Debating India

Old order gives way

Friday 6 January 2006, by SINGH*Khushwant

The year just begun is likely to see a radical change in the political equations between the country’s principal parties broadly divided into two: the Hindu Right-wing and others. The year 2005 saw the disintegration of the Shiv Sena and the top echelons of the BJP. The splintered Shiv Sena will no longer count on the national scene: whatever hold it may continue to have in some regions of Maharashtra will be eroded in the months to come.

The influence of the RSS which has been on the decline for some years will go down further. Its present head talks a language few educated Indians can understand. In a country which must reduce its birth rate to avoid disaster, he wants Hindus to breed at a faster pace - up to 17 children per couple - entirely due to his misconception that, otherwise, Muslims who are allowed four wives will outnumber Hindus. As a matter of fact, though Muslims can have four wives, they rarely have more than one and their population is not growing faster than of the Hindus. He might also know that the majority of MPs expelled from Parliament for accepting bribes to put questions belonged to the BJP with RSS backgrounds. Evidently, though they wear black caps, white shirts and khaki shorts to parade with lathis, their training did not instill a sense of morality.

The BJP has lost its chief rabble-rouser sanyasin Uma Bharati. Its top leaders Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani will have acquired status of leaders emeritus available for advice. Vajpayee will remain a respected figurehead but Advani’s role is likely to be reduced further. He was the chief patron of Narendra Modi to whom he owed his being returned to Parliament from Gujarat. The roles will be reversed: Modi will become Advani’s patron and make him do his bidding.

Every democracy needs a strong opposition party to keep the government on its toes and see development programmes stick to time schedules set out for them. So do we. The BJP will remain the principal opposition party. I am glad it has chosen Rajnath Singh to lead it. He has more ground support than other contenders for the honour. He will have able men and women in his shadow cabinet: among them Jaswant Singh, Arun Jaitley, Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha, Sushma Swaraj. However, the party has to rid itself of its anti-Muslim, anti-Christian bias and win over genuine representatives of the two communities to join it before it is accepted as a viable contender for power. As the mouthpiece of the Hindus who form over 80 per cent of the population of our country, it is legitimate for it to continue watching over its welfare. Priority should be given to cleansing temples of corruption and discrimination that persist in places of worship. You only have to visit Hindu pilgrimage sites along the Ganga and see for yourself how pandas and pujaris fleece gullible worshippers, and the squalor along the banks of the holy river. Many temples still forbid entry to Dalits; many continue to slaughter animals and birds as religious ritual. They don’t have to break mosques and churches to prove they represent the Hindu majority; it will be better done by embracing Muslims and Christians as brother Indians.

Crime and punishment

I wish Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had more powers to punish errant MPs than just order them to get out and stay out. He should be empowered to disenfranchise and thus make them illegible for re-election. As it is, some wise, legal-minded people are airing opinions that expulsion from Parliament does not necessarily debar them from standing for re-election. I am of the opinion that the Speaker’s powers should further include punishing those found guilty of taking bribes in the traditional Indian way. They should have their faces blackened, made to sit on donkeys facing backwards and paraded through main thoroughfares of towns in their constituencies. One of them sports a handle-bar moustache curling at the ends like a scorpion’s tail. If his moustache were clipped off at either end, he would lose his macho image and his face - moochh kat jayegee - he would become a laughing stock and regarded as a jackass.

I have similar views on the right punishment for rapists. People talk of hanging them: no one hangs rapists in the 21st century. And jail for life is too costly for the State. The proper punishment for a rapist is to first have him flogged on his bare buttocks in public at the site of crime; then castrate him and let him go free. He will lose the capacity to repeat his crime.

Peace within change

Among the New Year’s greeting cards I received this year was one from Gira Sarabhai whose family mansion ?The Retreat’ stands in grand isolation along the banks of the Sabarmati in Ahmedabad. The State government is turning it into a riverside boulevard with shopping plazas, restaurants and discotheques. She mourns the days gone-by:

2005 has been a year of surprises. Our Sabarmati river has been made a canal with boulevards with shopping and restaurants on both sides of the river. No more sandy banks and dyeing and washing of printed cloth. No more cultivation of vegetables and watermelon in the sandy river bed. No camels and donkeys and no more stray cows and buffaloes. Ahmedabad has been awarded the status of a mega city. New railway stations, airports and networks of roads - tourism, health resorts, hotels and malls. At the Retreat we are still able to live and carry on our work in peace and in spite of the noise.”

See online : The Hindustan Times

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