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‘Corporates Influence Governments’

Prof. Wilfried Swenden is Professor of South Asian and Comparative Politics and Deputy head of Politics and International Relations, School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh. He is internationally recognised for his studies in the realm of federalism and his research interests includes comparative federalism and territorial politics, intergovernmental relations in multi-level states and centre state relations in India and Indian party politics.

Prof. Wilfried, who hails from Belgium where he completed his D. Phil (University of Oxford) followed by a Post – Doctoral fellowship at Leuven, funded by the Flemish Fund of Scientific Research. Asian Lite’s Abhish K. Bose meets Prof. Wilfried

ABHISH K BOSE:   What is your take on Indian federalism vis-a-vis American federalism?

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: I would not say a priori that US federalism is stronger today than say a century ago (in fact with the expansion of the welfare state, the size and powers of the US centre have increased significantly). However, states have more secure powers under the US constitution which is very hard to amend. Citizens of the US also accept that state governments should have strong fiscal autonomy and no guarantee of a federal bail-out if they default on their fiscal responsibilities. In India, states lack that autonomy but that also makes them more vulnerable to federal incursions which are often open to political discretion (such as in the allocation of CSS to states aligned with the government policy and political preferences).     


 ABHISH K BOSE: Do you think that reinforcing political and cultural regionalism is the solution for this? Doesn’t this weaken the ‘oneness of spirit’ that a dynamic nation must cultivate?

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: There can be no federalism without federal spirit. It is one thing for the BJP to say this, but this does not mean that it is true (e.g Canada is a performant federation despite the comparatively strong position of its provinces, or the US given the role of the states) or that voters will buy into this narrative. Only if they continue to vote BJP governments into federal and nearly of the states this may become closer to reality. Federations work on the basis of solidarity (the oneness of spirit you refer to) and autonomy. This autonomy entails that states and regions have the freedom to exercise autonomy within their domain and to vote for the parties and leaders of their choice. To impose unity on a society that is highly diverse on the basis of region, language, caste and religion is counter-productive and can in the long term generate support for secessionist movements or political violence. That being said, I have been somewhat surprised by the willingness of the Indian voters and even some of the regional parties to buy into the BJP narrative. Perhaps parties do so because they feel that their options are curtailed if they take a stance more clearly against the central government, but what compels voters to believe the same? Even before 2014, some surveys (LIKNITI, World Values Survey) show strong support in India for a strong national leader and rising support for a majoritarian understanding of democracy. Both of these sit uncomfortably with the federal spirit and certainly with the understanding of India as a liberal democracy in which the rights of minorities must be constitutionally protected.

 ABHISH K BOSE: Do you see the federal structure of India is changing?

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: There is definitely an erosion of the federal principle at play in India at the moment, even though in these circumstances it is useful to remind ourselves of the fact that given the size and diversity of India, there will remain room for state and local autonomy, particularly in fields which are in the exclusive state list and in which the current centre has shown limited interest to interfere. The presence of a minority government and/or coalition government until 2014 and for most of the time since 1989 provided an important political safeguard against the centralisation of the Indian polity, something which can be easily accomplished given the rather centralised features of the Indian constitution.     


 ABHISH K BOSE: Article 365 of the Indian Constitution is perceived to have harmful ramifications vis-a-vis its implementation. The Union government, under the Congress regime, first invoked this provision for dismissing the EMS-led, left government in 1959. This was followed by other such dismissals. Can this provision be retained without violating the spirit of federalism enshrined in the constitution? If yes, what are the further safeguards to be put in place?   

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: Although you are correct in your earlier assessment that the Supreme Court has not been an important safeguard of federalism since 2014, it has held on to its reading of the President’s Rule since the Bommai judgement and in Modi’s first term in office struck down the unconstitutional application of public-relations, even forcing ousted Congress governments to be reinstated. President’s Rule may have a role to play, but only if it is used in the constitutionally intended way: when there is a breakdown of law and order at the state level or indeed where a government loses its majority in the assembly without a possible alternative. Arguably, India could move towards constitutionalizing a constructive motion of confidence as an instrument to achieve the latter as already practised across several parliamentary majorities. The absence of an alternative majority could then lead to fresh elections being called within a prescribed time period. One may question the need for President’s Rule in circumstances such as these.       

ABHISH K BOSE: With the onset of globalisation the corporate groups using powerful central governments, led by leaders who have sizeable backing to pursue their business interests is a new phenomenon, which works often to the detriment of public interests. State governments are powerless to resist both the political and pecuniary power of giant corporations. What is the peril that this process holds out to the feasibility of federalism in India?   

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: There is a clear nexus between power and leading business corporations, but it is also possible to imagine that nexus operates at the subnational level. Corporations have often pushed centralisation on efficiency grounds, e.g. the adoption of a GST as a means to ‘integrate’ the Indian market. It is even possible that corporates seek access to state government rather than the central government when the latter is controlled by parties who are keen on implementing more redistributive reforms (hence the nexus with BJP in Gujarat whilst UPA I engaged in more socially corrective policies). I would also argue that in India the tie between business and politics is a partial reflection of the opaque way in which parties are financed and of the continued power politicians hold, for instance in issuing environmental clearances or endorsing land development licenses. The people (through social movements and as voters) can play an important check in this regard, as evidenced by the eventual retraction of the farmer’s laws. Ultimately the spirt of federalism hinges not just on the constitutional and institutional fabric but also on the extent to which it is imbued by voters at large. What is perhaps striking is the lack of resistance from below to the centralization of the Indian polity in the last few years, even from quarters where it may be more expected (e.g. the citizens in the North-Eastern states)  

ABHISH K BOSE: The flexibility of Indian federalism tends to favour the centralising tendencies of the State. The abuse of various central investigating agencies –the NIA, CBI, the ED, the IT department, etc., aggravates this danger. This also threatens the survival of opposition parties, the plight of the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra being a recent and eloquent illustration of this.   Should checks and balances be mutual instead of one-sided so as to bear the spirit of the principles of federalism?  What can India learn from the American model of federalism in this respect?  

PROF. WILFRIED SWENDEN: These institutions should operate at the arm’s length of the political executive. Just as many countries have realised that it is in their interest, if central banks have independence in formulating monetary policy, so too these enforcement and regulatory agencies should be able to operate more independently. Recent practices (but also observed during earlier periods of one-party dominance) question the separation of powers, a principle that is more embedded in the American constitutional system (even though here the practice is one of separation of institutions ‘sharing powers’ e.g. the political executive appoints many of the judges (including Supreme Court), so these branches never operate in isolation.

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SPECIAL: India’s Cultural Influence on 19th Century German Intelligentsia   

The Hindu text of Bhagavadgitaa component of (Mahabharata 3000 BCE) has become one of the most prominent and well known expression of Hindu thought and belief and the foreign land that encountered Gitawas none other than Germany, where it originally appeared in the last phase of eighteenth century when Germany was undergoing transformation of the so called the Romantic Period and thus, 19th century produced some of the greatest artists like Beethoven, Goethe, Schiller and Wagner … A special report by Dilip Roy

This was also the period when strongest influence was felt on prominent intellectuals of the time such as Paul Deussen, Herder, Holtzmann, Humboldt, Max-Muller, Novalis, Schelling, Friedrich von  Schlegel and Arthur Schopenhauer to name but a few. The two names are very crucial here.

The thought of Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was a key influence on the development of Romanticism and German Idealism. Herder was a poet a philosopher of culture and history. He was attracted to the new discipline of Indology. For Herder India was the (cradle) of civilization of absolute unity of the basis of all things. Herder revisited Indian sources time and again to capture as a part of his wide-ranging effort to understand the world history as a whole. Among the numerous writings on India we find translations of Bhagavadgitapublished in 1792 which constitutes the first appearance of the text in German intellectual circles. In a broad sense with the concerns of his intellectual community inevitably gave India the recognition and thus the reception of  Gitaplayed a crucial role taking its place in the development of Indian sources (Indology) to the scientific study of the language (Philology) In this text, Herder presented some of the most enduring interpretations of Indian culture, and while these depictions became more distinguished in his other writings, the fame of the text meant that it would represent the most significant part of Herder’s legacy for early nineteenth century intellectuals who wished to study the great Indian civilization.  

The Romantic period of Germany also gave us Friedrich von Schlegel (1772-1829) who was a German poet, literary critic, philosopher, philologist and Indologist. In June 1802 he arrived in Paris to study Sanskrit and in 1808 he published epoch-making book, Uber die Sprache und Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of India). It is here he advanced his ideas about religion and importantly argued that the people originating from India were the founders of the first European civilizations. Schlegel compared Sanskrit with Latin, Greek, Persian and German languages noting many similarities in vocabulary and grammar. The assertion of the common features of these languages are now generally accepted. The essay also begins to open up the significance of the religious conception for Schlegel’s reading of Indian texts. This analysis provides the foundation for Schlegel’s interpretation and rendering of the Bhagavadgita which was appended to his famous treatise on India. Schlegel reaffirmed this myth as a part of the emerging Romantic program in an explicit attempt to establish Indian culture and religion as a source for European cultural renewal. As a part of this narrative, Schlegel continued to draw on important conception of fundamental Hindu ideology that began to emerge in Herder’s thought. However, one has the sense of this conception that has become something of a slogan in Schlegel’s text that Indian metaphysics and the language Sanskrit is superior above the rest.

Addendum: The Bhagavad Gita in twentieth century and Beyond.

Robert J. Oppenheimer (1904-1967) who is now regarded the father of Atomic Bomb was an American Scientist of German origin just like his friend world renowned scientist  Albert Einstein was also a German and both were influenced by Indian philosophy and thought.

Oppenheimer was not only a genius in his own field but he was strongly drawn to Hindu philosophy and the Hindu religion in particular, which resulted in feeling the cosmological mystery of the universe that surrounded him like a fog. He saw physics clearly, looking toward what had already been done and he turned away from the hard , crude methods of theoretical physics into the mystical realm of broad intuition. In 1933, he learned Sanskrit and met the Indologist Arthur W. Ryder at Berkeley university. He read the Bhagavadgitain the original Sanskrit, and later he cited it as one of books that most shaped his philosophy of life.

The Bhagavadgita is essentially a discourse between Prince Arjuna and God Vishnu (Lord Krishna) on the battle fields of the great MAHABHARATA war and Krishna is trying to convince Arjuna by implying that everyone in the battlefield will eventually die in time and that it his duty to fight.

In August 1945 when first Atomic Bomb was detonated on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the explosions reminded Oppenheimer of the quote from Bhagavadgita: Now I am become Death, the Destroyer of the Worlds.”

Postscript: Today at least eight countries have the destructive Nuclear weapons.

(Dilip Roy is an Indo-German cultural enthusiast and one of the greatest admirers of Nineteenth century German composer Richard Wagner. Mr. Roy’s articles on Wagner has been published by Wagner Societies of Australia, London, New Zealand and Scotland. Mr. Roy is also an elected Fellow of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  )

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P.K.Rosy: An unwritten chapter on an enchanting Dalit Malayali actress

The name P. K. Rosy was brought back to the limelight recently when actress Kani Kusruti dedicated her State Award for Best Female Actor to the late actress of Malayalam Cinema…writes Ashok Parameswar

Born in 1903 to a Dalit family, Rosy acted in the first Malayalam movie called Vigathakumaran. However, the film was lost to a fire, erasing all memories of its existence with it. Rosy played a character named Sarojini in the 1928 silent film directed by J. C. Daniel, considered the father of Malayalam Cinema.

Born at Nandankode in Trivandrum, Rosy was reportedly raised in abject poverty after her father died when she was very young. From a Dalit family, her caste background caused controversy when the film was released. Rosy had dared to act in a movie when it was objectionable for a woman to do so, let alone a Dalit woman. And she played an upper-caste Nair woman, which enraged the Nair community.

Rosy endured the shoot, but the story goes that director Daniel had to keep her away from the cinema hall called Capitol during the film’s first screening as important men from the upper caste were present at the show. Rosy stayed away, and the screening was inaugurated peacefully, but when the upper caste men found out a Dalit woman was portraying a Nair, they responded spitefully. They threw stones at the screen, and Rosy’s hut was burnt down that very night, forcing her to flee.

Rosy reportedly fled Kerala with the aid of a lorry driver belonging to the Nair caste. She later married him and left all the hardships behind. However, her grandchildren refuse to acknowledge her Dalit legacy, which makes it nearly impossible to trace her entire story. The only biographical book is a small booklet titled P. K. Rosy by Kunnukuzhy S Mani, and a novel titled Nashta Nayika (The Lost Heroine), authored by Vinu Abraham. The book was translated into English by C.S. Venkiteswaran.

Rosy is thus, the first heroine of Malayalam Cinema and also the first Dalit woman to act in a Malayalam movie. Her story is also the story of the birth of Malayalam Cinema. Unfortunately, both are smeared by the horrors of casteism, which still holds on to Kerala’s cinema and culture. The story of the lost heroine sheds light on the politics of gender, caste, and society in Malayalam cinema.

In 2019, 89 years after the release of Vigathakumaran, the Women in Cinema Collective (WCC) founded a film society in Rosy’s name in an attempt to restore her lost legacy.

WCC, made up of a group of female actors of Malayalam cinema, said: “This act of naming our film society PK Rosy Film Society is an attempt to be sensitive and to take note of all those who have been excluded from dominant cinema histories through their gender, caste, religious or class locations and our imagination.”

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‘MAA’ : A Heartfelt Film On Social Issues (***)

The mainstream film industry is an inaccessible dream for many cinema buffs who may want to act or direct but lack the means or connections…writes Shelja Pallath.

Well, this was the reality until some time ago. With a technology boom, more people who love cinema are breaking barriers to bring with small budget films that are close to their hearts to the forefront. One such example is the Malayalam film MAA, released in December 2019.

Produced by London High Commission employee Antony Thomas Vallikad and directed by cine artist Jayaraaj Aarattuvazhy, the 16-minute film tackles several pressing issues in society, making it a compelling watch.

From our addiction to smartphone to our disregard for the elderly and fellow humans, the film highlights our current times’ uncomfortable realities with reasonable sensitivity, depth, and insight.

The movie begins with a shot of a young girl playing a game on her smartphone and develops it through other interesting plots and subplots.

Three Ms — ‘Mobile, Madhu and Mother’ — are the main themes of the film. In the modern world of technology, phones play an inexorable role in our lives. While we remain engrossed in it, the world with its small, beautiful moments passes us by, including the selfless love of parents. As more and more children take to online gaming and social media, it poses a serious challenge for future generations. These are among the several issues that the film captures.

The second theme, ‘Madhu,’ is a name that Keralites can never forget. In 2018, a tribal named Madhu was tied up and reportedly beaten to death by a violent mob for stealing food. The movie draws out the incident through a similar narrative, asking for a change in people’s attitude towards other humans.

The film also underlines the widening gap among generations, highlighting to its audience the similarities between the elderly and children. While both age groups need care, love, and attention, the old is discarded by society who often restricts children from loving them.

“There is one shocking incident that was reported in a newspaper, which was weaved into the script and the film. The scene made a huge impact on our audience. It is the most heartfelt sequence of the film. People who watched the movie may wonder if a child can do such things to their parents, but the incident did happen, and in Kerala, God’s own country!” said Antony, the producer of the film.

Created by a group of cinema buffs from Kerala, most people who worked on the film are from Alappey. The director’s own brother Joseph Vallikkad is an experienced cine artist who has starred in one of the central roles in the film. He has been working in the industry for the last 20 years, but unfortunately, he couldn’t reach the pinnacle of fame.

“He worked as production manager and participated in several television projects, including Tapasya, Rose in December. He has also acted in films and coincidentally starred in Parvathy Jayaram’s Ashokante Aswathy, which was released in 1989, as well as her son Kalidas’ 2019 film called Happy Sardar,” Antony added.

If you want to watch a simple movie that depicts some hard realities of life, touching the heart and making you think, this is the one to watch.

The movie’s storyline was created by Anil Virad, and Binoy Antony developed into a script by PS Shibu in collaboration with the director. The cast includes Kaviraj, Jophy Joseph, Antony Vallikkad, Jomon, Sajai, Jaaraj and Master Aloshya and Fayas. Makeup artist Alappey Johnson and composer Roshan Joseph are also part of it. The visuals have been created by Saji, accompanied by Roshan Joseph’s background score. Vallikkad production’s movie is available on YouTube.