TRADITIONALLY the left, from Pablo Neruda to Faiz Ahmed Faiz, has been plagiarised by the right. The mullahs have motivated their rank and file in Pakistan with verses from leftist poetry, often to attack left politics. The Indian rightwing does the same. At a discussion between senior journalists and editors in Delhi last week, there was introspection whether the TV coverage of the Mumbai carnage had tried to charge up the atmosphere with rousing background music.
There were excuses galore that ranged from the exigencies of 24-hour TV channels to the fact that American channels, as though they were universal role models, also used music to embellish their coverage of national grief or valour. My mind drifted to the days of the Newstrack video vending, sister unit of India Today magazine. It was pioneered by Madhu Trehan. There was no private TV channel in India then. A Newstrack report had used a rousing poem sung by Iqbal Bano of Pakistan — Hum dekhenge by Faiz Ahmed Faiz — to rally behind an upper caste Indian icon who set himself ablaze in a volatile protest against the pro-lower caste Mandal Commission report in 1990. Ms Trehan was the moderator of last week`s soul searching about editorial lapses in Mumbai.
Bit by bit in recent years the Indian leadership has moved to align itself with the United States and even its satellites in a global adventure that Jawaharlal Nehru had warned us against. The project to dismantle Nehru`s vision of anti-imperialist solidarity is thus under way in full cry at the hands of Indian leaders, including the ones who claim to swear by Nehru.
The terror attacks in Mumbai are being used to cement the new alliances. Indian-American scholar Ashley Tellis, a major player in the India-US nuclear deal, has advocated a global onslaught against Pakistan-based groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba for their apparent role in the carnage. I believe such groups should not exist in any case as they advocate mindless hatred and violence and also breed religious bigotry. But Tellis, who was adviser to US Ambassador Robert Blackwill (whose silence during his tenure in Delhi over the Gujarat pogroms was deafening), has put a spin on the issue. He has argued that the Pakistan-based group poses a danger to the civilised world because, to quote him, “India`s collaboration with the United States and the West in general against terrorism has marked it as a part of what LeT calls the detestable `American-Zionist-Hindu` axis (and) that must be confronted by force.”
This is misleading. Just because religious extremists or terrorists have usurped a secular critique of imperialism and harnessed it to their bigoted worldview doesn`t mean that Zionism becomes kosher or imperialism becomes acceptable or rightwing Hindu revivalism deserves legitimacy. Read in simple English “American” is understood as “American imperialism” and not American democracy, “Zionism” is seen for precisely that and not for a salad bowl of culturally diverse Jewish people, and where Hindu in the given context means “rightwing fanatical Hindutva” as opposed to the secular majority of Hindus that inhabits India. The idea against the axis is in fact very Nehruvian.
I was going through Jawaharlal Nehru`s address to the Bandung Conference Political Committee in 1955. Almost every inflection from it is relevant today, which presciently includes the recent arrival of foreign sleuths, commandos and leaders in Mumbai and Delhi. Nehru had also anticipated the madness of the leader of the RSS who has upped the ante by giving implicit approval to a nuclear conflict with Pakistan or even a Third World War to expel evil from the world. Some excerpts from that speech deserve a recall.
“I am dead certain that no country can conquer India. Even the two great power blocs together cannot conquer India; not even the atom or the hydrogen bomb. I know what my people are. But I know also that if we rely on others, whatever great powers they might be if we look to them for sustenance, then we are weak indeed...
“I speak with the greatest respect of these Great Powers because they are not only great in military might but in development, in culture, in civilisation. But I do submit that greatness sometimes brings quite false values, false standards...
“Has it come to this that the leaders of thought who have given religions and all kinds of things to the world have to tag on to this kind of group or that and be hangers-on of this party or the other carrying out their wishes and occasionally giving an idea? It is most degrading and humiliating to any self-respecting people or nation. It is an intolerable thought to me that the great countries of Asia and Africa should come out of bondage into freedom only to degrade themselves or humiliate themselves in this way...
“Now it does not matter if one country is more powerful than the other in the use of the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb. One is more powerful in its ruin than the other. That is what is meant by saying that the point of saturation has been reached. However powerful one country is, the other is also powerful. To hit the nail on the head, the world suffers; there can be no victory. It may be said perhaps rightly that owing to this very terrible danger, people refrain from going to war. I hope so...”
Perhaps the most relevant or even urgent of Nehru`s 1955 reflections in today`s context came as a warning about unintended steps spiralling into a full blown conflict. “The difficulty is that while governments want to refrain from war, something suddenly happens and there is war and utter ruin. There is another thing because of the present position in the world there can be aggression. If there is aggression anywhere in the world, it is bound to result in world war. It does not matter where the aggression is. If one commits the aggression there is world war.”
RSS chief K.S. Sudarshan would be smiling. But far from the India-America-Israel axis advocated by him or by governments blessed by the RSS, Nehru was clear that US imperialism, Zionism and Hindutva were to be opposed, the corruption of the idea at the hands of Muslim zealots notwithstanding.
“Even if tactical atomic weapons, as they are called, are used, the next step would be the use of the big atomic bomb. You cannot stop these things.” As Newstrack showed with the Faiz song by using it in an Indian context (that would have perhaps embarrassed the author) there is no copyright on slogans even if they misrepresent the original ideas. Even Mr Sudarshan can sing @Hum dekhenge” if he likes. It is the context that is suspicious.