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Print edition : October 04, 1997
Mother Teresa

This refers to your Cover Story on Mother Teresa (October 3).

When I was in Calcutta for some years, I used to tell my guests from the South to first visit the house in which Mother Teresa lived and then visit Kalighat. Here was a goddess whom people could see.

She sacrificed everything to serve the poorest of the poor and people suffering from the most dreaded diseases. Her life was an unprecedented saga of service to society.

U.S. Iyer Bangalore

The allusion to Norman Mailer's Jesus in your Editorial "Charity in Action: A Tribute" is unique among tributes paid to Mother Teresa from all around the world.

There was "no wavering ... no blurring of focus" in Mother Teresa's total commitment to serving the poor and the sick. The greatest of all poverties is for a person to feel unwanted and unloved, and Mother Teresa took care of those who were poor in this manner.

Subbiah Venkataraman Bangalore Patent revocation

This refers to "Turmeric triumph" (October 3) on the revocation of a patent on the healing properties of turmeric that was granted to two American scientists of Indian origin by the United States Patents and Trademark Office.

This is very encouraging. In a way it is a warning to others to be more careful before filing a patent.

D. Raghunath Bangalore Ustad Fateh Ali Khan

Your tribute to Ustad Fateh Ali Khan (September 19) was a handsome one.

The swaraprastharas of the Ustad were excellent. In contrast, the swaraprastharas of Carnatic musicians lack a certain dynamism; I would suggest that Carnatic vocalists imbibe some of the tecniques that were used by the Ustad.

V.S. Ramamurthy Bangalore 'Lessons from Thailand'

Except for the small mistake of calling Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammed 'President', "Lessons from Thailand: In South-East Asia, is the party really over?" by Jayati Ghosh in the September 5 issue of Frontline was excellent. Congratulations.

Fan Yew Teng Former Member of Parliament Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Correction: In "A tradition of resistance" (August 22), the socialist Acharya Narendra Dev was referred to as Acharya Narayan Dev. This error occurred inadvertently during the transcription of the tape recording of Professor Namwar Singh's conversation with our correspondent. The error, which was not Professor Namwar Singh's, is regretted.

The roots of our present in the immediate past

This refers to "Cultures in conflict'' by Aijaz Ahmad (August 22).

In India, as elsewhere in the colonial world, from the early period of colonial rule, the elemental consciousness of anti-colonialism of the people came to be expressed in scattered, recurring revolts. These rebellions, spread across the sub-continent, were suppressed ruthlessly, but the anti-colonial resentment of the people rose to a crescendo in the uprising of 1857. The peasantry and the soldiers of the colonial army were the decisive elements in this uprising of 1857, which was led by the fading ruling elite, the feudal gentry, who were the natural leaders of the peasantry. This uprising was a more serious challenge to colonialism than all earlier revolts, it lasted longer and was more widespread across the country, but failed to free the land and the people from the colonial yoke. The British rulers made their peace with the feudal gentry after the suppression of the 1857 uprising.

The formation of the Indian National Congress (INC) in 1885 showed that the colonial masters sought to pursue the subtler option of curbing dissent through providing channels of communication for the expression of grievances of the emerging indigenous capitalist elite, the class brought into life by the very dynamics of colonialism as well as by the presence of substantial mercantile and manufacturing activity in the midst of a backward feudal economy in this sub-continent. At the Surat Congress in 1907, the INC split horizontally between moderates and extremists on the issue of political perception and strategy, and it appeared as though the INC was finished politically. This was one of the key factors leading to the appearance of militant nationalism in the following period in this sub-continent.

The INC thus travelled a tortuous path till it got its act together with the coming of Mahatma Gandhi on the political scene. Under Mahatma Gandhi's leadership, the INC replaced the hegemony of the feudal gentry over the people of this sub-continent with the hegemony of the affluent classes and sought to mobilise the masses to wrest concessions from the British but never seriously attempted to confront colonialism. The INC, in effect, impeded the development of the struggle into an all-out offensive against colonial rule. With all this, the very dialectics of the colonial milieu had turned the INC from a petitioning body to an organisation standing up against colonialism, perhaps much against the will of its dominant elite leadership; in the situation that then prevailed, even this was a positive development. In the course of such a development, the INC evolved into the foremost polyglot political organisation of the elite and the affluent classes, exercising its hegemony over large sections of our people; both unleashing the fury of the people at one stage and reining in their revolutionary onslaught against colonialism at the next. In response to the British attempt to deal with exclusive communities separately, as in the instance of propping up the Muslim League and the Backward Classes as a counterpoise to the INC, the INC resorted to the time-tested device of communal mobilisation of the people under its overall hegemony.

All through the freedom struggle, the deft manoeuvres of the British to prolong their rule were matched by the equally deft responses of the Congress and the Muslim League leadership to strike a deal separately with the British, if possible, or between themselves, if the opportunity arose, in order to strengthen and extend their respective elitist hegemony over their exclusive domains. At various moments in the course of our freedom struggle, the growing intensity and sweep of the movement and the changing patterns of class participation enhanced the potential of a secular, non-denominational alternative to the Congress-Muslim League strategy of elitist hegemony over exclusive denominational communities. At every such decisive moment in the course of the struggle, this elitist leadership thwarted the development of such an alternative, as also the independent mobilisation of the toiling people on specific issues of vital concern to them, in the interest of preserving their hegemony and pursuing their separate agendas to further their own exclusive interests. Any step towards incorporating the agenda of the toiling masses in the anti-colonial struggle and cementing their unity would surely have given the right impetus to the emerging secular, non-denominational alternative and would have carried the anti-colonial struggle to its logical culmination in the empowerment of the toiling people, pushing to the background the separate agenda of the elitist leadership - a denouement which the elite was keen to avoid at any cost. The fact that the social reform movement and the nationalist movement developed on different tracks and did not merge in great measure within the diverse cultures of the sub-continent also contributed to this hegemony of the elite.

In the post-Second World War situation in particular - in the period of the RIN Mutiny, the INA trials, spreading popular resistance in the princely states and peasant struggles in different locales of the sub-continent - the non-denominational, secular alternative was a serious contender for hegemony. It is noteworthy that in this period the influence of the working class ideology - which remained relatively weaker in the general stream of freedom struggle, though on many occasions was decisive in giving much-needed impetus to the struggle - was showing new resurgence. The Congress and the Muslim League were, precisely in this period, in as much hurry to assume the reins of power as the British were to transfer power and quit.

The fact that Partition was avoidable and not inevitable would be evident even if we concede for a moment, though erroneously, that the results of the 1946 elections were a referendum for the 'two-nation theory'. Those elections were not based on universal suffrage and the principle of one-man, one-vote. Nevertheless it was the combination of numerous factors in operation in this sub-continent from the early period of colonial rule that brought about Partition, through the mutual consent of the British, the INC and the Muslim League. It was not the spontaneous result of action or inaction of some individuals and elite groups alone.

For the leadership of the INC and the Muslim League, the only alternative to a steadfast 'No' to Partition was the pursuit of a resolute national liberation struggle, one that unleashed the latent revolutionary energies of the people. The latter option was eschewed by the INC and the Muslim League in favour of Partition. For this act of the elitist leadership of our freedom struggle, an act to further its hegemony and exclusive interests, the people of this sub-continent paid a heavy price in terms of human suffering and agony, through the horrendous Partition. The culture and ideology of the working class was unable to roll back the onslaught of the 'two-nation theory' decisively to prevent Partition. In any event, Partition is now a fact of history.

The Congress and the Muslim League, thus, proved their mettle as the political organisation capable of guaranteeing a safe passage for the affluent classes in this period of intense turbulence by pre-empting the accretion of popular mass strength around the secular alternative of resurgent working class ideology. The 'socialist' posturing of the Congress in the post-Independence period further helped to buttress its position vis-a-vis working class ideology and add to its apparently unassailable sway over the bulk of our countrymen. The Congress thus put on a firmer footing its leading role over various segments of the ruling bloc, namely, big business, landlords, the military-civil-police-judicial bureaucracy and the criminal underworld. The inability of this ruling bloc to ensure a buoyant, self-reliant and crisis-free economic order plays into the hands of the Sangh parivar in its attempt to take over the position of the Congress as patron of this ruling bloc. The ideology of the Sangh parivar would have been of no avail in dealing with the surging revolutionary tide of aspirations of the people accompanying Independence or in consolidating India into a single nation in the aftermath of Partition. This was the role designed for the INC, and the INC carried out the task with great determination and elan.

We are now witness to the strident communalism of the Sangh parivar, a communalism of the variety that helped the British in their rule and partitioned the country. This form of communalism was unable to rear its head overtly in the immediate post-Independence era. The diverse cultures of this nation are also now coming under the spell of different elitist, hegemonic influences of local as well as pan-Indian varieties, and perhaps many more partitions are in the making. It is this elitist hegemony, resorting to communal and exclusive mobilisation of the people, that is weakening the democratic fabric of our society.

It is pertinent to note that all these developments are taking place in the context of liberalisation and globalisation.

In independent India, the unity of diverse cultures can be nurtured and broadened on the basis of a shared concern to strengthen the secular, democratic and egalitarian aspects of social, economic and political institutions. It is essential to breach the cultural hegemony of the ruling elite before their divisive politics can be confronted effectively. It is necessary to take this message to the masses, in their own language, through all available means.

Latif Jawlekar V. Ramchandran Pune

A letter from the Editor


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Editor, Frontline

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