Mani Shankar Aiyar en Fri Mar 19 13:47:54 IST 2021 panchayats-in-tribal-areas-can-help-solve-maoist-problem-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ambushing and killing of 22 members of the Central Reserve Police Force’s CoBRA unit in Chhattisgarh—following 76 deaths of security personnel in April 2010 and about 150 since—underlines the need for an immediate rethink of our strategy for dealing with armed “Maoists”. Mao Zedong had described the guerrilla as “fish that swim among the people”. If Naxalism has had such a long life in the heart of India, where no malign “foreign hand” can operate, we must look to other instruments than the gun to find a more humane and lasting solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That instrument has been in our armoury since at least 1996, when Parliament passed the Provisions of The Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act (PESA). As the D. Bandyopadhyay committee appointed by the Planning Commission in 2004, and the Aiyar Expert Group under my chairmanship underlined in 2013, the conscientious implementation of PESA will release the people from the trap of having to choose between predatory government officials and a vicious guerrilla movement, by offering the alternative of genuine self-government. Once the people are offered that alternative, the swamp will be drained for want of the sustenance that the people’s support offers them, and the Naxal alligators captured. If not, the ambushes and massacres will be repeated ad nauseam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Successive home ministers of all hues have consistently preferred larger budgets, bigger forces, more arms to governance changes that would put real power in the hands of the tribal people to draw them away from the solutions offered by Maoist guerrillas. The guerrilla prevails because he lives among them, serves their elementary needs and, in return, receives their protection and assistance. If the tribal people could be enabled to govern themselves—instead of being thrown to the mercies of the forest guard and the thanadar (policeman), the thekedar (contractor) and the local patwari (village registrar)—as is their right by Constitutional law and the PESA legislation, they would much rather be self-reliant than beholden to the armed outlaw in their midst. All that is needed is state action to devolve functions, finances and functionaries to the duly constituted tribal panchayats, as they are obliged to do by Article 243G of the Constitution and the PESA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Proponents of armed action offer two justifications that need to be put in perspective. The first is that through Operation Greyhound in the northern districts of Telangana and operations of C60 commandos in Gadchiroli district of Vidarbha, Maharashtra, the security forces ended the Naxal menace in those areas. They did not. They merely pushed the Naxals from well-policed areas in those states to less effectively policed areas in the Abhujmad areas of Bastar district in Chhattisgarh and Malkangiri in Odisha. If they are now pushed out of these tribal redoubts, the danger is that they could resurface in urban areas. Armed action on its own is only an expedient, not a final solution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The second argument is that under UPA-II a special action plan was devised to ensure government delivery of welfare and development measures that, along with armed action, has reduced the worst concentration of Naxals from nearly 200 districts 15 years ago to about 90 districts now. In my view and those of my expert colleagues, government delivery is no substitute for ownership of the programmes to give the tribal communities a sense of genuine participation in their affairs through their democratically-elected institutions of self-government—the PESA panchayats. That is the humane, Gandhian way and, eventually, the most sustainable forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 15 15:31:35 IST 2021 modi-shah-duo-is-stoking-fire-in-mizoram-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Having singed their fingers with the National Register of Citizens and the Citizenship (Amendment) Act in Assam—that would probably cost them the coming election in that state—the Narendra Modi-Amit Shah duo is now engaged in stoking the fires in Mizoram. Mizoram might today be among the most peaceful states in the Union, but that is entirely owing to the Mizoram Peace Accord that Rajiv Gandhi negotiated in August 1985 which ended the insurgency from 1966 to 1986. The accord has proved so durable that one of the chief insurgents, Zoramthanga, is today the democratically elected chief minister of the state with the most outstanding record on the law-and-order front in the entire country. Modi and Shah are busy returning the state to turmoil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The proximate cause is the Myanmar refugees fleeing the army in Myanmar to take refuge with their kith and kin in Mizoram. For the Indo-Chin people who populate either side of the River Tiau have always been “one people” whose hearts have not been divided by boundaries drawn by imperial Britain. They have, since time immemorial, regarded themselves as the Zo people, a word so locally resonant as to be included in the name of the state, Mizoram (meaning “the land of the people of the hills”) and in the name of the chief minister, Zoramthanga. The Zo include several “tribes, sub-tribes and clans such as Chin, Kuki, Mizo, Zomi, Paite, Hmar, Lushei, Ralte, Pawi, Lai, Mara, Gangte, Thadou” among others. (Esha Roy, The Indian Express, March 23, 2021).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Zo people are predominantly Christians. They inter-marry, share family ties, celebrate the same rituals and festivals, speak the same tongue and are heirs to the same traditions and culture despite lines on maps drawn by others. Since the military coup and crackdown in Myanmar, the Zo residing on the other side of the border have fled from military oppression and ethnic persecution into the waiting arms of their own people in our country. Yet, Modi-Shah has ordered the state government (indeed, all states of the northeast) to “identify” and resort to Assam Rifles to “deport” them back to Myanmar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such action is called “refoulement” in the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, and is outlawed. But, say apologists for Modi-Shah, we are not signatories to this convention, or the protocol added in 1967 to make the convention less “Euro-centric”. To these pettifogging and irrelevant objections, Chief Minister Zoramthanga replies—as he did in his letter dated March 18 to the uncaring Modi—that “a humanitarian crisis [is] unfolding… in our own backyard” involving “the Chin communities who are ethnically our Mizo brethren”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi-Shah remains unmoved because the Chins are not Hindus. When Tibetans in their tens of thousands entered India, did Nehru check whether they were Buddhist or Hindu? Or, did we check whether ten million Bangladeshis fleeing East Pakistan in 1971 were Muslim or Hindu? Or, whether those fleeing Afghanistan into India were Sikh or Muslim? Or, Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka were Hindu or Christian? It was not any UN convention, but the inherent humanitarianism written into our Constitution that gave these persecuted people refuge and protection from “refoulement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what makes it imperative that Modi-Shah find a humanitarian, non-sectarian approach to desperate refugees from Myanmar, extending to both the Christian Chin and the Muslim Rohingya. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a recent assessment has noted that “a rise in racism and xenophobia have undermined the tradition of tolerance in India”. Could anything be more shameful?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar was the Union minister for the development of northeastern region from 2006 to 2009</b></p> Thu Apr 01 18:58:34 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-sasikala-will-make-an-announcement-after-may-2 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When V.K. Sasikala was released from jail in Bengaluru, she feistily decided to travel by road to Chennai. The journey was a political triumph. All along the route were cheering crowds on both sides, enthusiastically welcoming back their prodigal aunt—“Chinamma” or younger amma. They greatly delayed her progress, as she herself had so often witnessed their delaying her beloved friend. She reached Chennai hours late, even as Amma [J. Jayalalithaa] herself had so often arrived late, exhausted but her spirits buoyed by the prospect of victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were, however, no smiles, only scowls on the faces of the chief minister (EPS) and his deputy (OPS). They poured scorn and cold water on their erstwhile patron, complaining that she had no right to display the two leaves symbol and the name of their party on her car as she had been expelled from even the primary membership of the AIADMK. She airily dismissed the charge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was, however, no groundswell of support for her among MLAs or other high echelons of the party, despite the cadres having so clearly demonstrated their continuing commitment to their Amma’s favourite companion. The MLAs were preoccupied with proving their loyalty to current leaders to not risk losing tickets to fight their seats once more. As for EPS and OPS, they did not want to face a challenge to their hard-won leadership with assembly elections around the corner. Their relief must have known no bounds when Sasikala abruptly, and unexpectedly, announced her withdrawal from active politics. Why did she do so?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let it be noted that she took her time making this startling announcement. She needed the time to assess her prospects within the AIADMK; within her nephew, T.T.V. Dhinakaran’s wobbling outfit; and within her family. Clearly, it was because she judged the moment to be unsuitable that she decided not to strike for the top slot right now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I do not believe for a moment that there is any finality to her decision. I think she has correctly assessed that the coming elections will herald the defeat of the EPS-OPS led party, probably resoundingly and hence definitively. She realises that the right moment to make her bid to come in would be when the party is looking in defeat for an alternative leadership and alternative allies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the DMK alliance is all set to carry away the trophy, her nephew’s party has failed to get kick-started despite Dhinakaran having won Jayalalithaa’s seat of R.K. Nagar in a sympathy wave. Why go down separately when she does not wish to go down collectively with EPS-OPS? Much better to wait a while, have no responsibility for the coming reverses to the AIADMK-BJP, then rouse the cadres, who are and will remain with her and then take a shot at leading her party to victory five or ten years from now?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, her brother, V.K. Dhivakaran, appears to have advised her not to align with the sinking ship that Dhinakaran has floated. By a moment’s patience, she could reunite her party, reunite her family and decide herself, and not by political inheritance, whether to accept dominance over her Dravidian party of the looming shadow from Aryavarta. She has age on her side; charisma on her side; Amma’s blessings on her side; and she is not burdened by anti-incumbency. Moreover, her opponents in the party can no more than hint at her being a jailbird because she is one only to the extent that their revered Amma was almost one.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think we will be hearing from Sasikala soon after the assembly election results are announced on May 2. Watch this space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 19 13:48:34 IST 2021 put-out-the-petrol-fire <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In May 2004, to my astonishment, I was asked to take over the petroleum portfolio. It was not till I signed up that I realised what a can of worms I had stepped into. For world crude prices had topped $28 per barrel, and we would be obliged to raise retail prices across the board for everything from kerosene to LPG, and petrol to diesel. My colleagues and I set about trying to answer the aching question by trying to be fair to all concerned: the consumer; the upstream oil exploration companies; the downstream refining and marketing companies; the Central and state governments, both of whom were heavily dependent on their revenue stream from duties and cess on petroleum products; and only then turn to retail prices. We were conscious that in a system of administered prices, the government has to be answerable to the public for any significant rise in retail prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We came up with the doctrine of “equitable burden-sharing”. Within a fortnight of taking over, I addressed a televised press conference to explain the administered price rise. I took full responsibility for the rise, which I justified in terms of how the burden had been distributed among different stakeholders. The Central government had taken a major hit by sensibly reducing Central excise duties. The upstream exploration companies, principally ONGC and OIL India, had taken a hit by deepening the deductions they offered to downstream refining and marketing companies. The refining and marketing companies, principally Indian Oil Corporation, Hindustan Petroleum and Bharat Petroleum, had taken a hit by being denied much of the increase that the market would have granted them. Of course, there was little the Centre could do to rein in state excise duties beyond appealing to chief ministers. And, only then, had we raised administered retail prices while continuing our commitment to increased subsidies on the two petroleum products that the poorest consumer most required—kerosene and cooking gas. The people of India, by and large, saw the justice of the move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The current establishment has sought to escape its responsibility for social justice by abandoning administered prices in favour of market prices. But as the base price of petrol is only Rs29.30 per litre and for diesel Rs30.55 per litre, it is taxes, duties and cess—all of which are “administered” by the government—that make up about two-thirds of the final price. So, about two-thirds for the price the consumer pays is not to the market but is what the government mulcts him of.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scandal has been put in perspective by my successor in the ministry, Veerappa Moily who, in an article in The Indian Express (February 23, 2021), has pointed out that when world crude prices ruled at $108 per barrel in 2012-2013, petrol in India sold at about Rs66 per litre and diesel at around Rs49 per litre. Now that crude has plummeted to $64 per barrel compared with 2012-2013 when Moily was in office, petrol is running at Rs91 in Mumbai and diesel is only a whisker behind. Why is the consumer being so unfairly burdened? Only because of the Central government’s greed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Amit Shah may hold Mamata Banerjee responsible, but remember that Central excise duties on petrol, at over Rs29 per litre, are about 60 per cent higher than state excise duties, at less than Rs20 per litre. And the Central excise on diesel at a fraction below Rs32 per litre is nearly three times higher than the state excise at Rs11.22 per litre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only way forward is by returning to the doctrine of equitable burden-sharing enunciated nearly two decades ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Mar 04 14:11:03 IST 2021 andolanjeevis-uphold-peoples-rights <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>That famous phrase-maker, the prime minister of India, has done it again. He coined the expression “andolanjeevi”—those who thrive on protests—in the context of the farmers’ three-month-old siege of Delhi that has captured the attention and admiration of all of India. Alarmed at the adverse reaction to his jibe, he attempted to clarify the next day that he was not referring to the farmers at all, but to the “professional demonstrators” who are to be found attending every rally whatever the cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This sounded rich coming as it did from the mouth of one of the most successful andolanjeevis ever, who has clambered to the top rung by rung on every agitational ladder since he launched himself as a young adult in the Navnirman movement in Gujarat. Public demonstrations of dissent are the essence of people’s participation in any democracy. But agitators can gather the populace only by taking up issues that are agitating the public mind. What the prime minister does not seem to have realised is that if he and his home minister continue to spread outrage by misunderstanding their parliamentary majority to mean that they have acquired the right to do whatever they will without listening to the people, the people affected will give expression to their dissent by taking to the streets and squares. And the andolanjeevis will rush to their support.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is true not only of India but of every democracy from the US and the UK to Nepal and Pakistan. It is also true of authoritarian regimes, as we are currently witnessing in Russia and Myanmar. And, all over the world, the worse the violation of human and political rights, the more is it likely that groups will form to protest against justice being denied. Hence, the Medha Patkars and Shabnam Hashmis that Modi seems to have had in mind. And hence also the Rihannas and Gretas who have succeeded in getting the goat of the professional diplomat who has placed his many talents at the disposal of hyper-nationalism. Why, when a mob invaded Capitol Hill at the behest of the former president of the United States, even our self-righteous prime minister condemned this attempt at thwarting democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, what are concrete barricades on the roads that lead to the nation’s capital, and spikes and nails to forestall free movement, but attempts to thwart democracy? And, denouncing the men, women and children gathered as Khalistanis, Pakistani agents, anti-national subversives and worse?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, as the prime minister stressed in Parliament, the government is indeed so confident of its stand that the farm laws only add to sales choices for the kisan without diminishing any current option, what stands in the way of reaching out to dissenting farmers who have such serious apprehensions about what the government is up to? Or, allowing the normal processes of legislation that begin by referring all but routine, non-controversial bills to standing committees empowered to call in witnesses such as those now stranded for a hundred days in makeshift tents on the borders of Delhi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why not allow a free discussion in Parliament before passing bills, instead of only after the bills are faits accomplis? Why rush through such key structural reforms amid a pandemonium? Why deny the right of members to demand a division even when they know the numbers are stacked against them?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the government tramples on democracy, democracy will avenge itself through andolanjeevis. They are the vigilantes of the people’s constitutional rights.</p> Fri Feb 19 14:40:32 IST 2021 trapped-in-their-own-trap <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With state assembly elections looming on the horizon in Assam, the Assam National Register of Citizens final list—tabled on August 31, 2019, but not yet notified by the Government of India—is revealing the cleft between the state’s perception of the problem of Bengali “illegal immigrants” as an issue of Assamese identity and the saffron perception of it in New Delhi in religious terms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How flawed Amit Shah’s idea was of identifying the “termites” who have infested the woodwork of Assam on the basis of equating “foreigner” with “Muslim”, has been cruelly revealed by the outcome of the Assam NRC. Till then, there was general agreement in Assam that the influx of Bengali-speakers was altering the linguistic and cultural demography of the state, but the agitation on this account, led by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), never before had any communal angle to it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The new religion-tinged approach to the century-old question of Bengali-speaking immigration into the state arose after the BJP came to power at the Centre and soon after in Assam. They made two significant announcements: one, that in keeping with a 2013 Supreme Court directive, they would “update” the NRC for Assam; two, the high-level elaboration of a doctrine of citizenship which privileged Hindus anywhere over even Muslims residing in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the event, at the end of the first phase of the Assam NRC exercise, some 40 lakh Assam residents were put in the doubtful category. This number was then reduced to 19 lakh in the second revision declared on August 31, 2019. It is generally believed that a majority of those whose future in India is thus cast in uncertainty are not Muslims at all, but Hindus! On the one hand, the low numbers of allegedly illegal immigrants disillusioned Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal and his AGP partners; on the other, the large share of Hindus among those identified as not having proved their right to citizenship undercut the BJP’s purpose.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Caught on the horns of this dilemma, the Union government has simply failed to notify the Assam NRC, thus coming in the way of the affected 19 lakh receiving the certified copies of their rejection required to begin the legal process of appealing first to the foreigners’ tribunals in the state and from there to higher courts in Guwahati and New Delhi. Two scholars at O.P. Jindal Global University, Mohsin Alam Bhat and Aashish Yadav, have recently published a paper saying that these 18 months of intense uncertainty could constitute a violation of their rights under Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as also a 1955 judgment of the International Court of Justice that persons with “genuine links” to their place of residence cannot be denied nationality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, 834 of these unfortunates (including 559 Muslims and 275 Hindus) have been placed in six detention centres attached to jails even when several of them seem to have one or more parent, sibling or spouse cleared for registration as citizens. A place for 3,000 more such victims is being constructed at Goalpara. As such action is manifestly “discriminatory”, this could be violative of their constitutional rights. It is also instructive to note that, according to a 2012 Assam government white paper, of over 1.26 lakh immigrants declared as “illegal immigrants” by the foreigners’ tribunals since 1964, only 2,442 have been deported or pushed back. The rest seem to have simply disappeared. What then is being achieved by pre-emptively punishing some without them being convicted, while others are left wondering what is to become of them? Is this the way forward?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Feb 04 15:55:35 IST 2021 presidential-largesse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Splashed across our media are photographs and videos of President Ram Nath Kovind presenting a Vishva Hindu Parishad delegation with a cheque for the munificent sum of Rs5,00,100 from his “personal funds” towards the construction of the Ram Temple at Ayodhya. Rashtrapati Bhavan has not vouchsafed to the general public whether a similar or even larger donation will be made to the mosque complex in Dhannipur village, about 5km from Ayodhya.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Readers will recall that after deploring the “egregious violence” and “barbarism” that led to the destruction of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992, the Supreme Court had rewarded the vandals by granting them the right to build a temple at the site of the Ram Janmabhoomi while ordering the Uttar Pradesh government to find five acres for the Muslim community to build their mosque complex elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a failed challenge in the Supreme Court from two non-Muslim busybodies to secure government nominees to the mosque trust. A Supreme Court bench happily ruled that “the petition does not hold water”, leaving the Indo-Islamic Cultural Foundation (IICF) free to move ahead unimpeded. Accordingly, the mosque complex will house a place of worship but also include a 200-bed multispeciality hospital equipped with state-of-the-art facilities, a pharmacy for dispensing free medicines to the poor, a school, a museum, an Indo-Islamic research centre and a library, besides a community kitchen, nominally priced for the poor, that will serve 365 varieties of the finest Awadhi cuisine, both non-vegetarian and vegetarian. The complex will embody “the true spirit of India in its multicultural fabric that we call the ‘Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb’.” These facilities will be open to all communities. The temple will, of course, be open only to avowed Hindus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The architect chosen for designing the mosque—S.M. Akhtar, founder faculty of the School of Architecture at Jamia Millia Islamia—says the “design will be contemporary” even as it serves the Islamic tradition of “khidmat-e-khalq (serving the society)”, adding “I do not live in the past”. This is in striking contrast to the rigidly orthodox conception of the temple grounded in tradition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A non-Muslim, Pushpesh Pant, has been appointed the consultant curator for the complex. No Muslim is part of the project for the temple. Pant has been quoted as saying, “There has been an injustice. No punishment for those involved in the demolition.” Yet, he conceives the archives/museum as a “holistic experience of Awadh”. “Islam’s influence on Indians, irrespective of them being Muslims or non-Muslims, our intertwined food, culture, architecture, customs, everything that speaks to our collective heritage, will be showcased at the museum,” he says. The temple will exclude all traces of anything that does not derive from the sanatana dharma and the epics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unsurprisingly, therefore, the first contribution to the building of the mosque complex came from a Hindu staffer at Lucknow University, Rohit Srivastava, who said, “I come from a generation which is rooted in syncretism, where religious barriers blur…. This is not just about me. This is the story of crores of Hindus and Muslims in India.” Athar Hussain, secretary-general of the IICF that is undertaking the conception, design and building of the mosque complex, exults that 60 per cent of the donations so far received are from Hindus. Hussain has informed anyone who cares to listen that, “We have opened accounts in ICICI Bank and HDFC Bank in Lucknow for this purpose.” So, no one, from the respected rashtrapatiji down to anyone humbler, needs to wait for the foundation to solicit funds from them. Will they rise to the occasion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jan 21 15:01:52 IST 2021 the-confederal-congress <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The following are extracts from an interview given by the Congress president after the party’s defeat in the Lok Sabha elections:</p> <p><i>Q: Do you feel let down by your friends and close advisers?</i></p> <p><i>A: By some of them, yes. But by most of them, no.</i></p> <p><i>I take full responsibility for my decisions. I have tried to consult as many people as possible. But the decisions have been my own. It may be that the consultations should have been more wide-ranging and more in-depth. I shall be looking into the modalities of improving our methods and range of consulting senior colleagues and grass-root workers. That is where things may have gone wrong.</i></p> <p><i>It is certainly important that we remain sensitive and alert to opinion within the party and among the people at large. Equally, it is important not to be deflected from one’s purposes by motivated allegations. There is no significant dissidence in the party. There is only a process of introspection going on.</i></p> <p><i>I expect an AICC session will be called shortly. We are also committed to party elections. Maybe once these are over, we will sit down together and see where we went wrong and why. Collectively, we will put ourselves back on track.</i></p> <p>No, this is not Rahul Gandhi speaking in 2019, but Rajiv Gandhi thirty years earlier—in an interview with <i>The Illustrated Weekly of India</i> (March 1, 1990). As the French say, the more things change, the more they remain the same.</p> <p>What most commentators fail to adequately realise is that the Indian National Congress was initially the vanguard of a national movement fighting for liberation from colonial rule, not a political party functioning in a vibrant democracy. It, therefore, acted as the magnet drawing the iron shavings of several political formations to itself, a kind of confederation.</p> <p>It was only during the first general elections in 1952 that the INC transformed itself from a movement into a political party. Owing principally to the emotional overhang of the freedom movement, the Congress was the overwhelming victor in the first three parliamentary elections. But this pre-eminence started getting lost in the aftermath of the Chinese invasion of 1962. While the Congress continued to maintain its majority in Parliament in the elections of 1967, in the state assembly elections held simultaneously, Congress defeats in the north and east made it possible, as one wit remarked, to go from Wagah on the West Pakistan border to Jessore on the East Pakistan border without crossing any Congress territory.</p> <p>The current problem of rejuvenation of the Congress is, therefore, not the result of contemporaneously placing the Congress in the “wrong hands”. It stretches back over half a century, much aggravated in the last three decades of the fading of the ethos of the freedom movement in the pursuit of other priorities of nation-building related to ethnicity, language, culture, regionalism, caste, religious community, and other markers of sub-national identity.</p> <p>In consequence, the national appeal of the Congress has had to yield political space to other forces. Yet, the Congress remains the only multi-state party in the opposition and with more seats than any other “regional” party. Together, the opposition constitutes a virtual two-thirds majority in electoral preferences. So, instead of wasting time listening to non-party voices attempting to influence party preferences for personalities, the Congress would be best advised to consider reimagining itself, as in the freedom movement, as part of a nation-wide confederal electoral alliance, that would show up the Narendra Modi dispensation for what it is: a narrow-minded, non-inclusive, authoritarian and communal majoritarianism that is not in the national interest.</p> Thu Jan 07 17:27:56 IST 2021 not-personal-vendetta-guha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For a historian of some repute, Ramachandra Guha abandons academic restraint for vicious polemics when it comes to the Gandhis. He claims that his is not “a personal vendetta”, yet revels in recalling that immediately after Rahul Gandhi was finally persuaded to take office in the party, he divined that Rahul was a “well-intentioned dilettante”, “completely mediocre” and with “no original ideas”.</p> <p>If this is the conclusion he had arrived at even before Rahul could prove himself or fall flat on his face, surely that shows that Guha started out totally prejudiced against Rahul (and the rest of the Gandhi family). And perhaps that is why he makes a mistake, unforgivable in a “distinguished historian”, of saying RG “lost in Raebareli, a family borough” when a little diligence would have shown him that RG actually lost in Amethi (while Sonia won in the “family borough”).</p> <p>So, he goes on laying it with a trowel: the “common ideological thread uniting the political careers of Gandhi, Gandhi and Gandhi” is “their shared belief that they have a divine right to run the Congress (and India)” despite their “incompetence and nepotism”. The solution recommended is for Sonia “to retreat from politics and take her children with her”. Is this language reeking of objectivity and the national interest? Or, is it a “personal vendetta” for Guha not having been made director of the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library on which he had set his heart?</p> <p>No, no, this is not “vendetta” at all, and “is not out of any issue with the Gandhis per se”, but out of Guha’s aching patriotic “concern for the country”. For he has no doubt that Narendra Modi-Amit Shah must be outed to save the soul of our nation. But first and foremost, must come the outing of the Gandhis. For “so long as the Gandhis are there, they are impeding other leaders within the party…. The path to political advancement is blocked by Rahul Gandhi.” Really?</p> <p>I seem to remember the little factoid that Rahul, having quit the presidency of the party of his own volition, and ruling out any Gandhi succeeding him, invited these “other leaders” to choose from among themselves whom they would like to see leading the party. And, it was only months after they failed to do so that Sonia stepped in—as an “interim president”. No “other leader”, not even anyone from the G-23 “dissenters” pressing for party elections, is prepared to put down his name for president. At the time of going to press, Rahul maintains he is not in the running. No other Gandhi has inquired, “Why not me?” Yet, says Guha, “Sonia Gandhi thinks that they are like the Mughals”. It would be nice to know which Mughal refused the throne and which Mughal said he would be only an “interim emperor” and which Mughal refrained from slaying his brothers to reach the ‘takht’?</p> <p>Guha’s main point is that “the Gandhis not going anywhere” enables the “consolidation” and “perpetuation” of the present regime. So, will the Gandhis going result in Modi-Shah’s fall? Umm, no, says our historian, “removing the Gandhis will not lead to a revival of the Congress automatically” and “is not a one-stop solution”, but does not consider the possibility of their departure leading to the fragmentation and eventual ruin of the party. Removing the Gandhis from the top echelons of the party is easy enough, for Rahul, on behalf of his family, has offered to do so themselves. The problem is in replacing them, for there is no one who enjoys a tithe of the support they do—in the party and the country. So, we prefer to swim with them. Otherwise, we sink.</p> Thu Dec 24 18:58:47 IST 2020 will-rajini-make-a-difference <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One has heard of adolescents plucking the petals of a daisy muttering, “she/he loves me… she/he loves me not”, but the spectacle of an ageing cine star of yore doing the same as he puts his toes into political waters only to pull them out has gone on for so long as to have lost all credibility. For the nth time, Rajinikanth has indicated that he is going to take the plunge as the new year begins. It has not stirred the excitement that followed his first announcement of throwing his hat into the political ring. Is this another feint? Is this for real? Does it really matter? The latter, I think, is the real question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My north Indian friends are generally bewildered at Tamil Nadu politics. What, they wonder, has the cinema to do with politics? That is the question most germane to Rajini’s latest intimation of entering the political fray, the launch pad being the Tamil Nadu assembly polls due in May 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Counter-intuitively, the fact is that being a film star has little to do with success in politics, whether north or south. North Indian stars like Amitabh Bachchan, Rajesh Khanna, Shatrughan Sinha and Sunil Dutt are evidence for this; strangely, it is Tami Nadu that provides the most telling proof. For some of the greatest stars of the silver screen in Tamil Nadu have come a cropper in politics even if their initial entry generated a measure of frisson—Sivaji Ganesan, Vijayakanth, Kamal Haasan. Contrariwise, C.N. Annadurai (“Anna”) and M. Karunanidhi and, later, MGR were radical social reformers who used cinema as a medium for the propagation of their social and political views.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All three started their careers in repertory theatre on the stage and only slowly turned to cinema. They complemented each other. Anna was the scriptwriter; Karunanidhi, the dialogue master; MGR, the brilliant actor. They used cinema as an innovative new medium for political messaging, just as social media is now being used for political purposes. And, just as social media arrived at the time an alternative idea of India was to be propagated, the Dravidian movement used cinema to demand a new social order to challenge Brahmin dominance, and the religious superstitions, rites and rituals on which this pre-eminence was based. They added “self-respect” weddings, widow remarriage, opposition to untouchability and abolition of zamindari system to their platform and highlighted the ancient Tamil language and Tamil culture, with Anna, in particular promoting a Tamil that was “close to the formal language and void of Sanskrit influence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus Nalla Thambi (Good Brother) and Velaikari (Servant Maid), plays scripted by Anna, were turned into box-office hits in 1948 and 1949, sharply attacking oppression by the rich of the poor and denigrating idol worship. Parashakti in 1952 built on this with its pungent critique of Brahmins and Hindu religious customs. Around this time, the Dravidian message started breaking its urban confines and spreading to rural Tamil Nadu largely because the supply of electricity to rural areas facilitated the spread of cinema theatres to rural towns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Other hit films followed, with MGR lending his rich thespian talents to taking the rebellious, revolutionary message to the masses through such films as Nadodi Mannan (Vagabond King, 1958) and Adimai Penn (Slave Girl, 1969) to, in MGR’s words, “fight against evil and support the good”. J. Jayalalithaa, with over 140 films, many opposite MGR, was in the political anteroom absorbing and subtly altering this messaging.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is a very abbreviated account of how the Dravidian movement forged a nexus between their politics and the cinema. Compared with them, Rajini has only twiddled a cigarette in his fingers to establish a cult fan following.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Dec 10 15:03:10 IST 2020 the-owaisi-syndrome <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Was India divided in 1947 or twenty years earlier? Back in 1927, the Congress stalwart Motilal Nehru, the liberal leader Tej Bahadur Sapru and the (still) nationalist Muslim Muhammad Ali Jinnah met together and decided that in return for Jinnah yielding on his biggest achievement to date—securing the Congress acceptance of separate electorates that he brought about through the 1916 Lucknow Pact—and acknowledging that separate electorates had poisoned the communal atmosphere, he would urge his supporters to join the national mainstream in fighting for Swaraj, provided the Muslims were assured adequate representation in the central assembly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They eventually negotiated an agreement (called the Delhi Pact) that acknowledged the Muslim share of undivided India’s population to be 26 per cent and provided reservation of one-third of the seats in the central assembly for the Muslims. It was a sensible compromise that could have forestalled partition of India but failed to muster the required consensus in either the Congress or the Muslim League even though the Congress Working Committee approved it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is another lesson from the global history of the anti-colonial movement that we need to remember: The American Revolution against the British Empire was sparked by the slogan, “no taxation without representation”. That, in effect, is All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen leader Asaduddin Owaisi’s contention. He is raising his voice against a 15 per cent minority continuously losing its representation in the Indian Parliament ever since independence—it has now sunk to under 5 per cent—despite Indian Muslims having long rejected the siren call of Pakistan and demonstrating repeatedly and consistently that they are loyal, patriotic Indians. Indeed, I have been on the same TV platform as Owaisi in Pakistan when in riveting Urdu he lashed out at the Pakistan Jamaat-e-Islami representative for shedding crocodile tears over the condition of Muslims in India. It was unforgettable to hear Owaisi blasting the partition for having divided the subcontinent’s 600 million Muslim community more than territorially dividing India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For decades after the partition, the Muslim community had relied on the secular parties to ensure adequate legislative representation for their community. Now, they are confronted with not only an openly hostile party in governance but the opportunistic abandonment of their interests by most other parties. Owaisi wants his community to stop outsourcing Muslim interests, particularly political representation, to others. He wants Muslims to take the responsibility for preserving their identity, security and progress into their own hands, but strictly eschewing the kind of anti-majority sentiments that animated the Pakistan movement. He has shown through his actions that there is a place in his party for non-Muslims sympathetic to minority aspirations. His stand is a reaction to the blatant majoritarianism of the party in power and the cowardly retreat of other parties from secular activism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The short-term consequence is, of course, the division of the secular Muslim votes. But the secular parties have brought this upon themselves by imitating the BJP and being less than enthusiastic in asserting their secular principles above the political imperative of fighting the BJP on its turf. Other minorities—tribal, caste, linguistic, ethnic—are also going their way. To secure opposition unity we have to follow the example of the United Democratic Front in Kerala which is containing identity issues through ensuring representative democratic space for the Indian Union Muslim League. We need to continually assert that India is not a Hindu country, but one for everyone who lives here.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 26 16:42:19 IST 2020 lost-sheen-of-the-ifs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On October 9, the Indian Foreign Service entered the 75th year of its existence. A wit in <i>Seminar</i> magazine years ago said it was constituted of “dispossessed princelings, illiterate cavalrymen and well-connected nit-wits”. Entering the service 17 years after it was formed, it was easy to spot which of our joint secretaries and ambassadors fitted each of these categories!</p> <p>The IFS was conceived when the centre of India’s world lay in London. Today, London is only a save-your-face posting for superannuated diplomats who did not quite make the grade and politicians whom the government of the day wants to put away. Now, it is Washington and Beijing that constitute the twin foci. On the European continent, Brussels, once an obscure provincial capital, alone really matters as a key element in foreign economic policy. Moscow has lost out ever since the Soviet Union stabbed itself in the back. Islamabad has ceased to matter with the paralysis introduced into India’s Pakistan policy ever since Narendra Modi took over. The needless quarrel with Nepal has only compounded the sidelining of south Asia, which is where, in my eccentric opinion, we should concentrate our foreign policy effort.</p> <p>The collapse of the Non-Aligned Movement means that African and Latin American posts, as well as our permanent representations to the United Nations in New York, Geneva and even Vienna, that gave us our leadership position among the newly-liberated countries, have lost the sting they used to have. Nonalignment as the fulcrum of our foreign policy has been overtaken by military alignment through the ‘Quad’. Where we were the strongest link in the NAM chain, we are now the weakest in the Quad chain. Our withdrawal from championing the Palestine cause, in tandem with the Arab monarchies, has also meant that where Cairo and Baghdad were prize postings once, they now matter little. We have been reduced to small fish swimming in a very big pond—and are led into thinking we are sharks. The only work left to most ambassadors is organising International Yoga Day!</p> <p>All this, of course, means an alteration in the orientation of the foreign service. Where six (out of 16) of my 1963 batch were instructed to learn French as our compulsory foreign language, now it is, unsurprisingly, Chinese that commands the top slot. Perhaps English should be introduced as a compulsory foreign language. Moreover, the coveted IFS is no longer the goal of the student intellectual elite. How coveted the IFS was is, I think, well illustrated by my own case: I stood seventh in the All-India exam but only fifth in the foreign service because, of the six who were ahead of me, four picked the IFS over the IAS! Now, the UPSC has to scrape the bottom of the barrel to fill the IFS quota.</p> <p>I met one IFS probationer a few years ago and asked him, in passing, what his position was. He said, “600”. I thought I had misheard. I asked him to repeat his answer and when he again answered 600, he added that he hated being in the IFS. He joined only because he was threatened that if he did not, he would be demoted to a class II service. I understand (although this might be a wicked rumour) that the favoured service now is the Indian Revenue Service (as being the most “lucrative”!).</p> <p>To cope with the humongous numbers, the UPSC exam has been reduced to a lottery. In consequence, a remarkable candidate of my acquaintance, who won over a dozen gold medals in her finals, has repeatedly been tripped at the prelims. The UPSC seems to believe, like Napoleon, that they do not want able generals but lucky ones.</p> Thu Oct 15 21:09:38 IST 2020 whither-parliamentary-democracy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After 13 months of incarceration, Dr Farooq Abdullah, MP and several times chief minister of Jammu and Kashmir, awaited his opportunity to speak in Parliament. The speaker had promised to give him time. In the event, he was allowed a minute at the start of the session and another minute at the end of it. This is what has happened to our parliamentary democracy.</p> <p>Compelled, therefore, to tell Karan Thapar in an interview what he had wanted to tell the nation on the floor of the house, Farooq said the “trust” on which the “unity of the Muslim-majority state with India” was based has been broken, the “emotional bond” has “completely gone”, and “they [Kashmiris] do not feel Indian” anymore because “they are sick of what they are having to put up with. Every street has a soldier with an AK-47, a policeman; every street, every village”, their “dreams are gone, their children do not know their future” and “if I speak of India anywhere, they do not want to listen”. Kashmir had joined “Gandhi’s India, not Modi’s India”. “What is this? Is this democratic India? Is it Gandhi’s India?”</p> <p>Asked why then there have been no protests, Farooq replied, “How can you have protests when every street is full of soldiers?” And, he then added ominously, “The minute you remove those soldiers, lakhs will be on the streets… You can keep the entire Indian Army there, but one day the volcano will blow.” India, he said, still holds “the land, with force, but they have lost the people.” The fight would not end until the abrogated articles, decreed “‘permanent’ by the Supreme Court”, are reinstituted; the division of the state rescinded; the “honour” and “dignity” of the people restored.</p> <p>Thapar reminded Farooq that when all this happened in August last year, Kashmiris had taunted Farooq with cries of “<i>Ab bolo</i> ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’”. Farooq admitted this was true “because we stood with India”, adding, “many of them felt, ‘Well good! They deserve it’”. But now, the Gupkar Declarations of August 2019 and 2020 have “brought all the parties together”. They realise, “divided we cannot win our battle…. Every party is putting their personal differences aside for the greater cause of the dignity of the people.” While no one wants to be a Pakistani, the present thralldom is driving all the regions—Jammu, the Kashmir valley and Ladakh—into the embrace of the Chinese, notwithstanding their treatment of Chinese Uighur Muslims.</p> <p>There could have been a reasoned rebuttal because Parliament is all about the cut and thrust of argument. I remember my first visit to Parliament in 1960 as an 18-year old college student to watch Comrade S.A. Dange light into Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for over an hour for dismissing one of the first democratically elected communist governments in world history—the E.M.S. Namboodiripad government in Kerala—while an impassive Nehru sat alert throughout the denunciation and there was no interruption from the Congress benches. Then, in the middle of the Chinese invasion of October-November 1962, Nehru arranged for both houses to reconvene to debate and denounce the failures of his foreign policy. That was democracy then.</p> <p>Now, we have a prime minister running scared of listening to the truth about what he and his home minister have wreaked in Jammu and Kashmir. Instead, he ducks Parliament and treats himself to unchallenged monologues on our state media. That might have worked in Zia-ul-Haq’s Pakistan but is incompatible with the norms and practices of our 70-year old democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> Sat Oct 03 12:45:55 IST 2020 shooting-from-the-lip <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (The Indian Express, September 10) has availed of the death of Kesavananda Bharati, seer of the Edneer Mutt in Kasaragod, to serve up the usual hindutva cocktail of distortions, misreading and blatant lies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The blameless seer was only challenging the Kerala High Court judgment which threatened to deprive his mutt of several acres of highly remunerative land. But it left the swami, the hero of a landmark 1973 judgment by the Supreme Court, which said that the “basic structure of the Constitution” could not be altered by Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is true that prime minister Indira Gandhi had tried to get that doctrine reversed by engineering the appointment of a junior judge as chief justice of India over those who had served longer. That did her no good at all because, as Prasad admits, the ruse was “unsuccessful”, and the doctrine holds as good today as when it was pronounced nearly 50 years ago. This despite the Congress having enjoyed “brute majorities” for 31 of these 47 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why flog this very dead horse when Ravi Shankar and the object of his adoration, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, are misusing their current “brute majority” to undermine—as closely as they dare—the basic structure which enjoins them to uphold secularism and ensure fraternity in a multi-religious India?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ravi Shankar has a fleet of experts to advise him on matters of jurisprudence. Perhaps he should have consulted them before flying in the face of a 2001 Supreme Court judgment in vilifying Rajiv Gandhi for having the 1985 Y.V. Chandrachud judgment on Shah Bano case “nullified by a questionable law passed by exercising a brute majority, purely for a vote bank”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That law, which lay people call the Shah Bano Act, was challenged in the Supreme Court in 1986 by a member of the selfsame “vote bank”, a Muslim, Danial Latifi—a far more distinguished lawyer than Ravi Shankar is or can hope to be. Latifi was one of the most eminent jurists that independent India has seen. His arguments were not the piffle of Ravi Shankar’s polemic but the sober and considered thoughts of a well-versed expert in constitutional law. His petition was so compelling and so complex as to require a Constitution bench of the Supreme Court to deliberate on his arguments for a good 15 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 28, 2001, that is nearly two decades ago, the Supreme Court pronounced its final verdict. It held that far from being a “questionable law”, as Ravi Shankar labels it, Rajiv’s Gandhi’s initiative had—I quote from the judgment—”actually, and in reality, codified what was narrated in the Shah Bano case”. The Constitution bench further held that “the provisions of the Act do not offend Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court particularly commended section 3 of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. That extremely cleverly-worded section, drafted by Ashoke Kumar Sen, a law minister far more learned than Ravi Shankar, provided for “reasonable and fair” provision to be made and paid within the period of “iddat” (The 90-day period of separation from the husband to ensure that the woman neither has sexual relations with her husband nor is pregnant). This meant the financial provision was not for sustenance during the 90 days of iddat but had to be “reasonable and fair” for all of her life, and payable within that 90-day period.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The law minister hardly needs reminding that this final pronouncement was made during a BJP regime. Is his rant in keeping with his empty boast, “We are proud of the extraordinary legacy of the Supreme Court”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 17 15:14:46 IST 2020 the-congress-unique-adhesive <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I suspect that if someone were to take a poll of editors, TV anchors, columnists and BJP activists, as well as armchair critics and NGO jholawallahs, 95 to 100 per cent of the respondents in each category would say the only answer to the revival of the Congress lies in removing the Gandhi family from the stewardship of the party. If the same question were put to Congress workers in a similar poll, I suspect 95 to 100 per cent of the Congress would reply that only under the leadership of one of the three available Gandhis—mother, son or daughter—would the party be able to revive itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What accounts for this wide difference in perception? I think it is that Congresspersons believe instinctively that if they want to remain in the Congress, there has to be one Congress to which they can belong. The Gandhis provide the crucial ingredient for the party to stay in play—unity. This is not because they are exceptionally intelligent or exceptionally educated or exceptionally articulate or exceptionally immersed in Congress history and ideology or exceptionally well-versed in realpolitik; it is only because they are the only ones with the charisma to hold the party together. They are the glue, the bonding adhesive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I think the sangh parivar recognises that the Gandhi family are the principal obstacle to a “Congress-mukt Bharat”. They recognise, too, that their ultimate goal can be achieved only by first fostering a “Gandhi-mukt Congress”. Hence, the training of their sights on not just the three surviving Gandhis but relentlessly on all five generations of the family. The only Gandhi in five generations to have not held the post of Congress president is Priyanka. At just about 50 years, she has at least 30 to 35 years ahead of her to show her mettle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In bringing into perspective this fundamental difference between the bulk of public opinion and the view from within the Congress, my aim is not to make excessive claims in favour of the three remaining Gandhis. It is to point out that the shortcomings identified in the family—including the five to which Ramachandra Guha has drawn attention—are all valid to at least some extent. But these are assets, such as speaking Hindi fluently or speech-writing skills, that can easily be hired by the leadership from within its eager following. There is no lack of Jairam Rameshes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The one indispensable qualification that cannot be outsourced is the charisma required to keep the flock together. That is a possession unique to the Gandhi family. That was again in evidence at the last meeting of the Congress Working Committee. A consensus was reached with no blood on the floor. So long as vengeance is kept at bay, the consensus will last. Unity, the prerequisite for revival, will be maintained. Revival itself will depend on constructive accommodation of constructive suggestions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For we have seen that when the Gandhis are not there, as in the eight years of P.V. Narasimha Rao and Sitaram Kesri, the party splinters. And, if it splits when they are there, as under Indira Gandhi, the bulk of the party remains with the still centre while those who exit go straight into the dustbin of political irrelevance or, at best, find themselves confined to their regions. Thus, Sharad Pawar, who could arguably have been prime minister of India, is confined to Maharashtra and Mamata Banerjee, who might also have had an all-India profile, is caged in West Bengal. No more can a fish survive out of water, or a bird outside a cage, than can a Congressperson survive out of the Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 03 15:54:40 IST 2020 can-violence-be-sacred-democratic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Swapan Dasgupta’s claim in a newspaper column that the Ram Mandir “links antiquity to present” does so by the neat trick of bypassing all that has happened in between. Dasgupta’s verbal legerdemain is best revealed by his gentle expression “removal of the disputed structure” to draw a veil over what the Supreme Court in its judgment had described as an “egregious” act of barbaric violence. The Babri Masjid was not “removed”; it was destroyed, desecrated, dismantled brick-by-brick by a gang of thugs claiming allegiance to hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that explains too why Dasgupta had to hurriedly correct his assertion of the event having resulted in a “national reawakening” to this having done so “among Hindus at least”. More accurately, he could have argued “among my kind of Hindus at least”. For on this occasion, more than ever before, it is important to distinguish between “Hindu bhakts” and “hindutva bhakts”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have two marvellous works, published at the same time as Swapan’s article (early August) to underline the distinction between the two. Both are by highly regarded historians, one who teaches abroad and the other in India: Prof Vinayak Chaturvedi’s Violence as Civility: V.D. Savarkar and the Mahatma’s assassination, published in the learned journal, South Asian History and Culture; and Dr Aparna Vaidik’s My Son’s Inheritance: A Secret History of Lynching and Blood Justice in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Citing Savarkar’s final work in Marathi, Saha Soneri Pane, published in English as ‘Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History’, Chaturvedi says Savarkar saw these “epochs” as “inspired by a code of conduct called ‘Hindu civility’”. For Savarkar, “violence, in the form of assassination, was not only ethical, but also a foundational aspect of Hindu civility… any understanding of civility must also take into account the virtuous, ethical and necessary uses of violence”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Savarkar hated Gandhi and held that Asoka was “anti-national” because he embraced the central Buddhist doctrine of “non-violence”. It is this cult of violence that was on display when pious practitioners of hindutva, inspired by Savarkar’s doctrine, “removed” a symbol that links antiquity to the present but only through the Buddha, Mahavir, St Thomas, Prophet Mohammad, Adi Sankara, and the Bhakti movement, which gave us the Sikh religion as its finest flower. We are the inheritors of all that, not just of “antiquity”. It explains why Hindus were in a three-quarters majority after Muslim rulers had sat on the throne of Delhi for 666 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vaidik analyses through her study of mythology and history how the story of the lynchings since the BJP came to power of “Zahid Ahmad, Noman, Mohammed Akhlaq, Mazloom Ansari, Imtiaz Khan, Mustain Abbas, Vashram Sarvaiya and his brothers, Mokati Elisa and Pehlu Khan” is linked to hindutva. “Each act of lynching,” she says, “entrenches the Hindu supremacist’s sense of being a historical victim and in turn criminalises the dalit, the Muslim or the Christian… Nothing removes the paranoia of the majority community… violence has been externalised, othered, and justified in the name of enacting social justice.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was because Nehru, as prime minster, did not share that paranoia and revanchism that he refused to attend the inauguration of the Somnath Temple. It is because Modi is inspired by Savarkar’s view, that, “both bloodshed and violence are necessary for Hindus” that we saw the prime minister perform a sashtanga namaskaram at Ayodhya without one word of compassion or sympathy for our Muslims or any offer to attend the inauguration of their alternative mosque, if invited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 20 14:51:57 IST 2020 the-perils-of-presidentialism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Shashi Tharoor in a newspaper article has attempted to revive an old argument about whether a presidential rather than a parliamentary system would give better results in India. His long argument is best summed up in a single sentence of his own crafting: A president “would have stability of tenure free from legislative whim, be able to appoint a cabinet of talent and, above all, to devote his or her energies to governance”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since his inspiration comes from the US, let me cite American examples to show that he is wrong on all three counts. First, the US president does indeed have enviable “security of tenure”. But because the elections to the House of Representatives and a third of Senate seats are held in the middle of the president’s four-year term, every president is constantly looking over his shoulder to keep both houses of Congress in his favour for fear of falling foul of “legislative whim”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Shashi, I am sure, has read more memoirs of US presidents and their closest aides than I have. So he is certainly aware of how preoccupied the White House is with keeping relations with the legislature on even keel. The expression “pork barrel politics” comes from American experience. It refers to the well-honed practice of finding out what each legislator wants either for himself or for his constituency, and holding that in reserve till the president’s army of illegitimate hatchet men have found ways of buying that Congressman’s vote.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, surely, he knows that every president maintains—through the FBI, the CIA and the Internal Revenue Service—tabs on all the moral misdemeanours of Congressmen and women to turn the screws when needed. Can I send him the link to House of Cards, or would he prefer the non-fiction accounts of Seymour Hersh, Steve Bannon and John Bolton?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the president’s right to “appoint a cabinet of talent”, the difference in our age—I think Shashi is nearly 20 years younger than I am—perhaps accounts for his not recalling a book that transformed my generation, which was in its twenties during the Vietnam war: The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. The charismatic John F. Kennedy had indeed appointed perhaps the most outstanding “cabinet of talent”—the Best and the Brightest—ever assembled by any US president. Halberstam showed how, precisely because they were so mesmerised by their own talent, they led the United States into the quagmire of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia from which it took decades for the US to extricate itself. I was posted in Hanoi at the time and had a ringside view.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nearer to home, who can forget that the most intellectually brilliant US secretary of state ever, Henry Kissinger, was the one who spurned Indira Gandhi, opposed Indian intervention in the liberation of Bangladesh and tried to rope in the Chinese to open a second front in 1971. Not to forget that the nuclear-powered USS Enterprise sailed into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India into calling off its support to the Mukti Bahini. Kissinger failed, and that is the point of my story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for his final argument that the presidential system frees the president to “devote his energies to governance”, is Shashi unaware of President Donald Trump, who has brought more death and destruction on the US than Ho Chi Minh ever did, by focusing on his reelection instead of governance in a time of Covid?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 06 18:09:20 IST 2020 fix-with-flexibility <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If Pakistan had not been torn out of Mother India, our most difficult neighbour would have been Afghanistan for we would have stoutly defended the Durand Line, arguing that we will not surrender to the Afghans “an inch” of our holy territory. Instead, we watch with considerable schadenfreude, the Pakistanis wrecking their relationship with their immediate neighbour to their north and west by clinging to a frontier conceived by an imperial power.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mughal Empire itself could be seen as the extension into the Indo-Gangetic plains of Babar’s Afghan empire. He was re-buried, as he had desired, in Kabul. Indeed, it was an Afghan marauder, Ahmad Shah Abdali, who laid waste the Mughal empire. History is no respecter of mythology nor even of historical precedent. Assam and the seven (now eight) sisters of the northeast became part of India only because the East India Company overthrew the Burmese monarchy and compensated itself with territories that it prised out of the defeated Burmese. We became the proud possessors of much of Uttarakhand only because the Company Bahadur, having gorged itself on all of the Gangetic plains from Bengal to Bihar, turned its attention to Nepal, defeated it in battle, and through the 1816 Treaty of Sugauli decreed that henceforth Kumaon and Garhwal belonged not to the Gorkhas but to the John Company.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ladakh became part of India when Aurangzeb conquered it in the 1670s and compelled the local Buddhists to build a grand mosque in Leh in token of their humiliation at Mughal hands. Then Zorawar Singh Kahluria reconquered Ladakh, at the behest of Raja Gulab Singh. East of Ladakh, all of Aksai Chin remained a colour-washed unoccupied territory on British-Indian maps till Jawaharlal Nehru, claiming that “Aksai Chin was part of the Ladakh region for centuries”, ordered in 1954 that Aksai Chin be shown as indubitably Indian on Survey of India maps. No Indian (other than pastoral nomads) had ventured into the barren mountain desert that was Aksai Chin, nor even any Chinese despite the Brits begging them to do so to be available if the Russians advanced beyond central Asia. The Russians did not, and the Brits then lost interest for they believed in “flexible frontiers” in their northern reaches. It was only when the communist Chinese undertook the engineering miracle of linking their two most troublesome provinces, Xinjiang and Tibet, through Aksai Chin that this barren mountain desert was put to its first-ever strategic use.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv Gandhi rescued Indian national interest when he broke with the 1962 syndrome, and, after careful preparation of the ground, visited China in December 1988 to start (or, more accurately, restart) a process of reconciliation based on opening up the immense potential for India-China cooperation while placing the settlement of the border dispute on the basis of “mutual understanding and mutual accommodation (MUMA)”. This cut through the thicket of argument and counter argument that had grown over Aksai Chin, especially as MUMA would safeguard our security requirements better than keeping the dispute unresolved and thereby risking military confrontation that might snatch away what remains of our strategic control of the area.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over three long decades, neither we nor the Chinese have carried to its logical conclusion the mutual adjustment, on the “MUMA” formula, of the alignment of the Line of Actual Control, let alone the border. If, since Shimla 1972, we have wanted to convert the Line of Control in Jammu and Kashmir into an international border, why cannot the sensible, practical, time-tested policy prescription of “flexible frontiers” in our northern reaches apply to Aksai Chin?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 23 14:35:15 IST 2020 pax-sinica-did-china-watchers-caution-modi <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The elite corps of our foreign service are the Mandarin-speaking China experts. It is only the “best and the brightest” who head the China division or are sent to Beijing, Guangzhou and Hong Kong to represent India. Surrounding China, we have set up a number of diplomatic sounding posts. These too are often manned (and “women-ed”) by Sinologists. In Delhi, too, there is no want of high expertise and experience, both in the foreign office and ministries like defence, finance and commerce, besides some top-class think tanks like the Institute of Chinese Studies (headed by former ambassador Ashok Kantha—envoy to Beijing from 2014 to 2016), the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses which brings together senior retired diplomats and military men (and serving intellectuals) and the Centre for Policy Research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why then in the last three decades, and particularly in the last six years, were Indian prime ministers not warned off the perfidious Chinese? Why have they all so assiduously cultivated the Chinese, none more passionately than Modi, making China just about our most important trade partner, a major source of investment and techno-innovation in crucial sectors, a growing tourist attraction, and even an expatriate employment destination? And, all this against a background of peace and tranquility on our borders, guaranteed by treaty, mechanisms for localised conflict-resolution at the military level, and 22 rounds of discussion at special envoy level. Yet, none of this has yielded any significant outcome on even the alignment of the Line of Actual Control, which remains to this day undefined, undelinieated and un-demarcated. We are arguing, and now fighting, over a legacy left to us by the British who had cynically followed a policy of “flexible frontiers” in the remote and virtually inaccessible northern reaches of British India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The question arises because a whole host of former ambassadors to China, and foreign secretaries and other Indian Foreign Service China-watchers have abandoned their professional omerta to thunder in the media about the pernicious Chinese. Where were these ambassadorial hawks when Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping were cooing like turtledoves as they shared a “lovers’ swing” on the Sabarmati waterfront? Why were they not hooting at the hype generated over Xi being at Xian Airport to receive Modi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are now told that Xi is out to establish a Pax Sinica—an addition to our vocabulary for which we need to thank Gautam Bambawale, our most recent former envoy to Beijing (2017-2018): “The Chinese dream is nothing else than to dominate the world, become the sole superpower in international politics and create a Pax Sinica”. Did he whisper this in Modi’s ears when, during his tenure, Xi and Modi were proclaiming the much-touted “Wuhan Spirit”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before Bambawale, we had Ambassador Vijay Keshav Gokhale in Beijing (2016-2017), who so impressed Modi that he replaced S. Jaishankar as foreign secretary. Gokhale now tells us that Xi is “tightening his grip on power everywhere” and even has the “chutzpah to equate himself to Marx” in propagating his “New Type of Great Power Relations theory”. Did he mention this to the prime minister when Modi-Xi were sharing a masala dosa in Mamallapuram? And, did Modi embrace Xi in spite of that—or, because he thought, “What a great example to follow!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jaishankar and Modi became buddies when the rest of the world was refusing to let in Modi after he presided over the 2002 Gujarat pogrom. He, therefore, made four trips to China, some of which ambassador Jaishankar (2009-2013) helped organise. That is when Modi’s romance with China began. Was Modi cautioned? Did he brush off those warnings like flies? And, is it not thus that it has now come to this?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 17 12:24:29 IST 2020 strive-for-a-settlement <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The India-China border in the western sector is neither defined, delimited or demarcated. This is principally because—as underlined by Nirupama Rao, former ambassador to China and former foreign secretary—in territorial disputes with its 15 neighbours, “China intentionally left its claims ambiguous”. She does not add, although I am sure she would agree, that this did not come in the way of China coming to a settlement with all of them, except India (and Bhutan).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have put ourselves in a bind because ever since defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon flew to Geneva, in July 1962, to settle matters directly with Chinese foreign affairs minister, Chen Yi, Menon insisted that before talks begin “again”, China should “first demarcate several areas” to be given to India, and “commit” itself “in advance to letting India have these areas.” (Amit Baruah, The Hindu, June 16, quoting Marshall Chen Yi). This has dogged any settlement for the past six decades since China refuses to disclose its goals in advance of negotiations. It has done this with all other countries with whom it has had, but no longer has, border disputes. Can India not live with this asymmetry, provided it lights up the prospects of arriving at a settlement?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minster Narendra Modi confessed at the Tsinghua University: “Neither side knows where the LAC [Line of Actual Control] is in that area.” (Ananth Krishnan, The Hindu, June 16). Indeed, it was not till 1993, 41 years after the India-China war of 1962, that the 1993 India-China Agreement on the Maintenance of Peace and Tranquility became “the first legal agreement that recognised the LAC”. Yet, because the agreement did not define the LAC, it had “the unintended side effect of further incentivising the forward creep to the line by ‘both’ militaries” (Shivshankar Menon, Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1996 agreement on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) also did not include the exact location of LAC, although its general alignment was known to both sides, including the 13 hotspots (in all three sectors) which could lead to “face-offs”. Nevertheless, and notwithstanding the continued Chinese refusal to provide maps in advance of their “perceptions” of where the LAC lay, both sides took the wise step of agreeing at their special representatives talks in 2005 on the “Political Parameters and Guiding Principles for the Settlement of the India-China Border Question”. Readers are invited to underline for themselves the word “settlement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That should be the key objective. Nirupama Rao does not believe a mutual settlement is possible for “a generation or two.” But that pessimistic (if realistic) perspective could be sensibly shortened if we were to settle down to working out a “settlement of the border question”, instead of remaining fixated on non-settlement, despite having come to a mutual agreement, 15 years ago, on “political parameters” and “guiding principles” to “settle” the border question.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why not get on with that instead of letting things lie until the Chinese provide us with maps that would reveal their hand in advance? We will get to know, in any case, as the talks move from stage to stage. And, we will have all the time in the world to make our claims known to them with no ambiguity, and then negotiate our way through the thicket. The alternative is to stick to Modi’s position that “India will protect every inch of its territory”—without even knowing where that last inch lies. Does it lie at the farthest reaches of Aksai Chin, as claimed by Home Minster Amit Shah, or at Galwan Valley and Pangong Tso in Ladakh?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jun 25 16:54:01 IST 2020 reassert-our-nonalignment <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Prime Minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Loong, in an article in the highly reputed American journal Foreign Affairs (June 4), and Steve Bannon, Trump’s ideological foghorn, in an interview to the island’s most important English-language daily journal, The Straits Times (also June 4), have set out the parameters within which India, more than any other country in Asia and perhaps the world, needs to determine how it is to react to the cold war between the United States and China now being brought to a boil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bannon may have been relieved of his key office in August 2017, but no one else is as frank, brutal and faithful an exponent of Trump’s ideology. Bannon argues—no holds barred—that China and the US are not in a cold war but a hot war: “It is a hot war right now and it is going to get a lot hotter.” Underlining that the US is “in full-scale economic war with the Chinese Communist Party”, he predicts with grim satisfaction that the two countries will be in “a kinetic war in a couple of years”. And, he adds that, apart from the South China Sea, this war is going to happen “on the border of China, Pakistan and India”. We cannot complain that we have not been warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime Minister Loong, more soberly but with deep conviction, draws attention to the geopolitical reality that Asia “live(s) at the intersection of various major powers”, and, therefore, “must avoid being caught in the middle or forced to make ‘invidious choices’”. This, from a Singapore that, in sharp contrast to India in the 1960s and 1970s and way into the 1980s, did make the “invidious choice” of lining up with America in the thick of the Vietnam War and its Cambodian aftermath. Singapore was the most avid supporter of the horrendous Pol Pot regime.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Singapore prime minister now recognises that if either China or the US attempts to force a choice between them on other Asian countries, it will lead to a “course of confrontation” that “will last decades” and put the “long heralded Asian century in jeopardy”. Recognising that the US in Asia is a “resident power” while China is “a reality at our doorstep”, Loong also notes that “the strategic basis of Pax Americana has shifted fundamentally” making this “a painful adjustment” for the US. He warns that “if the US seeks to contain China’s rise” (as Bannon, on Trump’s behalf, so strongly advocates), “it will risk provoking a reaction that could set the two countries on a path of decades of confrontation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were able to sit out the US-Soviet Union Cold War on the side lines because had armed confrontation broken out, it would have been on the battlefields of west and east Europe. Now, the reassertion of nonalignment as a fundamental creed of our foreign policy is urgent. Because Bannon has made explicit what has been an unstated or, at any rate, an understated goal of US foreign policy for the past two decades—co-opting India as a military partner of the US in a war to be fought on Indian soil to rein in the Chinese rise to global power status, even as the ability of the US to maintain its unipolar hegemony declines precipitately.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bannon, emphasising that he is the chairman of something called the “Hindu Republican Coalition”, concludes his interview proclaiming that as “Modi was Trump before Trump”, it is India that is “the key that picks the lock”. Only thieves “pick locks”. Do we really want to be the American cat’s paw in this looming “kinetic war”, by becoming the field of battle of the Third World War?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jun 12 14:23:10 IST 2020 insensitive-diplomacy-at-its-peak <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The current stand-off between India and Nepal is over an isosceles triangle-shaped area covering a mere 32sqkm—its base line running eastwards from the town of Kalapani on the main Kali River to the Lipulekh Pass. At the apex of the triangle lies another pass, Limpiyadhura.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The India-Nepal border was demarcated not by any domestic Indian ruler but by the colonial East India Company which concluded its aggression on Nepal in 1815 with the Treaty of Sugauli. Under this treaty, the Company filched Kumaon and Garhwal from Nepal. Article 5 of the treaty compelled “the Rajah of Nepal” to “renounce for himself, his heirs, and successors, all claims to or connection with all countries lying to the west of the Kali River”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since this was an Anglo-Nepal Treaty, its presiding deity was not Mother India but Mother Victoria; it should be dealt in such a way that Nepali sovereignty is respected even as India’s security interests are safeguarded. This is the way in which previous governments have dealt with this tiny wedge of territory since the 1950 Indo-Nepal Treaty of Peace and Friendship. Thus, 78 joint posts were created after China entered Tibet in 1951, and 18 Indian military posts, including Kalapani, were established after the India-China war of 1962. All except Kalapani were withdrawn by 1969 under an India-Nepal agreement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then, a 1997 India-China accord on pilgrimage to Lake Manasarovar stipulated the Lipulekh Pass as a principal entry point into Tibet. Nepal objected that it had not been consulted by either India or China, although the pass fell in Nepalese territory. There were huge demonstrations. The crisis was defused when prime minister I.K. Gujral accepted in 1998 that all boundary disputes with Nepal, including Kalapani, would be settled through bilateral talks. To this end, a joint technical-level working group was constituted and later, under A.B. Vajpayee, a Joint Boundary Commission.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, in two decades, it has not proved possible to resolve the key issue of whether the headwaters of the Kali River lie in the rivulet called the Pankha Gad, that descends from the Lipulekh Pass and joins the main Kali River at Kalapani (as India contends), or the Kuti Yangti, that descends from the Limpiyadhura Pass and takes the name of Kali from Kalapani onwards (as Nepal contends).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In August 2019, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar visited Kathmandu, and it was agreed that a “joint mechanism” would be established at foreign secretary level to resolve matters. But the issue was aggravated by the publication of Narendra Modi’s “new map” of India in November 2019, which showed the disputed triangle in India, as our government has been dragging its feet about talks with Nepal. So, Nepal retaliated with a map of its own in January 2020 that showed the triangle in Nepal. When India still prevaricated, Nepal threatened to incorporate their “new map” in their constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we thundered through our spokesman that Nepal’s new map, was “not based on historical facts and evidence”, and asked Nepal to “refrain from such cartographic aggression”. The chief of army staff was then unleashed. He began by claiming that he did not know “what exactly they were agitating about”. In the face of 22 years of intense disputation on this issue, he said: “There has never been a problem in the past.” Moving to his punch line, he claimed there were “reasons to believe that they might have raised these problems, issues at the behest of someone else”. Hint, hint, China!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is this any way to conduct sensitive diplomatic relations with a small neighbour? Even if it is Covid time, why cannot the two foreign secretaries take to Skype or Zoom?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 28 18:02:40 IST 2020 gujarat-model-of-failure <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On May 9, The Indian Express carried two apparently unrelated Covid-19 stories on its front page. One reports the first information report filed by the Delhi Police against Maulana Muhammad Saad Kandhalvi, head of the Tablighi Jamaat, under section 304 IPC—“culpable homicide not amounting to murder”—for “allegedly going ahead with a gathering of around 2,000 people at the mosque”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other, under the headline ‘Tracking India’s Covid Curve’, says Gujarat has recorded 7,013 cases of Covid-19 infections, the second highest in India after Maharashtra, higher even than Delhi and Tamil Nadu, the other badly affected states. As the same chart gives the “doubling rate” in Gujarat as 12.38 days, by the time you get to read this column, the number of Covid-19 cases in Gujarat would have topped 10,000 and be inching its way towards 14,000. The same newspaper had reported on May 6 that “Ahmedabad has approximately 70 per cent” of the state’s Covid-19 cases. Add its sister-city of Gandhinagar, and one finds that the twin cities account for some three-quarters of Gujarat’s extraordinarily high rate of infection.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cut to Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar, February 24, 2020. Does anyone need reminding that on that day US President Donald Trump and his first lady landed at Ahmedabad expecting to be received by seven million cheering Modi-bhakts? That was a hallucination. Newspaper and TV reports of the welcome place the number of those lining the streets, pushing against each other, and cheek by jowl at around one lakh. When the Trumps eventually reached the Sardar Patel Stadium, the “world’s largest cricket stadium” at Motera, Ahmedabad, estimates of the crowd packing the overflowing stadium (damn social distancing) ranged from one lakh to 1.25 lakh plus uncounted tens of thousands milling around outside.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At this point, it would be useful to sit back and paraphrase the Delhi Police’s indictment of Maulana Saad, charged with “gathering around 2,000 people in a mosque” compared with gathering around 2,00,000 people in a stadium. Judge for yourself after looking to the timeline of the commencement and spread of the pandemic:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>December 30, 2019: Dr Li Wenliang sounds earliest warning of something seriously amiss in Wuhan, China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 20, 2020: First confirmed case in the US</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 22, 2020: The World Health Organization delegation visits Wuhan and concludes that “human-to-human transmission” of virus is taking place in the city.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 26, 2020: President Xi Jinping, at the highest level in China, publicly confirms the world is now in the grip of a global horror not seen since the Spanish Flu of 1918-1919.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>January 30, 2020: The WHO proclaims the outbreak as a public health emergency of global concern; first confirmed case in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were still 25 days to go for Namaste Trump. Would not the prudent thing have been to set an example to the whole world by calling off, or at least postponing, the proposed Motera tamasha?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, Narendra Modi and Trump went ahead without heed to what would be the inevitable outcome of such a huge gathering in the midst of a “global health emergency”. Indeed, Trump was so aware that the US was in the thick of the danger zone that within 24 hours of his return to the White House, on February 25, he sent a request to the US Congress for “emergency funds for coronavirus response”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, is this “Gujarat model” the explanation for Ahmedabad-Gandhinagar becoming one of the reddest of red spots?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 14 17:48:33 IST 2020 corona-communalism-and-class-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As in a time of war, the Covid-19 pandemic should have united our country. Instead, the one-month lockdown has only aggravated communalism and class conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The media’s premier godiwallah (lapdog) seized on the tragic midnight killing of two sadhus in Palghar, Maharashtra, to thunder, as if it were “breaking news”, that this country was 80 per cent Hindu and how it could tolerate the murder of two Hindu sants. This was despite the state government’s announcement that over a hundred suspected assailants—all Hindus—had been arrested. This viciously irresponsible anchor went on to scream that the Congress president would be scribbling a message to reassure the Pope that his work was being done in India. Why, he demanded to know, had she said nothing about this matter? Why had she not condemned this outrage on the Hindu religion?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why, one must ask, has this incarnation of communalism not been outraged in similar incendiary terms at the numerous lynchings of Muslims in the last six years? Why, indeed, has his hero—the prime minister—done next to nothing about reining in the sangh parivar’s motormouths and youth gangs who terrify the minorities?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To move from this devout Modi-bhakt to the media in general, how many channels have placed in a non-communal perspective about the Tablighi Jamaat gathering that caused a nation-wide spread of the virus—but, at the end of the day, a thin spread that has resulted in few fatalities? Why have they underplayed the question of how so many delegates from Covid-19-affected countries were allowed to foregather at the Nizamuddin Markaz for so many days, and how could this have happened when a police station actually shares a wall with the Tablighi centre? Moreover, what of the numerous written communications and face-to-face encounters between the Tablighi authorities and the Nizamuddin police, mostly related to requests from the former to be provided with transport to evacuate those who had come from far and near to attend the annual convocation? And what, in any case, had any Islamic injunction to do with the gathering not having vacated the premises before or after the declaration? And, how is it that the thickly populated basti (slum)—with majority Muslims—that surrounds the Markaz not turned into a particularly affected “hot spot”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Compared with the gathering of thousands at the Markaz, there were swarming masses of lakhs of migrants at bus stands and railway stations. Why were those who allowed such gatherings not held accountable? And, strangely, why did those mammoth crowds not become coronavirus-spreaders?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And what kind of “social distancing” can be practiced where the most deprived live ten to a room? The strangest fact is that the coronavirus is not at its most virulent form among the poorest Indians. Apart from Dharavi, none of our urban slums (and almost nothing of rural India) has hit the headlines. When malaria, diphtheria, tuberculosis, flu, malnutrition and intestinal diseases routinely take most of the eight million Indians who die every year, the middle class and wealthy are indifferent, because most victims are the poor. It is because Covid-19 is no respecter of class distinctions, and because it has devastated the richest countries in the world, that draconian measures being taken are receiving wild applause from our elite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The migrant labourer is responding: “We are not coming back to your cities. It is you who have brought upon us this calamity by flying to luxurious foreign destinations, and it is we the poor who are suffering the consequences”. Khabardaar (Be warned).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 30 20:17:11 IST 2020 pots-pans-and-the-pandemic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If Narendra Modi had ever been really poor, his first thoughts on Covid-19 would have turned to the poorest and the weakest. But, as he has never really been poor, he plumped for drama and theatre instead of preparation.</p> <p>He had plenty of notice of the global disaster in the offing. By early January, the Chinese had notified the world that Wuhan was no longer associated with Modi and Xi Jinping taking photogenic walks together, but was the infamous breeding point of a viral disease that would overwhelm everybody, everywhere.</p> <p>But the BJP government’s attention was focused elsewhere, wondering what had hit them with youth and students in a hundred campuses venting their disapproval of the Citizenship Amendment Act. And the unprecedented spectacle, replicated country-wide, of thousands upon thousands of Muslim women emerging from the seclusion of their homes, to conduct for a hundred days and more a 24x7 relay protest, flouting all the stereotypes in the hindutva mind.</p> <p>At the same time, Modi and his cohort were unleashing the likes of Anurag (“goli maro”) Thakur to wrest back Delhi. When that flopped, revenge followed with Kapil Mishra provoking a riot against Muslims in northeast Delhi, even as Modi’s energies were being absorbed in treating Donald Trump to a lavish mega-welcome.</p> <p>Then, just as the saffron brotherhood were recovering from their licking at the Delhi polls arose the golden opportunity of engineering defections in Madhya Pradesh. Blissfully unaware of the shenanigans in process in Bhopal, the director general of the World Health Organization raised the flag to full red on March 11, declaring Covid–19 a “global pandemic”. Kejriwal took cognisance on March 15. But Modi was otherwise occupied. He kept Parliament going on inane business only to facilitate the vote of no-confidence that would topple the Kamal Nath government.</p> <p>When at last the prime minister was ready to face the facts, he had nothing to declare but a Janata Curfew and a meaningless clanging of pots and pans to show the nation meant business. Two days later, he was on television, again ordering a national lockdown in four hours flat with no preparations having been made to deal with the horrendous consequences. The army of migrant labour—some 45 crore strong—that runs Indian industry and on whose muscle and brawn Indian agriculture survives, were left to sink or swim.</p> <p>They were not even noticed until they came swarming out to find their own answers to the tragedy that had befallen them.</p> <p>The prime minister, in his harangue, gave no assurances of food and shelter. They were peremptorily instructed to “Stay at Home”, but when they tried going home, there was no transport to take them home. “Isolate yourselves”, they were ordered, and then forced into densely crowded bus stands and railway stations to wait for buses and trains that never came. And, then offloaded on to the highways where it was impossible to maintain “social distancing” norms as they walked hundreds of kilometres to the comfort of their families. So, brutal police force was unleashed to drive them back or away. And, if they went back to their overcrowded slums, or to the concentration camps organised by state governments, where could they find the space to keep a metre or more from each other? None of this was foreseen, nothing planned for.</p> <p>And as for hospitals and beds and ventilators, all was ‘Ram bharosa’. For doctors and nurses on the frontline, no prior arrangements had been made for their safety in terms of kits, masks or personal protective equipment. They were just thrown, like migrant labour, to the wolves.</p> <p>Hey Ram.</p> Sat Apr 18 10:15:42 IST 2020 eight-takeaways-from-shaheen-bagh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The 100-day protest at Shaheen Bagh is over, worsted not by the Narendra Modi government but by a force no one had anticipated—the coronavirus. What is the legacy it leaves behind?</p> <p>First, it destroys the stereotype of Muslim women as a submissive breed, hooded and veiled, non-political, tied up with the kitchen and nurturing their children—unseen, unheard and unsung. Second, Muslim women have shown that they are capable of organising themselves, persistent, insistent, and demanding, ready to bear up to the rigours of the coldest winter Delhi has experienced in 117 years.</p> <p>Third, Muslim men, in defiance of the stereotypes, were ready to accept the leadership of women and be content with a secondary role, serving food and water, guarding the periphery and letting the shrill voice of women drown out traditional male domination.</p> <p>Fourth, the myth that Muslims know only their holy Koran has been shredded. For three long and wearing months, the pandal reverberated not with religious instruction and Islamic injunctions but with the full-throated ease of Muslim women declaring themselves and their kin to be Indian, and demanding their constitutional rights as Indians. Their slogans, shouted out with vigour, were irreproachably patriotic, and their hands were not waving the holy book but the holy tricolour. The heroes they invoked ranged from Mahatma Gandhi to Shaheed Bhagat Singh, from Jawaharlal Nehru to Subhas Chandra Bose, from Sardar Patel to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad. The texts they read and recited were not those prescribed by the ulema but the Preamble to the Constitution. The speeches were woven around their assertion of their Indian identity and their commitment to the Indian nation. There was no call for jihad, no appeal to violence, no attempt to hurt anyone’s religious sentiments and no provocation.</p> <p>Fifth, not even the violence unleashed on their co-religionists in North East Delhi deterred them. As news came in of the massacre of over 50 persons and hundreds of casualties, even as the police looked away and politicians of a saffron hue were screaming, “goli maro saalon ko (shoot the scoundrels)”, the women of Shaheen Bagh remained unfazed. It was the establishment that blinked, failing over a hundred days to take up the challenge of meeting and talking to these women.</p> <p>Sixth, Shaheen Bagh in New Delhi inspired mini-Shaheen Baghs in thousands of mohallas and at least a hundred campuses, attended by men and women of all faiths, ranging from adolescents to senior citizens, cutting across all classes, economic and social, stretching to every state and Union territory of the country.</p> <p>Seventh, it was truly a people’s movement, sidelining political parties and standard political leaderships. Politicians generally kept away or were warned off. Civil society was taught that they do not have to wait upon the formal institutions of democracy—parliament, the judiciary or the executive—to raise their voices, and they can bend the establishment’s opinion to their will by taking and persisting with their initiative.</p> <p>Eighth, Shaheen Bagh scored a great political and legislative victory when the prime minster backed off, claiming his government had not even discussed the National Population Register (NPR) and the National Register of Citizens (NRC), whereas his home minister had at least nine times on the floor of the house insisted that the Citizenship Amendment Act, the NPR and the NRC were inextricably linked. The government has been warned that if the initiative is renewed it would have to contend with the wrath of the people it is trying to divide.</p> Sat Apr 04 14:24:09 IST 2020 breaking-point-not-yet <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Does JEXIT—the rather witty term for Jyotiraditya Scindia’s exit—really matter? The Scindia family were among the most avid loyalists of the British Raj and most of them—J’s grandmother and two aunts—have been with the BJP since its very founding.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In any case, the electorate of his constituency had defeated him last year, ending a long run of the family’s unbeaten record at the polls. Moreover, his influence had never extended beyond the Gwalior-Chambal area—which is why he had not been able to cobble together the majority in the Congress legislature party that would have got him the chief ministership of Madhya Pradesh. Indeed, beyond endeavouring to topple Chief Minister Kamal Nath by wooing away just about enough MLAs to give the BJP in the state assembly an edge, his departure changes few equations within the Congress; and, sadly for him, none within the party to which he has defected. He departs to join the long list of ex-Congressmen whose descent from Congress to obscurity was swift.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More to the point, however, is the question of whether JEXIT represents the incurable, irreversible, inexorable descent of the Indian National Congress to obscurity—a hundred years after Motilal Nehru became the Congress president and bequeathed a line of succession with virtually no parallel in modern world history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are those who would say that with the party having won only 44 seats in the Lok Sabha in 2014 and a mere 52 in 2019, the end is in any case nigh. So, is J being treacherous or prescient? Has he found that the Congress has tested positive for political coronavirus and, since it is 135 years old, is vulnerable to sudden choking death?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost anyone in the Congress will tell you—of course, after looking over his shoulder to see whether anyone is listening—that most of the evidence points to a party in terminal decline. There is a huge disconnect between the party and its workers, between the party and the people. It is not possible for the party to have gone from 414 seats in Rajiv Gandhi’s time to just about half of a hundred in his son’s without something gumming up the party’s works. Nor could the party’s slim majorities in many of the states it still rules(d) be so vulnerable to defection and downfall, if the high command’s hold over its satraps had not slipped so badly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, at 50 seats in the Lok Sabha, it is well ahead of any other party for the claim to be leader of the opposition. While there are many regional outfits that can, and have, outperformed both the BJP and the Congress, even on its worst day—today—there can be no conceivable challenge to the Congress as the only credible nationwide opponent of the BJP. All the seats in the Lok Sabha of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, the Aam Aadmi Party, the Biju Janata Dal, Farooq Abdullah, H.D. Deve Gowda, K. Chandrashekar Rao, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy, Akhilesh Yadav, Hemant Soren, Mamata Banerjee or even Sharad Pawar are from one single state. Mayawati and Asaduddin Owaisi can claim representation from more than one state but the total can be counted on the fingers of one’s hands. The two communist parties cannot even claim that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress can still attract the iron shavings of our myriad parties, to together translate their over 60 per cent majority in the country into a coalition government in 2024, to end this nightmare of saffron dominance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why the many voices—Abhishek Singhvi, Shashi Tharoor, Manish Tewari, Sandeep Dikshit, Ashwani Kumar et al. (even mine)—being raised within the party need to be listened to, not only to save the Congress but, more importantly, to save the idea of India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 21 17:25:38 IST 2020 keeping-hindutva-at-bay <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Now that so many Congress luminaries have stirred the pot of our sorrows, may I throw my two ingredients into the witches’ brew? Their views may be summarised into two broad categories: the camp led by Shashi Tharoor that regards elections to all party posts as the prerequisite for the revival of the party; and the other school, led by Manish Tewari, who think more than an organisational revamp it is clarity in ideology through a series of Pachmarhi-style inclusive vichar manthans (think camps) that is the prerequisite for revival.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It seems to me that the two approaches are actually complementary. But I am more inclined to Tewari’s view. Otherwise, the old war horses with their superior hold on the party machine will triumph and the party will soon be back to the tired clichés and behind-the-curtain decision-making that have brought us to our present pass.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But more pressing even than organisational elections and Pachmarhi-type camps, it seems to me, is the necessity to set the compass for the party’s future trajectory by facing up to the key question: whether to aim for the restoration of the Congress as the “natural party of governance” by eschewing alliances, as was decided by consensus at Pachmarhi 21 years ago, or rationalising our actual post-Pachmarhi practice of seeking out allies (if we can find them—and we often cannot, at least not on our terms).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, negotiations are more often than not initiated until very late because of the tussle between the leadership and aspirants at the grassroots over what number of seats (and where) to accept as a minimum, and when that minimum is not conceded to please the grassroots by petulantly fighting all the seats, even when it means losing virtually every seat contested, as in the Lok Sabha elections in Uttar Pradesh, or, as in Delhi NCR, losing our deposit in 63 of 66 seats contested and failing to win a single one!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, instead, the tactical goal were set clearly and long in advance as defeating the BJP, whatever the short-term cost to the party’s aspirants, the chances of securing the strategic goal of reviving the party to become a real presence in the future would be more credibly realisable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This the party has achieved in Kerala with the United Democratic Front, where fixed constituencies for the alliance partners and long-determined portfolios in the event of victory, have ensured not only a steady stream of victories over the rival Left Democratic Front in every alternate election, but it leaves the alliance partners completely free to nurture their separate identities and cultivate a larger section of the electorate between elections. Most important, the system marginalises hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, abstracting from immediate election imperatives and going back into its own history, I believe the only way the party can again become the formidable force it was in the freedom movement is to reinvent itself as a movement instead of remaining just another party. Such radical transformation requires the Congress to revert to its pre-Independence role as the principal motivator of a broad alliance of similarly motivated political entities. That broad alliance excluded only two forces—one, the forces of hindutva and, two, the agents of international communism. The latter have been domesticated and can quite easily be accommodated in a broad 21st century secular alliance. The former are as unacceptable today as they and their counterparts, the All-India Muslim League, were in the run-up to Independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is only one way of keeping the hindutva forces at bay and that is to forge a long-term alliance platform that would stop the present alarming slide into the same kind of divisive communal hatred that led to the partition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 06 14:19:43 IST 2020 postcard-from-srinagar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Time was when a postcard from Srinagar meant a pretty picture of colourful shikaras on the Dal Lake or of tulips blooming in the spring and the leaves of the chinar turning golden in the autumn. The shikaras are still colourful but lie forlorn, parked along the quays while the sullen boatmen wait for the tourists who never come. The hotels are empty; the one we stayed in had only two customers, me and my colleague, O.P. Shah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The smart shops along the boulevard were almost all shuttered. The one in front of our hotel—M.A. Ramazan &amp; Co., “Carpets and Curios”—was open, but we never saw anyone enter or leave it. Only a few modest eateries and street vendors were in business, along with two or three Bihari boys eking out a bare living offering pedestrians channa and popcorn for a handful of coins. The loss of tourist income is estimated at Rs250 crore a day in Srinagar alone. And, yet, the Kashmiris have been told that Article 370 was removed to accelerate their income.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was pleasantly surprised at not being turned back at the airport itself. Perhaps, I said to myself, the prime minister really meant it when he invited the opposition to see for themselves the restoration of “normalcy” in the erstwhile state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, almost immediately after checking in, we went to meet Begum Khalida Shah, the 85-year-old daughter of Sheikh Abdullah, who carries memories of hosting Mahatma Gandhi. She gave us a copy of her open letter to the prime minister which contains a point-by-point rebuttal of the 23 claims made by the home minister justifying the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, without consulting the people or their elected representatives, as provided for in the Constitution. Unsurprisingly, she has not received a reply. We also learned of a novel form of detention invented to prove that “normalcy” reigns—prominent nationalist politicians and others are not formally served detention orders but are not permitted to leave their homes, and are not permitted to receive visitors without hindrance. The entire Sheikh Abdullah family is now holed up for the sin of having upheld the Indian flag for seven decades despite hundreds, perhaps thousands, of their workers falling to terrorists’ bullets.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The irony is that in order to make the Kashmiri “a full Indian”, the Kashmiri has been deprived of the rights and liberties to which he or she, as an Indian, is fully entitled. One only has to see the massive security deployment, with armed soldiers stationed on both sides of the road at distances of just 10m from each other, to see how the Kashmiri is being intimidated into loyalty to the Indian state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next day, we learned the true meaning of Home Minister Amit Shah’s declaration that anyone was free to visit Kashmir. The police reached our hotel to say the meeting we had convened could not be held as Section 144 was in force. In that case, we asked, how were groups of Kashmiris press-ganged into meeting the foreign envoys the day before? Moreover, our meeting was not in the open but “closed door”. So how could Section 144 apply there? No answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We were confined to our hotel. (I have heard of “house arrest”, but does the Code of Criminal Procedure provide for “hotel arrest”?). At the gates of the hotel, a police posse was posted with orders to not let anyone in or out. The following morning, we were permitted to drive to the airport—but under police escort to ensure that we did not stray. If this is “normalcy”, what, pray, is “abnormalcy”? As a former diplomat myself, I say any ambassador who claims to have found “normalcy” in Srinagar should never have been promoted beyond third secretary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 22 19:36:19 IST 2020 the-school-of-protests <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I went to Paris in May 1968 to be part of the student uprising that startled the world. It fizzled out within a few months but so shook the prestige of president Charles de Gaulle that the man generally regarded as the most firmly ensconced in office in all of Europe found himself out of the Elysee Palace within 18 months of his dismissing the demonstrators as “chiens-lit” (dog faeces).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So also do I belong to the Vietnam generation that saw massive protests in US campuses. On the face of it, these student protests, which even reached the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC, only consolidated president Richard Nixon’s hold on power, giving him in 1972 the largest plurality in the history of presidential elections, but so badly had the students dented his reputation that within a few months of his election victory Watergate began undermining him and he was driven from office in 1974, his name in tatters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I hear our older generation muttering about university students taking to the streets and Shaheen Bagh helping consolidation of the Hindu vote behind the BJP in the ongoing Delhi elections. But it seems to me that even if the BJP wins Delhi (unlikely as that looks at the moment), the Aligarh Muslim University and the Jawaharlal Nehru University have so damaged the image of an irremovable prime minister that Modi’s reputation as an unbeatable leader has been irretrievably stained. Within six months of his massive (and wholly unexpected) victory in the Lok Sabha polls, it seems he is going the way of all flesh. Fear of his 56-inch chest is being replaced by the mocking of his 74-inch waistline.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it is not the opposition parties that either started these nationwide protests or have kept them going. It is “We, the People of India” who have taken to the streets, wrapped in the national flag, reverentially holding up the Constitution (not the Gita, the Quran Sharif, the Guru Granth Sahib or the Bible), and singing national songs from the freedom movement. They include infants and children, women whose only covering against the biting cold is the veil and the hijab and, above all, students and youth who keep a 24-hour vigil around the women who have emerged from their kitchens and courtyards as never before to demonstrate that they, too, have an opinion, a voice and the right and duty to protest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot think of a better education for the young men and women who have taken time off from dry learning in their classrooms to experience the living reality of the Constitution. The daily recital of the Preamble gives more substance to the vision of Babasaheb Ambedkar and the other founding fathers than any amount of pedagogy can provide. It is a daily experience of “fraternity”, without which there can be no “liberty” or “equality”, the other key cornerstones of the building of our Republic. This is true “Democracy” as felt and experienced in living reality, not learnt by rote as mere oratorical flourishes. This is true education.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It does not destroy book-learning; it only enhances it. The proof of this comes to me from the theatres and parks and roundabouts of Paris 1968. One of the student leaders, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, ended up as a leading member of the European Parliament; the Mauritian student hero Paul Berenger went on to become the prime minister of his country. The Vietnam protesters survived to become solid members of the most respectable echelons of American society; it was the poor GIs who suffered the traumas of war, so brilliantly captured by the novelist Philip Roth.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is time enough to return to their classrooms. Our kids are learning from real life in the demonstrations. Their academic achievements will only be enhanced by being interwoven into existential reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Feb 07 12:23:45 IST 2020 how-pakistanis-view-pakistan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was at the Afkar-e-Taza (innovative thinking) ThinkFest in Lahore, held on January 11 and 12. For me, the most rewarding session was on ‘The Future of Pakistan over the Next Decade’, a panel discussion between three senior parliamentarians, drawn from the three principal parties: the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI); the principal opposition party, the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) (PML-N); and the veteran, once-dominant Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The discussion was kicked off by Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar of the PPP. He chose to interpret the question before the house to mean what were the principal challenges the nation would have to face and overcome over the next ten years. The others followed suit. Khokhar said the three principal challenges were those over which Pakistan, as a nation, had little control but would have to hurdle the consequences: one, climate change; two, the possibly horrendous consequences of the US-Iran confrontation in the immediate neighbourhood of Pakistan; and, third, the fallout on the Pakistan economy of the trade war between the US and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was followed by Fawad Chaudhry of Imran Khan’s PTI; he is also the federal minister of science and technology. He identified Pakistan’s single biggest challenge as “religious bigotry” and “terrorism”. Unless these were wiped out, and that too in the immediate future, Pakistan could not hope to progress because, he emphasised, no country anywhere that had sunk into religious fundamentalism had ever progressed. The 400-strong audience, largely composed of youth and students, applauded. As the only Indian present, I could not but sit up and take note, wishing only that someone from our saffron gang was listening in. The minister then went on to say that the two principal requirements for progress were “akal (brain)” and “ilm (education)”. He rued that Pakistan had let down the largest segment of its population, the youth, by failing to provide them with first-rate, modern, scientific education that would enable the nation’s abundant brainpower to shoot Pakistan to the upper echelons of artificial intelligence and information technology, now in its 5G phase. To this end, he announced, his government was establishing the second biggest bio-technology park in south Asia. But, he added, this was not enough. Unless Pakistan secured social justice for all sections of its population, especially by ensuring the “protection” of its minorities, the nation could not go forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The PML-N leader, senator Musadik Malik, took this up and said it was not enough for the minorities to be assured of their “protection”; they must be guaranteed their constitutional rights. Invoking Jinnah’s inaugural address to the Constituent assembly of August 11, 1947, in which the Quaid-e-Azam stressed the secular nature of the about-to-be-born Pakistan wherein Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Parsis would be free to go to their places of worship and all would be treated equally as citizens, irrespective of their faith, as also another speech by a non-Muslim tribal leader of East Pakistan on the occasion of the adoption of Pakistan’s first constitution in 1956, the senator stressed that without assuring the human and civic rights of the minorities, Pakistan would be unable to fulfil the fundamental requirement of democracy: human and civic rights for all. He sought harmony through dialogue between the institutions of democracy—judiciary, legislatures and executive—in place of the raging tensions and the narrow pursuit of institutional, not national, interest, which characterises Pakistan now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Astonishingly, not a word about India. India and the security threat it allegedly poses were not even mentioned, not even in passing. That bears afkar-e-taza on our part, don’t you think?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jan 24 19:51:20 IST 2020 shah-selective-compassion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The quality of compassion, like “the quality of mercy”, as Portia told Shylock, “is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven... It blesseth him that gives and him that takes”. Accordingly, I whole-heartedly endorse the horror that Home Minister Amit Shah and the only Sikh minister in this government, Hardeep Singh Puri, have expressed at the murder of a young Pakistani Sikh out for wedding shopping in the busy bazaars of Peshawar on the very eve of his nuptials.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The assassins apparently got away but are being sought by the police. While the police think the murder may have its roots in a family feud, one cannot but agree that there is validity to the alternative interpretation being put on the incident by Shah-Puri that this reveals the parlous state of religious minorities in that country. Moreover, this comes in the immediate aftermath of the trouble at Kartarpur Sahib and the mob attack on Nankana Sahib, both in Pakistan. There is a need to remind the Pakistan government to do its duty to the minorities—both in the individual case of the young Sikh killed, and their indispensability to protect religious shrines of the minorities from desecration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, perhaps, our strong protests at these totally unjustifiable assaults on Pakistan’s religious minorities would have gained much in credibility if the Shah-Puri cohort had reacted equally fervently when scores of our own minorities were brutally lynched under the watch of this government. An innocent losing his life, whether to a bullet in a crowd or to mob violence, has to have equal value placed on it, whether that loss of life takes place in our country or another. Worse, when over a thousand Indian Muslims (at least) are massacred while the state government looks the other way, as happened in Gujarat, in 2002, or of innocent Sikhs in 1984, there is as much reason to be angered as when one Sikh in a foreign land is assassinated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Sikhs have been the target of lunatic attacks in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, among several other countries. Does our government deplore the failure of their host governments to ensure the personal security of these Sikhs (and other murdered Indians, resident or NRI, of different faiths) in lands with whom we have friendly relations? If so, surely the provisions of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act should extend as much to minority refugees “fleeing religious persecution” from these supposedly Christian countries as to the three indicted Islamic states—Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So also with religious shrines sacred to the minorities. At least Nankana Sahib and Kartarpur Sahib have not been razed to the ground, while the rubble of what was once the Babri Masjid is at the same time being carted off by pious Sunnis to a site where these remains will be treated with honour. If we insist that the incarceration of the Muslim population of the Kashmir valley is an “internal matter”, then we need not expect any sympathy from the world when Pakistan says their treatment of minorities in their country is their “internal matter”. Which also explains the scepticism with which the BJP’s claim that CAA is not “discriminatory” is being treated abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“As you sow, so shall you reap”. Would someone please send Shah a Gujarati translation of that biblical injunction in return for his kind offer to send the Congress president an Italian translation of the CAA?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jan 10 13:06:48 IST 2020 modi-shah-triple-talaq <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Romans had a saying: “Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad”. Who would have thought that within six months of their victory, the ruling parliamentary majority would find itself under siege by the very forces they thought they had trumped? By their madness, they have brought this hubris upon themselves.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Narendra Modi-Amit Shah dispensation has not understood the most elementary lesson of democracy: that majorities are not given to impose majoritarianism. In consequence, they have progressively alienated India’s Muslim minority. The divorce is now complete with the triple talaq pronounced through the National Register of Citizens (NRC) in Assam, the Citizenship Amendment Act and the looming threat of the National Register of Indian Citizen (NRIC) in the country as a whole. It is the simultaneity of this three-pronged attack that has sparked the country-wide outrage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The nation has watched with growing apprehension the unfolding of the NRC process in Assam. As at least half the alleged “illegal” immigrants have turned out to be Hindus who would be fast-tracked to full citizenship under the amended Citizenship Act, it is clear that the concentration camps being built across the state are targeted at one faith and one faith alone. And that this is going to be replicated by a similar exercise throughout the country—the NRIC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi-Shah and their cohort remain in denial. They lace their barbed retorts with communalism at its crudest. The prime minister says you can recognise protesters by their clothing. What clothing? Kurtas and pyjamas? Dhotis and veshtis? T-shirts and jeans? These are community neutral. What is distinctive is the covered hair and the veil, the skull cap and the Aligarhi achkan (especially when adorned by a beard). It is clear that this is the target of the prime minister’s vicious insinuation. He goes on to demand why the Congress does not offer citizenship to all Pakistanis. What secular Indians are demanding is assured cast-iron citizenship to all Indian Muslims. It is this that is under threat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the saffron forces have already clarified that they regard Bharat as the “natural home” of Hindus, and are not averse to a sprinkling of other communities. The object of their aversion is but one religious denomination. This “other-ing” of one community is unacceptable. And the salience being drawn between “Pakistani” and “Muslim” is most reprehensible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Seven decades after partition there are some 3.6 million Hindus left in Pakistan. The average rate of their migration to India is about 5,000 per year, that is, it will take about a thousand years at this rate for all of them to flee “religious persecution”. These 5,000 can easily be accommodated without drawing lines of community exclusion, as, legendarily, the Zoroastrian refugees were in the seventh century CE, by being “dissolved like sugar in milk to make it all the sweeter”. This tiny community of Parsis has rewarded their adopted home by being among the pioneers of the Freedom Movement (Dadabhai Naoroji, Pherozeshah Mehta); laying down the foundations of our industrialisation (Jamsetji Tata); steering our atomic programme (Homi J. Bhabha); leading our armed forces to unambiguous victory in 1971 (Sam Manekshaw); and, teaching our dour parliamentarians how serious politics can be conducted with side-splitting laughter (Piloo Mody). If so much can be achieved by so few because they were accorded refuge, safety, dignity and prosperity in our country, how much more could not the close on 200 million Indian Muslims give the nation—provided they are assured of acceptance, personal safety, identity and dignity in the land they have made their own?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 28 13:13:51 IST 2019 jinnah-hindu-proxies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Alone among the politicians of pre-independence India, V.D. Savarkar, president of the Hindu Mahasabha, affirmed in Nagpur on August 15, 1943, that he entirely agreed with the president of the Muslim League, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, that there were indeed ‘two nations’ in India, a Hindu nation and a Muslim one.</p> <p>Although Pakistan, as a nation based on religion, came into existence on August 14, 1947, the political leadership of independent India, heavily backed by the largely Hindu Indian masses, refuted the idea of India as a Hindu nation to hold that India, under its Constitution, belonged equally to all its citizens, irrespective of their religion. Till but the other day, the nation proudly asserted that while India was indeed home to the four-fifth of its people who were born into the Hindu religion, it was also home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations. One could as little conceive of India without Islam as of Islam without India. Indeed, we were home to followers of every major religion in the world.</p> <p>That was the India championed by all Indians of whatever religious persuasion other than the camp-followers of the two self-anointed ideological twins: Jinnah and Savarkar. With the creation of Pakistan, Jinnah won half his battle—a Muslim nation. But for close to seven decades, he seemed to have lost the other half of his argument: there was no Hindu nation on the subcontinent, only a secular nation, as proud of the Muslim contribution to her heritage as of the rest of its 5,000–year old composite civilisation to which every religious community had signally contributed.</p> <p>When Savarkar’s associates killed Mahatma Gandhi, the Savarkar school of thought suffered a political setback. But the Union government that was elected in 2014 started the process of fulfilling the Jinnah/Savarkar proposition of ‘two-nations’ with bogus charges of sedition, particularly against Muslims, ‘love jihad’, ‘ghar wapsi’, and the lynching of innocent Muslims, all greeted by the sound of silence from the prime minister, and overlaid by sectarian hyper-nationalism (as in all fascist dispensations) and the subversion of secular studies and secular institutions.</p> <p>After its second victory (with a slightly enhanced vote margin, secured through a somewhat enhanced share of the Hindu vote), the Modi government has greatly accelerated the process of fulfilling Jinnah’s prophecy of a Hindu India. In just over six months of its second term, it has assaulted the Constitutional provisions that provided for a special relationship with Jammu and Kashmir, the only Muslim-majority state in India, and heavily reinforced this with an enhanced military siege; singled out Muslim, but not Hindu Bengalis, with inadequate documentation for deportation and built huge internment camps in Assam, reminiscent of Auschwitz and Dachau, to hold hundreds of thousands of hapless Muslims (although almost as many Hindus without papers are going to be fast-tracked to citizenship); propagated a “right-to-return” doctrine for Hindus worldwide on the lines of Israeli Zionism; held a brilliant Modi critic, Aatish Taseer, responsible for having a Pakistani father; created an atmosphere in which the Supreme Court has decreed that although the wantonly destroyed Babri Masjid was for 450 years a Muslim place of worship, complete possession will now be given to those complicit in the barbaric destruction of the mosque for fear that otherwise they would cause trouble soaked in blood (as in Gujarat 2002); outrageously introduced religion-based criteria into our hitherto secular Citizenship Act; and are threatening to use their brute majority to bulldoze the country towards a Uniform Civil Code, undermining the Constitutional guarantee of a personal law for all communities.</p> <p>I writhe as I hear Jinnah in his grave muttering,</p> <p>“I told you so.”</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Dec 13 12:24:05 IST 2019 modi-great-leap-forward <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was at university in Delhi (1958-1961) when Chairman Mao undertook his Great Leap Forward, a disastrous attempt at driving China forward before his country had been readied for such acceleration. In consequence, an estimated 20 million people died of starvation; some reckon the loss of life touched 50 million. But I knew nothing of this because I was being nurtured by my closest comrades at college on a diet of hoax statistics propagated by the China Economic Review.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Great Leap Forward collapsed into the chaos of the Cultural Revolution. Mao’s death followed by the rise of Deng Xiaoping put China on the road to spectacular double-digit growth—backed by reliable, meticulously calculated and carefully monitored numbers that rise and fall but consistently convey the confidence that measurements are accurate and, therefore, yield tangible lessons for the way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tissue of lies that was the official story of the Great Leap Forward was contrasted by the work on the real story of the Indian economy as revealed by the pioneering work on GDP numbers of highly-rated scholars like V.K.R.V. Rao and P.C. Mahalanobis of the Indian Statistical Institute at Calcutta. Our ISI was among the most esteemed institutes of learning in the world. We, therefore, knew precisely where we were, how well or badly we were faring, and what course corrections were required.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, official data on the Indian economy is as confidence-inspiring as the China Economic Review of my (misspent) youth. Is GDP growing at 2 per cent, 4 per cent, 6 per cent or 8 per cent? No one knows. The cat was put among the pigeons by Narendra Modi’s former chief economic adviser, Arvind Subramanian of Harvard, who—pointing to the incompatibility of various figures put out for key sectors of the economy and the official estimates of GDP—concluded that the economy was actually growing at around 2.5 per cent less than what the Modi government was officially claiming. Controversial as this conclusion was, the nation was stunned into realising something was gravely amiss when the Modi government’s principal statistical officer resigned, humiliated by the government repudiating the figures his independent experts had conscientiously collated. It was for no better reason than that his department’s figures gave the lie to the empty boasts of the prime minister and his quacking brood of ministers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just as with the Great Leap Forward, slogans have replaced performance: “Sabka saath, sabka vikas” is the slogan; “Sabka saath, sabka vinaash [destruction]” is the reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Agriculture, the mainstay of the Indian economy, is in deep distress. Rural demand has collapsed because rural incomes have plummeted. The unemployment rate has spiralled to a 45-year high. Most segments of industry have slid into negative growth. More than half of our electricity generation capacity is idling for want of demand. Imports, too, are negative because manufacturing is in disarray. The idiocy of demonetisation has spread its destructive tentacles through the entire informal sector. Banking and other financial institutions are in the dumps. Real estate is at the bottom of the abyss. Therefore, employment-generating construction is stagnant. Even IT, which had once promised to take us to China-type double-digit growth, is caught in the coils of a recession. There is no export product booming, bar bovine products—and these are constrained by the lynch mobs unleashed by the saffron forces. Yet, the government remains in denial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, then, what is one to do about a leadership that cannot distinguish between plastic surgery and transplants; that thinks radar cannot penetrate cloud cover; that confuses relativity with gravity?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Nov 29 11:51:00 IST 2019 stunt-with-saffron-robe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Much of the south has held out against the BJP, but none more so than Tamil Nadu. Desperate to provoke a breakthrough, the BJP has resorted to its favourite trick of appropriating the icons of others (such as Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel) to give itself a pedigree that it otherwise lacks. In Tamil Nadu, this has taken the form of a BJP tweet that dresses Thiruvalluvar, the greatest moral mentor of the Tamil people and symbol of its syncretic heritage, in a saffron robe. Thiruvalluvar has traditionally been depicted in pure white.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Scholars, stretching from the 13th century renowned commentator Parimezhalagar to the present, have found evidence of not merely Vedic influences on the 1,330 verses of the saint-poet-philosopher’s famed Thirukkural, but also so strong an imprint of Jainism that many consider him a Jain rather than a Hindu. Besides, the Buddhist impact on his thinking and verses is so evident that there are those who take him to be a Buddhist. Indeed, the Sermon on the Mount seems to have left such a major footprint on the saint’s worldview that one school of thought believes he was profoundly moved by the preachings of the Apostle, Saint Thomas. Why, even among Hindus, there are verses that reveal Thiruvalluvar as a Saivite and others that show him a Vaishnavite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To appropriate such an eclectic thinker as the symbol of hindutva is the kind of molestation of history, culture and belief that the saffron forces keep deploying to attain their narrow partisan ends. As the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam leader, M.K. Stalin, remarked: “Instead of colouring Thiruvalluvar, they should learn the Thirukkural and reform.” His party spokesman, T.K.S. Elangovan, added: “Yes, saffron denotes a particular religion. Why should he [Thiruvalluvar] be covered in saffron?” The BJP, through its spokesman, Narayanan Thirupathy, stuck, as ever, to interpreting Hinduism in terms of the “other”, stressing that “during his [the sage’s] time, there was no place for Muslims and Christians”. Even T.T.V. Dhinakaran, leader of the breakaway All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) faction, has held that “Thiruvalluvar is above all caste, creed and religion”, while the spokesman of the AIADMK, Kovai Sathyan, despite taking potshots at the rival DMK, has conceded that “You cannot contain his (Thiruvalluvar’s) contribution to one particular religion”. Rajinikanth, of course, topped them all when laughingly he remarked: “Attempts are being made to paint me with the BJP colour as they have tried to do with Thiruvalluvar, but neither Thiruvalluvar nor I will get trapped.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The avowedly atheistic, anti-Brahmin, anti-Aryan and anti-Hindi proponents of “Dravida Nadu” were persuaded to remain Indian by providing them the constitutional, democratic and electoral space to win the people’s support to come to political power in 1967. It was a power equation forged in the white heat of the agitation that followed the Centre’s attempt to make Hindi the sole official language of India. It is a state where All India Radio’s Hindi news is masked over by Tamil news at the same time. It was but weeks ago that a technical committee’s recommendation that Tamil Nadu be required to switch to a three-language system—that would compulsorily add Hindi to the school curriculum—sparked off an agitation that would have consumed the state, had not the newly re-elected Narendra Modi government beaten a hasty retreat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To divide such a people, who unanimously adore Thiruvalluvar, by draping him in saffron is irresponsibility of the highest order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 14 15:27:25 IST 2019 learn-the-right-lessons <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>So, there is still life&nbsp;left in the old warhorse. The totally unexpected performance of the Congress on its own in Haryana and in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra has shown that the obituary writers like Yogendra Yadav and Ramachandra Guha have got their timing somewhat wrong. Of course, so hesitant have we been in picking up the gauntlet, so confused in seeing our way forward, so leaderless these last five months that, quite understandably, the undertakers saw business coming their way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They will have to wait a while for, although we lost in both states, it is clear that a substantial share of the voters has not given up on us. While the party has sometimes given the impression since our massive defeat in May 2019 that it has given up on itself, the crores of the electorate who do not find the answer in hindutva are urging us to wake up to the challenge. “Purush ho, pursharth karo, utho,” as the poet urged his countrymen and women during the freedom struggle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress can still answer the call if it learns the right lessons from Haryana and Maharashtra. The lessons from the two states are, however, different because the objective political situation in these states is different. In Haryana, it was a straight fight between the BJP and the Congress. In Maharashtra, the NCP, on the one hand, and the Shiv Sena, on the other, constitute very powerful forces who could make or break the outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfazed by the defeats in the last assembly polls and the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, former Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda waded into battle with confidence; he had the support of the high command against his rivals inside the party. Indeed, had that last-minute support been extended a few weeks earlier, he might even have pipped the BJP at the post. If it was not, it was partly because a search was on to see if there could perhaps be a replacement to Hooda, perhaps a younger face. There really was none, proving once again that it is not youth or age but the grip on the party that matters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Maharashtra, it was the restoration of the alliance with one who, after all, is one of us that did the trick. As at the time of writing, the incumbent BJP is discovering what it means to have a truculent partner. The Congress needs to gather to itself, either as constituent elements of the party or as alliance partners, all those who have drifted from it. That is the single most important lesson to learn from Maharashtra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Recently, I received a poem my Pakistani poet-friend Fakir Syed Aijazuddin had written on October 9, 2019. I think it sums up the despair of Indians and Pakistanis of goodwill at our rush to mutual disaster: There was a time</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Time evoked tomorrows;</p> <p>Today, it speaks of yesterdays…</p> <p>Where has the promise gone</p> <p>Of brotherhood without frontiers?</p> <p>Where are the tears we shed,</p> <p>The blood to irrigate an earth,</p> <p>Once yours, now mine,</p> <p>Once mine, now yours?</p> <p>Why must my only view of you</p> <p>Be through the barrel of a gun?</p> <p>Why must I search for you</p> <p>In the debris of a divided sun?</p> <p>How long will this daily suicide last?</p> <p>Will we have separate Heavens there,</p> <p>Or find ourselves sharing</p> <p>Another common Hell?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Mon Nov 04 14:47:08 IST 2019 bjp-quislings-in-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Having incarcerated the entire political and civil society leadership of Kashmir besides much of the intelligentsia, and intimidated academics and the media, the Narendra Modi government is now engaged in an exercise unprecedented in any democracy ever. It is trying to spawn, through a form of artificial political insemination, a new breed of quislings to constitute an alternative political elite that will carry the Hindu rashtra into Muslim Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The chosen instrument for this nefarious purpose is the block development committee (BDC), “elected” by the heads of the hakka (village) panchayats under the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir Assembly’s legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is often claimed, even by critics of the events of August 5, that Article 370—which made the applicability of Central legislation to J&amp;K conditional on approval by the state assembly—had over the years been “hollowed out”. This is simply untrue as evidenced by the non-implementation for over a quarter of a century of the 73rd and 74th amendments to the Constitution, passed virtually unanimously by both houses of Parliament in December 1992. These amendments incorporated Part IX and Part IX A into the Constitution—relating respectively to the panchayats and the municipalities—that revolutionised local self-government in both rural and urban India. It was never implemented in J&amp;K, which continued with its old single-tier hakka panchayat system, privileging the state’s constitutional right under Article 370 to accept or reject Central legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The avowed purpose of de-operationalising Article 370 on August 5 was to bring J&amp;K’s jurisprudence in line with the rest of the country. Yet, the first political move being made by the Centre, after reconstituting J&amp;K as a Union territory, has been to avail of what ought to be, according to their lights, now “obsolete” J&amp;K legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Constitution of India contains alternative arrangements to accord constitutional sanction, sanctity and safeguards to grass roots-level democracy, and promote inclusive growth through inclusive governance. Instead of availing of these constitutional provisions, the BJP government at the Centre is abusing its new-found authority in the state to cynically undertake a draconian form of social and political engineering to invent a wholly artificial political class to replace the existing political class. The hypocrisy is breathtaking.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under the Indian Constitution, the intermediate (block) level of the panchayat system is directly elected by the electorate as a whole under party labels and symbols. Under the J&amp;K legislation, the block level local self-government institution is not elected by the people. Instead, a highly restricted cabal of hakka panchayat sarpanches constitutes the electoral college for BDC elections. The cabal this time is even more restricted because the hakka panchayat elections held by the J&amp;K administration—after the wholly illegitimate dissolution of the democratically-elected J&amp;K Assembly by the BJP-appointed governor—were boycotted by the mainstream political parties in the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This resulted in an unrepresentative and minuscule turnout of voters. Some hakka panchayats have been constituted by just two votes cast in the entire hakka area. The voters, who normally come out in huge numbers, ranging up to 75 to 95 per cent, in hakka panchayat elections, saw the BJP-run elections as a farce, and refused to participate in the wholly bogus and undemocratic process. The sarpanches so “elected” are now holed up in hotels to protect them from their villagers’ fury. They are being beguiled by promises of MLA-ships to become the “new political class” that the BJP is inventing for Kashmir. The farce is foredoomed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 18 12:12:12 IST 2019 loss-of-kashmiri-loyalty <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mahanayak’ Narendra Modi has succeeded spectacularly where Muhammad Ali Jinnah failed so miserably in driving droves of Kashmiris into Pakistan’s arms. For, after spending two months in Kashmir in the summer of 1944, when Jinnah departed claiming that the Kashmiris wanted to follow the Muslim Conference rather than the National Conference, Sheikh Abdullah retaliated by proclaiming his Naya Kashmir programme. The programme was drafted by a group of Jammu &amp; Kashmir’s leading intellectuals drawn from virtually all the numerous ethnic, linguistic and religious communities that comprised the composite civilisational heritage of the Riyasat (princely state). It hotly rejected the narrow theological construct of nationhood that underlay the conception of Pakistan and sought instead a secular future in India for all the diverse peoples of the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sheikh could not see his multi-faith followers in a monolithic Muslim Pakistan; he could, however, see the Riyasat’s many faiths accommodated in a plural India, a secular India. Hindutva rule has changed that choice to one between a Muslim Pakistan and a Hindu India. Never was the choice made starker than on August 5. No wonder there is now a palpable drift towards Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was certainly in evidence when Imran Khan spoke at the United Nations General Assembly on September 27. Thousands of Kashmiris, from either side of the Line of Control gathered at the square outside the UN building under the banner ‘Stand with Kashmir’. They were joined by a large numbers of Pakistanis and by a motley crowd of others. Demonstrations are par for the course at UN General Assembly sessions, but these numbers— estimates ranging from 5,000 to 16,000—were unprecedented. There was a counter-demonstration by Modi bhakts, but they numbered no more than a few hundred and packed up in a couple of hours. On the other side of the barricade, the ‘Stand with Kashmir’ demonstrators remained in full voice till Imran Khan spoke in the afternoon, a speech heard and retransmitted on WhatsApp, to wild applause and repeated cheering.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For those Indians like me who believe we must win the hearts and minds of the Kashmiris and not just their land, it was even more distressing to learn, particularly from the report filed to The Telegraph of Kolkata by their correspondent in Srinagar, that Imran’s speech also received a thunderous response in the valley, with large gatherings and fireworks lighting up the night sky in defiance of the blackout and clampdown imposed by Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval. Never before has any Pakistani intervention in the UN—neither those by Sir Muhammad Zafrulla Khan nor Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto nor any other military or civil leader of Pakistan—been feted by Kashmiris in this manner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These were the Kashmiris who foiled Operation Gibraltar in August 1965 by capturing and handing over to the authorities every single Pakistani infiltrator, spy and saboteur. That is when we had the voluntary loyalty of the Kashmiri, the biggest prize of our secularism and the biggest blow to Pakistani bigotry. Now, what no Pakistani leader could ever achieve— wresting from us the fidelity of the Kashmiri—has been gifted to Pakistan by Modi and his men. Article 370 was the one hope that Kashmir had of being constitutionally empowered to negotiate a special relationship within the Indian Union on the basis of prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao’s pledge of “the sky” as the “limit” for Kashmiri autonomy. It brought Jammu &amp; Kashmir back from insurgency to democracy. That one hope has now been extinguished. “Cry, my beloved country”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 04 15:52:39 IST 2019 no-tears-for-turncoats <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Kripashankar Singh and Urmila Matondkar have left the Congress. Big deal! The dogs bark, the caravan moves on. In Karnataka, some 14 Congress MLAs defected. Some 100 remained. Which is the bigger story? In any vibrant democratic political party, there will be comings and goings. Both the entrances and the exits will have all kinds of reasons: the most noble are ideological partings; the bravest are departures of conviction on issues of principle or policy; the most reproachable are defections of opportunism; the most despicable are those leaving for the love of lucre.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For 134 years, the Congress has coped with all these types of ups and downs. I myself come from Tamil Nadu. More than 50 years ago, the Congress was routed in the state. Whether it can return to Fort St George in the next half-century, only a jyotish can predict. Yet, it remains a player, the most significant player outside of the two principal Dravidian parties, sometimes wooed by one, sometimes by the other, sometimes shunned by both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Electoral politics is a game in which, to paraphrase Shakespeare, one party in its life plays many parts. We have even survived the defection of the Tamil Maanila Congress in 1996 when almost all the recognised leaders of the Tamil Nadu Congress and the bulk of booth-level workers walked away with almost all the properties of the party. Yet, we survived, kept the flag flying in the gathering darkness and slowly, painfully clawed our way back. Eventually, it was not the Congress that merged with the TMC. It was the TMC that merged with the Congress. There has been the revival of a rump TMC, but it is struggling to survive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress has survived far bigger upheavals than the recent tremors: the split between the “Moderates” (led by Gopal Krishna Gokhale) and the “Extremists” (led by Lala Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Bipin Chandra Pal) in 1907; between the No Changers and the pro-Changers in the 1920s; the chasm that opened up between Gandhiji and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose in the late 1930s; the departure of the Congress socialists from the Nehruvian ranks in the first decade of Independence, followed by Rajaji and the Swatantra Party; the Congress (O) and the Congress (R) in the sixties; the post-Emergency divisions between the supporters and opponents of Indira Gandhi; the defection of V.P. Singh from Rajiv Gandhi’s side in the eighties that brought down the Congress government that enjoyed the largest parliamentary majority ever, but fizzled out when the defectors’ government ended less than a year later; the Tiwari Congress of the P.V. Narasimha Rao period, and many, many more upsets. The dribble now leaving the party is not a challenge but an opportunity—for cleansing the party of accumulated debris. The loyalty of a party member is never tested in victory; that is reserved for the aftermath of defeat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what of the future? The basic challenge is not the retention of those who want to leave. Let them go. The basic challenge is how to distinguish ourselves from hindutva as we so easily did when we were winning but now have to do in defeat. The counsel of despair that advocates that we become more like them is a recipe for burial. This is the time for the reaffirmation of basic principles, not ideological adjustments to meet a fickle electorate’s transient moods. We can return to office only if the electorate knows that we stand for an idea of India that is radically different to the one now being peddled by Modi-Shah and their cohort. Why would anyone choose a B-team?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Sep 20 11:46:47 IST 2019 well-done-kannan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dear Kannan Gopinathan,We have not met but I hope to rectify that shortly. Welcome to the small club of civil servants who have taken voluntary retirement. I think we should unanimously elect you and Shah Faesal as co-presidents of our club, for both of you have resigned on principle—to uphold the highest values of our democracy—while most of the rest of us did so for more mundane reasons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You, I understand, are 33. I was 34 when the Emergency was declared. I hated the Emergency. Yet, I did not have the courage to put in my papers. When I eventually took the step of leaving the service, it was because I enjoyed the patronage of a prime minister who had the largest majority in the history of our parliamentary democracy. Yours is a leap into the dark. I salute you. It takes much more than ordinary courage and conviction to make that leap.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am also deeply moved by the reasons you have given for the departure you have made. “Article 370 or its abrogation is not the issue, but denying citizens their right to respond to it is the main issue.” How right you are.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you say, “They could welcome the move or protest it, that is their right”. Narendra Modi-Amit Shah claim they have done this to bring joy and opportunity to the Kashmiris who have been crushed under the heel of Article 370. If that is so evident to Modi-Shah, then surely it should be evident also to the victims. The people should have been out on the streets with garlands and sweets, thanking the duo for their liberation. Why should their hosannas be drowned in the ominous silence that lies like a blanket over the valley? Why rush in 50,000 additional security forces if, as the Governor Satya Pal Malik says, 50,000 gorgeous government jobs are in the offing? Why are these millions upon millions of sullen Kashmiris looking the gift horse in the mouth?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Article 370 was the Kashmiris’ one hope that their state’s compact with the Indian Union could yet secure them “the sky” as their “limit” for the autonomy they had been promised by former prime minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. That hope is now extinguished. They are being offered “development” in exchange for their acquiescence, thirty pieces of silver in return for being downgraded to a Union territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As you, Kannan, have rightly underlined, whether what Parliament did on August 5 was in accord with our Constitution is for the Supreme Court to determine. But why convert an entire state into a prison without one word of consultation with any of its inhabitants? If it is to “save lives”, as officially stated, why not co-opt the people whose lives are being “saved”? If the Modi-Shah-Malik assessment is right, instead of incarcerating the populace, they should be let free to carry Ajit Doval on their shoulders and shower encomiums on their triumvirate of saviours. Portraits of Modi, Shah and Malik should bedeck the valley. Mosques should blare forth their praises from every loudspeaker. The faces of mothers, wives and sisters should be wreathed in smiles. The visage of brides and fiancées should be bathed in happiness. Children should be out playing in their new clothes. Fireworks should light up the night sky. A New Kashmir for a New India!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why then this bruising shutdown?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At least one man—you, Kannan Gopinath—has forced these questions to the forefront. You deserve the nation’s gratitude. I am a decade more than twice your age. Please accept my blessings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yours in humble tribute, Mani Shankar Aiyar</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Sep 06 11:38:21 IST 2019 miss-you-rajiv <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Had he been with us, Rajiv Gandhi would have turned 75 on August 20. We were at school together, but I hardly knew him. This was partly because it was a school at which parentage hardly mattered and partly because a gap of three years was a virtually unbridgeable rift valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, I ran into him only once. It was in the changing room at the swimming pool in my last term. As a “senior”, I was entitled to use the pool any time, but a “junior” required the permission of a “senior” if he wanted to swim outside the specified hours. A young boy I barely recognised came up to me very shyly and asked, “Can you give us permission to swim, yaar?” The usual “senior” reaction was to throw out an expletive and say, “No”. I, however, said, “Yeah, sure”—and probably thus paved my way into the prime minister’s office!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After taking my first degree, I went on to read for a Tripos (MA) at Cambridge. I hardly did any studying, busying myself instead with debates at the union (and fruitlessly chasing girls at the International Centre). Rajiv followed a year later, at the end of which I ran for president of the union. Although, once again, I barely saw him, many decades later I learned that Rajiv had gone among the Indians saying, “There is an Indian standing and the least you blighters can do is to go vote for him”. Thus, Rajiv began his political life canvassing for me; the least I can do is to end mine canvassing for him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I did not see him again for two decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With such little contact between us, I do not know what induced him to induct me into his PMO. My first few months were spent understudying the legendary H.Y. Sharada Prasad. He asked me to draft a number of speeches for Rajiv’s upcoming six-country tour that would climax in Washington. I gave him the draft, but took the precaution of also giving a copy to Rajiv’s principal political aide, Arun Singh. Sharada, still caught in a time warp, cast my draft aside, rewrote it, secured veteran G. Parthasarathy’s imprimatur, and submitted it to the new, young prime minister with the heading, ‘First Draft’. When we gathered to discuss the draft, Rajiv pulled out what I had written and innocently enquired, “Then, what is this draft?” And went on, “Well, we will call this Draft Zero and start by going through it.” I was launched!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My first test came almost immediately. On the day before he was due to fly off, he and madam Sonia gave an interview to Pushpa Bharati and K.L. Nandan of Dharmyug. I was sitting in my office late at night preparing for the tour when Nandan came on the line to say he had forgotten to ask Rajiv a key question, “Did the prime minister believe in God?” As it was nearly midnight and I assumed Rajiv was in bed, I took it upon myself to reply, “He is a modern young man. Why should he believe in God?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Next morning, as the aircraft was revving up, I took the precaution of going into Rajiv’s cabin to tell him about Nandan’s query. To my astonishment, Rajiv said, “Yes, of course, I believe in God”. I rushed to the cockpit and asked them to get me the tower. And, even as the aircraft was taxiing to take off, I gave the guy at the tower Nandan’s number and screamed to him above the noise to phone Nandan a one-line message: “Rajiv Gandhi believes in God!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>God, how I miss him. RIP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Wed Aug 21 14:37:36 IST 2019 no-kashmir-without-kashmiris <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The worst has happened. Jammu and Kashmir as a historical entity and a composite riyasat (kingdom) is no more. Through a dodgy legal sleight of hand, the very article that vests in the president the right to strengthen the special status of J&amp;K has been used to extinguish that status. Now Article 370 has ceased to exist. Indeed, J&amp;K as a state has ceased to exist. All this will be challenged in the Supreme Court and its verdict on the sustainability of the 2019 presidential order will prevail. But whatever the judicial outcome, our solemn pledge as a nation to give J&amp;K a special status within the Union stands betrayed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The special status of the riyasat was written into the demographic composition of the state. The Dogra Hindu community, to which the royal family belonged, was a minority in population terms, yet, along with Kashmiri Pandits, was the hegemon during the maharaja’s rule. The Buddhist community, small and confined to Ladakh, was overwhelmingly in a majority in the largest surface area of the riyasat. But it is the Muslims who constituted and continue to constitute the single most numerous community in the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This cocktail of communities has made for the uniquely composite identity of the state known as “Kashmiriyat”. This identity ran afoul of Jinnah’s two-nation theory. The ideological clash between Jinnah and Sheikh Abdullah came to the fore when Jinnah visited Kashmir in 1944. Whereas Jinnah claimed that “99 per cent” of Kashmiri Muslims who met him considered the anti-Sheikh, pro-Pakistan “Muslim Conference alone” to be representative of Kashmir’s Muslims, the National Conference (NC) hit back in a statement that “we certainly owe no apologies to Mr Jinnah for our existence”. The statement ended with the punch line that since Jinnah’s “conception of Islamic sovereignty conveniently ends at the customs barrier that divides our state from British India”, the riyasat should be taken towards a “New Kashmir” rather than look to Pakistan. The NC’s leaders included a galaxy of non-Muslims such as Prem Nath Bazaz and Sardar Budh Singh. The “Naya Kashmir” manifesto sought to “represent all the people of the state” and eschewed “matters of Islamic theology”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is this civilisational political heritage that saved J&amp;K for India. In keeping with this singular instance of a Muslim-majority state opting for Hindu-majority India in the midst of the tortured days of partition, we gave our plighted troth that the riyasat’s unique identity would be protected through a string of commitments that are like beaded pearls—the Instrument of Accession; Article 370, which guaranteed state autonomy by restricting the ambit of Union legislation unless and until accepted by the state assembly; the 1952 Sheikh-Nehru Delhi agreement assuring the state government has full powers to determine who would be given the status of permanent residents, given constitutional effect in 1954 through the presidential order annexing Article 35A to the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In commending the accession to India as an integral unit of the Union, Sheikh Abdullah, in his inaugural address of 1951 to the J&amp;K constituent assembly, referred to the apprehension that India might “in future convert into a religious state wherein the interests of Muslims will be jeopardised”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That day has, alas, arrived. The only hope that lingers is Sheikh Abdullah’s assessment that “the presence of Kashmir in the Union of India has been the major factor in stabilising relations between Hindus and Muslims”. It is this “stabilising” factor that is being recklessly thrown away by further alienating Kashmiris from the nation. We cannot have Kashmir without Kashmiris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Aug 09 11:23:17 IST 2019 a-curate-egg <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The verdict of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Kulbhushan Jadhav case is a Judgement of Solomon. It awards all the procedural points to India, and all the substantive points to Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has enabled both India and Pakistan to claim that victory has been theirs. Hence, the Indian foreign ministry spokesman has asserted that India scored “a major victory” at The Hague while the same verdict has given Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, scope to claim it as “a victory for Pakistan”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, what are the facts? India’s external affairs minister, in his statement to Parliament, summed up the Indian achievement in the following words: “Pakistan was found to have deprived India of the right to communicate with Shri Jadhav, have access to him, visit him in detention and arrange his legal representation.” Pakistan has promptly agreed to comply with these findings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But was that all we had asked for? India had asked for the ICJ to declare that the sentence of the military court is violative of international law and the provisions of the Vienna Convention (paragraph 17, ICJ judgement). To this, the ICJ has responded at paragraph 137: “... the Court reiterates that it is not the conviction and sentence of Mr Jadhav which are to be regarded as a violation of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention.” The international legal adviser for South Asia at the ICJ has clarified that “the Court has, however, rejected most of the remedies sought by India, including annulment of the military court’s decision convicting Jadhav, his release and safe passage to India”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What were these “remedies” that India sought beyond those related to consular access and consular assistance to its national? Besides seeking from the ICJ a “declaration” that the Pakistan military court’s verdict be held “violative of international law”, which the ICJ declined to accept, the International Court also declined to declare that “India is entitled to restitutio in integrum” or to direct Pakistan “to release Jadhav forthwith and facilitate his safe passage to India”. It also refused to endorse India’s plea to “exclude” Jadhav’s “confession” from further judicial proceedings in Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No wonder Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan promptly tweeted his “appreciation” of “ICJ’s decision to not acquit, release and return Commander Kulbhushan Jadhav to India”. His foreign minister crowed that “Commander Jadhav shall remain in Pakistan. He shall be treated in accordance with the laws of Pakistan.” And we, alas, cannot seek further reconsideration or relief because, as our spokesman remarked, the ICJ judgement is “final, binding, [and] without the provision of appeal”. He, of course, was referring to Pakistan. The irony is that this equally applies to India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Indian external affairs minister to describe this curate’s egg of a judgement as a “landmark judgement”, which is “a vindication for India”, is surely hyperbolic, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s tweet proclaiming that “truth and justice have prevailed” is surely delusional, as is his reading that “I am sure, Kulbhushan Jadhav will get justice”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kulbhushan Jadhav will not get “justice” from any Pakistani court, military or civil. Justice can come to him only thorough a process of “uninterrupted and uninterruptible” dialogue with Pakistan (which India refuses to undertake) or through a reciprocal exchange of alleged spies, as was the standard practice between the US and the Soviet Union even in the worst days of the Cold War. Has our R&amp;AW got no Pakistani in its custody to swap for Jadhav? If not, then what the devil is R&amp;AW doing?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 26 11:39:26 IST 2019 congress-after-the-gandhis <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There are no longer any ifs or buts. Rahul Gandhi has, beyond a shadow of doubt, resigned his position as president of the Congress. Whoever his successor is, he or she has his/her work cut out—nothing short of putting the Congress back on its feet, but with the comforting thought that neither Rahul nor his sister or mother have packed up and gone.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They are still around and have every intention of remaining in the picture—albeit more in the background than at the forefront. They can still be consulted. They will remain available for advice and, what is more important, consent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, the Congress after the Gandhis is not much different to the Congress under the Gandhis. And, for precedent, one only has to go back to the Congress in the times of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After completing his only term ever as Congress president in 1924, the Mahatma resigned even his primary membership of the party to devote himself to “constructive work” from his base at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad. No less than four years followed during which he abstained from active involvement in Congress affairs. Yet, he remained the core element of the freedom movement. Leaders rushed to him in his hermitage. He gave them a patient hearing and whatever advice they sought, but left it to them to run the Indian National Congress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also undertook voluminous correspondence that kept him in touch not only with the Congress bigwigs, but also put his finger on the pulse of the people. His message was disseminated through the columns of his journal, the Young India, and the many interviews he gave to journalists, both Indian and foreign. It was not till 1928 that he fetched up again at a Congress annual session, largely at the instance of Motilal Nehru. Motilal begged the Mahatma to be present and act as a restraining hand on Jawaharlal, who had taken up cudgels against the report that bore his father’s name for its advocacy of “Dominion status” rather than the “Poorna Swaraj (complete independence)”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Mahatma’s withdrawal from the leadership, but not from the goals of the Congress, is a precedent that could serve the Gandhis well in the 21st century. Whether they hold a formal post in the party or not, their influence on party affairs will continue to be immense, even decisive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress after the Mahatma and before the Gandhis (1948-1967) also holds instructive lessons. In September 1951, Nehru engineered the ouster of Purushottam Das Tandon and took over as a kind of interim president of the party. But his more pressing duties as prime minister soon led to nearly a decade when Nehru remained at the helm of the nation while the party was helmed by others, beginning with the little-remembered U.N. Dhebar and extending down to K. Kamaraj. With virtually no English or Hindi, Kamaraj masterminded two major transitions—from Nehru to Lal Bahadur Shastri and Shastri to Indira Gandhi. Thereafter again, for a decade from 1969 to 1979, Indira may have loomed over the country and the party, both in victory and defeat, but the party remained under the charge of others ranging from S. Nijalingappa to D.K. Barooah and K. Brahmananda Reddy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, it will be no new or untried experience for the Congress to find itself under the titular leadership of a non-Nehru-Gandhi. If their hands are not on the steering wheel, the Gandhis will be found at the rudder. Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose—the more things change, the more they stay the same.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 12 11:38:23 IST 2019 hong-kong-j-k-similar-there-are-lessons-to-learn <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Although time and distance, history and geography would appear to separate Hong Kong and Jammu and Kashmir into different compartments, a close look at the simmering turbulence in the two disturbed regions would appear to indicate not only interesting parallels but also important lessons to be learned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the expiry of the 99-year lease of Hong Kong to the British was in the offing, Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher initiated negotiations in September 1982 that led to the Sino-British joint declaration of September 18, 1984. It established the sovereignty of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) over Hong Kong when the lease expired in July 1997, simultaneously set up the Hong Kong Special Administrative Area (HKSAR) which would “enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs”. Thus came into being the “one nation, two systems” arrangement under which China has been exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong, but with HKSAR being “vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including financial jurisdiction”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The parallel with the provisions of the Instrument of Accession of J&amp;K to India on October 26, 1947, are striking. As in the case of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, the Instrument of Accession cedes “direct authority” over J&amp;K to the Indian government but limits the legislative domain of the Central government to the four matters specified in the schedule: defence, external affairs, communications and ancillary.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even as J&amp;K grievances against Delhi are founded on allegations of the “erosion” of J&amp;K autonomy guaranteed under the solemn agreements, constitutional provisions and legislation, leading to deepening alienation and repeated demonstrations (overlaid by insurgency) in J&amp;K, so also in Hong Kong have departures from the Sino-British joint declaration and attempts to undermine HKSAR’s autonomous jurisdiction resulted in growing alienation, massive street demonstrations, and even some violence to save what remains of HKSAR’s freedoms and rights.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian readers are familiar with the intensity and extent of protest in the valley. They are now learning of the 79-day Umbrella Movement in the autumn of 2014 that erupted in Hong Kong in the wake of Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Chinese National People’s Congress Standing Committee, disavowing the continuing validity of the Sino-British Joint Declaration while claiming that Hong Kong’s autonomy was only because “the central government had chosen to authorise the autonomy”. In July 2017, official spokesman Lu Kang, went further to clarify that in the Chinese view the Joint Declaration is “a historical document that no longer has any practical significance”. This departure in policy was manifested in the Beijing-appointed Hong Kong Chief Executive’s decision earlier this year to bring in legislation that would compulsorily extradite Chinese dissidents taking refuge in Hong Kong to the mainland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Viewing this as the thin edge of the wedge to the dismantling of Hong Kong’s special status, and as an existential threat to “our system and our values”, 12,000 Hong Kongers came out on the streets in March 2019. Angry demonstrators grew exponentially to a million on June 9, and nearly two million on June 16—even though Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed chief executive (chief minister) had withdrawn the extradition bill the previous day to appease protesters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Should Modi-Shah, in their present mood of triumphalism, attempt to repudiate Article 370 or 35A, J&amp;K will make the Hong Kong protests look like a picnic. The nation stands warned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jun 28 14:30:48 IST 2019 hindi-imperialism-will-endanger-national-unity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>With a single half sentence in paragraph 4.5.9 of the K. Kasturirangan committee’s draft report on the National Education Policy reading “… the study of languages by students in the non-Hindi-speaking states would include the regional language, Hindi and English”, the BJP has started a process fittingly described by DMK leader M.K. Stalin as being “similar to throwing stones at a beehive”. His spokesman in the Rajya Sabha, Tiruchi Siva, varied the simile to say it was “like throwing fire into a sulphur godown”. Now the Union government has started back-tracking. But the fact that they put out that half sentence in the public domain shows that they are either ignorant of the incendiary history of the issue in Tamil Nadu or, more probably, that Hindi fanatics in their ranks pressed for this with covert backing from their superiors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the better part of a hundred years, the “saffron brotherhood” has entangled their goal of “Hindu rashtra” with imposing Hindi on all parts of the country. This was nakedly revealed when Ram Shankar Kureel, one of the members of the committee, argued that “the three language formula is in the interest of national integrity”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is the contrary that is true. Even A.B. Vajpayee had conceded in the Rajya Sabha in 1965 that he was “against forcing Hindi on any non-Hindi province… if it endangers national unity”. This was in response to C.N. Annadurai’s argument in the same debate. Annadurai said: “Making a language [Hindi] that is the mother tongue of a region of India the official language for all the people of India is tyranny…. If Hindi were to become the official language of India, Hindi-speaking people will govern us. We will become like third-rate citizens”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In saying this, Annadurai was echoing T.T. Krishnamachari who had thundered in the Constituent Assembly on November 5, 1948, that “Hindi imperialism” would mean the “enslavement of people who do not speak the language”. Annadurai reinforced that point when he said in Parliament in May 1963 that now that the British had left India there was no question of the “imposition of English”. He added that he spoke English not because he was “enamoured of it”, but because it was “the most convenient medium which distributes advantages and disadvantages evenly”. He went on to say, “the consequence of the imposition of Hindi as the official language will create a definite, permanent and sickening advantage to the Hindi-speaking states”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nobody has come up with a satisfactory answer as yet to the question posed in 1967 by the DMK’s Era Sezhiyan to Vajpayee, who had referred to the existence of Hindi prachar sabhas in all south Indian states: “Is there one Tamil prachar sabha in Uttar Pradesh? Is there one Malayalam prachar sabha in Madhya Pradesh?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Half a century on we know that without teaching Hindi in government schools Tamil Nadu is virtually at the top of all economic and human development indices in the country. We also know that without learning Hindi in school, Tamils are distinguishing themselves in all walks of life in all parts of India and abroad. Most importantly, we know that monolingual Hindi speakers are being welcomed in Tamil Nadu in droves as they flock to the state for employment. The UPA government placed Tamil on par with Sanskrit as a “classical” language by amending the Constitution. That is the way forward to what Nehru called the “emotional integration of the nation”—not by force, but by encouraging the flourishing of all regional languages. Kasturirangan has belatedly understood this. His colleagues have not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jun 15 17:48:35 IST 2019 arithmetic-vs-chemistry <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>All day through the day of the election results we sickeningly heard television anchors repeatedly proclaiming that chemistry had trumped arithmetic to hand Modi his victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, was the arithmetic ever put in place? Yes, it was, in Tamil Nadu. So, the DMK won every seat it contested and the Congress won all but one of its share. So also in Kerala, where the time-tested arithmetic of the United Democratic Front held firm. But what of the rest of the country?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The two most crucial states crying out for opposition unity were Uttar Pradesh and West Bengal. In UP, the Congress has a plus ten per cent vote share spread fairly evenly across the state. That means in UP the Congress on its own can barely win a seat anywhere, but it can make the difference between victory and defeat everywhere. While the media started referring to the Samajwadi Party-Bahujan Samaj Party-Rashtriya Lok Dal alliance as MGB—for mahagathbandhan—the alliance without the Congress was actually reduced to GB—gathbandhan. For the residuary Congress vote in virtually every constituency of the state would have tipped the balance, given that the notional vote share of GB, as revealed in 2014 and 2017, was more or less the same as the BJP’s. By adding the ‘tadka’ of the Congress vote, the combined vote share of a true MGB would have surpassed the BJP’s vote share. This was perceived by a principal pollster, an old college-mate of mine, who back in the middle of last year estimated that faced with the tsunami of a consolidated MGB, the BJP’s seats in UP would drop from 71 to eight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That prospect was never realised because GB remained GB and never became MGB. In turn, the failure to consolidate the index of opposition unity in UP meant that the chemistry that would have been unleashed by the palpable prospect of an MGB victory was never released. That in itself meant that the belief grew in GB cadres and voters that as this was a lost battle they might as well go back to fortifying their separate identities instead of sinking their internal differences for a larger cause.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In West Bengal, the apprehension of a saffron juggernaut made Mamata Banerjee an early enthusiast for opposition unity, which later got diluted to a “non-BJP, non-Congress federal front”—of whom none other than the Trinamool Congress had any presence in the state. This meant the TMC was in the end left all on its own in taking on a resurgent BJP in the state where hindutva was born (remember Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, the founder of the Jana Sangh, was from Bengal and N.C. Chatterjee was one of the two elected Hindu Mahasabha representatives in the first Lok Sabha). Inevitably, Mamata lost a number of seats that a potential TMC-Congress alliance might have taken. Moreover, as the prospects of a Congress-Trinamool alliance stalled, chemistry moved into the vacuum caused by the failure of arithmetic to boost the prospects for the BJP challenger.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi yielded all seven seats to the BJP principally because the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party were unable to agree on a seat-sharing formula. That failure in electoral arithmetic put finis to the chemistry generated by the Anna Hazare movement on which Arvind Kejriwal had capitalised to create the political typhoon that had secured him 67 of 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections just four years earlier.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Marginal adjustments within the framework of a nation-wide MGB in states wrested from the BJP just months ago (but with wafer-thin majorities) might have made all the difference in this Lok Sabha election between squeaking in and a humiliating defeat. Had the arithmetic been right, chemistry would have followed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri May 31 11:45:46 IST 2019 merchant-of-lies-on-his-way-out <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Narendra Modi has complained about being compared to Hitler. He is right. That is downright unfair to Hitler. For Hitler needed Joseph Goebbels to spread his big lies. Modi does it all on his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1987, Rajiv Gandhi called a meeting of the Island Development Authority in Kavaratti, the headquarters of the Lakshadweep group of islands. On a visit to Lakshadweep two years earlier in November 1985, he was shocked to find that virtually no Union minister or senior civil servant had ever visited the islands, nor had the Planning Commission attempted to integrally relate environmental and ecological concerns into development plans for the archipelago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, given that the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea had granted an exclusive economic zone up to a radius of 200 nautical miles from the coast, there was a vast area available for us in the seas around Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshadweep to exploit the massive resources of the sea and the seabed for the benefit of the country, with the islanders being the prime beneficiaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was also the strategic imperative that with the Indian Ocean emerging as a hotbed of international naval rivalry, ranging from the US and the Soviet Union to China, the island people had to be co-opted by being made to feel that New Delhi was really concerned about their growth and welfare. Finally, notice had to be taken of Pakistan casting a covetous glance at Lakshadweep owing to its population being cent per cent Muslim.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Andaman and Nicobar, apart from the aboriginal tribes of the Andamans and the Polynesian-origin scheduled tribes of the Nicobar islands, national integration required a special outreach to the Bangladeshi and Burmese refugees who had settled in the Andamans, as also the Sikhs who had founded Govinda Nagar and other such villages in the island of Great Nicobar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Island Development Authority met in Port Blair in December 1986 and in Kavaratti in December the following year. Admiral L. Ramdas, the flag officer commanding-in-chief, Southern Command, and later chief of naval staff, has certified that only Rajiv and his good lady were on INS Viraat as it sailed out of Thiruvananthapuram to watch the naval exercises planned months earlier. All the rest—cabinet ministers, senior officials, the PMO staff and Rajiv’s guests for a holiday on the Lakshadweep island of Bangaram—followed in Pawan Hans helicopters on commercial terms. There were no foreigners on Viraat on that voyage (although Modi’s favourite interviewer, the film star Akshay Kumar, did board an Indian Navy vessel under Modi’s watch despite being a Canadian citizen!).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What IDA achieved was spelt out by Rajiv at a public meeting in Kavaratti on December 29, 1987. Rajiv spoke of the two-tier council being set up, one for each island topped by one for the islands as a whole; doubling the annual plan outlay; a corporation to open out new markets for Lakshadweep fish, protect traditional fishing and augment supplies of live bait; an integrated telecom plan; high-speed vessels for inter-island traffic and helicopter services to connect populated islands; the ongoing work on the airport at Agatti; establishing industries such as aerated water, fish pickling, rice and wheat grinding mills; employment opportunities in the merchant and regular navy; satellite search for fresh water sources; the Navodaya Vidyalaya he had just inaugurated in Minicoy; and sports and vocational training—bread and butter issues, not the political fibs that are Modi’s stock-in-trade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is the test of a prime minister of the people. Modi is certainly not. Hence, he is on his way out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri May 17 21:32:46 IST 2019 india-iran-oil-trade-why-let-america-bully-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why is the prime minister—yes, indeed, he of the 56 inch chest and the “surgical strikes”—so cowed down by the US President Donald Trump’s threat to impose sanctions on India, if it continues to import crude oil from Iran? Who is Trump to determine from where and on what terms India is to import oil? Who is he to aggravate our fiscal and current account deficits, and fuel inflation, especially in petroleum products that affect the livelihood of every Indian?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India imports about 12 per cent of its crude oil from Iran—some 23 to 24 million tonnes in 2018-2019. Not only is Iranian official pricing of crude the lowest of all oil majors, it is also paid for in Indian rupees, not US dollars. Geographically, Iran is the closest oil supplier to India. So, transport costs are also the lowest. Moreover, Iranian oil comes free on board, so we are able to make our own arrangements at the most economical cost to transport Iranian oil to Indian ports. Also, insurance is free. Plus, we get 60 days credit (double what other suppliers provide) and have been negotiating with Iran to raise this to 90. Hence, our sovereign decision to source a little over a tenth of our imports of crude oil from Iran.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, the quantity now being denied to us can be more than made up by sourcing our requirements from elsewhere, but surely this should be decided by India, not imposed on us by a foreign power. The foreign power that is now threatening us is the state that has unilaterally withdrawn from a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran. The European parties to the agreement have not followed suit. The agreement still stands. And, the sanctions have been imposed on Iran by the US without the authority of the United Nations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that the US lacks the guts to take its grievances against Iran to the United Nations. They know that in that forum of global democracy it will be isolated and shown up for what it is—a bully who cares not a fig for international law and the comity of nations. Let alone the UN General Assembly, it will not find even a single supporter in the UN Security Council. Only weeks ago, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had assured the nation that her government would comply only with UN-sanctioned prohibitions. And, yet, however harmful to vital Indian interests such unilateralism is causing, this government that claims to be “nationalist” and “India first” just keeps its mouth tightly shut.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two other major importers of Iranian crude, China and Turkey, have, in contrast, spoken up. The Chinese official spokesman, Geng Shuang, has urged the US “to seriously respect China’s interest and concerns”. Could the Modi government not have said the same? Indeed, if this had been Nehru’s India, Turkey would not have been the first to ask, as Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, has: “Why are you putting pressure on other countries? Take your own measures. Why do other countries have to obey your unilateral decisions?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the heyday of Nonalignment, that is the language that Indian prime ministers from Jawaharlal Nehru to Indira Gandhi to Rajiv Gandhi used to bring to heel “the arrogance of power”. Now, under Modi, we cringe and cave in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As my fellow columnist, former ambassador M.K. Bhadrakumar, has remarked, “Trump apparently thinks Modi is a man of straw, prostrating before the superior power and kicking the lowly underdog”. Come May 23, this nation must rid itself of such cowardice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat May 04 11:30:41 IST 2019