Thursday, May 25, 2023

Pierre Laval:: Patriot, Traitor or Collaborator Laval needs to be reviewed critically

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

    Pierre Laval (1883- 1945) was Prime        Minister of France three thrice, served       as a   Minister of the Third Republic        13   times and   was Foreign Minister         and President of the   Council. A socialist   by conviction and a   French patriot, by   choice he became the   victim of Charles   de Gaulle's politics and   his  execution in   1945 after a trial that even   Stalin would   have found embarrassing,: a   grotesque   

Kafkaesque political drama in   which Laval was denied a fair trial without   witnesses, documents or evidence. And his meeting with Hitler as Prime Minister and with Mussolini earlier held up as evidence of treason, collaboration and therefore guilty.

The great Athenian Historian, Thucydides wrote with great insight, nearly two thousand five hundred years back, "to fit in  with the change of events, words too  had to change their usual meaning." Ideology and political expediency demanded a new Hero and a new Church and the hero and the church required a sacrifice in blood and that was paid by Laval. On the night preceding his execution he tried to kill himself and it was decided to shoot him on a stretcher, if he  could not walk. De Gaulle claimed that his "Fighting France" had "liberated" France from the Germans. The truth is that he was allowed to march a small contingent of 500 men at the head of the Anglo American column and thus the keystone of the Gaullist ideology rests on a piece of contrived propaganda. Gaulle did not liberate France and neither was Pierre Laval a collaborator or a traitor. De Gaulle with the help of the Communists and elements of the French Right whipped up a cloud of passion which cast deep doubts on the motives and actions of Pierre Laval. Unfortunately, the Gaullist State institutionalised the self serving ideologically potent myth and like marionettes Historians are dancing ever since to this absurdity. In fact anyone even suggesting a more nuanced and balanced opinion or assessment is usually hollered down by the rabid defenders of de Gaulle. 

Few Historians recognise today that Pierre Laval was the first European statesman to understand the danger posed by Hitler. After  becoming Prime Minister in 1931 he sought to bring Social Insurance and succeeded and to this day his scheme lasts. In 1935 as Prime Minister he met Mussolini in Rome and convinced him to accept the responsibility of defending Austria and when the Germans assassinated the Austrian Chancellor, Dollfuss, it was Italy that forced Germany and Hitler to back off from outright annexation. Recognizing the danger posed by Germany and responding to that danger by creating an international coalition with Italy and Britain fell through as Britain was going through it "appeasement" phase and when Britain accepted the remilitarization of the Rhineland without a whisper of protest, Laval realised that in any confrontation France would be left high and dry. The same fear took him to Moscow, but Stalin too was in no mood to confront Germany. Given this track record of diplomacy against Hitler's Germany, Laval can be termed a "fascist" and "collaborator" only by those who use History  as a tool of political legitimation. Samuel Hoare the Foreign Minister of Britain signed an agreement with Laval but it created a storm in Britain which did not quite see Germany as an existential threat to civilization, and Laval clearly did. When Laval's policy of containment fell through, he became more prudent. 

In 1940 when Germany invaded France and concluded an  Armistice which was hugely popular, Laval had no role in this at all as he became Prime Minister under Marshall  Phillipe Pe'tain after the Armistice. Does this transfer of power which took place with  the concurrence of the National Assembly constitute treason. The charge of treason cannot be made unless we take into consideration the fact that the Armed Forces, Police and territory were firmly controlled by the existing Government. I hesitate to use the very word Vichy as it carries the stain of Gaullist invective. De Gaulle went to France where he was permitted to claim that he represented "Free France", the Cross of Loraine that Sir Winston Churchill and the Allies carried reluctantly. Pierre Laval was dismissed in 1940 and for the next two years he remained out of office. He was recalled in 1942 and held office until 1944. Only the retrospective judgement marinated in expediency and political need can lead to the imposition of the construct of Traitor and Collaborator on Laval.

Pierre Laval kept French institutions clear of German influence and all the judges on the hastily constituted a High Court of Justice including the chief, Paul Mongibeaux were all servants of the Vichy Government and they did not see the irony of sitting in judgement on a man who was its head. The fact is de Gaulle wanted Pierre Laval punished and executed so that he could build his political future on dead Laval. The jury consisted by Socialists who were politically opposed to Vichy and a death sentence was handed down and on 15th October 1945 Laval faced a firing squad. The trial and sentence were timed so that before the Elections in 1945, de Gaulle could appear before the French as the Grand H'omme the saviour of "Eternal France" and refurbish its image as a Great Power. And the removal of Laval did accomplish all this. France's defeat and neutrality (not collaboration) could be wiped clean and the Gallic Coq was free to strut its stuff on the world's stage. 

The most egregious charge against Pierre Laval was with regard to the French Navy anchored in North Africa. The British planes bombed the ships destroying the ships killing 1300 sailors on board, an attack similar to the Pearl Harbour Attack by Japan. Even this provocation did not lead to France declaring war against England and thereby proving the neutrality of Vichy. How could this incident be brought as evidence of a hostile attitude towards France. Political necessity had created a climate in which honest assessment of Laval's role was neither made nor attempted. And de Gaulle was waiting in the wings to erect his political future on the corpse of Pierre Laval.

An assessment of Pierre Laval must consider the circumstances of his regime and with the exception of Rousso few Historians have taken those under consideration. Pierre Laval preserved France as State and Country in the face of huge challenges. Nazification of French public institutions was resisted almost till the bitter end. German demands for labour was met but with reluctance and Jewish persecution was resisted till the end of 1943 when it became impossible for France to fight Germany.

An assessment of Pierre Laval must consider all  these facts.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Queen Anne Boleyn Justice, Law and Reality: A Historian looks at May 19th, 1536

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
The Execution Woodcut Print  

A contemporary woodcut print illustrates the 19th May 1536 tragedy on Tower Green, London

Trial Papers
On May 19th, 1536 an elegant woman, dressed in a crimson velvet gown, a white bodice covered by a chemise, in French fashion walked across to an open space just beyond the Royal Quarters, where a back draped scaffold had been erected. Queen Anne (yes, she was still Queen) walked and knelt down after making the speech that Hollywood has hammered into the heads of movie goers: Good Christian people! I have not come hither to make a speech, but to die." Exhorting the people to serve their Gentle Sovereign Prince she absolves him of all blame as she has been Judged by the Law. Her words were carefully chosen, if we trust the version given by the Spanish Ambassador who for some inexplicable reason was a witness to this tragedy.  Anne certainly wanted to protect the claims of her 3 year old daughter Elizabeth to the throne as promulgated by the Act of Succession. After a brief moment of prayer she moved her head, and the French executioner swiftly and in one swell scoop cut off her head, and it bobbed on to the platform. Historical Records make it clear that the French executioner was summoned even before the trial had started, suggesting quite plausibly that the charges against Anne and the 5 men including her brother George Boleyn were driven by political and extra legal considerations.

Death Warrant
  After the judicial trial and execution of Queen Anne, the Lord Chancellor of the Real Thomas Cromwell ordered all records of the trial destroyed and Henry VIII, fresh after his marriage to Jane Seymour scrubbed all  traces of his three year marriage with Anne by ordering the removal of her coat of arms from Hamden Court. However the almost complete transcript of the trial has been preserved and Historians like Eric Ives are quite convinced of the innocence of the Queen, her brother George and the 4 men who died with him two days earlier. 

Lets look at the charges that took the Queen to her death that May morning. Incest, Adultery and wishing "death" to the King making it a act of treason. The last charge is easily disposed of. Wishing "death" to the King entered the statues only in 1351 and was never invoked until this charge. And it is quite likely that a humorous off the cuff remark was misconstrued, but the serious injury sustained by the King in a jousting tournament a few weeks earlier added a sinister tone to a flippant remark and Jane Boleyn, the wife of George Boleyn and therefore the Sister-in-Law of Anne was the only witness. As for the other charges, a Queen's adultery remained a matter of Church Law not subject to the King's Court or the Star Chamber. On May 2nd 1536 the Queen was arrested and taken to the tower where she lived for the next fortnight until her date with the French executioner from Calais. 

The Lord Chancellor, Thomas Cromwell used procedural manipulation to secure her conviction. He separated the trial of the 5 men including her brother, George, from that of the Queen and made Anne face Lord Norfolk, her own uncle who was the presiding judge of a "Jury of her peers". A day prior, the 5 men had been sentenced to death leaving no hope for the Queen except the mercy of her "Sovereign Lord". Within days of her death Henry VIII married Jane Seymour and this leaves the question open about the motives of Henry VIII. The King had broken with the Roman Catholic Church over his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, the niece of the King of Spain. The "Great Matter" of the King's marriage had been managed by Thomas Cromwell who literally rode rough shod over the clerical institutions and establishment. The "dissolution of the monasteries" a strategy adopted for securing treasure for the impending war with France led to protests all over Northern England, called the Pilgrimage of Grace. And Queen Anne came out in open support of the Pilgrimage of Grace. Thus the King and his first Minister both had strong personal and political reasons to see the end of Queen Anne.

The innocence of the Queen is established by the fact that the dates on which she was said to commit acts of adultery were days on which she was not present in the places where the acts as charged took place. Also the Queen was not permitted to bring her evidence or cross examine the witnesses and so the jury retuned as expected a guilty verdict and she met her end.

Thomas Cromwell and Jane Boleyn or Lady Rochford too met their ends on the scaffold. Was Karma at work. Who knows? Who can predict the mysterious ways through which Fate/Fortuna acts. 

Sunday, April 16, 2023


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

What transpired in Prayagraj was shocking and totally unexpected. A notorious criminal Atiq Ahmed and his brother Ashraf Ahmed were gunned down execution style by 3 gunmen as they were being taken for a medical examination at Colvin Hospital at 10.30 in the night. On the 13th his son, Asad Ahmed and his accomplice Ghulam were killed in Jhansi by the Special Task Force constituted by the Government. This sequence of events has explosive implications for the politics of India in general and Uttar Pradesh in particular.

Certain questions that are bound to come up before the Judicial Inquiry constituted by the Government of Uttar Pradesh:

1 Why were the two hand cuffed criminals taken to the Hospital at 1030 in the night.
2 How did the news of their medical examination lea out giving the killers time to organize their crime by laying in wait at the Hospital Gate.
3 How did the 3 killers get Press identification cards which gave them access
4 Why was the flank of the two prisoners left unprotected giving the killers the opportunity to fire and kill the two
5 The two were under the custody of the Police and hence the involvement and conduct of the Police has also to be questioned.

Atiq Ahmed and his brother were sons of a tonga (an Indian horse drawn vehicle) driver and though he proudly sported Khan in his name, came for a very humble background. He took to crimes such as murder and extortion along with land grabbing and kidnapping for ransom from an early age and by the time he was 20 had more than 40 criminal cases registered against him. He had a very successful run as a politician and was elected to the UP Assembly 5 times on the tickets of the Samajwadi Party, Apna Dal and the Bahujan Samaj Party. In 2004 he was elected to Parliament from the Phulpur constituency from where Jawaharlal Nehru was once elected in the 1952 General Elections. When he vacated his Assembly seat he sought to have his brother Ashraf elected in his place, but was defeated by Raju Pal who contested on the BSP ticket. 

Atiq was close to the Samajwadi Party and being a Muslim became the symbol of the political bonds between the Yadavas who dominated the Party and Muslims who shared power with them, an arrangement that is generally called Secularism in India. Using the clout with the political establishment Atiq built up an empire of nearly 12,000 crores. And in this growth all political parties with the exception of the Bharatiya Janata Party colluded with him.

In 2005, the defeated candidate Ashraf Ahmed had Raju Pal  killed publically in a gruesome manner. Raju Pal was ambushed by 15 criminals and more than 150 rounds fired into his body. In February this year Umesh Pal, the lawyer and eye witness in the earlier case was gunned down by a team of 13 assassins led by Asad Ahmed, the son of Atiq Ahmed. The long career in violent crime came to an abrupt in 2017 with the election of Yogi Aditanath as the Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh. The Chief Minister sees to improve the Economy of the state by attracting Foreign Direct  Investment for which Law and Order was the fundament requirement. He promised to make UP, "Mafia Mukth" Mafia free. He famously declared on the floor of the Assemby that,Mafia ko mitti me mila denge, we will bring down the mafia rule.

Events started taking frenetic pace when Atiq Ahmed was brought from Sabarmati Jail to Prayagraj to face trial in the Raju Pal murder case in which he was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. With 167 cases registered against him the police were keen to  track down his cfrime empire and sought police remand which was duly granted. Atiq and his brother Ashraf were killed while they were in police custody.

The execution style killing with shots fired to the temple has raised far too many inconvenient questions both for the Government of Uttar Pradesh and for the Opposition parties. It is now being speculated that they were eliminated as their political patrons no longer needed them and indeed, had become an embarrassment. The fact that the 3 killers were caught alive is the saving grace. Otherwise the charge of political cover up would have been made. The shocking crime reminded me of the elimination through murder of the assassin of JFK ,Lee Harvey Oswald by Jack Ruby. Till today there are suggestions that Lee was killed in order to hide the larger conspiracy. Fortunately that scenario is unlikely in this case.

My own assessment is that the people of Uttar Pradesh will, while not endorsing the murders of the two, not hold it against the Government as Atiq and his criminal gang had terrorised North India for nearly 30 years.

Saturday, March 25, 2023

Writing History, Scripting Politics and the Nation State: A Critique of the Nehruvian Consensus

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

Ram Manohar Lohia and Sita Ram Goel were both eminent public figures in the early decades of the Republic, when the Nehruvian consensus on India was forged and was institutionalised in the School and University curriculum. Essentially, this consensus represented a compromise with the Muslim population for votes and this arrangement was brought under the ideology of Secularism. Second, the pre Islamic past of India was to be viewed as an "area of Darkness" with the Indian civilization playing at best a marginal role in world history. Therefore all the fault lines of an ancient civilization were ten as its defining features: caste, social division and hierarchy. The entire historical experience of India was brought under these categories.  The triumph of post-colonialism in the Academia has given added strength and vigour to these notions. 

Sita Ram Goel started life as a "Marxist" and soon found himself exiled from the promised land. He is known widely for his two volume study of Hindu Temples during the period of Islamic rule. The Left-Liberal Historians consider even asking this question of India's past a heretical act that invites the wrath of the elect elite "professional historians". In the pamphlet, a riposte to the notorious Communalism and the Writing of Indian History by the "Trimurthi"of contemporary Indian Historiography, Romila Thapar, Harbans Muhkia, and Bipan Chandra. 

The defining event of Modern India was the Partition and the Congress acquiesced in the Partition even though Gandhi had declared that he would die to preserve the integrity of India. (Partition over my dead body, thundered Gandhi). The tension between the Muslim elites and the Congress Party could not be papered over and with the strident call for Partition given in the Lahore session of the Muslim League in 1940, the Congress could do little to stem the tide of events. The leadership lost the opportunity to place its point of view when the Congress boycotted the Simon Commission and the resignations from the Ministries following India's entry in World War II left the field to the Muslim League. Ram Manohar Lohia has written an insightful essay on those he believed were responsible for Partition. Jawaharlal Nehru , Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad and Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi were the "Guilty Men".  Nehru was too anxious to come to power and longed for the comforts of Office, Mohandas Gandhi had reached the nadir of his political life and was not in a position to influence the tide of events. And Abdul Kalam Azad hardly comanded a following among the Muslim populace. Lohia has argued that the mistakes both at the strategic and tactical level made by the leadership of the Congress was responsible for the tragedy of Partition.

After Independence a clutch of Historians dominated the discourse on the past of India. The attempt to view India and its past in a positive manner was brushed aside as "communal" a term that has not been defined or properly explained. Identity Politics in the name of religion can be taken as the key feature of a "communal" mode of writing history. And in this the medieval period which is dominated by the Alighar School is quite prone to the projection of Islamic identity on Historiography.

The little pamphlet deals with the Ancient Period only and it exposes the errors and distortions in the writings of Romila Thapar. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

George Soros, the Politics of Disruption and engineered political change

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

George Soros
 George Soros is an oligarch with a wealth of around 9.5 Billion US dollars. Through his Open Society Foundation, George Soros invests in Civil Society groups and other special interest groups like farmers and the like in order to create near total chaos in target countries. The Farmers 'Protest in India last year was only one of several protests organized with "seed capital" from organizations linked to the Open Society Foundation. The anti CAA protests and the signature Shaheen Bagh protests have been linked to people who have received huge funds from the Open Society Foundation. The purpose of such protests is to create an impression before the entire world, with the help of a compromised and pliant media, that the protests are symptomatic of resentment against what they describe as "nationalistic, authoritarian" "regimes". Only non white Government are designated as "regimes" and the sub text is of complete and total demonization of the leadership, a process amplified by the captive Media.

George Soros was born in Budapest, Hungary, on August 12 1930 making him one a very senior oligarch. There are unconfirmed accounts that he saved himself from the Holocaust by changing his Jewish surname Schwartz to Soros and adopted the Christian religion. He seems to have collaborated with the Germans in identifying Jews and their property and if this is true he will be the most despicable of humans who being a Jew collaborated with the Germans and there is in the lexicon of the Holocaust a word to describe such individuals. Be that as it may, after the War he went to England where he studied in the London School of Economics where he came under the influence of Sir Karl Popper whose philosophy George Soros claims to be following and  his foundation is named after the most famous work of Popper, Open Society and its Enemies. We must point out that Popper wrote his classic wor against the backdrop of two huge totalitarian movement, Nazism and Communism and his life work was to sound the alarm bell if ever the world should drift towards these ideologies. Soros has quite cleverly transformed the central theme of his philosophy from Popperian attack on totalitarianism to Nationalism. Karl Popper did not attack Nationalism or the Nation State. He opposed illiberal  anti democratic ideologies and political practices which he equated with expanding and expansionist ideologies as National Socialism and Communism. George Soros is taking liberty with the very important and durable work of Karl Popper by attributing ideas to him which are contrary to his own stated positions. Such appropriation of the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper for spreading chaos and economic meltdown in parts of the world must be challenged.

George Soros has influenced events all over the world quite directly. He encouraged the establishment of Non Governmental Organizations all over Easter Europe and  provided financial support to the dissident movements in Europe, particularly in East Germany and Hungary and Romania that resulted in the fall of Soviet Union. This success was followed up by significant infusion of funds in the Arab world that resulted in the short lived Arab Spring and color revolutions in Georgia and Ukraine. The funding of protests movements and giving them both political legitimacy and international visibility through the mediation of Western media like Washington Post, New York Times and The Guardian shows that there is harmony of views between white media giants and the Soros ideological game plans. In fact these media houses and their journalists are known to receive huge subventions from the Open Society Foundation. On surface protest may appear uncoordinated and spontaneous but in reality they are planned and executed on the basis of "tool kits" produced in western capitals. 

The Open Society Foundation disburses grants worth 5 to 6 billion US dollars each year to organizations that adopt the western political and geopolitical objectives. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Climate Change activists, LGBTQ groups, and various other such entities are given funds with the main objective being to pitch them against other socio-economic groups. Thus labor rights and climate change activism come in handy to target economic plans and activities. Religious groups can be harnessed to crate disturbances in the name of "secularism" women can be encouraged to rail against "patriarchy" and of course LGBTQ is the latest arrival on the block. The fact that International Finance is in no way threatened by these protests as the failure of Occupy Wall Street Movement demonstrated very clearly. In fact white privilege and white financial hegemony over the world is being strengthened when identity politics is weaponised as is the case with George Soros and his "Open Society" foundation. 

George Soros has written a very revealing book, the Alchemy of Finance in which he outlines a pseudo scientific theory of "Reflexivity". He has forgotten the most important contribution of Sir Karl Popper: a scientific theory is open to refutation and Soros, our hero with a palindromic name, has given us a theory that is circular and self validating and therefore remains a hypothesis and not a theory. However, there is an important lesson lurking in this book. Market decisions are based on perceptions and market decisions are impacted by information as market values are not driven by economic fundamentals. Paul Krugman, the noted economist accused George Soros of triggering the collapse of the Bank of England in 1992, a collapse that saw people lose their savings and George Soros came off with a windmill profit of 1,5 Billion Pounds. Soros was convicted by the European Court for insider trading over the purchase of Societe Generale public equity. In India, the dramatic fall in the price of Adani stock has led to the conclusion that Hindenburg Report was the catalyst to bring about the "reflexivity" as Soros inelegantly puts in, in the market.

It is very clear that George Soros is targeting India and its economic potential by attacking the interests of Indian corporate houses that have to raise liquidity in western stock markets. It will be quite sometime when India can be a major player in the Global Financial Market and the attack has started. Earlier too the Press in India made huge uproar over Pegsus, the Raffale Deal and the Indian Vaccine. In all these cases funds from Soros and his Organization were deployed and the Congress Party particularly its mascot Rahul Gandhi seems to be thick with the Soros Foundation. Both politics and the market share a characteristic in common: Equilibrium and this equilibrium can easily be disturbed and that is the relevance of George Soros.

The misuse of Popper's ideas to promote the elitist conception of an oligarchy oriented politics is repugnant as it is both inhuman and anti democratic. Inciting violence and calling it democratic protests makes democracy weak. And it is sheer white arrogance on the part of men like George Soros to arrogate to themselves the right of certifying democracies. What he represents is a cabal of the financially rich oligarchs out to create mayhem in the democratic world. His support for the Black Lives Matter and the so called Antifa has made USA so unstable today that not a day passes without a mass shooting somewhere. Politics revolving around identity and sexual orientation make way for chaos, violence and authoritarianism. 

Will Soros and his cohorts in India, a band of reliable collaborators, hold overs from the bad days of UPA I and UPA II are coming out in strength to mouth the same tired lines. But 2024 will be a decisive mandate and the revulsion that most of us feel for such evil will fins expression in the ballot box. 

Saturday, January 21, 2023

Ponniyin Selvan in the light of History: Some Highlights

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

Ponniyin Selvan, the literary extravaganza created by Kalki still remains, nearly seven decades after is initial publication, one of the most popular novels of contemporary Tamil Nadu. Rightly so. Well written, with a tight narrative, revolving around the intrigues of succession in the Chola court, against the background of the Chola invasion of Sri Lanka, this novel fulfils all the criteria of a Historical Novel enumerated by George Lukcas. The setting of the plot is reasonably accurate, the characters are plausible in that they are situated in the glare of History, and there is no overt "fictionalizing" or the introduction of extra historical details. Like we cannot tae Sir Walter Scot's Waverly Novels as a record of medieval history, we cannot assume that Kalki has got his facts or perspective right. And that was not his goal.

The chronological framework of the Novel (PS) was derived from   Nilakanta Sastri's magnum opus, The Cholas which was published by the Madras University. The role of the Palluvettaraiyars, the clan to which Nandhini belonged was loyal to the Cholas right to the bitter end when Jatavarman Kulasekara Pandya triumphed over the Cholas in the thirteenth century and therefore the huge question mark over the loyalty of this Clan is not backed by evidence, though the twist does impart a dramatic dimension to the plot. The death of Rajaditya in the Battle of Takkolam in 949 AD is attested to by historical records like the Tiruvanladu Copper Plates and it also records the "disappearance" of Aditya, a subtle euphemism for the assassination, as shown in PS. The removal of Aditya the son of Sundara Chola Parantaka II (956-923) paved the way for Arulmorrivarman to ascend the throne as Rajaraja I (985-1014). A silence in the historical record is transmuted into an eloquent conspiracy, and this indeed, may have been so, but the records are silent. 

The Big Temple at Tanjavur has been studied by this Historian in the M S Najaraja Felicitation Volume and in the K V Ramesh Memorial Volume and so I will not go over those details here. However there are two curious details from the cinematic depiction of PS that are important.  These pertain to the use of the Horse as a fighting platform and the state of Naval Technology in Chola Tamil Nadu. Of course, Kalki has used his imagination and we are not faulting him for that. We are merely testing the cinematic depiction against contemporary records,

The figure on the left is from the Mandapa od the Srirngam Ranganatha Swami Temple. This sculpture depicts a horseman and belongs to the 15th century, after the temple had been rebuilt and reconsecrated by the Vijayanagara Rayas. What is to be noticed here is the absence of the stirrup, that vital innovation that is a force multiplier, the speed and weight of the horse to hurl the mounted soldier against his adversary. It is the stirrup that enables the rider to stay bolt upright and balance himself on the horse. The stirrup was unknown in South India until the advent of the Muslim Conquest in the fourteenth century. The battle scenes shown in the film PS show horses with saddles to which are attached stirrups, and as such anachronisms, in the bright glare of History.

The ships and water crafts shown in PS celebrate visual design not historical accuracy. Only one solitary example of a 13th century Indian Ship has been found so far and that too in distant Kerala. The Lateen sail shown on ships plying between Chola Ports and Sri Lanka were introduced only in the 13th century, and the Arabs were probably responsible for this technological advance. B Arunachalam in his Chola Navigation Package has illustrated Chola sea crafts of the time of Rajaraja I.
The Chola vessels were certainly sea worthy and the claim of Rajendra I that he conquered lands across the "rolling seas" is certainly true as they are attested by inscriptions found in the Gankaionda Chola Puram Temple. However, the shape and design and technical details are still unknown. And the reason is due to the heavy dose of identity politics and fanciful theories that dominate the field.

Monday, December 19, 2022

In the Forest of No Joy: The Congo=Ocean Railway and the Tragedy of French Colonialism ( A Review)

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books 
Forest of No Joy
  Forest of No Joy: The Congo Ocean Railway      and the Tragedy of French Colonialism
   J P Daughton
   W W Norton and Company
    New York 2021.
   This book has been shortlisted for the               Cundill      Prize in History and it will not         surprise me if      it wins the Prize. Post             Colonialism in contemporary       historical       scholarship   privileges a set of themes which reinforce the  dominant ideological themes in western  society: political correctness, black lives matter, and a belief in race equity. In this book we have all three in good measure. 

Post colonialism has essentially hitched its wagon to the dominant ideological discourse emanating from western media and academia. Race Equity, identity politics and racial justice. Obviously the enormous human cost involved in the construction of this railway makes it an attractive proposition for such investigation that can stir the liberal western/white "Conscience" while skirting all important political and economic issues. For example, Racism can be critiqued as the institution animating western dominance over Africa and indeed other parts of the world. But the diplomatic and political contexts are to be studiously avoided. The defeat of France at the hands of Germany in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 provided the immediate spur to colonialism in Africa and Germany encouraged this by essentially allowing France a free pass, wink-and-nod at the leap across the Mediterranean on the part of the Chancellor Bismarck. The entire edifice of western domination was built on racial ordering of the human race and the ideology of Progress made colonial societies inured to the costs they imposed on societies they ruled. In the case of the Congo-Ocean Railway too, we find the same allure of Progress an philosophical conceit that virtually dehumanises non white peoples and cultures. The author recognises this aspect when he states that European history recorded its achievements not the trauma of indigenous societies. Since the recognition of the Holocaust as a fact of History, Historians have adopted the eschatology of bearing witness and we find this element in the present book.

The route
   The French acquired the Congo       after the Congress of Berlin             when Belgium was given a part       of the same region. While the           horrors of Belgian Congo are           well documented, little is known     about French Congo. Before the       advent of the French, Dahomey,       the most powerful state in                 Central   Africa was the backbone of the Atlantic Slave Trade supplying slaves to both the Arab and European Slavers. This important fact is not even mentioned in this book, a bow towards political correctness. 

A cartoon lampooning the Railway 
   The Congo-Ocean Railway linked Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire on the Atlantic coast, very close to the notorious Slave Coast of Atlantic Africa. In terms of todays costs the entire 512 km railway cost around 2 billion US dollars and in terms of lives lost, around 17,000 men women and children as Child labour was not discouraged. Till this day the Congo-Ocean Railway is still the only railway track in the region.

The author documents in extreme detail the miserable conditions in which the workers toiled.  Since the region was forested and thinly populated, the colonial administration guaranteed the construction company, Bartignolles, the labour force it needed and this proved to be the original sin. Workers had to be "recruited" from Chad nearly 1500 kilometers to the north and all sorts of methods were employed. Chiefs were required to supply a quota of men and if they did not comply they were subjected to beatings in front of their villagers. Further able bodied men were kidnapped and taken in rows bound by coffle to the neck in the same humiliating fashion of slaves and any resistance was met with brute force. Men were shot and beaten to death and no questions were asked. Andre Gide who visited the region when Pacha was the Administrator wrote about the cruelties inflicted upon the people of the region. The Deputies, particularly the Socialists, raised questions in the Assembly and soon the furore died down. The living conditions of the workers was horrible and there was hardly any medical assistance at hand. Even the International Labour Organization did little more than ask a few perfunctory questions.

This book makes sad reading and even if we do not doubt the humanitarian spirit of the Historian, the larger question is: What are we do when confronted with such immense moral issues. Societies that have profited from such exploitation must give a percentage of their GDP as reparations to the affected region. This is the need of the hour. Not pious thernodies.