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.

 

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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.

 

 

Musings on Trump’s victory

So the ‘outlier’ has done it. Donald Trump will be the 45th President of the United States of America. Here was a candidate who did not behave like a conventional politician. He was abusive, in your face and curt. He raised politically incorrect questions. He had a ‘terrible’ past. He was intolerant of dissent and behaved like a boor. Very few actually gave him a chance. Yet he managed to do the unthinkable, Why and how could he do it? Here are some of my 2 paisa musings/rumblings on this Trump victory;

Firstly, to my amusement there is a lot of disappointment especially in the Liberal left of this country. I can see and hear their lamentations. “Oh America, how could you do this!”, “Oh Americans, how you have failed us!”. This would really be pathetic if it was not so hilarious. I found the lamentations of the Indians especially offensive, laced as it is with a deep sense of ethnocentrism and may I add hypocrisy. I did not see the same liberals left whining with the same ferocity crying “Oh Siwan! what have you done”, when it elected a Sahabuddin again and again or with, “Oh Bihar! what have you done” when it elected 142 Member Legislative Assembly with criminal records of rape, murder and extortion or when West Bengal elected107 MLAs with criminal records. Is it because left liberal morals are relative and some crimes/criminals are construed less reprehensible because they serve as instruments of so called larger goals of keeping so called communal forces out?

And then what ethnocentrism? Are the American voters some gold standard for so called rational political behaviour and voting? Do they really mean that while so called ‘lesser democracies’ could be condoned for selecting boors and criminals but how could America do it? Bah!!

Secondly, the liberal left seeks to provide simplistic explanations to the complex phenomenon of Trump’s triumph. The left liberals have been harping that he won because of racism and hate. This in my humble opinion is too simplistic an explanation and is also not borne out by facts.  If it was only about racism how is it that he did five points better than Mitt Romney amongst black voters and two points better amongst Latinos? It is now reported that majority of the white women too voted for him. How do you explain that when you accuse the man of being a misogynist? Why is it that in the swing states which voted for the first African American President twice in the last two elections by huge majorities, suddenly became racists? And if they indeed had become racists what explains, as per some reports, the high approval ratings that President Obama still enjoys in these states?

The real story for me is not that Trump won this election but that in the oldest democracy of the world nearly fifty per cent of the eligible voters were apathetic enough not to vote. There exits around the world today a deep resentment against the professional political class and America is no exception. Why should it surprise anyone that a rank political ‘outsider’ has been elected when the US Congress as per the latest Gallop poll has an approval rating of 13 per cent? I was in the USA for about a month in September/October and could see the anger amongst ordinary Americans who were looking for ‘change’. Amongst the candidates it was Trump rather than Hillary whom they thought could be this agent of change.  People knew his failings but were ready to overlook those. They were sick and tired of the politically correct conventional politics of the east coast elites anchored in Washington DC and New York (Like Indians were in 2014 with politics anchored in and around Lutyens Delhi). Trumps victory is a revolt against the opaque world of political compromises and lobbying. Ordinary Americans had enough of those thought leaders who ‘talked at’ them rather than ‘talked to’ them. Their value laced oratory did not enthuse them anymore. In a way it was the vernacularization of politics where people were ready to repose their trust in those leaders who empathise with them. Trump raised issues of those classes/groups of people like veterans who felt they had become completely voiceless in the political system while Hillary was caught calling them ‘deplorables’.

This election also proves the fact that is ultimately about economy, jobs and livelihoods. Address these and you win elections and keep getting re-elected. The leaders who keep winning elections (incidentally who are hated by the liberal left and are branded as dictators) like Erdogan, Putin are all people who inherited troubled economies and then put their nations into high growth trajectories.  Perhaps there is a lesson here for PM Modi. A single minded pursuit of economic growth, job and livelihood creation for the people of India will ensure that he keeps getting re-elected. Globalisation has created winners and losers and those that have been left behind are very vengeful and angry. There is a huge group (probably the largest economic group in the USA) in the USA which sees itself as a victim of globalization having been pushed out of permanent ‘cushy’ manufacturing jobs to back breaking and temporary jobs in the services sector where they are paid hourly. There is a deep seated feeling in this group that it had no voice in the system and Trump campaign tapped into their anger effectively.

Though it is too early to say that globalization is in retreat but nationalism has definitely made a comeback.  What is also back is (what for the want of a better word), I would define as ‘an imagined core value’ of a nation which is a value of the majority and has hegemony over them. You might call it exclusivist or majoritarianism depending on where you stand, but sadly such values are gaining ground.  Who are we as a nation or what defines us is also a question which is gaining currency, not only in the USA but around the world. While it is still too early to declare political correctness as dead, politically incorrect questions which were till sometime back considered taboo or impolite will now be asked (may be with hushed tone in the beginning). I was in NY when the explosions happened in September. While the mainstream media was quite ‘muted’ and ‘mature’ in its coverage, many people on the street I met were Islamophobic. Questions like why do they refuse to integrate? Why does a refugee from a war torn country who gets a much better life in our country do this to us were questions which were being asked if not so in public places but within the confines of homes and offices. While this may be a politically incorrect to write here but the truth is that a great deal of Islamophobia is sweeping round the globe, and America is no exception. While it may be right to accuse the non-Islamic world of being biased, there is also a need for the Islamic community to ponder as to why the world thinks of them as it does. Externalizing their problems and blaming the whole world for their state of affairs will solve nothing. And it is here that the Muslim community of India needs to act as a role model and take leadership. In an Islamic world riddled with turmoil, the peaceful Indian Muslims stand out like a beacon of hope for the world. I am reminded of the statement President Bush made to Secretary Rice, “150 million Muslims, and no Al-Qaeda? Wow!”. During the infamous Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, Muslims from every country, except two, had congregated to fight the Jihad and these were India and Oman. There is a need for Indian Muslims to nurture and celebrate the syncretic Islam rooted in the Indian civilizational ethos rather than getting swayed by the sterile Salafi Islam which is completely alien to our syncretic civilizational ethos. Needless to say there is a need for the majority community too in this country to see that they reinforce this syncretism and unity by their actions and not destroy it.

One thing which always surprises me is the ability of the liberal left in this country to cast things in stone. They are experts in background checking and after that, it is ‘freeze frame’. A day is too long in politics and politicians do not have the liberty to be caught in a time warp. Yes, leaders say and do terrible things but the beauty of democracy and demands of governance is that it does give you a chance to change (or forces you to change). Trump might have done and said extremely reprehensible things in the past but being President Trump would restrict him from doing many such things now. And to those who say he will change the character of the USA I say, what can he do? Can he change the checks and balances as prescribed in the constitution of USA? Can he change the rights of the states? Can he abolish the constitution of the USA? Of course he will implement his agenda, but then in a democracy that is what the winner of the mandate is expected to do.

Leaders have to be judged not on the basis of what they did or said in the past but on their present actions. If India had stuck to holding people to what they said or did in the past, we would have prevented rebel leaders from joining the political mainstream. Should we have condemned a Laldenga when he joined the Indian political mainstream because of his past of having led a rebellion against the Indian state? What should our reaction be hypothetically speaking, if Syed Salahauddin or the Hurriyat leaders decide to abandon separatism and context elections in Kashmir? Should we keep harping about their past statements and deeds or welcome them in the political mainstream?

This election also has lessons for the Americans and the American establishment. Democracy demands that people’s verdict be respected universally, whether it is the United States or the Middle East. If today America can live under the shadows of a conservative leadership having facets of illiberal democracy, why should the USA intervene when a Muslim Brotherhood comes to power in some state in the Middle East through a free and fair electoral system? While some values may be universal, these values can and do get modified as per the genius and culture of the societies in which they are exist. Different societies have different historical experiences, are at different levels of societal development and so the flowering and maturity of these ‘values’ has to be organic and at a pace that is dictated by these societies. Any outside interfere is a sure recipe for chaos and disaster. We should not forget that the erstwhile USSR had all right ideas and values that it sought to promote in Afghanistan i.e. equality, women’s rights, education for all to name a few, but the Afghan society thought of it as an interference in their social and cultural ethos and the rest as they say is history.

And of course, how can one forget the mainstream media (MSM). It did get some real egg on its face, and deservedly so. This is a huge wakeup call for them, having got all their predictions wrong. This is what happens when coverage and reportage are not based on facts but their political prejudices. The mainstream media has forgotten that its main job is to report the truth ‘as it is’ and not as they ‘would like it to be. By peddling their preferences, they had become cheerleaders/activists and had lost their right to be called journalists. Editing a newspaper or writing articles does not qualify one as a journalist. Just because Uddhav Thackeray is the editor of Samna should we call him a journalist?  Gandhiji also was the editor of Hind Swaraj and wrote prolifically, so instead of calling him a great political leader we should start identifying him as a journalist?

Social media has become an important tool of communication and was extensively used even in the American elections. This social media also has its detractors and one of the favourite pastime of many ‘doyens’ of MSM today is social media bashing, especially on being trolled and abused. While no body in his right senses can condone the virulent abuses being dished out in the social media space (especially on Twitter) but what really surprises me is the naivety of those people who are surprised and angry at being trolled. Sorry Sirs, but what did you expect when you joined a medium which has the advantage of anonymity and whose idiom is conversational? Do these ‘doyens’ not know how an average Indian on the street talks? Expletives like bc, mc form the regular vocabulary of an ordinary Indian (sometimes also of elites). Apart from the social media, was MSM not at the forefront (and rightly so) of defending the right of Anurag Kashyap to use ‘relentless’ gallis (swears) in his film Udta Punjab? Was Pahlaj Nihalani not chastised (rightly so) using the same argument that this is the way average Indians talk, and was he not contemptuously mentioned as a ‘sanskari’ censor? Now what are they, ‘sanskari’ journalists, who speak and want to be spoken to in Queens English by a teenager from Bhatinda who uses swear words in practically all the sentences he speaks?

Shri Kanahiya Kumar: Brilliant speech, great connect but vacuous in content and all sophistry.

A new star is born. Shri Kanahiya Kumar, the President of Jawahar Lal Nehru Students Union, has emerged as the new poster boy of the Indian left. A brilliant orator, a great communicator he has managed to establish a new connect with the people and put life back in the moribund left. The ham handed manner of his arrest and the despicable physical assault on him have given him a new halo. His speech in JNU and his subsequent interviews after his release on bail has been hailed by many. Listening to his speech I could not but admire his oratory, but analyse the contents and it sounds vacuous and rhetorical. I will try to analyse the main themes/points of his speech.

Communism and Dr. Ambedkar.

Shri Kanahiya Kumar said, “We have full faith in Babasaheb… We have no faith in the deep rooted caste system in this country… we want to trash the traditions of exploitation, Jativad, Manuwad and Brahmanvad…In this country casteism is the biggest issue..speak against casteism”

No right thinking India can dispute the depravity that caste system has perpetuated in this country. For all right thinking Indians Dr. Ambedkar is a venerated figure. However, when Shri Kanahiya accuses other parties of Brahmanvaad, it is but natural that the Communist party, of which he is a representative, be subjected to the same scrutiny.

First, we need to understand what Babasaheb thought of Marxism as a philosophy. Babasaheb had studied Marxism and rejected it in favour of Buddhism. In his writing “Buddha or Karl Marx”, Babasaheb says, “liberty, equality and fraternity can only co-exist if one follows the way of the Buddha. Communism can give one (equality) but not all.” In the same essay he questions the ends adopted by the Marxists. He writes “Can the Communists say that in achieving their valuable end they would not have destroyed other valuable ends? They have destroyed private property. Assuming that this is a valuable end, can the communists say that they have not destroyed other valuable ends in the process of achieving it? How many people have they killed for achieving their end? Has human life no value?”

On the communist state utopia (which so many of my communist friends still believe in and aspire for) he had this to say, “At any rate (they) have no satisfactory answer to the question what would take the place of the State when it withers away, though this question is more important than the question when the State will wither away. Will it be succeeded by anarchy? If so the building of the communist state is a useless effort. If it cannot be sustained except by force and if it results in anarchy when the force holding it together is withdrawn what good is the communist state? The only thing that could sustain it after force is withdrawn is religion. But to the Communists’ religion is anathema…The Russians are proud of their Communism. But they forget that Buddha established communism as far as the Sangh was concerned without dictatorship…a miracle which Lenin failed to do.”

So before any attempt is made to project Baba Saheb as a Communist or even a Communist sympathiser there is a need to read and reflect on his views about Marxism.

Second, there is a need to reflect on the treatment meted out to Babasaheb by the then Communist Party of India (CPI).  In the 1952 elections from Bombay Central (which Babasaheb lost to Congress candidate NS Kajirolkar), Communist Party of India (CPI) founding member and leader Shripad Amrit Dange had instructed his supporters to waste their ballots rather than vote for Babasaheb. In fact, Babasaheb attributed his loss to the communist campaign against him. The communists had sufficient influence in Girangaon and had they not launched that visceral campaign against Babasaheb, he may have won.

Forget about the past, let us see what those seeking to appropriate the legacy of Dr. Ambedkar have to offer to the dalits in the present. Shri Kanahiya has publicly stated his admiration for Rohit Vemula who lost his life in extremely tragic circumstances. In his article in Hindustan Times (Lal Salam to Jai Bhim: Why Rohit Vemula left Indian Marxists) Rohit’s friend Jashwanth Jessie talks of the disillusionment of Rohit Vemula with the Student Federation of India (SFI), affiliated to CPI (M), of which once he was a firebrand leader. SFI comrades instead of valuing him subjected him to humiliation. Jashwanth writes, “His disillusionment with the communists happened when he discovered that the boys and girls who had given up their faith in God could not bring themselves to abandon their faith in the caste system. He quit the SFI after he was discriminated for his caste…After his unsavoury stint with the communists…He became acutely aware of not just the Brahmanical tendencies of the individual CPI(M) activists but the theoretical flaws of the left as a whole in understanding the Indian social order.’’

Third, has Shri Kanahiya reflected on the composition of the highest decision making organs of the Communist parties i.e. their Central Committee and the Politburo? Why is it that none of these parties have never had a Dalit in these decision making bodies in the last 50 years and remain a preserve of the upper castes? It is interesting to note that even the Central Committee of the extreme left (CPI (Maoist)) who claim to be at the forefront of the fight for tribals is heavily dominated by the Andhraites and hardly has any tribals.  While Shri Kanahiya can brand it tokenism, at least the so called right wing brahamanical reactionary party in his eyes, the BJP, is being led by an Extremely Backward Caste person in the Prime Minister.

It is also interesting to note the caste composition of the Left Front ministry under Shri Jyoti Basu. Between 1977 and 1982 the ministry comprised of 35 per cent Brahmins, 31 per cent Kayasthas, 23 per cent Baniyas and a paltry 1.5 per cent dalits[1]. This when West Bengal, as per the 1991 census, had the highest concentration of Scheduled Caste population in the country (24 per cent).

Fourth, it was also under the Left Front government’s watch that the largest massacre of Dalit Namasudras in the history of this country happened in Marichjhapi, Sundarbans in 1979. Some scholars and journalists have branded the massacre of these Dalit refugees from Bangladesh as a ‘genocide’ with reports of 3000 to 17,000 deaths. All this after Jyoti Basu himself had supported the relocation of these refugees from the inhospitable Dandkarnaya to Sunderbans. Its support for the refugees from East Bengal was one of the major reasons for the Left’s ascent to power. In January 1978, soon after the Left Front government ascended to power in West Bengal, minister Ram Chatterji of the Marxist Forward Block and Ashok Ghosh of the All India Forward Block visited the refugees and assured them that “Five crore Bengalis will welcome you back to Bengal extending 10 crore hands.” Alas instead of the extended hand what the refugees on their relocation to Sunderbans got was the iron hand of the ruthless government and its cadres. Branded squatters, Dalit Namsudra men, women and children were mercilessly blockaded and starved, their hutments burnt, women raped, elderly and children killed and their dead bodies thrown in the rivers for crocodiles to eat.

Sadly, while the left leaning NGO’s and environmentalists are at the forefront to protest violations of any and every human rights in India, in case of Marijhapi they have maintained a deafening silence. The brute reality is that for the liberal left, tigers and tourism triumphed over the interests of hapless Dalits.

I hope Shri Kanahiya Kumar and other young communists will reflect on what Periyar, another stalwart of dalit movement had to say about communism. Delivering a speech in Trichy on 21 February 1943 he said, “All the talks on communism in our country is bogus. Our youth must be kept away from such talks. ..So I appeal to the youth to be aware of these communists. Communism here, as it is, is a sugar coated pill. Beware!”.

Indian nationalism

One of the confusing arguments I heard from Shri Kanahiya was “I am a patriot but not a nationalist.” “Nationalism is a European concept. India is a land of diversity – she has no one uniform identity”.

Well if nationalism is a European concept, so is Marxism and Socialism. So are Democracy and Fundamental Rights. Should a concept be discarded just because it originated outside India or should it be embraced if it possesses intrinsic value and be adapted to the genius of the land and its people? The problem with Indian communists is their failure to adapt to Indian genius and instead remain hostage to sterile dogmas. While it is true that Indian nationalism remains a work in progress and it is easy to mouth homilies about diversity of India and challenge assumptions underlying Indian national identity, it is plain disingenuous to believe that no fundamental principle underlines Indian nationalism. Except the separatists who seek a divorce from the Indian nation, the ‘lowest common denominator of Indian nationalism’ on which both the ‘religious right wing nationalism’ and the ‘official secular Nehruvian nationalism’ agree on is the sanctimony of India’s ‘territorial nationalism’ and this has acquired sufficient political and mental hegemony in India. Both believe in India’s ‘sacred geography’ and India’s ‘ancient heritage’. As Ashutosh Varshney writes, “These ..have yielded two principal imaginations about India’s national identity – the secular nationalist and the Hindu nationalist. The former combines territory and culture; the latter religion and territory.” 

This is why the abominable slogans about the breakup of India in JNU evoked such passionate reactions. While the privileged students of JNU in their gated community may appear ‘surprised’ at the reaction and may swear by the ‘freedom of speech’ argument, talk to the people on the street and there are few takers for this kind of freedom of speech argument. A friend of mine remarked that people in Munirka who draw financial benefits from JNU by giving their rooms for rent to JNU students are ready to forgo these benefits and do not want them in their houses. As Varshney writes “Therefore, just as America’s most passionate political movements concern freedom and equality, India’s most explosive moments concern its “sacred geography”….Whenever the threat of another breakup, another partition, looms, it unleashes remarkable passions in politics. Politics based on this imagination is quite different from what was seen when Malaysia and Singapore split from each other in 1960’s, or when Czech and Slovak Republics separated in 1992. Territory not being an inalienable part of their national identity, these territorial divorces were not desecrations. In India, however, they are desecrations of sacred geography”.

While Indian nationalism has seen challenges in form of separatist nationalist movements (Dravidian movement, Punjab, Kashmir, Naga etc.) it has remained flexible and adaptable enough to adjust and appropriate these sub national identities within the larger Indian identity. Devising ingenious mechanisms like the grant of special rights and status to regions, linguistic reorganisation of states and federalism etc. the streams of sub nationalism were accommodated within the river of larger Indian nationalism. So what if India was a land of ‘diversity’, this diversity could flourish within the ‘unity’ of India. So one could be a good and proud Tamilian or a Kashmiri or a Sikh or a Muslim and yet remain a proud Indian. Naipaul summarized it well when he wrote “India is now a country of million mutinies..But there was in India now what didn’t exist 200 years before: a central will, a central intellect, a national idea. The Indian Union was greater than the sum of its parts.”

One can however understand where Shri Kanahiya’s statement is coming from when one understands how divorced the left is from the Indian ethos, mind and genius. It is their flawed understanding of the national question which in the past made them support the demand for Pakistan and today leaves them bemused or derisive when India is referred to as ‘Bharat Mata’. PC Joshi, one of the tallest leaders of the Communist Party of India wrote about the demand for Pakistan, “We held a series of discussions within our party and came to the conclusion in 1941-1942 that it (Muslim League) had become an anti-imperialist organization expressing the freedom urge of the Muslim people that its demand for Pakistan was a demand for self-determination… A belief continues to be held that League is a communal organization and what Mr. Jinnah is Pro-British. But what is the reality? Mr. Jinnah is to the freedom loving League masses what Gandhiji is to the Congress masses. They revere their Qaid-e-Azam as much as the Congress does the Mahatma. They regard the League as their patriotic organization as we regard the Congress. This is so because Mr. Jinnah has done to the League what Gandhi did to the Congress in 1919-1920 i.e., made it a mass organization.” (Congress and the Communists, PC Joshi, People’s Publishing House Bombay, p 5).

Now to the question of patriotism. Since Shri Kanahiya does not believe in Indian nationalism, it begs the question if he believes in ‘sub-nationalism’ or ‘separatist nationalism’? So he is ‘patriotic’ to whom? To what does he owe primary and highest allegiance? To ‘sub nationalism’ within India or to ‘separatism’? Or as a member of the ‘vanguard’ party, does his allegiance to his ‘party’ triumph over his allegiance to everything else? Remember, in China the primary loyalty of the Communist party member is to the Chinese Communist Party and not to the Chinese Nation. The Chinese Armed forces, i.e. Peoples Liberation Army, as an arm of the party, does not fight for the Chinese Nation but for the Party. Is his the same kind of patriotism?

The right wing government’s inadequate allocation of resources for social sectors

Shri Kanahiya Kumar lamented the cut in the education budget. He stated “The government has cut the higher education budget by 17 per cent. Our hostel has not been built for four years. We haven’t wifi till date.”

While it is no body’s call that sufficient funds should not be allocated for education in the country, judging educational growth simply by how much government funding is being provided for education is a very simplistic way of analysing the efficacy of education being imparted. Let us take the example of Kerala. It has been touted as a state to be seen as a role model of social development worthy of emulation by other states. Scholars like Amartya Sen have constantly eulogised the Kerala model and the Left is especially proud of its near universal literacy and high social indicators which many attribute to its ruling the state for long. Now for some reality check. A study by the Centre for Socio Economic and Environmental Studies (CSES), Kochi titled “Kerala’s Education System: From Inclusion to exclusion?” highlighted the following:

  • The government’s subsidy policy covers only the fees which forms a small component of the private fees and the disadvantaged sections have to bear several other costs like examination fees, cost of reading and writing materials, study tour etc.
  • More than 80 per cent of Engineering colleges, Pharmacy colleges, nursing colleges and schools are in the self-financing sector. Similarly, most of the management courses, medical courses (allopathy, Ayurveda and homeopathy) are also in the self-financing sector.

The Communists also take great pride in the other social indicator i.e. provision of quality health care in the state. However as per the report released by the Health Ministry, (National Health Profile 2015 by the Central Bureau of Health Intelligence) people in Kerala spend the maximum amount from their own pocket on health care expenses. People in rural Kerala spend Rs. 244 per month on health care (national average Rs. 95.18) and Rs. 275 in urban areas (national average Rs. 145.71). As per reports, the health and education spend of Kerala has continued to hover around 1 per cent of the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP). So before the leftists condemn other governments about their lack of commitment for social sectors, there is also a need to have a relook at policies and actions in states where they are in power.

As regards the crib about hostels and wifi in JNU, sorry Shri Kanahiya but you sound extremely elitist and ‘we are special’ kinds. Have you ever compared the hostel and hostel rooms available per capita in JNU with other universities of the country, say an Allahabad or a Patna? It was also interesting to see all Ivy League Universities jump to JNU’s support but I did not see resolutions in support of JNU coming from any of the nearly 480 odd publicly funded Universities in India. If they identify so much with JNU why are no vocal agitations going on in these Universities of the hinterland? Classic case of ‘elites’ standing with the other ‘elite’.

If the gated community of JNU is not a bastion of privilege what is? Is it not true that the Indian government spends approximately Rs. three lakhs per student in JNU and the University has one of the best teacher student ratios in the country.  As regards academic freedom in JNU, well I was listening to a podcast of Bhanu Pratap Mehta in which he was being interviewed by Mosharraf Zaidi (https://soundcloud.com/howtopakistan/episode-04-pratap-bhanu-mehta) and he stated that he had decided to leave Harvard (where he was teaching) and come and teach in JNU. He was soon to be disappointed with the way things were in JNU and decided to go back. And this is the experience of an acknowledged intellectual of this country who cannot be accused of being a right-winger.

Capitalism is rapacious and exploitative

Shri Kanahiya laced his speech (as all communists do) with the exploitation that capitalism brings. Now let us critically evaluate the communist commitment to communist economic precepts when they are in power. The whole world acknowledges that post 1991 reforms, absolute level of poverty has declined in the country. Government resources have increased and so has social spending. It is another matter that the communists refuse to accept it.

Let us look out how the states of Kerala and West Bengal have fared on unemployment and inequality. As per the Economic Review of Kerala, (state ruled for a long period by the Left Front government) at 7.4 per cent Kerala has the highest unemployment rate amongst the big States in the country and only Nagaland and Tripura (another left ruled state) fare worse than Kerala. The unemployment rate of Kerala is three times the national average (2.3 per cent). Incidentally women unemployment is worse with a rate of 47.4 per cent as compared with 9.7 per cent for men.

As per the Socio-Economic and Caste Census (SECC), Kerala was also one of the most unequal states in India having a Gini coefficient of 0.35 in rural areas in 2011-12. Similarly, for the urban areas, Kerala was amongst the nine states which showed the widest rich-poor gap since 1973-74.

The Socio Economic and Caste Survey also brought out a startling fact that the level of agricultural landlessness was 72 per cent in Kerala and 70 per cent in West Bengal. The story of deindustrialization of West Bengal under the communists is too well known for me to repeat. In terms of the per-capita income, Bengal under the left front witnessed a sharp decline in relation to other states. While on per capita terms it ranked 5th nationally in 1980-81, by 2000-1, its rank had slipped to tenth.

Further, if capitalism was so rapacious and exploitative why did the Left Front do a U-turn in 1994 and bring out a new industrial policy welcoming investment from foreign firms and domestic private sector? Why was a special 11-member committee headed by Shri Somnath Chatterjee created to win over the industrialists? Why did the industrial policy of 1994 acknowledge that there was growing sickness and stagnation in the economy and the state was starved for investments? Why did it acknowledge that the interest shown in Bengal by NRIs and MNCs was a ‘welcome development’?

The history of communism in this country is a history of U-turns and subsequent expression of regret whether it is on the support of Muslim League in the creation of Pakistan or the support by CPI to the imposition of Emergency. It reminds one of Munir Niazi’s couplet, “Hamesha der kar deta hoon mein”.

Communist sophistry has no parallels. They can speak and sound convincing about anything. It is only in communism that oxymoronic words like ‘democratic’ and ‘centralism’ can be combined together and be elevated to a principle and mantra. But the genius of India is that it finally rejects sophistry and accepts leaders with sincerity. Gandhi was no great orator but this country is yet to produce a greater mass leader than him.

(The writer is an independent analyst. The views expressed are strictly personal.)

[1] http://www.ambedkar.org/books/tu2.htm

India supporting and sponsoring terrorism in Pakistan? Pakistani lies exposed!

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Sartaj Aziz with the Pakistani dossiers 

So the truth is finally out. Testifying before the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, Advisor to the Prime Minister of Pakistan on foreign affairs, Mr. Sartaj Aziz confessed that the dossier on the so called Indian involvement in promoting terrorism in Pakistan given to the United Nations and the United States did not contain any ‘material evidence’ but instead contained ‘patterns and narratives’ of Indian involvement. This was stated in response to the demands of the members of the committee that the dossier and the evidence of Indian involvement be shared with them. Sartaj Aziz refused to share with them the dossier and stated that ‘The dossiers have been meticulously prepared, but material evidence cannot be shared for the sake of protecting the sources’.

The so called dossier was initially prepared by Pakistan for handing over to the Indian National Security Advisor (NSA), Mr. Ajit Doval during the meeting of the National Security Advisors (NSAs) of India and Pakistan (as was agreed to in the meeting between the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan on the sidelines of Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) conference in Ufa, Russia).  It was reported (Economic Times, July 14, 2015; Pakistan PM’s NSA Sartaj Aziz says to hand over dossier on alleged Indian ‘interference’) that the Pakistani Establishment had told ET that this dossier had ‘solid evidence’ and had already been shared with some countries. Since the meeting was subsequently cancelled, the so called dossier was later presented to the UN Secretary General by Ms. Maleeha Lodhi, Pakistan’s permanent representative to the United Nations and by PM Nawaz Sharif to John Kerry, US Secretary of State. This dossier was never shared with any Pakistani journalist or analyst and this is what a pro-establishment anchor Dr. Shahid Masood had to say about the dossier. Have a look:

 

 

Even the United States refused to acknowledge the dossier or the charges mentioned therein. Spokesman for the United States Department of State, John Kirby stated that he was not aware of the receipt of any such dossier. John Kerry (who is generally considered to be a Pakistan sympathizer), upon his meeting with the Pakistani PM, made no mention of the dossier and tweeted that he and PM Sharif discussed ‘security, regional and global issues’.  America further snubbed Pakistan and asked it to put in ‘additional effort to target all terrorists in its territory.’

 

Pakistani Accusations:

Of late the Pakistani establishment has been crying hoarse over Indian involvement in supporting terrorism in Pakistan. It accused India of funding the Pakistani political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) led by Mr. Altaf Hussain, supporting and funding the Tehrik-e-Taliban (TTP), Pakistan and the Baloch Nationalists. The so called dossier was said to have been prepared as conclusive evidence of these involvements. The Pakistani establishment picked up the story of India having funded the MQM with a view to promote terror in Karachi from a report about the confessional statement of MQM leader Tariq Mir who was stated to have confessed before the London Metropolitan Police of having been provided funds by Indian agencies. The existence of any such confessional statement (as shown in the Pakistani media) was denied by Alan Crockford, the spokesman of the London Metropolitan Police who stated that ‘no such document is part of the record’. Interestingly, initially the story of Indian funding to MQM was broken in a BBC report by Owen Bennet-Jones. This story by Mr. Bennet-Jones remains in my eyes one of the shoddiest and most one sided works done by BBC and undermines its credibility and reputation. Here is how the (so called) expose begins, ‘Officials in Pakistan’s MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds, the BBC learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source.’ So the entire expose rests on an ‘unnamed’ Pakistani authoritative source and the source from MQM. No cross verification of facts needed from the London Metropolitan Police! Since the latter denied it, the whole expose falls flat. You can have a look at the report and judge for yourself:

 

 

Pakistan has for long accused India of supporting Baluch nationalists who are waging a war for independence from Pakistan. It has accused the Indian consulates in Afghanistan of being conduits to support this war. To any student of international politics, it would appear preposterous that the Iranians would allow the Indian consulate in Zahedan to be used to foster an independence movement in Pakistani Baluchistan for this would invariably have a collateral impact on their restive Sistan Baluchistan province. Much hue and cry was made in 2009 over a statement by Dr. Christine Fair as proof of Indian support to Baloch terrorism wherein she had said (in the Foreign Policy roundtable), ‘Having visited the Indian Mission in Zahedan, Iran, I can assure you they are not issuing visas as their main activity.’ Masters as they are in the art of distorting facts, Pakistanis picked upon this statement as proof that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan through Iran. In an interview to Outlook magazine subsequently, Dr. Fair categorically denied that India was supporting terrorism in Balochistan. She said, ‘I never said there was active support for terrorism, that is something that the Pakistanis attributed to me.’

Similarly, during the sidelines of the Non Aligned meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt in 2009 when the then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met his then Pakistani counterpart Yusuf Raza Gilani, Pakistani media went on overdrive reporting that a Pakistani PM had provided a dossier to Manmohan Singh on the Indian involvement in Baluchistan. It was reported that it was this dossier and the proof provided therein, that had forced the Indian PM to acknowledge the Indian involvement. It was because of this that Balochistan had found a reference in the joint declaration issued after the meeting. This joint declaration was much criticized in India. Later on though it was acknowledged by none other than the then Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, that no such dossier had ever been given to the Indian PM. In an interview to the Outlook magazine he stated, ‘No we didn’t (hand over a dossier). Actually, we flagged the issue of Balochistan. We asked for a positive attitude and asked for non-interference inside Balochistan.’

It is worthwhile to note that Baloch separatist leaders like Hyrbyair Marri have repeatedly and categorically stated that Baloch people are not in favour of seeking Indian help for Baloch independence (Dawn, October 10, 2015; ‘Will never seek help from India: Hyrbyair Marri). He stated “I have never sought help from them, nor will I in the future.” Interestingly while Pakistan was preparing the so called dossier (in August), Brahmdagh Bugti, the Chief of Baloch Republican Army (BRA), announced his decision to open a dialogue with the Pakistani government. He stated that he was ready to negotiate with the Pakistani establishment and was ready to coexist with Pakistan. Here is what he said in his BBC Urdu interview:

 

 

If India was controlling these Baloch nationalists, how could it allow Brahamdagh Bugti to negotiate with Pakistan with a view to bring peace to Balochistan, especially when the relationship between the two countries is at the moment close to its lowest? Is it any secret as to what Pakistani agencies end up doing to Hurriyat moderates who show flexibility and willingness to negotiate with India? What happened to Abdul Majid Dar and Abdul Gani Lone?

The most preposterous claim made by the Pakistani establishment is that India supports the Tehrik e Taliban (TTP), Pakistan. Post the tragic attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, General Asif Bajwa, the Chief Military Spokesman accused India of funding the TTP. That the Taliban had been created and supported by Pakistan has been acknowledged by the then President of Pakistan, Parvez Musharraf and is now on record. In an interview to the Guardian (13 February 2015, Musharraf: Pakistan and India’s backing of ‘proxies’ in Afghanistan must end), he stated that Pakistan supported the Taliban to undermine President Karzai. That the TTP is rabidly anti India has been stated time and again by the spokesmen and chiefs of Taliban themselves. In an interview to The News, (December 23, 2008), the Chief of TTP, Baitullah Mehsud had committed that ‘thousands of our militants are ready to fight alongside the army if war is imposed on Pakistan (by India)’. Hassan Abbas, the former Pakistani security officer in his book, The Taliban Revival writes that in November 2008, post Mumbai attacks, fearing surgical strikes from India, Pakistani intelligence had declared Baitullah Mehsud and Mullah Fazlullah, both senior commanders of TTP as ‘patriotic’ at a special confidential media briefing. He writes that leading Pakistani journalists were told by the Pakistani intelligence, ‘We have no big issues with the militants in FATA. We have only some misunderstandings with Baitullah Mehsud and Fazlullah. These misunderstandings could be removed through dialogue.’

Similarly, after an attack on the Pakistani side on the Wagah border (November 2014), TTP spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan tweeted that India was as much a target for them as Pakistan and threatened to attack PM Modi.  See here:

 

 

Why the Pakistani insinuations?

Why is it that the Pakistanis have now suddenly ratcheted up the insinuation that Indians are involved in terrorism in Pakistan without any conclusive evidence? In the eyes of this author, there is method to this madness. Here are the reasons:

First, is the issue of ‘equivalence’. Pakistan seeks equality with ‘Hindu’ India in all spheres. As India has, much to the chagrin of Pakistan, successfully managed to convince the international community of being a victim of Pakistani sponsored terrorism, Pakistan wants to paint itself as a ‘victim’ of Indian sponsored terrorism so as to develop a false moral equivalence between the two countries. Unfortunately for Pakistan, there are not many takers of this argument and it is still seen by the international community as principally a ‘sponsor’ rather than a ‘victim’ of terrorism.

Second, Pakistan remains deeply concerned about the developing strategic relations between India and the United States. Pak PM Nawaz Sharif expressed concern during his US visit (September 2105) that American support to India was affecting the strategic balance in South Asia and requested the United States to side with Pakistan against India and to pressurize the latter to negotiate on Kashmir.

Pakistan’s ambivalent attitude towards terrorism and its selective targeting of terrorists has gradually changed the narrative in the United States which now has started to look at Pakistan more as a part of the problem than the solution. Mention should be made here of the candid admission by Sartaj Aziz that Pakistan should not target those militants who do not threaten its security. ‘Why should America’s enemies unnecessarily become our enemies?’ he asked in an interview to BBC Urdu in November 2014. ‘Some of them are dangerous for us and some aren’t, so why should we make enemies of them all?’ he asked while speaking of the Haqqani network.  Though the US establishment is still to get over its old habit of seeking to ‘buy’ off better behavior from the Pakistani establishment, more and more voices of the futility of this approach are now being heard. A corollary to this is that India receives a more sympathetic hearing to its narrative of Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism. USA has been pressurizing Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attack and also against the D Company.

Third, the Pakistanis believe that since the mid of this year, the geo-strategic and geo-political situation/ dynamics had gradually and irretrievably turned in their favour. Their all-weather friend China had recently announced an investment of 46 billion dollars in Pakistan and President Ghani of Afghanistan had gone out on a limb to repair the relationship with Pakistan reversing many of his predecessor’s so called pro-India policies. President Ghani had not only decided to put on hold Karzai’s request for Indian weapons to fight the Taliban, but had also sent six Afghan army cadets to Pakistan for training, visited the Pakistan army HQ (November 2014) and signed an agreement with the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) to combat terrorism. In return it was expected that Pakistan would use its influence to reign in the Taliban and bring them to the negotiating table. The United States and China too were supportive of Pakistan in the belief that it could help in a negotiated settlement of the Afghan imbroglio by bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table. All this helped create a mistaken sense of bravado and arrogance in the Pakistani establishment that they were indispensable to the achievement of the geo-strategic objectives of major powers and so could adopt a more belligerent attitude towards India. (That the subsequent events like the failure of the Murree talks and the Kunduz attack by the Taliban made Ghani realize the futility of his outreach to Pakistan and the limitations of Pakistani influence on the Taliban itself is another story.)

Fourth, is the oft repeated Pakistani establishment’s strategy of ‘externalizing’ its internal problems. Since the launch of operation Zarb-e-Azb in North Waziristan, incidents of terrorism have gone down in the country but there still have been some spectacular terrorist attacks by the TTP like the unfortunate attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar (December 2014) in which 132 innocent children were killed and the attack on the Air Force Base in Badaber (September 2015) in which 29 people were killed. Dr. C. Christine Fair in her book ‘Fighting to the End: Pakistan Army’s Way of War’ mentions that in the face of internal threats and challenges, the Pakistani Army seeks to externalize (mostly successfully) these threats to the enemies (India) who are held responsible for creating and aggravating these threats. This in turn not only brings the focus back to India but also buttresses the Pakistan army’s role as the premium institution in meeting these threats. As mentioned earlier, it is not for nothing that the DG, ISPR Gen. Bajwa was quick to blame India after these attacks.

Fifth, is the personality of the present Army Chief of Pakistan General Raheel Sharif. He is a hawk on India. He hails from a family of ‘martyrs’ and his brother Rana Shabbir Sharif was killed in the 1971 war with India and is the only recipient of both the Sitara-e-Jurrat and the Nishan-e-Haider. In fact, on his elevation to the post of COAS many analysts argued that he got the position only because of his family legacy. He was not in a command position as Lt. General but was serving as Inspector General, Training and Evaluation (DG, T&E). He was also not the senior most but third in the list of Generals to be considered for the position after Lt. General Haroon Aslam and Lt. General Mehmood. Taking a firm anti-India line always helps consolidate one’s position amongst skeptics in Pakistan. Further, like Nawaz Sharif, he too is a Kashmiri. So any one in India having any illusion that the General will be accommodating towards India is in my opinion day dreaming.

Sixth, the change in government in New Delhi and the new hardline but pragmatic policy of the present government has disoriented the Pakistani establishment. Used to the old ways of the earlier governments, Pakistan finds the belligerent statements of the present NSA and ministers disconcerting. It does un-nerve the Pakistani establishment when India’s defense minister goes on record to state ‘kaante se kaanta nikana’ (use a thorn to take out thorns) and that ‘we will neutralize terrorists through terrorists only’. Pakistan understands that India does have the ability to respond to Pakistani terrorism in kind (but has as a policy refrained so far from doing so) as was demonstrated during the days of the Punjab insurgency when RAW (India’s spy agency) had created a Covert Intelligence Team X (CIT-X) and a Covert Intelligence Team J (CIT-J) to target Pakistan and Khalistani terrorists.  For some unknown reasons and in the mistaken belief that it will earn Pakistani goodwill, these covert teams were closed down under the orders of the then PM, Mr. I. K Gujaral. Pakistan believes that if it raises sufficient hue and cry about Indian involvement in terrorism in Pakistan (even without any evidence), it could pressurize India to refrain from such covert activities/operations.

Seventh, with the international pressure it was subjected to after its state sponsoring of the Mumbai attack, Pakistan was forced to reign in some of its proxies created with the express aim to give effect to its doctrine of ‘bleeding India with a thousand cuts.’ Further, under domestic pressure post the attack on school children on Peshawar, it started taking action against anti-Pakistan militant organizations like the TTP and some sectarian organizations. While some terrorist organizations like the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) are pro-Pakistan to the hilt and would in no circumstances countenance an attack on the Pakistani state, other terrorist groups like the Jaish-e-Mohammad, Al-Badr, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi etc. share an ideological affinity with the militant Islam professed by groups like the Taliban. Recently, there were reports that bodies of 71 Al-Badr militants killed in a drone attack in Afghanistan were returned to Pakistan, pointing to the ideological affinity and relationship between these militant organizations. The Pakistan establishment fears that these militants may soon declare the Pakistani state and army as apostate and may turn against them by aligning with anti-Pakistani militant groups. A belligerent stance against India not only helps in shoring up Pakistani reputation in the eyes of these militant groups (for as mentioned earlier, these groups remain firmly anti-India) but also helps to keep public opinion firmly in its favor.

Last but not the least, the narrative that India is supporting and funding groups like the TTP helps remove any skepticism from the minds of the Pakistani troops and officers in the justness of their fight against these groups, who claim to fight for Islam and the Sharia. It is no secret that the Pakistani society and the Armed forces have become deeply Islamic post Zia’s Islamization programme. During the Afghan Jihad, many in the Pakistani armed forces developed close contacts and life-long associations with the Mujahadeen. Brig. Sultan Amir (Colonel Imam) has been a legendary figure in the Pak army and a supporter of the Taliban till his assassination ironically by the latter. Khalid Mehmood, a technician with the Pakistan Air Force was convicted and hanged in an assassination attempt on Parvez Musharraf. Similarly, the attacks on PNS Mehran Naval Base in 2011 and Karma Airbase in 2014 were attributed to insiders. With such divided loyalties amongst the armed forces, the official narrative that TTP is funded by and so is a stooge of ‘Hindu’ India is a convenient psy-op devised to foster unity amongst the armed forces and to remove all skepticism from their minds of the righteousness of the cause of taking up arms against these groups.

It can thus be seen that while the establishment of Pakistan does realize that it does not have any substantive proof of Indian involvement of terrorism in Pakistan, it is convenient and useful for them to keep carping about it. I conclude by quoting Cyril Almeida, a well-known Pakistani columnist on the dossier (Dawn, October 4, 2015, ‘One country, Three policies’); ‘Some familiar with the contents thought it lucky the Indians weren’t willing to receive the dossiers…Because, had the Indians been embarrassed into receiving them, they may have gleefully splashed the contents around the world — so shoddy being either the work of the dossiers’ compilers or, worryingly, of the intelligence-gatherers themselves.’ So can we say that the drama of the cancellation of NSA talks was enacted not by Pakistan because India insisted on discussing only terrorism, but because they were too afraid and embarrassed to hand over these so called dossiers with proofs to the Indians?

 

 

Recipe: Golando Steamer Chicken Curry

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Here comes the recipe for Golando Steamer Chicken Curry. It was a dish which my grandmother (Nani Ma) cooked for me. I loved having it on the cold wintery afternoons in my childhood. Apart from this, Chicken putpaat with spicy garlic chutney used to be my favorite on those balmy wintry afternoons. Having been bought up in Deoghar, Jharkhand, which has such a strong Bengali influence such dishes formed a regular part of our diet.

History goes that this Chicken curry was served in the steamers ferrying passengers from Golando Ghat, (now in Bangladesh) to the main lands of north eastern India. Story goes that the curry was pretty runny and was served with dal and steamed rice. A normal serving was two pieces of chicken in each bowl, but you could bribe the maharaj majhi to get a few more pieces on the sly. In any case then for the caste Hindus, the whole dish was generally eaten on the sly for chicken was generally considered a Muslim dish and the non-vegetarian among the caste Hindus ate either mutton or fish.

My friends helped me with the history of this dish and I am really grateful to them. Suvojoy Sengupta tells me that Golando was apparently the last railhead and that a trip from Kolkata (Calcutta) to Dhaka was first done by rail from Kolkata (Howrah must be) to Golando and then on steamer from Golando Ghat to Dhaka. Aditi Mukherji tells me that the place now remains famous for its watermelons. I really hope to taste them some day. It also came as a pleasant surprise when Shraman Jha informed me that Golando Steamer Curry remains on the menu of old Bengali cuisine restaurants like Bhojohori Manna. It is some tragedy I missed visiting the restaurant when I was based in Kolkata.

The dish is very basic and pretty simple to make. While researching the menu (out of curiosity), I found that some chefs recommended adding shrimp powder in the chicken, but I don’t remember Nani Ma adding it. Guess it was pre e-commerce days, and there was no way she could get such a powder in Deoghar.

So here is the recipe. Bon-appetite!

Ingredients:

Chicken: 1 kg

Mustard Oil: ½ Cup

Bay leaves (Tej patta): 4-5

Cardamoms Small (Chooti Elaichi): 3-5 crushed lightly

Cardamoms Big (Badi Elaichi): 3-5 crushed lightly

Cinnamon (Dalchini) Sticks: 3-4 broken and crushed lightly

Black Pepper Powder (Kali mirch): ½ table spoon

Cumin (Jeera) Powder: ½ table spoon

Potatoes: 4 (peel and cut into 8 pieces)

Marinating paste:

Onions: 5-6 grind to paste

Ginger garlic paste: 3 table spoons

Tomato: 4-5 grind to paste

Green Chilies: 4-5 chopped

Kashmiri Red Chili Powder (Deghi Mirch): As per taste

Turmeric Powder (Haldi): ½ table spoon

Garam Masala: 1 ½ table spoon

Sugar: 1 table spoons

Method:

Mix the marinated mix in the chicken and leave it for 1-2 hours. Heat oil in a wok, add bay leaves, the cardamoms and the cinnamon sticks. When it becomes to slightly splutter, add the marinated chicken and cook first in high and then in low flame till all water dries up and oil separates. Add potatoes and keep stirring for some more time. Now add water for the curry and let it cook. Add cumin powder and black pepper powder and cook for some time more time till gravy attains some thickness.

Serve with steaming hot rice with raw onions, cut lemon (neembu) and green chilies for company.

 

Book Review: ‘An Unnecessary Women’ by Rabih Alameddine.

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“No loss is felt more keenly than the loss of what might have been. No nostalgia hurts as much as nostalgia for things that never existed”


The prodigal finally returns. It has been ages since I posted on my blog (reasons which themselves may form a part of a future blogpost). Let me celebrate my return with a book review; Rabhih Aameddine’s “An Unnecessary Women” which I just finished reading.

The Unnecessary Women of the novel is Aaliya Sobhi, a 72-year-old resident of civil war ravaged Beirut who stays in her large apartment alone. Her working life is spent in a bookstore which the shop owner maintains not because of his commitment to either art or profit but because of the snob value associated with owning a book store, his passport to the world of the pseudo intellectuals and dilettante. Post retirement from the bookshop, Aaliya spends her time translating works of fiction into Arabic. At the beginning of each year she selects a book to translate (though for some unexplained reason she never translates French or English fiction despite enjoying these works greatly). Last year she translated WG Sebald’s Austerlitz and this year she contemplates translating Chilean Roberto Bolano’s mammoth 2666. She has so far translated 57 volumes but strangely they do not land up at any publishers’ desk. Instead they are neatly stacked in boxes to be stored in her unused maid’s room at the back of her apartment.

Like all other novels this novel too has other characters which just aid the flow of the (Aliya’s) story; Aaliya’s mother, who on the death of her father remarries, her greedy avaricious step brothers, her impotent husband (whom she is married at the age of 16 but with whom she develops no emotional bonding; she refers to him as ‘the impotent insect’) and who finally divorces her. Then there are her neighbors in the apartment, women without husbands, who meet every day for coffee and whom she scorns and calls the ‘witches’. There is Ahmed, the young boy who volunteers to help her in the book store so that he could just read and his transformation from a shy guy to a master torturer post Black September. Aaliya’s closest confidant is Hannah who imagines herself as being engaged to her husband’s brother, a young lieutenant whom she meets in a taxi. Her happiness is based on this delusion and it is the shattering of this delusion that finally destroys her.

Two other main characters in the novel stand out; one is literature and the other is Beirut. It is these two which keep Aaliya company. Aaliya lives amidst books; it Tolstoy, Conrad, Faulkner, Dostoevsky, Borges, Chopin and their ink who crowd around her, keep her company and speak to her through their works. Beirut forms the backdrop of the novel, the war ravaged city coming alive in all its hues, hopes and despairs. It is the “Elizabeth Taylor of cities; insane, beautiful, tacky, falling apart and forever drama-laden. She’ll also marry any infatuated suitor who promises to make her life more comfortable, no matter how inappropriate he is.”

Aaliya lives in her mind and it is the story of her reminiscences and memories, but they are not ‘her memories’ alone, expressed in ‘her’ words. Her reminiscences and memories express themselves through the prism of ‘philosophy’ and ‘art’. There are times when you feel despairingly nonplussed.  Aaliya thoughts are ‘written’ but are not ‘revealed’ for it is the Conrad, Faulkner and their ilk who oracularly ‘speak’ for and through her. A book of internal monologues here the ‘cast’ is the ‘plot’ and the ‘plot’ ‘cast’.   It is an intriguing piece of work; enigmatic and inscrutable which defies categorization.  It is a work that needs to be experienced. Go experience it. You will come out richer in the end.

Book Review: ‘The Collaborator’ by Mirza Waheed

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‘India, my dear is a colossus with countless arms and limbs and tongues and claws and hands and mouth and everything else..Even if you have these small ulcers festering in various places and crevices, they don’t matter to it; it uses one of its many hands or claws to scratch at the sore, soothing the irritation and waits until the ulcer dies down on its own, or just plucks it off and throws it away.’ 

These days I have been reading mostly fiction; much to do with my physical and mental state, tired and exhausted with the Delhi chill getting the better of me. In the course of these reads, the first to be reviewed here for my blog is Mirza Waheed’s debut novel ‘The Collaborator’.

It is a deeply disturbing and melancholy work; a work of anger, if I may say so. The main protagonist of the novel is an unnamed 19 year old who grows up in the Gujjar ‘forgotten last village before the border’, Nowgam, during the 90’s. Growing up with his friends in the village, ‘Hussain’, (who sings Muhammad Rafi songs and is the official entertainer of the group), ‘Mohammad’ (the master craftsman of the cricket bat and stumps), ‘Gul Khan’, (the debonair) and ‘Ashfaq’ (the classic melancholic, the brooding thinker), they form the ‘famous five’. Then there is his father, the proud ‘long serving’ village headman, Noor the shop owner, Compounder Chechi, Gul’s older brother Farooq ‘Hero’ Khan, his love interest Asma and Khadim Hussain, the Islamist. Their world is turned upside down with the stirrings of insurgency in Kashmir and the arrival of the Indian security forces in the area to check infiltration and carry out counter insurgency operations. All four of his friends leave for Pakistan surreptitiously to train as ‘freedom fighters’ leaving him with a dilemma. Missing and worrying constantly about his friends, especially Hussain, he has half an urge to join them by crossing over but finally decides to stay back and not abandon his suffering parents. Post an Indian army crackdown all residents of Nowgam leave with only his family (father and mother), staying back in the ‘ghost village’.

The protagonist is employed by the heavy drinking Captain Kadian of the Indian Army to go down in the valley near the village to collect the ID cards and weapons of the dead militants who are killed crossing over the Line of Control (LOC) to be used for PR purposes. The corpses are left to rot close to the LOC as ‘dead meat’ which also serve to spite the Pakistanis who can see them from their posts across the LOC. ‘Look, look you back stabbing bastards, here is your fucking Jihad in a hideous heap, look at it and squirm.’ Ruffling through the corpses he continuously dreads that he may find one of his friend’s body in the heap. The stench of the rotting bodies strewn in the valley where he played cricket with his friends, numbs his senses and fills him with an impotent fury at his own helplessness.

A feeling of profound hopelessness pervades the entire novel where human deaths are reduced to statistics and ruthless power of the gun is all that counts, whether it is the ‘crackdown’ by the army or the cutting of the nose and ears of Shaban Khatana by the ‘jihadis’ or ‘freedom fighters’ (choose your pick, whichever side you are on), accusing him of being an army informer. Caught in a situation not of their own making, the line between the so called ‘oppressors’ and the ‘victim’ gets blurred, each consigned to play their part as the despairing situation demands. While the protagonist seethes with a staccato impotent rage at the happenings around him, Captain Kadian drowns himself in drinks and listens to Muhammad Rafi in the solitary confines of his room counting days and waiting for his ‘stint’ to end from this ‘blighted place’, so that he can go back and be with his father.

Issues of identity are also raised though fleetingly, with the Gujjars condemned as not being ‘Islamic’ and ‘Kashmiri’ enough by the valley people. Did they not side with the Indians during 1947 and were their ‘nominal’ Barelvi religious ways Islamic enough? ‘These Kafir Gujjars, they don’t even know their namaz’ was the taunt thrown at us, reminisces the protagonist. One is then forced to think as to what kind of dominant Kashmiri identity is sought to be created and will it have any place for diversity? Will Kashmir be a place where cinemas would be burnt and women harassed for dressing so called inappropriately and wearing nail polishes? And then there is irony; to escape the crackdowns of the Indian Army, residents of Nowgam flee to India. ‘The situation was almost laughable – people from my village were fleeing to escape the wrath of the Indian Security Forces and were doing that by running away to India itself, for what was Jammu, or any part of the plains beyond the mountains of Kashmir, but India? India!’ the protagonist questions.

The novel raises some serious questions if not overtly but covertly; questions about geo political games being played on the grievances, emotional vulnerability and the woolly aspirations of Kashmiris. While Pakistan uses them as cannon fodder to get even with the larger more powerful India, the latter uses all wits at its end to defend its territorial integrity, as any nation state would do. One is also forced to think as to what kind of state India wants to be for its citizens and also what kind of Kashmir, Kashmiris want for themselves? Will India live up to its constitutional principles and ensure ‘justice’, ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’ to all its citizens? Will the much fabled ‘Kashmiriat’ finally triumph over the rabid Islamization sought to be imposed from across the border? Will the western neighbour ever change its policy of war through proxy over the bodies of Kashmiris? Will the residents of Nowgam finally return and will the protagonist’s mother who lost her voice ever speak again? I am still searching for answers.

Urnabhih: A Mauryan Tale of Espionage, Adventure and Seduction

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He is the ruler who is the protector of the orphaned, refuge of the refugees, guide to the afflicted, protector of the frightened, the support of the unsteady, the friend, the relative, the master, the benefactor, the teacher, father, mother, brother to all.’

-Chanakya Rajnitishastra

I was just back from a hectic but highly enjoyable tour when I picked up ‘Urnabhih’ by Sumedha V Ojha. Let me concede at the outset that I do not read much fiction, especially English fiction. My fiction reading is mostly confined to reading Hindi fiction, a language which comes naturally to me and with which I am comfortable. However, since the author Sumedha V Ojha is a close friend (more like an elder sister) I was both curious and anxious to read her work. In the last couple of years my readings have been mostly confined to the dark and gory world of terrorism and security studies so I was quiet sceptical as to how much I would enjoy reading a work of fiction.

As I started reading all my scepticisms dissolved. The book is simply unputdownable. Aptly titled, ‘Urnabhih’ (spider’s web) the novel is a historical fiction set in the ‘early’ empire building phase of the Mauryan times. The newly enthroned Chandragupta Maurya after overthrowing the Nandas is in the process of consolidating his empire with the help of his mentor and Guru, Acharya Chanakya.

Misrakesi, the main protagonist of the novel is a ‘ganika’ from Ujjaini who arrives in Patliputra to avenge the death of her sister Sukesi, but instead ends up working for the state as a spy under the Nagrik Suraksha Parishad. She has a caring but arrogant Chief in Pushyamitra Sunga who later becomes her lover and husband. Together Misrakesi and Pushyamitra prevent the assassination of the Samrat, solve the mystery of counterfeit currencies flooding the fledgling Mauryan Empire and upstage the brilliant Maha Amatya of Kaikeya Rajya to incorporate it into the Mauryan Empire of Chakravartin Chandragupta Maurya. Thus is fulfilled Acharya Chanakya’s desire of facilitating the political unity of Jambudweep (the name of ancient India). The soul of the novel is drawn from the writings of the period (especially Chanakya) and depicts the challenges to as well as responses of the newly established Mauryan dynasty very realistically. Acharya Chanakya is the main ‘sutradhaar’ of the novel. In the novel his presence in person is few and far between, but his ‘invisible’ presence looms large and carries the story forward. He plots, plans, cajoles, intrigues and blesses wherever needed.

The book is Sumedha’s labour of love for the Mauryan period and it shows. Apart from the taut and racy storyline, what really struck me is the deep research done by her on all facets of the Mauryan period in which the novel is set. Classifying it as a work of fiction would be simplistic and would overlook the deep insights that this book provides of Mauryan history, anthropology and sociology. Flipping through the pages of this brilliant work, the reader is transported to the Mauryan period; its dress, food, architecture and social stratifications, moorings and differentiations. ‘Urnabhih’ not only ‘tells’ a story but also makes you ‘see’ Patliputra and Kekayi. I have read very few novels where the settings of the period have as much prominence as the story itself.

One thing which struck me greatly is the status of women and the freedom (including sexual) enjoyed by them in ancient India. An orphan ‘ganika’ from a different kingdom with her wits and hard work could rise in the social hierarchy to nobility. The essence of a complete life symbolized by the important balance between ‘Arth’, ‘Kaam’, ‘Dharam’ and ‘Moksh’, somehow seems to have been lost to modern India under the pernicious purinitical influence of later Islamic and Victorian morals. Not having this book in your personal collection makes it poorer. It is a novel which needs to be bought, read and preserved.

The only complaint I have is that the novel did not answer the question as to why Misrakesi’s sister Sukesi committed suicide. What prompted her to do so? What was the mission she had with Siddharthak? While a follow up of this novel is coming soon, now that I am hooked, I would also like to read the precursor to this novel detailing Sukesi’s mission with Siddharthak. Sumedha, are you listening?

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