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Lockdown musings: The Bloomsbury debacle, the legacy of the Congress party and Narendra Modi’s vision of Aatmanirbhar Bharat

The prolonged lockdown has destroyed hundreds of millions of jobs, with no alternatives in sight. That the devastation has been reasonably contained is mainly due to the immediate relief and release of funds and food grains to the BPL families.

The distressing news that Bloomsbury India, who had printed Advocate Monica Arora’s co-authored book “Delhi Riots 2020, the Untold Story” has recently decided to stop its announced launch and publication; and to reduce all its printed copies to pulp. The book covers the violence that erupted in the capital after the passage of the Citizens’ Amendment Act (CAA) by both the houses of the Indian Parliament on 11th December 2019. 

Interested political and religious groups opposed this bill on mostly unfounded fears, and they organized a prolonged sit-in protest at Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh and other Left-controlled venues. The sit-in and the attendant protests have been covered in detail by the press and TV and it is not my purpose here to recount the entire sordid saga.

Nupur Sharma, the intrepid editor of the web journal Opindia, burnt the proverbial midnight oil to put together a report on these riots. Published as an ebook on Kindle by Amazon, “An Opindia Report on Delhi Anti-Hindu Riots 2020” has been available for download from the Amazon portal. The ebook is today marked as No. 1 Bestseller in the Kindle Store and carries a 5-Star rating. For Kindle subscribers the book is available for free, while for others it costs a mere Rs. 101/-. Ms Sharma too found it difficult to get a publishing house to print her incendiary findings.

Bloomsbury India is a chicken-livered branch of Bloomsbury UK, and has acquired quite a reputation for chickening out when some extremist left-wing fringe, merely bares its teeth to show unhappiness with its choice of publications. This time it appears that the Jaipur Litfest organizer William Dalrymple (a known Hindu-hater) had shown his displeasure at Bloomsbury India’s choice of book. This information was put in public domain by none other than Aatish Taseer who hates everything about Hindu India, ever since he was caught lying that resulted in the cancellation of his OCI status.

Tavleen Singh and Salman Taseer’s son has never missed a single opportunity to spew venom against India, especially its Hindus. He has specifically targeted Prime Minister Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah in language that is not only disrespectful, but also, downright disgraceful.

Some years ago Bloomsbury India had entered into an agreement with Business Standard to publish a book “The Descent of Air India” written by Jitender Bhargava, former Executive Director of the airline. The book, published in October 2013, had exposed the nefarious role of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Praful Patel, as the Minister for Civil Aviation from 2004 to 2011, and held him directly responsible for the “descent of Air India” into extreme financial windstorms.

Immediately upon its publication Praful Patel filed a criminal defamation suit against the publishers. Incidentally, the lawyer who represented him then was the same Satish Maneshinde who is representing Rhea Chakraborty now in the Sushant Singh Rajput case. Bloomsbury chickened out and in January 2014 made an out of court settlement with the complainant.

Bhargava insisted that his book was based on existing documents, and Business Standard had said that it would stand by its commitment, but the publisher had no spine to stand up to this bullying. Bhargava subsequently published the work as an ebook on Amazon Kindle in March 2014. He self-published a hard copy in 2016, though it is my understanding that Business Standard picked up the tab for the same, honoring the agreement the newspaper had made with the author. Praful Patel withdrew the defamation suit in 2017.

The airline has not recovered from the battering it received during the Patel era, and the hole he dug for it is so deep that it is impossible to fill in. In fact, it is a mystery why this man has not been hauled in by the investigative machinery and put behind the strongest bars possible.

The social restrictions imposed by the current epidemic have reduced one to a state of mental torpor. With travel and outdoor activities on the banned list, one has had to take solace in reading books and sitting in front of the idiot box for prolonged periods. Not that these activities do not have their own rewards. I have been able to get through many large volumes; their size making one put them off repeatedly in favor of smaller and thinner books.

But once the slim ones are dealt with, there are no more reasons to keep the fat ones waiting on the shelves. I have managed to go through my entire “unread” library at home. Bhyrappa’s “Crossing Over”, Murakami’s “Killing Commendatore”, Roberto Bolano’s “2666”, Vikram Sampath’s “Savarkar” and Ghose & Dhar’s “Conundrum” were some of the books I had kept waiting on my shelves. With nothing “unread” now on the shelves, I have started re-reading some books that have somewhat faded from my memory.

Recently I re-read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s “Cancer Ward” originally published in 1968. An absolute masterpiece, the book is an allegorical autobiography. Solzhenitsyn was diagnosed with cancer while undergoing exile in the Kazhakastan steppes, and the experiences of his protagonist Oleg Kostoglotov, while undergoing treatment at one of the squalid hospitals in Communist Russia, must be drawn directly from his own experiences.

“Cancer Ward” is Communist Russia in microcosm. Not only are ordinary people the victims of the Stalinist Police state, but also the instruments of that state are succumbing to various kinds of cancerous diseases. Solzhenitsyn’s despair is unrelieved by some attempts at humor, and the picture he paints of Soviet Russia is one of gloom and doom. The Communist interlude in Russia’s history had completely destroyed its soul, and Solzhenitsyn has tried to bring home to the people their true condition. According to him the country had forfeited the entire 20th century, and only a spiritual renewal could revive the patients in the Ward.

Somewhat similar is the case in India. Not only have we forfeited the entire 20th century, but also the first decade-and-half of the 21st. Nehru and the Congress party’s obsession with Communist Russia blinded them to the actual goings-on within that totalitarian state. The failures of the five-year plans; the successive disasters in agricultural experiments made Russia increasingly dependent upon the West. But Stalinist Russia did not graft any Western criteria upon the Russian spirit. On the contrary, its influence let loose violent, Dionysiac, and sometimes demonic forces. 

Nehru and his daughter adopted the Russian models without even trying to think if these could be applied wholesale on the Indian spirit. A nation that had been crushed by invasive Islamic demonic and European Dyonysiac forces for 700 years was looking forward to a spiritual renewal, but Nehru and the Congress party, in their search for perpetual hegemony, instead continued to crush its spirit under a manufactured, false “secularism” that demonized the ancient Hindu culture and put “socialism” on a pedestal.

I am not sure if it was the old Roman historian, Gaius Sallustius Crispus, who said, “the struggle between parties is and will always remain a misfortune for the people, worse than war, famine, plague, or any other manifestation of God’s wrath.” The struggle between the Congress party, now reduced to a rump, led by a dangerous buffoon and his grasping family, aided by almost the entire political opposition in the land, on one hand, and the BJP trying to revive the ancient spirit, on the other, is resulting in all that Crispus had predicted. Crushed in between this struggle are the unfortunate people who, in 2014, had put all their hopes at the door of Narendra Modi.

When Modi first spoke to the people from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, he was aware of the expectations of those who had given him the necessary vote of confidence to lead the nation. That morning on 15th August 2014 he spoke with quiet assurance about the real tasks ahead of him and his countrymen. He wanted to put to rest the divisive agenda that had informed political discourse until then.

He spoke about the safety and education of the girl child; the urgent need to clean up the dirt and squalor from public areas; the need to build millions of toilets to avoid the indignity of open defecation. He spoke about the need to build “pucca” homes for the poorest of the poor; to stop farmer suicides by providing them with safety nets, crop insurance, easy and cheap credit facilities; and many other structural reforms that would make the lives of ordinary Indians more bearable, if not happy. Modi has never deviated from this script, even after signing multi-billion dollar contracts for the modernization of the Indian armed forces.

Unfortunately, from the very first day Modi has been attacked by the demonic forces unleashed by the erstwhile “secular” and “socialist” parties and not one of them has come forward to assist him in his national endeavors. In their attempt to unseat him they have coopted the mainstream media consisting of the press and television, not only within our borders, but also all over the West. Forces inimical to a rising India have joined hands with these malcontents and are destroying the very fabric of our society.

The media is particularly pernicious and bent upon proving the 19th century German philosopher, Walter Benjamin, right about his views on the 4th estate. Benjamin called the press “an industry that mass produces empty phrases.” The term “public opinion” outraged him, for as he put it, “opinions are a private matter. The public has an interest only in judgments. Either it is a judging public or it is none. But it is precisely the purpose of the public opinion generated by the press to make the public incapable of judging, to insinuate into it the attitude of someone irresponsible, uninformed.”

The forces that hate a rising and open India have once again struck when they bullied Bloomsbury into cancelling the publication of the alternate version of the Delhi 2020 riots, while giving full attention to a false narrative written by Ziya-us-Salam and Uzma Ausaf. The hold of these demonic powers is still intact, six years after the defeat of the Congress party.

Narendra Modi, it seems, has read and internalized many of Walter Benjamin’s ideas. His emphasis on “Atmanirbhar Bharat” for promoting small industries with micro loans for “Make in India” vision, is fully in tune with Benjamin’s warning when he said that the energies developed by technology beyond their threshold “serve primarily to foster the technology of warfare, and of the means used to prepare public opinion for war or for orgies of buying in the consumer society.”

Undeterred by the opposition of the enemies within and without, he has quietly been applying his shoulder to the wheel in order to keep the cart moving. I am sure he must be disappointed by many of his supporters who do not possess the macro vision he has for India. Modi knows that there is an entrenched system that has been in place for hundreds of years. There is no short cut to removing each obstacle on the track. These have to be handled one by one, and at first there may not be any visible progress.

The old Colonial setup is still largely in place. Though much has changed superficially, but deep underneath the premise that the West is culturally superior still continues to inform our intelligentsia, and most of our reforms in religion, customs, values and laws are designed to meet the imperatives of Western ideas of rationality. We keep looking to the West for approval and this mindset is making the vision of “Atmanirbhar Bharat” that more hazy.

Coming to the idiot box, I must admit that I have had some really rewarding moments while watching some classical cinema from various international masters of the art. I have seen some wonderful films from Turkey, Iran, Spain and Russia. “Rams” a film from Iceland, was fabulously shot – the story simple, stark, and soulful. However, the film that has profoundly affected me is Paul Schraeder’s “First Reformed.” Schraeder has written some remarkable scripts that include “Taxi Driver” “Raging Bull” and “Last Temptation of Christ.” He wrote and directed “Mishima – A Life in Four Chapters” that is based upon the legendary Japanese writer’s magnum opus “The Sea of Fertility” a tetralogy, at the completion of which the author committed ritual seppuku.

“First Reformed” is brilliantly written and directed by Schraeder, while the protagonist, Ethan Hawke’s performance is outstanding, to say the least.  There are some lines from this film that are indelibly etched in my memory. When I think how much despair and despondency is felt by some of those who supported Modi in the beginning, I recall the following words of Ethan Hawke as Rev. Ernst Toller:

“Courage is the solution to despair, reason provides no answers. I can’t know what the future will bring; we have to choose despite uncertainty. Wisdom is holding two contradictory truths in our mind, simultaneously, Hope and despair. A life without despair is a life without hope. Holding these two ideas in our head is life itself.”

“We tend to think that anxiety and worry are simply an indication of how wise we are, yet it is a much better indication of how wicked we are. Fretting arises from our determination to have our own way.”

Most of us on social media are generally part of the well-educated, well-provided elite, even though we may not belong to the Left-Liberal gangs. We tend to look at public policy through our own lenses, usually ending up with the question “what does it have for me?” We think that since we support Modi he has some obligation to address our particular pet peeves. We want him to reduce our taxes, especially during these distressing times. We want him to boost the economy, provide jobs and employment, as if he possesses some kind of a magic wand.

We want him to put the wrongdoers away almost instantly, and fret when these things do not happen, or happen slowly. We are impatient with the pace at which he addresses our demands. We were unhappy with his policy on education and fretted at the control the leftists had on our educational institutions.

Now that the NEP has come, we expect the entire cabal of the erstwhile controllers to go into instant and prolonged coma. Today’s Bloomsbury episode would have further alienated some of his supporters, the so-called right-wingers. I have read many tweets that threaten not to vote for him in 2024. When asked whom they would vote for, there’s a deafening silence. I have to remind them all that NOTA is not an alternative – it is as good as a vote for the opposition that we dislike.

In his 15th August 2020 address from the Red Fort, the PM has once again reiterated his commitment to the poorest of the poor. If I have heard him right, currently, we are not in his scheme of things. Covid-19 has devastated the economy, more so the informal one. There are millions who are reduced to destitution and despair by this epidemic. Though it has not spared the well to do, its impact on the poor has been calamitous.

The prolonged lockdown has destroyed hundreds of millions of jobs, with no alternatives in sight. That the devastation has been reasonably contained is mainly due to the immediate relief and release of funds and food grains to the BPL families. The system of Direct Benefit Transfer that was put in place six years ago has ensured minimum leakage from the relief packages. Corruption may still pervade the system, but its impact is not as pernicious as it used to be.

We are still far away from safety, and it is not sure when the lockdown and other restrictions would be lifted. Many of the businesses may never reopen. Many employees may find that their employers have either gone bankrupt or have no customers for their products. Many may not have the appetite to reopen shut shops. Many will have to reskill themselves in order to find a foothold in the employment bus.

At the end of the film, “Just Mercy” that deals with racial prejudice that never really died in Alabama and other southern states in the US, even after affirmative action, the protagonist, a young black lawyer, Bryan Stevenson, has these profound words for us:

“The opposite of poverty isn’t wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice; that the character of our nation isn’t reflected in how we treat the rich and the privileged, but how we treat the poor, the disfavored, and the condemned.”

That, in short, is what Narendra Modi is trying to tell us. He is trying to save us from being crushed under the rubble. Are we listening?

The article was first published on Medium.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Vijaya Dar
Vijaya Dar
Born in Kashmir. Indic by culture. Occasional writer, avid reader. Love serious cinema, but not TV. Eternal student.

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