Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Comma in a Sentence by R Gopalakrishnan: A Review

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

 Books written by captains of Industry, Trade and those managing the commanding heights of India's elite institutions make drab reading for two reasons. First, there is little reflection of the history and politics of the time and their navel gazing obsession makes poor autobiography. Second, there is little insight into the momentous almost tectonic events that reshaped society right in their own life time and men write about their lives as if History has had no role to play. The book under discussion is guilty of both these major aberrations and i felt disappointed having read what seemed as an insightful peep into a high caste Brahmin household from the middle of the nineteenth century till the late twentieth century. Though there are a string of interesting anecdotes to liven up the narrative, the book is too obsessed about the "achievements" of the author and there is little reflection on the life and times behind the individual. I think Indians write poor autobiographies because they  are totally ignorant of the challenges of History.

The narrative deals with the family of an Iyengar land holding clan which lived in the Kaveri delta.  There is absolutely no awareness about the historical situation or condition that enabled the Vadakalai Iyengar family to emerge as powerful landed aristocracy of the region. Gopalkrishnan's attempt at placing his lineage in an overall historical context is pathetic. He recounts the (1) Vellore Mutiny and (2) the 1857 Mutiny as if his ancestors were aware of these events and were in a position to seize the historical and political import of these events. I seriously doubt the ability  of Ranga to ruminate on these events in the manner in which Gopalakrishanan has done in his book. Bogus historical recollections like the ones that he offers are not a substitute for reflections on men, events and circumstances. In a traditional Brahmin household the chronological span of memory does not extend beyond three generations and even here the memory is underpinned by the ritual demands placed by the Shradha ritual. Instead of inventing fictive conversations which fly in the face of what we know about the historical knowledge and insight of brahmins, it would be far better if Goplakrishnan had stuck to facts. What was life in the agrahara like? What were the inner tensions between different branches of the family? How were marriages arranged? Did brahmin women in the agrahara have friendship or liaisons with men outside the neighborhood?  These questions are not unimportant, as every Brahmin family has anecdotal information about girls running away with men and never reunited with their families ever again. In most cases, as indeed has happened in the case of my Gandfather's elder sister, there is no mention about the woman ever again in the household. In short, women who chose to assert their individual freedom are written out of the family narrative. I am raising these questions to underscore the partial and incomplete nature of Gopalkrihshna's narrative.

The book is an unabashed celebration of the life and achievements of the author. Obviously, the author and his children have doen well and the marker of their status the fact that many of them have advanced degrees from American Universities. But a more important question is skirted. Obviously when the author was growing up, the anti-brahmin, "rationalist" Dravidian Movement was on the rampage in the Tamil region. Like the Jews in Nazi Germany, the Brahmins were targeted by the Dravidian Movement in the most senseless manner. I remember my grandmother telling me that she as a young girl she was set upon by thugs near the Parthasarthi Temple in Madras who were obviously motivated by the hateful fascist ideology of the dravidian movement. I wonder why it has become necessary for men like Gopalakrishnan to blank out the horrid realities of Brahmin life in Tamil country. The migration to USA has saved many of them but what about those still lift in the Belly of the Beast.

As an extended portrayal of the life of a corporate boxwallah this book is adequate. But anyone interested in gaining insight into Brahmanical life and culture will be disappointed./

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Obama and his Crimean Misadventure: Russian has genuine interests in the region

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

The Western powers have once more started behaving like cold warriors, provoking Russia and hiding their aggression in a cloak of Democracy and Human Rights, a sanctimonious combination of realpolitik and ideological assertion. Nothing typifies this new conduct of the European Union and USA than the crisis over Russian involvement in the Ukraine and the subsequent merger of Crimea with the Russian Federation. People who rail against Russia seem to have forgotten recent history. It was in the Siege of Sebastipol  that Florence Nightingale earned her name and it was the same Crimean war that provided the occasion for bad poetry as well: we are all familiar with the Charge of the Light Brigade by England's poet laureate, Lord Tennyson. I am only recalling these facts to underscore the historical context of the recent events. Russia has had a presence in the Crimean Peninsula right from the waning years of the Ottoman Empire and the West always tried to thwart the legitimate interests of Russia. Now Vladmir Putin has succeeded and revered the  long imposed isolation of Crimea from Russia. In fact during the Soviet Era, Crimea was handed over to Ukraine for only administrative convenience.

Barack Obama, of course, has stated that the West will not recognize the "annexation" of Crimea.  Russia held a Referendum in which 96% of the people of the region voted for merger with Russia. Further, where was International Law that Obama and his allies talk now, when they bomber Serbia, imposed the UDI on Kossovo, and shat about the armed invasion of Iraq in defiance of the international community as represented by the UN. Russia has now followed the example of USA and her allies. There is yet another serious problem. When the Soviet leader Gorbochev allowed the unification of East and West Germany,he was given a solemn assurance by the US President that NATO will not be expanded to cover Eastern Europe. The collapse of USSR and the rise of USA as an imperial, post-Soviet power meant that the temptation to ring the erstwhile territories of USSR with military bases was too strong to be ignored and the expansion of the NATO into the territories of the Warsaw Pact nations is really at the heart of the problem.

The President of Ukariane, Viktor Yanukovitch who was duly elected and a legitimate ruler was overthrown by street mobs of rampaging neo-nazis armed and encouraged by the European Union. The overthrow of a legitimate government by rioters is always a cause of concern but not for Obama and his Merry men. Snipers who killed nearly 100 people during the course of the anti Yanukovich protests are now hailed as great freedom fighters. Russia should have intervened militarily and stopped the mayhem on the street of Kiev, but Putin held his horses.In all fairness, Russia cannot allow its security to be permanently jeopardised by Ukaraine and the EU. Yet, Vladmir Putin showed remarkable statesmanship and restraint. The fear of Ukraine joining NATO is all to real to be ignored and the European Union is following the the Nazi policy of expansion by invoking the rhetoric of Democracy and Human Rights, rhetoric that hides the war crimes of USA in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ukraine during world war II set a horrible example of collaboration with the Nazis and the same forces are being harnessed now to legitimize Western intervention. More than one million jews were killed in Ukraine during the War and men like Stepan Bandera were really Nazis not nationalists. The Russian leadership is aware of the potential for Ukraine to divide on its east-west axis with the Russian majority eastern part joining the Russian federation and the western part becoming a rump member of the NATO. Given this volotile scenario, Vladmir Putin took steps to protect the vital national interests of Russia. The merger of Crimea with Russia and the eventualbreakup of the independent state of Ukaraine can be blamed on the misguded policy of the EU of encouraing the neo-nazi natioanlists.

Obama and the European Union has imposed 'sanctions" on Russian leaders. The world should also impose sanctions on American politicians for the crimes that country is comitting in different parts of the world.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Well of Sorrows at Ajnala, PUnjab: History Rediscovered, Martyrdom Reinvented

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

The ghosts of Punjab's bloodied past has the uncanny habit of raising up at the most inopportune time. History has to be accounted for and airbrushing inconvenient truths of the past may work in the short run, but finally History will have the last laugh. Just at the very moment that the Congress Party in India thought that it had exorcized the ghosts of the state sponsored pogrom which the party organized in 1984 after one of their leaders was killed, came the revelation that Indira Gandhi has sought the aid of the British Government in helping her draw up the plans for the attack on the Holiest of Holy shrines of the Sikhs, the Golden Temple at Amritsar. The discovery of the letters relating to this episode in India's recent past is bound to have a decisive impact on the Sikh vote in the Punjab. The British Prime Minister for reason best known to him came to the city of Amritsar and apologized for the "Jalianwallah Bagh Massacre" of 1919. One more ghost from the past seemingly laid to rest. Now just as things were beginning to quieten down, the discovery of the Well containing the bones of the soldiers who were summarily executed in 1857 has been uncovered not far from Amritsar, a place known as Ajnala. For some reason the Well was known as Kalion ka Kuan or the Well of the Blacks and now there is a clamor for the name to be changed to Shidon ki Kuan or the Well of Martyrs.

The picture given alongside shows some of the bones discovered during the course of a week long excavation at the local Gurudwara in which the well was located. Under nearly ten feet of soil the bones had been buried. More than 5000 bone fragments, 89 skulls, traces of clothing, metal coins and other artifacts were uncovered. The Congress Party ever eager to appropriate the past to its own political purposes sought through Amrinder Singh to have the place declared a monument to the Heroes of 1857 a proposal which was rightly shot down by the Akalis. The Akali position that the Sikhs were not involved in the Revolt of 1857, of course, raises the even more historically troubling question about the role of the Sikhs in the suppression of the Mutiny in 1858 along with the Madras Fusiliers under General James Smith Neill.

The Sepoys of the 26th Native Infantry who were stationed at Mia Mir Cantonment near Lahore revolted and headed towards Amritsar. The Deputy Commissioner of the town, Fredrick Cooper, had his European and "loyal" troops march against the rebels and a large number of them were killed. Around 282 men were captured and later killed and the bones discovered seem to be the remains of the rebels. The immediate provocation for the brutal suppression and summary execution of the 26th Native Infantry was due to the murder of their commanding officer, Major Spencer. 

The documents given above are from the Parliamentary Papers pertaining to the Revolt of 1857. The statement of Lt. Governor of the Province, Sir R Montgomery shows that the British Government was aware of the illegal and brutal suppression of the rebels and were also aware of the illegal manner in which the 282 were executed. One more ghost from the past

Thursday, March 6, 2014

The 2014 Parliamentary Elections in India: A look at the Campaign and the trends

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

The Election Commission of India has announced the Poll Schedule and the upcoming 2014 Elections will be the longest and the most hard fought in Indian electoral history. Spread over a month, the 9 phases in which the Elections have been divided, are designed to move security forces around the country so that ;aw and order can be maintained. I expect this particular election to be violent as the Indian National Congress is facing the prospect of losing power and it is encouraging its storm troopers to disrupt the polls. Part of the strategy has been outsources to the AAM ADMI PARTY which has already started attacking BJP election offices and is threatening to  unleash unbridled violence as part of its campaign. Unfortunately, the rapid decline of the Congress  has made the AAP the only visible symbol of the social constituency which once supported the Congress at least in the urban pockets of northern India. The BJP and the Congress have attacked each other with guston and verve and of course, the Congress has used its courtiers to hurl the worst kind of abuses at the BJP Prime Ministerial candidate: Narendra Modi. Mani Shankar Iyer, a Cambridge educated factotum of the ruling dynasty mocked Modi by calling his a "chai wallah" and the Foreign Minister of India Salman Kurshid even used the word "impotent" to describe Modi, words that have outraged the Indian public. The rhetorical assault launched by the Congress Party is directly proportional to the slide in iys electoral fortunes. The BJP, on the other hand, has maintained studied silence and has not responded in kind.

The real reasons for the ease with which the NDA led by the BJP is hurtling towards victory are to be seen in the changing character of the Indian electorate. India is a young country in terms of its demography and the first time voters represent an aspirational  India which want better jobs, education, health and civic infrastructure. This group is not into the old style identity politics by which political parties played one caste against the other and cobbled up a majority. Modi has taken young India by storm as he connects successfully with the young by his vision of a vibrant India in which modern Industry and Infrastructure will usher in a better life syle and improve the living standards of the people. He has successfully demonstrated the efficacy of his model of development in Gujarat. Business confidence will certainly improve and much needed Foreign Investment will start flowing once the corruption infested Congress regime is unsaddled. Apart for the young voters and the issue of corruption, there are other issues that are playing out in the minds of the voter. There is a perception that India's standing among the major nations of the world has falled during the watch of the UPA II. The lack of respect for Indian concerns and the manner in whcih USA treated a senior diplomat, Devyani Khobragade, did not go down well in India. The electorate is angry that the dignity of an Indian woman, a diplomat and a representative of India was slighted is so egregious a manner. On the foreign policy front, Modi who attacked Pakistan for its barbarity in killing Indian soldiers and by drawing pointed attention to the frequent incursions into India by China, Modi has signaled that the image of a soft India will be contested. The Economy is in shambles and only Gujarat is showing double digit growth figures. The UPA regime tried to fudge poverty figures and derive propaganda by making it appear that its flagship schemes like the rural income schemes have made a difference to the lives of millions. The truth is that the schemes like the rest of the UPA was riddled with corruption and very little actually reached the people.

Political mismanagement has  also helped the NDA. The Congress for purely electoral  gain decided to divide the state of Andhra Pradesh and hoped that the formation of Telengana will ensure a substantial win in the Telengana region. Even here the electoral gain is not for the Congress but the local ally and the BJP. The unseemly politics over the release of the killers of Rajiv Gandhi has paid put the chances of a Congress revival in Tamil Nadu. Senior leaders like the discredited P Chidambaram have no where to go. Even in the 2009 General Elections, Chidmabaram was actually defeated in the Sivagangai parliamentary election but got himself declared elected by fraud and this time he will be defeated if he stands anywhere in Tamil Nadu.

The BJP is coasting to a target of around 230 to 249 seats at the moment. In Uttar Pradesh and Bihar which together contribute 120 seats the BJP is likely to win around 80 and set the stage for Narendra Modi;s appointment as Prime Minister of India. Both these politically crucial states are in the hands of regional satraps who have failed in the onerous task of governance. UP has seen nearly 250 riots during the past few months and the regime of the Samajwadi party has only given a thumbs up to law breakers known in local parlance as "goondas". Nitish Kumar broke his alliance with the BJP hoping to tie up with the Congress but that has fallen through and in the upcoming election he will bite the dust.

By the time Mid May 2014 arrives India will have a new government and the election of Narendra Modi looks certain.