Thursday, December 25, 2014

The False protests on Conversions in India: An investigation

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

The Indian Press is making a lot of noise on "Conversions" in parts of North India. Though the BJP has no role in the policy of bringing back to the Hindu faith those who were "converted" to other faiths over the course of the past several centuries, the Opposition, particularly the Congress has been disrupting the Parliament demanding a Statement from the Hon'ble Prime Minister. The Television Anchors are having a whale of a time, thundering about the "religious freedoms" enshrined in the document of political settlement issued in 1950. Let us examine the truth of what is happening.

Christianity emerged in Asia at a time when the Roman Empire was at the height of its power and strength. As St Augustine writes in his City of God the birth of the Saviour in a corner of the Roman Empire made the religion aspire for a universality that other religions, particularly the many gods and semi divine characters of the Roman public religion lacked. To be a Christian in the Roman world as Peter Brown and other historians have pointed out was to reject the political entity called the Roman Empire, the earthly city of Augustine and this life was only a transition to the Heavenly City where the Lord reigns forever. Constantine in 324 made Christianity the official religion and thereby a persecuted faith became the official religion. Conversion the context of Christianity was a change in world view, the understanding of life, nature and of course the relationship with God  who sent his Son as our Saviour. The Passion of Christ and His Resurrection on the third day is the proof of God's intervention in history. The acceptance of the three central premises of Christianity is Conversio, the transformation, the inward illumination.

In India, however, the " conversion" has usually been on the basis of identity. Lower castes were induced to "convert" by economic and other inducements and though there have been several instances of sincere and well thought out "conversions" most of the converts regarded Christianity as yet another caste of Hinduism. And in the blatant embrace of identity politics due to the numerical democracy which is followed in India, conversion only meant creation of minority pockets for electoral gain. There is nothing religious and spiritual about this. And the storm over conversion is misplaced and most of the converts do not understand even the elementary aspects of the faith they were induced to join for identity reasons.

The Church in India did little to help the entrants from the lower castes. In Tamil Nadu that I know well, high caste parish priests do not perform the sacraments for the lower casts particularly the "pariah" christians. In Villupuram the untouchable Christians have even complained that the Church graveyard is segregated. I am not giving a litany of complaints to undermine the faith. I am only saying that conversion is a personal and inward transformation and public embrace of Christianity does little to change the ground realities.

The controversy over "conversions" or Ghar Vapsi, Home Coming as the Vishwa Hindu Parishad calls it is totally misplaced and the agents of vote blocks alone are affected not the poor.

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.      

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Narendar Modi in the USA: "May the Force be with you"

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

Narendar Modi's trip to the US was a success in every sense of the term. There was great trepidation amongst the chattering classes in India about his seeming lack of exposure to the rarefied atmosphere of high diplomacy and statecraft. However, the wide knowledge and the intellectual depth at his command enabled Modi to not only make a success of the trip but also drove home to his audience in US that India is rapidly moving toward a more aggressive economy. He rightly emphasized the economic potential of India and did not really address issues that do not concern India directly. Perhaps he was the first major Indian statesman who resisted the temptation to play hero in a otherwise drab pantomime. We have only to recall the manner in which that absurd man, Jawaharlal Nehru used to strut about on the international state and was so taken in by the empty adulation of the Western world that he ignored the domestic scene entirely and India had to pay a very heavy prize. Narendar Modi has set out to remake India in the image of an Asian country and therefore his priorities lie in the economic sphere and in all the major speeches he gave in USA he dwelled on what he called the 3 Ds peculiar to India" Democracy, Demographic Dividend and Demand.

The cartoon on the left illustrates the dismal level from which Narendar Modi rose. For more than a decade he was denied visa to enter the USA because a handful of American busybodies like Martha Nussbaum, Howard Spodeck and others petitioned the US Congress on Mod's alleged involvement in the 2002 Riots. Even after the Supreme Court of India gave Modi a "clean chit" these liberal intellectuals persisted in their offensive and the State Department obliged them. I wonder why these intellectuals do not show the same outrage to the atrocities of US allies like Israel. Modi was given the reception which would be the envy of a rockstar and I must say that Narendar Modi enjoyed every moment of his 5 day stay in USA. Not once did he allow his personal predilection cloud his demeanor.

Narendar Modi touched all the right bases in USA. He paid a floral tribute at the 9/11 Memorial by laying a yellow rose on a black marble slab containing the names of those who died on that fateful day. I think he is the first Indian Prime Minister to honour the 9/11 victims and this goes to show the sophistication with which he had planned the trip.

The purpose of the visit to the US was to address the UNGA. Narendar Modi spoke like a true statesman. Speaking after Pakistan's Prime Minster, Nawaz Sheriff had spent nearly 10 minutes ranting and raving about India, Modi dismissed Pakistan with just a single line and went on to spell out his  vision for a New World Order in which India will have its rightful place. He said that the 5 victors of World War II are the permanent members of the Security Council and this does not reflect the reality of the 21st Century which Modi said belonged to Asia. He touched on the crisis created by International Terrorism and cautioned against using Terror as an instrument of regime change. As I predicted in an earlier blog, Narendar Modi refused to be drawn into a debate over ISIS/ISIL.

The Indian Community had organized a gala event at Madison Square. Before a crowd of 20,000 which included more than 20 Congressmen and Senators, Modi spoke about his vision for a new India. He did not dwell on Indo- US relations except to say that there were visa issues that bedeviled the relationship between the two countries and this of course was a reference to the H-1 visa on which US has put a cap.  Though there is no word yet abot the lifting of the cap, it is more or less certain that after Modi's intervention the number may be increased and this would certainly help the soft ware sector in India. He also announced that Indians in USA will be given a life time visa and obviously this was welcomed with thunderous applause. Throughout his speech, Modi spoke of his campaign of Clean India and Make in India and welcomed the Indian community in USA to participate in the Clean Ganga Initiative which Modi has launched in Varanasi.

 In the leading Foreign Policy Think Tank, Council for Foreign Relations, Narendar Modi spoke about the economic partnership between India and USA. He defended India stand in the WTO negotiations by stating that Food Security is not negotiable but hinted at flexibility on other issues. India has been promised 41 billion dollar investment by American financial  institutions and that is certainly welcome.

The visit culminated with a summit meeting with President Barack Obama at the White House. Obama was certainly a gracious host and both the Prime Minster and he visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington. Narendar Modi did what no Indian Prime Minister has ever done before. He handed over DVDs containing the speeches of the great African- American civil rights leader to the President. The joint statement issued at the end of the visit was short on specifics but it did contain enough to demonstrate the success of the Meeting. Modi did not commit himself to any strategic partnership with USA, but stressed the need for technology transfer.

The 5 day visit was a grand success. Modi was able to conncet with the youth even in USA which turned out in large number to greet him. I cannot remember any politician who would end his speech with a line from Star Wars: Let the Force be with you.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

HINDU COLLEGE, Delhi: A Peoples' Movement: A review

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

Hindu College, Delhi: A Peoples' Movement
Ed Kavita A. Sharma and W D Mathur
New Delhi: Niyogi Books 2014

Hindu College is one of the leading Colleges of India and the India Today invariably puts this educational institution within the top 10 in the country. Being a student of the College, having studied there between 1972 - 1977, I found myself attracted to this  Coffee Table Book brought out recently. Though there is a lot of information about the History of the College and the struggles of Sir Shri Ram with Sir Maurice Gwyer, I was faintly disappointed upon reading the book. I left Hindu in 1977 and have not been back since and I still have vivid memories of the teachers who taught me and one of them was instrumental in inspiring me to be a Historian. I look back upon my days there when memory has made the picture of life and experience more complex. I remember Hindu College as a friendly and disciplined institution in which teaching was taken very seriously.  P C Sood was the Principal  when I joined and Dr B M Bhatia returned in 1973 and remained the Principal till I completed my MA in History.

The first two chapters of the book deal with the early history of Hindu College when it was situated near Kashmere Gate close to the bungalow of the Rajput soldier of fortune of the early Raj, James Skinner. It seems to have had the unstinting support of the merchants and traders of Chandni Chowk who put up their capital in order to establish the College. The editors have done a splendid job in tracing the early history of the college though there is little about the development of the College and its transformation into a major educational institution. I remember that even the Graduation Ceremony in the College was a very subdued affair.

Two names stand out in my memory as I look back on my life as a student at Hindu. The teacher who taught me Medieval Indian History in my IInd Honours, Dr Gita Banerji will forever remain a person who inspired me to take up the challenging profession of teaching and research. She was a gifted teacher with a sense of humour. I still remember her smiling and asking the class whether she can finish her breakfast, as she opened her bag to fish out a pan. Her classes were interesting and she took us to the Hunting Lodge of the Sultanate located close to the ridge to demonstrate the features of medieval architecture.  I also remember Dr Kotyal as a good and warm hearted teacher. D N Gupta and Suchitra Gupta had just joined the College.

Another person I distinctly remember is the Superintendent of the College Office --Kishenji as we called him.  He was a very kind and patient man. He took care to see that each student received his Hall Ticket for the University examination. Those were days before the Computer and all forms had to be processed manually. Kishenji ensured that all students received their hall tickets and I know of several students whose examination fees were paid by Kishenji so that their forms could be submitted on time. I can never forget this kind and gentle soul who was the very picture of seva in the true sense of the word.

More than 37 years have passed since I left Hindu and the Coffee Table book brought my stay in the College back to my memory.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Should India join Obama in his war against ISIS

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

It has been reported that during Narendar Modi's visit to USA, the President of US Barack Obama will request India's participation in the war against ISIS, a war in which India does not have any particular interest or desire. Sir Harold Nicholson in his great work entitled Diplomacy wrote: Do not waste your time in trying to discover what is at the back of the Oriental's mind; there may, for all you know be nothing at the back: concentrate all your attention upon making quite certain that he is left with no doubt whatsoever in regard to what is at the back of your mind (p. 111). I think if President Barack Obama feels that the Prime Minister of India is going to waltz into a war of USA's making, he is quite mistaken. The stranglehold of post colonial gibberish which passes off as wisdom has inured Indian academics and policy makers to the inherent racism in USA's global policies.

The war which is unfolding in Syria and Iraq stems from the criminal, illegal and wanton act of naked aggression launched by USA against Iraq in 2003. The sustained violence unleashed by USA in Iraq and the self conscious promotion of identity politics has led to the present situation in which the Sunnis feeling alienated from the Iraqi regime started striking back. USA made the mistake of believing that all those opposing US occupation of Iraq are al qaeda cohorts. As events have shown ISIS is a branch of the extreme Islamist ideology which has deep roots in the late eighteenth century  off shoot of Islam, the Wahabi cult. Charles Allen in his outstanding book God's Terrorists has shown that the Saud tribe of the Arabian desert used the austere desert religion of Wahhabism to capture power in Arabia and the Ottoman conquest of the region kept the more extreme forms of this religion under check. However, the British during World War I once again patronised the Wahabis and used them against the Ottoman Empire. The transformation of Wahhabism from a desert cult to a political ideology was the contribution of the British secret service especially T E Lawrence whose exploits are celebrated in Lean's Lawrence of Arabia. Against this historical background we have to see if it is at all possible for USA to succeed in reining in the ISIS.

USA started destabilizing Syria the last bastion of Baathist modernizing regimes in the region very early after the attack on Iraq. It is well known that both under Saddam Hussein in Iraq and under the Assad regime in Syria religious fanaticism has been kept in check, women's rights secured, public health widespread and education accessible to all. Religious minorities like Orthodox Christians were safe and there was a degree of what Ibn Khaldun called assabiya in these countries. USA put its own thirst for oil ahead of the social needs and progress of the region and started arming groups with sophisticated weapons and training. ISIS is an off shoot of the Free Syrian Army which has had a strong presence in northeast Hasakeh province of Syria. Now when the group has started beheading Americans, USA turns around and starts calling it names. Till less than four months back their Secretary of State was threatening to bomb Syrian Army positions, a strategy which would have immensely helped ISIS. The wisdom and sagacity of Vladmir Putin prevented this unholy mess from unfolding. In short, USA has made it a habit to arm and train militants and use the Arab League to provide a semblance of legitimacy for unleashing provocative actions as it did both in Iraq and Libya.

The American Administration is now in a quandary of its own making. It cannot fight ISIS alone and is recruiting countries like Jordan, UAE and Saudi Arabia to extend support for its bombing campaign and the world knows that it is these countries which financed the ISIS in the first place. Turkey is rather ambivalent and the restive Kurdish population of Iraq and neighbouring parts of Turkey may use the mayhem of American intervention to carve out an independent state. USA still wants to arm and equip the Free Syrian Army even after events have shown that ISIS owes its origin to that very formation. At the same time USA wants to keep the option of overthrowing the last bastion of decency in the region, the regime of Syria. Iran is also an interested actor and is extracting a huge price for its cooperation, the tacit acceptance of its nuclear ambitions.

GIven the complexity of the situation, it is not in Indian interest to join hands with USA in its war against ISIS. India has now begun to insulate the country even from al qaeda by starting negotiations with Afghanistan and there is no need fro India to pull American chestnuts out of the fire.

The bombing of Iraq and Syria


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The President of China visits India: A Diplomatic Breakthrough

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

China and India are the oldest civilizations of Asia and the tortured history of the twentieth century unfortunately tore the two countries apart.  Jawaharlal Nehru unfortunately mishandled the border issue in 1962 and provoked the India-China War which led to a comprehensive defeat for India. Since then there have been a few incidents in Ladakh  and in the Arunachal Pradesh region, but there is little possibility of war between the two neighbours. It is to the credit of the new Government headed by Narendar Modi that saw an opportunity to improve Sino-India ties and he seized the chance and China also realized that peace with India is in her best interest. Unfortunately, China is still viewed with suspicion by large chunks of the population and this is partly due to the fact that little is known here about that country.

President Xi Jinping arrived in India on 17th September, the birthday of the Prime Minister. Setting aside diplomatic protocol the President's plane landed in Ahmedabad where Narendar Modi personally welcomed the Head of State. The two seem to have hit it off well together and they enjoyed a cultural feast on the banks of the Sabarmati River. This morning the two delegations met in New Delhi for high level talks, even as the Media was reporting what it termed a large Chinese incursion. Since the border between the two Asia giants is not demarcated any movement along the border has the potential to disturb peace and tranquility along the LIne of Actual Control. India seems to have retreated a bit from the McMahon Line fixation that characterized the Nehru era and China too has shown great diplomatic wisdom in not allowing the border dispute to dictate the contours of Sino-Indian relations. Geographical features are now included as part of the elements that will help draw up the boundary between the two nations.

Twelve agreements covering important areas of mutual interest were signed on this trip: Educational and Cultural exchanges were of course part of the boiler plate of such diplomatic exchanges. More interestingly, China has agreed to send 500 teachers who will teach Chinese in India. This will be a huge step toward normalizing relations with that country. In India there is hardly any expertise on Chinese language and whatever we read here is based on English language sources and the analysis is usually by American scholars who twist the whole narrative to suit the political needs of USA. It is time that the world realised that China has made huge progress in Science, technology and Education and India is willing to learn and benefit from the Chinese experience. China will invest 20 billion US dollars in Infrastructure projects over the next 5 years and this investment itself will add 2 % points to India's GDP. Narendar Modi has taken the right decision and I am sure that he will deliver.

The visit of the Chinese Head of State marks a new beginning in India's relations with her biggest neighbour. Of course, the hangover  of the jaded Nehruvian past is not fully dispelled. Bt a good beginning has been made.


Thursday, September 11, 2014


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

The Minister for Human Resource Development, Hon'ble Smrithi Irani has finally decided to take a giant step towards making Indian Universities have a better system of governance. Keeping in mind the principle Maximum Governance, Minimum Government The MInister has decided to take the Pathan Report out of cold storage and has called a Retreat at Jaipur to discuss the Common University Legislation with Vice Chancellors of all Central Universities. This issue has been hanging fire for some time and the UPA Government lacked the political will to even discuss the need for a common legislative framework. The principle enshrined in the Constitution of India is being violated everyday in Central Universities, each of which has its own Acts and Statutes, thereby violating the cherished legal principle of Equality Before the Law. While there is substantial parity between Central University staff in terms of pay, service conditions, and the like there are huge differences in the manner in which they are governed. For instance in the Statutory Bodies of some Central Universities there is provision for elected representatives of the Faculty in addition to cadre based nominations. There is need to introduce a common legal framework for the governance of Central Universities. The 18 new Universities started during the UPA tenure have  failed to take off the ground primarily due to laxity in the legal framework.

What is the need for a Common Legislation? This question is seldom asked because the stakeholders in the University prefer to leave large areas of decision making as discretionary entitlements and subsequently pressurise the Vice Chancellor to take decisions in their favor. A common Law governing Central Universities will necessarily act as a deterrent in this unseemly game of oneupmanship. In Central Universities Vice Chancellors have been "persuaded" to appoint unqualified people and there have been instances of meritorious faculty denied their due because of their reluctance to toe the line of the powers that be. Further, in terms of service conditions there needs to be uniformity both of procedure and norms of assessment. In the name of autonomy some Universities prescribe what they consider "higher norms" for promotion and even the higher norm is invoked selectively. The need for University Autonomy cannot be equated with the power of the Vice Chancellor and his/her ruling clique to act in an illegal and arbitrary manner. A common legislation will go a long way in reducing the number of cases that Universities routinely face in the Courts of Law. Arbitrary and illegal actions when contested before a Court of Law are fought at the expense of the university, while the individual has to bear the entire expense from his hard earned savings. I think the Hon'ble Minister for Human Resource Development will earn the gratitude of the entire teaching community if she successfully pilots the Common Legislation through the Lok Sabha.

The governance of central universities affords ample scope for abuse of power in the name of autonomy. Seldom is the issue of corruption discussed. The regulatory bodies such as AICTE and MCI have been exposed by the CBI for corruption and the Chairman of Medical Council of India, Dr Khetan Deasi was found to possess one metric tonne of gold in his house. I know that in certain central universities jobs are sold at the rate of 30 lakhs a piece. This is because in Southern Indian universities, particularly in Tamil Nadu the post of Vice Chancellor is sold for 10 crores and he/she is expected to recoup the investment through sale of jobs, contracts, building contracts, canteen contracts, security contracts etc. All these ills can be prevented at least in Central Universities by means of a common legislation.

There is also the academic side to this issue. The Common Legislation will naturally lead to a common Academic Calendar all over India and even perhaps a common entrance test. Students can migrate to take courses of their chice in a particular University in which there is specialized expertise. This kind of horizontal movement which will enhance the quality of education will flow from a common University legislation.

The Minister must be lauded for taking this initiative which will enchance the standing, worth and prestige of Indian Univeristies. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Narendar Modi's address on Teacher's Day

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

A young school boy form Arunachal Pradesh asked a question which would have stumped anyone: How do I become the Prime Minister of India. Pat came the reply from Narendar Modi:Prepare for the General Election of 2024 and I consider myself safe until then. At one stroke 68 years of political privilege, one in which the highest office of the land was held as a strange kind of dynastic trophy by the Nehru family, was set aside and the democratic principle that any citizen can aspire to reach the top was reasserted. Narendra Modi's two hour interaction with students across India was an exercise in sophisticated  image building with a positive message. The students from Kashmir to Kanyakumari and from Arunachal Pradesh to Mumbai enthusiastically participated in their interaction with the PM on Teacher's Day. The Congress Party which was carping about the fact that the interaction session was made compulsory had to admit that the programme was a resounding success.

The Prime Minister made three important points in his address and as for as I can remember this was the first time any important political figure has spoken about the issues. First, he spoke of keeping the environment clean and the importance of having a toilet in each school for girl students. In his Independence Day Speech the Prime Minister had spoken of a national scheme of building toilets in each school. Second, he stressed the importance of education for the Girl Child and his track record as Chief Minister of Gujarat is impressive. I pointed out this fact in my rebuttal to the likes of Martha Nussbaum when there was a cacophony of noises against Modi two years back. He rightly said that a Nation cannot progress if the Girl Child is left behind. Thirdly, he spoke of the need for making teaching a more attractive profession and pointed out that in Japan and perhaps in China, teachers form a highly respected and honoured segment of society.

Behind all the hoopla and din made by politicians about Modi's televised National Address lies a stark fact. Narendar Modi successfully reached out to the younger generation. His tone was a mixture of authority and familiarity and was not patronizing or condescending. All in all it was a grand success and Modi has the younger generation in his hands by one fell swoop.

Monday, September 1, 2014


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

One of India's most eminent historians died two days back at the ripe old age of 86. Bipan Chandra was a tall figure in the galxy of state sponsored historians who set about to create a usuable and politicall correct version of India's violent and tortution path to temporary nationhood. As a professional historian he devoted his entire carreer to Modern Indian History, a field of inquiry roughly overlapping with the rise of the Indian National Congress to prominence in the second decade of the last century. His historiographical ouerve was dedicated to a number of what I call Grand Abstractions: Economic Nationalism, Indian Nationalism,Working Class Consciousness, Communalism, Protest Movements etc. Unfortunately the real history has an uncanny ability to escape from these procrustena beds and we are left with historical narratives in which these Grand Absctrations replace the real life individuals and real life situations. The ability to smell human flesh like the ogre in the fairy tale Jack and the Bean Stalk is the hall mark of the truly great historian. Unfortunatley, Bipan Chandra was content with the march of these metaphors, grand abstractions, if you will, and there by hangs a tale.

Bipan Chandra belonged to the world that came of age in the decades around World War II and that event coincided with the more aggressive phase of the "Indian National Movement". Jawaharlal Nehru has entered the stage and young men and women of the time found the heady mix of nationalism and left wing socialism irrestible and Bipan Chandra essentially inherited this ideological armature. As the leaders of the Indian National Congress blundered their way towards Parition, Nehru and his acolytes c\
created the narrative of Communalism as the main force behind the drift toward Partition. In this narrative there was no place for honest intropection of what went wrong: Congress decision to dishonour its Pact with the Muslim League, the decision to walk out of the Governments formed under the Government of India Act of 1935 and most important of all the decision to launch the Quit India Movement in 1942. These steps towards Independence were also giant steps towards Partition and historians like Bipan Chandra were keen to highlight one side of the story which inevitable served the political needs of the nascent Indian nationa state and the ideological needs of the Indian National Congress. As a historian he should have drawn attention to the fact that the Congress Party membership largely excluded the muslims and as Perry Anderson has observed, less than 2% of the membership came from the Muslim populations of United Provinces.

Bipan Chandra was by all accounts a well respected teacher and his Ph D scholsrs virtually adore him. This is truly a testimony to the affection and esteem he commanded in the field. He held several high positions and was one of the few historians to be honoured with the Padma Bhushan.  His death is a loss and even those who did not agree with him like this blogger will mourn his loss as all of ius like to quarrel with his intellectual output.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Narendar Modi: Hundred Days and India is alredy feeling the change

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

In May 2014 when Narendar Modi was elected the Prime Minster of India the public mood was sullen, angry and despondent. Years of misgovernance,dynastic rule, and the loss of political authority by the then Prime Minister, Man Mohan Singh, had taken a heavy toll; there was utter lawlessness all around, there was a slide in investor confidence, the Indian Economy was melting and the public deficit was alarmingly high. It did not appear that things would improve. The Indian Electorate chose togive a decisive mandate to the BJP and Narendar Modi became the Prime Minister. Unlike his predecesors, Modi hit the ground running. Realizing that public perception was venmentlty against the shenanigans of politicians, he made his Ministers walk a tight rope. They were not given the private staff of thie choice and the Prime  Minister had a direct meeting with the senior officers and impressed upon them the mantra that the Government must perform and he will not accpt any excuse for non performance. This is the first time in post Independent India that the political executive has clearly spelled out the vision of governance. Corruptionhas already started declining and Government files which were pending clearnace were disposed off. Man Mohan Singh has limited authority over matters of State and he preferred to fragment his authority even further by creating what he called Tmpowered Groups of Ministers to take decisions on important and controversial issues like OIl Pricing, Fertilizer subsidies, Gas Subsidies etc. The net result no decion was taken and when on the rare ocassion a decion was taken as in the Ordiance making sovicted politicinas eligible for public office the dynastic mascot of the time, Rahul Gandhi famously opposed it and the matter was shelved.

On 100 days things have visible improved. Food inflation and prices have started coming down. Even the proce of petrol has come down. The Government of India, in spite of an anticipated drought, has predicted a 6% growth in the GDP. Environmental clearnaces which held up a large number of infrastructural projects have been given the green signal and in the defence sector Foreign Direct Investment to the tune of 49 % has been suggested which will push up the growth rate even further. The Judges Appontment Bill which was held up for a long time has been passed and the dismantling of the Collegium System which seems tro have been misused by a few Chief Justices has been abandoned. The passage of the insurance Bill will also ensure foreign equity in this sector of the economy. The Modi Government has taken a leaf straight out of the experience of China: economic growth is the only way out of the pivertuy trap. Generations of Indian economists who have had their trining in fashnionable western univeristies have always advocated a model of growth in which the govewrnment is the prime mover. Now the peidulum has swung toward the private sector and Government will facilitate enterpreneurship.

The Address delivered on Independence Day (we have given a write up on this blog) hgihlighted all the important issues confronting the Nation and Modi did not shy away from talking about them. He stunned the country by stating very boldly that the violence against women for which India has become nototious can be stopped only if boys are brought up properly within the family and I think his message has gone home. His financial inclusion scheme will be regarded as a milestone and the largest expansion of banking services ever undertaken. Modi has shown the will to deliver on his promises.

There are however areas that have not yet caught his attention. Education in India is nowhere near even Asian standards let alone global standards. He has to address this issue and I am not sure if his Minister, Smrithi Irani has the intellectual capability for such a task. There is need to increase power generation as India will need  ahuge ammount in the next 5 years. The agreement with Nepal will surely help. Modi has also outline the River Linking 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Is Obama fanning the Jehadi resurgence: ISIS and USA

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

Even as John Foley, the American journalist was being beheaded by the Syrian jehadi militants, the world woke up to the startling fact that several of the militants associates with the ISIS are white men from USA, UK, Scandinavia and even Russia. USA has been doing everything in its power to help the jehadi forces gather strength and move towards establishing their stranglehold  over Sunni Arab states. The refrain that is being heard from Washington that ISIS is beyond anything "we have ever seen" suggests that USA is aware of the dangers inherent in letting ISIS have a free run and yet Obama and John Kerry his Secretary of State were willing to use American air force against the Assad forces who have been fighting ISIS for the past two years. In parts of Syria and Iraq which have been overrun by ISIS, the level of brutality that has been unleashed is unspeakable: stoning of women, mutilation of limbs, mass executions and forced conversion of people like the Yazdis.

The ISIS emerged as a part of the Free Syrian Army which was encouraged, trained and funded by USA. The Arab states like Qatar and Saudi Arabia are funding the jehadis in the hope that the radical Islamists would not encourage subversion of their own regimes which are intrinsically unislamic. USA did not understand the ground realities and started attacking al Assad and pursued the same policy that had led to the collapse of Iraq and the unravelling of the fabric of Iraqi society. Under Saddam Hussein women and other ethnic and religious minorities were safe and to a substantial degree acquired skills and education. By deliberately discounting the progressive nature of the baathist regimes, the US Administration successfully demonised secular and modernizing leaders like Saddam Hussein and Assad. In Afghanistan too the US followed the same policy when it encouraged the Mujahideen which later spawned the al-qaeda.   Ronal Reagan famously equated the warlords of the Northern Alliance with the founding fathers of the American Republic.

In the case of Syria the ISIS is able to inflict heavy loses on the forces of Assad because the fighters affiliated with the ISIS have modern equipment which they seized from the retreating Iraqi Army. In many instances the Iraqi Army, trained and equipped by uSDA just abandoned their weapons and deserted. The few who stood their ground as in Mosul were caught and executed by the victorious ISIS. Under these circumstances Obama has no choice but to seek the support of al-Assad and Iran. Unfortunately USA is still pursuing a self defeating policy of non engagement with these two powerful regional forces. In libya, the French succeeded in arming a group that overthrew Col Qadaffi and the mildly progressive Libya has now descended into civil war  and inter tribal conflict. One of the many victims of the Libya conflict wa of course the US Ambassador at Benghazi.

The leader of the Syrian dominated ISIS the self proclaimed Caliph, Abu- Bakr al Baghdadi was once a prisoner of the uSA, a subject of the many illegal acts of kidnapping done by CIA under the label, extraordinary rendition. The whole of northern Syria has fallen to ISIS and unless Iran, USA and Syria act in concert ISIS will soon reach the Mediterranean Sea.

Saturday, August 16, 2014


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

Horror stories emanating from USA do not shock us anymore. We have come to expect drive by shootings, mall massacres, school yard killings and the like. In India we have our own share of horrors so there is no comparison. However, the Police in India in spite of the occasional instance of violence is much better behaved than in USA. The cases of "fake encounters"that spring up from time to time are due to the inherent flaws in the judicial  system with its dependence on procedure and witnesses, that sometime the Law and Order Machinery takes recourse to eliminating the violent criminals. It stands to reason that no one would like to give evidence in a court of law about the violent acts committed by a dreaded gangster. The police in India are now armed only with a fiberglass truncheons and are issued weapons only on the direct order of the Superintendent of Police and he too can issue weapons only on the instructions of the District Collector. I am not saying that the police are totally under the control of the civil district administration, but I can state with some authority that it would be impossible for the Police to getaway with the kind of violence which was visited upon the town of Ferguson, Missouri, USA.

Darren Wilson, a white policeman shot and killed Michael Brown a young black man who was apparently walking with his friend Johnson. The attack seems to have been unprovoked as Michael Brown raised his hand the moment Darren Wilson asked him to surrender. The police officer kept firing at the young unarmed youth and he died after being hit by 3 bullets on his chest. It is surprising that the policeman shot the youth on his chest when in most parts of the world the police are asked to shoot at the lege to prevent the fugitive from escaping. In this particular instance, the young man was not a fugitive and was unarmed.

The pictures that I have placed on the side of this blog may appear to be a picture from a war zone. Men in body armour,. armed with 5.56 mm short barreled rifles which are both automatic and semi automatic depending on the configuration used, and with a few pouched of ammunition around their waist.

We can also see a sniper armed with  a telescope keeping an eye from a building. All these men have the authority to kill and the American establishment does not order judicial probes as do our government. I remember that a great scholar of South east Asian Archaeology, Dr Roxanne Brown was killed in prison solely on the unfounded suspicion of being involved in a art case. I am giving these examples only to show that in spite of the situation in India with its crude theatrics and corrupt officialdom, something like what happened in Ferguson, USA is well near impossible.

Arming the police with military equipment is against any principle of civilian governance. The police can carry weapons but its use must be strictly controlled. In USA the police carry arms and can open fire in self defence. And if self defence is claimed, there is no argument because it is assumed that everyone is armed and dangerous. The police are expected to open fire first and then engage. This kind of training has led to the unavoidable tragedy in Missouri.

Like their counterparts in India, the US police are not above inventing a "narrative" to justify the deed. In the case of the killing of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Police Department has released video footage to suggest that Brown was involved in a hold up in a convenience store. What did he allegedly steal, : a few cigars. In any even, the Officer Wilson was unaware of the hold up when he shot the young man dead.

It is time for USA to make its police force a civilian force and not use it as a Military auxiliary unit.

Thursday, August 14, 2014


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

August 15th is India's Independence Day and the speech of the Prime Minister from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi is a huge political statement. Successive Prime Ministers have used the grand backdrop of the Mughal splendour to bolster their political image and reinvent themselves as "leaders" by making rhetorical gestures that border on theatrics in order to pump up their sagging political fortunes and score points against real and imagined enemies. Narendar Modi's Independence Day speech was markedly different. It was delivered with passion and honesty and he used the "bully pulpit" offered to him to flag issues of real social and economic concern. There was  no Sabre rattling, tilting against the proverbial windmills in the form of Pakistan or any other hostile neighbour. The Prime Minister made a speech which emphasized inclusive governance within the framework of real and meaningful federalism. There was no attempt at throwing freebies to the people. On the contrary, the Prime Minister emphasized the importance of delivering good governance through a disciplined and honest bureaucracy. There is no doubt in my mind that this speech has touched all the right chords in a complex society like India and Modi's message of hope will not be dismissed with the usual cynicism with which Indians usually treat politi cal rhetoric.

The first point worth noting is that he packaged himself as the first servant of the people. In India where politicians claim to be above the law and are used to lording over the people at large and being treated with reverence, this statement of the Prime Minister  will certainly have the necessary effect. Further, he emphasized the fact that both the Central Government and the State governments must work in harmony to improve the quality of life in the country. He made the point that India is not known to be a clean country and he urged the people to keep their surroundings clean. Indians are not used to sermons like this from their political leaders and Prime Minister, Narendar Modi did not shy away from stating the pressing problems of the day. Such controversial issues that touch the very core of the Indian identity are generally avoided by political leaders. Narendar Modi has shown the courage to speak the truth from the most important platform available to a public figure in India

Narendar Modi bodly spoke of the declining sex ratio in India particularly in the under 10 years of age age and boldly said what no Indian Prime Minister has ever admitted in public: the skewed sex ratio was the result of sex selective feoticide, the consequence of western inspired notion that women must control their own bodies.I am sure that this will be followed with stringent measures to ensure that medical and scanning facilities are not used for sex determination tests. Modi also spoke of the violence against women and said that we in India have to hang our heads in shame due to the violence that women experience in India. I do not remember any politician making such a grim admission in public. He exhorted the parents to bring up their sons with the same diligence that they display toward their daughters. He has said in as many words that the solution to the problem of violence is to be found in ways in which boys are socialized in their domestic situations. A great solution to a pressing social danger.

The other points worth reporting are (1) the trimming of the role of the planning commission in India (2) the encouragement of entrepreneurship and (3) making Indian invstment friendly.

Narendar Modi delivered a  great speech and if he delivers on them during the course of the next 5 years he will remain the PM for anotherr twerm.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Natwar Singh's autobiography. One Life is Not Enough: A Courtier's rant

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

Natwar Singh has an unlikely admirer, another Sonia Gandhi loyalist, Mani Shankar Iyer. Knowing very well that the Natwar Singh has fallen out of favor in the Gandhi household, Mani Shankar Iyer has given a very laudatory account of Natwar Singh in the current issue of India Today. Probably both studied in Cambridge and were part of the elite IFS unities both men in a common miasma of mutual admiration. Mani Shankar Iyer is known to possess an acerbic tongue which can be hired by the Gandhi dynasty and unleashed against anyone daring to ask the dynasty inconvenient questions. Yet Man Shankar is very reverential when he engages with Natwar Singh and his work. Probably another courtier waiting for the opportune time.

Natwar Singh's so called revelations do not add anything of substance to what we already know about the regime of Sonia-ManMohan Singh, the duo that had dominated the power structure during UPA I and UPA II. Man Mohan Singh's pussinanity was too well known and it did not require Natwar Singh's laboured history to confirm what we all knew. Sanjay Baru in his book the Accidental Prime Minister  had alerted the Nation to the dyarchy that prevailed in the UPA regime.  Even his explosive revelation that Rahul Gandhi prevented his mother from taking up the Prime Ministership is hardly an expose. Being a shrewd politician, Sonia Gandhi knew that her public acceptance  was very limited and she could not have been an effective PM. Holding the Remote Control in her hand ensured that she held the sinews of power. Natwar paints himself as a victim of a ruthless woman. Natwar Singh is really the quintessential courtier whose entire life was spent in the personal service of the rich and the powerful. He thinks that he is doing great acts of State when he is  asked to carry messages to and fro people who matter. Message carriers cannot deceive themselves into believing that they are confidants of their handlers. This is the truth of Natwar Singh's petty existence. he a mere factotum carrying messages between Indira and her Ministers and later between Sonia Gandhi and her extended court. Butlers and Factotums like Natwar Singh are expected to maintain discreet silence. I remember that Princess Dianna's butler also came out with a salacious book on the Princess.

Natwar Singh does not say anything about the Vocker Report and he was dismissed from the Government because of his involvement in the Food for Oil Scandal. It is true that the name of his son, his friend and Natwar Singh's own name appear in the list of beneficiaries of Saddam Hussein's largess. He had the opportunity to say his side of the story and Natwar Singh is quiet about the whole issue except to say that he was implicated in the scandal at the behest of the Americans. This line of reasoning is suspect because the Vocker Commission was set up by the UN Secretary General and there are documents to prove the involvement of Natwar Singh in the scandal. It is unfortunate that Natwar Singh chooses to obfuscate the entire affair instead of bringing out the truth. And there is not a word about the mysterious death of his daughter in law who was killed after falling from the roof of a hotel in New Delhi and her cell phone did not even have a scratch. Natwar Singh and his great admirer Mani Shankar do not raise these inconvenient facts because public memory in India is only as long as the days' headlines.

Natwar Singh, a jat from Bharatpur packages himself as royalty and I recall Mahavir Singh a man who claimed to be his nephew always addressing Natwar as Kuwar, a feudal title of respect. Men like Natwar Singh are mere courtiers and their lives are not enriched either by reflection or refinement. An unworthy man has written a sly book which evades all the real questions and the hard controversies. Raising questions over Sonia Gandhi will not make us forget Natwar Singh's involvement in the Iraq Scandal. Yes, in one way this man is right. One life is not enough for a corrupt predatory courtier like Natwar all ofn 83 years of age.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Israel's Attack on Gaza

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Israel has shocked the world with the savage violence it has unleashed against the Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, a thin sliver of land with an area of 365 square kilometers.  Nearly 2 million people crowd that strrip making it one of the most densley populated areas of the world. And Israel has been bombing the civilian sectors of the Gaza Strip for the past three weeks without any letup. The death toll has crossed 1200 already and is climbing. The fact that Barack Obama, the Nobel Prize Winner has not said a word condemning the barbaric conduct of Israel is eloquent.  The death toll among children is horrendous as Israeli air force has struck schools, hospitals, UN compound, shopping complexes and residential areas. The justification give by the israelis for the savage attack is disingenuous: The rockets fired by HAMAS has not killed a single Israeli civilian and in retaliation the Israeli Air Force that the IDF have killed more than thousand civilians. Thee objective seems to be to terrorize the entire population of Gaza into absolute subjection.

The people living in Gaza are facing a whole range of problems created by the blockade imposed by Israel and shortages of food, fuel and medicines have become part and parcel of life in Gaza. Hospitals such as Kamal Adwan, European Hosp[ital and al-Shifa Hospital have been bombed so badly that the buildings have been reduced to rubble and these were the institutions in which the wounded in the earlier attack were being treated. The UN Compound in which women and children took refuge has been attacked killing nearly 20 refugees. The most amazing aspect of this savage war is that the Palestinians continue to  go about their daily chores paying little heed to the Israeli war machine. The UN has become a silent spectator and I am afraid that the uN is also headed the League of Nations way. F16s presented by the uS to Israel have been used in these attacks and USA under Obama has not expressed even the proforma concern at the loss of civilian life.Israel has perfected its regime of terrorization: Operation Protective Eagle as this wave of attack is called was preceded by Operation Pillar of Defence in 2012,Operation Cast Lead in 2009, Operation Hot Winter in 2008, Operation Autumn Clouds in 2006, Operation Summer Rains in 2006, Operation Days of Penitence in 2004 and finally Operation Rainbow again in 2004.

In all these operations Israel has targeted civilians in direct violation of International Law. A case can be made against Israel for potential arraignment in the International Court of Criminal  Justice at the Hague. The violent and disproportionate attack on civilian non combatants constitute war crime and it is time for the International Community to gather evidence and bring up the case before the UNHRC. The death of a few civilians during the closing days of the Sri Lankan Civil War has come before the   world tribunal. However all the European countries who are baying for the blood of Rajapaksha are now ominously silent when it come to the crime of Israel. The Arab nations which should be supporting the Palestinians have all but abandoned the residents of Gaza. Egypt and Jordan wary of the influence of HAMAS are eagerly encouraging the depredations of Israel. The tragedy is that rather than degrading the HAMAS, Israel by its savage attack is helping the regime strengthen itself. The rocket fired by HAMAS are nothing more than fire crackers and Israel uses the rocket attacks as the pretext for savaging Gaza from time to time. What Israel is doing is making the people of Gaza suffer collectively for the actions of HAMAS.

India under Narendra Modi has followed a rather tepid policy with regard to the crimes committed by Israel. The BJP has always enjoyed a stable relationship with Israel whenever it is in power. Many of us believe that Israel is an example worth emulating especially in the manner in which it deals with terrorism. However, the recent attack on Gaza should disabuse Indians of the notion that Israel is a peace loving country willing to extend the hand of friendship to the Palestinians. Each time the world moves toward a two state solution, Israel scuttles the issue by its festival of gore and bombings. It is time for the world to say No to Israel just as it did with South Africa.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Romila Thapar and her critique of Y Sudershan, Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research

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

In his, My Quest for the Middle Ages, Jacques Le Goff the celebrated French historian writes: History emerges from the questions posed by historians.  Unfortunately, Indian historiography is so caught in the trap of personalities that even the most celebrated historians of India, and Professor Romila Thapar is undoubtedly one in the galaxy, is not able to come out of that trap. Even since 1969 when India Gandhi and her regime decided to create a "secular" history for India, the writing of Indian history has degenerated into a never ending game of name calling and label sticking: Communal, Reactionary, Obscurantist, Ultra Nationalist etc are some of the label bandies about and a great historian like Romila Thapar is not expected to lend her authority to this charade. The fact is that India became a Nation in a historical process that is both complex and controversial. It was with an air of misguided triumphalism that Nehru declared in his speech that that at the "stroke of the mid night hour when the world sleeps India will wake to life and freedom". In reality India awoke to the most horrendous nightmare of violence on both sides of the border and the triumphalist rhetoric of Nehru has become the credo under which two generations of post Independence historians wrote history and taught a Nation centric history to their innocent acolytes in Universities such as JNU and Delhi University. Anyone who questioned the wisdom of the ruling paradigm was dismissed as a communal RSS tainted pseudo scholar. Therefore sensible questions about Indian's march to freedom were not asked and it was left to a Western scholar, perry Anderson to expose the "communal" politics inherent in the politics of the Congress party. Therefore instead of blaming the so called Communal forces, is it not possible to view the Congress  politics especially after 1939 as being fraught with dangerous consequences for the future of Indian nation, making Partition a possibility.

Romila Thapar has in a recent issue of India Today (July 21st 2014) criticized the appointment of Prof Y Sudershan Rao to the post of Chairman, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi. If she addresses the larger issue, whether the State should be in the trade and business of funding History, I might say that there is merit in her critique. However, her criticism is directed at the present Chairman at a personal level. She says that he is not "visible" in terms of research. The fact is that "highly" visible historians converted ICHR into a bailiwick of historians who in the name of :secular" history only wrote history that upheld the political settlement of 1947. The fact that India's freedom came with a fatal flaw was conveniently ignored. The attack mounted by Romila Thapar, Bipan Chandra and Harbans Mukhia nearly 45 years back in a little pamphlet, Communalism and the Writing of Indian History is still the battle cry under which these historians gather the usual suspects. It is tragic that after six decades of Indian Independence  historians still bicker over the very idea of India. Y Sudershan Rao apparently has an interest in the textual basis of Indian history and this is sufficient for the scholar to declare his interest trivial and irrelevant. In her book, The Past Before Us, Thapar herself has used literary text for the purpose of reconstructing the different configurations of historical consciousness in early India. Of course, every historian has the right to ask the questions he or she chooses to ask and I do not think that the questions posed by one set of historians can be dismissed tout court.

Another criticism launched against the present Chairman is that he seeks archaeological validation to the epics such as Mahabharata and Ramayana. In fact it was during the regime of Nurul Hasan that the Archaeological Survey of India started a project of identifying and excavating sites associated with the so called epics. The discovery of the Painted Grey Ware Culture and the Northern Black Polished Ware was taken to represent some sort of archaeological horizon of the cultures represented by the epics. In any event, these historians remain silent when regional cultures such as Tamil region start using literary sources and in this case the historically promiscuous Sangam Texts for the purpose of historical reconstruction. There is no place for apocalyptic rhetoric like "turning the clock back" etc when all that is being done is to appoint the administrative head of a Government of India body.

Indian historiography has come a long way inspite of the shenanigans of some historians. And the house of History has several rooms and there is place for everyone in that mansion. I do not know why there is attempt made to stifle voices of dissent. Of course, History is a serious endeavour and unless there is attempt at denying or falsifying the past, no historian should be declared an exile from mthe sacred land.  

Monday, July 14, 2014


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

The State of Israel owes its origin to the crimes of the Europeans, the Germans who massacred around 6 million Jews during the last two years of the Second World War. Of course this horrendous crime had to be expiated and the Americans and the British made the Palestinians pay for the crimes of their fellow white men. Israel is fast losing the sympathy it has rightly won for its several outstanding achievements: its civic programme, its educational institutions, its fairly successful practice of democracy. However, in its treatment of the displaced Palestinians, Israel is showing its true colours. Even John Kerry, the US Secretary of State in an unguarded moment called Israel an Apartheid State. one in which racial discrimination is legally enforced. The Arabs living in the territories are treated as second class citizens with limited access to education, employment or health. And the Right Wing parties like the Likud are further aggravating the situation by opposing the two state solution. The cycles of violence unleashed by Israel as retaliation for the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers from one of the settlements that has sprung up in the occupied territories is both disproportionate and beyond the limits of civilized state conduct. Without unleashing such fire power against the people of the Gaza Strip, Israel could have dealt with the crisis in a more balanced manner. In any event, the Israelis too extracted their revenge when they killed a young boy, by beating him and burying him alive. The silence from the Nobel Peace Prize Winner, the President of USA, Barack Obama is disquieting. Both Obama and Kerry are not willing to even condemn  the aerial attacks on Palestinian civilians.

The Hamas has been firing rockets into Israel and the Israeli media justifies the full blooded attack on unarmed civilians by saying that Hamas deserves to be punished for firing rockets. It must be stated that Hamas rockets have not caused a single casualty in Israel while in the current round of bloodletting, the Israelis have killed 166 Palestinians and wounded more than 1000 civilians. It appears that the motive behind this state sponsored massacre is to weaken the resolve of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip who are supporters of the Hamas. Therefore the killing of civilians is part of a strategy pursued by Israel and if the Bosnian Serbs can be tried for killing Muslims during the Balkan Crisis of the 1990s. by the same logic the Israeli political leadership is also culpable. The Arab League, the organization of autocratic Oil Rich state which legitimized the invasion of Iraq and Libya are keeping quiet. Saudi Arabia which is usually very eloquent on issues dealing with Muslim affairs is keeping a deathly silence over this entire issue. It appears that the Arab world has decided to allow Israel to solve the Palestinian Question like Hitler solved or attempted to solve the Jewish Question. The UN has lost its legitimacy before the entire world due to its inability to prevent USA from invading Iraq in 2003 and most people now believe that UN is just a facade behind which the white nations hide to carry out their atrocities on non white people. Unfortunately the discourse on Palestine centers around the muslim identity of the people forgetting the fact that a considerable number of them are Christians.

In 2009 when Israel invaded Gaza Strip it killed more than  hundred people and wounded around 1, 500. With this kind of violence unfolding can the World be silent.  

Thursday, July 3, 2014

"The Case for Books": Reading in the Digital Age

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

Reading has become increasingly dependent on technology. The book under review by the celebrated historian Professor Robert Darnton is an interesting analysis of the ways in which the advent of digital technology has changed the reading practices of people. The joy of reading the printed book cannot be experienced by one reading the most thrilling novel on kindle. The sight and smell of a book is a delightful experience and only those who savour the joy of reading can understand what we lose by shifting to the digital mode.

Robert Darnton, the historian who gave us such classics of Cultural History as The Business of the Enlightenment, The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History, has been a prolific writer who has published extensively on topics such as Censorship in the Ancien Regime and the attempts made by the Bourbons to police the literary world on the eve of the French Revolution. His approach to the subject essentially derived from the pioneering work of Lucien Febvre who wrote the Coming of the Book, an early attempt at book history. Since then, thanks largely to the efforts of Robert Darnton and Elizabeth Eisenstein, the history of print and the cultural impact of print has emerged as an important area of study, Robert Chartier contributed to the field and he brought "reading practices" to the fore. In a printed book, the codex, the eye is trained to move from left to right and the page is taken in as a unit. In the case of the Old Scrolls which had to be held in the left hand and unscrolled by the right, reading was limited to at best a short paragraph or so. The emergence of Printing made possible a rapid and almost instantaneous dissemination of texts creating the first pre digital Information Revolution. Ann Blair has been writing about how the scholars in the early modern age coped with the explosion of information brought about by print technology. In Too Much to Know Blair has documented the difficult beginning of scholarly apparatus which culminated in the humanists of the sixteenth century inventing the Footnote as a central metaphor of critical historiography as Anthony Grafton has documented in an interesting book.

Robert Darnton, the Librarian of Harvard University, was responsible for the University participating in the Google project of digitizing books from all the important libraries of the World. The Google Book Search which enable historians to search libraries which they could not dream of even seeing in their wildest dreams, is a noble attempt at making knowledge  to everyone everywhere in the Globe. The fears that Google is bebt on turning public assets into private corporate profit has turned out to be unfounded and we are all beholden to Google Book Search for making some of the rare books available at the click of the mouse. Robert Darnton has shown in the book under review the complicated legal issues that had to be negotiated before the Google Book Search took off. Historians from countries such as mine will remain grateful to Google Book Search for making rare books available. India has launched its own version of Google by launching the Digital Library of India which contains a number of interesting books.

The Case for Books is an excellent study of the importance of books in the cultural landscape of the civilized world.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

One Month of the Modi Sarkar: There is Hope

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

Narendra Modi came to power promising "change for the better" or as he prematurely declared. Acche din agaye. (Good time have arrived, a parody of the Kingfisher tag line.) Cynics might say that there is nothing new in what Narendra Modi has done. Let me list out the new departures in just 30 days initiated by the Prime Minister:

1 Make the bureaucracy accountable. The round of meetings that Narendra Modi has had with senior secretaries underscores the fact that Modi expects the bureaucracy to monitor the policies and programmes initiated and report fearlessly. All too often in India, politician are able to suborn the bureaucracy for their own corrupt purposes and the fear of transfer or worse Enquiry makes the senor officers crawl when they are only asked to bend. Modi has taken a decisive step toward making the bureaucracy accountable for the policies of the Government. He met the senior bureaucrats, the Secretaries to Government without the presence of their departmental Ministers, and in this he has taken a leaf straight from the statecraft of Margret Thatcher. This move has been widely commended in India. Another innovation is that Narendra Modi has not permitted anyone associated with the earlier regime to be appointed on the personal staff of his ministers.

2 The emphasis on  Infrastructure and Investment is very clear and Narendra Modi is  expected to announce a series of measures to facilitate economic development. An Indian Sovereign Wealth Fund that will be traded in Wall Street is one measure that is bound to be a hit in the western world. Narendra Modi has already taken steps to bring in China as a partner  in India's Infrastructural development. China is expected to invest in at least four SEZs and that is really a huge step in the right direction. Again China is expected to partner with India in the development of high speed Railways.

3 The crisis in Iraq has been dealt with in a statesmanly manner. The envoys of all counties in the neighbourhood of Iraq have been requested to use their good offices in the speedy  repatriation of Indians stranded in Iraq. The fact that Narendra Modi has chosen to seek the support of West Asian powers suggests that he would like to seek regional solutions for regional problems. USA is the real cause of all the suffering in the region and cannot pretend that it is the solution to the problem it has created. Narendra Modi's trip to Bhutan, B2B, was a great success and if he follows this pattern, I am sure that Indian isolation in the South Asian region can be broken.

4 On the economic front, prices are still rising and food inflation is also high. Narendra Modi has instructed the Food and Agriculture Minister to crack down on hoarders and the State Governments have  been instructed to enforce the decision. There is the added challenge of a failed Monsoon. The Met Department has already said the the El Nino Effect would result in a 50% shortfall in the rains. The food security is being strengthened and imports will be done without fanfare in the press.

The Modi Sarkar inherited a broken economy and a wasteful government and there are signs of the situation turning around.