Monday, June 27, 2011

Nixon, Indira and Lokpal Bill

Indians should know about Watergate Scandal, because it is an interesting story, with lot of lessons to be learnt.  It is a story of a country and its people which fought to defend its democratic institutions from various encroachers; sometimes the encroacher was the President of the country. 

Richard Nixon

In the early 1970s, United States of America was rocked by Watergate Scandal.  On 17 June 1972, few men were arrested for breaking into Democratic Party’s office in Watergate Complex. These men were there to plant bugs in the opposition party’s office with the consent of President of United States,
Richard Nixon. These men were later convicted for attempted interception of telephone and other communications against wiretapping laws.

When the complicity of the President of United States was discovered and published by sagacious and committed journalists of Washington Post and New York Times, the people of United States, who were educated to value and defend their democratic institutions rose up in genuine anger.  Nixon tried to stall the proceedings by invoking special privileges of a President.  The court ordered Nixon to hand over the tapes which established his involvement.  The eventual prosecution and hearings found Nixon guilty of obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and contempt of Congress.  When the House of Representatives started formal procedures to impeach Nixon, he resigned.  His political career was over.  That’s how Nixon paid the price for subverting the much cherished institutions of United States of America.  He remained a disgraced President (though later day historians feebly attempted to resurrect his former image). 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

M F Husain: Nude Saraswati

Many modern Hindus who have never seen old temples or never been to a museum identify with only one version of Saraswati - a sari-clad and jewelry-decked, modest and serene lady, who resembles more of a conservative Indian male chauvinist’s idea of a virtuous woman.

I do not know exactly when such a version has come to prominence, but it is clear that as soon as the pictures of gods started entering ordinary family man’s homes, the deity started to become conservative.  By the time Ravi Verma painted his Saraswati, it looks like such modesty was already an attribute of a Hindu Goddess.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Venal Journalism in India

Modern secular democracies who define themselves as ‘free’ nations have not come about just like that.  It was a tortuous journey of nearly thousand years where the common man fought against the powerful regents and institutions who believed they had a divine mandate and hence divine right to rule over the people with absolutism.   Regents or the Religions manifesting as the State was the most powerful enemy of the common man for millennia, ready to strip him of his rights at the pretext of protecting him from imagined threats. 

 A modern nation defined and built institutions to protect the common man from the tyranny of the state, ensuring there were enough checks and balances to protect democracy from being subverted by the State or the powerful groups.   The role of independent media was crucial to ensure democracy was protected from being hijacked by these vested groups. 

And yet, we see an ominous trend in India where the media houses, instead of making an independent investigation, instead of conducting a free debate, instead of checking the powerful groups from usurping the freedoms of the common man, have start aligning themselves with the State and the powerful lobbies, acting as their mouthpieces, engaging in subversion of democracy.

Understanding why M F Husain might have painted Nude Hindu Gods

Many people ask this question:
Why did M F Husain NOT paint Muslim icons in nude? Why did he paint only Hindu gods in nude?

To start with, I believe that answering such a question is a foolish exercise. Artists do lot of things which ordinary people cannot comprehend or understand.  Picasso and Dali did lot of bizarre things.  It is a pointless exercise to try to understand the motives of an artist or a poet.  But since M F Husain’s paintings of nude Hindu goddesses has allegedly ‘hurt’ so many Hindus in India and abroad, we might as well waste some time to understand why he might have painted Hindu goddesses in nude, but not Muslim figures in nude.

Before you read this further, let me make it clear that no explanation that I provide here would give the actual reasons why he painted Hindu gods in nude, and this exercise is only an attempt to make those Hindus understand who are otherwise quite rational and liberal in outlook but have the same nagging question as the one above.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Scrap the Insane Laws, Immediately

Now that MF Husain died in exile, some Hindus are breathing a sigh of relief.  When he was alive, Husain was a pain in the neck, an irritant, whose existence made Hindus uncomfortable; because it made them face some awkward truths which, according to them, were best avoided. 

Is Hinduism a great religion? These Hindus tout, ‘yes, it is’.  Then how come it is threatened by a puny artist and his art?  Is Hinduism tolerant and liberal? These Hindus say, ‘yes it is’.  Then how come some nude pictures of their goddesses by a contemporary artist become such a big problem when thousands of temples in India blatantly depict gods and goddesses in explicit nudity, some of them positioning these gods in perversely sexual acts?

Now that MF Husain is dead and gone, these Hindus conveniently excuse themselves from answering these uncomfortable questions.  Many Hindus who hounded Husain when he was alive are now ready to make amends by calling him a great artist.  They want to let bygones be bygones.  They want to see this as a ‘closed chapter’.

That’s where I find this whole ‘lets-forget-this-and-move-on’ charade dangerous.  I believe that NOW is the right time to face those awkward truths and ask uncomfortable questions because they have far-reaching consequences on how we are going to define this supposedly free nation.   Few years from now if we have done some good parenting, another Husain will be born in India who will do something more outrageous by taking a position which will make us even more uncomfortable.  What will India do then?  Will it hang him, or force him into exile?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Why I believe India can improve

Today, I went out for tea with two young engineers from my company.  After tea, we took some chewing gum.  One engineer took the wrapper and was about to throw it on the ground.  I stopped him, and pointed out to the nearest garbage can.   He went to the can and dropped it, but since it was windy this morning in Bangalore, the wrapper flew and fell outside the can.  He smiled and said, ‘Well, at least I tried’. 

After that we were crossing the street.  I told him, ‘Let me tell you a story’.   I told him this story which happened many years ago when I was living in US: 

I was at a movie theater and I saw a father tell his son (must be two years old) to throw his trash into the trash can which was about 10 meters away.  The son started walking slowly towards the trash can, reached it and put his trash on the can.  He turned around and walked back towards his father.  But the minute he turned back, the trash fell out onto the ground.  The son didn’t know this.  When the son came back, the father pointed out to his trash on the ground and asked his son to go back and pick it up.  The two year old kid walked back picked up the trash and put it in the right place this time and walked back.  The father lifted his son and hugged him; and they left.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

MF Husain Dies: Intolerance Wins, India Loses

A nation that calls itself free should hang its head in shame if it cannot be home to people who harbor and express unpopular ideas and opinions, however controversial or egregious those opinions are.  MF Husain, a famous artist born in India, died in exile in London as a Qatari citizen.  Hounded and targeted by the new generation of Indian Hindus who could not fathom why we are a proud nation, MF Husain left his home country never to return again. 

A basic requirement of a free nation is that it should allow expression of conflicting and dissenting ideas. And those who express those ideas should be protected from persecution, even when the targets are sacred symbols of majority or minority groups.  A nation can be considered to be free only when it allows its strongest dissenters and critics to live within enjoying the freedom like any other.  A country like United States shall remain a great free nation as long as Noam Chomsky and Michael Moore continue living there without fear of persecution.  But even the most free of the nations succumb to the pressures of the majority and turn tyrannical. 

History is fraught with victories of tyrannical intolerance where individuals were targeted for an expression that did not conform to the mores and standards of the majority.   Galileo Galilei was house arrested, and was asked to shut up and renounce his belief in the Copernican Solar System, just because the majority Christians led by the Vatican found his ideas disagreeable.  He escaped being burnt at stake by a whisker.