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The Hindu Notes for 8th October 2018

The party of Hinduism?

Liberals hoping that Rahul Gandhi’s Congress would rescue them from Hindutva may be in for a rude awakening

  • The stage is all set for Assembly elections in five States — Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh, Mizoram and Telangana. Described as a ‘semi-final’ for the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, they offer a foretaste of the electoral strategies likely to be on view next year. Though State and national elections often have their own specific dynamic, some useful inferences may be drawn from the campaigns of the national parties, especially the Congress.
  • An important conundrum is whether the Congress can emerge as a meaningful alternative to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its Hindu majoritarian politics. On the evidence of its campaign so far, especially in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, the party appears to have chosen the path of least resistance. Given that these two States also happen to be among those where the BJP’s Hindutva dimension is in full bloom, they presented the Congress with a good opportunity to test its political counter to the divisive agenda of its adversary. The combination of high anti-incumbency and a two-way contest with the BJP meant that the Congress could have taken the ideological battle to the Sangh Parivar.
  • Wooing the upper castes

  • But the Congress did nothing of the sort. It steered clear of the BJP’s majoritarian depredations, and opted to woo the same upper castes that constitute the BJP’s core vote base. It has embraced what has come to be known as ‘soft Hindutva’. In Madhya Pradesh, for instance, the Congress has promised to build cow shelters in every village if voted to power — this in a State where desperate farmers were fired upon by the administration. In Kerala, its State unit has played along with so-called religious sentiment, opposing the entry of women (between the ages of 10-50) in Sabarimala instead of standing by the constitutional principle of equality.
  • In Rajasthan, too, the Congress’s game plan is to retrieve the upper caste vote from the BJP. Hindutva politics has queered the pitch in such a way that today no party can specifically woo the savarna voter without pandering to communal sentiment. In effect, this means not confronting the infusion of religion into the heart of democratic politics. Conversely, challenging it would require two things from a party: certain ideological non-negotiables, among which, in the case of the Congress, would be the Nehruvian legacy of secularism and a politics of caste rooted in the principle of social justice.
  • Given the cynicism that has become commonplace in public discourse, it is fashionable to scoff at any expectation of principles in politics. But it is delusional to imagine that the very realpolitik that unleashed the genie of communal hatred on national politics will also be able — now that its disruptions are coming home to roost — to put that genie back into the constitutional bottle. In fact, the most troubling takeaway from the Congress’s approach to these Assembly polls is that even an outright victory for a Congress-led alliance in 2019, however improbable it may seem at present, may not really signify a defeat of communal forces.
  • The clearest indication yet that the Congress cannot be expected to counter the normalisation of Hindu majoritarianism came during party president Rahul Gandhi’s campaign tour in Madhya Pradesh, where he stated that the “Congress was a party of Hinduism”. He prefaced it by saying that it was “not a party of Hindutva” but the fact that he felt compelled to paint the Congress in Hindu colours marks a clear shift in the party’s overt political line.
  • For some time now, there has been a debate on the Congress’s use of ‘soft Hindutva’ as a counter to the BJP’s presumably ‘hard’ Hindutva. Mr. Gandhi’s supporters have argued that what has been labelled as ‘soft Hindutva’ is nothing but a free and open expression of his personal faith as a devout Hindu. Even if this were true, his temple visits, which rarely seem to take place without a photo-op, the recent emergence of vermilion on his forehead, his pilgrimage to Kailash Mansarovar, and his coming out as a Shiv bhakt, are all gestures saturated with political significance.
  • Smart politics?

  • They could either be read as a smart political response to the widespread ‘Hinduisation’ of the socio-political sphere, or as an admission of defeat to Hindutva forces, for this is exactly what they seek — an India where Hindu identity would be the starting point of any mobilisation for political power.
  • Last month, a Rajasthan Minister was booked for violating the Representation of the People Act after he gave a speech asking all Hindus to vote for the BJP. Mr. Gandhi has never verbalised such a plea with regard to his own party. But can we truly characterise his description of the Congress as a “party of Hinduism”, or his embodiment of Hindu symbolism on the campaign trail, as actions in keeping with either the spirit of the Representation of the People Act or the secularism the Constitution speaks of?
  • There are other aspects of this symbolism-driven ‘soft Hindutva’ that are as troubling: an overriding anxiety not to be seen as sympathetic to Muslims; and a low key yet consistent messaging that underscores Mr. Gandhi’s position at the apex of the caste hierarchy as a “janeu-wearing Hindu”. The phrase, used by a Congress spokesperson after Mr. Gandhi’s visit to the Somnath temple last year, was invoked by a BJP leader recently in the context of yet another temple visit by Mr. Gandhi, when he asked, “What kind of janeu-dhari are you? What is your gotra?” The focus on Mr. Gandhi’s caste pedigree once again reveals how temple politics is never without its attendant caste politics.
  • Put simply, it gives the lie to Mr. Gandhi’s self-serving distinction between Hindutva and Hinduism, a distinction that is also becoming increasingly popular among an influential section of Indian liberals who, much like Mr. Gandhi, seem to have suddenly woken up to their Hindu identity in the last four years. For these ‘proud Hindus’, one of whom has recently penned a bestselling book on why he is one, the classical secularist position that one’s religion is a private matter and not an instrument to garner social or political capital is, of course, past its sell-by date.
  • The distinction between Hinduism and Hindutva — which only matters because of the political uses of religion —rests on two premises. First, that Hinduism is inclusive and progressive, while Hindutva is exclusionary and regressive; second, that Hinduism is individualistic and preaches tolerance, whereas Hindutva is a supremacist ideology that deploys angry mobs to subjugate other religious communities.
  • On Sangh Parivar’s page

  • While this is, no doubt, an interesting distinction, it is even more interesting that no Hindutva ideologue has ever expressed any discomfort with this definition of Hinduism that categorically rejects Hindutva. If anything, representatives of the Sangh Parivar have been pleased with the transformation of the Congress president into a tilak-wearing, temple-hopping ‘Hindu politician’.
  • The Congress becoming more ‘Hindu’ is but another sign of savarna consolidation, a movement of which Hindutva is the flag-bearer. Mr. Gandhi’s version of non-threatening Hinduism and the Parivar’s aggressive Hindutva are in complete agreement on one issue: caste. They both want to be the party of choice for the upper castes, and so long as this remains the case, the Congress cannot be expected to operationalise in its politics the principle of equality. In other words, liberals and other good-hearted people hoping that Mr. Gandhi and the Congress would rescue them from Hindutva may be in for a rude awakening. As is well known, god doesn’t help those who don’t help themselves.
  • India and the U.S., oceans apart

    There are conceptual differences between the two countries on the Indo-Pacific

  • The U.S. has sold nearly $15 billion worth of arms to India over the last 10 years. So the Donald Trump administration’s displeasure at India’s recent decision to buy the S-400 missile system from Russia puts a question mark about the future of India-U.S. cooperation in the Indo-Pacific for three reasons. Washington perceives Russia as a security threat. It stresses interoperability with U.S. armed forces. And, believing that the U.S. makes ‘the best military product in the world’, Mr. Trump aims to help American defence firms compete successfully against Russian and Chinese arms manufacturers.
  • Interpreting a label

  • Some in New Delhi have interpreted Washington’s use of the label “Indo-Pacific” to mean that the U.S. has made India the central point of the Indo-Pacific. But neither Mr. Trump nor the National Security Strategy (NSS) document of 2017, (which outlined America’s top security concerns, have corroborated the Indian interpretation.
  • When Mr. Trump first spoke about the Indo-Pacific at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit in Da Nang, Vietnam, in November 2017, he hailed Vietnam as being at “the very heart of the Indo-Pacific”. The NSS 2017 views the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and APEC as “centerpieces of the Indo-Pacific’s regional architecture”.
  • The Indo-Pacific, as described in the NSS, represents the most populous and economically dynamic part of the world and “stretches from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States”.
  • That strategic vision does not cater to India’s interests. The NSS 2017 has omitted some of India’s most vital interests, including the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea. Also left out is the Strait of Malacca, which links the Indian and Pacific Oceans and is India’s gateway to trade with Southeast Asia, Japan and South Korea.
  • Countering China

  • Mr. Trump’s concept of the Indo-Pacific seeks to counter China’s assertiveness in Asia. China is the main security threat to U.S. primacy in Asia. It also has a long-standing border dispute with India. That gives India and the U.S. a shared interest in countering China’s growing military power and territorial revisionist tendencies. But do they agree on how it could be done?
  • For Mr. Trump, economic security is national security. The NSS 2017 recognises that China’s military power rests on its economic progress and its focus is on blunting China’s competitive edge.
  • Mr. Trump’s ideal of “America first” is about protecting American jobs, ensuring reciprocal bilateral trade practices, and the key role of the private sector — not the state — in directing investment. Do these priorities align with India’s economic and trade policies?
  • Business engagement is at the centre of the Trump administration’s strategy for a “free and open Indo-Pacific”. For India, defence cooperation is the most significant dimension of the India-U.S. strategic partnership.
  • India itself is unclear about what it means by the Indo-Pacific. New Delhi has tended to present the term “Indo-Pacific” as raising India’s strategic stature. But at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed ASEAN as the foundation of the Indo-Pacific and asserted that a geographical definition could not be a strategy to contain any country.
  • How useful is India to the U.S.? The NSS says: “Prosperous states are stronger security partners who are able to share the burden of confronting common threats.” Is the current talk of India’s economic prowess more about potential than reality? China’s economy ($14 trillion) is nearly five times bigger than India’s, and its defence spending ($228 billion) is far more than India’s $63 billion.
  • Mr. Trump wants India to offer more investment to Asian countries. But India needs Chinese investment to upgrade its own infrastructure and is nowhere near competing successfully against China as an investor in Southeast Asia. In 2016, two-way trade between India and ASEAN moved up to $71.6 billion. In contrast, two-way trade between China and ASEAN stood at more than $452 billion. Moreover, Mr. Trump’s contemptuous labelling of India as the “tariff king” points to strong differences over trade practices.
  • Maritime clout

  • At another level, maritime power is the key to international clout in the 21st century. About 90% of India’s trade passes through the Indian Ocean. India has less than 20 submarines in service; China 78. That is one reason why India needs the intelligence-sharing and drones promised by the U.S. at the 2+2 Dialogue in September to detect Chinese submarines in the Indian Ocean. Significantly, of India’s three services, its Navy gets around 15% of the defence budget. The U.S. Navy and Marines get the lion’s share of the U.S. military budget.
  • Moreover, in April 2017, China successfully launched its second aircraft carrier, which was domestically built. But it will be many years before India’s second home-built aircraft carrier becomes operational. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. is sceptical about India’s capacity to counter the growing influence of China in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
  • Dependent on the U.S. and Russia for most of its arms — and on the U.S. and China for much of its trade — India’s simultaneous efforts to cultivate good relations with the U.S., Russia and China highlight the conceptual differences between New Delhi and Washington on the Indo-Pacific and on how best to counter China in Asia. India-U.S. ties could also be encumbered by India’s need for greater economic strength, its red tape and its trading methods.
  • Sovereignty is, above all, sovereignty in foreign policy, said Jawaharlal Nehru. The extent to which India’s purchase of the S-400 will widen the gap between it and the U.S. on the Indo-Pacific will soon become apparent.
  • Protecting against polio

    Why the inactivated polio vaccine is essential for India

  • With wild polio virus strains reduced by 99.9% since 1988, the world is inching towards eradicating polio. But unfortunately, more children today are affected by the live, weakened virus contained in the oral polio vaccine (OPV) that is meant to protect them. The weakened virus in the vaccine can circulate in the environment, occasionally turn neurovirulent and cause vaccine-derived poliovirus (VDPV) in unprotected children. While the wild-type virus has caused 22 and 25 polio cases in 2017 and 2018 (as on October 30, 2018), respectively, in just two countries (Pakistan and Afghanistan), VDPV was responsible for 96 and 75 polio cases in more countries during the same periods. “Paradoxically, vaccination (using OPV) has become the main source of polio paralysis in the world,” notes a 2018 paper in The Lancet.
  • The VAPP burden

  • While circulating VDPV strains are tracked, and outbreaks and cases are recorded and shared, little is known about vaccine-associated paralytic poliomyelitis (VAPP) cases, particularly in India. VAPP occurs when the virus turns virulent within the body of a recently vaccinated child and causes polio. The frequency of VAPP cases varies across countries. With high-income countries switching to the inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) that uses dead virus to immunise children, the VAPP burden is concentrated in low-income countries which continue to use the OPV.
  • In spite of the World Health Organisation asking all countries using the OPV to include a “continuous and effective system of surveillance” to monitor the frequency of VAPP in 1982, India did not comply. Data on VAPP became available only years after active polio surveillance was initiated in 1997, say Jacob John, a virologist and formerly with the Christian Medical College, Vellore, and a polio expert, and Dhanya Dharmapalan in a paper published in September in the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics. However, even after 1997, India did not count VAPP cases. “This is because it does not add value to the polio elimination programme,” says Pradeep Haldar, Deputy Commissioner of the Immunisation Division, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.
  • The justification that VAPP cases can be ignored as they are “sporadic and pose little or no threat to others” is ethically flawed. The stand that VAPP cases are epidemiologically irrelevant is ethically problematic, note Dr. John and Vipin M. Vashishtha in a 2012 paper in Indian Pediatrics.
  • Many member countries autonomously chose the IPV over the OPV, mainly to avoid any risk of VAPP. In India, the VAPP cases can be avoided once the government stops using the OPV to immunise children. “India ignored the problem of VAPP until their numbers were counted,” writes Dr. John. A paper and a letter published in 2002 in the Bulletin of the WHO said the number of VAPP cases in India in 1999, 2000 and 2001 were 181, 129 and 109, respectively.
  • The WHO had suggested a rate of 1 case of VAPP per million births and had estimated the annual global burden of VAPP to be approximately 120 cases in 2002. Under these circumstances, India’s share would been merely 25 VAPP cases per year, based on the annual birth cohort of 25 million. But the observed number of cases in India in 1999 was 181. “This indicates that the actual risk is seven times the expected number... It is reasonable to assume that there would be 400-800 annual cases of VAPP globally,” Dr. John wrote in 2002 in the Bulletin. That would have meant that there were 100-200 VAPP cases in India each year. The global estimated incidence of VAPP was then revised to 200-400 cases.
  • Despite knowing that there is a higher burden of polio caused by oral vaccines, India continued to use the OPV. “The decision to use only the OPV was faulty. Parents were obliged to accept the OPV and face the consequences of VAPP as well as VDVP,” Dr. John says.
  • Says Dr. Haldar: “India’s goal was to eradicate polio, and the OPV was crucial for that. The IPV produces humoral immunity (involving antibodies in body fluids) so the immunised child does not get paralysis, but it can’t stop the circulation of wild polio viruses. For instance, no polio cases were seen in Israel but wild polio viruses were detected in the environment. The viruses will continue to circulate in the community.”
  • Dr. John counters this: “The primary objective of polio vaccination is to prevent the disease, which the OPV failed to fully achieve. The OPV was used for eradicating purposes but without fully protecting the children. When you give a vaccine, you must ensure that the child doesn’t get polio. Only the IPV can do that. A child has to be given several doses of the OPV. Even then, the OPV doesn’t fully protect the child. There was no reason for not using both the IPV and the OPV.”
  • It is easier to administer the OPV than the IPV and the cost per dose of OPV is also lower than that of the IPV. However, the OPV fared poorly on two important counts: safety and efficacy. “Administering the OPV was easier than the IPV but no cost-benefit analysis was done before choosing the OPV,” says Dr. John. “Three doses protected only two-thirds of Indian children and many developed polio before they turned one year. So we had to give more doses per child.”
  • While high-income countries preferred the IPV, India and other low-income countries continued to rely on the OPV. India licensed the IPV only in 2006 but did not introduce it in routine immunisation.
  • Switching to IPV

  • “The reason for not switching over to the IPV is because global production was too low to meet India’s demand. India is the largest cohort. It needs 48 million doses per year to immunise all children,” Dr. Haldar says.
  • This is a feeble excuse. As Pushpa Bhargava noted in an article in The Hindu (2008), the decision to manufacture the IPV in India was taken in 1988 and a company was eventually set up with technology transfer from France. The minutes of the meeting that year in Delhi read: “Indigenous production of IPV before 1991 shall be aimed at… As new IPV programme ramps up, the OPV will ramp down.” But the plan was shelved.
  • The IPV is essential for post wild-type polio virus eradication, to get rid of VDPV and VAPP. The globally synchronised switch from trivalent to bivalent OPV in mid-2016 was accompanied by administering a single dose of the IPV prior to administering the OPV. “A single dose of the IPV given before the OPV prevents VAPP cases,” Dr. John says. A single dose of the IPV primes the immune system and the antibodies against the polio virus, seen in more than 90% of immunised infants, notes a paper in The Lancet.
  • With no way of monitoring VAPP cases in India, there is no way of knowing if the use of a single dose of IPV followed by immunisation using bivalent OPV has led to a reduction in the number of VAPP cases.
  • Always a world citizen

    Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay’s writings point to different facets of her interest in the people of Asia and Africa

  • Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay has long been recognised in India as the person chiefly responsible, after Independence, for the revival of the country’s variegated crafts traditions and for drawing critical attention to ‘tribal art’. She is generally viewed as an authority on Indian handicrafts, but Chattopadhyay played no less a role in nurturing craftspersons and shaping the cultural institutions that in independent India would be charged with promoting dance, drama, theatre crafts, music, puppetry, pottery and textiles.
  • However, as Chattopadhyay’s Inner Recesses Outer Spaces: Memoirs makes clear, she was also a principal figure in the nationalist movement, destined for high office following Independence. Though she had enormous respect for Gandhi, she also displayed, whenever the occasion demanded, a spirit of defiance to his pronouncements. Chattopadhyay was one of the founders of the Congress Socialist Party but in the aftermath of Partition, she felt disillusioned, and disavowed the political life. She was one of the earliest proponents of women’s rights in India, even as she anticipated some of the critiques that are now familiar of ‘white feminism’, just as she zeroed in on the necessity of arguing for what we may call a feminism on the ground.
  • Forging networks

  • I would add another critical dimension to Chattopadhyay’s life. Though the term ‘Global South’ is nowhere to be found in her writings, it is incipient in her work. Chattopadhyay’s international travels commenced from around the late 1920s. She attended the International Alliance of Women in Berlin in 1929, only to become aware of how race and national boundaries might become obstacles to the solidarity of women. At the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom meeting at Prague, she was brought to an awareness of the work of Jane Addams and the Hull House. At the International Session of the League against Imperialism in Frankfurt, she found a platform to discuss the common problems of subjugated people.
  • All of this transpired within the space of less than a year; yet Chattopadhyay continued to forge such networks over the course of three decades, facilitating India’s emergence as one of the leaders of the Non-Aligned Movement and the crafting of the Bandung Declaration of 1955 which was a clarion call for a fundamental reordering of the world order. However, if her invisible hand can be discerned in India’s attempts to create a third space in the political global arena when the Cold War was pushing every country to declare its loyalty to either camp, it was her abiding interest in creating solidarity among the colonised people which makes her an especially inspirational figure.
  • One of the most deleterious consequences of colonialism was that, among colonised people, even the memories of their cultural, economic, and social exchanges with each other were eviscerated over a period of time. The West became the reference point for all intellectual exchanges; today, the situation remains substantially unaltered. The educated among Asians, Africans and the Arabs know something of their own culture and of the West but almost nothing of each other.
  • Conviction in the dignity of all people

  • Chattopadhyay’s writings on Asia, Africa and the Global South in the 1940s point to different facets of her interest in the people of Asia and Africa and their histories. ‘The Struggle of Viet Nam against French Imperialism’ (1947, Modern Review) shows her grasp over the history of colonialism in Vietnam. Chattopadhyay was never seduced by the idea that the European Left stood for progressive policies with respect to the question of empire, and her piece is clear in its critique of the failure of the Left in France to ally itself with Vietnamese nationalists agitating for independence. But she was equally unsparing towards the Japanese. ‘The Awakening of Asia’ (1947, At the Crossroads) warns against Japan’s attempts to position itself as the vanguard of pan-Asianism.
  • Chattopadhyay’s work throughout offers a display of her wit, panache, and insurgent spirit. In the three decades following Independence, she continued not only to represent India as an emissary but also offered a prescient articulation of the idea of the Global South. Her book, InWar-torn China (1942), relays her experience of China as it struggled against Japanese aggression. I suspect that had she been alive today, she would have been sensitive to the achievements of Chinese civilisation and understood the motive force of humiliation in history, yet she would have been critical of the self-aggrandisement that has characterised Chinese conduct in Asia and Africa. Chattopadhyay seems to be one of those rare persons of whom one can use the designation ‘world citizen’ without having to sneer. It is her unshakeable conviction in the dignity of all people that impresses the most.