Soon after I started following the news, mainly by reading all kinds of newspapers and magazines and listening to various radio stations and watching news on television, I had to face this periodical barrage of coverage coming from the US of the presidential elections there. And unlike the Indian general elections, it did not last for a few months, it dragged on for two years, from the start of the search for candidates for primaries and till well after the presidential elections and the inauguration of the new president.
Those were days when the Soviet Union was still there, or after some time, had collapsed only recently. India was already shifting its alliance aspirations to the West, lead by the US. Never mind the leadership of the Non-Aligned Movement.
Being a nationalist (and being still politically somewhat naive and idealistic), it almost offended me that the Indian ‘National’ newspapers were giving such disproportionate coverage to the US presidential elections. There were elections in other parts of the world. Why so much coverage of candidates whose names meant nothing to me? And of issues which (or many of them) meant little? For me, and I guess for many others (even Arundhati Roy had at some place
mentioned this), this was an embarrassing display of a kind of subordination to the West. And the West for us was (and still is) the Colonial West. We had attained independence in 1947, didn’t we? The US (or the UK) was not our ‘mother country’. Then why such obsession with the US elections, or the UK elections, to a much lesser extent?
Those were valid objections then. Not completely, but to a large degree.
Times were already changing then, and now they have changed drastically. Those objections cannot be raised now. If they are raised, they are not valid anymore. For, as Arundhati Roy also said, we are all now subjects of the new Empire, the US Empire. There are still some liberal-progressive apologists who put the word Empire in quotation marks or mock others for calling the Empire by its name, but they only make fools of themselves, because the organs of the Empire and those working for it have long since stopped pretending that it is anything other than an Empire. They themselves use this same word and with a great deal of pride. Hillary Clinton’s Caesar-comment (“We came. We saw. He died.”) is remarkable only because it went much further than just using the word, and made the spirit of empire visible on world television from the very top of the Empire’s pyramid.
Therefore, since all of us, especially those living in the Third World, and even more so those living in countries allied to the US, are subjects of this Empire, we have to know what is happening there. Because the fires that starts there (or often even the festivals that start there) have repercussions for us in our own countries, usually not very pleasant ones.
It is in this context that I have been following the coverage of the US presidential elections for the last more than one year, but only on the dissident media (with occasional exceptions), as I have been boycotting the mainstream media for several years now.
I have also been watching this coverage on television, but only on Democracy Now!, which is almost the only television that I have watched for last all these years (again, with occasional exceptions).
It was thus that I came across that episode in which the Democratic Party showed what (even electoral) democracy means in the 21st Century. In which Jerusalem was recognised as the capital of Israel in a very revealing manner. A section of the Democratic Party won a victory for the Republican Party as well as for Israel, while (in the opinion of some) harming its own interests.
Be that as it may, I have my own story of my Jerusalem win.
I was in the first year of the four year Mechanical Engineering degree course at a reasonably reputed college in India. The ragging period had ended and I think the Fresher’s Party was also over. Some kind of festival was going on, I have forgotten which one. As part of this, a quiz competitions was organised.
This was in Jaipur, the capital of the state of Rajasthan. But most of my early education had been in the much maligned government schools of small towns of that state. And all of my education till one year before entering the engineering college had been in Hindi medium. But within that context, I had not done badly as far as school went, though I did not put in as much effort as I thought I should. I was also quite good in what is called in India ‘General Knowledge’ or ‘GK’, the kind of thing these quizzes are based on. In fact, I had participated in several competitions and had received certificates and, in one case, even a monetary prize. So, naturally, I thought I could do well in this quiz. Since the competition required a group, I became part of a group and we competed. The first step was an ‘objective-type’ written exam: with negative marks for wrong answers.
We failed miserably. We were not told the marks, but as the answers were read out, our guess was that our total must have been below zero. So we were obliged to be spectators for the main oral quiz rounds and just watch the proceedings.
Now, I had not only participated in GK competitions before, I considered myself (with some justification) to be a well read person. There had not been many people around me (in the physical vicinity, not in the out-there World), at any time, who (I thought) knew as much as me. It was, therefore, with consternation that I pondered over the fate of of our written exam, and even more so, over the questions that were being asked (there were many of them in each round). I had no clue about most of the questions. And yet many participants were answering a lot of those questions.
The head of the quiz committee happened to be the son of the college Principal. But I don’t think that had anything to do with the kind of questions in the quiz.
What had to do with it, was the background of the committee members and the people who were doing well in that quiz. They were all ‘convent educated’ people. When I refer to the Indian Elite or the English Elite in India, these are the people at the centre of that group. This too, by the way, is changing now, as the eliteness in India has changed its meaning somewhat, what with the Liberalisation and all. But that’s a different story.
This Elite formed only a small group in our college, because the entrance exam allowed students to read and answer in Hindi, the state language of Rajasthan. And the overwhelming majority of students who cleared those exams then were from Hindi medium background. I myself had shifted to the English medium only one year earlier, so that I didn’t have to face problems in the college itself and was prepared for education in English medium. Still, I was a Hindi medium person, basically.
The Elite group was not much liked by the others in the college and some nasty names were given to them.
Anyway, I kept wondering (and still do) about the secret of their knowledge, which, superficially, seemed stupendous. There was, I was sure (and am now) something fishy about it. Not in the cheating way, however. They knew a lot of facts, but did they really *know*?
As I watched from the sidelines, I could answer only a few a questions that were asked. And one of them, which none of selected participants could answer was about a very important historical event that took place in 1812 and which involved the crossing of a border.
Where did they get their knowledge from? I was the one who was always reading and reading all kinds of things, not in the ‘studious student’ sort of way. How come they were answering all the questions and getting recognition and rewards?
I didn’t get an exact answer, but it so happened that one of the questions that was asked was: What is the capital of Israel?
The participants answered (I don’t remember what), but the correct answer, according to the quiz master (the Principal’s son) and the committee, was Jerusalem.
Now that was wrong! This was my territory. I knew the answer. And I had found a gap in their armour.
So after the festival was over and the classes restarted, I confronted the quiz master with this fact. I wasn’t very active in school (or in college) and the Elite perhaps viewed me as another one of the dumbos. The quiz master (sitting in his group) mockingly asked me what was the correct answer and I said Tel Aviv. They laughed with derision. I then patiently tried to explain the background of the Israel-Palestine conflict. The fact that both claimed it as their capital and that most countries of the world, including India, officially recognised Tel Aviv as Israel’s capital, not Jerusalem. That only brought more derisive laughter as if I was talking nonsense, making up silly stories. I then said I can give references, and I was challenged to do so. That was not easy, as I did not have any books on the matter. It was hard to find this explanation (in so many words) in the newspapers and the library there was hopeless for this purpose. An Year Book, called the Manorama Year Book (a popular one in India, published in several languages) came to my rescue. That was the only thing available to me and after some plodding through it, I found an explicit passage in it that basically said what I had said.
In the next class I presented them with this reference and that settled the matter, though they didn’t look very pleased. I guess they didn’t appreciate the joys of learning something new. Or perhaps the source was not right. Didn’t have the right credentials, you know.
But I had my Jerusalem win, after the debacle of the quiz.
Twenty five years have passed since and the actual matter of Jerusalem (and related things) has still not been resolved. It still drives many things which it should not be driving. And it is still debated and decided by those who should not (need to?) be debating it or deciding it.
(And, a few degrees and a lot of hard work later, I am not much better off either).
The Democratic National Convention, 2012, at one level, seemed to me like a re-enactment of that silly quiz.
Why don’t you talk about the RNC?
Ask the Black Left. My counter-question is: Why the kid-glove treatment with the DNC?