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Saturday, September 20, 2008

Is it in the initials?

A few days ago I received an article (Two Nations, Two Choices by Vir Sanghvi, written sometimes in January 2008). Forwarded by an expat friend in the US, the Subject line of the mail was "Sad, but worth reading". The same evening I received another copy from Australia, with the subject line changed to "Vir Sanghvi hits it on the head". I don't know why I am on the second mailing list ... I know no-one named Naseem F Mujtaba. (While I am glad, Naseem, that you F Mujtaba, please take me off the list. Thanks.) Since NFM had committed the common but heinous crime of putting all 118 recipients in the "To:" field, as had the previous 3 FWDers, I know that in this particular chain, alone, 591 people had received the piece. Why had this old piece begun to do the rounds suddenly, I have no idea. But I read it and passed it in on to 27 people, being careful to put all their addresses in the "Bcc:" field as courtesy, decency, and common sense demand. The first of the 17 responses I have received so far (a response-rate marketers would die for!) came quickly. Only one other article I have ever forwarded has been commented upon by so many. Anyway, this is what I was asked in the very first message: Hmmm... I can see why he's hitting it on the head - since he's Indian - but why are u forwarding this rather obnoxious article....? My answer, since others, too, may have wondered but not asked: I forwarded the piece to 3 journalist/columnists and 4 members of my extended family. From the journos I had hoped for some cool, intelligent feedback. I then, on the spur of the moment, added 20 other names. (Sorry, folks!) Now to the responses: Quite a few felt that parts of it are true. Some wrote that it was 'depressing' to read this. A few pointed out that the tone was off-putting. One pointed out that Nehru was a crook and a bastard and slept with Lord and Lady Mountbatten to get Kashmir. (This knowledge will, of course, help cure all our ills!). One said our FO should protest to the Editor of HT, which published it. (I suspect if it does, HT will tell our FO to FO!) The one Indian I passed it on to was splutteringly apologetic and said that while the article was 'perhaps true in some ways, it's just a point of view after all, and every developing country has made mistakes'. She pointed out that the author showed an anti-Punjabi bias, and was 'possibly an RSS agent.' ... (Hmmm, I thought, as I re- read this looking for clues). She also went on to soothe me by saying that "no one takes him seriously, anyway." ... "Not taken seriously? That's carrying your peace-forum apologist attitude too far", I wrote back, and quoted an Indian Muslim's response to another piece by Vir Sanghvi. Chastizing him in he above-mentioned rejoinder to Mr Sanghvi's Counterpoint piece on the Muslim response - or the alleged lack of it - to fundamentalism, someone said:

Many Muslims have been surprised and even hurt at the article written by Vir Sanghvi in the Counterpoint column of Hindustan Times on Sunday, which is without doubt the most read column of any editor in India. The reason is obvious. Had it been written by any other person it would not have mattered that much but Vir Sanghvi is one of the best editors, an erudite and highly respected journalist. Like many others he also puts the onus on Muslims for not condemning fundamentalism of Muslims ... Muslims don’t remain silent and do condemn but our voices don’t reach you. The Delhi-centric (Delhi/Haryana/Punjab) papers never carry these stories. In small cities all over Northen India Muslims protest and raise voice, but who takes notice!
Only the 2 gora non-Pakistanis I shared it with asked for the author's or the newspaper's email address and wanted to write back counters to this in the light of their experiences. (Vir Sanghvi can be emailed here.) The absence of any journos' response means that they are mulling over it and either busy writing counters or waiting for it to be erased from memory before plagiarizing from it. I agree with the 2 firangees. The article has been published in well-circulated Indian daily. If there are parts of the analysis (or the entire piece) that one disagrees with - and there are some I do not subscribe to while accepting the truths I cannot deny - it should be countered with facts and opinions. I know too little about the political history of Pakistan to write such a piece - even on my informal blog. My knowledge is based merely on having lived through the mess - with 25 years at sea at a time when access to information was poor, to begin with. So my writing could only result in an emotional, rather than a knowledgeable or analytical, response. That is if I felt any emotion (other than a personal grief) on the subject at all. Finally, pointing out that there is an Indian/Hindu bias, as some did, is stating the pointless obvious. Many of the responses contained a Pakistani/Muslim bias, too. So what's new? Unbiased opinions, anywhere, are hard to come by. Indoctrination from childhood - at home and in schools - nurtures nothing as strongly as biases. 'Religious' leaders and Nationalists (and their inevitable combo-product, the Fascist) continue to fan the flames throughout life. Mr Sanghvi, himself, shows off his unbridled nationalism through his 'need' to compare and compete. Here's one example from a response sent in by someone who, in turn, quoted an unnamed source. I found it funny (though some of you probably will not). Writings like these just reinforce my belief that the majority of Indians out there (and by Indians I mean Hindus more or less) are nursing a deep and ancient inferiority complex. Apart from the give-away word 'belief', the phrase "more or less' had me ROTFL ... Peace! (And don't worry if you can't figure out why this post is titled what it is).

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Blogger scribina said...

I don't we should be that fast to put labels on people, without reading all their output.

Is this what you mean by "unbridled nationalism" --

If you can't click on that, just google, "vir sanghvi think the unthinkable hindustan times"

(Disclosure: I am a delhi'ite who does read his sunday article every week. I sometimes agree with him and sometimes I don't, but jingoism - defined as chauvinistic patriotism - is something I would not accuse him off.)

20 September, 2008 16:02

Blogger Sidhusaaheb said...

Here is my take on the article:

- The Hindustan Times is a newspaper that is read mainly in North India, as far as I know, and, even within North India, a large proportion of its readership is confined to Delhi.

- The city of Delhi has a significant percentage of its population and, notably, the affluent part, composed of Punjabi migrants from the Pakistani part of Punjab. So, if Vir Sanghvi meant to reach a large number of non-Punjabi readers, the Hindustan Times does not appear to be the best choice.

- Nehruvian socialism, in my opinion, is the root of most of the corruption that is rampant in India, even at present. It was estimated at one point of time that out of each rupee meant to help the economically weakest sections of Indian society, only about 20 paise reaches the intended beneficiaries.

- The economic boom that Vir Sanghvi harps on began to materialise when the Indian economy started moving away from Nehruvian socialism and towards the free-market model.

- The huge expenditure incurred on a large number of the public sector units (apart from a few notable exceptions) set-up more for 'serving the public' than for making profits has been a huge drain on the economy, along with that on a large number of inefficient government departments and companies, which has begun to ease only after divestment and privatisation began.

- Mr. Sanghvi seems to have conveniently forgotten the times when the government of India literally had to pawn its gold reserves, in order to keep the economy going, when Narsimha Rao was prime minister. Kudos and feathers to Nehruvian socialism!

- If the 'self-reliance' advocated by Nehruvian socialism was so successfully achieved, as Mr. Sanghvi seems to point out, why is it that India is still sorely lacking in basic infrastructure like roads, electricity-generation, water-supply, etc. that are essential for industrial development?

- If the infrastructure developed on account of the 'self-reliance' doctrine of Nehruvian socialism was so good as Mr. Sanghvi seems to think, then why did the Indian economy remain mainly agriculture-based until not so long ago (when the Nehruvian socialism model began to be dismantled) and why has it jumped from being that to a services-based economy, without an intervening period where the growth should have been largely led by the manufacturing sector, like the progression expected from an economy undergoing healthy growth that is less likely to be affected by global economic cycles than the way it has happened in India? (Hint: There was a lack of basic infrastructure and the growth in the services sector was mainly led by out-sourcing, which, in turn, was mainly driven by the low-costs that India had to offer in terms of an inexpensive and English-speaking work-force.)

- If Pakistan really is no more than a curiousity in India now, what makes Mr. Sanghvi write such a lengthy article on the subject?

- If he really must compare India against other countries that are much smaller in terms of land-area as well as population, why does Mr. Sanghvi not choose to compare India's economic state and the economic well-being or otherwise of its citizens against other former dominions of the British crown like, say, Hong Kong?

- If Nehruvian socialism has been as successful as Mr. Sanghvi seems to think, how is it that one-third of the world's poor are to be found in India (,curpg-1.cms ) ?

- I do agree with Mr. Sanghvi that India has benefitted by not becoming a lackey of the US in the past and that much death and destruction has been brought to Pakistan on that account, besides the weakening of democratic institutions in that country, but I do wonder whether India is headed towards that direction now.

- Mr. Sanghvi seems to have conveniently overlooked the fact that state-sponsored pogroms against minorities have occured frequently in the 'Secular, Socialist, Democratic Republic of India' (e.g. against the Sikhs in 1984 and the Muslims in 2002, with a similar exercise being in progress against the Christians at present), whereas it is hard to recall anything of the sort having happened at that scale in the 'Islamic Republic of Pakistan'. I do realise, however, that it could have been on account of a lack of democracy in Pakistan for much of its existence. In India, politicians have to divide people along the lines of religion and caste in order to secure their 'vote-banks'. The practise of doing good in order to win votes is obviously not a part of the culture in the sub-continent. Had Pakistan been a democracy for the greater part of its existence, it is quite possible that such evil would have been in evidence there as well, it appears to me.

20 September, 2008 17:01

Anonymous iateozone said...

Although I can only say "fair comment" to Mr. Sanghvi's article, (to follow on from Mr. Sidhu's last comment), I think he has conveniently forgotten what is still the reason for nearly all of Pakistan's publicised problems, and that in India rears its head from time to time with ugly consequences. This is that both countries are still battling to create their identity.

Both countries have to deal with religion. Fortunately for Pakistan there is precedence that a country can resolve the question of how an individual should be regulated vis-a-vis his/ her religion, if the country has an overwhelming majority that follows one religion. Unfortunately, for India, there is no precedence of a country resolving a clash between a significant population following two (or more) religions without there being a split on religious lines.

Of course, (in theory) India's challenge is greater. However,it is my believe that it has more of a chance in creating precedence than Pakistan resolving its problem faced by nearly every nation at some point. Why? Simply, because we have neither learnt from history nor do we care.

23 September, 2008 03:55

Blogger Vic said...

@sidhusaheb and @iateozone: Neither Nehruvian socialism, nor its dismantling, operated in a vacuum. Zia's opportunism neither.

India and Pakistan weren't born in black and white, and coloured by separatism afterwards.

But for every Vir Sanghvi who earned his spurs, and chooses to squander his legacy in such trifling articles, there are voices struggling to be heard. Some are, possibly, worth lending your ear.

24 September, 2008 18:03

Blogger sabizak said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

30 September, 2008 11:09


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