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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Who could replace Modi in 2019?

Kumar Ketkar



The names have begun flying in the media and in the eternal gossip and rumour circuits of New Delhi. The hypothesis being Narendra Modi will not make it. If he manages majority or re-manoeuvres the NDA, then, of course, he would be the PM again. But more and more pundits have begun to say that there is huge discontent in the BJP and resistance to him from the RSS. If the BJP gets less than 200 seats, then Modi’s future as PM will be in jeopardy.

I don’t like the expression, “dark horse” because it sounds demeaning and even racist.  But to use that conventional terminology, there indeed are several “ dark horses” who are being brought into drawing room discussions. Everybody agrees only on one point. And that is: no Party will get its own simple or even thin majority.The coalition then would be inevitable, either led by the BJP or some Opposition Party. So it could be another NDA or yet another UPA or Third Front and well, perhaps even the Federal Front! There are some self-proclaimed PM candidates, and some quietly working on the possible election outcome. One such permanent “Future PM” is Sharad Pawar. But he is a straight-faced poker player. He will neither reveal sentiment nor strategy!

The other (dark horses) in the race are Sam Pitroda and Ram Madhav. And also Rajnath Singh and Mamata Banerjee. While Prakash Karat lobby in the CPM describes Mamata as “fascist”, the Congress thinks the real “fascist” force in India is led by Narendra Modi. The Mamata backers argue that she would “punish” the “Modi-Shah gang” if the BJP loses power. The Congress, given its moderate nature, would never take such hard line!

A section in the CPM believes that the RSS is a fascist organisation, but BJP is only communal! However, conflicts in the CPM were sorted out by their politbureau, by some semantic skulduggery. At one point, Nitish Kumar had emerged as a front-runner in the race for PM. But it appears, he committed political “Harakiri” by suddenly changing loyalties and joining the NDA. Now again he is trying to distance himself from the “communal” BJP! Then there are some creative political crystal ball gazers who would not rule out even Pranab Mukherjee!

Ram Madhav could be the candidate of the RSS and Sam Pitroda of Rahul Gandhi. A famous Hindi TV anchor in fact recommended Sam Pitroda ’s name. Pranab Mukherjee’s name could come as a compromise of the Opposition parties when they fail to arrive at a consensus. After all, most parties had supported him as a President.

All this speculation is of course completely wild kite flying and image building by ambitious politicians. But then who would have thought that the offer would go to Jyoti Basu in 1996 and his party would refuse him the “NOC” to take charge as PM and take the plunge. Basu himself described later that refusal as the “Himalayan Blunder” of the Party. There was also some lobbying to rope in VP Singh as Prime Minister again. But he categorically refused. Nobody ever thought then that eventually, Deve Gowda would become the PM followed by Inder Kumar Gujral. Similarly, the name of Dr Manmohan Singh was also a startling surprise in 2004.

Such questions were never raised in the fifties and even in the sixties. There were no speculations and no “dark horses” in the race! As long as Pandit Nehru was alive, it was considered natural that he would be the PM after general elections—in 1952, 1957 and 1962. The question did get posed in 1967, but not too seriously.

That was (1967) the first election after Panditji’s death. There was an interregnum of about 20 months during which Lal Bahadur Shastri was the Prime Minister. He had to face war with Pakistan in 1965, which ended in a kind of stalemate, though India could retain its image and pride. But Shastri’s death in Tashkent (former the Soviet Union) forced an internal election in the Congress party.

The Old Guard chose Indira Gandhi but another section of the party thought Morarji Desai would be a better choice. Desai was a well known Right Winger and also stubborn orthodox Gandhian in personal lifestyle. But the Old Guard (which came to be known as Syndicate), thought Indira could be manipulated to take the country Rightwards. It was clear that though they swore by the name and legacy of Nehru, they wanted a break from his political philosophy. To them, Indira was a “dumb doll”.

Moreover, they also calculated that to win general elections in 1967, daughter of Nehru would provide a perfect foil. Though the party had lost  Pandit Nehru, the towering leader, there was no Opposition worth the name to challenge the Congress. The Jan Sangh, a political party floated in 1950, by the RSS was slowly spreading its tentacles it never thought that it had potential to come to power on its own. Congress was like a colossus.

The parties that were getting popular appeal were the Communist Party and the upfront Right Wing outfit known as Swatantra Party. The Communist Party had come to power in Kerala in 1957. (that was the first ever democratic victory of the communists in the world). There were socialists, mainly breakaway factions of the Congress but they were in the political wilderness, constantly splitting and repositioning.

It was Ram Manohar Lohia, the socialist ideologue and a maverick politician who first conceived the idea of “Congress-Mukt” India. But for that idea of “anti-Congressism” fifty years ago, there would not have been the BJP or Narendra Modi today. Lohia forged the non-Congress alliances in 1967, to challenge the Congress led by Indira Gandhi. She returned to power, though with a small majority in Lok Sabha. In as many as eight states the Congress lost power giving hope to the Opposition.

No political pundit or even the party ever thought then that the Congress would be dethroned at the centre. The Grand Old Party was just too deeply entrenched in Politics and in the minds of the people. The question as to who would be a Prime Minister never really arose. The split in the party in 1969 raised the hopes and ambitions of the Opposition parties. But Indira Gandhi’s single-handed landslide victory in 1971 (the famous “Garibi Hatao” election) reinvigorated the Party and her leadership. But after the Emergency, Indian politics changed at the core.

It is from 1977 that the general elections acquired the “suspense dimension” and the question of who would be Prime Minister began to be discussed in the media. Actually, even the Janata Party could not agree on any name for quite a few days despite its historic victory. They differed with each other intensely on the names of Morarji Desai and Jag Jiva Ram and Charan Singh. Madhu Dandavate’s name also floated for some time.

In 2014, Narendra Modi’s name could not have been challenged. He as well as the party, the media and the pundits had all seen the aggressive campaign, the super confidence, his way of humiliating Party colleagues, eliminating all competition. From Day One, he gave the impression, and it was believed by the corporates as well as the middle classes that he is invincible. He used to say, loud and clear, that he would be the Prime Minister for 10 or even 15 years. The Congress would cease to exist! His dream was to make India “Congress-Mukt” forever. His weapon was massive hate campaign, mainly through social media. That proved to be successful for First three years. Modi-led BJP captured as many as 19 states!  But then the tide began to turn.

In the last four years, his confidence has waned. His policies have failed. His dramatic and dubious decisions like demonetisation have boomeranged. His policies of “friendly neighbourhood” have fallen wayside. Nepal, Maldives, Sri Lanka do not even respect him or India. Neither terrorism has been brought under control, nor Pakistan has been tamed. His Kashmir policy has further alienated the people of Kashmir. His “blow hot, blow cold” relationship with Pakistan and China has exposed the thoughtless and visionless foreign policy. He has failed to get black money and miserably lost the war against corruption. The money that he and Amit Shah deploy in every election is a visible evidence of the power of black wealth they have generated for their party.

And that is why there is speculation as to who would be the Prime Minister of India in 2019. But he would not go away from the national stage without some huge drama, even violent and vicious. He could still dare some mind-boggling, even disastrous economic announcements to impress upon the gullible voters and the frenzied middle class. This middle class was his strongest vote bank, but now it is imploding. It is that impending implosion which has made his, and India’s future uncertain. Hence the suspense: Who Would Be The Next Prime Minister?

'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Time for the liberals to unite

Kumar Ketkar



In most former socialist and also in liberal-welfarist countries in Europe there appears to be a massive swing towards Right and xenophobic mood. The latest example is that of Hungary. Viktor Orban who won by two-third majority for the third consecutive term as the Prime Minister, belongs to the Right Wing Fidesz Party. He is not a new convert to the Right. But does he really represent the Hungarian people? Already protest marches have begun, accusing his party of rigging the election or results.
In the election campaign, Orban’s Party projected the “Islamic” threat, by hyping on Muslim migration. He used to say that soon Islam will take over Europe! The Christians must fight for their “sons of soil” rights, for their religion and for Hungarian Nationalism ! (Doesn’t this sound familiar? Narendra Modi and the RSS and the VHP had raised similar slogans in Gujarat elections. The policy of polarisation continues even today.) Because of this Right Wing fundamentalist and neo-liberal onslaught on the inclusive welfarism, not only the Left, but also Liberals are alarmed.
The world over the Liberals are defensive.  In the last thirty years they have lost their political space to all kinds of extremists, fundamentalists and egotists. They have surrendered their intellectual space technocrats, bureaucrats and corporates. They have allowed the discourse to be conducted on TV debates not like “argumentative Indians should” but more in the jingoistic manner. or in the Think Tanks mostly work on a brief handed to them and not on options available. The anchors want to win the argument rather allow debate.
Those liberals who do not want to get trapped in such predicaments are afraid that if they take a position on any issue, they will cease to be liberals! Many of them have defined liberalismas being totally open ended. Some others think that everybody is right from his/her own points of views or their personal or social situation. And there are those who have “philosophically”  concluded that there is nothing like “correct” or “morally right” position and hence it is free for all. Some of them are post-modernists who have brought liberalism close to opportunism or to philosophical anarchy.
This was not so in the turbulent Sixties and early seventies. All liberals, irrespective of their political hue, cultural background, religious persuasion or profession were against the war in Vietnam, for withdrawal of the US forces from the Southeast Asia, were critical of an oppressive state as well as dominating corporates. Nobody  felt that there was a case for President Nixon. Nobody among them wanted or defended communism as an ideology. Yet they were opposed to the US involvement in a war.
Neither The New York Times nor the students or teachers on the university campuses were against the free market economy. From Jean Paul Sartre to Bertrand Russell, from Osho Rajanish to the Beatles and hundreds of rock music groups, from Steve Jobs to astrophysicist writer Carl Sagan all were anti-war. None of them was Socialist or thought that Vietnamese communism was better than American capitalism. In every respect they were different from each other and yet they took a firm position against war and against US involvement.
They were the liberals in true sense. They belonged to the philosophical tradition of liberalism which had its roots in the Enlightenment. And also European philosophical trend in the 17th and 18th century which emphasised reason and individualism, life and liberty. Indeed, the American war of Independence in 1776 and also the French Revolution in 1789 were the expression of that Enlightenment.
The baton of that liberalism was passed on to the Indian resurrection. In fact, just when the Europe was witnessing the rise of Mussolini and Hitler, Indian Freedom Struggle was giving rise to Mahatma Gandhi, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar. They differed with each other, sometimes strongly, but never gave up their true liberal values. They could distance themselves from the regressive Indian tradition and yet could integrate progressive Eastern values with the Western Enlightenment thought.
Mahatma Gandhi described himself as a proud Hindu and yet could assimilate not only Christian thought of the Bible but also the ideas of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. He evolved a philosophy of Pacifism and global humanism at the time when many ideologies, from communism to fascism and from aggressive nationalism to expansionist capitalism were advocating and practicing violence to achieve their objectives.
Reviled and ridiculed initially, Gandhiji soon became a symbol of the Enlightened Liberalism who advocated the right to life, liberty and fraternity among all religions, nations and societies. Without giving up the “religious” foundation of his philosophy, he could bring together people of all religions. He emphasized that the Freedom Movement was not against the British people but only against the British Raj, their Rule and their laws.
The hallmark of the Liberal value is tolerance. Gandhiji personified that value. Pandit Nehru,  was committed to the ideas of science, secularism and liberal democracy— an ideological residue of the Enlightenment. He always said that to his Western friends, he appeared completely Indian and to his followers in India, he was regarded as a thoroughbred Westerner. To him, that was a badge of Liberalism.
Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, one of the architects of the liberal Indian Constituion, was in the forefront to implement the truly liberal programme–not only in the political sphere but also in social and personal life.  He founded the Republican Party of India. He believed in the Republican values which were the product of the Liberal traditions of the West. Dr Ambedkar could integrate Mahatma Phule, Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Abraham Lincoln.
Panditji could bring together the reformist tradition of our own past. Gandhiji could be philosophically at home with both Tolstoy and Tagore. The Indian Liberalism has been truly global in its content.  The regions of Bengal and Maharashtra had the glorious traditions of the social reform movement. So it was not difficult for the Mahatma to weave in the freedom struggle both the social reform movement and the idea of renunciation of the material riches.
The liberal, secular, democratic and federal Indian Union is based on this Indian liberalism, and not only on the foundation of the European tradition of the Enlightenment. But in the past thirty years, slowly but surely, the Indian liberals have begun to shed their values of tolerance, reason and dialogue.
The rise of Hindu Fundamentalism in the eighties, and growing global Muslim identitarianism, stridency in socio-political discourse and taking recourse to Post-modernist individualism are indications of the decline of Liberal ethos in India. In fact, the rise of caste identity in the name of Mandalisation, The Whipped up pride in the linguistic chauvinism and provincial consciousness have begun to influence media so much that it has ceased to remain an independent voice.
Now the liberals are either Left Liberals or the Right Liberals, the Hindu Liberals or the Muslim Liberals, Global Liberals or the Patriotic Liberals. Their position is determined not by values and reason but by exigencies.This is not only a threat to India’s secular democracy, it is a threat to the Argumentative Indian who kept the intellectual and philosophical vibrant liberal tradition. It is time for the Liberals to unite, because they have nothing to lose but their freedom!
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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Face of Fascism

Kumar Ketkar



Intellectuals and political sociologists have been arguing and interpreting for almost 70 years as to what we mean in India, by the terms-Fascism and Secularism. Even Nationalism! Influenced by the Western philosophical and political traditions, some argue that all these terms have roots in Europe’s history of the last nearly thousand years.
So to condemn the broadly accepted interpretations, they will question what Fascism means, what is the connotation of Secularism and of course what is the content of the term Nationalism. So let us begin with the controversy about the term Fascism. The great Marxist intellectual leader Prakash Karat famously said that it is the RSS is Fascist, but not the BJP which is communal. Everyone knows that the BJP is a political front of the RSS. Yet he dared to say this.

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had presciently warned us exactly seventy years ago, in precise words, of the dangers of Fascism in India. But we, meaning all of us, the Leftists, Liberals, Media, Academics and Intellectuals were either complacent, indifferent or irresponsible. We took for granted that we as a nation, we as a civilisation, we as a culture (“and for some, we as Hindus!”) will never succumb to the forces of Fascism
In a letter to the chief ministers, on December 7, 1947, just a month and a half before the murder of the Mahatma, he wrote, “We have a great deal of evidence to show that the RSS is an organisation, which is proceeding on the strictest Nazi lines, even following the technique of organisation. The German youth drifted towards the Nazi Party because of their negative programmes which did not require an active effort of mind. The Nazi Party brought Germany to ruin and I have little doubt that if these tendencies are allowed to spread and increase in India, they would do enormous injury to India. No doubt, India would survive, but she would be grievously wounded and would take a long time to recover”

There are some myths, believed even by liberals, that Hindu civilisation by definition is plural and multi-cultural and will resist the regressive and unicolour forces of fascism. Then there are some naive intellectuals who think that the various public institutions are so entrenched that they will defeat the fascistic design. This faith has been belied totally.

One of the most naive and too simplistic an argument has been that the BJP led by Narendra Modi has been elected by the people and should be given undisturbed five years as it is the people’s will that he and his party (and their mentors, the RSS) represent. Indeed, Adolf Hitler too was elected and even Mussolini represented their people.

But according to the well-known political sociologist, Bertram Gross, even in the developed western democracies, fascism can come to power. His book, “Friendly Fascism”, written in the late seventies, says even in America fascism can come to power through electoral politics. His fears have almost come true with the election of Donald Trump as a president. He wrote the book, with the subtitle “The New Face of Power in America”! Similar winds are blowing in Western Europe, as the global capitalism faces deeper and deeper crisis. The Marxist dictum that Fascism is a manifestation of “final solution” of the capitalism with its anti-people policies and actions.

The state governments under the Modi regime are virtually at the feet of the Prime Minister. From their budgetary allocations to the so-called smart city plans. And from loan waiving programmes to who should be included or dropped from the state ministries. The interference of the Prime Minister’s office is so sweeping that even the chief ministers cannot act on their own. So let us see the validity of the argument that our so-called “strong institutions” will not let fascism enter here!
Take the most prestigious and truly independent institution-the Reserve Bank of India. We saw how the RBI surrendered its autonomy to the executive led by Narendra Modi. The disruptive demonetisation which brought misery to a vast number of people was announced and implemented without proper scrutiny by the RBI. The Non-Performing Assets of banks have been playing havoc with the system and the RBI would not even declare the names of the (crony) capitalists.

Even after 17 months of the demonetisation, we still do not know how many notes came back to the RBI. Now many people suspect that more notes came back than what was believed to be in actual circulation. Some others feel that the old notes are being clandestinely getting exchanged even now and the RBI is keeping eyes closed. The reason appears to be that the RBI is gripped by “fear psychosis”. The fear of the Modi-Shah duo and their massive and threatening organisational machine, partly of the RSS and partly be the Intelligence bureaucracy.

Take the Election Commission. It just repeats what the Prime Minister says. One Nation, One Election, was one such idea, announced by Narendra Modi. The obvious absurdity and impracticality of the idea became obvious soon. Suddenly it has gone off headlines. The non-cooperative approach of the Election Commission on the issue of EVMs and restarting the ballot papers method, is another example.

The so-called autonomous status of universities is so completely undermined that everything is dictated by the HRD ministry-from appointments of vice-chancellors to even the syllabus and campus rules. Earlier, even the police could not enter these supposed temples of knowledge. Now the police enter the campuses without any compunction and the government wants to display military tanks at the gates as a display of patriotic spirit.

All grant-in-aid educational institutions have to follow the diktats of the government. The books on history and politics are being changed with a view to erasing the roles, Pandit Nehru and other tall secular leaders. They want to erase or distort the very history of the freedom movement under the guidelines of the RSS. Now according to the fresh diktats, all 15 lakh National Cadet Course (NCC) students are supposed to be the parallel armed force, with their cell phones and mail ids submitted to the PMO.

The Intelligence agencies, the IB, the ED, the CBI and NIA have become tools of the government to blackmail and terrorise political leaders, writers, journalists and artists—filmmakers and painters and poets and cartoonists. The bureaucracy was always subservient but now it has become a slave. The judiciary is cunningly circumvented by using all means—sam, dam, dand, bhed that is persuade, bribe, reprimand or terrorise and divide to rule. The judges are transferred at the shortest notice, kicked upwards, bribed, jailed or even killed!

Some intellectuals obfuscate the issue of fascism by saying that the situations in India cannot be compared with those in Italy in the twenties and in Germany in the thirties. Of course, no situations in different countries could be in a ditto format. There will be variation in different countries, different cultures and different peoples. But we have to identify and diagnose similar attributes and elements that define the fascistic rule.

Those elements are: systematic creation and spread of fear psychosis, persecution of rival political parties and leaders, controlling the media and terrorising the opposition, blackmailing the critics and detractors, using violence as means of dividing the communities on religious and caste lines, and generating hyper-nationalistic and jingoistic, xenophobic mindsets. All this by actively promoting obscene personality cult and setting up a caucus that rules bypassing the Parliament, cabinet, parliamentary bodies etc.

The Indian version of fascism is based on majoritarianism, Hindu communal consolidation, isolating minorities—mainly Muslims, threatening and terrorising them, destroying their places of worship, killing helpless and hapless Muslims, raping women and so on. Using tradition, religion, culture, language and superstition for establishing unidimensional and uniform power structure.

The educational institutions have lost the spine and autonomy. From textbooks to the courses and syllabus are now controlled by the State led by Modi. The upper caste families in particular, despite their higher education as well as exposure to the developed countries, have been supporting communal and fascistic organisations. The media, which is supposed be the watchdog of the people, and defender of freedoms and civil liberties have become lapdogs, barking at everyone else, but the Master!

Fascism indeed has many faces. Indian fascism is no less anti-civilisational, no less brutal and no less authoritarian than that of Hitler, Mussolini or Franco. It is time for all those who believe in democracy, secularism and liberal values to stand up and fight.


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'State of Mind' by Kumar Ketkar

Mood, Moody’s and Modi

Kumar Ketkar



Many news magazines, in English and regional languages, conduct at regular intervals, polls to monitor the mood of the people. Then there are national and international institutions like Moody’s, who keep track of the economic swings. When elections come (and they come quite frequently), the opinion polls try to follow the electoral trends. It has become an obsession for some glossy magazines to constantly watch the mood fluctuations about Modi’s popularity! It is boosted by positive ratings from Moody’s and rising Sensex and declines by the growing social restlessness. There appears to be a link between Moods, Moody’s and Modi—so this is not just alliteration!

I don’t want to go into the merits or demerits of all these “mood measurements”. There is enough experience based on scepticism about all these polls and suggested trends. The actual voting has exposed quite often the falsehood and illusion about the opinion polls. Occasionally, they have come close to the results, and then they are flaunted as evidence of “science of psephology”!

And yet it is a multi-million rupee (or dollar!) business all over the world. Once a “poll-sceptic” asked in a panel discussion, on one of those political entertainment shows: what is the difference between astrological predictions and poll predictions? Another panelists interjected and said, actually, the pollsters too consult astrologers! Just as “satta” players in the stock markets do!

All aspects of our life now are governed by such polls. Entertainment TV channels change stories, actors, costumes, timings of the show according to the trade ratings, known popularly as TRPs. In a country of over 130 crore people and almost 70 percent connectivity, there are a few hundred, perhaps a few thousand, meters which measure the viewership patterns.

There are over 800 channels, most of them either entertainment or religious or astrological or infotainment. News channels are about 200, including local language ones. Most of them, for the past three years, have been toeing the government line (is it line or propaganda? Difficult to say). Also, they are clones of each other. Even if one surfs all news channels, what one sees is the same story, often done with the same angle of camera and content.

How come, the TRP monitors have not noted that the viewers are getting more and more disgusted. When the liberals had demanded the privatisation of TV channels and end of the government monopoly of Doordarshan, it was believed that plurality of news and views, a multiplicity of cultural expressions, variety of literary and science shows will come on the screen, educating and intelligently entertaining the people. In reality, even the story content of all serials (languages included), is getting identical. Instead of diversity, we are celebrating uniformity.

The so-called free competition was to bring about different types of products, brands, companies and of course prices. But we are witnessing boring and totally monotonous consumer products. From shaving creams to shoes, from mobile phone handsets to television sets. Now even the decor and interiors of shopping malls are getting so identical that it is difficult to distinguish one from the other.

Once you create such tiring uniformity in products, entertainment, news, views and media, then it is possible to control the “mood” of the people. Several social scientists have begun to say that globalisation has become corporatisation and through that the big businesses have begun to control not only the media but also the messages and the moods. So the opinion polls and the TRPs are aiming at destroying the diversity and plurality.

All this became possible because of communication and information technology. It is logical therefore that all citizens are compelled to possess all the time the Aadhar Card and also Pan Card. The idea of Hindu Monolith Vote Bank comes from such (sick) minds. “One nation, one election” proposal (totally impractical one) came out of such complicated socio-political and economic processes.

That is why, the Nobel Laureate in economics Joseph Stieglitz has warned the world that the globalisation, instead of promoting global diversity, has brought about global discontent and fragmentation of societies. The protagonists of globalisation thought 30 years ago that there would be a world without borders, markets without national barriers, free movement of labour, global competition and all that would lead to a celebration of diversity and democracy.

In reality, we are seeing, at international level, protectionism, closing of borders, even erecting walls, ruthlessly stopping migrants from entering other countries. The apologists of the global business say now that the process will take time. But the so called market forces do not want to wait. They are selling more and more destructive weapons to all small or big countries, different ethnic groups and even terrorist outfits.

Let us not ignore the fact that the Talibanis and ISIS, White Supremacists and Christian fundamentalists, identitarian political groups and religious parties, climate destroyers and mindless technocrats emerged on the scene after globalisation. New dictatorships, sanctioned and elected by democratic means are also products of last three decades of globalisation. Furled by drug trade and arms trade, the World is becoming  more and more unsafe.

From renowned climatologist like Al Gore to science genius like Stephen Hawking  and from creative film maker Steven Spielberg to Poet-singer like Bob Dylan are expressing concern about the future of humanity. The physicist Martin Rees, has gone a step ahead. He sees this century as the final century. The progress of civilisation will bring about destruction of it. But no pollster has measured the seriousness of coming Apocalypse!

At the root is human weakness. Mahatma Gandhi warned more than 80 years ago: this earth and nature have enough for all the mankind’s need, but not enough for the human greed!!

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