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.