Book Review: The Warrior State by T.V. Paul

Madeleine Albright once characterised Pakistan as an international migraine. This book by TV Paul does an excellent work of not only diagnosing the reason as to why the Pakistani state qualifies to be called an international migraine but also suggests remedies on how it can cease to be so (but I am so very sure that Pakistani elites would not bother to even condescend to think about them). As the title suggests, he sees the Pakistani state as the Warrior State. (He prefers this term than the often used Garrison state). Some takeaways from the book;

1. Since its creation the Pakistani elite have looked at international relations through the Hobbession prism of war and conflict thereby converting Pakistan into a security state. Further they are obsessed in seeking ‘strategic parity’ with their eastern neighbour, the much larger and more resourceful India. They look at the relationship with their eastern neighbour as a zero sum game and will do anything to prevent India’s rise. So despite all blowbacks that Pakistan itself might face there is no revision of the policy of supporting Islamists and non state actors that wage war with India, seeking to dominate Afghanistan and primacy to military in the national life.

2. Paul characterises the location of Pakistan as a ‘geo strategic’ curse which has allowed it to survive for most part of its existence as a ‘rentier state’, serving the geo strategic interests of the West (mostly USA) and also the Gulf (mostly Saudi Arabia). This ‘rent’ has allowed it to survive without making structural changes in its state structure (as developmental states do to generate resources for meeting the needs of their society and state).

3. Paul also compares other ‘security’ states’ like Taiwan and South Korea and those states where military dominated national life like Turkey, Indonesia and Egypt with Pakistan and analyses reason as to why and how they could get over military domination and move towards developmentalism while Pakistan spectacularly failed (or was unwilling) in doing so.

A very good read indeed. Maza aaya padhne mein!!

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Book Review: Ram Manohar Lohia by Indumati Kelkar

Dr. Lohia remains a fascinating personality for me. I have known people who ‘worship’ him and also people who ‘deride’ him. Even as I was reading this book, a close family friend (who is of course in his 70s) said ‘kaun pagal ka kitab padh rahe ho?’. He of course remained a pucca Congressi for long, though is now reassessing his pol preference…

Love him or hate him but you can’t deny the influence of this man on national politics. He remained the ideological mentor of the samajvadis who dominated the national polity as well as the politics of the Hindi heartland in the era when the one party dominant system (Congress) started straining till the BJP rose as a major factor and then the main pole of national polity The rise of identity politics in the 90s as well as the subalterization of politics in India had much to do with the brand of politics which Lohia professed and advocated post independence.

He was the perpetual outlier, the relentless and some would say ‘cussed’ critic of the Congress and the Gandhi Nehru family. While much is written today about PM Modi’s talk of a Congress Mukt Bharat, it was actually Lohia who said so in Jallundhar, “The target of the SSP is not merely defeating Congress..but the very liquidation of the Congress.”. While the PM is accused today of speaking ill of the opposition while he travels abroad(in his public meetings), and that such statements are not a part of the Indian political culture before, a study of Dr. Lohia reveals that he was was unrelenting in his critique of Nehru (and his govt) during his trips abroad.

Dr. Lohia was relentless in exposing the hypocrisies and shortcomings of Nehru’s govt. His argument that while an average Indian survived on 3 annas a day the govt was spending 25000 Rs. per day on the PM is widely known. Nehru contested the figure of 3 annas but finally Lohia was proved right.

I have read his works in some detail and I must confess that while I disagree with many of his formulations especially on his economic policies, however his stress on economic and political decentralization (he was a true Gandhian in that sense) does merit serious consideration. It needs to be understood however that his thrust was not on cottage industry of the Congress variety (very low productivity) but what he called ‘small tool’ industry. He was sharply critical of the planed economy with its thrust on large PSUs as the ‘commanding heights’ of the economy. It was for this reason that he was sharply critical of the Communist too. He also abhorred them for constantly looking at and defending USSR and China, sometimes at the cost of Indian national interest. Similarly his thrust on promotion of Hindi and other national languages, affirmative action for weaker sections were all calls of breaking the then prevailing status quo.

Reading the book also makes one realize how volatile and restless India was in the early years of Independence and the slow progress that we made. Social and economic unrest was rife and police firing on protesters was routine. In fact Lohia was sidelined by his party when he asked the CM of Cochin, Pattam Thanu Pillai who belonged to his party to resign as police had fired on peaceful protesters.

I am intrigued as to how Dr. Lohia would have reacted to the lifestyles and politics of the present Samajwadis. A person who never craved for any luxury (once on being told that he should get a cooler installed in his room, he angrily brushed it aside saying that such luxuries were not for him), and who insisted that ceiling of 1500 Rs should be set on the expenditure of all Indians, what would have been his reaction on seeing his fellow samajwadis driving cars worth crores? While many of the then politicians traveled abroad for their treatment, Dr. Lohia for his prostate operation got himself admitted to Wellington hospital where he lost his life as he caught acute infection during surgery. This was the quality of public service that the pro poor left of the center govt had given to this country after 20 years of independence, a legacy which continues till date.

He was also in favour of the uniform civil code and also sought to hold a Ramayan Mela in Chitrakoot. This however could never materialize for the then Congress govt refused to provide concessionary tickets to delegates. While an atheist he believed that politics without religious morals is doomed.

This book written by his colleague Smt Indumati Kelkar is slightly hegiographic but is a very good read. Of course, it could have done with some better editing. Lots of typos and also spelling mistakes can be seen in the book.

It is sad that many in India do not know much about these figures of national life. In fact the writing of Indian history has been completely unfair to anyone who was either not a Congressi or a leftist. The leftist historians who monopolized history writing under government patronage have systematically sought to undermine their contribution to nation building and worse also perpetrated lies about them.

High time such historiography is corrected.

Book Review: How India became Democratic by Ornit Shani

Ornit Shani writes well and she understands India. I had read her first book “Communalism, Caste and Hindu Nationalism: The Violence in Gujarat” and had really enjoyed it. In fact I had read it when I was posted to Gujarat and the book really helped me in understanding the dynamics and the nuances of Gujarati society and polity.

This is her second book and is an equally fascinating account of the history of the administrative processes which let to the preparation of India’s first ever electoral roll. This was an unique exercise, conducted in anticipation of the laws to be passed for citizenship as well as promulgation of the constitution. The process began in 1947 (so that the rolls could be made ready by the time the constitution was promulgated and that the first elections were not delayed, but held in time) under the stewardship of the Constituent Assembly Secretariat (CAS) and was a unique exercise as the electoral rolls prepared so far were severely restricted (as franchise itself was limited to certain classes of people) during the British rule. On top of it, the migration (both inbound and outbound) of refugees created complications in the enrollment of voters in an area. Further, princely states were still being integrated and were therefore governed by a different governance structure and laws.

This deeply researched book also highlights the participation by the press and ordinary citizens in preparation of this roll. This in turn made the ordinary citizenry of the country an active participant in the democratic process thereby helping in furthering a political imagination based on political equality and democracy.

For bureaucrats like us it is doubly inspiring for it shows what can be achieved with a leadership and organisation that is imbued with clear vision and dedication. Since much of the book is drawn from the normal notes/drafts from the files (archived in the EC) any bureaucrat reading the book could easily relate to the language of the book too. I however wish today’s bureaucrats like us could write draft/notes with as much felicity as our seniors of the 50’s did.

A lovely read.

Book Review: An ordinary Man’s Guide to Radicalism by Neyaz Farooquee

Reading this book by Neyaz Farooquee, I was constantly reminded of the scene from the Kundan Shah’s classic film ‘Kabhi Haan, Kabhi Na’, where the Hero Shahrukh Khan is moping on the sea shore, sad that the girl whom he loves does not reciprocate his feelings. He plays a sad tune on his harmonica and the Mafia Don of the area who has taken a liking for him hears him play. The Don has his sidekick with him who is perpetually noting down all that the Don says. The Don tells him, “Yahin aas paas koi sala bada sad hai re!”. The lackey tries to write down and the Don buts in, “Note mat karo, feel karo, feel karo!” So it is with this book, to those who read it, I have only one humble request to make, ‘Don’t get into analyzing the book, feel it!”

The book seeks to make the readers ‘understand’ what it is to be a Muslim in India (or has been for some time) or how the Muslim in India thinks of himself. Many might find what the author feels to be an exaggeration; his lurking fear, insecurity and loss of faith in state institutions. But let me tell you, the insecurities of a minority are only for minorities to live and understand. Ask any Kashmiri Pandit how he felt in the 90s? During my assignments abroad, especially in war torn and (so called) radicalized societies like Sudan, it felt strange (for a privileged majority in my own country) and very uncomfortable when any Arab gentleman walking on the street very politely stopped me and after a few pleasantries asked me if I was a Muslim! Many a times the conversation ended with a polite nod after I said No. No rudeness was involved but one could immediately feel a sense of ‘othering’. Well you could call me paranoid, but I guess feelings are always personal! It is the same feeling you get when you are made to stand in a different line at the airport during your travels to the USA and your bags opened (most of the time). The TSA is invariably polite and businesslike, but you know they are doing this because you are not ‘them’. In the end of course, both of you smile, you at the relief of the bag check getting over, and they at the stupidity (so you would like to believe) of checking the bag of a friendly Hindu Indian!

The book begins with the Batla House encounter of 2008 and the debate surrounding the genuineness of it and how it affected the life of the author who came to Delhi from the backwaters of Gopalgunj district to make a life for himself through good education and to finally become a ‘bada aadami’ as desired by his family. Part memoir, part personal history and part political narrative the book does a commendable job of highlighting the insecurities of the young Muslim community in India as well as their ghettiozation. If there is one hero in the book it is Prof. Mushirul Hassan, the VC of Jamia who stands by his students, gives them confidence and seeks to reinforce their faith in the Indian constitutional values. It is the same Mushirul Hassan whom the author once detested (a BJP supporter, anti Islam) for having supported Salman Rushdie. He was roughed up by the students of Jamia and had to be hospitalized. In a way it is also the breaking of stereotypes for the author and reassessment of his victim consciousness. Thus the book is also a journey of author’s discovery of self, the broadening of his perspectives, This process of self discovery leads him to reach out and discover the (earlier detested) ‘other’..i.e Hindu priest of the nearby temple, the Jews of India, the Christian Afghans, the RSS wala etc, each making him realize their similarities with him. Sadly, this ‘othering’ is not only a one way street. He finds his Hindu friend of Jamia Nagar celebrating Diwali asked by a young Muslim kid as to why he is wearing a payjama kurta, which is a Muslim dress?

All in all a very good read. It raises may questions. answers to which should be sought from the majority community and the Indian state. However, I would also request the minority community the ‘read’ and ‘feel’ this book, for it does raise (in my view) many hidden questions (like their prejudices and stereotypes) to which only they can provide an answer. How about some serious ‘SAMVAAD’ outside the rhetorical reply of ‘Indian state is Secular’ as per 42nd amendment?

After all in a multi cultural society we should never forget this couplet by Sharshar Sailani;

चमन में इख़्तिलात ऐ रंग ओ बू* से बात बनती है,
हम ही हम हैं तो क्या हम हैं, तुम्हीं तुम हो तो क्या तुम हो?

*इख़्तिलात ऐ रंग ओ बू: रंग और खुशबू का मिल जाना

Book Review: The Long Partition and the Making of Modern South Asia by Vazira Zamindar

If there is one book on Partition I was asked to recommend, this would be it! Normally we read about the ‘high politics’ of partition, communal riots, mass migration and finally the creation of two dominions India and Pakistan through the Indian Independence Act of 1947. Most history books then freeze Partition..This book breaks that myth and lays down how the process continued till at late as the mid 50s (some would say 1965) before citizenship got congealed and frozen.

Vazira Zamindar lifts the curtain on the role both the states played in making partition a fluid process till the mid 50s, how the idea of Pakistan as a Muslim homeland for the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent was nothing but a ‘fraud’ and ‘myth’ perpetrated by Jinnah, with the newly created dominion of Pakistan doing everything in its power to control the immigration of non Punjabi Muslims to Pakistan. The book reinforces my view that Pakistan basically was Jinnah’s vanity project in which he succeeded. In fact Liaqat while meeting Indian Muslims in a refugee camp in Delhi clearly stated that they had only two options before them; fight for their rights with the Indian government or start a civil war. The movement to Pakistan was not an option for them.

Similarly, despite the professed secularism of the Indian state the treatment of the Indian state with regards Hindu migrants and re-returning Muslim migrants from Pakistan differed. While Hindus got citizenship easily, many Muslims who had gone to Pakistan in the early days of partition and wanted to return subsequently were subjected to increased surveillance, legalese and demands of proof of loyalty. There are heart wrenching stories of discrimination that not only Muslim men faced but also women and children who returned back to India.

The book highlights the role that evacuee property legislations passed by the states played in creating difficulties for Muslims in India as well as Hindus in Pakistan. In fact both the states used this law to dispossess minorities and use these properties to settle the incoming co religious (majority in the states) refugees. So much so states had provisions like ‘intending evacuees’ where a property could be declared as evacuee property even when one decided to visit the next mohalla!

Post the Nehru Liaqat Pact and Gandhi ji’s assassination communal frenzy quietened down in India and nearly 95,000 Muslims who had gone to Pakistan registered to come back. However both states used instruments like Permits and finally Passports to restrict their return and made things more difficult for them in acquiring citizenship.

A great book which should be a mandatory read for all, going beyond the ‘High Politics’ history that we are mostly taught. It makes us realize the price common people pay when they start visualizing ‘utopias’ and are carried away by the ‘rhetoric of demagogues’ without clinically analysing what that utopia actually entails or could lead to.

Book Review: The Emperor Far Away: Travels At The Edge Of China – David Eimer

Finished reading

This book named on an ancient Chinese proverb, ‘The hills are high and the emperor is far away’ is an excellent travelogue by David Eimer, the Post correspondent and the former China correspondent of Britain Sunday Telegraph, who travelled around the periphery of China between 2005 to 2012 to understand the lives of Chinese ethnic minorities (China recognises 55 of them and they are said to number about a 100 million) inhibiting the periphery of China. His travels took him to Xinxiang, Tibet, Yunan, Dongbei and to Heilongjiang. Interestingly, to circumvent the restrictions that Mr. Eimer would face in visiting some of these minority areas as a journalist, he used his second passport (which the Chinese don’t know about) which was stamped with a tourist visa.

His travels to Xinxiang and Tibet clearly reveal the chafe that the Uighurs and the Tibetans feel under the Han Chinese rule. There is a lot of distrust and resentment between these minorities and the Han Chinese population and the government. The feeling is mutual with the Hans too not having too much love lost for them. One Han which the author met characterised the Uighurs as Pandas, few in number and coddled by the government.   On the other hand, a young Uighur tells the author that we are not like the Chinese, we are Muslims and believe in Allah, they in turn believe only in money. Adherence to Islam is seen as a major problem by the regime and the Chinese government has done all in its power to control Islamic beliefs and practices. It has taken over the mosques and there is the China Islamic Association which appoints all Imams. Those under 18 are barred from going to mosques and Uighur only schools are also banned. This makes the Uighurs fear for their language and traditions. However, Uighurs still try and keep their own version of Islam alive by praying in some of the older non-governmental mosques. The author describes the changes he noticed in Kashgar, (a 1000 year old city), from the time he visited it earlier as a student. He mentions that the entire old city has been bulldozed in the name of modernisation and replaced with concrete apartment blocks. This obviously makes it easier for the police to monitor the citizens and their activities.

The situation is not much different in Tibet. During his entire trip there he is shadowed by an appointed guide with the old part of Lhasa city subjected to 24 hour armed patrols. (As a Hindu what was fascinating for me was his trek around the Mount Kailasa and Mansarovar. I did not know that Kailasa was a holy place for the Buddhist, Jains as well as the animists like Bon worshippers.) Further it was difficult for both the Uighurs and Tibetans it is to leave China as they are discriminated against also in issuance of passports. Generally, the young find it difficult to obtain a passport.

Interestingly the author finds different and subtle ways by which minorities have found ways to resist the Chinese (Han) government attempts at domination and homogenization. While the Uighurs show their resistance by open acts of terrorism and the Tibetans by their monks committing self-immolation, the Dais living in the sub-tropical climate of Dailand in Yunnan province do so by maintaining their own and ‘wearing a smile’ as the author says. They are seen as the ‘model’ minorities by the Chinese and so the government does not take a hard line here. But they maintain a janus like face and maintain a low profile seemingly being the ‘model’ minority but in their private space maintain their culture and traditions thus resisting homogenization.

The author takes a journey down the Mekong river in a boat in the area bordering Myanmar and Thailand, probably one of the most dangerous areas of the world which forms part of the infamous drug producing and supplying ‘golden triangle’. He manages to make a journey to the narco-state of Wa sitting at the border of China and Burma which is effectively independent. His host is the General of the Wa province and he describes a night spent there inhaling meth with hookers in a club having the son in law of the General and his lackeys for company. It is surprising the with all its addiction problem, the all-powerful Chinese state has little control over this place just across the border which is full of ‘child soldiers and teenage hookers…precious gems sold next to vegetables’.  It was heart wrenching to read about the trafficking of young girls from Myanmar’s Pengshang and being sold as brides for 5000 Euros in China. China with its one child policy has huge imbalance in its sex ratio due to the natural preference for boys. This problem is father accentuated with many young girls who are now better educated moving to cities in search of jobs. This has left many villages in rural China only with men and old women. The growing number of Chinese bachelors are referred to as ‘guand guan’ or ‘bare branches’ across rural China and they are willing to pay for these trafficked women. Poverty is also another reason forcing many Burmese women to migrate to China illegally for better jobs.

Of all the Chinese minorities it is the Koreans who occupy the Yanbian Korean Autonomous Province and seem to be the most well integrated and most trusted by the Chinese authorities. Unlike in Xinxiang and Tibet where the Hans live in segregation in their own parts of the cities, in Yanji the Hans and the Koreans co-exist in a far more amenable atmosphere. They have privileges that are denied to many other minorities like right to education in their own language at school or college. They also find it easy to obtain a passport.  Since there is no conflict between being Chinese by nationality and Korean culturally, the Koreans have little reason to resent the Han. One interesting aspect that came out in the book was the increasing interest that the Koreans are showing towards Christianity and also evangelical activity which is gradually unnerving the Chinese Communist Party which even served diplomatic ties with the Vatican in 1951 in an effort to assert control over China’s Catholics.

The book ends with Mr. Eimer’s journey to the far north (Manchuria) where the city of Heihe sits just opposite the less prosperous city Russian city of Blagoveshchensk across the river Amur. Today many Russians cross the border every day to buy cheap stuff from the city of Heihe. The Chinese however it seems have not forgotten the 1858, Treaty of Aigum which formalised the division of Manchuria and allowed the Russians to occupy large parts of Manchuria without firing a shot. They were also for a long period of history the poor less important and junior partner of the USSR, post the communist revolution in 1949. Now that the power equations have changed, it seems they are doing everything possible to make the Russians realize it.  The author writes, “Every evening at 11 o’clock sharp, the street lights of Heihe dim abruptly. The electricity that fuels them instead is diverted to the multitude of neon lights and displays on the buildings displayed on the buildings overlooking the Amur. A Dongbei version of the glittering Las Vegas Strip, it is an unsubtle boast of how Heihe is thriving at the expense of far less luminous Blagoveshchensk, a nightly show whose significance is understood by every Russian.’ Further, the Russians while crossing the border after their shopping are treated rudely by the Chinese customs officials. The Russians of the far east also fear that the Chinese would expand in the resource rich areas of Russia, (under the classical principle of ‘lebensraum’), after all they are merely 6.5 million as compared to 100 million Chinese (in the north eastern provinces alone). Also the book brings out clearly the apathy of Moscow to these areas (air tickets to Moscow are exorbitantly high and many Russians in these areas find it easy to live in and visit China than go to the western parts of their country), thus making Russians living in these areas look more at the growing China for the betterment of their future than Russia. Systematically Chinese capital and traders are taking over the commercial enterprises of far east Russia, thus making it a commercial rather than imperial conquest.

All in all, an excellent read. One gets to understand how the Chinese state maintains its control over the minorities through a mix of military presence, suppression of local cultures and mass Han migration. It is pertinent to quote here what Mao had said, ‘We say China is a vast country, rich in resources and large in population. As a matter of fact, it is the Han nationality whose population is large and the minority nationalities whose territory is vast and whose resources are rich’

 

 

 

 

Book Review: Haseenabad ..पुस्तक समीक्षा: हसीनाबाद

कहानी हसीनाबाद उर्फ हुसैनाबाद की….

ये कहानी है गोलमी ‘चिरैया’ के ख्वाब बुनने की और उन ख्वाबों के हकीकत होते देखने की..कहानी दोस्ती की और उस पवित्र जज़्बात पर बदलते समय के साथ हावी होते ईर्ष्या और स्वार्थ की..कहानी निश्छल प्रेम की, जिसमे एक प्रेमी सारी उपेक्षाओं के बावजूद खड़ा रहता है अपने प्रियसी के साथ….कहानी वासना की, जो सिर्फ पूर्ण करना चाहती है अपनी पिपासा….कहानी उस समाज की भी और उन सामाजिक बंधनों की भी जो कई बार प्रेम को उसकी परिणीति तक पहुंचने नहीं देता…कहानी उस माँ  की जो बेटी के लिए तो त्याग कर देती है सर्वशः, पर छोड़ देती है अपने बेटे को पीछे, एक निर्मोही की तरह..कहानी एक ऐसे पिता की जो सगा बाप न होकर भी बेटी के ख्वाबों को पंख लगाता है..

कहानी राजनीति की और कुत्सित राजनेताओं की। कहानी मीडिया के सफेदपोश भेड़ियों की जो कई पर अपने व्यक्तिगत हितों को जनता के सामने लोकहित बनाकर पेश करते हैं।

और सब से ऊपर..कहानी तिरहुत की और वहां की खोती लोक कलाओं की..!! क्या बेहतरीन किताब लिखी है गीता श्री जी ने। पढ़ कर मज़ा आ गया!!

Book Review: How the BJP Wins by Prashant Jha

This book carries forward or can be looked as a sequel to Rajdeep Sardesai’s book (The election that changed India) which I read after the NDA formed the govt at the Centre after the seminal elections of 2014. I call it a sequel because a large part of the book deals with elections since 2014 and a large portion of the book is how BJP won UP and the North East. However, I must add I found this book by Prashant Jha better – meatier and providing better insights. Prashant Ji has an easy and an engrossing writing style and I could not let go of the book till I finished the book.

The key takeaways for me from the book as the why BJP wins are;

  1. The personality of the PM who has the ability to be credible in the eyes of diverse social groups/constituencies. The effectiveness of his communication skills is such that he can address and satisfy different constituencies at the same time.
  2. BJP understands that everyone in India is a minority and a rainbow coalition of different social groups, as was done in UP, will allow it to stitch the arthematic to gain a majority. The party has undergone some very interesting subalterization in recent times and has managed to stitch those coalitions at times tapping into the angst and anger of those backward castes and Dalits who found themselves excluded from the power structure of the regional parties like SP and BSP. So in a way the party is trying to practice the adage that Kashiram had coined ie. ‘Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari
  3. The organisational support and heft that the Sangh and its affiliates provide to the BJP in expanding its base, its mass contact and as a source of feedback.
  4. Polarisation and appealing to the Hindu sense of hurt – with the kind of secularism practised in the country. It has by its messaging discredited secularism to mean appeasement of the minority community.
  5. Pragmatism; toning down the ideological content wherever required, getting defectors from other parties which could ensure electoral success and accretion of votes as well as extensive use of data driven research and effective use of social media.
  6. The hunger for electoral success reflected in the relentless campaigning and hard work put in by the duo of the PM and Amit Shah.
  7. Most importantly the TINA factor, with no leader in sight who can pose an effective challenge to the larger than life Modi.

The book ends with a chapter on the challenges BJP could face and what could spoil the party for the party in its attempt at being THE party of India.

Overall a very good read.

 

Book Review: October Coup, A memoir of struggle for Hyderabad by Mohammed Hyder

On 17 September 1948, the Indian army led by Gen Chaudhary marched into Hyderabad and the state of Hyderabad ruled by the Nizams since 1724 came to an end. We in our history books read this as Police Action undertaken by GOI. Much of the massacre and bloodshed that accompanied this Police Action has been erased from our history books though. This book is the memoir of the then Collector of Osmanabad, Muhammad Hyder, which he wrote during his incarceration in 1949 after Hyderabad was incorporated in the Indian Union. While much of the book concerns his personal fights for vindication against the charges brought against him as the officer of the Nizam, it also offers some important insights into the times, administration and personalities in the last days of the Nizam. Some interesting nuggets are;

  1. The author devotes an entire chapter on his meeting with the famous (or infamous; your call) Syed Qasim Rizvi, the leader of the MIM and the Supremo of the Razakars. This chapter provides important insights into the thought process and the personality of Rizvi who had emerged as the most powerful leader in the last days of the state of Hyderabad. In fact the title of the book ‘October Coup’ draws from the huge demonstration that he organised against the administration gheraoing the house of the PM of Hyderabad protesting against the signing of the Standstill agreement with India. The team was to leave for Delhi that day; the plan was shelved and the agreement could only be signed later. He is said to have told the author that Muslims were better fit to rule than Hindus and one day he foresaw the Nizam’s flag flying over the Red Fort in Delhi. There is a reference in the book where he is said to have distributed large amounts of arms and ammunition to the Razakars with a view to initiate a Hindu massacre in Hyderabad on the news of the Indian Army closing in. It was only with great persuasion of the police chief of the state that he could be dissuaded and persuaded to retrieve the distributed weapons to his supporters.
  2. The whole administration of the PM Laiq Ali had become ostrich like and delusional. They had great belief and faith that Hyderabad could indeed take on the Indian Army. This bravado was based on the larger than life personality of the commander Gen Edroos, the belief that all shortcomings of the ill trained and ill equipped army were exaggerated and could be immediately rectified (Laiq Ali in his conversations to the author is quoted as saying that the Hyderabad army was 50 times more powerful than it appeared) and that Nizams friends (ie. Pakistan) will intervene on their behalf. The author writes that all his attempts at raising the issue of Hyderabad’s weakness were politely scuttled and he was asked to keep quiet. He hilariously mentions army officers of Hyderabad posted in Osmanabad who used to start suffering from bouts of dysentery on the mere mention of a fight against the Indian Army.
  3. The book also mentions the collapse of administration especially in the border areas of the Hyderabad with the constant harassment by the camps set up by the freedom fighters in the areas under the administrative control of GOI. These included both Congress and the Communists as well as anti social elements. There is a reference to a dacoit who is said to have out paced a running car with his sprints. It also mentions (though in passing) the prevailing latent communal tension in the state. No wonder there was large scale massacre of Muslims during the police action.

While I would not say that the book is exceptional, it would qualify as an easy and decent read.

PS: Found the references to some known names like Mr. Pimputkar ICS who succeeded the author as Collector of Osmanabad, who was my father’s Director in LBSNAA, Mussoorie, when he joined as an IAS probationer in 1967.

 

 

 

Book Review: Kanshiram: Leader of the Dalits by Badri Narayan

They say when life throws lemons at you, make lemonade. Well I guess that is what I am doing with the partial immobility that has been forced on to me by my operation and the long weekend. So in these four days would finish reading at least 3 books. So am not complaining!

Let me make an admission – I have been a great admirer of Kanshiram, in my eyes he is one of the greatest political leader that this country has produced. How many leaders in this country having no dynasty, financial wherewithal, coming from the lowest strata of society managed to single-handedly create a national political party, created a new political praxis and deepened democracy in this country? Not many. What we rather see now are some dynasts and men born with privilege vying to destroy established political parties! Good for the nation. May they succeed!!

Before the book the author. I have great regard for Shri Badri Narayan as an intellectual especially his understanding of subaltern and Dalit politics and mobilisation in India. As he is wont to do, he writes an excellent book. Some interesting points;

  1. While Kanshiram was politically sensitive and aware, the incident that changed him completely was when an employee of Poona research lab where he was working was dismissed by the upper caste babus on his protesting the change in the dates of local holidays from Ambedkar Jayanti and Buddha Jayanti to Jayanti’s of Gokhale and Tilak. The incident had a deep impact on him and he wrote back to his family about his 8 vows which stated that he now cut all relations with his family as whole Bahujan Samaj was his family, will own no property and devote his whole life to the cause of Bahujan. He remained true to his vow to the end of his life.
  2. While he was deeply influenced by Babasaheb, he also differed with him. He argued that while Ambedkar was an intellectual giant, he was a rustic person with average intellect and his politics was drawn based on ground realities. He said, ‘Ambedkar collected books, I collected people’. While Ambedkar worked towards the annihilation of caste (his most famous work is titled as such), Kanshiram believed that caste is the immutable reality of Indian life. It is a double edged sword and he sought to use it to invert the socio economic pyramid of Indian society by acquiring political power through the mobilisation of the Bahujan (85 per cent of population). This would make the society so far dominated by Manuvaad to an egalitarian one. So his call; ‘Jiski jitni sankhya bhari, uski utni hissedari’. He also differed with Babasaheb on the utility of Reservations. In his eyes reservation only served a limited purpose of acquiring bureaucratic representation, but to make the society egalitarian what was needed was the acquisition of political power, the master key. He also differed from Ambedkar for his politics did not subscribe to the moral content that reading Ambedkar works one so clearly notices. His was an amoral politics whose practice was based on pragmatism and furthering of his goals, that was to acquire political power for the Bahujan. He was opportunistic and he made no bones about it. Once I had seen his interview where (Shekhar Gupta it was if my memory serves me right) asked him if he was leftist or rightist and pat came his reply; an opportunist.
  3. The book explains in some detail his struggle, formation of BAMSEF, DS4 and finally the BSP; its rise and gradual decline under Behn Mayawati. It also explains the contradiction within Bahujan politics, the disillusionment of the other non Jatav Dalits and OBCs from the BSP and the change in focus from Bahujan to Sarvjan in 2007; the social engineering of creating a coalition with the Brahmins leding to the BSP getting an absolute majority in UP assembly for the first time. Reading the newspapers then I still remember thinking that the party had come a long way from ‘Tilak Taraju aur Talwar, inko maaro joote char’ to ‘Brahmin shankh bajayega, haathi badhta jayega’. The disillusionment of the non Jatav Dalits and non Yadav OBCs was effectively exploited by the BJP in the recently concluded UP elections. Interestingly BJP borrowed much of Kanshiram ji’s methodology in drawing them within its fold by appropriating their cultural symbols (within the Hindutva fold) and reinforcing the community pride.

A wonderful read. I hope Behnji too reads it and understand why BSP as a party is facing an existential crisis today. Only complaint is that the book is more about the political journey of Manyawar. It throws little light on the person. But then his life was politics and there was nothing much else. Also apart from one book on Stooges, he virtually left little written documents either.

 

 

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