Friday, August 12, 2022

Mustafabad’s Tragedy: It Believed Everything Nehru Told Them 75 Years Ago

Mustafabad’s Tragedy: It Believed Everything Nehru Told Them 75 Years Ago

                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Last three decades since independence have placed on many of us a burden of identity. The drift towards Hindu majoritarianism has aggravated this sense to a point of anxiety. I know people gripped by it 24/7. Identity pinned onto you by rampaging majoritainism induces a sort of lonesomeness. “Is bhari duniya mein hum tanha nazar aaney lagey” (Among milling crowds, I stand out alone.)

This mood could be mistaken for creeping pessimism. That would be a mistake and which is difficult to explain. From his window poet Josh Malihabadi sees darkness slowly fill the vessel of the universe. Can the mood induced by day transiting into night be described as sadness? No, says Josh. It is a “subtle”, inexplicable mood experience:

“jis tarah kohrey pe ho

Jaata hai baarish ka gumaan”

(Sometimes mist creates an optical illusion of rain)

Stories of victimhood should be set aside because a larger tragedy stares us in the face: the Constitution under threat. But I must be forgiven for taking my eyes off these dark clouds because I am occasionally distracted by that chant at deafening decibel levels:

“Mussalman ke do sthan

Qabrustan ya Pakistan”

(The choice for Muslims: Graveyard or Pakistan)

And then, the bulldozers.

One escape from all of this gloom is nostalgia. It is 15 August 1949. The verandah of my uncle’s house in Rae Bareli is full of Congress grandees seated on the floor covered with a white sheet lined with Congress-trademark white upholstered sausage cushions. This is my intimidating audience. I am 9 year old. Imagine my nervousness when I am invited by my uncle, the first Congress MLA from Rae Bareli, to recite Kaifi Azmi’s poem on Independence:

“Naye Hindostaan mein hum nayee jannat basayenge.

Hum abki ghunche ghunche ko chaman bandi sikhaayenge.”

(We shall create a paradise in free India,

We shall teach every budding flower, the ways of the garden.)

Rae Bareli wings my imagination to 1857 when my ancestor, Mir Baqar and his twelve companions were hanged by the British from a tamarind tree outside the Collectorate. Mir Baqar was regularly supplying men and material to Rana Beni Madhav, who helped Begum Hazrat Mahal fight the British and escape to Nepal. Mir Baqar’s grandson, Mir Wajid Ali, was my great grandfather.

What would have been Gandhi’s attitude to the first war of Independence? Well, he called off the Chauri Chaura agitation in 1922 because protestors in support of non-cooperation, clashed with the police. The 1946 Mutiny by “privates” and sailors against the British Indian Navy caused such panic in London that Prime Minister Attlee dispatched the Cabinet Mission. But Gandhi and Patel were opposed to the mutineers. Nehru, on this occasion too was something of a Prince Hamlet.

Oh’ how we were kept in line by our elders on Nehru. I am now free to mention him by his sir name. In my boyhood, this was sacrilege. He had to be mentioned as “Panditji” or “Pandit Nehru”. If I were to extrapolate from the limited experience from Mustafabad to Lucknow, the undisputed leader of Indian Muslims until his death in 1964 was Nehru.

“He will never allow the country to be Partitioned” declared grandfather, with undiluted trust, a function of pure adoration. Even after 3 June 1947, Partition plan was announced, the gentility of Mustafabad, clung to their faith in “Panditji” who, they thought, will pull a rabbit out of the hat, bamboozle the back room boys, and embrace Maulana Azad and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan in celebration.

Events followed a contrary route. At the crucial CWC meeting Maulana Azad nervously smoked a can full of cigarettes; the Frontier Gandhi wept “You have left us to the wolves.” But the gentle folk of Mustafabad would not give up until the inevitable happened: the spectre of Partition reared its head.

“What, Shahla is going to Pakistan?”

“No” grandfather was corrected. “She is going to Karachi.”

A measuring tape was placed on a map of India. Distances between Mustafabad and Bombay (where Shahla was married) and Mustafabad and Karachi, were compared.

“Distancewise not much of a difference”, an uncle mollified grandfather.

Partition did happen but Nehru was not to blame. Remember, those fateful 30 pages of Maulana Azad’s India Wins Freedom were still in the archives then. These pages were opened only in 1988. Azad thus avoided hurting his “friend and comrade Jawaharlal”. In those pages Azad pulls no punches. He lays the blame for Partition on Jinnah, ofcourse, but also on Nehru, Patel and even Gandhi for having buckled under pressure.

The elders had barely accepted the tragedy of divided families when the next shock came. Mustafabad was too small to be spoken to separately, but “Panditji” had privately told the Concorde of Taluqedars that the Congress would delay the implementation of its land reforms policy. This “Panditji” quite rightly though was absolutely necessary.

The Congress plank of land reforms left landlords vulnerable. The Hindu had taken to Western education with remarkable foresight. The Muslim opiated by the feudal system until 1947, had held onto his culture and language, leaving him unprepared for the challenges that democracy had abruptly placed at his door. Nehru understood that Muslims needed a little more time to create a middle class. With this end in mind he whispered in their ears yet another promise. He would delay the implementation of land reforms to give the community time to catch up. Govindacharya once observed that Atal Behari Vajpayee was only the “mukhauta” (mask) while backroom boys pushed in other direction. This seems to apply to Panditji as well. Nehru reassured the Muslim landed elite particularly in Awadh, that they would be given time before Congress comes in full throttle with its socialism. Barely had the promise been made than Govind Ballabh Pant implemented land reforms in 1952.

What descended on our house in Mustafabad was not quite penury but a dark foreboding of an altered lifestyle.

My grandfather died in 1964, exactly when his abiding icon “Pandit Nehru” did.

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Friday, August 5, 2022

Why Congress Opposed Naval Mutiny Which Led To August 15?

Why Congress Opposed Naval Mutiny Which Led To August 15?

                                                                                       Saeed Naqvi

It is nice to remember the 1946 – Royal Indian Navy Mutiny just a few days before we celebrate our Independence Day. It is not just a neglected event in the history of Independence but one that was suppressed equally by the colonial masters as well as by leaders of the Congress. In fact, the Congress remained so gripped by paranoia of the traumatic event that its government in Bengal as late as 1965 tried every trick in the book to stop Utpal Dutt’s “Kallol” (Storm), a play based on the mutiny, from being staged. Despite Congress obstructions, the play was staged at Minerva theatre to record audiences. Scholar Ashis Nandy, also in the audience, is a witness to its popularity. These are some of the layers to the unputdownable narrative Pramod Kapoor has woven around the historic event in a well researched book.

The Naval Mutiny of February 1946 was the greatest embarrassment the British faced. Britain, after all, boasted of an Admiralty. Brittania ruled the waves for nearly two centuries.

A riveting part of the book is the conspiracy before the spark was ignited by the “privates” (non commissioned officers) and sailors. Who were the politicians involved? Where did the conspirators meet? How did they escape British Intelligence consisting largely of “loyal” Indians?

In his advance praise for the book, film maker Shyam Benegal introduces a nugget about one Balai Dutt “barely out of his teens” among the Mutiny’s leaders. Later, Dutt, a staunch communist, rose to become an advertising executive in Lintas which Benegal joined as a copy writer. This is when Benegal read the Mutiny of the Innocents, Dutt’s insider account of the Mutiny, much before it was published. Popular historian William Dalrymple asks a pertinent question: “could 1946 have turned into a rerun of the Great Uprising of 1857?”

The book places something of a dampener, on the romantic image that many have nurtured of our national leaders – Gandhi, Nehru, Sardar Patel as “fighters” against the British. All of them appear to be more sympathetic to the British than to the ratings who had ignited a massive rebellion against discrimination and poor rations. It was a popular uprising against the British. Why was the Congress opposed to it?

What must have rung alarm bells in London and conservative Indians like Gandhi, Patel and Jinnah was the fact that the leadership of the uprising was with the Communist Party of India. Leaders like S.A. Dange, who later became Secretary General of the Party were in the vanguard as were leaders of the left wing of the Congress party like Aruna Asaf Ali. Nehru’s dilemma was acute. He was anxious about the left faction of the Congress: what if it deserts the party, thereby weakening him?

After extensive planning by the “plotters” (writes Kapoor) “the fuse was ignited on Monday, 18 February. Kapoor extracts a quote from historian Sumit Sarakar’s Modern India: “the afternoon of 20 February saw remarkable scenes of fraternization, with crowds bringing food for the striking ratings at the Gateway of India and shop keepers inviting them to take whatever they needed.” And the Congress opposed this?

The mutiny spread to 78 ships, 21 shore establishments and over 20,000 ratings. “In less than 48 hours, it had crippled one of the most formidable navies of the Second World War. There were pitched battles. Hundreds were killed.

It impacted severely on the leadership of the Congress and the Muslim League who were making cow eyes at the British as a matter of tactics. Freedom, they seemed to have reckoned, would come as a reward for good behaviour not by scaring the British – sinking their Armada, for instance.

On the opposite side was a mesmerizing, vocal galaxy: Prithviraj Kapoor, Salil Chowdhry, Balraj Sahni, Zohra Sehgal, Utpal Dutt, Aruna Asaf Ali, Minoo Musani, Ashoka Mehta, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Josh Malihabadi, Sahir Ludhianvi, and a host of others.

Hindustan Standard of 28 February has its page 1 cluttered with reactions of Congress leaders. Gandhi’s reaction is a banner across five columns.

Gandhi opposed Aruna Asaf Ali’s call: “I would rather unite Hindus and Muslims at the barricades, than on the constitutional front.” Gandhi’s response, “the barricade life has to be followed by the constitution.” According to Gandhi, Aruna “betrays want of foresight in disbelieving British declarations and precipitating a quarrel in anticipation.”

The same page has Maulana Azad, President of Congress, arguing that “the national spirit must not be suppressed.” Sardar Patel on the other hand is worried about “the mass awakening being exploited” by others.

Who are the “others”? This is the crux of the matter.

That the Navy, the pride of Brittania, was so vulnerable was disconcerting enough. What really set the cat among the pigeons in Westminster was the rapid gains being made by the communists in India and globally.

Although the Telengana uprising occupied newspaper headlines only in July 1946, intelligence reports on the massive underground network was available to the British much earlier. Beyond India Mao’s long march was in its final stages when mutiny erupted in the Navy.

In the 40s and the 50s, just as colonialism was receding, Imperialism was being challenged by communist expansion in Korea particularly after China crossed the Yalu river in 1950. In 1957, the first communist government through the ballot box was installed in Kerala. These events happened later but the Imperial establishment had sensed the wind blowing in one direction.

As soon as the mutiny expanded, Clement Atlee’s government in London, dispatched the Cabinet Mission, replaced Lord Wavel by Lord Mountbatten, set 30 June1948 as final date for independence.

Mountbatten brought the date forward to August 15. Mountbatten swiftly grasped the message from London: hand over power to leaders the British had cultivated, leaders who were “people like us”. Considering the left wave sweeping the world since the Bolshevik revolution of 1917, there was every danger of the ground being cut from under feet of the “moderate” politicians in India the British had struck a rapport with.

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Friday, July 29, 2022

Europe Is A Car With Four Tyres Punctured Says Hungary’s Orban

Europe Is A Car With Four Tyres Punctured Says Hungary’s Orban

                                                                                    Saeed Naqvi

Supposing Liz Truss, one of the two poised to be Britain’s Prime Minister, undertook a field study to buttress her argument that the defining conflict of our time is the one between “democracy and autocracy”, which countries, as a random sample, should be included in her itinerary?

The world’s largest democracy is the obvious place to start. If she takes too fastidious a view of this week’s Supreme Court Judgement on the Prevention of Money Laundering Act, just whisper in her ear “remember China, the rising threat.” She will turn very pale. Ram home the advantage “and we hold elections every five years, exactly like you.” And dare you pry into centralized power, liquidation of democratic institutions, monopolized media, aggravation of communal and caste divide, prices shooting through the stratosphere, you, Truss will get a mouthful. “go, fight China alone.”

She will be thrilled to meet Ranil Wickremesinghe who holds the record for having been sworn in as Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister seven times since 1993. He has leap frogged to the office of President even though his party, the UNP, was trounced to a cypher in this parliament. A dedicated democrat, he clawed his way back into the House on the National list. Lo and behold, Ranil became Prime Minister even as the “uprising” occupied President Gotabaya’s Palace, swam in his swimming pool, played “kiss me honey, honey” on his Grand Piano and set fire to Ranil’s house.

TV images communicated the impression that the country had become dysfunctional. But two hours drive away at Galle, the other half of the island and the cricketing world beyond were riveted on a game of mystical serenity called test cricket. Contrary visuals from Colombo and Galle are puzzling. Was it a manufactured uprising?

The upshot is that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is in temporary exile in Singapore but Ranil, whose departure the “uprising” demanded, loud and clear, has in an eel like crawl, ended up as President. The argument is that he is the only one with the experience to negotiate a deal with the IMF. In other words the prescription for economic revival clearly has Uncle Sam’s imprimatur. How can the protesters be sure that Ranil will not sign the Status of Forces agreement with the US? This exactly was the issue on which Ranil dug his heels in an earlier incarnation as Prime Minister and President Maithripala Sirisena had to show him the door?

If QUAD has to look plausible, the anglo-saxons will need a base a hundred times bigger than Diego Garcia. The obvious Real Estate is Sri Lanka which will come in handy for AUKUS as well. The latter will be of direct interest to Truss.

The Chinese, ofcourse, have put their heads down on the Belt and Road project, giving a wide open field to India to play in where they will gradually begin to look like an American sidekick within QUAD.

Pakistan would be next on her itinerary where an iconic cricketer is stirring up the people democratically but the establishment which, Imran Khan alleges has US support, is out to thwart the people’s will.

The democracy versus autocracy brooch pinned on her jacket, she may find the circus of democracy in Pakistani style distubring. Imran Khan found himself in Moscow on February 24, the day Putin embarked on his “special operations” to separate Ukrainians from Nazis. Khan’s was a pre arranged visit but the western media like bees from a disturbed beehive, zoomed in and distorted the optics.

The disparate Opposition, with its eye on the main chance, came together with help from the US, alleges Khan, plausibly but unverifiably. This ganging up ousted him in a questionable vote of confidence. Khan went to town against “an imported government of thieves and thugs”, an impolite way of speaking the truth.

His mass campaigns have been a stunning success. After all, in the 20 by elections on July 17, Khan’s PTI decimated Punjab’s premier politicians in their stronghold. He won 15 seats.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif’s son Hamza Shahbaz, “the Poultry king of Punjab”, was about to be dethroned from the Punjab Chief Ministership. All hell broke loose. A crooked, (or hapless?) Deputy Speaker obsequiously cited a letter he had received from the leader of Muslim League Q to cast the 10 MLQ votes in Hamza’s favour. The Supreme Court upturned the result.

So widespread is his popularity that Khan will undoubtedly trounce his discredited opponents in early general elections. The outcome will resonate well in Beijing and Moscow and, precisely for that reason, not on the side where Truss stands. This march of democracy doesn’t quite suit her.

Ever since Nepal came out of its monarchical cocoon and Man Mohan Adhikari became its first communist Prime Minister in 1994, the Himalayan state, sandwiched between India and China, is trying to find its centre of gravity. American influence in India was paramount during 2004-2005. James Moriarty, an influential US ambassador to Nepal, in co-operation with Indian and EU officials designed “a tsunami model” (India and the US had co-operated well during the 2004 Tsunami) according to which the three would co-ordinate policy in the region, focused greatly on Nepal. The sole super power moment was intact then.

The swift passing of that moment, post the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, coincided with the rapid rise of China. Despite its current decline, the US still has a finger in Nepal’s military pie. But the encirclement of China, from the US perspective will remain illusory without India playing a role which it is in no position to play at the moment. All of this is not very heartening for, Truss.

But nothing is quite as distressing as the picture she survey back home. The Italian government has fallen and opted out of the Ukrainian black hole. Meanwhile, an EU member Victor Orban of Hungary is gleefully describing Europe as “a car with four tyres punctured.”

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Friday, July 22, 2022

Indian Navy Did The Hard Work But America Took The Trophy

Indian Navy Did The Hard Work But America Took The Trophy

                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

Among my many memories of Sri Lanka is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, 2004. For the Indian Navy, great keepers of traditions, it was what they call a ‘family holiday’. Ships with officers and their families on board go far out into the open seas, sipping Gin and tonic.

Like all other ports, Kochi too was emptied of ships. One of them received an urgent message from Naval Headquarters: send families home on passenger boats and proceed urgently to Sri Lanka which is in the eye of the biggest tsunami in history.

I flew into Bandaranaike airport via Mumbai and drove straight to Trincomalee. One of the world’s finest natural harbours was the site of unspeakable devastation. The wonder was the diligent application of the sailors. They were unfazed and made no fuss about the tsunami’s fury.

The scene at Galle was worse because it is a smaller harbor. It was cluttered with slate, roofs, trunks, cars twisted by sheer badgering, buffeting, badly broken; in the midst of floating tyres were mattresses, household gadgets, shattered TVs, twisted metal, beds made from wood and more floating wood, piling up at the mouth of the harbor in a giant, abstract form. Magically, in three days the harbour had been cleared.

Unless one can see, in the mind’s eye, the unimaginable scale of the disaster, the relief and rehabilitation work in Sri Lanka by the Indian Navy can never be appreciated. I kicked myself that I had not come with my cameraman. The shame was that there was no cameraman from India, none from the Navy either, a fact relevant to the narrative later.

This effusive praise of the Navy is for a reason. In the debris were items mentioned earlier – refrigerators, washing machines, mixi grinders, radio sets, floating furniture – and a hundred other things – all painstakingly repaired by the Navy’s engineers, sailors and seamen. Our very Indian “jugaad”, or “make-do” came in handy.

In these circumstances what would the US Navy have done? Demonstrate its power and amplify its presence on the global media, dwarfing anything that the Indians had done? This, alas, is exactly what happened.

After what I thought was the conclusion of the assignment, I waited outside Galle airport. Larger than anything on show so far, the SS Wisconsin swam into my ken. It had anchored out at sea. Smaller boats emerged. Clambering onto these boats were a bevy of cameramen. Only when they had steadied their cameras on their shoulders did the ship disgorge its sailors. And all of this after the Indian Navy had repaired the eastern coast and Galle harbour.

When I reached Mumbai I picked up The Times of India. My heart sank. On top of page 1, four columns wide, was a photograph of US marines marching into Sri Lanka. Naturally, not a word about the Indian Navy. All that I had seen in Sri Lanka was an illusion? It hadn’t happened? As Bobby Talyarkhan used to end his columns: “Do you get me, Steve?”

Propaganda and the pitfalls therein are being amplified in front of our eyes right now. Just as well I am now not peripatetic enough to have charged off to cover Ukraine. I fell back on the oldest trick in the book: watch the big stars of the BBC, CNN etcetera and divide the 100 of what they say by 90, 80 or 70, in some cases, to arrive at a plausible percentage of the truth.

Ukraine is the inflection point in world affairs because a new multipolar world is taking shape. Towards this evolution, New Delhi has positioned itself brilliantly. The trajectory could well lead to a Permanent Membership of the Security Council. Until then, we walk on egg shells everywhere. In Sri Lanka too. All of this demands consistent optics of being equidistant. This requires a vigorous independent media focused on foreign policy and which is not on a western dole.

What has hit the Russians where it hurts is the relentless barrage by the western media, sometimes undiluted propaganda, designed to demoralize Putin, mobilize global opinion and to cause chanceries of the world into decisions that would give some more respite to a world order whose best days are past. Mark my word: Kremlin is deep in thought on this global media war.

Our news channels are so insulated from foreign affairs that on critical occasions they fall back on the BBC, CNN, Reuters, Associated Press, New York Times and so on – all representing interests totally at variance from the new direction of our foreign policy. Whither atmnirbharta or “self sufficiency”?

The western media is part of one bloc opposed to another. India meanwhile, is engaged with all. It will, ofcourse, not be easy to unhinge the foreign policy elite from old ways of thinking because of its inability to accept the disappearance of the unipolar world. This pro US tilt in the elite’s intellectual makeup does not have its origins in the collapse of the Soviet Union only but it has a longer history. When Nehru was leading the Non Aligned movement, his handpicked Secretary General of the foreign office, Sir Girija Shankar Bajpai, was more inclined towards the US where he had served as the Agent General of British India.

Take another example. At a time when the Indian Ambassador in Moscow could speak to key members of the Central Committee on the phone, the Birlas and the Jains posted no correspondents to Moscow.

In fact the culture of dependence on former colonial masters to fill our foreign pages is all pervasive. The new foreign policy will need a new culture of covering foreign affairs. Not having bureaus in Kabul, Iran, Dhaka, Myanmar, Beijing, Moscow, London, Islamabad, Washington and key stations in South East Asia, Latin America, Africa will leave us gasping for breath, not quite becoming an Asian power on the rise. Our effectiveness in Colombo would have been multiplied if we had had competing, news bureaus in the island during the current crisis.

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Friday, July 15, 2022

How India And US, QUAD Members Approach Lanka Crisis?

How India And US, QUAD Members Approach Lanka Crisis?

                                                                                     Saeed Naqvi

If Boris Johnson was the first casualty of the Ukraine war, the politico-economic collapse of Sri Lanka should signal the eclipse of the New Liberal economic order. Retaining Ranil Wickremesinghe simply because he can negotiate with the IMF, is bad news for Sri Lanka. Opposition leader Sajith Premadasa is dead right: “A Member of Parliament with one seat in Parliament is appointed Prime Minister, now the same person is appointed as Acting President.” Why this has happened is simple: the Americans wanted their man.

It was totally against my grain to be riveted on BBC’s live coverage of Johnson being gored from all sides for his Partygate shenanigans, throwing raucous parties at number 10 after having brought the nation under a strict Covid lockdown. Leaning over the dispatch box like a wounded stag, he would suddenly revive charging the opposition for playing “Phootin’s” game.

Just as Putin thought that he would wind up Kiev in a jiffy, the media hype, at deafening decibel levels would, it was assumed in Washington and London, resonate globally and cause Putin’s  morale to collapse.

It turns out that Putin’s popularity has soared to 85%, while Joe Biden’s is 39%. What will these numbers sink to after the President’s party is (God forbid) roundly trounced in the November mid term elections to Congress?

Operation Desert Storm in 1992 was set up by the Thatcher-Bush Sr combine to underscore the post Soviet sole super power moment and to keep a reunified Germany in its place.

The same Anglo-Saxon duet are leading the West’s charge on Putin. At the time of writing the hyper active agent in the twosome, Boris Johnson, has fallen, thud, from his charger, his politics irreparably damaged. If Operation Desert Storm was the sole super power moment for Bush Senior, Ukraine is the solo moment for Biden, his partner Johnson having been tackled to the ground.

In the circumstances, the networks Washington has spawned, the QUAD, for instance, acquire saliency. Remember after China’s pact with the Solomon islands, islands are on a premium. When an island state like Sri Lanka teeters on the brink, it is pertinent to ask: how durable is QUAD?

US Foreign Secretary Anthony Blinken screamed from distant Washington, just when the street protests picked up in tempo, “the problems of Sri Lanka require long term planning.” This implies IMF’s intervention. At a time when people cannot place a loaf of bread on their table, there is no petrol for any vehicular movement, are they being offered “austerity policies” or something resembling it?

A flavor of Chinese thinking on Sri Lanka, much more revealing than a guarded official statement, is available in the Global Times.

“Two major external factors for the state collapse are the Covid 19 Pandemic which has hit the pillar of Sri Lankan economy, the tourism industry. The other undeniable fact is the sanctions regime following the Ukraine war, causing massive food and petrol shortages worldwide.”

To these, add the foolishness of the Rajapaksas. Inspired by few know what, Mahinda Rajapaksa made an almighty switch from the conventional production of foodgrains to organic farming. Towards this end he stopped the import of chemical fertilizers, of which the farmers were totally starved just when they needed it.

The Global Times was spot on: the radical agricultural and economic policies launched by Sri Lanka, has made the country so vulnerable that “external factors” will have an impact.

“It has to be said that some countries like the US are more interested in using the Sri Lanka crisis for geopolitical manipulation.” They are not about to offer any assistance. Harshest is the Global Times punchline:  The US looks at Sri Lanka, which is in such crisis, not with anxiety, but with “twisted excitement”, smacking its lips at an opportunity for strategic play.

This creates the context for QUAD and Sri Lanka. The QUAD is, by most accounts, an arrangement to checkmate Chinese aspirations in the Indo-Pacific.

In Sri Lanka, the India, China and US triangle can be played on a miniature scale. The Chinese, who have vast infrastructure development projects, are waiting and watching. They know the aircraft is going through turbulent weather – tighten your seat belts and don’t move.

This leaves the two QUAD members, India and the US, in the fray. Clearly, Sri Lanka falls in India’s sphere of influence. In other words will the strategic attitude toward Sri Lanka be determined by India? Or do American interests supercede Indian interests? This would seem to suggest that the Americans are more equal than others in the QUAD fraternity. Ofcourse, the US is the superpower in the grouping, but surely the sheer geographical proximity should give India greater say. These intra QUAD adjustments must be of interest to the Chinese.

The extended meeting on the margins of the G20 Foreign Ministers in Bali, Indonesia, between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi was warm. Never in recent history has India been on a “sweeter spot” in world affairs, a fact due largely to a clear North-South divide after the Ukraine war with two sides wooing India.

A multipolar world is slowly taking shape while the West, led by the US, is digging its heels in to retain a margin of advantage in global power. That is the essence of the Ukraine conflict.

The Sino-Russian combine would be willing to invest heavily for Indian goodwill at this juncture. Who knows, the calm contemplation by China of Sri Lankan affairs may well be a gesture to leave the field open for India. Is brute competition giving way to adjustments?

If the foreign policy elite – short on information because the principals are having to digest so much in double quick time – can resist the temptation of making maximalist demands like “vacate Tibet”, this is the season for New Delhi to spell out a New Non Alignment. New Delhi should have its ears lose to the ground on both, Putin in Tehran and Biden in Saudi Arabia.

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Friday, July 8, 2022

Kerala Ayurvedic Ashram Distances One From Daily Diet Of Dismal News

Kerala Ayurvedic Ashram Distances One From Daily Diet Of Dismal News

                                                                                   Saeed Naqvi

The Kottakal Ayurvedic Ashram in Mallapuram, Kozhikode or Calicut, Kerala, is a vantage point from where the North Indian shenanigans acquire the perspective of distance. In a sense, it is a double distance – I am in Kerala and in an Ashram. That the Ashram happens to be in the heart of Mallapuram, the state’s Muslim dominated district, is itself symbolic.

One of the women masseurs told Aruna, my wife, that she will take a day off on Sunday; she must visit Muslim homes on Eid. It would be wrong to compare enthusiastic inter religious participation on occasions like Eid or Onam in Mallapuram to our experience in South Delhi. In fact it would be wrong even to compare it with, say, Thiruvanthapuram.

Thiruvanthapuram has always been a Nair dominated metropolis where the Muslim presence is not pronounced enough to be part of the Hindu’s everyday experience. Absence from this daily experience removes the Muslim from the Hindu’s social consciousness. That Sunday is Eid simply does not occur to him unless he happens to be in a Muslim dominated neighbourhood.

In New Delhi, ours is the only Muslim home in a colony mostly of Punjabis who came after Partition. I am usually an invitee for hoisting the flag on 15 August. But there are no spontaneous Eid visitations mostly because Muslims are not part of their daily experience as they are of mine.

This obvious but little noticed fact is critical in understanding Hindu-Muslim equations. The Hindu is part of the Muslim’s daily life – from the newspaper delivery boy, passing vegetable sellers, shopping malls, restaurants and, above all, the work place. The Hindu on the other hand has no occasion to come into contact with any Muslim. My friend for 60 years whom I must identify as a Hindu, (a shame, because our religious backgrounds have naver mattered all these years) has never known a Muslim other than me.

A Hindu without any experience of Muslim is prone to be afflicted by an apartheid of the mind. For years I have been trying to persuade Hindu friends to accompany me to Jama Masjid during Ramzan to see Muslim congregations, the milling crowds, authentic kebabs and not even an iota of harassment of women. But I fail. Politicians and TV channels have cast Muslims as such murderous monsters, that friends make excuses and opt out.

That communalism as a political project has had no traction in Kerala is not for want of trying by RSS cadres and Congress leaders like the late K. Karunakaran. The Congress had two distinct approaches to the RSS-BJP. In Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh, for instance, fought the BJP tooth and nail; Karunakaran made tacit adjustments with the RSS to inject its one percent vote for UDF candidates to thwart the Left. Like the right of centre parties everywhere the Congress too is more comfortable with Hindu nationalism than with communists.

In the North, manufactured incidents on a daily basis keep communalism on a continuous simmer and folks huddle and wonder what the future portends. For this lot, I have good news. They are guilty of extrapolating from their experience in the North and theorizing for the rest of the country. UP, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana, Gujarat, part of Maharashtra and Bihar are in the BJP’s thrall. I am not counting Assam and Tripura because a different set of circumstances operates in these enclaves.

Even if you add the two, a total of 9 BJP ruled states minus Rajasthan for the time being, is far short of a comprehensive saffron hue over 29 states and 8 union territories. If roadblocks in the BJP’s way in the North was caste politics, it will face linguistic and ethnic headwinds in the rest of the country. The federal spirit is a huge obstruction.

Political culture in the North is overwhelmingly conditioned by identity politics. The rest of the country is by comparison relatively more sophisticated. Pardon my biases, but Kerala is truly Gods own country in every sense of the term including the charms of Kottakal. A deep rooted Left movement gave the people a sense of dignity not seen in the North. To the Church must go a large share of the the credit for the state’s saturation with education.

One of the invigorating “treatments” at Kottakal is an oil massage. Four men in blue uniform sit on either side of the massage table. An oil, laden with herbs, simmers on a stove. Hand towels, virtually cooked in the oil, are lifted out of the vessel, shared by the four masseurs who proceed to squeeze the tepid oil onto the body. They then slide the hand up and down the part of the body which has fallen to the particular masseur’s share.

To break the rhythmic monotony of the massage, I asked them if they were all vegetarians, the only food available in Kottakal. They protested. In fact this became a prelude to a conversation on politicians and their favourite restaurants. It turns out that Rahul Gandhi, ostensibly on the way to Wayanad, his constituency, never misses a chance to visit Paragon which has even my vote as the country’s premier restaurant. The Kerala exceptionalism is not limited the masseurs’ knowledge of cuisine. They had even savoured Paragon food.

The 14 day exemption in Kottakal from pollution, perverse politics and stories of police excesses in the North, has reminded me of something I had learnt during my five year stint in the South with headquarters in Chennai: the entire Muslim experience in the South is at a vast variance from the North.

Muslims in the North came as invaders who set up empires. In the South they came as traders. Accepting local cultures was good business as well as excellent public relations. It was to facilitate the traders to pursue their new religion that Cheruman Perumal, a Hindu nobleman, built a Mosque for their Namaz in 629 AD near Kochi, three years before the Prophet’s death, making it the first Mosque in India and among the first six in Islam.

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Friday, June 24, 2022

Permanent Conflict Toward Hindu Rashtra Or Peaceful Dialogue For Hindustan?

Permanent Conflict Toward Hindu Rashtra Or Peaceful Dialogue For Hindustan?

                                                                                  Saeed Naqvi

Neither anger nor sadness but a sort of numbness gripped me as a bulldozer was brought into focus, its giant fingers crashing on the roof, scratching the walls and probing deep into the entrails of the house. Within minutes the house was a heap of rubble.

It was impossible to reconcile this image with the bubble taking shape in my mind. The year was 1995. Frank Wisner, one of the most charming of the US ambassadors, looked at me in bewilderment and, without change of expression, pressed the intercom for his counsellor: “I am sending you someone with a case that with tickle you.”

The counsellor was tickled. My daughter was keen to get a US visa stamped on her passport (She had been invited for a seminar in New York) and she was keen to surrender the documents which gave her permanent residence in the US, where she had spent eight years in the groves of academe.

A visa stamped at last on her Indian passport, with an elevated self esteem she went about her duties as a social worker in some remote part of the state which Yogi Adityanath now administers as its Chief Minister. It was once my home state too.

The return journey from her place of work, was in a jam packed second class compartment. She found a seat next to a family having fruit for lunch. The man, a kindly soul, offered her an orange.” Abhi mun naheen hai.” (Thanks, but I don’t feel like having an orange.) The man persisted: “Le lo beti, hum koi mussalman naheen hain.” (Take it, daughter, I am not a Muslim.)

Pride in an Indian passport and the reality of the new emerging India must have hit her like a rifle shot.

I returned to some more bulldozing accompanied by a cacophony of speakers supporting or opposing the spectacle. Then, at Prime Time, Rishika Baruah of NDTV came into focus anchoring a carefully compiled catalogue of atrocities against dalits. The first episode is in Rae Bareli. A group of upper caste boys have encircled a boy from one of the lower castes. The leader of the gang, in jeans and a t-shirt watches the boy being beaten by his friends. Then as a grand finale, the leader, seated on a large high stone, stretches out one leg. The gang then invites the lower caste boy to lick their gang leader’s foot from heel to toe.

The next scene shows a man in shirt and trousers being instructed by middle aged men to lie on his stomach and rub his nose in a circle marked in chalk for clarity. He apparently had the temerity to stand on a stones outside the temple to watch a show.

The third incident shows a girl with a thali full of puja items being turned away by the priest from the temple where she has come to make an offering because her examinations the next day.

The piece-de-resistance is the bridegroom who comes riding a horse. Before the bridegroom is received by his bride and her family, the village influentials encircle him.

One of the village superiors leaps to the height of the horse and administers an almighty slap on the bridegroom’s face, even as the bride watches in horror. How dare a dalit come riding a horse? Oddly this rare focus on dalit atrocities is not backed up by screaming discussants on a long leash.

Provide an instance of hijab in schools, beef in a refrigerator, love jihad and such like provocations: this is the stuff channels instantly divide their screens into four, six or eight windows. From the very start, discussions are a cacophony, with two priceless mullahs thrown in, speaking out of turn.

The hoopla that attends coverage of subject of a communal colour is singularly missing in Rishika Baruah’s impressive catalogue of atrocities against dalits. Each one of the episodes would have yielded a sober discussion on social inequity, the barbarism it can lead to. Remember the dalit girl of Hathras – raped, murdered and cremated under police protection past midnight without as much as informing the girl’s parents. M. N. Srinivas, the great sociologist, asked the pithy question which cannot be easily answered. “What is Hinduism without caste?” Scholar, S. S. Anant introduces another complexity: the three upper castes have relative stability in their enclaves.

The lower castes who are subdivided into a hierarchy of a hundred sub castes live under a firm stipulation: in times of distress they may descend to take up the occupation of those below them but they may never ascend even a notch.

All of this, material is like the categories of Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal among Muslims in feudal times. These categories were recognized but treated like family secrets not to be shed light on. Likewise caste during elections is thrashed to smithereens, divided and subdivided into a hundred categories to fulfil electoral needs. But once elections are over, the subject which defines so much of our lives is tucked away in the mind’s most dark caverns.

It has to be left undiscussed because one half of Hindu society does not wish to place its warts before a mirror; the other half can’t imagine a social order without caste. Caste, in other words is an ancient social habit, inextricably woven into our lives. Communalism is a political project which helps contain caste to some extent. The fear of Muslim as an enemy image may result in Hindu consolidation but only politically. Socially that upper caste boy in Rae Bareli still gets the lower caste boy to lick his foot.

On another scale, embers left behind by caste-communal friction can prepare the ground for Savarkar’s or the RSS’s idea of Hindu nationalism. That will also require Kashmir on a boil forever, relations with Pakistan on torrid heat always and Hindu-Muslim enmity, in perpetuity. Are we ready for it? Or should we defuse issues by setting up a permanent dialogue towards Hindustan?

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