(September 28th marks the 112th birth anniversary of Bhagat Singh.)
“This is the story of a phenomenon.” So begins Christopher Isherwood’s famous and mesmerizing biography of Sri Ramakrishna.
Bhagat Singh is not just the name of a famous revolutionary whose flame flickered briefly before burning out. Bhagat Singh is the name of a phenomenon.
It was the late 1920s and the name of Bhagat Singh was everywhere. Gandhi burst upon the national scene in 1919 and had soon taken the country by storm. He transformed the Congress into a mass organization, galvanized the country through the non-cooperation movement, and even, in some places in northern India, paralyzed the British administration. The Anglicized Jawaharlal Nehru, taken in as was everyone else by Gandhi, thought he had seen everything. The Gandhi era of Indian history was well under way.
The spectacle is over. Some 50,000 Indian Americans showed up a few days ago at the NRG Stadium in Houston to greet Narendra Modi, who was joined by his soulmate in narcissism and fellow sojourner in “rally politics”, Donald J. Trump. “Howdy, Modi,” as the event was billed, has been described in much of the Indian and Indian American media as hugely successful and as another feather in Modi’s cap as he attempts to showcase India to the world and present himself as a “world leader”. Prime Minister Modi, according to this narrative, had only one visibly uncomfortable moment when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer described India as a country that, like America, was “proud of its ancient traditions to secure a future according to Gandhi’s teaching and Nehru’s vision of India as a secular democracy where respect for pluralism and human rights safeguard every individual.”
It is indubitably the case that the five-month long, and still continuing, protest in Hong Kong over China’s attempt to subvert the so-called ‘one nation two systems’ mode of governance and subvert democratic norms constitutes a comparatively new if still uncertain chapter in the global history of civil resistance. The world has been rather slow in coming to a realization of the extraordinary implications of a movement that cannot really be associated with anyone who might be termed a widely accepted leader, is fundamentally hydra-headed or anarchic in impulse, and, notwithstanding both immense provocations from the state as well as occasional lapses into violence on the part of some demonstrators, has remained overwhelmingly nonviolent.
The Lower House of the Indian Parliament, The Janata Sabha (People’s House), was witness to an extraordinary debate yesterday afternoon, September 12. More than 72 years after Britain was forced out of India, a number of Indian Parliamentarians from the ruling party, HOPE, provoked what at first was furious outrage when they argued that the time was wholly ripe to bring colonialism back. Some members of the Indian Trotskyite Communist Party (ITC), joined by lawmakers from other opposition parties, started pounding their desks in fury and shouted, “Shame! Shame!” Thereupon, the Parliamentarians from the ruling party at once hastened to add that they had been grossly misunderstood. Speaking on behalf of the group advocating for colonialism, the former Raja of Piplinagar put forward the case eloquently if succinctly: “Britain has shown that it is wholly unfit to govern itself. White heathens have made quite a display of their buffoonery; they act like children, unnecessarily inflicting wounds on themselves. They say that their House of Commons is the Mother of Parliaments, but no one understands motherhood as well as we Indians do. Long before Parliament was invented, we had village republics where people peacefully governed themselves.” Before he could go on any further, the House erupted in cheers.
There has been much outrage expressed, and quite rightly so, over the action taken some days ago by the administration at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) to ask Professor Emerita Romila Thapar for her CV to determine if she was still fit to hold that distinguished title which was conferred on her more than 25 years ago. JNU has, since its inception, easily been one the country’s leading universities; and Professor Thapar, one can say with even greater certitude, has added more lustre to JNU than nearly anyone else in the humanities and social sciences, and that too over the course of half a century, including the 21 years that she was on its faculty from 1970-91. Professor Thapar is recognized the world over for her scholarship on ancient Indian history, having earned accolades that most academics can only dream of, but in India she has also had an outsized presence as a prolific public intellectual.