Strong words, weak ar­gu­ment

UR Anan­thamurthy’s di­a­tribe against Modi falls flat in ab­sence of a balanced per­spec­tive

The Financial Express - - WORDS WORTH - Rishi Raj

FIRST, A fact and a dis­claimer: UR Anan­thamurthy (URA) was a renowned Kan­nada lit­ter­a­teur. Since I have not read any of his other works, I am not qual­i­fied to com­ment on his writ­ings in gen­eral and his stature as a writer, and will, in­stead, limit my com­ment only to the work cur­rently un­der re­view.

Hin­dutva or Hind Swaraj is not ex­actly a book that qual­i­fies as a piece of re­searched, lit­er­ary work. It is more in the na­ture of a man­i­festo, at best an es­say, at worst a rant. Be­fore one sets out to dis­sect it, it is im­por­tant to know in what con­text it was penned by the au­thor, who passed away on Au­gust 22, 2014.

In the run-up to the 2014 par­lia­men­tary elec­tions, when it had more or less be­come clear that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will be led by Naren­dra Modi, who stood a chance to be­come the coun­try’s next prime min­is­ter, an in­censed URA an­nounced that he will not live in an In­dia ruled by Modi. “Modi can nei­ther re­flect an­cient In­dia nor can he build a model In­dia. I will have no be­long­ing­ness to In­dia rep­re­sented by Modi. I, in fact, will not like to live in In­dia dur­ing that pe­riod,” URA had then said.

To have likes and dis­likes is nor­mal for hu­man be­ings, but to ex­hibit personal pref­er­ences in this for m is a sure sign of in­tol­er­ance. How­ever, one is free to ex­press personal views. As was likely to hap­pen, the right-wingers de­nounced URA, while the lib­eral-Left tried to jus­tify his po­si­tion. In May 2014, not only did Modi be­come the PM, he be­came so with a huge ma­jor­ity.

Rather than dwell on whether he had gone over­board in mak­ing such state­ments of dis­like or in­tol­er­ance, URA de­cided to pen down his ex­pla­na­tion, the re­sult of which is the cur­rent book.

Likes, dis­likes and pref­er­ences are com­mon in a democ­racy, but whether one should pro­nounce dis­taste with such venom de­pends on who is mak­ing the state­ment and against whom. Our cur­rent pub­lic dis­course is so po­larised that this is the state where we have reached.

URA’s ba­sic the­sis is that strong and cen­tralised rule is not good. To prove this, he quotes from Euro­pean his­tory and says the Napoleonic way of na­tion-build­ing was not the right one, as it brought mis­eries to Europe. In the In­dian con­text, he wor­ships Ma­hatma Gandhi, but is no lover of Jawa­har­lal Nehru or Sar­dar Pa­tel. As per him, Gandhi did not want to build a na­tion-state or a moder n econ­omy, which his dis­ci­ples Nehru and Pa­tel went on to do.

More specif­i­cally, he’s crit­i­cal of Mo di, al­leg­ing that he fol­lows the Savarkar model of Hin­dutva and not Gandhi’ s model of Hind Swaraj. The for­mer is ex­clu­sivist and the lat­ter in­clu­sive, as per URA. He says, in the S av ark ar model, it is not enough for a non-Hindu to adopt In­dia as his moth­er­land; it has to be his pun­yab­hoomi also. The Gandhi model does not stress on any such thing. It was the Savarkar model that led to Nathu­ram Godse killing Gandhi, and it is the Savarkar model that is es­poused by the BJP and Modi. Hence, we are doomed.

Ob­vi­ously, when you hit out at a leader or party so ex­tremely, you are bound to be ques­tioned on other par­ties, too, which are no dif­fer­ent. URA tries to bal­ance his mono­logue by sim­ply say­ing that the Congress and Left have also failed, and have dis­ap­pointed him.

He’s also crit­i­cal of the econ­omy and, in a sense, sounds like a Lud­dite. Sadly, he never of­fers an alternative form of econ­omy that should be built. On is­sues like Is­lamic ter­ror­ism, the ex­pla­na­tio­nis sim­ple: it is be­cause of Is­rael and Amer­ica’s sup­port to Is­rael. So, if there was no Is­rael and Amer­i­can sup­port of it, the world would have been freeof thescour­geof ter­ror­ism.

The book is a fine read if one is in­ter­ested in read­ing some saintly prose, but if ex­am­ined in the con­text of his­tory, pol­i­tics, eco­nom­ics or so­ci­ol­ogy, it is a big dis­ap­point­ment be­cause it fails to build a well-ar­gued case. The ar­gu­ments are not well-knit and me­an­der from Euro­pean to In­dian and Rus­sian his­tory; to po­etry, prose, mythol­ogy, Gand­hism and Savarkar; only to pro­claim that Modi is bad.

All the book of­fers is a sense of nos­tal­gia when URA’s com­rades keep preach­ing us day in and day out that there’s never a golden age in the past.

Though it is a slim vol­ume, what is far more em­i­nently read­able than the book it­self is the fore­word writ­ten by so­ci­ol­o­gist Shiv Viswanathan. There’s no need to read fur­ther.

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