Thursday, January 16, 2020

Sardar Patel, RSS, Communists and Ramaswamy: When Hate Clouds Mind

Few days back P.A.Krishnan shared a short excerpt from a speech by Sardar Patel that was sharply critical of RSS for its communalism. Othisaivu Ramaswamy has gone at it with hammer and tongs but with no sense or honesty. Alas, his erudition notwithstanding his mind is addled with the venom of communalism and Hindutva. 

I’ll ignore his jibe at my relationship with P.A.K (ironically I was not completely in support of P.A.K on his recent posts on RSS run schools and even in that post I had only posed a question. 



Ramaswamy alleges that P.A.K played a dishonest game with selective quoting. This is the crux of his blog. Ramaswamy who adores Sardar Patel, for the usual misconstrued reasons that Hindutva morons always do, thankfully provided the full speech and as he asked for it I did read the speech in full too. Did P.A. Krishnan make a mistake? No, and here's why.

A charge of selective quoting is valid ONLY if the parts not quoted are in opposition to what was quoted or provides a different mitigating context. This is simple logic of criticism. PAK had quoted these lines from Patel’s speech wherein Patel warns the RSS and said:
“ (I) have made them an open offer : ‘Change your plans, give up secrecy, eschew communal conflict, respect the Constitution of India, show your loyalty to the Flag and make us believe that we can trust your words, to say one thing and to do another is a game which will not do.”
Nowhere in the full speech has Patel said anything contradicting that passage or nuanced it in any different context to mitigate the sharpness of those words.  Ramaswamy himself, waving his self-righteousness of not giving a merely convenient excerpt, had provided a more detailed paragraph where Patel really drives home the point:
“We in the government have been dealing with the R.S.S. movement. They want that Hindu Rajya or Hindu culture should be imposed by force. No government can tolerate this. There are almost as many Muslims in this country as in the part that has been partitioned away. We are not going to drive them away. It would be an evil day if we started that game, in spite of partition and whatever happens. We must understand that they are going to stay here and it is our obligation and our responsibility to make them feel that this is their country. It is, of course, their responsibility, on the other hand, to discharge their duties as citizens of this country.”
Patel’s advice to Muslims to discharge their duties as citizens of this country warms the cockles of Ramaswamy’s heart but, and this is where Ramaswamy is dishonest, Patel practically asks that of RSS and Communists too, both of whom were the chief targets of the speech. 

Given P.A.K’s self-identification as Marxist Ramaswamy picks an argument over PAK omitting to mention how Patel had, in the same speech, scolded the Communists as terrorists. Patel lashes out at Communists for violent uprisings and talk of revolution. 

Now, Ramaswamy adores Patel and like any Hindutva lout ridicules Jawaharlal Nehru. Patel’s address was on Feb 23rd 1949 and here’s Nehru writing to Chief Ministers, a practice he started, on 15th April 1948, “some of the activities (of the communist party) in the recent past have been far from legitimate and have created grave disorder. There has been open incitement for the collection of arms and violence, and sabotage has been feared”. With all that Nehru still refuses to ban the Communists just as he had not clamored for a ban on RSS (which only for a short while banned after Gandhi’s assassination and then the ban was lifted). Nehru, citing how unleashing a repression unshackles the police who are bound more to abuse power as it happened in the unfortunate case of jailing a communist who was ill for long and who died in jail. 

Nehru cautions the chief ministers, “We have to be very careful in having recourse to repressive measures because the appetite grows with use and it appears a simple way out of a difficulty. But as believers of civil liberty know, the consequences are apt to be bad, and a popular government like ours has to be particularly careful”. India was a democracy not a Stalinist state to crush everyone with a hammer.

On 16th April 1949, Nehru again writes to the chief ministers, and this time he accuses the communists of “following a policy of sabotage and terrorism”. He still argues against a ban not out of any dovish sentiments to ideological fellow travelers but with reason. He rightfully suggested that a ban would be a propaganda victory and furthermore it’d be futile since the party anyway conducted most of its subversiveness underground. “Generally speaking therefore, banning does not give any greater powers to deal with an organization which is essentially functioning underground, The slight balance in favor of banning is rather outweighed by Communists posing as ideological martyrs instead of saboteurs and terrorists”. Nehru, too, did not shy from calling communists as terrorists. Of course to Ramaswamy’s hate filled mind it was only Patel who had the spine to call Communists as terrorists.

This is precisely where Gandhi’s faith in Nehru as the chosen heir is vindicated because Nehru is neither blind to the problem nor does he prevaricate but, unlike most others, retains an approach that’s mindful of a problem’s larger dimension and a democratic spirit. Jeyamohan in a conversation paid tribute to Nehru for not keeping the ban on RSS once investigation revealed that the organization had no direct link to Gandhi’s assassination. The RSS, like the Communists, enjoyed the virtues of Nehruvian democracy.
How did the communists themselves perceive of Nehru at this point? Sarvapalli Gopal’s biography of Nehru provides some answers. B.T. Ranadive attacked Nehru and the government, “Nehru becomes more and more a democratic mask for Patel”. In Randive’s eyes Nehru and Patel were interchangeable and were playing good-cop and bad-cop in tandem. By hindsight that, if that was the case, was a brilliant strategy and we should be in awe of the illustrious partnership of Sardar and Nehru. After the communists started their insurgency in Hyderabad and Telangana region Nehru was condemned by communists as acting ‘fascist’ and obeying “the dictates of Anglo-American capital”. A railway strike, also referred by Patel in the speech, later petered and in due course the communist insurgency was put down too.

At this point we’ve to ask which organization, between the communists and RSS that Patel scolded for violence, still carries within it the capability and willingness to use violence to further its agenda? Without a doubt it is the RSS and not the communist party. I’m well aware of the violence of West Bengal Left Front but that is par for the course for any political party in India. Violence is NOT the stated operating method of communist party today. Whereas it is RSS that takes out armed flag marches in cities. So, it is relevant to quote just the RSS part of that speech (I’m not sure if P.A.K had indeed read the full speech or got the quote on RSS alone from elsewhere).

While fulminating against communists Ramaswamy bares his own fangs and says, his prose dripping with venom, “The so-called minorities are thriving in India – having a peaceful time and when possible, setting fire to trains with passengers and without passengers, in their march towards progress”. In the recent two days police have accepted that they opened fire at a library in Jamia and now Davinder Singh has been arrested for abetting terrorists.

The targets of Patel in the speech, for fomenting divisiveness, were RSS and Communists, two organization dominated by Hindus, especially Brahmins and Sikhs. Yet, Ramaswamy conveniently grafts his Islamophobia onto that speech. So much for intellectual integrity and honesty.

The speech by Patel, delivered when India was still unifying and dealing with the seismic socio-economic upheavals of partition, is impassioned in appealing to all, laborer and businessman alike, to unite in a moment of crises. He speaks of the cost of shipping food to address severe food crises and how the country, not owning enough ships, had to pay high freight charges and to address that was building a shipyard. Portugal and France still had their colonies. He pleads for people to donate what they’ve in excess. Unlike Ramaswamy I, an unabashed admirer of Nehru, will always pay tribute to Patel. Together Nehru and Patel formed a duo that few nations were blessed with in such crises. 

Unlike Nehru the Sardar is shortsighted on the issue of language. In the very opening paragraph Patel scolds Tamils for not learning Hindi and cautions that they’d “drag the country backward”. Happily history has shown that Tamil Nadu, still resisting Hindi, remains one of the most prosperous states of the country. Again, these are the shortcomings of the Sardar.

Interestingly the speech also highlights how much Patel was very much for partition, based on practical experience and ground realities. For all the dreams of a unified large India (Akhand Bharat) by the Hidutva group Patel is actually contented with India as it was shaped post-partition. Actually without partition India would've had such a large population of Muslims that a Modi may not have been possible. 

The shortcomings of Patel’s intellectual persona is compensated by the largeness of his heart for he closed the speech with these words, “In return for your affection, I can only ask you to forgive me if I have said anything harsh ; take it as a piece of advice which comes from an honest and humble servant.”

Giants have trodden the soil of India where the likes of Modi now strut about puffing their chests sowing hatred and venom. 

A note: Few days back a person commented on an FB post that P.A. Krishnan and I became friends out of a shared hatred for Dravidian politics. I told him no our friendship was not born out any shared hatred but out of love for Nehru. Long back when neither of us knew each other P.A. Krishnan had written a beautiful column on Nehru in Tamil Hindu titled "Prince of Spring" (a play on the name Tagore called Nehru, Rturaj. The column was titled in Tamil 'வசந்தங்களின் இளவரசன்'). Aravindan Neelakandan wrote a spiteful rebuttal to that and pilloried Nehru. I had written a rebuttal to Neelakandan then though I had no idea who P.A. Krishnan was. This is just my simple habit. Neelakandan was rebutting not just P.A.K. but Nehru and therefore I found it perfect to rebut, not necessarily on behalf of P.A.K. Likewise today. P.A.K read that column and liked it and we got introduced, thanks to Nehru.

Hindutva and Dravidian party merchants of hate share a common grammar of hatred and adopt similar techniques. One of their cheap tricks is to twist another person's name. Ramaswamy conveniently uses P.A.Krishnan's initials to write PAK, as in the popular abbreviation of Pakistan. 

References:

1. Patel's Speech Provided by Othisaivu (thanks) https://othisaivu.files.wordpress.com/2020/01/sardarspeech.pdf
3. Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography by Sarvepalli Gopal Volume 2, 1947-1956
4. Letters for a Nation: From Jawaharlal Nehru to His Chief Ministers 1947-1963 -- Edited by Madhav Khosla




Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Road to Nehru-Liaquat Pact and the aftermath: The choices and decisions

In the lives of nations there are events that’ll continue to echo and shape destinies continuously. For Germany it is Nazism, for America it is the Civil War, for Russia it is the Revolution and for India it is the partition of the sub-continent along religious lines. 

The Nehru-Liaquat pact, signed nearly 70 years ago by Jawaharlal Nehru and Liaquat Ali Khan, was cited by India’s home minister Amit Shah while piloting a controversial amendment to how India awards citizenship to refugees, has attracted attention. The pact, Nehru justly claimed, pulled India and Pakistan from a precipice of war that was sure to bring widespread destruction. What drove the countries to such brinkmanship, what were the choices, why did these two leaders compromise and what did the pact accomplish?

Nehru lamented then that little do many Indians realize how close India came to imploding and disintegrating. It is true even today. Distance of time and paucity of good academic writing for popular consumption on the subject of partition has masked the complexity of that tumultuous era and in many ways even minimized the impact of the human toll reducing it some dramatic pictures depicting mile long caravans of impoverished refugees and vultures feeding off carcasses. The tragedy ran deeper and brief recounting of some lesser known aspects will help us understand the Nehru-Liaquat pact better.



The Greatest Migration

Nearly 12 million Hindus and Muslims crossed the borders and nearly a million perished in riots and the migration itself. The two countries “had to resettle, feed and house a group as large as the total population of Australia”. “This was not simply an ‘exchange’ of population or a straightforward swap. In the months following Independence, Pakistan lost its bankers, merchants, shopkeepers, entrepreneurs”. In Indian cities Muslim craftsmen and shop owners, now ostracized by Hindus, migrated. Cash outflow from banks across borders in an already impoverished economy plunged the countries into poverty. 

The plan to partition the assets was based on 80-20 basis with 80% going to India. Across colonial India in government offices trays, chairs, paper weights were split. In libraries books were torn to adhere to 80-20. But that was not all. “India had found it necessary to jump civil servants perhaps three grades to fill secretariat vacancies” and “Pakistan had to advance them five grades”. Post partition Pakistan, compared to India, had “fewer bankers, fewer traders, fewer mechanics”. Pakistan “inherited less than 10% of the sub-continent’s steel output and manufacturing capability”.

Refugees crossing borders carried stories of massacres to their new homelands and inflamed local population. “Partition was a modern event, the technology of the press was fully utilized to promote killing and pressmen and propagandists played their part in partition violence behind typewriters as bureaucratic killers in word if not in deed.”

All this carnage was unfolding as Europe and the West were barely coming out of a World War that laid waste large parts of several continents and tens of millions had died. The tragedy in India barely registered in the conscience of the world. The International Red Cross had left India already and a UN covenant to protect refugees would not come about until 1951. Pimps, brothel owners and pedophiles plagued refugee camps even as governments, with scarce resources, struggled to cope with the scale of efforts. 

Refugees, in any era, destabilize local economy, governments and treasuries are taxed, labor market gets skewed and it never matters that the person who arrives speaks the same language and worships the same God. India’s largest state Uttar Pradesh refused to take in refugees from Pakistan, presumably HIndus. When non-Muslim Sindhis landed in Mumbai the local government was not thrilled. 

A constant criticism of Nehru was the centralization of the economy. A key determinant factor was the role government had to play in rehabilitating the lives of refugees. Creation of jobs, welfare centers for women and children and orphanages were all organized by governments touching the lives of many millions. This is often forgotten in analyzing the economics of the Nehru era.

The complexity of the era is best exemplified by the decision of India, in September 1949, to devalue its currency to be in lock step with the Pound Sterling while Pakistan did not do so and to Pakistanis it was the most popular decision when the country demonstrated strength against India. “Indians need to give Rs 144 for Rs 100 in Pakistani currency” was a popular retry. Currency devaluation and halting of trade brought conferences related to evacuee properties also to a halt. A labyrinthine set of events if there ever was one. 

Ever since Gandhi’s ‘Calcutta Miracle’ the violence during partition was largely in the western front in the Punjab region. Military historian Steven Wilkinson identified a causal relationship between high incidence of riots and presence of military ex-servicemen in a region and Punjab had lots of them. 

On 20th December 1949 policemen, reportedly in search of communists, entered Khulna, a village in East Pakistan and killed a Hindu, triggering violence against Hindus. Now, the East started exploding.

‘The Forgotten Conflagration’

Military historian Srinath Raghavan called the violence in Bengal ‘The Forgotten Conflagration’ because of its relative lack of significance compared to Kashmir, the integration of Hyderabad and violence in Punjab.

Following the Khulna episode reprisals began in West Bengal and Muslims left for East Pakistan by the thousands. A cycle of violent reprisals set in as Hindus were in turn massacred in the East and they started streaming into West Bengal. Refugees, both sides claimed, numbered in tens of thousands. 

Historian Pallavi Raghavan adds an interesting backdrop to the Nehru-Liaquat pact. By January 1950 Nehru started floating the idea of a ‘non-war pact’ with Pakistan and started, with Liaquat, a flurry of communications totaling over 200 telegrams in one year. The surprising part is that while the attempt for a non-war pact eventually floundered the Nehru-Liaquat pact for Bengal crises happened. 

Popular understanding of that era is that the two nations were implacable foes but Pallavi establishes that the idea for a non-war pact was actually seriously considered in both countries and not dismissed outright. This amidst a time when hostility towards the other country ran high amongst the public and even policy circles. 

Even as he pursued a non-war pact Nehru, disappointed with the sanguine approach of Liaquat to escalating tensions in Bengal, issued orders to mobilize the army and refused to accede to a request to disallow refugees from East Pakistan into India. 

Nehru proposed that Liaquat and he jointly tour afflicted areas but was turned down. His call for a declaration to condemn the atrocities was also met with silence from Liaquat. Both Liaquat and Nehru were increasingly facing domestic pressures to go to war. Nehru steadfastly refused to consider that the only choices were war or population exchange. By now many in India, including Sardar Patel, were demanding that India, in retaliation to Hindus being chased from East Pakistan, send Muslims from Bengal. A ‘population exchange’. The very idea was abhorrent to Nehru. Nehru resisted the choice of war or population exchange as false choices and pursued the diplomatic track.

Sardar Patel and others also pushed the idea of demanding territory from Pakistan in response to the tens of thousands that were streaming into India. To Nehru this was fantasy because, as he correctly cautioned, it would mean all out war in Eastern and Western fronts with Pakistan. No one other than Nehru worried about the cost of war. But Nehru had his limits too. 

Addressing the nation on 3rd March 1950 Nehru said, “Anyone who knows me should know that i hate war…But to talk complacently of peace, when there is no peace and when something worse than war is possible is to be blind to facts”. He also added that the crisis was “outcome of the very nature of Pakistan: minorities in a religious state were bound to lack full sense of citizenship and security”. Concerns that echo eerily in today’s situation in India. Later Nehru in a letter to Rajagopalachari wrote, “Even I, with all my abhorrence of war and my appreciation of its consequences cannot rule it out completely”. 

Even as Nehru was signaling the seriousness of military action by moving troops the press in Bengal fueled war mongering. The Amrita Bazaar Patrika led the charge in editorials and even conducting an opinion poll asking if readers favored war, 82.7 % responded yes. Nehru fumed and asked the administration to clamp down on press reports. The crises continued to spiral and pressure Nehru. 

On 17th March 1950 Nehru addressed the parliament and was roundly criticized. Opposition to Nehru mounted within Congress party led by Sardar Patel. Nehru had earlier offered to resign and go to Pakistan as an individual akin to Gandhi’s idea before he was assassinated. Now, Nehru renewed his threat to resign. An aging and sick Patel turned him down and, once again, became an ally. Nehru had a competitive spirit of standing up to challengers and knew well that the party would not countenance his resignation. Second only to Gandhi the most popular pan-Indian leader was Nehru. There was a time when India loved Nehru.

Though Liaquat exuded confidence in public about meeting India’s military challenge the reality of India’s military superiority compelled him to negotiate and he took up yet another offer from Nehru to negotiate a pact. Liaquat arrived in New Delhi and on 8th April 1950, after a week of negotiations and 11 drafts later, the Nehru-Liaquat pact was signed. 

The Pact and After-Effects

The key provisions of the pact were that minorities commission will be setup in each country, cabinets in East & West Bengal and Assam to include representatives from minorities, evacuees returning back by December 30th would get the homes they left behind, forced conversions will not be recognized, adult refugees can carry cash up to Rs 150 each and a child could carry Rs 75 each.

Hindu fundamentalist leader Shyama Prasad Mukherjee and Bengali K.C. Neogy resigned from Nehru’s cabinet expressing dissatisfaction towards the pact. Nehru’s biographer Sarvepalli Gopal pays glorious tribute to Sardar Patel for returning to the role Gandhi had asked of him, supporting Nehru. Patel championed the pact to skeptics in West Bengal. Nehru returned the courtesy and acknowledged, “Vallabhai has been a brick during these days”.

Nehru himself was aware that the pact would not satisfy all or solve the problems completely. Nehru’s letter, on 15th April, to chief ministers, a tradition he created and maintained, recounted the dangers of war and how war was almost a possibility. Rejecting the charge of appeasement he wrote, “If anything that is not war is appeasement, then perhaps we have appeased. It would be equally true to say that Pakistan has tried to appease us. If an attempt to prevent a reversion to barbarism is appeasement, then perhaps the charge is true”. 

Writing again to chief ministers, on 2nd May, Nehru spoke candidly of how the exodus had fallen and then risen since migration was more streamlined now. He also highlighted that while minorities felt safer than before to stay back in the countries of residence they also feared for the future. Of the 3.64 million Hindu migrants who had entered India in 1950, some 1.77 million felt encouraged enough to return.

Evaluating Nehru and the Pact

It is a common refrain today to characterize Sardar Patel as some strongman who’d have taken the battle to the enemy, that is Pakistan, whereas Nehru was effete and a dreamy idealist. While Nehru was no war monger it is a complete mistake to cast him like an idealist peacenik. Whether it was crushing Communist led insurgency within India or accepting war as an option to be exercised Nehru had a hawkish side too. On the contrary Patel lacked Nehru’s vision and moral compass.

From dictators to democratic leaders across history pursuing a peace pact is often considered a braver course of action. It is wrong to suppose that a diplomatic course is a sign of weakness or misguided idealism. A conservative hawk like Ronald Reagan pursued eliminating nuclear weapons with arch enemy Soviet Russia. Harry Truman fired a legendary general to control the spiraling Korean crises. Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat signed peace treaties when no one thought that those warring parties would even meet in the same room. Signing treaties for cessation of hostilities is more a western tradition from antiquity and not quite prevalent in Indian history and this is probably also why Indians fail to appreciate what Nehru achieved.

During peace pacts compromises are made and no statesman will gloat that he forced the other side to capitulate. During the Cuban Missile Crisis while John F. Kennedy postured in public about standing up the Soviet regime in private his brother Robert Kennedy was bartering missiles located in Turkey as a price for Khrushchev to remove the missiles. 

Military strategist George Kennan, the architect of the containment strategy, disillusioned during the Korean war, wrote, “Only the diplomatic historian, it seems to me, working from the leisure and detachment of a later day, will be able to unravel the incredible tangle and reveal the true aspect of the various factors and issues involved”. Srinath Raghavan’s “War and Peace in Modern India” is one such attempt that does justice to Nehru and the complexity of that entanglement. 

The decline of Hindu population in today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh and especially the massacre of thousands of Hindus during the riots preceding the liberation of Bangladesh are often cited as a failure of the pact and Nehru is blamed for, yet again, his idealism. The failure is Pakistan’s not that of India’s or Nehru’s.

Pakistan was cursed by the untimely and early demise of Jinnah and the short lived leadership of Liaquat Ali Khan who was assassinated just a year after the pact with Nehru. Liaquat who was not a popular leader “used executive powers to impose central rule on recalcitrant provinces” and such acts created a climate of alienation in Pakistan. Nehru’s relative youth, physical fitness and longevity coupled with his unmatched intellect and idealism provided invaluable stability to India while Pakistan stumbled into a morass of dictatorship. 

Steven Wilkinson’s masterful study of how India and Pakistan took different approaches to the role of army vis-a-vis the state portrays Nehru, in particular, as sagacious and forward looking while his counterparts who spared no thought let the country slip into the grip of the army. 

Nehru had a whirlwind trip to US in 1949, before the crises, when he was feted across the cities and Eisenhower, as President of Columbia University, honored him with a honorary Ph.D but the visit was also a disaster because America expected Nehru and India to be a meek suppliant which Nehru refused to be. Post-Crises, stung by his inability to stand up to India’s military superiority, Liaquat too visited the US but unlike Nehru he was clear that the US can hold Pakistan almost as a vassal state. 

Why would Nehru even try to have a pact with Pakistan? One should study geo-political history, notably the Cold War history of US-Soviet relationship to understand how fixed perceptions and prejudices can stifle possibilities for cooperation or peace.

When we contextualize the trajectory of Pakistan’s history and it’s failure to standby the pact it is clear that the failure was neither Nehru’s nor India’s. Even today discussions of how minorities are treated in Pakistan are often juxtaposed with how Muslims are treated in India and Muslims are reminded that they should be grateful to Hindus. 

To Nehru how India treated its minorities had nothing, whatsoever, to do with how Hindus were treated elsewhere. He wrote to Patel, “The belief that retaliation is a suitable method to deal with Pakistan, or what happens in Pakistan is growing. That is the surest way to ruin…That is surely not the way to protect minorities”. 

That Nehru’s philosophy about protecting minorities was the governing philosophy of his cabinet and his successor is evident in the reply that Sardar Swaran Singh, one time member of Nehru’s cabinet too, gave as External Affairs minister to a query raised in the Rajya Sabha in 1966 about whether Pakistan has, unlike India, failed protect minorities. Swaran Singh replied, “ The hon. Member would no doubt be aware that in our Constitution we gave equality of treatment to every person, whether of the majority community or minority community, whatever may be his religion, and we are wedded to pursue this policy according to our Constitution— equality of every Indian irrespective of religion or caste or creed—and it is our determination to pursue this policy whatever Pakistan does”. Nehru would’ve been proud of Swaran Singh.

The no-war pact proposal failed because Pakistan insisted on identifying mediatory organizations and India balked at it for valid reasons and some extraneous reasons too. However since the pact was discussed publicly both governments decided to publish the correspondence, that too simultaneously, to avoid one side or the other making incorrect claims. While India rejected mediations on topics outside Kashmir the World Bank did mediate the Indus Waters Agreement. The no-war pact idea kept resurfacing twice by Nehru and twice, in later years, by Pakistan. Palace Raghavan makes the case that we should look beyond habitual hostility in understanding the Indo-Pak relationship. 

Conclusion

It is specious to use Nehru-Liaquat pact to justify the Citizenship Amendment Bill that imposes a religion as a criteria to selectively confer citizenship on refugees. The very idea would’ve been abhorrent to Jawaharlal Nehru. There was a time when a bill was moved in the Constituent Assembly by a member of stature, Anathasayanam Ayyangar, to “for the separation of religion from politics and for India becoming a secular state”. Replying on the bill Nehru said, “we must have it clearly in our minds and in the mind of the country that the alliance of religion and politics in the shape of communalism is a most dangerous alliance”.

Alas we now live in an age when members of the ruling party chant “Jai Shri Ram” when a Muslim member of parliament rises to take oath. The Prime Minister says that some Indians fear the chant “Jai Shri Ram”. No, Mr. Prime Minister, Indians hailed as Mahatma a man who died calling out to Rama. 

India needs to be reclaimed in the name of Nehru, Gandhi and Ambedkar and be home to all as equal citizens. 

References:


  1. War and Peace in Modern India - Srinath Raghavan
  2. The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan — Yasmin Khan
  3. An American Witness to India’s Partition — Phillips Talbot
  4. Nehru: A Political Biography — Michael Brecher
  5. Jawaharlal Nehru: A Biography (Volume 2) — Sarvepalli Gopal
  6. Patel: A Life — Rajmohan Gandhi
  7. Army and Nation — Steven Wilkinson
  8. The Cold War in South Asia: Britain, the United States and the Indian Subcontinent, 1945-1965 — Paul M. McGarr
  9. Nehru’s India — ed. Mushirul Hasan
  10. Letters for a Nation: Jawaharlal Nehru — ed. Madhav Kosla
  11. Geirge F. Kennan: An American Life — John Lewis Gaddis
  12. Text of Nehru-Liaquat Pact https://mea.gov.in/Portal/LegalTreatiesDoc/PA50B1228.pdf 
  13. Sardar Swaran Singh reply in Rajya Sabha http://rsdebate.nic.in/rsdebate56/bitstream/123456789/527138/1/PQ_57_16081966_S454_p2636_p2640.pdf 
  14. The Making of the India-Pakistan Dynamic: Nehru, Liaquat, and the No War Pact Correspondence of 1950 —- Pallavi Raghavan https://www.cambridge.org/core/services/aop-cambridge-core/content/view/091C9228053BF0028CD13DB7B75F2C1B/S0026749X15000554a.pdf/making_of_the_indiapakistan_dynamic_nehru_liaquat_and_the_no_war_pact_correspondence_of_1950.pdf 

Friday, September 27, 2019

The Poona Pact: Myths About Gandhi and The Calumnies. A few Random Thoughts.

No discussion of Gandhi raises as much passion as the Gandhi-Ambedkar confrontation that culminated on September 25th 1932 in the Poona Pact. This blog started as a response to a comment I saw on Facebook and is not a ccomprehensive or even coherent narration of the events related to that pact. I've merely, as the title states, shared a few thoughts. Random thoughts. 

The comment that triggered me to write said that Gandhi did not sign the Poona Pact and that showed he refused to take responsibility for a pact he engineered. 

For the millionth time I'll say this, feel free to reject Gandhi and the pact with your own rationale but don't interpret Gandhi through your lens of Ambedkarite hatred. That's like interpreting Ambedkar using Arun Shourie. Do unto others what you'd like others to do unto you.



Gandhi's life is all about taking responsibility and being accountable. There's not a single bone or cell in Gandhi's body that'd support evading responsibility. Whether it is asking a British judge to impose the maximum sentence or going on a fast to atone for the violence of some during a national agitation evading responsibility is simply not Gandhi. 

Gandhi and Ambedkar, at the time of the Poona pact, were leaders of different stature and different influences. Too much is made of Gandhi's stature and the conflict is presented as some David versus Goliath struggle with Ambedkar as David. 

Gandhi's Salt March (12th March - 6th April 1930)  had mobilized the nation, shaken the pillars of an Empire and attained worldwide attention culminating in, what Churchill memorably described, the "the one time inner-temple lawyer and now seditious half-naked fakir, a type well known in the East, striding up the steps of the viceregal palace and negotiation on equal terms with the King Emperor's representative". Gandhi negotiated with Irwin as the representative of a nation. Such moments thrill us into forgetting that barely within a few months of that pact Gandhi attended the Second Roundtable Conference (Sep-Dec 1931) where his representation of India was challenged by Ambedkar and others. While Churchill identified that Gandhi was becoming the voice of the nation let us not forget that too often his voice was challenged by other Indians, often to the glee of the Colonial regime. This is not to mean that those who dissented or stood against Gandhi were stooges of imperialism though such stooges did exist too. Certainly Ambedkar's motivations were different. 

Gandhi's halo of being a voice of the nation was very short lived. Gandhi, upon his return from Second Roundtable Conference, was diminished in stature and the regime conveniently arrested him on 4th January 1932. A month ago he was visiting the King and now he was a guest at His Majesty's jail. 

During the fast at Yervada on Sep 20th-25th 1932 India did reconnect with Gandhi emotionally. And that was the leverage Gandhi had over Ambedkar. However, that reconnection too frayed after the pact was signed when upper caste Hindu India was aghast at Gandhi and unleashed its fury on the Mahatma during his tour to eradicate untouchability. Gandhi's stature and his connection to India was as complex as the man himself. This is often missed. 

Ambedkar, certainly, was not, at that time, as nationally revered as Gandhi was and he was seen as the chief antagonist in the drama by many on the opposing side. However, he had his leverage too. Gandhi did NOT question the legitimacy of Ambedkar's representation of his people. If anything Gandhi only contested that he too was the representative of Dalits. Dalits can reject that but that was Gandhi's stance. During the negotiations the Ambedkar led faction remained dominant and disciplined. It is forgotten today that M.C. Rajah too had his own negotiations and Ambedkar refused to be aligned with him. 

The Poona negotiations, necessitated by Gandhi's fast and opposition to the separate electorate, were between upper caste Hindus that included Malaviya and Untouchables led by Ambedkar. It is unimaginable for Gandhi to have signed the pact on behalf of either party. The fast, despite what Dalits claim, was, at least in Gandhi's view, not against Dalits but for them in the larger sense and it was only against what he perceived as a scheme to perpetually segregate them from the mainstream of Hinduism. And as one who called himself a Dalit by choice it is inconceivable that he'd sign a pact as if he belonged to the other side. Whether he signed it or not he did not shy from the burden of what the pact meant and took the cause of Dalit emancipation to be above national liberation.

Dalits often bristle, with justification, at the idea of a Bania savior. But this is reality in India. Given the iron framework of casteism in India only a Gandhi could've even made a dent on behalf Dalits on the issue of caste. In 2019 a car driver of a backward caste refuses to step into the memorial at Keezhvenmani. This is the reality. Without Gandhi as ally Dalit cause would not have even made the progress that it did. In an analogous way it took a Kennedy and LBJ to turn MLK's dream into legislation. Hillary took heat for pointing that out. 

My good friend mentioned how Gandhi used fasting as a tool and almost was indignant that Ambedkar is being cast as one who took Gandhi to the  brink of his life. Whether one is a Gandhian or just an admirer of Gandhi if one understood Gandhi one would not fault, in the least bit, Ambedkar for what Gandhi inflicted upon himself. Both the upper caste Hindu panel and Ambedkar led untouchables negotiated almost with no thought of Gandhi dying though that possibility hung over their heads. And not a single leader in Gandhi's camp blamed Ambedkar for the possibility that Gandhi would die because the decision to fast was Gandhi's not Ambedkar's. 

Once the number of seats, 148, that'd be reserved was agreed upon the sticking point was the conduct of a referendum about whether the scheme was working or not. Ambedkar wanted 10 years to be the period after which the referendum was conducted. Gandhi felt that that was undue delay and became adamant on conducting a referendum within a year or at least 5 years. When Ambedkar dug in his heels Gandhi flung down the gauntlet "there you have it, 5 years or my life". 

Was Gandhi blackmailing Ambedkar? In the crude sense of the term absolutely yes. Gandhi knew full well what his death would mean and it was precisely that leverage he used. But then that is EXACTLY the leverage he used time and again whether his fasts were against the colonizer or his fellow Indians who wanted to kill each other. It was that leverage that prevented West Bengal from sliding into a civil war amidst a genocidal bloodshed. 

British viceroys were always irritated at Gandhi's pose of piety and felt it was a cloak for the shrewd Bania who negotiated with the tenacity of a haggler at a Persian bazaar. Dalits, today, are essentially hewing to that view and it is a patently uncharitable one. As uncharitable as Arun Shourie casting Ambedkar as merely a stooge of the Colonial government who wanted to thwart the nationalist struggle with his focus on narrow aims.

Whether it was his Calcutta fast or Poona fast Gandhi's attitude was always that, if he died fruitlessly because the outcome eluded him, it is what God ordained. Gandhi wrote farewell notes on the eve of the Poona fast. To his old friend Herman Kallenbach he wrote, "if god has more work to take from this body it will survive the fiery ordeal". During the Delhi fast, his last, to stamp down communal riots as his health declined when his physician Sushila Nayyar told him that  his kidneys were failing he replied, "then my faith in Rama is incomplete". As I type that I am only reminded of Christ at the Garden of Gethsemane, aware of the bloody ordeal about to befall him, pleading with his Father "take away this clip of sorrow. Nevertheless thy will not mine". 

The dynamic of Gandhi's fast should be understood before terms like 'blackmail' are used. Gandhi's fasts always were predicated on the faith that the other side, he did not think of them as enemies, will have a modicum of humanity and would relate to him in some corner of their heart. When Rajagopalachari, called Gandhi's 'conscience keeper', asked him, during the Calcutta fast, if he is embarking on a futile act against murderous thugs Gandhi replied that his fast was aimed at not the thugs but the hearts of those who manage the thugs. Gandhi would be the first to object to blaming Ambedkar if he had died in the fast. 

I also believe firmly that Gandhi, if he had had even a few breaths left in him, he'd have pardoned Nathuram Godse and possibly even thanked him for according the kind of death that he desired. Gandhi is not made of common clay.

Gandhi's tour of India campaigning against untouchability was epic in scope and reactions. Hindu India even in Gandhi's day had a more tenuous relationship with Gandhi than what is commonly understood today. To the upper caste Hindus Gandhi was a Mahatma as long as he was spouting pieties, chanting the name of Rama, singing Vaishnava Janato, calling on their better angels and above all directing his energies to toppling the colonial regime but whenever Gandhi deviated from the script by talking about reforms or eradicating untouchability or cleaning toilets used by untouchables they'd ether ignore him or reject him. This continues till today. This is the lot of any prophet in any age. This is true, ironically, even of E.V. Ramaswamy. Of all the things that E.V.R preached only his neo-nazi anti-brahmanism took root in Tamil Nadu and all his other causes, chiefly atheism, were thrown into the dustbin by those who call him their god today. Sanatana Hindus hurled abuses and even made attempts on Gandhi's life. Amongst the untouchables, the Mahars, members of Ambedkar's caste carried out black flag rallies against Gandhi. All that said that tour and the awakening it caused were the embers that inspired a free India to confront the problem of caste.

Did Gandhi need Ambedkar to teach him about the ills of untouchability? Not at all. But what Gandhi needed, and Ambedkar provided, at a historical juncture, was a catalytic alchemy that made Gandhi put the nationalist struggle on the back burner and turn to confronting a millennia old leviathan that was choking the body politic of India. At a crucial juncture Gandhi's efforts turned from merely liberating a nation to emancipating a people, all people, and making the goal of egalitarianism the goal of a nation that'd one day be free. 

People like Ambedkar have earned their place in history for giving history a nudge. While Gandhi had always talked against untouchability and the unfairness heaped on Dalits the Gandhi after Poona pact was a more radicalized Gandhi who put eradication of untouchability front and center of his liberation struggle. Without Ambedkar's nudge that'd not have happened. 

A Periyarist, a habitual hater of Gandhi, would often argue that if only Gandhi and Nehru had acceded to Jinnah's request of loose federalism partition could've been avoided. A nonsensical argument but guess who was against loose federalism. Ambedkar. Ambedkar was a key proponent of a very strong center in his role as architect of the Constitution of free India. Ambedkar distrusted federalism because he feared States would dilute the protections against untouchability. 

A full and impartial history of the Poona pact is yet to be written. Jaffrelot, for example, is blunt that Poona pact deprived Dalits of political power that, he is certain, Separate electorate would have given. This is now an article of faith amongst the naysayers or even those who could be academically objective. I find this to be a stretch. 

Political power eludes the Dalits but we're assuming that Separate electorates would've worked like a charm. That, in my opinion, is a leap of faith. I need more research but I'll say this for now, based on my American experience of Democracy, Separate electorates would've led to segregated constituencies enshrining a "separate but equal" phenomenon that was equal only on paper. Gerrymandering of constituencies would have literally ghettoized the Dalits. Even with separate electorates Muslims, thanks to Jinnah, clamored for Pakistan. It did not do much good in their own opinion. Democracy rests on the principle of representation of a peoples will through votes. How would free India have conducted elections that could be called representative democracy for separate electorates? Elections and representative democracy are a really wide subject and this aspect is often forgotten in the debates around Poona pact. 
Gandhi, to be fair, was not thinking of the above, because those objections I outlined were problems of later day American democracy. Gandhi's chief objection was that separate electorate would effectively sever Dalits from Hinduism. That fear was not without merit. This argument is used as a cudgel against Gandhi and casting him as an agent of upper caste Hinduism. This is bollocks. Ambedkar tossed and turned on the question of which religion to choose for Dalits for their en-masse conversion and eventually decided to not choose the obvious choices, Islam or Christianity, precisely because that'd be a more complete separation from Hinduism and he was not sure how many Dalits would follow. He then chose Buddhism which was often seen as birthed in the womb of Hinduism. Now, how many Dalits actually choose Buddhism? Not many. So is it fair to cast Ambedkar as wannabe protector of Hinduism who did not care what his  people really wanted? Of course not. 

The story of a nation coming into being is a complex one by itself and when the nation happens to one as complex as India, a nation like no other at that time, and even today, very complex choices were made by equally complicated people. More than unidimensional villains we come across a dizzying array of characters who came in many shades of villainy and heroism. Of those, Gandhi, Ambedkar and Jinnah, to name a few, take the prize for complexity in that order. 

Some day, hopefully in a few months, I hope to write a fuller account of the events leading unto and after the Poona pact taking into account wider questions of whether separate electorates would've really worked and Gandhi's actions. Oh, one final word, a Gandhi did sign the pact. It was Devadas Gandhi.


References:

1. Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India -- Joseph Lelyveld.
2. Gandhi: The years that changed the world - Ramachandra Guha
3. Dr. Ambedkar & Untouchables - Christophe Jaffrelot

4. Freedom at midnight - Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

Sunday, September 15, 2019

A Fortnight in India: What I learned about Modi's India From India-Today, Economic Times and Sun T.V.

Whenever I visit any country I make it a habit to check local press and publications. I did so in India too, naturally. Just one issue of the weekly news magazine 'India Today' was sufficient to encapsulate the state of Modi's India. Thanks to my several hotel stays and the freely supplied 'Economic Times' I got a ringside view of Indian economy especially when the newly minted Nirmala Sitaraman was rolling out changes. Then a few days of watching Sun T.V. gave me the hope that one day BJP may actually romp home as a ruling party in Tamil Nadu or at least as a major ally to the ruling party. Here's what I learned.

India Today


I started reading India-Today back in the late 80s, during Rajiv Gandhi's administration, when it was a fortnightly sold at Rs 6. 'Frontline' from 'The Hindu' followed soon after. While Frontline hewed a left wing tilt India-Today tilted to the right. Prabhu Chawla and Swapan Dasgupta from India-Today are now effectively BJP's cheer leaders along with the likes of Indian Express's Tavleen Singh. Arun Shourie is disenchanted with Modi after being a member of the Vajpayee cabinet. All these journalists were united in their disdain and hatred of the Congress regimes. To be fair Rajiv and Congress did do their share to alienate the press. Aroon Purie, editor of India-Today, was a Doon school classmate of Rajiv. With this backdrop the issue dated August 12th 2019 with a cover story "Unsold" about the economic crises affecting the auto-sector was interesting to me for not just the cover story but several other articles and I think the stories offer a snapshot of Modi's India. I'll provide excerpts from key articles. All excerpts are within quotes and anything without a quote is my opinion or information or paraphrasing.



Mutilating Right to Information Act


"India's Right to Information Act, recognized the world over as one of the most robust sunshine laws, has been mutilated". RTI, as the act is popularly known, was passed by Manmohan Singh's government in 2005, following several anti-corruption protest movements led by Anna Hazare that whipped up the middle class mostly. Those protests were key in promoting the idea that the Singh administration was mired in corruption. Yet, it was Singh who created this law that is now undone by the seemingly cleaner administration of Narendra Modi.

India-Today's article summed up not just the dangers of mutilating the act but more importantly how the government used its brute majority. "In the Lok Sabha, the NDA simply used its brute majority to ride roughshod over the objections raised by opposition benches. But in the Rajya Sabha, even though 15 political parties reportedly signed a motion to have the bill referred to a select committee, many backtracked on their demand during voting, fueling apprehensions about the pressure that was exerted by the ruling dispensation".

Drawing a distinction between Donald Trump and Narendra Modi the British weekly The Economist said that unlike Trump who wishes he can use the tax agencies to stifle opposition Modi actually can accomplish it. That is the pressure that India-Today is alluding to.

The Immigration Bogey


Modi and Amit Shah, like Trump, find it useful to stoke the problem of illegal immigration. The US, unlike India, at least, has a problem of real proportions. "Shah's threat", a story in the issue outlines, "to extend the National Register of Citizens from North Eastern states to the rest of the country doesn't square with the census data, which finds immigration rates to be below 0.5 percent in the majority of districts. Besides, many of these immigrants are of Indian origin who have returned from US, UK, Canada, Australia and the Gulf. The census figures belie the government's concern about illegal immigrants, even accounting for the under-reporting of 'illegals'.

Yatras and their costs


The hundreds of crores once spent by Indian government to subsidize the Haj pilgrimage was an irritant for the BJP foot soldier notwithstanding the fact that that subsidy was more to keep the state airline, the only approved carrier, afloat. That subsidy is now gone and there were no riots when it was withdrawn.

Nearly 301,000 pilgrims undertook the Amaranth eater this year costing the "J&K administration Rs 495.2 crores ($72 million)" and a deployment of "40,000 security personnel".



Aaya-Ram & Gaya-Ram


Party hopping politician Gaya Lal was pejoratively referred as "Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram". During the 2019 parliamentary elections Modi openly spoke of opposition party big-wigs waiting to cross over to BJP. While party hopping is not new to India that a PM would stoop to openly declare it at a rally was a new low even by the standards of Indian politics.

The title and subtitle of a story says it all. "A bitter aftertaste: After a spate of inductions of TMC leaders with a dubious past, the BJP is forced to rethink".

"Death of the Opposition"

A letter to the Vice President Venkiah Naidu, also the chairman of Rajya Sabha, signed by 17 opposition statement makes a startling factual accusation that is scary for anyone interested in the health of democracy and democratic norms. "The letter says 60 percent of the bills in the 14th Lok Sabha were referred to parliamentary committees. In the next one, 71 percent of the bills went to such committees. But in the 16th Lok Sabha, when Narendra Modi-led government came to power first, the figure dropped drastically to 26 percent. Now, in the first session of the 17th Lok Sabha, 14 bills have been passed, but not a single one was sent to a house committee". The article blames the opposition party leadership for foisting family candidates to leadership. These leaders, unlike those who stood up to Indira Gandhi, rarely carry a political weight and are not up to the task.

The Auto-Sector Slowdown


Aroon Purie's editorial warned on the issue's first page, "Our government cannot afford to let this sector slide, with the prospect of massive layoffs, adding to the ranks of the unemployed. This has implications that go far beyond economics, it may even lead to social unrest".

India's auto-sector, valued at Rs 8.3 lakh crores, employs, directly or indirectly, 32 million people. "Ram Venkatramani, president of Automotive Component Manufacturers Association (ACMA), said that if improvements do not materialize, around 1 million jobs could be lost - 20 per cent of the total employment in that sector". "Overall sales" of vehicles has "fallen by almost 8 per cent". "The growth rates for both private and commercial vehicle sales are in the red".

Rahul Bajaj, chairman of Bjaj Auto, was blunt, "there is no demand and no private investment - so where will growth come from? It doesn't fall from the heavens". This kind of blunt language is startling in the Modi era especially when it comes from a leader of a much respected Indian brand.

"Demonetisation", V.G. Ramakrishnan, "managing director of of Avanteum advisors" said, "left a mark on the psyche of consumers". A key factor behind the slowdown is that the Indian consumer is putting off purchase of even fast-moving consumable goods (FMCG), a key indicator of slowing down of purchasing power. Liquidity crises and lack of good credit reporting are affecting loans. Added to all that is the whimsical attitude in rolling out regulations. The Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI) regulations, new axle load norms, governmental push for increased use of electric vehicles have all contributed in pushing to the auto-sector to despair. Venkatramani told India-Today, "Changes are welcome, but what put us in a tizzy is the speed at which regulations are changing. It becomes difficult to predict when to invest and in what technology".



All the above paint a grim picture and raise a sharp question of an administration that it's supporters assiduously promote as the most business friendly government. For all the mocking of Nehruvian era of socialism Modi's finance minister is turning to that lethal arsenal of any government facing an economic crises, increasing government spending to boost consumer spending. The prohibition of government departments from purchasing new cars has been lifted and it appears that the government is all set to become the biggest consumer of the auto-sector. This is textbook socialism.

The Economic Times


Issues dated 20th August and 31st August of The Economic Times provided interesting perspectives. The front page on 20th August carried a warning from R.C. Bhargava that without government incentives the auto-sector may continue to suffer. Curiously the title used an American word, Motown, to denote India's auto sector.

In a similar vein another sector cried out for government help. "India's software export industry may lose out on its competitive edge due to falling incentives and rising tax rates, industry executives said and have asked the government to extend the policy benefits under the Special Economic Zones (SEZ) beyond April 2020; reduce corporate taxes for large companies and review the buyback tax introduced in the budget".



Continuing the trend of petitioning the government for relief from regulation or seeking help the nascent peer-to-peer lending firms have asked the government to relax the lender limit of Rs 10 lakh and allowing High Net Worth Individuals (HNI) to use the platforms.

Nishanth Vasudevan, head of Motilal Oswald Financial Services, had more warnings in an interview. The foreign investors, Vasudevan said, "feels letdown by the way they're treated" compared to China. Asked about current slowdown he said, "the correction which you're seeing is the actual decline in consumer spending". "Google search for a lot of durables is down by 15-20%". He also added that this is driven more by sentiment and that businesses may not be doing too bad and the expected tax receipts data would provide clarity. He did concede that the economy was growing only at 5.8%.

The editorial column calling for concerted policy action and urgent reforms blamed structural woes like subsidies. "India's share of global exports", the editorial said, "is just 1.7%". Essentially on the map of world trade India is less than a blip. Forget about being super power India is not even a power to reckon with at the global trade map.

On August 30th with executive fiat the finance minister announced the merger of "Ten PSBs into Four" (per The Economic Times headline on 31st). In one fell swoop India created four really mega banks. This runs completely counter to the US wariness of big banks and the desire in US policy making circles to breaking up big banks. US banking regulations, called Dodd-Frank regulations, promulgated after the financial crises of 2008 that almost destroyed the world's greatest economy agonizes in great detail about how to methodically unwind a too-big-to-fail financial institution. Indian journalism often leaves much to be desired and is more often just clerical writing and on this epochal event the reportage was pathetic.

The finance minister claimed that the criteria for the pairings of specific banks was driven by "tech-integration" capabilities rather than "geographical capability". Such rationale is unheard of and really no tech study was proffered. "Managing directors of these banks were informed of the merger decision earlier in the day by the the department of financial services even though discussions had been going on for some time". The reportage did not say at what organization levels discussions were held and what "going on for some time" meant. The managing directors presiding over hundreds of crores of depositor cash were informed like they were peons.

The editorial page of ET cheered the move saying it is in line with making India a $5 Trillion economy but cautioned on the lack of "supportive regulation". With the US crises serving as a caution a responsible newspaper, let alone one focused on economics, should have screamed first about the lack of regulation prior to such a move and scream about possible financial crises that could cripple the Indian economy. Note, India's economy if it faces a US style crises lacks many of the abilities that were at the disposal of US economy. Till date the government has shown absolutely no inclination to create a Dodd-Frank equivalent.

The issue dated August 31st announced the bank mergers on front page and along side carried dismal statistics on the economy with an equally prominent headline as the one for the merger news, "Meter Down: At 5%, Economic Growth at 6 yr Low in June Qtr. The editorial summary is grim: Manufacturing, around 16% of India's economy, collapsed totally: from growing more than 12% in Q1 of last year, to stalling at 0.6% now", "car sales have crashed to 20-year lows","Household consumption has also fallen","Mining, metals, minerals and so on are in a downward spiral", "Capacity utilization of companies below 80%". The editorial said that the only silver lining, if one looked for it, is that the "government is clearly not trying to hide the bad economic news". If that's the silver lining only god can save Indian economy.

State of Education


A recent ranking of universities worldwide showed that not one of India's coveted institutions have cracked the ranking above 300. Forget about cracking the top 10 or 50 or 100. A.M. Nik, chairman of Larsen and Toubro and head of National Skills Development Corporation in an interview with ET sounded beyond pessimistic.

Asked about Normal Sitaraman's call to foreign students to study in India Naik was dismissive saying, "problem is everybody is going out of the country and nobody is coming in. India has a few good educational institutions but they require a very high cut off which a lot of people can't get. We don't have good teachers and the education system itself has been watered down in line with the no-fail policy". "Finding the right teaching talent is the biggest problem. We need institutions to train teachers".

While Naik laments the very absence of good teaching the government thinks, per an article in ET on 20th August about the LEAP program, that lack of leadership skills amongst event good academicians is hurting India from making it big on global rankings. "Over the last 5 years 11 of the 40 central universities have seen inquiries, show cause notices and even sackings of vice-chancellors". Let that sink in for a moment. Nearly one-fourth of central universities are run by no good vice chancellors.



LEAP (Leadership for Academicians Program) started in 2018 with 269 has managed to identify 46 high-scorers, whatever that means, for leadership role. Again, think on that for a moment. In a country of a billion people a leadership program has found 46 'high-scorers'. Only god can save Indian education.

Institutional Corruption, Religious India and a Titular Prime Minister


When former finance minister P. Chidambaram was arrested BJP supporters openly celebrated it as engineered by Amit Shah, the home minister. This was supposed to be tit for tat for Amit Shah being arrested and exiled from his home state when Chidambaram was home minister. In Indian politics, the rule of law be damned, what is important is that your side gets tit-for-tat. On August 20th ET reported that two top ranking officials in National Investigating Agency were under investigation for blackmailing a business man in return for not falsely including his name in a terror-finance related case. The use of central agencies, particularly tax related and intelligence agencies, as puppets to settle political scores is now openly cheered by partisan supporters.

Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay in an oped in ET dated 31st August wrote, "if not in word, then in sprit, what is being increasingly endorsed is the notion that if democracy is a collateral damage while strengthening the nation, so be it".

What is emboldening Modi? How did he muster this majority? Why is secularism almost dead in India today? Why is the notion of keeping religion private would never have a chance in India? Was secularism, as defined by modern liberalism, ever a reality in India? To find those answers let us turn briefly to statistics of India's tourism.

For all the wonderful heritage stretching back into more than a millennia and the country being populated by places of history and natural beauty India's place in world tourism, like it's place on world trade, is pathetic. While France and Spain lead the US with 89 and 83 million tourist visitors compared to 80 million for US when it comes to dollar value the US earns $214 billion compared to $67 million and $74 million respectively for France and Spain. India gets 17 million tourists and earns $29 million. B.K. Goswami, former Director General of tourism for Government of India, in a letter to ET points out that 90% of Indian tourism is domestic tourism and of that 80% is related to pilgrim tourism.



Indians are religious to an extent that is not seen in the Western world and they flaunt it. Nothing intrinsically wrong with that but that is a key factor in the rise of Narendra Modi. Turn on Tamil Nadu's cable TV channels, even the one run by the state's principal political party that pays lip service to secularism and atheism, one is drowned in religious propaganda. All channels run some form astrology related programs in the morning. The obnoxious serials freely load the stories with religious, mostly Hindu, themes or references. Thanks to Sun T.V. and the religious programs it is running it is possible that the BJP might actually become a significant player in the state or even possibly a ruling party in its own right.

Now, many may laugh at the prospect of BJP becoming a major party in Tamil Nadu but my tour made me think that. As I said in my last blog I'll turn, in my next and last blog on the tour, to the religious fervor that is gripping the state and the reasons, in my opinion, as to why Narendra Modi, despite such dismal economy, romped home with a brute majority in the parliamentary elections.

One thing is clear though, if anyone suggests even remotely that they support Modi only for economic governance or mostly for that reason and if they are still sticking with that reason they owe an answer to those who think it is hogwash.