Sunday, December 22, 2013


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

Georgia, a tiny Christian kingdom, lying on the border of the expanding and fiercely Shia Safavid Empire, was conquered by Shah Abbas I the Safavid ruler snd the captured queen was brought in chains to Isfahan where according to Augustinian sources she was imprisoned for 11 years. Shah Abbas i gave her the unenviable choice between death or life in his harem and the valiant queen chose martyrdom. Her son Teimuraz, for whose safety and protection, the Queen offered herself as hostage to the Safavid emperor, composed a hagiographical  text, The Book and Passion of Queen Ketevan and after the Independence of Georgia from the Soviet Union Queen Ketevan has been reinvented as a heroic, national symbol and has become the symbol of nationhood, a role that the deeply religious and spiritual Queen Ketevan would have found both repugnant and distasteful. The horrific torture inflicted on the Queen which include tearing her eyes out with red hot pincers, cutting parts of her body and breaking evey limb before she ultimately died was witnessed by some Augutinian friars who secretly took her body for burial to Goa which was part of the Portuguese empire. The seventeenth century records speak of the interment of her bones near the window of the transept of the great Cathedral built by the Augustinian order in Goa, now a UNESCO world heritage site. Since the Independence of Georgia the Archaeological Survey of India has been carrying out excavations at the site in order to identify the bones of the queen who was canonized in the nineteenth century. The Queen was martyred in 1624 and a few years later her bones were taken out of Persia.

 The image on the right is a nineteenth century representation of the Queen. Fortunately for historians there is a great deal of contemporary evidence relating to the burial of the queen in the Cathedral at Goa. However it was only from 1989 that Indian archaeologists started looking in earnest for the bones. The interest taken by the ASI stemmed from the political and diplomatic pressure put on India bu Georgia. Is is necessary for the bones of the martyred Queen to be returned to Georgia just to serve the political and ideological needs of the Government in power there. Edward Shevardnadze was the politician who initiated the search for the bones. In 1994 a stone reliquary was found embedded in the wall of the transept and had the windows survived the closest would have been the second window and since that discovery there has been a great deal of public interest over this relic. The Archaeological Survey of India only identified it as the bones, perhaps of a woman and it bore unmistakable marks of great trauma. The Georgians were convinced that it was the bone of their Great Queen Ketevan and they carried the relic to Tiblis where it was received with all the honour due to a Head of State. In the rewriting of History which will inevitable result when the past gets so heavily encrusted with the ideological demands of the presnt, will be forgotten one inconvenient truth: Queen Ketevan had invited Shah Abas I to invade and help her son get the throne and wanted the Safavids to guarantee the security of her son. That however does not justify or mitigate the horrible death she was bore.

The tower of the Augustinian Cathedral where the relics were found

In a stunning new development, Indian scientists were able to confirm the remains of the queen by extracting the mitochondrial DNA and comparing it with the descendants of the queen in Georgia. Since mtDNA is passed only along the female line, this confirmation is almost accurate and we know that the Queen did not have an identical twin. The Uib strand in the DNA sequence is not found in the Indian population but is statistically very pronounced in the Georgian population.

The identification of this relic is indeed a remarkable instance of how important the skills of a historian are in the reconstruction of the past.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Devyani Khobragade Affair" What should be Indian's response

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

The Americans seem to have overreached themselves. In a relatively minor matter in which there are conflicting interpretations of the Vienna Convention, USA chose to behave in a most disgusting and barbaric manner. A young woman diplomat of India, posted as the Deputy Consul General at New York was arrested while she was dropping her  daughter at school, handcuffed, taken to a police station where a cavity search was carried out, the young woman stripped and longed in prison along with drug addicts and hookers. The way in which USA treated this woman diplomat even by American standards is appalling and this scandal has escalated into  a full blown diplomatic row between the two countries.

Let us get the facts first. The Indian Government has a policy of allowing its diplomats to engage a "housemaid" or help from India and the person so engages is given a passport and usually a part of the wage is credited into an Indian account so that the family back in India can be supported. The earlier generation of Indian diplomats used to take their sisters, mothers and other relatives as :servants: and their was no problem, However, in recent years there has been a decline in the practice of relatives doubling as "servants" and diplomats engage domestic help from India and the Government allows some semi official recognition to this practice which I agree is open to abuse. The young diplomat in question Dr Devyani Khobragade engaged a woman, Sangeeta Richards and took her to USA as a domestic help in 2012. In November 2012 this woman Sangeetsa disappeared and has remained an illegal alien in the USA ever since. The diplomat reported the matter to her Government and a case was registered by the Government of India and the Metropolitan Magistrate of Delhi issued a non bailable warrant against Sangeeta Richard. There is a valid extradition treaty between India and USa and hence this country expected USA to trace Sangeeta and return her to face Indian law.

When matters were at this stage, USA acted unilaterally. Instead of locating the illegal alien on US soil, Dr Devyani Khobragade was picked up ans subjected to the barbaric treatment, thai I have described in my first paragraph.   What are the charges against the diplomat. She is accuse of not payin her domestic help the minimum American wage. This is a surprising and disingenuous   charge because the American Embassy in New Delhi which issued the visa to Sangeeta knew that the Indian diplomat cannot afford to pay the wage required as that would exceed the salary of the diplomat. Moreover there is also the payment of a ceratin percntage of the salary in India to support the child and husband of Sangeeta. The matter came to light when the woman applied for the notorious Green Card.

Has Dr Devyani Khobragade broken any law. The terms and condition of the contract between her and Sangeeta is set out in detail in the visa application and so no rule was broken. Even if there was a minor infraction certainly srtip searching a young Indian woman and cavity search are certainly egregious instances of calculated barbarism. What is particularly galling is the role of two NRIs (Non Resident Indians), preet Brar and Nisha Desai. The first has made it his business to prosecute Indians icons in the USA and by doing so is trying to establish his credentials in the USA that he is loyal. A loyalty test that requires such obnoxious practices like what was done to the young lady is cheap and vulgar to say the least, but Indians like Preet Brar are expected to comply. The other individual is the Assistant Secretary of State for South Asia appointed by Hussein Obama. And as an Indian woman at least in terms of origins she has to prove to her master that she does not give any favor to Indians. In fact no special favor is expected or required. India expects the Geneva Convention on Consular Ofocers to be followed. The inverse racism of these two Indians aggravated the situation and India is outraged. I strongly condemn the USA for the humiliation it imposed on our diplomat, a mother, a woman and an Indian.

Now I will come to the other side of the story. India has not been sending representatives who can project India's culture and interests in a meaningful way. The reason why India got all exited over this affair is not outrage over the way an Indian woman diplomat was treated but the underlying identity politics involved. Meira Kumar, the Speaker of the Lok Sabha and Sunil Shinde the Police Minister of India refused to meet a visting Congressional Delegation citing the treatment meted out to the woman. The victim happens to be a "dalit" and dalit identity politics came into play. Not just that the way in which the husband and child of Sangeeta were treated in India does not do credit to Indian claim that there is rule of law just as the US behvious discredits the notion that USA has rule of law. India has retaliated by withdrawing all facilities granted to the US diplomats and there is every reason to believe that homosexual American diplomats who brought a live in companion on diplomatic visa will be expelled, The woman happened to be a dalit and so politically can play the dalit card. However there have been sevral instances of US misbehaviour with visiting Indian dignitaries" George Fernades and A P J Abdul Kalam were stip searched and both these men found the expreince so humiliating that they kept quiet. Strobe Tablott brought out the facts in his book. I am one of those who believes that there is no need for the special relationship with USA.

And to make matters worse the father of this diplomat, Uttam Khobragade got a flat for himself in the Adarsh Society which was sret up to build houses for Kargil soldiers and martyrs. So karmic justice finally works its miracles.

Thursday, December 12, 2013


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

India after the abolition of Slavery in 1834 became the largest supplier of involuntary labor called the Indenture System. The historians who have worked on this theme in the immediate flush of decolonization found another robust reason to lampoon India: its oppressive "caste system" and the inherent poverty of India forced men and women to immigrate and seek fortunes overseas. This POLLYANNA  view is enshrined in the scholarly writing and a moral equivalence is established between the slaving countries like USA, Britain, France and Portugal with India. The book under review is a welcome departure form these trends. Hugh Tinker even called Indenture a "new kind of slavery". Gaiutra Bahadur, the great grand daughter of a coolie woman from Bihar, Sujaria, has traced the history of Indenture in Guyana the erstwhile British Guinea, and she has done a speendid job

There is a certain duplicity in the way in which India as a society looks upon the descendents of the indentured coolies. V S Naipaul, the great writer is appropriated as a great Indian who has made India proud in spite of the horrendous history of indenture. The recognition given to Pravasi Bharathi, or People of Indian Origin is meant to celebrate the bond with the great "motherland". However, the Indians who worked on the tea plantations of Sri Lanka are denied that recognition and whatever sympathy the Tamils of Sri Lanka enjoy here in India is reserved for the Jaffna Tamils, the high caste Tamils. Gaiutra Bahadur's book is refreshing only because it eschews such contrived identities and is a harrowing narrative of Indenture from the woman's point of view. Sujaria sailed from Calcutta in 1903 when she was foor months pregnent and there is no trace of a man accompanying her and the author's grand father is born on board the HMS Clyde. Sujaria a single woman made good for herself and in the process accumulated around 2 husbands including a high caste Thakur and all the men in her life seemed to have maintained cordial relations both with her and her children born to different men on the Plantation where she worked.

The labour and its discipline on the Plantation  was severe and many of the labour practices institutionalized in the sugar plantations were hold overs from the era of slavery, the Peculiar Institution as the Americans called it; flogging, branding, whipping, jail terms, extra work etc. Given the harsh condition and also the fact that women were relatively scarce, coolie women unlike their Indian counterparts enjoyed a degree of empowerment that came with choice. Sexual jealousies were rampant and "wife murders" were not that unusual.

The book documents in great detail the several instances of violence on the Plantations. The book is written well and is a moving testimony to the horrors of indenture written with rare sensitivity. The author has even traced the Pass issued to Sujaria and this shows that the System of Indenture was based on the bureaucratic principle of rule of records and classification.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

The Assemby Elections in India: The Prospects of the Congress and the BJP

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

The Assembly Polls in the five states--Rajastan, Chatiisghar, Madhya Pradesh, Delhi  and Mizoram--will soon be over and it is time to look at the possibilities or rather the chances of the two parties. For the BJP this is a make or break election as the Prime Ministerial candidate, Sri Narendra Modi was the chief campaigner in all the state save Mizoram. Any adverse result would be interpretted as a reflection on his electoral appeal and so also the case with the dynastic fascists, the Congress party. The Congress fielded Shri Rahul Gandhi as their main campaigner and once the ballot boxes are open the country will know the mood of the electorate. This election campaign was characterized by extremely low rhetoric from both sides and especially from the Congress party. The Congress "crown prince" Rahul Gandhi the inheritor of the family throne hurled abuses like "Chor" (thief), "lootere" (looters) and his mother, the Italian born Sonia, not to be out done referred to the BJP as "poison". Such rhetoric will hardly enthuse the voter and as we begin the run up to the 2014 Parliamentary Elections we expect the Congress to out do itself in the rhetorical sphere. The BJP responded to these flourishes of inspired invective with a sobriquet that caught the goat of the Congress Party: Shezada or Mughal Prince. Of course the title was used by Narendra Modi to address Rahul Gandhi who is also called Amul Baby by the Indian political class.

In Rajasthan, Vasundhara Raje Scindia ran a well organized campaign and was able to connect with the electorate on the twin issue of mis governance and corruption. The Dynastic Fascists appointed, Ashok Ghelot as their Chief Minister and his Cabinet was plagued with serious issue of crime and corruption from the word "go". The involvement of his cabinet colleague in the murder of a dalit woman who was also involved with another congress man threatened the regime as both the Gujjars and the dalits started distancing themselves from the Congress Party. The Congress started wooing the jats, the notoriously fickle and]self serving caste, by promising a 5% reservation in Government jobs. However, it is unlikely that this strategy will make much of a difference except in the Bharatpur region. The Congress went to town about its social welfare schemes,  but the schemes introduced were badly executed and ended up alienating more people. It is certain that the BJP will form the next Government under Vasundhara Raje Scindia.

In Madyha Pradesh, the Government of Shiraj Chuhan was a corrupt and infested with elements which were thriving off the Government contracts. The Timber Mafia has acquired a stranglehold over the state and people are aware of it. However, the Congress party with its internal factionalism and conflicts over ticket distribution was not able to put up a credible fight. The  senior congressman Dig Vijaya Singha was sideleined and the arc lights were on Jyotie Scindia, the son of Madhav Rao Sindhia and the nephew of Vijaya Raje. The price rise, inflation and the price of onions all came into paly in this election. The BJP was able to recover lost ground as Narendra Modi campaigned extensively in the state and the BJP is likely to come to power with a fairly good majority, but it will see a  drop in seats.

In Delhi the BJP changed its Chief Ministerial candidate mid way through the polls. Vijay Goel was repalced by Dr Harsh Vardhan Singh, a physician with a fairly good reputation as far as Indian politicians go. The Capital has seen a contest between the Congress and the BJP. This time with the entry of the AAM ADMI PARTY  of Arvins Khejriwal there is a triangular contest. The two major parties are both crying foul saying that the AAP is playing the spoiler and the BJP very effectively countered the influence of the AAP by asking people not tom waste their votes. It is likely that the BJP will win the state but the unfortunate presence of the AAP will make Government formation a trifle difficult. I would not be surprised if the AA{ splits after tjhe polls as the party is run on autocratic grounds with Arvind and Sissodia dominating the show.

In Chatiisghar, the massacre of May 2013 oeganized by a powerful faction within the Congress Party has made the job of the Congress Party extremely difficult. The Party tried to blame the BJP for the massacre and elicit sympathy, but the electorate in India knows exactly who was behind the attacks. Ajoit Jogi ran a lack lustree camapign and Dr Raman Singh will reemerge the victor.

In the elections the level of campaigning, especially byn the Congress Party fell to an all time low. Yet with all the negative campaign and personal attacks on Narendra Modi, the bJP will do well.