Vol. 34 No. 17 · 13 September 2012

Search by issue:

Gandhi and After

Two not uncommon reflexes in the sensibility of contemporary Indian patriotism may be seen in the responses to my essays on India (Letters, 30 August). The first is an inability to look with much care at any view out of step with inherited convictions, as too upsetting to be fully registered. In this case, we have claims that I fail to attribute any ‘political acumen or historical agency to Gandhi or Nehru’, maintain that the national movement was ‘in no way responsible for decolonisation’, and ignore all ‘Indian scholars in oppositional mode’. A glance at the texts in question is enough to show that such charges are so off the mark they scarcely need even to be forgiven. A second impulse is the persistent resort to euphemism and evasion wherever awkward questions are at issue. Caste politics? ‘A sign of political maturity’. Religion? Nothing to do with communal divisions, which merely reflect the ‘deep dilemmas of representative democracy’ and ‘the logic of modern politics’. Dynastic rule? A healthy ‘rough and tumble’ on the Indian stage. Kashmir, Hyderabad, Nagaland? Unmentionable. The upshot? After the war, Indian freedom cleared the path to independence for ‘huge swathes of Latin America’ (sic). Today, ‘the big story of modern India is the empowerment of the disadvantaged’. Shortcomings? Canvassed with ‘exemplary thoroughness’ by Indian intellectuals, in ‘intimate criticism of India’s democratic experience’.

A collage of such pieties is not to be equated with every objection to be found in these letters, or what in less defensive mood their authors are capable of writing. Of the criticisms that address what I wrote, rather than inveighing against it, the most material are these: that I passed over the factional struggle in Congress after Nehru’s death that led to the assumption of power by his daughter, and the measures she then took to consolidate it; underestimate the menace of Indian fascism; and neglect the general aim of British governments to decolonise as safely as possible by handing over power to a single, moderate nationalist party. In turn. I didn’t describe the efforts of the Syndicate to prevent Nehru’s daughter from entering into her inheritance, but what is striking is how quickly they collapsed, organisational leverage no match for dynastic legitimacy. The ensuing ‘transformation of Indian political discourse’ wrote the arrest warrants of the Emergency. Fascism: the reasons the Hindutva conglomerate isn’t captured by this term have been set out at length by Achin Vanaik in his Furies of Indian Communalism, to which no critic has yet produced a cogent reply. Comparison of the pogroms in Gujarat and Delhi does not involve downplaying the former. I indicate the difference in active organisation, which was greater, and in death toll, which was lesser, while noting that the killings in Hyderabad, when Nehru ruled the country, were an order of magnitude ten to twenty times higher than either, with no public admission of the slaughter to this day. Finally, decolonisation: it is true that in Africa, British policy generally favoured a transfer of the colonial territory to a single – wherever possible, moderate – nationalist party. But where there was historically a substantial settler community, as in Ireland or Cyprus, it aimed at division.

Ramachandra Guha has pointed out to me that in writing of Nehru as, in the eyes of his countrymen, ‘Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Eisenhower rolled into one’, he was citing the claim of a Canadian diplomat, rather than composing the phrase himself. It seems reasonable to assume, however, that without any disavowal, such a loan is a judgment par personne interposée. An analogous case, where the conditional can be regarded as rhetorical placeholder for the indicative, occurs elsewhere in Makers of Modern India. The land of reference is once again the United States. There he writes:

In a book on the democratic traditions of his country, Ronald Dworkin remarks that ‘Americans of goodwill, intelligence and ambition have given the world, over the last two centuries, much of what is best in it now.’ He continues: ‘We gave the world the idea of a constitution protecting the right of minorities, including religious dissenters and atheists, a constitution that has been the envy of other nations and is now increasingly, at least indirectly, an inspiration for them. We gave the world a lesson in national generosity after the Second World War, and we gave it leadership then in its new enthusiasm for international organisation and international law. We gave it the idea, striking in mid-20th-century Europe, that social justice is not the preserve of socialism; we gave it the idea of an egalitarian capitalism and, in the New Deal, a serious if limited step towards their achievement.’

The United States has given the world some noble social and political ideals. So have France, the United Kingdom and perhaps also India. In Dworkin-esque mode I could thus write that ‘India can give the world the idea of a state and constitution that protects far greater religious and linguistic diversity than is found in any other nation. We have shown other young nations how to nurture multi-party democracy based on universal adult franchise, mass poverty and illiteracy notwithstanding. But even older nations may learn from our model of nationalism, which is inclusive within and outside its borders, and open to ideas and influences from even the powers that once colonised it. We have demonstrated that nationalism can be made consistent with internationalism; without ever having waged war on another nation, we have contributed to peacekeeping efforts in other countries and continents, and lent moral and material support to such causes as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Finally, despite our own past history of hierarchy and inegalitarianism, we have designed and implemented the most far-reaching programmes of affirmative action on behalf of the discriminated and underprivileged.’

The Indian Ideology, as I made clear, is not the exhaustive thought-world of the Union or its intellectuals, individual or collective. But of its existence there is little doubt.

Perry Anderson
Santa Monica, California

Not Obviously Ugly

A characteristically stirring piece by T.J. Clark about Picasso’s ‘Vollard Suite’ nicely contrasts the artist ‘at his best’ with the ‘unserious’ work he often turned out (LRB, 2 August). Fair enough. Though it is not, perhaps, as easy as Clark suggests to be confident, even in the case of the Vollard series, about what belongs to mere ‘entertainment’ or ‘divertissement’. Is it really ‘the whole truth’ to say that the Picasso at issue belongs squarely ‘in the room with Cocteau and Giraudoux and Maurice Denis.’ Really, with Maurice Denis?

At any rate, Clark ends by arriving at one very peculiar observation: namely, that in plate 5 of the Vollard Suite, we see ‘the immense distance beauty keeps from ugliness’, the ostensibly defenceless female figure indisputably an image of beauty, the male figure twitching back the curtain presumably the embodiment of the ugly. A pretty formulation, to be sure, but perhaps unduly schematic in this particular case, the male figure in the etching not obviously ugly at all, his twitching back of the curtain not perhaps a prelude to defilement but to a different sort of encounter, desire in this case not – or not unequivocally – a desire merely to ravish and obliterate, but also to admire and to reveal.

Robert Boyers
Editor, Salmagundi
Saratoga Springs, New York

Follow the money

David Conn doesn’t mention two key factors that constrained the pre-Sky television revenues of the Football League (LRB, 30 August). The first was the collusion between ITV and the BBC in refusing to bid against each other, such that the Football League never received more than £3.1 million a year for TV rights. It was British Satellite Broadcasting (BSB), not Sky TV, which broke up this cosy cartel, persuading all but one of the 92 league clubs to sign an exclusive deal in 1988. The absence of the final signature – Liverpool’s – gave ITV a chance to appeal to a meeting of the whole league, offering to match the BSB price, and to support it with cash guarantees (something BSB’s parent companies had declined to do). The BBC refused to join ITV in defence of their joint rights; indeed, it offered to work with BSB, just as it later agreed to bring back the Match of the Day highlights format in support of BSkyB’s successful bid for live rights in 1992 (BSkyB was the entity that resulted from the 1990 merger of BSB and Sky).

The second constraint was the league’s insistence on protecting attendances at Saturday matches. The £44 million deal signed with ITV in 1988 allowed just 18 league matches a year to be televised live – none on a Saturday. This contract covered all 92 league clubs. The present Premier League deal provides for 154 live matches each year, while the lower divisions have their own TV deals, which bring in much more money than they ever got under the old dispensation.

Conn argues that the jacuzzi of cash in which the Premier League wallows, and which has also splashed all over the Football Association, has been used at the expense of ordinary fans and of the England team. The huge increase in ticket prices may have changed the class structure of football crowds, but the upgraded stadiums are full 90 per cent of the time. Moreover, the first loyalty of the vast majority of football fans is to the team they follow every week, not to the national team. English fans are able to watch – every week of the season – many of the world’s greatest talents playing for their favourite clubs. Apart from the aberration of 1966, England has long under-performed on the international stage, and the German team – even when it was just West Germany – has always been more consistent. The way TV revenues are spent is only a part of the story of the relative status of these two national teams.

David Elstein
London SW15

Britain breaks up

Linda Colley is right in observing that Scottish and English universities are being ‘dragged further apart by the different funding policies of Edinburgh and London – and by politics’ (LRB, 2 August). As the rector of the University of Edinburgh from 2003 to 2006, in the wake of the abolition of the University Grants Committee, which covered the whole of Britain (hindsight may be a wonderful thing, but I did vote in the Commons against the setting up of a separate Scottish Funding Council), I became increasingly dismayed at a situation in which teaching and research funding north of the border were bound to suffer. Seven years on, the situation of Scottish universities, especially those without endowments, is near critical. Moreover, imagine the acrimony growing between Scottish-domiciled students, whose tuition fees are paid, and students from England, who have to find £9000 per year.

Tam Dalyell
Linlithgow, West Lothian

What’s Invisible

I enjoyed the Hayward’s Invisible exhibition and Brian Dillon’s piece about it, but isn’t there a confusion here about what invisibility means (LRB, 2 August)? Many of the works in the show conflate absence, emptiness or nothingness with the invisible when in order to be described properly as invisible, a thing must surely be there, present, but unavailable to vision, just as a bat squeak or a dog whistle are beyond hearing. Otherwise I might sit here in Norfolk and contemplate the invisibility of London.

I’m presently feeling quite pleased with a piece I’ve made myself that is invisible or very nearly so, yet which casts a shadow where it hangs in my studio. The shadow points to the presence of something unseen, just as those bandages alerted us to the presence of the invisible man.

Bob Billington
Rougham, Norfolk

How little we know

Joanna Biggs writes that Alice Kaplan has ‘found a bilingual poem’ (‘Who knows why an April breeze’ etc) attributed to Jacqueline Bouvier (LRB, 2 August). In fact it is a translation of the song ‘How Little We Know’ from the film To Have and Have Not (1944), directed by Howard Hawks and starring Lauren Bacall in her first role. The lyrics are by Johnny Mercer and the music was by Hoagy Carmichael.

Katherine Shillito
London SW19

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences