Tag Archives: protests

City Hall Socialists’ Indian Concerns

This article is part of the opinion column – Beyond Occident – where we explore a native perspective on the Indian diaspora.

Ever since the Seattle City Council ran a campaign to pass a controversial resolution against India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) last year, there has been a flurry of similar anti-India resolutions in many other US cities. India enacted the CAA after both its Sansad (Parliament) houses passed it. The Act expedites the immigration process of the persecuted minorities of the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent to India. 

Leading some of these resolutions were leaders of Indian subcontinental background with radical socialist ideology. They oppose Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP, the Indian People’s Party). Incidentally, Modi received a massive mandate in 2019 to win a second 5-year term in office. These socialist leaders also have overt and covert support from organizations with explicit anti-India and anti-Hindu agenda. 

India is the largest democracy and the fifth largest economy globally. It is least bothered by attempts at bullying by fringe groups. Beyond mere optics, these resolutions are as meaningless as they are useless. They remind me of the resolutions my leftist comrade friends in the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) used to pass in their GBMs (General Body Meetings) and other gatherings frequently. The comrades, belonging to the students’ wings of some of the most radical and violent communist groups in India, would threaten the ‘capitalist Americans’ and the US President with dire consequences if they did not stop their ‘imperialist takeover.’

These city council resolutions, at one level, are a typical example of the ‘wag the dog’ syndrome and a PR stunt to stay in the news. In this case, these city leaders are making desperate attempts to hide their failures as city administrators by focusing on other countries’ issues over which they have no control. In the process, they waste tax-payer money, public time, and resources on things that are not in their jurisdiction.   

Most US cities are reeling under a deteriorating law-and-order situation. For example, Seattle has been the hub of Antifa-BLM violence since the tragic death of George Floyd. Besides frequent looting, rioting, and arson, the city also saw an increased level of homicide. The protestors laid siege to the state Capitol building for days and created Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone (CHAZ), ran their parallel government with security, etc. There were riots about 200 miles south in Portland almost every night for months after the initial BLM protests. The rioters vandalized, damaged, and burnt businesses, government and private buildings, and homes. 

Minneapolis saw a sharp rise in the crime rate as police officers quit en masse due to looming funding cuts. “Day and night, the bullets zip through this predominantly Black neighborhood, hitting cars, and home, and people,” reported the Washington Post. In Chicago, the weekend shootings have become a common phenomenon. By November of last year, the city had recorded 3,033 shooting and 717 killings, a 50% increase from over a year ago.

Many of these city council members seem ‘concerned’ about human rights in other countries. However, they seem entirely comfortable with lockdowns, censorship, and curtailment of other civil liberties under one pretext or other in their communities. They also seem unperturbed with the rising homelessness and economic disparities in the cities they serve. They have also turned a blind eye to the persecution of religious minorities in the Islamic republics of the Indian subcontinent.

Protesters hold a banner for the San Francisco Democratic Socialists of America at a Patriot Prayer counter-protest in San Francisco. (Image by Wikimedia Commons)

One common thread that connects these anti-India resolutions, incidentally, is the rise of the socialist group, most notably the Democratic Socialists of America. With a clear socialist agenda, their focus seems to capture power seats at the ground level. These socialists do not shy away from criticizing even the liberals, progressives, and Democrats for being “insufficiently leftist.” In the past four years, several dozen socialist candidates have won electoral victories in cities like Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, etc. 

The style of functioning of these leaders, Steven Malanga of the Manhattan Institute calls them City Hall Socialists, is “disruptive… often ripped from the handbook of radical activists like Saul Alinski,” writes Malanga. These socialists are making significant inroads into the Democrat Party. In some cities, they have gained a reputation as “audacious outsiders crashing the Democratic Party.”

The Socialist movement has attracted many from the Indian subcontinent. Mostly from the younger second-generation immigrant background, these young leaders have experienced electoral successes. Some of them won the down-ballot races, and their accomplishments indicate a leftward-shift, including a transition from mere community activism to electoral politics. With their electoral and legislative successes at the lowest levels of democracy, these socialists create an ecosystem that will sustain them in the long run.

Avatans Kumar is a columnist, public speaker, and activist. He frequently writes on the topics of language & linguistics, culture, religion, Indic knowledge, and current affairs in several media outlets.

Featured image by SounderBruce under this license.

Deepika Padukone on “Padmavati”: “We Will Not Live in Fear.”

Bollywood star Deepika Padukone is Padmavati in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s upcoming film, based on a story by Malik Muhammad Jayasi set in 1540 A.D.  

Deepika Padukone (DP) took some time to chat about her hopes and fears with India Currents Culture and Media critic Geetika Pathania Jain (GPJ) on the topics of jauhar, intolerance, and the limits of artistic freedom.

[To provide context to this discussion. Press reports regarding opposition to the film, Padmavati have been increasing in number. Members of a group called Shri Rajput Karni Sena, have vandalized property and even assaulted Sanjay Leela Bhansali. There is opposition to an alleged love scene between Padmavati and Allaudin Khilji (played by Ranveer Singh) in the film. Deepika has been speaking out against the intolerance, and has even engaged in a sparring match with Subramanian Swamy on this topic. Bhansali has been provided police protection after death threats were leveled against him. The release date has been postponed indefinitely at this time.]

GPJ: Deepika, congratulations on your upcoming film, Padmavati. Our readers at India Currents are super excited about it and looking forward to it. Do you have a message for our readers?

DP: Please tell India Currents readers that we are very proud of the film we’ve made and we are equally equally excited! There’s been so much anticipation about the film, about its release, based on everything we’ve seen so far, and we can’t wait to share this experience with everyone.

GPJ: So you’re working with Ranveer Singh again, and he has a darker role as Alauddin Khilji in this film, an anti-hero who invades Chittor. How does it work, as an actor?

DP: It’s very hard! In two films, we are cast opposite each other as eternal lovers, you know, you have RamLeela and you have Bajirao Mastani, and then to put us in a film where we are in a hate story, so to say, it’s emotionally very very hard.

GPJ: I’m going to ask you about some of these controversies that we have been hearing in the press. It seems there is some concern about how the film will be received and whether there is the potential to hurt the sentiments of some groups of people. Do you have any comments on that?

DP: Firstly, I find it appalling just to see how people are reacting, certain groups of people are reacting,  or what they’re reacting to. Just based on hearsay, without having any facts to back what they’re saying. It’s kind of hilarious and appalling at the same time.

GPJ: You are referring to the protests against the film.

DP: And the only people that we’re answerable to is the (Indian) censor board. And we’re not going to succumb to these threats or to this pressure and we’re not going to live in fear. Because we’re not answerable to them.

GP: I’m going to quote a line from Ajay Gehlawat, a film historian, who discusses Bhansali’s strategy of using “historical accounts to retell a contemporary story?” Ira Bhaskar and Richard Allen similarly note that “History is always written and re-written from the point of the present.” Do you want to comment on that?

DP: I feel like people need to trust. We’re very proud of the film that we’ve made. It’s the story of a woman and her story and the sacrifices that she made for her people. And we should be celebrating this moment. Instead, it seems to be completely the other way around, and for what? And what can anyone say without even having seen the film?

GPJ: Well, like the rest of the world, I have not seen the film yet. But just the title, Padmavati suggests that it’s a female-centric film, that it’s the story of this amazing woman who lived in the fourteenth century, and of course when we look at her from contemporary eyes, it’s hard to put ourselves in that situation. Could you comment on the practice of Rajput women committing jauhar, a form of mass suicide to avoid capture and sexual violence during war?

DP: I don’t think I can question that, to be honest. Times change. Things that are relevant then may not be relevant now. And vice versa. So I don’t think we can really question what they did or didn’t do, or what they practiced or didn’t practice. But for me, it’s much larger than that. For me, like I said before, it is about the woman that she was, the courage that she had, what she believed in, what she stood for, her intelligence, her vulnerability, those qualities that make her a woman. That’s the inspiring part for me.

GPJ: When we talk about the growing intolerance and backlash in India, would you feel that working in Bollywood film industry is losing its charm?

DP: If anything, we serve a purpose – people turn towards us because we are the one industry that gives you moments where you can escape from reality. Where you can feel love, feel unity, feel positive, feel happy, laugh. Cinema is that powerful. And it’s sad that people don’t see it. Or, certain groups of people choose not to see it. And I think no amount of opposition from a small group of people will kill the spirit of the much larger audience that understands the power of cinema. And it’s definitely not going to kill our spirit. If anything, it’s fueling it further.

GPJ: That’s good to hear. As you said, Bhansali films are all about the spectacle, stunning scenery and choreography, the songs and the beautiful ghoomar dance that we’ve been seeing. Certainly it seems like it will be a visual treat and hopefully one that will bring people together rather than divide them. Congratulations on your beautiful dancing and you look luminous in the film.  And I think our India Currents readers will be very excited to see you on the screen! Stay strong!

Geetika Pathania Jain is Culture and Media Critic at India Currents.