Manthan at JLF 2013

The Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) 2013 presents a modern manthan, of ideas and ideals, opinions, books, fashions, what have you. With six issues being taken up per hour from 10 am to 7 pm, the choice is incredible, whether one wants to just hang out with a cup of tea or coffee or any of the other delicious eats on offer, watching the latest in winter wear on display or partake of more serious offerings in any of the panel discussions.

In one of his less controversial statements, Ashish Nandy pointed out India’s four favorites: films, sports, crime and politics. All were present at Jaipur, so footfalls were obviously heavy. It was during the same discussion, after Tehelka’s Tarun Tejpal offered a different view of corruption that Ashish let fly. When Tejpal suggested that the ‘corruption’ be looked at as a way of means of equalizing equity, offering a pick me up to the have-nots, Ashish Nandy let fly his missile about corruption being the worst amongst the SC, ST and OBC. Despite the hooting, he continued, ignoring the fact that there is no Old Boys network for them to fall back on, which allow an enormous amount of subterfuge and sophistication in the multi-crore corruption of the upper castes and India Inc. No wonder there was such a huge backlash, first on the stage and later in the streets and the courts.

Wonder if Ashish Nandy is aware of the realities? That Bengal and Kerala lost their vaunted positions on the India development table when taken over by CPM…supposedly non-corrupt according to Nandy? That the SC/ST poor’s version of corruption is less than chiller compared to the stakes in the huge scams in big business and elsewhere? As someone remarked in the melee, it was upper caste leaders who oversaw Darupadi vastraharan and precipitated the Mahabharata? But the big Nandy was only concerned with the corruptions attributed to Mulayam and Mayawati!

The controversy completely blanked out the earlier part of that session which was focused on a hunt for Utopia. Why? Of what use a Utopia, which by its very name is not available. If it were, would it be a Utopia? Is there such a thing as complete freedom, of speech, religion, economy…whatever? Where does the utopia come in, except in the fancies of the Greek litterateurs and their present day fans? A utopia would be boring. When constant changes are being sought and chased, why hunt for a utopia?

In the search for a break out nation, the focus was on the developing states, listed as UP and MP and Bihar. For some reason, Gujarat did not figure in the listing. Is it already developed?

But what was discussed was the fact that strong regional leaders are rarely prime minister material, for the very fact of their being regional leaders whose pull is limited to their state. And India today has not one but three chief ministers serving a third popular term already. As a matter of history, all India’s non-Nehru/Gandhi prime ministers were dark horses, virtually pulled out of a hat. So the hunt is on for that hat and its contents for 2014, when politics will matter only if there is also a policy to appease an India hungry for universal good and institutional leaders rather than reservations and sectional benefits and economic reforms’ benefit has actually percolated down to the aam aadmi, since everyone is aware that despite the rise of the regional leaders, economic control still remains with Delhi.

Will the Kashmir issue ever be resolved?

Despite the anguish and the anxiety of the ordinary peoples of both India and Pakistan!

The proceedings at JLF were rather despondent on this issue. A session with India’s present and former IFS bosses, and those from Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan ended up with a lady litterateur begging for peace to enable people to move back and forth and mingle over newly built bridges, rather than held back by walls; while the big babus hung on to their stiff upper lip and their insistence on proper protocols etc. etc. which have held back the peace process for so many decades now. Pavan Varma’s cut and dried stance and strict babu attitude came as a shock for someone who remembers him as the author of the incredibly sensitive book on the relationship between Yudhistir and Draupadi. A babu who was a poet, is now a poet who has become babudom personified, straddling diplomacy and Chanakyagiri.

At the human level too, the picture is not very encouraging. At a session titled Chronicles of Exile where the subject was a book “Our moon has blood clots” by Rahul Pandita who belongs to the exiled Kashmiri Pandits, his fellow panelists, one a valley Muslim and the other a Muslim from Leh seemed very pointedly to concede the realities of the situation. Rahul pleaded for an acknowledgment of his people’s trauma and their lost heritage in Kashmir, to stoic refusal to see that point at all. The other two were more concerned with resolving the LoC so they could meet up with their relatives on the other side and do business with them. Had it not been so tragic, the obduracy and specious arguments presented would have been amusing! Given such attitudes, finding a solution in Kashmir remains a very big question in my mind, and a whole lot of others too.

The Sindi Pride

It was while listening to this session that I realized the pride I could take in my own heritage. I belong to the Sindhi Bhaibund community. Partition saw our entire homeland swallowed up by Pakistan and the exile was en masse. But Sindhis have not stopped to fester or to breed violence. They brushed aside those feelings of alienation and uprooted-ness which have become the harbinger of vicious violence in the partitions such as Palestine; Sindhis have clung to their memories of a happier time, when they interacted with their Muslim brethren and went on pilgrimages to well known, time honored sites not available to them now. And they just buckled down and got to work to make a living for their children, without any begging, not on the streets, not from any government …. It was plain and simple hard work which has brought Sindhis right on top of the economic table whichever country of the globe they live and work in. But they never, repeat never speak about what they left behind and lost in that flight from what was Home. Salute! Jai Ho!

The Kashmiri Maze

Amongst the Kashmiris, there is an ignorance of the problems created by letting down the security systems by railing at the routine mobile blackouts, with neither remorse nor sympathy for the damage done to the rest of the country. End note: all agree that Kashmir is Delhi’s cottage industry for trouble, that with Pakistan being declared a failed state, Azad Kashmir is no longer a viable option. But…but will the Kashmiri aam aadmi accept that?

Or will it go the Khalistan and Bodoland way, with the elite exiling themselves to safe havens abroad from where they can send funds to create mischief at home?

The most recent example of this is the Kurds, a community of some 30 odd million that is scattered in four middle eastern countries, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. The elites have based themselves in the US from where they watch their compatriots making themselves with the concessions they extract from the respective governments, under the constant threat of a ‘Kurdish” uprising.

Speaking for his Chanakya’s New Manifesto, Pavan Varma held forth on the need for reforms, both economic and judicial with a transparent nexus between the crime and the punishment and a neutral technology that eliminates touts. He himself is a former Babu and knows all the way and means. Doable? The author says it is all doable, not rocket science. Must read the book to see exactly what and how the exact prescriptions are.


More by :  Kusum Choppra

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