Monthly Archives: October 2014
Hold your Applauses. “Nobel” is not necessarily noble!
Notes from a colleague, SD:
SANKRANT SANU | OCT 12, 2014
Kailash Satyarthi seems deeply involved in Western evengelical institutional structures.
The announcement of the Nobel Peace Prize for Kailash Satyarthi was somewhat of a shock. Firstly he was practically unknown within India with journalists and others all shaking their heads and asking “Satyarthi who?” Secondly, the announcement from the Norwegian Nobel Committee was both politically charged and condescending:
The Nobel Committee regards it as an important point for a Hindu and a Muslim, an Indian and a Pakistani, to join in a common struggle for education and against extremism. Many other individuals and institutions in the international community have also contributed. It has been calculated that there are 168 million child labourers around the world today. In 2000 the figure was 78 million higher. The world has come closer to the goal of eliminating child labour.
The announcement draws on the old theme of Western “parity” between India and Pakistan, and then calls out the purportedly “Hindu” and “Muslim” affiliations of the awardees. Now, going back at least 10 years we did not find the religion of the awardees mentioned in the Nobel Peace Prize announcement. Barack Obama is not called out as a Christian, nor are the affiliations of Marti Ahtisaari, Al Gore, Mohammad Yunus, or any of the other awardees called out. Why the necessity to call out Satyarthi as a Hindu?
Not that Satyarthi is, by any stretch, a Hindu leader. In fact, Ellen Barry, writing in the New York Times, explicitly points out that he is a Marxist. Here is my exchange with her:
Would the Nobel Prize Committee call out a Marxist in the West as a “Christian” just as it calls Satyarthi as a “Hindu.” It appears on the lines of “thou protesteth too much”, unusually calling out a religious affiliation of someone who is clearly not properly identified with that label. What exactly are they trying to hide?
Speaking of religious affiliation, it looks like there is another nexus at play. Of the congratulations Satyarthi got, one came from World Vision who identified him as a “partner.”
World Vision is powerful evangelical organisation that makes no secret of its Christian affiliation and agenda. Satyarthi partnering with World Vision brings the classic Breaking India nexus into play—using Indian Leftists to pave the way for evangelism mission in India. World Vision declined to provide additional details of their relationship. “Project Rescue:” that aims to bring trafficked children “to Jesus” is another potential link. Other Christian evangelical websites such as “Rivers of Hope”, referenced Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan rescues, though their exact relationship remained unclear.
Jaya Jaitley, in an NDTV interview after the Nobel was announced, also gave a less-than-glowing review of Satyarthi. Apparently she was quite familiar with his work from the 1980s before he got the Nobel, but she “found the selection of awards rather strange.”
She also mentioned that “we hadn’t heard much about his work lately. He has gotten a lot of international awards and there are some cynical comments on how these awards are selected.” There were many people working on the issue of child labour and Satyarthi’s work was not particularly notable. She called out Swami Agnivesh, who Satyarthi“trained with” as the one who brought this issue to the fore and was the prime mover. It is unlikely a saffron-clad “Hindu” would be given the Nobel, however.
If we take a look at the list of awards that Satyarthi has received, Jaitley’s contention is certainly borne out.
– Defenders of Democracy Award (2009-USA)
– Alfonso Comin International Award (2008-Spain)
– Medal of the Italian Senate (2007-Italy)
– Heroes Acting to End Modern Day Slavey by US State Department (2007-USA)
– Freedom Award (2006-USA)
– In October 2002, Satyarthi was awarded the Wallenberg Medal from the University of Michigan in recognition of his courageous humanitarian work against the exploitation of child labor.
– Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Award (1999-Germany)
– La Hospitalet Award (1999-Spain)
– De Gouden Wimpel Award (1998-Netherlands)
– Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Award (1995-USA)
– The Trumpeter Award (1995-USA)
– The Aachener International Peace Award (1994-Germany)
Germany, USA, Spain and Italy are certainly prominent among the countries from which these awards originate. Also the US State Deparment has both awarded Satyarthi and funded his Bachpan Bachao Andolan (BBA) during the Bush era.
Finally, Megha Bahree writes in Forbes that her experience with Satyarthi’s Bachpan Bachao Andolan was “Anything But Nobel-Worthy.” She mentions being taken by a BBA representative on a “tour” to show her child labour for a story she was doing. But none of the places she took her had child labor, till he finally asked her to wait and presented a situation with looked fake to her journalistic eyes. As she pointed out “the problem is that the more children you show “rescued”, the more funds you get from foreign donors.” On that account BBA appeared to be doing rather well. According to Madhu Kishwar, as far back as 12 years ago, he was funded $2 million dollars by US and German foundations.
Kailash Satyarthi has no doubt done some good work. At the same time he also appears to be deeply embedded in Western institutional structures and sources of funding for a long time. But he also has his local supporters. He has received an endorsement from Dr. Vaidik, who also claims to know him for long. Dr. Vaidik says that Satyarthi is not self-promotional and keep a simple lifestyle. On the other hand it is difficult to reconcile the slew of largely foreign awards, criticism of peers and charges of inflating numbers with the endorsement of lack of self-promotion.
The verdict is still out on Satyarthi and the Nobel on whether he is a hero manufactured by Western institutions for their own interests or a simple, unassuming human rights worker. Given the pattern of funds, the less than stellar endorsement from peers, his Marxist leanings coming with a “Hindu” tag and relationships with evangelical organizations such as World Vision, we should take our newly minted hero with a grain of salt.
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s personal opinions. Information, facts or opinions shared by the Author do not reflect the views of Niti Central and Niti Central is not responsible or liable for the same. The Author is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
Sankrant Sanu is an entrepreneur, writer and researcher based in Seattle and Gurgaon. His essays were published in the book “Invading the Sacred” that contested Western academic writing on Hinduism and is a popular writer and blogs at sankrant.org. He is a graduate of IIT Kanpur and the University of Texas and holds six technology patents.
The person (or maybe the copywriter) who, in a bout of linguistic inspiration, first suggested that Narendra Modi kem cho and conquered America probably never had politics on his mind. Unfortunately, when it comes to India’s Prime Minister, politics of a sharply partisan variety is never far away. From the innocuous “may the force be with you” aside to a rock concert in New York City to the severity of his Navratri fast, almost everything Modi does is minutely dissected by an army of pundits, in a constant state of readiness for the first major lapse — something more substantial than saying ‘Mohanlal’ for ‘Mohandas’.
For the moment, Modi has given his detractors few opportunities to show him up as a desi bumpkin, totally out of his depth in the glitzy world of politics and diplomacy. Initially, when it was suggested that the Prime Minister would conduct his global diplomacy in Hindi, there were a few sniggers from those comfortable with Indian leaders speaking to the world in English, and that too in unaccented Received Pronunciation — what in Indian parlance is dubbed ‘convent English’. Unfortunately for them, this unwillingness to flaunt the Commonwealth connection was widely appreciated in India. Indeed, the fact that Modi chose to emulate Atal Bihari Vajpayee and speak to the UN General Assembly in Hindi was internalised by India as a symbol of national pride, even by those who believe that the English language has an important role to play in India.
From purposeless mutterings about insisting on Hindi when he has an adequate grasp of English to misgivings over overdoing the Gujarati bit was a short step. Unlike HD Deve Gowda, the self-professed “humble farmer” who was ridiculed as the ‘Prime Minister of Karnataka’, Modi’s regional identity hasn’t yet been projected as a political liability. Yet, Modi is unquestionably a Gujarati in the same way as President Pranab Mukherjee leaves people in little doubt that he is a Bengali. More to the point, Modi makes no attempt to conceal his Gujarati-ness. In his speeches he draws freely from his experiences as chief minister of Gujarat for 13 years and it is also likely that at home he keeps a Gujarati table. On their part, Gujaratis, whether in Ahmedabad or New Jersey, see him as one of their own — a local lad from Vadnagar made good.
Does Modi’s deep regional roots make him less of a pan-Indian leader? This certainly was the implicit suggestion of those who tried to brush off the spectacular reception he received at the Madison Square Garden rally as a made-in-Gujarat event that it clearly wasn’t.
Unconsciously or otherwise, the contrived charge of a creeping Gujarati-isation of India’s public life has a great deal to do with the ‘model’ leadership of the Nehrus and Gandhis. Jawaharlal Nehru, the man who set the tone of Indian cosmopolitanism, was a Kashmiri Pandit whose family settled in Allahabad. However, thanks to his very English upbringing, Nehru never acquired regional roots. He was undeniably an Indian, but an Indian who could never call a part of India his own. Mahatma Gandhi and Sardar Patel were unmistakably Gujarati; Subhash Chandra Bose cut his political teeth in the Bengal Congress; and Lokmanya Tilak and Gopal Krishna Gokhale were rooted in the social churning of the Bombay Presidency.
The above-it-all cosmopolitanism that Nehru and his dynastic successors assiduously projected was an aberration and belonged to a culture of patrician rule. In their own way, the Congress’ first family sought to create an elite that saw India as an intellectual abstraction — something to be studied, understood but not identified with. Modi is a break from this tradition. He epitomises an India that is increasingly self-assured, even self-contained. His style — including sartorial preferences — and engagement with the world is much more located in an evolving India.
“You have the money, but you don’t have class,” a public personality is said to have taunted a group of Modi loyalists in New York last week. It was an arrogant remark befitting a sub-strata that feels politically and culturally dispossessed by social forces Modi has unleashed. As long as condescension defines the opposition to him, Modi has no reason to feel threatened. Entitlement is rarely able to overwhelm energy.
By N.V. Subramanian (29 September 2014)28 September 2014: In some ways, Narendra Modi’s prime ministry appears more counter-intuitive than those of his predecessors. You would imagine that he would seek to make friends and allies in the ruling establishment to stabilize and strengthen his position. By that logic, he would placate his party colleagues in and outside the government and the extended Sangh Parivar which assisted him to gain power. He would wire the permanent civil service in his favour and give it a share of power as happened in the previous United Progressive Alliance regime. He would curry favour with the press, appear beholden to the fat cats of the financial world, and gush at big business.
Counter-intuitively, Narendra Modi has done none of these things.
The media loathes his guts. Every passing day of his prime ministry makes it more irrelevant. Industrialists are not crowding Delhi as in the past; the prime minister is said to have pulled up some of his more errant ministers who thought to cozy up to them on the sly. After last week’s bloodless massacre, which saw scores of mid-career officials transferred, the Central bureaucracy is alternatively terrified of and enraged with the prime minister. At a private dinner of Indian Administrative Service and Indian Foreign Service officers, there were powerful voices urging sabotage of the Narendra Modi government. One dialogue resonated above all else, and that was, “We have to break the prime minister before he breaks us. He has to be made to realize he cannot do without us.”
Nor is the sentiment in Bharatiya Janata Party circles in favour of Narendra Modi. Lok Sabha members from North India feel specially let down. Their group-talk follows this general pattern: “We thought we would make money and have fun in Delhi. No way. Modi has put a stop to all that. We literally drink milk and go to bed. We don’t know when this man will summon us for a late-night meeting. If we smell of alcohol, it is the end of us.”
This may be typical cow-belt exaggeration. But the fear of Narendra Modi is real. In their fears, he appears omnipotent and omniscient. In any other administration, you would expect MPs to be vying to become ministers; not in this dispensation. Junior MPs plead not to be recommended for ministerships. They consider it a prison sentence, with Modi being the fearsome head warden. Equally, senior members of Sangh Parivar front organizations are unhappy with the prime minister because he won’t slacken the purse strings for them. At one meeting apparently, he exasperatedly explained to them that he was answerable for every naya paisa of government expenditure; they left disgusted.
Over and above all this, the opposition won’t give him any quarter. If he succeeds in this term and wins another, the dynastic parties are finished for the next twenty years; there will be a generational wipe-out. The Nehru-Gandhis, the Mulayam and Laloo Yadavs and the Karunanidhis won’t stand for that at any cost. Hence the exultation at the victories notched in the Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat by-polls, which may be premature.
At the same time, Narendra Modi’s foreign policy successes are stirring envy at home and new competition abroad. The Chinese leadership cannot countenance a strong Indian prime minister who would once for all erase the ignominy of the 1962 debacle. Pakistan has already moved into reflexive obstructionist mode, with the Pakistan military stoking jihadi terrorism again in Jammu and Kashmir. And if India rises with Modi, the great powers shan’t be ecstatic; it will mean more multi-polarity.
Some of the opposition to rising India and Modi is inevitable and unstoppable. If the country’s rise is peaceful, as it is bound to be in India’s case, that would bring its own acceptability. But why would Narendra Modi wish to stir up so much domestic opposition to him after such a handsome victory? Perhaps the answer resides in two things. One is that by nature he is transformative; the status quo does not satisfy him. Second, India is in a political, economic, financial and military-strategic mess; this is all too apparent. Unless Modi cracks the whip, the system will not reform and deliver. But isn’t he making enemies in the system? Won’t the system strike back?
This writer is convinced that Modi has evaluated the risks and feels no threat to his position so long he can deliver. To deliver, he needs the system, which means the ministers, the bureaucrats, the party apparatus, and so on. He knows the system inside out; he is confident of dominating it. But he needs a bigger alliance with the people to win their recurrent legitimacy and to gain the cushion of time to deliver; hence his direct address to masses via new vehicles of communications like Teacher’s Day and the improvisation of older forms such as the Independence Day speech: defying expectations, he spoke in it of toilets for girls and admonished mothers who wouldn’t rein in their wayward sons.
Isn’t all this a big gamble; thrusting ahead on people power with a dysfunctional system and a mutinous crew? It is. But Narendra Modi believes he can pull it off. He works harder than anyone in government; he is streamlining the system; he is weeding out the corrupt and plugging the loopholes against bleeding the exchequer. He is imposing new moral norms on his ministers and setting right the warped steel frame of the civil service. The conviction of J.Jayalalithaa indicates the depths to which the country has fallen. Years from now, Modi’s ministers would be glad that he kept them on a tight leash.
Imperceptibly, the country is changing. Honesty and integrity count for more than ever in public life. The spread of communications, education, knowledge and awareness has diminished the hold of political power on people. Narendra Modi is alive to this vital change and his actions are complimentary. They are probably not as counter-intuitive as they seem.