Mani Shankar Aiyar en Thu Dec 09 15:18:48 IST 2021 nupur-sharma-salman-rushdie-and-religious-sentiments <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When back in the mid-1980s, Rajiv Gandhi decided to ban the import of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses on grounds of blasphemy (the author had, for instance, given the names of the Prophet’s four wives to four prostitutes in his novel), Left-liberal intellectuals rose as a man to condemn the move as unwarranted interference with freedom of expression. The right reactionaries were delighted with this addition to their ranks although their grounds for protest were entirely different; they damned the prohibition as tushtikaran or appeasement of the minorities.</p> <p><br> This unprincipled alliance of the righteous left-liberals with the reactionary right eventually led to the defeat of the Rajiv regime. That opened the road to the BJP ceasing to be an “untouchable” in Indian politics. The decade of the 1990s then saw a series of BJP-supported governments and BJP-led coalitions that has climaxed over the last eight years into the consolidation of communal hegemony in the guise of hindutva. The left-liberals who facilitated this are left barking on the sidelines over Nupur Sharma’s gratuitous offence. Only the Congress has remained untainted by keeping its political distance from the BJP and its ideological distance from the sangh parivar.</p> <p><br> I personally have no religious sentiment; ergo, I have no religious prejudices either. But that does not mean insensitivity towards the religious sentiments of others. Indeed, it enables me to be sensitive to the religious sentiments of all communities precisely because I entertain no religious prejudices either. For three terms in the Lok Sabha, I represented a constituency that contains tens of thousands of shrines and hosts some of the most important temples on the pilgrimage circuit in Tamil Nadu. Also, as approximately 15 per cent of the electorate is Muslim, mosques of all description dot the landscape. And there are churches in all cities and many villages. In consequence, I would be dragged to diverse places of worship where I would see the beatific expressions on the faces of the worshippers while being left untouched myself. So, why did I not walk out denouncing this devotion as nonsense? Only because of my secularism. For secularism does not mean privileging any religion or denouncing all religion. Above all, it means respecting the right of others to hold religious beliefs that you yourself do not hold.</p> <p><br> That is what the propagators of hindutva do not understand. They are not pro-Hindu so much as anti-Muslim. Which is why they have added nothing to philosophy over the hundred years since the term, hindutva, was invented. Their ideological guru, V.D. Savarkar, was no Adi Sankara. Their longest serving sarsangchalak, M.S. Golwalkar, was no Swami Vivekananda. Modi is no J. Krishnamurthy. They have not added anything to Hindu thought, but they have stretched out a long litany of complaints against Islam and minorities into a political campaign that has landed us where we are in hate-filled violence. It is because of the ethos in which Sharma has been soaked that she finds it normal to blaspheme the Prophet while insisting that the question of the Babri Masjid is not one of historical fact but of aasthaa—belief.</p> <p><br> That is what is at the root of the violence consuming our country. Religion-based violence is spreading to non-religious issues such as the rioting over the Agnipath proposal. Gandhiji had warned that any departure from non-violence on any one path will only lead to violence in all other avenues of national life. The one who most determinedly opposed Gandhiji’s non-violence and did more than any other to identify violence with hindutva was Savarkar. The chickens are coming home to roost.</p> Sun Jun 26 16:16:47 IST 2022 mani-shankar-aiyar-on-lesson-for-india-from-ukraine-impasse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As the Russian invasion of Ukraine edges towards its fourth month, we are reminded that since the Cold War, neither superpower has been able to subdue smaller countries despite determinedly seeking to do so. Of course, there are minor exceptions to this broad thesis, such as the Dominican Republic and Granada in the case of the US, and Chechnya and Georgia, in the case of the Russian Federation. But, on a larger historical scale, the world order seems to have entered a new phase of history where the militarily weak have largely prevailed over the much stronger and overwhelmingly better armed. Regime change, a favourite neo-colonial gambit, has mostly failed and, when it has not, proved neither stable nor durable.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, to take the example of the US first: notwithstanding the Monroe Doctrine of 1812 that remains the bulwark of US foreign policy holding that the Americas must be kept immune from non-hemispheric influences, for the past six decades, since January 1959 when Fidel Castro overthrew the US puppet-dictator Fulgencio Batista, tiny Cuba has cocked a snook at the mighty US, just 80 miles off the coast of Florida. Since then, Latin America has seen regimes unfavourable to the US hegemon, standing up to foreign interference and worse: Daniel Ortega’s Nicaragua; Venezuela before and after Hugo Chavez: Salvador Allende’s Chile and then post-Pinochet Chile: Evo Morales’s Bolivia; and now Colombia, which has reverted to the Left.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US reverses abroad have been even more dramatic. They fought in Vietnam for the best part of two decades (1956-1975) first through surrogates like Ngo Dinh Diem and then directly with the Viet Cong (VC) and the North Vietnam army, but, at the end, left with their tails behind their legs. For as the American critic Mary MacCarthy remarked, “VC say, ‘Yankee, go home’ but we can’t say ‘VC go home’ because Charlie’s home already!” Elsewhere in Indo-China, both in Laos and Cambodia, the US could not long stave off the nationalist regimes disguised as “communists”. Following failed or near-failed attempts at invasion and regime change in Iran (1953 and 1980), Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and notoriously Iraq (1991 and 2003), in Afghanistan, as one wit put it, it took 20 years, trillions of dollars, thousands of deaths and four Presidents to replace the Taliban with the Taliban.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for the USSR/Russia, while rebellion in East Germany (1953) was crushed in a day, in Hungary (1956) in a week, and in Czechoslovakia (1968) in a month, eventually the mighty Soviet empire crumbled from the Baltic to the Black Sea and across Central Asia. True, they have hung on to Chechnya and Georgia, but that is the equivalent of the Dominican Republic and Granada. Basically, the eastern superpower has learned (or ought to have learned) that in the current age, arms superiority cannot defeat nationalism as the supreme manifestation of national interest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese, too, taught the Soviet Union a lesson in 1969-70 when they fought on the Ussuri River, and then China learned its own lesson when it tried, and miserably failed, to militarily take over Vietnam in 1979.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is the lesson for India in this? That it is only a sense of belonging and wanting to belong to the nation, shared by all communities across the board, that will keep us secure. China may nibble and Pakistan may make forays but if our identity as Indians holds, that is our greatest strength.But a majoritarianism that is revanchist and xenophobic cannot survive long pitting community against community; language against language; caste against caste; race against race; and region against region. If the “centre does not hold”, we become an easy target for others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jun 10 10:58:10 IST 2022 mani-shankar-aiyar-on-the-hospitality-and-discussions-at-chintan-shivir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Thursday, May 12, 2022</b></p> <p>Excited as a schoolboy at receiving my first invitation to a Congress gathering in I have forgotten how many years, I arrive at the Sarai Rohilla platform well on time for the commencement of the journey at sunset. My mind goes back to the Sadbhavana Yatra, also by train in Rajiv’s time in 1990. Curious that while Rajiv used to travel by day trains in a humble second-class carriage, so that hundreds could gather to see him at every station where the passenger train stopped, I am escorted to a splendid, well-stocked first-class air-conditioned cabin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The platforms are overflowing with slogan-shouting crowds as we lumber on to Haryana, but in the gathering darkness the crowds thin out and by the time we cross into Rajasthan they peter out altogether.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Friday-Saturday, May 13-14, 2022</b></p> <p>As the sun breaks over the horizon, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot is on hand with an army of Congress workers. There is one unfortunate Congress woman worker who calls to say she is my liaison officer. I never see her as another worker firmly takes a grip on my bags and proudly leads me to the SUV reserved for my exclusive use. We arrive at the Taj Aravalli. The hospitality is staggering, but the contrast to the frugality and austerity of past Congress gatherings makes my eyebrows rise an inch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At a sumptuous breakfast, I learn that each delegate has been allotted to one of the six groups that are scheduled to discuss matters. Some appear to have been asked their preference. I have not, probably because I am not on WhatsApp. After anxious inquiries, I find I am to be in the group chaired by P. Chidambaram that is to reflect on the “economy”. Since we are remote from governing the country, a prospect that does not seem feasible in the remaining active decade of my life (I am 81), I had rather hoped, along with many G-23 colleagues, to be in the “organisation” group; but having placed Mukul Wasnik, a (sometime?) G-23 member in the chair, the rest have been carefully kept out, perhaps to ensure a smooth consensus.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my group, we are given full freedom, even encouraged to speak our minds. In total, over some 14 hours of talks in which every participant intervenes on an average of four to five times, 147 interventions are recorded. Clearly, from right to left, there are several different viewpoints placed on the table, but it seems the chairpersons have been advised to squeeze out of the debate whatever can be described as a consensus. Thus, the liveliness of the discussion, encouraged to be free, frank and fearless, is barely reflected in the final documents, making the public outcome sound overly bland. The basic question posed to our group—what distinguishes the BJP’s economic policy from the Congress’s?—answered by participants with great zest, if with great diversity, is glazed over in the official record. My answer is: crony capitalism v/s the economics of equity—but that is left in cyberspace!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Sunday, May 15, 2022</b></p> <p>Out of group meetings, it is a great feeling to be reunited after years with the Congress family of which I have been a part for 35 years—an inimitable getting together of colleagues from every part of the country, every community, linguistic and religious, in perfect harmony and no discrimination. This is how the country should be—but isn’t. The jarring note is that the Udaipur Declaration is made available only in Hindi. For the first time in nearly 140 years, we are still waiting for the English version.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The major take-away is the enthusiastic reception given to the speeches of the leadership. It shows that, as far as the party is concerned, and whatever the view outside, swim or sink, there is no alternative to the Gandhi triumvirate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri May 27 11:07:51 IST 2022 politicians-picking-their-voters-mani-shankar-aiyar-on-gerrymandering-in-j-and-k <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 1812, the governor of Massachusetts, Elbridge Gerry, created a new congressional district (assembly segment) called South Essex. This was depicted by a cartoonist as a monster dragon akin to the mythological “salamander”. Thus arose the expression “gerrymandering”, combining the governor’s surname with the monster’s, to denote the manipulation of constituency boundaries to create an undue advantage for one party over others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Gerrymandering” perhaps best expresses the consequences of the final report of the Jammu and Kashmir Delimitation Commission. It cannot be challenged in a court of law or any legislature. In effect, this amounts to denying the people of the Union territory their democratic right to equitable representation based on demography. Till now, 56 per cent of the population living in the Kashmir division had enjoyed 55.4 per cent representation (almost but not quite in proportion to their demographic share), and 43.8 per cent living in the Jammu division were represented in 44.5 per cent of seats (marginally more than their demographic share). The new dispensation sharply reduces Kashmir’s share of seats to 52 per cent while increasing Jammu’s share to 47.8 per cent, a full 4 per cent more than their share of the population. The most fundamental principle of electoral democracy—one person, one vote—stands violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To achieve this political objective, the provisions of Section 8 and Section 9 of the Delimitation Act have been diluted. Section 8 lays down that the latest census will guide the commission to ensure that, as far as possible, each constituency has about the same number of voters. Section 9 (1)(a) lays down that, in redrawing constituency boundaries, the revised delimitation “shall, as far as practicable, be geographically compact areas” and “regard shall be had to physical features, existing boundaries of administrative units, facilities of communication and public convenience”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2006 Delimitation Commission had proposed that a major part of my Tamil Nadu constituency, Mayiladuturai, be merged with Chidambaram on the other side of the wide Kollidam River. I argued at a public hearing before the commission that their draft proposal violated the principle of “physical features” by linking areas physically divided by the broadest drainage river of the Cauvery delta, besides bypassing the “existing boundaries of administrative units” by needlessly linking separate districts into one assembly segment. Arguments were also raised about how the “facilities of communication” and “economic integrity” would be disrupted because of the delimitation. As for “public convenience”, several hundred of my constituents present signalled retention of Mayiladuturai as their preferred “public convenience”. The commission agreed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While, however, similar compelling arguments were raised about the absurdity of linking Anantnag in the Kashmir division across the formidable Pir Panjal range to Poonch-Rajouri of the Jammu division, the commission has remained unmoved. The only beneficiary of this strange anomaly might be the BJP candidate pitted against Mehbooba Mufti. Muslim-majority Doda district, too, has been subdivided into three assembly segments to give two of them a Hindu majority. Contortions are also in evidence in Kishtwar, a stronghold of the Lone family—erstwhile strong supporters of the BJP. Kargil, which always returned MLAs of the National Conference, has been merged, much against the people’s will, with Buddhist-majority Ladakh. Thus have politicians been enabled to pick their voters instead of voters picking their politicians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only answer would be for the voters of J&amp;K to elect once again, as they have always done, yet another non-BJP government to negate the baleful consequences of the delimitation.</p> Sun May 15 12:38:11 IST 2022 the-congress-must-revive-its-sadbhavna-sangathan-to-stop-communal-clashes <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Exactly one hundred years ago, in 1922, T.S. Eliot published The Waste Land, whose famous opening line was, “April is the cruellest month”. It should have been the happiest month for us this year because all our major religions had important festivals that coincidentally came together within days of each other in April 2022: Navaratri followed by Ram Navami and Hanuman Jayanti for our majority community; Ramzan for our largest minority community; Easter and Nowroz for our Christian and Zoroastrian communities; and Guru Tegh Bahadur’s 400th birth anniversary. Instead, April has proved one of the worst months of countrywide communal clashes in recent memory. Joy has been dissipated. Grief and alienation have prevailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khambhat and Himmatnagar in Gujarat; Khargone and Sendhwa in Madhya Pradesh; Karauli in Rajasthan; Gulbarga, Raichur, Kolar and Hubballi in Karnataka; Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh; Islampur in Goa; Palakkad in Kerala; Lohardaga and Bokaro districts in Jharkhand; and now Jahangirpuri in north Delhi have become the proof of what Ram Puniyani of Secular Perspective, describes as “communal frenzy raging in the streets”. The bulldozer is the new totem of revenge. Deployed first in UP, it has become the preferred weapon of vengeance from Khargone in MP to Jahangirpuri in Delhi to destroy humble homes and shops of mainly poor Muslims and, incidentally, of some poor Hindus too, only proving how intertwined are the lives of Hindus and Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We are in the midst of a trauma that has seen the hijab and halal meat sparking acute communal tension; nefarious attempts at banning the sale of non-vegetarian food items during Hindu festivals; refusing permission to Muslim traders who have for centuries set up stalls near Hindu temples and fairs; unreproved hate speech at Dharam Sansads (religious parliaments) by the likes of Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati and Bajrang Muni; and, most provocative of all, Hindu processions, playing loud music, dancing and shouting vicious anti-minority slogans, brandishing drawn swords and other lethal weapons, bearing saffron flags and even mounting mosques to plant them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, how do the backers of these communal creatures react? Sudheendra Kulkarni—a voice of sanity—quotes Mohan Bhagwat, the sarsanghchalak of the RSS: “We will talk about non-violence but we will walk with a stick, and that stick will be a heavy one” for “the world only understands power. We should have strength—and it should be visible”. Hence the unsheathed swords clearly wielded, as Sonia Gandhi wrote in an article in The Indian Express (April 16), as weapons of “fear, deception and intimidation” leading to “an apocalypse of hatred, bigotry, intolerance and untruth engulfing our country”. Indeed, so concerned has been the secular opposition that 13 party leaders have jointly issued a statement that declares: “We are extremely anguished at the manner in which issues related to food, dress, festivals and language are being deliberately used by the ruling establishment to polarise our society.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The prime minister has responded not by calling for peace and harmony but by using the ramparts of the Red Fort to show up Aurangzeb as the exemplar of Muslim rule (no mention of Akbar) and ignoring the incorporation into the profound teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib of Sufi philosopher-poets like Kabir and Baba Farid, besides failing to mention that the foundation of the Golden Temple at Amritsar was laid by a Muslim pir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress cannot leave it at that. It must revive the Sadbhavna Sangathan that was conceived as a rapid action force to position itself at every scene of communal outrage. Is today’s Congress up to that?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Apr 29 14:15:37 IST 2022 indian-secularism-what-defines-it-analyses-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A thought-provoking article by a former secretary general of the Lok Sabha, P.D.T. Achary (The Hindu, April 6), is the inspiration for this column. Achary is categoric that secularism, as envisaged in the Constitution, is that “the state has no religion and does not promote any religion”. He describes this as a “foundational principle” of the Constitution and backs it up with the Supreme Court judgement in Indira Gandhi vs Raj Narain &amp; Anr. He might also have added that it is a polity in which the state does not stand in the way of the “propagation” of any religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That quibble apart, Achary regrets that owing to there being “too much religiosity” in public life in India, we have “conveniently” changed the meaning of secularism into “sarva dharma samabhaava (all faiths are equal)”. He fears this will “only lead to majoritarianism and, ultimately, to the establishment of a theocratic state”. Is this apprehension justified?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no denying that at least since the Modi Raj was established, the state has shown, indeed boasted, that the state does have a religion—Hinduism—and there is no question of keeping the state away from promoting the majority religion. In fact, no quarter is being given to the right to “propagate” any religion apart from the Hindu religion, whose patron is the state. How strangely sits Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s interpretation of constitutional secularism against Nehru’s strictly constitutional stand in not allowing Rajendra Prasad, as president, to attend the inauguration of the restored Somnath Mandir precisely because the state must not, and must not be seen to be, having any religion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Achary is right in saying Nehru’s argument has had less and less purchase since his early years as prime minister and has virtually disappeared from our political vocabulary in recent times. But is this because in practice we have tended to equate secularism with equality of treatment of all religions or because the state under Modi has been pushing Hinduism to the forefront?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Constitution defines the desired relationship of the state to religion, and, separately, the citizen to religion. The relationship of the state to religion is as explicitly underlined by Achary. The relationship of the citizen to religion—what I call “societal secularism”—recognises the profound “religiosity” of the people of India, whether they espouse the majority religion or adhere to one of our many minority religions (or to no religion at all). Otherwise, Articles 25-28 relating to freedom of religion, as well as Articles 29-30 relating to the cultural and educational rights of religious, linguistic and ethnic minorities, would have been superfluous. It is because of widespread and deeply embedded “religiosity” that while the state is separated from all religions, an individual and society are given civilisational recognition in the precept: “sarva dharma samabhaava”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hindutva has come upon our benighted land not because of society interpreting secularism to mean the equality of different faiths but because of the blatant violation of the constitutional imperative for the state to keep itself out of religion and to not identify itself with any religion. This was exhibited when Modi had been projected as the principal worshipper during the foundation-stone laying ceremony of the Ram Mandir at the site of the barbaric destruction of the Babri Masjid; there is no indication that he will visit the site of the alternative masjid being built 5km away at Dhanipur. There is no adherence to sarva dharma samabhaava in such behaviour on the part of the head of government nor, indeed, to “raj dharma”, as advocated by a former BJP prime minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Apr 16 11:31:17 IST 2022 ukraine-crisis-meaningful-negotiations-should-have-been-initiated-in-2014 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Indian Express recently carried a cri de coeur (cry from the heart) from the ambassadors to India of the “Bucharest Nine”—“a group of NATO’s eastern flank countries that joined the alliance after the end of the Cold War”, as they describe themselves, comprising Bulgaria, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Their concern at the Russian invasion of Ukraine is entirely understandable and shared in large measure by Indians—officials and the citizenry. This is why there is an unusual national consensus in our country that the way out of the crisis lies in declaring a ceasefire to commence dialogue, discussion and diplomacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Where, however, it is difficult to go along with B-9 is their refusal to take Russian security imperatives into account. The Budapest Memorandum on Security Assurances of 1994, which paved the way for Ukraine to surrender its formidable nuclear arsenal, included the oral assurance from the US secretary of state that no other country (meaning principally Ukraine, which shares a long land and sea border with Russia) would be invited or encouraged to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. To its cost, an enfeebled Russia under Boris Yeltsin did not hold out for a written guarantee nor for a written assurance that Western intelligence agencies would refrain from fomenting agitations for regime change in non-NATO countries whose regimes might favour strong relations with Moscow. In consequence, the Moscow-inclined Viktor Yanukovych, duly elected president of Ukraine, was overthrown by a massive demonstration orchestrated by the CIA on the Kyiv Maidan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I happened to make three visits to Ukraine at around that time and it was evident that the country was fractured along the Dnieper River that runs roughly through the middle of the country: The Ukrainian-speaking western regions leaned towards western countries; the Russian-speaking ethnic majority in the east leaned towards Moscow. Putin, showing he was no pushover like Yeltsin, retaliated by taking over Crimea and supporting anti-Kyiv elements in parts of east Ukraine (Donbass).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was at that stage that meaningful negotiations should have been initiated to find a joint answer to Moscow’s security woes and one-half of Ukraine’s sovereignty worries. Instead, the US-led NATO blatantly rubbished the assurances sought and given in Budapest, and their military presence stretched to literally at Russia’s widest and broadest doorstep: Ukraine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was particularly provocative for two reasons. One, Moscow had acquiesced in nine former Warsaw Pact countries joining NATO. They held out, however, at Ukraine (and Georgia, deep into Eurasia) becoming daggers aimed at Moscow’s heart—just as we are apprehensive of Nepal or Bhutan or even Pakistan/Sri Lanka/Bangladesh joining military hands with potential enemies. The second reason was even more telling. As Senator Bernie Sanders pointed out on the floor of the Senate, for 200 years and more the US has sheltered behind the Monroe Doctrine that shields the US from any outside power in the vicinity of its borders on the Atlantic and Pacific or even Canada or Latin America. This was most vividly demonstrated when Nikita Khrushchev and Fidel Castro agreed in 1962 to place Soviet missiles in sovereign Cuba, which is 80 miles off the coast of the US. If the US had legitimate security concerns in 1962, Russia’s contemporary concerns on her security front fall in the same category.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer was given by Austria in 1954 when the country gave a guarantee of neutrality in exchange for the withdrawal of Soviet troops. Geopolitical realities might yet require Ukraine to give cast-iron assurances of not joining NATO in exchange for Putin withdrawing his troops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Apr 02 10:59:12 IST 2022 up-voted-for-jinnah-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Who won the Uttar Pradesh elections? The Yogi, of course. And, Prime Minister Modi. And, the biggest winner? Mohammad Ali Jinnah, undoubtedly. For he had predicated his demand for Partition on the same “80:20” principle with which the Yogi inaugurated the UP campaign.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Commentators have pointed to the relative underplaying of religious polarisation in the run-up to these elections. What they have not added is that such polarisation has been so drilled into such a large proportion of the Hindu vote in UP that it has become an assumption of UP politics, not an objective. The Yogi had only to dog-whistle it at the start of the campaign for his ingrained followers to respond with Pavlovian promptitude. Hence, the supreme irony that Jinnah’s insistence on the incompatibility of Hindus and Muslims has become so embedded in the psyche of so many of UP’s voters by the endeavours of the Sangh Parivar that it no longer requires the kind of overplaying that has characterised so many of the elections in UP in the last three decades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jinnah’s thesis, as interpreted by his Savarkarite acolytes, was blocked for the better part of 50 years by Constitutional secularism that mocked the religious basis of the partition. Now that the secular assumptions and goals of the Constitution are being wiped off human memory in much of Hindi-speaking India, the only hope of rescuing the Constitution vests in those parts of the country—chiefly in west, south, and east India, plus the far north in J&amp;K and Punjab—that have not been bewitched by the Yogi-Modi combine. Indeed, about a third of Hindu voters even in UP continue to value the Ganga-Jamuni heritage of their state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looked at from this angle, the majority won by the BJP in UP falls into perspective. Essentially, the periphery of the country rejects Jinnah-Savarkar’s ‘Idea of India’ while a majority of UP embraces it. But even in the Hindi belt, states like Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh continue to resist the siren call of religious division, and its acceptance even in Madhya Pradesh is uncertain. Therefore, the demographic of a single state commanding 80 seats in the Lok Sabha need not alarm us into believing that the Quaid-e-Azam has prevailed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If only the non-BJP forces in the Hindi heartland unite and prioritise defeating Jinnah and the BJP over their internecine differences, anti-minorities sentiment need not continue to blemish the fair face of Bharat Mata. This seems to be a pipe dream so long as the Congress seeks to lead the Opposition combine. Mamata Banerjee’s initiative to bring together the non-BJP/non-Congress opposition has the merit of not letting the Congress be a distraction from the exercise of uniting the regional parties that dominate the large number of non-Congress/non-BJP states. If that exercise succeeds, so be it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If, however, such a combination appears to fall short of a national majority, the Congress might well provide the combo the ballast to sail past the halfway mark. What the Congress needs to do at this juncture is to leave it to challengers like Mamata Banerjee to bring together regional parties into a single fold, while extending moral support to her initiative by relinquishing its claim to the leadership of the alliance. That might even lead to a humble Congress being requested to join the alliance before the 2024 general elections or, perhaps, the non-BJP coalition that might emerge thereafter. Thus, provided the Congress “stoops to conquer”, the UP result might still be thwarted in the larger battle to come in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Otherwise, I am afraid, Jinnah will be left laughing as he swills his whisky in paradise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 19 11:22:24 IST 2022 mani-shankar-aiyar-on-the-bjp-s-attempt-to-save-the-cow <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The irony of ironies: it appears that the BJP’s attempt to “save the cow” has generated such a backlash that the party is in grave danger of losing several seats in the ongoing assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh. We shall know for certain on March 10, when the results come in, but indications are that it is the extraordinary increase in “<i>awara pashu”</i> (stray cattle) eating up the standing crop that has emerged as the principal election issue in the region around Ayodhya in eastern UP.</p> <p>The exponential increase in stray cattle is the consequence of stringent measures to prohibit and prevent cattle (that is, cows no longer yielding milk, bulls and male calves) from being driven over the UP border towards the northeast, Bangladesh, and even beyond to Myanmar and China, where there is a huge market for cattle meat and byproducts. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has had to acknowledge the predominance in farmers’ minds of stray animal <i>parishani</i> (nuisance). The issue needs to be considered in its economic dimensions.</p> <p>Jawaharlal Nehru instinctively understood this when, in response to the campaign on the eve of Independence to ban cow slaughter, he wrote to Dr Rajendra Prasad on August 7, 1947, that while “no one can doubt the widespread Hindu sentiment in favour of cow protection”, he preferred that the issue be considered in the context of the scientific organisation of animal husbandry, especially as Gandhiji had explicitly stated a few days earlier that since “the Hindu religion prohibits cow slaughter for the Hindus, not for the world”, he—Gandhiji—“opposed any compulsory stoppage of cow slaughter” (Dinanath Gopal Tendulkar; July 25, 1947). This view was eventually incorporated in the directive principles of state policy, which directs the state in Article 48 to “endeavour” to “organise animal husbandry on modern scientific lines” and to “take steps” for “preserving and improving the breeds, and prohibiting the slaughter, of cows and calves and other milch and draught cattle”.</p> <p>By placing animal husbandry in the state list, the Constitution ensured that there would be only state policies, not a central policy, in this regard, thereby underlining the diversity of eating habits in the country.</p> <p>To validate Gandhi, Nehru, and the Constitution, one has only to glance at the 2019 census of our bovine population undertaken by the Union ministry of animal husbandry and the export figures for buffalo meat provided by the commerce ministry for 2020-21, backed up by the brilliant reportage of Harish Damodaran (<i>Indian Express</i>; February 22, 2022). What follows is derived from these sources.</p> <p>Our cattle population amounts to 192 million and buffaloes to just over 109 million. UP accounts for about 70 per cent of our bovines. As buffaloes are not regarded as “cattle”, their slaughter and export earn Yogi Adityanath’s state nearly $3 billion per year, 80 per cent of which directly reaches the poor, mostly Dalits and minorities. Buffalo meat and by-products constitute UP’s major export. This could be doubled to around Rs40,000 crore if legitimacy is accorded to the export beyond state boundaries of cattle on the hoof.</p> <p>Instead, after their economic life is over, UP’s cattle are released by the owners into the public domain to fend for themselves. And the state government has fallen on its face in providing these holy cows a safe and dignified after-life. The state’s <i>gaushalas</i> are dens of corruption and provide only Rs30 per day per animal, which does not cover even the cost of <i>bhusa </i>(straw), let alone more nutritious feed. And it costs the farmer an average of Rs16,000 (per bigha) to fence his field.</p> <p>It is precisely because Yogi and Modi ignored or, more probably, were ignorant of, Gandhiji’s wisdom and Nehru’s practical insight that, as one farmer put it to Damodaran, in UP the<i> awara</i> “bull is the only issue”.</p> Sun Mar 06 15:15:01 IST 2022 some-gems-from-nehru-that-modi-might-like-to-use-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Devil can cite Scripture for his purpose,” William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken to citing Jawaharlal Nehru, as we saw him do in Parliament in the debate on the ‘Motion of Thanks’, this column offers him the following gems from Nehru that Modi might like to use in future comments on the twin themes of ‘1,200 years of slavery’ and the appeasement of the minorities (‘tushtikaran’).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For instance, the participants of the Hindu Dharma Sansad who preached genocide might be usefully reminded of Nehru thundering at the Gandhi Jayanti rally in New Delhi on October 2, 1951: “If any man raises his hand against another in the name of religion, I shall fight him to my last breath, whether from within the government or outside.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On ancient Indian civilisation, which the prime minister often invokes, Nehru had this to say in The Discovery of India: “(T)he basic approach seems to have been that there could be no monopoly in truth, and there were many ways of seeing it and approaching it. So, all kinds of different and even contradictory beliefs were tolerated… India appeared as an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed, and yet no succeeding layer had completely hidden or erased what had been written previously.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now, Modiji, get that translated into your mellifluous Hindi and let it boom off your 56-inch chest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As regards the foreign influences that throughout our history of five millennia have come into India from outside, a subject on which the prime minister holds distinctive views, he might wish to recall Nehru’s words from The Discovery of India: “The widest tolerance of belief and custom was practiced and even encouraged… Those who professed religion of non-Indian origin, or settled down here, became distinctively Indian in the course of a few generations, such as Christians, Jews, Parsees, and Muslims. Indian converts to some of these religions never ceased to be Indian on account of a change of faith.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru explains that India had “this astonishing inclusive capacity to absorb foreign races and cultures…. Each incursion of foreign elements was a challenge to this culture, but it was met successfully by a new synthesis and a process of absorption.” If you, Modiji, were to propagate this singular achievement, you would be highlighting what no other world civilisWation has achieved: survival through heterogeneity, not homogeneity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With respect to “1,200 years of slavery”, Nehru notes that “Islam came as a religion to India several centuries before it came as a political force.” He acknowledges that Mahmud of Ghazni did indeed conduct raids into India but “met severe defeat in the Rajputana desert region on his way back from Somnath”. In consequence, “this was his last raid, and he did not return”. Vengeance was wreaked on Mahmud of Ghazni, Modiji, by brave Indian Rajputs nearly a thousand years before the Somnath temple was rebuilt.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And as for the Mughals, they “were outsiders and strangers to India,” says Nehru, “and yet fitted into the Indian structure with remarkable speed… it was in Akbar’s reign that the cultural amalgamation among Hindus and Muslims in northern India took a long step forward… the Mughal dynasty became firmly established as India’s own”—until “Aurangzeb swerved, undoing Akbar’s work”, as Modi is now engaged in undoing Mahatma Gandhi’s good work.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, PM sahib, inscribe in your heart Nehru’s words to the students of Aligarh Muslim University: “Do not think you are outsiders here for you are as much flesh and blood of India as anyone else. I invite you as free citizens of free India to play your role in building up this great country of ours.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 19 12:01:01 IST 2022 has-rss-chief-denounced-haridwar-hate-sadhus-as-not-hindu-asks-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A group of 32 former ambassadors of India (dubbed G-32) has issued a riposte to two statements—issued by a total of some 500 concerned citizens condemning the hate speeches at Haridwar and New Delhi that, inter alia, called for the genocide of our Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On December 31, about 250 of the most distinguished senior citizens of India, comprising retired personnel from all three wings of our defence forces, led by four former chiefs of naval staff, informed the president and prime minister of their concern over the impact of such spewing of hate on the “unity and cohesiveness of our men and women in uniform”. Other signatories included retired civil servants from the all-India services and well-recognised personalities from a variety of professions, including academia, the media, and civil society. The second, a short open letter, dated January 5, signed by 273 men and women of high distinction, sought “action as per law”. Neither list contained any politicians, which is why, despite my credentials as a retired diplomat, I was not asked to append my signature to either statement. The last thing the petitioners wanted was the taint of partisan party politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet, the 32 retired excellencies begin their jeremiad by describing these 500 or so petitioners who have given so much to the nation as “a motley group of activists, many of them known leftists with sympathies for Maoists” (is that a crime?), joined by others who have been “conducting a sustained smear campaign against the present government” (is that not their right under the fundamental rights that make (or made) us a democracy?). In response to the strikingly restrained language of the two petitions, which have abused no one and politely “urged” the president and prime minister to “condemn such incitement to violence in no uncertain terms”, the two dignitaries addressed have maintained a Sphinx-like silence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, G-32 has lashed out at these concerned constitutionalists for “anti-Hindu tirades”, “overwrought fears”, and discovering “hitherto dormant political affiliations”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>G-32 goes on, “Amazingly, the claim of historical wrongs is dismissed as flimsy”. Neither petition even mentions “historical wrongs”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The vocabulary of the response from the G-32 is drawn from the lexicon of hate of the saffron brigade. What a pity that yesterday’s ambassadors of secularism have in retirement shown their true colours as advocates of “majoritarianism”, holding that the Haridwar incident is “ridiculously” projected as “a peril for all Indians”. Should not action under law be promptly taken and such calls be condemned at the highest levels of government and the judiciary? After all, the men in holy robes are the support base of the political party that has secured a majority at the polls twice over. But G-32 fails to understand that a political majority must not translate into “majoritarianism” for equating the two undermines the secularism that constitutes the ‘basic framework’ of our Constitution. That is why the courts have at long last taken cognizance of the outrage—but neither the president nor prime minister, nor any other authority, have.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>G-32 draws attention to the noble words and sentiments uttered by RSS netas. What is the point of uttering them randomly when the very same mouths are shut fast when most needed? Has RSS sarsanghchalak Mohan Bhagwat denounced the sadhus who gathered at Haridwar as “not Hindu”? Recall that when Akbaruddin Owaisi resorted to verbal excess, his brother, Asaduddin, promptly reprimanded him and disassociated his party from his brother’s remarks. What the 500 senior citizens have demanded is that the authorities cease “to remain silent or inactive in the face of such abominable speeches”. G-(for ‘Godi’?) 32 consider not the speeches but protesting about them as abominable!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 05 11:10:50 IST 2022 when-rajiv-went-to-punjab-6-months-after-indira-was-killed-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Seeing Prime Minister Narendra Modi stuck on a flyover for 20 minutes and the hysteria that has followed, this column welcomes the Supreme Court’s decision to undertake an inquiry and stay the possibly partisan inquiries ordered earlier. Why then an entire column on a subject that is, in effect, sub judice?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only because it brings to my mind another prime minister and another time when Rajiv Gandhi went to pay his tribute at the National Martyr’s Memorial in Hussainiwala, which the current prime minister was thwarted from visiting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Remember, on March 23, 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi visited Hussainiwala on the anniversary of Bhagat Singh’s martyrdom, less than six months had elapsed since his predecessor had been shot down in cold blood by the very Sikh guards she had insisted on retaining. Anger over Operation Bluestar had peaked. An anti-Sikh pogrom had followed her assassination, blamed by many on the prime minister who had just been sworn in. A Sikh infantry unit had openly rebelled. Brewing trouble in Siachen was bringing the security situation to boiling point with Pakistan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Special Protection Group was yet to be inducted. The director of prime minister’s security was dead against Rajiv undertaking the risk. Yet, Rajiv went. I was with him. There was not a trace of anxiety on his face. Calm, collected, he walked with courage and confidence into the lion’s den.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His point was to demonstrate his strong belief that it was not the community but only some misguided elements in it who were resorting to violence in the name of religion and Khalistan. The appointment of Arjun Singh as the new governor of Punjab a few days earlier signalled his intention to work towards a solution. But he gave little indication, beyond his presence in the heart of Punjab, that there was any politics to his visit. The visit was to honour the memory of a greatly loved soldier of freedom, unconnected to any electoral compulsion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He took to the podium with no bullet-proof glass shield to protect him. Around him were ordinary Punjabis, mostly Sikhs. His unruffled demeanour was reflected in the meeting conducted in peace and harmony. He focused on the martyr and the role of Punjab in defending the country through history and contemporaneously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Punjab,” he said in Hindi, “rose as one man in defence of, and for the preservation of, India’s unity”. He talked of Punjab’s farmers freeing us from the stranglehold of the almost inedible PL-480 wheat imported from the United States, and how Punjab’s farmers had been enabled to do so by the Bhakra Dam, crop insurance and the raising of procurement prices.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He referred to “some problems, considerable difficulties, both political and economic” that were facing Punjab and pledged to continue talks while not allowing “Punjab to decline”. But, otherwise, the troubled times were not mentioned. Reminding the audience of Jawaharlal Nehru’s tribute that “Bhagat Singh died so that India lives”, he paid his respects to the memory of the national hero. That was it. No grandstanding. No jumla. No false promises. Just his presence at the very border with Pakistan, in a Punjab disturbed as never before, showed his determination to work out the Punjab Accord—that was concluded a few weeks later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajiv did not sit cowering in a bullet-proof vehicle, surrounded by menacingly armed guards, shying away from the people, converting a tribute to freedom fighters into an election opportunity. Therein lies the difference.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Jan 23 13:05:30 IST 2022 nagaland-killings-have-raised-disturbing-issues-writes-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In an “ambush” on December 4, a unit of 21 Para Special Forces killed six innocent, unarmed miners in broad daylight in Mon district of Nagaland under the impression that they were armed cadres of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang-Yung Aung) faction. In this context, a retired major general of the Indian Army has published an article (The Indian Express, December 30) regarding the “unusual stridency” of the “public and political discourse” on the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. In a well-argued and non-polemical manner, the author has explained the rationale for the legislation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, however, an unconvincing answer to the horrors of the incident which have shaken the acquiescence in the peace process of the Konyak community that dominates the Mon area. What has shocked them is the blatant failure of this trigger-happy unit to observe the spirit and possibly the letter of the restraining clauses of AFSPA designed precisely to prevent such an outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Union home minister’s initial reaction on the floor of Parliament to the killings was, as usual, equivocal, and made no reference to the extenuating circumstances invoked in the law. But the pressure of outraged public opinion in Nagaland was such as to compel Chief Minister Neiphiu Rio (aligned to the BJP) to set up a special investigation team. The Army, for its part, has constituted somewhat tardily a court of inquiry under an officer of the major-general rank. Their reports will doubtless come in due course. Meanwhile, we have the retired major general’s article of December 30 to enable us to ponder the grave and disturbing issues raised by the events of December 4 and 5.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Did the unit act with “restraint and responsibility” as they were required to do, according to the retired major general? Did they observe the “stringent rules, guidelines and advisories” that govern the right to fire to kill? The retired major-general argues that “soldiers are human, and aberrations do occur”. He further argues that “when they do, military justice is dispensed swiftly and without bias”. Was any of this in evidence in the home minister’s statement? And does constituting a court of inquiry weeks after the tragedy constitute proof of “swift action without bias”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story of the truck attempting to flee, given currency by the home minister’s statement, is hard to credit. First, if experienced guerrillas were in the truck, why would they have taken such a narrow, barely accessible path—swarming with armed personnel, with no outlet to flee—if they were challenged? Is it credible that they would have offered themselves as sitting ducks?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Eyewitness accounts by a survivor indicate that the truck was on the upward slope of a culvert when an army vehicle mounted with a machine gun opened fire without warning. This appears to be in clear violation of Section 4(a) of AFSPA which insists that it is only “after giving such due warning” that firing might begin. The first time the passengers in the truck knew of their fate was when the firing started. Second, no attempt seems to have been made to ascertain whether, in fact, the vehicle was “carrying weapons or things capable of being used as weapons or firearms, ammunition or explosive substances,” as required by the law. Surely, if intelligence input indicated that the passengers might be insurgents, the truck could have been checked at its starting point to see if it was carrying any prohibited equipment. Should a democracy, even one under challenge by terrorists, have such a law that grants both immunity and impunity to the soldier trained to kill?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jan 06 14:55:16 IST 2022 indira-established-india-was-not-warmongering-nation-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I am spending the week of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Bangladesh in Dhaka. I was here for the silver jubilee, too. And my association with Sonar Bangla (Golden Bangladesh) began on December 16, 1971, when—at virtually the same time as Pakistan’s General A.A.K. Niazi was handing over the surrender documents to India’s General Jagjit Singh Aurora—I was appointed secretary to the committee established under the chairmanship of Prof Sukhamoy Chakravarty to organise emergency supplies to the new Bangladesh government to enable them to take back the millions of refugees who had fled into India. It was India’s greatest moment. No moment since or, indeed, before December 16, 1971, has had quite the resonance of that moment when we victoriously assisted in the liberation of Bangladesh. Although mine was a very minor part, it felt great then—and still remains unforgettable—to have been part of that greatest moment in our history.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What made it so historic a moment? Partly because it destroyed the false basis on which the country had been partitioned, with Muhammad Ali Jinnah endorsing V.D. Savarkar’s view that we were “two nations” in our sub-continent—one, Hindu; the other, Muslim. The partition of Pakistan established that the “two-nation” theory had given way to the “three states’ reality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My Pakistani friend, Javed Jabbar, has argued that since Bangladesh did not revert to India but retained its own national identity as a Muslim-majority country, the two-nation theory remains reaffirmed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been posing this point to friends here. They argue back that the object of liberation was never the dissolution of the 1947 partition of East Bengal from West Bengal, but the liberation of Bangladesh from oppressive Pakistan as an independent nation-state. Moreover, the thought simply never occurred to any sensible Indian that the merciless oppression of the Bangladesh liberation movement provided a ready-made opportunity for undoing the partition of 1947.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, perhaps even more important than the surrender of Pakistan on December 16, 1971, was what happened on March 12, 1972—when the Indian armed forces followed up a grand farewell parade in Dhaka by marching every single Indian soldier back to India. That was when we demonstrated that we had no intention of following up military victory with occupation—arguably the only instance in history when the triumph of arms was not translated into seizing territorial gains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third related moment was the Simla Summit in July 1972, at which India (or, more specifically, prime minister Indira Gandhi) demonstrated that 1971 was not designed to destroy Pakistan. It was Pakistan, as initially conceived, that had destroyed itself. We had no intention of overturning Partition in the west. So, we handed back the Shakargarh tehsil that belonged to Pakistan and released, as an act of moral rectitude, the 93,000 prisoners of war, in full accord with the Geneva Conventions. In exchange, all we demanded—and got—was Pakistan’s sworn agreement to handle bilateral issues, such as Kashmir, bilaterally.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is another matter that having secured Pakistan’s agreement to deal with our issues bilaterally, for much of the 49 years since Simla, we have refused to engage with Pakistan bilaterally. The point is that on the very morrow of war, India (and Indira) established that we are not a war-mongering nation. It was the highest tribute we could pay to the non-violent values taught to us by the Mahatma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why I am here, celebrating with the people of Bangladesh 50 years of a great moral victory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Joy Bangla!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Dec 23 15:21:25 IST 2021 mamata-Banerjee-making-the-same-mistake-congress-made-in-2004-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>One of the more curious episodes in my life occurred at the end of 1997, when I quit the Congress to join Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress. She professed great admiration for Rajiv Gandhi and invited me into her party on the argument, “Everyone in Bengal knows you as Rajiv Gandhi’s shadow.” I agreed because I found Mamata determinedly secular, and a great favourite of Kolkata’s Muslim minority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, her only ideological moorings appeared to be in viscerally hating the Communists. To defeat them, she had no compunctions in rising on the shoulders of the BJP. So, I left her within three weeks. Mamata then did what she had assured me she would not do—join a BJP-led coalition government in Delhi. She has since been betrayed by her BJP patrons.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She has prevailed, but, with both the Congress and the Marxists out of the reckoning, the BJP has replaced the CPI(M) as her favourite hate object. She also believes that the thrashing she gave the BJP in the West Bengal assembly election makes her the fulcrum around which the national opposition should revolve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What stands in the way of her ambitions is the Indian National Congress and the Nehru-Gandhi family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is true that with only 20 per cent of the national vote and a mere 50-plus seats in Parliament, the Congress on its own is no challenger to the BJP, she seems to have forgotten that the TMC makes do with just four per cent of the national vote and a fistful of seats in the Lok Sabha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that all the non-Congress opposition parties in the country—most of whom are breakaways from the mother Congress—do not, together, have more seats than the much-diminished Congress on its own. The reason quite simply is that these non-Congress opposition parties are not even regional parties; they are parties confined to a single state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mamata does not have a seat outside Bengal; nor Navin Patnaik outside Odisha; Nitish Kumar does not have a seat beyond Bihar; the same goes for Akhilesh Yadav and Mayawati (with insignificant variations); even Sharad Pawar is locked into Maharashtra; and in the south, Jagan Mohan Reddy is confined to Andhra Pradesh, K. Chandrasekhar Rao to Telangana and the Dravidian parties to Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, while it may be taken for granted that all these state parties, led mostly by former Congressmen, will come together to form a coalition government at the Centre, as they did in 2004, if they form a non-BJP, non-Congress alliance, they will never get the required numbers. That being the existential reality, it would be best to postpone till May 2024 the currently irrelevant question of who will take over the reins from Narendra Modi were he to be worsted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why, through this column and other writings, I have been urging the Congress to “stoop to conquer”, that is, to ignore the question of who will lead the alliance till the votes are in and concentrate instead on patiently building these state parties into a national coalition, as Sonia Gandhi did in 2004. The Congress has not listened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, Mamata feels she must declare her candidacy and lead the national coalition to victory as she has so successfully done in her state. She is thus making the same mistake as the Congress. Let the leadership be decided, as in 2004, after the elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let the immediate task be to make seat adjustments that would pit, as far as possible, a single opposition candidate against the BJP in every seat. Then, even if the BJP retains its 37 per cent vote, it would be smashed by the countervailing vote of 63 per cent—and the nation would be saved! Surely that matters more than stroking bruised egos.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Dec 19 12:35:18 IST 2021 only-electoral-opportunism-can-explain-modi-u-turn-on-farm-laws-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Elections have a way of “concentrating the mind wonderfully”. With setbacks in Uttar Pradesh in prospect and the certainty of defeat in Punjab looming large, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has withdrawn the very farm laws he was claiming till just the other day as the greatest gift he had bequeathed to the farming community. Now he is apologising for his “gift” saying he should not have bestowed it without consulting the intended beneficiaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, will he, by the same logic, withdraw his legislation on Articles 370/35A? No, there are no elections in the offing in Jammu and Kashmir. Moreover, the former state sends only a handful of members to the Lok Sabha compared with the decisive 80 from UP. Thus, electoral opportunism is the only sustainable explanation for this sudden—if welcome—about-turn. This is why the agitating farmers remain sceptical of the eventual outcome once the votes are in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The enduring lesson to be learned is that if the protest is sufficiently prolonged and sustained, Modi bends at the knees. His “strong man” image is an illusion fostered by a string of successes at the polls. It was not Modi but Covid that closed down Shaheen Bagh. Now that normalcy is returning on the public health front, all the discontented in our society will inevitably discover that courageous and nonviolent persistence is the democratic way of resisting injustice. Satyagraha remains, 75 years after Independence, the most viable tool of securing justice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One hopes for a resumption of judicial activism to ensure protection for the constitutional right of dissidents to disagree. In Jammu and Kashmir, the citizens—we must never forget that barring a handful of Pakistani infiltrators, there are only Indian citizens living there—should be guaranteed the rights and privileges to which all Indian citizens are entitled. This has been denied to them since that infamous day of August 5, 2019. The persistence of the Intifada spirit in Palestine, despite brutal Israeli repression, should be the lesson learned to prevent Jammu and Kashmir from falling into that condition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The other cautionary tale to be noted is that in our democracy, state assembly elections are an excellent method of keeping in check the excesses of a too-powerful Union government. The first warning came from West Bengal. The second was the threat of the farmers’ agitation acquiring new momentum on November 26, the anniversary of the launch of the agitation. The third was the necessity of pacifying (appeasing?) infuriated opinion in Punjab, another state going to the polls early next year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If Modi is discovering that the “light” he sought to “shine” has not dispersed the gathering darkness, it is not because any new wisdom has dawned on him but because elections in several states are around the corner. That is why it is essential to resist the Union government’s slogan of “one nation, one election”. That would only strengthen the authoritarian trends that are subverting our constitutional democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only time will tell whether Modi’s ploy will work, but it is already abundantly clear that it is not conviction or change of heart that is responsible for the announcement but sheer fright at what might happen at the hustings if he did not back off now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And that explains why the farmers are not calling off their year-long agitation. They are looking for solid proof that Modi means what he says, and to push for the fulfilment of the rest of their agenda—principally the incorporation in the Constitution of minimum support prices for some 23 items of farm produce. Watch this space!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 25 15:32:41 IST 2021 mullaperiyar-work-towards-a-political-solution-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Yes, there is a Tamil Nadu-Kerala dispute over the Mullaperiyar dam. But, perhaps uniquely, it is not an inter-state dispute over the sharing of river waters. Both the Mullayar and Periyar rivers—at whose confluence the dam has stood since it was completed in 1895—are within the state of Kerala. The dam diverted the waters of the naturally westward flowing Periyar river eastwards to fall into the Vaigai basin—which is to southern Tamil Nadu what the Cauvery is to central and coastal Tamil Nadu, a life-giver.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The dam, described as “one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering ever performed by man”, has the unusual distinction of both the dam and the reservoir being geographically located in Kerala alone—but the dam/reservoir is managed and kept in good repair by Tamil Nadu in the interest, particularly, of Tamil farmers spread over an area of 2.3 lakh acres, eking out a living in the rain shadow districts of Theni, Dindigul, Madurai, Sivaganga, and Ramanathapuram. The Mullaperiyar dam has turned what was once a barren dustbowl to double- and even triple-cropping land. It is nothing short of a lifeline in every sense of the term.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So vital has been the life-giving augmentation of the Vaigai waters as a result of Colonel John Pennycuick’s engineering marvel that his statue stands at the entrance to the Tamil Nadu public works department office campus in Madurai. A proposal is also under process to install a memorial to the miracle engineer at the dam site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pennycuick’s devotion to his cause was such that when the British government decided to stop further expenditure on the scheme, he sold his wife’s jewellery to complete the dam. This has kept the “deep south” in Tamil Nadu fed for the past century and a quarter. That is why Pennycuick’s great-grandson was accorded an enthusiastic public reception when he visited Madurai in 2002.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kerala’s complaint is not that Tamil Nadu is pre-empting its river waters for irrigating Tamil lands. But it has grave apprehensions that as the dam has been built in a sensitive seismic zone where tremors are frequent, the “structural flaws” inherent in a dam built long ago place at risk the lives of 3.5 million people who live in the area, as pointed out in a technical report from the United Nations. The examples of the human tragedy caused by the Morvi dam burst in Gujarat in 1979, and more recently, the washing away of the Tapovan dam in Uttarakhand in February, have further stoked these fears.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, the committee set up by the Supreme Court under the former chief justice of India, A.S. Anand concluded that the Mullaperiyar dam is “structurally [and] hydrologically safe, and Tamil Nadu can raise the water level from 136 to 142 feet after carrying out repairs”. Also, that the “earth tremors in the region did not have any impact” on the dam or the reservoir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, a supervisory committee under the chairmanship of a member of the Central Water Commission, with the other two members nominated respectively by the state governments concerned, has not assuaged public sentiment in Kerala.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, therefore, all to the good that, having exhausted the scope for a technical or judicial settlement of the problem, the Tamil Nadu chief minister has announced that he will be visiting Thiruvananthapuram next month to work out with his Kerala counterpart a political settlement that will meet public concerns in both states (and perhaps allow the height of the stored waters to go up a further ten feet). Such a political initiative alone, not recourse to the courts or experts, is the way forward.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Nov 11 15:38:17 IST 2021 priyanka-makes-a-mark-with-promise-of-40-tickets-to-women-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By announcing that 40 per cent of Congress tickets for the Uttar Pradesh polls will be reserved for women, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra has brought revolutionary change into the parameters of the electoral game. But where is she going to find so many electable women?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was exactly the question posed to her father, Rajiv Gandhi, when he proposed 30 per cent reservation for women in panchayats and urban local bodies back in 1989. Where, asked Bhajan Lal, the minister in charge of the project, in some despair, are we going to find so many women to enter public life, speak into microphones and knock on anonymous doors to ask the men to vote for Mira rather than Rita? It was the women themselves who provided the answer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With women’s reservations having been raised to 50 per cent in some 20 states, the number of elected women representatives is now more than 14 lakh. If we take three as the average number of women who contest every reserved seat (which is probably an underestimate), it would appear that in every round of panchayat/municipality elections there are 40 to 50 lakh women contestants. That is why India today has more democratically elected women representatives in just the third tier of governance than have been similarly elected in the rest of the world put together. It is an exercise in gender empowerment without precedent, one which ranks in importance with the proclamation of the Constitution.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And yet this signal national achievement is not even known, let alone celebrated, by the drawing room par-katis (women with bobbed hair)—to use Sharad Yadav’s highly derogatory expression for middle-class, educated ladies who are unimpressed with their poorer sisters’ achievement—because it does not cover them. For the fact is, however impressive women’s empowerment might be in the local bodies, the national disgrace is that reservation for women does not apply to our state legislatures or Parliament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That raises the parallel question: Why is it that the same political parties that have accepted 50 per cent women in the third tier are so reluctant to allow women’s reservation in Parliament? I think the answer does not lie in gender discrimination as such, but in the fact that we have almost 90 per cent of male sitting members, nearly a third of whom are going to lose their seats only because they were born male.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer lies in ensuring that whenever the number of Lok Sabha members is expanded (to about 800, according to present reckoning), the additional seats should be reserved for women, thus enabling a large intake of women without asking men to abandon their seats just because they are men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka’s initiative is likely to succeed for two reasons. First, she is writing on tabula rasa, a clean slate. There are only seven Congress MLAs in UP, of whom five are men. Their tickets need not be disturbed for Priyanka to hit her target.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, she has a huge pool of experienced women representatives, past and present, who have proved their electability and their administrative talent at the local level. She only has to give them the opportunity to contest the assembly polls in India’s largest state, the only large state to not have raised women’s reservations in seats and posts above the constitutional minimum of one-third.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Priyanka’s women candidates, drawn from every segment of society, might not only succeed where male candidates have so abjectly failed, but could set the precedent for other states as well. Above all, it would be a daughter’s tribute to her martyred father.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Oct 31 10:54:58 IST 2021 modi-sold-the-maharajah-for-a-song-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I settle down to write this column, newspaper headlines are screaming the news of the Tatas having bought Air India for a piffling Rs18,000 crore. Meanwhile, the Narendra Modi government has, in exchange, burdened the people with over Rs60,000 crore of the sold entity’s debt. It is like auctioning a house while retaining the mortgage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My mind goes back to the flurry of private airlines that took off when in the 1990s liberalisation became our mantra. How many survived? East-West? Damania? ModiLuft? Paramount? Sahara? Jet? Over 60 private sector airlines have gone belly-up. Earlier, private airlines like Ambica Airlines, Jupiter Airways and Himalayan Aviation had flopped. Indeed, even once renowned private carriers on international routes like Pan Am and Trans World Airlines have disappeared.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ownership does not confer management ability. Private enterprises do sink—and take down their lenders with them. Public enterprises do flourish as witnessed by the oil giants, the Power Finance Corporation and several others. Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi, Lalit Modi and Vijay Mallya (not to mention Dharma Teja from an earlier era of business buccaneers), hiding out in their tax havens or other centres of five-star refuge for tax-dodgers, are proof enough of not only private sector stupidity, but also private sector cupidity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, Cyrus Mistry blew the whistle on many skeletons in the Tata cupboard, for which he was eased out. There is no guarantee that the Tatas will revive Air India—although that is the least one can expect of them for the bargain basement offer they have received from the Modi government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>True, J.R.D. Tata did start a private airline, and true, too, that Air India was nationalised in 1953. But recognising the management abilities of the Tata Group, Nehru invited JRD to become the chairman. Thus, higher public purpose and shrewd business acumen were combined to give Air India pride of place.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I cannot think of any precedent for such a sensible arrangement whereby management was left in the hands of the previous owner while the woes of ownership were taken over by the government. It is not just the Maharajah that is being returned to the previous owner for a pittance, but in abundant addition, 1,800 international landing and parking slots at Indian airports, 4,400 domestic slots and 900 slots at airports overseas, plus a fleet of wide-bodied aircraft. Almost all of this was acquired by the government after nationalisation. If Air India was a caterpillar when it was taken over, it is now a priceless butterfly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us not forget that it was not the Congress but that other symbol of Gujarati asmita that Prime Minister Modi is ever invoking—Morarji Desai—who, in February 1978, ended that very satisfactory arrangement. How satisfactory both sides found it is touchingly recalled in an exchange of letters that the indefatigable Jairam Ramesh has unearthed from the archives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a handwritten communication to JRD (whom she fondly calls “Jeh”) Indira pays tribute to him as “not merely the founder and nurturer” of Air India, but also for the “deep personal care” he bestowed on the airline. She adds: “We were proud of you and the airline. No one can take this satisfaction from you nor belittle [the] government’s debt to you in this respect.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, JRD replied: “Dear Indira… I was fortunate in the loyalty and enthusiasm of my colleagues and staff and—what needs all the emphasis at my command—“the support I got from [the] government without either of which I could have achieved little.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Modi government could have easily restored that arrangement without selling the family silver for a song.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Oct 14 16:22:51 IST 2021 why-india-easeofdoingbusiness-rankings-cant-be-trusted-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Readers will recall Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s first Independence Day address. With his arms flailing like a windmill, he announced the “Make in India” programme, aimed at raising the share of manufacturing in India’s GDP from 16 per cent to 25 per cent by 2020 and thereby creating 100 million new jobs. In addition, Modi secured an international spokesperson in the person of the former CEO of the World Bank, Kristalina Georgieva, whose ease-of-doing business (EoDB) index showed India soaring while every other international ranking showed the country plummeting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the EoDB Index, India was languishing at 142nd position in 2014-2015. Under Georgieva’s watch, India leaped to 130th position in 2015-2016 and then took a quantum jump to 63rd position in 2019-2020. So, Modi pulled out all the stops to get the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Confederation of Indian Industry and the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India to organise a grand meeting to felicitate Georgieva on November 4, 2017—Guru Nanak Dev’s birthday—with Modi labelling the day “auspicious” for it “inspires us to lead a life of truth”. He apparently did not know, or chose to ignore, that back in Washington, DC, rumblings were growing at the EoDB index not being a paean to “a life full of truth”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As early as 2013, the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group had questioned the “reliability and objectivity” of EoDB. Mary Hallward-Driemeier, a senior economic adviser at the Bank, had opined that the index “does not summarise even modestly the experience of firms”. Two researchers at the Center for Global Development, including Divyanshi Wadhwa, pointed out that “the improvement in India’s ranking was almost entirely due to methodological changes” (i.e., fiddling the facts). In 2018, the chief economist at the Bank, Paul Romer, said that he “did not have confidence in the integrity” of the data being used by Georgieva’s team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, “after conducting a systematic review and assessment of data changes”, the World Bank asked its “internal audit function” to “audit the processes” and “controls to safeguard data integrity.” This was followed by an external review panel casting serious doubt on the index, leading to the appointment of a well-known firm of consultants, WilmerHale, to examine the Bank’s Augean stables. Expressing deep concern over “ethical aspects of the conduct relating to Bank officials”, the consultants cast doubt on Georgieva and the World Bank president, Jim Yong Kim. The Bank has now suspended the EoDB index in a bid to retain its credibility.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Both Modi and Georgieva believed that unfettered market forces would lead to optimum outcomes and hence found a common platform on the slogan, “minimum government, maximum governance”. Modi made changes in the law. She was content to accept this as changes on the ground and validated her ideological beliefs by basing her indices on what big businesses told her team in Mumbai and Delhi, without delving into the perception of small and medium enterprises that account for the bulk of Indian manufacturing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The last word must rest with R. Nagaraj who has demonstrated in The Hindu (September 21) that while Modi’s India zoomed exponentially on the bogus EoDB index, the ground reality is that the growth rate of manufacturing sank from 7.9 per cent in 2014 to 5.3 per cent in 2018 and has now hit rock bottom at -2.4 per cent, while employment plunges, foreign direct investment stagnates and gross capital formation sinks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Can Modi continue “fooling all of the people all of the time?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 30 15:05:21 IST 2021 modi-contracted-out-afPak-policy-for-political-gains-in-up-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A gaping hole has opened in the northwest of our subcontinent with India having virtually no diplomatic presence in Islamabad and none at all in Kabul. What is worse is that we have so effectively paralysed the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation that the one forum where we might have been able to have high-level contact with Pakistan and Afghanistan is also not available.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We do not know either the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada or Prime Minister Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund. Of course, clandestine efforts have been made to establish connections with the Taliban’s Doha office. But, with the announcement of the new government in Kabul, it seems the Doha faction has been side-lined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We may take what comfort we can from the fact that two senior hands who had contacted our envoy in Doha have been included in the government: Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, first deputy to the prime minister, and Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, deputy foreign minister. But weighed against the full profile of the new government in Kabul, the danger to our national security remains, especially as Baradar’s marginalisation can be traced to Pakistan’s ISI having “scuttled” his hopes of rehabilitation to his full stature owing to his dovish overtures in 2010 to Hamid Karzai, to Donald Trump in 2020 and to India this year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The presence of as many as four top members of the Pakistan-sponsored Haqqani terrorist network—including Interior Minister Sirajuddin Haqqani and his deputy intelligence chief—is a matter of serious concern. We have no one in Kabul to monitor and, if possible, moderate the potential danger from that source.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We also know nothing of the five Guantanamo returnees holding, among other offices, two portfolios of priority concern to us: minister of information and broadcasting, and intelligence chief. Nor are we acquainted with any of the formerly Quetta-based factions who dominate the new establishment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps most distressing is the virtual absence of representatives of the ethnic and religious minorities. I am not forgetting the token presence of the Uzbek second deputy to the prime minister, the Tajik army chief and one other Tajik with the portfolio of minister of economic affairs for an economy with almost no resources to draw upon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With so much at stake and so much lost ground to recover, why are we without proper diplomatic representation in either Kabul or Islamabad? Surely not because of physical danger to our diplomats. We have retained our diplomatic presence in dangerous spots all over the world. I was posted to Hanoi after the 1968 Tet Offensive, when the US was raining bombs on the city every morning and afternoon. Diplomats have to be ready to serve on the frontline. And the IFS has never shirked this duty. So, it is not the officers but government policy that is keeping Kabul empty and Islamabad neglected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The inescapable fact is that the road to Kabul lies through Islamabad. The Pakistani military-intelligence complex is in triumphalist mode, while the political-media-public opinion complex is apprehensive. For a country that could not swallow Zia-ul-Haq’s Nizam-e-Mustafa, the prospect of the Talibanisation of Pakistan is frightening. But we have few on the spot to report these contradictions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tragically, the principal reason we are not in either capital has little to do with foreign policy, and everything to do with the coming Uttar Pradesh elections. We have contracted out foreign policy to further the political fortunes of Yogi Adityanath!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 16 15:01:26 IST 2021 partition-what-does-the-prime-minister-want-us-to-remember <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>What is the purpose of remembrance? Revenge? Remorse? Restitution? Reconciliation? Rekindling the dying embers of mindless hate? Reapportioning blame? Remembering? Or, reminding oneself, “never again”? Before asking our prime minister to explain what he wants to be remembered, let me, as a displaced Midnight’s Child, briefly recount what I recall as a six-year-old at partition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My father was in Lahore where he had sought refuge and a career 20 years earlier, in 1927, from anti-Brahminism in his home province. Do I recall the glistening blade of the dagger aimed at him as dawn broke on August 17, 1947, or the kindness of the Muslim grocer, who held the knife without plunging it in, after keeping my father well-supplied over the previous awful week? And, what am I to do with the image that haunts me—of my father watching from his brother’s Panchkuian Road flat in New Delhi a Muslim boy begging and pleading, “I will say Ram, I will say Krishna, but please do not kill me”, followed by the mob brutally slitting the throat of this innocent thirteen-year-old, as if he were an Eid ka bakra?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, do I recall the fury of a jatha of Sikhs banging at our door in Simla demanding to know where the Muslims were hiding? Or, the bravery and compassion of my mother, all alone in the house with four little children, telling the jatha that the Muslim family had “gone to Pakistan” when, in fact, they were cowering behind locked doors on the ground floor?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The consequences of the dreadful partition massacres—the hunting down of innocents, the displacement of millions, the rape and rapine, the looting and land-grabbing—are still with us. We see it in the thrashing of a bangle-seller in Indore who sported a Hindu name while holding a Muslim name on his Aadhaar card. We also see it in the nearby ‘Bombay Bazaar’ where a Muslim mob thrashed a Hindu because he had married a Muslim girl. We see it also in the brutal misuse of blasphemy laws against religious minorities in our “distant neighbour”. We see it, above all in the hostility and mistrust fostered at inter-governmental levels to keep the neighbours distanced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Should I use Modi’s Remembrance Day to go back to the Pakistani-origin historian, Ishtiaq Ahmed, who has meticulously documented every atrocity perpetrated by the Muslim majority on the Hindu/Sikh minorities in west Punjab, or the Government of Pakistan report on the atrocities perpetrated by the Hindu/Sikh majority on the Muslim minority in east Punjab? Or, should I take recourse to literature and read the Muslim author, Saadat Hasan Manto, or Khushwant Singh, the Sikh writer of Train to Pakistan, or Bapsi Sidhwa, the Parsi author of The Ice-Candy Man?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, does Modi desire us to remember only the Mahatma’s padayatra in Noakhali to stop the madness afflicting the Muslim community, or also his visiting Bihar immediately thereafter to stop the madness afflicting the Hindu community? Does he want us to recall the Mahatma ordering the restoration to Muslims of mosques in Delhi taken over by Hindu refugees from Pakistan? Or of Modi’s bete noire, Jawaharlal Nehru, plunging into Hindu crowds to stop them from assaulting Muslims? In short, Modiji, should I be selective in remembering Partition—or comprehensive?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, would the Prime Minister also like to declare February 27 to March 3 as Remembrance Week for the 2002 pogrom that took, in vengeance, the lives of at least one thousand blameless Muslims, including Muslim women who had their unborn children gouged out from their wombs?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Sep 02 16:47:12 IST 2021 modi-deserves-gold-medal-for-hyperbole-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>And, the Olympic medals for hyperbole go to: Gold—the prime minister (“stupendous performance”); Silver—the president (“stellar performance”); Bronze—the vice president (“We too can do it!”)</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is that of the 124 players sent to Tokyo, 117 returned empty-handed. We, the nation with the largest segment of the world population in the sports age bracket (up to 24 years), wallowed at the 48th position, in the same league as Armenia, Kyrgyzstan and Dominica (whose combined population is about the same as Brihanmumbai’s) and below Jamaica and the Bahamas who are together less populated than Goa. What satisfaction can we draw from having scored more than San Marino (population far below Alappuzha), Gabon (population about 1 per cent of India’s), and Haiti (population about the same as Lakshadweep)?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yes, we won one gold (hurrah)—out of 340 gold medals awarded at Tokyo 2021; two silver medals—out of 338; and four bronze—out of 402. “Stupendous”? “We too can do it”? Do what? Our Olympics medals over 125 years amount to 35. Of these, we have 10 gold medals (of which eight have been in hockey)—in which all we could secure was a bronze this time. And, Modi’s cheerleaders proclaimed this our chak de moment!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reality check, however, is that our total number of medals in 125 years of the Olympic Games is marginally more than the number of medals won by one US swimmer, Michael Phelps, alone. The other reality check is that in sports in which we have won Olympic medals in the past—lawn tennis, shooting—we have won nothing in Tokyo 2020. Our past victories have been flashes in the pan. Will javelin, in which we won our solitary gold at Tokyo, go the same way?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact is we cannot become a medal-winning nation until we first transform into a sporting nation. For that, we need institutional support in every village and every slum. Neither the Sports Authority of India (SAI) nor the score of sports federations has that reach—or seeks it. They fatten themselves on talent that turns up swayambhu [self-made]. They are not into talent-spotting at an early age and talent nurturing through childhood and adolescence. This is the basic reason for our pathetic performance at the world level, despite being endowed with the largest sporting human material in the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The only institutions with that kind of reach to the grassroots are panchayati raj bodies and the Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan. This is why when I was Union sports and youth minister (2006-2008)—and simultaneously minister of panchayati raj (2004-2009)—I started the nation-wide Panchayat Yuva Krida aur Khel Abhiyan (PYKKA) (in English, the Panchayat Youth Sports and Games Movement). It provided funding and supported every village panchayat to offer facilities for as many sports disciplines as they could. It also envisioned the Nehru Yuva Kendras recruiting the training personnel and organising with the local bodies the necessary competitive sporting events at panchayat, block and district level for talent spotting by SAI and other sports federations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The system has survived many successor ministers and many name changes but, in its present incarnation, is essentially based on schools—without realising that most schools in rural India do not have land to organise games (which panchayats do). If reverting to PYKKA is more than what Modi can swallow, an alternative based on Fidel Castro’s Cuban miracle (14 gold in Barcelona ’92) will have to be devised before we have our chak de moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Aug 19 15:19:17 IST 2021 amit-shah-policy-led-to-mizoram-assam-clash-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union Home Minister Amit Shah thunders at the Chinese that India will not yield them “an inch” of Indian territory. His acolyte, Himanta Biswa Sarma, the spanking new chief minister of Assam, echoes him: “Not an inch of Assam will be conceded…. People have sacrificed their lives, but boundary has been protected, which we will continue to do at any cost.” No, he is not warning the Chinese. He is threatening his neighbouring state of Mizoram. This is his version of faithfully implementing Amit Shah’s impassioned call on July 25, at a meeting of northeast chief ministers in Shillong, to “amicably” resolve their border issues before the 75th anniversary of India’s independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The border dispute has nothing to do with India’s independence. Under the British rule, the Lushai Hills that now constitute Mizoram, were demarcated five times in the 19th century; but only once, in 1873, in consultation with recognised tribal leaders. Two years later, the Inner-Line Forest Reserve demarcation was gazetted. In 1952, the Lushai Hills were rightfully granted their Autonomous District Council under the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution. Then, under the wise leadership of Indira Gandhi, the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971, reconstituted the Lushai Hills district as the Union territory of Mizoram which, in terms of Section 6 of the Act, provided that “thereupon, the said territories shall cease to form part of the existing areas of the state of Assam”. Clear enough, one would have thought.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But that would be to reckon without Shah’s unique politics of “sowing hatred and distrust”, as Rahul Gandhi has reacted to the ghastly events on the Mizoram-Assam border that broke within 48 hours of the Union home minister fishing in troubled waters.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Mizoram Home Secretary Lalbiaksangi’s report to the Union home ministry, the Assam Police arrived with a cavalcade of about 20 cars and ambulances at the Kawngthar Veng autorickshaw stand in Mizoram’s northernmost city of Vairengte, and while the CRPF stood mutely by, fired tear gas shells and smoke bombs at the Mizo police detail, and then brought in further reinforcements leading to the exchange of fire in which several police personnel and civilians were injured and even killed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Assam Police also brought with them tents and building materials to set up a camp in the nearby reserve forest area. Is this an “amicable” manner of settling disputes whether over land or, as Sarma has alleged, over protecting reserve forest land from encroachment? Remember, Sarma is a Shah favourite and, despite being a defector from the Congress, has ardently embraced the BJP doctrine of “divide and rule”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the northeast’s most distinguished journalist, Patricia Mukhim, has put it, “statesmanship of a high order” is needed (The Shillong Times, July 29). It was statesmanship of that order that resulted in Rajiv Gandhi’s Mizo Accord of 1986, which ended the 20-year-old insurgency and brought sustained peace in Mizoram. The chief ministers who have maintained that record include the current second-term chief minister, Zoramthanga. He was once the No.2 in the insurgency and knows a thing or two about sustained armed rebellion that seems to have escaped his Assam counterpart’s attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Informed statesmanship would have required Shah to let sleeping dogs lie. By setting an arbitrary deadline to bring Assam’s border issues with six of its neighbouring states to finality, he was only provoking the kind of armed clash that occurred on the Mizoram-Assam border on July 26. The borders have been where they are for the last half-century. “Statesmanship” would require leaving it at that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The writer is a former Union minister for the development of the north-eastern region.</b></p> Thu Aug 05 16:17:20 IST 2021 what-amit-shah-plans-to-achieve-with-cooperation-ministry-mani-shankar-aiyar0 <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cooperatives are listed as a state subject in our Constitution, and till the other day were looked after by an obscure department tucked under the wing of the Union ministry of agriculture. Now a whole new ministry of cooperation has been set up and put under the charge of the second most powerful figure of the political establishment, Home Minister Amit Shah. A new ministry may in itself be welcome. As the A.D. Gorwala committee said in 1954, “Cooperation has failed. Cooperation must succeed”. But why under a home minster who has plenty more on his plate?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spread of the cooperative movement in the country is wide, albeit concentrated in the west (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka). There are more than 95,000 primary agriculture cooperatives, over 350 district-level cooperative banks and 33 state-level cooperative banks, with the state cooperative banks having a total paid-up capital of over Rs6,000 crore and deposits of around Rs1.3 lakh crore, besides paid-up capital of Rs21,000 crore in district cooperatives alongside deposits of Rs3.78 lakh crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are over 1,500 urban cooperative banks with a total paid-up capital of nearly Rs15,000 crore. This would be achievement indeed if cooperatives were really run on the three key principles set out in Part IX B of the Constitution: Voluntary, autonomous and democratic. And, not treated as an ATM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, cooperatives have been exploited for their money power. In 1915, Edward Maclagan, ICS, observed that the villain of the piece is the “mercenary registrar”. Over this century, many committees have been established to consider the working of the cooperative movement in independent India. These have included the Gorwala committee mentioned above, followed by the K.N. Ardhanareeswaran committee in 1987 and the C. Brahm Prakash committee in 1991, besides numerous conferences of chief ministers, notably the one summoned by Indira Gandhi in 1968.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Summing up the conclusions of these deliberations, the Cooperative Development Foundation of Hyderabad said in 1994: “The usurpation by most state governments through legislation of the power to conduct elections to cooperatives, the subsequent non-conduct of these, the frequent exercise of the legally permissible power of compulsory amalgamation and division of cooperatives, the placement of party workers and/or subservient government officers as management in the cooperatives during the interregnum following non-conduct of elections or reorganisation, the legitimised complete control over audit during the interregnum or at any other point of time, all point to the politician deeply committed to and benefiting from restrictive, unreasonable anti-cooperative legislation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the root cause of politicians involved in the cooperative movement becoming such powerful politicians, especially in western India. Shah is one of these as the long-serving head of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank. Neither he nor his new ministry has said anything, as far as I am aware, about leveraging his new position to implement in letter and spirit the Constitutional provisions on cooperatives that were designed to give constitutional sanction and sanctity to cleaning the Augean stables of the history of cooperatives in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, as Mark Antony said of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Shah is an “honourable man”. That might indeed be his intention. But until we see how he performs, scepticism is required to assess this extraordinary innovation of upgrading a minor department into a full-fledged ministry under a powerful politician whose roots are entangled with the cooperative movement in his home state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 22 19:30:47 IST 2021 what-amit-shah-plans-to-achieve-with-cooperation-ministry-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Cooperatives are listed as a state subject in our Constitution, and till the other day were looked after by an obscure department tucked under the wing of the Union ministry of agriculture. Now a whole new ministry of cooperation has been set up and put under the charge of the second most powerful figure of the political establishment, Home Minister Amit Shah. A new ministry may in itself be welcome. As the A.D. Gorwala committee said in 1954, “Cooperation has failed. Cooperation must succeed”. But why under a home minster who has plenty more on his plate?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The spread of the cooperative movement in the country is wide, albeit concentrated in the west (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka). There are more than 95,000 primary agriculture cooperatives, over 350 district-level cooperative banks and 33 state-level cooperative banks, with the state cooperative banks having a total paid-up capital of over Rs6,000 crore and deposits of around Rs1.3 lakh crore, besides paid-up capital of Rs21,000 crore in district cooperatives alongside deposits of Rs3.78 lakh crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addition, there are over 1,500 urban cooperative banks with a total paid-up capital of nearly Rs15,000 crore. This would be achievement indeed if cooperatives were really run on the three key principles set out in Part IX B of the Constitution: Voluntary, autonomous and democratic. And, not treated as an ATM.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alas, cooperatives have been exploited for their money power. In 1915, Edward Maclagan, ICS, observed that the villain of the piece is the “mercenary registrar”. Over this century, many committees have been established to consider the working of the cooperative movement in independent India. These have included the Gorwala committee mentioned above, followed by the K.N. Ardhanareeswaran committee in 1987 and the C. Brahm Prakash committee in 1991, besides numerous conferences of chief ministers, notably the one summoned by Indira Gandhi in 1968.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Summing up the conclusions of these deliberations, the Cooperative Development Foundation of Hyderabad said in 1994: “The usurpation by most state governments through legislation of the power to conduct elections to cooperatives, the subsequent non-conduct of these, the frequent exercise of the legally permissible power of compulsory amalgamation and division of cooperatives, the placement of party workers and/or subservient government officers as management in the cooperatives during the interregnum following non-conduct of elections or reorganisation, the legitimised complete control over audit during the interregnum or at any other point of time, all point to the politician deeply committed to and benefiting from restrictive, unreasonable anti-cooperative legislation.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the root cause of politicians involved in the cooperative movement becoming such powerful politicians, especially in western India. Shah is one of these as the long-serving head of the Ahmedabad District Cooperative Bank. Neither he nor his new ministry has said anything, as far as I am aware, about leveraging his new position to implement in letter and spirit the Constitutional provisions on cooperatives that were designed to give constitutional sanction and sanctity to cleaning the Augean stables of the history of cooperatives in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, as Mark Antony said of Brutus in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Shah is an “honourable man”. That might indeed be his intention. But until we see how he performs, scepticism is required to assess this extraordinary innovation of upgrading a minor department into a full-fledged ministry under a powerful politician whose roots are entangled with the cooperative movement in his home state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 22 16:53:44 IST 2021 j-k-round-one-has-gone-to-gupkar-alliance-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Why did Narendra Modi-Amit Shah invite to Delhi the very Kashmiris they were bent on discrediting? And, why did the Kashmiri leaders attend the high-profile meeting like obedient schoolboys? In other words: Who blinked? Modi-Shah or the “Gupkar gang”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Was Modi only burnishing his image before embarking on a US visit? Or was it because the Americans, who are leaving Afghanistan, want a tidied-up South Asia with India concentrating its energies on fighting Washington’s cold war with China? What, in terms of domestic politics, has made Modi-Shah resile from their stated objectives when they undertook their parliamentary coup against autonomy for the state of Jammu and Kashmir on August 5, 2019? And, in Srinagar, what made the “Gupkar gang” turn up in Delhi for a command performance when none of their demands had been conceded or even put on the agenda?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I venture to suggest that it was because nothing they were subjected to in the last two years has cowed down the Kashmiris. And, Modi-Shah resorted to blandishment on finding that neither coercion nor the threat of coercion had broken the back of Kashmiri resistance. Their hopes of ending the dynastic influence on Kashmiri political preferences have been dashed. The Abdullahs and the Muftis are as much in evidence in the Kashmiri polity as they were on August 4, 2019, when they first gathered at the Gupkar Road residence of Farooq Abdullah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Delhi’s attempts to shore up an alternative leadership by lending their full support to dissidents like Altaf Bukhari and his Jammu and Kashmir Apni Party have come to nought; so also have its attempts to project dissident Sajjad Gani Lone as an alternative. The district development council elections proved, if proof were needed, that the “dynasts” still rule the political roost. Even Ladakh—now threatened with non-Ladakhi encroachments—is getting restive over the abrogation of Article 35A that guaranteed land and jobs to Ladakhis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the positive side, shared adversity has strengthened the Gupkar unity more than anything else could have ensured. Indeed, the continued incarceration of their principal opponents—the Tehreek-e-Hurriyat—has only increased Gupkar’s political space.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>BJP leaders can, of course, claim that they have opened their Kashmiri opponents’ eyes to the irrefutable reality that they are in power in Delhi and can do what they wish to make life hell for those who do not fall in line. Of course, they can. But so could British viceroys from Lord Canning to Lord Linlithgow. Yet, who won in the end? Add to this that there is no investment from outside, no infrastructure development, no movement on the Kashmiri pandit front, no “naya Kashmir”, and you get an idea of who blinked first, Modi-Shah or the “Gupkar gang”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nor have the Kashmiris conceded anything to Delhi. They remain resolute on the restoration of Articles 370/35A. They have their reservations over the sequencing of the return to normalcy: Statehood first, delimitation next and elections last, while the Modi-Shah duo wants it the other way round.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gupkar Alliance leaders have also shown that they are not resorting to disturbing law and order. They demand only their rights as Indians. They have revealed themselves as patriots able and willing to enter into dialogue with Delhi. With the prime minister himself engaging with them, it stands established that they are not into sedition or communal confrontation but are citizens demanding respect for their constitutional, legal, human rights and fundamental freedoms.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No knock-out blows have been delivered, but on points, round one has gone to the Gupkar Alliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jul 08 15:17:36 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-writes-about-3974-arrests-in-two-years-under-uapa <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Is India awash with terrorism? The US state department found that in 46 years (1970-2016), India suffered only 2 per cent of global terrorist fatalities although we constitute 17.5 per cent of the global population. We may have some 800 terrorist organisations, as claimed by a former national security adviser, but over the 11 years from 2005 to 2016, they were able to kill 707 people—that is, less than one person per organisation in more than a decade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, we have had the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) since 1967, that is for more than half a century. The UAPA was first conceived in the aftermath of the 1962 India-China war, but was not passed until after the India-Pakistan 17-day war of September 1965. Meanwhile, the 16th amendment to the Constitution was passed in 1963 to facilitate the imposition “by law”, of “reasonable restrictions in the interests of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of India”. The UAPA, as amended four times, does target “terrorism” now, but was initially limited to acts that threatened national sovereignty and integrity and did not include “terrorism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why another legislation, the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act—commonly known as the TADA—was brought on to our statute books in 1985 to deal with terrorism in Punjab. The abuse and misuse of the TADA became notorious, but “unlawful activities” were kept separate from “terrorist acts” for the next 17 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was the botched terrorist attack on Parliament in December 2001 that led to the Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA) of 2002. That, too, became so notorious for violating rights guaranteed under the Constitution that it was repealed in 2004. Then came the terrorist attack on Mumbai in November 2008, and the distinction between “unlawful activities” and “terrorist activities” was obliterated in our jurisprudence. That has opened the way to the Narendra Modi government filing 3,005 cases and arresting 3,974 persons in just two years (2016-2018)—the latest figures I have been able to access.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As if this was not serious enough cause for concern, the UAPA was amended once again in 2019. Under Section 43D (5) in the UAPA, normal bail rules were rescinded, and an individual could be labelled a “terrorist” even before conviction by trial.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is what brings us to our present pass. Three student activists were released on bail by the Delhi High Court on June 15 after more than a year in incarceration. Subsequent commentary has drawn attention to Mohammed Ilyas and Mohammed Irfan being acquitted of any UAPA offence, but only after spending seven years in jail. This was not the worst case. Others had been declared innocent, but only after spending a staggering 14 and 23 years in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Bearing all this and more in mind, Delhi High Court judges Siddharth Mridul and Anup Jairam Bhambhani—noting that the Supreme Court had held that bail may be granted if, as the UAPA itself prescribed, a “speedy trial” is not held—described the repeated refusal of bail in long-pending cases as “inconsistent with democracy, redolent of authoritarian or tyrannical states”. They decried the UAPA “being casually used by the government when charges under conventional penal laws would very well do”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Supreme Court justices Hemant Gupta and V. Ramasubramanian, while not cancelling the bail orders of the Delhi High Court, have found the high court’s bail order running to a hundred pages as “troubling” and probably requiring “examination by the Supreme Court”. It also needs examination at the bar of public opinion and in Parliament to stop our slide into a banana republic.</p> Fri Jun 25 14:48:48 IST 2021 it-is-high-time-we-scrapped-the-sedition-law-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the 1990s, a favourite term of abuse of the sangh parivar for people like me whose first language was English and had been exposed to western education was to dismiss us as “Macaulay ki aulad (Thomas Babington Macaulay’s bastard children)”. What is underplayed is that Macaulay also predicted that British rule would not last much beyond a hundred years (he was right) and, so, by that time, Indians should be groomed to rule themselves. To this end, Macaulay devised the Indian Penal Code, which, in modified form, continues to this day. Relevant to this recall is that Macaulay’s penal code did not contain any provision for “sedition”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That unfortunate addition was made several decades later when Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, the law member in 1870, faced with a Wahhabi insurrection, introduced into Indian jurisprudence a new “crime”—that of “sedition”—and prescribed punishment extending to life imprisonment for inciting “disaffection” against the empress and her government in India. But for over a quarter century, the “sedition” provision lay dormant. It was invoked for the first time in 1897 against Bal Gangadhar Tilak. The Narendra Modi cohort has invoked this charge 96 times in 2019 alone! Fortunately, the conviction rate is only 2 per cent. Yet, those charged have to endure frightful conditions in police or judicial custody, so that plenty of punishment is inflicted before any court conclusion is reached. Ask Stan Swamy, incarcerated in his eighties despite serious illness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Gandhian phase of the freedom struggle began in reaction to the Rowlatt Act of 1919, which reinforced the criminalisation of “sedition”. Gandhiji’s vow of satyagraha described the Rowlatt Bills as “unjust, subversive of the principle of liberty and justice, destructive of the elementary rights of individuals”. At his trial in 1922, Gandhiji called Section 124A “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen”. That is even more true of the sedition law in 2021 than it was in 1919.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was most unfortunate that 124A was not thrown out with the British. That was, of course, because in the chaos of partition and the recalcitrance of some of the princes, especially Hyderabad, to integrate their states into the Indian Union, and Pakistani mischief in Kashmir, sedition was very much in the air. It was, however, explicitly decided not to use “sedition” to derogate from the fundamental rights set out in the Constitution, even if it continued in criminal jurisprudence. The Punjab and Haryana High Court and the Supreme Court played a key role in reining in the executive from misusing sedition charges to settle political scores, as in the Tara Singh Gopi Chand case (1950), Kedar Nath case (1962) and Balwant Singh case (1995).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the last seven years of “Moditva”, the country has seen a rise of some 160 per cent in “sedition cases”, with no action being taken against those like the Union minister who incited “violence and disturbing public order” by demanding to shoot down anyone they choose to label a “traitor”. Not to worry. We have been saved. Justices U.U. Lalit and Vineet Saran, in the Vinod Dua case (2021), have reiterated that a citizen is within his rights to say or write whatever he likes about the government, provided he does not incite violence or public disorder.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is high time Section 124A was repealed. For, as Gandhiji said, “affection cannot be manufactured” and “fullest expression” should be given to spreading “disaffection” against the government of the day in any well-ordered democracy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Jun 10 15:50:08 IST 2021 mani-shankar-aiyar-compares-palestine-and-kashmir <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On August 5, 2019, I wrote that the Modi government had just created a Palestine on our northern border. I have been revisiting that thought through the latest intensely violent flare up between Hamas in Gaza and Benyamin Netanyahu’s Israel. Does the parallel hold? Sadly, it does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Israel declared itself an independent state on Palestinian territory on May 14, 1948, the Arab states, in a joint military exercise, went to war to strangle the new state at birth. The Zionist settlers won, confirming on the battlefield their right to existence that they had earlier won by an almost unanimous vote at the UN, India opposing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Arab states tried twice again, in 1967 and 1973, to wrest back Palestine from Israel’s vice-like grip. Both times, they failed. And Israel, twice over, gained more Palestinian land and rid itself of more Palestinians. Meanwhile, Yasser Arafat decided to pause the violence while the international community sought a two-state solution through a 1967 UN resolution to secure Israel’s right to existence and simultaneously the Palestinian right to a state of their own in their homeland.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 1993, through the Oslo Accords, Arafat won the right for himself and his people to return home. Thus, did the Palestinian National Authority come into being. What the PNA did not get was either sovereignty or even suzerainty. They only got panchayati raj in the Gaza Strip. That is why the 1967 UN resolution that everyone swears by even today is a shredded piece of paper consumed in the fire of Israeli air attacks killing hundreds of defenceless people and Hamas rockets proving Palestinian grit, but being no more than mosquito bites on Israel’s civil population.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It took 39 years, from 1948 to 1987, for the Palestinian people to give up their abject dependence on fellow-Arabs and start an authentic, indigenous intifada themselves with nothing more, at least to begin with, than sticks and stones. The Israelis, who won within days every war launched against them by the Arab states, have not succeeded in the last 44 years in overcoming the intifada launched by the Palestinians themselves. That is where the parallel with Kashmir begins. Even as the Palestinians remained muted spectators when others came to their side, so also have the Kashmiris remained uncooperative when Pakistanis have tried to do their work for them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By their very nature, intifadas are unpredictable. Yet, no show of state strength has extinguished the flame of equality and justice burning in every Palestinian heart. Intifada is nurtured for years in every individual soul before it self-ignites, like the combustion engine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, we must not be misled that for two short years violence in the valley has been kept under a lid by putting a jawan with a machine gun at every street corner. Hundreds have been arrested without cause or complaint. Those not under arrest are under constant threat of being held without explanation. The fundamental principle of habeas corpus has been kept at bay by a complaisant Supreme Court with not a single petition for “producing the body” even taken up for hearing. The lieutenant governor rules autocratically and indefinitely. Civic and constitutional rights are trampled upon. The right to communicate, held fundamental by the Supreme Court for every Indian, is systematically downgraded and arbitrarily shut off for the Indian citizens of the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With the simmering anger being deliberately ignored, an intifada is being nurtured in seven million hearts. I stand by what I said two years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 27 15:34:16 IST 2021 tamil-nadu-has-shown-the-way-to-national-redemption-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A Lokniti-CSDS poll survey published in The Hindu (May 5) contains the astonishing information that when it comes to “anti-BJP sentiment”, the caste composition of support to hindutva is the polar opposite of the way it pans out in “Aryavarta”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “upper castes”, particularly the Brahmins, have traditionally been the sheet anchor of BJP support in north and central India, whereas in Tamil Nadu 41 per cent of “upper castes”, in answer to the question, “Is the BJP good or bad for Tamil Nadu’s social fabric?” replied, “bad”. True, the “upper caste” in Tamil Nadu is small and confined to the likes of me and P. Chidambaram, but it is still significant that, in sharp contrast to happenings north of the Vindhyas, four out of ten of our ilk do not want hindutva sneaking in, as against 18 per cent who thought otherwise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The largest segment of Tamil Nadu’s population comprises the other backward classes. Fascinatingly, the percentage of Thevar who also answered “bad” is higher even than the upper castes: 44 per cent. This gets reduced to 33 per cent among the Mudaliar and 30 per cent among the Edayar, but perhaps the most intriguing finding is that the Vanniyar—a most backward community (MBC) whom a BJP ally, the Pattali Makkal Katchi, claims to represent—were next only to the “upper castes” and the Thevar in rejecting the OBC claims on which Narendra Modi has based his rise in politics. The Vanniyar at 38 per cent were the third-highest community in regarding the impact of the BJP on Tamil Nadu’s social fabric as “bad”. The same percentage held for the category “Other OBCs”. Clearly, Modi’s boast to have widened the BJP ambit from “upper castes” to OBCs has found little resonance in Tamil Nadu.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And, by far, the highest percentage of those who look askance at the inroads that hindutva is attempting to make into Tamil Nadu are the scheduled castes (SC). A gasp-inducing 48 per cent—higher even than the “upper castes”, the OBC and the MBC—are persuaded that the impact of hindutva on the state’s social fabric is “bad”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the other end of the spectrum, a staggering 45 per cent of the Muslim community, who have always been well integrated into society at large in Tamil Nadu and, therefore, do not feel their identity and safety threatened as in the north, regard the hindutva impact as “Doesn’t make a difference either way”, with 10 per cent fewer— a mere 35 per cent—thinking the impact might be ‘bad’. This shows that the demonisation of the minority community on which the RSS/BJP thrives has had such little influence on the Tamil mind, as to leave the Muslims of Tamil Nadu the only segment of Muslims in the whole country feeling quite sanguine.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This conclusion is, however, offset by the Christian community, concentrated in the deep, deep south in and around Kanyakumari district, clearly registering an unambiguous “bad” verdict against the sangh parivar and hindutva, particularly since the Meenakshipuram riots—instigated by the RSS in 1981, opposing SC mass conversions to Christianity—that convulsed the region. Second only to the SC apprehension of prospective BJP inroads is 47 per cent of the Christian community regarding the BJP impact on the social fabric negatively, as “bad”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Lokniti-CSDS post-poll survey establishes the sound reasons for which the BJP cyclone has not been able to make any landfall in Tamil Nadu. This must give heart to all those who despair of reversing the BJP’s rise. Tamil Nadu has demonstrated across all strata of society that the Modi-Shah duo is an aberration who can and must be worsted for India to survive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu May 13 15:12:23 IST 2021 india-should-reassess-dependency-on-quad-says-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While Indian and Chinese army commanders circle around each other, like Sumo wrestlers, waiting for the right moment to clinch, our political leaders have not spelt out what their overarching objectives are in the pursuit of India-China relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is it our strategic aim to rival and overtake the Chinese? And is it, therefore, our tactical aim to not cede “an inch” of what we believe is an integral and inalienable part of Mother India, sanctified by the Vedas, the Puranas, the Mahabharat, the Upanishads and our ancient sanskriti? Or, a territorial quarrel over what Aurangzeb seized for us when he captured Ladakh and built a mosque in Leh to prove it? Or, as a precious heritage that left to us when the British evolved their policy of “flexible frontiers” on our northern borders and convened meetings in Simla of Chinese and Tibetan plenipotentiaries in that golden summer on the eve of World War I? Or Amit Shah’s cartographic conquest that renders Ladakh the biggest Union territory, perhaps the biggest state, of the Indian Union?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Or, are we trying to get back to the harmony that prevailed between two neighbouring civilisations from the dawn of history till 1962? Or, that vision of “peace and tranquillity” that informed Rajiv Gandhi’s breakthrough visit to China in December 1988 that gave us, till the other day, 30 years of galloping economic, trade and technological relations while patiently undertaking round after round of “border talks” at special envoy level?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If our goal is to best the Chinese at their own game, that objective could best be described as utopian. We perhaps had that possibility till the 1970s, but since then, the Chinese have so far overtaken us in economic strength, military power and international political influence. Only vainglory makes many of us believe that outdoing the Chinese is a rational or even desirable goal. A worthier aim would be to accept that China is far ahead of us on these parameters. But on the parameters of democracy and human rights, any sensible human being would rather be an Indian than a Chinese.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of basing the strategic goals of our foreign policy on a needless inferiority complex, would it not make more sense to accept that in some dimensions the Chinese are ahead of us and in some other spheres we are ahead, and move self-confidently towards better times?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that I think we should reassess our increasing dependence on the Quad. Where traditionally we had sought to make the Indian Ocean a zone of peace, we are now making the so-called Indo-Pacific a zone of war. Why is it that countries in the immediate neighbourhood of the South China Sea that China is probing are not party to Quad? Why are the Philippines, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam, Thailand, even land-locked Laos, keeping their distance? Is it because they do not think military confrontation with China will work, and believe quiet negotiations to be the way forward?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The former Bangladesh high commissioner to India, Tariq Karim, has made a persuasive case for a Bay of Bengal community. Would that not be a far more constructive way of linking up with Southeast Asia than following the far-away west in preparing for war in a fanciful geographic construct called the “Indo-Pacific” by a country that, till the other day, did not even accept that India was part of what they called “Asia”? Why are we following the Pakistani example of 1954, when Pakistan outsourced its national security to the Americans, and came a cropper?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Apr 29 15:07:43 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