UR Ananthamurthy


One of India’s greatest storytellers chose the manifesto as the genre for his swan song. One needs the speech of manifestos to cut to the very core of Indian politics, the heart of darkness we call the nation state.


When Narendra Modi’s victory was imminent, an impassioned Ananthamurthy cried out that he would not like to live in an India ruled by Modi. An irked BJP ideologue asked him to leave for Pakistan. Ananthamurthy’s answer to Giriraj Kishore and other vociferous critics was this text. His last work was more than a manifesto. It was a prayer, a confession, a plea, an argument, a conversation capturing a world we might lose. Unconsciously, Ananthamurthy, whom we all know most of all as URA, sets it up as a dialogue, an approximation of a play exploring options, choices, outlining the ethical consequences of each political act. It was the last testament of a remarkable man, a storyteller who quietly became the conscience of an era.


How do I begin this response to the apparent optimism about Modi’s election in the media and the public, and my own apprehensions about it?


I am faced with a problem. The Nehru–Gandhi family has been liberated from those flatterers who believed that only that family was fit to rule the country. We have been liberated from them too. Even as I say this, the assassinations of Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi are tragedies that we must remember.


Yet, when it seemed that the nation was delivered from one family, we witnessed an election campaign that resembled the presidential form of electioneering. No south Indian, Assamese, Bengali (in fact, no one from a non-Hindi-speaking state) could have won an election the way Modi did with his loud and rhetorical use of Hindi.


A democratic agreement exists between the system essential to create a community, the institutions that preserve law and order, and courts that deliver justice. But by drawing my attention to this and saying that I should accept someone who has ascended to power through a majority because it is the democratic norm is what I don’t agree with.


For me, providing room for those not in the majority is fundamental to democracy. Therefore, I will speak to you, ignoring those who have denigrated me nationwide for my scepticism about Modi. For the sake of convenient communication, I will present my views in the form of sutras, a set of aphorisms.


The first sutra


I will start with the story of Job from the Old Testament. Is evil also present along with what we believe is the goodness of the Divine Will? In the 1950s, the visionary author and psychiatrist Carl Jung wrote Answer to Job, in which he examines what the Christian world underwent throughout its symbolic history to overcome evil.


Similar to this is the Satya Harishchandra story in which Raja Harishchandra is repeatedly tested for his adherence to truth. Can knowing that good and evil are inseparable and exist together, make us aware of the malevolence that might be hiding in our love of the nation?


Every time the leaders of the Modi government open their mouths, they utter the words “in the national interest”. That is to say, in the “national interest”, one can do anything. Like god. We have a saying: He who gives up pride and shame is like god.


The second sutra


Let me mention here Raskolnikov, the protagonist of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He aspires to be a Napoleon – an ordinary man who became a kalapurusha, the man of the age, and acquired glory despite killing thousands in war. The young man is deeply anguished because he could never be like Napoleon, who disregarded commonly held perceptions of evil when he slew thousands in war without guilt.


Godse did not think like Raskolnikov. Through his readings of Savarkar, Godse, in his love for Bharat, truly believed that Gandhi, the advocate of non-violence, was an impediment.


The third sutra


Godse’s final speech should be compared with Modi’s fervent words of patriotism. When Godse could find no other way to put an end to Gandhi’s all-powerful influence in the country, he killed him. The Congress, which somehow managed to obtain nuclear friendship with the United States, allowed Savarkar plus Modi to occupy the space vacated by Gandhi.


Modi has become the true voice of the innate desire for development of the Congress, which is slightly embarrassed by memories of Gandhi. Instead of the gentle satvik face of Manmohan Singh, we see before us the imperious rajasik face of Modi, in keeping with his kshatra traits.


This change of face is the result of Modi’s successful fuelling of the middle class’s obsessive greed. The face of Modi became a favourite of the media during elections, and thousands of his fans flaunted it as a mask. Even so, I voted for the Congress, which had given to the poor the right to information and the right to food.


Throughout human history, people have accepted the victory of the victorious as inevitable. This acceptance is born out of the complacency of a comfortable life. In one of Auden’s poems the sound of a knock on the door is heard in the dead of night, somewhere in the distance. The comfort that it is far away and not on his street is short-lived. The sound of the footsteps draw nearer and his door is broken down.


Progress should not vitiate the environment. Kayaka, that is work, is essential not only for the body, but for the mind as well, to remain humane. For the hunger that comes from toil, the satisfaction after it is quenched, the simple pleasure that comes from the renewal of everyday tasks, for interaction with those who toil, kayaka is necessary.


Machines should be the creation of man’s curiosity, an aid to his ability to work, and to increase the fruits of his labour. The yoke, the plough, the spinning wheel, the fuel-efficient clay oven, the tender mango pickle that retains juice in its stalk for several years, the bullock cart, the sewing machine, the steam engine, the bicycle, fire from flint, the paper kite that flies high into the sky, discovering that the inedible-looking dark-grained ragi is in fact the ultimate cereal, the medicinal plants that grow in the backyard – they were all the result of individual and collective effort.


The fourth sutra


The right of the poor who make soil and water yield food should not be taken away. Farmers’ lands should not be taken away for power generation plants, IT–BT4 enclaves, mining and five-star hotels. It is to the benevolence of Varuna, the god of water, that we owe the cultivation of food.


Before agriculture, humans hunted to survive. Animals were prey, but they were also accorded divine status out of a feeling of gratitude. Hunting hounds became the companions of Dattatreya. The humble mouse became Ganesha’s vehicle. The cow provided milk and meat, and in every pore of its body, all the gods were seen.


The Westward-looking sky cruisers of today have become heartless hunters, purely traders, without any sense of the sacred. Rich Koreans do not visit historical sites in their own country, they say. I once asked a few North Koreans if the Buddha was sacred to them. The answer was a mockery of Marxism. “Yes, the Buddhists invented printing and production of books,” said the party-tutored government-appointed interpreter. Only that which is useful is important.


In this respect, the capitalists and the communists hold a common view of the ancient past. They are the Benthamite utilitarians. The Savarkarites too use ancient history to instigate and bring together the Hindus. Ganga puja for Modi is a photo opportunity.


The fifth sutra


The hunting that corporates do today we call globalisation. Those who help in a hunting operation get a small share of the kill, just like we do in the capital market. Those from poor countries seeking IT–BT jobs in foreign lands are viewed as cheap labour that boosts profits.


American universities plan to open numerous educational institutions in India. After all, the ultra-modern, non-smoke-emitting IT industry needs skilled people to run it. The primary objective of these new universities is to develop communication skills and impart a little knowledge of science.


This trend isn’t confined to the space of technology either. In the past, the art and craft of a place, whether in clay, wood or metal, had its own special skill which told of its origin. Now everything is “Made in China”.


Manmohan’s objective was to turn this into “Made in India”. It has now become the more “able” Modi’s goal. All that should have been made in villages and small towns, as Gandhi had hoped, is now being produced by large industrial units.


In the future, buttons will be manufactured by one nation, sleeves by another and collars by a third, and these “Made in America” shirts will be available in the malls, all of which are replicas of each other – just like the five-star hotels, where it is not hot or cold but controlled air that prevails. Globetrotters occupy these spaces not knowing where they are.


The free time that a farmer gets from his labour allows him the space to appreciate folk arts, music, Harikathe, Yakshagana, and so on.


The leisure for festivals and rituals too is due to the benevolence of Varuna. Farmers who rejoiced when it rained, and anxiously scanned the skies when it did not, knew the cycle of the seasons in their bones. Our ancestors had the humility to live in harmony with nature without teasing it.


The butterfly, the ant, the earthworm, the colour of the clouds and the tiny winged insects that take birth to fly for a moment and die – these were the gurus of farming wisdom. On the day of the full moon, Bhoomi Hunnime, farmers offered the earth goddess payasa and partook of it themselves, and felt blessed.


The sixth sutra


The MBAs fresh from Harvard, aspiring neo-capitalists, see benevolence as part of a feudal heritage. For these young people populist programmes are a bait in the hunt for votes. Providing food to the hungry at subsidised rates is antithetical to their view of development.


Why? The answer is simple. There is no free lunch in a developing economy. The transactions of the local bazaars cannot grow the market. Subsidies are harmful to the market.


The seventh sutra


In the past, poor students were able to study and become successful because of a practice called varanna. Some Lingayat mutts, religious institutions, also provided free meals for them. Today, this is possible because of the democratic benevolence of reservations.


Tribal communities survive because of the grace of the trees of the forest, the animals, roots and tubers, sunshine and rain; a shared nurturing by large families; the abundantly flowing water; the favour of ragi and jowar that only need to be sowed to thrive.


For those who believe in development, these are the impediments of a subsistence economy. It is not conducive to tourism. In the Malnad where I grew up, the thirsty traveller who asked for water was given buttermilk. Nowadays no one travels on foot. There are only tourists with rooms reserved in advance.


They have a minister in their service who is of no use to them. The old houses with courtyards and cool floors have all become resorts. Those who were big-hearted in the past have become brokers in this Age of Development.


The eighth sutra


However, Medha Patkar, the satyagrahi afflicted with acute back pain, and Aruna Roy, the Right to Information activist, who had tucked in their sari pallus for the big fight have not loosened it still. People like Teesta Setalvad continue to run from court to court seeking to uncover the truth.


That they have not given up hope in the present scenario, as the Congress leaders have done, has prevented frustration and dejection from creeping into this writing. I mention this right at the start lest I forget later.


The ninth sutra


I attempt to see the evil that is within us and around us in its manifold avatars. The evil of our times are mines, dams, power plants and hundreds of smart cities. Shadeless roads, widened by cutting down trees; rivers diverted to fill the flush tanks of five-star hotels; hillocks, the abode of tribal gods, laid bare due to mining; marketplaces without sparrows and trees without birds.


The tenth sutra


If we want development, it is there for the taking. If we don’t want it, we can do without it. Corporates, on the other hand, must have development. Because America cannot be polluted. So the poor of India remain silent. And the tribals who have little choice fall prey to the himsavadis, the believers in violence.


The eleventh sutra


Recognising that the evil that has tasted power is inside us, and then striving to overcome it is the Gandhian path. Believing that the evil is outside us is the Godse path. Godse was not bothered by the fact that Gandhi was preparing for a prayer meeting.


In Savarkar’s language Godse was a non-religious believer in the notion of Hindutva. This punyabhoomi, this sacred land, needs Hinduism only as an address. When he killed Gandhi, Godse may not have expected that this great nation, this Bharat would lose its diverse rituals, arts, dresses, cuisines, oils, cereals and become a cheap imitation of Western civilisation. Or perhaps he was the seed for the Modi way of the future.


In the world where kshatra dharma prevails (in America, England, China, Russia, among others), the idea of nationalism that Gandhi and Tagore were suspicious of now exists in the guise of multinational corporates. Gandhi’s universal brotherhood differs from Nehru’s internationalism.


“Development” causes one to forget the past, it belongs to nobody, emaciates the earth, fills the canopy of the sky with smog through which the sun cannot peep, chokes and poisons the flowing rivers, and also boosts a state of excessive irresistible desire – inherent in all of us. Modi, in his short-sleeved kurta, speaking with an uplifted chin, appearing as a dazzling leader, providing twenty-four-hour electricity to corporates, is one of those pushing India towards that hubris. Everyone declares that Modi is not corrupt. That this has become a eulogistic refrain is a tragedy.


The twelfth sutra


When I was growing up in the pre-war years, we complained that goods “Made in Germany” were difficult to get, and dismissed as “Made in Japan” all the shiny cheap items that we actually used. During the war years, German goods were available in the black market. The black market exists even today – in the middlemen who have political patronage. For saying that such people have no place in his regime, Modi has received much praise.


The thirteenth sutra


Today all that glitters is “Made in China”. America is incapable of manufacturing even a pin or a shirt. What it can produce are weapons of war and supercomputers. Cleverly worded MOUs for development do not require us to stand on our own feet. Instead, we dream of selling pins to the world like China does and to export garments stitched by poor women in sweatshops. The fashion designers who commission these garments are mostly from developed countries.


The fourteenth sutra


NGOs fighting to protect the earth have been declared anti-national. The Modi government is all set to start proceedings against them. Turning a blind eye to the wishes of the southern states, it is constructing a new dam (in Andhra–Telangana), putting the farmers and tribals of the region in a fix. (It was the Congress government that had initiated this project.)


In the celebration of Modi’s victory, it is clear that India’s federalism is being destroyed. The Congress had damaged it sufficiently through its high command culture.


The fifteenth sutra


I would like to compare Raskolnikov, who lost faith in Christ because of his overarching ambition but regained it through anguish and love, with Godse, who recognising the strength of Gandhi, assassinated him while he was on his way to pray to the almighty for the well-being of the country rather than his own.


Raskolnikov had an inner voice which he despised but could not deny. Godse too may have had it. Born after three male children had died, Godse was brought up as a girl by his parents. Even his name Nathuram meant one who wears a nose stud.


But it was not the desire to prove his manliness that made Godse first bring his hands together in greeting, and then shoot the bare-chested old man, the Father of the Nation, walking eagerly towards the prayer meeting, supported by two girls. The act did not need either machismo or plotting.


Gandhi did not even have police protection. The Hindutvavadi Godse’s action, committed with utmost detachment and in cold blood, was the sacrificial offering made at the yajna of nation building. And Savarkar’s ideology was the text for this yajna. Only in a democratic system does this sentiment, latent in all of us, find expression in the smooth-tongued Modi raising an arti to the holy Ganga.



Top - Home