Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A brief note on Mayawati

In response to the discussion on this (very interesting) post by Shivam Vij:

Those who expect Mayawati to be some kind of political saint — and then criticize her when she isn’t that way — must answer the question why the bar is set so high for her and not for others. I might add that, where the (English-language) Indian media is concerned, there is ample evidence of a class (i.e. not caste) bias too, where “English-medium” politicians always get softer media coverage (fawning in the case of Rahul Gandhi), whereas others don’t get the same solicitude. The point isn’t that Mayawati is or ought to be above reproach (the BSP seems to be more interested in coming to power and capturing the bureaucracy rather than engaging in the sort of sweeping agenda that is cultural, not just political, and can hope to be transformative), or that Rahul Gandhi is or isn’t a decent chap — the point is that the luxury of his wholesomeness is, at least in part, a function of his privilege.


Conrad Barwa said...

Well, this isn't new though is it; Laloo and Mulayam had to varying degrees face this kind of snide commentary in the 90s. Mayawati seems to be playing it up though since this kind of attitude just reinforces the ressentiment the BSP is currently trying to inculcate amongst the lower middle Dalits and the urban migrants to displace them from class-based issues to ones of social status and symbolism.

Within 10 years press coverage of her will become relatively normalised as upper caste society will come to realise that all the petty bourgeosie amongst Dalits that the BSP really stands for just want a larger piece of the pie rather than any social revolution as such.

Anonymous said...

The English language media only reflects the attitudes of the English-speaking elite, of which I (and I guess most others reading this post) am (are) a part. I was once told that in Indian academia there is a "premium" for English fluency in that you can do well in your career if you are fluent in English even if otherwise mediocre. Indeed, some have made an entire career on this basis.

I think the point is true more generally; Madhu Kishwar, I remember, had an article about this division between those who are fluent in English and those who are not. One interesting point that she made was that many elites of an earlier generation (think Gandhi, Tagore but also many others) were fluent in both English and their own mother tongue; indeed, many like Gandhi wrote in both languages. Over the years, this changed but the reasons for this change are not clear to me. But I do think that this change happened after independence, not before - so blaming the British is out.

Have you ever looked at the books listed by the various people who are asked by many of the English language magazines/newspapers at the end of the year? You'd be hard-pressed to find any book in any non-English language.
Sorry, take that back: of course you can, provided that non-English language is French, German, Spanish etc.

Among English language newspapers, the only one which has a book review section on books in non-English languages (Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, Telugu) is The Hindu (on Tuesday) but the books selected and the reviews typically seem to be of poor quality. The rest don't even try.

gaddeswarup said...

"Have you ever looked at the books listed by the various people who are asked by many of the English language magazines/newspapers at the end of the year? You'd be hard-pressed to find any book in any non-English language."
The only Indian language I know is Telugu and I have been looking for books on history, sociology etc. through friends and visits. Unfortunately, the selection seems very meagre and they seem based on opinions and feelings rather than what are understood as reasonable methodolgies in the modern sense. Velcheru Narayana Rao said (in a private conversation) that during his visits he tries to have workshops on research methodologies but is discouraged by the progress so far. There are of course some exceptions (like P.V. Parabrahma Sastry) but so far I have not seen any history bookin Telugu comparable to Cynthia Talbot's book. I think that there is some change but one may have to depend for some more time on foreign language books and foreign inspired research in many areas.

But my background is in mathematics and it is only recently that I have been trying to study other areas and I may be mistaken.

Anonymous said...

Gaddeswarup garu,

I apologize for the delayed response and I am not sure you'll see it. But for what it's worth, here goes:

1. Even the Indian scholarship in English leaves much to be desired. What does it say of our educational system that the best work in Indian history or sociology or philosophy nowadays is done abroad? Even the few scholars producing outstanding work in India sooner or later migrate abroad, not so much for the money but because they find better intellectual stimulation abroad. [See for instance, the philosopher J. N. Mohanty's slim volume of memoirs "Between East and West" (Oxford University Press) and his remarks on why he left the University of Calcutta in 1970 to go to the USA.]

2. With regard to what are pejoratively referred to as "vernacular" languages, the situation is much worse because the best students stop learning the language at school. So, even the few people who do study the language after school are often very poor in quality. Is it any surprise that Prof. Narayana Rao [whose work I greatly admire, by the way, though I am myself Tamil] was unable to elicit much response to his course on research methods?

3. We - I mean the elite - seem to have accepted that "vernacular languages" should be used only for purposes like talking to one's "servants" but not as the vehicle of "thinking" or research. There was a remarkable anecdote I remember reading about the actress Soha Ali Khan who on being asked whether she used Hindi at all, replied "Of course, I use it to talk to my servant all the time!" Need more be said?

4. Even foreigners have complained about our neglect of scholarship in "vernacular" languages. See, for instance, the thoughts of the distinguished scholar Sheldon Pollock on his web page here:

The article I am referring to (published in The Hindu) is titled "The Real Classical Languages Debate"

I am sorry but the situation does not look very promising at least for the near future.

gaddeswarup said...

Many thanks for the detailed comments. I have been following topics outside mathematics only for five years or so and so my comments may be quite uninformed. This interest was sparked by roughly two events. One was the war in Iraq and I felt that I could not ignore the outside world any longer. Secondly, after about 50 years of professional life with most of the reading and communications in English, I suddenly started remembering Telugu songs that I have not heard for 40-50 years. I started following blogs and other sources both in English and Telugu. At first Telugu blogs and sites were disappointing with a lot of abuse and language that did not seem equipped to express difficult ideas and nuianced thought. Then suddenly lot of young people started blogging in Telugu and already the usage is much better than before and many topics from science to philosophy are discussed reasonably in some of the blogs. Internet and blogs seem to be making a lot of difference. I think that the situation may be better in languages like Tamil, Bengali, Urdu..
Secondly, I find many books are appearing published in India written by many living in India of high standard on like history, etymolgy.. Some are in English (like 'Comprehensive History and Culture of Andhra Pradesh') but there are also books and translations in Telugu. For example P.V. Parabrahma Satry's 'Kakatiyas' isrecently translated in to Telugu is a nice complement to Cynthia Talbot's book.
Some of these changes seem to be coming from the cumulative power of number of bright people using the new facilities rather than a few outstanding individuals. I have seen David Shulman's articles but I have also seen posts by some bloggers working in IT with detailed knowledge of vedas. So it may not be too long before more work with reasonable methodologies will emerge from the subcontinent.

I grew up in villages and when I visit India, I usually visit villages in coastal Andhra. There is a lot of awareness of global changes and contact with people in USA and Europe even in villages of this area.

Qalandar said...

Thanks for these comments, very interesting and useful discussion.

rks said...

That is one way of looking at it. But I think Mayawatis and Mulayams just want status quo. I don't see anything which is forward looking. Take for example, SP manifesto opposed the use of English and computers. What does this mean to a common man? English and computer are bad for society or they are bad for lower strata of people as it puts them in disadvantage? I don't think it can be argued that they are bad for common man. Yes it can be argued that people coming from rural background are at some disadvantage when competing with general population. This may allow them to get benefit at local level but nationally or internationally you can not compete.

The point is the views of this politicians are constricted and they have vision and thinking in terms of their constituency. I am not saying it is bad but ultimately it harms their constuituency, because general (common) people are socially and culturally ahead or on different plane.
Lalu has ruled Bihar for many years. But Bihar has remained poor or in some cases worse. I don't think anyone apart from Yadav's were empowered socially during that rule (It is other matter that Yadavs' were powerful before Lalu's rule[after Thakurs, Brahmins]).
Same could be argued aboout Mulayam and his rule in UP.

But if you take Chandra babu Naidu, even though his aspirations are regional, he is never talked in same breath as above people. Why? Because his vision and thinking are probably forward looking.

Even BJP and Congress have similar personalities. ex: Murli Manohar Joshi, Arjun Singh.

Anonymous said...

While *scholarship* in the vernacular languages may be suffering, the regional languages themselves are thriving. Two reasons: film and media. I remember when NDTV broke away from Star, its English-speaking newsreaders were also required to read Hindi news. And this was "shudhh" Hindi, not the garbage Hindi that came out of Zee news. The film industry has of course meant that certain regional languages are doing pretty well - Hindi, Tamil,etc. Disappearing, though, are the hundreds of beautiful dialects that feed into the "official" languages - like Maithili, etc. Although last year's "Welcome to Sajjanpur" by Shyam Benegal made dialect popular again.