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Faux liberalism

The widely reviewed Mr. & Mrs. Jinnah — The Marriage that Shook India (Penguin, 2017), engagingly written by former Delhi-based journalist Sheela Reddy, which recounts the runaway marriage of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Mumbai’s patrician barrister and later Qaid-e-Azam of independent Pakistan, with Ruttie Petit, the socialite and by-all-accounts beautiful daughter of Sir Dinshaw Petit, a fabulously wealthy Parsi baronet of Jinnah’s own age (Ruttie was 18, Jinnah 42), has resurrected several tragic stories of romance of early 20th century India. And they don’t show the choice and master spirits of the age in good light. 

Inevitably, as Reddy relates in her narrative, high society of the time (1918) unanimously disapproved of the Jinnah-Ruttie alliance, more so because the bride converted to Islam, although Jinnah had little time or patience with formal, organised religion. Strangely, despite the gay balls and whirligigs of the times, even the most liberal notables of society frowned upon inter-religious and even inter-caste marriages, especially marriages contracted by lovers of their own free will and volition.

It’s well-known Nehru’s own marriage to Kamala Kaul chosen by his doting paterfamilias, Motilal, was loveless which not only hastened her premature death but also prompted several liaisons dangereuses of our first prime minister. Curiously, despite his professed cosmopolitan liberalism, Nehru himself was as opposed to inter-religious/caste marriages as his father. When his sister Vijaya Lakshmi (aka Nan) fell in love with Syud Hussain, a suave and sophisticated Oxford graduate and editor of the Independent (a newspaper funded by Motilal Nehru), pere et fils took violent objection and packed Nan off to Gandhiji’s ashram in Ahmedabad to do penance. Indeed, this love affair was of such catastrophic dimensions that even the Mahatma’s faith in Hindu-Muslim unity was endangered. “My faith in all Mussalmans is shaken,” the Mahatma is reported to have told Nan. 

Unfortunately, patriarchal dictatorship in matters of love and marriage is still the rule rather than exception in 21st century India where millions of young people are forced into loveless marriages. And this cultural orthodoxy is set to receive a new boost under saffron rule spreading across this unfortunate republic. 


Foolish teacher leader

Mayawati, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister and self-proclaimed messiah of India’s historically oppressed Dalits — who have suffered social ostracism and unspeakable abuse for millennia under the oppressive Hindu caste system — or at least her advisors, should have heeded the advice of American president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865): “You can fool all the people for some time, you can fool some of the people for some time. But you can’t fool all the people all the time.” Clearly, she was unaware of this advice, because in last month’s Uttar Pradesh assembly election, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of which she is the undisputed supremo, received a severe drubbing winning a mere 19 seats despite contesting all 403. 

The BSP’s rout is particularly humiliating because Mayawati had previously served — or rather lorded over — UP (pop.215 million) as chief minister on no less than four occasions, being first sworn in as the leader of this critically important Hindi heartland state (which if it were a country would be the fifth most populous worldwide), way back in 1995 when she was just 39 years of age. But instead of addressing the real issues of abject poverty and backwardness of the Dalit community suffering outrageous abuses under the Hindu varna (caste) system, this foolish former primary school teacher focused her attention on illegally enriching herself and reportedly accumulating the largest diamond collection of any individual in India. Despite this, UP’s Dalit and minority Muslim communities once again voted the BSP and Mayawati to power in 2007 with a massive majority. This time around, she lavished her attention on building huge recreation parks in Lucknow and cities across the state, featuring statues of elephants (the party’s election symbol), and of herself and her mentor Kanshi Ram. 

Quite obviously 22 years on, the Dalit community has seen through her cynical strategy of egregious self-enrichment and aggrandisement in the cause of Dalit pride. In the recently concluded assembly election, the BSP’s vote share in UP plunged from 30 to 22 percent and the number of seats in the assembly from 206 in 2012 to a sorry 19. She failed to fool all her people all the time. 

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