Saturday, March 29, 2008
The Vote Marketing by the Price of Past Fallacies of Rs. 595 by Chandra
The Murmuring book review by Indian political scientist, also somehow plays his mind game with political marketing games in conducive. It is unreasonable to expect others to stimulate your mind instead you should! After reading the below article, you should ahead of latter, instead a former!
The Past Isn’t Another Country
Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Posted online: Sunday, March 30, 2008 at 1513 hrs Print Email
My Country, My LifeL.K. AdvaniRupa & Co, Rs 595
Lal krishna advani is that rarest of politician who can claim credit for something unique in the annals of Indian history: starting a social movement that left a deep imprint on the society. Many politicians will claim longer stints in power; others will be better administrators and thinkers, but the privilege of creating a movement that shifted the ideological centre of Indian politics, gave utterance to widespread but suppressed feelings, empowered new constituencies and energised an important political party belongs to a few. The fact that the Ram Janmabhoomi movement and the politics it unleashed was deeply divisive, and in some ways shaded over to a dangerous collective narcissism, cannot detract from its transformative significance. Movements are complicated things, often devouring their founders, but there is no doubt that through this movement, Advani left an unprecedented legacy for Indian politics; a legacy whose effects are still to be worked out.
Successful political autobiographies do at least three things. They connect the personal and the political in interesting ways, shedding light on the motivations and ideas that drove the politicians, and how politics shaped their sense of self. Second, they give a sense of how a politician understood the zeitgeist, the Spirit of the Age as it were, and rode it. Third, they have the ability to stand back from history, and notice its ironies and deeper patterns; or as in the rare case of Charles de Gaulle, they display an ambition to take on history. Advani’s My Country, My Life is partially successful as a political chronicle, full of incidentally interesting stories, and particularly good on his finest hour, the struggle against Emergency, and on the vast complicities and missed opportunities that resulted in the Ayodhya movement. But its narrative and concerns swiftly descend into an ordinariness and present-mindedness that are at odds with the historical importance of the person writing them. The trouble is that the book is written too much with the next election in mind, not the dialogue with eternity that all true statesmen ought to be capable of.
Unwittingly, perhaps, the book reveals a lot about the person and his limits. Advani comes across as an astonishingly likeable person, like the good uncle next door. His commitment is unremitting and earnest, his sacrifice undeniable. He is a man who latched on to a few simple truths like reverence for the motherland. He has an astonishingly simplistic reading of Partition, which takes the view “some bad men did it”. He sticks to his commitments with assiduous sincerity, he can tell you all about movies and interesting books, he is generous in his characterisation of other people, loyal in his relationships, there is no trace of pettiness or opportunism, but no exalted sense of grandeur either. Yet in a strange way, he reinforces the stereotype of a humble RSS pracharak — a vocation he chronicles in affectionate detail. He shows, to use J.S. Mill’s oddly reverential phrase for Jeremy Bentham, “the completeness of limited men”, sticking to a narrow path, refusing to probe deeply or stand back from his own practical predicament to experience the contradictory pulls of history. That makes him a straight shooter, an effective man of action, but also sets limits to what he can conjure up for India.
The limits are twofold. First, “My Country” almost disappears from the book, lost in a series of chapters on security challenges that read more like bureaucratic memos than a reflection of the experience of someone who ought to have thought deeply about them; and the future agenda for the country is summarised in platitudinous phrases like good governance, development and security. But apart from chronicling the actions of the NDA, there is very little sense of the profound economic and social transformations under way in India, almost no ability to stand back and ask what India’s great transformation will look like or what its sources are. The reverence for the motherland drowns the excitement of the transformations within it.
Second, the book is a missed opportunity for making something of a coherent ideological statement: indeed, piety again trumps clear thinking. For instance, Advani takes great pride in associating the BJP with Gandhian Socialism, about as unmeaning and false as a phrase you can conjure up for our economic commitments. Whether this is a case of coopting Gandhi or signalling Left in order to turn Right is unclear, it profoundly reveals his inability to wrestle with complex structural transformations.
Advani’s commitment to cultural nationalism comes through over and over. He takes cues from assorted thinkers like Swami Ranganathananda, Aurobindo and, of course, Deendayal Upadhyaya. But again there is no trace of having grappled with complexities of their thought. For both Ranganathananda and Aurobindo, mere cultural nationalism was narcissism of the highest order, unless it was made an instrument of self-knowledge on the one hand and alternative universality on the other. But in Advani there is a reverence to the idea of a motherland that comes untethered from the injunction to rise above one’s own culture.
The oddest part of the book is his discussion on secularism. There is nothing to suggest even the slightest trace of personal prejudice or bigotry, but everything to suggest complete moral confusion. The book overdoes it with attempts to emphasise his reverence for all faiths, and there is something distasteful about the way he showcases how he personally called Narendra Modi to save Muslims from possible mob attacks on two occasions. What is distasteful is this. Despite his critique of pseudo secularism, the degree to which he is unable to use a language of citizenship rather than group identity is astonishing; it is as if categories of “Hindu” and “Muslim” have such a deep hold on his consciousness that he cannot think of citizens. His analysis of the Gujarat riots is the only monumental pettiness in the book. Irrespective of how culpable Modi might or might not have been, it would not have been too much to expect Advani to offer some deep reflections on why the threat of communal riots remains so palpable, instead of platitudes on external instigation and provocation. There have been many provocations; not all provocations result in riots. And it is beneath his dignity to settle this issue by arguing that the Congress has also been responsible for riots. He again takes great pains to argue that not all Muslims are disloyal (what relief!). Yet, the burden of proving loyalty consistently falls on them and you get the feeling it is a test they cannot pass. He has no sense of the way in which benchmarking loyalty is itself an insidious canard. Finally, it is one thing to assert the unity of India; another to ask what concrete work of politics is required to make every citizen at home within it. It has to be said that in proving his secular credentials Advani does not miss any trick. But he does miss the point.
My Country, My Life gives a sense that the commitment and character that sustained this remarkable individual remain; but the ideological moorings that gave it direction seem out of place or plainly confused. It is almost as if the first pracharak is straining to understand his role as a leader and faltering. The most astonishing picture in the book is on the early pages. One page shows all three: Advani, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Bhairon Singh Shekhawat 56 years ago; another photograph shows them more recently. Despite their huge blind spots, each of them has personal gifts that transcend their ideological limitations: their commitment is undoubted, and each is charming and graceful in his own way. They did their best when they remained true to their personal sensibilities and behaved as genuinely political creatures. Each was misled when they let the rabble of their parties force them into a rigidity or pettiness that was instinctively alien to them. Seeing them age, one cannot help feel a sense of foreboding: that politics, commitment and charm might vanish from our politics, leaving an odd combination of rigidity, opportunism and pettiness in its wake. Advani has a last shot at stemming this tide.