National awards

Madan Mohan Malviya: how a four-time Congress president became a BJP icon

Many pet Hindutva issues today, from 'reconversion' to the cementing of an aggressive Hindu political identity were initially championed by Malaviya in British India

The Bharat Ratna has always been a political award and this year was no different. The Modi government has conferred India’s highest civilian award on Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Madan Mohan Malaviya. Vajpayee was, of course, the first prime minster from the Bharatiya Janata Party and easily the party’s tallest leader. Born more than 150 years ago, Malaviya’s link with the BJP and its ideology is somewhat less known.

Madan Mohan Malaviya was born in Allahabad in a Brahmin family highly respected for its learning and knowledge of Hindu scriptures. Financial circumstances forced him to take up a job as an English teacher in a local school after graduating from his BA. From these humble beginnings, Malaviya was able to branch out into a somewhat bewildering number of fields and leave his mark on them.

He started his political career in 1886 with a widely appreciated address to the Indian National Congress session in Calcutta. Malaviya would go on to become one of the most powerful political leaders of his time, managing to be chosen Congress president on four occasions. Impressed by Malaviya’s 1886 address, an Awadh taluqadar, Raja Rampal Singh, offered him the editorship of his Hindi newspaper, Hindustani. Later on, Malaviya would go on to rescue the Hindustan Times from financial ruin and launch its Hindi edition. He would serve as the Hindustan Times’ chairman for more than 20 years, building it up to be the foremost nationalist newspaper of its time.

Linguistic politics

In spite of his achievements in politics and journalism, maybe Malaviya’s greatest impact lies in the sphere of language. The late 1800s saw mobilisation around the issue of Hindi and Urdu ‒ till then, the courts and bureaucracy of the Raj used Urdu written in the Persian script as the official language. Malaviya submitted his famous Memorandum (“Court Character and Primary Education in North-Western Provinces and Oudh”) to the Lt Governor of what is now Uttar Pradesh. The Memorandum was masterfully framed and was one of the principal arguments which convinced the British Raj to pass an order in 1900 which permitted the use of Nagari characters alongside Persian in the courts of the North-Western Provinces.

While his overall achievements are obviously a factor, the primary reason this BJP government feels the need to honour Malaviya is of course his contribution to the Hindu nationalist cause. Malaviya was a staunch conservative, both socially and politically. Rajkumari Amrit Kaur (Independent India’s first woman cabinet minister) writes that Malaviya “would never take food or drink from the hands of anybody other than a Brahmin of his own caste”. He helped set up a Hindu university in Banaras which along with “Aligarh Moslem University” would produce men “true to their God, their King and their country”. As the reference to the King shows, politically, Malaviya believed in constitutionalism and was one of the few major Congress leaders to oppose Gandhi’s Non-Cooperation Movement. Carrying on with this strand of thought, the party Malaviya founded, the Hindu Mahasabha did not participate in the Quit India movement of 1942.

Malaviya’s position on the integration of Dalits in order to prevent their conversion to other religions, formed the basis of how the Hindu Right saw this issue and is played out till today in instances like the Shivpuri conversions and the fact that the Indian state takes away “scheduled caste” status from any person who converts away from Hinduism. Malaviya also played an important role in introducing the concept of “reconversion” to Hinduism, an issue which seems to be on the top of the Sangh Parivar’s agenda today. A fear of reduced Hindu numbers ‒ a pet peeve of today’s Hindutva supporters ‒ drove his thinking on “reconversion”.  Presiding over a Hindu Mahasabha convention in 1932, Malaviya argued: “When now we are so badly treated with a numerical strength of 22 crores, what would be our condition in future with a much reduced Hindu population, if we allow this rate of conversion from Hinduism and do not allow reconversion into Hinduism?”

Muscular Hinduism

Malaviya also championed a muscular Hindu identity which often jostled violently for space with urban India’s Muslim minority. In Allahabad, the annual Ram Lila procession was organised by the Malaviya family. In the fractious politics of North India, this procession would often trigger off communal violence, the immediate catalyst being music being played outside mosques. When the British demanded that the procession stop playing music whenever it passed outside a mosque, Malaviya refused, arguing that this would make it a “mourning procession, not a Ram Dal”. As a result, the British banned the Ram Lila procession in Allahabad and it was only resurrected in 1937 when a Congress government came to power in UP under the 1935 Government of India Act.

Organisationally, Malaviya also had a seminal role to play in the Hindu nationalist movement. He set up the Hindu Samaj in 1880 in reaction to what he thought were Christian missionary attempts to stop the annual Magh Mela. But of course, his biggest contribution was the setting up of the Hindu Mahasabha along with Lala Lajpat Rai in 1915. The Mahasabha was the largest Hindu nationalist party in British India. Mahasabha leaders such as Savarkar played a key role in crystallising Hindu nationalist thought and one of the party’s tallest leaders, Syama Prasad Mookerjee would go on to found the Bharatiya Jana Sangh, the predecessor of the ruling BJP today.

Given how Malaviya contributed, both ideologically and organisationally, to the Hindu nationalist cause, it is not surprising that the BJP now seeks to honour him with a Bharat Ratna.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.