Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Massace of the Innocents at Peshawar, Pakistan

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The massacre at the Army Public School located near the Cantonment at Peshawar has shocked the world and India is aghast at what happened. A two minute silence was observed in educational institutions all long the length and breadth of the country. Cynics might say that this is only a ritual for public consumption. However as a teacher myself and as a parent I, an ordinary citizen felt the pain and anguish of the ordinary Pakistani man and woman. To dismiss the gesture as a mere choreographed display of hypocritical concern will not help anyone. Unfortunately there are sick elements in the Pakistani civil society who have gone to town blaming India for the massacre and this propaganda is only to serve the purpose of diverting attention from the real perpetrators of this outrage. The longer Pakistan lingers in the twilight zone of denial the longer tit will suffer. India cannot do such an act not because it is an innocent country of lambs, but because such attacks do not serve India's interests in the region.

The Pakistani Taliban has taken responsibility for the attack which killed 132 children and 9 teachers. The motive behind the attack is said to be the ongoing Army operations against the Taliban which is going on in the North West Province, the Kim country. Apparently, the Taliban hoped to weaken the resolve of the Pakistani Army in hunting down the militants in the mountain territory. However, they seem to have seriously miscalculated an the Pakistani Army corrupt and criminal force that it is, will not forgive a blatant attack on its own raison d'etre.  I think a turning point has been reached, the tipping point which will see a dramatic changes on the ground. I wish the Army well in its hunt.

Is India responsible for what is going on in Pakistan. I have no doubt that some financial and perhaps military support is being given to some secessionist groups in the Baluchi region. However beyond that India's responsibility  lies in the fact that at the time of Partition the Pakthtoons who were led by the Frontier Gandhi were staunchly against Partition and the silly criminal man called Nehru sold them short and therein lies the roots of the problem. Nehru who wanted his seat of power by all means possible just allowed the Pakhtoons to be swallowed by the Pakistani state in the same manner that Baltistan too was taken over. Had there been an exchange of population, then the demographic character of Pakistan would have changed and the mohajirs would have been in the majority. Since the demand for Pakistan essentially came form this section, they would have defended the nation by not leaning on Islamic fundamentalism as the ideological glue to hold the disparate nation together.

India has to answer the question raised above.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Conversions, the Taj Mahal and "Secularism" in India

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

India is back doing what it does best. Cry Havoc and let slip the dogs of secularism if I am paraphrase the words of the great Bard of Avon. In Agra, the city famed for the Taj Mahal a group of 57 families decided to leave their Islamic faith and embrace a syndicated version of the Hindu faith. There is no ban in the political statement called the Constitution on religious conversion and so the contrived outrage against the "reconversion" to a syndicated edition of Hinduism ought not to engage anyone's mind. However, things are not so simple here in India. Busybodies get on the scene and the climate gets charged with all kinds of real and imagined assaults on "secularism". Religion according to the Indian political document that these busybodies like to quote is only a matter of personal choice and so it cannot concern anyone.

A huge amount of misinformation has been put out by  those professing to stand up for "secularism". The BPL cards cannot have been given as an inducement for conversion because the state government is in the hands of the Samajwadi Party which is politically opposed to the  Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Holding the Central Government responsible for the incident in Agra is disingenuous because the Ration Cards and BPL cards can only be given by the State Government. The 57 families abandoned Islam because they found their livelihood effected by the sort of high voltage campaign that is being carried out by the likes of Azam Khan and his ilk. The Government of India under Narendar Modi has economic development of India and the infusion of technology as its main raison d'etre. It is certainly not interested in identity issues. The defeated political entities like the Janata Dal (U), the Congress party and the Samajwadi party have all based their politics on religious and caste identities and therefore are at the  present noise on the issue of these 57 families choosing a faith of their own conviction. Economic inducement was neither give nor taken. So there is no illegality here.

Azam Khan a "minister" in the Samajwadi Government at Lucknow issued a statement recently in which he demanded the takeover of the Taj Mahal by the Waqf Board of which he is the Chairman. What he does not stat is that Waqf property to the tune of several thousand crores has already been swindled and this Khan shows no interest in reclaiming that. A national monument under the protection of the Archaeological Survey of India is now being targeted. Further, the Queen for whom the Taj was built was  Shia and the Mughals themselves were probably secret adherents of the Shia faith. This is important because the Safavids rulers who helped Humayun reconquer the territories of Baber from the Afghans would have provided military and material support only after ensuring that the Mughals are on their side in the geo political situation as the Persia was sandwiched between the Ottomans and the Mughals. By deliberately insinuating the discredited theories of P N Oak the so called secularists are only providing cover to the like of Azam Khan.

The reconversion movement in Agra must be seen in the context of the communal politics injected into the region by Azam Khan and his tribe.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ferguson, Bob McCulloch, Obama and the Hypocrisy over Race in USA

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The election of Barack Hussein Obama was hailed as a great step toward racial equality in USA. However, many are now willing to say that the symbol of a black President in USA is only making racism more sinister as it can now hide behind the back of Obama. When USA preaches with aggressive tone the doctrine of human rights, social justice and equal opportunity, a ritual which is compounded from time to time by the release of Human Rights Reports by the American Congress, the world has every legitimate reason to hold USA accountable to the same standards it so eloquently proclaims. The American media picks up the signal and magnifies it across the world. The complicity of the mainstream US media in propagating the case a false case as it turned out, against Iraq and Saddam Hussein leading to the invasion and the consequent death of nearly half a million Iraqis has not bee highlighted in countries like India whose Liberals still believe that USA is a model of legal and constitutional propriety. I remember Kancha Illiah even advocating American style civil rights in India and blaming India for neglecting the dalits and holding USA as a model that can be practiced in India.

The Prosecutor of St Louis, Missouri Mr Bob McCulloch held a Press Conference today in which he said that the Grand Jury found that the Police Office Mr Darren Wilson had not broken the law by gunning down an unarmed black youth, Mr Michael Brown. The purpose of the Grand Jury procedure was to determine whether the white Police Officer was justified in the use of deadly force.  The Jury consisting of 9 whites and 3 African Americans found Wilson had justifiable cause to use deadly force as Brown came advancing towards the Officer in a seemingly aggressive manner. The fact that goes unreported and the American Media ignores is this" If a Black Police Officer had shot and killed a white youth in the same circumstances would the verdict of the Jury been different. There is no doubt that had the situation been different and the victim been white the reaction both of the Media and the Public would have been different. Barack Obama instead of expressing outrage at the travesty of justice in Ferguson, only made matters worse by spouting inane pieties about Rule of Law and treid to turn public outrage felt among the Blacks into private mourning and grief by quoting Brown's father. If Obama has any honesty in him he should have quoted Brown's Mother who was out protesting the verdict.

The African American population live in a racist society in which the white Liberals no longer practice the obscene kind of racism associated with segregation and the like. However, the veneer of racial equality that is generated by the Media breaks down when we subject it to close analysis. USA is too deeply entrenched in racial attitudes and the Ferguson verdict only highlights the failure of the American state to treat the "children of a lesser God" as equals. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

On Paper: A Grand History of an everyday necessity: How Nicholas Basbanes looks at History

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Nicholas Basbabes has a way with words. He writes clearly and elegantly on one of the most humble objects we see around us, whose use we take for granted and yet do not realize that without paper the world would have been that much poorer. In the course of this rather long, ans at time rambling account of the history of paper, Nicholas Basbanes traces the diffusion of paper from China to Europe as a result of the Mongol Conquest. Though in Egypt the reed papyrus was used as a writing surface at least from the time of the pharaohs, the Romans after the conquest of Egypt introduced papyri to Europe. The fall of the Roman Empire, the awful revolution as Gibbon called it separated Egypt from the Western Roman Empire  and animal skin, vellum replaced papyrus as a writing surface.

Basbanes shows that China was the earliest civilization to manufacture paper using fibre extracted from trees. paper making was considered an art form and throughout East Asia hand made paper was used extensively for writing and painting. From China the technology diffused to the Islamic world and in the medieval period, Syria and Fatimid Egypt were centres of the production of paper. The Islamic conquest of Spain brought this  new technology to Spain and thence it spread to the rest of Europe. There is no doubt that paper and paper making exerted an enormous influence on the cultural armature of the western world. Without paper one cannot think of the Gutenberg Revolution, the  Printing Press which marked the beginning of Western ascendancy over the rest of the world. Basbanes ignores the role of India. In India we have evidence of the use of paper as early as the first century BC in the buddhist text, Milindapanho, the Questions of King Menander.  However, in India memory (Smrithi) and Voice (Shruthi) were always prized over writing and therefore we do not have the same sort of wide spread use of paper as we find in Europe.

The most interesting parts of the book deal with the various events in History in which paper played a decisive role" the Stamp Act that launched the American Revolution and the paper around the greased cartridges that ignited the flames of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in India. The author traces the establishment of the paper industry along the rivers of North America and also stresses the environmental impact in the form of the depletion of forests. The discovery of cellulose as an alternative made it possible for the rapid growth of the Cotex product (the sanitary pad) and the kleenex tissues which saved thousands of lives in the trenches of World War I. The cultural impact of the paper industry was indeed enormous. The author then discusses the more specialized kinds ofpaper used in the printing of passports and currency notes.

The book is based on extensive research and is certainly packed with useful information.

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Prospects of the Congress in Tamil Nadu after the Revolt of G K Vasan

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

As expected the son of the Late G K Moopen has revolted and the dynastic fascists have reacted by expelling him from the party. The main reason for the exit of G K Vasan from the Congress party is the fact that P Chidambaram and his faction has succeeded in edging out the loyalists of Vasan from all key positions. P Chidambaram is in desparate need of a Rajya Sabha seat and Tamil Nadu does not have the strength to send him to the Rajya Sabha and he faces stiff opposition from the erstwhile G K Moopen loyalists. Ironically, bith Jayathi Natrajan and Chidambarm were members of the Moopen faction of the erswhile Tamil Manila Congress. Who can ever forget the horrifying image of G K Moopen and Jayathi Natarajan arriving atrategically ath the scene of the bomb blast at Sriperembudur which killed Rajiv Gandhi miniutes after the deed was done. The fational feuds within the Congress has led to a state of paralysis in the Party and the Congress commands less than 2.2% of the vote base in the region. When G K Moopen was around the TMC was able to garner nearly 18% of the vote in alliance with the DMK.

G K Vasan certainly has no illusion of being a credible force in the minefield of Dravidian politics. However, he has made a careful assessment of the political situation. With the DMK in terminal decline and the demose of Karunanidhi will only hasten the eventual erosion of the DMK and with the possibility of Jayalalithaa not being in a position to contest the 2016 State Election, G K Vasan has calculated that his faction with occupy th middle ground between the two davidian gionts. What this calculation overlooks is the fact that the HJP fighting on its own has increased its vote share from 4% to nealrly 8%-- a virtual doubling of the vote in Tamil Nadu. Therefore, G K Vasan will have to align himself with the BJP as a matter of course: the logic of the political arthmatic demands this alliance,

Congress politics in Tamil Nadu has been on the decline ever since Rajaji teamed up with the Dravidian party, the DMK to defeat the Congress therefore the crdit for a Congress Mukth Tamil Nadu should go to Rajaji. His grandson sitting in New Delhi can wax eloquently on the future of the Congress, but the fact remains thst Rajahi ensured the permanent and final end of the Congress. G K Vasan cannot change this trend and his departure from the Congress is only an insurance policy for the future.

Dynastic politics is being rejected all over India. Narendar Modi and Amit Shah will ensure that even Kashmir will become Congress Mukth.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Poll Results in Maharashtra and Haryana: Implications for the Future

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

It appears that the combination of Narendar Modi and Amit Shah will indeed succeed in making India, a Congress Mukth Bharath--India free of the Congress. In Maharashtra the BJP won 123 seats on its own and in Haryana it won 47. In both these states the BJP has been able to humble the dominant regional political party which played the identity card--Siva Sena in Maharashtra and the Indian National Lok Dal in Haryana. The support garnered by the BJP cut across the traditional fault lines of Indian polity--backward castes, tribal communities and Scheduled Castes have all voted for the BJP making it the most inclusive political force in the country. Further, the dynastic components of the polity like the Thackeray family in Maharashtra and the Cahutalas in Haryana stand humbled if not eliminated and this is a trend that began in the 2014 May Parliamentary Elections which saw the emergence of the BJP as a truly National force. Identity politics has resulted in the fragmentation of the political space and the resultant Governments were plagued with corruption and crime as what India witnessed during the 10 years of Congress led UPA rule.

In Maharashtra the BJP reluctantly broke itt alliance with the regional party, Siva Sena, over the issue of seat sharing. Surprisingly the Shiv Sena was unwilling  to concede just 3 extra seats over which the two parties parted company. Even though the Siva Sena put put candidates against the BJP in all the traditional regions of Maharashtra, Vidhraba, Mahratwada, and Konkan, the bJP was able to make dramatic inroads. The separation of Vidhraba from Maharrashtra is unlikely to be taken up in the near future as the Siva Sena will oppose any division of the state. The recent confusion over Telengana may lead to a rethink on the whole issue. Even though the Siva Sena used, as it is wont, extremely fiery and some would even say "gutter" language, a patch up is on the cards.

The Congress and its ally Nationalist Congress Party led by Sharad Pawar was defeated because of the rampant corruption it indulged in. The Irrigation scandal in which the prime accused is Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the Maharatha strongman resulted in the defeat of the NCP though it has held on to its traditional strongholds of Baramati.

In Haryana, the INLD leader Om Prakash Chautala who is lodged in jail due to his involvement in the Teacher Recruitment  Scam won 20 seats. All the important leaders of the Party were defeated. Om Prakash Chautala himself came out of jail on bail to campaign, feigning medical grounds but the results showed that the people have no sympathy for corrupt politicians and this shows clearly that the Indian Electorate is changing. Jat identity politics made the BJP stitch a coalition of other backward castes including the dalits and has swept to power.

In Maharashtra the BJP faces a rather grim choice: it has to seek the support of the Siva Sena to form the Government and given the acrimony of the recent campaign it would be quite a task to repair the damage to the 25 year relationship. In a way the passing away of Gopinath Munde who would have been content to let the Siva Sena play the dominant partner inMaharashtra opened the door for the BJP's emergence as an important force.

The two are well and truly set to making India, Congress Mukth Bhrath.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Lost, Stolen or Shredded: The elusive shadows in Art and Literature

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Lost, Stolen, or Shredded: Stories of Missing Works of Art and Literature
Rick Gekoski
Profile Books, London, 2014

Rick Gekoski who is a dealer in rare books, manuscripts and art has written an interesting book which sheds light on the arcane world of auctions, art transfer and recovery/restitution of cultural property. With a D Phil from Oxford University, Gekoski certainly knows both the academic and transactional aspects of this quaint and should I say with a degree of trepidation, murky arena of literary auctions and acquisition of papers, letters, manuscripts and memorabilia. This book offers a fascinating glimpse into the wheeling and dealing that goes on in the art world. Did you know that the Mona Lisa was once stolen by an Italian nationalist and then was restored to the Louvre where it hangs still. This book begins with that episode and in the course of 15 short, pithy essays the author has brought out unknown facts behind several famous collections.

The discussion relating to the Urewera Mural that evoked "complex and contradictory local sensibilities" is a remarkable exercise in coming to terms with the political identity of dispossessed native groups in White settler state such as New Zealand and Australia. Denied right--political and cultural--art became the terrain over which political identities were created. This essay raises the disturbing question: Did the genocide of the native population of these countries lead to the crisis of identity in which even memory remains as elusive as dreamtime. This particular essay records the mural and its afterlife in the imagination of the indigenous Tuhoe society of New Zealand.  Sir Winston Churchill is a character who remains extremely controversial and no wonder his portrait commissioned by his admirers in the British Parliament generated disturbing emotions. The destruction of the portrait by Graham Sutherland by the widow of Churchill is seen as an act of vandalism by the admirers of the British statesman. Or was it an act of redemption? Dealers are known to pursue their quest for letters and documents. The search for a lost poem by James Joyce is certainly interesting. But I wonder how such quets help us understand the poetry of Joyce better. There are however more serious matters in this book.

Do the dead have rights? Gekoski asks this question but does not provide a straight answer. This question is particularly pertinent when authors and other powerful cultural icons like poets and novelists instruct their literary executors to destroy their papers. Do historians have a right to claim the materials pertaining to the life of the people they study. Lord Byron whose life by no stretch of the imagination was an exemplary life in the service of his God, King and Nation, was a meticulous recorder of his "conquests"  and his publisher burnt the 3 think volumes of his diaries thereby depriving the future of ever understanding the mind of this great but elusive genius. As  a historian, I feel that the dead have no right to hold on to their secrets. After death the truth of their earthly lives must be told and therefore destruction of private papers, letters and the like must be strongly discouraged.

This book is an excellent introduction to the abstract questions of art, its ownership, and the like. Though the author does not address these questions directly these questions lurk just beneath the surface.