Kashmir Issue – Some thoughts

Pakistan is once again in focus in the wake of the Pulwama terrorist attack. Some questions that have plagued us since the formation of Pakistan, and many that have become pertinent in the last 30 years, are again in public discourse. Some thoughts on some of these issues…
 
 

1. Get Inside: As I child, I grew up in Prayagraj (then Allahabad). However, each summer vacation was spent in our ancestral village in Gorakhpur, the place we originally belong to. My maternal grandfather is a sugarcane farmer. Since sugarcane is a water intensive crop, we had installed our own tube-well station and built an extensive network of irrigation ditches to irrigate the fields. These were my playground in almost every summer vacation, during my growing up years, and it is here that I learnt an early lesson.

Very frequently, breaches would develop along the irrigation course, especially where the water carrying ditch was on a higher ground as compared to adjoining fields. Plugging these breaches proved to be challenge. An easy solution was to plug the breach from the outside. But it at best always proved to be a temporary solution. There would be buildup of water pressure and the band-aid would rarely hold for long.

The solution was always to get in the running ditch and plug the breach from inside. But it was messy to do it from inside. There was constant flow of water, hence even before you could take enough soil to plug the breach, it was likely to be washed away by the current. Your clothes would not just get wet but dirty as well. Before getting in, you would be all spick and span but while coming out you would be covered in mud with soiled clothes and mess all around. But everyone knew, that this was the only way. There was really no other way. You had to be willing to get inside to get the job done.

2. Choose the moment to attack: One strategy that boxers follow is to tire up the opponent in initial rounds by playing defensive, while allowing the opponent to attack wildly. But the opponent knows this strategy as well, for he too has war-game trainers. So how does the opponent overcome your strategy?

Say you have developed a really good technique and can ward-off any attack near your head area. Since the opponent can war-game these battles like you can, he will quickly find out that your defense is perfect in protecting your head. He will then attack you at a new area – perhaps your chest. If you have prepared for that as well, then maybe your neck would be the target? You can defend that too, how about your stomach… and so on. This is why pure defense strategy never works for the attacking opponent has just to move on to the next target after you have perfected the defense in existing weak points. The coaches who adopt the defense theory know this. No matter how well you prepare to defend any and every weak point, something or the other can always be attacked. The attacker has to succeed just once. The defense has to foresee everything and succeed every time – never really possible. So, what does the player with the defense strategy do? His game is to survive the initial rounds without too much damage and then go for the knock-out in the final rounds, when the opponent is tired up and spent. Who knows whether the opponent, who has been all bluster till now, attacking without the fear of being attacked, will be able to survive even one properly landed blow? Land the blow at the right time and it is a knock-out.

3. Terrorism has no religion: This theory would be eminently believable if not for one glaring inconsistency. Terror may have no religion but human beings do follow religion. That is why, after the death of a terrorist, his last rites are performed as per his religion. I am yet to see a terrorist buried as an atheist. Even in death, if the terrorist has a religion then surely, he must have had one in life as well. You may disagree with his interpretation of his religion, but how can you post-facto make him into an atheist? He had a religion when his passport was flagged for frisking (like countless others from that region)? He had a religion when he was denied a bachelor accommodation (like countless others denied form some reason or the other). He had a religion when people requested him to sing the national song, like all fellow countrymen, but he did not? He had a religion when he said I cannot live with you in the land of our ancestors because now I follow a different god? But he suddenly does not have a religion when he explodes the bomb? If only this discourse was a little more honest in assessing the real motivation of the terrorists, the well-wishers of those who are unfairly tarred because of the actions of a few, would serve their cause better.

4. War is never the solution: This phrase is used almost as a universal truth by the commentariat. What does history teach us when it comes to the usefulness or otherwise of war?

Essentially, conflicts that are about a proportionate distribution of resources or power can be resolved through dialogue. But war becomes inevitable when either one or both the sides threaten each other’s very basic existence. It is not necessary for both the sides to be obstinate. One side hell-bent upon erasing the way of life of someone else invariably invites war.

There is one more case in which war becomes inevitable. When one side thinks it has developed an undefeatable strategy or has an unbeatable advantage. History shows us that no amount of reasonableness or good behavior or winning hearts and minds has ever worked in such situations. It has always been military solutions that have resolved such conflicts. Indeed, if we learn from history then we will see that long decades of peace have always been born in the womb of military solutions.

In current situation Pakistan thinks it has an unbeatable advantage. Low-cost warfare through religiously indoctrinated terrorists under a nuclear umbrella, thus preventing a full-scale conventional warfare. For thirty years, Pakistan’s calculation that this is an unbeatable strategy has turned out to be true. Why on earth will it change its behavior just because we pretend to be woke and uber cute?

5. Military solution threatens escalation: What is escalation? When you disturb the status quo through violent means leading to the loss of lives of hundreds. Who initially breaks this status quo? Indeed, who broke this status quo by ethnically cleansing Kashmiri Hindus in 1990? By financing mass murder in Mumbai in 1993? By funding, training and organizing mass murder in 2000-Delhi, 2001-J&K, 2001-Delhi, 2002-Ahmedabad, 2003-Mumbai, 2005-Delhi, 2006-Varanasi, 2006-Mumbai, 2008-Ahmedabad, 2008-Jaipur, 2008-Delhi, 2008-Mumbai, 2016-Uri and 2019-Pulwama, and countless times in between? Why should wanton killing of Indians not be an escalation but India stepping up to say please do not kill us be an escalation? Also, why should the burden of avoiding escalation always be on India? Stop the escalation ladder at the source itself, right? And what is the source? Murder of Indians. If the source (Pakistan) is not bothered about the escalation ladder then surely it cannot be the sole responsibility of the victim (India) to prevent escalation?

6. Proportionate use of force: If the aim of any armed conflict is to end armed conflict, then it is difficult to see how proportionate use of force can be a reasonable strategy? If both sides in a conflict only use proportionate force then the only outcome can be a stalemate of low intensity, simmering conflict. Only when one side has and uses disproportionate force does conflict end and lead to lasting peace. When the USA dropped the nuclear bomb on Japan, the World War was more or less already won. And yet, a message needed to be sent. That the allied forces not only had the capability but the willingness to use any force necessary to keep peace. The message went home. And that one moment of overwhelming use of force has kept the world largely peaceful for the past 70 years. The terrorists attacking India have so far only faced proportionate response. They attack. Then they are hunted down and killed. Next day new attackers replace them. That is why this cycle has not been broken for thirty years now, since terrorism started in Kashmir. At some point, a new strategy would have to be adopted and the terrorists and their masterminds must meed a disproportionate response.

7. Give Time, Pakistan would come around: On the face of it this looks like a reasonable proposition. But how much time? ‘Well, Modi has only tried for 5 years, these things take time, India must ignore Pakistan and focus within’. We have heard varinats of these arguments umpteen number of times. Of course, Modi has only tried for 5 years. But India has now tried for 30 years, since terrorism started in Kashmir. Apart from the delusional months of I.K. Gujaral (when he subverted India’s covert abilities), Indian policy has broadly been the same. That we will defend Indian territory and people, isolate Pakistan economically and diplomatically the best we can, and then hope to bring Pakistan to the negotiating table. Narasimha Rao tried it for 5 years, Vajpayee for 6 years, Manmohan Singh for 10 years and now Modi for 5 years. India has faced this challenge for 30 years with broadly the same policy. At some point of time, we would have to say this is not working. No matter how much time we give to Pakistan, it would not come around. At some point we would have to say that not every Prime Minister has to begin trying from scratch for India is not trying from scratch. It has given the state of Pakistan 70 years, and the strategy of terrorism 30 years.

To give a sense of what 30 years is, think of Gandhi. He started his Indian Satyagraha movement in 1915. By 1947, just over 30 years later, two world wars had been fought, the British hegemony had been quashed and India was independent. That is the amount of time that India has already given to Pakistan.

8. The Nuclear threshold: Pakistan, since its birth, has deftly navigated the international scenario, perhaps unlike any other country. While it has completely mismanaged its economy and destroyed its society, what it cannot be accused of is not being able to manage diplomacy. Even the military defeat of 1971 was partially reversed in the diplomacy in Shimla in 1972. Since then it has managed Iran, the USA, China, Saudi Arabia, hosting Osama Bin Laden and Mullah Omar while simultaneously being an ally of USA and much, much more. Behind all the bluster and the mad-mullah image they have built, the people in charge of Pakistani policy have proved that when it comes to diplomatic and strategic survival calls at key moments, they have generally taken the right call. When called upon to abandon the Taliban, after 9/11, in which Pakistan had invested time and money and blood, they did abandon them initially. The Taliban was ousted. Pakistan’s pragmatism made them realize that bluster would not work and strategic retreat was necessary. When time became right again, they started reinvesting in Taliban. The thinking heads of Pakistan even managed to navigate the discovery of Osama Bin Laden in their nursery.

Which is what makes it hard to believe that one day the Pakistani leadership will suddenly sign up for mass national suicide. Because that is what the constant threat of low nuclear threshold means.

Essentially what Pakistan is saying that look Indians, we will keep murdering you at will, at time and place of our choosing. If one day, you Indians decide that enough is enough and we no longer want to be killed with impunity then we, Pakistanis, will commit mass suicide as a nation. Because no matter how many nuclear weapons the Pakistanis use, one or many, tactical or strategic, India will survive. Now with the nuclear-triad also in place, India will always be in position for massive retaliatory strike which will wipe out the geographical entity of Pakistan. In effect, any resort to actual nuclear use would mean a mass suicide for the Pakistani nation.

Surely the thinkers and planners of Pakistan, who have so brilliantly managed to keep their country afloat, know this. So, it really defies belief that they would ever actually resort to nuclear use if and when India says, look we are not threatening your existence, just stop killing us. This low nuclear threshold is a bluff, that even the Pakistanis know. Strangely, somehow India in the last three decades has paralyzed itself into believing that this is not a bluff but a reality. One day, this bluff needs to be called. 

9. Article 370: It is not that there has been secessionist tendencies in just Kashmir and not any other state. Since independence, India has faced such forces in many states. While motley secessionist groups are still active in the North East, those who do not have fair acquaintance with history may be surprised to know that even a state like Tamil Nadu faced secessionist groups during the early decades of independence as did many other states. The Indian nationhood has in the last seventy years subsumed almost all these tendencies except in the state of Kashmir. What is it that is different about Kashmir from all these other states?

Think of it this way. What article 370 has done is that for all practical purposes it has erected a solid, insurmountable wall between India and Kashmir. A wall which is invisible to the naked eye but which has more strength than any physical wall ever built. A wall through which nothing meaningful passes. Kashmir shares land boundary with more than one state in India but for all practical purposes it could well be situated in an unreachable place in the southern hemisphere. Indeed, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are more near to mainland India than the state of J&K.

Nation states are not artificial constructs. They live and breathe and thrive because of the people who inhabit that state. People mix and mingle, they get to know each other, learn from each other and build an invisible bond which withstand the gravest threats and wars. Software engineers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh find gainful employment in Bangalore and Chennai, and doctors and nurses from Kerala and Tamil Nadu practice and serve in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. It is this shared life that exposes them to the brilliance of each region and culture and develops a common bond. In our lived reality, we feel connected with the shared brilliance of the Indian reality.

Article 370 has short-circuited this process for Kashmir. The lived experience of the ordinary Kashmiri is not the uniting nature of Indian cricket, or the opportunities of IPL, or the aspirational nature of sprawling IT campuses or the fun and frolic of an evening night out in a multiplex, or the brilliance of the Holi festival celebrated in full fervor. An average person living in Maharashtra knows what is Chhath festival and an average person on Uttar Pradesh knows Pongal. In case of Kashmir they simply do not know India. Their only exposure to the India has been the Indian state, not the Indian people, not the Indian culture.  Article 370 has ensured that. How can you win hearts and minds when you do not allow the hearts to meet?

Repealing Article 370 will not solve the problem the moment it is done. It will start a process. When Maharashtrians can work and live and settle in Srinagar, and Biaharis can call Anantnag their home, and Assamese can travel to Uri for a business prospect, then will it be the integration that the dream of 1947 actually promised. It will take maybe a generation or two for the effects to show. But as experience has shown, that is the only lasting solution.

10. India’s place in the 21st century: India is now the 6th largest economy in the world. Soon it will be 5th. Our young generation does not carry the baggage of a socialist nation that bogged down our energies in the first few decades after independence. Our young engineers have built the prowess to board the technological revolution bus, after we missed the industrial revolution bus. We have the soft power that is so necessary to be seen as a leader in the community of nations. Unlike China, we are on the right side of history when it comes to democratic enablement. Our rising economy will give us enough leeway to build our hard power as well.

All evidence indicates that if we play our cards right, this century could definitely be ours. With just one caveat. It is difficult to find an example in history when a country has become the leading nation in its time while being unable to manage its neighborhood. Britain, United States and empires before them – all sorted out their neighborhood before they attained escape velocity in their era. India is on the verge of that moment this century. Time will tell where we go from here.

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On Audrey Truschke and racist bigotry

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I have generally avoided commenting on the writings and other interventions of, the now globally discredited, Audrey Truschke, Assistant Professor of South Asian history in Rutgers University, Newark. In response to the near universal ridicule she has faced over her racist and bigoted remarks about Shri Ram, she has recently published her defense in an extremist-left, obscure Indian website.  This post is intended to respond to some of the gloss she has tried to put on the documented history of distortions and mistranslations.

1. Translation vs. Interpretation: The entire issue arose because she chose to ascribe to Valmiki, what was in fact a creation of her own bigoted mind.  Had she mentioned it upfront, that this is “how I interpret  Shri Ram” there would be no debate at all. Thousands of bigots through millennia have tried to impeach the character Maryada Purushottam. They have perished in the sands of time, while Shri Ram and the civilization he embodies have not only survived but flourished. One can find countless jihadis, evangelists and loony leftists on the net who every day spew venom on the Hindu way of life. Truschke would have been one more addition to this list of lunatics had she been upfront about it – that this is her view of Shri Ram. She is entitled to her view and no one would have bothered. She however, clearly and repeatedly ascribed to Valmiki, what is now obvious were her own way of looking at Shri Ram. Translation has a very specific meaning, understood by even those acquainted only minimally with English language, and therefore Truschke chose this word with specific intent. Not only this, despite being challenged, the original Sanskrit verses have still not been produced by her, neither on Twitter and nor in the defence apologia. The best she could do was to incorrectly refer to the English translation done by Professor Goldman who has also trashed her scholarship. 

Some, albeit very few, have sprung to her defense by terming it as loose translation or a  colloquial rendering (although Truschke herself claimed it was an accurate translation) . One could argue that the “N****R” word is a loose translation and indeed accurately describes in colloquial English, the black people in America. One would encourage Truschke to use the “N****R” word in public discourse in Rutgers university and tell us about the reaction !

2. On being trolled on the net: One defense, frequently deployed by propagandists, has not surprisingly been deployed by Truschke as well – that she was trolled in the vilest form on the net. There can be no question about this – no one should  have to face  abuse or any kinds of threats whatsoever for their views.  Whenever possible, such people should be reported to law enforcing authorities. But here is the thing. The net is not a monolith controlled by one person or a group of people who can direct niceties or etiquette of conversation. Indeed in that respect, the net is like real life itself – each person to his own, millions and billions of them.  

The response to Truschke’s  tweet  were of all kinds – just as it would be in real life. There were handles that put out the complete original text in Sanskrit (which Truschke has not done till date). Others gave verse by verse English translation of the original Sanskrit. A renowned Sanskrit scholar in India intervened and gave his version. Truschke chose not to respond to or engage with any of these. Instead, she chose the standard  left tactics of highlighting abuses from anonymous handles to claim victim-hood. Think of it this way – a politician makes a controversial claim about a particular matter. Scan his timeline and there would be all kinds of responses – serious rebuttals, well framed questions as well as ridicule and abuses thrown at him. Do these abuses absolve the politician from offering explanation for his remarks?

Truschke uses the name of a University and the veil of a scholar to make her claims.  She would know what  the word translation means. Having used it, and never retracted it, should she be absolved of her responsibility to explain her actions just because an unregulated internet did not respond to her in a nice way?  

3.  The charge of white-supremacist and racism : What has compelled Truschke to write her apologia? Not the referencing of original Sanskrit text by many people on social media. Not the authoritaive words of a renowned Sanskrit Scholar in India. Not the explanation and questions that were raised by highly respected and published Indian authors on Hinduism. What compelled Truschke to respond was the disapproval and  the way she was disavowed by another white skinned Sanskrit scholar. Think about it. That the opinion and the scholarship of brown-skinned Indians on their own text did not matter at all as long a white-skinned person also did not lend his voice to them. For referencing abuses and threats, brown-skinned Indians mass muster but for scholarship, the white skin is a must. What is this if not classical white supremacist person baring her true self?

4. On whether non reverential persons can interpret religious texts:  Sure they can. But it is THEIR interpretation and NOT them ascribing their own views to someone else by terming it as translation. That is pure and simple fraud. 

On a side note, it is not surprising that the extremist left obscure publication was the platform that Truschke chose to pen her apologia. It was and has been the instinct of the Congress party to promote and defend all such attacks on the Hindu religion. Driven by this ingrained instinct, The National Herald, owned and run by Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi, was the first to jump to Truschke’s defense by first tweeting and then even writing a detailed article justifying the words of this ’eminent scholar’. However, there is a small matter of getting votes as well for the reinvented ‘janeu-dhari’ Hindu, Shri Rahul Gandhi. Finding no support whatsoever from any  quarters for the abuse heaped on Shri Ram and fearing a political backlash, The National Herald quickly deleted its article as well its tweets and even tried cleaning up the web archives of the same. This was for public consumption. Privately the agenda remains the same – and if National Herald cannot come out openly in support then what is the next best in-house mouthpiece of the Congress party? You guessed it right.

2G Verdict – The Issues

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The 2G verdict by the CBI judge Saini has attracted a lot of attention for the seeming way the accused have been let off, even though the 2G scam was considered to be real enough and it is on this basis the SC had actually cancelled 122 licenses in 2012.

The judgement by CBI court Judge Saini seems poorly argued and one that does not appreciate vital evidence. In one instance it even seems to rule against the SC decision on the same issue. Some of these have been hotly debated in the media and on social media since the judgement was delivered by Judge Saini on 22nd December 2017. This post attempts to structure some of the issues arising out of the judgement.  

What did Modi Govt do after 2014? 

An argument has been made that the charge sheet was filed in 2011 and that it was primarily this inadequate charge-sheet, and faulty prior investigation, that allowed the accused to be let off. However, others have argued that what did Modi government do post 2014 if this was indeed the case? 

The entire 2G case was being monitored by the SC, including appointment of prosecutors.  Investigation was finished in in 2010-11 and charge-sheet was filed in 2011.  The CBI between 2011-14 had built its entire case, with filing of evidences and other documents. It is important to remember that no new investigation was ordered in 2014 when government changed. For the trial court,  it was a continuing case since 2011 and not a new case with new investigation or with evidence discovered from scratch. The change in the political party leading the government meant nothing for the trial court since ostensibly it was dealing with a government agency in continuum. This has important bearing on what happened post 2014.

Between 2011-14, the CBI had filed multiple documents and evidences and at various junctures. Now it is a settled judicial doctrine that the prosecution must in advance reveal to the accused the charge they are making so that the accused have an opportunity to prepare their defense. In exceptional circumstances, additional documents or evidence, or supplementary charge-sheet can be brought in. However, it cannot be an endless practice and the SC has ruled as much. Why is that so? So as not to prejudice the defense of the accused by endlessly filing new material and compromising his defense. Now for the trial court, lot of material had already been filed by 2014. Hence, when the government changed and it sought to file fresh material the court frowned but allowed only once in Aug 2014. When the government tried again in Feb 2015, the court expressly refused.  So essentially, the trial was entirely based on material and evidence collected and framed before 2014. 

Below are extracts from the 2G judgement affirming the same.

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There is an additional point of note here which pertains to material and conduct of CBI before 2014. Ashwani Kumar was CBI Chief from 2nd Aug 2008 to 30th November 2010. This is a crucial period as it was during his tenure that initial investigation was delayed as the court has recorded in its judgement. From 30th November 2010 to 30th November 2012, A.P. Singh was the CBI chief.  It was during his tenure that the final end of investigation was done in a manner that the court has now decided not to consider those evidences. Also the charge-sheet was filed and initial documents and evidences produced during Singh’s tenure. From 3rd December 2012 till 2nd December 2014, Ranjit Sinha was the CBI chief.  Now all of these names are important. How?

Ashwani Kumar was made governor of Manipur and Nagaland after his retirement as CBI chief. The next chief, A.P. Singh,  is now an accused himself and facing CBI probe in a case of corruption along with meat exporter Moin Qureshi. And what about Ranjit Sinha? He was in fact barred by the SC from 2G case in November 2014, because of allegations of trying to scuttle it. 

So, every CBI chief under UPA era, during the time-frame of the 2G case, has some suspect antecedents. As for for what Modi government did in the 2G case after taking over? Remember, the only time it was allowed to file any fresh document was in August 2014. At that time Ranjit Sinha was still the CBI chief.  SC just 2 months later asked him to keep off the case for trying to scuttle it. After Sinha’s  retirement, when the CBI tried to file fresh material in 2015, the CBI judge disallowed it.  So essentially, as the case stood,  all the material and evidence on basis which the 2G judge ruled, was from UPA era and in tenures of people with suspect antecedents.

Faulty investigation and how it compromised evidence

We have already seen the kind of CBI chiefs that were there while UPA was in power. But what impact would evidence collected (or not collected), and the process followed in that period, would have on the judgement? Just one example would suffice. Additional P.S. to Raja became an important witness in the case and he testified in court (and not in front of police) that Raja used to meet the other co-accused in the conspiracy, some of them as many as 20 times and more during the months the scam was perpetrated. But what did the CBI judge did with this testimony? Read the extract from the judgement below and why the court said his testimony is of no value? We have seen the antecedents of both the CBI chiefs during this period during which  this delay took place. 

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Questionable Findings by 2G Judge

The crux of the charge against Raja was that he changed the cut-off date for 2G license application from 10th Oct 2007 to 1st Oct 2007 to benefit one company. The SC had already ruled on this in 2012 and found it arbitrary and capricious.  Curiously, the 2G Judge now has found that there were good reasons for this change. This seems rather strange, for a trial court to to rule on a subject matter already decided by SC ! Below is an extract form the judgement of the trial court. 3

However, the SC judgement in 2012, in which it had cancelled the 2G licenses, had clearly ruled that this exercise was capricious and with the intent to benefit one company. Below are extracts from SC judgement in 2012. 

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The role of PMO, Manmohan Singh and “Unknown Hand’

The 2G court of Judge Saini has made scathing remarks against Manmohan Singh’s PMO officials – Pulok Chatterji and TKA Nair. The court has found that Raja was very clear what he wanted to do but Pulok Chatterji deliberately misinformed Manmohan Singh so that scam could take place. In essence, Raja had written letters to Manmohan Singh informing him that licenses would be issued to those who made DD payment by cut-off date (and cut-off date was arbitrarily preponed so that those who were of it in advance could comply while rest were unable to do it). This was the crux of the scam. However, as per court,  Pulok Chatterji misinformed Manmohan Singh therefore allowing the scam to take place and only when the scam became national news did he went into damage control. Below are extracts from court’s findings.

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Now who is Pulok Chatterjee? He has long history of association with Gandhi family, serving in PMO of Rajiv Gandhi and then in Rajiv Gandhi foundation and then as OSD to Sonia Gandhi. The media has consistently described Chatterji as a family loyalist, when he was appointed as Additional Secretary in UPA-I and when he became Principal Secretary in UPA-II.  So the question is, whose loyalty and interests was Chatterji serving when he concealed information from Manmohan Singh as the CBI court judge has found? And if Manmohan Singh was actually misled or was completely unhappy with the events of 2007-08, why did he allow Chattreji to return in 2011 at even higher grade, this time as head of PMO?

What Happens Now?

The CBI has already come out with a statement that it will appeal the case. When the case will go in appeal, the government / CBI will have liberty to argue the case from start (not trial but fresh arguments without history of previous arguments under UPA). CBI will also have independence to appoint a new prosecutor. Evidence of eye witnesses and approvers, discarded by 2G Judge for mere technicality, will be argued again. The fact that trial judge has apparently ruled against SC finding will surely be noted in appeal. All this makes a strong case for appeal and possible overturning of the judgement. And finally, the light thrown by CBI judge on role of PMO can also be looked at. 

 

Meaning of Rahul Gandhi – End of Dynasty

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We have variously discussed the destructive effects of dynasty in a democratic polity. As the generation changed in the Congress party today, 16th December 2017, all the ill effects of dynastic succession are captured in this historic picture – of Sonia Gandhi passing on the mantle to Rahul Gandhi. The purpose of writing this piece, however, is not to delve in the same debate again. Instead, for a moment, let us assess Rahul Gandhi on the basis of his Presidential acceptance speech alone, as an individual, divorced from the burdens of his dynasty. Why the acceptance speech? Because this was his and his alone moment in the sun. No pulls and pressures. No diktats from someone else. He alone would decide the contents of the speech and set out his vision.  

There are obviously many, many committed Congress party supporters in the country and no amount of  argument would ever convince them to vote for any other party,  leave alone Modi or the BJP.  They genuinely believe in the ideology of the Congress party and their views deserve respect.  This piece is especially directed towards such people. 

Acceptance speeches are always important. They go down in history. They are transcribed, translated and disseminated immediately after the speech and for years and decades later. This speech of Rahul Gandhi will also have the same trajectory. Congress party will transcribe the text of the speech in its newsletters, in its party magazines, on its website, in pamphlets – each and every means will be used to make it reach the largest audience base. But what will a reader, who is genuinely interested in Congress party, take out from it?

That BJP preaches hate and Congress preach love? That BJP divides and Congess unites? That BJP ignites fires and Congress douses them? That they abuse and we are pristine pure. That they are uncivilized and we are cultured. That they are upstarts while we have long elite history.  That BJP has no contribution to Indian cause while all that India has achieved is courtesy Congress party.?

As a contrast, compare this with one of the similar occassion speeches of Prime Minister Modi. Since there is no equivalent ‘acceptance speech’ of Modi, the SRCC speech in early 2013 is a close approximation – for that is when Modi formally began his national foray on a new slate, quite like Rahul Gandhi today. 

That speech of Modi is remembered even almost five years later. For the way he set out his agenda in detail. For how he said he will focus his energies on the three pillars of growth – manufacturing, services and agriculture. For how he will empower the new entrepreneurial class with access to structured financing. For how he will reinvent Made in India brand. For how he will work for the empowerment of the girl child, giving example of how 100% school enrollment was ensured in Gujarat. For how he institutionalized processes – that even though his future as CM was uncertain since Gujarat elections were being held in December 2012, yet the team worked parallelly and ensured that 121 countries participated in Vibrant Gujarat summit in Jan 2013, just 10 odd days after Modi was sworn in again. 

The thing about speeches by the top leaders of parties is not that they are an event in themselves and are associated with the leaders alone. That is of course true. But they serve purposes much more and beyond. It is these speeches that set the tone and agenda for the party workers. It is these speeches that give talking points to the supporters and the faithful.  It is these speeches that spur dining table conversation and now increasingly WhatsApp conversations. It is the substance of these speeches that  get  impinged in the common memory of the faithful, as they debate and defend their party beyond the glares of the camera. These speeches are not just theater. They are the very lifeblood of the program, policy, vision, idea and thinking of the party.

Now imagine the take-away a Congress faithful would have after coronation of Rahul Gandhi? What new talking point he would have, in friendly conversations, to propagate his party? That we will show love and not hate? That he is full of ‘pyaar” and not “gussa”? That BJP is uncultured while he is noble? Sitting in protected islands of Lutyens’ Delhi, such one liner rhetoric, on which you can get the faithful in media to swoon, is fine but out there in the country an ordinary Congress supporter would become the butt of unstoppable mirth and ridicule if he would approach with this agenda.  Is it surprising then that why there are so little, if any, proud Congress supporters on social media? Why there are so few who wear their support on their sleeves as the BJP supporters do? Or why most of those who are Congress supporters couch themselves as neutral citizens or activists for one obscure cause or the other? Or why they paint themselves as apolitical, not wanting or willing to carry the burden of being identified with Congress or Rahul Gandhi? 

Would such ‘apologetic’ Congress supporters ever be able to accrue more supporters to their side? Who among the Congress party ordinary supporters would go out and defend and propagate the beliefs of their party every day? 

What the Congress party in general and Rahul Gandhi in particular have not learned is that the country has changed permanently. It no longer will be satisfied with empty, meaningless rhetoric, coined by the latest film star in the good books of the party. Social media has additionally ensured that the citizens educate themselves directly and the role of middlemen media, who you could corrupt to project yourself, has been rendered irrelevant. 

The problems with  the speech of Rahul Gandhi is not incidental. They are systematic. As the generation changes,the dynasty invariably becomes more incompetent. It is bereft of any new ideas of policies. It has no vision for the future. No policies for the present. No commitments and beliefs of its own. No unshakable fundamentals that it would never compromise. All it has, is to cling on to its past glory and the tired rhetoric of mediocre image makers. Rahul Gandhi is an important person in the history of India. We are lucky to be in the same time and space as him. For we are witnessing in live motion, how dynasties eventually implode and fade away in the sands of time.

End of Triple Talaq-Beginning of New Era

triple-talaq

How should we look at the Supreme Court verdict on #TripleTalaq, delivered on 22nd August 2017? There are various dimensions to it and let’s consider some of these.

1. The Muslim Women
No one should underestimate the courage and the fortitude with which the Muslim women fought this case to its logical conclusion. I witnessed a debate on the topic on Times Now just a day before the judgement (21st August). The venom that the self-appointed guardians of the religion had for women, on Live TV, who were fighting against Triple Talaq was to be seen to be believed. It is to the great credit of the women that they fought for the change, sought all help that they could get – from the government and from civil society and media – and ultimately triumphed.

2. The Congress Party and its Ecosystem
Everyone you may have seen till now who is a “Professional Secularist’ was unsurprisingly in favor of Triple Talaq. The most prominent lawyers batting for the most regressive elements and filing their absurd pleas were all top Congressmen. The extended ecosystem of Congress party – the busybodies that we see on TV, the astro-turfed columnists in print and self-appointed rights activists – all were doing their best to sabotage the fight against Triple Talaq by indulging in irrelevant ‘whataboutery’ or indulging in communal rhetoric. Even now, post judgement, their rhetoric is still not to celebrate it as a victory for women but more on how to communalize the discourse.

3. The Modi Government Stand
There are two strands to this. First is that of Women Empowerment. If one looks at the trend of 3 years+ of Modi government, an unmistakable thrust in most of the high-profile policy positions has been this – Women Empowerment. Think of the massive drive to build separate toilets in schools, lack of which was one major reason for high drop out rate among girls. Or think of Mudra Yojana – of the over 8.6 crore people funded so far for small businesses, 70% are women. Or consider the Ujjwala Yojana where 2.7 crore women in BPL families have been given smoke-free lives. All these schemes have been designed and delivered to empower women. Similarly, the unambiguous stand of the government, that Triple Talaq must go, was driven by the same urge of empowering women. The practice was arbitrary, unfair, and unconstitutional – violative of Article 14. The Supreme Court has agreed with all the arguments made by the government and has thus delivered its verdict and struck down Triple Talaq.

There is, however, a political strand as well in the government’s position. Remember Shah Bano judgement in 1985? Then too the SC has been on the side of women. But the Rajiv Gandhi government had not been. In fact, it used its brute majority in Parliament to overturn the SC judgement. THAT is the difference between that majority government of Rajiv Gandhi and THIS majority government of Narendra Modi. That this government was willing to put its money where its mouth is. That this Modi government was willing to stand up to the ‘secular’ and ‘liberal’ brigade and the regressive elements. The government ran the risk of being painted by the Lutyens’ brigade as being driven by communal considerations. But it takes an unshakable belief in one’s core belief – of women empowerment – to stand up to what is right, even in the face of possible adverse fallout. And the SC ultimately came down on the right side of the debate.

4.The Turn of History
Beyond the immediate context of the judgement, if we pan out to May 2014 and see in a snapshot of all that has happened since, or is in the process of happening, we would see that the turn of history on topics which were once presumed to be unsolvable or intractable has been on the side of resolution, one-by-one, issue-by-issue. Border agreement with Bangladesh pending since 1947 (East Pakistan till 1971) – resolved. OROP pending since 4 decades – done. Netaji files declassification – done. Triple Talaq – gone. In some senses, we are living through historic times – the momentum of history is shifting right in front of our own eyes. Issues that have hobbled us in the past are being tackled one-by-one, as the country is finally shedding its sloth and gearing up to punch commensurate with its size, aspirations and civilizational heritage.

Delhi Smoke House – The Real Tragedy

The pollution emergency faced by National Capital Region (NCR) in general and Delhi in particular, in the past few weeks, has become international news. But why should it have been so? This question – why should it have been so – is not merely rhetorical but at the very root of what is happening with governance in Delhi ever since the government led by Arvind Kejriwal was sworn in Delhi in February, 2015. But more of that later, first let us consider the situation leading to the pollution emergency.

As almost all of Delhi residents would recall, the alarming situation with respect to pollution was faced by Delhi during last winter  – in the months of October to December, 2015, and indeed the year before that as well. So what was done during the last two and half years of present Central Government, and specifically since the Kejriwal government was sworn in, which could have prevented the situation that has arisen in last few week? 

  1. In the last two-and-a-half years, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Government of India, has held at least 09 meetings with Officers and Ministers of GNCT of Delhi impressing and insisting upon the compelling requirement to take comprehensive and effective action to mitigate air pollution in Delhi.
  2. Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change held meeting with Ministers of NCR and Punjab on 6-4-2015, 13-4-2015, 24-7-2015, 6-11-2015 and 27-4-2016. Secretary level meetings were held on 10-11-2014, 11-2-2015 and 3-3-2015 and 4-11-2016. The last meeting by Chairman, Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) was held on 30-9-2016 with officers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh and Delhi.
  3. A 42-point Action Plan to control pollution covering vehicular emissions, road dust suspension, air pollution from bio-mass burning, industrial pollution, air pollution from construction and demolition activities were finalised by Central Government and accordingly statutory directions were issued to Government of NCT of Delhi by CPCB.
  4. On most of these issues the action taken by the Delhi Government has been well below satisfactory. No additional buses have been procured to augment the public transport in Delhi by the Government of NCT of Delhi for the last two years or so.  In fact the number of buses in Delhi has actually come down.
  5. Large scale open burning of bio-mass and municipal solid waste continued  unabated, contributing significantly to generation of particulate matter and has not at all been contained by GNCTD.
  6. The landfill sites of Delhi are continuously burning and effective steps have not been taken to prevent fire from landfill sites and to control pollution from landfills.
  7. Very little has been done by Government of NCT of Delhi to tighten and strengthen the ‘Pollution Under Control’ system and the action taken against the number of visibly polluting vehicles is insignificantly low compared to the number of vehicles plying on Delhi roads. As per reports only 486 challans were issued in 2015 and only 21 challans issued up to September 2016 against visibly polluting vehicles by the Government of Delhi.
  8. The Supreme Court order banning entry of pre-2005 registered trucks has not been strictly enforced.
  9. No steps have been taken for retrofitting of diesel vehicles with particulate filters.
  10. The action taken to control air pollution from construction and demolition activities to control fugitive emissions has been totally unsatisfactory. Various steps like sprinkling of water, putting of curtains at construction sites etc. have also not been undertaken.
  11. No vacuum cleaner procured or wet/mechanised vacuum sweeping of roads introduced, even on the main roads of Delhi. Sprinkling of water to control dust on roads has also not been started. 
  12. No efforts have been made to control burning of coal tar by road construction agencies.
  13. Nothing has been done to prohibit use of coal in hotels and restaurants in spite of clear directions to that effect.
  14. About Rs.450 crore collected as Environmental Compensation Charge over a period of one year is lying unutilized with GNCT of Delhi and the money has not been used to mitigate pollution in Delhi. No Action Plan for utilization of the same has been prepared so far.

It is not as if only the Central Government and other statutory bodies were advising the Delhi government to gets its act together. Active social media users and other activists were indeed periodically reminding Arvind Kejriwal directly through social media to start acting before its too late. Just as an example, consider what Nikhil Pahwa was doing on Twitter on the issue: 

This is on 27th July: 

This is on 29th August by Nikhil

On 10th September

On 21st September

On 3rd October

On 4th October

Citizens like Nikhil and other activists have raised questions, many valid, against other authorities and governments too, including the central government. But the residents of Delhi elected a government to deliver and should not the buck stop with that government?

It is possible that Arvind Kejriwal may have missed the directions, advice, action-plan and other suggestions from the Central Government and statutory bodies, considering his busy travel schedule in election bound states. But what about advice coming to him directly on Twitter, where he always found time to retweet inane tweets or publish movie reviews? He missed that too? Or what about taking action on his volition? 

A ready excuse that the Kejriwal has, for all his failings, is that the Lieutenant Governor (LG) of Delhi does not allow him to execute his plans. This is an excuse that is given further salience by his apologists and propagandist in the media . But consider this – there is not any serious policy decision that Kejriwal government has taken and has processed it in the correct constitutional framework and which has been then blocked by the LG. All that the LG has been asking for, and which the High Court of Delhi has upheld in its ruling, is that the Constitutional Provisions be followed before a government decision becomes policy. To consider an analogy, the Central Government does get a nod from the President of India for any ordinance or law that it gets passed from Parliament. It does not say that since we have been elected with a majority so we no longer need the President’s nod for our decisions. On the other hand, just because the President’s nod is required does not mean the Central Government can abdicate its responsibilities and start blaming the  President of India for its failures. It is still the Central Government that has to take decisions and get them executed. The same is the scheme at Delhi level as well  – between the LG and the elected government. But this is the sum and total of entire shenanigans of Kejriwal and his machinery – rejecting the perfectly working constitutional scheme for personal grandstanding  and then indulging in blame game and name calling when the situation gets in crisis mode. 

However, it does not mean that the Kejriwal government has not done anything at all on the pollution front ! In January of this year and then again a few months later, it inflicted the Odd-Even absurdity on Delhi. As every study has since proved, it had no effect on pollution, since vehicular pollution from cars is not the cause at all for Delhi’s high level of PM 2.5 pollution. But of course, that move was hailed as revolutionary by the propaganda machinery of Kejriwal – after all, it eased the traffic congestion for the cheering classes that had a different chauffeur driven car each day to drive them around. 

Meanwhile the situation is precarious. The crop stubble fires in Punjab present an alarming situation. As can be seen from the various satellite images of burning fires in Punjab, the crisis like situation in Delhi requires a full time Chief Minister, for taking action this year and preparing for the next year. Instead, Delhi has a politician who is in Goa one week, Punjab the next, and Gujarat the third, his party touting him as the possible CM candidate for the upcoming elections in all these three states ! In between, when Mr. Kejriwal gets time, he instigates peaceful protesters to break the law and if nothing else, the Chief Minister of Delhi spends time on Twitter either tweeting himself or retweeting obnoxious tweets about constitutional functionaries. Somewhere in all of this, the citizen of Delhi has been literally left gasping for breath !

Note: This article has been written with inputs from note prepared on the subject by a team of researchers. 

Distorting History – Dalrymple style

William Dalrymple is a famous historian, especially when it comes to the history of Indian subcontinent. Some even consider him to be a credible historian and his volume of work, especially on the Mughal era, has won him a legion of fans and supporters. In 2007, he along with a few others started the Jaipur Literary Festival and it soon acquired a cult status among those in pursuit of serious academics. From Tarun Tejpal (later jailed for an alleged rape attempt) to Javed Akhtar, the festival attracted all the bright names from the world of books and academics. Dalrymple has thus quite naturally acquired a constituency as some sort of an India expert, especially in the western press, and is often invited to write on important issues related to India.

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Consider what Dalrymple wrote just before the results of the Indian general elections were announced in May 2014. The world interest in India was at its peak and naturally Dalrymple was asked to provide a glimpse into the history related to the man who could be India’s next Prime Minister.

William Dalrymple

This piece first appeared on 12th May 2014 in New Statesman and has subsequently been reproduced in many other publications and above is a screenshot from one such reproduction :

There are many noteworthy flashes of the genius of Dalrymple and the way he interprets history in a certain way. Quite apart from the deliberate slant in the entire piece, just consider the paragraph reproduced above.

The Babri Masjid was destroyed on 6th December 1992. The tenth anniversary of its destruction would be on 6th December 2002, actually more than 9 months AFTER the Godhra train carnage took place (27th February 2002)  and therefore those burnt inside the train could NOT have been returning after celebrating 10 years of Babri demolition. It is not as if Dalrymple did not know this. But he counted on one thing – that most of his readers would not be aware of this, especially those of foreign origin, and even if being nominally aware of the actual date of Babri demolition, most would fail to see the sleight of creative history writing. For them, the credibility of Dalrymple would be enough to carry the day that the innocent men, women and children (15 children and 25 women) were deadly beasts who not only first destroyed an ancient holy mosque but were ghastly enough to even celebrate its destruction 10 years later. Perhaps they then even deserved their fate for being such insensitive creatures? And what fate was that? Of being burnt alive in a train.

And how did that train burning take place? Trust Dalrymple to tell us the ‘truth’ about that too – that a malfunctioning gas cylinder actually caused the train fire. Now this piece by Dalrymple has been written in 2014 and not in 2002 or 2006. Earlier, there could have been contesting claims about the cause of fire (although there were never really any contesting claims) but by 2014, a judicial determination had already been made that train fire was caused by a pre-planned conspiracy and 31 Muslims were convicted for it. 11 were given death penalty while 20 others were given life imprisonment. Again, was Dalrymple unaware of this? Most certainly not. So why would he indulge in such a hideous misinformation campaign about a historical fact?

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Now, I had forgotten about this piece by Dalrymple but recently two more articles, that appeared in international press, caught my attention and that is when I remembered the original Dalrymple piece.

Hartosh Singh Bal in the Politico and Reihan Salam in Slate  both wrote articles after Modi’s much publicized US visit. Since this was written for an international audience, references to Gujarat 2002 riots were mandatory. But consider how both Bal and Salam describe events related to the Godhra train carnage – either simply as a “burning train” or a “train fire” – not a case of ghastly pre-planned conspiracy of mass murder but more like an accidental fire?

This is then how narratives are manufactured, ‘truth’ is established and soon it becomes the established version. A vicious chain of each successive writer quoting from previous ‘truth-manufacturer’ soon forms, and ultimately, within a short span of time, the manufactured truth becomes THE truth while all other versions, including the real true version, either become controversial or versions of fanatics. Indeed, the power of such narrative setting is so seductive that  many times even those not formally in the club of “truth-manufacturing” start believing  the manufactured truth, as evidenced by the praise that Salam’s piece received from many quarters otherwise critical of such eminent writers !

Hartosh Singh Bal

Reihan Salam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2002 is not about some ancient or even medieval history where there is either a dispute between historians about the correct sequence of events or there is simply not even enough material to deduce a certain way. This is about 2002. About an incident which happened right before our eyes. In front of TV cameras. Events which have been documented in minute detail in thousands of hours of TV debate and print articles. And yet, within 12 years of the event, a historian does not balk at distorting the facts to suit a particular ideology. Others pick up the cue from him and soon it becomes the received wisdom.  If this can be done about  as recent an event as 2002 , imagine what would have been and has been done about ancient and medieval history? About Mughal history? About Islamic invasions and destruction of temples and universities? About converting historical bigots into inclusive rulers? In fact what we have is actually a LIVE demonstration of how history is distorted.

Arun Shourie recently exposed in great detail the dubious art of Indian history writing in relation to the burning down of Nalanda University (as per another eminent historian, Nalanda was not burnt down by Khilji but by ‘Hindu fanatics’ ). The modus operandi remains the same – the aggressors become the victims, the victims become the villains and the historians become eminent !