Monday, June 21, 2010

Osh: The Indian Links

Osh: The Indian Links
Saeed Naqvi
Dated: 19.06.2010

There is a medieval and a contemporary Indian link with Osh, the city in the eye of the storm in Southern Kyrgyzstan, bordering Uzbekistan. In fact when Almaty was the capital of Kazakhastan, Osh, in the Farghana Valley, was almost in the middle of an uneven circle linking Almaty, Bishkek, Tashkent, Dushambe capitals of Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikstan – with the Xinxiang region of China in Kyrgyz contiguity.

US and NATO in Afghanistan; Russians, recent masters of the Central Asian region: place all these factors side by side to obtain the big picture of which the brutal Kyrgyz – Uzbek killings in Osh and nearby Jalalabad are only a part.

At this point revert to India’s medieval links with Osh. Residents of Mehrauli next to the Qutub Minar should be particularly interested.

The shrine of Khwaja Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki, the renowned Sufi saint of the Chishti order, happens to be in Mehrauli. He was the disciple of Hazrat Moinuddin Chishti of Ajmer who, during his journey through Osh, embraced him as his spiritual heir. Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki’s disciple was Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia.

Since the saint set up his abode in Mehrauli during the reigns of Qutub-ud-din Aibak and Iltutmish, and both were his devotees, it can be speculated that the Qutub Minar was named after the saint rather than the slave king who happened to be his devotee. Iltutmish built the stepped well (baoli) for him; Sher Shah Suri, the gate.

Later Moghuls visited the shrine. The last Moghul Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar actually identified an area next to the Dargah as his final resting place.

But after the uprising of 1857, he was shipped to Yangon where he died in the garage of a junior British officer.

“Kitna hai badnaseeb zafar
dafn ke liye.
Do guz zameen bhi na
Mili kooy-e-yaar mein!”
(How unfortunate O’Zafar. He could not find two-yards of land for burial in the street of his beloved!) the “beloved” is the verse in the spiritual saint, Qutubuddin Bakhtiar Kaki of Osh.

Osh’s second historical link with India is the first Moghul Emperor, Zahir-ud-din Babur made notorious by a mosque he never built. Babur was born in Andijan, 20 kms away from Osh. Osh, being in Farghana, was part of Babur’s territory; he even lived at Osh for brief spells. For long periods Osh remained part of territories linked to Uzbekistan. This is not a terribly convenient piece of history for the young Kyrgyz nation!

Uzbeks, who have been at the receiving end of the current violence, are ethnically or linguistically, not very different from the Kyrgyz. The reason why the Kyrgyz can be easily incited to violence is because the Uzbeks, by their economic prosperity (for historical reasons) are the most visible objects of jealousy and envy.

Contemporary Indian link with Osh is what Jyoti Pandey, Indian Ambassador at Bishkek (Capital of Kyrgyzstan) is currently handling with great dexterity.

It defies belief, but over a 100 Indian students are studying medicine at the Health Institute in obscure Osh. When violence erupted, these trapped Indians were ferried by chartered flights from Osh (a few from Jalalabad too) to Bishkek.

These evacuees from Osh then laid siege to the Indian Embassy demanding further passage to India.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, a sizeable Indian Diaspora dispersed and settled in its various parts, stretching from Central Asia to Central Europe.

Considerable networking between Indian communists (their families) and their counterparts in Comintern countries during the Soviet era did not dissolve overnight. Ex bureaucrats with experience of Communist countries and the progeny of Indian Communists found lucrative slots in a whole chain of economic ties between these countries and India, including in arms sales.

Indian students in large numbers studied in Patrice Lumunba University, other technical institutes and Medical colleges Moscow had opened in far-flung parts of the Soviet Union, including Kyrgyzstan. This explains why Indian students, tucked away in the obscurity of Osh, have suddenly surfaced as refugees from local violence.

According to figures with the MEA, there are 6000 Indians in Russia, including 1,000 businessmen, 2000 in Ukraine, 400 in Azerbaijan, 200 in Belarus and 200 in Georgia and so on.

This journalist interviewed the first President of independent Kyrgyzstan, Askar Akaev, a bit of a “soft”, reflective philosopher surrounded by Central Asian leaders, trained in the Soviet system, hard as nails. He fell victim to the Tulip revolution in 2005, bringing Kurmanbek Bakiev as a “pro American” President. He was ousted by pro Russian interim government in April. The rest is current news.

I have already indicated the strategic location of the country which, in the context of Afghan campaign, is priceless real estate for the US which maintains the controversial Manas base in the country. This provides the cash strapped nation with much needed money. Russians too have the Kant base north of Bishkek.

Neither the US nor Russia wish to get directly embroiled for their own specific reasons.

Sonia Gandhi will remember her visit to Bishkek in 1985 when it was known by its Soviet name – Frunze, named after the military officer who was one of the architects of the Red Army.

Gorbachev and Rajiv Gandhi had both come to power in their respective countries within a space of months. During his first visit to Moscow as Prime Minister, Ambassador Nurul Hasan added Frunze to the cities the Prime Minister should visit because of its strategic importance vis-à-vis China.

On display for the visitor’s entertainment was Kyrgyz horsemanship. A Kyrgyz girl would gallop away, chased by scores of men on their stallions. The fastest had the right to kiss the girl.

Oh! How Rajiv slapped his sides and applauded every kiss, on the gallop!

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1 comment:

  1. very interesting article
    I come across several Uzbek expatriates as health care seekers in a small midwestern USA town of -Sioux FAlls
    They are well versed in indian films and actors and feel great kinship with Indians.
    I try to find common words in their language and mine and some do sound alike
    thanks for your writing

    Jai Hind!