Saturday 21 May 2022
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India Begins The Beguine

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And now when I hear people curse the chance that was wasted

I know but too well what they mean….

— When they begin the beguine by Cole Porter

he Beguine is a ‘couples’ slow-dance’, and the unlikely metaphor here is in terms of a gradual, but not interminable, build-up towards general elections in 2019, and beyond. Is India moving on philosophically and democratically, but disgusted with their elected representatives, spurred-on by disillusionment, with near filmy and feudalistic interpretations of imported ideologies — of a constitutional intent subverted, of parliamentary procedure thrown overboard by a roomful of mostly boors?

Is it fed up of being taken for granted,  taken for a fool? Moving on towards something more homegrown, more willing to be accountable that it can call its own, as its self-image matures? Is the RSS, redressed in long trousers, less sinister and ridiculous than was assumed before, almost axiomatic now? Has it morphed in the public eye from anachronistic neo-fascism, into a patriotic, disciplined, honest, and benevolent force for the good? Can it, while challenging in a court of law the charge of being the killers of MK Gandhi, be banned again, even as the dim-witted Indian National Congress scion refuses to retract?

Fortunately more and more people, in these days of interactive social media, have realised that it was the long-ruling Nehru dynasty that killed much of the Gandhian legacy, replacing it with their own hagiography, haloing it with their belief of a divine right to rule. And it was this same Nehru dynasty that planted the seeds of many needless but seething conflicts, forced to be endured to this day.

But despite the body politic being long spoiled from the pampering of a destructive, neo-colonial kind, a new consensus has been built already. This is not entirely in favour of the once chai-wallah turned RSS pracharak turned CM and now PM because of some obscurantist fringe elements vitiating the atmosphere. But it is a consensus that is definitely against the pseudo-secularism cum faux socialism long relegated to the past.

Is the carping over the Supreme Court mandated, having to stand up for the National Anthem before movie shows, for example, a hollow bleat from yesterday men? Doesn’t the Left comprise people lost in denial and disbelief, like the supporters in America, long permitted and used to trashing everything patriotic here, in the name of modernity, tolerance and personal freedom? Are all of Macaulay’s half-baked and chi-chi children and their cousins of Marxist, Fabian, and Lohiaite extraction, who have collectively kept the masses of India miserably poor and backward, really headed for the dhalao now?

Do the post-independence, post 1991, far more discerning generations, regard the rootless internationalism of the INC essentially as traitorous? These constitute more than 65% of the population, many aged between 15 and 35, that form our vaunted demographic dividend. Resulting inadvertently, from our soft attempts at population control, after correcting the initial excesses.

China, simultaneously, was hard about it, and is changing into a country of old people, notwithstanding their recent reversal of policy. Demographic shifts take at least three decades.

The reactionary and old amongst the Indian Liberal-Left, harking back to self-serving interpretations of ‘The idea of India’, need to drop their hectoring and understand what the young people want now. These people have decisively voted for Narendra Modi and they, the present and future of India, are wanting to give him more time. Regarding much of the Congress-speak as sedition, these young voters are in resonance with the prevailing ethos around the world, grown disillusioned with making too free with core values of identity and inspiration.

People in the West, young and old, rich, poor, educated or not, are growing disillusioned after more than a half-century of broad world peace and from being pauperised by economic prescriptions, that have nevertheless failed.

Doesn’t the Left comprise people lost in denial and disbelief, like the supporters in America, long permitted and used to trashing everything patriotic here, in the name of modernity, tolerance and personal freedom?

Finally, politically taking on the Islamic angst that blames the nominally Christian West for its pain, asserting it to be errant nonsense. Why do Muslims, members of a hugely populous religion, refuse to reform its mediaeval tenets? Instead, sections within it have forced bloody outrages on the significant ‘other’. This other is inclusive of even those, amongst Muslims themselves, who have the temerity not to agree with this savagery.

Globally, there is a move towards the Right, not just in protest against these marauders, but towards nationalism in its various manifestations. This is what Communists and Left-Liberals are calling primaeval ‘irrationalism’ — a narrow and vicious close-mindedness, even a madness that they hope will pass. But, and it is an ironic moot point, where does the obsolescence truly lie? Is the intolerant ‘liberal’, frequently reduced to an electorally vanquished minority where people vote, or summarily pushed aside where they don’t, facing extinction?

Viewed from a macroscopic perspective, it has been a long run indeed, for the Liberals and Communists, a few recent centuries worth, as authoritarian and monarchical constructs unravelled in the face of the new egalitarianism. Today, however, it is widely felt that the Left-Liberal has bamboozled and lied for too long. So now, there will be no more putting upon people, without delivering the prosperity they promised!

The Left-Liberals won’t get another turn at the wheel, however, till, and if, the new Right fails too. Can their gravy-training hearts hold out for that long, or will they cravenly jump ship? Will the Right become an amalgam of former liberals, now turncoat, and the more extreme alt-right, going forward?

The flow of regional parties, and their oversized influence in national politics that rose and ebbed for the 3 decades that India saw no majority government at the Centre, seems to be firmly on the cards. If the NDA wins a majority at the Centre yet again in 2019, it might put paid to the mostly pernicious regional party influence in national affairs, more or less conclusively. With the reported dissensions and infighting, the breakaways, the lack of succession planning, and continuity in some of them; as a collective, they seem more likely to put up a poor challenge to Modi in 2019. This, irrespective of the fact that every initiative, or even the lack of it in some important instances of the NDA, has not always been a qualified success.

This piece, written while we are roiled by the demonetisation turmoil, with the GST roll-out and further necessary financial measures as yet uncertain, is here on the threshold of  2017. Not only has the private limited, me-and-my-extended-family on a tax-free jamboree, nature of the beast, grown tiresome to people, but the regional credibility is gone, too. No one believes that these entities are there to help their aspirations. They do not seem to follow any other than self-aggrandisement. It has turned off the voting public, after a long period of gaining nothing by believing in their false promises.

Adarsh politics is seen to be present today only in the much-maligned RSS — and their political offshoot, the ruling BJP — to some extent. The two among nominally national parties, namely the INC and the CPI(M), are mired in end-of-life contradictions, have shrunk in stature and control far less than some single state regional parties, who at least still hold tenuous sway in their own bailiwicks!

Meanwhile, it is the public in India, 30 months into this Modi administration, that has apparently begun the beguine, the slow couples’ dance, setting in motion an enormous juggernaut of change that will ostensibly not tolerate obstruction or attempts at reversal. When the dance is over,  there may be no more to be said about a viable opposition, because it would have killed itself with its own irresponsibility.

A single party democracy in India, to all intents and purposes, is what we had for the first 50 years, except that the shoe was on the other foot. Today, if India’s second chance rises to the occasion, it could well rival China’s growth of the 30 years between the 1980s and the first decade of the 21st century.

Cole Porter wrote the song ‘When they begin the beguine’ in 1935 on a Cunard cruise ship, travelling between Indonesia and Fiji. It celebrated a Caribbean dance form, mostly from Guadeloupe and Martinique, adapted from earlier French ballroom ideas to becoming a slow rhumba in the sun, involving a rolling of the hips. Porter’s song, on the B-side of a single, with its complex construction, took some time to become a hit. But when it did, it migrated the dance-form, though transformed, via various musical arrangements, into swing, tap-dance, and a very long list of standard balladeering.

The Beguine even has a further, cultural back-story. Beguines were women, in no-vows Christian communes, during the 13th to 16th centuries in northern Europe. The song and the dance Porter’s lilting song inspired travelled from ship to shore, firstly of course, to New York’s Broadway and then on to Hollywood. And later to Europe, particularly Paris. It was even a favourite of our own Meher Baba, who asked for it to be played 7 times at his funeral in 1969.

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Gautam Mukherjee
Gautam Mukherjee
Commentator on political and economic affairs

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