The intellectual dishonesty of India’s pseudo secularists

By Dev Nadkarni

India’s pseudo secular brigade is at it again. Artist M. F. Husain’s decision to accept citizenship from the Middle Eastern state of Qatar and live there has them raving and ranting against the Hindu majority, blaming it squarely for forcing him out of the country.

It beggars belief that these left leaning so called liberals can’t see the fact that it is the tradition of tolerance that is deeply embedded in Indian culture that gives them the very voice they use to criticise everything innately Indian, such as Hindu culture and social mores, with such impunity that borders on intellectual dishonesty and complete disrespect for the very milieu that has shaped them.

Husain is undoubtedly a well-recognised artist whose works command hundreds of thousands of dollars on the international art circuit. As much as his mastery over his craft and technique, he has built his success by regularly resorting to antics to stay in the news to raise his profile.

He has over the years put to great use the simple but clever philosophy ever so often relied on by the public relations outfits which advice Hollywood celebrities: all news – good or bad – is great so long as it polarizes people and keeps the issue in the media and the subject in the limelight. Eventually, it does great things for personal brand value. Hollywood examples of this are legion.

Husain has routinely courted controversy throughout his career by doing things out of the ordinary with the nous and elan of a marketing genius. Many years ago he decided never to use footwear and famously squatted outside a well-heeled club in Mumbai, after being refused entry because he did not have footwear on – a requirement according to the club’s rules.

That simple but brilliant act catapulted him to the front pages and he has time and again used stunts like these, without doubt to preserve and increase his brand value.

His decision many years ago to turn to painting Hindu goddesses in the nude that helped him raise his profile in the international media no end is therefore open to interpretation as more a gimmick than an expression of his art, as his pseudo secular defendants would rather have us believe.

He craftily used the inherently high sense of tolerance in the Indian psyche to embark on this path and exploited the understandably outraged reaction of a small fringe of vocal opposition to paint the majority of the country as intolerant and with no appreciation of his art. Which was gleefully seconded and amplified across the world by the intellectually dishonest pseudo secular brigade.

These people have come out in his defence saying Hindu goddesses have been traditionally depicted in the nude and so Husain has not done anything different or offensive. Although it is true that goddesses have been depicted in the nude, there always has been a mythological and ritual context for it.

Besides, these works of art and architecture mostly seen in ancient temple sculptures have been made for the purpose of worship. And most importantly, all of them have been created by legions of humble, nameless artists and craftsmen for whom their work alone was worship – not means to put their individual signatures below to hawk off at fancy dollar prices trudging the world’s art markets on their bare feet.

As for the question of context and relevance, not all goddesses are depicted in the nude traditionally – something that Husain has done and which his cronies justify citing tradition.

Husain’s contention and that of his enthusiastic followers that he has only followed the ancient tradition in depicting goddesses the way he has done rings hollow for yet another reason.

He is once said to have painted Adolf Hitler in the nude and by way of explanation said that he did it because he wanted to humiliate him for his deeds. He has also used nudity in chosen subjects to make such symbolic statements in his other work. Undoubtedly he is a master marketer and his supporters, in all their leftist pseudo liberal ideals, fail to see that their naivete has been brilliantly exploited by his foxy strategy.

In the same week that the Husain-Qatar brouhaha broke out, some cities in the state of Karnataka were ravaged by violence because exiled Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen – who lives in India under government protection because her life is threatened by fundamentalists in her own country – made comments on the traditional attire of South Asian Muslim women.

She was verbally attacked by extremist elements in the media almost leading her to deny the statement she made and offering the usual explanation of being misquoted and misread.

What happened then to the great champions of creative freedom who sprang to the aid of Husain? Why did none of them have the gumption to speak on behalf of Nasreen and her creative right to speak her mind? Where were they hiding?

Also, where were these votaries of the much-cherished freedom of creative expression hiding when the Indian government banned Salman Rushdie’s book that sent him into similar self-exile for over a decade? Of course, you couldn’t in a million years expect to hear even a whisper from them on the Danish cartoons.

And around the same time earlier this month books depicting Jesus Christ with alcohol and cigarettes created a stir in the media in the North Eastern states, forcing the government to swoop down and seize the offending material. That was rightly seen as mischievous and hurtful.

Amazingly, Husain’s nude depictions of Indian goddesses is pure art, his acolytes expect everyone to believe.

Their blatant ambivalence and deafening silence on such matters that are outside the ambit of the easy to bash Hindu majority clearly expose them through their diaphanous veil of pseudo liberalism.

These people are unable to acknowledge that it is this age-old sense of tolerance that is hardwired into larger Hindu thought that gives them their voice, which unfortunately they use exclusively against itself but it is their skewed sense of political correctness fostered by their western education and mores that terrifies them from using the same yardstick to creative people’s stand on matters outside the comfort zone of Hindu tradition.

There is a saying in Hindi that describes such attitudes succinctly, “Jis thali mein khate hain, usi mein thookktein hain,” which translates as “spitting back in the same plate that you are eating from.”

First appeared in Indian Weekender, March 2010

Call the climate bluff once for all

By Dev Nadkarni

How well life imitates art.

When one of my favourite novelists, Michael Crichton (who died last year), wrote about how a group of influential climate scientists and diehard environmentalists in collusion with big firms involved in mega funded climate change projects hired experts to detonate explosives to set tsunamis in motion to prove their point just as a major global conference on the subject gets under way, I thought it was a bit over the top – even for a work of fiction by someone like Crichton.

In 2004, as I read State of fear, a novel based on the politics of global warming (and a fair bit of which is set in the South Pacific island nations), I was nagged by a sense of disbelief: I like works of fiction to be in the realm of the plausible. Fiction based on real life – not pure fantasy.

People of science going to such lengths in the novel seemed fantasy to me for in my rather naïve worldview; scientists are among the most trustworthy humans. True, all generalisations (including this one) are humbug but that’s the way I’ve always believed all scientists are: honest in their beliefs and true to their work.

But the weeks since Copenhagen have proved Michael Crichton right (and exposed my naivety): like everywhere else in life, there are exceptions among scientists too.

The bollocking for the global warming acolytes in the scientific establishment began with the leaked emails of the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). The missives eloquently told a sordid story of hostility to climate scientists with an opposite view that went against the view they were advancing, as also manipulations of documentation, distortions and data doctoring, not to speak of disparaging email messages.

The imbroglio is now a subject of investigations and one of the main scientists has had to shamefacedly step down. He has since been reported telling BBC that in the past 15 years there has not statistically been “any significant” global warming, though he said he personally believed the world was warming.

And this organisation – the CRU – happens to be one of the main sources, which the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) bases its science on.

In the following weeks, it got worse for the global warming fundamentalists. British newspapers reported that one of IPCC’s key findings on melting glaciers “may have been simply taken from a press interview with an obscure Indian scientist.” Based on such a flimsy premise, the IPCC had made a prediction that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035.

It was later found that the scientist quoted in the interview had expressed his opinion only as a surmise. He was untraceable when reporters tried to contact him.

In the wake of this Himalayan glaciergate, the Indian government’s environment minister Jairam Ramesh told the media, “We should not depend only on reports from the UN body.  Its fault was that it didn’t do original research and derives assessments from published literature.”

The Indian government has now set up the National Institute of Himalayan Glaciology to undertake its own research. This is bad news for the IPCC, which is now increasingly under the scanner (including reports that its chief drives a gas guzzler for city driving).

Like the University of East Anglia, the IPCC also uses NASA’s research, which, too, has come under scrutiny in recent times. When NASA scientists discovered errors in their logs and corrected them, the findings showed 1934 as the warmest year (instead of 1998, which was previously touted as the warmest) and 1921 was found to have been the third warmest in the past century. So, there were warmer years long before jets and big smokestacks filled the skies with their carbon-spewing activity.

It boggles the mind to think that it is such carelessly collated data, sometimes unabashedly fudged by vested interests and erroneous observations by scientific institutions that pour scorn on anyone who legitimately challenges them, that played a large part in shaping Kyoto and Copenhagen. And of course, went a long way in making US$ 100 million for Al Gore’s documentary.

What an inconvenient truth.

Such questionable observations and ‘findings’ by the pliable scientific establishment ably aided by the ever willing handmaiden that is the global instant media has driven governments, economists, lawyers and accountants to conjure up complex trading regimes such as cap-and-trade in the interests of a chimerical greener world that exists only in certain kinds of computer modeling techniques.

Ultimately, it is the mums and dads of the world who will fork out these costs – whether they understand their basic premise and how they are calculated and believe they are justified or not (surveys in Australia as also in several other developed countries show a majority of the people do not understand what carbon trading is and how its mechanism works. It is today a major issue confronting the Australia today).

The fad like phenomenon of food miles and carbon footprint, though extremely pretty and ennobling as concepts but based on the same faulty science, could actually prove counterproductive in the medium term, as a German speaker at a conference on tourism investment in Samoa demonstrated last month.

If people worried too much about their carbon footprint and stopped travelling to a faraway island nation that depends on tourism for revenue, sooner rather than later, the islanders will be forced to leverage their natural resources by resorting to deforestation, logging and the like – causing even worse and immediate environmental degradation than the damage caused by jet fuel if people travelled there.

Happily, at the same conference we also heard that climate change and sea level rise hadn’t yet touched the consciousness of the global investment community in a manner that deterred them from seriously considering investing in the poor, sinking Pacific Islands. This is indeed good news for the economy of the islands that can at least look forward to some forthcoming investment, not having to contend with scared investors touting sea level rise as their latest reason not to invest in the islands.

To say all this is not at all to deny climate change. That climate change is happening is beyond any doubt. No one has better experiential knowledge of it than the people of the islands, especially of the atolls. It’s a reality that stares them in their faces – and they can do without the spin of the alarmists whose extremism can do more harm than good.

What we need is a method in this environmental madness; not zealotry based on questionable science but a modicum of honesty and a willingness to deal with the problem at the local ecosystem level as much as at a global level. It is for honest and right thinking people to make that happen. We need to get real in the real interests of the planet, not the beliefs in our untested, imagined and many times fanciful theories.

Going back to Crichton’s fictional scientists who created a tsunami to prove their point and ensure continued funding, I wonder if global warming extremists secretly believe it was the climate skeptics who conspired to dump snow like never before in a 100 years on Copenhagen and Europe as the big jamboree unfolded there. That same scenario has been played out across the United States and Canada in subsequent weeks and months.

First appeared in Islands Business, March 2010