Sunday, December 27, 2009

The 21st century began in 2002

The 21st century began in 2002
By M J Akbar

The 20th century ended in 2002, on the day the Godhra riots began. It was a turbulent age that ravaged society and broke the land as faith became the emotional spur of identity and the principal dialectic of politics. If Jinnah used the rhetoric of Islam to divide, then Gandhi used the metaphor of Ram rajya to unite. Both left an immediate legacy of incomplete dreams; it was up to history to decide which one had a better chance of success. Jinnah's Pakistan has crept towards theocracy, inciting blood-warm civil wars and cold-eyed terrorism. Gandhi's India, despite the able custody of Nehru, has had to struggle with the scourge of communalism, the one great impediment to its tryst with destiny.

The pivotal moments of faith-based passions were the narrative of the 1980s: the Shah Bano episode, and the Ram temple movement. Babri linked up to Ahmedabad through Godhra. But 2002 turned into a swivel point; the last of the lava spewed out, leaving those who had stoked the volcano a spent force. Hindsight confirms that after 2002, enough Indians turned away from fire to the forge of social and economic change. Congress understood this, instinctively rather than ideologically. The absence of ideology permitted tactical mobility between virtual laissez faire, a tilted partnership with America and state-financed handout programmes. Enough constituencies were onside, therefore, on polling day. The BJP flourished only where its regional leaders recognized the primacy of rice over anger. Narendra Modi, uniquely, has mined both seams, but he will find out in the next elections that one seam has run dry. Even the violence of the last eight years, spawned by Naxalites, has been motivated by hunger rather than faith.

The true business of the first decade of the 21st century has been business. It was both appropriate and unfortunate, therefore, that the last date on the legal calendar of this decade was occupied, in the Supreme Court, by the bitter gas case between the iconic businessmen of our time, the brothers Mukesh and Anil Ambani. Their dispute has generated more headlines in six years than any political conflict.

Blood, we have been reliably informed, is thicker than water. Why does money become, all so often, thicker than blood?

There are two medieval models for inheritance. The Mughals opted for a life-and-death decision on the battlefield. The English graduated, possibly to preserve their nobility from self-inflicted wounds, to primogeniture, in which the eldest son got the estate and the younger son a book written by P G Wodehouse. Both models are unacceptable in more egalitarian times, but in our country the elder brother still has the edge. This is why Mukesh Ambani received nearly three-fourths of the Dhirubhai empire, and Anil accepted such an unequal settlement.

But it also becomes a duty on the part of the heirs to preserve this amity, for every empire, political or business, is a public responsibility. Businessmen are often called barons or the new 'Moghuls', but this is not a license to behave like a Mughal, consolidating power by eliminating kin.

There is a remarkable parallel between what might be justifiably called the two most powerful brother-heirs in the Indian private sector. Decorum prevents me from naming one pair of brothers. Both lost their patriarch in harness. The comparative bank balance is not the issue, since billions are beyond mathematics. But if the Ambanis possess the power of wealth; the others have the wealth of power. All four are brilliant, with the rare ability to nurture a seed into a plant and then transform it into a plantation. The Ambanis are an international phenomenon; no less remarkably, the other brothers lifted the dominant newspaper of a single city into a range of media products that made their brand an unparalleled sensation. Brothers inherit genes, not temperament; there were differences in both families. The contrast is that the unnamed heirs, prone as everyone else to human weakness, turned a kingdom into an empire in exemplary harmony, offering a template. Imagine the economic stratosphere in which both Ambanis would flourish without their epic war.

The difference between fortune and misfortune is not money, but the value of a family at peace with itself.

The Supreme Court has the task of Solomon, without the luxury of sentiment: it cannot suggest that the last word be left to the mother, since the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal, the supreme mother of Indian justice. It will be guided by merit, precedence, and the principles its judgment will establish for private and public sector. If India's destiny lies in its economy, if India is to soar above the neighbourhood towards a unique horizon, then the moral code of our faith in business will lie in the voice of the Supreme Court.

Appeared in Times of India - December 27, 2009


B3 said...

The 20th century ended in 2002, on the day the Godhra riots began

That thesis of yours needs to be moved back by a day, to when 59 Hindu pilgrims were burned and charred alive on the Sabarmati Express by a terrorist cabal, with assistance from a local Muslim mob duly incited by them, Mr. Akbar, unless you choose to make your memory selective.

Gandhi's India, despite the able custody of Nehru, has had to struggle with the scourge of communalism, the one great impediment to its tryst with destiny.

Unless the Indian Muslim intelligentsia, including your esteem self, acknowledge the following:
1. Ram Janmabhoomi of Ayodhya, as believed by Hindu faithful to be the birth place of Vishnu's incarnation of Lord Ram, is as scared to Hindus as the Mecca and Medina shrine are to Muslims
2. Gujarat riots/violence would not have taken place had Hindus not been burnt alive on Sarbarmati
3. Hindus of India have treated their Muslim brethren infinitely better than Pakistan did and does of their Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Ahmadiyya, Shia and other non-Muslim subjects
4. Pakistani Muslims and their regime conducted a Holocaust of Bengalis and Hindus in 1971 by killing some 3 million people and raping 200 thousand women
5. Pakistan inserted Muslim Jihadists ethnic cleansed half a million or more Kashmiri Pandits out of their 5000 year homeland in the valley
among other things, you are playing a biased and prejudiced communalist fiddle yourself, Mr. Akbar.

One-sidedness engenders defensiveness from the other side, which you then turn around and label as "communalism."

Hindus have a thousand of years long of history of religious tolerance and inclusiveness as proven the by the grand diversity of religions and faith traditions found to co-exist in India rather harmoniously, except when the tensions are created by various shades Islamism and Islamic terrorism, and from the predatory conversions of millions of Hindus by the conversion mafia operating in India.

B3 said...

By my poorly phrased "Hindu, Sikh, Christian, Ahmadiyya, Shia and other non-Muslim subjects", I did not, of course, mean that the Ahmadiyya and the Shia were "non-Muslims" (although that's exactly what Pakistan declared them to be in 1974, and proceeded to deny them voting rights since 1985, notwithstanding the sweeping contributions Ahmadi Muslims like Zafrullah Khan made to Pakistan, often at India's expense. Physics Nobel prize winner Dr. Abdus Salam then left Pakistan for Britain in protest of that outrageous official ex-communication of the Ahmadiyya sect by the Sunni/Wahhabi fundamentalists in Pakistan.) I meant non-Muslims other than the mentioned Hindu, Sikh and Christian subjects. Please ignore other minor and obviously reconcilable typos in my preceding comment.

I would like to add that Shivaji, the last major Hindu ruler of most of the pre-colonial India, treated Muslims with great dignity and respect, and he was not a casteist either, debunking the often-flung Islamist and Pakistani smears of Hindus and Pro-Hindu organizations. Compare that to the tyrannically anti-Hindu rulers such as the Nizam of Hyderabad, and how Pakistan brutalized its Hindu subjects since the partition, especially in what is now Bangladesh.

It helps to keep in mind that almost all Muslims (as well as Christians) in the Indian Subcontinent (including the Punjab and Sind areas of Pakistan) are descendents of Hindus. Recent genetic studies tend to confirm that. It makes no sense, therefore, for them to think that Hindus and Hinduism are their enemies, and they aren't. All Indians, and indeed all people of the Indian subcontinent, need to stop focusing on how they're different from each other, and instead take shared pride in the great 5000-10000 year long heritage of the originally-Dharma-founded Indian civilization they all inherit, and draw inspiration from it to build a harmonious, sustainably prosperous, self-sufficient and well respected 21st century India by striving/studing/working hard and being kind towards each other.

The Indian civilization gave the world many gifts in languages, grammar, mathematics and sciences, spirituality, philosophy, religions, arts (powerful classical music and dance forms), architecture, cuisines, yoga, meditation etc. A very good starting point to come to appreciate this are the following:
-- Indian Mathematics: Redressing the balance, by Ian G Pearce
-- Chap. 8(III) Brahmagupta, and the influence on Arabia (as well as China, Persia, Spain, Europe)

Mr. Akbar, I grew up reading your columns and thus came to hold you in much respect, but the anti-Hindu bias in your recent articles is beginning to chip that respect away.

Best regards to you.

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