Comment on this article |
View comments |
Email this article |
Words Which Defy Dictionaries in India (english)
by Nilkanth Sharma
31 Dec 2002
Modified: 01 Jan 2003
As one surveys India's political parlance the first features one otices is that while certain people and parties are described as Leftist, certain others are designated as Righist. Once in a while, political scientists and journalists add nuances to this broad bracketing when they pronounce some splinter group as Left or Right of Centre. But one is left guessing about the location of the Centre itself
New Page 1
Words Which Defy
Dictionaries in India
As one surveys India's political parlance the first
features one notices is that while certain people and parties are described as
Leftist, certain others are designated as Righist. Once in a while, political
scientists and journalists add nuances to this broad bracketing when they
pronounce some splinter group as Left or Right of Centre. But one is left
guessing about the location of the Centre itself. It is sometimes suggested that
the Centre is constituted by the ruling Congress Party. The Congress Party
however, repudiates this description.
The second feature which invites attention is that these
contradistinctive labels - Leftist and Rightist - have never been apportioned
among people and parties converned by an impartial tribunal like, say, the
Election Commission. What has happened is that certain people and parties have
appropriated one label - Leftist - for themselves and reserved the other label -
Rightist - for their oppoents, without permission from or prior consultation
with the latter.
The third feature which one discovers very soon is that
people and parties who call themselves Leftist also claim to be progressive,
revolutionary, socialist, secularist and democratic. At the same time they
accuse the "Rightists" of being reactionary, revivalist,
capitalist and fascist. At this stage, the labels cease to be merely
descriptive. They become laudatory and denuciatory instead. Labels like
progressive and revolutionary, etc., acquire an aura of virtue and holiness. On
the other hand, labels like reactionary and revivalist ect., start smelling of
vice and sin.
The fourth feature of the Indian political scene needs a
somewhat deeper look because it goes beyond the merely political and borders on
the philosophical. The Leftist claim that they are committed to a scientific
interpretation of the world-process including economic, social, political and
cultural developments and that, therefore, their plans and programmes are not
only pertinent but also profitable for the modern age. Simultaneously, they
accuse that the "Rightists" are addicted to an obscurantist
view of the same world-process and, therefore, to such outmoded forms of
economy, polity and culture as should find no place at this stage of human
Lastly one finds that the Leftists in general are pretty
self-rightenous as if some supreme power which presides over the world-process
has not only entrusted them with the destiny of the Indian people but also
assured them of ultimate and inevitable victory. At the same time the Leftists
expect the "Rightists" to feel sorry for themselves as if the
latter have committed or are out to commit some heinous crimes against humanity
and, therefore, should not have any future except the dustbin of history.
It would be an interesting investigation to look up the
dictionary meanings of these words which are being bandied around by the
Leftists as political labels, and see if they really stick where they have been
made to stick. Human history has known many instances in which the wolf has
prowled and preyed in sheep's clothing while the poor sheep has been presented
as a wolf by sheer trick of language. The secular version of medieval India
under Muslim rule, as taught in our schools and colleges at present, is a case
in point. Foreign invaders and mass murderers are being portrayed as illustrious
emperors while patriots and freedom fighters are being pilloried as petty
On 13 August 1934 Pandit Nehru had written to Mahatma
Gandhi that socialism had "a clearly defined meaning in the English
language." The Mahatma had written back: "I have looked up
the dictionary meaning of socialism. It takes me no further than where I was
before I read the definition. What will you have me to read to know its full
contents?" (Sankar Ghosh, "Socialism and Communism in
India", Bombay 1971, p. 183).
The various words which the Leftists now employ in order
to applaud themselves and denigrate those who differ from them can be found in
any standard dictionary of the English language. But the dictionaries do not
vouchsafe for the values with which the Leftists load these words. In most
cases, the dictionaries assume prior definitions derived from different
universes of discourse.
Dictionaries define a Leftist as "the more
progressive or actively innovating party or wing (from its sitting in some
legislature to the president's left)". The same dictionaries define a
Rightist as "an adherent of the political right (conservative)".
Neither of these definitions is very illuminating unless we have prior notions
of progressive and conservative. Nor are the values attached to these words
evident in these definitions.
We shall discuss the word "progressive"
when we come to it at a slightly later stage. Right here we can take up the word
"conservative". The dictionaries define it as "tending
or having power to keep entire, to retain, to preserve" and also as "averse
of change". There is nothing intrinsically wrong with keeping entire
retaining and preserving unless it has been proved first that what is being kept
entire, retained and preserved is undesirable. Nor need an aversion to change be
bad in itself unless the change that is being sought to be brought about has
already been proved as desirable.
This second pair of labels is generally used to cover
segments of socio-political opinion which are quite often broader than those
covered by the first pair, that is, Leftist and Rightist. There are many people
who do not relish being called Leftists. But they feel flattered when they are
proclaimed to be progressives. Similarly, there are many people who do not mind
being called Rightists. But they take fright as soon as they are called
reactionaries. Leftist politics makes a clever use of this confusion. It ropes
in as progressives many many people who are not prepared to be known as Leftist.
At the same time, it scares away or silences many peoples by branding them as
Dictionaries define a progressive as one who is "moving
forward, making progress." That sounds tautological unless we have
fixed some prior meaning of moving forward odr have some prior notion of
progress. The Leftists cannot get away with this label for themselves unless it
is assum,ed arbitrarily that whatever they do or advocate should automaticvally
pass for progress. Not is it easy to arrive at a universally agreed definition
of progress, particularly at the present time when all nineteenth century
notions of progress are being subjected to serious questioning.
On the other hand the dictionaries define a reactionary
as "one who attempts to revert to past political conditions."
This is a very vague generalisation. Firstly it is very difficult, almost
impossible for any people, at any stage of history, to revert to past political
conditions unless those conditions are confined to quite narrow limits such as,
for instance the restoration of a royal dynasty. In fact, the word "reactionary"
was used exactly in this sense during the French Revolution. Secondly, the past
happens to be a rather long stretch of time in the history of most nations. It
is not at all clear as to which part -- ancient or medieval or modern - of a
nation's past is implied in this definition. Thirdly, we cannot deride all
attempts to revert to the past unless we assume arbitrarily that the past of all
people was always worse than their present.
This third pair of labels is very weighty indeed. The very
sound of the word "revolution" casts such a magic spell on
our intelligentsia that many a time ordinary criminals draw applause from
otherwise decent people by claiming to be revolutionaries. People who abhor
their violence approve of them as misguided idealists. No one has any
tears to shed for the victims of these revolutionaries. The mangled bodies of
policemen and other people are shoved away as symbols of an unjust
The dictionaries define revolution as "a great
upheaval; great change, i.e. in outlook, social habits and circumstances; a
radical change in government." It is nowhere indicated in this
definition that this great upheaval this great change this radical change in
government is necessarily and invariably bound to be for the better. Even if it
is for the worse, it will still be regarded as a revolution. Human history has
known several upheavals which have left the prople affected in an infinitely
worse situation. It may be psychologically satisfying for some people to press
for a great upheaval, a great change, a radical change in government. But that
is no reason for them to feel superior and self-righteous unless they can prove
that they are working for a fuller freedom of man, for a greater measure of
social prosperity, for a deeper culture of the human soul, and for a larger
fraternity among different sections of mankind.
On the other hand, the dictionaries define a revivalist
as "one who promotes religious, architectural or other revival."
Obviously the Leftists cannot be aiming any guns at architectural revival. Their
objection has always been to religious revival. Religion has always been an
anathema to the Leftists. This is understandable when we look at closed creeds
like Christianity and Islam which strike at the very roots of rationalism,
humanism and universalism. But the objection becomes blind when it comes to the
religions of the ancient world of which the sole survivor today is the
commonwealth of Sanatana Dharma. They ought to distinguish between deeper drives
of the human spirit from the fervour and fanaticism of the outer mind of man.
And their ignorance in this matter is no reason for a blanket blackening of all
This fourth pair of labels arouses intense emotions,
Socialism, too, is a magic word which paralyses all thinking processes in a
majority of our politically conscious intelligentsia. It calls for no questions
and stands self-proved. There is no political party in india which does not
swear by Socialism. Ever since the ruling party has espoused socialism, the
socialist ranks have become swollen by a large number of self-seekers who cannot
even spell the word. Seeing these people one cannot help observing that while
all socialists are not scoundrels, all scoundrels are socialists.
The dictionaries define Socialism as "as a
scheme of social organisation which places means of production in the hands of
the community." The same dictionaries define capitalism as "the
economic system which generates and gives power to capilatists." Here
the choice is clear for all these who place public weal above private profit.
They would always vote for Socialism. The problem arises when the community is
equated with the state and the state with a monolithic party machine which
chokes out allindividual freedom. And that is exactly what the Leftists have
done. They hail as socialist only those countries where totalitarian states have
reduced the communities to conglomerations of dumb-driven slaves. In India, the
Leftists describe the public sector as a signpost of Socialism, self-satisfied
bureaucrats and swollen-headed babus who are bribed and/or bamboozled by another
cartel of freebooters known as the private secto. The two cartels fatten
together with utter disregard for the suffering and privation they inflict on
On the other hand, the Leftists denounce as capitalist
precisely those countries where powerful labour unions, free press,
parliamentary institutions and vigilant public opinion have combined to make
private enterprise accountable to the community. The rising standards of wages
and consumption, the social security measures and other welfare schemes speak
volumes about how public good is gaining ground over private greed. The meaning
of Socialism as well as Capityalism would have been crystal clear but for the
conceptual swindle practised by the Leftists. They have succeeded eminently in
painting the black as white and vice versa.
This fifth pair of labels has attained the widest currency
of all political words. We face a peculiar problem here. The meanings which
these words have acquired in India's political parlance are not even remotely
related to the meanings which the dictionaries assign to them. It would not be
an exaggeration to say that although these two words belong to the English
language, their meanings in India have become exclusively Indian.
The word secular is defined in the dictionaries
as "the belief that the state, morals, education, etc. should be
independent of religion." But in India it means only one thing --
eschewing everything Hindu and espousing everything Islamic.
Every one who wants to qualifying as secular should
subscribe to the folowing articles of faith :
the Muslims in India after independence have become a
poor and persecuted minority;
they are being deprived of their fair share in the
fruits of development;
their religion and culture are not getting legitimate
expression in public life and media;
they are not being given employment in public and
private sectors in proportion to their population; and
the preponderance of Hindus in the security forces
puts in grave peril the lives, honour and properties of Muslims.
Every Hindu politician or pen-pusher who aspires to pass
the test has to
proclaim that Islam stands for equality and human
celebrate the prophet's birthday with fanfare and
throw an iftar dinner at the end of Ramzan;
attend Urs of sufis and Urdu mushairas;
support the claim of Urdu to be the second state
language in all states where Muslims are in a minority;
admire whatever passes for Islamic art and
relish Muslim cooking and appreciate Muslim dress and
abuse Israel and applaud Arab countries.
He should also keep quiet or look the other way when
breed like rats;
refuse to give modern education to their children;
push their women into purdah;
start street-riots at the slightest pretext;
rejoice over every Pakistan victory and every Indian
defeat in sports; and
invite and protect infiltrators from across the
borders. And he should not whisper a word when Arab governments pour petro-dollars
and professional preachers of Islam into this country in order to convert
the weaker sections of Hindu society.
Even these positive services rendered to Islam are not
sufficient for a Hindu politician or pen-pusher out to earn the secular
certificate. One is not secular unless one harbours and expresses a pronounced
anti-Hindu animus. One should lodge an immediate protest against the least
little expressionm of Hindu religion or culture in public media and at
government functions. One should frown upon every government dignitary
performing a pooja in a Hindu temple or going to Hindu place prilgrimage. One
should accuse all educational, cultural and research institutions of hiding
Hindu communalists. One should put the blame squarely on the RSS for every
communal riot. And so on, the list of one's grievances against Hindu society
should be as long as one's love for Islam and Muslims.
The definition of communal is a logical corollary of the
above definition of secular. The dictionaries define the word communal
as "pertaining to community, owned in common,, shared." But
Hindus in India have only to say that they belong to a community and that they
share a culture in common. They immediately provoke secularists of all hues to
come down upon them. In fact, the word Hindu itself has become a dirty
word, almost an obscenity in India' political parlance. Woe betide the Hindu who
dares say that India is his ancestral homeland and that his religion and culture
also have a case. He will be immediately denounced as a Hindu chauvinist. A
Hindu who blunders into reading Indian history with his own eyes who finds that
his society has suffered immeasurably at the hands of Islamic imperialism, and
who cries out that this aggression should now stop, makes the Leftists mad with
fury. They brand him as an enemy of public peace and national integration. They
find in him a fiend who is plotting a genocide of the "poor Muslim
This sixth pair of labels is not so much in fashion these
days as it used to be at one time. The Leftists invoke these labels only when
they are in search of a united front of all democratic forces in order
to fight the forces of fascism. They use the word democrat to
entice some elements who do not rise immediately to the bait of a united front.
And they hurl the word fascist when they find that their other
swear-words like reactionary and revivalist, etc. have failed to hurt.
The dictionaries define a democrat as "one who
adheres to or promotes democracy as a principle," and a fascist as "one
who believes in using forceful methods." The definitions make it easy
to find out where the caps fit. The Leftists swear by democracy only so long as
they are in the opposition. They believe and proclaim that they will use force
to transform society once they are in power. They are convinced that they alone
know what is good for the rest of the community. They divide every society into
shepherds and sheep, reserving the former's role for themselves. Their
self-righteousness and extreme intolerance of every other point of view mould
them into the first class fascists, whatever the ism with which they adorn
themselves. They promote and profit by an irrational, anti-intellectual
atmosphere. They suspect and shout a conspiracy behind every move of every other
party. It is, therefore, difficult to understand how the Leftists label
themselves as democrats. But it is easy to understand why they denounce as
fascists all those who do not subscribe to their aims and methods. It is simply
a case of the thief crying thief.
One cannot help concluding that the dictionaries are not at
all helpful in desciphering the Leftist language. The souces of that language
has to be sought elsewhere. But one has also to notice that this language has so
far proved very profitable for the Leftists. They have no roots in India and are
altogether an alien implant on our body-politic. But with the help of this
language they have so far managed to pass as paragons of partriotism, progress
and public welfare.
One is reminded of a folktale from Haryana which
illustrates the Leftist way of reasoning. A jat (peasant) was carrying a khat
(cot) as he passed by the house of a teli (oilman). The teli was a poet. He
burst out in rhyme: "Jat re jat, tere sir par Khat (O you jat, on your
head you have a Khat)." The jat has also a poet. He hit out: "Teli
re teli, tere sir par kholu (O you oilman on your head you have an oilpress)."
The teli protested: "My friend, your lines do not rhyme." The
jat smiled with self-satisfaction and said: "To hell with rhyme! Who
cares for rhyme? What matters is that you are going to collapse under the weight
of the kolhu."
That is exactly what is happening in India's politics.
The so-called Rightists are collapsing under the weight of certain words which
the Leftists have heaped upon their heads without rhyme or reason.http://www.bharatvani.org/books/pipp/
sounds familiar (english)
(No verified email address)
31 Dec 2002
this list of complaints, however well presented, exposes the rightist, capitalist, hindu biases of its author when it claims to repudiate the secular, socialist etc, mantle of its opponents. if the political center of a society if decided by the culture of the society and therefore by the prevailing sentiments of the majority of society, a middle class of ideas, and the general mood in india is one of socialism and democracy and secularism, then it is through no fault of people who call themselves leftists. is it so hard to imagine, especially in a materially poor society like india, that ideas like the common good, a social safety net, sharing, cooperation, tolerance and a vibrant freedom of ideas, soundly trump values like pseudo-religious extremist demagoguery, and competition (especially the vicious and socially destructive version forced down everyone's throats by the business/ruling class).
in a society where people are truly free to choose from a wealth of ideas, they naturally tend to reach the conclusion that we can all survive and enjoy our lives together in harmony, if only we got to doing that and take the power of decisionmaking about our lives out of the hands of the elitists and self-absorbed politicians.
and by the way, congress is not the ruling party in india-- it's the right-wing, nationalistic, hindu-fundamentalist BJP.
oh i forgot (english)
(No verified email address)
31 Dec 2002
by the way, what sounds familiar (title of last comment) is the way these complaints mimic the logic, if it can be called that, of other oppressive ruling classes around the world-- zionists complaining about palestinians, white men in america complaining about the special treatment of people of color and women, mestizos and city folks across latin america complaining about the excessive preferential treatment heaped on those over-priveleged indigenous people, etc etc etc ad nauseam...
Words that Defy Reason Anywhere in the World (english)
by Jon Chance
jpchance (nospam) egroups.com (unverified)
01 Jan 2003
Mr Sharma's comments are relevant to the socio-political-economic crisis WORLDWIDE, especially here in the USA.
Most if not all of these superficial political labels were invented during the French Revolution, and they serve one purpose: to divide & conquer.
The real struggle for peace and justice is invisible to many American "activists" because we are using a biased media of exchange - fraudulant monopoly "money" issued out of nothing by transnational bankers - without understanding that it's these bankers who are actually the debtors - not genuine creditors - since they have produced nothing but artificial debt money and other unlawful claims.