IN my experience leftists and rightists are both good in relief work. Their motives, like their vision for the future, may differ entirely, but their methods are often similar, and derive from ideological passion.
When they are in a duel, as they often are, it is a fight to the finish. Without the resolve and sacrifice of the partisans of Leningrad, Hitler would never have been defeated. Minus the fired-up Muslim zealots in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union would still be around. The battle continues. Fidel Castro was asked why he stuck around when others in the communist world had given up. He said: “I appear more leftist as the world has shifted to the right, leaving me standing where I have always stood.”
The speed with which Cuba delivers aid, particularly medical aid without strings, scrupulously selflessly, across the world, must seriously worry Americans. Communists in India are similarly gifted at providing help in a calamity. I was on a mission with them as a student in the ’70s, delivering food and medicine on boats when large parts of Delhi were submerged, including Najafgarh where Virender Sehwag comes from. The comrades are excellent with mobilising resources. Above all, they care.
Cuba helped Pakistan when disaster struck, ironically winning love and affection where the communist party was banned almost as soon after the country came about. (From Indonesia to Algeria, via Pakistan and Iran, wherever communists were crushed, Muslim extremism has become an intractable challenge.)
Pro-Hindutva groups are campaigning to foment a Hindu-Muslim divide in Kerala — having failed, they look desperate.
Recall the speed with which Muslim groups rushed aid to remote parts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir. Even the army struggled to reach Pakistan’s inaccessible disaster zones, the Muslim groups were there.
The regressive Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Shiv Sena are good with relief in dire situations. I’ve watched them at work in Latur, after a devastating earthquake hit Maharashtra in the mid-90s. Shiv Sena volunteers with bare hands and only a mask each would lift rotting bodies, sometimes the skin peeling off from the corpses. Their ambulances delivered food and medicine at breakneck speed. It is another matter that the rightwing by definition is selective in its missionary objective. Affected Muslims, Dalits or Christians hit by calamity are less likely to benefit from Hindutva generosity. This cannot be said of communists. It’s because everyone makes a potential team player in their worldview. Communists can be sectarian but that is usually with fellow communists!
A survey of trolls indicates that this rivalry is at the heart of the grudging help given to Kerala by the Indian government. This is one state where the RSS is desperate to get a toehold. And a strange but robust alternation of Communist and Congress governments has thwarted the quest resoundingly.
Expectedly, pro-Hindutva groups are campaigning to foment a Hindu-Muslim divide. They just don’t want the communists coming out looking good. Having tried to sow discord by pitting Kerala’s communities against each other and failing, they look desperate.
Where do the liberals stand in this battle between the left and the right? Allow me to offer a lighter anecdote from Aligarh Muslim University. Volunteers from the revivalist Tablighi Jamaat could be recognised from a distance from their pyjamas worn way above the ankle and kurta going below the knee. Unimpressed students in the Marris Hostel had other things to do than to hear daily lectures on how to be a good member of the community. But the Tablighi Jamaat volunteers would get up before dawn in winter to bathe with freezing water. Their irritating discipline stirred a few friends to encourage a sitar-playing cousin to prove that they were not all talk.
They marched down the guinea pig with pomp and ceremony on a dreary morning to the common bathroom. The man flung his clothes on top of the shower, which allowed an icy drop to come hard on his exposed back. The guinea pig collapsed on the ground, wiped the filth from his knees, let off a few curse words and declared it was not the purpose of his life to compete with the misplaced discipline of the rightwing. I’ve seen middle of the road, ordinary folks, of course, being spontaneously helpful when required. They can be the good Samaritans often enough. But they lack the cadre and the drive to deliver in a calamity.
Back in Kerala, we are told India doesn’t accept foreign aid. The UAE is a foreign country, the suffering people of Kerala are reminded. They cite a recent rule against taking help from foreigners. Rubbish.
Remember Munna Bhai roughing up the insensitive doctor who told a desperate mother to fill out a tedious form before her dying son could be admitted to the hospital? That is just about what Modi’s Hindutva government is doing to the left-ruled Kerala.
His Bharatiya Janata Party accepted three planeloads of earthquake relief in 2001 from the head of Pakistan whom he derisively called “Mian Musharraf”. Three C-130 transport planes, carrying tents and thousands of most-needed blankets, landed in Ahmedabad from Rawalpindi. Pakistan was among a number of nations that stepped forward to provide money, supplies or teams of experts to help India cope with the devastation.
“I have been saddened at the tragic loss of life and property in the earthquake,”’ Gen Musharraf said, and his phone call to then prime minister Vajpayee did indeed help break the ice between the mutually mistrusting leaders. That’s what Prime Minister Imran Khan has tried to do in his message of solidarity for Kerala. Remember, the same government that accepted aid from Pakistan was generous in giving it. Vajpayee did send millions of dollars in relief material to Katrina-hit Americans, which they graciously accepted. Leave alone the grudging help. Can we at least be gracious, as even enemies are when the chips are down for an opponent?
The writer is Dawn’s correspondent in Delhi.
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2018