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Commentary/Varsha Bhosle

Hawks, doves, pinkos and… toilets

Thanks to a mention in Arena, I read Mr Ashwin Mahesh’s excellent musing on conservatism vs liberalism which I’d missed earlier. ’Course, he’s gently taken me to the cleaners, but we’ll get to that later. Thing is, Mr Mahesh asks the same questions I’ve been asking myself these last four years; and most of the conclusions he draws, I endorse. Moreover, I’m elated by the absence of proselytization that afflicts the rest of us columnists. So now I’ll pose the question which will make you hit the ceiling laughing: Am I a liberal or a conservative? OK… OK… conservative. Nay, fundamentalist. You’ve chosen, for sure. If you ask me, I’m just as easy with pompous-arrogant-vulgar-neo-capitalist. What one frets over is whether one’s rationale stays intact, goals remain defined and references hold true.

Am I a defense-conservative? So much so that in A Few Good Men, I was rooting for the villain/general played by Jack Nicholson. Nationalistic? I think anybody who promotes the ceding of one square inch of frozen earth should be lynched. Jingoistic? Absolutely; nuke ’em all (just kidding, OK?). But after that, murkiness fogs my self-conception. For instance, vis-à-vis censorship, I’m left of liberal – i e, no censorship is still too much. Then, with what little I grasp of finance and economy, I’m all for Pizza Hut proliferation. Do I visit temples, or consciously think of God and Virtue? Forget it. How about Discipline? Gawd, flee from it! Worse, I get convulsions when the VHP even says gou-mata.

In short, I’ll be the first person the RSS will boot out of its character-building camp. OTOH, I’m already someone whom liberals and secularists have disowned. Actually, it’s a blessed state for a writer to be in: There’s no jhanjhat of toeing a line. Like, I’ve happily written a column upholding M F Husain’s right to paint a nude Saraswati. But, hehehehehe… watch my secular colleagues dodge the conversions issue…

Which begs the question: Why don’t I write about drinking water, primary education, toilets, health care, etc? Simple. Because: a) there’s no point in carping about souchaalays since not one of you will set out with Mr Clean in hand; b) till there isn’t a radical change at the Centre, basic policies won’t change – so I aim for the head; and, c) volunteers of the Swadhyaya group, VHP and RSS have been and are busy setting up blood banks, schools and hospitals in rural areas, building homes for tribals, providing boats to fishermen, aiding the cyclone-affected, etc. The RSS has over 5,000 such projects going currently – and I think it’s as good a job as any to hinder secularists from slinging mud at them for their Hindutva. Like everybody else, I merely respond to events as I see fit.

But I just must be lying, right? Here’s a report on Orissa from The Pioneer of 19 May: “The BJP seems to owe its popularity in the backward districts of the state, mainly western Orissa, to the sustained social service drive launched in the region by the RSS and its sister organisations. Most widespread among them is the network of Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram which has popularised the concept of one-teacher-one-school in the interior villages of backward districts where the impact of government-sponsored schemes take a long time to be felt… In some instances, these organisations have also motivated people to draw the government’s attention to their problems in an organised manner… The programme includes distribution of rice and milk powder, construction of tankis, wells and roads, and supply of seeds and pesticides to the farmers.” Please note the word “sustained.”

And what was the secular government doing? “Intelligence officials are keeping a close watch on the voluntary services being rendered by the RSS and its affiliates which have stepped up their drive in the wake of the drought.” Right, it was keeping its eye on Hindutva, while secular, concerned columnists were breast-beating over Hindutva’s insensitivity.

Then I wonder, if we’re talking about basic amenities, where do campaigns such as those against the Shiv Sena fit in? Does it poison wells or bomb urinals? So all right, let’s add “justice” to the urgent list. But, if battling for justice means hounding Bal Thackeray for the cases dropped against him, then why don’t we also investigate police inaction vis-à-vis the Christian missionaries’s thugs who assaulted the poor Hindu woman and her nephew in Dharavi…? Which test applies here?

Now let me digress to Mr Mahesh’s “single most important question”: Does KFC pose a threat to Indian culture? Frankly, I don’t know; but if a fried leg of chicken is about to crisp our culture, then we should forthwith abandon the culture. However, I do know that the KFC isn’t being resisted on “cultural” grounds. It’s plain old economics, with farmers and businessmen pitted against multinationals. All of which I refuse to go into since it’s as fascinating to me as are lavatories: There’s no rule which says that if I have a soapbox, I must use it for others’ fixations.

Which naturally begs the question: What do I find crucial? Obviously, everything that my liberal, secular colleagues do not. Thing is, no matter which topic we may write on, sooner or later, we betray our biases. So, all of us end up sounding like stuck records. For instance, I wonder, since when has corruption become a negligible problem for India? If Mr L K Advani decides to make corruption his plank, why must his rath-yatra be made to espouse toilets…? I agree that I’m out of touch with current PC, but… Why not have Jyoti Basu, Kesri & Co shed their mitthu mia vote-bank platform and embark on commode-installing?

Take Rediff: Would you like to read eight columns whining about sandaas and paani? Is the editor nuts to plant them there? No. Because he knows that you want to know what’s on India’s mind apart from daily morning do’s, what the various opinion trends are… and also because of that unsettling concept called plurality of choice. But that’s not something easily grasped by the, er… Animal Farm mind. If you’d have gone by the views of my pacifist colleagues, would you have guessed why Dr Bhabani Sengupta had to resign? Right or wrong is not the issue here – simply that there are other critical debates raging in India, which can’t be rinsed down those crucial, nonexistent wc’s.

Actually, one is very worried about the danger from within, the threats from right here in India: Take the bonded labourers in Bihar… yes, Secular Laloo Prasad Yadav’s Janata-Dal-governed Bihar! You see, Maharashtra’s problems will disappear the minute Mr Thackeray lands in jail for tormenting Muslims during the riots. OTOH, we aren’t quite ready to file public interest litigations against the Yadavs and Bhagats. Geddit? *This* is the biggest danger from within: Forget external/internal security, even the welfare of people is sacrificed at the altar of secularism. Why not divert Laloo’s millions into sanitation? Hey, isn’t the onus on those who cheered in that administration? For no matter how much “grassroots” one chants, the laathi must come from above. And that’s why a clean government is the first requirement.

See? It isn’t easy to hide one’s bias. Take Mr Mahesh’s “liberals resorting to the kind of exclusion that I’ve normally associated with conservative opinion”, and, “conservatives may be biased, but they stand for something.” Well, my right-wing pals and I don’t think we “exclude” or that exclusion should “normally” be associated with us – we believe in Maanav-vaad, not Manuvaad. But then again, we know that the rest were never free of bias against us.

Now for Mr Mahesh’s Laundromat: “Talking about terrorism, territorial rights, illegal immigration and ISI-funded activities in the same breath as roadside namaaz is unforgivable. Roadside namaaz, whether or not it is a law and order problem, is an affair that pertains essentially to the rights of Indian citizens and their religious habits. To equate that with Muslim-connected problems which are mostly derived from non-Indian citizens not only sends the wrong signal, it is downright mean. In grouping Muslim Indians with Pakistani and Bangladeshi citizens, Ms Bhosle strays from the realm of finding solutions to India’s problems, to subtly disguised minority-bashing, even if not intentionally.”

Well, when both are citizens of the State, the dividing line between a terrorist and a law-breaker is only the magnitude of the infraction. But I suppose that since Islamic terrorism is a problem suffered and recognized by the US, it is PC to group the Indian Muslim terrorist with “Muslim-connected problems derived from non-Indian citizens.” Why is that forgivable? And, encroaching on roads is “whether or not” a problem…? What’s it, different strokes for different folks? The terrorist can turn around and rightly say that Khilafat is his religious duty and that it’s within his rights to subvert the government for pan-Islamisation. Therefore, where do the religious rights of a Muslim Indian end, and a law and order problem begin? And, why must I make leeway?

“Unforgivable” and “downright mean” this may be to you, Mr Mahesh – but it ain’t “minority-bashing”. Nor has “subtly disguised” ever been an option for Ms Bhosle. Roadside namaaz *is* a law and order problem, and mine was a statement of fact. What other signals you catch from the grouping, merely betrays your own defensiveness. It’s easy to moan and groan about toilets and drinking water – for that is safe. For it gains international PC points and press junkets abroad. And it keeps the mirage of Indian security under wraps – while the morale of the majority is flushed down those damn toilets.

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Varsha Bhosle

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