Navtej Sarna en Sat Jun 10 15:20:14 IST 2023 some-knights-are-forever <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The most dramatic and immediate denunciation of the Jallianwala Bagh massacre came from Rabindranath Tagore. He wrote to the viceroy, Lord Chelmsford, on May 31, 1919, barely six weeks after the horrific massacre—renouncing the knighthood conferred on him in 1915. For good measure he simultaneously released the letter to the press and telegraphed it to Edwin Montagu, secretary of state for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tagore’s early reaction was proof, if proof were needed, that the poet’s prescience is sharper than the politician’s; not just the Indian nationalist leaders but even London was not fully aware of the extent of violence that had taken place in Punjab. Martial law was still in place with strict press censorship and travel restrictions. To be sure, in response to spreading demands, Montagu had just decided to set up an inquiry committee; the announcement of the Congress inquiry would come later. Tagore, however, quickly made his judgement based on the accounts that had “trickled through the gagged silence” and decided to give “voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The story does not quite end there. Tagore’s announcement, though barely noticed in the London press, sent Whitehall into a tizzy. The slim file in the India Office archives makes interesting reading.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, of course, there are Knights and knights; Rabindranath Tagore was a Knight Bachelor, a category of knighthood that dates back to Henry III. Without going into its arcane and oh-so-British history, suffice it to say that Knight Bachelorhood, while being the most ancient, was also the lowest ranking; its members missed out on entering into any order of chivalry like the Thistle or Garter. More to the point, a Knight Bachelor got no insignia with the title (only in 1926 was a badge with swords, spurs, pommels and rowels approved for such knights).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hence there was nothing that Tagore could physically return by way of definitive renunciation unlike the eminent jurist and leading member of the Theosophical Society, Sir Subramania Iyer who had renounced his 1900 honour of Knight Commander of the Indian Empire (KCIE) in 1917. Iyer had been rebuked by the British when he had written to the American president, Woodrow Wilson, excoriating British misrule in India; in response, he sent back his medals of KCIE and Dewan Bahadur.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A Knight Bachelorhood could only be revoked, or “degraded” by a letters patent issued by the king. This had been done in the case of the British diplomat Roger Casement, accused of treason during the 1916 Irish insurrection against British rule. Casement, mentioned earlier in these columns, was hanged in the same Pentonville prison as Udham Singh, and buried in the same patch. Much later, Sir Anthony Blunt, one of the Cambridge Five spies, was similarly degraded.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the case of Tagore, a Nobel Prize winner for literature, a degradation would have attracted too much publicity and been seen as an admission of a mistaken policy in Punjab. Chelmsford proposed, and Montagu agreed, that the Viceroy simply reply to Tagore saying that he was in no position to relieve him of his title and nor would he make any recommendation to the king. Nevertheless, it was still thought prudent to run the case by King George V. A reply from Lord Stamfordham, the king’s private secretary (and earlier private secretary to Queen Victoria), on Windsor Castle letterhead confirmed that His Majesty agreed with Whitehall’s suggestion to put the whole thing on ice. Thus, while Tagore gave up his title, the British didn’t quite know how to take it back!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former high commissioner to the UK and author, most recently, of the novel <i>Crimson Spring.</i></b></p> Sat Sep 02 16:04:03 IST 2023 why-the-west-wants-to-de-risk-not-de-couple-from-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Coupling is a word usually associated with intimate relations or railway wagons and not with international relations: countries don’t like being joined at the hip, nor do they fancy being dragged around like mindless wagons in a train. Which makes it a mystery why the west’s efforts to unshackle its economies from a rising China should be referred to as de-coupling. But mercifully now de-coupling is passe; the new buzzword handed down from the pulpits of Washington DC and Brussels is de-risking. A sort of safe engagement with all due precautions, and I promise not to stretch this metaphor further.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, this goes beyond semantics. By the time Washington woke up from its wishful dream that a generous approach towards China would make that country play ball by established rules and encourage internal reform, it was too late. An unashamedly autocratic China had emerged as America’s top challenger, determined to shape global narratives to its own priorities. Ironically, it was the Trump administration, with all its petulant disruption, that correctly read the Chinese characters on the wall and initiated appropriate responses to China’s predatory economics, its technology-skimming and its buccaneering in the Indo-Pacific. The pandemic exacerbated matters further and Biden’s approach remained the same, sans some of the rhetoric. Concepts such as resilient supply chains, friend-shoring and de-coupling entered the geopolitical lexicon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But as every schoolboy knows, <i>kutti</i> is easy to declare but difficult to sustain: you soon want a bite from the other guy’s lunchbox. De-coupling seemed too final a goodbye, a costly divorce from a huge market and rich investments. De-risking, first popularised by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, is less apocalyptic. Relations with China would still be seen through the lens of national security, but engagement would continue in areas where still possible. Conflict is not to be seen as inevitable; China’s growth need not be at America’s cost. How far the Chinese will buy this bifurcated bargain is anybody’s guess.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beijing seems to be enjoying the fun as the west, particularly Europe, struggles to square its own circles. While von der Leyen closely toes the hawkish American line on de-risking, French President Emmanuel Macron and, to a lesser extent German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, would rather take more risk; both paid court to Xi Jinping with huge business delegations in tow. Hungary, unlike other central and east European countries, remains another Beijing fan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Washington, too, is making so far unrequited efforts to dial down tensions with China. Ever since a Chinese spy balloon flew over America, several administration officials have made a beeline to Beijing and not too smartly at that. Secretary of State Antony Blinken seemed overawed in Xi’s presence while the latter told him to do a hundred lines, or its diplomatic equivalent; Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s low bow indicated that she thought she was in Japan and the Chinese defence minister didn’t give Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin the time of the day in Singapore when asked. America’s <i>brahmastra</i>, Henry Kissinger, has also been trotted out, dressed up as a private visitor—though with all respect to the centenarian, trotted may not be the mot juste. The Chinese laid out a wedding feast befitting a visitor who had arguably created the diplomatic opening that led to China’s rise. The old master of information arbitrage will no doubt dine out the season with corporate clients on the titbits gleaned at Xi’s laden table even as US-China relations struggle to carve out a stable framework. For reasons too obvious, this remains a space that India needs to watch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Fri Aug 04 15:31:46 IST 2023 wanted-direct-flight-to-paradise <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A short-story collection by Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald titled <i>Bits of Paradise</i> came to mind as I took a sea plane from Male to the island resort of Soneva Fushi in western Maldives. Below us, flung generously across the iridescent blue of the Indian Ocean lay several verdant isles, a handful of 1,200 such pearls that make up this close neighbour, each ringed by a penumbra of clear sea-green water. At the resort, the idea of paradise is reinforced: silvery beaches, humming vegetation, waters teeming with parrot fish, and dolphins putting on a show for gaping visitors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But paradise can also be a troubled place. Maldives, spread over 90,, is one of the world’s most widely dispersed countries; it is 99 per cent water, with a land area of only With average ground levels only a metre-and-a-half above sea level, climate change is an existential threat. At current levels of global warming, Maldives could be uninhabitable by the end of the century; former president Mohamed Nasheed famously held a cabinet meeting underwater to draw attention to the threat. The damage inflicted by the 2004 tsunami, totalling $400 million, was a glimpse of the future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A fractious domestic polity, social unrest, drug trafficking and dependence, illegal fishing and sea-borne terrorism also muddy the waters, often feeding on what is generally regarded as a great advantage: Maldives’ strategic location. At either end of this island chain—a virtual toll-gate in the ocean—are the two sea lanes of communication (SLOCs) critical for maritime trade between the Gulf of Aden and Strait of Hormuz in west Asia and the Malacca Strait in southeast Asia. 50 per cent of India’s external trade and 80 per cent of her energy imports pass through these westward SLOCs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, keen on an increased naval presence in the Indian Ocean, gained a crucial foothold when former president Abdulla Yameen offered it major infrastructural projects including a Male airport upgrade and a bridge linking Male to Hulhule island. Predictably, by 2018, Maldives—with a GDP of $9 billion—owed China $1.5 billion; nevertheless, Maldives is part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indian equities have largely been restored under the ‘India First’ policy of present president Ibrahim Mohamed Solih. A net-security provider, India is also supporting major infrastructure ventures such as the $500 million Greater Male Connectivity Project. Health tourism is booming. A wide-ranging defence relationship covers training, joint patrols of the vast EEZ, Maritime Domain Awareness, military hardware, setting up a coastal radar system and so on. This partnership is not safe from internal political discord and is likely to be in focus again in the forthcoming September elections, particularly if Yameen, who launched an India-Out campaign, is allowed to run.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Despite all this it took me 12 hours to travel from Male to Delhi—as long as it takes one to fly directly from Delhi to Australia. The reason: there are no direct flights between Male and Delhi at present, never mind that India is the top source market for tourism for Maldives as well as the top tourist destination. Air India has completely halted operations to Maldives; the airline is a private operation now, but a nudge—or even a subsidy—should be possible. A direct flight between Delhi and strategically important Male should be a strategic decision, not a purely commercial one. It is not a good signal if official delegations—of which there are plenty—have to dog-leg it all the way, and in this game signals matter. Besides, it would be nice to have a direct connection to paradise.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former high commissioner to the UK and author, most recently, of the novel <i>Crimson Spring</i>.</b></p> Sat Jul 08 16:00:20 IST 2023 why-british-refused-to-return-the-remains-of-prince-alemayehu-of-ethiopia <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is not just looted diamonds and valuable artefacts that former colonial powers want to hold on to; they can also be possessive about old bones and mortal dust. Evidence: Buckingham Palace has recently rejected demands for the return of the remains of Prince Alemayehu of Ethiopia from the catacombs of St. George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Alemayehu’s is a typical Victorian tale of colonial depredation dressed up in royal kindness. In the 1860s, his father, Emperor Tewodros II, had been given the royal ignore by Queen Victoria when he sought alliance with the British. Angered, he took some Britons hostage. A quick reprisal from a huge British military expedition, which incidentally included Indian soldiers, followed. Tewodros preferred suicide to capture and the British were free to plunder countless historical artefacts and untold wealth. For good measure, they also took away Alemayehu and his mother, who unfortunately died during the journey to Britain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Queen Victoria, never short on the maternal instinct, felt for the orphan prince. She appointed a certain Captain Speedy as his guardian and supported him financially. But Alemayehu was unhappy; bullied and badgered at Rugby and Sandhurst, he yearned for home. Unfortunately, he fell ill and died when just eighteen. The queen, while allowing his burial at Windsor, mourned—as if it was not the doing of her own colonial officials—that the prince had been “all alone, in a strange country, without a single person or relative, belonging to him”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are strong resonances here with the tragic tale of Maharaja Duleep Singh, the last king of Punjab. After Lord Dalhousie had duplicitously annexed the once mighty kingdom of Ranjit Singh, young Duleep was put under the guardianship of a surgeon-missionary, John Login. Subtly converted to Christianity, he sailed to England in 1854 to what would prove to be a lifelong exile. Initially, he, too, was feted by Queen Victoria as a handsome, English-speaking Oriental prince who had handed over not just his kingdom but also his heathen soul. Unlike Alemayehu, he lived long enough to rebel against the Crown and return to the faith of his ancestors. However, his endeavours to return to India at the head of an army proved fruitless and he died a lonely death in a small Parisian hotel. He still lies buried in a grave in the churchyard of Elveden, his Norfolk country seat. Barring some initial spadework, no serious attempt has yet been made towards bringing his remains back to Punjab.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Revolutionaries have fared better than royals. The mortal remains of Udham Singh, who served cold revenge on Michael O’Dwyer, 21 years after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, were brought back to India in 1974 as were those of student-revolutionary Madan Lal Dhingra two years later, both from the small burial patch at Pentonville prison where they had been hanged. Incidentally, the remains of Roger Casement, the Irish nationalist hanged for the 1916 Irish Uprising, were also exhumed after 49 years from the same patch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Prince Alemayehu’s case, the argument cited against exhumation, that it would disturb “the resting place of a substantial number of others in the vicinity”, seems specious. The British are immaculate record keepers and well know where the bodies are buried. They are also used to moving them around: Prince Philip has been moved to rest closer to the late Queen; Queen Maria of Yugoslavia was returned to Serbia in 2013 and Prince Philip’s mother sent to her final resting place in Jerusalem. The Ethiopians would be well advised to push: this is the time to ride the woke moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former high commissioner to the UK and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Sat Jun 10 11:22:46 IST 2023 how-punjab-is-becoming-an-old-age-home <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Mr Bains, a kindly 90-year-old retired customs officer, hosted us last month at his home amidst mango orchards outside Gurdaspur. Alone, he lived a regulated life: rummy with friends, two drinks every evening and occasionally a third, so as to not “waste the soda.” A man Friday, a Punjabi lady cook, and a Punjabi-speaking Jharkand family answered to his needs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That evening, just as he was about to call for the soda, Mr Bains complained of chest pain and sweating. Given his age, we feared the worst and scrambled. Mr Bains was rushed off in pouring rain through slushy lanes that ran between the fields. But the clinic in Gurdaspur turned us away: no doctor. The next hope was the ambitiously named X Medcity—a clinic with only minimal facilities, and virtually none to handle a cardiac patient. In a two-bedded room that served as an emergency-cum-ICU, a doctor administered first-aid and advised us to rush him to Amritsar or Jalandhar, never mind his ongoing cardiac event. An elementary ambulance, which nearly left without the oxygen mask, finally took the patient to Amritsar. Mr Dhillon (name changed), a friend of Mr Bains who had rushed to the clinic, shook his head in disbelief.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For 30 years,” he said, “we’ve lived in a village in Canada, a village. But just one call to 911 and they come immediately. You get the best treatment. Here, there is nothing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The next day Mr Bains was back. He was never to recover from his ordeal and passed away a fortnight later. But that evening he was happy to be home with his friends. Mr Dhillon again waxed eloquent about Canada’s attractions. About the minimum hourly wage of $15. Of his sons who now grow Honeycrisp apples in an 80-acre orchard near Niagara Falls. About his own prize-winning flowers. About how he has never felt any racism, how the “goras love us” and how the Canadian government gives both him and his wife old-age pension because “they want their citizens to live honourably”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Driving back the next day through Punjab’s “NRI belt”—the Doaba region between the Sutlej and the Beas—I could see that Mr Dhillon was not alone. The exodus was being announced by omnipresent signboards: “Study Canada, Pay after Visa,” “IELTS coaching,” “Spoken English,” “Contact for Visa/PR,” and so on. Ghost villages dot the landscape; fancy houses—financed by NRI dollars—lie vacant. Between 2016 and 2021, nearly ten lakh people went abroad from Chandigarh and Punjab, a staggering 38 per cent on student visas; unlike the Kerala migrant who usually heads to West Asia to earn and return, the Punjabi heads to Canada, the US, Europe, Australia and New Zealand to put down roots, often selling ancestral land to fund his way. The reasons are not far to seek: gross mis-governance, stagnating industry and agriculture, lack of jobs, highly polluted soil and water, poor education and health infrastructure. Punjab, once a dynamic powerhouse, is becoming an old age home, drained of its youth. Ironically, political parties have often promoted schemes that facilitate migration.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Normally, I would have little sympathy for the ones who leave. I would urge them to rejuvenate Punjab, to resurrect pride in their culture and history, to not give up their passports for a few dollars more. But when I think of the helpless indignity of the good Mr Bains, once a devoted officer proud of his crisp white uniform, clutching his CGHS card in a minimal clinic, I feel less certain. Somewhere there has been a collective failure, somewhere lies a promise betrayed. Perhaps, those who leave in search of a better life have a point.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Fri Apr 14 13:11:38 IST 2023 what-are-the-implications-of-sunaks-effusive-overture-to-macron-navtej-sarna <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>French President Emmanuel Macron receiving UK premier Rishi Sunak at the Elysée Palace last week certainly made for good television. Two relatively young men in nifty black suits, both investment bankers turned politicians, playing out a trans-Channel bromance. When they were not vigorously shaking hands, they were rubbing—or scratching—each other’s back. Even the drizzle that threatened to dampen the lovefest was warded off by a shared brolly, reminiscent of Raj Kapoor and Nargis in Shree 420. Sunak would no doubt see the warm reception as a personal validation. His short-lived predecessor, Liz Truss, had pronounced less than six months ago that the jury was out on whether Macron was a friend or a foe; as it turned out, it was she who was out before the jury was in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak is right to try to redeem the trust deficit with Europe created by the combined inflexibility, arrogance and in one case, the sheer incompetence of his three immediate predecessors in No. 10 since the Brexit referendum. Better relations with Europe and bringing Brexit into safe harbour are essential to give credibility to UK’s global ambitions. Greater cooperation with France is also critical for the prime minister to fulfil one of his five stated top priorities: resolving the so-called problem of small boats; thousands—45,000 by 2022 count—of asylum seekers are crossing the Channel in flimsy, inflatable boats, many fleeing persecution and war. This rush has submerged the asylum system, angered Conservative rank-and-file and given powerful ammunition to a resurgent Labour. Sunak has promised to pay nearly half a billion pounds to France over the next three years to strengthen hi-tech coastal monitoring and add a new detention centre. This will all take time to implement. Meanwhile, a new government bill on illegal migration and asylum policy is running into heavy weather with the courts, international law and human rights bodies, not to mention spinoffs like the recent BBC-Lineker controversy. For the present, small boats will continue to throw long shadows.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sunak’s effusive overture to Macron came close on the heels of the Windsor Framework deal with EU’s Ursula von der Leyen. This deal, reached after weeks of confidential negotiations, revamps the Northern Ireland Protocol (NIP), the awkward post-Brexit arrangement which skirted a hard border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland only by putting a customs border in the Irish sea. This had resulted in all sorts of problems: trade hurdles between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, anger among the Belfast unionists, a breakdown of governance in Northern Ireland and fresh calls for Irish unification. It had also annoyed a certain Irish-American called Joe Biden. The Windsor Framework, with pragmatic concessions from both sides, manages better trade all around, largely retains the integrity of the European single market and creates no hard border in Ireland. Not surprisingly, prospects of a US-UK free trade agreement have immediately brightened.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Applause all around, except for a typically British controversy which shows that storms do actually happen in tea cups. After sealing the deal, a visibly relieved von der Leyen was received for tea by King Charles at Windsor Castle. Allegations were flying even before the second cuppa had been served: the meeting was a Royal sweetener for von der Leyen, known to have a thing for British royalty and history; Government was manipulating the monarch, the King was interfering in politics, and so on. Both Buckingham Palace and No.10 bounced off the responsibility to the other and the storm abated. But Sunak’s problems of rampant inflation, industrial unrest and beleaguered public services remain. Meanwhile, Labour has a 28 per cent lead in popularity polls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Sat Mar 18 17:17:35 IST 2023 is-nikki-haley-the-generational-change-republicans-are-looking-for-navtej-sarna <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In a recently released teaser video, Nikki Haley—or more fully Nimrata Nikki Haley nee Randhawa—comes across as a forthright fighter. She says she wears heels and “it is not for a fashion statement, it is because if I see something wrong, we are going to kick ‘em every single time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The one thing that Haley has kicked off, by the time this goes to press, is her bid for the 2024 Republican nomination—becoming the first to officially challenge former boss Donald Trump. Many others are hovering in the wings, playing a wait-and-see game, including Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (Trump without the chaos) who has taken culture wars to a post-Trumpian state. Florida, he says, is “where woke goes to die”. His policies are right wing candy: anti-woke educational reforms, anti-transgender measures, permit-free firearms and deportation of migrants to Martha’s Vineyard! Other potential challengers include former Trump loyalists Mike Pence and Mike Pompeo; their hesitation stems at least in part from not wanting to become targets of Trump’s vitriol.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump is clearly vulnerable, damaged by January 6 events and the underwhelming performance of his preferred candidates in the mid-terms. His toxic politics is losing its sheen, the Republican National Committee is hesitant to support him and his fund-raising so far has been thin: around 200,000 dollars a day. But he is also not one to ride into the sunset and his strong loyal base is still holding strong. If the Republican field is too crowded and fractured, his 25-30 per cent support could carry him across the finishing line, even as an independent candidate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But this is about Haley. Only a handful of Republican women have ever made this leap and the going will not be easy. For now, Trump, happy to get a target, has been gently patronising of her intentions, (“I told her to follow her heart, not her honour”) though he couldn’t help calling her “overly ambitious”. If she begins to look strong, a damning nickname will no doubt follow; he will also mock her flip-flops—from saying that she will never run against Trump to being the first to challenge him, from criticising him after January 6 to saying the party needed him. Fellow South Carolinian Senator Tim Scott could also be a troublesome challenger if he runs as he will tend to share her pie of funds and friends. There remain too the perennial questions: Is America ready for a woman president, and that, too, a woman of colour? Already, some observers are characterising her bid as essentially vice presidential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for the present, high heels and all, she is very much there, a feisty all-American daughter of hard-working Indian immigrant parents. Her record is impressive: a gubernatorial win in South Carolina in 2010 against a sitting Congressman, a lieutenant governor and an attorney general. A clear success as US ambassador to the UN despite her lack of foreign policy experience. Well-liked, flexible and savvy, she will project herself as the generational change the Republicans are looking for. And as she says: “I’ve never lost an election and I’m not going to start now.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for us, it is too early to call in the bhangra dancers. If she gathers steam, no doubt we Punjabis will begin a chorus of “Saaddi Nikki” and breathless TV correspondents will search out Randhawa aunties and uncles. I too am happy to admit that I feel more enthusiasm for her than I could ever muster up for Kamala Harris or Rishi Sunak. For when it mattered, I have seen Haley kick things around for India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Fri Feb 17 15:06:19 IST 2023 what-indian-people-lost-in-the-rush-for-material-success <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>We, the people of India, have a lot going for us. We are the inheritors of an incredibly rich, cultured, evolved past; by all accounts, an even more glorious future is waiting to fall into our laps. The rest of the world envies us. Our journey from an impoverished colony torn asunder by partition to the high table of nations is impressive. Our democracy, chaotic as it is, is axiomatic; our demography, once a millstone around our neck, is now an asset. We are a veritable treasure house of art, culture, literature; we know everything there is to be known about religion and philosophy. Indian origin names throng the highest echelons of the tech world, Indian athletes now win Olympic medals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But for some reason, our newspapers make depressing reading, the television channels beg to be switched off. Because, somewhere in this rush for material success, we the people have lost something. Something fundamental, something nice, something decent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That is why the most captivating debate in our public discourse today is whether a man did or did not urinate on another passenger in a business class cabin. Lawyers are quibbling about the practical possibilities of the situation, examining the limitations of the damning arc. In the process, all dancers—the entire talented tribe—are being labelled in open court as “incontinent”. Sometimes, as in the recent case of another passenger at Delhi, we do not even wait to get into the plane before we embarrass ourselves and our ancient civilisation: we let off in the departure lounge itself, while yelling abuse at all and sundry.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Somewhere the adrenalin of aspiration, the easy access to material trimmings, an internet-connected porn-laden phone has convinced us that the world is for the taking. That all boundaries can be torn aside. That is why we drive drunk on New Year’s night and don’t stop when we hit a young girl on a scooter. We don’t even care when she is stuck under the car but continue to drive for hours, testing how much more we can drink before she dies even more after being dead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The arrogance of a little achievement, the cancer of entitlement, has taken hold of us. Nothing will come in our way; we are so proud, so tough that we do not give an inch. Not on the road and not in life. If a relationship goes bad, we don’t just go our way; we kill and then chop the once beloved person into 35 neat pieces with a saw. We store the pieces in zip lock bags in double-door fridges bought on EMIs and dispose them off casually on early morning walks. The same sickness makes us throw acid if our lust—don’t mistake it for love—is rebuffed, or wreak animal violence with an iron rod on a helpless girl in a monster bus on a winter night.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And we don’t care much—actually not at all—for the law. If a policeman holds us for snatching a phone or a chain, we stab him, not once but a dozen times. And if we go to prison we know the strings to pull, for the tentacles of corruption are now everywhere, almost an essential infrastructure of development, pulling down metro pillars, collapsing bridges, sinking new highways, crashing through tunnels.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And it doesn’t comfort me if you say that this is nothing new, or this happens elsewhere, too. It is the death of decency in the here and now that bothers me. For this is my India and it is here that I ache. Sahir’s immortal lines, sung by Rafi in Pyaasa, come to mind—Jinhen naaz hai Hind par woh kahan hain….?</p> Sat Jan 21 11:33:19 IST 2023 when-jerusalem-called-on-mukteshwar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was October 1945. World War II had just ended. Atomic weapons had been deployed for the first time in history. Millions of lives had been lost, millions more disrupted. The world was trying to rise to its feet from the rubble; men and women were getting on with the business of survival, attending to the living details of the job at hand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This may well have been the thinking of the chief veterinary officer in British-mandate Jerusalem, whose note on October 29 starts a slim file that came to hand in the archives. He reported to the director of the agriculture and fisheries department that the chicken population of Palestine was being ravaged by Newcastle disease. While the vet service had been preoccupied with African horse-sickness, about 3,00,000 birds had died in nearly 200 outbreaks. One direct consequence of the shortage of birds was the exponential rise in the price of eggs to 35 mils each; the mil, I find, was 1/1,000 of a Palestine pound. The only hope lay in India, where a vaccine against Newcastle disease had been used with some success.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wheels of bureaucracy began to turn. The Jerusalem department contacted the Imperial Veterinary Institute at Mukteshwar, already a renowned research centre and production hub for animal vaccines and sera; its cold climate at 7,600ft was ideal for the vaccines and its remote location, surrounded by hundreds of acres of pine and oak, was a natural quarantine zone for infected animals. Its response to Jerusalem’s request for vaccines was positive, but air transport and refrigeration would be essential to guarantee the vaccine’s efficacy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The wheels picked up speed. Sanction was accorded for purchasing 20,000 doses. The director reported to the chief secretary that ordinary temperatures would have “rapidly lethal effects” on the vaccine and that it would be essential to maintain the correct conditions throughout the journey. Further, he underlined that the “preparation of this vaccine is no simple matter owing to the marked differences which various strains exhibit”; incorrect handling could lead to “paradoxical results”. It was necessary to “study this problem at first hand and to obtain all particulars concerning the peculiarities of the vaccine from the research workers experienced in its preparation and use”. It was therefore necessary that two representatives of the veterinary service proceed to India and monitor the entire process.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The machinery was by then whirring in top gear. The government of India was wired for grant of visas. Even as approval was awaited, the file was moved back to the chief secretary for grant of “high priority air passages” on the British Overseas Airways, a certain Priority 3 being recommended. Transit visas for Iraq were obtained from the Iraqi consul in Jerusalem, presumably to cover a transit halt. On November 23, just about three weeks after the initial note, the two selected gentlemen—a certain Mr H.R. Binns, senior veterinary officer, and Dr A. Komarov, poultry disease officer, were winging their way joyfully from the hard-bitten Judean hills to salubrious Mukteshwar for a three-week stay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The file goes silent thereafter and it is not known if the 20,000 doses of vaccine ever reached Palestine, or with what success. Given the easy availability of chicken shawarma and shakshuka in present-day Jerusalem, Newcastle disease was obviously overcome. But the file does confirm that certain things—the love of chickens and omelettes, our Vaccine Maitri and the need for delegations to go abroad to study problems—are not new. And that any bureaucracy can act fast when it wants, especially if foreign trips are involved.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Sat Dec 24 11:29:35 IST 2022 donald-trump-1001-insults <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>A friend invariably refers to Trump as Drumpf. I thought it was a nickname inspired by The Smurfs and doused generously with indignation. Except, as the friend pointed out when asked, that this was indeed the family’s ancestral German surname, changed somewhere along the centuries. And wisely so—a hotel named Drumpf wouldn’t attract much custom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That besides, there is no shortage of nicknames for Donald Trump: one website alone lists 409. These include: Big Donald, given by Marco Rubio, later fine-tuned to Pig Donald by feminists; Chaos Candidate given by Jeb Bush; The Donald used by his first wife Ivana Trump; Poor Donald given by Hillary Clinton; Groper-in-Chief coined by the columnist Nicholas Kristof; Boldfinger and Humpty Trumpty by the poet Michael Burch and so on. Late night show hosts have competed with each other to tabulate lists: Floridian Fondler, Tangerine Ball Bag, The Lardfather, VoldeMoron and dozens of others featuring Orange…. Somehow, none of these really stuck to Teflon Don; his erstwhile Twitter handle @TheRealDonald did better, once you got over that involuntary image of a hamburger joint and Disney’s duck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the nicknames department, Donald Trump gives as good as he gets, or even better. In the manner of a T-20 opening English bat he spews nicknames fast and furious in every direction—political personalities, media houses, even the occasional foreign leader are enveloped in his corrosive resentment. Many of these monikers are so of a piece with his personality that they must be his own creation: it is difficult to school or ghost such vituperation. And most of them have proved remarkably adhesive, damning character and seeding doubts.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His political rivals are first in line: Crooked Hilary for you know who, the inexplicable Cheatin’ Obama, Pocahontas for Elizabeth Warren, Crazy Bernie for Bernie Sanders, Low-Energy Jeb for the younger Bush. Chuck Schumer became Cryin’ Chuck. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been, variously, Nancy Antoinette and Nervous Nancy. Fellow Republicans are not spared either, the moment they show spine: Senator Ted Cruz became Lyin’ Ted; Mike Pence is Mike Pounce and one-time Trump insider Steve Bannon is Sloppy Steve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2020, Joe Biden may have had the last laugh but Trump clearly had fun on the way, tossing out new nicknames for Biden with every campaign speech: Basement Biden, Joe Hiden, Sleepy Joe, even SleepyCreepy Joe, Quid Pro Joe and so on. Another presidential rival, the shortish Michael Bloomberg was Mini Mike, while Kamala Harris got the straightforward Nasty Woman.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s running war with much of the US media was fertile ground for this talent to bloom. CNN was Fake or Fraud or Low-ratings, New York Times was Corrupt NYT or Failing NYT or simply the Grey Old Lady. Most critics got ‘Crazy’ or ‘Little’ or ‘Fake’ added to their names; CNN’s Don Lemon, no shrinking violet himself, became Sour Lemon and the Dumbest Man on Television.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trump’s latest swipe is aimed at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. After the latter’s impressive re-election win, Trump named him Ron DeSanctimonious, a sure sign that DeSantis is now officially a threat in Trump’s eyes for the 2024 Republican nomination. This nickname, however, has not stuck, perhaps because it is too obviously workshopped; as one commentator said: Trump doesn’t even know what it means. If Trump had got an advance peek into a BBC quiz on the subject, he may have done better: the options offered include DeSanatorium and DeSanta Claus. The Donald’s touch may be slipping like his hold on the Republican party as seen in the recent mid-terms; Sanctimonious or not, DeSantis may actually hold the trump card for the 2024 primaries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Navtej Sarna is former ambassador of India to the US and author, most recently, of the novel Crimson Spring.</b></p> Sun Nov 20 10:38:23 IST 2022