Thursday, September 21, 2017

Most welcome, dear turncoat journalist

Ratnakar Tripathy

Although decades ago I had some brief snatches of conversation with Aditya Sinha, the former editor in chief at DNA till some time ago, I cannot really say I knew him except as an exemplary crime reporter at the Times of India, Delhi office. This was decades ago when a journalist’s devotion to facts and his investigative urge won him due respect. Decades later he has made a strong impact not just on me but many others by switching sides – moving sharply away from the pro-Modi camp and turning to Rahul Gandhi with a look of hope. Those wont to psychoanalyzing on the basis of flimsy material may see in this shift traces of bipolarity. Although one has to admit that the switch is extreme since at some point Sinha was so fiercely anti-Rahul, using such strong language that he was threatened with legal action from Rahul’s side. And now he says – ‘My reassessment of Rahul is not because of the 'anyone is better than Modi' argument, though that is a given.’ The title of his recent article, mind you is equally strong and unambiguous Why I changed my mind about Rahul’. I have not underscored and used bold here for nothing.

It is easy to read the article as a sign of political fickleness or opportunism, although it’s rather difficult for anyone to make the accusations stick. I am not sure Sinha may gain much or indeed anything by choosing the timing for the shift that he has, having cut athwart the political spectrum so sharply. I am aware that in the cynical moral climate we today have, it is easy to dismiss the simple confession, a simple wearing of one’s heart on one’s sleeves or read obscure personal motives with pretense to insight, and I wish to leave this line of thinking behind. For me Sinha’s reasons for his action are entirely his business, and I wish to see him as bellwether case.  I believe he will prove a trendsetter in the next couple of years. Why am I encouraged to read him thus?

I do not wish to present here a nuanced analysis of specific policies of the NDA regime, since the series of disasters they produced is evident to everyone except the flippant TV spokesmen and presenters. I want to start by reminding that the UPA undeniably created a deeply anomic atmosphere through its political non-communication and policies. It did really feel like we are part of a political universe tormented by a sucking silence with no sense of anything happening anywhere. And then we found relief in Modi, or so some of the most sensible women and men thought. The relief came in the shape of a harsh din, menacing noises breaking the silence of a whole electoral term. The din has now escalated to a crescendo and the silence is filled with violence and gore. I am aware that this description is short on facts and perhaps just bad poetry. But how else does one even begin to describe the mood of the nation or at least its intelligentsia?  And where do you find dependable facts in the age of fake news? After all even facts require some minimal consensus and willingness to stare at the truth in its face.

I wish to wind up with a proposition that I want you to examine carefully. While for intellectuals and academics it will always be interesting to examine the ethical and ideological continuities between the Congress and the BJP, the time has now come to properly appreciate the fundamental breach between the two. Of late, there has been a talk of altering the Indian constitution radically and even change the colours of the national flag. All on the basis of a single electoral victory, however convincing? It would be tragic at this moment to focus on the historical continuities between the Congress and the BJP family, when the BJP itself is disowning the seven decades of our democratic heritage.  Except for the factories and the dams, the BJP is not willing to accept even an iota of all that has been achieved since 1947.

My guess is Sinha came to this conclusion with great clarity and we owe him a debt for sharing it with us.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Sobering words on Hindi Day from our President Kovind

Ratnakar Tripathy

In times when nearly all the pleasant sounding news turns out to be fake and all the dependable news is getting unpleasanter by the day, it is so very heartening to hear our president give some sober advice to the Hindi zealots on the annual Hindi day at a function held recently! The president observed that the cheerleaders of Hindi are in the habit of antagonizing the speakers of other languages by their insistence on imposing their language on others. As a result, all the attempts at the promotion and advocacy by the Hindi supporters end up backfiring. This happened recently in Karnataka when protestors blackened signboards at a Metro station, earning the language avoidable hostility and a fresh stint of dislike among the local populace that had had no occasion for such anger till provoked. With a large population of the Hindi speaking population employed in Bangalore including a fairly significant labour population, the multilingual Bangalore society that was spontaneously taking to Hindi word by word, sentence by sentence may now show resistance that you often see in Tamilnadu.  

What the zealots do not seem to get into their heads despite the several decades of violent protests is that a language grows when it’s needed or preferred and not due to policy dictats. Way back, I remember when my school authorities tried to impose a laughably silly policy of ‘afternoon conversations only in English’ among students, the school turned into silent graveyards during the entire duration. The purpose behind the move to improve our English speaking skills was thus given a quiet burial. The fact is Hindi has grown largely through its cinema and the media, apart from political communication, commerce and large scale migrations. Increasingly, with politicians and businessmen trying to make a dent in North India, Hindi is already inching closer to becoming a second link language in street terms, and even the first pan-Indian language among the quasi-literate who cannot speak English. This is leading to some interesting breeds of Hindi-dominated pidgins all over the country. Unlike earlier the Hindi speaking populace rarely break into contemptuous jeering at the most exotic of south Indian or north eastern accents and smug amusement is all we now show at these phonetic adventures of non-Hindi speakers. I feel the worshipers of Hindi should take satisfaction in this spontaneous growth instead of making so much ado over a lost cause.

The president had another point to make, a token one perhaps but of a great emotional import – the Hindi speaking people should learn the greeting words from the other languages such as ‘aadab’ in Urdu and ‘vadakkam’ in Tamil by way of creating general goodwill and a gesture of acceptance instead of derision. The Hindi zealots may have found such a generous gesture on the part of our first citizen somewhat out of place on a day when Hindi should have received all the devout attention, but I entirely agree that we, the Hindi speakers have been very small hearted in more than one sense. On the one hand we deign to believe that the growth of Hindi depends on our schmaltzy fantasies, and on the other indulge in what can only be termed ‘linguistic cruelty’ of imposing the language on others either overtly or sneakily.

The fact is that Hindi lovers suffer from anxieties that may be rather unique and require a deeper appreciation. First, Hindi is a language of fairly recent origin, going back less than two centuries. Second, although Hindi is now the first language for a very large population, till recently it was only a second language for languages and dialect speakers from Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Awadhi and Braj regions, a fact we are reluctant to admit pushing the entire matter under the patriotic carpet. Third, if that is not bad enough, the Hindi speakers may be among the least loyal linguistically, eager to switch to English fulltime as I have found while moving around the Hindi territories. To top it all, the Hindi regions are also known for their backwardness and low levels of literacy and urbanism. All these make a Hindi speaker much more insecure and jittery compared to let’s say the Bangla, Tamil or Marathi speaker. As we all know, aggression towards others is often an outcome of the fears emanating from within.

We should thus feel grateful to a president who is nudging us to come down a few rungs and assess the state of our language a bit more coolly instead of trying to rouse the primal passions often associated with the languages in our country.    

Friday, September 08, 2017

A Bad Week for North America

On top of Harvey, USA is getting Irma; Mexico is getting Katia and Jose is out there probably finding his landing spot. This all going when Mexico got 8+ Richter Scale Earthquake.

When it rains, it pours.....

Indeed North America is having the complete wrath of Mother Nature. Solace is, it seems mid-September is when these hurricanes crowd and historically are expected to wean down thereafter.

Meanwhile, many Americans are busy debating 'significance and validity of human contributions to global warming as well as the truthfulness of American Media'!

I guess eventually, just like everything else in Trump Era (repeal and replace of ObamaCare, shut-down Government for border wall) - "anti-Science and anti-Global Warming" arguments will reduce to "cultural identity rant" with no force in reality. What Congress is doing, we are definitely going in that direction and most Americans will appreciate that.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Commentary: The Rohingya genocide in Burma

Rohingyas: hounded by the Burmese state
The international community is duly shocked by the conduct of the Burmese government towards the Rohingyas, the Muslim minority community who live along the border with Bangladesh. The irony of a Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi being complicit hasn’t failed to evoke anger and disgust in the wider social media and there is now a vociferous demand for a revocation of her award. The tragedy with the Rohingya community seems to be getting worse as neither of the two neighbouring countries Bangladesh nor India is willing to let them in as refugees. There have been a series of reports of raids conducted by the Myanmar army on the remotest of Rohingya villages, clearly aiming to destroy them physically and uproot them without suggesting any alternative.

In Myanmar, we see the other face of Buddhism, a religion commonly associated with compassion and gentler sentiments. This editorial provides a synoptic account of the current predicament of the Rohingyas and the near complete indifference of the international communities towards them. The ruling elite, the military and even the Buddhist religious leaders seem to be intent on wiping the community off the map of the earth, a measure that now deserves to be described as ‘genocide ‘in the media.