Hardliner Who Also Liked Going To The Movies

Author’s Note: This is not an academic or objective essay; rather a personalised opinion on the recent Bharat Ratna awardee. 

Lets begin with two excerpts:

First one:

Then out spake brave Horatius,

The Captain of the Gate:

“To every man upon this earth

Death cometh soon or late.

And how can man die better

Than facing fearful odds,

For the ashes of his fathers,

And the temples of his Gods.”

From Horatius by Thomas Babington Macaulay

Second:

“Mardania! eh Ajudhia nagari Sri Ramchandra Ji ki hai. So, chal, iska darshan kari ”, which translates to: “Mardana! This Ayodhya city belongs to Sri Ramchandra Ji. So let us go for his darshan.”

From Bhai Man Singh’s Janam Sakhi which states that Guru Nanak visited Ayodhya.

Considering the aforementioned excerpts it is perhaps unsurprising that it was a Nanakapanthi Macaulayputra who charioted the movement to reclaim the birthplace of Lord Ram in Ayodhya and rebuild the Ram Temple. Additionally it was his organisational and political manoeuvring skills that shifted the political balance of India from the dominant secular leadership of the Congress party to the widely popular and ascendant Bharatiya Janata Party. It was for all that and many other activities that the current regime awarded him the land’s highest honour the Bharat Ratna. What made the moment more momentous was that it came days after the  consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya. 

Though currently, the immensely popular Prime Minister Narendra Modi is synonymous with the BJP’s dominance across India’s political landscape, it was the Lal Krishna Advani who acted as one of the chief characters to shift the political levers of the country. Before proceeding further, it is necessary to give the reason behind his moniker – Nanakapanthi Macaulayputra.

LK Advani belonged to a Sindhi Amil Nanakpanthi family whose religious tradition “used to be Sikh rituals”, the holy book at his home being the Sri Guru Granth Sahib. He was educated at St. Patrick’s High School, Karachi, and by his own admission was unfamiliar with Hindi, preferring to speak his mother tongue Sindhi at home, while preferring English as functional language. Even his introduction to the so-called dreaded Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh was for lack of a better word, bourgeois one, in his own words:

During my vacation and before joining college, I started playing tennis. One of my regular partners on the tennis court was a friend, Murli Mukhi. One day, right in the middle of the game, he said, ‘I am going’. Utterly surprised, I asked him, ‘How can you go like this, without even completing the set?’ He replied, ‘I have joined the RSS a few days ago. I cannot be late for the shakha because punctuality is very important in that organisation’.

A contextual point to mention here would be the view that the RSS also had certain inspirations behind it. Many scholars quote contemporary accounts about how senior political figures of the early 20th Century like Madan Mohan Malviya and Dr Moonje wanted an organisation fashioned after the British boy scout and army, including but not limited to their marching songs. The RSS march as seen today was inspired by that of British voluntary  forces in areas of trouble to warn citizens. Supposedly Sangh leaders borrowed English tunes to train the RSS band. The aforementioned figures, besides celebrating native heroic legends like Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and Peshwa Baji Rao, also stated that Indians had to develop patriotism the way the British developed theirs. Important wars fought by the British like the Battle of Waterloo and Trafalgar were given as examples. 

Considering this scenario, it is not strange for a moderate Macaulayputra like LK Advani to familiarise himself with the organisation. Thus he joined the RSS in 1942 besides attending discourses on the Bhagavad Gita by Swami Ranganathananda the president of the Karachi centre of Ramakrishna Mission.  This shows Advani to be the recipient of the Indian, rather Indo-Anglian renaissance that swept British India from 1850’s to 1930’s. Couple that with his Amil Nanakpanthi family roots which is the recipient of Bhakti movement.

Also lesser known is the fact that he was related to famed Sufi poetess Dadi Ganga , in fact Advani mentions in his memoirs that his wife Kamla along with her sister Sarla published Dadi Ganga’s Sufi poetry. All these make him the ideal reformist as opposed to the Hindu hardliner the media likes to portray him as; or would it be a leap of faith to say in certain cases, Hindu hardliner is the ideal reformist. 

The leap can be taken considering how he organised the political networks connecting the BJP to figures stretching from fiery socialist George Fernandes to Shiv Sena supremo Balasaheb Thackeray.

Besides political networking, what is less spoken about Advani (maybe intentionally) is his penchant for films and the filmmakers. As stated by Vidhu Vinod Chopra whose  An Encounter with Faces was nominated for the Academy Award under Best Documentary Short Film in 1979:

 “When I got nominated for an Oscar I had no money, I had nothing and I read in the paper that I was nominated. He gave me an Air India ticket and $ 20 a day and that I owe it to Mr LK Advani. I want the world to know why he is so special to me. Not because he is a politician but because he is the man who sent me to the Oscars.”

On multiple occasions other Hindutva icons like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Balasaheb Thackeray have been lauded as poets and artists, but Advani as the admiring film buff has been less talked of. Be that as it may, 2024 can be now seen as honouring a Nanakpanthi Macaulayputra who charioted a saffron trail across India’s political landscape and who also liked going to the movies. 

The essay has been published in the following blog as well.

On Centenarian Kissinger

Author’s Note: This is not an academic or objective essay; rather a personalised opinion on the soon-to-be centenarian former secretary of state.

On one occasion, a joke was made on television about how Fidel Castro survived attempts to have him removed by US presidents as well as the  downfall of USSR, who served as his main supporter. In 2023, a soon-to-be centenarian Dr. Henry Kissinger would be grinning and telling Castro’s soul to, as they say, “Hold his beer.” If the AI generator were asked to picturise “American foreign policy”, it would not be shocking if Henry Kissinger’s portrait or painting appeared. 

For decades, he was open and honest about his opinions on American foreign policy based on the pursuit of both national interest and power. In his own words: “A country that demands moral perfection of itself as a test of its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security.” Kissinger has proven to be rich ground for historians and publishers. Along with business books about him as a deal-maker, there are also personality studies, tell-alls from former coworkers, and collections of his quotes.

Simultaneously, Kissinger had long been criticised by many as a ruthless realist. The critics would often quote Kissinger’s own words “when policy becomes excessively moralistic it may turn quixotic or dangerous”. Those words don’t seem all that offensive in retrospect after seeing so-called American moralist decisions made in places like Libya, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The critics would respond by citing Bangladesh and Chile as examples of how Kissinger was no better.

Weimar-Chile Connection 

For the last few years, Kissinger seems to no longer arouse widespread contempt. Instead, some individuals have since expressed some sympathy for him, tying Kissinger’s ruthlessness to his status as a former resident of Weimar Germany. Born Heinz Kissinger on May 27, 1923, to an Orthodox Jewish school teacher in Fürth, Bavaria. In 1938,  shortly before Kristallnacht, Kissinger and his family escaped to America, as did several German Jewish families.  Continue reading On Centenarian Kissinger

Hindi Cinema As Visual Political Narrative

It is like writing history with lightning” was claimed to be the response of Woodrow Wilson the president of United States (from 1913 to 1921) on viewing a special screening of D. W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation. Regardless of the fact that the film in question had racial connotations it does say something about the power of the silver screen to narrate the past of a nation punctiliously albeit with a little embellishment here and there. In this particular piece I have attempted to show four main social occurrences in the history of India written as Wilson stated ‘with lightning’ in the silver screen.  

    

 

The Era of Realisation- Late 1950’s to 70’s

After independence in 1947 the first prime minister observed that the bulk of the nation still relied on agrarian works to feed themselves and hence took measures inspired by the ideology of Socialism which he believed would benefit the farmers most. However, in this case though the underdogs were the agriculturalists, the machines were looked upon with suspicion. But all changed as the 50’s came to an end ushering in the 1960’s.  The focus now shifted from agrarian reforms to industrialization due to urbanization gaining more ground as many farmers and rural workers in general realized the limitations of agriculture and advanced towards the city with hopes of earning a living. Also noticeable in the middle of the decade were the technological methods used in the Green Revolution. As more farmers and villagers flocked to the city joining those who were already the underbelly of urbanization the message of socialism reached its most important receiver: The Indian Middle class. 

But even the privileged section of the society started getting influenced by socialist ideals. The villainous machines of the preceding decades became the means of earnings for the underdogs as the factories became the driving force for industrialization with the identified have-nots getting employed to work the machines. The laborers in factories became more vocal than before since they had more importance in the said era compared to the farmers (who were lionized in the fifties).

Yet the afflictions remained the same for the have-nots as the oppressors changed from landlords to rich entrepreneurs and the shift to industrialization did not reduce the large gap between rich and poor retaining the same sort of social inequality. To check this inequality or at least reduce them the more cautious and informed workers formed unions with a hierarchy of leaders to counter any injustice brought about by entrepreneurs. Strikes by unions became an expression of dissent by the have-nots who in this context were the factory laborers. The new shift also saw the effects and realities of poverty prevalent nationwide. Now since the union strikes occurred in the urban centers the young urban residents observed the inequalities in their surroundings more thoroughly and some became resolute to apply socialist schemes the government spoke of while becoming disillusioned with the image of their nation simultaneously. The preceding generation of Indians encouraged the youth while having mixed feelings about the disillusionment factor. With this new realization the youngsters were divided into two groups: one group willing to change the prevailing conditions while the other saw the growing consumerism as a way of life. The preceding generation felt the pangs of disappointment as both groups denounced the idealist socialism of the Nehru years creating two extreme poles widened more aggressively in the 1970’s. Veteran director Hrishikesh Mukherjee captured these sentiments in the classic Namak Haram.

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https://youtube.com/clip/UgkxVBdF8v6sAUFlm7CJ7Sb_eD1b5ZfoLQ2H

Guns replace sickles: 

As 1970’s kicked off the importance swung back to the farmlands in India due to massive economic loss caused by union strikes and catchphrases like ‘cultivators own the land’ were propagated by the Indira Gandhi-led government. The cultivators as well as the farmlands however were still in pitiful conditions.

Unlike the previous decade the new generation of youngsters from privileged backgrounds felt responsible to change society by violent methods if required. These youngsters fell in love with the thought of uprisings and saw parallels in the conditions of their times with that of colonized India. The Cold War events like the wars in Vietnam and uprisings in Cuba spiced their viewpoints more. To the angry youth the state was now a draconian entity determined to repress its own citizens hence it was time to dissolve it by necessary violence. 

Political movements like the satyagraha led by Jayaprakash Narayan in Bihar as well as public opposition to the Indira Gandhi administration made those romancing revolutions more intense. Indira Gandhi’s strident response to free speeches and clamping down on her opponents during the imposition of National Emergency was the final straw. The budding but violent pro-peasant movement fermenting in the small village of Naxalbari in West Bengal had its resonance felt in different parts of the nation due to the activities of the said rebels. Unlike the ideal socialists of the 60’s these revolutionaries believed in do or die philosophy and attempted to bring about a total revolution to enforce their own version of ideals. Revolutionaries Mao Zedong, Trotsky, Kanu Sanyal became the role models of the youth in place of Nehru and toiling peasants. 

The administration on seeing the intensity of the attacks decided to give an equal violent response. Now the lovers of uprising had a heart attack with the stringent measures administered by the state. And almost all admirers as well as participants of the radical Naxalite movement were punished by the authorities. The end of this saga saw the replacement of the Indira Gandhi government by the Janata Party in the Centre during the 1977 elections as well the beginning of three decade rule of the Left Front in West Bengal. This matter was sensitive for a long period of time but there were few cases of comprehensive documentation done on this barring the ones with heavy political connotations. Same could be said of its visual presentations. However an entertaining yet effective example was seen in 2003 with the release of Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi directed by Sudhir Mishra.   

 

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Deteriorating Stagnation: 1980’s to 1990’s:

One thing that was always present in the 60’s and 70’s was the involvement of the students as a group of political advocates. From the days of the freedom movement the students have been the most active participants in any political turmoil. The careers of national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayan and Vinayak Damodar Savarkar started as student leaders. But the rise of Sanjay Gandhi during the emergency era in 1970’s changed the concept of youth leadership as he used the youngsters as cronies for the administration. In the aftermath of Sanjay Gandhi’s death and Indira Gandhi’s assassination India had a charismatic young leader in the form of Rajiv Gandhi becoming the youngest Prime Minister of India. 

However, unfortunately the perception of youth leadership changed from that of young firebrands to petty power seekers as political parties used them for the sake of expanding their base (there were some exceptions though). Such instances were said to have affected the ‘Student Unions’ in states like West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, and Maharashtra often leading to violence in university campuses hampering the functioning of the institutions. The liberalization of the Indian economy as well as changing of ideologies did have its impact on young political leaders but most of these young guns couldn’t match the charisma of their predecessors. Also many dedicated youngsters had to confront their own mentors, many of whom became either disenchanted or authoritarian. According to some social observers the opening up of the economy made the youngsters more materialistic, taking the political zeal away from their psyche.

This new era saw the youngsters in three different avatars: those seeking power by hook or by crook; those running after material benefits; and lastly those willing to become agents of change. One can take a look at  Mani Ratnam’s Yuva to see the different shades coming together.

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The ever present anti factor: 

‘To every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction’ Newton’s third law was every bit true in all the three eras mentioned above. There were always forces that consistently rose up against the trend of the era and became a trend by itself. Of all such movements that happened nationwide I have decided to highlight the one established in the nation’s financial as well as entertainment capital Mumbai: the Shiv Sena. Founded on June 19, 1966 by former political caricaturist Bal Keshav Thackeray who stated the party’s avowed intention is to fight the alleged injustice in employment and other matters being faced by the Maharashtrians in Mumbai.

 

The reason cited for this injustice was the influx into Mumbai of people from other states, amongst whom the Shiv Sena mainly targeted South Indians. Even though this catapulted the Sena into national headlines I believe it was their role as anti-trendsetters that made them unique. During its early years the Shiv Sena was engaged in frequent struggles against the trade unions. Prior to the formation of the Shiv Sena, the Communist Party of India played a dominant role in labour politics in Mumbai. According to journalists of the then era the Shiv Sena was supported by elements inside the Indian National Congress, who hoped that the new organization would be capable of weakening the communist party’s influence on trade unions. 

Soon Shiv Sena cadres were involved in a series of violent conflicts with the communist trade union activists. The Sena saw the union and communism as distractions for the disgruntled local Maharashtrians preferring the youngsters to toil and join the authority to gain an efficient and wholesome lifestyle. This sentiment was narrated by Bal Thackeray in his caustic speeches against trade union leaders and socialist hardliners. Though it was Balasaheb Thackeray’s belief that the “people” were supreme, he argued that the institutions of liberal democracy and the administration were engineered against it. 

The defense of its interests required direct action:  Laws had to be broken. Violence and intimidation were necessary to bring the people’s enemies to heel. Wake up, wake up, before it is too late,” he would urge his admirers. The educated yet unemployed young men were among the most loyal members of the Sena. It was the triumph of assertive rhetoric over economics. This anger turned local Maharashtrians of Mumbai into angry rebels conflicting with the state machinery. Anything that resembled closely knitted authority like municipalities and trade unions faced the ire of the Shiv Sena. Bal Thackeray’s political rise was fitted together with the cinematic rise of Amitabh Bachchan’s angry young man on the silver screen. This trend of angry young men dominated the political as well as cinematic landscape throughout the last years of 1960’s till 1970’s. 

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As the 1980’s ushered in and disruptive student politics was taking over, the Sena supremo decided to play defense. But this defense was not to create ideal student leaders as that move did not succeed in the preceding decades but to counter it with the belief that this disruptive system is fit for the privileged section. The underdogs must become more vigilant and ensure that their interests are not exploited by the misguided leadership of privileged students. If necessary resort to ‘goondagiri’ the Senapati opined. It was easily said and done: the students from a certain strata of society came together with the struggling ones in the underbelly of society and acted as a barricade to the inflow of any kind of student movement into their midst. Instead through rowdiness they marked their territory and the unemployed youth became a type of guardian as well as a bully of his area. This was captured in starring actors like Jackie Shroff, Nana Patekar, Anil Kapoor among others donning the role of a popular young vandal. As the economy liberalized the hold of the Sena on Mumbai stayed strong as Bal Thackeray further fortified his role as the sole guardian of the disadvantaged residents of Mumbai carrying out what he felt was correct for them wheedling the government apparatus as he saw fit becoming a definite ‘parallel government’.

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References:

  1. Purandhare,V(2012).‘The rise & fall of SHIV SENA’.  Third edition. Mumbai. Roli Books Private limited   
  2. Virdi,J(2003). The Cinematic ImagiNation: Indian Popular Films as Social History.  Second edition. Rutgers University Press.
  3. Rediff Movies (2005, April 15th ). Hazaaron Khwaishein is overwhelming. Retrieved 13th February 2013 from http://www.rediff.com/movies/2005/apr/15hazaaron.htm.
  4. Prasad, M. M (2000). Ideology of the Hindi film: a historical construction. Oxford University Press
  5. Shekhar,M. (2006). Bombay talkies: 2004-2005. Frog Books.
  6. Times of India (2012). With Bal Thackeray’s death, are Shiv Sena’s best days over? Retrieved 13th February 2013 from : http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-11-20/edit-page/35204690_1_shiv-sena-uddhav-bal-thackeray.

Note: This is an old essay written during the writer’s time in college and has been published in his personal blog also(click here).

Brown Pundits