Friday, 6 December 2013

The Base Text and Its Commentaries: Problems of Representing and Understanding the Cārvāka/Lokāyata - PART I

Ramkrishna Bhattacharyya


The base texts of most of the philosophical systems of ancient India are in the form of a collection of aphorisms (sūtra-s). The aphorisms are so brief and tersely worded that their significance can seldom be understood without the help of a commentary or commentaries. Sometimes, the literal meaning of an aphorism needs to be qualified or modified by an explanation found in the commentary. If a reader relies exclusively on the literal meaning of the aphorisms in the base text without having recourse to any commentary or disregards all commentaries, he or she may miss the point. Contrariwise, if a reader relies exclusively on a commentary and disregards the literal meaning of an aphorism, he or she will commit another kind of blunder. Ideally, equal attention should be paid to the base text as well as the commentary or commentaries. Even then, all problems are not automatically solved, for it is an uphill task to decide when to go by the literal meaning of the aphorisms and when to follow the commentary. In their polemics against the Cārvāka/Lokāyata, Jayantabhaṭṭa (c. ninth century C.E.) and Hemacandra (eleventh century C.E.) erred because they did not follow the golden rule stated above and consequently misunderstood and misrepresented their opponents’ contentions.


The base texts of most of the philosophical systems of ancient India are in the form of a collection of aphorisms (sūtra-s). The aphorisms are as a rule very brief and terse, even to the point of being incomprehensible. The task of the guru was to make his pupils understand what was in the mind of the author/redactor of the sūtra-s. The base text was meant to be committed to memory, not to be consulted as and when necessary. Hence, the shorter the better. Since the extreme brevity was meant for facilitating learning by heart, there is a maxim: “Grammarians rejoice over the saving of (even) the length of half a short vowel as much as over the birth of a son”, ardhamātrā lāghavena putrotsavaṃ manyante vaiyākaraṇāḥ (NĀGEŚABHAṬṬA 1960–1962: 122). The Kalpasūtras, ancillary works of Vedic ritual literature, and more importantly the ancient grammatical work, the Aṣṭādhyāyī of Pāṇini (sixth/fifth century B.C.E.) were the models of composing such brief aphorisms. The custom was followed by the founding fathers and/or redactors of the philosophical systems. 

Brevity may be the soul of wit, but it entails a fundamental problem: for the sake of terseness the aphorisms were sometimes composed in the form of incomplete sentences without verbs. Sometimes just a word was considered sufficient to form an aphorism. The task of the guru was to fill in the gaps by supplying the missing words (technically known as adhyāhāra, supplying). Not all gurus agreed on the right adhyāhāra. There is a Cārvāka aphorism (I.4): tebhyaścaitanyam, ‘Consciousness out of these’ (BHATTACHARYA 2009: 79, 87). From a preceding aphorism (I.2) it is to be understood that the word tebhyaḥ, ‘out of these’, refers to the four elements, namely, earth, water, fire and air. Nevertheless, does consciousness arise (anew) or is it merely manifested (as if it was pre-existing)? Two anonymous commentators offered two such adhyāhāras, utpadyate and abhivyajyate. Later writers merely repeat the alternatives or opt for either one or the other (KAMALAŚĪLA II: 633–634).1 Similarly, one guru would suggest one explanation; another guru, something else. Such a difference of opinion inevitably led to confusion. The student was expected to accept either or both as equally probable.2 In any case, book learning, that is, learning from written commentaries, was not considered to be a proper substitute for learning from the mouth of a guru (gurumukhī vidyā). As Rangaswami Aiyangar says:

Reliance on a book for elucidation was therefore held as likely not only to mislead but to convey wrong impressions of [the] authentic doctrine. This is why we find in smṛti literature, even in ages in which documents and writings came to be the mainstay of judicial decisions, denunciations of dependence on books, side by side with praise of gifts of purāṇas as among the donations of most sanctity. Devaṇṇa Bhaṭṭa (thirteen century) quotes the authority of Nārada for including dependence on books along with women, gambling, addiction to the stage, idleness and sleep among the impediments to the acquisition of knowledge. Mādhava also quotes Nārada to show that “what is learnt from books, and not from the teacher, will not shine in the assembly of the learned”. The familiar denunciation of the sale (vikraya) of knowledge is aimed as much at teaching under contract for a fee as at the sale of the books which will supersede the teacher. The result of the prejudice was twofold: first, improvement of the memory to make its retentiveness greater; and secondly, to make citation in books aim at the utmost accuracy to escape the familiar charge (AIYANGAR 1941: 10).

Yet commentaries and sub-commentaries began to appear to meet the need of the students who could not find any guru to guide them through the maze of the base text. Even though a poor substitute, the commentary literature ultimately turned out to be the most viable means of understanding of the philosophical systems. Surendranath Dasgupta, however, notes:

[T]he Sanskrit style (sic) of the most of the commentaries is so condensed and different from literary Sanskrit, and aims so much at precision and brevity, leading to the use of technical words current in the diverse systems, that a study of these becomes often impossible without the aid of an expert preceptor (DASGUPTA 1975, I: 67).
Thus, in spite of the written commentary, oral exposition by a guru cannot be dispensed with. We are back to square one. Commentaries and sub-commentaries, however, served one important purpose. As early as 1805, Henry Thomas Colebrooke noted:

It is a received and well grounded opinion of the learned in India, that no book is altogether safe from changes and interpolations until it have been (sic) commented: but when once a gloss has been published, no fabrication could afterwards succeed; because the perpetual commentary notices every passage, and, in general, explains every word. […] The genuineness of the commentaries, again, is secured by a crowd of commentators, whose works expound every passage in the original gloss; and whose annotations are again interpreted by others (COLEBOOKE 1977: 98–99).

Nevertheless, there is no denying the fact that different systems of Indian philosophy developed and grew out of the expositions, commentaries and subcommentaries composed by the adherents of the systems. When such secondary works are written by the professed adherents of the respective systems, they become a part of the tradition. Yet such works would have to digress to at least some areas that might very well have been totally alien to the sūtrakāra/s, the originator/s or the original systematiser/s.

Moreover, it is well known that commentaries or sub-commentaries are sometimes written to defend a system of philosophy that has been attacked by some exponents of another antagonistic system. Uddyotakara’s (sixth century 136 Ramkrishna BHATTACHARYA C.E.) Vārttika to the Nyāyasūtra is a case in point. The Vārttika was basically a work of defence against the objections to Gautama raised by the Buddhist philosophers, especially Diṅnāga and Vasubandhu, and also Nāgārjuna. Such an apologia is bound to introduce new matters and invent novel interpretations of the original sūtra-s.3

Another sort of problem crops up when the expositor or commentator does not belong to the system he is elucidating, yet for reasons best known to him he composes a commentary on the base text. When a versatile scholar like Vācaspatimiśra, the sarvatantrasvantra (independent) expositor, writes commentaries on the Sāṃkhyakārikā or the Vedāntasūtra or other base texts, he does not represent the tradition of any of the systems; he relies wholly on his personal understanding and perhaps what he had learnt from his gurus. How much reliance is to be placed on his exposition? We know of at least two commentators on the Cārvākasūtra, Aviddhakarṇa and Udbhaṭabhaṭṭa, whose works are permeated with the Nyāya-Vaiśeṣika terminology. Their names are known from other sources as belonging to the Nyāya tradition.4 There is no way to ascertain whether they were Cārvākas themselves or merely assumed the role of being so. Would it be wise to accept their interpretations as reflecting the mainstream view of the Cārvākas?

All the same commentaries are useful aids to the understanding of all sorts of texts, not merely philosophical ones. Damodar Dharmananda Kosambi is not alone in grumbling that no good Sanskrit text can be interpreted without a commentary (KOSAMBI 1975: 284). A variety of commentaries, from the brief ṭippanī to the elaborate bhāṣya, with many varieties of glosses and interpretations, such as anutantra, avacūrṇī, cūrṇī, pañcikā (pañjikā), vyākhyāna, vārttika,vṛtti, etc., lying in between, have made their presence felt in the corpus of Indian philosophical literature.5

The same base text generates a number of commentaries and even sub-commentaries. As it is to be expected, the commentators do not agree among themselves; sometimes they erect new hurdles by introducing matters not found in the sūtras themselves. Vātsyāyana, for example, in the introductory sentence of his comments on Nyāyasūtra, 4.2.18 mentions a mysterious person whom he calls ānupalambhika. Neither he nor any sub-commentator such as Uddyotakara or Udayana bothered to explain exactly who or what kind of a person is meant by this strange appellation. Widely divergent identifications have been made, but it is still a far cry from unanimity or even near-unanimity.6

The Nyāya and the Vedānta systems have the largest number of commentarial apparatus. It is rather odd that, in spite of the existence of so much explanatory materials for these systems, or perhaps because of it, some cruxes in the base texts cannot still be resolved. Plurality of interpretations confuses rather than convinces the learner about the true intention of the sῡtrakāra, composer of the aphorisms. Too many cooks spoil the broth, sometimes irredeemably. For example: what is meant by ākasmikatva (accident) in the Nyāyasūtra (NS) 4.1.22–24? Does it signify the absence of the material cause (upādānakāraṇa) or of the instrumental cause (nimittakāraṇa) or of both? Vātsyāyana, the first known commentator of the NS (but writing many centuries after the redaction of the base text) explains the opponent’s thesis as “effects have material causes only, but no efficient cause”. However, later commentators, such as Varddhamāna Upādhyāya and others take the sūtra to mean that “an effect has no invariable or fixed (niyata) cause,” thereby eliminating both material and instrumental causes. In the interpretation of Vātsyāyana and Uddyotakara, ākasmikatva = yadṛcchā (chance). According to Varddhamāna and Varadarāja, however, ākasmikatva = avyutpanna (non-derivable).7 A new learner is free therefore to choose either of the two interpretations, but the earlier one is more probable.

The problem arises because some sūtra-s are too brief to indubitably suggest one or the other interpretation; without the help of the commentator/s, one cannot form any opinion from the words of the text itself. Moreover, the irreconcilable differences in the two interpretations offered by earlier and later commentators makes the task more difficult. There are also other factors, such as partisan approach (due to affiliation to particular schools), factional quarrels, etc., which vitiate some commentaries. We need not go into all the details here. It is wise to follow the sage advice: don’t rely exclusively on the commentator. One should initially try to make out the intention of the sūtrakāra from the words of the aphorisms themselves, but when the words are of dubious significance or open to more than one interpretation, help from the commentators has to be sought. Even then, it is not obligatory to accept the view of the commentator who is as much fallible as we are. Uncritical acceptance of whatever a commentary says is inadvisable; at the same time, however, total rejection of the commentaries is equally impracticable. In any case, a student at first should try whenever possible to make the most of the literal meaning of the aphorisms and then turn to the commentaries and other aids (such as secondary works, expositions, etc.).

Even this golden rule of following the middle course — paying due attention to both the base text and the commentary (or commentaries) but not accepting any of them uncritically — does not solve all problems. A commentator, one would naturally expect, should be faithful to the author; he must not say anything that the author did not mean or could not have meant. Such a fond expectation is often belied by the commentaries. A commentator is seldom satisfied with merely providing glosses. He adds to or modifies or qualifies the statements of the author. All this is recognized to be the duty of the commentator. He is expected to clarify what is rather opaque in the text, supply whatever the author of the sūtra-s had forgotten to provide and even what he failed to notice!8 The problem is that every commentator on a philosophical text is himself a philosopher of a sort who is sometimes tempted to rewrite the contents of the base work by elaborating certain points that are not mentioned or even hinted at in the extremely concise sūtra-s. There should be a permanent caveat for the students of Indian philosophy: B ewa r e o f the c omment a to r! Never cease to ask yourself: is he being faithful to the intention of the author or using the base text as a peg on which to hang his own speculations? Blind acceptance of the commentator’s interpretation, whoever and however exalted he may be, is not to be recommended under any circumstances.9 At the same time, some aphorisms are so obscure that one is at a loss without a commentary. There is no denying that some explanations are indeed illuminating. The crux of the matter is: when to abide by the literal meaning of an aphorism and when to follow the interpretation given in a commentary. Everything depends on a judicious choice on the part of the student of Indian philosophy.


1 For further details, see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 121 n. 49.
2 For such an instance, when commentators retain both explanations as two equally valid alternatives, see BHATTACHARYA 2009: 159–160.
3 The situation is similar to what happened in the grammatical tradition. Kshitish Chandra Chatterji put it succinctly: “It would appear that it took several centuries for Pāṇini’s grammar to establish itself and that even at the time of Patañjali [second century B.C.E.] grammarians belonging to other schools tried their level best to point out errors of omission and commission in the grammar of Pāṇini. Patañjali had to meet the objections put forward by these captious critics and for this purpose he had often to turn and twist the rules of Pāṇini. This is why in some cases we remain in doubt as to the true views of Patañjali, his words conveying the impression tha t the y a re m er e l y int ende d t o s i l e n c e h i s a n t a g oni s t.” (CHATTERJI 1972: vii). Emphasis R.B.
4 For a detailed analysis, see BHATTACHARYA 2010a; BHATTACHARYA 2010b; BHATTACHARYA 2010c.
5 For a general discussion on Sanskrit commentaries with special reference to philosophical works see the two essays by Jonardon Ganeri (2008) and Karin Preisezdanz (2008) respectively. See also BHATTACHARYA 2010a and BHATTACHARYA 2010b.
6 For further details, see BHATTACHARYA 2007: 13–18.
7 TARKAVAGISA’s elucidation of NS 4.1.22. [In:] GANGOPADHYAYA 1973: 27––31.
8 Cf. HARADATTA 1965 (Padamañjarī 9): yad vismṛtam adṛṣtaṃ vā sῡtrakāreṇa tat sphuṭam | vyākhyākāro vravītyevaṃ tenādṛṣṭaṃ ca bhāṣyakṛt.
9 DASGUPTA (1975: 462, n. 1) provides an excellent example from Śaṅkara’s commentary on Gītā 14.3: “mama yonir mahad brahma tasmin garbhaṃ dadhāmy aham… Śaṅkara surreptitiously introduces the word māyā between mama and yoni and changes the whole meaning.” To take another example: Vātsyāyana in his comments on NS 1.1.1 writes: “[…] The inference (anumāna) which is not contradicted by perception (pratyakṣa) and scripture (āgama) is called anvīkṣā, that is, knowing over again (anu, literally ‘after’) of that which is already known (īkṣita) by perception and scripture […] the inference which is contradicted by either perception or scripture is pseudo-nyāya.” Trans. M.K. GANGOPADHYAYA 1982: 4 (emphasis R.B.). The repeated addition of scripture is totally unwarranted, for NS 1.1.5 states that inference is to be preceded by perception – tat (sc. pratyakṣa) pūrvakam, and nothing else. The preceding sūtra defines perception without mentioning scripture at all.

Ramkrishna Bhattacharya taught English at the University of Calcutta, Kolkata and was an Emeritus Fellow of University Grants Commission. He is now a Fellow of Pavlov Institute, Kolkata.

This paper was first published in Argument: Biannual Philosophical Journal, Vol. 3, no. 1 (2013), pp. 133-149 (

Kashmir: Understanding Article 370

Ram Puniyani
Those gripped by religious nationalism are unable to understand the regional-ethnic aspirations of the people. Many an ultra-nationalists of different hues also fall into this trap many a times. With formation of Indian nation the integration of regions like Himachal Pradesh, North Eastern States and Jammu& Kashmir created some challenging situations. Though in all these cases the challenges were met in different ways and are even now continuing to pose some issues of serious national concerns, but those related to Kashmir require some more pressing attention. Located in a strategic geographic area of great significance, the global powers have also added their own weight behind complicating the matters in Kashmir. Kashmir remains one of the most contentious issues between the two neighbors, Pakistan and India. In addition the communal forces in India have been making it a bone of contention all through.

It is in this backdrop that when the BJP’s Prime ministerial aspirant, Narendra Modi gave a call for debating the article 370, a whole hell broke loose. His intention in saying ‘who it has benefited’ was to indicate that it is unnecessary and should be abolished. To buttress his point, BJP leaders Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitly reiterated that abolition of article 370 is an integral part of agenda of Hindutva-RSS, BJP’s parent organization. Jaitly also went to uphold the stance taken by Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of Bhartiya Jansangh, the predecessor of present BJP, that of complete and immediate integration of Kashmir into India. Jaitly also distorted the contemporary history and events by saying that ‘Nehruvian vision of a separate status has given rise to the aspirations for pre 1953 status, self rule and even Azadi. Many a TV debate participant on the issue have shown their ignorance about the status and content of Article 370 as such.

It is true that in Kashmir today there are many tendencies, which vary from asking for total independence, Azadi to Autonomy. There will hardly be any popular support for debating or abolishing article 370 as such at broad layers. Difficult to say how many fall in which category, but a large number are for more autonomy, with article 370 in place.

There is a complex history to the issue. As is well known Kashmir was one of the princely states without direct rule of the British. Dogra dynasty's King Hari Singh, who ruled Kashmir, refused to join the constituent assembly under the Cabinet mission plan.  Eighty per cent population of J&K was Muslim. With India’s independence the Maharaja had two options, one to remain independent, two either to merge with India or with Pakistan. Maharaja was tending to remain independent. The Hindu leaders of Jammu supported Maharaja in this separatist plan. ‘J &K Rajya Hindu Sabha’ including the ones’ who later on joined Bharatiya Jana Sangh, vociferously argued that “a Hindu state, as Jammu and Kashmir claimed to be, should not merge its identity with secular India" (Kashmir, Balraj Puri, Orient Longman 1993, 5).  The attack of Kabaili-Tribal, supported Pakistan military changed the whole scenario.

After this attack the Maharaja due to his inability to protect the Kashmir requested the Indian Government to bail him out of this problem. Indian Govt. wanted the state to accede to India before it could send the armed forces to ward off the Pakistan's aggression. The accession treaty was signed with the provision of article 370. It was not a merger. India was to look after defense, currency, foreign affairs and communication while Kashmir was to have its own constitution, flag, Sadar-I-Riyasat and Prime Minister. Justifying this action Pt. Nehru in a broadcast to the Nation on Nov.2, 1947 said, “…Both the Kashmir Govt. and the National Conference pressed us to accept this accession and to send troops by air, but made condition that the accession would have to be considered by the people of Kashmir later when the peace and order were established…"(Nehru, CW, XVIII, 421). India approached the UN with a request to get the aggression vacated and to supervise in the process of plebiscite. Multiple factors operated here in due course of time and the holding of plebiscite got postponed sine die.

With this another process began at home. Jana Sangh Chief Shyama Prasad Mookerjee's insistence, supported openly by the Jana Sangh and covertly by some bigwigs in Congress as well, asked for the total merger of Kashmir with India. At this point Nehru was under the external pressure of Jana Sangh and internal pressure from some of his colleagues in the cabinet to totally integrate Kashmir with India. Nehru pointed out "We have to be men of vision and there has to be a broad minded acceptance of facts in order to integrate (Kashmir, added) really. And real integration comes from mind and the heart and not of some clause, which you may impose, on other people. "

Since then lots of water has flown down the Jhelum. The pressure of communal forces, the doubts raised in the minds of Sheikh Abdulla due to murder of Gandhi and rise of communal politics, led him to think whether he has done a right thing in deciding to accede to India. He wanted to be part of a secular polity, but communal teeth of the country started becoming more visible. His doubts and their articulation led to his arrest for 17 long years. And this is where the process of alienation of Kashmiri people began. This alienation was duly aided by Pakistan, in supplying arms to disgruntled youth. The matter got worst compounded with the entry of Al Qaeda elements in Kashmir in the decade of 1980s. These elements, whose US sponsored mission of defeating Russian army in Afghanistan was over and they were looking around for other areas for implementation of their mistaken notions of Jihad. They joined in and the earlier struggle in Kashmir, on the grounds of Kashmiriyat, was communalized by them.  An atmosphere was created which made the Kashmir struggle as the distorted version of Jihad, undermining its Kashmiriyat. This is what led to targeting of Kashmiri Pundits. This gave a big handle to the communal elements in India to propagate the separatism of Muslims.

The things started improving in the first decade of this century. Still the accumulated agony of Kashmiri youth started manifesting in ‘Stone thrower youth’ emerged along with a total disenchantment with the state of affairs prevailing in Kashmir. In the light of this the Central Government appointed a team of interlocutors. The recommendations of the group of interlocutors, Dileep Padgaonkar, Radha Kumar and M.M.Ansari (May 2012) in nut shell asked for rejection of the return to pre 1953 position, at the same time asking for measures for restore the autonomy of Kashmir. The team suggests that the parliament will not make any law for Kashmir unless it relates to the security, internal and external of the state. Significantly it gives the status of ‘special’ instead of ‘temporary’ to the article 370, which is the bone of contention for the ultra nationalists like the BJP. Very correctly the team says that the proportion of officers in the state should gradually be changed to increase the weight-age of the local officers. It also talks of creating regional councils with financial powers, and measures to promote cooperation across Line of Control (LoC) while talking of resuming dialogue with Huriyat and Pakistan both. The Government has been non committal about it so far. While the BJP has rejected them on the ground that it is a dilution of the accession of Kashmir to India. The separatists find it insufficient saying that there is no political settlement of the issue.

While calling for debate around article 370, one needs to understand as what the Kashmiris want, a mere assertion from ultra nationalist tendencies will harm the process of healing of wounds and the march towards a better democratic process in the state. As Nehru pointed out, what is more important is to win the hearts and mind of people, the laws can follow. Integrating the people by considering their aspirations is what is the need of the hour, such outbursts are counterproductive for the people at large.

Monday, 2 December 2013

Honoring Hate: Public Felicitation of Riot Accused

Ram Puniyani

Communal violence has tormented our country, more so from last three decades in particular. From the decade of 1980s its form has taken very menacing proportions and the country bleeds from time to time with the death of innocents, and at the same time takes place political ascendance of those behind engineering the violence. As such this violence does not begin with the weapons or the strong arms. It begins in the mind, with the idea of ‘hate’ for other community. This Hate is constructed around the falsification of history and the present, both, as per the contingency of the communal force. Communal forces translate this Hate through local idiom, to spread the violence in particular areas. The nature of violence is not static; it keeps changing its form, from place to place and with the time. Beginning as an urban phenomenon, now it is being reached to small towns and villages. Those instigating the violence are the ones’ who benefit from it politically and electorally. The key to involve the foot soldiers into the acts of violence is to put in their minds the fright minority community. This fright of the minorities has been successfully propagated and made the part of the understanding of large sections of society. The result is that those spreading Hate also claim to be saving ‘their community’ ‘their religion’ and that’s how they emerge politically taller after the bloodshed and violence.

In a political rally which was later addressed by the BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on Nov 21, 2013, two BJP MLAs, who are alleged to be instrumental in spreading Hatred against minorities by giving the Hate speeches revolving around the theme of ‘the honor of our daughter-sisters is in danger’ from the religious minorities. One of them uploaded a video clip on face book, which showed the brutal killing of two youth by a Muslim looking crowd. As such the clip was from Pakistan, it was projected as being the one which happened in Muzaffarnagar. These two BJP MLAs Sangeet Som and Suresh Rana, accused of inciting communal violence in Muzaffarnagar, were felicitated on Thursday (Nov 21) at the rally in Agra.

As a part of clever strategy the felicitation of these ‘Hate mongers’ was done before Modi took the stge. Both these MLAs are currently out on bail. How do we understand this public celebration of the accused? On one hand their role in the violence and on the other their felicitation?

In recent times we have seen the three major carnages, Delhi anti-Sikh, Mumbai and Gujarat Anti Muslim and Kandhmal Anti-Christian. The two leaders who were behind the violence in Mumbai and Gujarat, emerged as the Hindu Hriday Samrat (emperor of Hindu hearts), after their role in the violence. The first one is late Balasaheb Thackeray. His role in the Mumbai violence was chronicled by Srikrishna Commission report. This report indicted him of leading the violence like a General.  The report points out " From the conversation which could be heard [by Yuvraj Mohite, Mahanagar Reporter, at Thackray house during the riots], it is clear that Thackeray was directing Shiv Sainiks, Shakha Pramukhs and other activists of Shiv Sena to attack the Muslims, to ensure that they give tit for tat and ensure that 'not a single landya (a derogatory word used for Muslims) would survive to give the evidence’ [vol.ii, Page 173-174] While the report aptly describes his role which deserved severe punishment, in popular psyche he was successful in projecting that it is due to him and his boys (Shiv Sainiks), that Hindus were safe. And so he started being called Hindu Hriday Samrat. The violence paid rich dividends to his party Shiv Sena, it came to power in Maharashtra Assembly along with their ally BJP, after the violence.
As per Gujarat carnage, no official report has come out yet, but the major Citizens Tribunal report, coordinated by Citizens for Justice and Peace, outlined the role of Modi led state in the violence. Similarly the international women’s tribunal summarized the situations as follows, “…the various arms of state were complicit both in the initial attacks on Muslim community as well as the later continuing violence. The state and central Government both played a major role in Gujarat violence causing sexual violence to women, destroying property and killing members of Muslim community. The acts of continuing violence and denial of all rights to Muslim community could not have happened without the complicity of the state and its institutions. The role and functioning of Gujarat Government has directly been influenced by the penetration of Sangh Parivar. This fact underlies the conduct of the state before, during and after the peak period of the pogrom.” (

It is after this massive carnage that Modi became more firmly entrenched in the seat of power in Gujarat and the tottering BJP Government in Gujarat gave way to the authoritarian Modi led BJP Government, firmly in saddle in Gujarat. What a contradiction? The same understanding applies here. While a critical observer can see the role of Modi and company in the violence, the popular perception which was constructed that it is due to Modi that Hindus, Hinduism has been saved and the minorities have been shown their place. It is after this that Modi also started being addressed as Hindu Hriday Samrat.

In anti Chriistian violence in Kandhamal, two BJP leaders Manoj Pradhan and Ashok Sahu amongst others played the role of instigating the violence and lo and behold they also went up on the political ladder, won the elections. One recalls, Maya Kodnani, who is currently undergoing the jail term for her role in Gujarat carnage, also rose to be the Minister in Modi’s Cabinet after her role in the carnage. Punish the crime and be rewarded.

There is another aspect of this felicitation meeting which one can register. The Muzaffarnagar accused were felicitated before Modi came to the stage. It was a well timed maneuver. There was a twin strategy involved in this move. On one hand it was to give the message to Hindu community, about the communal intentions of RSS-BJP and on the other to keep projecting Modi on the plank of development agenda. With the Parliamentary elections on the political sky RSS-BJP-Modi are adopting a multi pronged strategy. The major one is the ‘development’ image of Modi. They presume his role as the one presiding over Gujarat carnage has to be put under the carpet. His so called ‘Gujarat model, the myth of development of Gujarat has to be aggressively sold in the electoral market. At the same time a polarizing communal violence has to be kept alive. Not only in Muzaffarnagar, in Bihar after BJP left the coalition with Neetish Kumar, there has been a series of communal violence in Bihar. At yet at another level, the polarizing impact of terrorist violence has also been utilized in other places and lately in Bihar. At yet another level, the issues of Ram Temple, the so called Hindutva agenda has to be kept in the backdrop to ensure the support from BJP’s constituency.

We are in for times where the communal forces are making an all out effort to come to power. Their strategies are obvious. What we need is not the identity based polarization and the promotion of ‘Hate other’ through moves like honoring the riot accused, what we need is to overcome the polarizing impact of communal hate speech and communal violence. What we need is to affirm the roots and values of amity between different communities. 

Modi on Rampage: Reckless Abuse of History

Ram Puniyani

History is not just the past. It is a potent weapon for various political agendas in the present. It can be clearly seen in the use of history in rise of Hindu-Muslim rightwing in India. As far as presently dominant Hindu national politics is concerned, this abuse of history can be seen in the type and period of History used. When Meenaxipuram, conversions of dalits to Islam took place in 1981, the message taken up was that of Islam’s spreading in India as a ‘threat’. With the rise of Ram Temple movement, the indication was towards the Muslim kings’ destroying Hindu temples and insulting Hindu religion. The Babri demolition and consequent violence had the underlying propaganda of temple destructions by Muslim kings. At the same time a slogan came up ‘Muslaman ka do hi sthan: Kabristhan ya Pakistan (only two places for Muslims: Pakistan or graveyard), asserting that India is meant only for Hindus. As we move a bit more towards Gujarat carnage 2002 we see the projection of ‘terrorism’ and Muslims on one hand and the projection of Miyan Musharraf as the symbol of Indian Muslims. In Maharashtra Shivaji was projected in various ways to show the tyranny of Muslim kings. Currently serials like Bharat ka mahan Saput Rana Pratap, and Jodha Akbar also give the same message.

Lately the present history, history of Modern India is under the chopping block of communal forces. On one hand the projection of Sardar Patel, with emphasis on his being anti-Nehru and the other various conjectures of this period are being dished out. It is being asserted that Congress ‘facilitated Partition’ (Narendra Modi while talking in Kheda in Gujarat). This is a very motivated statement. As a matter of fact the two major leaders who were handling the negotiations at that time, on behalf of Congress, were Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Patel. Mr. Jaswant Singh’s book on Jinnah, taking one sided view blames Nehru-Patel for partition. It was banned by Modi in Gujarat, as he won’t brook any criticism of Sardar Patel. Here with a forked tongue, two things are being said at the same time, Patel eulogized for his contribution and Congress being blamed for partition, unmindful of the fact that it was Nehru-Patel duo, which was acting together on the issue of India’s partition.

That way the tragedy of India’s partition is like a big canvass, and most of the commentators look at the part of the canvass which suits their politics and put all the focus on that. This focusing on one part of canvass, selective historiography, is due to the motives and political understanding of these commentators. Seeing the whole process will tell us a different tale. The partition tragedy cannot be located just in the final phase when the negotiations between British rulers, Muslim League and Congress were going on. Partition process was the culmination of a long process, which began with the aftermath of anti-British revolution in 1857. The first factor in the process of division was the British decision to implement the policy of ‘Divide and rule”, thereby to introduce communal historiography. The second major factor was the persistence of feudal classes despite the beginning of industrialization and modern education. These feudal elements, the declining classes, felt threatened by the rising, nascent democratic nationalism, as represented in the formation of various organizations of industrialists, workers and educated classes and the formation of Indian National Congress. These declining classes, Hindus and Muslims landlord-kings, were together in the beginning. One major step in the direction to break them along religious lines was Lord Elphinstone’s encouragement to Muslim landlords, Nawabs, and to recognize them as representatives of Muslims. This led to formation of Muslim League in 1906. In tandem with this Punjab Hindu Sabha came up in 1909, Hindu Mahasabha in 1915 and RSS in 1925. These communal organizations started getting support from section of educated elite apart from some upper castes and traditional traders. These communal organizations were against democratic nationalism and articulated religious nationalism.

A group photo of people accused in the Mahatma Gandhi's murder case. StandingShankar KistaiyaGopal GodseMadanlal PahwaDigambar BadgeSittingNarayan Apte, Vinayak D. Savarkar, Nathuram GodseVishnu Karkare
(Courtesy: Wikipedia)
The third and major theoretical expression for partition comes from the ideologue of Hindu Mahsasabha, Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, who said that there are two nations in the country, the Hindu nation and Muslim nation. The separate country for Muslims was articulated by Chowdhary Rahmat Ali in 1930, Pakistan. This got politically consolidated in 1940 with Jinnah’s demand for a separate country in the form of Pakistan (West and East). Fourth important step in the direction was the fact that the demand of Pakistan suited the designs of British colonialist’s long term plan to have a base in South Asia. As Communism, Soviet block was progressing and inspiring leaders of many national movements, like China Vietnam in particular, colonialists wanted to counter this by having a political base in South Asia. In India, Soviet Union inspired the communist and socialist movement. People of the caliber of Nehru, Jaya Prakash Narayan and others were with Congress Socialist Party, an in-house organization within Congress. Seeing the influence of socialist ideology on the major leaders of national movement, the colonialists and imperialists were keen that India should not remain united. There keenness of partition encouraged the demand of Pakistan.

Congress at this point of time found itself in a trap. On one side the stalwarts of National movement, Gandhi and Mualana Azad were opposed to the partition in the deeper political way. Nehru and Patel; experienced the blockades put up by the Muslim League in interim government. The choice before this duo was either to go on with a Cripps mission plan, which gave very little power to the center, or to go for partition and have a strong Center in India. The calculation of Nehru was that without the centralized economy; country cannot progress. The Bombay plan, economic blueprint of industrialists, wanted the state to provide for heavy industries, as industrialists realized that they are not capable for setting up large industries. This was parallel to the vision of Nehru, who envisaged land reforms and industrialization to take India forward. Sardar Patel had the vision of the strong center so he was also not for the loose federation of states as provisioned by Cripps mission.

To blame Congress of facilitating India’s partition is nowhere close to the truth. But the way History, even the modern Indian history, is being bulldozed for the political convenience, and the eagerness to grab power come what may, sacrificing the truth, is not a big deal for the communal politicians.  

Monday, 11 November 2013

‘Statue of Unity’ on One Side: Asthi Kalsh Yatra on the Other

Ram Puniyani

In the last week of October-first week of November, we saw two contradictory processes. On one side the foundation stone was laid for the statue of first Deputy Prime Minister of India, Saradar Vallabhbhai Patel, being called as Statue of Unity. On the other side the BJP in Bihar was taking out ‘Asthi Kalash’ (Pitcher of Ashes), of the blast victims in Patna. These victims died while the blasts took place in Modi’s Hunkar rally. While Patel completed the last lag of India’s unity as a nation, BJP combine’s Asthi Yatra Kalsh Yatra has meanwhile taken further the techniques which are divisive, and are an attack on the values of Fraternity ingrained in Indian Constitution. How do we understand the unity of India to begin with?

India’s unity begins with the coming of British. Pre British sub-continent made a journey from the tribal society, to pastoral society to kingdoms of different hues. Unfortunately there is a lot of confusion between kingdoms and the modern nation state. Pastoral society had different logic, while kings were sitting on the top of the structure in which the poor peasant was producing and large part of his produce was going to the king, through the landlord. The poor peasants were semi-slaves mostly at the mercy of the whims of the landlords. For the younger generation, the life in this period can be gleaned partly from the classics of the literary stalwarts like Munshi Premchand in particular. The British in their project to plunder this country introduced the policy of ‘divide and rule’ and so introduced Communal Historiography. This pattern of looking at kings, through the prism of the religion, made the matters worse for us as the kings now are looked at as Hindus or Muslims. And the period when some of the kings were ruling part of the area is called as Muslim period. The Muslim kings, ruled here, lived here and became the part of this soil. While British ruled from their head office in London and plundered the country. There was no concept of Nation-State at that time. Different kingdoms, warring with each other, trying to expand their boundaries on the strength of the sword.

With British, their plunder project led to the introduction of railways, communications and modern education. Whatever be the motives of British, this laid the foundation of geographical unity of India. The India we call today starts taking shape with that. But there is much else which transformed the ‘warring kingdoms’ to Indian state. The British policies led to discontent and the British system also opened some window of articulating the discontent. Unlike the period of Kingdoms, in the Colonial period itself many an associations of the rising classes, Industrialists, Workers and others started coming up. They formed organizations for the first time. And amongst the number of organizations Madras Mahajan Sabha, Pune Sarvajanik Sabha and Bombay Associations are some noteworthy. At the same time Narayan Meghaji Lokhande and Singarvelu started organizing the workers. All these organizations were veering around trade, occupation, work: not religion. These were having people from all regions, all religions. On the material foundations laid by British, these efforts added flesh and blood and ‘Indian identity’ starts taking shape. This is the foundation of the emotional and civilian unity of India, building on the geographical unification.
Bombay-Thane Train 1853 : The First Train Link in India

This foundation of India gets the walls of unity from the anti-colonial, ‘anti-British national movement’. It was the national movement with participation of people of all religion, all regions, all castes, all linguistic groups, women and men both that real Indian identity comes to be rooted in our psyche and in our civilian life. This movement ‘India as a nation in the making’ has been the biggest ever mass movement in the world. This movement was based on the values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, the principles which became the base of Indian Constitution. This was the Indian unity emerging from opposition to British rule; this was the unity for aspiration of building secular democratic India with composite culture. This led to our freedom with the partition tragedy accompanying it. This was the main structure of Indian unity. Some jobs were still remaining.

With freedom nearly 650 princely states, who were associated with British rule had to make their decision, to merge with India or Pakistan or to remain free. It is here that Sardar Patels’ final contribution of uniting India, as it is today, came as the icing in the cake, the plaster on the walls of National unity. This unity was emotional, civic and national. It included people of all religions that’s’ how Gandhi, Nehru, Patel and Maulana Azad, stick together despite their diverse background and different expression of the value and create the Indian nation state. Contrary to the hints dropped by Modi that Patel would have dealt with Muslims better, the approach of the great leaders of Indian freedom movement was overlapping. Patel was the one to give the provisions for minority institutions. Gandhi said about Patel, “I know the Sardar…His method and manner of approach to Hindu-Muslim question, as also several other questions, is different from mine and Pundit Nehru’s. But it is travesty of truth to describe him as anti Muslim.”

This process of emotional, civic unification which began with the formation of various associations went through the freedom movement and found its culmination in the integration of princely states, into the Union of India. The process of unification also began and saw a miniscule process of divisiveness even at that time. This divisiveness began with the religious nationalism of Muslim League and Hindu Mahasabha-RSS. This group came from the landlords and nawabs (Led by Nawab of Dhaka and Raja of Kashi) and was later joined in by the section of elite educated middle classes in the form of Jinnah, Savarkar and the founders of RSS. While Gandhi and National movement united all, the communal groups spread hatred against each other. This hatred against each other led to communal violence, the worst of which were to be seen in the Calcutta killings, Noakhali amongst others. It was Gandhi, who left the statecraft to Nehru and Patel and went to douse the communal fire.
After some gap, the process of violence began again with Jabalpur violence of 1961. At the root of violence is the hatred of ‘other’, propagated through word of mouth, through shakhas, through school books amongst others. This creates a ‘social common sense’. This ‘social common sense’ is totally negative against religious minorities and acts as the fertile ground on which the communal violence takes place. Various techniques were devised to orchestrate communal violence, pig in a mosque, beef pieces in mandir (temple), killing of cow, music in front of mosque, ‘molestation of ‘our’ women had been the major ones amongst them.

A new pattern has been added to this. After the siege of Babri in October 1990, the tragedy led to death of the kar sevaks. VHP took out the asthi kalash yatra and the yatra left the trail of blood. After the Godhra train burning (who did it is another matter, many theories abound, this article is not going in to that) let’s see how this tragedy was used to divide the community. The dead bodies were handed over to VHP to take out a procession. The mass hysteria was created during the procession. Rest is too well known. Society divided along religious lines. Despite diverse claims ‘division amongst Hindus-Muslim’, is a matter of concern in the country in general and places like Gujarat in particular.
Let’s now come to Kandhmal. Swami Laxmanand is killed. No debate about who did it. The VHP takes out a procession of Swamiji’s body through a long route. Violence against Christians follows. Further perfecting the technique, now after the Patna blasts, whoso ever did it, the dead bodies are being taken out in procession through various routes. Is it to pay homage to the poor victims despite whose death the rally continued, or the goals are to divide the society along communal lines? This is social disunity. Sardar Patel’s statue and life was for social unity, this and other acts of BJP combine are just for the opposite goals. Hypocrisy at its best or worst is at display here. Commemorate the Sardar who united India, not just by merging the princely states, but being the part of freedom movement which was the uniting movement. And also remember unity of India just does not mean the merger of princely states; that was the last phase of unity process. At the same time take out Asthi Kalash, which is aimed to divide the community? Political ambitions have strange ways. 

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Science versus Miracles: Holding Hot Electric Soldering Iron on the Hand.

B Premanand

The psychic places the hot electric soldering iron across his hand without getting burnt. 

Experiment: 130

Effect: Hot electric soldering iron on the hand.

Props: Electric soldering iron, petroleum jelly.

Method: Smear petroleum jelly on your hand. Take the soldering Iron and lightly place it on your hand over the jelly. It will produce a hissing sound. Then show your hand unaffected by the hot iron.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Modi’s-Abusing History for Political Mileage

Ram Puniyani

The Politics of Modi' parent organisation RSS is based on distortion of history, medieval history in particular. to begin with the projection of kings through the prism of religion, to demonise Muslim kings based on distortions and falsehoods of History, and then in turn spreading hatred against Muslims of today has been the foundation of which RSS built it up. Taking the same method to further lower levels currently Narendra Modi is trampling, distorting the facts of history to project his ideology. In the last week, October 2013, he addressed two meetings and gave one interview which showed the levels to which he can fall to score political mileage.
Nehru, Gandhi, Patel

In Sardar Patel memorial inauguration, Modi said that Sardar Patel should have been the first Prime Minister of India. This was a dig at two major leadrs of freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi and Pundit Jawaharlal Nehru. One recall that Mahatma Gandhi, father of Indian Nation, was the one who had the mandate of the whole nation, irrespective of region, religion, gender and caste. It was left to Gandhi to nominate the Prime Minister and he unhesitatingly named Nehru to be the first Prime Minister of the country. There might have been different factors weighing on the mind of Mahatma, as Sardar Patel and Nehru both were his closest disciples. He knew both of them thoroughly, and he made the choice. Patel went on to be the deputy Prime Minister and Home Minsiter, in which capcity he was instrumental in merging over 550 princely states in to Indian Union, a remarkable contribution to Indian nationalism. Nehru as Prime minister laid the foundation of all the policies related to industrial growth, education, foreign affairs and became the ‘architect of Modern India’, India on the path of Industrialisation and education, the foundations due to which today India has been catapulted to be one of the major economic powers in the world.

Surely, in such a marathon enterprise the contribution of his Cabinet colleagues should not be underestimated. While criticism of some of his policies is in order, the credit for trying to take India out of the feudal society, the society of blatant slavery of dominated castes and women, to the society with democratic values of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, were also laid under his indomitable leadership. Sardar Patel is being projected by Modi-RSS despite knowing that Patel was deeply committed to Indian Nationalism, staunch follower of Gandhi and a thoroughly secular person. RSS has none of this, RSS-Modi are totally opposed to the values, which Sardar espoused. The first thing which Modi tries to do in this direction is to emotionally undermine the role of Pundit Nehru. He went to the extent of saying in one of the interviews given to a Hindi daily, that Nehru did not attend the funeral ceremony of Patel. This is a total concoction. This blatant lie was immediately exposed as the Times of India, on front page had covered this event and prominently told the readers about the presence of President Dr. Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Pundit Nehru on the occasion. It also published the deep condolences of Nehru who said that Sardar Patel has contributed immensely to the process of India’s freedom and making of India. Congress Leader Digvijay Singh has posted the clip of the documentary showing Nehru attending the funeral. Also it was recalled that Morarji Desai in his autobiography Volume I page 271, Para 2 mentioned the presence of Pundit Nehru on the occasion. In the face of this Modi retracted his statement, and usual things about being misquoted etc were dished out.

It is surprising that RSS-Modi are trying to project a person as their icon, who had banned their organization after the murder of father of the nation. In his letter to the RSS Chief M.S. Golwalkar, Sardar Patel wrote, “All their (RSS) leaders’ speeches were full of communal poison. As a final result, the poisonous atmosphere was created in which such a ghastly tragedy (Gandhi’s murder) became possible.” (Excerpts from Sardar Patel’s letter, in Outlook April 27, 1998) Same Outlook issue tells us that RSS expressed their joy and distributed sweets after Gandhi’s death. One can add that by attacking the choice of Mahatma Gandhi for the Prime ministerial post, Modi is continuing the work of Hindu nationalism’s attack on Indian Nationalism started by Godse. This Hindu nationalist, Godse, attacked Gandhi for insisting on Indian Nationalism and now another Hindu Nationalist Modi is attacking Mahatma for his choice of the Prime Minister. This attempt of Modi to say that Sardar Patel Should have been the Prime Minister instead of Nehru, more than undermining Nehru is a direct attack on Gandhi. Not surprising! As Modi belongs to the Hindu nationalism school of thought for whom Gandhi and his ideology were not acceptable for their strong support for diversity of India. Here they also undermine Sardar Patel who was equally committed to the values of pluralism and secularism of India, in shaping which he contributed immensely. Patel was committed to actualize Gandhi’s dream of secular India, and for this he contributed all his life.

Neetish Kumar in another part of the country; pointed out two major things. One as to how Modi spoke lies about Chandragupta Maurya being from Gupta dynasty, while he was from Maurya dynasty. Second that Alexander came up to Ganges. As a matter of fact, Alexander returned from the banks of Sutlej. Modi displayed his knowledge or lack of it by saying that Taxila belongs to Bihar, while it is in Western part and is currently part of Pakistan. Modi’s these utterances were meant to play to the gallery in Patna meeting. The Patna meeting was called as Hunkar rally, Hunkar means speaking something vociferously and with arrogance, a sign of fascist mind set. Modi also exhorted the audience to ‘weed out’ opponents. This is the mindset of a fascist again who wants to eliminate the opponents. This is what Hitler did, weeding out Jews, Trade Unionists and Communist during his regime. While currently Modi is focusing on political opponents, his ideology of Hindu nationalism has spread the slogan of Pehle Kasai phir Isai. (First the Muslims, then the Christians) So here we are witnessing a dangerous scenario emerging. Attack on Indian Nationalism, by attacking the choice of Gandhi for Prime Minister’s post. A total distortion of history to play to the gallery, Goebbels style. And use of a language which fascists routinely do, of weeding out others.

At this point of time to compare RSS-BJP-Modi with any other electoral formation is dangerous as BJP is a different cup of tea, it is molded for Hindu nationalism, and Modi with his fascist tendencies is unable to conceal his fangs. Those equating BJP-Modi with any other party are doing a fatal mistake, which the country may have to regret later at the cost of loosing democracy. Let’s recall that Hitler also came to power through democratic means. Having once come to power, he was quick enough to abolish democracy and impose fascism through his multiple wings, storm troopers, foot soldiers on one side and the followers of his ideology in different forms, on the other. Warning bells are loud and clear, those wanting to live in a democratic Indian nation need to take it as a wakeup call.


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