Sunday, May 18, 2014

Nivedita Menon: Excitotoxins and MSG // BJP activists resort to vandalism amidst celebrations

Circulating on Facebook for two days, and still unreported in mainstream media, is the story of overjoyed BJP workers attacking two mosques in Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha constituency. Inebriated saffron activists, raising Hara-Hara Modi slogans, attacked two Masjids in separate places of the district on May 16th, after the poll results were announced.
The BJP activists also tried to harm the Imam of Muhiyuddin Juma Masjid, but he managed to escape from the hands of the miscreants. Meanwhile, another group of miscreants, believed to be BJP activists, reportedly pelted stones at a Masjid in Suralpady near Kaikamba under the limits of Bajpe police station.
Today’s Hindu reports that A Muslim chicken stall owner was beaten up by a gang at Hoode village. But none of this muck sticks to the Teflon visage of Modi, ever. These are mere goons, Modi should rein them in, in the interests of his own fair name. Eminent political scientists and op-ed writing intellectuals will all distance themselves with distaste from such lumpen behaviour, urging Mr Modi – Modiji, Narendrabhai – to show that he does not support such violence by misguided working class thugs. But this thuggishness is intrinsically and essentially a part of the Modi Style of Governance. Get used to it.
The Modi Style of Governance. Oh, MSG?
MSG is also of course, the acronym for Monosodium Glutamate, a food additive commonly found in flavour enhancers like ajinomoto, considered to be dangerous and therefore widely limited or banned outright globally.
What is it about MSG that is dangerous? Watching the collective orgasmic responses of the media to Narendra Modi’s victory, the inflammatory response is clearly evident.  (Was I experiencing an out of body experience in sheer despair or did Arnab Goswami really organize a standing ovation in his studio to the ‘Tsunamo’ as results were being declared? And when you adoringly name your idol after a devastatingly destructive force that leaves mass annihilation in its wake, what exactly are you expecting from him?)
Meanwhile, long ago, MSG, it was thought, could repair human cells, since glutamate is a naturally existing amino acid.  So in 1957, a team of researchers decided to see if glutamate could help repair a diseased retina. The researchers fed rats MSG and were shocked by their results. Rather than repairing the disease, the MSG destroyed the retinal cells that allow vision. So – MSG, proposed as a cure, could kill. Hm.
A decade later, the neuroscientist Dr. John Olney found that MSG not only destroyed retinal vision cells, but also parts of the brain. This brain damage was done as neurons became over excited, virtually exciting themselves to death. He called this “excitotoxicity,” and that has led subsequent researchers to describe MSG as an “excitotoxin.”
As these other MSG excitotoxins circulate through our body politic, it becomes more and more difficult to think straight. For Modi’s urbane, sophisticated supporters like Pratap Bhanu Mehta, Modi has scripted the “most gloriously spectacular political triumphs in the history of independent India”, and the BJP has now 
“become a genuinely national party and transformed India’s political landscape, perhaps forever.”
This last may well be true, as we “virtually excite ourselves to death.”
Whom does the BJP represent? The First Past The Post Syndrome
The common sense of the dominant upper classes has shifted rightward so radically. The very Pratap Bhanu Mehta who in 2002 referred to the “maniacal ranting of Narendra Modi”, and in 2005, described the Gujarat violence of 2002 as a “state-supported pogrom against minorities” (1), now writes with complete sanguinity that the BJP “has been able to create a broad-based support, across social classes, across rural and urban areas, across different castes.” Even for form’s sake Mehta cannot pretend that different religious identities are included in that broad based support – the BJP appears to have consolidated the Hindu vote, and that’s good enough for Mehta. (Shankar Raghuraman points out the “minor problem” in calling BJP a national party, despite the quantum and spread of its vote share - the fact that its rise has happened with a near total exclusion of minorities.)
But while the BJP has consolidated Hindu votes behind it, it has not got even a simple majority of votes of Hindus in general. As has been pointed out many times by now, the BJP has won with 31 percent of the votes cast, that is, less than one third of the votes cast, not even of the total electorate. There is no doubt that the First Past The Post system heavily distorts the actual preferences of voters. As Siddharth Varadarajan points out, the FPTP system ensured that the 12 point difference in vote share between Congress (19.3%) and BJP (31%) translates into a 600 point difference in seats (BJP 282, Congress 44).
It is time to revive the debate on whether the FPTP represents even somewhat accurately, an electorate’s preferences. On Shuddhabrata’s post here on Kafila, a debate is going on in the comments section, on the FPTP, but I think that debate has to be restructured completely. Critiques of the FPTP can be found as long ago as 1975 in the Tarkunde Committee report, and in the 1998 Law Commission Report. In election studies this is a factor that is addressed routinely, with scholars making the important argument that radical agendas and smaller parties stand little chance under FPTP. The former Chief Election Commissioner T. S. Krishnamurthy, on completing his stint in 2005, called for a national debate on replacing the first-past-the-post system since people with barely 20% of the vote become representatives when 80% have voted against them. B R Ambedkar himself had come to the realization that “parliamentary democracy under the first-past-the-post system would not enable minorities in India to achieve genuine political representation”. There has been considerable debate for decades on the FPTP, and periodically other electoral systems, such as Proportional Representation (PR), have been considered seriously in public debate. If the system has not changed, it’s partly because of the stakes that the major political parties, especially the Congress, have in retaining the system, and partly because PR has several problems, not least of which is the control it leaves in the hands of party bosses.
What kinds of transformations of democratic institutions and practices would ensure genuine responsiveness to interests of different sections of people at different points in time? A serious debate on radical alternatives is necessary. But to conceptualise PR in the context only of currently existing parties that would get seats in proportion to their votes, is not sufficient. We would have to think of a re-visioned PR system that would have room (and continue to make room) for newer kinds of political configurations – the anti-big dam movements, anti-nuclear energy movements, sexuality rights movements, to name but a few.
A public debate on the potential and limitations of proportional representation is certainly worthwhile, although that too would only be a beginning. We would also need to keep in mind the fact that in a globalised world, as Canadian feminist Maude Barlowe puts it, “Power has shifted elsewhere. It has been sucked away by an elite group of global capitalists who dictate to national governments…” Almost every political party in Canada has affirmative action programmes to ensure women candidates. But like Barlowe, many feminists in Canada feel that when they finally got there – “the cupboard was bare” – the national government is under the control of global capital.
Similarly, a recent study by professors at Northwestern and Princeton Universities in the USA, found that the USA is more an oligarchy than a democracy... read more:

Mangalore, May 16: Overjoyed with Narendra Modi led-BJP’s historic victory at the centre and BJP candidate Nalin Kumar Kateel’s second consecutive win in Dakshina Kannada Lok Sabha constituency, inebriated saffron activists resorted to hate crime and attacked two Masjids in separate places of the district on Friday. Under the pretext of victory celebration a group of BJP activists, raising Hara-Hara Modi slogans stormed inside the compound of a Masjid and burst crackers at Kambalabettu in Vittla Moodnoor village of Bantwal taluk.
The BJP workers damaged the window panes of the Masjid by pelting stones and destroyed a stage built to host religious programmes. Reliable sources said that at around 12:55 p.m. dozens of jubilant BJP activists reached near the Masjid from different directions including Kamblabettu and Shantinagara. They parked their vehicles and stormed into Masjid compound without any provocation. There are two Masjids in the village. The incident occurred at Muhiyuddin Juma Masjid when all Muslims had gathered at Ibrahim Khaleel Masjid for Juma prayers. It was decided to perform Juma together at one Masjid this week.
The BJP activist also tried to harm the Muhiyuddin Juma Masjid Khatheeb, who was getting ready to go to Ibrahim Khaleel Masjid. However, he managed to escape from the hands of the miscreants and reached another Masjid. Following the incident, Bantwal DySP Rashmi and sleuths from Vittla police station visited the spot and tried to bring the situation under control. A case has been registered against nine people at Vittla police station in connection with the incident. Local residents identified few of the accused as Ramdas, Sunith, Ganesh, Gangadhar, Nandakumar, Harish, Vasant, Karunakar, Jagadish. Meanwhile, another group of miscreants, believed to be BJP activist, reportedly pelted stones at a Masjid in Suralpady near Kaikamba under the limits of Bajpe police station.