0. My Tributes:
Let me begin by paying my tribute to one of India’s most respected politicians who also could become a prime minister, Lal Bahadur Shastri-ji, and also to the Founder of our Nation, Mahatma Gandhi-ji, on the occasion of their shared birth anniversary.
More than many of us care to realize, and unlike the fashions of the present day to deny either of them their due credit (one of the fashions originating with the BJP and its earlier “avatar”s, and the other, with the Indira Congress), we still owe a lot to these two men, and to others like them.
The past two-three days have been abuzz with heavy discussions, debates, and all. The obvious reference is to the High Court verdict on the Ayodhyaa case. I have tried to go through as many newspaper and blogosphere analyses as possible. I also watched with great interest (and appreciation) Barkha Dutt’s program on NDTV on the evening of the verdict. [There seemed to be a game of musical chairs being played behind the scenes, during the commercial breaks, what with a new face popping up on a chair every now and then, and people mysteriously disappearing. There also was a revelation that Ms. Dutt was being prompted via her earphones.]
Following the Hon’ble Court, I, too, shall try to “traverse the minefield.” However, my objective shall be limited to reviewing the reviewers, that’s all. To me, all of the following: the issue itself, the court proceedings about it, and the verdict document now produced, actually are boring to varying degrees. However, the discussion thereof by the intellectuals, assuredly, is not.
2. Comments on Participants in Barkha Dutt’s Show on Sept 30.
First, a few comments on the above-mentioned program by Barkha Dutt on NDTV.
2.1 The following participants are being the grade “A”: Ramachandra Guha, and Javed Akhtar.
It was hard to settle on who is the topper among the two.
Akhtar was outstandingly brilliant in consistently pointing out the obvious practical point (which none else on the show thought of) that the only case in which we can move forward is if the land is split up.
Guha, too, was outstandingly brilliant in suggesting that the matter go to the Supreme Court, and here is the brilliant part, that the Supreme Court take 5, 10, or 20 years before pronouncing its judgment, so that we have the time in the meanwhile to progress further and reach a more mature disposition towards the issue, as projected from the progress that we seem to have made between 1992 and today.
The tie was broken using the consideration that the latter spoke of the future. Accordingly, Dr. Guha is being declared the topper.
2.2 The following participants failed, and thus are being given the grade “F”:
(i) The guy representing the Waqf board on that show (sorry, didn’t catch his name right, but seems like he is an MP)—the guy with beard and without moustache, the one who spoke in terms of fighting this “war” further till the end. He did not quite use the word… err… “jihaad,” but his emotions obviously betrayed, at least on that day, that he couldn’t have meant anything else in principle. We offer no rationale as to why we give him the “F” grade.
(ii) Ravi Shankar Prasad. This normally sedate and sober guy was spewing fire through his nostrils, not observing the civic decencies of listening to the opponents, opening up the “grand” mandir line, and even refusing to offer comments on the simplest of the foil issues, but instead waving his finger at the hostess of the show, accusing her of a bias, and then leaving the show in an arrogant huff. … I have seen the better of him. But even after factoring in Shekhar Gupta’s helpful addition that on that day he had won a hard-fought case, I think there was more to it. The gentleman had more hard-Hindutva ideas than his public position would allow him to show. On all these counts, he is being made to sit together with the guy (i), outside of our class.
(iii) Joining them is one Mr. Sarma from Hyderabad, for deliberate obfuscation of many sub-issues.
(iv) There could be others. …
2.3 The following participants are being given a “C” (on a four-point scale):
(i) The Jamia Milia Islamia VC, Prof. Baig
(ii) The former Chief Justice of India (was it Mr. Sachar?)
(iii) Several others
2.4 A Note: Professional print-media men (like Shekhar Gupta) participating in the show are excluded. They are being (or shall be) judged for their writings, see the next point.
Also, the grades for the categories are given separately. … Aristotle (in my words): “We cannot expect the same precision of thought in an orator’s speech as we would, in a geometer’s proof.”
3. Print-Media Articles:
3.1 As of this writing (the version revised on Oct. 4 as on the original version of Oct. 2), none has been found suitable for the “A” grade.
3.2 Dileep Padgaonkar is being given the grade “B” for his article here [^] .
This article otherwise is so remarkably perceptive, and so well reasoned and written, that it would obviously be worthy of an “A.” Yet, Padgaonkar managed to miss it by including pieces like the following:
“…But by their very nature, faith and belief have no factual basis. They are above reason…” [emphasis added]; and
“…[The judges] looked upon Lord Ram… as a historical character….” [emphasis added]
Well done, Dr. Padgaonkar, but, better premises, next time!
3.3. Siddharth Varadarajan is being given a “C” for this piece [^]:
Like Padgonkar, Varadarajan too observes that faith has unmistakably come to have some sway over jurisprudence. This observation, by itself, should have earned him at least a “B” if not an “A.” However, he then proceeded to dilute it with Leftist undercurrents (to an extent which would not be typical of him in the early parts of this decade).
Take care, Mr. Varadarajan. Your recent award (for journalism) was well-deserved. But you still need to watch over those Leftist leanings (perhaps) surreptitiously creeping in. But no, you still are not a failure.
3.4 Dr. Swapan Dasgupta, otherwise one of my most favorite writers, is now being given the grade “F”—i.e. being failed—for this piece of his [^].
The reasons for failing him are noted in a comment that I made at Dasgupta’s blog; see immediately below the article (URL given above).
As I said in my comment, there are many fine points that Dasgupta makes. Indeed, I shall go one step ahead, and say that Dasgupta not only brings together so many disparate points so well together, he also imparts a certain intellectual “texture” to that weaving.
And yet, I fail him. The reason is, principles. Including, consistency.
4. A Bit about What Secular Actually Means—And Has Come to Mean, in India
It is true that package-dealing of the term “secular” began not with Dasguptas, but most prominently from the side of the Congress, and even more prominently, from that of the Indira Congress.
It was Congress which contorted, completely out-of-shape, the actual meaning of the term “secular,” by forwarding “sarva dharma sama-bhaav” as the proper meaning of the term….
… Permit me to ask in Ayn Rand’s manner: What about the atheists? What attitude (i.e. “bhaav”) is to be kept towards them? Blank out. What about those who believe in spirituality but no organized religion? Blank out.
But the Congress’ sin didn’t stop there. They made that poison even more potent by mixing it with that other favorite of theirs, namely, statism. This mixing created a synergy of sorts between two evils.
Till date we are suffering from the consequences.
According to this mixture, the State, i.e. the government should confiscate citizens’ money via taxes, and use it in grand gestures of grants to various religions, the term “secular” only serving to remind the bureaucrat or the politician in question that every religious pressure group is equally entitled to those government handouts, in an egalitarian manner.
I have been maintaining that the BJP is just equally guilty of statism. They, too, unquestioningly accept the Congress’ mangling of what the term “secular” means.
The BJP, too, does not bother about clarifying what the Enlightenment meaning of the term “secular” is. And, regardless of its countless middle-class (mostly Brahmin etc.) supporters abroad, esp. those on the either coasts of the USA (esp. the SF Bay Area), the BJP still does not feel compelled to merely acknowledge at a “bauddhik” level, the kind of rational radiance that the Enlightenment ideas had led to—e.g., the American Founding Fathers’ creation of their nation. (of which today’s USA de facto is a very pale, even mangled, version).
Given their statist premises and those grand ambitions of what effectively can only be a theological dictatorship (i.e., fascism, in a sense), the BJP would have always found the package-deal initiated by the Congress to be extremely useful. They did.
“Aha,” they cry out, “that is what secularism means. So, let’s replace such ideas with the Hindutva.”
It did reverberate with the populace, and led, first, to Ayodhya in 1992, and then, to New Delhi from 1998 to 2004.
It can lead to worse things.
If that is to be prevented, the first necessary step is to identify the kind of intellectual errors, even crimes, which have been committed. And then, to identify the fundamental nature of those errors. It is necessary to show that both the Congress’ and BJP’s (or, if you wish, the Muslims’ and the Hindus’) usages are nothing but two variants of the same error.
(One does not use the phrase “two sides of the same coin” in such a context; not the word “sides” but the word “coin” is too noble a term to use in the context of errors or deliberate evil.)
And, the proper meaning of the term is to be consistently pointed out and upheld, together with what other ideas it requires and entails.
It is the job specifically of intellectuals to do so.
If a government clerk, or a grocery-shop owner, is lax with using the term “secular,” it might be understandable, even excusable. No such excuse is possible with intellectuals. Just the way people speak out against corruption in a government office, or adulteration in a grocery shop, similarly, they ought to speak out against intellectual package-deals as in this case.
When a petty BJP party man, or a spokesman like Mr. Jawadekar, or some arbit guy addressing, say a Gujarathi or Kannada or Goan cultural gathering on “Aasthaa” channel or so, continues the abuse of the term “secular” in that same sense in which it began to be abused by the Gandhi Topi-wearing Congress-wallahs, then the matter certainly is of concern—even if, probably, already beyond rectification.
But when an intellectual commits the same error (i.e. an intellectual sin or crime), then, given the metaphysical nature of man—i.e. the importance of ideas in the life and well-being of a man, a society, or a nation—the error acquires a certain unique significance.
That is why I give Dr. Dasgupta an “F.”
Let me add one more point before closing. When an intellectual commits an error, it does not matter whether the man in question is going to change himself for the better by correcting his errors or not. This bit about his individual character, in reality, does not really matter—not to the rational interests of other men at large. [That is another way of understanding how the “ad hominem” tactics are never necessary.]
What instead really matters is whether that error is explictly identified or not, and whether a better alternative is upheld or not.
So long as people have a better vision of what can be done, whether there are erring intellectuals, and whether a given erring individual continues to commit the same error not, does not matter.
I strongly recommend to you reading about the American Founding Fathers and those philosophic ideas from the Enlightenment era which shaped their convictions (including any minor inconsistencies in those), and, why, even the earlier British struggles (such as the Common Law in Renaissance, and, even earlier, the Magna Carta, etc.). If you wish to have a specific recommendation, see Peikoff’s “The Ominous Parallels,” and references cited therein.
And, I urge you to consistently uphold the secular ideals in that sense of the term in which it was understood by the thinkers of the Enlightenment era—and acted upon by the best within the Western culture.
Yes, the same ideal is good enough for us in India, too! Stronger: That is what is most urgently required if calamities like the Ayodhya issue are to be avoided in future.
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A Song I Like
(English) “These are a few of my favorite things…”
Lyrics: Oscar Hammerstein II
Music: Richard Rodgers
Singer: ? [Julie Andrews? Mary Martin?]
[First written and posted: Oct. 2, 2010. Minor editing and streamlining: Oct. 4, 2010.]