Cover Story en Fri Sep 30 18:23:16 IST 2022 war-of-1962-how-kumaoni-sikh-gorkha-soldiers-fought-back-valiantly-in-namti <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sixty years from 1962 may be a mere speck in the sands of time. But it has been good time to win the battle for the hearts of the Arunachali people who first witnessed the swift advance of Chinese military coming down in organised columns from the northern mountains.<br> </p> <p>In ’62, bewildered by the sudden invasion, the few locals inhabiting the border area in the north Lohit valley—belonging to the Kaman Mishimi and Meyor tribes—did not know how to react.<br> </p> <p>A lot has changed since then. Arunachal Pradesh is now the only state in the country where people greet each other with a patriotic “Jai Hind” (victory to Hindustan).<br> </p> <p>Dr Sototlum Nayil, a state government health official posted in Anjou district, told THE WEEK: “My parents worked as porters in the 1962 war effort. The guides of the Chinese military were also local people from the other side of the border who are of the same ethnic stock as us. So there was not a great deal of animosity.”<br> </p> <p>“But times have changed now. The locals now know where they belong and why,” Dr Nayil, himself a Kaman Mishimi, adds.<br> </p> <p>The brunt of the fighting took place in the Namti plains. Yet, nothing could be so perfectly deceptive like Namti. An expansive and idyllic picture-perfect valley with that abundantly overpowering smell from the lush pine groves in the surrounding mountains even as the river Lohit scurries by.<br> </p> <p>Situated in Arunachal Pradesh’s easternmost Anjou district, the battle at Namti qualifies to be among the most successful fightbacks by the vastly outnumbered and outgunned Indian soldiers against the invading Chinese.<br> </p> <p>“So fierce and intense was the battle and so much of ammunition used that till recently, the teeth of the saws used by woodcutters in and around Namti would get damaged because of many bullets embedded in the trees,” says Dr Nayil, speaking about the time before tree-felling was banned in entire northeast India in 1996.<br> </p> <p>The military objective before the Indian forces in the area in September-October 1962 was to defend Walong, five km to the south of Namti, against the advancing Chinese forces.<br> </p> <p>Walong’s utility lay in the fact that despite being a very isolated post that could be reached only after days of tracking, it had an airstrip where only the Otter, a light transport aircraft, could land. The Indian Air Force operated about 40 Otters before it was completely phased out in 1991.<br> </p> <p>In 1962, the nearest road-head from Walong was at Tezu, about 230 km to the south.<br> </p> <p>Now, a well-laid road scythes across the windy plain and climbs up to the last military post of Kibithu almost on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) and to the last Indian village of Kaho.<br> </p> <p>Till the 1962 war, the road—now named after India’s first Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat—was just a mule track. In the very thinly populated region, it was primarily used for trading purposes and linked up to Rima, a prosperous settlement across border under Yunnan province.<br> </p> <p>This road is of immense strategic importance now to guard the border and is the main passage for the movement of soldiers and equipment other than the helipad at Kibithu and the advanced landing ground (ALG) at Walong.<br> </p> <p><b>The Battle at Tiger’s Mouth</b><br> </p> <p>In 1962, the Chinese captured the last Indian outpost of Kibithu on October 22 and began the rapid advancing southwards by proceeding along the west bank of the Lohit river.<br> </p> <p>A platoon of 4 Sikh—who were flown by Otter aircraft to Walong from September 26 onwards—took positions on dominating points on the surrounding mountains of the Namti valley while the D company of 6 Kumaon had taken up positions at Ashi Hill.<br> </p> <p>On October 25, a column of 600-700 Chinese had descended on the plains. Catching the enemy by total surprise, the Sikhs opened fire inflicting huge casualties when the enemy massed around the wire obstacles.<br> </p> <p>Even as a company of 2/8 Gorkha Rifles relieved the Sikhs, the Chinese began attacking the Namti defences of the Indian forces from the evening of October 25.<br> </p> <p>Wave after wave of attacks continued for the next two nights, till October 25, but the Indians could not be dislodged. Because of its impregnability and the inability to be broken into, the Chinese named this place ‘Tiger’s Mouth’.<br> The Kumaonis, Sikhs and Gorkhas had successfully staved off the Chinese offensive at the gates of Walong for the time being.<br> </p> <p>But the unrelenting Chinese war machine regrouped and consolidated resources for a final offensive on November 15-16 by crossing the Lohit river and climbing the highest ridge line which was occupied the Sikhs, Gorkhas and the Kumaonis.<br> </p> <p>An all-out fierce war broke out and the Chinese kept coming, even as the Indians kept on fighting with depleting stocks of ammunition and other war-like equipment besides running out of food. The zeal of the Indian soldiers was all the more striking as they knew that no reinforcements or ammunition could be expected. In many places, it was a fight to the last man and the last bullet.<br> Finally, Namti gave way to the Chinese on November 16 after being outflanked by the well-stocked and well-equipped Chinese. Hundreds of soldiers died on both sides.<br> </p> <p><b>India’s NEFA defence strategy</b><br> </p> <p>Before the 1962 war, the military defensive strategy in North East Frontier Agency (NEFA)—as Arunachal Pradesh was known until 1972—hinged around a three-tier system of engagement.<br> </p> <p>The outermost tier comprising border outposts would act only as “symbols of authority and controlling routes of entry”. The mandate for the men in these outposts: Don’t fight but delay the enemy and then fall back to firm bases in the rear.<br> </p> <p>The middle tier was organised on positions that the border outposts were dependent upon and to which they would fall back when attacked. These middle tier set ups were sufficiently in depth to increase the logistics problem of the Chinese.<br> </p> <p>The last tier was the “defence line” where the main battle would be fought and from where offensives could be launched whenever the situation demanded. It was located on positions to cause sufficient logistical problems to the Chinese and also to catch them off-balance.<br> </p> <p>In NEFA, hostilities had begun earlier. On September 8, 1962, about 600 Chinese soldiers surrounded the newly-set up Dhola post of the Indians. The setting up of the Dhola post in itself was a result of the ill-devised “Forward Policy” from 1961 onwards—believed to be among the main reasons for kick-starting the war and the subsequent loss by India.<br> </p> <p>In turn, the “Forward Policy” implementation order for NEFA issued on January 10, 1962 by the Eastern Command was based on the mistaken notion that the Chinese would not react like they did. More so, in view of the fact that the Chinese military had greatly enhanced its presence in Tibet after 1960—in significantly greater numbers than was required to quell and control the Tibetan uprising. This fact was also pointed out in October 1960 during the Military Intelligence Review 1959-60 in New Delhi.<br> </p> <p>Even as late as August 1962, the Director of Military Operations at the headquarters of the 4th infantry division declared that the Chinese would not react and were in no position to fight”.<br> </p> <p>The mistaken belief in the Indian defence establishment was that the Chinese were more focused on consolidating their hold over Tibet and in opening up communications.<br> </p> <p>And surprisingly, nor did the Army’s General Staff at any point of time make a submission of the basic requirement of more troops in form of two additional brigades and relevant resources for NEFA before the “Forward Policy” policy was to be implemented.<br> </p> <p>Only on September 22, 1962, did the defence minister hold a meeting in Delhi where it was decided to “throw the Chinese out as soon as possible”. Clearly, it was easier said than done as history would later record for posterity.<br> </p> <p>While being militarily sound, this strategy was more on paper. The number of additional troops was never made available nor was the plans executed in the NEFA operations of October-November 1961.<br> </p> <p>Also bordering on the incredulous was the sudden October 4, 1962 disbanding of the XXXIII Corps that was handling the NEFA operations and sudden setting up of the IV Corps—a decision that is unparalleled in the annals of military history due to its arbitrariness and suddenness.</p> Sun Oct 16 13:47:39 IST 2022 revisiting-1962-war-with-china-when-indias-prestige-was-in-a-shambles <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Fools rush in where angels fear to tread, goes an old proverb. India’s political and military leaders did exactly that in 1962.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On February 4, 1962, idealist Jawaharlal Nehru’s peacenik home minister Lal Bahadur Shastri declared: “If the Chinese will not vacate the areas occupied by her, India will have to repeat what she did in Goa.”</p> <p>Indeed, what India had done in Goa six weeks earlier had startled the world—it had freed the Portuguese enclave by sending its Army. Here was an Asian country of starving millions, newly freed from colonial yoke and partitioned into two, militarily taking on a European power and prevailing. The action did strain India’s ties with the western world, including Great Britain from where most of the India’s arms and spares were coming, as also the United States that was keen to rope India into an anti-communist alliance. But Nehru, who had been a passionate campaigner against colonialism, did not care.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In India’s neighbourhood, the action rang alarm bells: is India rising militarily and getting assertive? In China, with whom India had a long-standing border dispute despite warm political and diplomatic relations, it brought back nightmares of Indian military actions such as the 1904 Younghusband expedition when a force of just about 3,000 British and Indian troops simply walked across the Himalayas, massacred thousands, and captured Tibet’s capital, Lhasa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was an expedition that India had forgotten, but the Chinese remembered and still remember. Why? The simplest explanation is that the two nation-states have differing perceptions of their pasts. India believed—rather still believes—that the nation was born in 1947 and the aggressions of its past rulers are sins; the Chinese, on the other hand, look at their past with pride and at themselves as inheritors or legates of the Mings, the Qings and other imperial dynasties that ruled China. If Indians are ashamed of their British, Mughal and sultanate past, communist China has no qualms about projecting itself as the inheritor of the Middle Kingdom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, the Chinese had been disputing and negotiating over the border that Sir Henry McMahon had drawn 10 years after the Younghusband expedition. But when Shastri made the threat hardly a month after the Indian Army’s Goa action, it did sound aggressive. Moreover, on December 5, just a fortnight before the Goa action, orders had gone to the Indian Army’s eastern and western commands “to patrol as far forward as possible from our present positions towards the International Border as recognised by us. This will be done with a view to establishing additional posts located to prevent the Chinese from advancing further and also to dominate any Chinese posts already established in our territory.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That was no routine order, but a part of the forward policy that the Army had adopted to counter the Chinese whose patrols along the McMahon Line were often foraying into Indian territory. In effect, the policy involved getting behind Chinese lines, and creating about 60 outposts there so as to cut off their supplies and force them to return to their side of the line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed the policy would have been good military tactic, had India executed it with the required military muscle. The fact, however, was that India lacked the required strength to carry it through. The show of force in Goa had been a robust assertion of political will, but that was no great military action—the Portuguese military in Goa was nothing but a few hundred troops and armed boats.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Not only had Nehru failed to invest in the military, but he was advised on his military policy by the hot-tempered left ideologue V.K. Krishna Menon who essentially distrusted the British-trained military brass. Thus Menon had not only got a weak-willed P.N. Thapar to succeed the dashing K.S. Thimayya whom he had disliked as Army chief, but also got Lieutenant General B.M. (Bijjy) Kaul, an Army Service Corps officer who, as his detractors say, had bullshitted his way up, first as the chief of the general staff, and later as commander of the crucial 4 Corps. It was this corps that was designated to defend NEFA, the present Arunachal Pradesh which China had been coveting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As chief of the general staff, Kaul and his men aggressively implemented the forward policy, despite warnings from field commanders like Lieutenant General Umrao Singh whose 33 Corps had been guarding NEFA before Kaul arrived with his 4 Corps. “So irrational was their confidence,” wrote Geoffrey Blainey in The Causes of War, “that they decided on the eve of the war to evict Chinese troops from a stretch of border where the Indians were outnumbered by more than five to one, where Indian guns were inferior, where the Indian supply route was a tortuous pack trail and where the height of the mountains made the breathing difficult and the cold intense for the reinforcements who marched in cotton uniform.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Naturally, friction arose at several points and clashes ensued. A skirmish in June caused the death of scores of Chinese troops. Early September, a small Chinese unit crossed to the south side of the Thagla Ridge that Indian troops had been occupying, and tried to cut them off. Within days, permission was given to all forward posts and patrols to fire on any armed Chinese who entered Indian territory. “Instead of coercing or deterring the Chinese, it provoked them into responding with brute force and strength,” notes Air Vice Marshal Arjun Subramaniam (retd) in India’s Wars: A Military History 1947-1971. Naturally, skirmishes followed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early October, Kaul, now commander of the 4 Corps in the east, sent troops to secure south of the Thagla Ridge. The troops had not been acclimatised, and two Gurkha soldiers died of pulmonary oedema. A Rajput patrol of 50 troops was surrounded by hundreds of Chinese at Yumtso La, and outnumbered 20 to 1. Cover fire was given with mortars for them to retreat, but 25 Indian and 33 Chinese troops were killed in the fight. It was now clear that the situation was escalating into a hot war.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By mid-October, the Chinese were seen building up massively around the Thagla Ridge. By now bravado was getting to its peak, with Kaul wanting to show he was leading from the front. “Kaul himself displayed unnecessary bravado by trekking for days at the front line at altitudes above 10,000 feet without proper acclimatisation,” writes Subramaniam. “Not surprisingly, he was supposedly taken ill with pulmonary oedema on 18 October before the main battle began and evacuated to Delhi....”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the field, the Indian side miscalculated again. Expecting an attack by three regiments on October 19-20, the 7th Indian Brigade stood defending the five bridges across Namka Chu river. The Chinese waded through the waters and struck. The defenders fought well, but were soon felled, and their phone lines cut. The brigade was permitted to withdraw, having suffered severe losses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, Kaul’s superior, eastern Army commander, Lieutenant General L.P. Sen, arrived on the scene. After an aerial inspection of the region, he ordered two infantry battalions and some artillery to “hold Tawang at all costs,” and flew back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Hardly had Sen left, when the Chinese, now reinforced, moved towards Tawang. The Indian side judged that there was no way Tawang could be defended, and wisely withdrew, even as the Chinese occupied it. The guns fell silent in NEFA, except for a few skirmishes in Walong and elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But in the western sector, in Aksai Chin, the Indians put up a brave show, the fiercest having been at Galwan Valley and Pangong Lake where, ironically enough, the show has been repeated recently.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Galwan had been surrounded since August, but on October 20, the Chinese assaulted and captured the post, along with several others in the Ladakh sector. Western Army commander Lieutenant General Daulat Singh ordered that troops at posts which survived be asked to withdraw, so as to consolidate and launch a counter-attack with three brigades.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The scene in the east continued to be chaotic. Instead of reorganising the forces, the Army spent its time and energies in shuffling commanders, throwing the lower formations into confusion. By now, Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai had written to Nehru proposing a negotiated settlement of the boundary, withdrawal by both sides to 20 kilometres from the current positions, offering to withdraw from NEFA, and a freeze in the situation in Ladakh. Nehru replied on October 27, expressing eagerness to settle the matter, but refusing a 20 km withdrawal after facing aggression into 40 or 60km. Restore status quo ante bellum, he insisted.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fighting resumed on November 14, after about three weeks of lull. Indian troops now moved to defend Bombdi La and Se La, but found themselves poorly equipped for staying and fighting at high altitudes. Still they built up there and stayed in force. But the Chinese attacked elsewhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaul, who had resumed command after his illness, ordered an attack on the Chinese position at Rima from Walong on November 14. Two companies of a Kumaon battalion captured a hill, but as they rested in exhaustion, the Chinese counter-attacked. As the Indians withdrew, the Chinese pursued them to Walong, forcing the brigade at Walong to withdraw to Lohit valley, suffering huge losses.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Now Kaul sent the most desperate message ever sent by any commander in free India. “The enemy strength is now so great and his overall strength so superior that you should ask the highest authorities to get such foreign armed forces to come to our aid as are willing to do so... it seems beyond the capability of our armed forces to stem the tide of the superior Chinese forces which he has....” Yes, an Indian Army commander was putting it on record that Indian troops could not fight the war any longer, and better get foreign help!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, fighting had resumed in the Ladakh sector, too, where the western command had positioned a brigade at Chushul so as to prevent the enemy from making a lunge for Leh. The enemy finally came in a frontal attack on November 18, but the defenders stood their frozen ground. Pushed back, the Chinese quickly encircled the Indian positions, and attacked from three sides. Facing decimation, the Indians withdrew to Chushul village to take what they thought would be a last stand.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Luckily for those few, the enemy never came—the Chinese stopped at their claim line. By November 18, they had all of Aksai Chin.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>All the same, fighting continued in the east, with the Indian side building up fast, but continuing to make mistakes. Instead of concentrating their ten battalions and artillery, the 4 Division spread out their assets over the entire stretch of road from Se La to Bomdi La.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But the Chinese did not come by road. The headquarters could not believe their ears when they heard that the enemy came in several battalion strength through mountain tracks which British and Indian mountain recce aces had discovered and traversed early in the 20th century. The enemy hit the defenders somewhere in the middle of their thin line, and thus cut off the more than 10,000 forward troops at Bomdi La. The reinforcements sent to save them were subjected to heavy fire, and forced to withdraw in complete disarray.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The defenders at Se La put up a brave fight, pushing back five Chinese attempts to dislodge them. Soon the Chinese proved superior in tactics, too, they went straight to Thembang and cut the supply route to Se La. By now the field headquarters of the brigade itself was threatened, and Brigadier Hoshiar Singh requested for permission to withdraw.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But his corps commander, Lieutenant General Kaul, was flying around Walong while his two superiors, Lieutenant General Sen and General Thapar, were sitting in his office. With no idea about what was happening, both sat tight, waiting for Kaul to return and decide.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kaul arrived after nightfall, by which time the Chinese had begun to encircle Se La, too. After a short meeting, they sent a ridiculously worded—yet shocking—order saying, “You will hold on to your present positions to the best of your ability. When the position becomes untenable I delegate the authority to you to withdraw to any alternative position you can hold.... You may be cut off by the enemy.... Your only course is to fight it out as best you can.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Soon A. S. Pathania, commander of 65 Brigade at Dirang Dzong, ordered a withdrawal to the southern plains. If the enemy still attacked, they were even allowed to abandon their tanks and flee to the plains. The result was chaos. With no one to command them, the force at Dirang Dzong simply scattered down to the plains. Many were killed or captured by the enemy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By now, Kaul was completely out of touch with the ground realities. Unaware that the force at Dirang Dzong had withdrawn, Kaul ordered a column to reinforce them, overruling Hoshiar Singh who pointed out that such a move would weaken Bomdi La.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Just as Hoshiar Singh had feared, hardly had the column moved out when the Chinese struck. Though the defenders put up a brave fight through the day, by the evening of November 18, the brigade had no go but to withdraw to Rupa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the annals of military history, the night of November 18 would go down as one of the most bizarre ones that any army had ever gone through. First Hoshiar Singh received orders from the 4 Corps to withdraw to the foothills. Just as he began the movement, came another order from General Kaul to stay put and defend Rupa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By then it was too late. As he turned back and moved towards Rupa, Hoshiar Singh saw the Chinese already pitching their tents and setting up their pillboxes around Rupa. The brigade now moved towards Chaku further down the hills, but was subjected to heavy attack. And hardly had the remaining troops reached Chaku and dug up when the enemy came in search of them and struck them from three sides. Whatever was left of a mighty brigade scattered into the plains in the next few days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the evening of November 20, Nehru appealed to the US for bombers and fighters. Washington ordered a carrier into the Bay of Bengal, but ordered it back the very next day. Not only had India been defeated, but also abandoned.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese victory was complete. Having gained more than what they wanted, they declared a unilateral ceasefire from midnight of November 21, and even moved back their forces from most of the captured land, but keeping the strategically vital stretches including Aksai Chin. And within days they began repatriating the prisoners through Bomdi La. For India, the war ended with 1,383 killed, 3,968 captured, 1,696 missing, and its prestige a shambles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In three years, however, the Indian Army would make a remarkable recovery, and turn itself into a awesome war machine. And Shastri, who had made that boast on February 4, 1962, would order an incredibly bold counterattack on Pakistan, with hundreds of tanks lunging towards the prime cities of Lahore and Sialkot, and forcing a ceasefire. He would thus redeem his own and India’s honour.</p> Sun Oct 16 13:59:19 IST 2022 how-india-handles-china-will-determine-success-of-foreign-policy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>How will India and China manage their relationship in the future? This is a question of considerable significance not just for the two countries, but for Asia and the world. Clearly, a cooperative future would enable both to concentrate on the internal transformations into developed countries that both seek, and would enable them to have a larger say in the world. An antagonistic relationship would entangle them in competing in the periphery that they share, and would limit their effectiveness internally and externally. Logically, therefore, it is in both countries’ interest to find a cooperative path.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But experience teaches us to be careful. The tortuous course of India-China relations suggests that this is not the only logic that applies in practice. Since the two republics were founded in mid-20th century, India and China have had good and bad phases, ranging from outright war to decades of coexistence. But differences and disputes remained throughout, and seem today to be sharper than ever. Besides, when looking forward, there is never one single future, but many possible scenarios. Let us consider some of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>A cooperative future?</b></p> <p>That India-China relations are under stress today cannot be denied by anyone. What are the interests and issues that have affected the relationship and make a smooth cooperative relationship unlikely?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The foremost cause of stress is the unsettled border. Some find it convenient to describe the boundary question as an issue left over from history. This places the blame on earlier regimes and British colonialism, and not the Republic of India or the People’s Republic of China. It also could make compromise easier. But it wears thin as an explanation 75 years after each took charge of their own fate.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Several efforts have been made to settle the boundary question over many years by India and China, but at no stage were both countries simultaneously ready to settle the issue. Nor were they able to arrive at a solution that was politically acceptable to both.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What they have achieved through serial explorations and talks at every possible level, including special representatives of the highest leaders, is to have a very good understanding of what the core differences are. They have also narrowed those differences down to the few points on which both sides would need to make political decisions. These are not technical issues though they might be presented as such. Recently, however, China has tended to present the boundary question as one of sovereignty and territorial integrity, rather than as a dispute left over from history, which suggests that it will be harder to compromise and take the difficult political decisions required for a boundary settlement. The greater the reliance on nationalism for legitimacy, the less likely compromise becomes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the absence of a boundary settlement, until recently, both sides found it in their interest to maintain the status quo along the line of actual control (LAC), formalising this understanding in the 1993 Border Peace and Tranquility Agreement and subsequent agreements on military and other confidence building measures (CBMs). For some decades thereafter, the border remained where it was, as each side built up its infrastructure and access to the LAC, and managed those areas where both sides had different perceptions of where the LAC lay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, beginning in 2012, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) began signalling more assertive intent, moving into areas previously vacant or patrolled by Indian troops, and attempting to prevent Indian troops from accessing areas that they had visited regularly in the past. A series of escalating incidents and face-offs between troops caused by Chinese intrusions in places they had not been before marked a significant shift in Chinese behaviour. In spring 2020, the PLA went further and changed the status quo in several strategically significant areas in the western sector of the LAC.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is apparently attempting here what she has already done in the South China Sea and East China Sea. She is incrementally changing the local strategic situation in her favour while staying below the threshold of provoking a full-fledged kinetic response or conventional conflict.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The fact that after 16 rounds of military level talks and diplomatic contacts we have still not seen a restoration of the status quo, in terms of the positioning and stationing of troops or of access to areas by Indian troops, indicates that China is creating a new normal that she now wishes to consolidate. Whether this is due to domestic political compulsions, or considerations of great power politics, or a desire to make clear to India and others China’s advantages in power makes little difference to the fact that India cannot be expected to engage in a normal political relationship with China while Beijing continues to build up threatening capabilities and seeks to change the situation on the border.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tension on the border coincides with a much more active Chinese engagement in South Asia and the Indian Ocean region, extending to a willingness to be seen taking sides in domestic political issues in countries such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, and a stepped up commitment to Pakistan since Xi Jinping’s 2015 visit to that country. That commitment has broadened from the supply of weapons and technology to the Pakistani army and nuclear weapons programme to the $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, which includes power projects, rail and other connectivity linkages and the strategic Gwadar port on the Arabian Sea near the mouth of the Persian Gulf.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China is also now more outspoken in her opposition to India’s rise, as is evident from the difference between her going along with the NSG (Nuclear Suppliers Group) consensus to grant India an exemption in 2008, and her outspoken opposition even before the meeting to India’s membership of the same group in 2015.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China, too, has her grouses. India was the first country to express public doubts about Xi’s signature proposal, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and to stay away from the two forums on the BRI. What really seems to have changed is China’s practice of seeing relationships and issues through the lens of its own relationship with the US. While the US may be China’s principal external worry and focus, this has skewed her view of the world.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As India’s relationship with the US has improved, Chinese commentary on it has become more shrill. And its expression in “wolf-warrior diplomacy” has provoked negative reactions around the world. For instance, when the Chinese embassy in Delhi tells the Indian media in public what they should and should not say on China, this can only be counterproductive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Doomed to conflict?</b></p> <p>But does this mean that India-China relations are doomed to a future of conflict?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Again, not necessarily. Experience shows that India and China have coexisted successfully for extended periods in the past. For 30 years in the 1980s, 1990s and noughts, India and China successfully managed their relationship, kept the peace on the border, built functional and trade exchanges until China became India’s biggest trading partner, and cooperated on the world stage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What made for success in managing the relationship? Other preoccupations helped. In this period, a reforming China was internally preoccupied. When China had to deal with the domestic uprising of the ‘Tiananmen incident’ in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, it sought to keep other fronts like India, Japan and Russia calm. India, too, was going through a reshaping of internal and external policies to reform and open up the economy, and to cope with the phase transformation in the world that the end of the Cold War meant. Both sides saw advantage in keeping their relationship calm while concentrating on more pressing preoccupations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Equally, success in managing the relationship was based on a high level strategic understanding between the leaderships worked out with considerable effort in the 1980s and formalised during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China in 1988. In essence, this modus vivendi provided for both sides to discuss difficult issues like the boundary, while maintaining the status quo on the border, to develop other parts of the relationship, cooperate on the international stage, and to cease what could be construed as interference in the other’s core interests and internal affairs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Deng Xiaoping promised Rajiv Gandhi that China would not support Indian insurgent groups and China began advising India’s neighbours like Pakistan and Nepal to work with India as she was doing. Several of these understandings—on maintaining the status quo on the border, on not arming and supporting Indian insurgents, on not interfering in India’s relations with other neighbours—are now being violated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What that experience suggests is that it is possible for both sides to learn to coexist, but that it would require a tempering of ambition and an acceptance of politics as the art of the possible, not the desirable or what could be forced. It also requires a broader strategic understanding between them, underpinned by the self interest of both countries.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Is that possible today? One will only know if an effort is made through a real strategic dialogue which explores core interests and concerns, where they clash, and whether they can be settled or managed. To start with, such a dialogue would aim not for trust or understanding, which are rare in international relations, but for a clear picture of how the other side sees the issues and of what the redlines are so that accidents and misunderstandings do not determine the future of the relationship. This would require, for instance, a reworking of protocols for border management, and better crisis management and CBM mechanisms, and the restoration of deterrence on the border to prevent a recurrence of spring 2020.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Through a glass, darkly</b></p> <p>Experience and logic, therefore, suggest an ambiguous answer to the question of where the India-China relationship is likely to go from here. They suggest that the future is open, could go either way, and depends on the actions both governments take now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of course, India and China operate within an international context. Scholars often look to the role of the outside world to explain the twists and turns in the relationship. To my mind, this factor is often overestimated in this case. The root cause of the differences between India and China will not vanish or change depending on whether India is closer or more distant to the United States, Russia or other countries or if China is successful in improving her relationship with the US. At the same time, the international context, and worry about the consequences of China’s rapid accumulation and exercise of hard power, do create a different and potentially useful environment in which India seeks to manage the China relationship.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the international context does seem to affect is Chinese behaviour and sensitivity, which varies over time on issues, because China now seems to see most issues and relationships through the lens of her deteriorating relationship with the USA. This makes a cooperative India-China future less likely. India has worked to transform its relationship with the USA for reasons other than China. The USA is critical to India’s transformation into a modern, developed country, and if China continues to take that relationship and transformation amiss, her behaviour will limit the prospects of India-China relations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, we must also recognise that some India-China tension is useful to many others: to India’s smaller neighbours who can play one off against the other for assistance; and to established powers and status quoists who find that this gives them leverage with both India and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Looking ahead, in the best case, both countries would take responsibility for their relationship, settle issues like the boundary and learn to live with one another in the periphery they share and in the broader world. But this seems unlikely given their internal trajectories and domestic politics, which rely increasingly on nationalism for legitimacy and where compromise can be portrayed as treason.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For some time to come, therefore, the relationship with China is likely to remain the most complex external challenge that India is likely to face. How it is handled will determine the effectiveness of Indian foreign policy. Given what we know, and our experience of these two states’ behaviour towards the other, likely scenarios for the relationship in the foreseeable future range between the extremes of cooperation and contention and would likely include both. It would be an achievement if they are able to limit the amplitude of the swings between tension and calm that have marked the relationship in the last 70 odd years. The future promises to be interesting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Menon was national security adviser of India.</b></p> Sun Oct 16 13:57:22 IST 2022 whats-the-role-of-a-partly-undefined-4-075km-border-in-sino-indian-conflict <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The Sino-Indian border dispute has had a profound impact on the contemporary history and evolution of the two Asian giants. Bilateral ties have an overarching impact on peace, prosperity and stability in the region, and perhaps the rest of the globe, too. It was over this problem that the two countries fought a brief but fierce war in October-November 1962. It continues to be the cause of skirmishes like the ones in Nathu La (Sikkim 1967), Galwan (Ladakh 2020) and Naku La (Sikkim 2020) and multiple standoffs between the two armies. The genesis of this boundary problem lies in a web of complex issues, fundamental among them being the partly un-demarcated, partly delimited and undefined, albeit traditionally accepted boundary of 4,057km along the Karakoram, Kunlun and Himalaya chain of mountains.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The major disputed territories are the Shaksgam valley and Aksai Chin (presently occupied by China), and an absurd and almost ‘fictional’ claim by China to a major part of Arunachal Pradesh. Besides these, there are four small pockets of disputed territory in areas such as Shipki La, Spiti, Barahoti and Lapthal, comprising 2,100sqkm. These are either passes on the Himalayan range or common pasturage on the Indian side.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tibet has been India’s northern neighbour for centuries, until the Chinese invaded it in 1951. The geostrategic importance of Tibet in eastern Asia cannot be underestimated. “He who holds Tibet dominates the Himalayan piedmont; he who dominates the Himalayan piedmont threatens the Indian subcontinent,” wrote George Ginsburgs and Michael Mathos, in their 1964 book, Communist China and Tibet: The First Dozen Years. The British empire’s grand design was to retain Tibet as an autonomous buffer state and thereby keep at bay potential adversaries like Russia or China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As far as the remote and mostly uninhabited Aksai China is concerned, it was controlled by the ruler of Hunza and its limits were vaguely known. The only historical records available of this area are from the British period, beginning from about the middle of the 19th century. At this juncture, the ‘great game’ between the Russian and British empires was at its peak. The northeastern limits of Ladakh kept fluctuating between two distinct strands of British strategic thought. The forward alignment which included the whole of Aksai Chin was proposed by W.H. Johnson, a geographer of repute, and Major General Sir John Ardagh, director of intelligence at the war office. The moderate and pragmatic boundary was put forward by George McCartney, the British consul-general in Kashgar, and Claude MacDonald, a soldier-diplomat posted in Peking. They recommended an alignment along the northern side of the Karakoram range that cuts across the Aksai Chin plateau and joined the Lanak La. This line gave the Chinese the whole of the Karakash valley and a large part of Aksai Chin; and with the approval of Viceroy Earl Elgin it was proposed to the Chinese in 1899. This boundary never received formal recognition by China, and on account of another bout of Russophobia, the British frontier reverted to the Johnson-Ardagh line during the term of Viceroy Lord Hardinge (1910-16).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The area from Lanak La to the Nepal border is thinly populated, unlike Aksai Chin. Hence there are records of trade between Tibet and Ladakh through well-known border passes like Shipki La, Mana, Niti and Taklakot which have been used for centuries by traders. Resolving the boundary issue in this sector, therefore, would not pose insurmountable problems and could be the first step of the boundary settlement.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The British delineated the boundary from Afghanistan to the Karakoram pass where the Chinese had constructed a frontier marker in 1892. This area was illegally ceded by Pakistan to China in 1963. Eastwards of the Karakoram pass, the boundary followed the watershed of the Shyok and the Yarkand rivers up to the formidable Kunlun range which has been the traditional southern frontier of China. However, this part of the boundary is not accurately recorded, and taking advantage of that, China has been shifting the limits of its frontier westwards from the late 19th century. Thus, the resolution of the boundary in this region is going to be a complex issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Aksai Chin and Lingzi Thang plains never experienced Tibetan or Chinese administration or permanent presence until 1951, making the Chinese claim to this area untenable. On the other hand, India possesses evidence of revenue collection and old records of this pasturage belonging to Tangtse tehsil of Ladakh district. Furthermore, at the time of India’s independence, the northern boundary from the Karakoram pass to Nepal was depicted in the maps by a colour wash, and the silhouette formed by the letters ‘Boundary Undefined’ followed the watershed principle and was also the traditional and customary boundary between Tibet and Ladakh and erstwhile Uttar Pradesh. Consequently, this became the basis of the boundary drawn by India in 1954.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Displaying scant regard to the boundary shown in Indian maps, the northwestern prong of the Chinese army’s offensive into Tibet in 1962 was unleashed from Xinjiang; it followed the ancient caravan route through Aksai Chin to reach Rudok and beyond in western Tibet. Chairman Mao Zedong’s command to his advancing armies was to build roads as they penetrated into Tibet and it took four to six years to be completed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru stated in Parliament on November 20, 1950, that “the frontier from Ladakh to Nepal is defined chiefly by long usage and custom”. Disregarding this, the Chinese decided to construct a strategic road from Kashghar through Aksai Chin as secretively as possible and forced the closure of the Indian consulate at Kashghar. Instead of robustly contesting this action, India simply acquiesced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Nehru was without doubt a visionary statesman, but not a strategist; he was an idealist who was beguiled by the Chinese leadership. Ranged against him were committed communist leaders like Mao and Zhou Enlai. They were sworn proponents of a geopolitical strategy to regain all the ‘lost’ Chinese territories and ‘avenge the century of humiliation’. And Tibet, the low hanging fruit, was on top of the list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Zhou told Indian ambassador K.M. Panikkar, ‘The privileges obtained as a result of the ‘unequal treaties’ forced by the British did not any longer exist.”He desired “fresh negotiations” to resolve trade and other issues with respect to Tibet. This led to the famous ‘Panchsheel’ agreement of 1954 wherein India sacrificed, on the ‘altar of peaceful coexistence and brotherhood’, all the privileges bequeathed to it, without any quid pro quo. When Nehru raised the issue of faulty depiction of the Sino-Indian boundary in Chinese maps with Zhou in 1954, he asserted that those were old Kuomintang maps and China did not have the time to ‘revise’ those. Astonishingly, Chinese maps published in 1956 incorporated even more areas of Ladakh within China. Strangely, this elicited an apathetic response among the political, civil and military leadership in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At present, the situation along the line of actual control (LAC) in Ladakh and other disputed areas remains tense and fragile. Despite prolonged military-to-military talks and diplomatic exchanges, the standoff in Aksai Chin area continues and China has not agreed to restore the status quo. China is very sensitive to any threat posed to its strategic artery and is palpably paranoid about India’s strengthening of the forward military and air base at Daulat Beg Oldi, including its connectivity by a road along the Shyok river.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tibet is China’s vulnerable underbelly and it has historically failed to ‘Hanise’ Tibetans. Hence, ‘Tibet factor’ is one of the major issues impeding the improvement of Sino-Indian relations besides, of course, the boundary dispute. As a major conflict between India and China is no longer an option, maintenance of peace along the LAC (and its delineation) and negotiations at the military, diplomatic and political level, is an imperative to resolve the impasse. In fact, with the strong leadership that India and China have at present, a bold and mutually beneficial solution to the boundary can come about in the form of a high level ‘political coup’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>The author is former chief of Army staff and governor of Arunachal Pradesh, and author of The McMahon Line: A Century of Discord.</b></p> Sun Oct 16 13:55:32 IST 2022 had-india-employed-its-air-force-in-1962-there-would-have-been-fewer-casualties <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In July 2017, a few weeks after the start of the confrontation in Doklam near the India-China-Bhutan trijunction, Lieutenant General Zhang Xuejie, the then political commissar of the Tibet Military Region (TMD) went to an ‘undisclosed place on the border’(probably north of Sikkim) and wrote in red letters “1962” on a stone. What message did he want to convey? That China could repeat the operations of 1962?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A month later, as the confrontation had entered its third month and as Delhi was not showing any sign of backing off from its intention to stop the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) from building a road in a disputed area, the Chinese media counter-attacked.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Communist Party’s mouthpiece, The Global Times, warned, “The border standoff has stretched out for nearly two months. If the Narendra Modi government continues ignoring the warning coming from a situation spiralling out of control, countermeasures from China will be unavoidable.”</p> <p>The newspaper then mentioned the 1962 war: “India made constant provocations at the China-India border in 1962. The government of Jawaharlal Nehru at that time firmly believed China would not strike back.…However, the Nehru government underestimated the determination of the Chinese government to safeguard China’s territorial integrity even as the country was mired in both domestic and diplomatic woes,” the newspaper cautioned. Beijing was probably still dreaming of repeating the 1962 ‘victory’, not realising that India and the world have changed since then.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Interestingly, after the Galwan clash on June 15, 2020 (it was Xi Jinping’s birthday), during which China is said to have lost some 40 of its soldiers—including a commanding officer—the Chinese media was quieter. Beijing had started realising that India would not be bullied so easily. This raises an obvious question: Can China play a redo of 1962 on India, or putting it differently, has India learnt the lessons of 1962?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is necessary to first point out that the Sino-Indian border war was not a debacle as depicted by Beijing and some foreign commentators. India fought extremely well during the battles of Walong or Rezang La and in several other areas on the front, where hundreds of PLA troops were killed by Indian soldiers. Has Xi, the chairman of the Central Military Commission, heard of these battles? This part of the story was never told to the Chinese people. Similarly, what happened in 1967 when the PLA was forced to back out after having intruded into Indian territory in Sikkim, remains a state secret in the Middle Kingdom. Beijing, presently working on publications about China’s ‘victory’, would like India to still remember 1962.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Chinese narrative remains the same: India attacked China. “Chinese military researchers have compiled a new history of the war reassessing its significance and legacy, bringing the spotlight back to the war amid the current tensions in relations,” wrote an Indian newspaper. One of the persons behind the ‘new history’ is Zhang Xiaokang, the daughter of General Zhang Guohua, who commanded the Tibet Military Command and directed the Chinese offensive against India in the eastern sector in October 1962. Her book is titled One Hundred Questions on the China-India Border Self-defence Counterattack. Extracts published on a Chinese website show that Beijing continues to propagate the myth that Mao Zedong had no other choice but to ‘counter-attack’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The history of 1962 needs to be rewritten, and India should not be ashamed of its Army during those fateful months. On the contrary, it is time to do more research into those battles, build more memorials and museums and let the general public (and China) know about the outstanding valour of Indian soldiers.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Undoubtedly, with better political management and the use of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in particular, the war could have had a different ending. But let us look at what went wrong. First and foremost, the political leadership erred by not using the IAF. Wing Commander Jag Mohan Nath (retd), the first officer to have been decorated with the Maha Vir Chakra twice, had been on regular missions over Tibet for more than two years from 1960 to reconnoitre the Chinese build-up on the Tibetan plateau. He concluded that China had no air force on the Tibetan plateau. Unfortunately, the political leadership refused to believe the hard evidence gathered during his sorties.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Had the IAF been used, one can imagine that the casualties would have been less on the Indian side and more on the Chinese side; the Line of Actual Control would have remained where it was in September 1959 and the border dispute with China would not be so acute today; the Shaksgam valley would not have been offered to China by Pakistan in 1963; Mao would have lost his job and Sino-Indian relations would have been completely different.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is certainly the most important lesson that India learnt from the war. Today after the induction of the 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, the IAF is ready to take on China and even has an edge due to the terrain as well as the preparedness, professionalism and experience of Indian pilots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>India has also far better knowledge of the border; let us not forget that the 7 Brigade was fighting in the Namkha Chu (river) sector, north of Tawang, without maps; weaponry was antediluvian and the arrogant political leadership would not allow local commanders to move to better strategic positions to defend their territory.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More recently, as the Doklam and the eastern Ladakh confrontations have demonstrated, the commanders have far greater autonomy. The present government has also delegated the negotiations about the disengagement on the border to the 14 Corps commander based in Leh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With its in-depth knowledge of the terrain, the Indian Army has been able not only to hold onto its positions (though China still refuses to fully disengage from some places), but also could establish a far better synergy with the ministry of external affairs and other stakeholders; something totally lacking in 1962. Though it has delegated tactical decisions to local commanders, the political leadership is far more aware of the situation on the ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On their part, after 16 rounds of talks, the PLA generals have probably realised that India in 2022 is not the same as in 1962. Officers from both sides have learnt to know each other; they understand the other’s mindset and motivations better. One should add that the political leadership meets far more frequently than Mao and Nehru did, which is a good thing. A better understanding of India’s principled and firm stand could hopefully act as a deterrent for China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Further, senior generals in the Indian Army, Air and Naval headquarters are more professional and are ready to make their voices heard. It was certainly not the case in 1962, when a chief of air staff did not even dare to try to convince his political masters to use the IAF, despite the full knowledge that China had no air force on the plateau and even lacked the necessary fuel supply.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sixty years later, the infrastructure on the Indian side has tremendously improved (on the Chinese side, too); there was a time when an argument was heard on the borders, particularly in Arunachal Pradesh: “It is better not to build roads on our side, otherwise they can be used by the Chinese invading troops once again”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the last few years, though the PLA has always kept a superior edge in infrastructure (the terrain is also easier on the plateau), Delhi has been working hard to reach each and every corner of the LAC.</p> <p>One important factor in the ‘defeat’ in 1962 was the failure of the Indian intelligence. The intelligence inputs were probably there (through Wing Commander Nath’s secret flights or regular reports of the Indian consul general in Lhasa, the Indian trade agents in Yatung, Gyantse and Gartok, and also the Tibetan refugees in India), but they were not properly analysed by the intelligence bosses, who were too busy obeying the ‘ideological’ orders of their masters; this was particularly true for the director of the Intelligence Bureau who had been in office for too long.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another important factor which may force China to think twice before embarking on a new 1962 is the Tibetan population living in India and particularly on the border. They are emotionally and physically supporting India. The role of the Special Frontier Force, composed of Tibetan commandos during August 2020 on the Kailash range, south of the Pangong Tso, is a case in point. The Tibetan populations on the plateau are also aware that their countrymen in India are allowed to practise their own faith and freely follow their leader, the Dalai Lama; it is not the case north of the McMahon Line. In case of a long conflict, it could be a determining factor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the Ukraine war has demonstrated that it is not easy to win a short ‘local’ war, like China had hoped to do. Even if Beijing has the advantage in many domains compared with India (theaterisation of defence forces, infrastructure, use of artificial intelligence, drones), there is no way China can ‘teach a lesson’ to India today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finally, the post pandemic world is much more aware of China’s totalitarian side. In case of a conflict, this would translate into better real-time intelligence sharing and support. Xi was probably briefed of all these changes when he recently visited Xinjiang and met the top brass of the Western Theatre Command and the Xinjiang Military District.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But if China becomes desperate, due to an economic collapse for example, adventurism could be a way out for the totalitarian regime. Though India has learned many lessons, it should remain aware of these dangers; especially knowing tomorrow’s war(s) may be ‘unrestricted’, fought on multiple new fronts simultaneously.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>Arpi is an author, journalist, historian and Tibetologist.</b></p> Sun Oct 16 13:52:35 IST 2022 there-is-no-easy-way-for-india-to-catch-up-with-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Many Indians are perplexed that China has moved far ahead of us. In 1979, China’s GDP was $178.28 billion; India was at $152.99 billion. That’s when Deng Xiaoping launched China’s economic reforms, a transformative opening to pervasive privatisation. P.V. Narasimha Rao’s radical economic reforms followed in 1991, just 12 years later, converting crisis into opportunity. Today? India is a $3.3 trillion economy; per capita income $2,277. China is at $19 trillion; per capita income $12,556 (World Bank). Former foreign secretary Shyam Saran says: India is receding in China’s rear-view mirror.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Early years</b></p> <p>Consider recent history. India and China won autonomy in 1947 and 1949; that was our ‘Independence’; for China, ‘Liberation’. Our national endowment was comparable: both massive, populous states, projecting high ambitions for the future. The political systems? India’s democracy with regular elections contrasted with China’s ‘dictatorship’ of the Communist Party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The on-ground experiences of the first three decades were totally different. India fought three wars, with China in 1962, with Pakistan in 1965 and 1971, yet development moved ahead at a placid pace. China saw faster development, but traversed three catastrophic upheavals. 1. The Land Reforms of 1950-53 with the eradication of the landed gentry, the killings of some 2,00,000 to 5 million, and imposition of the collectivist ‘commune’ system. 2. The Great Leap of 1958-61 producing vast upheaval, and a famine that killed 30 million. 3. The Cultural Revolution of 1965-71 closed the entire education system for 5 to 7 years, killing 1 to 1.5 million of the intelligentsia and others. Those disasters frame today’s China. Massive suffering has steeled the Chinese people, guiding today’s ambitious drive.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between 1979 and 2007, China’s annual economic growth averaged 9.9 per cent—the fastest in world history. And India? Between 1980 and 2005, it was 5.8 per cent—that’s a wholesome growth rate, a winner in most situations. That was a whole lot better than the miserable 3 per cent of the first three decades, yet much behind China’s numbers. It mattered, because we have always seen ourselves in competition with China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1962 border war remains a massive trauma on India’s national psyche; in China its impact was minuscule. Why? Partly because we lost badly. And we have hidden from our people hard truths of how India-China relations were mishandled in the formative years, 1949-62. A.S. Bhasin’s book, Nehru, Tibet and China (2021), is a graphic, persuasive account of those years. Indian people deserve the facts, to understand their own follies. Sure, the Chinese were not angels—they ruthlessly exploited the situation, cynically engineered events to their own advantage. International affairs is not a picnic.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Divergent tracks</b></p> <p>Back to our question: Why those hugely different economic development outcomes? A response: Behind superficially comparable numbers of 1979, lay major differences. That has steered later trajectories.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>First, China’s brutal, total agricultural reform of the early 1950s, despite the inconsistencies of the commune system, produced vast improvements in productivity. Today, by rough count, China’s agricultural productivity is double that of India’s. Our agriculture has a top layer of efficient big producers, plus much larger subsistence farming, shackling the majority. There’s no appetite for farm reform.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Second, from the outset, China radically transformed its educational system. Two examples. One: Each summer, the country is mesmerised by a three-day exam, the gaokao. It determines placements all in central and provincial universities, with almost no ‘reservations’. It runs like clockwork. A major change in 2021: the entire system of tutoring institutes has been reined in. Contrast that with our tutoring factories that virtually displace the schooling system. Two: Today, 1.13 million Indians study abroad. Our National Education Policy (NEP) holds a faint hope that foreign campuses may open, but nothing is on the horizon. China hosts multiple foreign universities and institutes, with zero nationalist hang-ups. Our NEP 2020 is followed by NEP 2022—is that policy consistency?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Third, Skill Development. China’s actions began in the 1950s. Every manufacturing unit must operate a ‘part-work part-study’ school. I visited three in 1964, and wrote a six-page analysis, as a second secretary at Beijing. Head of Mission Jagat Mehta sent that to the Education Commission in New Delhi (see Diplomacy at the Cutting Edge, 2016, p. 69). Nothing happened. In the 60s and 70s, India set up 2,500 state-run ‘Industrial Training Institutes’, with large grounds, fine buildings, but poor scholastic infrastructure; teachers were appointed via patronage—sadly, almost an Indian norm. These ITIs exemplify an inability to take good ideas to productive outcomes. The National Skill Development Corporation, created in 2008, failed owing to the focus on short courses, pointless without first gaining a skill-base. A saving grace: our vigorous private institutes, of uneven, unregulated quality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fourth: Manufacturing. India is the global IT-BPM (business process management) power, employing 4.5 million well-paid, truly the world’s most competent. They generate large secondary and tertiary employment. That’s splendid. But no large economy can be a global player without a solid manufacturing base. All is not gloom. Our auto industry, consumer electricals and several others have done well, but a balanced industrial base simply does not exist.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to a 2022 infographic by the UN Statistics Division, China’s manufacturing output is the world’s largest at $4 trillion, followed by the US at $2.3 trillion, Japan $1 trillion, Germany $800 billion, South Korea $459 billion, India $412 billion, Italy $314 billion, France $270 billion, the UK $253 billion and Indonesia $207 billion.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fifth: Health care. India’s life expectancy is 69.66 years (2019); China’s 76.91 years (2019). Beyond that gulf, our indicators of child nutrition, maternal health and infant mortality are far worse, behind even those of Sri Lanka; recently Bangladesh overtook us. Our spending on health, as a percentage of GDP, remains around half of China’s; perhaps some numbers may have now gone up, thanks to vast new private sector investments.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This catalogue blends the good with missed opportunities. In essence, China’s reforms have been more strategic and inter-locking, involving not just the visible actions, but also accompanied by pervasive supplementary initiatives across multiple sectors, producing a multiplier, national effect. Indian reforms—often described as ‘stealthy’—involve unending compromises amidst competing demands. That undermines any master vision. Incremental reform, often reversed or modified to suit different, noisy constituencies, cannot produce big or lasting results.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Political context</b></p> <p>The key question: Can India and China pursue economic cooperation? This depends on our political assessment. Are India and China destined to prolonged tension-contestation, open or simmering? Should we consider any possibility of cooperation? This is probably the most important question that New Delhi faces in crafting not just foreign policy but also national economic actions, plus societal policy, i.e. ‘domestic public diplomacy’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 2017 Doklam incidents at the Bhutan-China-India trijunction were followed by the 2020 Galwan clashes in Ladakh, causing the first border mortalities after 40 years. They were patently engineered by China. India was under economic stress, gaining nothing from new tensions. That inevitably produced unaffordable, higher military spending. After March 2020 we were in the throes of what looked like an uncontrollable Covid-19 pandemic. How could India possibly gain from major border tensions?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In my view, India’s handling of recent political events has shown dexterity, resolve, plus a major dose of strategic thinking—meaning not just great plans, but implementation of an integrated set of actions. Let me leave that crucial analysis of India’s foreign policy actions for another day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>An India-China hypothesis</b></p> <p>Diplomacy is the art of the possible. It does not and cannot operate on worst-case scenarios. Flexibility, as long as national interest is served, is the name of the game. It must take the long view, plus calculation of future, sustainable benefit and potential loss. How should we anticipate the development of trade, investments and other economic exchanges with China over the next few years?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As 2022 draws to a close, we are perhaps poised for a reset to relatively ‘normal’ economic relations. The experience of 2017-21 border tensions is not going away. It cannot be forgotten in New Delhi that this resulted from wilful actions, engineered cynically. Perhaps it owed to external and internal factors. That phase of egregious, aggressive Chinese diplomacy, across the board, also experienced by its other partner countries, may have come to its natural end. The why of that, the tensions directed from Beijing and their subsequent, gradual dissipation, demands examination.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trade: The bilateral deficit will persist in a total two-way volume of $100+ billion (now overtaken by India-US trade, where we have a large positive surplus, with India-UAE not far behind). The bulk of our imports consists of essentials (solar panel, phone, power and telecom components). The stuff that comes to us on price arbitration—such as agarbattis, manja kite thread, religious statues—is something we should block, but fail to do. Gently put, perhaps economic rent is at work within India. And we must move forward rapidly, building production of APIs (active pharma ingredients), where we ceded manufacture to China. It comes back to our policy management. And remember, separating politics and trade makes sense—US-China trade continues, despite political pyrotechnics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Investments and Technology Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Monitor closely China’s inbound investments, but with a deft touch, guided only by national advantage, and careful strategic calculation—what yields long-term gains for India? Use smart controls. India has a vast manufacturing space to fill out, to grow and develop. China has investible funds. And we are the world’s largest under-exploited market, with some 900+ million adult and youthful consumers. BTW, the Chinese domestic market, partly saturated, still offers potential for India. (New York Times, July 30, 2022: luxury mattresses @ Rs59 lakh each, sold by Australia’s A.H. Beard’s 50 stores across China, now face doldrums).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>IT industry and people: Indian companies with subsidiaries in China do well, but China imposes NTBs (non-tariff barriers) against the standard Indian model of IT centres mainly doing off-site work. Some wonder if that model might run out of steam (Financial Times, August 3, 2022, Nomura prognosis). But consider: 300+ of the top 500 global companies run their own R&amp;D centres in India. That’s great jobs for some, but what does India really gain? Why can’t India’s own R&amp;D engine become agile, fecund?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There’s no silver bullet for India. B.R. Ambedkar’s dream of ‘social democracy’ remains distant. Lots of outstanding actions, success stories, but an equal crop of failures. And stunted national impact. Since 2014, the Modi government has done things that predecessors only talked about—household sanitation, universal electric power, cooking gas supply, road connectivity. But major challenges persist: universal literacy, fortifying the national manufacturing base, and, above all, moving forward in closer national harmony. Must the democracy-loving Indian Elephant always trail the authoritarian, hubris-laden Chinese Dragon?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Economists speak of ‘virtuous circles’—when objective conditions mesh, each positive action influences other elements, which is charged into further benefits. That cascades forward to higher growth. Right now, thanks to good FDI flows, and a high ‘purchasing manager’s index’ (a term for domestic business confidence), we could be approaching a sweet spot. Prime Minister Modi’s Independence Day call for a new drive against corruption and nepotism will help, if it produces real action. Simply put: Shall we deliver? Walk the talk?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<b>The writer is a former ambassador, teacher and writer.</b></p> Sun Oct 16 13:49:39 IST 2022 why-endrick-felipe-is-a-worthy-successor-to-pele <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Trotting up the stairs, and out of the tunnel into São Paulo’s Allianz Parque, the interplay of light and shadow looks like the collective movement of 43,000 fans. As one exits the hollow in the earth and comes to eye level with the turf, three shades of green rise toward the piece of sky above; it is Palmeiras green, and 16-year-old Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa is wearing it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He is carrying three generations of his own history, and the aspirations of millions of fans who want him to score beautiful goals they can savour in the Parque and then in the comfort of their drawing room. To be standing where he stands today is every footballer’s fantasy. He has entered a world we can see, but cannot enter.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It took talent, courage, focus, family, skill, will, grit, art, and hours of training to reach where he has. Also, the “blessings of God”, which Endrick acknowledges in almost every post of his on Instagram. On September 18, ahead of his Palmeiras senior team debut, he posted pictures of him in the team jacket and the jersey. He wrote: “God just keeps blessing me. Another dream come true! God is unexplainable!” Coach Abel Ferreira did not give Endrick, who was wearing # 16 instead of his customary # 9, play time, but it is only a matter of time before he yields to the temptation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In this moment he is everyone’s hero. Among the anticipation and the excitement, as the cheers of the fans hit the players in the face before the whistle blows, hangs one question: Is he ready for battle of the big boys?</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many believe he is.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He scored five goals in six games, and friends were raving about this big talent coming through,” Palmeiras fan Gustave Morrison from New Zealand recalled how he was introduced to an exceptional talent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That bicycle goal against Oeste [this January] was very fast, very precise,” said passionate football fan and journalist Erick Gimenes. “Others cannot do that with that speed and accuracy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As much as he is a powerful player, Endrick is an artist, a sculptor of magnificent goals. Each move is poetic as he toys with the opposition defenders. He controls the ball with his left foot, the ball bounces between his right and left foot; now you can’t tell which foot controls the ball, then his right foot goes backward, and the ball follows. It is as if you are watching a conjuror do the three-card trick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Finding where all of that comes from was not an easy task. Endrick is new on the world stage and some of the information available turned out to be unreliable. Add to that the understandable instinct of Palmeiras to protect its greatest asset. It took us a few months to put together his story, over 2,500km of travel, nearly a hundred phone calls and emails... well, it was worth it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was born in the central Brazilian highlands along the massive concentration of high-rises in Taguatinga, a satellite city to Brasilia, in Brazil’s capital district. He is the descendant of migrants from the state of Bahia and the northeast state of Piaui, people who populated the empty savannah after the country’s new capital was built.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When he was 4, his family moved to Valparaiso, in the adjoining state of Goiás, just outside the federal capital district. Valparaiso is not a favela or a slum. It is, and was then even more, a borderline rural area with few opportunities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At that age he would play in the dirty streets with the neighbourhood kids. His moves, skill and courage put a sparkle in the eyes of his father, Douglas de Sousa Silva Ramos. It was his belief in his son, his persistence in seeing him noticed and his unwavering faith in his son’s potential that carved an early path for him as much as anything else. The man quit everything else to dedicate himself to his son’s football future.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Douglas Ramos, like his father before him (who died on September 23), harboured dreams of a future in football as a way out of poverty, playing for-pay tournaments (where players are paid a pittance per match) as a striker wearing the # 11 jersey. An injury ended his career.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick became the first player in Brazilian history to play in the Under-15, Under-17, and Under-20 sides, all in the same year. As the breakout star of the Under-20 cup at 15 in early 2022, he commanded global attention and cast his spell on a world that suddenly became aware of the number and beauty of the goals he produces.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His play and mental strength have made people compare Endrick with the greatest players in sports history. “I am never fully satisfied with my football; I know I can become better if I dedicate myself. My great strength is willpower,” said Endrick, crediting his family for helping him stay focused, and reassuring him that things would fall in place in God’s time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Because of his age, and because of the fact that he plays with players several years older than him, he is often the smallest on the field. Just the same, he and his father, who was working at the club as a janitor, have had to endure taunts from other players’ parents that he is a “gato”, a slur for those who sandbag their age.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There have been plenty of obstacles at every step of the way, from playing on the dirt streets and dry fields of central Brazil, to lacking food or electricity or both, to difficulty getting accepted to academies that would play him at his level, to getting noticed by the big clubs, to moving a thousand kilometres away to São Paulo, but there was never a question about giving up. “I wake up every day focused on what I have to do on the pitch, in addition to taking care of myself off the pitch,” said Endrick.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From an early age, he followed his father to the grounds and learned about football by watching him play. On these trips, his father would tell him stories about great players, great teams, and great goals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He in an exceptional child who loves life and is polite and thankful,” said Douglas, with the bias of a father. But it is amazing that a lot of people whom THE WEEK spoke to for this story shared the observation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is the type of boy with a big heart,” insisted Douglas. In fact, when people approach him to have their picture taken with him, he ends up thanking them. Endrick is so humble that even when he succeeds, he does not brag, said his former coach Silas Eduardo Severino. “He is not flashy like Neymar,” said Gustave Morrison.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Young fans came to me at the final of the Copa São Paulo and said that the story of my son has made many Brazilians think differently as to how a player should be,” said Douglas. “This indicated that he is doing something different.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Growing up in poverty has made Endrick mentally tough. “My father could not become a [professional] football player,” he said in a video interview when he joined Palmeiras at the age of 11. “I want to transform his life forever.” Standing by his side, his father could not hold back his tears. “My son once told me he would take us out of this difficult situation,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Four years later, Endrick appeared more assured and determined. “I am a player who will never stop,” he told Spain’s Marca magazine. “I always want more. I am daring, try to do the most difficult things and be decisive. I am a team player, which is most important. To the people who do not know me, I would like to tell them that I am very persistent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick remains focused on keeping his feet on the ground, not letting fame or success change the kind of person he is. “It is inexplicable what is happening in my life,” reflected Endrick in an earlier interview. “But it is important that I keep my head in its place and maintain humility, to not let anything get to my head for being the best player and best striker at the same time. All of that, the team helped me; if it were not for them, I would not have won.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Off the field, Endrick is most at home with his friend Lucas Santos. They have been friends since Endrick was 6 and Lucas, 9, when Lucas’s father, Fabio Rodrigues, had Endrick under his wing. “I could see that he held lot of promise then,” Lucas told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Together, they dreamt of football glory. “But Endrick had more desire,” said Lucas, a dental school student. “The last thing he thinks of is fame. He does not think about money, he is not transformed by it. He plays a lot with the ball, and that is what is important for him. Money and fame are a consequence. Totally.” Endrick’s dream, said Lucas, is to play for Brazil and win the World Cup for his country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Together, they go shopping, to movies, talk about girls, and play video games. Illustrating both Endrick’s character and their friendship, Lucas shares a story of when they were much younger, playing outside his house. “Endrick put his foot through the wall to my bedroom, ruined the entire wall,” recalled Lucas. “I was angry, very angry. I grabbed him, knuckle-smacked him in the head a few times. Endrick smiled and continued on. It did not affect our friendship.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On September 18, Endrick stepped onto the field at Allianz Parque, the most modern stadium in Latin America, stood with the Palmeiras professional team with his hand on his heart. It was a dream come true. The next milestone will be his actual debut in a game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Fire uphill and water downhill are like a talented player,” wrote Palmeiras bases coordinator João Paulo Sampaio on the club’s website. Endrick, he noted, is “a force of nature”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, he is.</p> Sun Oct 09 12:35:33 IST 2022 new-peles-the-next-messi-and-their-cautionary-tales <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Football wunderkinds have to overcome many hurdles to realise their full potential. Some fall by the wayside, unable to cope. The reasons for underachieving include injuries, bad luck, indiscipline, not being developed properly, being rushed to the senior level and being with people who do not have their best interests at heart. They now serve as cautionary tales for a new generation of prospects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 1990s saw Ghanian Nii Lamptey, whom Pelé had called his successor, burn out in his early 20s. He won the golden ball when Ghana became the U-17 world champions in 1991. Lamptey was a regular in the senior national team and at club-level by the age of 17. But, the attacking midfielder, who was illiterate, put too much trust in his Italian agent, Antonio Caliendo, who was more interested in higher commissions than choosing the best move for his client.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This meant that Lamptey moved to Aston Villa in England after one season at Dutch club PSV Eindhoven instead of continuing his development alongside newly arrived fellow teenage sensation Ronaldo. From 1994 till his retirement in 2008, he moved to 10 countries in four continents, never settling anywhere. For Ghana, he played 38 games by the age of 21, but was never selected after that. A combination of mismanagement, injury and personal tragedy (he lost two children to a rare lung disease) never gave Lamptey the opportunity to bounce back.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other hand, Freddy Adu got plenty of chances. Also Ghana-born, but raised in the US, Adu made his debut in Major League Soccer―the top division―aged 14. He was linked with multiple big clubs, labelled the next Pele and the saviour of “soccer”. The talented attacking midfielder was over-hyped and underdeveloped and today, at 33, Adu is the perfect example of a wunderkind who did not live up to potential.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another memorable prospect who did not make it at the senior level is Brazil's Kerlon―the only effective user, if not the inventor, of the seal dribble (bouncing the ball on the head and getting past opponents). The 34-year-old last played in 2017 in Slovakia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The “next Messi” Bojan Krkić, hopped from Spain (Barcelona) to Japan, via Italy, the Netherlands, England, Germany and Canada. Now, at 32, the Spaniard insists he is happy in Japan, but has, in the past, spoken about how the pressure of the Messi tag pulled him down. In his own words: “If you compare me with Messi... what career did you expect?”</p> Sun Oct 09 12:08:14 IST 2022 i-want-to-be-known-for-my-story <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Sports commentators have variously described him as a “force of nature”, “the newest jewel of Brazilian football”, and in moments of extreme excitement, “the future of world football”. They are overawed by his skill with both the right and the left foot, and his precision shooting. The world sat up and took note when he became the breakout star of Brazil’s Copinha (Under-20 championship) cup early this year. Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa has that effect on you. At 16, he is so skilled yet so grounded and focused, something uncommon among teenagers in Brazil, where the pleasures of life are there for you to pluck.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The pride of São Paulo’s Palmeiras Club is being watched closely by top English and European clubs. Speaking exclusively to THE WEEK, Endrick credits his father and Palmeiras for always believing in him. His success, he says, is the product of years of hard work and sacrifice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He has been compared with Brazilian stars Neymar, Vinicius Jr., Ronaldo and Romario, though his idol is Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo. But he told us that he does not compare himself with any other player. “I believe that each player has his own qualities and characteristics,” he says. Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Your family was poor while you were growing up. What do you want to do for your father? Do you remember the time he took you to Palmeiras?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was a very important moment in our lives. Palmeiras always believed in me, the club bet on my future and, since then, it has allowed me to fulfil the dream of transforming my family’s life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I left Brasilia, my father accompanied me and was welcomed by Palmeiras, that made all the difference. I worked hard from the day I arrived to show my football on the pitch, giving my best in all competitions. The signing of the professional contract was just the result of everything we planned since the beginning.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You have been dubbed the next big thing in Brazilian football. Do you think the pressure imposed by expectations is too much?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I try not to think about the future. My focus is on the present, always on the next game. I have to give myself as much as possible on the field, so that I can help the team. Everything else happens in God’s time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I defend the colours of a great club, which gives me everything I need to play at the highest level. My family and the people around me help me stay focused.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You are being called the successor to Brazilian legends like Romario and Ronaldo.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every young athlete is inspired by players who have left their mark on the history of Brazilian football. I want to conquer the same things they conquered, but my goal is to build my own trajectory, to be known for my story.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You said that Cristiano Ronaldo is your idol. What makes him so special to you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cristiano Ronaldo is a great inspiration for the way he works and gives himself every day. I have that same dedication. I admire all athletes who seek perfection at all times. Although I really like his football, I try not to make comparisons, because I believe that each player has his own qualities and characteristics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You’ve had great moments in your career, in terms of goals, passes.... Is there a goal or something that means more than other things?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The most important moments are always the titles, the conquests I had with my teammates from Palmeiras. Copinha was very special, a title that the club did not yet have. I had the pleasure of performing well in the competition and the honor of receiving the Dener Award for the most beautiful goal of the tournament.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What do you think is your greatest strength on and off the field?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When you play for a big club, you need to try to evolve every day. I’m never fully satisfied with my football; I know I can become better if I dedicate myself. My great strength is willpower; I wake up every day focused on what I have to do on the pitch, in addition to taking care of myself off the pitch. I have the help of very competent professionals. Up front, I try to move intelligently to be well placed, being able to finish with precision.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You became famous with clips on YouTube. Do you follow social media?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I didn’t become famous on YouTube. In the past, when we were still unknowns, we used videos to reach clubs. Today, I am recognised for what I show on the field, after years of hard work and sacrifice.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>You should be aware of the interest many top European clubs have shown in you. Do you have any preferences?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I try not to think about the future. My focus is totally on Palmeiras and the next game. I’m still 16 years old and I have a lot to show on the pitch. I want to continue my beautiful story with the club and, God willing, win many titles for Palmeiras and give many joys to our wonderful crowd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Do you still have time for Sunday lunch with family?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>My family is very important to me, they are my base. The moments with my parents and brother are very special. I don’t give up on that. All my family members support me and do everything so that I can do my best on the field.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>What is your message to Palmeiras fans? And your fans around the world?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the Palmeiras family, they can expect a lot of dedication on the field. There will never be a lack of willingness to help the team, scoring goals and running at all times. We will still celebrate many achievements together. To those who follow me around the world, I am glad for the support. I hope they can celebrate many of my goals and that they will always cheer for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WITH SONYA PRUSS</b></p> Sun Oct 09 12:05:53 IST 2022 three-men-who-shaped-super-striker-endrick-felipe <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is one minute to 8am. The roll-up doors swing overhead, and the Supermercado Varejão grocery store in Valpariso De Goias, Brasilia, is open early. Customers materialise from the street; by 8am it looks like it has been open for hours. Out of its depths emerges a thin, unassuming young man in good shape and wearing a black polo T-shirt. Fabio Rodrigues dos Santos owns the store; he also owns an important part of one of the most remarkable stories in Brazilian football today.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fabio played a crucial role in the discovery and evolution of Endrick Felipe Moreira de Sousa, the 16-year-old striker for top Brazilian club Palmeiras. He is the buzz in the football crazy nation and the rest of the footballing world, and English and European clubs wait for the day he turns 18, when he is officially eligible to sign a contract outside Brazil. Real Madrid and Barcelona are reportedly eyeing him, but the winning bidder will have to cough up over €60 million (nearly 0500 crore)—according to the release clause he signed with Palmeiras when he turned 16. The deal could even happen before Endrick becomes eligible to sign the contract, as it happened with fellow Brazilians Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo; Real Madrid had snapped them up for €45 million each.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick knocked the ball around in Valparaiso, in the rural Capital District that surrounds Brasilia, but then humble beginnings figure in the childhood stories of many a Brazilian legend. Endrick came to Fabio when he was just a toddler, and he discerned something very special in the kid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The year was 2010. Valparaiso, a gritty collection of residential buildings, had been designated a city only 15 years earlier. It was home to a hardscrabble lot, people struggling amid few possibilities. Fabio, then 27, had bought some farmland away from his store to start a football school. In Brazil, where people eat, breathe and sleep the great game, the venture was more of a social obligation than a business. He used to charge R$ 25 a month ($5) per student; those who could not afford it were trained for free. In a matter of a few months, the school had 300 students. Some of them showed enough promise that Fabio began looking for ways to develop them and place them in the farm systems of Brazilian clubs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was around this time that Douglas de Sousa Silva Ramos approached Fabio with a request to admit his four-year-old son Endrick to what was by then called Escolinha Gol de Letras—the little school of football. It was the only such school in the neighbourhood, but there was a catch. The school admitted only those above six, because the player’s body needed to be ready for the intensely physical game.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But Douglas, who knew Fabio from his playing days, persisted. Finally, Fabio agreed for a trial. Endrick had to play with boys nearly twice his age, and if he did not end up crying, he could stay.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Endrick entered the field, bested the other boys and finished all of them,” recalled Fabio. “He scored goals, he dribbled, he tackled, he just ran circles around them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fabio was impressed with the immense talent on two legs. “It is not just taking the ball, dribbling it and doing a few fancy plays,” he told THE WEEK. “One must have personality. If a child does not have personality, he will not make the cut. Endrick did that and much more as if it was the most normal thing in the world. He did not feel the pressure; it was obvious he was a mental player. He was very different from all the other kids.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>From that point on Fabio took Endrick under his wing, literally. It went beyond football. He would pick the boy up from his dark room dwelling when his parents were away, and give him a place at his grocery store till it was time for football. It was there, in that corner grocery store, sitting on the couch in the office, that the young boy would often have his only meal of the day. Fabio would look after him, take him to the doctor, the dentist, and to competitions around Brasilia to showcase his talent and pit him against the rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick was the smallest on and off the field. What are you doing with that small boy, people would ask. “He is the future,” he would respond, and they would scoff at it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is a child with a destiny,” Fabio told THE WEEK. “There are people with talent, people who can handle the ball, even score goals. But Endrick is a boy with incredible focus, a boy with an incredible lethality. Others shoot for the goal, Endrick scores the goal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the Brazil farm system, talented children are seen periodically by the big clubs, so that they can be put on a quarterly monitoring schedule till they turn 14. Then, they stay at the club for a week and their progress is evaluated. In that week of monitoring talented players, the clubs would test them in categories above their age.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“In preparation, I put Endrick in different competitions, at different levels,” said Fabio. “Wherever I put him, he always came out on top.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While other children felt pressure, Endrick stood firm. “It is game time, and they tremble, get a belly ache or a headache,” said Fabio. “Not Endrick. This child had a winner’s mind and personality.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>By the age of 11, Fabio knew Endrick deserved more and took him to his favourite team, the São Paulo Futebol Clube. They were interested in taking him in, but insisted that his parents bear the cost of their stay. There was no way Endrick’s parents could have afforded it. The next stop was Palmeiras, where he was wholeheartedly welcomed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journey had well and truly begun. Since then, in all the competitions in which he was placed, Endrick was named the best player. When, at the age of 15, he became the best player of the Under-20 national championship, the rest of the world noticed. And it was soul-searching time for São Paulo Futebol Clube as well: it now has new policies for rejecting or accepting raw talent. When Endrick signed his first professional contract with Palmeiras earlier this year, Fabio and his son Lucas were there to celebrate the moment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Another influential figure in young Endrick’s life was Silas Eduardo Severino, to whom Fabio ultimately sold his school. An intense, gregarious man with black eyes that sparkle with excitement, Silas is technically knowledgeable and driven. What is more, he is analytical and focused. Just the trainer Endrick needed at that stage in his development.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There was already folklore around Endrick in Valparaiso, recalled Silas, tales about a three-year-old who could do bicycle kicks at will and score goals playing on the uneven streets outside his grandmother’s house.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Silas realised that the kid had superior foundational talent, that he was focused and objective, but did not have absolute coordination. So he charted a course of training that young Endrick hated at times—dribbling, cones, long training using only his right leg (Endrick favours his left leg) until he could control the ball with either foot like a wizard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Though he didn’t like it, Endrick was at training early, always ahead of time and ahead of his coach,” Silas told THE WEEK. “He was relentless. He was the first to arrive and last to leave.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Silas, Endrick’s decision-making time with the ball is just two seconds, on par with the best in Europe. Most Brazilian players take between 3 and 3.5 seconds. “You have to be a genius to be able to make those decisions,” he said. “He knows the time to dribble, the time to pass. Instinctively he knows where the ball is, he knows where to position himself and he can predict where the goalkeeper will be.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick’s calmness on the pitch is another aspect Silas highlighted. “He is cold. He enters the field cold, and leaves the field cold,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At his trial with both São Paulo Futebol Clube and Palmeiras, Endrick bested players four to five years older than him. “He is like a leopard. He scans, stalks, and is willing to wait for the opportunity,” said Silas. “He has clarity in decision making. While others ponder whether to dribble, pass, or shoot, Endrick just knows it inside.” Agreed Fabio: “Endrick is more lethal, more skilled and more objective than [Brazilian legend] Ronaldo Nazario; he is a pure modern footballer.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick’s choices, said Silas, are “absurdly intelligent”. “His strength and intelligence will change football,” he said. “Because that will be the football of the future.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>That brings us to the third person who shaped his career. The one who introduced him to the beautiful game: Douglas de Sousa Silva Ramos, his father. Douglas was an anytime football player, who earned a pittance for pursuing his passion. Whatever little he earned put food on the table, kept hunger away. Endrick got hooked on football watching his dad play. Once, when Endrick was hungry and the pantry was empty, he vowed to Douglas that he would play football and take his family out of poverty. Thus it was that Douglas and Endrick landed at the school run by Fabio and his wife, Marilia Rocha, in Valparaiso.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Palmeiras agreeing to pay the rent for Douglas to be with Endrick was a big relief, but there was the small matter of making money to cover his daily expenses. After getting his son to the practice ground, Douglas would rush to sell hot coffee at the Barra Funda Metro station in São Paulo. Months later, someone from Palmeiras spotted him at the station and so he was offered a job at the club as a janitor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, the days of hunger, poverty and struggle are a thing of the distant past. Endrick now earns €17,000 (nearly 014 lakh) a month from Palmeiras, and his fan base is growing by the day. His salary could go up, now that Portuguese coach Abel Ferreira, whose tactics won Palmeiras back-to-back Copa Libertadores, has drafted him into the senior team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>WITH INPUTS FROM DENI MORAES</b></p> Sun Oct 09 12:01:31 IST 2022 why-people-think-endrick-felipe-is-destined-for-greatness <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><i>O que éque foi isso!</i></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What was that!</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sao Paulo; January 20, 2022. The Palmeiras number 9 is facing away from the goal, the ball dropping behind him outside the opposition penalty area. Then, suddenly, without looking, he is in the air as if on an easy sleigh. His left leg does a flip to kick the ball over his shoulder into the corner of the net 18 yards away, out of reach of a bewildered goalkeeper.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The commentator is stunned. The world stops.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“What was that!”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The world resumes. The stadium is now noisier and excited.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Plenty of players have done the scissor-kick to telling effort before him. But this one is a sight to behold.</p> <p>“It was perfect timing; it was mind-blowingly accurate,” the commentator is searching for words to express what he has just witnessed.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick Felipe, then 15, showed an uncommon spatial sense while the ball was being played behind him. He did not have a long time to see it coming, but as the ball came down, his legs sliced the air and bang! It was beautiful alright, but it was so much more. Like seeing Michelangelo’s original David after seeing imitations all your life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He is probably the most hyped star since Neymar Junior,” says Gustave Morrison from New Zealand, a Palmeiras fan and football devotee living in Brazil. In the same breath, Gustave compares him with Ronaldo Nazario, the last great Brazilian striker. “He controls the ball on his chest, turns and volleys it from outside the box,” says Gustave, “a bloody good goal.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The expectations placed on such young players worry journalist and football connoisseur Erick Gimenes. “New Ronaldos, new Ronaldinhos and new Peles have happened in Brazil before and did not become all that was expected,” says Erick. Yet, he sees in Endrick some characteristics of Ronaldo and Romario “for being a goal-scorer and combining strength with skill”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Noting the asymmetry of comparing Endrick to “two of the greatest in history”, Erick says that he sees a marked difference in relation to them because, Endrick, “in addition to being a top scorer is also a game builder, though he does not carry the ball like Maradona”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to Erick, like Wayne Rooney and Sergio Aguero, Endrick is a strong player, and, on the field, looks five years older than his age. “I never saw a player do what he does,” says Erick. “I don’t remember Gabriel Jesus doing that.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Erick says Jesus, who is currently on a dream run with Arsenal, made many mistakes and took a long time to improve. “Vinicius Jr [Real Madrid], too, made many mistakes,” he says.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Early fame and high expectations do not seem to translate into pressure on the young man, says Erick, elaborating on the most defining factor about Endrick, his mental control. “He has a lot of fame and is very young, but he just continues playing very well, and nothing changes.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rui de Paula Rodrigues Junior, a passionate Palmeiras fan, began noticing Endrick’s performance and “beautiful goals” during the Under-17 Copa in São Paulo. “He is very skillful, does great and beautiful dribbles, has a brilliant view of the game and great technique,” he says. “His play is fantastic while playing with teenagers and even in the practice with the pros. He has a good overview of the game, which allows him to create plays with strategic paces.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At 5’ 6’’, he is just like Pele in stature, notes Rui. “His ability compensates for his size. He is strong and fast. He has two great abilities—his dribbling skills and shots to goal,” says Rui. “As a left foot attacker and a great dribbler, he is comparable with Mohammed Salah and Lionel Messi. His sprint and ability to explode remind me of Ronaldo Nazario.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rui adds a note of caution: “We still need to see him play as a pro. He needs to play with the biggest and show the results as the greatest do.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trainer Silas Eduardo Severino, who worked with Endrick for years developing his talent has this to say about the comparisons with Neymar. “He is a lot better than what the numbers show,” he says. “He is more focused than Neymar, he is fast in making decisions unlike other Brazilian players.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Silas compares him with modern age tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. “Federer is talented, intelligent, cold, and cool. Nadal is emotional and he transforms that emotion into force with intelligence. Endrick is a mix of the two. He has Federer’s technique, and Nadal’s soul, the drive, the desire. Add to that Pele’s objectivity.”</p> Sun Oct 09 11:57:17 IST 2022 filling-ronaldos-boots-is-difficult-but-not-impossible-for-endrick <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In the beautiful port city of Yokohama, there are three important high-rises collectively called the Three Towers. When referred to individually, they are the King, the Queen and the Jack. The King is the headquarters of the Kanagawa Prefecture; Queen, the Yokohama Customs building; and Jack, the Yokohama Port Opening Memorial Hall. The three survived the massive Great Kanto earthquake of 1923, and are the lucky mascots of the Japanese. They believe that seeing all three from one place (Osanbashi Pier is the best place to see them together) will bring you luck. It is just a 40-minute drive from the Three Towers to the Imperial Palace of the emperor. The emperor has no abode in Yokohama, but in 2002, a coronation took place in the economic and commercial hub of Tokyo.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On June 30, a new king of football was crowned in the city. At the Yokohama stadium, three towers stood tall as Brazil destroyed Germany in the final of the FIFA World Cup and emerged champions. They were Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho. Fans called them Ro-Ri-Ro. Those who have witnessed all three playing together are considered lucky, and I am one of them. As Brazil lifted the cup, wild celebrations broke out outside the stadium. Beautiful Brazilian women threw away their shape-wear, cupped their breasts and yelled: “One for Honaldo, one for Hivaldo.” (In Portuguese, R is pronounced as H.) Someone asked: What about Ronaldinho? Pat came the reply: “He is a kid.” Ronaldinho, at 22, was one of the youngest players in the championship team.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima aka Ronaldo aka The Phenomenon, with his shaved head with a patch of hair in the front, scored two blistering goals in the final. That night, hairdressers across the globe did double shifts. I first watched Ronaldo play in the 1998 World Cup. The world was shocked when Brazil released its start list in the final against hosts France. The name of Ronaldo, on whom Brazil’s hope rested, was missing! He was not there in the reserve list, too. He finally made it to the ground, but was a shadow of his pacy, powerful self. France, riding on Zinedine Zidane’s brilliance and artistry, eclipsed Brazil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What happened to Ronaldo ahead of the final remained a mystery for a brief while. Finally, the truth came out: he had an epileptic attack hours ahead of the match and was unfit to play. The same man powered Brazil to victory in Yokohama 2002 and gave us one of the greatest comeback stories in football history. In his prime, Ronaldo could run 100 metres in 10.3 seconds. He had mind-blowing shooting skills and was a master at dribbling, too. But his goals overshadowed his other skills. He had immense physical strength, which enabled him to shake defenders off when sandwiched. It is a paradox that he used to wet his bed well past his teens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Twenty years ago, when I interviewed him for the Malayala Manorama and THE WEEK, he proudly told me that his buck teeth were his identity. A few months ago, I saw him on television. The buck teeth had been straightened and the gap between the upper front teeth had been closed. Maybe the fashion sense of his fifth girlfriend prevailed. News from Brazil is that there is a successor to The Phenomenon. Person to person, no defender is a match for Endrick, as was the case with Ronaldo. His body balance, which is important for perfect dribbling, gives him that edge when dealing with tough tackles.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Endrick’s first touch in the air is exemplary and, in an instant, he could receive the ball, twist his body towards the goal, and shoot with pin point accuracy. At 173cm, he is slightly taller than Lionel Messi and shorter that Ronaldo. He is a better player than Ronaldo in the air, which makes him a real threat in the penalty box. His head stings the ball like a bee. Ronaldo could shoot with both feet effortlessly, while Endrick favours his left. So that is where he could improve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>You cannot score six goals in seven Copinha Cup games playing against kids five years older without being a serious talent. His Copinha performance also showed that he could shoot from any angle, and that he could out-run and out-think opponents. There are defenders who described Ronaldo as a bulldozer; Endrick is not one yet, but he could become one when he has stronger legs and hips. One factor that is common to both players is their ability to scatter a pack of defenders. They don’t feign, nor do they use trickery to do this. They depend solely on their superior skills and strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>An interviewer once asked Ronaldo about one of his beautiful goals and this is what he had to say: “I was going one way and the goalkeeper came towards me. I went my way, and he went his.” He was a master at deceiving goalkeepers. Endrick is showing signs of that brilliance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ronaldo specialised in a dribbling move the Brazilians variously call the Joia, flip-flap, snake bite or elastico. He could force the defender to think one way and do the exact opposite. Playing for Inter Milan in the 1998 UEFA Cup final against Lazio—which has been described by football pundits as Ronaldo’s finest 90 minutes for the Nerazzuri—he unleashed an elastico move. Zidane would later say in an interview that it most impressed him. “It will remain in my mind forever,” he said. “George Weah used to do it well, Ronaldinho, too. But not while moving. Ronaldo did it while moving at top speed. It was against Alessandro Nesta, not against my grandmother.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ronaldo was very good at the ‘dummy run’, which involves caressing the ball to make it move just enough so that it remains within your control, while making dance-like moves above or around the ball without actually touching it. It is one way to confound the defenders, who will have the tough job of watching the moving ball, the dancing legs, and the body to understand what the attacker has in mind. Endrick is also good at these tricks, but he has a long way to go.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Jose Mourinho famously said that The Phenomenon was the “best Ronaldo ever”. Zidane said he was the best he played with. Now Endrick is being described as the “best in the next generation”. Is he Ronaldo’s successor? You might be surprised that his favourite among Brazilian legends is not Ronaldo, nor Romario, or Ronaldinho, or the current demigod Neymar Junior. It is Rivaldo, an attacking midfielder who was the most skilful and creative player of his generation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Yet, as a striker, Endrick is Ronaldo’s true successor. Their celebrations after scoring are similar, as both eschew ‘jumping in the air’ antics. Will Endrick join the Brazilian league of legends? Ronaldo was a temptation football gifted to my generation. Thanks to injuries, chiefly a dodgy knee, we could not have enough of him. I hope Endrick stays out of injuries, so that the world could see his full potential. Though people who are familiar with him say Endrick is mentally strong, his real test will come when he has to lift a team out the depths and lead it to glory. Ronaldo did so several times with the national team and clubs he played for.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Football is a good school that teaches you a lot of things about life, the game, fame, money.... Ask Diego Maradona, though that is not possible now. Endrick has been a good student, nay, the best student so far. His fans would be hoping that he becomes a master soon.</p> Sun Oct 09 11:53:48 IST 2022 we-do-not-have-national-ambitions-odisha-chief-minister-naveen-patnaik <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik might be enigmatic and reticent, but he is reassuring to his audience. On a muggy September evening, Naveen Nivas—the leafy house Patnaik inherited from his parents and which has served as his official residence for 25 years—hosted a set of twin brothers who had passed the Joint Entrance Examination (Advanced) with flying colours. Patnaik congratulated them, made them feel comfortable and gifted them Parker pens.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Then came a few women's self-help groups, a constituency he had carefully nurtured and empowered. They greeted Patnaik with an enthusiastic hulahuli (a type of ululation), and he welcomed them, praising their efforts in making lakhs of flags for the 75th Independence Day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Between these two events, Patnaik met THE WEEK for an interview at his home office. The large space has idols of Shree Jagannatha covered in fresh flowers and the walls were painted with the famous Odia story of king Purushottama Deva, who undertook a journey with the blessings of Shree Jagannatha. It seemed an apt painting. Patnaik, who has ruled the state unhindered for 22 years, can also claim to have the Lord's blessings.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I am 75 now, and I have to be careful about what I eat,” he said, dressed in his trademark white kurta-pyjama. “I prefer home-cooked light meals. I travel extensively across the state to meet my people.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A history buff, Patnaik had once corrected a local guide about a monument in Rome when he was there to meet the pope. Currently, he is watching The Crown, a Netflix series on Queen Elizabeth II, the longest-serving British monarch. Patnaik himself will surpass Jyoti Basu next year, to rank second on the list of longest-serving Indian chief ministers. Former Sikkim chief minister Pawan Kumar Chamling sits at number one with more than 24 years in office. Excerpts from an interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Odisha has transformed a lot in the past two decades, and its human development index rating has improved quite a bit. What approach has led to this steady change?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ People first. Gandhiji’s talisman has always been our guiding principle. Empowerment of our people—be it women, youth, children, tribals or other vulnerable groups—is what our policies aim at. Citizen-centric governance is our guiding light.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are you satisfied with the work done in the past 25 years? Any particular project close to your heart?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I am here to serve my people. I have always held that the 4.5 crore people of Odisha are my family. There is definitely more work to be done and, by the grace of Lord Jagannatha and the support of the people of Odisha, we will continue to do great work. Women’s empowerment is very close to my heart.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What do you want to accomplish for the state in coming years?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I want Odisha to have a globally competitive skilled workforce spearheading industrial development and growth in the service sector. [I want] our people to have a high quality of life—an empowered and spirited Odisha claiming her place under the sun. That is a work in progress.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ When you first took office, Odisha had just been hit by the super cyclone of 1999. The state is now a role model in disaster management. What are you doing that other states aren't?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We ensured that “every life is precious” is the core of our disaster management strategy. We put in place community-led systems that became global benchmarks and were praised by the UN as well. Odisha is one of the most disaster-prone states and we are always alert to tackle any type of disaster.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Disaster management aside, the state has an impressive welfare record, particularly about women's empowerment, and is also now paddy-surplus. How did all this come about?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Years of hard work and focused monitoring have led to the results you see today across Odisha. For us, the empowerment of the people is the primary focus and not just the welfare schemes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ How do you ensure productivity and performance from your ministers and bureaucrats?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Our entire state government team is focused on transforming the state in all sectors. The 5T principles (teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation and time limit) and Mo Sarkar (direct feedback from the public) initiatives of close monitoring are creating a very positive impact.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Odisha has hosted a hockey World Cup and has become a hub for the sport. How is your government incentivising sportspersons?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are fully supporting sportspersons to achieve their dreams and emerge as role models in society. However, for us, sports is not just about events or medals; it is about the future of our youth and the future of our society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Some states hard sell their development models, be it Gujarat or Delhi. Is there an Odisha model that the country should know about?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I think our work speaks for itself. And people know about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a heated debate on the issue of freebies versus welfarism. Do you agree that there should be a cap on freebies? Or should the states be free to decide?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do not think there should be any cap or limits. It should be left to the wisdom of democratically elected state governments. Whatever needs to be done to empower citizens and improve the lives of people is a primary responsibility of every government.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are your views on holding a caste census?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We have already constituted a commission under the chairmanship of a retired high court judge and are waiting for its recommendation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ A key feature of your tenure has been communal harmony in the state. Do you agree with the opposition charge that intolerance has grown in the country?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are duty-bound to follow the principles of our Constitution. India is a vast and diverse country. If we aspire to be a global power, there has to be social harmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Your counterparts in other regional parties are trying to expand their footprint outside their states. Why has the Biju Janata Dal not tried to do so?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJD is a regional party with a clear focus on empowering the people of Odisha. We do not have any other ambitions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have supported the NDA on key issues, but the BJP is your opponent in Odisha.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Governance and politics are two separate things. We do not mix up these two. Whatever we do will be for the development of the state and in the larger interest of the country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Opposition parties are making an attempt at unity ahead of the 2024 general elections. Has anyone approached you? If the opposition proposes your name as its prime minister candidate, would you accept?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have made it clear time and again that I am quite happy serving the people of Odisha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ As you were an “accidental” politician, do you think you have missed out on some other life?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Not at all. I have not missed out on anything. Serving the people of Odisha has been a lifetime opportunity for me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ If given a choice again, would you still choose politics?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Absolutely. Politics is not a job for me; it is a spiritual journey. I have been blessed by Lord Jagannatha and the people of Odisha to continue to serve.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ You have made only two foreign visits as chief minister, and are not seen travelling within the country. Is that a conscious decision?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I do undertake travel, if it benefits my state and my people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is your typical day like? How do you unwind? Which is the last film you enjoyed?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I follow a simple lifestyle. I do spend time on exercising. I eat in limited portions and it is usually Odia food, which is a healthy cuisine. I enjoy reading books, especially on history and politics.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Have you thought about how many more elections you will contest?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ I have been blessed by the people of Odisha for more than two decades. With every election, our party won more votes. As I said, it is a continuous spiritual journey for me, in the service of the people of Odisha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ There is a big question mark on who will handle the BJD after you. Is there a succession plan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The BJD is a vibrant political party with strong democratic values. It enjoys the confidence of the people of Odisha. The party has definite plans and it will serve the people affectionately for a long time to come.</p> Sun Oct 02 11:39:10 IST 2022 how-the-enigmatic-naveen-patnaik-changed-odisha <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Naveen Patnaik has a penchant for history, and he is intent on making his stay in power historic. In his 25th year in politics—of which 22 have been as chief minister—Patnaik has developed an overarching presence in Odisha. He has run the state with a group of handpicked bureaucrats and leaders, which his critics say is a coterie that helps him keep an iron grip on Odisha. It also ensures that there is no alternative to him, within and outside the party, yet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Under Patnaik, Odisha has gone from starvation deaths to food security, and from being at the mercy of nature to becoming a role model in disaster management. “I have seen his career development. He is very methodical,” said party MP Pinaki Misra. “He is like a chess player, he knows how to move pieces at the right time. Like a grandmaster, he can play several players at a time, tailoring his moves for each one of them.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What has helped Patnaik retain his electoral edge is that he has confined himself to Odisha, shunning national ambitions and a desire to influence Delhi politics. “We are guided by Odisha’s interests; whoever can give the state the best deal, we will support them,” said Patnaik, signalling his equidistance from both the BJP and the opposition grouping ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik, now 75, continues to be an enigma to the outside world. Until 50, he had a non-conformist lifestyle. He ran a boutique, Psychedelhi, from Delhi’s Oberoi Hotel, and hobnobbed with the rich and the mighty. He stayed in his family bungalow on tony Aurangzeb Road (now A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Road), in which he still has a 50 per cent share, valued at Rs43 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Everything changed after his father, former Odisha chief minister Biju Patnaik, died in 1997. On then prime minister I.K. Gujral’s instance, he agreed to contest from his father’s seat, Aska. The victory was a turning point in his life.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since then, Patnaik has been, at least in the public eye, a kurta-pyjama-wearing spartan. His two offices—one at the state secretariat and the other at home—give a glimpse into his personality.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At home, which he inherited from his parents and of which he owns a one-third share valued at over Rs9 crore, a new office was built for him during the pandemic. At the secretariat, his wooden chair has survived with torn leather for years. The room is full of books on culture, history, politics and policy. The cabinet meeting room has also resisted change. Only the broken tiles have been replaced, creating a colour mismatch hard to miss. “We ask him to get the chair changed, or even the cabinet room refurbished, but he refuses every time,” said a bureaucrat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik once had an official Maruti Esteem that he used for years despite its poor condition. “Being over six-foot tall, it was a problem for him to get into the car, yet he refused to change it,” recalled a close aide. “Until, one day, it stalled in the rain. But, instead of going for an SUV, he insisted on an equivalent model. Hence, new Maruti Suzuki SX4s were bought.” As for his personal collection, Patnaik owns a 1980 Ambassador, now valued at 06,434.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“He always had a spartan streak,” says Misra, who has known Patnaik since the 1990s, when they met at social dinners in Delhi. “The fact that he travelled and knew rich celebrities did not mean that he partook of that life. Mahatma Gandhi did not give up [his comforts] overnight; he did it over 20 years. He (Patnaik) did it overnight in 1997. He is as well-adjusted with the poor as he is with royalty.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though Patnaik might be a man of few words, what with his basic Odia and his clipped English accent, his empathy took him and his politics to the grassroots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said R. Balakrishnan, a retired IAS officer and Patnaik’s chief adviser: “The state existed at the periphery earlier, and was ignored. No major company or PSU had its headquarters here. Politically, neighbouring states were powerful. But the way progress has been made, it is like the periphery is becoming the centre. Look at the hockey World Cup, temple restoration and many role-model policy initiatives. The state is no longer trying to survive; it has broken all stereotypes associated with it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Some of Patnaik’s supporters call him an outlier in the current political landscape. “His politics is built around good governance and clean politics,” said the BJD’s Rajya Sabha member Sasmit Patra. “His speeches are hardly five to 10 minutes, unlike other leaders who speak for hours. He never attacks his opponents. He never talks about caste, creed or religion. He is the same as he was 25 years ago. The teflon coating he has is his service to the people. He has turned around the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most successful measures the Patnaik government took was creating and supporting women’s self-help groups. Usha Manipadhiary, who heads a self-help group in Balasore, said: “My husband had gone down the spiritual path and I had nothing to fall back upon. When the self-help group was set up with the government’s assistance, it created an identity for me. I brought in more women to the group and helped others deal with their crises.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>These groups have given Naveen babu or Naveen baba—as he is sometimes called—a dedicated following and a captive vote bank. “I will continue to support him till I die,” said an emotional Usha.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A new initiative that is winning Patnaik many admirers is a health scheme—Biju Swasthya Kalyan Yojana—wherein beneficiaries get Rs5 lakh (men) and Rs10 lakh (women) pre-loaded in cards. It reportedly covers 96.5 lakh families. One among them is Lakshidhar Pati, a 66-year-old mason from Puri, who was brought to Bhubaneswar’s Care Hospital with chest pain. His artery was blocked and he was given a stent. “First I went to a local dispensary in Puri, which referred me to the Bhubaneswar hospital,” he said. “Once I was here, it was easy.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pati was lucky to get treatment on time. Some other beneficiaries THE WEEK spoke to said there was still some confusion as sometimes the hospitals turned them away. Officials conceded that there were some teething problems that were being addressed. One year into the scheme’s inception, more than 2.6 lakh people have availed of the services; the government has received claims worth over Rs1,000 crore.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik knows that it is not just the schemes, but the followup that matters. His private secretary, V.K. Pandian, said that under the ‘Mo Sarkar’ initiative, all officers, ministers, and sometimes even the chief minister call up beneficiaries to get feedback. Some are taken aback; most express their satisfaction. “Sometimes we do get negative feedback about a particular branch or an official,” said Pandian. “Then we get more feedback on that particular unit or person. If it is serious, action is taken.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian has been with Patnaik for more than a decade. Apparently, the chief minister first noticed him during a meeting of collectors in 2006, when Pandian raised the issue of the state government not doing enough for sportspersons. At the time, Odisha’s dietary stipend to sportspersons was half of what the Sports Authority of India was giving. Patnaik immediately took up the suggestion, saying that the government could build one bridge fewer, but had to give its athletes the same amount for food.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the same meeting, he instantly approved another idea about giving sanitary napkins to girls. It is this promptness in approving and implementing ideas, along with his eye to spot talent, that has held Patnaik in good stead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Pandian also helms a one-of-its-kind policy initiative. Under the 5T (teamwork, technology, transparency, transformation and time limit) programme, the performance of government officials and projects is judged on these five factors. “Every department is given targets and a time limit,” said Pandian. “They are asked what transformation they can bring. It is not just progress; transformation is the key.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With Odisha improving in basic parameters, the government now has to serve a generation that has not seen penury. The millennials are aspirational, and could pose a challenge to Patnaik’s appeal in the long run. To engage with this new class of voters, the state has made a conscious shift in the past five years. The focus is now on projects like holding the Hockey World Cup in 2023 (Odisha hosted the 2018 edition as well), building a heritage corridor around the Shree Jagannatha Temple, turning government schools into smart schools and implementing the new health scheme.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In one of the government schools THE WEEK visited, in Pipili, teachers were playing YouTube videos on smart TVs. “Since we built smart classrooms, our enrolment has increased,” said headmaster Pitabas Sethi. “Even students from private schools are joining us.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik’s close aides say that to understand him, one has to understand his emotions, which are based in empathy. Balakrishnan, who had also worked with Biju Patnaik, recalled how Naveen, from his early days in power, had always insisted on taking schemes to the last person in the queue. “Once we were travelling in a remote area, and a pregnant women, also a widow, came in front of the car,” he said. “She needed help. Naveen was so moved that he kept enquiring whether help had reached her. This empathy was also visible during Covid-19, when Odisha was the only state where no migrant walked.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the last financial year, Odisha became one of the fastest-growing states in the country. According to government figures, it registered 10.1 per cent growth against India’s growth rate of 8.8 per cent as per the first advance estimates. The state’s per capita income of 048,499 in 2011-12 reached 01,27,383 in 2021-22. The industry sector, whose share was only 17 per cent of the gross state value added (GSVA) in 1993-94, has jumped to 39.5 per cent in 2021-22.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Naveen babu started out at a difficult time,” said Misra. “The state budget then was Rs3,000 crore; now it is more than Rs2,30,000 crore. We are larger than Gujarat in terms of budget. Now we no longer hear stories of mango kernels being eaten in Kalahandi or children being sold for food. His food subsidy programme—01 for a kilo of rice—is being followed by all states. Today, Odia boys and girls are as well built as any children from other parts of the country.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The effective delivery of services and schemes has been made possible by an empowered bureaucracy. “It is a golden age of bureaucracy, as we are able to work freely without any pressure,” said a young bureaucrat.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This reliance on bureaucrats is often held against Patnaik. When he made the transfers and posting system transparent and moved it online, many politicians, including some within his own party, were miffed. They said a key feature of their engagement with the public had been taken away, making them powerless.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik had even faced a coup from his bureaucrat-turned-politician confidant Pyari Mohan Mohapatra in 2012. Patnaik was on his first visit abroad as chief minister, and had to cut it short to tackle the crisis. There has been no coup attempt since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat the follies of the past,” said Misra. “His interest in world history is very close to his heart. He learns from it.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Said Pranab Prakash Das, the BJD’s general secretary (organisation): “He conducts his own surveys and checks what the public thinks of the leaders. He never compromises on development, peace and harmony. He takes feedback from his political colleagues. He has zero tolerance for corruption and indiscipline. When it comes to people’s interest, no one is important.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Though the BJD has been winning elections, the immediate concern is the BJP’s growth. In the 2019 assembly elections, the BJP went from 10 to 23 seats and increased its vote share by over 14 per cent. In that year’s Lok Sabha elections, the party increased its vote share by 17 per cent to reach 38.4 per cent. The BJD won 42.8 per cent of the votes, but lost eight of its seats. The BJP won seven of those.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The national party recently appointed Sunil Bansal, who had earlier worked in Uttar Pradesh, as its Odisha in-charge. “It is a babu log sarkar (government run by bureaucrats),” said BJP state vice president Prabhati Parida. “The work that was happening when the BJP and the BJD were allies has stopped. They started programmes like 5T, which only made the bureaucrats powerful. Executive power has been reduced. The MLAs cannot monitor schemes and corruption is at its peak—the cut for the bureaucrats is 35 per cent.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP wants to win 120 of the 147 seats in the next assembly elections. “We won 23 seats, and we were second on 55 seats with a margin of less than 5,000 votes,” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJP thinks that Odisha, with its rich cultural heritage, could be a natural fit for its hindutva narrative. Apparently realising this, the BJD has taken a spiritual route, which includes the Shree Jagannatha Temple corridor project. Patnaik had parted ways with the BJP in 2009 after the horrific Kandhamal riots. He has maintained social harmony in the state since.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During his second visit abroad, in June, Patnaik reportedly became the first chief minister to get an audience with Pope Francis. He also visited the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and on his return attended the Puri Rath Yatra. “Every bone in his body is secular,” said Misra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Patnaik may be at odds with the state BJP, but he shares a good equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. He was the first chief minister to support Droupadi Murmu’s candidacy for president, and has supported most of the Centre’s legislations in Parliament. He has, however, blocked some Central schemes, like Ayushman Bharat, because he had his own.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The third force in the state is the Congress, which has set a target of 90 seats in the next elections. “He (Patnaik) has no vision,” said state Congress president Sarat Pattanayak. “After 25 years, he has not done anything for the people. He had assured two lakh jobs every year. By that claim, 44 lakh youth should have gotten jobs. About 1.34 lakh posts are vacant. No one can stay forever. Look at the communists [in West Bengal]. I am touring the state, and our main fight is with the BJD.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The BJD, however, rubbishes the talk of the opposition making gains. “People understand the language of Naveen’s work,” said Das. “He is good in delivering [on promises]. He stays equidistant and does what is best for the state.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>However, there is one key question that hangs in the air. Who after Patnaik? “We are not thinking about that,” said Misra. “He is fit to rule for more terms.”</p> Sun Oct 02 11:42:01 IST 2022 how-naveen-patnaik-government-made-odisha-a-hockey-hub <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>After a four-decade drought, India’s men stepped on to the Olympic hockey podium (bronze) in Tokyo last year; the women finished a hard-fought fourth. A good part of the credit goes to the Odisha government, which has been investing in hockey for some years now. The state had held the 2018 edition of the men’s World Cup, and will again play host next year. It is also building India’s biggest hockey stadium in Rourkela at a cost of Rs200 crore. The arena can hold 20,000 people and, along with the world-class Kalinga stadium, will be the two venues for the World Cup.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There was a time when we won gold medals (India last won the World Cup in 1975), and then came a time when we failed to even qualify [for the Olympics],” said Dilip Tirkey, former captain and the newly appointed Hockey India president. “We faced many hurdles. The kind of game the fans were looking for was not there. They went away. But the change is visible in the past seven-eight years. We are witnessing fit players and fans are increasing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tirkey is the first Olympian to helm Hockey India, and is also the chief of Odisha’s Hockey Promotion Council. His number one priority now is to make sure everything goes smoothly come World Cup time in January.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It was in 2018 that Naveen Patnaik—a hockey goalie during his days at the Doon School—offered to sponsor the men’s and women’s teams after a cash-strapped Sahara pulled out. The Odisha government inked a Rs120 crore deal with Hockey India. The deal ends in 2023, but Patnaik has signed a 10-year extension.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“People are now calling Odisha the hockey capital,” said Tirkey. “The craze for hockey has returned as the chief minister has supported the sponsorship and organised major events. He focused on three sectors—building infrastructure for all sports, organising world-class championships, and setting up several coaching centres.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tirkey was the India captain when he met Patnaik in 2003. “It was the first time I got a chance to sit beside him,” he said. “I suggested that there should be an AstroTurf in Bhubaneswar. He told me to give a written proposal. Within two months, Rs2 crore was sanctioned and the project was completed at Rs24 crore.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Odisha has had a longstanding relationship with hockey. The mineral-rich Sundargarh district, for instance, is also rich in hockey talent. The two villages of Lulkidihi and Saunamara have produced more national and international players than several states put together. At one point, the captains of both the men’s and women’s teams—Tirkey and Subhadra Pradhan—were from Saunamara.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“That Odisha is hosting the World Cup will particularly help young players in Sundargarh,” said Tirkey. His next target as Hockey India president is to find world-class drag flickers and goalkeepers. “We will set up four or five centres across the country and launch a programme to find these specialists,” he said. “Whoever wins the World Cup has good drag-flickers. India needs more.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Odisha has hired David John, the former high-performance director of Hockey India, as its director of hockey. It is also set to appoint coaches at the grassroots levels and lay AstroTurf at the block level. “Currently, sports infrastructure projects worth close to Rs2,000 crore are under way,” said an official. “The government more than doubled its sports budget by increasing it by Rs506 crore to Rs911 crore in the annual budget for 2022-23.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While the northern states of Punjab and Haryana have traditionally nurtured hockey, their eastern counterpart has become a contemporary champion of the sport. “Earlier we used to look at these states as they had facilities and better diet,” said Lucela Ekka, coach of the Odisha junior hockey team. “Now, we have the best [facilities].”</p> Sun Oct 02 11:37:01 IST 2022 explained-the-rs-3-200-crore-shree-jagannatha-temple-corridor-project <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The space around the Shree Jagannatha Temple is clearer than ever. As part of an ambitious heritage corridor project—the Shreemandira Parikrama Project—a 75m circle around the shrine has been cleared of buildings, and the holy site, with its 65m vimana, is now visible from far away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The congested lanes, where vendors, Pandas, beggars and devotees jostled for space, have breathing space now.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ever since he was sworn in for a record fifth-term as chief minister, Naveen Patnaik has shifted his focus to everything spiritual. This could be because he believes his people’s basic needs are met and wants to do more (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, say his confidants) or it could be a clever move to checkmate the BJP’s cultural politics. Last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the Kashi Vishwanath corridor in Varanasi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Odisha government has already revamped several other shrines, including the Lingaraj Temple in Bhubaneswar, but the scale of the Puri project makes it one of India’s biggest temple plans.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Rs3,200 crore project began in 2019 and is expected to be completed before the next Rath Yatra in June 2023. It involves 22 aspects including land acquisition, rehabilitation work, road improvement, building of cultural centres, revival of lakes and development of the cremation ground.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of the 75m circle, the first 50m will be a traffic-free zone for devotees, and will have landscaping, walkways and locker rooms. The next 25m will have light traffic for those living around the temple. “It will provide the pilgrims with a good experience and enhance Puri’s tourism potential across the world,” said Puri collector Samarth Verma.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The project has had some hiccups, too. People had protested the relocation, and the digging around the temple to lay sewer lines. They said it would endanger the structure, built in 1161. The Archaeological Survey of India had objections, too. However, the Supreme Court dismissed the PILs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The biggest concern of the people was that their families had lived around the temple for generations, and had woken up to the sight of fluttering temple flags from their windows,” said sub-collector Bhabataran Sahu. “It required a lot of counselling and cajoling to convince them to take the rehabilitation and resettlement. For shops to be relocated, we even paid salaries to those they employed.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In all, the state government acquired 15 acres, including land owned by several maths—the king (symbolic title) of Puri had allotted them the land. One of these is the Uttar Parswa Math, helmed by Mahant Narayan Ramanujandas. Now in his late 50s, he was brought here by his guru when he was two. “We supply curd every day for the daily ablutions of the deity,” he said. While he refused to reveal the exact amount his math received as compensation, he said his math, along with two other maths, gave five acres for the project. As these maths were old temples, they were allowed to remain.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Most of the demolition work is now over and construction is happening at a frenetic pace. Shiba Mohapatra, a fourth-generation tailor, said, “Every flag hoisted at the temple is made by us. We have shifted from cotton to satin flags as they are lighter. We will be moved away from the temple and there might be loss of work, but we are happy with the package.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to government figures, Rs372 crore has been paid in compensation to 115 families, 512 shop owners, 24 lodges, 17 maths and some encroachers and street vendors.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The state has reportedly gone above and beyond the compensation mentioned in the 2013 Land Acquisition Act. For example, a person who would have gotten Rs1.5 lakh as compensation for his house (according to the Act) was given up to Rs30 lakh as a one-time payment.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In support of the project, officials cited the Justice B.P. Das commission’s interim report of 2017, which suggested that the security around the temple be increased in view of terror threats, and a proper plan be implemented to prevent frequent stampedes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To undertake such a project, the centuries-old temple town needed the political heft of a chief minister who has ruled for 22 years. In the end, not only would the redevelopment give India a clean, world-class destination, but it would also add a lot to Patnaik’s growing legacy.</p> Sun Oct 02 11:35:07 IST 2022 how-the-internet-is-changing-us <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>In 1850, a French man, Jules Allix, published a paper about a remarkable invention that would facilitate “universal and instantaneous communication of thought, at any distance whatsoever”. The invention consisted of two unconnected portable boxes containing metal troughs. And in each of these troughs, a snail. It was based on the premise that two snails that have copulated remain mysteriously bonded throughout their lives through an invisible escargotic fluid.</p> <p>So, this is how the invention works: When one of the snails in the box, which has copulated with the one in the other box, is manipulated, it causes its partner to move. By manipulating snails in numerous boxes corresponding to the French alphabet, one could relay messages from snails in one set of boxes to their partners in the other set, no matter what the distance between the two sets of boxes was.</p> <p>Allix promised that, with this device, “all men will be able to correspond instantaneously with one another, at whatsoever distance they are placed, man to man, or several men simultaneously, at every corner of the world, and this without recourse to the conductive wires of electrical communication, but with the sole aid of what is basically a portable machine.”</p> <p>In short, Allix was proposing an internet of snails. The idea did not work, but it underscored spectacularly how innate was our need for interconnectivity, and how far back that need was present. When the internet as we know it came into being, the world finally became networked in the way that Allix had always dreamed of; it was interconnectivity on steroids. The dream was that unhindered communication would turn us into one community. On the internet, there would be no caste or class distinctions. There would be no rich or poor, quiet or garrulous, intelligent or stupid, strong or weak…. You could wipe the slate clean and start all over, building a persona that need have little resemblance to who you were in the “outside” world.</p> <p>We should have known that such a utopia could never exist. When big tech started monetising the freedom on which the internet was built, there was a price to pay. “Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time,” said Mark Zuckerberg in his famous Georgetown address.</p> <p>Even as he offered the freedom of expression, the trade-off was the freedom of self-protection. Your data was harvested, your privacy compromised and your personhood reduced to an ad revenue model and an algorithm.</p> <p>In this package, we seek to document the monumental changes that the internet has brought into our lives. These are changes we all know about, but the more obvious something is, the more it tends to go unnoticed. If in one story, we ask an existential question (“Will you really be you in the metaverse?”) in another, we document the arc of societal change through something as elemental as the portrayal of sex on OTT. From the mental health of a social media influencer to what the emoticons we use tell about us, we track the manner in which the internet is in us, as much as we are in the internet.</p> <p>Those of us who have seen a time before the internet are soon becoming fossils. The world now belongs to the digital natives—those born and bred on the internet. They can never be weaned off it. It has reset their hardware and their software. All we can ask of them is to treat us with sympathy. We might not have watched BTS on YouTube, but we did listen to the Beatles on an archaic piece of technology known as a Walkman. And what John Lennon memorably sang could have been our dream for the internet: “Imagine all the people living for today… Imagine there’s no countries, nothing to kill or die for… Imagine no possessions, no need for greed or hunger, a brotherhood of man… I hope someday you’ll join us… and the world will live as one.” </p> Sun Sep 25 13:36:34 IST 2022 how-influencers-mental-health-is-impacted-by-social-media <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If exuberance on social media had a face to it, it would be that of Lilly Singh, Indo-Canadian comedian, influencer and TV personality. The queen of YouTube rules the platform with an iron hand of humour, which she deploys mercilessly at the dourest of her viewers; few emerge unscathed. Singh has a solution to all of life’s ills. Suppose your boyfriend’s reply to your ‘I love you’ is a dreaded ‘Thank you’. She recommends ‘bro-zoning him’; censoring the word ‘love’ every time he tries to use it; or making ‘I love you’ so common, the lucky recipients might include the local pizza delivery guy or that irritating chap who has been trying to sell you a cheap data plan. Statutory warning: Don’t watch the video while in office, or you might find yourself trying to smother a chuckle when your boss is going on about work-flow charts and quarterly reports<br> </p> <p>Many influencers would chop off their right hand and sell it on eBay to get the kind of following that Singh has. As though her charm was too potent to stay online, it spilled offline. She became the first queer woman of colour to host NBC’s <i>Late Night</i> show, sat on the panel of judges for <i>Canada’s Got Talent</i>, and became the <i>New York Times</i> best-selling author of <i>How To Be A Bawse</i> (2017) and <i>Be A Triangle</i> (2022).</p> <p>She vanquished her detractors ruthlessly, until she became her own worst enemy. In 2018, she announced that she would be going off social media after eight years for the sake of her mental health. “I am mentally, physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted,” she said. “The thing about YouTube is, in all of its glory, it kind of is a machine and it makes creators believe that we have to pump out content consistently even at the cost of our health and our life and our mental happiness.”</p> <p>The mistress of comedy had run out of laughs.</p> <p>What happened to Singh is not uncommon. According to a 2020 report by, a Norwegian influencer marketing platform, 47 per cent of the 350 global influencers surveyed admitted that their career choice had an impact on their mental health. Sixty-seven per cent felt that there was currently a negative stigma around the word ‘influencer’. Thirty-two per cent conceded that their work had a negative impact on their body image. The average age of an influencer was found to be 28 and the majority (77 per cent) were female.</p> <p>“When I started out more than a decade ago, there were only bloggers and vloggers, so you were working with either text or video,” says Scherezade Shroff, a popular content creator on YouTube. “Now, everyone has to do everything—stories, reels, short videos, long videos…. You are always creating, which can definitely take a toll on your mental health. Because I am older than most content creators out there, l don’t have that urge to constantly post everything on social media.”</p> <p>Shroff started modelling at 16, and has now over three lakh followers on YouTube. Her cheerful ‘Hi guys’ at the beginning of her videos can easily give you a much-appreciated dopamine spike. “Earlier, I never used to take a break,” she says. “I would create videos whether I was on a flight or was unwell. As the space grew, this became unsustainable. I realised I was putting undue pressure on myself. Now, I am comfortable taking breaks. Over time, you figure out your filters and find your balance.”</p> <p>According to Dr Manoj Kumar Sharma, professor of clinical psychology at the SHUT (Service for Healthy Use of Technology) clinic, NIMHANS, 5 to 6 per cent of social media users are in the addictive zone, 40 to 60 per cent are in the problematic zone and the rest are mild users with occasional excessive use which they are able to control. “Though social media addiction is not a clinical disorder yet, more research needs to be done on this,” he says. If the average consumer in the US spends 3.43 hours a day on their mobiles, the corresponding figure for a popular influencer would be 9.02 hours, states a study by eMarketer.</p> <p>People are generally under the impression that an influencer’s life is enviable, with free gifts, frequent travel and ample opportunity to rub shoulders with celebrities. The reality, however, is far less otherworldly. Being an influencer is a job like any other, says Malini Agarwal aka Miss Malini, a popular influencer, TV host, entrepreneur and author. “To become a successful influencer, you have to be passionate about what you do and find a gap, something that’s unique to you—content, voice or perspective—that no one else has,” she says. “And I think the strain and pressure to increase likes and followers can be overwhelming. All influencers face it, so it is important to find that work-life balance. Sometimes, it is really hard to live in the real and reel world at the same time.”</p> <p>So, while she jet-sets to London to attend Elite Magazine India’s Most Influential Awards, dazzles as a panelist at Colors Infinity’s <i>The Inventor Challenge</i>, shakes a leg at a boat party or looks stunning in red at a princess ball, it is easy to forget that her 100-watt smile needs constant recharging. There is nothing quite as effortful as looking effortless. </p> Sun Sep 25 13:35:47 IST 2022 research-shows-virtual-reality-can-increase-empathy <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Reality can be a real bummer. You have a hundred different problems to deal with in life, many of them simultaneously—from looming deadlines and societal expectations to cranky bosses and crankier exes. There is only one band-aid that can stem the flow of your disillusionment—escapism. For millennia, humans have been finding ways to escape reality, through books, movies, video games, virtual reality and now, through the metaverse. “People come to the Oasis because of all the things they can do. But they stay because of all the things they can be. They can be tall, beautiful, live-action, cartoon….,” says the protagonist, Wade, in Steven Spielberg’s <i>Ready Player One</i> (2018), about a dystopian world where people live inside a virtual simulation called the Oasis (much like what the metaverse could look like in future). “Best of all, in the Oasis, no one could tell that I was fat, that I had acne, or that I wore the same shabby clothes every week, bullies could not pelt me with spitballs, give me atomic wedgies, or pummel me by the bike rack after school. No one could even touch me. In here, I was safe.”</p> <p>Before you dismiss the Oasis as just a piece of sci-fi fabricated from someone’s hyperactive imagination, think of all the inventions that have actually been inspired by sci-fi—from the pacemaker, believed to have taken off from Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel, <i>Frankenstein</i>, to self-driving cars, which were first popularised by the <i>Knight Rider </i>series in 1982. And if the Oasis is a precursor to what the metaverse could become, then “atomic wedgies”, whatever they are, could be the least of our worries. There are bigger questions to consider: “Who is going to regulate the metaverse? How bad is the governmental or corporate surveillance going to be? Will the metaverse change our behaviour? Will we really be us in it?</p> <p>Scientists, sociologists, researchers and technocrats have wrestled with these questions for long. To demonstrate the power of an immersive technology like virtual reality to change our behaviour, the researcher Mel Slater conducted an experiment where subjects were asked to give a shock to a digital representation of a person every time that person incorrectly answered a question. (This was Slater’s spin on the famous Stanley Milgram experiment of the 1960s to understand why people approved and even actively took part in Nazi atrocities.) For each wrong answer, the voltage would be increased incrementally. Even after the subjects knew that they were shocking a computer programme, their physiological responses (sweating, biting their lips, groaning) were as though they were shocking a real person. “What to make of this strange result?” asks Jeremy Bailenson in his 2018 book on virtual reality, <i>Experience on Demand</i>. “When we consider that the subjects were made uncomfortable by the idea of administering fake electric shocks, what can we expect people will feel when they are engaging in all sorts of fantasy violence and mayhem in virtual reality?”</p> <p>Furthermore, Bailenson describes what is known as the ‘Proteus Effect’: When one wears an avatar, he implicitly becomes like that avatar. People in taller avatars negotiate more aggressively, people in attractive avatars speak more socially and people in older avatars care more about the distant future, he says. “Our research shows that you can indeed embody someone different from yourself in virtual reality and experience something from their perspective,” Bailenson tells THE WEEK. “We have conducted several research studies that have shown that VR can increase empathy and prosocial behaviour. As technology evolves, the simulations will only become more convincing.”</p> <p>In the metaverse where anything is possible—you can peer inside cells, go whale watching in the Pacific, get ringside tickets to the greatest sporting events, swing planets into the universe, play paintball on the clouds, become a dog or an axe-murderer—the repercussions on our behaviour might be explosive. The mingling of real and digital in powerfully potent ways could lead to chaos. How will the real co-exist in a world where everyone has several alter egos? How do we use the metaverse responsibly so that it only heightens the pleasures of the real world without eclipsing it completely?</p> <p>To answer that, one needs to address the elephant in the metaverse: Mark Zuckerberg’s fashion sense. Last October, when Zuckerberg introduced the rebranding of Facebook as Meta, he took us through a fascinating virtual tour of all that one could do in the metaverse—from experiential art to space travel. Yet, he did this in his trademark black jeans, white sneakers and navy T-shirt. “Really Zuck, you could have worn ANYTHING, and you chose this?” tweeted a disgruntled user, voicing the disappointment of dozens of Meta watchers out there. He could have worn fur, gold or metal. He could have gone for zombie gore or bohemian chic. Oh, the infinite possibilities…. Yet, he decided to dress as himself.</p> <p>Thus, inadvertently, he underscored an important principle of the metaverse. It works best when you use it to do the things you cannot do, not the things you can do differently. Use it to go on an epic adventure with the Avengers or to watch the world unfolding from the top of the Grand Canyon, not to change the way you dress in the real world, or what you eat for breakfast. What Bailenson says about virtual reality can be applicable to the metaverse as well: “If an experience is not impossible, dangerous, expensive or counterproductive, then you should seriously consider using a different medium—or even do it in the real world. Save VR for the special moments.” Reality is not such a bad place to be in, after all. As it says in <i>Ready Player One</i>, it is the only place where you can get a decent meal. </p> Sun Sep 25 13:34:49 IST 2022 why-sex-is-fast-losing-its-appeal-on-ott <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was the 1990s, and the impact of economic liberalisation was just being felt in India. Films like <i>Rangeela</i> shook the nation and songs on MTV swayed our senses. Coca-Cola ruled the roost, and A.R. Rahman crooned the classics. Sachin Tendulkar batted his way into our hearts, and whenever we had a break, we had a Kit Kat. Small things could thrill us— like the stick-on tattoos that came free with cheap Japanese bubble gums. Our sartorial fantasies were dictated by the fashion in <i>Friends</i>, which was more aspirational than a career as a nuclear scientist (as though we would ever be allowed to strut around in a mini-skirt). Pizza Hut and McDonalds made junk food look like haute cuisine. And then there was the onscreen sex…. Yeah right, you wish!</p> <p>Of course, there was no onscreen sex. Censorship took care of most of it, and our parents took care of the rest. If the hero so much as loosened his tie, the folks at home would immediately change the channel. But there were hints, of course…. Little clues about what came on after the tie came off. Not that there was any hardcore action. In most movies, just as the hero was about to kiss her, the heroine would daintily turn her face away. Her shyness was our buzz-kill. When she ran away, we were all forced to collectively exit the scene, because our love lives were pretty much pegged on the heroine’s libido, or the lack of it.</p> <p>“Baywatch was definitely an ‘officially’ risqué show for many during my childhood,” says film critic Rahul Desai. “It is the only one I remember watching for the swimsuits and the skin, like most other repressed and red-blooded kids in the country. We were happy to watch the sketching scene in <i>Titanic</i> over and over again. Sex was an aspirational and forbidden thing compared with now.”</p> <p>And then OTT came into the scene… and boom. Sex was on the table (and on the carpet, and against the wall) once again. With the lack of censorship on OTT, sex exploded onscreen. “OTT has allowed filmmakers to tell stories more authentically,” says Aastha Khanna, India’s first certified intimacy coordinator. “After all, intimacy is as much a part of the human experience as eating and drinking. It is also bringing about a change in society, where sex is being destigmatised. Viewers are consuming it potentially authentically as opposed to watching porn. Because there is no censorship, we can now tell a variety of stories and take up themes like sexual abuse and domestic violence. Outside of OTT, most of the content on films and TV are sterilised to a very great extent. Theatre-goers are just not happy with what is coming out.”</p> <p>OTT is also bringing more realism into the portrayal of sex, she says, citing how she watched her first kiss in the film, <i>Murder</i>. “I remember thinking to myself, ‘It can’t look this beautiful all the time.’ For the first time in my life when I kissed somebody, I thought it would be that perfect. But it was not.”</p> <p>There are all kinds of sex on OTT today. There is the sanitised version, like in shows like <i>House of Cards</i>, where coital bliss seems to be the last thing on the minds of the participants. There is voyeuristic sex, like in <i>Bridgerton</i>. Then there is sex for subjugation, like in <i>Game of Thrones</i>, which former cast member Ian McShane aptly described as a show of “tits and dragons”. Occasionally, there is sex that is primarily to advance the craft of storytelling, like in <i>Sacred Games</i> or <i>Mirzapur</i>. “Why do we have to show so much? There are actresses who are fighting to keep the sheet up. Why can’t that be ok? We grasp that sex is happening, but we don’t have to bare it all. Sex is still a sacred thing,” says Jenny Miller, a former actor, film expert and co-author of <i>Age of Atheria</i>.</p> <p>“Sex sells” has almost become a truism—a cheap slogan that mediocre filmmakers resort to when they don’t have a solid story to tell. Stats back this fact. In a survey which analysed the content rating of Netflix’s top 10 charts across five countries, including India, it was found that the average share of R-rated content was 54 per cent. Then there are, of course, OTT platforms that specifically cater to audiences looking for such content, like Fliz Movies, Ullu and Kooku. Fliz, for example, has over one million downloads on the Google Play Store.</p> <p>But sex is not going to sell like today in future, says Gautam Chintamani, film critic and author of <i>Pink—The Inside Story</i>. Viewers are getting so desensitised to it, that unless the film or series offers something more, they are not going to be satisfied. “Today, for every <i>Inside Edge</i>, there is a <i>Panchayat</i> or <i>Gullak</i>, where the sex is minimal, and the focus is on the story,” he says. “In the early days of television, you were happy to watch anything because it was liberating. Today, sex is so rampant on OTT that it is no longer the hook. I am not saying that sex will reduce drastically, but it is going to lose its ‘aha’ moment.”</p> <p>He says that the iconic “shampoo scene” in <i>Out of Africa</i>, where Robert Redford washes Meryl Streep’s hair, does more for him than much of the action on OTT. “A classical scene is far bolder than a graphic one,” he says.&nbsp;</p> Sun Sep 25 13:34:00 IST 2022 people-who-use-emojis-are-more-empathetic-finds-study <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>There is a popular story about the actor, Eleonora Duse. When Sarah Bernhardt, another great actor of her time, got to see Duse onstage, she was impressed, and sent a quick note backstage: “Sarah Bernhardt says Eleonora Duse is a great actress.” Busy changing costume for the next act, Duse did not have time for an elaborate reply. So, she took a pen, added two commas and sent the note back to Bernhardt. Now it read: Sarah Bernhardt, says Eleanora Duse, is a great actress.”</p> <p>That was the power of punctuation. And every wordsmith worth his dictionary knows about the panda who eats shoots and leaves. The all-powerful comma decided whether it was a trigger-happy panda or just a hungry one.</p> <p>In this age of emoticons, however, it is questionable whether the comma wields the same power. Today’s generation would just use a smiley face after the hungry panda and an angry one after the gun-wielding one. Semi-colons, commas and long-dashes are gasping for breath on mobile devices. If you are not emoticon-literate, you can get into a sea of trouble— literally. Like my aunt who wanted to post a prayerful emoticon on WhatsApp after hearing the news of an acquaintance’s demise. Unfortunately, instead of the devout ‘hands clasped together’ emoticon, she posted the ‘hands mirthfully clapping’ one. The relatives were stunned at this blatant display of enthusiasm at the death of their loved one.</p> <p>“Far from being some passing fad, emoji reflects, and thereby reveals, fundamental elements of communication; and in turn, this all shines a light on what it means to be human,” writes British linguist Vyvyan Evans in his book, <i>The Emoji Code</i>. According to him, emojis build on our evolutionary, deep-seated, species-specific impulse to cooperate. And they are further expanding the human potential to communicate.</p> <p>Although emojis became a standard on the Apple electronic keyboard in 2011, some might say that 2015 was the watershed year for them, writes Evans. That was the year that tennis star Andy Murray sent a pre-wedding message to his soon-to-be bride, Kim Sears, expressing his joy, nervousness and hopes for the day—entirely through emojis. That was also the year that the Australian minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, conducted the world’s first political interview only in emojis; it was posted on Buzzfeed. Asked to pick emojis for world leaders, she chose the ‘running man’ emoji for then Australian prime minister Tony Abbott and the ‘angry red face’ emoji for Russian president, Vladimir Putin. That was also the year that artist, designer and author Joe Hale translated the whole of Lewis Carroll’s <i>Alice in Wonderland</i> into emojis. By the end of 2015, the emoji held pride of place in the Oxford Dictionary, when it was named as its Word of the Year.</p> <p>So why are emojis so popular? One reason could be the widely-cited Poe’s law, which surmises that there is a high chance of digital text being wrongly interpreted in the absence of an emoji. “Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humour, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing,” states Poe’s law. In other words, there is nothing as dangerous as posting certain kinds of humour without an accompanying emoji. Professor Shailendra Mohan, a linguistics scholar and director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysuru, agrees. “Written language does not give you the same effect as sound,” he says. “The tone and intonation patterns, which help in conveying the meaning, are missing. Emojis can be used to give the feel of speech. They are thus better able to express your feelings.”</p> <p>In some ways, feels Kameswari Padmanabhan, a 35-year-old radiologist from Kochi, emojis are a reflection of the façade we present to the world. “Take the crying-with-laughter emoji,” she says. “Are we not exaggerating the emotion behind that emoji when we post it? There is some amount of fakery when we sit poker-faced and post a picture of us crying with laughter. In many ways, this faking of emotions is part of our culture, and emojis are just a reflection of it.”</p> <p>Interestingly, the emojis we use say a lot about us. According to a 2016 study published in <i>Computers in Human Behaviour</i>, people who use emojis tend to be more agreeable than those who don’t. They were also found to be more socially receptive and empathetic. Also, people who were more self-aware tended to use less sad emojis.</p> <p>And here’s a question for everyone who thinks using emojis is dumb: How’s your love life? Because, according to a survey by the dating site,, the more emojis a singleton uses, the more dates they get to go on, and consequently, the more sex they have. Fifty-four per cent of those who report using emojis regularly had sex, compared with 31 per cent of those that don’t. “In essence, it is not emoji use per se that gets you more dates,” says Evans. “Rather, emoji users are more effective communicators…. Their messages have more personality, and better convey the emotional intent of the text message. In turn, this leads to greater emotional resonance in the recipient.” Evans, however, is quick to warn that correlation does not entail causation. You cannot simply start using emojis in your text messages and expect to start being invited out on more dates, he says. Now, is there an emoji for ‘Damn the man and his logic’?&nbsp;</p> Sun Sep 25 13:33:04 IST 2022 why-our-culture-will-soon-prize-emotion-over-logic <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For centuries, Christmas had been an occasion to be celebrated among friends and family in close proximity. Santa Clauses and stockings filled with presents—both mythical—stories of red-nosed reindeer and relatives singing largely off-key versions of ‘Deck the Halls’ were all privileges to be enjoyed (or suffered) under one roof. Until Neil Papworth, a 22-year-old software programmer from the UK, arrived on the scene in 1992. Heroically, he sent the first-ever text message—“Merry Christmas”—to his colleague Richard Jarvis, who received it on his four-pound Orbitel cordless telephone. A year later, Nokia introduced the SMS feature on its handsets. Like long-range ballistic missiles, Christmas messages exploded across the world, distance no longer a bar.</p> <p>At first, text messages had a 160-character limit, which propelled the birth of ‘txt spk’, signified by the world domination of abbreviated phrases such as LOL and ROFL. Christmas might have gotten truncated to X-mas, but it still remained as expensive as ever, especially that first Christmas message, which was sold as a non-fungible token for £90,000 to an anonymous buyer last year.</p> <p>Thirty years after the first message, text has been dethroned as a medium of communication. Today, SMS is only good for receiving spam messages and OTPs for online purchases that you invariably end up regretting. Even in the larger context, we are moving into a post-text world online that is dominated by videos, memes, GIFs and reels. A world that is saturated with visual and auditory stimuli—from the glut of Instagram images to the ding of an incoming message or an email alert on your phone. You never realise the addictive power of that ‘ding’ more than when you itch for a red light while driving to check the message. Internet royalty used to be mostly concerned with text-based blogs and web pages; now it is podcasts, videos, memes and reels.</p> <p>This shift from text to multimedia has left its imprint on every aspect of our online lives. Take, for example, ed-tech. “Ed-tech has moved hugely from the traditional text-based approach to videos and other multimedia formats,” says Jibin C. Joseph, head, digital strategy at Virallens Advertising, who has been working in ed-tech for many years. “But this does not mean that all teachers are happy with this change. Their argument is that the traditional methods of teaching aid in visualising, while videos don’t do that. Take, for example, learning the concept of inertia in physics. You could teach that through a video of children travelling in a bus. When the bus stops, the children move forward. But for students to make that application of inertia across multiple functions, they need to visualise. Otherwise, they will be stuck to that one bus example.”</p> <p>Joseph says that the shift from text to multimedia primarily took place in India when data became cheaper. Otherwise, it was restricted to those who had broadband at home, which was the wealthier sections of society. To access multimedia you needed a good internet connection. But when Jio started selling data cheap, multimedia exploded. There was a further spike in usage during the pandemic.</p> <p>There are other behavioural changes, too, that this shift is triggering. It could, for example, promote a culture that prizes emotion over logic. Catchy slogans and short memes play to our sensibilities more than to our sense. The well-argued long-form piece is facing the noose. “For the digital advertiser, these new modes of communication provide a great platform to create subliminal messaging that promotes brand recall,” says Narayan Rajan, CEO of iVista, a digital solutions provider. “For example, I could just bombard you with the message that THE WEEK is India’s number one magazine. You are only picking up that one line. You don’t know where you saw it. If you saw an Amul hoarding at a particular place, you would remember where you saw it and what it said. That is not the case here. This is way more effective and much cheaper. People start believing the message without looking at the facts. Nobody is verifying it.”</p> <p>This kind of digital advertising also shortens our attention span. A catchy logo or brand name is designed to “prod the would-be attender ever onward from one monetisable object to the next,” writes Justin E.H. Smith in his book, <i>The Internet Is Not What You Think It Is</i>.</p> <p>But hold on a second. It might not yet be time to write a eulogy for the humble text message. According to new research, reaching out to people in our social circles through a text or an email might be more appreciated by the receiver than we think. “Across a series of preregistered experiments, we document a robust underestimation of how much people appreciated being reached out to,” stated the study published in the American Psychological Association’s <i>Journal of Personality and Social Psychology</i>. According to psychologist and author Marisa Franco, we keep from contacting friends and family because of the ‘liking gap’, or “the tendency to underestimate how well-liked we really are”. So, pick up your phone and text a loved one. Don’t wait for it to buzz. Be the ‘dinger’ rather than the ‘dingee’.&nbsp;</p> Sun Sep 25 13:31:37 IST 2022 bharat-jodo-yatra-congress-tries-to-find-strong-validation-for-rahul-gandhis-leadership <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Blisters on his feet, Youth Congress leader Satyam Thakur trails the Bharat Jodo Yatra contingent as it passes through Thiruvananthapuram. The 31-year-old said bringing up the rear of the yatra had its advantages. He can witness the enthusiasm of the people who have turned up to see the yatra sustain long after the vanguard has passed by.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What drives Thakur, district president of the Youth Congress in Palghar, Maharashtra, is the adrenaline rush of being a part of what is touted as the longest padyatra ever attempted in Indian politics. He has been to a hospital en route to get his feet bandaged, and revealed that the hospital authorities refused to accept any payment from him since he is a Bharat yatri. “Pain is a constant during the yatra. But there is also a feeling of pride and great responsibility,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Since I am right at the back and half an hour behind the lead yatris, I can see that the people are waiting to cheer the last padyatri. The local residents are offering us coconut water, fruits and tea. Seeing that some of us are limping because of the sores on our feet, we are being offered rides till the next stop, which we, of course, have declined,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur was a pilot in the US before he returned to his native village in Palghar and involved himself in public service. He said he had to be a part of the yatra since it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and that he wanted to be recognised for having walked with party leader Rahul Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Thakur is among 118 Bharat yatris, who along with Rahul, have embarked on the 3,570km-long Kanyakumari to Kashmir yatra on September 8. Most of them are young; the average age of the group is 38. Women comprise 30 per cent of the group. Some of the yatris are known faces, such as former student leader Kanhaiya Kumar or Pawan Khera, chairman of media and publicity of the All India Congress Committee. Some are in prominent backstage roles, such as Sandeep Singh, who is a key aide to Priyanka Gandhi Vadra. However, a majority of the participants are lesser known members of the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The josh is high,” said Samrat Keshari Jena, a 36-year-old Youth Congress leader and a municipal councillor from Kendrapara, Odisha. Jena could not care less that the phrase is closely associated with the ruling dispensation’s nationalistic claims. It was popularised by the movie Uri which was based on the surgical strikes across the border ordered by the Narendra Modi dispensation in 2016. For Jena, what is important is that it aptly describes the sentiment among the yatris and the response they have received so far.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“If you walk for even two or three days, you are bound to end up with body ache and blisters on your feet. But what is important is that I am getting to be a part of a historic yatra and I am walking with my leader,” Jena said. His family, however, feels that he will not last the entire distance and will return home soon. But Jena is sure that he is in for the long haul.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Ruby Khan, a 43-year-old leader from the minority department of the party in Rajasthan, called the sore spots on her feet “medals” that symbolised the struggle that she was a part of. “This is like another freedom struggle. We are fighting for our country under the leadership of another Gandhi,” said Khan, an activist and a writer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatris, who are literally giving their blood and sweat to the cause, will be on the road for around five months, walking across 12 states, acting as ambassadors of the ambitious initiative and getting recognised as Rahul’s brigade. What is common among them regardless of their disparate backgrounds is their unqualified faith in Rahul as their leader. It must be noted that the Bharat yatris were carefully selected from around 600 candidates after an interview conducted by senior party leaders Digvijaya Singh and Mukul Wasnik.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Dressed in white, carrying a khadi bag provided by the party, in which there is a water bottle, an umbrella and a pair of T-shirts, the yatris display a youthful optimism which the party hopes will sustain the long walk. They are joined by party members from the host state and the states that the yatra will not pass through. Their energy is matched by the robust mobilisation of support drummed up by local party units in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. Together, all of this is helping build the right momentum for the march in its initial stages and the perfect aura for Rahul, who is in the lead even though he insists that he is only a participant.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“For us in the Congress, this is a journey, this is an attempt at understanding what is going on, on the ground in India, and an attempt at undoing some of the damage that the BJP and the RSS have done,” Rahul told reporters after embarking on the yatra. He further said that it was a “powerful thing to do from a political and also a personal standpoint”, and that a few months down the line, he expected himself to be “a little wiser”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While it is true that Rahul has consistently been a voice opposed to the ideology of the BJP-RSS, the yatra holds far greater significance for him as a leader and for his beleaguered party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra has been undertaken at a time when the Congress is at its weakest and the leadership of the Gandhis, especially that of Rahul, is under question. Also, it is apparent that while the party has desisted from labelling it a Rahul show, it is indeed as much about finding a strong validation for his leadership as much as it is a desperate attempt to find an emotional connect between the Congress and the people. Yatras have been a regular occurrence in Indian politics, and many of them have resulted in electoral success for those who undertook them. And the Congress would be hoping that the Bharat Jodo Yatra would have a similar outcome.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The deliberations at the three-day Chintan Shivir of the Congress in Udaipur in May had culminated in the slogan ‘Bharat Jodo’. It was apparent that the call to unite India, inspired by noted Gandhian Subba Rao’s slogan, “Jodo, Jodo, Bharat Jodo”, was an effort to re-connect with the masses since it was unanimously concluded at the brainstorming session that the party had lost connect with the people at the grassroots.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra, which was earlier scheduled to begin on October 2, aims at bringing under the umbrella of the call for a united India bread and butter issues such as inflation and unemployment, the aspirations of the youth, the concerns of women, the fears of the marginalised and the perception that the BJP-led Centre has compromised the neutrality of institutions and investigating agencies, and has disregarded the values of federalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>If the youth brigade is powering the yatra, party veteran and Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot, old warhorse Digvijaya Singh, expert strategist Jairam Ramesh and Congress general secretary in charge of organisation K.C. Venugopal are among the seniors pitching in with their expertise. If Gehlot has provided the political firepower on the sidelines of the yatra, Digvijaya, with the experience of having undertaken a 3,300km-long Narmada Parikrama Yatra in 2017-18, is the yatra’s chief planner. Ramesh, who is Congress general secretary in charge of communications, has the challenge of making effective use of the media to amplify the impact of the yatra, while Venugopal has to ensure that the organisation shows up in full strength.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul, who is extremely fit for his 52 years, has walked fast. According to a senior leader, he wanted to cover 25km a day, while the yatra has been averaging around 20km. Dressed mostly in a white T-shirt and beige or black track pants, switching to the white kurta-pyjama politician kit occasionally, and wearing vibrant blue shoes, Rahul has presented a picture of a determined yatri.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The party hopes that the enthusiastic response in the Congress stronghold Kanyakumari and then in Kerala, where the party’s organisation is strong, will help Rahul come across as a leader having a connect with the people. The Wayanad MP’s pit stops at coconut water stalls and tea shops, visuals of him walking hand in hand with kids who have rushed to meet him from their football training or comforting and offering water to an elderly woman admirer or his interactions with citizens’ groups portray him as an empathetic leader.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Congress leaders reject the idea that the yatra is an exercise aimed at rebranding Rahul. But the unstated expectation of the party is that it will help deal with the image problem that hounds Rahul, that he is inconsistent, does not see campaigns through and is absent when the party is dealing with a major political issue.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is felt that if Rahul is on the road for the next five months and walks the entire course of the yatra, it will help him come across as a leader who is committed to the cause of the people. A key message being sought to be conveyed is that Rahul is not going anywhere.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“There is nothing wrong with focusing on the leader and the Gandhi family. What is wrong with talking about the family? The family has the highest credibility. It has held the party and the country together,” said S. Jothimani, MP from Karur, Tamil Nadu, about the BJP’s charge that the yatra was all about saving the Gandhi family.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The journey so far has been encouraging for the Congress, creating the right kind of energy before the yatra moves northwards. There is hope that the yatra will re-energise the organisation and provide party workers–demoralised by a series of electoral defeats–with a sense of purpose and direction. It is felt that if the leader is on the road, the party has to rise to the occasion and back him up.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We are determined that the yatra will be a huge success. It will create a new political culture and will strengthen the party organisation,” said Ramesh. “India needs a strong, vibrant Congress. And the yatra is like sanjivani (a magical herb) for the Congress.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After spending 18 days in Kerala, the yatra is scheduled to enter Karnataka on October 1. The Congress is involved in a direct fight with the BJP in Karnataka, which goes to the polls next year. The yatra will be in Karnataka for 21 days, the same duration that it will spend later in Rajasthan, another state which will have elections next year and where again the Congress’s main rival is the BJP.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra is scheduled to be in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh for 16 days each, and in Telangana for 13 days. The journey through Haryana is expected to take around 12 days, while Punjab is allotted 11 days. It will be in Uttar Pradesh for five days and in Delhi for two days. It will end in Jammu and Kashmir sometime in February, and the party would want the culmination to take place in Srinagar, but is not very hopeful of getting the permission of the administration to do so.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The yatra route has been a topic of much debate. The ruling CPI(M) in Kerala criticised the Congress for giving only two days for Uttar Pradesh after spending 18 days in Kerala, and asked whether this was the way the Congress intended to take on the BJP-RSS. Even within the party, questions have been asked as to why Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh, which go to polls later this year, have been left out, and why a politically significant state like Bihar is not on the route.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Congress said the yatra was always scheduled to be in Uttar Pradesh for five days and not two days, as claimed by the CPI(M). Party leaders insist that the route was not dictated by electoral considerations, and that it was not feasible to criss-cross the country and try and touch every state. Also, this particular route was chosen because it allowed for the journey to be made entirely on foot. Since it is a padyatra, other modes of travel cannot not be used. Chhattisgarh, which will also have assembly elections next year, was left out, said a party leader, because of the difficult terrain and also security considerations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Congress realises that it will not be easy, not just because of the rigours of being on the road for five months and the logistical challenge, but also because Rahul will be closely watched by his critics both inside and outside the party and by people at large.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Political opponents, especially the BJP, will be closely following the yatris’ progress, especially that of Rahul, and be ready with their attacks. This makes it imperative for Congress managers to be on their toes as the yatris trudge along.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Already, the BJP has ensured that there is a controversy a day, raking up issues such as the price of Rahul’s T-shirt and shoes, claiming that he and his fellow yatris will sleep in luxurious containers, or raising questions about his interaction with a controversial Christian pastor.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Also, the unrest within the party is all too evident. There is a constant stream of leaders leaving the Congress. On September 14, eight of its 11 MLAs in Goa led by senior leaders Digambar Kamat and Michael Lobo joined the BJP. Inner-party reform is another area of concern, with dissenting voices questioning the lack of forward movement. Questions have been raised about the process for electing the new president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The confusion with regard to the leadership issue continues, with Rahul remaining reluctant to make a comeback as party president despite leading the yatra. Thiruvananthapuram MP and prominent party leader Shashi Tharoor, who shared the frame with Rahul during his yatra through the Kerala capital, has been in the lead in raising questions about transparency in the election process. It is believed that Tharoor could throw his hat in the ring.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In such a grim backdrop, the walkathon is a desperate attempt by the Congress to reach out to the masses. While there is great enthusiasm and hope, there is also a nagging fear that if this also fails, what next.</p> Sun Sep 18 11:12:44 IST 2022 bharat-jodo-yatra-what-the-truck-mounted-shipping-containers-are-all-about <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is like a magic village that pops up on two acres every night and disappears in the morning, only to come up again on another site. Among the crucial elements of the Bharat Jodo Yatra entourage are the 60 truck-mounted shipping containers which provide sleeping spaces and other facilities for Rahul Gandhi and other yatris.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Each container is numbered. Containers one and two are for Rahul (he has two because of security reasons). His accommodation space has a bedroom and an attached bathroom. There is a small sofa and a table next to his cot. The windows have blue curtains, the bedspreads are white and the wall has a portrait of Mahatma Gandhi on a padyatra. The container also has a refrigerator and a water heater.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For other yatris, there are different categories of accommodation. There are 12-bedders, eight-bedders, four-bedders, double-bedders and single-bedders. Refrigerators are available in single and double-bedders. Sound-proof generators take care of power supply. Charging and locker facilities, too, are provided.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Only five of the multi-bedded containers have bathroom facilities; these are used by women yatris. There are also dedicated containers with toilet facilities. Laundry facilities are available at the campsite. The Bharat yatris carry six sets of clothes, and they can access laundry facilities once in three days.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One container has a conference room for private meetings. It has sofas and chairs, and a monitor for video conferences. One container is a clinic, with a doctor and assistants. At every campsite, a food tent is set up and meals are served to around 450 people. The kitchen team, which travels with the group, finish cooking before the yatris reach the campsite.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There is a dedicated team to set up and dismantle the sites. It takes five hours to set the site up, and half that time to dismantle it. There are around 250 logistics personnel and support staff, including cleaners, drivers, laundry workers and generator operators. Campsites are double-fenced and have restricted access. Watch towers are established at each site to ensure security. In addition, the sites are protected by respective state police forces and the Central Reserve Police Force.</p> Sun Sep 18 11:09:09 IST 2022 yatra-an-attempt-to-unite-people-against-modi-government-k-c-venugopal <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q\ What is the political significance of the Bharat Jodo Yatra?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ For the first time in the history of the country, a political party is undertaking a pan-India yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. Why are we conducting the yatra now? It is because of the prevailing environment in the country–the growing sentiment of hatred and divisiveness. It is high time an effort is made to unite the people of India and to listen to their concerns.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Should we look at the yatra from the prism of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ This is not an election yatra at all. Elections will come and go. But certainly, Congress workers and leaders across India are jubilant and energised. And the yatra will definitely help in re-energising the organisation. The Congress believes that in one way this is the biggest tool for rebuilding the organisation from the grassroots, which is going to be helpful in elections also.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Critics would say that this is another attempt at rebranding or relaunching Rahul Gandhi.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ In a democracy, we have to appreciate the words of our critics. We are not like the BJP. We welcome positive criticism. But this is not a rebranding exercise. The yatra has not been planned in such a way. This is clearly a sincere attempt by the Congress to unite the people of this country against the extremely undemocratic, fascist attitude of the Union government. Every day, the rich are becoming richer, and the poor are getting poorer. Caste-based and religion-based politics is thriving. The agencies which we considered neutral, like the CBI, the ED, the Income Tax Department and the Election Commission are working under the Centre’s pressure. Even courts are not spared and judges are openly saying they are not free. Can I put a question to you? Does the media have the freedom to write about what is happening in this country? Such is the atmosphere in the country, and the aim of the yatra is to highlight all these issues.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ While the party undertakes the yatra, voices of dissent can be heard in the party, for example, with regard to the neutrality of the process to elect the new party president.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It only depicts the democracy that exists within the Congress. Certain concerns were raised and they have been addressed as well.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ There is a lot of curiosity over whether Rahul Gandhi will take a break from the yatra to file his nomination for the Congress presidential election.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Rahul Gandhi has already said that he does not want to become Congress president. But finally the call has to be taken by him alone. I am not in a position to say anything. You must wait till September 24, when the nomination process will start.</p> Sun Sep 18 11:03:11 IST 2022 people-looking-at-congress-with-hope-kanhaiya-kumar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Q\ What has the experience on the yatra been like so far?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\There is a spontaneous outpouring of support. Everybody, including the elderly and the youth, has turned up to support us. This has made us think that people are looking at the Congress with hope. This is the biggest challenge for us, that the hope of the people should not diminish. We saw people lean out of their balconies and windows, making videos of the yatra. This is an interesting new shape that the digital media is giving to our democracy. Also, political programmes are mostly staged. But this is different. We are walking on the road, there is no barricade, no VIP culture.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What kind of response is Rahul Gandhi getting?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ All Bharat yatris are at the back of the yatra. Right in front is the team carrying the tricolour. Then, there are senior leaders from the states, accompanying Rahul Gandhi. When you bring up the rear, you can see that the enthusiasm does not wane even after the leaders have moved ahead.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Are you perceiving any change in the popular sentiment?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ The Congress has had the maximum impact on the country’s development, having been in power for so long. Today, it is in the opposition. But I feel that through the yatra, people will once again connect emotionally with the party.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Any worries about the hardship that you will have to endure during the 150-day yatra?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ None at all. I am wearing slippers on the yatra. When you are in a crowd, you are influenced by the energy of the crowd. The level of adrenaline is high. Alone, I may not have been able to walk so much.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ What kind of communication are you having with the people?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ It is more about listening and learning. The yatra encompasses the entire nation. The Bharat yatris come from different parts of the country. The sloganeering here is in a different language. So there is a lot for people like us who come from the Hindi belt to learn about the political culture of this region.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When we were brainstorming about the yatra, we discussed that mass connect is needed at a larger level because the masses are feeling that their issues are not being talked about either in the conventional media or on social media. The opposition, too, has felt constrained in taking up their issues since no discussion takes place in Parliament. And because of the manner in which resort politics is happening, the common person will lose faith in democracy. Already, politics is not considered a noble profession.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ Will the yatra help the Congress’s revival?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ This yatra is not like the rath yatras that we have seen, which were aimed at securing power. The primary concern is that truth has to be re-established and the faith of the common man in democracy, too, has to be re-established.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q\ The strength of the Congress seems to be depleting with the exit of leaders.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A\ Nothing happens with leaders quitting the party. Numbers are not provided by leaders. Numbers are provided by the people. Exercises such as the yatra will throw up new leaders. We will have to be patient. Those who are not willing to be a part of the long struggle are quitting. The only way to get the people on your side is to keep going to the people.</p> Sun Sep 18 11:02:03 IST 2022 yatra-not-purely-a-political-endeavour-digvijaya-singh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>At the Udaipur Chintan Shivir, Congress president Sonia Gandhi said that the Congress should take out a Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, keeping in mind the existing socio-economic conditions and politics of the country. She appointed me chairman of the group responsible for coordinating the yatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Along with the state, district and block coordinators appointed for the yatra, we surveyed six routes and finally chose the one which is being used now. We will be travelling 23km-26km a day, with the first session lasting from 7am to 10am. Every day from 2pm to 3:30pm, Rahul Gandhi will interact with representatives of citizens’ groups and civil society members on issues of public concern.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Since we are covering the entire length of the country, we have four categories of yatris. We have Bharat yatris who are walking from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. The second category is atithi yatris who are from those states not covered by the yatra. Then there are pradesh yatris who are from the host state. Due to constraints of accommodation, we have limited the number to 119 Bharat yatris and some atithi yatris. At the same time, around 45 people from the civil society, led by Yogendra Yadav, are walking with us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Prior to commencing the yatra, Rahul Gandhi visited the place where his late father, Rajiv Gandhi, was assassinated, and sought blessings. Ganesh Devy, an eminent civil society leader from Karnataka, presented seed bands to all Bharat yatris. It is an interesting concept–a rakhi with a seed, which can be planted. He also presented a wooden box with the Constitution, the national flag and photographs of Mahatma Gandhi and Babasaheb Ambedkar. These gifts will be handed over to the hosts at places where we stay overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The reason for the yatra is the division of the country on the basis of religion, caste and language. India belongs to everyone. We cannot progress because such divisions cause discontent, hatred and violence. This yatra would bridge the gap, and our slogan is ‘Nafrat Chodo, Bharat Jodo’ (leave hatred behind, bring India together).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We shall continue to spread this message of love, compassion, truth and non-violence throughout the country. The challenge for us is to propagate this idea in far-flung areas where the yatra is not passing through. And this will be done by our state units. Soil and water from the states not covered by the yatra will be used to plant trees along the yatra route. For example, in Kanyakumari, soil and water from the Andamans were used to plant trees. Also, while the yatra will help the Congress reconnect with people, it should not be looked at as a purely political endeavour. Let us not talk about politics in this noble idea and effort. The country comes first and politics later.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Singh heads the committee in charge of organising the Bharat Jodo Yatra.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AS TOLD TO SONI MISHRA.</b></p> Sun Sep 18 11:00:53 IST 2022 bharat-jodo-yatra-rahul-gandhis-reaction-to-marriage-proposal-and-other-snippets <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p><b>Strategic stop</b></p> <p>The first halt of the yatra was the 101-year-old S.M.S.M. Higher Secondary School in Kanyakumari. Mahatma Gandhi and C. Rajagopalachari visited the school during a trip to the erstwhile princely state of Travancore in 1937. That trip was to celebrate the implementation of the temple entry proclamation that lifted the ban on so-called “lower castes” entering temples. Rahul met dalit activists and a few students.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Meaningful message</b></p> <p>During an interaction with students at Dr G.R. Public School in Neyyattinkara, Kerala, a girl asked Rahul what his advice would be for youth who want to enter politics. After thinking for a moment, he answered: “Do not spread politics of hate. That is the way politics is done today. That is easy. Practise the politics of inclusion, compassion and love [which is harder].”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Travelling kitchen</b></p> <p>The yatris were served vegetarian food in Tamil Nadu. It was “80 per cent south Indian and 20 per cent north Indian”. The food and service team in the state had around 100 people working in three shifts, in three groups. Every day, they would dismantle and shift the kitchen. One of the proprietors of Sarva Shree, the catering company, said they had never done anything like this. Catering teams in other states better be ready for the daily grind.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The barefoot soldier</b></p> <p>Dinesh Sharma, 28, from Jind, Haryana, calls himself a “permanent yatri” for Rahul. He has attended all of Rahul’s major rallies and roadshows since 2011. At the yatra, he can be seen walking barefoot, waving the tricolour and wearing a saffron turban and a specially-designed kurta with the words “Rahul Gandhi The Warrior” printed on it. Sharma, a law graduate, has taken an oath: He will not use footwear till Rahul becomes prime minister.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The woke walkers</b></p> <p>There is an effort from the Bharat yatris to be conscious of the cultural and linguistic sensibilities of states. They greeted people using the Tamil word vanakkam during the Kanyakumari stretch and the Malayalam word namaskaram in Kerala. They raised slogans in Tamil and Malayalam, along with slogans in Hindi, and the Congress also released yatra anthems in Tamil and Malayalam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Channeling Bapu</b></p> <p>There are 119 Bharat yatris, who will accompany Rahul all the way to Kashmir. These yatris were given a three-hour training session by the Congress Sevadal, the party’s grassroots frontal organisation. They were told not to smoke, drink or complain about anything, including stay and food. They have also been advised to wear only white. It seems that walking behind Rahul Gandhi demands following in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Rahul reacts to ‘matchmaker’</b></p> <p>While Rahul interacted with a group of MGNREGA workers in Kanyakumari, a lady in her 50s, from Killiyoor panchayat, asked him whether he could marry a girl from her locality and become Tamil Nadu’s son-in-law, just like Sonia became India’s daughter-in-law. A Congress worker who was present, S. Mary Stella Bai, told THE WEEK: “Rahul ji smiled and said ‘Let’s see if the circumstances allow’.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Ground-level unity</b></p> <p>The Congress hopes to unite anti-BJP forces with the Bharat Jodo Yatra. Academic-turned activist Yogendra Yadav was one of the first people (excluding Congress leaders) to respond positively to the idea. And he is walking his talk. Yadav was spotted among the yatris in Kanyakumari and Kerala. He was also wearing a pair of ASICS shoes—the same brand used by Rahul Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Security matters</b></p> <p>The CRPF and state police forces have joint responsibility for security. Rahul, who has Z-plus security cover from the CRPF, walks amid a multi-layered security formation—state police in the outer rings and CRPF personnel in the inner ones.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kanyakumari, 500 to 700 policemen were deployed. Around a hundred of them were walking with the padyatra. Last year, during a Kerala visit, Rahul shocked security officers by jumping into the sea with fishermen in Kollam. “The leaders themselves can be a threat to their security at times,” a Kerala-based security officer told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The translator who didn't translate</b></p> <p>Rahul held a news conference at one halt in Kanyakumari. He was asked questions in Hindi, English and Tamil. Congress leader and Thiruvallur MP K. Jeyakumar translated the Tamil questions. After a particularly long question, Rahul said he should probably learn Tamil himself. Shortly thereafter, Jeyakumar seemed to forget that he had to translate and posed the question to Rahul in Tamil, setting off gales of laughter from the crowd.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Viral fever? Walk it off!</b></p> <p>K.C. Venugopal, Congress general secretary (organisation), was down with viral fever a week before his party started its ambitious yatra. Though he had not recovered fully, he could not show weakness when his party was trying to show strength. So, he walked. Unfortunately for him, Rahul is, apparently, a fast walker. “It is tough, but we are trying hard to match his pace,” Venugopal told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Passionate support</b></p> <p>Before the start of the inaugural public meeting at Kanyakumari, there was a spat between the police and young Congress workers who wished to have a seat closer to the dais. A few workers jumped the barricade and the police used force against the group’s leader. Eventually, senior leaders resolved the issue and the youngsters got their wish. The leadership can perhaps feel happy that it still has many “aspirational” youngsters in its fold.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wounded in action</b></p> <p>Kerala’s opposition leader V.D. Satheeshan was half-padyatri and half-vanyatri on September 12. He developed a painful blister and had to stop walking. He continued the rest of the day’s journey in a pickup van, which was being used as an announcement vehicle. Satheeshan had also missed a part of the yatra earlier in the day as he had to attend a special assembly session to elect the new speaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Love and a white lie</b></p> <p>The Bharat yatris would be away from their families for over five months. Vaibhav Walia, a young Congress leader from Uttarakhand, told THE WEEK that his mother was “very angry” that he would be away for so long. “‘You are going to miss Diwali and New Year,’ she told me. But I am sure she will come around,” said Walia. To console her, he said that he might come and visit in between the yatra. “But you know that I will not go,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Medical assistance</b></p> <p>A full-fledged medical team arranged by the All India Congress Committee is accompanying the yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir. In addition, medical teams are arranged by the state units and the state governments. In Kerala, for instance, the state government assigned five doctors to tend to medical emergencies during the padyatra.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>CPI(M), BJP, “on the same page”</b></p> <p>Though the overarching message of the yatra was unity, the Congress may have irked the CPI(M) when its leaders in Kerala arranged an interaction between Rahul and people protesting K-Rail—seen as a pet project of Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. The Congress’s idea is to treat the CPI(M)’s central and state leaderships as separate entities. “Kerala CPI(M) has a different kind of politics,” Venugopal said in response to a question by THE WEEK. “Congress is the principal enemy for both the CPI(M) and the BJP. So, they are on the same page. You can see that from what the CPI(M) is doing.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>(So many) small steps</b></p> <p>An average yatri walks over 34,000 steps a day. Every day, the yatris cover around 20km in two phases. The first phase (12km-14km) typically starts at 7am and is used for public outreach. During the break (10am-4pm), as other yatris rest, Rahul interacts with civil society organisations, activists and religious leaders. The second phase (6km-8km) starts at 4pm and is more aligned towards engaging with party workers.</p> Sun Sep 18 10:58:05 IST 2022 stalins-presence-shows-congress-dmk-likely-to-remain-close-allies <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On September 5, when Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin got his counterpart from Delhi, Arvind Kejriwal, to launch Pudumai Penn—a financial assistance scheme for poor girl students which is quite close to his heart—political circles were abuzz with rumours about possible changes in the alliance equations in the state. After all, the Delhi CM is a well-known critic of the Congress, the DMK’s most prominent ally. However, after seeing Kejriwal off, Stalin travelled to Kanyakumari to flag off Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra, putting an end to all speculation. The two leaders hugged each other and walked together to the Gandhi Mandapam in Kanyakumari for a prayer meeting before the yatra commenced.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rahul and Stalin are known to share a warm bond. At a public rally in Kanyakumari during the 2021 assembly elections, Stalin opened up about his friendship with Rahul. “Sometimes during our telephone conversations I call him ‘sir’ and he would immediately ask me to address him as brother,” said Stalin. The brotherhood was on full display at the launch of the yatra, sending a strong message to friends and foes that the Congress and the DMK would remain staunch allies.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The chief minister was gracious to accept our invitation and flag off the yatra. The Congress and the DMK are natural allies,” said Tamil Nadu Congress chief K.S. Alagiri. “Rahul Gandhi and Stalin are like Kamaraj and Karunanidhi for the cadres of the Congress and the DMK.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The DMK and the Congress have been allies since 2004, the longest such partnership in Tamil Nadu’s political history. While the two parties parted ways in 2014, they got back together again, after having realised the importance of staying together. While the Congress is not a force in Tamil Nadu to win an election on its own, it has a strong vote bank in certain pockets in south and west Tamil Nadu. Several Congress leaders pointed out that Rahul should have spent more time in Tamil Nadu as the four days allotted was not enough to enthuse cadres across the state.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin’s presence at the yatra is a part of his strategy to tell his detractors and supporters that the DMK’s anti-BJP credentials were intact. “A false narrative is being spread by our detractors and the chief minister is proving them wrong. We are with the Congress,” said DMK spokesperson Rajiv Gandhi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Although Stalin enjoys warm ties with regional satraps like West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, he knows that an alliance with the Congress helps him the most both in Tamil Nadu and in Delhi. “The Congress needs the DMK and the DMK needs the Congress at the national level. Stalin, more than any other leader, is aware of the equations,” said P. Ramajeyam, a political observer. Interestingly, during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Stalin called Rahul the prime ministerial candidate of the United Progressive Alliance even though the Congress chose not to do so. “The Congress did not win. But the move helped the DMK,” said Ramajeyam.</p> <p>The Congress, meanwhile, knows that being a part of the DMK alliance can help it hold together its vote base in the state. Sriperumbudur MLA K. Selvaperunthagai, who walked with Rahul for the yatra from Kanyakumari to the Kerala border, said, “The DMK, as always, is in full support of the Congress. I don’t think this will change at any point of time.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Stalin also offered all possible administrative help for the yatra. The government machinery, especially the transport and the home departments, worked in tandem with Congress leaders. “I am thankful to all government departments for quick approvals for various events related to the yatra,” said Kanyakumari MP Vijay Vasanth. Quick permission was given for allotting 265 buses to ferry Congress workers from across the state to Kanyakumari. The transport department facilitated talks with private bus owners to arrange the buses. The home department handled traffic diversions and security arrangements at Kanyakumari and Nagercoil.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the four days in Tamil Nadu, Rahul listened to activists and representatives from civil society groups and interacted with women from self-help groups. “The yatra will unite like-minded people,” said T. Ravidev, social media in-charge of the Congress in Puducherry. “The people of Tamil Nadu like Rahul Gandhi much more, compared with Narendra Modi.”</p> Sun Sep 18 10:55:20 IST 2022 i-am-a-muslim-but-inclined-towards-hinduism <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>I was born as a Muslim, and I am still a Muslim, but I follow Hinduism as well. I juggle well between both the religions. I was brought up in a locality full of Hindus. Even though I am from a conservative Muslim family, celebrating Vinayak Chaturthi and Diwali were like feast for us.<br> </p> <p>Today, I am inclined towards Hinduism than Islam. My husband never told me to convert my religion—even he enjoys Ramzan and Bakrid.<br> </p> <p>The Hindu God that I connect with the most is Lord Vinayak or Lord Ganesh. I call him ‘Viggie'. At my home you will find so many idols of Ganesh—even though we, as a family, are followers of Murugan.<br> </p> <p>My mother and I greet each other by saying ‘salaam walaekum’. It is not as if we have shunned Muslim practices. Both can co-exist. My children celebrate Eid and Diwali with the same vigour. In my family there are people who have married outside their religion and they did not force their spouses to convert. Two of my brothers are married to non-Muslims. One is married to an Indonesian Hindu and the other to a Christian.<br> </p> <p>There is by and large a lot of bonhomie between Hindus and Muslims in the country, it is only a select few that want to create tension.<br> <i><br> <b>She is an actor and a BJP leader. As told to Anirudha Karindalam.&nbsp;</b></i></p> Sun Sep 11 11:57:50 IST 2022 harmony-in-diversity <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The story of religiosity in India is not just the story of conflict, demolition or massacre. It is also the story of interfaith prayer, embracing another religion’s customs and rituals without shedding one’s own. Even as the dogmatic take extreme positions and incite intolerance, common people across the country live in harmony and brotherhood, in peaceful oneness.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They reflect, in various shades, the exalted tradition of enlightened teachers like Sankardev and Kabir, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Shirdi Sai Baba. This is but natural in a country that has seen Dara Shikoh translating the Upanishads into Persian; and in modern times, an ordinary Muslim of Chhattisgarh, Razzak Khan Tikari, performing the last rites of his Hindu friend Santosh Singh in 2015; and Chief Justice of India Uday Umesh Lalit doing humble service at the Baba ki Dargah in Nagpur. The custodian of the dargah was invited to the swearing-in of the chief justice this August.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Almost all pilgrims to the Ayyappa temple in Sabarimala, Kerala, also worship at a mosque dedicated to Vavar, a Muslim warrior, on the way. The Golden Temple in Amritsar, the holiest site for the Sikhs, attracts people of different religions every day. The Baha’i House of Worship, better known as Lotus Temple, in Delhi encourages people of all faith to participate in its prayer service several times a day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the following pages THE WEEK takes you through soul-stirring stories of interfaith worship from across the country.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:24:06 IST 2022 inculcate-mutual-respect-and-reverence-for-all-things-divine-sri-sri-ravi-shankar <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For thousands of years, India has stood as an example of peaceful coexistence of diverse religions and cultures. Pluralism is in its very DNA.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unlike many countries and cultures which succumbed to armed conquests and foreign ideologies, India’s intrinsic spiritual and cultural resilience has withstood the test of time. The non-dogmatic, non-exclusivist nature of its worldview imbued it with a power that influenced even those philosophies and traditions that travelled here from different parts of the world. While music is prohibited in Islam, in India, the Sufis adopted many principles from the devotional music tradition of Hinduism. The singing of Qawwali amongst the Sufis, for instance, is deeply influenced by the age-old kirtan tradition in India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Karnataka, there is the legend of the 19th century saint-poet Shishunala Sharif whose ancestors hailed from Afghanistan and settled in Haveri. Shishunala Sharif became a disciple of the Brahmin saint Govind Bhatta at a young age. He grew up to become a revered spiritual leader and his devotional songs (Tatwa Padaas) in local languages are very popular even today among people of all communities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Indian way of life has long respected saints and people of wisdom and devotion, no matter which tradition or background they come from. Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, Jains, Jews and Parsis have coexisted in this great land since time immemorial. Examples of interfaith prayers and people visiting one another’s places of worship abound. For hundreds of years, Muslims across Andhra Pradesh have flocked to the Sri Lakshmi Venkateswara Swamy Vari temple in Devuni Kadapa to offer prayers on the occasion of the Ugadi festival, the Telugu New Year.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Similarly in Kerala, Hindus visit and circumambulate the samadhi of the Muslim saint Vavar, before going to the Ayyappa Temple in Sabarimala, with the belief that Vavar is a good friend of Lord Ayyappa. Across the country, we find a large section of Hindus visiting various dargahs. Many pirs and fakirs of yore like Bulleh Shah are known to have spoken highly of the Vedas and the Vedantic philosophy.&nbsp;Bhai Mardana, hailing from a Muslim family, was Guru Nanak Dev’s best friend and his first disciple. The great saint Kabir Das continues to inspire people of all faiths to this day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The essence of religion is spirituality—the core values of compassion, caring and acceptance. When the truth and beauty of our spiritual essence is realised as a direct experience, the conceptual rigidities of religion dissolve, making way for the true blossoming of human consciousness and the evolution of a progressive society. Whether it is Basavana’s movement in Karnataka or the Bhakti wave in Maharashtra and other parts of India, numerous saints from all communities and strata have demonstrated how ritualism and fanaticism can be overcome by true devotion and spiritual elevation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The talk of righting the historical wrongs committed by one community against another keeps surfacing from time to time. One needs to approach this subject with sensitivity and common sense. There are people at every level of understanding and realisation. We cannot deny the fact of Mughal atrocities on the Hindus and the destruction of temples. But all this happened several centuries ago in a different social and political context. Inducing guilt in the present generation or alienating them for atrocities committed by barbaric leaders of the past will only create more division and damage the social fabric.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the same time, it is also unjustified to be in denial and distort history and project tyrants like Aurangzeb as pious and devout. No doubt, there are lessons to be learnt here. We need to ensure that such things do not happen again. But we also need to move on. Holding on to the wrongdoings of the past will lead to discord. When victims continue to dwell on the atrocities committed against them, they become mired in a cycle of self-pity and hatred. And if the perceived culprit is made to feel guilty again and again, they become hardened and justify their mistake or deny it altogether. The perpetuation of anger on one side and guilt on the other breaks down communication and creates mistrust and artificial walls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For religious harmony to prevail in a multifaith and multicultural society, we must inculcate mutual respect and reverence for all things divine, irrespective of their religious roots. One of the ways to do this is to introduce a broad-based education. Each individual, especially children, should be familiar with and appreciate all the other traditions and schools of knowledge in the world. The very goal of any religion is to enhance spirituality, to unite the hearts and minds of people with values that bring out the highest expression of life. This fundamental aspect of religion should be preserved rather than using it as a tool to create disharmony.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to focus on spiritual education because spirituality alone can root out destructive tendencies. Spiritual practices like meditation calm the mind and take one deep in their prayers, irrespective of what prayer one does or what religion one follows. Meditation, an integral part of Indian spirituality, enhances patience and understanding in people’s lives. It creates room for the ‘other’, and brings a certain calmness to embrace people who are different from you. Somewhere deep inside if one is fearful of the ‘other’, if one feels threatened, the person will become more aggressive towards the other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Religious harmony cannot be sustained if even a small pocket of people lives by the dictum, ‘my God is better than your God and if you worship my God, then you will go to heaven otherwise you may rot in hell.’ Trying to coerce or allure people to convert from one religion to another in the name of salvation, healing or material prosperity is corrupting the very purpose of religion itself. Often we see innocent rural people being tricked into believing that another God is better than theirs. Such activities are detrimental to a progressive society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We need to return to the values that form the essence of all traditions. Religion has three aspects: values, rituals and symbols. Moral and spiritual values are common to all traditions and the symbols and practices are what distinguish one tradition from another and give each of them its charm! The symbols and practices are like the banana peel, and the spiritual values, the banana. However, people seem to have thrown away the banana and are holding onto the peel.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Beyond the symbols and rituals, staying true to the spiritual essence and allowing harmony and oneness to flourish is the way forward.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:22:34 IST 2022 why-lord-ganesh-idols-are-installed-in-these-dargahs <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Towards the end of August, the Bairagdaar dargah was decked up to welcome a special guest—an idol of Lord Ganesh. There was a grand procession, which saw Hindus and Muslims in the area come together for 10 days of festivities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The town of Kurundwad, 11km from the Karnataka border in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, is untouched by the recent communal polarisation in Hubballi over installation of Ganesh idols in the Eidgah Maidan. In fact, at least five dargahs here have been installing Ganesh idols on their premises in a tradition that is at least 50 years old.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The town of 30,000 is an oasis of communal harmony. While neighbouring districts have had communal strife, Kurundwad has observed Ganesh Utsav and Muharram with equal fervour for years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Zameer Pathan, a member of the dargah’s organising committee: “In 1983, the people of Kurundwad celebrated Ganesh Utsav and Muharram on the same day (as the dates coincided) by installing the idol of Lord Ganesh inside the dargah. A joint celebration marked the festivities the following two years, too. Again, in 2018, 2019 and 2020, the festival dates coincided, and we installed the deities together and offered prayers for 10 days before the visarjan (immersion).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Radiating religious amity, a Muslim usually installs the Ganesh idol, and an elder of the community is chosen to perform the aarti. Likewise, during Muharram, a Lingayat youth is picked to carry the Pir (an icon decorated with colourful clothes symbolising the Pir is carried in a procession) to the dargah. The Muslim families take turns to sponsor the Ganesh idol, and the prasad—chonga (a sweet chapati) for Muharram and modak for Ganesh Utsav—are interchanged. The Muslims also apply a fragrant paste on their foreheads, much like their Hindu brethren.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>According to the locals, the Peshwa had given Kurundwad as jagir (land grant) to the Patwardhan family in the 18th century. The Patwardhan had encouraged his people to celebrate each other’s festivals, which is a tradition they still take pride in.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Ganesh idol is installed at Shelke, Dhepanpur, Kharkana and Kudekhan mosques, too, and all of them are at least a century old,” says Rafiq Usman Dabase, caretaker at the Kharkana dargah. “My father, Usman Chand Dabase, along with his friend Jamadar used to celebrate Ganesh Utsav. Today, the third generation continues the tradition, as the festivals bring communities together and inculcate a sense of brotherhood.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Vasant Salunkhe has been carrying the Pir during Muharram at the Kharkana dargah for the past eight years. “My father used to be associated with the festivities and now I volunteer to do the seva (service) each year,” he says. “When I am carrying the Pir, both Hindus and Muslims take my blessings. I visit the dargah every morning to pray, like I would visit the Datta Mandir, Hari Mandir or Vishnu Mandir. The Muslims celebrate Ganesh Utsav every year. That is the uniqueness of our town.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Says Saklen Jamadar, a flower merchant who decorates the Ganesh pandal: “I belong to the third generation that has kept these rituals intact. During the Ganesh Utsav, we hold a peace prayer at 5am every day and you can see youth from both communities doing the dua (prayer) fervently. The theme for the lighting is our tricolour.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At the Shelke dargah, people sing songs of devotion to Lord Ganesh, and Hindus and Muslims take turns to perform the aarti. Sunil Kharade, whose house is opposite the dargah, says, “The Ganesh Utsav was dull in the past two years because of the pandemic and the floods. This time, it is grand. The Pir being carried in a procession along with a band during Muharram is a spectacle.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kharade feels that communal hatred is meaningless in a world where everyone is interdependent. Pathan agrees. “God created man and woman, and society created different castes and communities,” he says. “They divided gods among themselves. Not just the Pir or Ganesh, but also Shivaji Maharaj and Dr Ambedkar. I believe God is one, and He belongs to everyone. Festivals are an occasion to come together and embrace each other as the devotion is the same. Like a bird that feeds on the grains offered at both a temple and a mosque, human beings should accept each other.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sharat Bhonsle, treasurer of the Shivaji Mandala, which installed a Ganesh idol at the Dhepanpur dargah, says the village firmly believes in the Sanskrit phrase ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam’ (the world is one family). “We celebrate Ganesh Utsav, Muharram, Datta Jayanti and Shiva Jayanti together,” he says. “We want to tell society that we can coexist despite our differences.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In a changing political landscape, however, there are people who frown on such practices. Some Muslims insist that the idol of Ganesh and the Pir be installed outside the mosque and in the “Muharram khanas” (an extended portion of the mosque housing a tomb of Sufi saint) as Islam prohibits idolatry. But the opposition is only from the Sunnis who worship neither the Pir nor Ganesh; most dargahs here belong to the Shias and namaz is not offered there.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the other side, there have been louder, more muscular celebrations of Ganesh Utsav, encouraging only Hindu participation.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The residents of Kurundwad just hope that they can continue their traditions and live in harmony.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:21:10 IST 2022 muslims-donate-land-for-temple-in-madhya-pradesh <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>For over 80 years, an abandoned old Krishna temple, a typical example of exquisite Bundeli architecture, has stood forlorn on 1.5 acres of weed-grown land at Mamon village on the outskirts of Tikamgarh, 300km from Bhopal. In February this year, the temple became a symbol of religious harmony and social amity.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Cousins and real estate business partners Tipu Khan and Farid Khan, who had purchased the land last year, decided to donate 10,000 square feet of land around the temple so that it could be renovated and re-consecrated.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The decision came as a pleasant surprise for the local Hindus; the donated land is worth at least Rs50 lakh at market rates. The cousins also built a boundary wall around the donated land, spending Rs3 lakh from their own pocket.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Hindus then conducted a recitation of the Sunder Kand of the Ramayan at the abandoned temple and raised Rs25 lakh on the spot for the renovation, to be done by the archaeology department. Tipu Khan, too, participated in the event. “The land lies bang opposite the well-known Shani Dev temple of Tikamgarh,” Tipu Khan, 32, said, “and we felt the beautiful temple should come alive again. We realised that 1,500 square feet of land on which it stands would not be enough for grand religious gatherings. So we decided to donate 10,000 square feet of additional land for the purpose.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Farid Khan, 40, said, Tikamgarh is known for its close-knit social and communal fabric. “We understand the sentiments of our Hindu brethren without their having to tell us,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The land belonged to the family of Kamlesh Richharia, 62, who has kept the idols in his home. “I had to sell the land for the cancer treatment of one of my grandchildren,” he said. “If some Hindus had purchased the land, they might not have donated such a large piece for the renovation of the temple. What Tipu and Farid have done will always be remembered.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the temple had been abandoned perhaps because the Mamon settlement had moved a kilometre away from it. He said the Khans gave up an additional 1,000 square feet of land at the other end of the plot where memorials of his ancestors stood. This portion was worth Rs5 lakh.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tipu and Farid said they would soon hand over a legal daan-patra (gift deed) to the district collector, Subhash Kumar Dwivedi. “This is a real example of religious harmony in Tikamgarh district, which has always been a peaceful area,” said Dwivedi. The cousins have the full support of their community, too. Abdul Gaffar, a family friend who was recently elected chairman of Tikamgarh municipal council, said, “Tipu and Farid have demonstrated the spirit of Tikamgarh. We have inherited a strong composite culture from our ancestors. We will strengthen it further.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Mukesh Tiwari, an office bearer of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, is equally appreciative of the Khans. “We have become their associates for the good work they have initiated,” said Tiwari. “It will be really great to have this temple renovated as a true symbol of communal amity.”</p> Sun Sep 11 12:19:24 IST 2022 how-ajmer-sharif-dargah-empowers-seekers-of-all-hues <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It is a glorious morning at Ajmer Sharif Dargah, the final resting place of the Sufi saint Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who lived in the 12th-13th century. A local television reporter, who claims to be associated with the Chishti clan, holds his mic in front of a mother and daughter from Ahmedabad waiting in the dazzling white courtyard.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Now tell me,” insists the reporter. “You have come all the way here. Has anyone here given you reason for grief? Stolen your money? Hit you or bullied you or teased you?” The daughter, Nishtha Modi, shakes her head and professes her sense of sukoon (peace) after reaching the dargah. The reporter now faces the camera. “Yahaan koi Hindu Musalman nahi hai, sirf insaniyat hai (No one is identified as a Hindu or Muslim here. There is only humanity).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sufi saints had a major role to play in the journey of Islam in south Asia, and their dargahs have brought people of all faiths together. There are four main Sufi silsilahs (orders or denominations)—Chishtia, Qadiria, Suhrawardia and Naqshbandia. The Chishtia order is the most popular on the Indian subcontinent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti, who was born in Persia, travelled far and wide before meeting his spiritual master, Khwaja Usman Harooni. As his khalifa (disciple), Chishti roamed through Iraq, Syria, Iran and Afghanistan before coming to Ajmer around 1190. He settled there for life and established the Chishti order.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shrine of his tomb in Ajmer (he died in 1236) became the parent dargah of the Chishtia silsilah. In the paper Origin and Evolution of Chishti Dargahs in South Asia, authors Atia Rabbi Nizami and Mumtaz Khan write about 172 shrines of Chishtia dargahs they found across South Asia.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>More importantly, they write about why the Chishtia silsilah found wide acceptance in India. “The success of a silsilah largely depends on the Sheikh’s ability to adjust and adapt in the mental and emotional milieu of the people of a particular region,” reads the paper. “The reason behind the Chishti success in the country was the same. They understood the Indian condition and the religious aspirations of the people. They adopted many Hindu customs and Buddhist practices like bowing before the Sheikh, presenting water to the visitors, circulating zanbil (a basket of palm leaves to collect food), shaving the head of new entrants to the mystic circle, audition parties (sama), and the chillah-i-makus (a practice believed to have been adapted from the sadhus).”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>They note that the establishment of a dargah in a particular place was never dependent on the strength of the Muslim population settled there. “Sufis never tried to settle in Muslim-dominated areas,” reads the paper. “In fact, it is because of them that a large number of persons became Muslims. Moreover, the modern states of Rajasthan and Gujarat also have a sizeable number of dargahs.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Ajmer Sharif dargah is considered one of the holiest places in the world. Hundreds of thousands of devotees jostle to seek blessings at the tomb and ask for fulfilment of their ardent wishes by tying a sacred thread, offering a chadar (blanket) and a basket of rose petals.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Emperor Akbar is believed to have walked barefoot from Agra to pray for his son, Jahangir, at the dargah. Subsequently he became a frequent visitor. The Mughals patronised the dargah and Sufism. The tomb of Chimni Begum, the daughter of Shah Jahan, is also there in the dargah. The hauz, or the open water chamber, in the middle of the marble courtyard was a gift from Queen Victoria.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In 2001, Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf missed his date with the dargah when Kashmir talks broke down. He cancelled his programmes and returned to Pakistan, sparking the famous saying, “Wahi Ajmer jaate hai, jinhe Khwaja bulaate hai (Only those whom the Khwaja calls can come to Ajmer).” He made it to the dargah in 2005.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This February, Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Presented the chadar which shall be offered at the Ajmer Sharif dargah on the urs of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In June, a few khadims (clerics) raised provocative slogans outside the dargah after a political leader made some remarks about the Prophet. “There are some 4,000 khadims (collectively known as the Anjuman) in the dargah. We don’t know how some of them were led astray and made those controversial statements. The Anjuman is not an authority of the dargah. Most of the khadims condemned the slogans,” says Syed Nasiruddin Chishty, founder-chairman of the All India Sufi Sajjadanashin Council.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His father, Syed Zainul Abedin Ali Khan, is the current dewan of the dargah. Nasiruddin, who was recently declared his successor, organised an interfaith conference in New Delhi on July 30, which National Security Adviser Ajit Doval attended. “We want a ban on all radical organisations,” says Nasiruddin, who plans to travel to several states and engage with the youth as part of his inter-faith outreach.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The controversy apart, the dargah has retained its secular character for centuries. As dargah committee chairman Syed Shahid Husain Rizvi says, things that it represents will never change: the Ganga-Jamuni tehzeeb, mohabbat (love), milan (unity), aman (peace) and aapsi bhaichara (brotherhood) that mark the daily rituals, starting with the rosebuds brought from the temple town of Pushkar every morning. Or the langar of saffron-scented rice prepared in the 350-year-old chhoti (small) and badhi (big) degh (cauldron). Or the Hindu traders and shopkeepers selling sohan halwa in the dargah bazaar. Or how they, before opening shop every day, keep the shop keys on the steps of the dargah.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The Khwaja is like a radio tower emitting high frequencies. People with a good receiving power will know how to capture it,” says Rizvi, emphasising the oft-repeated line, “Irade roz bante hai, badalte hai. Ajmer wahi aate hain jinhe Khwaja bulaate hai. (Intentions are made and unmade every day. Only those whom the Khwaja calls can come to Ajmer.)”</p> Sun Sep 11 12:18:15 IST 2022 on-ugadi-the-first-visitors-to-this-temple-in-kadapa-are-muslims <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Chief priest Krishna Mohan Swamy cannot remember a time when Muslim devotees did not visit the Sri Lakshmi Venkateshwara Swamy temple. His family has served the temple in Kadapa, Andhra Pradesh, for 400 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every year on Ugadi, the Telugu new year day, the first visitors to the temple are Muslims. “They start coming in as early as 5am. Earlier, I remember seeing them outside the temple by 3am,” says Mohan Swamy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Apparently, on the day, the Muslims in the area fast till they eat the prasadam at the temple. Some even take a break from meat that day. They offer prayers, break coconuts, have the holy water and donate money.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Whether it is migration to Arab countries or an upcoming wedding, Muslims come here to seek divine help,” says Mohan Swamy. Some Muslims believe that if the eldest son of the family does not pray at the temple on festival day, evil could befall them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, the custodian of the Tirumala shrine, controls this Kadapa temple. “According to legend, Lord Venkateshwara had married one of his consorts, Bibi Nanchari, in an inter-religious event, leading to the establishment of close relations between the Hindus and Muslims in Kadapa,” reads the TTD website. The Muslims believe that Bibi Nanchari was their daughter and Lord Venkateshwara Swamy their son-in-law.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In the past, a couple of religious leaders had tried to ban Muslims from the temple, but they were ignored. The Muslims kept visiting.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In Kadapa, communal harmony is a two-way street. The Ameen Peer Dargah—the Sufi shrine of Khwaja Peerullah Mallik—has had many Hindu visitors, including former prime minister Indira Gandhi and actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Peerullah, born in Bidar, became a revered saint in Kadapa, where he died.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the annual urs of the Sufi saint Moinuddin Chishti, saints from across the country descend on the Kadapa dargah. Many devotees sleep at the dargah for days with a hope that their prayers would be answered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“We have 24 lakh volunteers who serve the dargah. Of them, 14 lakh are Hindus,” says Ameeruddin, the in-charge of the dargah. “They come with love in their heart.”</p> Sun Sep 11 12:16:29 IST 2022 the-tomb-of-khamman-peer-baba-in-lucknow-attracts-hindus <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Nestled amongst tracks, at Lucknow’s Charbagh railway station, is a mazar of hazy origins but doubtless faith. This is the final resting place of Shah Syed Qayyamudin. His devotes know him better as Khamman Peer Baba.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>It is an oppressive summer day, but the mazar is overflowing with devotees. They walk on the uneven ballast on the tracks, strewn with empty plastic bottles, packets of chips and chocolates, and the occasional scurrying rat, to pay obeisance to a being they know nothing about. Except, of course, that he will not let a single prayer go unanswered.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>&nbsp;As one enters the mazar, to the right is a row of taps for wuzu (ablution before offering of the namaz). Most devotees who troop in are Hindus and do not use the taps. Nor are they asked to. Instead, they buy brightly coloured chadars and incense sticks from the shops outside before entering the mazar. Beyond the mazar is a mosque and at its opposite end a madrassa.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Once inside, devotees wait in orderly lines for their turn to offer the chadars. Some bring pieces of paper with their wishes written down, and festoon them to the iron grilles of the windows around the mazar. The wishes are myriad. One reads, ‘Baba give a job and ensure that nothing bad befalls my family’. Another says, ‘Please get good grooms for my two daughters’. A third pleads, ‘Take away the pain in my mother’s heart and lungs’.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Chadars offered, the devout sit around the mazar. Some with eyes closed. Some with open eyes which seem to be in a trance. Some mumbling prayers. Some crying in pain or gratitude.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Of late, some have taken to putting up locks on the window grilles, perhaps to ensure that their prayers are not blown away.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For Santosh Kumari Gupta, a homemaker in her late 40s though, it was just a simple prayer she said to herself that worked. Gupta is at the shrine with her 25-year-old daughter. Many in her family had visited the shrine over the years. But Gupta’s first visit happened this June.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My daughter was extremely unwell. It was as though she had no awareness about herself. She had slipped into a deep depression. We were getting her treated at the King George’s Medical University but there was no improvement,” said Gupta between sobs.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>And so, Gupta visited the mazar with her daughter and offered a chunni.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Then I just sat before Baba and with a pure heart offered an ardas for my daughter. I said, ‘Baba I don’t know how you will do it, but cure my daughter,’” she said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Notice that the word Gupta uses is ardas. It is Sanskrit which means to request/ beg. She does not use the Urdu dua for her plea or the Hindi puja, even though the commonly spoken language in Lucknow is a delightful mix of Hindi and Urdu. In the universe of faith, language, dialect, colour, caste and creed are of no significance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>With her overwhelmed mother unable to complete her sentences, the daughter Sneha Gupta continued. “As soon as I left the mazar that day I felt as though a weight had lifted from my shoulders. I felt so light and positive. Since then, it has just been getting better,” she said. The duo tries to come to express their gratitude at least once a week.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The imam (the one who leads the prayers) of the Khamman Peer mazar, Mohammed Arshad Raza, says more than 90 per cent of those who visit are non-Muslims. Hindus make up the bulk, but Christians, Sikhs and others also come. He speaks of a devotee of Indian origin in Canada, who every year sends in a handsome donation for the mazar. Raza himself has visited, among many other prominent Hindu shrines, the Vaishno Devi temple at Katra in Jammu and Kashmir.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Unlike other mazars, we make no solicitations for donation. The devotees offer enough to ensure that Baba’s home is taken care of,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are no written records of the origins of Khamman Peer. The most widely cited legend about him is that he was part of a group of travellers with Hazrat Syed Salar Masood Ghazi, a saint whose dargah is in Bahraich (some 58km from Lucknow). They had set out from Mecca or Medina to spread the word of the Prophet. Whenever or wherever a traveller died, he would be consecrated. ‘Aramgah’ (final resting place) is the word the imam uses to describe this place of rest.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Khamman Peer was Hazrat Ghazi’s contemporary, it is assumed that they died around the same time—some 900 to 950 years ago.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The area where the Charbagh station stands was once a jungle. The British cleared it to lay railway tracks. To their utter surprise, every time they laid a track around a small mazar, it would be uprooted overnight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Baba appeared in the dream of one of the engineers and said the railway line would never come into being if his resting place was disturbed,” said the imam. And so, the tracks were laid in such a way that the mazar remained undisturbed. It was only in the 1990s that the mazar took its final, larger shape spread over some 7,000 square feet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even in its small, insignificant form though, the throng of devotees at the mazar had never thinned. Deepak Singh Rajput, 30, is a schoolteacher who had first visited the dargah as a child with his father and grandfather. Their faith was transmitted to him.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“I live some 2.5km from here and have often walked barefoot during summer to worship Baba,” said Rajput.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rajput’s most ardent wish was to get married to the girl of his choice. She belonged to a different caste and thus convincing the families was a prickly issue. The fruition of that wish took three years, and Rajput is convinced that Khamman Peer had a role to play in it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He describes himself as a “50-50 devotee” whose belief in Sai Baba is as strong as that in Khamman Peer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“You ask, you receive. Why question who grants your wishes,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Indeed, why.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:13:56 IST 2022 mumbais-haji-ali-dargah-pulls-in-people-with-its-spiritual-calm-scenic-beauty <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Minakshi Sachdev first visited Mumbai’s Haji Ali Dargah as a college student. Now 50, she says trips there have become part of her routine. “Initially, it was just the scenic beauty around the dargah that pulled us in,” she says. “It was really beautiful to walk along that stretch and sit for hours on that marble floor, chit-chatting with friends with a cool breeze blowing on your face. It was as if we were in another world.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Sachdev, who runs a general store in Dadar, says the urge to visit the dargah became more “pronounced, urgent and meaningful” over the years. She now goes there with her sister, Renuka Arora (56), or at times alone. “It did not matter that we were going to a dargah instead of a mandir,” says Arora, a regional sales manager at a leading Indian firm. “We frequent temples, too. This had nothing to do with religion. We just felt we were in harmony with God; with that divine power that had no shape or form.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Over the years, the dargah, located on an islet off the coast of Worli in southern Mumbai, has turned into one of the city’s most iconic landmarks. It houses the tomb of Muslim merchant Pir Haji Ali Shah Bukhari, and draws in people not only with its spiritual calm, but also with its stunning white domes and minarets. The stretch leading to the dargah is packed with hawkers selling everything from shawls and models of the dargah to kebabs and biryani.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Charulata Khurana, 35, makes her weekly visit to the dargah in the quiet of dawn. “I am from a Brahmin family but not once did I have any doubts about visiting the dargah,” says the fashion designer from Thane. “My parents and grandparents never objected either. Whatever makes you feel at one with the divine is the right thing to do, they say. Here, I feel at peace. Early in the morning, when there are fewer people and I am away from the mainland, I feel detached and serene.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every time she visits the dargah, Khurana buys a shawl, some incense sticks, a holy thread and a garland before entering. Once inside, she offers the shawl and the garland to the “formless form of the saint” and ties the thread while making a wish. “I believe that my wishes are fulfilled here,” she says. “Who cares whether this divine power is Hindu or Muslim. As far as it can hear me, hear my prayers and grant me my wishes, I am at peace.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Trishla Shah, a practising Jain and the mother of a three-year-old, started visiting the dargah with her husband, Ankit, after they got married 11 years back. Ankit visits the dargah every Thursday. “For us, it began more as a desperate call,” he says. “We had been trying to have a child for many years and it was only after visiting this and a few other dargahs, including the Ajmer Sharif, that our wish was granted. In fact, so strong is our faith in the dargah that we have taken our little one there as well; we believe that she will be infused with positivity and blessings of the divine.”</p> Sun Sep 11 12:12:06 IST 2022 the-velankanni-church-in-tamil-nadu-marries-catholic-beliefs-and-hindu-rituals <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Francis Xavier and his wife, Rose Mary, have thrice walked all the way from Chennai to Velankanni—a distance of more than 310km. And every time he reaches the holy town, Francis tonsures his head and donates the hair.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“It has been my practice,” he says. “I feel blessed whenever I come to Velankanni during novena (a nine-day prayer in August-September). I did not come here for the past two years because of the pandemic.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Francis and Rose are among the millions of visitors who reach the tiny town on the Coromandel Coast every novena. The Basilica of Our Lady of Good Health stands tall as a symbol of syncretism. Men walk in and out in colourful dhotis; the women have shawls draped over their heads. “People from all religions and all walks of life visit the shrine,” says the Rev Fr Irudayaraj, rector of the church. “It is a place of peace and serenity. People believe that this place offers them solace and that Our Lady of Health blesses them with good health and prosperity.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Every year, the novena begins with the hoisting of a flag on August 29 and ends on September 8, when it is lowered. There are car processions of Mother Mary every day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inside the church, built in the Gothic style of architecture, is a statue of Mary holding Baby Jesus and standing on the globe. The Portuguese, who built the church in the late 16th century, are said to have brought the statue. There are verses from the Bible on the walls, with illustrations. “In 1771, Velankanni acquired the status of a parish,” says Irudayaraj. “Fr. Antonio de Rozario was the first parish priest. Pope John XXIII raised the status of our church to a basilica in 1962.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The shrine was originally a small prayer hall under a thatched roof. Several phases of expansion took place over centuries. This year, post the pandemic, at least 20 lakh people are expected to visit the church.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Velankanni church marries Catholic beliefs and Hindu rituals. Irudayaraj says that people tonsure their heads, pierce their earlobes, walk on their knees, roll on the floor and even tie a thread called a thali (mangalsutra), locks and toy cradles while offering prayers. “People here follow more of the Indian style or the Hindu tradition for prayers and offerings,” he says. “It is their belief.”</p> Sun Sep 11 12:10:13 IST 2022 dewa-sharif-where-religion-caste-and-creed-melt-away <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Some 42km from Lucknow is the shrine of Haji Waris Ali Shah, more popularly known as the Dewa Sharif. It is a shrine at which the stream of crowds never stems; they make their way through narrow lanes selling everything from steel utensils to fashion jewellery.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Saad Mahmood Warsi, the honorary manager of the Haji Waris Ali Shah Mausoleum Trust, said the pir when born, on the first day of the holy month of Ramzan, refused to suckle his mother. And for the whole month the newborn lived without food and drink.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“The pir travelled to numerous countries, meeting the czar of Russia, the queen of England, the monarch of Germany. He did not know their language, yet such was his aura that everywhere he went the greats sought an audience with him,” said Warsi.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the most remarkable features of the dargah is that its dome casts no shadow in any direction. In life, too, the pir was never known to cast a shadow.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He was a Sufi and a Vedantic whose message was one of universal brotherhood. Thus, religion, caste and creed melt away at his gates.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>One of the famous anecdotes about his boon-granting powers came from the film actor Sunil Dutt. A member of Parliament then, Dutt came to Dewa in October 1995 to worship at the dargah on a Saturday. On Monday, his son, the actor Sanjay Dutt, was granted bail after 15 months in jail.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many faithful visit the dargah every week. One of them, Anuj Kumar Maurya, 24, makes the trip across 40km. He does not remember for how many years he has been doing so, but is firm in his belief that all his life’s wishes have been granted at the dargah. Looking at his wife, Pammi, he said, “I had always prayed for a beautiful, caring wife, and look how I have been blessed.” This is Pammi’s first visit to the dargah. She said she had her own secret wish. “I have not even told my husband about it,” she said shyly.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:09:02 IST 2022 at-kumaramangala-temple-in-kasargod-muslims-come-to-escape-snakes-curse <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>It was on a sultry Sunday, before the monsoon kissed the Kerala coast, that I met B. Fathima at the Kumaramangala temple at Bela in Kasargod district. Sunlight glanced off her hijab as she stood, amidst Hindu women, staring at the closed doors of the sanctum sanctorum. As the doors opened, she folded her palms in prayer and then circumambulated the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fathima is a seller of clothes. “I come here once a month,” she said, explaining her faith. “There is only one God. We call Him by different names.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On a podium on the left, an Ayilyam puja for serpent gods was being performed. Muslims come here every month on the Ayilyam day of the Malayalam calendar to seek release from sarpadosham or kaal sarp yog (curse of the snake), just as many Hindus in rural Kerala do.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fathima joined the devotees who sat on a corner to take part in the rituals. Among them sat Kadeja Belenja, reading out verses from a book with the help of a Hindu friend. The puja lasted for an hour.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Belenja said she came to the temple to pray for her son who had an allergy. Her first visit was a year ago, after she saw snakes in her house. The belief is that Ayilyam puja appeases snakes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Belenja said her son’s condition had improved. “There are some other problems in my family,” she said. “I am sure these will disappear after I use the ginger oil and turmeric given by the priest for a month. God here, like Allah, is powerful.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fathima got holy ash from the temple. She said she would dab it on her forehead after namaz. Wouldn’t her family object? “Only my husband knows that I come to the temple,” she said. “I have some illness, and if I am cured, I will offer a lamp to the temple.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Many Hindus believe that the severest sarpa dosha is due to hurting Lord Subrahmanya or killing a snake. There are 10 types of sarpa dosha. Sri Lankan President Ranil Wickremesinghe prayed at the temple on an Ayilyam day in 2019.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Abu Baker, a social worker from Kasargod, was at the temple on behalf of a female relative who could not come because she was menstruating. He feels blessed every time he visits the temple. “It is the same feeling that I get when I am in a mosque,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows how old the temple is. “Some say it is 1,000 years old. It was renovated 50 years ago,” said Sudhakar Shetty of the temple committee. The devotees are mostly Hindus, but it is the Muslims who are more ardent. One of the priests, B. Sankaranarayana, said a lot of Muslims visited the temple, though they would not be comfortable talking about it.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Kasargod, bordering Karnataka, has witnessed communal tension in the past. The district collector, Bhandari Swagat Ranveerchand, said, “Communal issues in the district, if at all, are minor in nature. It feels good to know about such religious spots in the district.” Rajmohan Unnithan, MP from Kasargod, said the district had many such temples that attracted people from other religions. “In fact, Kerala,” he said, “is full of such temples and mosques.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Leaving the temple, Fathima took one more look at the deity—a peaceful look.</p> Sun Sep 11 12:08:00 IST 2022 a-theyyam-artist-on-wearing-a-muslim-costume <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>The ritual art called theyyam has a transfixing effect on the spectator. Among the hundreds of theyyams in Kerala, more than a dozen are known as mappila theyyam (Muslim theyyam). Both Muslims and Hindus pray to mappilla theyyam.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I adorn the mappila theyyam costume in Kumbala in Kasargod. On that day I become Ali Mappila of legend who lived near the Arikkady Bhagavathi temple. Ali Mappila was a powerful black magician who harassed everyone and molested women.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To punish him, the fierce goddess Chamundi took the form of a beautiful woman going to bathe in a pond. As Ali chased her, she cajoled him into discarding his protective amulet and then crushed him. She did not kill him. Instead, she made him repent and gave him a place at the temple.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The incarnation of Ali was bestowed upon my ancestors. I inherited it from my maternal uncle. On theyyam day, I believe, the goddess turns me into Ali. Hindus and Muslims, who come to see the theyyam, look upon me as Ali’s incarnation, and they worship me. They pray with folded hands, and ask for remedies for their sorrows. Some of them weep. I hold them and assure them all is well. I have been doing this for12 years.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On other days of the year, I work in a textile shop. No one, except the temple officials, knows that it is I who wear the Ali theyyam costume.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>— <b>As told to Anirudha Karindalam</b></p> Sun Sep 11 12:06:34 IST 2022 fatehgarh-sahib-has-moved-on-from-its-violent-past <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>As we left the Rauza Sharif in the sacred city of Fategarh Sahib in Punjab, our car driver from Delhi seemed a little perplexed. “I saw so many sardarjis going in and out of the dargah. Do they go to pray there? Or are they just helping out?” he asked while exiting the bougainvillea-fronted premises of the dargah of Shaikh Ahmad Faruqi Sirhindi, who lived here in the time of Akbar in the 16th century. Sirhindi is revered by Sunni Muslims the world over. They see the Rauza Sharif as the second Mecca, and Sirhindi as second only to the Prophet.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fatehgarh Sahib is, in fact, an important pilgrimage centre in Sikhism. “It is not uncommon to find our Sikh brothers taking care of the masjids in Fatehgarh Sahib. If there is no masjid nearby, we can say namaz on the gurdwara premises. No one will stop us,” said Syad Farid Ahmed, a member of the dargah committee.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the maharaja of Patiala Bhupinder Singh had given 350 acres to the Rauza Sharif. “After the excesses of the partition years, this town of Sirhind-Fatehgarh hasn’t seen any inter-faith acrimony,” he said. “It is a shining example of brotherhood and harmony.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Sikhs and Muslims mingle with serene calm in the sacred town, which in 1705 witnessed the killing of two young sons of Guru Gobind Singh, the 10th Sikh guru. The boys, nine-year-old Zorawar Singh and seven-year-old Fateh Singh, who refused to embrace Islam, were entombed alive by the Mughal diwan Wazir Khan, after the capture of Anandpur Sahib. Waizr Khan was killed by Banda Singh Bahadur, a Khalsa military leader, in the battle of Chappan Chiri in 1710.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The gleaming white and golden Gurdwara Fatehgarh Sahib stands majestic in the centre of the town as a symbol of the martyrdom. Built in 1843, the gurdwara complex holds the underground spot where the children were buried alive and where thousands of followers come to pay their respects.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Two kilometres away, at Mahadian village, one finds a gurdwara and a masjid separated by just a courtyard—Mastgarh Sahib Chittian Gurdwara and the Chittian Masjid, which goes back to Shah Jahan’s time. Its interiors gracefully uphold the cracks and fissures of centuries, and the sweet smell of incense emanates from arched alcoves in the bare walls.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are no supplicants in this mosque, save for its guardian, Jeet Singh, who looks forward to the day when the faithful will come back to pray. Jeet Singh is the granthi in the adjoining gurdwara; besides reading the holy book, he does the cleaning, supervises langar and manages its day-to-day affairs. He has also been the caretaker of the abandoned mosque ever since he came here nine years ago. Every day he wakes up at 4am, and after finishing his work at the gurdwara, comes to the masjid to sweep the floors and light the incense. He repeats the ritual in the evening after the rehraas (a collection of hymns of five different gurus).</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee committee publishes a newspaper. “I read in it that there were 350 mosques within a distance of 10km at the time of Baba Banda Singh. He didn’t destroy any,” said Jeet Singh, taking us to the langar hall right next to the masjid.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Inside the annexe to the masjid is a dug-up tunnel which is believed to go all the way to the Rauza Sharif. “When I came here, the kar sevaks wanted to demolish the mosque. But I took a stand. Because the structure was here before anything else, right?” said Singh, recalling a time when two Sikh saints held 101 Akhand Path (non-stop recitation of verses) of the Guru Granth Sahib in the mosque itself.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said the Guru Granth Sahib was kept inside the mosque for years, until the new Mastgarh Gurdwara was built. “Every religion has a presence in the Guru Granth Sahib. The rationalists also follow the teachings of Guru Nanak, who dispelled superstition. The Sufi saint Baba Farid has given 112 verses (bani) in the Guru Granth Sahib,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the annual Shaheedi Jor Mela, a religious congregation at Fategarh Sahib in December to mark the martyrdom of the Sahibzade, Jeet Singh repaints the Chittian Masjid white. Chittian means white in Punjabi. “I have asked the villagers at Mahadian to come and pray in this mosque so many times. But they have built a mosque in their own village. Perhaps if some more repair work is done, they will start coming,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>His ancestors had fought in the Battle of Chamkaur in1704, against Wazir Khan. “So long as I am here,” he said, “I will take care of the mosque.”</p> Tue Sep 13 19:36:35 IST 2022 if-we-respect-each-others-religion-many-of-our-problems-will-disappear-zafar-sareshwala <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Hindus and Muslims have been living together in India for more than 1,000 years. Islam reached India soon after it was born in Arabia. I have visited the first mosque in India, the Cheraman Juma Masjid in Kerala, which was built in the seventh century.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Growing up in the late 1970s and early 1980s, I never felt I was any different just because I was a Muslim. Most of my classmates were Hindus, Christians or Parsis. We used to visit each other’s houses and celebrate each other’s festivals. Today such social interaction has diminished, even though our Class of 1981 has a WhatsApp group.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I have been a practising Muslim since age 15 and have not missed even a single namaz in the last 43 years. Even when I am in an airplane, train or car, I do namaz. I visited 40 countries and all Indian states and Union Territories without skipping namaz.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I also visit churches and temples regularly. Whenever I go to Varanasi, I visit the Sankat Mochan temple. Sometimes the Mahant himself takes me to the temple. Once, when my wife and daughter accompanied me, we hired a boat just to watch the aarti on the Ganges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There are many non-Muslims in my team that conduct entrepreneurial workshops for the underprivileged. I have gone with them to the Kamakhya temple in Guwahati, the Meenakshi temple in Madurai, the Rameswaram temple and Kashmir’s Bhavani temple, which gave me a mesmerising experience. Another spiritual journey was to the Golden Temple in Amritsar.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I lived in England for seven years. A neighbour of mine there was a priest, who took me to church regularly. While in Palestine and Israel, I went to all important churches as well as mosques. That is the way, I felt, I could learn about different cultures.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Urdu translations of the Ramayan and the Mahabharat are available at the madrassas I am associated with. Renowned poet Anwar Jalalpuri and his wife translated them to Urdu. Long ago I went to Jaipur to have a look at a Persian translation of the Ramayan. Christian scriptures are also there in our madrassas.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I tell students in madrassas to learn about Hinduism and Christianity, just as I tell my Hindu friends to read the Quran and study the life of the Prophet. If we respect each other’s religion, I believe many of our problems will disappear.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>— <b>As told to Anirudha Karindalam</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>—<i><b>Sareshwala</b> was chancellor of Maulana Azad National Urdu University.</i></p> Sun Sep 11 12:00:50 IST 2022 ajmer-of-the-south-juma-masjid-in-ullal-mangaluru <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Thousands of people, of different religions, visit the Juma Masjid in Ullal to pray at the tomb of Seyyid Muhammad Shareeful Madani, who, it is believed, came to Mangaluru 500 years ago from Saudi Arabia, floating on a piece of cloth. The mosque is known as the Ajmer of south India.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“Hindus in the locality believe there is something powerful here at the mosque, and they come here again and again,” said Haji Abdul Rasheed, president of the trust that runs the mosque and the dargah. The trust runs madrassas, schools and colleges, apart from 32 smaller mosques in Mangaluru. “Even when there is communal tension in Mangaluru, Ullal remains untouched,” he said. “This is only because of our mosque, the teachings of Madani and the respect people have for him.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Rasheed said the mosque served 5,000 people free vegetarian food every day. “During urs, priests from nearby temples visit our mosque even without a formal invitation,” he said. “There is so much bonhomie.”</p> <p>A few metres from the mosque, there is a wishing well into which devotees drop coins. “Your prayers get answered if you pray and put coins here,” said M. Sangeetha, a college teacher, who started visiting the mosque 16 years ago. Women are allowed to pray inside the mosque, though they have to stand five feet away from the tomb.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The tomb has an oil lamp next to it. The oil is changed every day and given to the devotees, who rub it on their head. “This could be one of the reasons why Hindus relate to the mosque,” said Arun Ullal, a professor of Kannada at St Aloysius College in Mangaluru, who has anchored programmes at the mosque on the request of the trust.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>U.T. Khader, Congress MLA from Mangaluru, said the mosque and the trust worked for the welfare of all people. “It is because of them that Ullal has emerged as a model town in Mangaluru,” he said. “Hindus and Muslims here can’t live without each other.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>He said communal tensions in the country were largely out of fear, and ”not out of hate.” He said there should be a circuit connecting all religious places in the country and “people should be encouraged to visit holy places of other religions.”</p> Sun Sep 11 11:59:00 IST 2022 how-taiwan-is-defying-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Lu Ji-hua, 60, has not lived outside her zip code—Taipei 114. Her father, Lu Deh-hua, was born in China’s Zhejiang province in 1925, and as a young man, he enlisted in the army of the Republic of China. In 1949, the Kuomintang government was defeated by cadres of the Chinese Communist Party in the Chinese Civil War. Kuomintang leaders retreated to Taiwan with two million people, including six lakh soldiers. Lu Deh-hua was one of them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Before he boarded a ship to Taiwan, he witnessed the horrors inflicted by the People’s Liberation Army. He never told the war stories to his daughter, who was born in Taiwan when he was 38.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“My father left his family behind and started a new family after he met my mother who was Taiwanese,” said Lu Ji-hua. Marriages between mainlanders and islanders were not uncommon, and like many other families, Lu’s family, too, was integrated into what Taiwan is today—the only Chinese-speaking democracy in the world. Her father is no more. Fewer than a hundred Kuomintang veterans who fled China are alive now. For the second, third and fourth generations in Taiwan, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) is the voice of Taiwanese nationalism. The younger generation does not identify with China and does not want even peaceful unification.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So when Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen rubs shoulders with the United States and embraces US House of Representatives speaker Nancy Pelosi, it is, for the younger generation, a celebration of their freedom from the past. For them, mainland China is synonymous with the communist party’s China—an authoritarian regime. Taiwan, officially the Republic of China, is a full-fledged democracy which upholds human rights and has recognised LGBT rights and same-sex marriages. It has a distinct identity in the free world. For President Tsai, those are articles of her people’s faith. “Taiwan thanks the world for supporting our fight to uphold freedom and democracy,” she told THE WEEK.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>While Taiwan has lived as a sovereign nation for 70-plus years, Beijing considers the island a Chinese territory. President Xi Jinping of China has often talked of unification, even by force. Things worsened after Pelosi’s visit on August 2. Xi had called President Joe Biden on July 28 and warned him “not to play with fire” by allowing Pelosi’s visit. But, Pelosi was not deterred.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Minutes after Pelosi left, China, in a series of drills, deployed ballistic missiles, truck-mounted self-propelled multiple rocket launchers, fighter jets, anti-submarine warfare aircraft, warships (likely stealth-guided missile destroyers) and drones. This put the Taiwan military on the defensive. Furthermore, PLA officers did not return calls from the Pentagon.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The 161km Taiwan Strait effectively turned into a conflict zone between the US and China. China has continued its incursions. On August 28, the US dispatched two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers to the strait. It had earlier ordered the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan and accompanying ships to stay in the region. On August 30, in a first, Taiwan fired warning shots at a Chinese drone, forcing it back to China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Smaller Pacific friends—Marshall Islands, Nauru, Palau and Tuvalu—and bigger powers like Japan, Australia and Canada, apart from the US, have expressed support for Taipei. Saying that five Chinese missiles had landed in its exclusive economic zone, Japan initiated its own strategic deployment. China has the support of all-weather friend Pakistan, Iran and Russia. Others, like South Korea and ASEAN countries, are walking the tightrope, counterbalancing relations with the US and China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Taiwan military is preparing itself, keeping its radars and observatory posts in emergency mode. It is bringing out its guns and counting its missiles, aircraft and frigates. The US is assisting with weapons, training and aerial reconnaissance.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The hybrid nature and coordination of operations by the PLA is unprecedented. Its air force, navy and rocket force are all involved. Chinese incursions into Taiwan airspace are not new, but, never before had as many as 68 aircraft entered Taiwan’s air defence identification zone on a single day (August 5). The previous record was 56 aircraft on October 4, 2021.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China has breached the median line down the Taiwan Strait, which acts as a maritime border, multiple times in the last fortnight. Earlier, the breaches were at the extreme ends. But, this time, the Chinese navy breached the central point. Fang Tien-sze, deputy director, Center for India Studies, National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan, said this was the first time China fired missiles over the strait in a public and intimidating way. “The PLA is also crossing the median line routinely now,” he said.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Moreover, it was for the first time that the Chinese military conducted drills near eastern Taiwan. The area is strategically important for resupplying Taiwanese troops and for potential reinforcements from the US. Beijing was, evidently, practising a blockade of Taiwan. Though the exercises were in international waters, some of the sites were close to major ports in Taiwan. This posed a threat to shipping—something Taiwan, a leading exporter of semiconductors, cannot take lightly.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwan’s military strategy is based on a defensive principle and does not include the role of the US. The government has vowed to singlehandedly protect its territory while it looks for the opportune moment to shift to an offensive footing, said Shen Ming-shih, acting deputy CEO of Taiwan’s Institute for National Defence and Security Research.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US C4ISR system (command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) can help Taiwan. The US has an obligation to Taipei under the Taiwan Relations Act, 1979. This act of the US Congress says its decision to establish diplomatic ties with China rests upon the expectation that the future of Taiwan will be determined peacefully. “If the US is willing to assist, it may be C4ISR and some ammunition and platforms,” said Shen.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwanese have never seen war, and the 23 million people here have been living a comfortable life, earning good money, not to mention PhDs; enjoying their weekends and the benefits of technology that is superior to most of the world. Only a few, like members of the Kuomintang, now the opposition party, remember the cost.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>“After retreating to Taiwan, my father never had a chance to see his parents, sister and brother until 40 years later,” said Lu. “In 1989, he finally took the first trip back to his hometown to meet his siblings. His parents had passed away. He brought back a photo of my grandma and put it in his room. I know my father was missing his mom very much, though he never shared his sorrows with us.” Lu Deh-hua died this year, aged 98.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lu said her father looked terribly disturbed whenever he saw Chinese military presence on the strait. “Now I understand why he never talked about it,” she said. As for herself, some protests outside the Bank of China in Taipei were the only signs of tension with China she had seen before August. The bank is the only Chinese entity in the city. So, when people want to raise anti-China slogans, the bank becomes the protest site.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwan did not issue a warning when China fired the missiles. “Every time there is an earthquake, my cellphone beeps so loudly! Sometimes, it alerts five seconds in advance,” said Lu. “But, when missiles flew over Taiwan, we did not know! I read it in a Japanese newspaper the next morning.” The Central Weather Bureau’s 10-second emergency response system, which Lu referred to, is actually capable of flagging a tsunami half an hour before it strikes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When the “Chinese tsunami” hit, the government did not create panic. But, the military strategists in Taiwan know that channels of communication, especially with the US, need to be active. Taiwan cannot afford to get cut off. In the last one month, Taiwan has faced multiple cyberattacks. There have also been disinformation campaigns and attempts at spying. The lessons from Ukraine are helping Taiwan prepare for asymmetric warfare. But there is hope that war may not be imminent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Taiwanese military strategists say that the Chinese military exercises were a message to the US, more than to Taiwan. A Taiwanese officer, who analysed the drills, said that at one time 11 missiles were fired and then the tests ended abruptly. The deduction is that even China was worried that the exercises could have a cascading effect on regional security and economic activities.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>No one knows the Chinese mind better than Taiwanese. They also know that one day, China could well use the learnings from these military exercises to fulfil its dream of unification.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>But, for now, what did China gain? It achieved a new normal where the median line will no longer be respected. Air defence identification zone violations will be more frequent; cyberattacks will increase; gaps in multidomain warfare will be filled; and the blockade scenario testing will enable it to factor in situations that can be counterproductive to Chinese interests.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China’s latest action, as well as its seemingly blind pursuit of supremacy, is a wake-up call for countries like India. India has normally been measured in its response to cross-strait issues. On August 27, India used the phrase “militarisation of the Taiwan Strait” in a tweet by its High Commission in Colombo, amid a spat with China over a Chinese ship docking in Sri Lanka.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Lee Che-chuan, associate research fellow at the Institute for National Defence and Security Research, Taiwan, said it was high time members of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Australia, India, Japan and the US) demonstrated to the world that QUAD was not “merely a talk shop, but a substantive platform for the defence of democracy”.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Fang of National Tsing Hua University said India could be a new security stabiliser for the region if it played its cards right. “I appreciate Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement at Shangri-La in 2018 that India does not see the Indo-Pacific as a club of limited members,” he said. “Most countries are looking for development, rather than competition. India could take the lead in forming a development bloc.” New Delhi’s challenge will be achieving this while maintaining ambiguity over the ‘one China’ policy.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The US, China and Taiwan all have elections coming up. For the US, it is the crucial mid-term polls. The communists in China are holding their party congress in November, where Xi’s third term will be reaffirmed. Taiwan will have its local body polls in November, where the Kuomintang could face a challenge to 14 out of its 22 seats if the DPP can ride the nationalist wave.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Even underneath the clouds of war, legislators in Taiwan are on the ground—arguing, protesting and, above all, promising to protect freedom. Fan Yun, a DPP legislator, said the ruling party represented the voice of the majority as well as the minorities which stood for human rights and democracy. “The DPP has taken a decision to stand with the minorities like the LGBT community and bring progressive reforms,” she said. “By doing so, it also protects its own identity which is very different from communist China.” Though Taiwan has constantly been living under China’s military threat, she said, it is “learning from bigger democracies and working with the civil society”. Pelosi’s visit was a big win for the DPP, which has helped Taiwan arrive on the world stage, with the US backing it publicly. The DPP’s worry, however, is over sanctions against Taiwan—farmers and fruit-sellers are facing a tough time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On August 27, Kuomintang leaders protested against the government in front of Legislative Yuan (parliament). Legislator Chen I-hsin said the Kuomintang had maintained peace and stability in the region for 30 years. “There was common ground between Beijing and Taipei, which is important because on a daily basis more than 1.5 million people are doing business in mainland China,” he said. “The product chain across the strait, particularly information and communication technology products, serves the whole world.” He said the only condition from Beijing was that it would not allow Taiwan to go independent.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>What the pro-unification camp within the Kuomintang fails to understand is that before Kuomintang strongman Chiang Kai-shek came to Taiwan to use it as a base to capture the mainland, the islanders did not speak Chinese. “They did not like his coming because they were forced to learn Mandarin; they spoke Taiwanese or Japanese,” said Namrata Hasija, research associate, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy, New Delhi. “To expect Taiwanese to live under the communist party regime is out of the question.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When Kuomintang vice chairman Andrew Hsai recently went to China to hold talks with Taiwanese businessmen, the DPP was annoyed. But, the Kuomintang tried to score brownie points by taking up the cause of cross-strait businesses and tradesmen. Hsai returned to Taipei on August 27 and is learnt to have told Kuomintang chairman Eric Chu that he had conveyed to the Chinese side that the people of Taiwan were against pressure and the blockade tactics. The DPP has clarified that talks with the communist party broke down because of China’s preconditions.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Politics aside, the people of Taiwan have demonstrated to the world that they are not ready to submit to China’s bullying anymore. As the year-end chill slowly sets in, high tides on the strait may prompt the PLA to ease up on its routine breaches. But Taiwan will continue to be monitored by China. Not just by spies who mingle and merge with the island population, but also by watchers who keep tabs on celebrations, visits and elections. Even if Taiwanese voters want to focus on broken water pipes or public transport problems, Chinese hackers would creep in, trying to steal their data to potentially influence elections.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>So, even as Taiwanese voters make their democratic choice, they cannot forget their autocratic neighbour. China wants to keep reminding Taiwanese that they are the Republic of China. For Xi, the extent of this strategy’s success will decide whether the process of unification will be smooth or forcible.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>History has lessons for everyone who cares to learn. And Taiwanese have shown before that they are champions of their own cause. Taiwan was under martial law till 1987. The first presidential election was held almost a decade later in 1996, a landmark event that ushered in democracy on the island. Now, faced with unprecedented Chinese aggression, Taiwanese are once again showing how resilient they are.</p> Sun Sep 04 11:15:59 IST 2022 china-preparing-for-war-against-us-taiwan-foreign-minister <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Taiwanese Foreign Minister Jaushieh Joseph Wu says his country is battle ready as China has been preparing for war for quite some time. In an exclusive interview with THE WEEK, he says China has been firing missiles over Taiwan, has launched large-scale sea and air exercises very close to the island and breached the median line demarcating the de facto border. Wu, however, is confident that not just the United States, which is Taiwan’s traditional ally and guarantor of its security, but also other democracies like the UK, Japan, Canada and Australia will support his country if a war breaks out.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Excerpts from the interview:</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What is the present situation in Taiwan?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ China is still conducting daily military exercises not far away from Taiwan. And if you look at the way the Chinese are conducting these exercises in the aftermath of the visit of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, you can tell that this is a whole package which they have been practising for a long time. China wants to use this opportunity as a pretext for the exercise. It fired missiles over Taiwan, into the waters to the east of Taiwan and even into Japan’s exclusive economic zone. It also conducted large-scale air and sea exercises and launched a massive disinformation campaign against us. At the same time, it announced economic coercion measures and launched cyberattacks. Putting all these together, you can see that China has been preparing for quite some time for a war against Taiwan and we have to be prepared for a possible future attack.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ This is not the first time Taiwan is facing a threat from China. Why do you think it is more critical this time?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ If you look at the magnitude of the Chinese military exercise, this time it is compounded with hybrid warfare. The threat is real. During the previous tensions across the Taiwan Strait in 1995-1996, China fired some missiles targeting the waters near Taiwan. But a few missiles are not going to destroy us. China did not have the capability of crossing the Taiwan Strait to launch an amphibious war against us. But this time it is different. It fired missiles over Taiwan and launched large-scale sea and air exercises very close to us. China also launched hybrid warfare, cyberattacks, disinformation campaigns and economic coercion. Moreover, if you look at China’s attempts to alter the status quo across the Taiwan Strait, it is more serious than before. In the middle of the Taiwan Strait there is an undeclared median line which has been safeguarding peace and stability for decades. It is also an important symbol of status quo across the Taiwan Strait. But the Chinese military seems ready to break that. China’s foreign ministry has announced its sovereignty over the Taiwan Strait. This seems to be China’s justification for military exercises to harass Taiwan. In the past few days, Chinese aircraft have continued to cross the median line.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is Taiwan ready for a counter-attack?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are prepared for any kind of military aggression from China. We have been under Chinese military threat for a long time. Therefore, our military is preparing for any eventuality. We cannot predict when China is going to launch its attack. In Taiwan, we should not care whether it is tomorrow or next year or five years from now. The most important thing is that we have to be ready. After all, this is our country, our people, our sovereignty and the democratic way of life. We have to defend ourselves. And we are learning lessons from Ukraine. War is not determined by military hardware alone. Ukraine is under attack by the largest land army in the world, but it is holding out. The bravery of the Ukrainians is an inspiration to the Taiwanese people. We are learning from Ukraine about asymmetric warfare. Many countries will support Taiwan if there is a crisis. We are also engaging in military reform to ensure that Taiwan acquires asymmetric capabilities and mobilisation capacity and that our men and women who are not in uniform are also able to defend themselves if China wants to launch a war against Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ China has imposed sanctions on Taiwan. Is there any plan to stop the export of semiconductor chips to China?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ This has been under discussion for quite some time. We have been working with like-minded partners, especially the United States, on trade sanctions against China, to see what kind of material we should end sending to China in order to stop helping the Chinese military arm itself. At this moment, the export of microchips and other materials is going through a lot of scrutiny to make sure that our exports are not going to be part of China’s weapons against us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are Taiwan’s expectations from India?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We understand every country has its own policy. And we cannot force other governments to say what we want them to say. The Indian ministry of foreign affairs has shown concern for peace and stability over Taiwan, shown sympathy towards us and wants all sides to end the tension in this area. That is exactly what we need from India and it is highly appreciated. We both believe in freedom and democracy. Unfortunately, we both face threat from China. Taiwanese and Indians are friends, with shared values. We will continue to develop our relations in trade, investment, people-to-people exchanges, education, agriculture, etc, to build deeper ties. I want to say to my Indian friends that all democracies need to show support to each other.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I would like to read out a poem written by a German pastor during World War II….</p> <p>“First they came for the Communists</p> <p>And I did not speak out</p> <p>Because I was not a Communist</p> <p>Then they came for the Jews</p> <p>And I did not speak out</p> <p>Because I was not a Jew</p> <p>Then they came for the trade<br> unionists</p> <p>And I did not speak out</p> <p>Because I was not a trade unionist</p> <p>Then they came for me</p> <p>And there was no one left</p> <p>To speak out for me.”</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>We speak up for the Ukrainians, even though we don’t have any relations with Ukraine. We will continue to speak up for the world. In the same way, we hope our Indian friends will continue to speak up for us.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is Taiwan expecting help from the United States if China attacks?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The United States has adopted the Taiwan Relations Act and this is the law governing the relations between Taiwan and the US. There is a special bond. But fighting for Taiwan is our own responsibility. This is our home and, therefore, we have the obligation to defend ourselves and we are prepared. However, before there is actual combat, we need a lot of help from the US and Europe, for example, in providing training and arms. The US has been very faithful in doing this and making sure that Taiwan is capable of defending itself. So what we are looking for is that the US will continue to provide Taiwan with defensive weapons, training and maintenance. That would allow Taiwan to have the capacity to repel any kind of threat from China.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Ukraine is a sovereign country recognised by the United Nations. Isn’t the status of Taiwan a challenge for you?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Even though Taiwan is recognised by only 14 countries, we do have friends. Many of them are actually taking part in security matters in this part of the world. For example, right after the Chinese military exercises started, the US, Japan and the UK expressed their concern over peace and stability in the region. The G7 also issued a statement, and other countries, too, have shown their support. Therefore, it is our expectation that if China launches a war against Taiwan, there will be a lot of countries showing their support. Last year, many countries sent their naval ships to patrol the Indo-Pacific region for the ‘freedom of navigation’ operations to show that they care about peace and stability in the region. India is the largest democracy and we are counting on the support of democratic countries against the expansion of authoritarianism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are China’s expansionist plans?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ China has ambitions to expand its own power. Apart from the threat in the Taiwan Strait, China is in the East China Sea, trying to intrude into the disputed waters with Japan by sending military ships. It has now started expelling Japanese fishing boats from the area. If you look at the South China Sea, the Chinese ambition is even more clear. First, it built some tiny little rocks into major military bases. In addition to that, China’s ambition is also seen in the Pacific. We have seen its security agreement with the Solomon Islands and the interest in signing security agreements with the rest of the Pacific countries. That is something about which the United States, Japan, Australia and New Zealand have serious concerns. Now if you look at the Indian Ocean region where India is located, China has already established a string of pearls. In the case of Sri Lanka, China is in control of Hambantota harbour which is causing heartburn among our Indian friends. Look at the ports in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Cambodia and all the way to Djibouti. These are part of China’s expansionist plans to set up naval bases in the Indian Ocean. Time has come for democracies to wake up to the growing threat from the expansionism of authoritarianism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ What are the key areas in which India and Taiwan can improve cooperation?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ The first one is culture. A significant portion of the Taiwanese people are Buddhists and it is a religion similar to what many Indian people practise. Therefore, cultural exchanges can be very promising. The second area is trade and investment. Some Taiwanese industrialists and business leaders have already set up industrial parks in India and more investors are going there. There is also some discussion between the two sides on semiconductor cooperation, which is a very promising area with the talent in India and the technology in Taiwan. I think there is a natural match there to improve trade and economic relations. We had bilateral trade worth $7.7 billion last year and that is growing.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Are talks with China a possibility any time soon?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ We are always open to dialogue and discussion with China as we believe it is always better than fighting with each other. But the problem from the Chinese side is that it has set preconditions like accepting that Taiwan is part of the People’s Republic of China. The reality is that Taiwan has always been autonomous. We have a democratically elected president and parliament, and also various ministries like defence and foreign affairs. Therefore, Taiwan is run by Taiwanese people, and to submit to China is not an option. After all, Chinese authoritarianism is not going to be accepted by Taiwanese people. So unless China drops its political precondition, talks are going to be difficult. Nevertheless, the international community has recognised Taiwan’s role under President Tsai Ing-wen in dealing with China in a responsible way. If the international community can urge China to start a genuine dialogue with Taiwan, our doors are always open.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Q/ Is pursuing independence an option, if China does not allow a peaceful status quo?</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>A/ Beijing has been trying to portray that Taiwan is pursuing independence, which is unacceptable to it, and therefore it is going to use military force against us. But if you look at the status quo, Taiwan is run by itself and this has been going on ever since People’s Republic of China was established in 1949. A majority of Taiwanese people believe in the status quo and President Tsai was elected based on that. Our policy is to maintain this status quo, and we do not want to provoke any crisis. President Tsai has been saying for a long time that China and Taiwan have no jurisdiction over each other. Most importantly, Taiwan is already a democracy and we will adhere to the most important principle of democracy—the future of Taiwan should be determined by the Taiwanese people rather than the authoritarian leaders in China.</p> Sun Sep 04 11:04:56 IST 2022 president-tsai-Ing-wen-seems-the-best-bet-to-protect-taiwans-interests <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>On December 2, 2016, Tsai Ing-wen, who was barely a year into her first term as president of Taiwan, made a bold diplomatic gambit. She picked up the phone and made a call to Donald J. Trump, the president-elect of the United States. The two leaders spoke for about 10 minutes. None of her predecessors had dared to make such a move since January 1, 1979, when president Jimmy Carter severed normal ties with Taiwan and granted China full diplomatic recognition.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>China had failed to anticipate Tsai’s move, and all hell broke loose in Beijing within hours of the call. The Global Times, a tabloid published by the Chinese Communist Party, called for a rapid buildup of strategic nuclear stockpile and termed Trump’s core team “pigs” for facilitating the conversation. From Tsai, however, the message was clear. She might be a soft-spoken policy wonk, but when it comes to her country’s security, she would not budge an inch.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tsai has always been an unusual politician. Born on August 31, 1956, in a Hakka family—one of Taiwan’s ethnic minorities—she was not a career politician. Nor did she have any family connection to politics. Her father was an automobile mechanic turned real estate developer. He wanted her to study law so that she could help him manage the family business. But he also expected her, as the youngest daughter among his nine children, to take care of him when he grew old. “I was not considered a kid that would be successful in my career,” She told Time in an interview.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tsai grew up in coastal southern Taiwan, before moving to capital Taipei for her LLB at the National Taiwan University. She did her master’s in law at Cornell University, New York, and PhD at the London School of Economics in 1984. Her PhD became the subject of a major controversy much later in June 2019 when she was seeking reelection as president. A political talk show host named Dennis Peng and a few academics alleged that her dissertation credentials were questionable. After the LSE vouched for the bonafides of Tsai’s PhD, she took legal action against Peng, who was subsequently indicted by the Taipei district prosecutors’ office.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After finishing her PhD, Tsai remained in academics for nearly a decade. In 1993, she started working for the government, handling international trade negotiations. She soon became a trusted adviser to president Lee Teng-hui of the Kuomintang Party (KMT), although she was more ideologically aligned with the opposition Democratic Peoples Party. In 2000, when the DPP won the presidency for the first time, Tsai was appointed head of the Mainland Affairs Council, one of the most important bureaucratic positions in Taiwan. Tsai was the council’s first female chairperson and its youngest chairperson.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After a successful four-year stint at the MAC, Tsai formally joined the DPP. She was appointed vice premier in 2006. In 2008, following the DPP’s loss in the presidential elections, she became party president, the first woman to lead a major political party in Taiwan. But her entry into electoral politics was not smooth. She lost to Eric Chu of the KMT in the New Taipei City mayor election in 2010, and also lost the 2012 presidential election against incumbent Ma Ying-jeou.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As the second Ma administration got embroiled in corruption scandals and internal bickering, Tsai used the opportunity to assess her strengths and weaknesses, aiming for a second shot at presidency. She found herself on the back foot for a number of reasons. She was an ethnic Hakka, while nearly 95 per cent of the Taiwanese were Han Chinese. She preferred to speak Mandarin Chinese rather than Minnan, a branch of Chinese which was more popular on the island. On many social and political issues, she was a moderate, while the DPP cadre loved extreme positions. Finally, she was not an accomplished speaker.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As her campaign rallies were so boring, Tsai sought help from Lee Yung-feng, the head of a prominent theatre group. She told him about the chilly response she often received from her audience. Lee told her that professional actors were never bothered by what happened offstage; they cared only about getting their part right. Tsai then resolved to “stay with her own persona and personal political vocabulary, presenting her views methodically and logically”. She was elected president on January 16, 2016, with over 56 per cent of the votes.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Tsai is Taiwan’s first woman president and the first female head of state in Asia who was not born into a political family. She is also the first unmarried president of Taiwan. The Taiwanese did not have a problem with their president’s marital status, but it was widely discussed in the Chinese media. Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, published an article by a senior military officer which argued that as a single, female politician, Tsai did not have the emotional support of love, family or children. “So her political style and strategies are more emotional, personal and extreme,” said the article. Tsai has been remarkably cool about it. “In today’s society, a person who is not married can still get all the things that marriage has to offer,” she once told an interviewer.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Her first term as president was a trial by fire. “As she was not a natural politician, she took decisions which she felt were good for the future of the country. But it hurt her politically,” said Joshy M. Paul, international relations expert at the Centre for Air Power Studies, Delhi. “She had to pay a huge political price for her decision to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, legalise same-sex marriage, and implement the new labour code and pension reforms.” Just two years into her tenure, she became one of the most unpopular presidents in Taiwan’s history and the DPP lost badly in the 2018 local polls. Ironically, what perhaps saved her career was an unexpected intervention by her bête noire, Chinese President Xi Jinping.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>In his 2019 New Year speech, Xi made a long-winded reiteration of China’s determination to reunite Taiwan under the “one country, two systems”, and cited Hong Kong as an example. Tsai’s rebuttal, which came within hours of Xi’s speech, painted an alarming picture of China trying to undermine everything that Taiwan stood for. She forcefully rejected the “one country, two systems” model and the “1992 consensus”, which says that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to one China, but with flexible interpretations.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>She was also helped by Xi’s high-handed approach in Hong Kong where pro-democracy protesters were brutally suppressed by the police. The slogan “Hong Kong today, Taiwan tomorrow,” resonated with voters. Tsai’s fearless approach burnished her image as the defender of Taiwan’s democracy and quickly turned around her fortunes, paving the way for her reelection, with an even bigger mandate. Being term-limited under Taiwanese law, this would be her last term as president.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The days after the reelection brought another challenge in the form of the pandemic. Tsai’s response was impressive as she “relied on science, preparedness, clear and consistent communication, a strong health system and technocratic competence” to protect her country.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Unfortunately for Tsai, the period also witnessed China’s growing assertiveness, with Xi preparing for an unprecedented third term as supreme leader. She, however, did not back out when Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, announced a visit to Taiwan. She did not mind the fact that the visit was not just a show of solidarity, as Pelosi was also eyeing the liberal vote-base of the Democrats in the US, with the party facing a tough midterm elections in November. Ignoring China’s wrath, she formally received Pelosi, conferred on her Taiwan’s highest civilian honour and even made sure key moments of the visit were covered live online.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As tensions with China grow, no one is perhaps better qualified than Tsai to steady the ship and to ensure that Taiwan’s vital interests are protected. Ryan Hass, senior fellow at Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, called her the Angela Merkel of Asia. “Like Merkel, Tsai has been steady, methodical, technocratic, competent and quick to seize opportunities to advance her agenda.” An official who worked closely with Tsai during her days as DPP chief between 2008 and 2012 recently told the Financial Times that she avoided rash decisions by talking to a range of experts, especially on controversial issues. “When we were preparing bills for the legislature, the thing Tsai would challenge me over the most was whether we had consulted enough people who don’t agree with us,” said the official. “If there is one key principle for her, it is balance.”</p> Sun Sep 04 11:03:08 IST 2022 new-gang-of-four-in-taiwan-challenges-china <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>If Mao Zedong had a “gang of four” to lead his Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution, there is a new “gang of four” in action in Taiwan, challenging the legitimacy and human rights record of the Chinese government. They are Wuér Kaixi, a Tiananmen Square massacre survivor from Xinjiang; Lam Wing-kee, a bookseller from Hong Kong; Kelsang Gyaltsen, the Tibetan representative in Taiwan; and Lee Ming-che, a Taiwanese activist who was jailed for five years in China. During Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, she met with members of the “gang”, showing the importance of the geopolitical hotspots represented by them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The four activists briefly shared their experiences with THE WEEK.</b></p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Wuér Kaixi,</b> Tiananmen Square massacre survivor</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>When I met Speaker Nancy Pelosi, I gave her chocolates. She loves chocolates. The chocolates were made by connoisseur Wu Kui Ni, who won four gold medals at the International Chocolate Awards (Asia Pacific) competition. I have met Pelosi at least two dozen times, but our latest meeting in Taiwan was a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping that democracy can never be defeated and that the US continued to support Taiwan. During the meeting, we talked about human rights violations in Hong Kong, Tibet and Xinjiang.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I belong to the Uyghur heritage and my parents worked in China as translators. They were not working for the Communist Party, but everything was controlled by the CCP back then. In the 1980s, the Chinese people, especially the students, thought that the CCP was committed to making China an open society and they wanted to nudge the party in that direction. But when they went out to the Tiananmen Square in 1989, the true nature of the CCP was revealed. The party wanted power, but not reforms, and responded with military suppression. I managed to escape somehow, and I was put as number two on the CCP’s most wanted students’ list.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I escaped to Hong Kong and then to Europe and the US, before moving to Taiwan in 1996. I was distraught when China arrested Liu Xiaobo, a prominent intellectual and my mentor throughout the student movement. He was sent to jail in 2008 for challenging the CCP rule. Hearing that, I tried to turn myself in, yet I was not arrested. In 2010, Liu became the first Chinese citizen to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but it was tragic that he remained a prisoner till his death in 2017.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Today, I believe that the US is on the cusp of a change. It had adopted an engagement policy with China under president Richard Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger to counter the Soviet Union. But when the policy continued even after the Cold War, it turned into appeasement. Pelosi’s visit is an indication of a change. China will have to either reject it or adapt to the impending change. I don’t think there is much substance behind Xi’s military threat, unless he has gone crazy. He is a calculating dictator who always sees what is beneficial for him. So he may not invade Taiwan. But he runs a totalitarian regime which is capable of irrational action.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lam Wing-kee,</b> bookseller from Hong Kong</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was kidnapped by suspected Chinese agents in 2015 and was jailed for eight months for selling books critical of the Chinese leadership. It showed that the CCP did not want to hear any voices against them. I escaped to Taiwan after Hong Kong proposed a law that would have allowed my extradition to China. I could have been sent to a Chinese prison and prosecuted under any charge they wanted. So I escaped, leaving behind my bookstore and my girlfriend.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After the Tiananmen Square massacre, people in Hong Kong suddenly wanted to know more about what was happening in China, and books were the most direct way to do that. I loved reading, so it was quite natural for me to open a bookstore. Gradually, I realised that the bookstore was also a way to focus on human rights, which is a bigger priority for any country. In Taiwan, too, I opened a bookstore to show the world and the CCP that I am still a rebel and that the people of Hong Kong will continue to fight.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t have anyone in Hong Kong to go back to. My bookstore has been purchased by some Chinese investment firm. My sons are grown up and they have chosen to stay back. It is their decision and I don’t worry about them.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The situation in Taiwan is critical right now and it is good that the US has given a clear message to China with the visit of Speaker Pelosi. Taiwan is a democracy. But we must remember that democracy is not the destination. It is only a way to realise the actual goal, which is freedom.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Kelsang Gyaltsen,</b> Tibetan representative in Taiwan</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>On the night of Speaker Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, I got a call from a Mongolian diplomat, asking about the chances of a war breaking out and whether they should airlift their students. I told him that Pelosi would visit Taiwan, but there would be no war. Later, he thanked me and invited me to dinner.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As Tibetans, we understand the Chinese mind because we have witnessed their aggression and oppression for decades, much before anyone else. Today, the Tibetan community in exile in Taiwan is of strategic importance as we assist, guide and join hands with the Taiwanese in times of crisis.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The Tibetans, the Uyghurs, the Mongolians, the Taiwanese and the Hong Kongers are facing the same kind of problem from the CCP. China fears that we could stop it from having good relations with other countries. We have come together under a common understanding against the dangerous policies of the CCP. Given the present situation, the people in Taiwan feel that war is imminent, but the only way to avoid war is to rally together the defenders of human rights, democracy and peace. This is the time we need the support of the international community. Countries like India should be more vocal in their support because the Tibetan refugees are already settled in India. It is home to the Dalai Lama and is a centre of Buddhism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>During the 2008 uprising in Tibet, Pelosi had visited India and met the Dalai Lama. At that time, I was a parliamentarian in the Central Tibetan Administration and I got a chance to meet her. This July, I visited the American embassy here in Taiwan for a human rights conference. All these engagements demonstrate our close relations and also the American commitment towards protecting human rights. Pelosi herself is one of the greatest supporters of the Tibetan cause and of the Dalai Lama, so it was our responsibility to receive her when she came to Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>Lee Ming-che,</b> Taiwanese activist who was jailed for five years in China</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was arrested at the Gongbei port of entry [on the China-Macau border, in March 2017]. A black cloth was put over my face and I was forced into a car. My abductors asked me to cooperate and sent me to Guangzhou for RSDL (residential surveillance at a designated location), a type of undisclosed detention centre used against individuals accused of endangering national security. According to a Chinese court, all my “crimes” were online criticisms of the Chinese government. However, the places where I made those remarks were all in Taiwan. China treats the Taiwanese like its own citizens and imposes a charge of “subversion of state power” that should apply only to its own people. Such acts are an unlimited expansion of national sovereignty and a violation of Taiwan’s sovereignty.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I was in solitary confinement; even my lawyer and my family were not told about my condition. I was not allowed to read any books or magazines, or watch TV. Even the staff watching over me were forbidden to speak to me.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>After I was released from RSDL on May 26, 2017, I was sent to the Chishan prison in Hunan and I got a public trial. The Chinese authorities could not prove espionage charges against me because those were false charges, but I continued to be in prison. I tried to preserve my willpower and sanity by constantly reminding myself that I had not done anything wrong. I called myself a human rights defender and decided to work to safeguard human rights whether or not I was released from jail one day.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I became free after five years, on April 14, 2022. Today, I am working to improve the human rights situation in Chinese prisons even as the Chinese government tries to snap ties between foreign NGOs and the Chinese people.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I believe that freedom is not for free. My parents were born in China and retreated with the Kuomintang army in 1949. My family embraced the idea of “Chinese nationalism”. But my wife is a local Taiwanese. So she inspired me to have a different worldview and I could see that Taiwan was gradually moving towards a democratic society.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>I don’t want to be a citizen of an autocratic country. When I met Speaker Pelosi, she mentioned that she held aloft a protest banner at the Tiananmen Square in 1991. She has repeatedly asked Chinese leaders to set political prisoners free. She also expressed concern about human rights violations in Tibet, Xinjiang and Hong Kong.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>AS TOLD TO NAMRATA BIJI AHUJA</b></p> Sun Sep 04 11:01:39 IST 2022 taiwan-crisis-caused-by-opportunistic-moves-of-us-democratic-party-xie-chao <a href=""><img border="0" hspace="10" align="left" style="margin-top:3px;margin-right:5px;" src="" /> <p>Astone makes a thousand waves. This old Chinese saying can best describe the impact of US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s official visit to Taiwan on major power relations and regional stability. The Chinese government had raised serious and principled objections to the visit, but still failed to dissuade Pelosi from landing in Taiwan. The historical volatility in bilateral relations further worsened Chinese perceptions regarding America’s ultimate intentions over Taiwan. The Chinese government, therefore, deemed that corresponding reactions were needed and, subsequently, the People’s Liberation Army announced a series of military exercises around Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>To the Chinese government, the issue of Taiwan means a prolonged civil war since the 1940s when its attempts to liberate the island were interrupted by the US. A forgetful world might be oblivious to historical facts, but unlike most territorial disputes between countries, the belonging of Taiwan to China is historically recognised by the international community. The Chinese military is, therefore, still called a liberation army. The Chinese government is thus obliged to fulfil the remaining task to liberate the island, and the aggression that China could sense from Pelosi’s visit helped it enhance domestic cohesion to stand strongly against the provocative move.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As compared with earlier China-US crises on Taiwan, the PLA’s military exercises around Taiwan this time involved a bigger amount of military personnel and more comprehensive weapons, with bomber formations sent to fly across the Taiwan Strait and long-range air strike capabilities tested. The PLA was convinced that what it was doing corresponded to US provocation because, as the second highest ranking official in the line of succession to the US president, Pelosi was warned against “undermining China’s sovereign security interests”, a blunt intervention into China’s domestic affairs and against the American commitment about not developing official relations with Taiwan.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The White House announced that it would conduct ‘freedom of navigation’ transits in the Taiwan Strait, which would further worsen the situation. Such actions and reactions between the two superpowers are still unfolding and will undoubtedly put regional stability to test. But from what observers can see, neither the PLA navy nor the US navy wants further escalation. So far, both sides have displayed relative calmness and professionalism.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>As for China, the remarks by its foreign ministry spokesperson and other ranking officials have sent a clear message to the US and the international community that it had determined the current crisis to be caused by opportunistic moves of the Democratic Party to boost its midterm election prospects and Pelosi to leave a legacy as a staunch anti-China warrior. Based on such conviction, rather than seeking to solve the problem once and for all, its countermeasures focus on deterring Taiwan’s Democratic Progressive Party authorities and extreme anti-China forces in the US from making further moves in pursuing de facto independence.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Historically, the Chinese government has demonstrated sufficient patience in finding a peaceful way for reunification, while separatist forces in Taiwan have tried all means, including incremental tactics, to revise historical and cultural bonds with the mainland and invite outside forces to stoke confrontation. A further proof for China’s continued patience is a recent controversy over Taiwanese being trafficked to Cambodia by telecom scam gangs, to which the Chinese embassy in Cambodia has made it clear that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are Chinese and that the embassy is ready to help those Taiwanese victims at any time.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>For the US, playing the Taiwan card is a traditional and classic way to distract and contain China’s rise, even as it serves to perpetuate Taiwan’s security reliance on the US. The strategy has worked well so far and in terms of business, the Biden administration has made five rounds of arms sales to Taiwan since taking charge, of which four rounds happened this year. American strategists prefer a ‘neither-war-nor-peace’ status across the Taiwan Strait as they believe that it can best serve US interests. The US does not want to escalate the already intense crisis at a time the Biden administration is wrestling with a hostile Russia over the Ukraine invasion. A showdown on Taiwan will put the US in direct confrontation with a nuclear power of significant military and economic leverage.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This scenario, however, does not rule out completely the possibility of an escalation, especially while considering the Biden administration’s larger strategic goals in containing China. After the turmoil caused by Pelosi’s visit, the Biden administration is proposing the Chip 4 alliance. Taiwan, which is a semiconductor powerhouse, is invited to play a vital role in helping the US regain dominance over the global chip market. Nobody knows what exactly is in store for other states when the US takes control of the semiconductor industry chain, but the butterfly effect is clear: all major economies will run into a stringent semiconductor supply crisis and the already fragile global economy will encounter a critical strike.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>Time has come for the world to start worrying about the spiralling escalation amid the “extreme competition”–a phrase favoured by President Biden–between the two most powerful states and it can have a much larger impact globally. The Biden administration is unveiling its plan against China step by step and the whole world has to wait for the dust to settle and absorb the resulting shocks.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p><b>The author is an associate professor at the Institute of International Studies, Fudan University, Shanghai, China.</b></p> Sun Sep 04 10:55:37 IST 2022