Mani Shankar Aiyar en Wed Nov 02 11:37:48 IST 2022 difference-between-islamisation-and-hindutva <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As I have described in my recently released <i>Memoirs of a Maverick</i>, I reached Karachi just a few weeks before President Zia ul-Haq declared the Nizam-e-Mustafa, the rule of the Prophet—the first step in what came to be called “Islamisation”. So, Karan Thapar, interviewing me on my Pakistan chapter, asked me against whom Islamisation was targeted. “The impious Muslim,” I replied. “Not,” I was asked, “against the Pakistani Hindu?” On reflection, I said the blasphemy laws have been used against Pakistan’s main minority, the Christians. But Hindus? No.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Later, thinking about this exchange, I wondered against whom hindutva was targeted. Clearly the Indian Muslim. On further reflection, I have come to the conclusion that hindutva has nothing against Islam per se nor against the global Muslim community. That is why Modi wanders the world hugging every passing Muslim leader—sheikhs, sultans and their ilk. Interestingly, he does not do the same with Indian Muslims. Why?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer perhaps lies in the contestation that took place about a century ago, in the 1920s and 1930s, between Hindu and Muslim fundamentalists who virulently disagreed on everything but ardently agreed on one thing—that Hindus and Muslims belonged not to two religions within a common nation but constituted two incompatible nations. While this curious agreement-cum-disagreement had its roots in the post-1857 intellectual ferment, it did not acquire political traction till after the first elections held in 1937 under the British-sponsored Government of India Act, 1935, which provided for separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1937 elections were a disaster for Jinnah’s Muslim League, which secured only 5 per cent of the Muslim vote in Muslim separate electorates. But in his role as the Quaid-e-Azam, Mohammad Ali Jinnah succeeded in fuelling a separatist sentiment among his Muslim followers that, with British blessings, left a vivisected subcontinent as the last colonial legacy. That final contest was essentially led by Mahatma Gandhi, fighting for a united India, and Jinnah fighting for a separate nation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was an intriguing contest for Jinnah was so ignorant of Muslim ritual that he could not even say his <i>namaz</i>, while Gandhi was so steeped in religious discourse that readings from the Holy Quran and the Bible were integral to his daily prayer meetings: <i>“Ishwar Allah tero naam, sabko sanmati de bhagwan.”</i> In contrast, the advocates of hindutva from Savarkar to Modi know nothing about Islam and care little for it. This is not because hindutva has anything theological against Islam or against Muslims outside Bharat. It is because the presence of a 200-million strong Muslim minority in Bharat dilutes the exclusively Hindu identity of this country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, the key difference between the Islamisation of Pakistan by Zia and the ongoing project of hindutvising our country is not that of making better Hindus of 1.4 billion Indians but of showing the minorities their place in Hindu Bharat. As a truly believing Muslim, Zia was the most pious Muslim (arguably the only pious Muslim) that Islamic Pakistan has ever had at its head. Zia wanted to fashion his country, conceived and born in the name of Islam, into a truly Islamic nation (according to his lights) notwithstanding the country’s elite who wanted to dilute strict Islam with a few drops of the waters of Scotland and winking at Friday <i>namaz</i> and the rigours of fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramzan. Hindutva, on the other hand, has no agenda of further Hinduising Hindus but concentrates on diluting the Muslim presence in what they believe should be a <i>pak</i> (that is, pure) Hindu nation. That is the crux of the conundrum.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 23 11:30:50 IST 2023 modi-government-is-a-gross-failure-in-confronting-chinpak <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Narendra Modi government’s gross failure in foreign policy is best illustrated by our being at loggerheads with our two biggest neighbours—China and Pakistan. They have actually merged into one ‘enemy’, Chinpak, for the Chinese are no longer behind the Himalayas but poised inside Pakistan on the banks of the Sindhu (Indus) river just about where Alexander was in 326 B.C.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>How far we have drifted from the halcyon days of December, 1988, when, in quick succession and within the same month, Rajiv Gandhi became the first Indian prime minister to visit China and Pakistan in 32 and 28 years, respectively, to open new doors to good neighbourly relations with both. It may be contrasted with the continuing logjam in China-India relations and the total absence of any meaningful engagement with Pakistan since 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Let us take China first. What Xi Jinping is showing his Indian counterpart is that you can’t hunt with the hounds and run with the hare at the same time. Do we believe with the Americans that China is a dangerous enemy whom we must confront in coalition with like-minded countries? And is that why we are so eagerly in the Quad? Or are we seeking a settlement of the border to resume cordial relations with our great civilisational neighbour? While nominally sharing a swing in Ahmedabad and photo-ops in gorgeous Xian and Wuhan, and swallowing idlis together in Mahabalipuram, Xi wanted to gauge whether what Modi was whispering to Xi squared with what he was vouchsafing Barack Obama, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. For with the US presidents, Modi was signalling his readiness to play footsie with an international ganging-up against China, while pretending to Xi that the days of renewed ‘Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai’ were just around the corner. Xi was having none of this and moved his troops further forward along our northern border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The foreign minister claims this is in line with our traditional non-alignment. It is not. For non-alignment was about not aligning with either. Our present stance, in contrast, is a saga of confusion, akin to a young woman alternately pulling out the petals of a flower asking, “Will he?”/“Won’t he?”. It would seem Modi wants to remain a “natural ally” of a west that is hostile to China while talking to China at the highest level even if they are in occupation of what we consider our own. What other explanation can we give for the Indian government spokesman describing as “pleasantries” what video clearly showed was Modi in Bali initiating, apparently without success, a conversation with Xi? And then in Johannesburg last month claiming through the foreign secretary that Modi and Xi had held an “informal conversation” during which both “had underlined that the maintenance of peace and tranquility in the border areas” required “observing and respecting the LAC” as “essential for the normalisation of the India-China relationship.” Egg was all over the Indian face when the Chinese spokesman riposted that Xi had only met Modi because India had asked for it while turning down a Chinese request for “a more structured dialogue”. The Chinese then rubbed it in saying “both sides should bear in mind the overall interests” of ties and “handle properly” the border issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Pakistan, the government has declared times without number that “talks and terror can’t go together”. Well, it has been nine years and if there is now no “terror”, then why can’t talks start? And if, despite this rhetoric, there is still “terror”, then is it not time to rethink this tired old cliche?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If “no dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis Pakistan and “no structured dialogue” is the policy vis-a-vis China, then are you surprised at China roosting on the Indus?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 09 11:09:48 IST 2023 nation-needs-more-compassion-and-less-hypocrisy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The prime minister has done it again. Misusing the platform provided to him, he converted the grand celebratory occasion of Independence Day into an opportunity to score cheap political points against those banding together against him in the name of I.N.D.I.A. This column will restrict itself to challenging him on his charge of “tushtikaran”, which the <i>sangh parivar</i> translates into their English as “appeasement”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his renowned biography of Winston Churchill, <i>The Last Lion: Alone, 1932-1940</i>, the author, William Manchester at p.101 gives the dictionary meaning of appeasement as “to buy off (an aggressor) by concessions, usually at the sacrifice of principles” and cites F.E. Smith Lord Birkenhead as first using the expression in the House of Lords to condemn conciliatory tactics towards advocates of Indian independence, calling those who did so “appeasers of Gandhi”. The term was seized upon by Churchill to derogate the British policy of conciliating Hitler by forgiving him his successive invasions of the Rhineland, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. “Appeasement” reverberated in the English language political vocabulary during Chamberlain’s handling of Hitler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In other words, “appeasement” is used with respect to enemies. Are our Muslims “enemies”? Then what does it mean to accuse political opponents of <i>tushtikaran?</i> Does that not show that for all his citing diversity, the inflexible assumption of Modi’s policies is to regard non-Hindu minorities, especially Muslims, as “enemies” whose ancestors brought upon us “1,200 years of slavery”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This is the proposition that has been peddled by Hindu extremists from the end of Mughal rule in India, and then through the writings and propaganda of V.D. Savarkar and M.S. Golwalkar, and constitute the core of the <i>sangh parivar</i>’s view of Indian’s nationhood. That is principally what hindutva is about. Hence the dog whistle “appeasement” to hint at the essential enemy—the poor, wretched Indian Muslim. From the allegation of <i>tushtikaran</i> spring ‘love jihad’, lynching, the ‘hijab’, azaan, and namaz controversies, the ‘bulldozer’ mentality, bullying non-Hindu victims to repeat ‘Jai, Shri Ram’ till they pass out, the fiddling with textbooks, the passing of laws with an evident communal bias, and all other acts of viciousness with which the history of the past nine years is littered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The civility of a nation is measured by its treatment of its minorities. Gandhiji embodied this principle. So did Nehru. That is why the Mahatma insisted on the return of all occupied Islamic places of worship to Muslims at the time of Partition. And “appeasement” is indeed the rationale presented by Nathuram Godse for assassinating the father of the nation. Therefore, when the ‘Vishwaguru’ describes kindness and consideration to our minorities as “appeasement”, that is, “conciliation of the enemy”, it makes an enemy of our minorities. It derogates from our civilisational heritage. It also derogates from the constitutional duty to regard all sections of our composite nation as equal.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do Muslims of India require special treatment? Yes, for their share in Parliament has fallen under the present dispensation to an abysmal 4 per cent, while they were assured of equitable representation through the goodwill of the majority in the constituent assembly. Do they need special privileges for their educational progress and economic emancipation? The Sachar committee returned a resounding verdict of “yes” to this question. And, yet, this is called <i>tushtikaran</i> even as Modi seeks a vote bank among poor Muslims (the ‘pasmanda’) by dividing the Muslim community. The nation needs more compassion and less hypocrisy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 26 11:25:18 IST 2023 lies-damned-lies-and-statistics <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>First things first. This column owes its all to two explanatory articles by Udit Mishra of <i>The Indian Express</i> published sequentially in the wake of Prime Minister Modi’s assertion before the US Congress that India was already at position five in the size of its GDP, and then after Modi assured the nation at the inauguration of the Bharat Mandapam in July that “during the third term of our government, India will be among the top three economies of the world”. Fair enough, even the IMF says so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But what has been hidden by Modi is that the growth rate in India has dropped by one hundred percentage points between 2004-2014 and the nine years that Modi has been PM. For we grew under Dr Manmohan Singh by 183 per cent in the UPA decade and that decennial growth rate has fallen by exactly 100 percentage points to 83 per cent in the Modi years. Had the Manmohan rate of growth been maintained, we would have overtaken Germany and Japan, the current two and three, many years ago. Our present ranking is thus much more the contribution of Manmohanomics than Modinomics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, it is not so much because India is growing but because of virtual stagnation or low growth rates in most of the other top 10, after the global financial crisis of 2008-09, that we have forged ahead in relative terms. But the gap between the top two and us is so wide, while the gap between each of the remaining eight is so narrow, that all eight of us are “also-rans” as compared with the US and China. We eight are overtaking each other not to get to the top but only to not be declared last!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, we may be fifth, and might even become third in GDP by 2027, but the gap in GDP between no.1 (the US) and no.2 (China) and India is at present so wide as to be nearly eight times lower than the US and nearly five times lower than China. We are bunched way below the two giants with a group of countries ranked three to ten whose combined GDP is US dollars two trillion less than the US, and fifth to tenth is three trillion lower than China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It gets worse when we look at per capita figures. For the US per capita income at $80,000 is some 38 times higher than India’s ($2,600) and China at $13,700 is some six times higher than India. Indeed, Germany and Japan, who we will be overtaking shortly in absolute size, are, in per capita terms, 26 times and 17 times higher than India. What boots it to come third in overall production when Indians languish at below 100 in per capita ranking and continue to lie in the 130s on the UN’s human development index? While Modi’s business friends scale international heights in terms of their personal wealth and make India rich on the PM’s metric, PM seems to forget that Indians on every other metric are poor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PM’s boast is also in derogation of our Constitution which clearly lays down in Article 39 (c) that “the State shall, in particular, direct its policy towards securing… that the operation of the economic system does not result in concentration of wealth and means of production to the common detriment” and in Article 39 (b) that “the ownership and control of the material resources of the country are so distributed as best to subserve the common good”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was another prime minister, [Benjamin] Disraeli, who denounced “lies, damned lies—and statistics”. Modi might want to lend him an ear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 12 11:07:38 IST 2023 uniform-civil-code-and-the-rajiv-gandhi-precedent <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi raising the highly controversial issue of the Uniform Civil Code (UCC) is obviously a dog whistle aimed at rallying the faithful to his standard divisive agenda on the eve of the general elections scheduled for 2024, when the INDIA alliance threatens to derail his long run of electoral victories.<br> </p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In doing this, he brings to mind the precedent of the Supreme Court in the Shah Bano case (1985), placing UCC in Article 44 of the directive principles of state policy on a higher level of imperative action than all other articles in the same part of the Constitution. Thus, while Article 39(c) directs that the state shall ensure that there is no “concentration of wealth”, Adani and Ambani have risen to the highest global levels on personal wealth scales while all indices indicate an obscene widening of income inequalities in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Faced with the fury of the minorities at the prospect of their personal laws being abrogated by a parliament in which they are woefully under-represented, Rajiv Gandhi found an ingenious way out of the conundrum. He reconciled the directive in Article 44 to “endeavour” to work towards a UCC and the requirement in Article 39 (a) to treat “men and women equally” with the continuation of community-based personal laws.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This was the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The constitutional validity of the act was challenged by Danial Latifi, a highly respected jurist, through a writ petition filed in September 1986. A constitutional bench held, in a judgement delivered in November 2001, that far from “reversing” the Supreme Court’s Shah Bano judgement, the impugned act had actually “codified” that judgement. How?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of denouncing Muslim divorce practice as seventh-century Arab “barbarism“, Rajiv Gandhi and his law minister, Ashoke Sen, actually took the trouble to carefully listen to and meticulously study what the <i>shariat</i> said on the subject. It was clear that Muslim personal law on divorce was actually highly enlightened in that provisions for monetary settlement were strictly laid down to ensure due compensation for divorce, and maintenance thereafter for the divorcee and her children was guaranteed by the male members of her family of birth, failing which the waqf was charged with taking care of the woman and her children. Complementing this was Muslim social practice that not only permitted but actually encouraged remarriage. (In consequence, a 2019 study by Abu Saleh and others found that 78 per cent of divorced Muslim women find another husband within two years of divorce).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The problem was the reactionary <i>mullahs</i> (clerics) who enforced the <i>shariat</i> in personal matters. To rectify this, Rajiv Gandhi’s 1986 act upheld the right of Muslims to their own personal law but brought its enforcement within the ambit of secular civil law by empowering magistrates to “order” state waqf boards to provide adequate maintenance to divorced Muslim women and their offspring, failing which the waqf authorities would be hauled before the magistrate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the past two decades, all Muslim divorce disputes are consolidated before the highest court of the land and even-handed justice dispensed to Muslim women who might otherwise have faced the most terrible gender discrimination. This shows the way forward. For instead of attacking the roots of ‘unity in diversity’ by calling out others as barbaric, which is what Modi’s dog whistle is all about, let our many different religious communities have their own personal laws but bring enforcement of gender equality within the civil jurisdiction of the courts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 29 11:43:47 IST 2023 does-modi-really-care-for-pasmanda-muslims <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since July 2022, PM Modi has been attempting to drive a wedge between the Muslim community by underlining that 85 per cent of Muslims are lowly “pasmanda” and only 15% are elite “ashrafs” whom earlier governments appeased.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Back in 1973, Prof Imtiaz Ahmed of JNU edited his monumental magnum opus, <i>Caste and Social Stratification among Muslims in India</i> (expanded second edition in 1978), where he and his co-authors pointed out that caste “exists and functions among Muslims” and there is a “hierarchy among the Muslims” based on “deference structures, emphasising inequality of social status” despite the strong Koranic injunction to treat all human beings as equal. They highlighted the ‘Lal Begi’ scavengers as the bottom of the Muslim social ladder, and also found that “higher Muslim castes refuse to eat” with or marry the lower orders. They also emphasised “regional variations” (as with Hindu caste practice). The persistence of caste among Muslim converts, was attributed by Imtiaz Ahmed to the “acculturative influence of Hinduism”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, because the Gandhi-Ambedkar pact was limited to retaining scheduled castes in the Hindu fold, the Presidential Order of 1950 listed only Hindus among the scheduled castes. Muslim SC remain excluded to this day. Later, after Mandal, when salami-slicing of the OBCs led to a long list of OBC castes, largely based on traditional occupations, Muslims in the same “polluting” occupations were excluded from OBC categorisation—the most egregious example of which is Gujarati Muslim Modis who do not enjoy the categorisation of ‘teli’ (oil-pressers).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These anomalies were emphasised by the Sachar Commission which made more widely known the Muslim social stratification of Ashraf, Ajlaf and Arzal (the latter two jointly called pasmanda). In consequence, Dr Manmohan Singh’s second UPA government prepared an ordinance that would have included a pasmanda Muslim sub-quota in the OBC list, but this was stayed by the Supreme Court. If PM Modi is really so concerned with pasmanda Muslims, why has his government not sought a vacation of the stay in the last nine years or amended the SC list to include Muslim SC?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, it is almost entirely Muslim pasmanda who are the victims of lynching, 97 per cent of which have taken place after the Modi became PM. Why are <i>sangh parivar</i> goons encouraged to shout slogans like <i>“Jab mulle kate jayenge</i>, ‘Jai Shri Ram’ chillayaenge” (when the mullahs are slaughtered, they’ll scream Jai Shri Ram)? With, as the PM emphasises, 85 per cent Muslims being pasmanda, it is this 85 per cent that has been targeted (along with the much-excoriated 15 per cent) by <i>sangh parivar</i>-inspired jibes to “go to Pakistan”; controversies on hijab, aazaan, love jihad and namaz in public places; brutal crimes in the name of cow protection; bulldozer politics; razing of mosques; economic boycotts; films like <i>The Kashmir Files </i>and<i> The Kerala Story</i>; and the “exponential rise in hate speech” (Ziya us Salam in <i>The Hindu</i> of June 30).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The five main problems of the Muslim minority, including the 85 per cent pasmanda, are related to ‘identity’, ‘dignity, ‘security’, ‘agency’ and ‘representation’. There are only about 4 per cent Muslim Lok Sabha MPs now as against 8.3 per cent at Indira Gandhi’s second coming. Whatever the BJP may have done in fielding 61 Muslim candidates (out of thousands) in UP’s recent municipal elections, there is not a single Muslim Cabinet minister at the centre, no Muslim among the BJP’s 395 MPs in both Houses, and not a single Muslim candidate was even fielded by the BJP in recent state assembly elections to the 1,109 seats in UP, Gujarat and Karnataka! That is why Zia Us Salam decries the “invisibilisation of Muslims”, 85 per cent of whom are pasmanda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi is ideologically opposed to recognising this despite the fact that he gives away gas cylinders for free without discrimination (while charging $1,195 for gas per cylinder—also without discrimination)!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 15 15:55:09 IST 2023 kashmiris-want-elections <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I took one of the 41 daily flights to Srinagar, joining the 1.4 crore annual visitors to Jammu and Kashmir, which is the single most significant proof proffered by the Union government to proclaim the restoration of “normalcy” to the erstwhile state, now transformed into a Union Territory. There I met many Kashmiris, including <i>sarpanches</i> and activist politicians, teachers and students, sheep- and cattle-herders. The trip took me to the Daksum sanctuary, then over the snow-covered Margan Top at 14,000 feet, and across the breadth of the Warwan Valley that lies in the Chenab basin approximating the line that divides Jammu from Kashmir. The scenery was spectacular, but I was there also to gauge the general mood.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was widespread agreement that there was peace in the air, the administration was functioning more smoothly than in the past, that government servants were much more regular in attendance instead of busying themselves with their private businesses, that teachers were coming to school on time and actually teaching, that development and infrastructure projects were being implemented, and that corruption was significantly reduced. Much like in Mussolini’s Italy where “the trains ran on time” but democracy was eschewed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The single most important demand was that elections be held so that the UT is restored to statehood, and a representative state assembly could work towards the “restoration” of Articles 370 and 35A. When I retorted that this would also mean the restoration of past misgovernance, it was accepted with little demur that there would be several downsides to popular government but that they accepted, indeed desired this ardently, as the government would then be their government, not one imposed from Delhi; that government servants would not be Hindi-speaking outsiders but would be administering in their language and in accordance with their culture; that they would not be humiliated by being under alien domination; and that they would be equal citizens instead of being denied their democratic rights only because they were Kashmiri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On being asked who would win the elections in view of the gerrymandering of constituencies that has been resorted to blatantly, none seemed to doubt that it would be the National Conference of Sheikh Abdullah and his current descendants. When asked whether the “good governance” provided by the lieutenant governor’s administration would not trump mere sentiment, the unanimous response was that it was only because the National Conference would be the big winner that the Union home ministry was dragging its feet on elections. No matter, they said, whenever the elections are held Kashmir will be restored to Kashmiris, our abject humiliation will end and we will be masters of our own house, whatever the faults of our governance and our politicians and leaders. “We do not want this beggars’ prosperity. We are quite capable of promoting our own welfare and prosperity. After all, even before Article 370 was abruptly removed without our consent, we ranked higher than most states in GDP growth and per capita income, and in health and education.” But what did the hollowed-out Article 370 contain for you personally? The answer invariably was: “Article 370 was the badge of our special identity. And it was from 370 that 35A flowed. It was our guarantee that prosperity in Kashmir would be for Kashmiris and not outsiders”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for Pakistan, they were all aware of conditions there and the growing gap between a flourishing India and its fast-collapsing neighbour. In any case, they said, the best guarantee against both accession to Pakistan and ‘azadi’ was the National Conference. And why was dissatisfaction not turning to ‘intifada’? Only because we don’t want to give any excuse to the Indian government to further postpone elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jul 01 12:53:10 IST 2023 narendra-modi-s-saarc-ploy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who has done more than anyone else to destroy the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), chose his invitation to the Hiroshima G7 meeting to air his views on south Asian unity. The setting was somewhat appropriate because just as the atom bomb destroyed the city of Hiroshima, his statement has nuked the idea of a south Asian union.</p> <p><br> SAARC was first proposed in 1979 and initially received with considerable skepticism. Yet, by patient negotiation, the parameters were put together over the next five years for SAARC to be launched in Dhaka in December 1985. Although its achievements were modest, it provided a useful forum for SAARC leaders to get together for regular bilateral talks on the sidelines.</p> <p><br> The main Indian reservation about SAARC was that it could provide a hostile platform for attacks on India, not only by Pakistan but even by monarchical Nepal and a Sri Lanka over-run with internal ethnic insurrections. The geographical asymmetry was duly noted: that India alone had common land or sea boundaries with the other members, none of the others having contiguous frontiers with each other. Therefore, the most fundamental parameter laid down was that bilateral issues, especially political differences, would not be on the multilateral table, where the focus would be on issues of regional development cooperation, especially where complementarities could be availed of for mutual benefit. Infrastructure and common public health issues were kept in the forefront and the cultural diversity of the association was highlighted and celebrated.<br> While sensitive bilateral political issues were off the SAARC agenda, the multiple days’ presence of the leaders afforded them opportunities for bilateral interaction, such as Modi’s own secret interaction with Nawaz Shariff organised at the Kathmandu summit in 2015 by a business intermediary (after Modi had publicly snubbed the Pakistan prime minister).</p> <p><br> Having sabotaged SAARC by his refusal to attend the Islamabad summit, Modi, in Hiroshima, brought up a concept of a South Asian Democratic Union. “Democratic” effectively expels Taliban Afghanistan from the earlier SAARC grouping and provides the window through which the proposed new grouping could eliminate Pakistan. To be a grouping of “democracies” members would be subject to invasive external judgements on whether or not they complied with “democratic” norms. Indeed, authoritarian India, under the present regime, which has seen the country tumbling on all accepted international indices of democratic governance, would be under the microscope. SAARC had carefully excluded such unwarranted interference from near and far.</p> <p><br> Worse, much worse than this, is Modi’s premise that the proposed South Asian Union must be among those who share a “common history and culture”. This is clearly designed to exclude Islamic countries, like Pakistan and Afghanistan, and even the Maldives, who proclaim the religious character of their states in their constitution and would hotly contest the suggestion that they share a “common” history and culture with India. Bangladesh would find itself in a pickle because although it is described as “secular” in its (amended) constitution, it is clearly Islamic in its overall nature. Modi’s formulation also unwittingly excludes Buddhist states like Sri Lanka and Bhutan who would reject the notion that their history or culture is indistinguishable from India’s. Perhaps when Nepal was a ‘Hindu Rashtra’, under the now deposed monarchy, it might have accepted the idea of a shared history and culture, but today’s fiercely independent, nationalistic and secular Nepal would certainly ferociously object to its history and culture being subordinated to India’s.</p> <p><br> For that matter, does an India that is at war with itself over “Aurangzeb ki aulad”, have a common history or culture? We are united as a nation only because of our “unity in diversity”. That alone can be the basis of south Asian unity.</p> Sat Jun 17 11:16:17 IST 2023 double-engine-sarkar-has-wreaked-havoc-in-manipur <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>While Manipur is no stranger to violence and ethnic clashes, the communal rioting seen this year is essentially the consequence of the majoritarian authoritarianism that characterises the BJP’s approach to “forced assimilation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The largely Hindu Meitei population of the valley has lived in relative accord with their largely Christian tribal neighbours of the hill areas, owing to deep sensitivity to each other’s separate identity, reinforced by constitutional arrangements for a degree of autonomy through district councils and hill administration councils under Article 371 C, and political accommodation through reservations for ST in the assembly and including tribal representatives in the cabinet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But ever since the BJP stole its way to power to overturn the outcome of the 2017 election, a strident majoritarianism has pitted the Vaishnavite Hindus of the valley against the Christian tribals of the hills leading to the present outbreak that has been simmering over the six years that N. Biren Singh has been chief minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A dissident Kuki MLA of the BJP, Paolienlal Haokip, has described the Biren Singh administration as “the best example of inept handling of everything”. Ineptness is evident in the BJP government’s drive against the cultivation of poppies, cannabis, and marijuana, launched in February this year, to clear reserved forest lands that, it was claimed, had been “encroached” upon by tribals in general and particularly by “illegal immigrants” from Myanmar across the border. This is a good illustration of the “double engine sarkar” at work, for it is the Central government that has looked askance at the Muslim Rohingya and Zo tribals fleeing Burmese junta persecution by refusing to grant them ‘refugee’ status and the local Manipuri BJP that has attempted to cow down the tribal minority instead of working towards their gradual emotional integration into a composite Manipuri identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the origins of the problem may be traced to the British having been “insensitive to kinship ties” across the Manipur-Burma border, the current aggravation arises from the inhuman outlook of the Manipur government that has condemned the Zo tribals fleeing genocide as “illegal immigrants”; sought an NRC, as in Assam, to identify “foreigners” in the Kuki-dominated districts; and roughly handled delicate issues of land rights and cultural identity. Large swathes of Kuki-Zomi-Hmar lands have been declared reserved forests or otherwise put out of bounds to the locals without following “established procedures”, leading to severe economic disruption as the unyielding hills are more easily cultivated by slash-and-burn methods known as “subsistence swidden farming” than back-breaking terracing for settled farming.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As underlined by Kuki public intellectuals of repute, the police have been “deeply communalised”; the authorities, as a whole, have been “biased” rather than “equidistant”; and civil society organisations have been incentivised to “propagate a more radical brand of Meitei nationalism”. In consequence, a vicious spiral of mutual violence has been spun. The inbuilt majority of Meiteis in the assembly (39 of 60) has in March 2023 withdrawn the suspension of operations agreement with two major Kuki and Zomi armed entities. And into this cauldron, the Manipur High Court has directed the government to prepare the ground to declare Meiteis as Scheduled Tribes, thus removing the last safeguard of the existing hill ST. Such has been the loss of confidence in the fairness of the Biren Singh government that almost all BJP Kuki MLAs and opinion-makers of the Kuki and other minority tribal groupings have demanded a “separate administration” by placing the hills under the sixth schedule, as in neighbouring Mizoram.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such is the outcome of substituting “unity in diversity” with BJP-style “unity through uniformity”. Manipur in microcosm is the fate awaiting the Indian Union if saffron rule is continued in 2024.</p> Fri Jun 02 17:29:32 IST 2023 we-cannot-wish-pakistan-away-and-we-should-not <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Germans have a word for it: schadenfreude, that is, delighting in another’s troubles. In India, there is considerable schadenfreude over the mess in Pakistan, where everything—politically, economically and in foreign policy—seems to have gone wrong at the same time. The civil polity is hopelessly divided, with the army threatening to bring back order once again through the barrel of a gun. The economy is in the doldrums. Pakistan has ceased to be the springboard for determining the outcome in Afghanistan. The world has lost interest in Afghanistan but not the Taliban in wanting to dismantle the Durand Line. And India merely scoffs at Pakistan’s increasingly frenetic rhetoric that seeks to refocus world attention on Kashmir. The world is not listening. And might the Chinese (“the all-weather friend”) turn Gwadar into a Hambantota, effectively snatching the strategic port away from Pakistani sovereignty to get themselves reimbursed for their humongous investment in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At just this juncture, our foreign minister has chosen to be rude to the point of crudeness to his Pakistani counterpart in the latest instalment of a personal quarrel that Jaishankar sparked in New York and got back as good as he gave. Is this in our long-term interest? What do we gain from Pakistan’s collapse? More, to the point, is Pakistan collapsing?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pakistan came into being because the Muslim elite, in large measure, did not wish to become a minority in someone else’s dispensation. That sentiment constitutes the bonding adhesive of their nationhood. It makes Pakistanis more patriotic in times of crisis than when the going is good. In normal times, they enjoy mocking their leadership. But when the unity or integrity of their nation is threatened, they band together. We need to understand this.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have seen in India, particularly in the ghastly era through which we are currently transiting, how “hurt religious sentiment” can be transmuted into political gain. Religion, the raison d’etre of the birth of Pakistan, can quickly and effectively be invoked if India is seen as taking advantage of Pakistan’s woes. The reaction in Pakistan to Jaishankar’s snarl at Bilawal in Goa only proves that the higher the level of India’s schadenfreude, the greater Pakistan is incentivised to come together. Of course, Jaishankar’s primary goal was to please his boss and establish his credentials as a true saffronite; but if he thought his huffing and his puffing is going to blow the Pakistan house down, his hopes will be belied for his rhetoric only solidifies Pakistan’s desire not to revert to being India. This in turn means that a turbulent Pakistan remains a neighbour of India and an indivisible part of our shared subcontinent. We cannot wish them way—and, therefore, should not.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, while Pakistan is no longer a key ally of the US and is being increasingly displaced by Joe Biden’s outreach to Modi, it is difficult to imagine the US looking away when the eighth largest country in the global community—Pakistan—is being dismantled against the will of Pakistanis. So, as in the past, so in the future, the Americans will grudgingly bail out their former partner, if only to stop China from becoming their sole benefactor. Hence, Pakistan will be helped to weather out this crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Given that Pakistan is here to stay and has the potential to restore its broken polity and economy, what we have to decide is whether to continue our nearly decade-old disengagement with Pakistan. It is clear that if Modi wins in 2024, this disengagement will continue, but given the imperative necessity of uniting the opposition to forestall that outcome, at the appropriate time Pakistan policy has to be inserted consensually into the joint opposition agenda.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat May 20 11:19:51 IST 2023 diminishing-the-mughal-period <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The National Council of Educational Research and Training claims to have “balanced” the burden on 12th class school children by substantially reducing their learning and understanding of the Mughal legacy. In fact, they are only playing ‘Their Master’s Voice’ by carrying through the ideological obfuscation of the ruling saffron establishment. They claim to have given the vacated “space” to regional histories of Hindu dynasties but have, in fact, only added a few pages about the Vijayanagar Empire, leaving out any substantial additions to the Pallava, the Chola, the Pandya, the Chera, the Rashtrakuta, the Chalukya, the Sena, the Pala, the Ahom, and a host of others.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was a reason the earlier texts gave more pages to the Mughals. These reasons were basically the same that covered the findings of the pre-Aryan Harappan heritage, the Vedic Age, the Buddha and Mahavira, the Asokan Empire, the Guptas and Adi Sankara, namely, that these were more nation-wide and had a longer cultural and civilisational impact on the nation’s memory of itself. But the Mughals have been downgraded precisely because their empire stretched all the way to the deep south and the east/north-east. The Mughal empire in the north extended to Kashmir and northwest to Pakistan, and even most of Afghanistan. This cannot be said of any of the regional kingdoms. I could, therefore, have understood a separate paper on our regional kingdoms, which are taught in colleges, but the pretence that the Mughals are given too much prominence is a political prejudice that should have no place in the formation of young minds.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the cultural contribution of the Mughal period to our syncretic civilisation is far more significant than its political boundaries. For, it was during the rule of the Delhi Sultanate (1192-1526), predecessors to the Mughals (1526-1858), that the Hindawi language was developed (largely by Amir Khusrow in Delhi’s Nizamuddin Auliya) and has now become the Hindi of our times. It was also during the late Mughal period that Urdu arose and became one of the constitutionally recognised languages of independent India. Music and dance, painting, sculpture and poetry became at the time, under royal patronage, a precious national treasure rather than a sectional legacy. The architectural inheritance remains a proud part of our national pride. It was also during the Mughal period that the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, the Upanishads and the other masterpieces were translated into Persian for wider acquaintance to the non-Hindu minorities of India. It was a period of intense inter-religious interaction, for the Sufi and Bhakti movement, which underly almost all of contemporary Hindu belief and practice, unfolded during these centuries of Mughal rule in all their syncretic brilliance. Indeed, the origins of Bhakti movement may be dated from Saint Ramanuja who reigned spiritually from the Tamil country, synthesising the bitterly opposed Saivite and Vaishnavite traditions, when the Tughlaqs were on their thrones in far-away Delhi, but really flourished when Swami Ramanand, Tukaram, Chaitanya, Sankardev, Ravidas, Kabir and Mirabai spread their universal message of divine love under the benevolent gaze of the Delhi Sultanate and the Mughal emperors. It is indeed little recalled that Tulsidas wrote his Ramayan even as the Babri Masjid loomed over Ayodhya. And the apogee of the Bhakti movement under the ten Sikh Gurus came to final bloom when there were Muslim rulers on the Delhi throne.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While there might be merit in strengthening text book passages that highlight the civilisational consequences of Sultanate and Mughal rule, at the expense of political and military history, there is none in making little Jinnahs of our children by filling their minds with tendentious two-nation theories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri May 05 16:46:12 IST 2023 can-a-govt-appointed-fact-check-body-be-effective <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Union IT minister Rajeev Chandrashekhar must consider the Indian public to be most gullible if he thinks his argument for a governmental fact-finding body will wash. He argues that a wholly government-appointed fact-finding body without any countervailing authority to check its actions before it takes them within minutes in real time, is justified because government is the target of “most misinformation attacks” and “only the government has access to government data and so it is impossible for any non-government entity to effectively fact check content about the government”. And, so, he wishes to put in place a system where the government becomes the judge in its own cause! And the way is thus opened to removing all checks and balances on government evaluations and actions since in every case government would be entitled to claim that it alone is capable of determining what is what as it alone has all the required “facts”.</p> <p>We are treading dangerous constitutional ground here, threatening the very basis of our Constitution where justice is open and transparent, and no one, not even the government, is allowed to hide from the court’s stern view of all the germane facts and alternative perspectives on these facts. For, after all “Facts are sacred; opinion is free” as the famous <i>Guardian </i>editor, C.P. Scott, remarked and raised to the basic credo of frank, free, and fearless journalism.</p> <p>The press note issued along with the minister’s decision claims it seeks an “open, safe and trusted and accountable Internet”. It does nothing of the sort. It just seeks to control public access to significant facts and governmental interpretation of these since, according to Chandrashekhar, government is “the target” of “most misinformation operations”. But what of situations, increasingly frequent, of others being the target of government-inspired “misinformation” and “no information”—such as the genuineness of the prime minister’s educational qualifications, as declared to the Election Commission of India at the time of his filing his nomination papers, and the refusal of the prime minister to answer or clarify any of the questions raised by the (former) leader of the opposition on the floor of the house regarding his relationship with the discredited business baron, Gautam Adani? Not to mention scores of other issues pending under the Right to Information Act and the manifest illegality of detentions in J&amp;K? When innocents are as much the target of government “misinformation”, how on earth can it be assumed that the government is the only ‘target’ in need of protection? Why not rely instead on the courts that are open to all citizens as much as to government departments and personalities and the existing mechanisms of “a grievance office” and “GAC framework appellate” that the honourable minister invokes?</p> <p>He claims that government actions in this regard will always faithfully take account of the fundamental rights prescribed in the Constitution, but surely it is not for government to determine whether its own actions are ultra vires the “basic structure” and fundamental rights of individuals. Misinformation is best tackled in the open, not by hiding behind governmental access to “facts”.</p> <p>There are facts that governments hide and facts that are revealed only to the benefit of governments. The job of a free media (including social media) is to wheedle out&nbsp; “facts” inconvenient to the government in an atmosphere free of hatred, fear, and bile. And for government to respond, transparently and openly, if it has in its possession other facts or considerations on which it determines its approach.</p> <p>It is this freedom to offer an alternative view that enabled the BJP to access two terms in power. It now seems to think its predominance is final. That is the kind of hubris that overtakes most authoritarians.</p> Sat Apr 22 20:51:05 IST 2023 its-uk-indian-origin-pm-versus-scotlands-pak-origin-leader-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a delightful irony to Humza Haroon Yousaf, the 37-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants, having been elected the head of the Scottish National Party, and thus emerging as first minister of Scotland. For he now comes in direct confrontation with the Indian-origin PM of the United Kingdom in determining whether the UK will remain a united kingdom or split into two sovereign countries: Britain and Scotland. Partition was the price the Brits gouged out of us to grant us our independence. Now an ethnic Pakistani and an ethnic Indian will determine whether the United Kingdom of England and Scotland, twins joined at the hip in 1707, will remain twinned or be severed from one another. And even as the princely states hoped the departing Britons would succeed in carving out for them a separate Princestan, Wales and Northern Ireland also wait with bated breath to see whether the country to which they belong will be Balkanised, as India almost was, or survive as the rump Great Britain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yousaf’s clarion call has been “Stronger for Scotland”, and he has reiterated that his “would be the generation that delivers independence for Scotland”. To this end, he has declared that he seeks a second referendum to retest the outcome of the last referendum in 2014 that delivered a marginal verdict in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. Yousaf insists that he is not looking for a marginal but decisive victory in a second referendum. Rishi Sunak has countered that a referendum would “distract” from “delivering on the things that are top of the priority list for people across Scotland”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the hard fact is that it is “independence” that is at the top of Scotland’s priority list. For in the Brexit referendum, Scotland voted to remain in the European Union while the UK as a whole marginally voted in favour of leaving. What Scotland now seeks is not only the dissolution of the Act of Union of 1707 but also the opportunity of rejoining the European Union from which, in the Scottish perception, Scotland gained a lot, reflecting Ireland’s view that EU membership grants a net reaping of benefits. Thus, a second referendum would be held in an overall scenario that is radically different to 2014.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, polls suggest that support for secession from the UK has dropped in Scotland to 39 per cent, well below the 44.7 per cent who voted to quit the United Kingdom in 2014. Yet, the situation remains volatile as 58 per cent polled in favour of separating when Scotland’s pandemic performance proved far superior to England’s. Significantly, Yousaf was the celebrated Scottish minister who engineered Scotland’s impressive Covid-19 response.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thus, for all his brave words, the Punjabi Indian British PM has his work cut out in his forthcoming battle with the Punjabi Pakistani first minister of Scotland. The last card up Sunak’s sleeve is that even a decisive referendum in favour of vivisecting the UK would not be the end of the matter. Westminster, where the UK parliament sits, has, according to the law, the final word. Unless the House of Commons accepts the outcome of any Scottish referendum, the partition of the UK cannot legally take place. Therefore, the ultimate irony would be if the British government were to set up a Cabinet Mission to negotiate their way out of the tangled mess that would be created by a successful Scottish referendum. It would parallel the imbroglio caused by the Indian elections in 1945-46 that required the despatch of the Cabinet Mission, whose leader, Pethick Lawrence came to be called “Pathetic Lawrence”!</p> Sun Apr 09 07:33:15 IST 2023 the-three-women-who-helped-mrs-chatterjee <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Rani Mukerji starrer Mrs. Chatterjee vs Norway was released throughout India and worldwide on March 17. In Norway itself, tickets were sold out four days before the first screening. This shows that the issues raised by the film are not of concern only to Indians but also to Norwegians who suffer the heavy hand of the Barnevernet, the Norwegian Child Protection Service (CPS). The CPS has been empowered by a draconian law to protect child rights but, on the ground, acts without adequate institutional checks or balances, thus causing needless and sometimes endless suffering to parents who are deprived of their infants and children without any discoverable reason. Reasons are not discoverable because the right to privacy of the abducted child is heavily protected in the law itself, leaving the victim parents often quite bewildered as to why their children are being taken from them. While CPS is free to enter what evidence it wishes in Norwegian courts of law, defendants are simply not allowed to examine much of this “evidence” kept under wraps. Inevitably, the judge is obliged to list in the direction of the prosecution. And there is virtually no recourse to the executive because, it is claimed, the Norwegian system does not permit intervention by any ministry or minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This confers such arbitrary powers of immunity and impunity on CPS that the moot question is whether in protecting the child’s right to privacy the human rights of the deprived parent and the child are not being brutally violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The film is based on the real-life story of a young Indian woman, Sagarika Chakraborty Bhattacharjee, whose infants were snatched from her.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Among the allegations made against her was the accusation that she fed her children with her hand; that she smeared her daughter’s forehead; that the kids slept in the same bed as the parents. The social worker assigned to them was a young English woman, who mocked Sagarika that Indians were “running around naked” until the British “civilised” them, and that she knew how Indian parents brought up their children because she had seen Slumdog Millionaire! Sagarika was also charged with mental illness and instability for having fiercely resisted the attempt to take away her children. Besides, foster parents are so handsomely compensated that exploitation of child protection laws for pecuniary gain is an ever-present threat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the children were eventually repatriated to India through the intervention of foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj—at the instance of Brinda Karat, the fiery CPI(M) Rajya Sabha MP at the time—it was only the dogged persistence of a pro bono Indian lawyer, my daughter Suranya Aiyar, that eventually reunited Sagarika with her children. They are both growing up happy and normal in the loving care of their mother who has had the grit to train herself in software engineering and give her children a good living by working in a multi-national company. The current state of the mother and children is the best proof that in stealing away her infants the Barnevernet had gravely erred. It also showed that if the Norwegian government puts its mind to it, successful executive intervention is possible, whatever the theology of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What lesson does all this hold for India? Only one. That with millions of NRIs travelling abroad and facing the rigours of child protection laws in all of the western world, MEA must become pro-active in helping Indian parents deal with such cases that are rife in the western world. To this end, perhaps a law needs to be enacted by Parliament to secure a binding commitment from the government to do so through its diplomatic and consular offices abroad.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Mar 25 11:33:46 IST 2023 why-we-secularists-must-fight-on-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The basic structure of our nation is the source of the basic structure of our Constitution. So, in protecting the basic structure of our Constitution, the Supreme Court is protecting the very basis of our nationhood, which is “unity in diversity”. Delivering their judgement, rejecting a petition moved by a hindutivist, Justice K.M. Joseph and Justice B.V. Nagarathna have stamped their judicial imprimatur on the idea of India that for the past nine years has been under its most serious challenge ever. As the honourable justices aver, “There is no space for bigotry in Hinduism.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, the forces who do not represent the Hindu religion but a political perversion of it, are symbols of bigotry seeking to lump all non-Hindus, especially Muslims, as “barbaric invaders”. The court rightly asserts the “golden principle of fraternity”, which is “enshrined in the Preamble”. The petitioner who decried “foreign invaders” as “looters” was rhetorically asked, “Can you wish away invasions from history? What are you trying to achieve?” It was unambiguously affirmed, “India that is Bharat is a secular country… wedded to the rule of law, secularism, constitutionalism of which Article 14 stands out as the grand guarantee of both equality and fairness in state action.” No politician has put it more clearly than that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Underlining that, “India is a secular state, this is a secular forum,” Justice Nagarathna pleaded, “let us not break society with such kinds of petitions, please have the country in mind, not any religion.” And Justice Joseph added, “I am a Christian, but I can say I am equally fond of Hinduism… Try and understand its greatness.” Saying that, “History cannot haunt present and future generations,” the bench warned against our becoming “prisoners of the past” and underlined that “this court should not become an instrument to create havoc”. And Justice Joseph concluded, “We have to understand our own greatness. Our greatness should lead us to be magnanimous.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In addressing these words to the petitioner, the bench had much more than the petitioner in mind. The audience Justice Joseph and Justice Nagarathna were addressing was much wider extending to the nation as a whole and including all those who have been undermining our fraternity as a nation. The audience would include the ruling dispensation. While Rahul Gandhi’s plea to “open in the bazaar of hatred the store of love” might be construed as a partisan political jibe, when a similar view is expressed by a bench of the highest court in the land, it is imperative that the powers-that-be absorb the judicial message.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is no place in our nationhood for the targeting of minorities with lynchings or ‘love jihad’, or bulldozing the very modest homes of blameless Muslims, or holding them to be “Babar ki aulad”―expressions that are freely bruited about without a word of reprimand from their leaders, indeed with encouragement of one minister demanding “goli maro saalon ko”. It is, thus, that the ground is prepared for calls to genocide that go unpunished. The nation has been brought to a very dangerous place. The court has rightly warned against invoking history “selectively” to “create schisms in society”. Yet, this is the precise stock-in-trade of those who have risen on the ladder of the pogrom in 2002 and abuse of the civic and human rights of a section of our society. In the words of an earlier judgment of the Supreme Court, the “egregious violence” that went into the brick-by-brick demolition of the Babri Masjid is to be deplored.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The court is, in effect, warning against the stoking of religious vengeance-seeking. It is for the sangh parivar in both its avatars as the RSS and the BJP to heed the call of the court. I have no expectation they will. Which is why we secularists must fight on, confident that the Supreme Court is behind us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Mar 10 15:08:30 IST 2023 why-congress-should-stoop-to-conquer-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When the Bharat Jodo Yatra climaxed at Lal Chowk, Srinagar, with Rahul Gandhi raising the national flag at this historic spot, I remarked to some newspersons who had gathered around me that this was the “inflexion point” at which a moral crusade would turn into a political campaign. Having roused the conscience of the nation against the hatred being spewed, and having galvanised the party through the length of the country, the moment had arrived when our thoughts would have to seriously turn to defeating the source of the divisiveness that has overtaken us as a people. That opportunity would come at the general elections scheduled for a year hence.</p> <p>By the time this column is in your hands, a giant step towards that end would have been taken at the plenary session of the All India Congress Committee in Raipur over the weekend of February 25-26. This is being written in anticipation of that event. What must the Congress do now to politically capitalise on Rahul Gandhi’s long march?</p> <p>The agenda would be complex, and there are many issues to tackle. But attention would be focused on the grand strategy for the general elections. Would the Congress be going it alone as the only party in the opposition with a national presence? Or will it do so in alliance with only those regional parties who concede in advance the premier position to the Congress? Or taking on board all regional parties in recognition of their regional hold while leaving it till after the elections to determine who will lead the coalition government if the grand alliance prevails at the polls?</p> <p>I think the party should hark back to the Chintan Shivir at Pachmarhi in 1998 where the consensus was that the Congress should go it alone. Then the Congress mind should turn to how events actually played out. After reverses in 1999, the Congress started seeing merit in allying with at least some regional parties to take on the formidable Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004. Vajpayee, for his part, was so convinced of his invincibility that he brought forward the 2004 elections by almost six months. As we now know, that proved to be misplaced confidence, and, instead of the BJP, it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) that took the reins of government for 10 long years.</p> <p>What is often forgotten is that the UPA did not exist before the elections. The UPA coalition was put together and named as such after the results were out, not before. Who would be prime minister was also determined after, and not before, the election outcome. Later, when the Left parties baulked at Dr Manmohan Singh’s civil nuclear cooperation deal with the US and the Samajwadi Party stepped into the breach to secure parliamentary endorsement of the agreement, SP became part of the UPA.</p> <p>It is this history that suggests itself as the answer for 2024. The Congress on its own cannot take on the saffron forces. But it need not be on its own. Most meaningful opposition parties, including Akhilesh Yadav and Nitish Kumar in the two most populous states of the Union, are as dedicated to the principle of ridding India of the last decade of hindutva rule as any Congressman or woman. Therefore, it would be advisable for the Congress to “stoop to conquer” by not asserting its primacy as a national party so as to facilitate a gravitation towards a mahagathbandhan. The election results would then show, as they did in 2004, which of the parties of the alliance has how many seats. And, accordingly, the question of leadership can be evolved by consensus.</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Thu Mar 02 14:45:11 IST 2023 let-jpc-probe-adani <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As a member of the joint parliamentary committees (JPCs) set up to enquire into the Harshad Mehta stock market scam of the early 1990s and the Ketan Parekh stock market scam of a decade later, I am disturbed that the current government has not promptly moved to set up a JPC to enquire into the hammering Adani stocks have received in the wake of the Hindenburg report detailing what it calls “brazen stock manipulation and accounting fraud”, and “poor corporate governance” in the conglomerate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The charges are specific; Adani’s responses are vague. Regulatory supervision is the function of the government and its agencies. The key question is whether such supervision has in the present case been exercised with due diligence. Only the regulators can clarify, and only a JPC can compel them to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The principal finding of the Harshad Mehta JPC was that the regulators—armed with doctoral and post-doctoral degrees from Oxbridge-Harvard and flourishing their credentials as World Bank-IMF experts—either fell asleep at the wheel or were so thrilled with the economic reforms they were helming that they deliberately ignored the warning bells sounding in the Bombay Stock Exchange of the gross transgressions of the laws of the land. This was essentially because they believed the laws to be antediluvian. Rather than change the law, they decided to worship the market—and so did not realise that the market was being manipulated by unscrupulous brokers who found ready collaborators in public sector and private banks, domestic and foreign, LIC and UTI—just as we see happening today. The manipulators manipulate and the regulators find divinity in the volatility of stock exchanges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the time the Harshad Mehta scam broke, the director the Enforcement Directorate was an IAS officer of unimpeachable integrity, Javed Chowdhury. The agony he endured has been well described in his 2012 memoir—An Insider’s View. I quote from pp. 134-136 because his words find such eerie resonance in the Adani matter that they could have been written about the present. He charged that “the nature of financial violation was brazen and executed so obviously in furtherance of the private profit of certain select individuals”. Change “individuals” to “individual” and you have a 1992 prism through which to view the events of 2023. Chowdhury goes on: “There was not the slightest tinge of introspection or remorse—there was only absolute confidence in talking one’s way out of the crisis.” This is how the government today is reacting to the Adani imbroglio. Chowdhury then delivers his final punch, “The attitude was that if laws have been violated, the laws are wrong—because they (economic tsars) understood economics and therefore what they say should be the law.” As the Congress spokesman put, “The Adani Group is no ordinary conglomerate: it is closely identified with Prime Minister Narendra Modi since the time he was chief minister.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As of now, of course, these are yet-to-be-proved allegations. But the question immediately arises, what was the finance ministry’s high-level committee on capital markets (HLCC), set up on the recommendation of the Harshad Mehta JPC report, doing? It is chaired by the finance secretary and includes the top brass of regulators from governor, RBI to chairman, SEBI. What escaped their eye but caught Hindenburg’s attention? Especially as the small investors, who are the nation’s principal concern, seem to regard Hindenburg’s findings credible as they quit their Adani holdings in droves, and have stayed away from Adani’s FPO.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An alert HLCC would have been able to provide convincing answers but, as in the Ketan Parekh scam, seems to have woken up only after its shoulders were shaken by Hindenburg. The only way of unearthing the truth is through yet another JPC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Feb 11 11:12:14 IST 2023 mani-shankar-aiyar-amul-sodhi-ouster-anand-amit-shah <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>When it was announced in 2021 that the overburdened Union Home Minister Amit Shah was to be given additional charge of the newly constituted Union ministry of cooperatives, I frankly wondered what the motive might be. It hardly seemed par for the course that the virtual number two in the government should want to add such a minor portfolio to his bulging responsibilities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I remembered meeting Dr V. Kurien at Raj Bhavan as part of my district training in Gujarat as an IFS probationer in 1964. Kurien had just started giving impetus to the milk cooperative at Anand that has now grown into the giant Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation with 3.64 million members, and procurement daily of some 26 million litres of milk. Kurien declared his ambition to make Amul cheese as good as Kraft. Now, Amul cheese has long become a household word while Kraft is remembered only by senior citizens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of those most responsible for Amul’s startling success is Rupinder Singh Sodhi, whose twelve-year term as managing director was suddenly terminated at the GCMMF board meeting on January 9, 2023. The abrupt dismissal letter, brusque to the point of rudeness, bluntly said, “…Your services as MD are being terminated with immediate effect… ordered that you hand over charge immediately”. No word of appreciation for services rendered. No expression of gratitude for 40 years of unstinted service to the organisation. No thanks for taking the organisation to an altogether different dimension. No reference to Sodhi having asked to be relieved when his term ended, and then being given an extension that he had not sought. Just an order to go, as if he had been hanging on undeservedly or had done something execrably wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sodhi himself took the end graciously. Like the gentlemen he is, he simply commented, “I have resigned… I have been telling the board I want to pursue other things.” He added, “It was my own decision.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This has not convinced the media. One writer described Sodhi as having been “ousted”; another referred to the “shock and surprise” caused by his dismissal; a third said it “raises disturbing questions”. A journalist cited a board member saying, “…We were informed that it was the party’s decision to not allow Sodhi to continue… it was a decision from the party, and nothing could be done about it”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Do you now see why I was concerned at the announcement that Shah had been given additional charge of cooperatives? His own explanation was that he had a long association with the cooperative movement. He did not add that this included a previous directorship with the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank that was at the heart of the Ketan Parekh stock market scam. I was a member of the joint parliamentary committee set up to investigate the shenanigans. The key to the scam was the huge sums of money borrowed quite illegally and often overnight by Parekh from the cooperative that ultimately bankrupted the bank. Parekh was arrested in August 2004. A few months later, the CBI court granted him conditional bail. But as Parekh was unable to discharge his debt of around 1800 crore to the cooperative bank, his incarceration continued. Controversies persist regarding the alleged connection between Parekh and the ruling party in Gujarat, but these allegations now stand lost in the labyrinth through which the case is wending its way.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 28 14:28:05 IST 2023 the-real-toll-of-kashmiri-pandits-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The truth has a curious way of eventually emerging. Since 1990—that is for the last 33 years—the BJP has consistently maintained that the “targeted attacks” on Kashmiri Pandits since militancy began in January 1990 was communal and designed to drive non-Muslims out of the Kashmir valley. The principal proponent of this theory was the governor of J&amp;K, Jagmohan, and his line has since been taken up by the hindutva brigade and peddled without regard for facts or perspective. Indeed, the film, Kashmir Files, was part of this propaganda invective. It focused exclusively on the Kashmiri Pandits. The only Muslims shown were the terrorists. It deliberately ignored the Kashmiri Muslim victims of the terror.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For three decades the saffron forces have been toeing the line that it was Muslim communal terrorism that drove approximately 80,000 Kashmiri Pandits (perhaps more) out of their ancient homeland. The solutions looked for were, therefore, communally coloured. The reading down of Article 370 was similarly motivated by communal considerations. And the numerous arrests that followed—running to thousands—was also communally motivated. All Kashmiri Muslim dissidents were tarred with the same communal brush. Kashmiri Muslims were removed from positions of political power, and from senior police and civil servants’ posts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The conclusive proof offered by the BJP of normalcy having returned to J&amp;K was the recruitment and posting of several Kashmiri Pandits into the civil services in Kashmir valley. When a few of them were gunned down, many (apparently most) of these freshly recruited cadre went on leave to their families in Jammu and refused to return to their posts in the valley.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that Lieutenant Governor Manoj Sinha confessed, “The country should stop seeing this issue on the basis of religion. A lot of other people have also been killed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been insistently pointing out since 1990 that the internal evidence generated by the J&amp;K administration itself clearly shows that both communities, and not just Kashmiri Pandits, had suffered at the hands of the terrorists. The principal proof I offered was from page 478 of Jagmohan’s My Frozen Turbulence in Kashmir, his account of his thankfully brief but disastrous governorship (January to May 1990). Jagmohan cites a report from the additional director-general of police, Srinagar, which “asserted that from December 1989 to May 15, 1990, 134 innocent persons had been killed by the militants. The killings of 71 Hindus during this period created fear in the minority community and accelerated the pace of migration of Kashmiri Pandits”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jagmohan did not make the obvious calculation that if 134 had been killed, of whom 71 were Hindus, that must mean that the nearly equal number of Muslims killed was 63!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This refusal to acknowledge that the victims of terrorism were almost the same in the two communities continued over the next decades and became acute after 2014. At the height of the communal propaganda unleashed by the hindutva brigade, one P.P. Kapoor, a concerned citizen of Samalkha in Haryana, put in an RTI request to be officially informed of the numbers killed from each community. He received a reply from the deputy superintendent of police, Srinagar. The reply bore no. HQR’s/RTI/S-91/2021/1808-09 and was dated November 27, 2021. It unambiguously stated that the number of Hindus killed “since the inception of militancy 1990” was 89, while “the number of those of other faiths” killed stood at 1,635, more than 16 times that of the Hindus killed!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If even these numbers, generated entirely by the J&amp;K administration, will not persuade the LG’s administration to change course, that will only show that the biased communalism of the saffron forces cannot accommodate itself to the true situation in J&amp;K.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Jan 14 12:12:18 IST 2023 the-peace-of-the-graveyard-bjp-gujarat <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I think the lowest point in the Gujarat campaign came when Union Home Minister Amit Shah proclaimed that “such a lesson was taught in 2002” that it has since led to “akhand shanti (eternal peace)” in Gujarat. Yes, the peace of the graveyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was not speaking of the dreadful events at the railway signal outside Godhra, where more than 50 kar sevaks were burnt alive in their coach. For that was not riot, but murder, and those responsible have been sentenced to life imprisonment and death.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “rioters” referred to by Shah were the inflamed Hindu mobs who massacred at least a thousand Muslims who had nothing to do with what had happened at Godhra. Shah has in fact portrayed the innocent Muslim victims as “those engaging in communal riots”. A few of the Hindu “rioters” have been deservedly sentenced to life imprisonment. Some have recently been released and at least one lot has been received back with garlands and sweets. What “lesson” have they been taught or learnt? That vengeance killing of innocents is to be commended?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He also made the outrageous claim that “in 2002, communal riots took place because the Congress people let it become a habit” and that “if there is anyone who has ravaged Gujarat through communal riots, it is Congress people”. Rubbish. In 1969, when the Congress was celebrating Mahatma Gandhi’s centenary, who was it that stoked such vicious riots in Ahmedabad that the chief guest, Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Frontier Gandhi, stalked off stating that such violence was totally anathema to Gandhiji’s philosophy? Of course not the Congress, because it would hardly wreck its own reputation on so solemn an occasion. It was the saffron lot. And who in 1985 converted a caste clash into a communal uprising but those whose basic philosophy is to spread hatred against minority communities, especially Muslims.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Strict action,” Shah went on to claim, “had been taken by the BJP government against those engaging in communal riots”. Really? Then why was Maya Kodnani, one of those eventually found by the courts to have been so mixed up in the rioting as to be deserving of a life sentence, retained in Modi’s council of ministers? Why was Babu Bajrangi allowed his freedom despite boasting that he had personally killed innocent Muslims until the courts took action years later? Why was Manoj Kukrani released on bail to campaign for his daughter after being convicted to life imprisonment for the heinous crimes he committed?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Vagra, Bharuch district, the same day, Shah asserted that “these people (the rioters) last showed courage in 2002”. Courage? Courage to spear an unborn child to death? Courage to stab a pregnant woman? Courage to assassinate such a noble exemplar of communal harmony as Ehsan Jafri, ex-MP? Courage to rape Bilkis Bano repeatedly in the presence of her daughter and do the same to her and other female members of the family while heartlessly murdering innocent boys and men for no reason other than their faith? Or was the word courage a mistranslation? True, as Shah said, some of “these people” were “one by one... sorted and put in jail”, but where was the Union home minister when, on their being released on the Gujarat government’s order, which is under challenge in the Supreme Court, these criminals were feted and felicitated as “sanskari Brahmins”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most laughable of his claims—but for how grim the claim was—was that the BJP government “tightened the noose of the law so sternly that it taught a lesson to those doing the riots”. In fact, the Gujarat government at best stood aside twiddling its thumbs and, at worst, was complicit in the horrors taking place under its watch. Extraordinarily, the Election Commission has let Shah off the hook. But election victories do not absolve lies and hate speech.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 31 11:26:17 IST 2022 nadav-lapid-kashmir-files-opinion <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nadav Lapid, the Israeli head of the jury at the International Film Festival of India, described Kashmir Files—the official Indian entry for the competitive section of the festival—as “vulgar propaganda”. He said he and his fellow jurors were “disturbed and shocked” on viewing the film. “We all jury members shared exactly the same impression of the movie” as “very crude, manipulated and violent”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In subsequent comments to the Indian and Israeli media, he has further described the Vivek Agnihotri film as “ridiculous” and compared it with a “cartoon for kids” in the manner in which the “bad guys” are portrayed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is, Lapid said, “A flat product… totally in service of an agenda”, which has left him “with a very bad taste”. He has confirmed that he is questioning the “aesthetic and artistic quality of the film” and not “questioning the veracity of the facts”. Indeed, he believes, “Tragic events like this deserve a serious movie… a piece of art that truly represents what happened with realistic values.” Instead, Kashmir Files has served up a movie with “fascist features” as shown by the manner the film was “pushed into the official competition due to political pressure by the Indian government”. He said, “Even if it did not actually make” the film, the Indian government “pushed” it “in an unusual way”. The movie, he elaborated, “is not equal to the tragedy… such serious topics deserve a serious film.” This, Kashmir Files is manifestly not because it is “a propagandist movie inappropriate for an artistic, competitive section of such a prestigious film festival”. It is only “manipulation, vulgar, violence…that can cause hostility, violence and hate between communities”. He has further dubbed the movie as “Islamophobic”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before we go on, let us see who this Israeli is. He was invited because he is an eminent cineaste and film critic who has served as president of the jury in dozens of film festivals, including “the biggest ones like Cannes, Berlin and others”. As a filmmaker, he first came to international notice when he was awarded the special jury prize at the Locarno Film Festival in 2011 for his debut film, Policeman, and went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his Synonyms. You cannot go much higher than that.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In answer to the Israeli ambassador’s charge that he should be “ashamed” of himself, Lapid has tartly responded that he has not come to India “in order to serve the interests of the state”. That, he adds, is “a totally fascistic idea”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In what is arguably his most compelling comment, he stresses that, “We must have the capacity to deal with things in a complex way.” By simplifying complex issues into bad guys vs. good guys, Agnihotri has not served the cause of truth even if, as he claims, all the ‘facts’ he has cherrypicked are accurate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I offer two telling facts to close this column. In his reminiscences of the exodus that occurred under his watch when he was governor, Jammu and Kashmir, Jagmohan says 138 persons were killed till March 10, 1990, of whom 75 were “Hindus”. He does not do the simple maths required to see that this also means 63 Kashmiri Muslims were killed over the same period! And to go by the RTI response of the deputy superintendent of police, Srinagar number HQR’s/RTI/S-91/2021/108-09, dated November 27, 2021, of all those killed since “the inception of militancy 1990”, 89 are Kashmiri Pandits and 1,635 belong to “other faiths”—they are almost all Muslims. It is by including that side of the story that Kashmir Files would have proved worthy of inclusion in the IFFI.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Dec 10 16:42:13 IST 2022 secularism-or-hindutva-ideology-in-india <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Congress has often—and justly—been criticised for waffling on ideological issues. Yet, when Rahul Gandhi takes a firm stand, there is no lack of those who criticise his bluntness. The rift valley in Indian politics is between those who believe that India belongs to all Indians equally and those who privilege the dominant religious majority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Our electoral system has over the last eight years passed the banner to those who wish to make India a Hindu Raj. The fact, however, is that while four-fifths of Indians subscribe to some version of Hinduism as a personal religion, only a third of Indians have voted for the BJP. Yet, our electoral system has granted two-thirds of the seats to those who have triumphed in only one-third of the nation’s votes. This has resulted in the skewed position of most of India’s peninsular and peripheral states voting for non-denominational parties while the heartland votes the other way. This has fostered the most divisive politics in modern India’s history. It is why Rahul Gandhi is undertaking his Bharat Jodo Yatra. The country needs uniting, not dividing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is in this context that Rahul’s raising the question of Vinayak Savarkar, the ideological father of hindutva, needs to be viewed. Were ideological waffling to continue, Rahul would be best advised to ignore Savarkar. If, on the other hand, ideological clarity is the need of the hour, then the yatra is designed to highlight the gaping void between the vision of India espoused by Savarkar and the idea of India that inspired the freedom movement and nation-building till eight years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For almost exactly a century, the Savarkar view, first articulated publicly in 1923, has been that only Hindus are Indians and only if the non-Hindus accept this proposition that they qualify for the right to live in this land. Savarkar was explicit. There were two nations in India—a Hindu nation and a Muslim nation—and as the overwhelmingly larger nation was ‘Hindu’, a genuine India had to be a Hindu nation. Jinnah eventually agreed. I stress “eventually” because from the initial espousal of the two-nation theory in the 1890s through the elaboration of this theory in Savarkar’s works through the 1920s and 1930s Jinnah remained, at least till 1927, the “ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity”. It was only in 1940 that he emerged as the champion of a separate homeland for the “Muslim nation”, as much a fiction as Savarkar’s “Hindu nation”, for although there was a Muslim majority in the north-west and East Bengal, the Muslim community permeated the Hindu-majority areas. Inevitably, therefore, more than a third of the subcontinent’s Muslims fell out of the Muslim-majority areas. The principal ideological question at Partition was whether India should follow Pakistan in becoming a religion-based state. Savarkar’s answer was yes. The Congress led by the Mahatma said, no. All Indians are Indians.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Gandhiji won us our freedom by emphasising that the ends never justify the means. For ends to be pure, means must also be pure. And by eschewing opportunism and sticking to ideological principles irrespective of the passing political compulsions of the moment, we won. Rahul’s remarks on Savarkar are part of this ideological belief and value system. If waffling on secularism has cost the Congress dear, Rahul has shown that it is not by becoming hindutva’s B-team but by standing up for its core beliefs that the Congress will partner the non-denominational parties to challenge the forces of hindutva.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We must remain ideologically consistent if in 2024 we are to unite the two-thirds of the electorate who, even at the peak of the BJP’s election winning streak, flinched from supporting the BJP’s ideology.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Nov 27 12:51:33 IST 2022 governors-should-govern-themselves <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The bad example set by elevating the former governor of West Bengal to vice president as a reward for his running battle with Mamata Banerjee has, it would seem, signalled BJP-appointed governors to follow the Jagdeep Dhankhar path by insinuating the Centre’s preferences and priorities into the functioning of popularly elected state governments who are opposed to the BJP, thus undermining of our federal polity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We have already seen this blatantly done in non-BJP run Maharashtra, Telangana, Jharkhand and, of course, West Bengal, but has now come to the fore in the two sensitive southern states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu where the CPI(M) and the DMK, respectively, have won impressive mandates from the electorate, reducing the BJP to ashes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kerala, the over-ambitious Arif Mohammad Khan, who has run the gamut of virtually every political party in the north—starting with the Congress, and come a cropper consistently—and is now in the tight embrace of the BJP (against whose religious majoritarianism he was a champion at the start of his long and convoluted political innings) has created a constitutional crisis, the latest manifestation of which is the lie that Jawaharlal Nehru invited the RSS to participate in the first Republic Day parade.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Whereas maintaining decorum is the first requirement of the holder of so senior a Constitutional office as governor, and above all keeping himself strictly above partisan politics in the spirit of the Constitution, Khan actually convened a press conference in Raj Bhavan where he levelled accusations against the Left government and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, senior CPI(M) leaders and others ministers. Now, it is not only Khan’s right but duty to inform the CM privately of perceived shortcomings in governance and complaining to the President at whose “pleasure” he holds office, but to actually drag such dirty linen into the public discourse surely amounts to abuse of office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khan has publicly stated that, “Left parties are following communist ideology, which is a foreign concept that authorises the use of force to silence dissent.” He forgets that the CPI(M) is a duly registered party by the Election Commission that has checked its antecedents before granting recognition. It is all right for a political party to make the claim that he has made, but it is not for a governor to sneer in such a manner at a political party that has repeatedly been elected by the people of Kerala and created history recently by getting itself re-elected.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In neighbouring Tamil Nadu, Governor R.N. Ravi has withheld consent to as many as 20 bills passed by the state legislature. He has provoked all the parties of the alliance that runs the DMK-led government, to prepare a memorandum to the President to withdraw her “pleasure” since the governor lacks “basic knowledge, integrity and impartiality” and is “an embarrassment to the people” of the state. The memo indicts him for “incit(ing) hatred and creat(ing) communal unrest” by assertions such as India being “dependent on one religion” and propagating “conservative and poisonous ideas” amounting to “sedition” as they “attempt to bring hatred and contempt and excite disaffection towards a state government established by law”. Moreover, he has inflicted “deep wounds to Tamil sentiments and pride” by denouncing the state’s “Dravidian heritage”. He has involved himself in partisan politics by returning a bill against the Centre’s NEET and publicly rebuked the state government for rejecting the BJP’s National Education Policy. His latest transgression has been the allegation that the state government delayed bringing the NIA into the investigation of the Coimbatore bomb blast. All this and more “deforms cooperative federalism and destroys our democracy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Does the Constitution allow the BJP to fire from the governor’s shoulder in states where the electorate have rejected the overtures of the sangh parivar?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sun Nov 13 11:15:08 IST 2022 indo-china-1962-war-military-drawbacks-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On October 20, 1962, the Chinese launched a pre-emptive counterattack to the threat held out to them by the Indian prime minister eight days earlier that he had ordered the Army to “throw the Chinese out” of the Thagla Ridge. Within a month, they had conquered all of NEFA; then, as their troops stood poised on the edge of the Brahmaputra Valley, the Chinese suddenly undertook a unilateral withdrawal from the territories they had conquered, including even Tawang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Who was responsible for this humiliating disaster? Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru and defence minister V.K. Krishna Menon have been flayed for mistaken political assessments that led to the catastrophe. Air Vice Marshal (retd) Manmohan Bahadur raises the pertinent question: “Why was it that the Army top brass was not strong enough to stand up to the political interference in affairs that were purely military?”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The answer has been given in the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report that was commissioned by the Union government in the wake of the military setback. The report was submitted a few months later while all the errant participants were still around. Since then, the “Army top brass” has succeeded in preventing the release of the report. Now, none of those indicted is around. And spending on the armed forces has risen precipitately. There is no comparison between the state of our battle readiness today and what it was in 1962. Yet, the braided generals refuse to let the defence ministry authorise the release of the report.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not that that has stopped leaking the political conclusions so that the blame is comprehensively shifted to the civilian politicians involved. There is no denying their role and responsibility. Yet, cloaking the truth with regard to the Army generals involved continues. All we know is that from the chief of Army staff, General P.N. Thapar down, the entire Army leadership was officered by young men who received rapid out-of-turn promotions with the departure of the British. They just did not have the training or experience of higher command that they would have had if their promotions had come in the normal way. But apart from that one fact, what they did wrong remains a state secret—but, meanwhile, the political indictment has been leaked. What went wrong militarily remains out of bounds. The one exception is Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul, commander of the newly created IV Corps, who has deservedly been hauled over the coals, but only because his was essentially a political appointment without military justification. But of all the other commanders, there seems to be a vow of bureaucratic omerta that has compromised any objective analysis of what went militarily wrong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One is reminded of a conversation among German generals during the First World War:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ludendorff: “The English soldiers fight like lions.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hoffman: “True. But don’t we know that they are lions led by donkeys.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is to confirm or reject such a description of the Indian jawan and his commanders that requires the release of the Henderson Brookes-Bhagat report of 1963. For, as AVM Bahadur argues, the war colleges of the three services “need to delve into what transpired during that fateful period”. He does not add that we might thus get over our national ’62 complex. This, in turn, might encourage us to a “fair and reasonable” settlement of the border as envisaged at the conclusion of Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988, which led five years later to the Treaty on Peace and Tranquility on the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Modi thought he would reinforce the treaty with a personal charm offensive but that only exposed the contradictions between his overtures to Xi and his contrary overtures to Trump. Galwan followed with the inevitability of night following day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 28 14:24:44 IST 2022 rss-is-complicit-in-systemic-polarisation-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>By calling on RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat have the five Muslim eminences served the cause of their community? Their spokesperson, S.Y. Quraishi, says his group believes in “dialogue”. Fair enough. But were he and his colleagues setting the stage for such a dialogue? Yes, because Bhagwat named four of his senior colleagues who will continue the initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Bhagwat’s own remarks, as reported by Quraishi, are far from encouraging. He had no convincing responses to the points raised by the Muslim team about “recurrent incidents of lynching”; calls by “Hindutva hotheads for genocide”; or “the marginalisation of the community in every sphere”. Instead, he packed them off with the risible claim that “Hindutva is inclusive”. He continued that “progress is possible only if communities are united” and that the “Constitution is sacred”. None of these bald assertions was apparently challenged by the distinguished Muslims present, who seem to have been more impressed with the “simplicity” of his office furnishings, his “punctuality” and his “patience”, than with getting to the heart of the matter. It brought to mind vividly Chamberlain being taken in by Hitler.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead of telling the delegation what the RSS was doing on the ground to rein in the hotheads and those who spoke of “genocide”, Bhagwat resorted to his usual “whataboutery” saying what about Muslims restraining themselves from eating cow-meat in the few states (mostly ruled by the BJP alone or in coalition) in which beef consumption is allowed. Then going on the offensive, asked the delegation to restrain their community from using words like “kafir” (non-believer). The delegation found at last the spirit to say what about “jihadi” and “Pakistani” as descriptions for Muslims but did not press the point that Shah-Modi should stop making such insinuations. Instead, they meekly accepted Bhagwat’s offer of interaction with four RSS representatives.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Comically, Bhagwat’s only public reaction to Quraishi presenting him his magnum opus, The Population Myth: Islam, Family Planning and Politics in India, has been to reiterate at a public meeting his totally bogus charge that Muslim fertility threatens Hindu identity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Instead, however, of exposing Hindutva hypocrisy, the highly respected vice chancellor of NALSAR, Faizan Mustafa, has weighed in with an impassioned defence of the Quraishi initiative. The “pertinent question”, says he, is what Muslims are willing to disown, not, extraordinarily, whether the RSS will disown their founders for putting out the lie that Muslims can never be true Indians for they turn to Mecca to pray and that there is no more to the record of Muslim rule than barbarity, conversions, rape and killing. Mustafa then recites a number of throwaway lines from Bhagwat that show him as denouncing lynching and seeking “equal” citizenship for Muslims but fails to cite even one concrete example of action taken on the ground—because there is none.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zakia Soman joins the debate with far greater relevance. Citing the stoking of “religious polarisation”, “citizens being reduced to merely being Hindu or Muslim”, “majoritarian triumphalism” and “Muslims being at the receiving end of every atrocity”, she perceptively underlines what the Quraishi delegation failed to stress: that the RSS is complicit in this “systemic” polarisation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She goes on to point out that “from lynching to genocide calls, the onslaught on the Muslims has continued” and no steps are being taken to address the “core of fear and alienation among Muslims”. What has the RSS chief done to get the BJP “to shun its politics of religious nationalism”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Perhaps the Quraishi team, which singularly lacks a woman in its ranks, should take Soman, president of the Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan, to its forthcoming meetings with the Four RSS Horsemen of the Apocalypse.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Oct 14 15:49:08 IST 2022 congress-lion-is-now-roaring-again <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Since September 7, Rahul Gandhi has been on the road. Accompanying him are hundreds of locally drawn Congressmen and women, while thousands line the road. Is this the moment of Congress rejuvenation?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It would certainly seem so from the fright that the Bharat Jodo Yatra is giving the BJP, who are reduced to making cheap cracks about this being a ‘Congress Jodo Yatra’ (of course, it is—and how!) and silly observations on Rahul’s Burberry T-shirt. They are stupefied that even as they launch their own campaign to gain more votes in states they have failed to dominate, Rahul’s yatra passes through precisely those areas to consolidate the Congress vote and, by implication, the solid block of two-thirds voters who did not support the BJP in 2014 and 2019. The BJP possesses its two-thirds majority in the Lok Sabha on the strength of one-third of the vote. The yatra is demonstrating that the denigration of the Congress as rudderless and leaderless is misplaced. After a long spell of political quiescence, the Congress lion is now roaring again. The non-Congress opposition is being signalled that the strength of the Congress remains undiminished in the areas of its strength, without damaging the regional strongholds of potential allies in the coming 2024 general election.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That, perhaps, explains why Rahul is not walking west to east, from Saurashtra to Silchar, to retrieve territory lost to the BJP. Meanwhile, the BJP and its coterie are beginning to learn that India is not the Hindi heartland, that there is much more to India than the slices in which hindutva is dominant. Moreover, by largely avoiding states in which other opposition leaders are at the helm—Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Andhra, Telangana—the yatra will certainly—indeed, already has—set the regional opposition parties, starting with Nitish Kumar’s JD(U), on the path to rethinking their strategies for 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The timing is perfect. At some time in the spring of 2023, Rahul will end his yatra in Srinagar, with just about a year to go for the general elections. That leaves plenty of space and time for everyone who has lost out since 2014 to reconsider the path to defeating the BJP in 2024.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What is more, the ongoing shake up of the top echelon of the party, with several aspirants entering or considering entering the election contest for the presidency, without a Nehru-Gandhi on the horizon, throws up the opportunity the party has not had in a quarter century to profile the party’s second-line leadership and the regional standing of those in that second line. For this is in accord with the history of the Congress where “leadership” and “presidency” have for long been in separate hands. Thus, the Mahatma was undoubtedly the “leader” of the Congress for three decades from 1919 to 1948, but was president only once (Belgaum, 1924) and was “leader” even when he was not even a primary member of the Congress. Equally, after the Mahatma, it was Nehru who was clearly the head of the party for 17 long years although lesser celebrities like U.N. Dhebar held the post of president. So, if a distinction is now being made between “leader” (Rahul) and “president” (Gehlot, Tharoor, X, Y, Z) it amounts not to a “puppet president” but a return to an old established practice of the leader and the president being different but working in tandem.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For, if a schism were to develop between the two, as happened in the confrontation between Indira Gandhi (the leader) and the syndicate that provided the president (S. Nijalingappa), it would lead to the kind of internal strife witnessed in 1969-71. Now, with Rahul leading the yatra, while holding no formal office, even while presidential elections are in the offing, the Congress is reverting to type.</p> <p><i><b>This column was written on September 23, 2022, proving that a week is a long time in politics.</b></i></p> Fri Sep 30 15:06:08 IST 2022 modi-is-no-subhas-chandra-bose-mani-shankar-aiyar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Inaugurating the statue of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose at the India Gate on September 8, the prime minister bemoaned that independent India “forgot its hero”, and that it is only now that Bose’s “vision” had been brought to the fore and governance has begun to “bear the impression of Netaji’s ideals”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Such a travesty of truth cannot be left to go unchallenged. For Netaji, the supreme ideal was Hindu-Muslim unity, indeed the unity of Indians of all religions. His closest companions included Abid Hasan, the only one chosen to accompany Bose on his dangerous submarine journey from Kiel in Germany to a rendezvous point more than a hundred days later with a Japanese vessel off the coast of Madagascar. Does the prime minister have any Muslim as close to him as Netaji did?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Netaji called his army of liberation the Azad Hind Fauj, not the Bharatiya Swatantrata Sena. Should not Modi have reminded his audience that the Provisional Government of Free India was named the Arzi Hukumat-e Azad Hind (not Mukt Bharat Anantim Sarkar) in recognition of the composite civilisation that was India’s proud heritage? Does Modi accept Urdu on the same level as Hindi?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While invoking the “brave” Netaji, should not Modi have lauded Major General Mohammad Zaman Kiani who commanded the first division that liberated Moirang in Manipur? And Colonel Shaukat Malik who first raised the tricolour on liberated Indian soil? Or Colonel Inayat Jan Kiani who commanded the Gandhi brigade that overran Palel airfield in Manipur? Modi has, however, told former vice president M. Hamid Ansari that it does not “suit me politically” to mention any good he may have done to Muslims. As for Colonel Habibur Rahman, deputy chief of staff handpicked to travel with Bose on his last journey, should not Modi have acknowledged this in claiming accord with Bose’s “vision” and acting in accordance with Bose’s “ideals”? Had Bose’s statue been able to talk back, it would have reprimanded Modi for driving not just a wedge but an entire rift valley between Hindu and Muslim by denigrating the Ganga-Jamuni culture that united the majority community to its largest minority.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The statue would also have reminded Modi that Netaji selected Colonel Cyril John Stracey, an Anglo-Indian Christian officer of the British Indian army, as his quarter master general, and entrusted him with the task of building a memorial to the martyrs of the Azad Hind Fauj on Singapore’s shores. Unlike our present prime minister, Netaji’s “vision” embraced all the communities of India. He made no distinction of religion among his followers. He never talked of “love jihad” and hijabs in classrooms. And until Modi realises this, he forfeits the right to talk of Netaji’s “ideals”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Netaji escaped from British surveillance in 1941, he was accompanied all the way to Peshawar by a trusted aide, Mian Akbar Shah. Does Modi have any trusted Muslim aide? In Peshawar, Netaji’s principal lieutenant, Abad Khan, found a Muslim Pathan, Mohammad Shah, to accompany Netaji to Kabul. Unfortunately, the final decision was to have a Hindu, Bhagat Ram Talwar, charged with this task. Talwar turned out to be a British spy code-named ‘Silver’ and so betrayed his companions that Abad Khan was tortured brutally in Lahore Fort and not released till after the war ended; and Mohammad Shah spent two years in hard labour incarceration. Should not Modi have mentioned that it was a Hindu who betrayed Netaji and numberless Muslims who faithfully served him—and paid heavily but readily for their acts. And why has Modi not followed his predecessors’ example of paying obeisance to Netaji’s ashes at Renkoji shrine in Tokyo?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And should Modi not have reminded his audience that it was Gandhiji who described Netaji as the “Prince of Patriots”? Is there any tribute Modi can pay that outshines the Mahatma’s?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Sep 17 10:40:36 IST 2022 open-letter-to-ghulam-nabi-azad <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Dear Ghulam Nabiji,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I thought you were going to lead our party out of the woods. Instead, you have chosen to walk out. Do you seriously expect to find a Congress destiny outside the Congress? Or, were you in the Congress only because it loaded you over four decades with every office in government or the party that was available—except prime minister and party president?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If it was your aspiration to lead the party, the opportunity was yours for the asking at next month’s party presidential elections. Would you have walked out if you, rather than Ashok Gehlot, had been the favoured one?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The step you have taken cannot lead to the rejuvenation of our party. You cannot rejuvenate a party from outside. And, if you think you can give a nation-wide alternative to the Congress by becoming a Congress party-in-exile, you will need more than a century and a quarter to accomplish that as the Indian National Congress has done since 1885. Had you stood in next month’s Congress presidential election, you might well have succeeded in rallying around your standard all those that are in despair over the straits in which the party finds itself today. Even if you had come second, we would have got a measure of how far disillusionment within the party has spread. It might have spread wide. Or it might be confined to those who have enjoyed perks only the party can bestow and suddenly find themselves deprived of it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And if you answer, as you have done, that the presidential elections are rigged from the start of the process at the booth/block/district/state levels to ensure that the chosen one will be elected president, I would like to know whether such distortions of the democratic process began only after Rahul Gandhi became vice president in 2013? Might I take the liberty of reminding you that the process of making him VP had the full concurrence of the wholly nominated Congress Working Committee of which you were the leading member.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The CWC elections were held at Tirupati (1992) and Kolkata (1997) under non-Gandhi family presidents. It was only in 1998, and, thereafter, for 25 years, that all CWC positions have been filled by nomination. Those are the precise 25 years during which you were among the Congress president’s closest confidantes. I was confident that once Soniaji came to the helm, we would sincerely implement the Uma Shankar Dikshit committee recommendations—precisely because Rajiv Gandhi, as Congress President in 1990, had convened an extended meeting of the CWC to endorse the recommendations and then received the unstinted support for this vital step at the AICC session held in Mavlankar Hall, Delhi, in July, 1990.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Why in 25 years, when you were at the fulcrum of power, was the Dikshit report pulped to the point that not a single copy is available in AICC or anywhere else? You were general secretary in charge of Tamil Nadu when I had the mortifying experience of hearing you instruct us in 1999 to not canvas for election to the CWC because it had been decided that all CWC posts would be nominated. Had we had CWC elections, a second echelon would have been thrown up, which could have picked up the gauntlet when the challenge was thrown by Rahul Gandhi in May 2019 to choose an alternative to him and his family. If no one had the guts to rise to that challenge, it was because the second line leadership was gutted by the decision to have all of them, including you, nominated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is tragic that the single most important challenger has fled the battlefield before battle is even joined.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yours in profound sorrow,</p> <p>Mani (Shankar Aiyar)</p> Sun Sep 04 11:20:04 IST 2022 rajiv-was-right-governor-arif-khan <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In his interview to The Indian Express (August 14, 2022), Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has once again lashed out at Rajiv Gandhi, telling the interviewer that “all these issues”—Shah Bano and The Satanic Verses—“were dealt with not on merit but purely to build sectional vote banks”. I am astonished that he has brushed under the carpet Rajiv Gandhi’s response to the charge that his action on Shah Bano was driven by “vote bank” politics. Whose vote was he securing, he had asked. According to Khan and his curious comrades-in-arms, all women of all religions, including Muslim women—that is half the electorate— thoroughly disapproved. Moreover, according to Khan &amp; Co., all non-Muslim men and modern-minded Muslim gentlemen joined their sisters of all religions in condemning Rajiv Gandhi. That totals over 98 per cent of the voters, leaving but a few Muslim clerics and a handful of Muslim “reactionaries” in the Congress camp. How does that amount to a “vote bank”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, Khan knows—and perhaps contributed to—the writ petition filed before the Supreme Court by a renowned jurist, Danial Latifi (leftist, but a nominal Muslim) in September 1986, within three months of Rajiv Gandhi securing the passage of the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986. The petition challenged the constitutional validity of the act and incorporated arguments that Khan and others had been making in Parliament and outside. Khan must, therefore, know the outcome of that writ petition, namely, the Supreme Court judgment of 2001.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After carefully considering in detail the viewpoint put in the writ petition, the Supreme Court held “that the Act actually and in reality codifies what was stated in the Shah Bano case”. In other words, the SC rejected the allegation that the act “reversed” its 1985 judgment. What it actually did was incorporate into the civil law of the country the thrust of Muslim personal law on divorce. That, of course, is why the act promoted by Rajiv Gandhi has not been repealed by any successor Central government to Rajiv Gandhi’s, including the three BJP governments of Atal Bihari Vajpayee and the current government of Hindu Hriday Samrat, Narendra Modi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Supreme Court also determined that far from having mitigated or reduced the rights of Muslim women on divorce, “the Act of 1986 had, as a matter of fact, added to and augmented these rights through that legislation”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, on the critical point of the allegation that the 1986 act violated three crucial constitutional rights of Shah Bano, the Supreme Court held that the “provisions of the Act do not offend Articles 14, 15 and 21 of the Constitution of India”. Article 14 relates to “equality before law”. The 2001 SC judgment held that the 1986 act did not “deny to any person equality before the law or the equal protection of the law”. This constitutional right was, in fact, reaffirmed by the 1986 act and applied to all Muslim women on divorce.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, neither Shah Bano nor any other Muslim woman suffered any violation of the “prohibition of discrimination on grounds of religion” guaranteed under Article 15. The right to maintenance was now incorporated in the civil law of the country, was justiciable in the courts of the land and would be enforced by the arm of the law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, there was no infraction by the 1986 act of the assurance of “protection of life and personal liberty”, for Shah Bano or any other Muslim woman, provided as a fundamental right under Article 21.</p> <p>Why then does Governor Khan continue with his vicious propaganda against an assassinated prime minister who cannot answer back?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Sat Aug 20 11:02:52 IST 2022 act-on-pesa-says-mani-shankar-aiyar-in-open-letter-to-president-murmu <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Respected Rashtrapatiji,</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>May I add my voice to over 1.4 billion of my fellow-citizens to congratulate you on your richly deserved elevation to the highest post in our country? Others have been doing so but adding a caveat that you must do something about the deleterious laws relating to tribals that are in the offing, such as the proposed amendments to the Forest Conservation Act, 1927, The Forest Dwellers Act, 2008, and the Land Compensation Act, 2013, that provide for tribal village panchayats to accord 80 per cent people’s approval for any project to be undertaken that would deprive tribal communities of their land. These suggestions, though vital, would take you beyond the ambit of your constitutional remit because you are permitted only to return once to the cabinet for reconsideration any bill put up to you for your signature. If the cabinet reiterates its legislative intention, you, madam Rashtrapatiji, would have no alternative but to go along with it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is, however, one law that directly impinges on the tribal community where you are authorised to act. That is the Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, PESA. It is perhaps the only law that the Constitution under Article 243M(4)(b) has mandated Parliament to enact. This was duly done in December 1996 but has been largely left unimplemented by the fifth schedule states, that is, the nine states that have a non-tribal majority but a significant tribal minority. Indeed, the same schedule lays a special responsibility on governors of such composite states to report to you on progress in respect of tribal welfare. As these governors are the president’s appointees and serve at the president’s pleasure, you would be well within your constitutional rights, indeed in exercise of your constitutional duties, to require them to report to Rashtrapati Bhavan in detail on progress in the last quarter century on implementing PESA in letter and spirit. I request you to make this your top priority as our newly elected and widely hailed Rashtrapati.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I am making this special request because you might have missed the front-page report on the Burkapal tribals in The Indian Express on the same day as you were sworn in (July 25). If you would kindly ask a staff member to retrieve it for you, you will find evidence of what the reliance exclusively on security forces to contain naxalism is doing to the lives of innocent tribals in the Sukma area, a story that has been replicated in scores of other Naxal-affected districts. In 2017, the CRPF ordered the sarpanch to gather all the adults of Burkapal village compulsorily for a meeting. They thought this might be to announce an employment project, perhaps on roads. Instead, 112 of them were rounded up and incarcerated in jail without trial for the last five years, before being released by the NIA court for want of any evidence against them. Five “lost years” and “destroyed lives”. To survive, their families “sold our cows , our pigs, our land”. And in accordance with tribal custom, most of their wives left them to live with other men.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>PESA deals with development. It does not touch on law and order or public order. How could the CRPF co-opt a sarpanch to bring people together to pick up over a hundred of them with not a shred of evidence that they were Naxalites? And that too “under the draconian powers that UAPA gives to the police”. PESA gives tribal communities the right to development with adequate untied resources to be able to plan and participate in their own development. Fully implemented, this would do more to rid us of Naxalism than all the CRPF. Please give PESA your unbridled attention.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Respectful regards,</p> <p>Mani Shankar Aiyar</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Aug 05 11:18:42 IST 2022 when-sc-contradicts-itself-ordinary-citizen-is-left-bewildered <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Justice is always depicted as a goddess, blindfolded and balancing the scales to show that justice is guaranteed, notwithstanding whoever renders the judgement. Some recent developments have, however, raised questions about the objectivity of even our highest court. Of course, a judgement of the Supreme Court has to be accepted as final. One can understand the judgement of a lower court being reversed by a higher judicial authority. But when the highest court manifestly contradicts itself, the ordinary citizen is left bewildered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2004, Justices Doraiswamy Raju and Arijit Pasayat of the Supreme Court had said of the pogrom in Gujarat: “Modern-day ‘Neros’ were looking somewhere when Best Bakery and innocent children and helpless women were being burnt.” Human rights activist Teesta Setalvad has been playing on the same theme for the past two decades to secure justice for Zakia Jafri, whose husband, Ehsan Jafri, was mercilessly slaughtered in the same pogrom. A highly regarded former MP, Ehsan had spent the entire day of his assassination ringing everyone he knew in besieged Ahmedabad to warn them of the murderous mob that had entered his compound.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One would have thought that as a deeply concerned and committed citizen, Setalvad was entirely within her rights to do so, and that it was the law’s delays, rather than any negligence or malice on her part, that had led her to fight for 20 years as high as she could get for a cause she regarded as just. But after declaring that Setalvad lacked locus to name herself co-petitioner, the learned judges observed that she had “the audacity to question the integrity of every functionary involved”, and went on to say that all those involved in such an abuse of process needed to be “in the dock”. What is worse, the police took this observation as licence to arrest her. Justice Madan Lokur, a retired judge of the Supreme Court, suggested that the apex court should issue a clarification that it was not its intention that Setalvad should be arrested.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, courts have no right to order anyone’s arrest. That is the duty of the police. Yet, far from intervening afresh to secure justice for the arrested activist, the court has not sought to follow the injunction laid down earlier by itself that “we are supreme, but that does not mean we are infallible”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And why is Mohammad Zubair under arrest for a four-year-old tweet after which, as retired justice Deepak Gupta observed, “nothing untoward” has happened. Is it because as Zubair’s lawyer Vrinda Grover pointed out, “the real problem is Zubair’s name, faith and profession”?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, another bench of the Supreme Court comprising Justices Surya Kant and J.B. Pardiwala said of Nupur Sharma, “The way she has ignited emotions across the country... she is single-handedly responsible for what is happening.” Yet, the police have not acted against Sharma the way they have against Setalvad. The reason? The honourable justices hazard an explanation: “She thinks she has backup power”. Of course, the police think she does.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At school we were taught to “pray for justice”. It seems we should teach our children to pray for the right judge.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Aiyar is a former Union minister and social commentator.</b></p> Fri Jul 08 11:02:04 IST 2022 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