Hindutvavadis are not Bhakts

As an atheist, I don’t appreciate and understand religious leanings especially the spiritual and devotional aspects. But from time to time I obsessively listen to Devotional songs especially Marathi Abhangs. One of the earliest Marathi devotional songs I remember seeing is a song titled Tujhe Roop Chitti Raho. The song is a devotional song to the deity Vitthoba by a Bhakti saint Gora Kumbhar. The ghastly incident picturized in the song is

Once, his wife left her child in the courtyard where Gora Kumbhar was working and went to bring water. Gora Kumbhar was busy in preparing the mud required to make the earthen pots and was as usual engrossed in singing bhajans of Pandurang. His child playing near him, fell in the shallow ditch where the mud for preparing the pots was laid. Gora Kumbhar was churning the mud with his feet. While doing so, he accidentally crushed his child under his feet. He was so lost in singing the bhajans of Pandurang that he didn’t even hear the cries of his child.

Though as an 8-9-year-old boy, this song had a profound effect on me, the reaction I felt back then nothing compared to the one I felt last week as a father of an infant in the age of Helicopter parenting. The tale invokes comparisons to the sacrifice of Issac by Abraham to the one God. In the tale of Gora Kumbhar, his boy is brought back to life thanks to Vitthal while in the case of Abraham a messenger of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his son.

For all the 3 major dharmic faiths of the subcontinent at that time, this Bhakti might have been a surprising element. We don’t know much about the Brahminical response to this particular case, but it unlikely that it would have been positive given what we know about the Brahminical response to the Bhakti movement in general. In the Buddhist view of Karma, Gora Kumbhar might be dealt with less harshly as he had not intended to crush his son. The Jaina view however would result in significant negative Karma associated with Gora Kumbhar. In the Bhakti narrative, it’s penance (where Gora Kumbhar broke his arms) that started the annulling of his bad Karma. However, according to the tale, Vitthal only brings his son back to life when Gora Kumbhar’s wife who has been abusing Vitthal and her husband’s blind bhakti for the loss of her son, prays to the Lord Vitthal. The example of Gora Kumbhar crushing his child under the intoxication of Pandurang is extreme and strawman-ish for the sake of the argument but I use it nonetheless as the difference between this and the mainstream Bhakti movement is not one of quality but magnitude alone.

This is not a case of modern morals dissecting and judging medieval tales, but the criticism of the core idea of Bhakti itself. The suspension of belief, apparent transcendence felt while deeply engrossed in the Bhakti is physiologically not very dissimilar to the effects of psychedelics. Why then in a society where the latter is taboo while the earlier is revered? For this particular reason, for all the elements of social progressivism in it, (something I am partial towards), I have never truly had a fully positive outlook towards the Bhakti movement.

Unlike spirituality and religions, politics in general though rife with religion and demagoguery has counter-balancing pragmatic currents, especially in democracies. Coming to the title of the post, sometimes I wonder whether the pejorative “Bhakt” was used for Modi/Hindutva followers (implying their blind faith in Modi and the doctrines of Hindutva) is a harsh use of the word on Hindutvavadis. I have used the word as a pejorative and I have been called out by people of the Hindutva leanings for using a word with positive religious connotations as a pejorative. While I sometimes agree with this criticism, I do so for the exact opposite reason. I find a lot of even most hardline Hindutvavadis, rational in their personal lives and not prone to Bhakti – an exact opposite of the archetypical Bhakt.

For all the criticisms one can have of Modi, he has actually delivered quantifiable benefits to large masses of Indians. I cant totally put a finger on it, but I see a tangible difference between the adulation Narendra Modi receives from his supporters to the adulation South Indian leaders – Amma, MGR, YSR have received in the past. The second has all the tell-tale signs of Bhakti, while Modi’s support base and particularly the broader Hindutvavadis lack it. Though one might argue that the cult of Modi is barely ten years old, and it could reach new heights in the near future making my current assertion out of date – but that’s to be seen.

In retrospect, particularly in the state of Maharashtra, we can see the Bhakti movement as a catalyst that had magnified and spread confessionalism and devotion in a personal god into the ritualistic orthopraxy of elite-driven Hinduism thus making Hinduism competitive with monotheistic faiths. It also enlightened the masses to the political and social currents of their environment thus empowering the Rayat (masses) who got their Raja in the coming centuries. In other words, the Bhakti movement fertilized the ground on which the Maratha Hindavi Swarajya and later Hindutva germinated. This point has been more succinctly and coherently by @kaeshour in Hindutva is the woke culture of India.

Yet it is fair to say a sense of historical injustice and insecurity is the sentiment that drives Hindutva not Bhakti, but that’s a separate discussion. Is it fair to see the term Bhakt as a pejorative, If yes then for whom? Anyways in the woke currents of times we live in, I cannot see any other beneficiary of the current use of the word Bhakt* than Hindutva. Not that any partisan liberal will see this.

Guess values, Priors and Science

Wikipedia defines Guess value as

“In mathematical modeling, a guess value is more commonly called a starting value or initial value. These are necessary for most optimization problems which use search algorithms, because those algorithms are  mainly deterministic and iterative, and they need to start somewhere.”

I am not an intuitive mathematician (nor an unintuitive one for that matter), but I have appreciated the importance of good guess value or nominal value developing software that uses computational geometry.

Yesterday I read this excellent long piece- The 60-Year-Old Scientific Screwup That Helped Covid Kill . Personally, I had been convinced by the Aerosol spread theory since I read these two pieces back in the Summer of 2020.

How Coronavirus Infected Some, but Not All, in a Restaurant

How coronavirus spread from one member to 87% of the singers at a Washington choir practice

As a result, I have spent the better part of the previous 14 months wondering “why is the scientific community so slow in accepting potential aerosol dispersion of coronaviruses”. They say science progresses one funeral at a time, but since Jan 2020 we have had far too many funerals that should have sped up the progress. Ever since I read this piece – The “noble lie” on masks probably wasn’t a lie I had been spending limited time I had, browsing through old papers on the spread of respiratory illnesses to disappointing results. The wired piece helped deepen my understanding of how we may have got here. Where the 5-micron boundary for aerosols came from is an extremely fascinating story. Maybe we can expect some Netflix documentary or a long-form book on this issue in the near future.

This entire episode appears exceedingly similar to the Dietary Fat is the villain dogma. Gary Taubes in his books – Good Calories, Bad calories and A Case against Sugar, has described this debate extremely well. As a video suggestion, I would recommend the youtube channel – What I have learned. In retrospect what seems appalling is how the scientific community basically accepted the faulty and weak fundamentals of the Fat theory – as initiated by Ancel Keys and propagated by hundreds after that. Ditto for the demonization of cholesterol and numerous other food items – including milk.

7 country study of Ancel Keys.

From these two examples at the very least, I would conclude the disproportionate importance of Priors and the outsized impact they have on the journey of academic and peer-reviewed science. Hopefully, the pandemic will correct some bugs in this mechanism, though this is by all accounts a slow and arduous process.

Incidentally, I was chatting with Kushal Mehra about his latest discussion with Shrikant Talageri and Kushal pointed out that he thinks the 1500 BCE dating of Rgveda is also one such Prior which has had an outsized impact on the journey of the Aryan Debate. Prima facie I found this point fair – thought I must say, the 1500BCE date has held up quite well over the centuries (especially since the recent genetic results). But has the date 1500 BCE anchored the research around it, making 1500 BCE appear the best fit for composition of Rgveda and the beginning of consolidation of the Arya into the Indian palimpsest ?

Post script:

I know this place has had a lot of AIT/OIT pieces including this one by me and lot of readers might be fed up by it (even I am to an extent). This isn’t aimed at AIT/OIT but is merely a passing reference to it.

I don’t know how Max Mueller and others came up with the date myself – but it would be an interesting story to research notwithstanding the current research. I would also highly recommend Razib’s podcast with Mallory which delves into the history of the larger indo european question.

 

Clarifications on my views about the Burqa

Given the responses I received from my previous post, I feel a detailed clarification explaining my stance and reasoning behind it is due.

First of all, as I do not advocate any ban due to my instinctive gut feelings. I like most humans, feel strong instinctive visceral reactions for a range of things from ugly tattoos to plastic surgeries to the latest Hollywood fashions. But no one in their right mind would advocate any regulations on clothing, lifestyle, or anything else for mere aesthetics or reactions, no matter how strong the reaction is.

By Burqa here I mean the combination of the Burqa + Niqab and not just the Burqa in isolation

History of Indian law and the Greater Good:

Currently, in India, there exist a number of laws (and their application) aimed at social justice where the burden of proof at times lays on the accused not the accuser. Examples of these being the SC/ST atrocity act, Dowry law, Domestic violence laws, etc. Not getting into the legalities of these laws, it is fair to note that the system is rigged against the accused to prove his/her innocence, unlike most other cases. But weighing the pros and cons, considering the state Indian society finds itself in, these laws are generally accepted across the board.

Till now (2021) it is fair to assume that significantly more cases under these laws have been Unreported than the cases where these laws are abused (though it may not always remain so).

Why should the benefit of the doubt be given to the women in case of Dowry/Domestic abuse cases & Scheduled castes/tribes in case of Atrocity-related conflicts? We all know why. I am extending the same argument here.

UCC and Burqa:

Generally in the world, we have accepted that legal polygamy is not an acceptable practice. In India with Muslim personal law, there continues to be legal polygamy for Muslims. But looking at the numbers, the practice is not even followed by a very small fraction of the Muslim population (as opposed to the practice of Burqa which is ubiquitous). Yet most nativists (Hindutvavadis) in India & *true liberals acknowledge the need for a Uniform Civil code. There are multiple valid reasons for the UCC, but one of them certainly is that Muslim personal law creates a feeling of separation among the Muslim community which is bad for a cohesive society. The same argument along with a few others can be made much more convincing against the Burqa than for UCC in my view.

Arguments against the Burqa:

  1. Burqa – as a black overall creates a distinct separation between the Muslim women and society on whole. Here is a fine piece by Jaggi on it. Jaggi in this piece has relied heavily on BR Ambedkar’s scathing remarks about women in Islam in Pakistan and Partition. Some of Ambedkar’s quotes                          “These burka women walking in the streets is one of the most hideous sights one can witness in India. Such seclusion cannot but have its deteriorating effects upon the physical constitution of Muslim women….”.“Purdah deprives Muslim women of mental and moral nourishment. Being deprived of healthy social life, the process of moral degeneration must and does set in. Being completely secluded from the outer world, they engage their minds in petty family quarrels, with the result that they become narrow and restricted in their outlook.”                                                                                                                                                   It is important to note that BR Ambedkar had similarly scathing criticisms of Hindu practices and the Hindu code bill was directly aimed at addressing those ills. Even though the single Hindu code bill failed to pass in the Indian parliament the content eventually got passed under various laws.
  2. One might argue that wearing a Burqa is a personal choice of an adult woman and denying so is an infringement of her fundamental rights – and that point is certainly not without merit. Once a practice like Burqa is accepted in a society it is automatically imposed on girls as young as five years old. One cannot even begin to imagine the effect that would have on the psyche of a child. A discussion on this topic on BBC Radio: link. I am not supporting something as extreme as Dawkin’s stance that children be raised devoid of indoctrination, but just that we curtail to the extent to which we indoctrinate under the guise of religion.
  3. As in the case of the Atrocity Act or other pro-women laws, it is fair to start with the assumption that women don’t have faculty (especially compared to men) in these societies (Indian in general, Muslim in particular). Therein the question of assumption of personal choice of the woman becomes difficult to justify.
  4. Another issue that is often missed in these discussions is the impact this might have on the Men’s psyche. Jaggi has made the point with reference to the Love Jihad issue so I won’t go into that in detail (read his piece). An example of what some MAN in UP said about it – here
  5. The lack of a visible face, especially in public places hinders equality in interactions. We communicate a lot non verbally (most of it facially). Burqa not only restricts expression for the wearer (it may be down to choice) but also restricts the communicator from gauging the non-verbal communication.
  6. The public security issues which arise from  garments thought often exaggerated in right-wing circles are non-trivial.

The Other side:

Some of the defenses of Burqa  which find some purchase in my mind are:

  1. In the hyper-sexualized and judgemental world with immense peer pressure to Go out – Look good – be sexy, a Burqa might appear as a welcome respite for a certain type of personality.
  2. If the person wearing the Burqa feels closer to Allah due to the act of wearing it, how can the state or society come in between her spiritual fulfillment?

Out of these two, I empathize to an extent with argument 1, yet it doesn’t tip the scale in my mind.

Closing thoughts:

I see the point made by many that such a law is counter-effective to the aim of reform. While I concede this point to a degree, I don’t think it needs to be counter-effective in all cases. The same can be argued for most reforms.

The views I hold here may appear extreme in some respects, but it’s anything but a mere reflexive extension of my gut feeling, it’s an internally reasoned and argued position. I don’t advocate bans, especially in the current state of Indian affairs, but I do rejoice when I hear this happening in Sri Lanka, Denmark, or France.

Post Script: 

My views on the Sabrimala controversy and menstruation taboos are also in concurrence with the Supreme court judgment. Not stating it to engage in monkey balancing, but merely stating it for context. You can find my piece which covers some of these topics here – What is “Brahmanical” in Indian Patriarchy?

 

Beards, Bigotry and Burqas

Growing up in 90s India, one couldn’t avoid the jovial Sardar caricature in the Entertainment industry. Most Sardars one saw on television we either Jaspal Bhatti/Navjot Siddhu or Jaspal Bhatti/ Navjot Sidhu on steroids. It’s been decades since these caricatures made an impression on my mind, but still, the moment I see a Sardar, I tend to start assuming him to be a jovial, funny, and extroverted person – and in my experience, that stereotype has mostly held up in my eyes. So when I read news articles of Sikhs being targetted in the United States in wake of the 9/11 attacks as an 11-year-old, I was extremely confused. In my eyes how someone could confuse a full and rich bearded and turbaned Sardar with a moustacheless Muslim extremist stereotype.

Similarly, the honest Muslim Chacha was surely aimed at creating a positive image for bearded and capped Muslims who had humble professions. But for someone like me who was initially inoculated with even more powerful imagery of the bearded Muslim (as illustrated below), the Bollywood Muslim stereotype wasn’t enough to leave an impact on my subconscious mind.

The image I am talking about is shown below :

Around 1 km from where I stay, an entire wall is painted with this image with the title – “This is how terrorism ought to be tackled” in Marathi. Growing up in Maharashtra, every Ganesh festival, half the pandals (decorations made for celebration ) are about Shivaji – and a significant number of them have either bearded & mustache-less Afzal Khan, Shaista Khan, Aurangzeb. The strong impact this imagery made on my psyche wasn’t countered enough by the various Bollywood chacha’s I grew up seeing.

As a result even at age of 25, I held on to a tiny bit of the initial instinctive negative reaction when encountering bearded moustacheless individuals. Some years ago, I had convinced myself that my reaction was due to the aesthetics of certain styles of facial hair which I do not find appealing. Later reading a novel in which the daughter/son (Thousand splendid suns or Kite Runner or Not without my daughter) was playing with her Abbu’s mustache less beard made me realize the error in my ways. Since then I have made a conscious effort to curtail that initial reaction and have been largely successful Was this reaction bigotry on my part? or something else?

Coming to the recent controversy where the radical atheist author Taslima Nasreen made an off-hand and poor tweet about England cricketer Moeen Ali. Taslima Nasreen is known to fly off the handle – especially with poorly worded tweets – was instantly attacked by Moeen’s England teammates. Irish England captain Eoin Morgan made special mentions after the 2019 world cup of the multicultural atmosphere of the English team – which means bearded (conservative?) Muslims like Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid (or Monty Panesar) don’t stick out like a sore thumb and that is progress of a kind in my opinion.

Similarly, at the age of 16-21 as a radical atheist (when I assume I was a lot more immature than I am today), even the Hindu Tilak invoked a strong reaction in me. But today, like the beards, skull caps (the *out of tribe* symbols of identity/belief) I do not have any reaction to the Hindu religious symbols. It’s a sign of shedding some of my atheistic/judgemental roots. But still, an image remains, even the sight of which troubles me to an unreasonable and illogical extent.

From beards and turbans, we come to the Burqa. Arguably the most controversial garment in the world, no matter how much I try, I cannot empathize or humanize the Burqa. I have observed over the years that whenever I travel (outside my ghetto Pune urban life) – especially in the summers – I grow more Islamophobic. The appearance of the Burqa in the sweltering heat of India sends such a strong and negative emotion in me, I cannot humanize it no matter how much I try. In the end, I feel it’s only the French who have got this issue sorted the way it should be. Of course, it infringes on the freedom of choice but I concede I am not that libertarian. As a wannabee male feminist, I do cringe when I see the North Indian (even Maharashtrian) Purdah or the hijab, but Burqa is definitely a line I believe I can never cross in the 21st century. Does this make me bigoted? I personally don’t think so but I could see the wokesters calling me so.

I have read the passionate defense by Khatija ( AR Rahman’s daughter ) of her choice to wear the Burqa. Having seen an iota of merit in that argument, I still feel for the greater good Burqas ought to be banned. (I don’t see it getting banned anytime soon anywhere in India). However, I have to acknowledge that whenever someone uses the *For the Greater Good* as part of their argument, maybe the argument isn’t watertight.

Post Script:

I understand this is a highly politically incorrect blog post to write. I have wanted to express these thoughts for months now, but something held me back. I have tried to be as honest and rounded in my thoughts as I could. 

Please be constructive and respectful in feedback.

Monkey see – Monkey Do ?

This is not a well-thought-out piece but a sort of rambling rant of thoughts in my mind for a year.  My previous writing on Covid is here and Ayurveda.

I have no medical/biology/medicine background nor am I am a scientist nor do I claim to understand statistics. Read this as some thoughts of a layman.

It’s been a year since India went hard into the lockdown. And after trying N things for over a year, we are back on the verge of lockdown in Maharashtra. (at least the CM keeps threatening a lockdown). Unlike initial predictions of respite from Covid in warm weather, it appears both Covid spikes in India have occurred in the considerably warmer weather while mysteriously getting low during the winter months. While I am yet to find a convincing argument that explains several strands associated with mechanisms of spread of Covid19, some aspects of the challenge, namely public reaction needs to be assessed as we get into the second year of the pandemic.

A question to ask here is – how different would the global reaction to covid19 have been without the world witnessing the Chinese state response in the first place? Did it act like a guess in an optimization algorithm – which eventually decides the outcome in some cases no matter it’s value? The European nations first chose to ignore and when they acted they acted in echoes of China. While totalitarian states like China or the gulf countries have been able to reign in the pandemic, no significantly sized country has. What would have been the Italian reaction had they First Guess been other than China? This is not to condone any herd immunity strategies – but at least in a country like India, the cost-benefit analysis needs to be done.

Additionally, should we ask if how much did lockdown work? Dr. Watve, a scientist based in Pune has some good blogs on the topic. While I am not convinced by Dr. Watve’s reasoning yet, its opposite doesn’t appear convincing too.

What else (if anything) could we have done differently? especially in India.  Critics of government often talk about the lack of testing as an issue in India. Personally, I feel once we get a critical mass of vectors, testing and tracing becomes merely a placebo exercise. Aping the WHO models on test, trace on Indian scale (at least with the resources we have).

Another thing that continues to bother me is the Fomite transmission theory. Going through the literature, I couldn’t find convincing research to believe it in the first place, let alone taking it to the insane level it was taken to – especially in India. Newspapers and milk delivery was turned off for months. Home deliveries of groceries were turned off initially. Shops were open only for small durations of the day. All these measures together meant that whatever essential services were available were often extremely crowded with people.  How much did these bizarre policies initially aid the transmission of covid?

I still remember vividly the most spectacularly stupid team meeting I have been part of. This meeting took place around 10-15 March 2020 to let the employees know that the company was doing everything they can to stop covid around the company premises (which was mostly a rain of sanitizers). In this meeting, the management called around 30-40 people in a closed room and talked without masks (that was early 2020, and even the scientists and WHO were maskophobic back then). Anthony Fauci who today, parades in “Rand Paul’s words” in two masks after getting two shots of vaccine, was saying a year back that masks are unnecessary (or even counterproductive). It’s perfectly acceptable for humans to make errors and correct those in the course of action – that’s something we should all try to do. But an analysis of what led us to make those mistakes in the first place ought to be done. Or was it just another example of the Sun revolves around the earth?

Local authorities (including society chairmen etc) have been on a different level of insane. After seeing city authorities sanitizing roads, pavements, trees, and even migrant laborers, whenever a patient is found in a building, the staircases, floors, and grounds continue to be sanitized. I am not even a novice on Bacterial evolution, but on my rudimentary understanding- this use of sanitizers scares the shit out of me. It is not that I am totally sure that fomites don’t spread covid, but the focus on fomites has also meant the possible aerosol spread was not focussed on. What’s worse, in my opinion – the focus on fomites and sanitization has lulled large swathes of people into the sense of false security. People wash their hands, sanitize groceries, but when talking to people often take down masks. Almost 95% of the cases I have heard have of contracting covid from a distant family member indoors or at some function. Yet people continue to focus on sanitization while attending public gatherings and religious ceremonies. At one point in my society, deliveries had to be collected at the society gate while members celebrated Diwali, New years, and Republic day inside without masks in large numbers. To this day, servants and handymen are treated with suspicions while friends and family (some of whom may have more exposure) arent. We have a separate lift for non-members – while members don’t mind traveling in lifts with unmasked members.

However, another question posed by this pandemic is, what should be the role of the state? and what should be its Aim?

  • Is the Aim to try and prevent every covid infection – at cost of the economy and livelihood?
  • Is the aim to avoid the overcrowding of medical facilities so as to avoid collateral damage?
  • Is the aim to keep pushing potential cases in the future – so as to reduce potential cases by vaccination?

When it comes to livelihoods, we need to separate two strands – the effect on the economy due to natural fear in people & and lockdown invoked economic downturn.

The mathematics of economic catastrophe is clear enough to follow – while the mechanism of spread seems to allude even the best of the minds. Every time someone comes up with reasons for why Covid stopped spreading rapidly around the end of 2020 in India and began afresh in 2021. The lockdown had ended in October and *new normal* activities had opened by November, but it appears this increased activity didn’t immediately accelerate the pandemic. Intuitively I would guess it takes time to gain a critical mass and a similar time for it to reduce. The momentum of the critical mass of vectors ought to carry on the spread (due to unavoidable contacts) in spite of overall contacts being low. Maybe once the first fuel was exhausted, it took time to gain a similar mass of vectors before it could truly explode. Add to this the new variants and reinfections (especially those who were asymptomatic the first time), then maybe the second wave starts making sense. Or maybe I am just pulling theories out of my ass which has no value – Either way I don’t mind as no one seems to have any deep insight into this.

All well-meaning people have been trying to shield the elderly for over a year. I have myself spent hours convincing older people to stay secure. But at what point does this become unbearable for a 75-year-old? Would it be wrong for an older person to be to think that they might not survive the pandemic (dying naturally amidst it) to live the end of the pandemic? Can they decide to take the risk of living a few months dangerously ahead of being condemned to a year in lockdown. (This equation has changed now with vaccines but the question still carries some weight I reckon)

Maybe this time next year we would have more answers than we have at this point. And hopefully, we would devise better strategies in countering such events in the future than acting like imitating monkeys in an experiment.

Re-finding lost love of Cricket

15th February 2015 brought home a realization. India’s ICC- Cricket World-cup campaign had begun with a bang with a convincing victory against the arch rivals. While the social media in India made fun of Rameez Raja and chanted “mauka mauka mauka”, I began contemplating what had changed in me since the moment MS Dhoni hit Nuwan Kulsekara for a 6 to clinch the world cup nearly 4 years ago.

My earliest memory of cricket is a world cup memory – India vs Kenya 1996. Sachin scored a century, Jadeja had added a fifty and India comfortably won the game. I was just under 6 when this game was played. I must have watched cricket before this game as I remember being a Sachin fan. I have some cricket memories before this game, but I cannot be sure whether I remember those games from following them live or just as a collection of memories fused with highlights seen in the coming 15 years as a cricket fanatic. Memory being a tricky concept isn’t just what you remember about a time in the past, but it also encompasses the broader emotional and informative thinking about that “time in the past”. So I assume that memories of me watching matches like “Hero cup final 94” are fabrications because I don’t remember my emotions during this game, unlike the WC-96 Ind-Ken game.

Being a cricket fanatic didn’t just mean being glued to television sets when the match was being broadcast. For me, it also meant learning to read Marathi well. -we didn’t subscribe to English newspapers in my childhood. It also meant the ebb and surge of emotions as a function of Indian-Cricket. The 1 or 2 months of cricket free time seemed to stretch like years. Even trailing 2–0 in a test series didn’t deter me from following through with the same vigor. Waking up at 4 am to watch India beaten in New Zealand in 2002 in 3days or remaining awake till 2 am to watch India’s famous win @ Port of Spain. The sad loss in WCFinal-2003 on my birthday didn’t dampen cricket for me though it saddened my day. The same can be said of India’s loss to Srilanka on the same day in 2007 which included Sachin being bamboozled by a 150+k MPs Dilhara Fernando ball for 0 and India crashing out of WC2007. The cycle of the game went on. The heartbreak @ Chennai against Pakistan where Indian tail fell like a pack of dominos after Sachin’s wicket was reduced greatly by the heroic 10Wicket-match-winning haul by Jumbo @ Delhi in the following match. The spell Indian cricket enjoyed from 2001–2004 under Ganguly and 2007–08–2011 under Kumble and Dhoni was the crowning achievement of Indian Cricket till then. India began winning test matches overseas. Nothing pleased me more than 5 idyllic days of watching dukes ball cricket from 330 to 1030 in the Home of cricket (The duke’s ball is used for Test cricket in England; In India, we use the S.G ball, Australian Kookaburra ball is used in all other countries. I believe that the best contest between bat and ball happens with the Duke’s ball). I still remember the India-England test series 2002 and 2007 and Ashes 2005 with utmost nostalgia.

If the 2007 world-cup disaster was the nadir of the Indian cricket fan, then things could only improve from then on and they did. India won a Test series in England under Dravid. India won the Inaugural T20WC in September in SA. That was followed by the Perth victory and winning the CB series. Sachin who had been criticized (justly) since the 2000s for failing in finals, led the team in both finals to silence his critics. Indian cricket had never reached such consistent high plateaus. If anything this was the foreshadowing of even better things to come. India beat Australia twice in India in tests and drew 3 Test series with the Proteas. (Sadly India played only 2 and 3 test series with them). Indian cricket team also began to chase 200+ run totals successfully in test matches with the most memorable chase (of 387) coming in Chennai against England with Sachin scoring a fourth inning hundred. We even wrestled the No-1 spot in both rankings. Meanwhile, the once written of Sachin was in his purplest patch since the 97–98 season. Scoring runs in Tests ODIs and IPL, he kept pleasing his gigantic fan base. Sachin and Gambhir facing the incredible spells of fast bowling of Steyn and Morkel @ Capetown with elan to set up an incredible series win (Which wasn’t to be; due to Kallis and Boucher)with the series poised @ 1–1 were extremely fulfilling. The natural course for this buildup of performance was bound toward the WorldCup dream which was realized in early April 2011.

The post WorldCup party lasted for days. But fortunately or unfortunately within days, the focus was on IPL, thanks to the advertisers and organizers who were quick to exploit the euphoria of World-cup win. Never a huge fan of the 20 over format, I had nonetheless followed previous IPLs. But if anything was overkill, it was the IPL in 2011. The somewhat scripted drama, the page 3 news, the frequent controversies, all conspired to dampen the spark caused by pure cricket. Then began the sudden fall of Indian cricket with consecutive 4–0 drubbings in the 2011–12 season.

A few days after the comfortable win against Pakistan, I sat contemplating why don’t I feel any longing, connection, or zeal toward Indian cricket (even cricket in general). The answer is multi-faced. Maybe the ambition of the Indian cricket fan was completed emphatically with Dhoni’s 6. The abysmal performance in England and Australia, (my 2 favorite cricketing locations) once a regular occurrence now felt unworthy of world champions. Having supported this very team after numerous debacles, suddenly I found the rapid fall from the cricket zenith too much. Engaging in a more active social life, I found following Test cricket which I never missed, difficult. Excess of 300+ scores in 1Day games has also made the contest between bat and ball-less appealing. Cricket (At least the one Indian cricket team played) since 2011, seemed to focus on economy rate instead of strike rate. All these reasons combined made cricket much less appealing for the most part of the previous decade.

But then things again began to change for me and Cricket over the last couple of years. I have followed the 2018 India England series, 2018 India Australia series, and 2019 Ashes and 2019-WC somewhat sincerely but never reaching the pre-2011 levels of interest. Then came the 2020-21 Border Gavaskar series.

Having taken a break from social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook) and reading and writing (history, politics, literature) & still following social distancing norms, I started following the cricket between India and Australia more and more as the tour went on. Surprisingly the 36 all out at Adelaide did not turn me off from the rekindling of my lost passion. I continued following the series which turned out to be as good a series as any I have followed (up there with 2001 India Aus and 2005 ashes). The finale at Brisbane was well and truly beyond the wildest dreams of any Indian fan from before 90’s and 2000’s. I will not be adding to the already exhaustive coverage of the recent series here but just note that this series was truly remarkable as test series go.

With completion of the this extraordinary series, not only is my interest back but also the adrenaline and tension. With 2 India England series and Ashes to follow, 2021 looks like a promising year.

Continue reading “Re-finding lost love of Cricket”

On identifying with the label “Liberal” over “Conservative”

This blog post was triggered by a Twitter exchange with Akshay Alladi where he questioned why I identify with the label liberal. A lot of people have – on this blog as well as on Twitter or in person have labeled me a Hindutva liberal or closet Sanghi (from the left) or a Hindutva rebel, yet I personally don’t feel comfortable with those labels. Maybe it is positive tribalism on the Saffron side or parochial wokism on the left.

Akshay also referred to me in his blogpost about Liberalism vs Conservatism and I promised I would also come up with an elucidation of my position. Before I go into attempts at formulating my position, a fair warning – I am not a particularly deep thinker on matters of philosophy and do not have an intellectual bent. I get bored with long essays and books about philosophy and religion, it’s the interactions of these abstract ideas with politics, people, and histories (as an art/science) that interests me than the ideas themselves.

It is fair to get some personal biases (which may appear contradictory) I hold out of the way

  • I am a staunch Republican and Secularist. In my early twenties years, I was more partial towards the Laicite as I grow old I become more partial towards the British or American style of secularism. (Though the recent events in France have made me reconsider my position).
  • I have had a very low opinion of Religions in the 21st century in general and Monotheisms in particular.
  • I have some sympathies with Savarkarite Hindutva (not RSS) and I have often been accused of being a closet Sanghi by leftists.
  • Though I think of myself as a patriot who is well aware of British exploitation of India, I am an Anglophile. I adore the Brits with their language, literature, culture, models of governance (Westminster model). I don’t have shame in saying “Anglo West is the best”.

I would like to explain my identification with liberalism in three progressive strains.

Roots and Personality:

The TED talk by Jonathan Heidt is also a good watch on this topic. The presentation points to a study about how liberals rate Harm/Fairness higher than Authority/In group loyalty/ Purity. In those 5 fields, I would firmly identify as a liberal. Yet I am partial to a moral relativistic framework for roots of human morality over morality which claims to be self-evident (Maybe with the exception of the Golden Rule).

I don’t hold purity and especially ritual purity as an important virtue. In general more accepting of things that make me uncomfortable. I am less certain and more flexible in my views and positions. Whether or not this is a liberal quality (or just an outcome of uncertainty and skepticism) is debatable, yet it makes me more open to the opinions I don’t hold or find unpalatable. Additionally Atheism, rejection of traditional wisdom when in the conflict in the Zeitgeist puts one on the liberal side in the liberal-conservative divide in many cases.

However, if it’s the uncertainty that makes me liberal, it’s the cynicism that pulls me slightly on the conservative side. I do not believe that the extremes to which liberal democracies have gone in Europe – wrt Capital punishment, Human rights are either pragmatic or even “humane”.

While the above argument is reasonable, I feel it misses the point that the context and the stage of society one find themselves in, as a determinant of one’s position on the Liberal v Conservative scale. Hence I would go supplement the above moorings with the following context.

Indian society:

Even before my engagement with Politics of Liberalism and Conservatism, I have always intuitively associated with liberalism than conservatism. Being a radical atheist, a guilt-ridden savarna and a wannabe feminist has meant that in my family and friend circle I was always the most “Progressive” voice – of course, this is in comparison to more conservative voices.

While there are many things in Indian society worth conserving, it’s the adverse effects of these very things that bother me. The idyllic Indian village is home to both the best and the worst that Indian culture has to offer. One of the good things being the social safety net offered by caste and kin connections and the worst being the rigid institution of caste and sexism which is rampant in such settings. For example – I would not wish to conserve the Indian Joint family – in my worldview that structure has more cons than pros in the 21st-century world we live in. And more importantly, these caste and kin networks are anathema to individual rights and freedoms. If the concepts of personal space and privacy are considered important, one of the ways to achieve this would be loosening the bonds of caste and kin networks.

As Indian society currently stands on balance I would want the society as a whole to progress even if it means sacrificing some things that are good on their own. The conservative position here would be to encourage focusing on conserving traditions while interacting with modernity. The debate between Tilak and Agarkar, Gandhi, and Ambedkar are wonderful examples of such strife in our history, and I would in both cases firmly identify with Agarkar/ Ambedkar’s position. (Though I admire Tilak and Gandhi).

As alluded to in my post on Brahmanical Patriarchy. I personally abhor the traditional treatment of women by religion. In the comment thread, Srikanta K noted the slippery slope that leads from critiques of Brahmanism from Women’s’ rights POV, could lead to the destruction of tradition or demonization of brahmins. My position is exactly the opposite, I focus on the same issue with a different slippery slope, the one which our societies have actually witnessed in history. I can jettison traditions when they conflict with my morality or worldview – even these very traditions may have a net positive impact on society.

However, this position depends vastly on the current state of Indian society I find myself in. From what I know of British and Western societies – I would be markedly less “liberal” if I were in those societies. In other words, I might want to conserve the society the west was a few years ago instead of wanting an identity-focused woke revolution.

Indian Politics and Personalities (Litmus tests):

Complimentary to this would be how one related to national politics, issues, and personalities. A year ago I read the Gita Press and the Making of Hindu India. It is not only a fascinating window into the extraordinary life of Hanuman Prasad Poddar but also a compilation of how Indian leaders responded to the writings, thoughts, and work of Gita Press and Poddar. Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad, Sardar Patel, and even Lal Bahadur Shashtri (along with numerous others) are referenced in the book as having a positive outlook towards the Gita press initiative and reciprocally the Gita press was positive towards these individuals. Conspicuous by their absence are Nehru and Savarkar, while Ambedkar is given somewhat harsh treatment by Gita Press – especially the magazine Kalyan. Incidentally, the three Indian thinkers whose thoughts I relate to most are Nehru, Ambedkar, and Savarkar. While this is a weird group to look up to, but the modernist and rationalist (may I say Liberal ?) zeal in all these individuals that most appeals to me today. The fusion of these thinkers might create a good ideological role model in my thoughts. Personally, I would be most at home with a political outfit that takes Nehru’s liberalism with a pinch of Savarkar’s reformist and nationalist zeal while sticking to the constitutional democracy based on a hotch-potch of western models that Ambedkar held dear and all the while being particularly skeptical of Islam as a religion.

While I don’t deny that India is an ancient civilization (Dharmic for a lack of a better term), in its current Avatar, India is a nation-state of the Westphalian model, and though there may be flaws in this model IMO this model is vastly superior to all previous models known to this land or any land for that matter. Not to go all Niall Ferguson here, but I am partial to the view that the rise of the Western civilization is not just correlated with Western models of governance and economy (classical liberalism) but a consequence of it.

Another way to look at this question could be like a Y/N Test on current issues. Some current polarizing issues and my stance on them as follows:

  1. CAAI don’t support it in its current Avatar
  2. Sabrimala – I hope women enter the shrine and are accepted by society in my lifetime. I am skeptical of SC acting as it did in the issue but don’t empathize with the activism around Sabrimala. I can expect a fair flack on this issue – particularly on this blog – but it is as it is. Though I accept my position as a non-believer doesn’t carry as much weight.
  3. Jallikattu – I find the animal rights activism absurd and in unnecessary conflict with traditions and my position here could be classified as conservative.
  4. Cow slaughter – Would be partial to Cow smuggling being treated as an agricultural issue and not a religious one, even though it’s constitutional. Either way, I am not particularly vocal about it.
  5. 370 – Based on the knowledge I have I welcome the change.
  6. Free speech – Would love American-style free speech in India.
  7. Bhima Koregaon/ JNU Arrests  – Find them draconian.
  8. Stricter regulations of crackers – Would welcome.

On balance, based on the above issues, my position would be firmly liberal on the liberal vs conservative scale. This is not an accurate assessment in a broad sense, but a consolidation of the above thoughts in a much-needed context. Without context, these labels are mere abstractions, and hence not very useful and not necessarily transferable in a different context. In a state with a just and efficient rule of law, I would probably not identify with liberalism as much, for, in such a state, the tools and mechanisms for the needed change in society can be achieved more easily. But I am not living in such a state and hence would be firmly a Liberal.

Postscript :

I would not be very liberal with comments that arent constructive and civil.

Putting the Arnab storm in perspective

Yesterday morning Republic TV Host – Arnab Goswami was arrested in the early hours of the morning for a two-year-old suicide case. The arrest and especially the nature of his arrest created a mini storm on Twitter, with Hindutva twitter making it a FOE issue and a reflection “fascist” nature of Maharashtra government and some sections of Liberals seeing this arrest as Karma.

I would highly recommend Shekhar Gupta’s Cut The Clutter on this topic

Some of the criticism of Karma on Arnab appears fair if you look at the way Rhea Chakravarty was hounded by Arnab and journalists on his side of the political spectrum with Arnab as the ringleader. But it’s the Optics of the arrest and high handedness of the Maharashtra government (using encounter specialists for the arrest) needs to be called out. This comes a week or two after the arrest of Sameer Thakkar for “objectionable” tweets about Uddhav Thackeray and his son. That issue created some outrage on social media but nothing compared to the Arnab issue. Personally, I find such arbitrary arrests (Sameer Thakkar) that have been known to happen in India very frequently, more troubling than the arrest of Arnab Goswami. The arrest of Arnab is surprising due to his stature and popularity and not due to the arbitrariness of his arrest (which is actually banal in India).

Within hours the BJP big guns jumped into the fray with condemnations from Smriti Irani to S Jaishankar. Even comparisons of Emergency were made by Devendra Fadanvis. However one must point out that Hindutva twitter was unhappy with BJP’s response. They wanted a more violent defense of Arnab by BJP (what that would entail is best left to the imagination). However, hypocritically though not surprisingly – the same establishment is silent on the arrests of journalists, which have happened regularly for actually doing their job (in all states including a lot of BJP governed states). Hathras was a prime example where some arrests were made by UP police (the exhaustive list would be too damning). Similarly, the famous arrests of so-called “Urban Naxals” – especially Sudha Bharadwaj, are followed by their detainment for over 2 years without any solid proof coming up in the due process comes to mind. Recently, Dhaval Patel from Gujarat was arrested because he wrote a piece alleging Gujarat CM being replaced because of poor handling of the Covid crisis. He was released on bail after an order from the court. I can go on and on and keep on pointing cases of significantly worse handling of journalists by all states under all governments in India. Uttar Pradesh under Yogi is particularly harsh when it comes to handling journalists but no state passes the basic smell test when it comes to protecting freedom of expression.

Taking it to a next level, there are routine deaths of journalists when they report lesser-known criminals and politicians. The Sand Mafia, the Mining Mafia, the other lesser and greater known criminals (and politicians) are famous for threatening, killing, and killing entire families of journalists. I would like some documentation with trends of murders and mysterious deaths of journalists in India over the last 70 years (couldn’t find any on a cursory search).

My aim here is to not indulge in whataboutery but to put the Arnab arrest in perspective. It’s not an extraordinary event in itself, just it grabs so much space (even in NYT) because it is Arnab – the TRP king and apparent favorite of the BJP Regime. Press freedom in India has a long long way to go, but using this particular case to make that point is not a great idea. Where this case may affect a change(or escalation) is the interplay of journalism (or media) and politics in the future. Politically this moment might turn out to be a significant yardstick for future abuse of state power for politics. Shekhar Gupta alludes to it in the video, this may be a slippery slope leading to an escalation in vendetta politics across the country. The central government under BJP has till now troubled NDTV (with Tax fraud etc), the Wire, and all the usual suspects for 6 years now. But in no case was the action OPTICALLY as drastic as the arrest of Arnab. Maybe such drastic optics are where we are leading, whenever someone raises the level it’s fair to expect others to follow. With more and more public figures getting partisan (Kangana Ranaut, Bajaj, etc) could one expect politicians to attack them too? As was the case with Kangana? Probably. But that doesn’t bode well for either the debate or the partisanship.

Hindu Integration: Brahmanas and Gramadevatas

Annual Waari – Kalyani Bhogle

The pluralism in Hindu thought is often pegged back to the philosophically sophisticated एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति  from Rgveda – first mandala. While that message underlies a lot of Hindu thought as we know it, it’s often overstated as it sounds sophisticated to the scholars/amateurs studying it. On the other hand, some hymns from the family books, particularly the Rgvedic Hymns 7-82 to 7-89 give a fascinating peek into the mind of the Bharata purohit Vasishta after the Dasarajna Yuddha. The hymns which are very repetitive mostly praise Indra and Varuna for the help given to Sudas(Bharatas) and the Trstus in the Dasarajna where the enemies also worshiped Indra. The important point to glean here is the different functional roles for which these deities are evoked. Indra for war, Varuna for prosperity, Aditi for light, etc. Varuna who is often paired with Mitra or Aryaman, gets paired with Indra here – which scholars (RN Dandekar, Michael Witzel, etc) see as conciliatory.

According to Dandekar, it was out of this experience of bhakti that Vasistha became essential in the conciliation of the Indra- and Varuna-cults and especially in “averting a schism in the Vedic community” by demonstrating “that Varuna and Indra were not antagonistic to each other but… essentially
complementary. ‘Indra conquers and Varuna rules.”

It is fair to speculate that such a conciliatory approach would go on to shape interactions the mainstream Vedic thought would have with non-Vedic deities as these hymns are the victor’s recollection. This conciliation and integration (A) appear much more pragmatic and economic than abstract ideals (B) espoused by एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति or other sophisticated thought from Upanishads or Gita. For B to emerge and sustain, A appears essential. With A established, B in some form or other would follow as evidenced by other Eastern faith systems which also tend to be inclusive. It is fair to say a combination of A and B lays the foundation for the emergence of quintessential pluralism of Hinduism.

Let us segway into a short story: 

  • In a village in Vengurla (South Konkan), there was a local Saint/Warrior (non-Brahmin) who was extremely popular with the masses. 
  • He passed away and his devotees wanted to make a shrine/temple for him. A Kaashyap Brahmin who was a respected man in the village objected. His objection stemmed from the deification of a man (probably Shudra) and placing him on the same pedestal as the Devas. 
  • The Brahmin (who had quite a bit of clout in the village) opposed this Adharma with all his might but was almost overpowered by the “uncouth masses” in the story.
  • The landed or Kshatriya(ish) castes sided with the masses instead of the Brahmin and as a result, the Brahmin couldn’t prevent the deification.
  • Additionally, the humiliated Brahmin was expected to condone the practice and give the shrine his blessings.    
  • He couldn’t be part of this Adharma and hence left his lands, wealth, position, and went northeast and settled in Ichalkaranji near Kolhapur preferring his descendants living in abject poverty over condoning Adharma.
  • The replacement Gaargya Brahmin was happy to support the deification of the Saint. His descendants flourish economically in the village with large lands and respect but suffer spiritually.    
  • The shrine/temple remains popular to this day and most villagers have forgotten about this tale around the origin of that particular deity. 
  • The spiritual suffering of the current Brahmin was removed by the forgiveness of the descendent of the Kaashyap Brahmin some years ago.
Ravalnath

This is the fanciful tale of my great-great ancestor as told to me by my Chachera uncle (first cousin once removed). The Gotras are not important to this piece but the emphasis and obsession on Gotra is a salient feature of Brahmanism which deserves some attention. This tale is not very atypical. There have been other documented cases of such squabbles between village Hinduism and Brahmanism. This tale echoes many other tales from South Konkan – those of Ravalnath, Betal, etc. I am unsure if the deity in the tale of my ancestor is Ravalnath or Betal or something else entirely. But the contours of the tale are very similar. In both the cases of Ravalnath and Betal, there was initial resistance to these deities from local Brahmins in the medieval times – especially due to local traditions that involved blood sacrifices and other things frowned upon by Brahmins, but over time these deities got wider acceptance – even among local Brahmins. BetalWhile Ravalnath is a Kuladevata for most Goans (all castes), Betal is a Gramadevata of some local communities. Vithoba, the popular God of Pandharpur( the annual Waari) is a very important figure of the Bhakti movement. Religious scholar and Sahitya Akademi winner RC Dhere who extensively studied Vithoba also hypotheses pre Vedic origins of Vithoba. Khandoba is another deity whose origins are similarly muddy with a range of theories explaining him as the fusion of earlier deities including Kaal Bhairav. Interestingly in the Puranic tale of Kaal Bhairav “his struggle for the atonement of Brahmanhatya” is central. Khandhoba of Jejuri remains a deity for not only the Sudra castes, but Brahmins, Jains, Lingayats, and even some Muslims including the patronage of comparatively tolerant Bijapur Sultan Ibrahim Adil Shah. While it would be tempting to dismiss this as some tenuous Donigerish take, the sheer numbers of such stories spread across the country strengthen the hypothesis.

Coming back to the descendants of the uncompromising Brahmin from Vengurla. Today my extended family proudly worships all the Gramadevatas from Ichalkaranji whose origins may be very similar to the one whose foundation my ancestor had objected to. Ironically most of my paternal family follow a plethora of local Saints (in addition to the popular Bhakti Saints), whose tales of the origin have occurred within living memory and hence are far easier to negate. I would not go into rants about these Saints (esp Gajanan Maharaj) whose followers number in millions. While some traditional elite Hindus (especially Urban) are known to have disparaging views of Saints & local deities, mostly these distinctions have weathered away. It is not unlikely to find Hindus who fast on Mondays for Shiva also fast on Thursdays for some local Saint (who mostly claim intellectual or avatarish descent from Dattatraya).  Despite some initial friction, the Brahmanical thought has made its peace with such traditions. Most scholarship refers to this as – the local traditions (non-Vedic) being co-opted by Brahmanism. IMO this is an incomplete way of looking at it as it conflates organic integration which typically occurs over generations with the realization of some highly foresighted plan. Typically humans are not foresighted enough to pull off multi-generational machinations. From a multi-generation evolutionary paradigm, these would make sense but not if you take a snapshot at any particular moment in history.

With this background, we go into realms of pure speculation and come to the Post Vedic deities in Hinduism. The origin of some of these deities is highly contested – especially that of Shiva. While the Rgvedic Rudra is often said to be the precursor of Shiva, the meaning of Shiva is certainly in contrast with Rudra. Whether the Pashupati seal from IVC or other Proto-Lingas are Proto-Shiva or not will likely not be resolved till we decipher the IVC script, but these speculations seem very plausible. Even Parpola doesn’t dismiss them in his Roots of Hinduism. In addition, Parpola makes a good argument in the IVC origins of Durga with seals of Tiger riding goddesses from Kalibangan. Similarly, we can say the Dravidian Murukan and the Vedic Skanda gave rise to the Karthikeya we know today. We still don’t have any intelligent speculation about the origins of Ganesha (other than some references to Gajapati), buts it fair to assume the elephant-headed god is a pretty late addition to the Hindu pantheon. The aim here is not to discuss and speculate the origins of these deities but to guess the mechanisms of integration of these deities and customs into Brahmanism. Brahmins had a huge ritualistic/moral capital, but given the tenuous or conflicting relations they had with the Kshatriyas and other dominant castes (as seen through numerous puranic stories especially those of Parshuram) it is fair to assume Brahmins would not often get their way with subtracting traditions they found Adharmic or uncouth, yet they could continue to shape these traditions from inside with participation. Pressure both from the masses and Brahmins would’ve actively shaped the integration of these traditions for centuries to the point where it’s often hazy where Brahmanism ends and where “Non-Brahmanical” traditions begin. (This probably happened with Sramana or Proto-Sramana traditions competing with Brahmanism but that is a different discussion)

IVC goddess riding Tiger

While it is generally said Brahmanical thought absorbed the local traditions, it is equally or more appropriate to say that the village Hinduism made space for Brahmanism & tamed it – into the diverse and plural fold and this process was not complete for the entire subcontinent when Mahmud of Ghazni attacked Somnath. Scholars like to emphasize Adi-Shankara’s Advaita and Mutts, Upanishads, Rgvedic “एकं सत् विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति” as it appears sophisticated and intellectual. However, the tendency of humans to pragmatically negotiate the boundaries of their traditions (in absence of exclusionary universalist ideas) when they already have multiple modes of worship tends to be underemphasized as it appears uncouth or folk. Roman religion easily absorbed Isis and Cybele into the Roman fold but couldn’t absorb the God of Abraham. In contrast, when Christianity conquered Europe it absorbed the old gods into the Christian fold as Saints but kept them subordinate to the one true god. However, Shiva and Ganesh did not bow done to Indra, and by the time of the Puranas, the mighty Vedic Indra was reduced to an insecure and somewhat petty King of Gods.

Maybe the Brahmin elites & Sanskrit managed to maintain a cohesive identity-based on sacred geography only because they themselves were tamed in similar mechanisms by the natives of the geography. If yes, then Hindu Pluralism and Syncretism is as much a legacy of numerous lost stories as it is of the philosophical moorings of the Vedas, Itihasas, and Upanishads. 

Postscript:

I had been thinking along these lines since my discussion with Mukunda and Omar on the Brown-cast about the roots of Indian pluralism. While commenting please stick to the topic and be civil & constructive. I will delete off comments for this piece.

Looking back at 2019 Maharashtra election

It has been a year since the 2019 Maharashtra election & its consequences which fascinated the country. The drama of the election remains unforgettable, for anyone interested I would recommend the book 36 Days.

For anyone interested in some analysis I would recommend Shekhar Gupta’s Cut the Clutters on the topic: here; here; here and here.

However, here are a few salient points from the election and the Maharashtra government

  1. Imagery matters. This image of the 80-year-old cancer patient Sharad Pawar braving the rains in Satara had a huge impact on voting in western Maharashtra.
  2. If someone has to stop the Hindutva Ashwamedh, strong leaders are essential. No one can win elections on sloganeering without strong & visible leadership.
  3. Caste still plays an important role in even progressive states like Maharashtra. One of the reasons for the defeat of BJP was the anti-Brahmin sentiment evoked by NCP by indirectly attacking Fadanvis’s caste.
  4. Ideology is important for political parties, but not as important as survival. Shivsena’s shift out of the NDA was for its survival and not for any other nonsense we hear.
  5. The NDA was well and truly over in 2019, the Akali’s leaving the NDA was in someways foreshadowed by ShivSena’s exit. Bihar election result and Nitish/Paswan reaction to the result would be something to watch out for.
  6. Forming a coalition government is easy, running an effective administration with conflicting interests and multiple power centers are tough. It would be a surprise if the SS-NCP-INC government completes its full term.
  7. All governments abuse institutions when in power and to nearly the same extent, not just the BJP.
  8. Regionalism can be a bulwark against Central hegemony. The region can bind what ideologies divide.
  9. Confrontational governments will find it difficult to work with an all-powerful central government. Non-BJP state governments can either take the Maharashtra route or the Andhra route (of YSR Jagan Reddy)
  10. The respect of the position of the governor (which never had too much respect I guess) has taken a very bad hit after the Maharashtra example.