Atal Bihari Vajpayee (1924-2018)

 

 

A Brilliant Leader Who Understood Moderation

My Personal Tribute
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Atal Bihari Vajpayee was born in 1924. So was my father Jitendranath. They were both lifelong RSS and BJP’s political preachers — Vajpayee as a top leader, and my father as a totally un-ambitious foot soldier. They knew each other closely for many years. My father, until his death last year, always spoke affectionately about their years together.

He fondly told his life’s story. “We were walking together, and I said to the other swayamsevaks (volunteers) with us: ‘Look, we’re now walking with the future prime minister of India.’ And the humble man would retort, ‘Come on, Jitendra-ji, what are you talking about?’ In Hindi, आरे भाई जीतेन्द्रजी, यह आप क्या बात कर रहें हैं? And we would laugh together.”

That was a day when it was unthinkable that far right RSS, its first political offshoot Jan Sangh (later renamed as BJP), and their men would ever become the thumping-majority ruling party in India. That the mighty Gandhi-Nehru Dynasty would nearly disappear. But Nostradamus (or Varāhamihira) he was not, my father’s prediction came true. In late 90’s, Vajpayee became India’s prime minister. And far right RSS and BJP were accepted as a normalized voice. People forgot about their dark, dangerous, KKK-like past. And it had a lot to do with Vajpayee, and his reasoned voice of moderation.

Leaders like Vajpayee knew that in India, you can’t run the country, and hold it together, unless you are inclusive and respectful to all religions, castes, and genders. Truly, like my father I’ve seen evolving into a mellowed, moderated voice, Atal Bihari Vajpayee became a sane, kind face — whom the Indian people, regardless of their politics, loved.

The present-day RSS, BJP, and their many powerful, well-funded organizations around India and overseas would not learn from Vajpayee’s moderation, or his personal integrity and sacrifice. Today’s right wing in India is rather strikingly similar to Trump’s right wing here in America. They thrive on violence, bigotry, fear-mongering, and hate. This BJP and its leaders cannot imagine, and would not imagine, how men like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Jitendranath Banerjee lived their lives — totally free of greed, lies, and corruption.

Yes, they were both lifelong believers of Hindu fundamentalism, if not in Hindu supremacy. They were strong, ardent followers of RSS ideologue Guru Golwalkar, who once championed Hitler. Over my 15+ intimate years with RSS, I have seen them very closely: they were fiercely anti-Islam, anti-Christianity, and anti-socialism. In my book “In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India — An Insider’s Story” (1998), I have detailed and analyzed their social, political, and economic theories.

Islam, Christianity, and socialism — these have always been the Sangh Family’s (RSS’) three worst evils.

Vajpayee and Jitendranath were both militants in their early years: Vajpayee’s speeches were fiery, extremely eloquent, and often incendiary. He allegedly incited communal riots — in Assam and other places.

My father in his early years was also a top-notch speaker, a grassroots organizer who left his brilliant student career, and left home to preach his socio-political doctrine. He suffered greatly because of his non-completion of education, coupled with wrath he earned from the Gandhi Dynasty and their Congress government. My father was a diehard Hindu KKK, before he came to Bengal, knew my mother, and married into a family that was a symbol of love, kindness, inclusion, and secularism. He slowly but surely, steadily changed.

His early years, in his own words, were full of animosity against personalities like Gandhi and Tagore. His later years were love and respect for the great poet. Bengal’s soil, rain, and love converted him into a moderate man…well, sort of.

And I am being totally open and honest here. This has a lot to do with my tribute for Vajpayee today.

My mother, I, and our family never knew what economic stability was. But, as with most of the former RSS activists who lived for their patriotism, my father never complained about his hardship. Money was never a reason for him to live.

Both spent a few years in jail and exile, after RSS volunteer Nathuram Godse killed Mahatma Gandhi, and the organization was banned. Both lived up to their deep faith and ideology, built around their personal integrity, sacrifice, and honesty.

I have forever quit RSS and their extremist, supremacist, bigoted doctrine (my old friends admonish me that I am the worst-possible fool: had I not quit, I would now have become an elected parliament member in India).

My tribute to Atal Bihari Vajpayee today is about the man, his mission, and his unflinching faith for what he had believed in. In a way, it’s also a personal tribute to my father. Unlike the hard left and elite center, who would automatically reject the conservatives, I have a lot of respect and acceptance for them.

But my acceptance is only for the moderates like Vajpayee and his school. I would never have anything positive about today’s extremely hateful and violent RSS and BJP leaders and followers who are destroying the social fabric of India.

I truly wish there were more conservative leaders like Vajpayee. Today’s India cries out for them.

I deeply mourn the loss of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

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Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

The Beef-Eating Controversy in India

beef 1Where is the real problem?

Many noted intellectuals, authors and film makers have returned their national awards to the government, to protest the communal and religious intolerance that has resurfaced in India.

It is true that India’s BJP government is run by people, many of whom are anti-Muslim and anti-socialism (and very capitalist), and they have had their lifelong allegiance to RSS, Hindu fundamentalist organization (where I also began my political and organizing life — I have written a book about them, since quitting). Prime minister Modi, finance minister Arun Jaitley, and cultural affairs minister Mahesh Sharma are three examples. Jaitley and Sharma are also former ABVP leaders (RSS’ student wing, where I was the state secretary of West Bengal).

Prime Minister Modi praying at RSS meeting. U.S. once revoked his visa, but that was before he became a friend of Obama, Clinton, and Wall Street.
Prime Minister Modi praying at RSS meeting. U.S. once revoked his visa, but that was before he became a friend of Obama, Clinton, and Wall Street.

I have written and talked so much against their Tea Party or Christian Coalition-type politics over the years that I do not need anybody’s permission to do it anymore.

However, as much as I despise and condemn their fascistic ugliness, including killing of free thinkers and progressive human rights activists, I can’t help but pointing out the fallacy in these “Beef Protests.” First, even though BJP/RSS is largely a bunch of bigots, and Shiv Sena in Bombay is a xxx-variety (allegedly created by CIA), the so-called liberal Congress’ hands are also blood-stained. They have fomented communal and caste violence across India, to win elections and keep in power. Congress thugs killed thousands of innocent Sikhs in 1984.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, Islamic extremists’ anti-Hindu, anti-intellectual violence has been going on for decades, with no international outcry. And in India, because of its enormous, unprecedented, open, voluntary slave market, USA, Obama and Clinton are not saying a word to stop either the beef violence or violence on women — both of which are now rampant.

Basically, politically marginalized, corrupt Congress and irrelevant left parties are desperately fishing out of troubled waters to return to power.

Free thinker and blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in Bangladesh by Jamat Islami. His wife was gravely wounded.
Free thinker and blogger Avijit Roy was murdered in Bangladesh by Jamat Islami. His wife was gravely wounded.

I am totally against any violence, bigotry and racism — anywhere in the world. But I do believe, the real focus of the protests must be on the economic issues, because U.S. powers, IMF, World Bank and the global 1% are completely colonizing India and destroying the Third World democracies, beyond recognition.

It is a massive neo-colonization, and it is silent and bloodless.

They have found BJP and Modi as their ally in India, and if in the next elections, some Congress-led coalition throws BJP out of power, the same economic destruction and neoliberal colonization will continue.

The 1984 Sikh massacre by Congress party thugs is still raw wound for many.
The 1984 Sikh massacre by Congress party thugs is still raw wound for many.

Congress, since the CIA-led dismantling of India’s socialistic governance and killing of Indira Gandhi, has embraced global corporations and IMF, and the result has been disastrous for the poor — one billion Indians. Labor unions were killed off. Environmental movements were crushed. Voices of dissent were murdered. Monsanto farmers are committing suicide, and cricket players and Bollywood stars are not paying taxes.

Politics in South Asia now is ONLY about making money, using cycles of voting. Black money — unaccounted for billions — rules. Unthinkable in the land of Gandhi and Tagore!

Liberal intellectuals protesting now, many of whom are affluent, do not want to come out against the economic colonization, corruption, and new slavery. They only speak out when their safety is in question.

I must give credit to the left parties who have rallied around the economic demands, but I do not believe only the left have any power to put together a meaningful resistance. They have NOT evolved, and embraced the new, global reality.

In fact, I do not believe in the left-right divide in the first place. Only a broad coalition and bridge building across the 99% — of moderate left and right — can make any serious changes in the political and economic landscape.

Beef protests by the elite, including film stars and such famous personalities, are hollow, meaningless, and often hypocritical. Protests must be at the roots of the catastrophic economic destruction.

Thanks for listening.

Sincerely,

Partha Banerjee

Brooklyn, New York

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Hundreds of thousands of farmers are committing suicide in India because of Monsanto and their collusion with the Indian powers. Unprecedented in human history!
Hundreds of thousands of farmers are committing suicide in India because of Monsanto and their collusion with the Indian powers. Unprecedented in human history!

A Candid Confession

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Recently, a few special friends have asked me, am I slowly returning to BJP?

These are longtime friends. They all know that I was deeply involved with RSS and BJP, was once the West Bengal province secretary of RSS’ student wing Vidyarthi Parishad, worked as an underground grassroots organizer during the anti-Indira Gandhi anti-emergency rule, earned reputation as an organizer, and finally came out of RSS and BJP because of ideological disillusionment.

These friends all know that I then wrote a book called In the Belly of the Beast: Hindu Supremacist RSS and BJP of India — An Insider’s Story, based on my many years of active involvement with them, and the book got some notoriety. Courtesy this book, I was invited by various organizations in USA, India and Great Britain to speak and write about the politics and philosophy of BJP-RSS.

Some of these friends have mildly admonished me. And then, some others gave up on me, unfriended me, and are spreading the news that it’s now just a matter of time before I returned to my “old home” RSS. This second group of friends are a little too far on the left. A few of them have found my recent, post-election commentaries on BJP and RSS as soft and indulging. According to them, the “progressive and Marxist” stance they found in the post-In the Belly of the Beast me has now all but disappeared. Since my father Jitendra Nath Banerjee is still alive, and keeping touch with old-time RSS and erstwhile Jan Sangh leaders, these friends believe that with his recommendations, these leaders who have known me since my childhood would eventually forgive me for my straying off the RSS path, and rehabilitate me.

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In fact, if I wanted it, they actually could. My father happens to be well known to big personalities like Atal Bihari Vajpayee and L. K. Advani; in fact, they were old RSS colleagues. Top RSS and Jan Sangh leaders would frequently visit our Calcutta home, and some of them have kept me in their minds. Every time I went to India for a visit, they would call. They don’t do it much these days.

Now, a couple of words about myself. One of the big similarities between me and father is that we’d never ask for anybody’s recommendation for personal benefits, no matter if we died out of starvation. Had I believed in the usual Indian way of insider recommendations, I would take advantage of it long ago after I worked as a professor in a remote, Sundarbans Delta college, to get a transfer to a Calcutta college, with help from ruling CPI(M) — Marxist Communist Party — leaders whom I came to know at that time. I did not go that route. Rather, I decided to chart the course of my life on my own, and in the absence of any other way, decided to quit my professor’s job, and leave a very familiar and cherished society and surrounding in India — as a prince (professor with a good salary) turned pauper — to come to USA as a penniless student. I’ve written about it in various places; there is no reason to repeat it here.

The thing I do want to talk about now is this. After having been in biology for twenty-five years, going through difficult hoops, I decided to quit science and go back to school at the age of forty: to fulfill my life’s mission to work in human rights and social justice. I can swear that 99% of new immigrants of my type with a humble background would never take such a risk. I did. Then, after graduating from Columbia University Journalism School, I started a new, money-less career with a huge loan on my head. I began working to protect the lives and dignity of Muslim, Sikh and other immigrants during the post-9/11 hate crime and persecution days. The lessons I learned during my fifteen years of RSS and Vidyarthi Parishad days all came in handy. Different ideology, but similar grassroots mobilization. With a similar, high enthusiasm and zeal to stand up against the wrong committed against the vulnerable.

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I don’t want to brag too much about it, but my colleagues and friends who saw me working those days could attest to the amount of time and energy I spent. To work with the many, about-to-be-deported, innocent Muslim Bangladeshi and Pakistani immigrants with no papers. To visit poor immigrants in jails, including a number of visits to the notorious Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey. To visit family members of detained or deported Muslim immigrants. Visit family of a Belarusian immigrant killed in a hate crime. Visit Sikh immigrants after they’ve been beaten by racist men on the street. Work with poor but bright Latino and Bangladesh students on DREAM Act. Immigration reform work. Work with peace groups. There are so many names of immigrants and activists that come to my mind; you can ask my then-colleagues about some of these names. I’m blessed to have worked with them.

When New York Civil Liberties Union brought a high-profile lawsuit to challenge the unconstitutional NYPD subway bag search after 9/11, I was the only immigrant member out of the five-member plaintiff team. I took a lot of risk to expose myself to that potentially dangerous lawsuit and its aftermath, because I thought it was the right thing to do. I have always done it in my life: taking risks to put myself and my family in danger. I’ve done it in India, and I’ve done it all these years here in the U.S. I got this quality from my RSS-father. I gave up on his ideology, but did not give up on the justice and rights lessons he taught me.

Now I work as a labor educator. I teach global economics, media, diversity, writing and such subjects — all from an equality and justice points of view — to seasoned, American labor leaders and young apprentices alike who belong to various labor unions. I feel humble, but I also feel proud to sometimes wonder what point I’ve come to in one life, and that too, from where. People who see me after a long gap look at me with total disbelief.

I haven’t studied much, and my inspiration, therefore, are old-time poets and philosophers and social reformers: Rabindranath Tagore, Swami Vivekananda, Raja Ram Mohan Ray, Vidyasagar. Maybe, a little of MLK and Nelson Mandela. I espouse bridge building across the moderate left and right working class people and families. I know this is where the strength of the 99% is. I know this is the right thing for us all to do.

I don’t need to justify to anyone what I am doing. Deep in my heart, I know the difference between the right and the wrong.

I am not truly a huge believer in God. My conscience is my god.

Sincerely Yours,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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India Elections Going Egypt Way

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An important series of state elections is happening is India today, and people are rejecting a corrupt and tyrant, “liberal” Congress Party.

People are overwhelmingly voting for a conservative, right-wing BJP. In Delhi, the capital of India, an anti-corruption third party got a third of the seats.

The election results remind us of what we’ve seen in Egypt recently. The election results also remind us that just like they reacted in Egypt, U.S. government and corporations, IMF and other Western superpowers are not going to like the outcome.

I do not support BJP and their feudal-patriarchal doctrine. I have written a whole book about their politics of bigotry and hate (you can click here to know more). I have no illusion about them.

But I strongly believe that this is peoples’ verdict in India — against an extremely corrupt, violent, inefficient and fake-liberal Gandhi Dynasty and their Congress Party.

I have written before on this blog how this corrupt dynasty with their extreme zeal to remain in power has sold India out to Western powers, just the same way Mir Jafar and feudal, Muslim and Hindu rulers had sold India out to East Indian Company and British colonizing powers two centuries ago. I have shown how history is repeating itself in India.

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India is now going the Egypt way. We may not like it, but the so-called centrist-elite liberal one percent in both countries have destroyed their economies, sold out to Western economic and political powers and their domestic hatchet men, and in the name of democracy, have looted all the wealth, creating unthinkable inequality. They have permanently destabilized the social fabric of both countries in the name of progress and prosperity. They have undermined and ridiculed traditions and mores that the ordinary Indians and Egyptians believe in, and unprecedented social vices have spread across the countries like cancer. Most importantly, for the ordinary people, prices of essential items such as food, oil, education and health care have gone through the roofs, thanks to a rampant, out-of-control IMF privatization of the economy.

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The ordinary, working people — men, women and families — are reacting back with the only weapon they have: their vote. This is their 99 percent moment.

It is a revolution. We the educated, modern, progressive and liberal may not like the huge tilt back to the right. The left in both India and Egypt are angry. But this is really how it is shaping up.

U.S., IMF, World Bank and Western superpowers have quickly destroyed the historic, Tahrir Square revolution.

I have a feeling they’re going to play a similar game in India, in the next few months. National elections are probably going to be held in March. Between now and then, billions of dollars will play underground in Indian politics, to manipulate the so-called democracy. Politics will be like a mega casino, just like Indian cricket, and even bigger.

I am warning, in my small way, against such massive manipulations.

I may not support BJP. But I do support the Indian  99 percent who are now electing BJP.

They have no other way right now. This is how the ordinary men, women and families are coming together — against lies, corruption and violence.

This is their Second Circle moment.

Still Believing in Peoples’ Power,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

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P.S. — Watch out for a rapidly-rising Aam Admi Party (AAP, or common peoples’ party). Is it a real phenomenon against corruption? Or, is it a platform financed by dubious sources?

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