The Hindu Lit for Life 2018 – Day 1

The Hindu newspaper has been organising a literary event in Chennai for last seven years. You can register and attend the event free of cost on first come first seating – in the past, I have tried to attend but had to come back due to the crowd. Today, I managed to reach a little early and attend all the morning talks. They were all informative, not entirely neutral, and got me adding in Goodreads a long list of books written by these renowned authors & their critics that I need to read.

(From left) Rajmohan Gandhi, G Sampath (Host), Gurmehar Kaur and Prof Arun Kumar

(From left) Rajmohan Gandhi, G Sampath (Host), Gurmehar Kaur and Prof Arun Kumar

THE CHANGING FACE OF INDIA: This panel discussion started with the host author G Sampath, setting the stage with his disapproval of Prime Minister Narendra Modi & his party’s ideologies. I respect Sampath‘s views, but I felt as the moderator, he could’ve delayed it for the other speakers to have got a chance to speak.

Gurmehar Kaur: Being tough for her, was the hatred and trolling online that she had to face. She spoke about her belief that University campuses should ensure freedom of expression which is a must for students and country’s development. Replying to a question, she said many youth leaders are now emerging in the country and not all of them are based on caste identities – she sees a positive trend.

Rajmohan Gandhi: The renowned historian, author and grandson of Mahatma Gandhi started with his observation that there has been a lot of announcements by the central government but no real job creation. Rejection of fundamental pillars of our constitution of ensuring equality, fraternity and liberty, is not to be encouraged. In India, we all have an opinion about our neighbours (especially if they are of a different ethnicity/religion/language/caste) but no knowledge about them. Answering a question that asked him to compare Gandhi, Bose, Patel & Others, he answered: “We need to live by appreciation, and, not by comparison – How proud we can be?”

Prof Arun Kumar: India is a land of contradictions. Ram Jethmalani in a talk is supposed to have said 50% of all Judges are corrupt. Due to globalization – more has become better – one vote/person has become dollar votes which makes my $1 million powerful than your $1. Technology creates a mist of the future. Singularity is coming and it is coming faster, by the time we realise we made mistakes it will be too late. We are all becoming homo-economicus. We are reducing everything to economics (and money) – politics and other disciplines don’t matter.

Prof Arun Kumar (on right) and N Ram (on left) in conversation with Rajiv Lochan (in centre)

Prof Arun Kumar (on right) and N Ram (on left) in conversation with Rajiv Lochan (in centre)

THE CORRUPT SOCIETY: Investigating Scams and Black Money

The Hindu N Ram:  He says corruption has now become omnipresent, has become normal in our society, and our political economy is the root cause as he is to have explained in his recent book. The news media has become suborn too.

He listed his nine points that can help in the cleaning up of corruption, which we shouldn’t wait any longer to do.

  1. Action on legislative – Lokpal act to be made effective & introduction of whistleblower protection act (it is good India is a signatory to the UN convention on this)
  2. Action on improving the lack/shortage of Police & Judges who need to investigate wrong-doing
  3. Legal improvements & Better Regulations (not abolition of regulations)
  4. Visibility (spotlight) on private and corporate misconduct
  5. Political funding reforms
  6. Handle Judicial delays of law, correct non-accountability
  7. Improve capabilities using technology like data mining to anticipate/predict wrongdoing and corruption
  8. Remember Kauṭilya’s (Chanakya) saying “that just like it is impossible to know when and how much water a fish drinks, it is utmost difficult to know how much money government officials steal away while in charge of it
  9. Political education

Finally, corruption (and its destructive effect) has to be put in its place – it is not the super powerful like it is claimed to be. For example, in Tamil Nadu corruption has become systematic (laugh) that it even has a book codifying it.

Prof Arun Kumar: There are common misconceptions about India’s black economy. The myths are:

  1. Black economy is small  – No, India’s black economy is equal to 62% of GDP
  2. Black is all kept as cash – Not true
  3. All black money is kept abroad – No, only 10% is outside India
  4. Real estate is the main source – No, it is not the generator, it is only used for circulation
  5. The black economy is beneficial, India escaped global recession due to the strength of black  – No. If this was true, then think of what this black economy could’ve done if it was done in white. India would’ve been re-rated as a developed country
  6. It contributes to Activity without productivity – No
  7. It is controls and regulations that create black money – No. It is the irregularity that’s the cause

There have been too many commissions of enquiry into corruptions in independent India, but nothing has resulted in anything materialist. The triade of political, business and executive has to be cleaned up. To start on the clean up – We need to bust the hawala houses (difficult, but doable), Banking to be transparent & Direct tax code to be introduced.

He is said to have elaborated on the above and more in his book – “Understanding the Black Economy and Black Money in India: An Enquiry into Causes, Consequences & Remedies“.

Rajmohan Gandhi in conversation with David Davidar (on left)

Rajmohan Gandhi in conversation with David Davidar (on left)


Rajmohan Gandhi says it is absolute bunkum that Nehru and Patel were opposed to each other, they may have had differences but they were a duumvirate with a common goal of Nation building. Sardar Patel had a Hindu heart but when it came to doing his duty he worked for all and without differences, he was not for a Hindu Rashtra.

Continuing Rajmohan Gandhi says India has a role, it’s 1.2 billion people have a role to play in keeping up equality, liberty & fraternity – not only within India but they have a larger role outside India too, for the world at large. They have a purpose. You can’t selectively use Mahatma Gandhi – this Government has him in Swach Bharat, reducing him to a sweeper (which Mahatma would’ve happily done), but at least once in a while you need to talk of his “Eswara Allah Tere Naam” as well. In Mahatma‘s last two years, he was reduced to working at the village level – in about 47 days he has stayed overnight at 47 different villages, listening to grievances from the localities and bridging/healing the communal divides wherever he walked. Mahatma’s stay in Calcutta did improve the divide there substantially and that’s been agreed by many researchers. Answering a question, Rajmohan Gandhi said you can’t simplify the personalities of the founding fathers to any one of their sayings or writings, for example, Maulana Azad’s book – India wins freedom was written much later from his memories and it doesn’t fully capture him or his true beliefs.

Rajmohan Gandhi is said to have elaborated on the above in his recent two books: Why Gandhi Still Matters? and Understanding the Founding Fathers.

 Suhasini Haider speaks with Taslima Nasrin

Suhasini Haider speaks with Taslima Nasrin


Taslima Nasrin: I couldn’t help admire this lady’s outspoken, calm and composed nature – she was not afraid a bit in speaking her mind out and didn’t get provoked a bit with the questions that were thrown at her.

She said, my father was secular, my mother was very religious, she wanted me to read and learn Quran in Arabic for which I asked her why shouldn’t I pray in Bengali, when Allah can understand everything, why not my prayers in Bengali?. My mother said my tongue will fall if I discredit Allah, to test it I went to my bathroom and shouted <a long pass> and nothing happened, and, that’s when I realised God doesn’t exist. The conflict is not between Hinduism and Islam in India, or between Christianity and Islam in the USA, or between Judaism and Islam in Israel – it is actually between freedom and oppression, between modernity and outdated.

Continuing she said, I have been speaking about Uniform Civil Code even when I was in Bangladesh – Hindu women there have no rights, no property rights and their husbands can marry any number of wives. I support UCC everywhere including in India, that doesn’t mean I support BJP here. It is surprising that Indian leftist not supporting me when I was attacked, but some of the rightists supporting me when in my whole life I have believed in left ideals and have written about them.

Answering a question she said everyone should have the right to offend others, why not?. I am for freedom of speech of everyone. Answering a question on “Who created you, if you don’t believe in God”, Nasrin said she doesn’t believe in God, she doesn’t pray, but she believes in science right from Big Bang theory and others.

[TNCV: Above points are from the notes I took, they are not verbatim nor complete and they don’t necessarily represent my views – my knowledge of the topics discussed are limited]

Bazaar outside the hall selling books

Bazaar outside the hall selling books

I left for lunch and was not able to attend rest of the day’s event. The Hindu LFL runs for two more days.

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