Later when he did so, he only disapproved of invasion of public buildings but added qualifiers that protests were part of democracy. In the same vein, he also went on to charge his opponents of organising unlawful protests in the past to overthrow democracy that needed to be investigated. 

Brazil's Record On Democracy

Brazil has never been a model democracy. As per leading institutions like freedom House and V-Dem, Brazil ranks much lower on parameters of democracy, governance, social peace and corruption perception compared to its smaller neighbour like Uruguay, Costa Rica and Chile. This is despite its early foray with democracy and republicanism that commenced way back in 1889, when a cartel of coffee planters of Brazil, who accounted for nearly 65% of the world-wide coffee output, had overthrown 67 years of independent monarchic rule that had parted ways with imperial homeland of Portugal in 1822.  

Frequent disruptions of democracy, with phases of authoritarianism and military dictatorship, have hindered rise of robust institutions and traditions of participative governance in Brazil. But following last transition to democracy in 1985, Brazil had shown immense promise. At the turn of the Century, as the biggest South American state, and the fifth largest in the world, accounting for more than half the population of the continent, Brazil was hailed as one of the rising major economic powers along with China, India and South Africa.

With its formidable economic and military prowess and world-wide influence, Brazil was expected to play a stabilising role in the region and spearhead the larger process of democratisation in whole of Latin America. The region is known for fragile democracies and weak institutions. We already have serious conflict going on in Peru where dozens have been killed. Democracy deficit has resulted in serious misgovernance, with transnational organised crime cartels perennially influencing politics in many neighbouring states and sparing virtually none. Under these circumstances, political stability and efficient governance in Brazil gains significance for security and stability of the entire region.

          Tumltuous Journey Of 6th Republic

The 6th Republic in Brazil has had a somewhat tumultuous journey so far. The first President– Tancredo Neves of Brazilian Democratic Movement - who took over in 1985, following negotiated transition, fell sick even before taking oath of office and died soon. Democracy took some time to take off as the transitional era, from the term of Acting President and Neve’s Deputy - Jose Sarney- until the inauguration of new Constitution in 1990, continued to be governed by authoritarian Constitution of 1969.

The first President who got elected under the new Constitution in 1989 and took office on Jan 01, 1990– Fernando Collor de Mello – had to resign in 1992 following charges of Corruption. His Deputy Itamar Franco, who served remainder of the term until 1994, has probably been the only President in the history of Brazil who enjoyed reputation of a gentleman leader with unquestionable records of personal integrity besides delivering well on governance front. He stabilised economy and democracy both and accommodated various shades of political forces in the cabinet. He abdicated office after completion of the tenure as the new Constitution did not allow an incumbent President, even if he or she served part of the tenure, to run for re-election.

Franco’s successor Henrique Cordoso, a noted academic and politician with a left of the centre orientation, had come on reputation of his sound performance as Finance Minister under Franco. He had mixed results on governance and democracy with some of his pro-poor policies receiving popular endorsement but he struggled on many and few backfired. But before completion of his first tenure, he got the constitution amended in 1998 and got re-elected for another 4 yr term from Jan 1999 to 2002. This was first major tinkering with the new Constitution by an ambitious leader that came too soon in a nation that had barred an incumbent President to run for re-election, fearing return of dictatorship.

 Subsequent Presidents Luis Inacio Lula da Silva (2003-2010), who is again back at the helm, kindled great power aspirations for Brazil through faster growth rate during his tenure but with a tinge of rampant corruption. He was later himself indicted on corruption charges well after he demitted office and was sentenced and had to spend some time in prison.  He eventually succeeded in overturning the verdict by citing the bias of prosecutors and came clean on all charges. His successor Dilma Rousseff faced more ignominy, when she was impeached during second year of her second term on corruption charges only.

There is a strong possibility that even Bolsonaro too may face similar charges at some point of time in future. There are already few cases against him and Lula is likely to institute more. Bolsonaro's fall from grace is not likely to do any good to his future. 

Democracy, development and corruption have converged in Brazil. Judiciary has been selectively assertive but has not remained immune to influence. Further, local and global ecosystem have made it extremely difficult for Brazilian democracy to preserve integrity of its institutions, provide a robust governance and a strong mechanism of rule of law. A country that is so rich in natural resources and with its vast size and fairly large population, it is crying for efficient governance to translate its great-power potentials into reality. 

Manifestation of a Global Trend: Lessons For Democracies

Recent developments in Brazil are indicative of a larger global trend of erosion in integrity and credibility of democratic institutions, notwithstanding some exceptions and few variations. Elections have turned into high stake battles for warring elite not only in arena of politics but also corporate sector, sections of military and probably those in the grey world who probably need state support for their survival and clout. Hence, the phenomenon of populist leaders seeking to build their personality cult needs far closer examination and evaluation. Exploitation of nationalist or identity sentiments have potential to generate such levels of mass frenzy, at least among their supporters, that can knock out rule of law from list of key governance priorities. This can reduce democracy into arbitrary rule by elected dictators. Simultaneously, emotive strength of nationalism and identity provide a brilliant cover to deflect popular attention from governance failures and corruption.

The most striking feature of the Brazilian protests have been initial police reluctance to crack down on the rioters. Sections of Western media have suggested that Bolsonaro had been seeking to cultivate cartels within the security forces. While key figures in military or police who were part of the erstwhile military regime have faded out but progenies and proteges of those stalwarts continue to retain significant clout due to sheer inner dynamics of these institutions. Bolsonaro has been rather soft on military and security officers who have been found indulging in excesses or violating rule of law or what some would suggest a suspected nexus with regional crime cartels to run various shades of grey world operations. Eventually sanity prevailed and security forces could bring situation under control. But a lot of damage had already been done by that time. 

Political options that Brazilian democracy offers may not be ideal. Both Lula and Bolsonaro have been accused of corruption and knocking out their political opponents through ruthless manipulation of institutions. Rule of law and robust governance capacity automatically become a casualty under these conditions.  Besides, rising influence of China, through a set of local collaborators, and clandestine clout of organised crime syndicates further ensure continued decline of Brazilian democracy and sustained pilferage of its economy, especially the rich natural resources. 

Such phenomenon reinforces my belief that democracies need to re-discover themselves to optimise their latent and real potentials. Legitimate political, economic and social stakeholders in democracies need to work out a mechanism to address their differences, if they genuinely care for comprehensive and sustained defence of universal access to freedom, equality and opportunities. Otherwise, despite an outward fa├žade of democracy, even larger states, with not so robust institutions, run the risk of being controlled by a combination of local and global cartels to the detriment of collective interests of their communities and even the entire nation. There may not be easy answers in this direction.  Brazil appears too fractured and divided at this juncture, where robust institutions do not appear sustainable. It needs to heal internally for which both incumbents of state and society need to contribute. It shall also require exceptional statesmanship from incoming President Lula to negotiate a combination of highly complex internal and external challenges threatening his nation at this juncture. 

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