Tag Archive for 'Jyotirmaya Sharma'

Swami Vivekananda: Social reformer or caste votary?

In Outlook, an excerpt from Cosmic Love and Human Empathy: Swami Vivekananda’s Restatement of Religion by Jyotirmaya Sharma (Harpercollins):

If there is one phrase in the popular consciousness that effortlessly invokes the name and memory of Ramakrishna, it is ‘Ramakrishna’s catholicity’. Vivekananda, more than anyone else, helped construct the elements that constituted this carefully edited, censored and wilfully misleading version of his master’s ‘catholicity’. He used it to mean what he thought was Ramakrishna’s tolerance, generosity and inclusiveness in relation to other faiths while carefully glossing over the sources and influences that produced this ‘catholicity’. The continued use of the term has had a longevity independent of Vivekananda’s remoulding of Ramakrishna from a “religious ecstatic to a religious eclectic”, and continues to be used even to this day by perceptive and critical readers of the Ramakrishna-Vivekananda story.

Faith is a creation and gift of god and it is beyond the jurisdiction of humans to tamper with it: “Suppose there are errors in the religion that one has accepted; if one is sincere and earnest, then god Himself will correct these errors…. If there are errors in other religions, that is none of our business. God, to whom the world belongs, takes care of that.” Ramakrishna does not stop at this, but goes further to warn against the triumphalism that sets in when individuals or faiths arbitrarily decide that they are right and all others are wrong. They think of faith in terms of winning and losing, where, invariably, they perceive that they and their faith alone have won and all others have lost. “But a person who has gone forward may be detained by some slight obstacle,” warns Ramakrishna, “and someone who has been lagging behind may then steal a march on him.” God’s ways are mysterious, and triumph and defeat too are in his hands.

If these are the foundations upon which Ramakrishna’s inclusiveness, universality and doctrinal generosity rested, it is also true that there was a complete absence in the Kathamrita of a clearly articulated Hindu identity. Even less so was the idea of a threatening, antagonistic ‘Other’ in the form of Islam or Christianity. Sumit Sarkar is right when he says that in Ramakrishna and in the pages of the Kathamrita “there is no developed sense of a sharply distinct ‘Hindu’ identity—let alone any political use of it”. There is, however, one exception within the Kathamrita that causes a mild dissonance in our total and categorical rejection of the presence of a cohesive Hindu identity in Ramakrishna. It must also be said that this exception is vastly outweighed by the overwhelming evidence that points towards Ramakrishna’s radical rejection of differences, hierarchies and claims of superiority among sects and faiths. More:

His Inclusiveness Is A Powerful Myth’ Read interview with Jyotirmaya Sharma here.

A new mask is invented

Jyotirmaya Sharma on Narendra Modi  in Mail Today:

Despite certain television channels consecrating Narendra Modi as a prime ministerial candidate for 2014, the sober view that still prevails is that prime ministers in India are elected by the voters and citizens of this country and not named by excitable anchors. And despite the increasingly presidential character of our election campaigns, people still vote for parties and political formations rather than individuals alone. Therefore, the travesty of much of the media actually pushing the lie of Modi being exonerated by the Supreme Court will one day be found out. That the reverse has happened is something that ought to worry Modi and his promoters within the BJP. The story here is a simple one. Mrs Jakia Jafri, widow of Ahsan Jafri, who was brutally murdered by a mob during 2002, approached the Gujarat High Court asking her complaint to be treated as an FIR. The Court rejected her plea. She approached the Supreme Court against the order of the Gujarat High Court. The Supreme Court has now admitted the evidence of the SIT investigating the case, allowed the placing of the findings of the amicus curiae, and asked the SIT to file a report under section 173(2) of the Cr.P.C., which amounts to filing of a charge-sheet. The magistrate in Gujarat will now consider the case as directed by the Supreme Court.

Narendra Modi has sought to convert his misfortune into an advantage by announcing a fast for peace and amity in Gujarat and has attempted to project the apex court’s verdict as a sign of his innocence. Given the media’s appetite for street-corner spectacles after the recently concluded one in Ramlila grounds, Modi has sought to capitalise on this and announced that he will fast for sadbhava or peace and harmony. But for the fast to have any moral legitimacy, the legitimacy of the individual has first to be established. Here again, there is no attempt at the Gandhian idea of self-purification. And even the Gandhian idea of self-purification is open to question, since it diverts attention from the issue on to the individual. The truth of the matter is that Modi’s national ambitions are a smokescreen to cover his fragile position in the state. The sense in Gujarat among BJP voters currently is one of deep disquiet about Modi’s governance and his misplaced priorities. Continue reading ‘A new mask is invented’

Anna & Co can no way be called Gandhians

Jyotirmaya Sharma in Mail Today. The writer tgeaches politics in University of Hyderabad:

In these fraught and intolerant times, disclaimers are essential. Firstly, the UPA-II has forfeited all legitimacy to rule and has neither a sense of vision nor does it have a sense of purpose. Secondly, by behaving in the manner that it has in the past one year, the Congress and its allies would solely be responsible if the BJP were to come to power in 2014 or whenever elections are held. Caretaker governments have had a greater sense of purpose than the present government, which has rendered itself and the country into a sordid spectacle.

Having said this, the limited point that I want to make here is that Mr. Hazare is no Gandhian and neither is his movement. A Gandhian would follow a methodology that is based on a larger moral and ethical framework. It entails an appeal, first and foremost, to earn the legitimacy in order to question an unjust order. While corruption is a major issue in the country, it cannot be perceived only in monetary terms. To do so is to reduce the idea of fighting corruption into a jingoistic abstraction. In a Gandhian universe, the first level of appeal is to individuals to question moral, ethical and material corruption in their own backyard. For instance, I cannot be working for a corrupt and unethical organization without questioning its legitimacy and raising my voice against what I perceive to be wrong with that organization, and yet join in a movement that questions systemic corruption.

For this reason alone, neither is Mr. Hazare and his followers Gandhian nor is their movement Gandhian. In order to follow a Gandhian strategy, personal interest has to be set aside and considerable sacrifice is entailed. Rather, the Hazare-led campaign is just a middle class movement, which appeals to the impatience of the middle classes and shies away from appealing to the people to earn the adhikaar to question an unjust system. It renders, mindlessly, the idea of `people’ and the `masses’ as automatically virtuous and right, without working for the enhancement of the moral and ethical core of individuals questioning an unjust system. Further, it is un-Gandhian because it demonises not the evil but the evil-doer. It has revelled in creating a rogues’ gallery of all politics and of all politicians without explaining to its followers the subtle, but significant, difference between fighting evil versus the perpetrators of that evil. Hazare and his followers are not remotely Gandhian because they allow the mobs around them to quieten anyone who dares question their means and methods. They have divided India into those who support their cause, and these are by definition, pure, truthful and above board. All those who disagree are relegated to the status of vested interests, Congress agents and immoral self-seekers. Causing such a divide is also violence, never mind the protestations on part of the Hazare supporters that the movement is a non-violent movement.

Read the rest of the article in Mail Today’s e-paper (page 16) of August 18.

The India story

The New Statesman features a special package on India.

Patrick French charts the rise of India’s female politicians:

If you do not come from an established ruling family, you have almost no chance of progressing in national politics, unless you join an ideological organisation such as the BJP or the Communist Party of India (Marxist), where lineage is not important and progress is more often based on ability.

Last year, I made a study of how each MP in India’s lower house, the Lok Sabha, had reached parliament. The findings showed that the younger you were, the more likely you were to have “inherited” a place in the chamber. Nearly half of all MPs aged 50 or under are hereditary, selected to contest a seat primarily because they are the children of senior politicians. No MP over the age of 80 is hereditary; every MP under the age of 30 is hereditary. The situation is most serious in the Congress party, where every MP under the age of 35 is the son or daughter of a politician.

Extending the study across the whole Lok Sabha, I found that 33 of the youngest 38 MPs had entered parliament on the grounds of birth. Out of the other five, three progressed through the ranks of the BJP, Bahujan Samaj Party and Communist Party on merit; one was given a break because he was an established student leader-cum-mafioso; and the other was hand-picked for a parliamentary career by Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv and Sonia. Rahul is an MP and heir to the Congress mantle, but has so far concentrated on structural party reorganisation and low-key, village-level campaigning and shows no inclination to take a prime ministerial role. More

Sophie Elmhirst profiles the writer and activist Arundhati Roy, who accuses the elites of “colonising the lower sections of society who have to pay the price for this shining India”:

Roy’s version of India is uncompromising. The country, she says, is in “a genocidal situation, turning upon itself, colonising the lower sections of society who have to pay the price for this shining India”. Its leaders are “such poor men because they have no idea of history, of culture, of anything, except growth rates”. The prime minister, Manmohan Singh, is a “pathetic figure as a human being”. Democracy is thriving “for a few people, in the better neighbourhoods of Bombay and Delhi”. The Indian elite are “like an extra state in America”. The country has a defence budget of $34bn this year. “For whom?” she asks. “For us.” In her account, there is a war taking place, not with Pakistan or China, but within India’s borders: the sham democracy has turned on its poorest citizens. More:

In the interview, Ms Elmhirst quotes a conversation with Jyotirmaya Sharma, a political scientist at the University of Hyderabad and former senior editor of the Times of India:

Sharma agrees with Roy in principle: the issues she raises, he tells me on the phone, “are first-rate”. Like Roy, he believes that large parts of the Indian state are essentially criminal in their behaviour. Yet he cannot abide the way she chooses to frame her argument, or the tone – “sanctimonious, pompous, holier than thou” – in which she expresses it. She contributes nothing, he says, to proper public debate other than cooking up a controversy in which she is the central player, “people saying we love her, we hate her”. “You cannot talk to the woman,” he says, so overbearing is her self-righteousness.

Below, Jyotirmaya Sharma’s rejoinder to the deputy editor of the New Statesman:

Dear Mr. Jon Bernstein,

Sophie Elmhirst got in touch with me two weeks ago to speak to me about Arundhati Roy. I have now seen the piece she has written. While I have no problem with the writer’s complete identification with her subject, I find her irresponsible and reckless attribution of motives to her critics untenable. All she needed to do is to find out the public profile of people like Ramachandra Guha or myself before jumping to conclusions. She further imputes that I might be criticising Roy because `but you can’t Continue reading ‘The India story’

We can do without her moral certificates

In Mail Today, political philosopher Jyotirmaya Sharma, professor at Hyderabad University, critiques Arundhati Roy‘s long piece in Outlook on the Maoists, ‘Walking with the Comrades’.

Arundhati Roy’s essays remind me of two people. Their length and their tone of moral certitude remind me of Arun Shourie, the journalist. He landed ultimately in the BJP and now endorses every crime and misdemeanour of the BJP, including the 2002 post-Godhra riots and Narendra Modi’s role during that period. The second person that Roy’s writings remind me of is Carl Schmitt.

Those unfamiliar with Schmitt would do well to remember that he was Hitler’s apologist, wrote tracts that supported the Nazi regime. He found liberal democracy and parliamentarianism impotent and mediocre ways of organizing human societies. But even today, he is studied seriously for suggesting that in the age of technology, the only political relationship that is feasible is the one between friend and foe. The political for him lies in identifying the enemy and eliminating the enemy. There is, therefore, always an in-group and an out-group, those who belong and those who do not.

While Roy might use the word `fascist’ as a term of abuse, she is hardly aware that she, perhaps unconsciously, shares much with one of the most articulate and thoughtful apologists of the Nazi regime.

In romanticizing the naxals and justifying their violence, she is merely a victim of a philosophy that designates virtue and moral superiority to one section of the population and delineates the rest as morally and ethically compromised. It would be perfectly right to say that the naxals imitate the criminality of the state (a phrase paraphrased from Marx, no less), but to justify violence as a legitimate means of redressal of grievances is plainly silly. More:

Hyderabad Diary

Jyotirmaya Sharma in Outlook:

I once asked Subbirami Reddy, a man for whom throwing parties is a calling, why he always had his best parties organised in Delhi, Goa or Mumbai. “Hyderabad has no celebrities,” he guffawed. Deeply offended, I started reeling off names of people I though made the grade. He dismissed all of them with an appropriate comment. “I am the only celebrity in Hyderabad,” he concluded modestly. Over the years, I have tended to agree with Reddy’s assessment. The people who inhabit the page three columns of newspapers and magazines in Hyderabad are a lot of crumbs held together by their own dough. They are a terminally unique lot, not always adept at living in style, and often dropping dead in it. But it is the same group-around 25 people-which has remained constant, constituting an ageing cabal of the bores and the bored. Despite this seeming scarcity, the city has had a recent mushrooming of page 3 magazines. No, these are not lifestyle magazines that have a few pages devoted to parties and events. In fact, these are authentic page 3 magazines that have more pictures than words. Photographs in these magazines have captions such as “a lovely pair”, “looking stunning” and “in love”, where the individuals cannot be identified. One magazine outdid the others some months ago: it captioned a photograph of a lady with her “new partner”. The young man in the photograph, in truth, happened to be her 18-year-old son! My favourite, however, is one where a leading national daily once described a well-known diamond-encrusted, chiffon-draped, Chanel-sprayed page 3 fixture as “a leading socialist of the party scene in Hyderabad”. More: