“That hope is beginning to die”

The quote above from Tavleen Singh, veteran journalist and author of Darbar.

With apologies to Indian Express for an overlong clip, here is Singh’s set-up:

It was good to hear the Prime Minister speak in the Lok Sabha last week. Not just because he made a good speech but because we need to hear him a lot more and his rabidly Hindutva ministers a lot less. Narendra Modi’s enigmatic silences when his associates have threatened to decimate Muslims (or send them to Pakistan) have made them more venomous. The latest to join the hatemongers club is the junior minister for Human Resource Development, Ram Shankar Katheria. He was present at a condolence meeting in Agra recently where Muslims were described as descendants of Ravana and warned of the need for a “final battle”.

As usual, the Prime Minister remained silent but the Home Minister defended Katheria, instead of admonishing him. If he did this in the hope that it will help the BJP win elections in Uttar Pradesh, he is wrong. Young Indians are more interested in jobs than in communal strife. And that Rama temple in Ayodhya has long been forgotten. So why is the Prime Minister allowing the diminishment of the mandate he was given for change? Why does he not notice that he could articulate better than anyone else the need for India to dump Nehruvian socialist economic policies that served mostly to keep the vast majority of Indians mired in poverty?

Yeah. Why?

But go back to the beginning and list the points she makes: 1. The PM is not speaking as much as he should. 2. The ministers who are speaking are a rabid lot (Begs the question — why are they still ministers?). 3. Much of the BJP leadership’s speeches are filled with hate, communalism, incitement to violence. 4. When the communal fire was lit most recently, the PM was silent “as usual” — and the home minister added gratuitous fuel. 5. The Ram temple cause has outlived its electoral usefulness and is in fact distracting from the PM’s agenda.

Fair summation? So here is what I’m puzzled by: Singh says no more, no less, than so many journalists and others in public life have been saying, lo, any time these last couple of years. And similar sentiments are echoed in a column yesterday by Swapan Dasgupta, who like Singh is openly on the side of the ruling party.

So why are those who questioned the PM’s silence, who questioned the BJP leadership’s hate-filled speeches, who pointed out that the PM’s promise of economic reform is a chimera, labeled “pseudo-intellectual sickular Stalin-loving anti-national presstitutes” who should all “go to Pakistan”?

When did it become a crime to see — and speak — the obvious? And a virtue to bury your head in the sand and keep chanting abuse in the name of Ram and country?

Tangential, memo: To those (and since I resumed blogging, there have been a few) who send me counter-arguments in mail — it is ok to argue in the comments field, you know? Likely more useful, too.

Related memo: The next time anyone sends me a justification of some piece of idiocy with “My country right or wrong” attached to a screed on the value of patriotism, I’ll barf all over him.

If you must quote, get context right — you might be surprised, even. What the much-decorated American naval officer Stephen Decatur actually said in April 1816 was:

Our country – In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right, and always successful, right or wrong.

The truncated version being assiduously peddled was actually part of a US Senate debate in 1872. And the response by Carl Shurz, a general in the Union army during the Civil War, is worth remembering in these troubled times:

The Senator from Wisconsin cannot frighten me by exclaiming, “My country, right or wrong.” In one sense I say so too. My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.

When wrong, to be put right — how? By questioning, by dissent, by protest. Shurz famously elaborated on that thought in a defining speech:

“I confidently trust that the American people will prove themselves … too wise not to detect the false pride or the dangerous ambitions or the selfish schemes which so often hide themselves under that deceptive cry of mock patriotism: ‘Our country, right or wrong!’ They will not fail to recognize that our dignity, our free institutions and the peace and welfare of this and coming generations of Americans will be secure only as we cling to the watchword of true patriotism: ‘Our country—when right to be kept right; when wrong to be put right.’”

He also delivered this sobering warning:

The American people … should be specially careful not to permit themselves to be influenced in their decision by high-sounding phrases of indefinite meaning, by vague generalities, or by seductive catchwords appealing to unreasoning pride and reckless ambition. More than ever true patriotism now demands the exercise of the soberest possible discernment.

Schurz’s speech in full, here — read, it is worth your time. And in passing, another line from another of Schurz’s speeches is a thought for today:

We have come to the point where it is loyalty to resist, and treason to submit.


3 thoughts on ““That hope is beginning to die”

  1. Glad to have you back Prem! Just noticed this.
    With regards to your queries i relate it much to last time you were blogging in full throttle (at least for me:)). That debate was btw coach GC and his captain on one side and not touchables in team on other side. I remember ‘How dare can you say so about him?’ and have you ever played cricket was follow up!!

    Since now it has moved from pitch to parliament,, you are bound to be on a train to your favourite destination.

  2. Indeed it is OK to argue in the comments. And I am commenting today mainly because you *pointed to this section* in an earlier post too. I agree wholeheartedly. Yet I myself prefer the old fashioned email route.

    I occasionally write about my proprietary cricket analytics. Or about translating. Invariably the comments arrive by email. I would like to see the feedback in one place but I understand a little bit why it does not happen that way.

    Here I am not discussing those who are happy to place all and sundry on social media. It is only about those who have a presence on social media yet prefer to get back to the author in person. When you scribble something quickly in brief to a person you know the chances of being misunderstood are lower. It is not necessary to run it through spellcheck, worry about semantics or fret about getting a quote exactly right. It is assumed that attention will be paid to what has been explicitly stated. Put it in public and the burden is on you to qualify the statement(s) explicitly. Next question is do we want to get into a debate and if yes to achieve what? Hardly any exchange (in public and between unrelated handles) caters to nuance. Write about consequentialism and debate deontology.

    In short, it is convenient to write an email and forget about the follow up.

    I am aware that sufficient qualifications have not been added here. I apologise for the sweeping generalisations in advance.

Comments are closed.