Can BJP Take On Punjab Farmers?

First, it was the Shiv Sena which severed its links with the Bharatiya Janata Party. Now it is the Shiromani Akali Dal which is contemplating breaking away from its senior alliance partner. And in Haryana, another ally, the Jannayak Janata Party is under pressure to snap its ties with the saffron party.

Clearly not all is well in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.

The latest round of rumblings in the ruling alliance has been triggered by the growing protests of farmers in Punjab and Haryana against the Modi government’s decision to push ahead with three contentious farm bills aimed at deregulating the agriculture sector.

Unable to ignore the anger among the farmers in her home state, Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal gave up her ministerial post in the Narendra Modi government to register her party’s opposition to the farm bills. Since the farming community is the core support base of the Akalis in Punjab, Harsimrat Kaur had no choice but to leave the Modi government as she could not afford to ignore the voices from the ground. By walking out of the Modi government in protest against the controversial farm bills, the Shiromani Akali Dal has got an opportunity to regain lost ground. The party has been in doldrums since its drubbing in the 2017 assembly polls. It has been struggling to recover from the public anger it faced for the desecration of the Guru Granth Sahib when it was in power.

Harsimrat Kaur‘s resignation will have a far reaching impact on the bond between the Shiromani Akali Dal and the BJP. Having quit the NDA government, the Akalis are now weighing the option of going solo in the next Punjab assembly elections. In fact, the farm bills proved to be the proverbial last straw as tensions between the Akalis and the BJP had been brewing for some time now. Akali leaders had been complaining privately for over a year now about how the BJP was riding roughshod over its allies and not taking them into confidence on key issues.

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If the Akalis do decide to divorce the BJP, it will mark the end of a long and happy marriage. Together since 1997, the two parties worked harmoniously through all these years. The relationship was a win-win for both sides. While the BJP brought in the Hindu urban vote, the support of the Akalis comprising the Sikh peasantry fetched the alliance the rural vote. This proved to be a winning combination and worked well as it was an accepted fact that the Shiromani Akali Dal was the senior partner in Punjab and the BJP was happy to defer to it.

Besides the electoral benefits of this alliance, Akali veteran Parkash Singh Badal was also convinced that the partnership also helped keep the peace between the Hindus and the Sikhs. Actually it was Badal senior’s political wisdom and sagacity which held the alliance together over the decades.

But the terms of this relationship have undergone a change in recent years for several reasons. For one, it is Sukhbir Singh Badal who is now running the show as his father has handed over the reins of the party to him. Badal junior is impetuous and lacks his father’s accommodating nature. Not only has his party’s relations with its oldest ally come under strain on his watch, he has also alienated a large section in his own party.

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On the other side, the BJP is not the same party when the benign Atal Bihari Vajpayee was the Prime Minister. The saffron party has now emerged as the central pole in the country’s polity. With a brute majority in Parliament and an all-powerful leader in Narendra Modi, the BJP has ambitious plans to expand its footprint beyond its traditional strongholds even if it involves poaching on its partner’s turf.

Punjab is among the states on its radar where it would like to shed its dependence on its alliance partner. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the BJP’s ideological mentor, has intensified its activities in the state over the past several years to prepare the ground for the BJP to contest the 2022 assembly polls on its own. This has obviously sent alarm bells ringing in the Shiromani Akali Dal which has always been a senior partner in this alliance. The Akalis are also upset with the BJP as it is convinced that it is the saffron party which is encouraging disgruntled elements in its ranks to launch a parallel Akali Dal.

But in the process of settling scores with each other, there is a strong possibility that both the parties could lose out. The Akalis will find it difficult to come to power by depending only on the Sikh vote while the BJP too could face an uphill task as it will not be possible for it to win a majority in the 117-member Punjab assembly on the basis of the Hindu vote alone.

Chinese Demand Comes to Indian Steel Inc Rescue

Who could think when there is a major border standoff between the armies of Asia’s two leading powers and New Delhi’s call to boycott anything coming from the northern neighbour is gaining a shrill overtone, succour for Covid-19 pandemic hit Indian steelmakers and also iron ore miners would come from China, albeit in its own interest. Expectedly, some leading businessmen knowing well that logic is not on their side still saw virtues in wholesale substitution of imports from China.

For example, Sajjan Jindal, chairman and managing director of steel to cement to energy group JSW Steel, was found exhorting Indian businessmen to give up the “complacency in blindly accepting cheaper imports from China rather than developing our own domestic vendors.”

Sajjan’s son Partha, in charge of the group’s cement and energy businesses, has in the meantime made the commitment that in the next 24 months “our imports from China, now around $400 million a year, will become zero.” This apparently bold stand is, however, not standing in the way of JSW exporting steel to China because the “prerogative to stop imports from India rests with Beijing.” Action on ground backed by clear policy direction and adequate funding for MSME enterprises and start-ups who would make components and intermediate stuff for big industries, and not chest-thumping will alone help the cause of ‘Atmanirbhar India’ (self-reliant India).

More than one steelmaker told this reporter that during the long period of lockdown that started on March 25 and continued till May end that steel being a continuous process industry, they were allowed to keep their blast furnaces switched on. But the combination of rapid fall in demand for steel in all user industries, from construction to automobile, and logistical challenges in receiving raw materials and despatching finished products saw steel mill capacity use down to 40 per cent and less.

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The lockdown period saw am alarming fall in domestic steel demand. A significant spurt in exports to China coinciding with Beijing stimulus to prop up the economy proved to be a major aid in keeping inventories of steel low at our end. Our steel exports to China during April-May rose to 441,920 tonnes from only 8,019 tonnes a year earlier. In the same period, India’s domestic steel demand fell 75.5 per cent to 4.01m tonnes. Without such volumes of Indian steel finding their way into China, steelmakers here would have faced a crisis never before.

Not this ferrous metal alone, elevated Chinese buying of the principal steel making ingredient iron ore provided big relief to miners in Indian producing states, particularly in Orissa. There erstwhile operators of 18 mines with expired leases that subsequently found new owners at auctions held earlier this year under the Mines & Minerals (Development & Regulation) Act are given the right to remove by end of this month the mineral that got accumulated by mine sites ahead of lease expiry.

Thanks to insatiable appetite for iron ore leading China to buy the mineral from wherever it would come, the previous owners of 18 mines are confident of taking out every tonne of ore by September end. Without any extra marketing efforts by our mining groups or duty relief from New Delhi, Indian iron ore exports to China in the first half of 2020 doubled to 20m tonnes over the same period last year.

From all its trade actions, it becomes clear that Beijing will just do whatever suits its convenience. If simmering tensions at the border have not proved to be an impediment for India to step up exports of steel as well as iron ore, Beijing angered by Canberra demanding an independent inquiry into whether coronavirus originated in China – it believes that the move resulted from a prod by Washington – has decided to reduce its overdependence on Australia for iron ore, though no positive action has been taken as yet.

Politics apart, Chinese steelmakers believe that overdependence on a single source – Australia earns annual revenue of over $63bn by selling iron ore to the world’s largest steelmaker – gives the supplier handle to keep prices high. Australia currently has 63 per cent of Chinese ore market with Brazil coming next with 20 per cent. What India exports to China are only a sliver of its annual imports of over a billion tonnes. That country alone has a share of three quarters of the seaborne trade in the commodity.

Iron ore thirsty China has started looking everywhere beyond Australia and Brazil for the mineral. The most promising prospect for it will be the development of mines at 110 km range Simandou hills in Guinea which holds the world’s largest untapped deposits estimated at 8.6bn tonnes with highly rich iron content of 65 per cent and more. But to bring that ore to China will require development of railway network and ports that will amount to an all time biggest execution of infrastructure projects in Africa. The area has the potential to generate 150m tonnes of ore a year to start with. Investors want to be sure ore emerging from Simandou will not leave a negative impact on prices of the commodity.

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But what China’s growing needs for iron ore hold for India? A lot, depending on whether New Delhi will be ready to shed its recently acquired fad for resource nationalism. The strong steel lobby has been able to convince the government that ore above a certain grade should invite a duty that will act as export disincentive. No wonder Indian iron ore exports were down from 127m tonnes on a production of 227m tonnes in 2011-12 to 32.1m tonnes on an output of 231m tonnes in 2019-20.

India no doubt has the capacity to regain the status of the world’s third largest producer and exporter of the mineral after Australia and Brazil. After all, the country is sitting on iron ore resources of over 32bn tonnes which, according to Federation of Indian Mineral Industries director general RK Sharma, will “continue to rise if due importance is given to exploration.” The employment potential in remote parts of the country containing iron ore deposits where no other economic opportunities except mining exist needs to be appreciated by the powers that be.

Look at what has come to happen to Goa where Supreme Court in February 2018 quashed all 88 mine leases that were renewed by way of a smart law dodging by the BJP run state government in 2015 to “benefit private mining leaseholders.” Earlier also, the private miners got court raps for illegal and environment damaging ore extraction. Infrastructure for moving ore through roads to the port did not receive attention either from the state government or from the industry raising howls of public protests. That things are much better on ground since are not to be denied. The fact is as the mines have remained shut, around 100,000 directly employed in the industry and another 300,000 engaged in supporting services are going through great privation. Their income has totally dried up.

The mining industry, which in normal times will contribute around 25 per cent to state gross domestic product, is now making nil contribution to the exchequer. To further compound the woes of Goa for which tourism is another major source of revenue and employment, the pandemic has scared away visitors from its palm fringed beaches. Hopefully sooner than later, the court will give permission for orderly reopening of mines following auction. That in due course should boost our iron ore exports to China by nearly 40m tonnes. For, Indian steelmakers have no use for Goan ore with low iron content that requires washing before it could be fed into blast furnaces.

A Wake-up Call For Gilgit-Baltistan

Recently Pakistan’s opposition parties thwarted an attempt by Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan government to hold a consultative meeting to discuss a constitutional package for Gilgit Baltistan (GB) by boycotting the session called by the Parliamentary Standing Committee for National Security.

This defeat of the Imran Khan-led government comes at a time when a general election in GB is expected by the end on November 2020.

In a desperate attempt to guarantee a victory in the forthcoming elections, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government is leaving no stone unturned.

From hypocritical and rhetorical claims that GB is set to become the fifth province of Pakistan, to demagogic references to Islamic bondage between the Occupier (Sunni-dominated Pakistan) and the oppressed (Shia-dominated GB), and from naming post-election development packages to a sudden rush to the occupied region of Karakorum by top federal ministers to garner support for the ruling party in Pakistan, the whole election campaign has become a farce.

Imran Khan cannot even get respectable candidates for his party in GB. Many who were once thought to become PTI candidates have now decided to contest elections as independents.

Full-scale manipulation of voters list, postponing the date of the election to November to let winter set in and snowfall block the roads that lead to far-flung polling stations causing low voter turn out, are only a few of the tricks up the sleeve of the Pakistani establishment to influence the results of the elections.

Not only that poor performance in the election in GB will harm the popularity of PTI during the general election in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir due next year but it will also undermine the Pakistan Army’s control of the region.

Gilgit-Baltistan has been part of the former princely state of Jammu and Kashmir since 1877. During the Pakistan invasion of the state of Jammu Kashmir in October 1947, Maharaja Hari Singh acceded to India, therefore, allowing Indian troops to land at Srinagar airport on October 27, 1947.

It did not take long for the Indian forces to push the Pakistani army and tribal invaders back. As Pakistan’s defeat became imminent, a British mercenary by the name of Major William Brown was stationed in the Gilgit agency. He was ordered by the British to stage a coup against the Governor of Gilgit Agency Brigadier Ghansara Singh.

At the time the officers of the Gilgit Scouts, a paramilitary force to scout the region, was under the command of British officers. They staged a coup and held individual meetings with the chieftains of the vassal states of the Gilgit Agency and gave them a choice of supporting the change in the political status of the Gilgit Agency or face retribution.

On October 30, 1947, just three days after the Indian troops landed in Srinagar, Major William Brown made his move and took over the Agency. On November 2 that year, he pulled down the flag of the state of Jammu Kashmir and raised the flag of Pakistan at the Gilgit Residency.

Had former Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru not been to the United Nations and negotiated a cease-fire, Gilgit Baltistan would have been freed along with parts of west Jammu that were occupied by Pakistan army. The Indian troops were well on their way to liberate Skardu when they were stopped in their tracks. Indian troops retreated to Kargil and Leh.

Pakistan has since tried to swallow GB but in vain. In May 2007, a report submitted to the EU parliamentary Committee on Kashmir, known as the Emma Nicholson Report, described the human rights situation in GB and PoJK and proved that there were widespread abuse of human rights in both occupied regions.

In her report, she mentioned that it was the Pakistan Ministry of Kashmir Affairs that dealt with political, economic and financial issues of the occupied territories.

The Minister of Kashmir Affairs, she noted, was a Pakistani, so were the Inspector General of Police, the Accountant General and the Finance Secretary.

She also highlighted the fact the according to the interim constitution of Pakistan occupied Jammu and Kashmir (also known as Act 74), no political party was allowed to operate unless they pledged their loyalty to the idea of accession to Pakistan.

Today, there are several dozen political prisoners in GB serving sentences up to 90 years. The colonial Schedule Four law bars any form of freedom of speech. The GB is crucial to the Belt and Road initiative of China.

The route that would take supplies from China to the Mediterranean and the continent of Europe has to pass through the occupied territory of GB before it reaches the Port of Gwadar in Baluchistan.

Hence, it is under the immense pressure of expansionist China that Pakistan is attempting to nip GB. Pakistan owes billions of dollars to China that she has borrowed to help keep its dwindling economy afloat.

China is investing over USD 60 billion just on the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). The irony is that all projects of CPEC that are being constructed in Pakistan are done by Chinese loans.

Hence it’s a double-edged trap for Pakistan. It’s a debt-trap. This debt-trap is going to prove like a death trap for Pakistan in years to come since Pakistan is unable to generate a surplus economy.

In this scenario occupied territories have become the first to bear the brunt of the economic causality Pakistan is suffering.

River Indus in GB and Rivers Jhelum and Neelum in PoJK has been diverted for the construction of Hydropower projects in Diamer, Kohala and other places.

This is causing severe ecological disaster in the region. Water shortages in GB and PoJK have forced hundreds of settled people to migrate. Green pastures for animal grazing have dried up and wildlife species are seriously been endangered.

It is a wakeup call for India that its people and lands that were occupied in 1947 are now being systematically sent to the death camp of history by a rouge fascist state of Pakistan.

The need to act to save our people and recapture our lands has never been so pressing.

The author is a human rights activist from Mirpur in PoK. He currently lives in exile in the UK. (ANI)

BJP Is Now Dominant NDA Partner In Bihar

Ever since the two parties joined hands over 20 years ago, the Bharatiya Janata Party has played second fiddle to the Nitish Kumar-led Janata Dal (U) in Bihar. The saffron party depended on Nitish Kumar’s clean image and charisma to ride to power in the eastern state where it had negligible presence.

As Bihar prepares for its next round of assembly elections now, there’s a perceptible change in the equation between the two parties. With Nitish Kumar facing massive anti-incumbency after 15 years in power and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity at an all-time high, the tables have turned in favour of the BJP. Today, it is the Janata Dal (U) chief who needs the BJP to retain power.

Well aware that it is on a strong footing this time, the BJP is all set to drive a hard bargain with the Janata Dal (U) during its seat-sharing negotiations to be able to emerge as the single largest party post-polls which would open up the possibility of the saffron party laying claim to the chief minister’s post. On the face of it, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president J.P.Nadda have publicly declared that the coming assembly polls will be fought under Nitish Kumar’s leadership. The reason for this is obvious. The BJP obviously does not wish to alienate the Janata Dal (U) chief and push him to the rival camp.

But the BJP is also in no mood to concede the upper hand to its alliance partner. The saffron party has, over the years, used the Janata Dal (U) to expand its footprint in Bihar and it believes it is now in a position to emerge as the dominant force in the state. The saffron party’s Bihar unit has, therefore, been urging its Central leaders for several months now that the BJP should make a strong pitch for the top executive post in the state, especially since Nitish Kumar is personally on shaky ground. The BJP hardliners have been at pains to point out that the ground situation in Bihar has undergone a sea change and with the BJP’s improved presence it can dictate terms to its alliance partner.

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For the first time in his ruling terms, Nitish Kumar is facing mounting public anger. His government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the migrant labour crisis, rising unemployment, rampant corruption and the damage wrought by the recent floods have all combined to push Nitish Kumar on the backfoot. It is to deflect attention from his government’s failures that the Bihar chief minister, with dollops of help from the BJP, has shifted the political discourse to the Sushant Singh Rajput case, currently being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation. The dates for the election are yet to be announced but the state is already dotted with posters of the actor with the caption “Na bhoole hain, no bhoolne denge”, a clear indication of how the poll campaign will pan out in the days ahead.

Even as Nitish Kumar is fighting with his back to the wall, he has to deal with another irritant. An ally – Lok Janshakti Party’s Chirag Paswan – has launched an offensive against the Bihar chief minister. Paswan junior has, in recent weeks, taken several potshots at Nitish Kumar and has even threatened to contest the Bihar assembly poll on his own.

As the anchor of the National Democratic Alliance, it would be expected that the BJP would step in to silence the LJP leader. But it has made no serious move in that direction. This has given rise to speculation that Paswan junior is acting on the behest of the saffron party. It is understood that his barbs are essentially aimed at garnering a larger share of seats for his party, which works to the BJP’s advantage. If the share of Janata Dal (U) seats is reduced and the BJP contests on more seats, it stands a greater chance of emerging as the single largest party.

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While Nitish Kumar finds himself in the doghouse, the Modi magic remains undiminished. Despite the Centre’s poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, the slump in the economy and the standoff with China, people in Bihar, as elsewhere in the country, are not ready to blame the Modi government for the multiple crises facing the country. They are willing to overlook the Centre’s failures and even justify them on the ground that these problems are not confined to India but are a worldwide phenomenon. Modi’s image of a Hindu Hirday Samrat and the BJP’s majoritarian agenda is more than sufficient reason for them to support him and the saffron party.

If the BJP-Janata Dal (U) combine comes back to power (as it is expected to), the victory will be driven by Modi’s popularity and not Nitish Kumar’s governance record. The ruling coalition will additionally be helped by the disarray in the opposition camp and its inability to throw up a viable alternative. While the Congress has negligible presence in the state. Rashtriya Janata Dal leader Lalu Prasad Yadav is out of action and his son Tejaswi Yadav is yet to evolve into a mature politician.

Even as the opposition is still debating the terms of building a coalition of like-minded parties, the BJP has already kickstarted its campaign with virtual rallies and is in the process of strengthening its digital infrastructure to connect with the voters. Since there are restrictions on physical campaigning in this election because of the coronavirus pandemic, the BJP has decided to maximise the use of social media and other digital platforms to inform the people about their government’s achievements.

The opposition just does not have the resources, the leadership and the organisation to match the BJP.

A Hope From Ram Mandir

Whether Ram Mandir should have been built or not is an irrelevant debate now. The important brick has been laid. The Mandir will be built. The debate should be what significance will Ram and Ram Mandir have on the future of India? Potentially, the Mandir can have a powerful and positive influence on the ethics and values of the country. It will depend on whether the BJP sees the Mandir as a tribute and commitment to the virtues of Lord Ram or whether the party is still fixated with Chanakya niti.

The BJP is intending Ram Mandir to become a significant reference pivot in the future character, nation building and identity of India. It is to consolidate BJP’s political philosophy of Hindutva. Indians and the world are waiting to see how the Mandir shapes the ethical concepts of Indian government under BJP. Will India be more Ram or more Chanakya? Ram and Chanakya are two different perspectives on life and values.

It does not make sense to consider Chanakya’s work as part of Hinduism’s corpus of religious texts any more than Niccolo Machiavelli, who is considered to be later day Chanakya, be considered as part of Christian theology or Christiandom.

There are substantive different approaches to ethics and value systems between Ram Niti expressed in Ram Rajya and Chanakya Niti expressed in Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti Shastra. Chanakya takes a temporal and instrumentalist perspective on life and values whereas Ram takes a godly and Dharmic approach to life and everyday ethics.

Lord Rama’s reverence has survived through the ages as the perfect human being, or a god that inspires awe and respect. Ram is about virtue, highest values, honesty, integrity, promises kept and godliness. Ram is what people, poor and rich, slaves and kings, Shudras or Brahmin, visualise God to be. Ram signifies the one focal hope of truth in everybody’s life in a world of intrigues, deceptions and inequalities. Ram is the paragon of that truth, the light that everyone seeks.

Chanakya on the other hand is all about intrigue, scheming, deception, force, subjugation and political survival as well as of course how to run economics, law and State effectively. Chanakya tells us how to overthrow neighbours and destroy adversaries who could become enemies while Ram tells us how to embrace humanity and its diversity.

Take the most dramatic event in Lord Rama’s life. When his father King Dasharath was to announce crowning Ram as the next King, one of his wives, Ram’s stepmother, Kaikei intervened. She reminded Dashrath of his promise of two wishes he had granted her to make. She asked for Ram to be banished for 14 years and her son Bharata to be crowned King.

The Ramayana revolves around this. King Dashrath, a virtuous King felt obliged to keep his word. That was the essence of pre-Chanakya Dharma. He didn’t want to send Ram to the forest for 14 years. He looked to Ram to rebel or find an excuse. But Ram, even more stoical about agreements and promises, calmly accepted it and talked to his father about virtues and values. He kept his father’s honour and went to the Jungle for 14 years. His life in the forest and after his return are all about virtues and values, about integrity, about honesty, about compassions and duties. It is not surprising that Ram is admired and revered in all the Indian faith and belief systems.

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It is not known whether anyone has ever done a “what if” Chanakya had been present at the court. Would he have found a ‘clever’ argument to give the appearance of keeping Dashrath’s promise to Kaikei but not actually banishing Ram to the Jungle? Would he have found a way to put Ram on the throne while acceding to Kaikei’s demand that her son be crowned King? Of course he would have. He was the clever political intriguing advisor.

Let us for instance break down Kaikei’s request. She in fact makes three requests. To send Ram to the Jungle for 14 years. To put Bharata on the throne. And the third demand that has never been ‘discovered’ is timing. That it be done ‘now’. Chanakya might have declared that to be the third demand.

So Chanakya niti would have reminded her that she was entitled to two demands, not three. He would have suggested that the timing be taken out, Ram be crowned King or even Prince Regent but to promise to go to the forest at some stage in his life, perhaps when he becomes too old and then to crown Bharata to the crown when he does. A clever scheming Chanakya would think that Baharata would die before Ram went to the jungle and the crown would go to Ram’s son while Ram could become a sanyasi in his last days as many old people did at the time. A clever Chanakya may even have made Bharata’s life so miserable that he may have died or taken his own life. A perfect solution to Dashrath’s dilemma. Promises kept in word, not in spirit. That is pure Chanakya.

That is also the difference between Ram and Chanakya. Chanakya would have found a clever solution. People would have scratched their heads and said, ‘very clever, got us out of that dilemma’, but be aware that it is not virtuous, not laden with values of dharma nor gives confidence in the integrity and honesty of either Dashrath or Ram. But Ram was the paragon of virtue. He rather keeps the word and the spirit of the word. He wanted people to have faith in him and deliver on a promise however awkward that would be. He wasn’t into political mirage.

So far the BJP has been more Chanakya than Ram. Its intrigues, its word sorcery, its use of imagery, of infiltrating the opposition and breaking it, of bringing down competing parties, of playing on words on agreements are classic methodology from the two books of Chanakya, the Arthasashtra and Chanakya Niti Shastra. BJP has been more attached to Chanakya’s secular nationalism than Ram’s Sanatan Dharma.

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When Modi stood at the Ram Mandir and laid that brick, did it suddenly awaken the Ram in him and the party or will the Ram Mandir become a part of the Chanakya niti of divisive and intrigue laden politics?

If the BJP really wants to honour Ram, the Ram that abides in the minds, hearts, hopes and prayers of every Hindu, of a god who reincarnates as the ultimate human being of virtue, honour and value, perhaps BJP can first recreate in current context that epic episode of Dashrath being approached by Kaikei and Ram telling his father, that a promise is a promise and has to be kept in word and spirit.

In the run up to 1947 and period after that, the leaders of Indian Independence movement had made various promises to the Sikhs, the Muslims, the Kashmiris etc. Almost all have been broken through clever Chanakya niti by both Congress and BJP.

The BJP cannot use a get-out clause by saying they were by Congress and not by it. In the realm of States and Kingdoms, the ruler, that is the King, has no family or favourites. The King has a private family but Rajdharma requires that a real King of virtue sees all subjects, whether his children or other subjects as the same. The law is applied uniformly and agreements are honoured without anyone being more equal than others.

Hence Dashrath did not favour his son with a different interpretation of his duty as King. Ram did not say the promise was by the outgoing King and not by him as the new ruler.

The Ram Mandir is being built. The brick has been placed by the current ruler of India. India’s minorities wait to see if the BJP will now also revere Ram the legendry god who has lived in every Hindu and in fact many non-Hindu Indians’ hearts. Will BJP tread the path of Ram Rajya, of virtue, of values, of honouring promises or will it be inspired by Chanakya and see Ram Mandir as a religious icon in the scheme of instrumentalist Politics? The BJP has to choose between Chanakya and Ram now as the Mandir rises from the ashes.

Trump Is Riding High On Negative Narrative

Donald Trump is yet again on a roll, however fake news it might seem in this post-truth media world. That is the funny and dark irony. Beleaguered, demonized, trolled, thoroughly exposed, caricatured, spoofed, pulped and pulverized, the old man with his thinning golden hair still seems to be on a roll.

So much so, like he did with what apparently and falsely seemed the formidable candidature of Hillary Clinton in the last presidential elections in the United States of America in 2016, by winning the polls despite having polled lesser number of votes, and polarizing the entire country on racist, white supremacist, misogynist and xenophobic lines, he might very well do it again. Indeed, the Democrats, often driven by the same deep pockets lobbies as before, even coinciding with the big bucks and hardline interest groups of the Republicans in terms of vested interests, have yet again seemingly opened the presidential electoral game in favour of Trump. With Joe Biden in the running, with running mate Indian-origin candidate Kamala Harris, there are serious speculations that Trump might yet again return to the White House.

This is not the first time that the Democrats have deliberately and systematically chosen a weak candidate. Even in the last elections, there was widespread opinion in the US, that stoic socialist Bernie Sanders from Vermont would have given a run for his money to Trump, floundering with shameful charges of sexual harassment, bad and abusive language, real estate blues and a colourful record of a reported debauched life with video evidence etc. Some of it was proved, some was not, other sleazy stories were buried in the information glut of charges and counter charges which the American media and local gossip factories celebrated in the run-up to the polls. It was also alleged that he was not mentally fit to hold this difficult and delicate position.

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At that time, as prime time television in America gloated and bloated on how disgusting was Trump, as the big papers destroyed whatever little credibility he had, no one could even imagine that he would finally become the president of the USA. Sociologists and media theorists would call it the boomerang effect, that those attacking Trump on grounds of high morality or Christian purity or gender justice, etc, were missing the wood from the trees, and were actually scoring a free self-goal. The more he was turned into a bad man, the more Trump seemed to be scoring his goals in the American hinterland, especially in the vast, empty and untouched landscape of rural America, especially among the white working class and jobless people living in the countryside, and including among the women.

The Democrats and their media and poll analysts just missed the smell of the wind blowin’ out there, so obsessed were they with their high moral ground, the low credibility TRP of a bad-mouthing and sexist Trump, the email leaks of Hillary Clinton, and the Russian factor looming large in the elections.

Two conspiracy theories were rampant during the 2016 elections and they might come back again in another avatar this time too. One was that Russia was managing the Trump campaign through its sinister and diabolical methods, especially proved by the Wikileaks email leaks of Hillary Clinton, which massively helped Trump. The second was that there was a huge white backlash from the ground, especially among the illiterate white working class in the cities and the countryside, including the huge number of jobless and impoverished sections, against Barack Obama, a black man, ruling for two terms, and becoming the first black man to become the president of the USA. Surely, both the theories seem to be hitting the nail on the coffin of the Democrats’ candidate.

In 2016, Bernie Sanders was riding a massive wave, a mass wave of solidarity and support, unprecedented in the history of capitalist USA. Almost the entire millennials, youngsters and students, across colours, status, campuses and class spectrum, were supporting Bernie: an incredible upsurge for the socialist and Left principles and values of equality, justice, egalitarian ethics and anti-war politics flooded the political mainstream consciousness, and the critique of capitalism post-recession acquired a new life not only in campuses, but across the media and middle class spectrum. ‘Bernie’ from Vermont, a die-hard socialist, won one battle after another. The old man became a river of redemption for the young in America, who wanted change, peace, no war, and a new society, with hope floating like a miracle. Bernie resurrected the spirit of the anti-capitalist Occupy Wall Street movement.

His candidature was unfortunately and predictably shattered by the Democrats belonging to the Rightwing lobbies, including the pro-Israeli hardliners. Once again Obama blocked his candidature. People were convinced in the US at that time that Bernie would have been a formidable opponent to Trump and the working class and the educated, especially the young, would have definitely voted for him. Indeed, many of the young supporters of Bernie refused to vote for Hillary Clinton, and chose to abstain. One big reason for the dislike for her was her crude and transparent happiness expressed after the gruesome roadside murder of Libyan president Muammar Gaddaffi, and her role in the escalation of war in Syria.

ALSO READ: Nixon To Trump, India Has Come A Long Way

The latest goof-ups by Trump, which otherwise seems so universally shameful and embarrassing, even for a thick-skinned man like him, might just not affect his credibility among his fanatic followers one bit. He has apparently called American soldiers ‘suckers’, that is, those who died in World War II. Besides, he has apparently come on tape with a top journalist declaring that the Corona pandemic might be disastrous etc, and that China might not be at all under control. However, in all his public utterances he has stated just the opposite, that all is well, that China is doing course correction, and that there is nothing to worry. Even while thousands were dying in America, especially in big cities like New York, especially Blacks and Latinos when compared to the White population, and the cases were rising like hell across the American landscape.

Rightwing hardliners including pro-gun lobbies and supremacists actually rejected the pandemic, chose to protest against restrictions, lockdown and quarantine in the name of individual freedom, dumped the mask into the garbage can, and chose to assemble and mingle in bars and public spaces in total disregard for the norms of social and physical distancing. Trump himself refused to wear the mask in the initial days.

With so many thousands dead, and the pandemic refusing to die down, the economy in a slump, and the American foreign policy in doldrums, and the promise of jobs an illusion, Trump is banking on various factors to push the mandate in his favour, including in the so-called swing states. He is banking on the white backlash against the Black Lives Matter movement, and the brutal use of armed mercenaries and Feds against peaceful protestors in democratic and liberal strongholds like Portland in Oregon. He is banking on the recent peace deal brokered by him between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, the first in a beginning foreseen across the Arab world which is aligned with Saudi Arabia and is opposed to Iran. And he is banking on his original ‘Make America Great Again’ constituency of white supremacists, racists, sexists, and anti-immigrants.

With Joe Biden appearing weak and indecisive, and with his history of being a pale shadow in the charismatic presence of Obama, Trump is pushing the negative discourse of his son’s links in Ukraine etc. A Bernie would have shown him his place. A Biden might just find himself on a sticky wicket as the race heats up.

Delhi-Dhaka Ties Stand The Test Of Time

The government of Bangladesh has been enjoying great cooperation from India ever since Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina came to power in January 2009.

The Indian government headed by Narendra Modi has extended wholehearted support for Bangladesh for rebuilding its economy and its infrastructural development. In return, the Sheikh Hasina government has set a unique example of cooperation and reciprocation out of which the people of both countries would reap ample benefit. The transit, trans-shipment and building regional connectivity, including the waterways, would immensely facilitate and promote trade, commerce and tourism.

A number of issues, including the most critical and complex border problem, which had been hanging for about 40 years despite the inking of a treaty by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and Indira Gandhi, was resolved in a unprecedented bills passed in the Indian Parliament with unanimous support by all members of both the houses.

In response to that genial gesture, the Sheikh Hasina government has set an example of a new reality of cooperation. India-Bangladesh relations are based mainly on the solid historic bond of social, political, economic and cultural tradition. India played a vital role and provided substantial diplomatic, economic and military support to Bangladesh during the Liberation War in 1971.

India was the first country to recognise Bangladesh as a sovereign and independent state and established diplomatic ties with the country immediately after its independence in December 1971.

Bangladesh and India are two countries bound by the inalienable link of history, religion, culture, language and kinship. But the relationship between the two friendly nations is based on sovereignty, equality, trust, understanding and win-win partnership that goes far beyond a strategic partnership.

Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was the architect of Bangladesh-India relations. Both Bangabandhu and his Indian counterpart Indira Gandhi were firm believers in democracy and secular ideology. Bangabandhu’s daughter Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi have further strengthened the relations Mujib and Indira forged between the next-door neighbours.

There are more than 50 bilateral institutional mechanisms between Bangladesh and India in the areas of security, trade and commerce, power and energy, transport and connectivity, science and technology, defence, riverine and maritime affairs and so on.

Bangladesh and India share 4,097 kilometres of border, which is the longest land boundary that India shares with any of its neighbours. The two countries also share 54 common rivers. Bilateral trade between them has grown steadily over the last decade.

There are lots of common and bilateral issues between these two neighbours. Both countries are promise-bound to maintain these healthy relations without interrelations. Some of the issues, including regional road connectivity, cooperation in power and energy sector, land border agreement, easy visa process, Bangladesh-India rail services, are vital and significantly beneficial to both the countries.

Regional Road Connectivity

The Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal (BBIN) Initiative is a sub-regional entity in Eastern South Asia. It meets through an official representation of member states to formulate, implement and review quadrilateral agreements across areas such as water resources management, connectivity of power, transport, and infrastructure.

In February of this year, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal agreed on the need to finalise the passenger and cargo protocols for implementation of the BBIN Motor Vehicles Agreement (MVA).

Moreover, according to the transport ministers of the four BBIN members, 30 transport corridors will be transformed into economic corridors. This will potentially increase intraregional trade within South Asia by almost 60 per cent and with the rest of the world by over 30 per cent.

Recently, ECNEC cleared an 846-crore Bangladeshi taka project to widen the Baraiyarhat-Heyanko-Ramgarhroad under Chattogram and Khagrachhari districts, aiming to boost export and import between Bangladesh and India. The approval came from the 5th ECNEC meeting of the current fiscal year chaired by Sheikh Hasina.

According to a report of South Asia Sub-regional Economic Cooperation (SASEC), Bangladesh, India and Nepal conducted a trial bus service run on April 24-25 2018. Two buses left Dhaka for Kathmandu in Nepal, carrying delegates from the three countries and the Asian Development Bank. The bus service will strengthen sub-regional connectivity and help tourists and entrepreneurs, including those who travel to West Bengal for medical tourism.

Land Border Agreement

On June 6, 2015, the 1974 India-Bangladesh Land Boundary Agreement came into force, following the exchange of instruments of ratification by Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi during the latter’s state visit to Bangladesh. The agreement provides for the exchange of enclaves of Indian and Bangladesh territory, which remained unresolved following the partition in 1947.

Following the agreement, India and Bangladesh exchanged control of 162 enclaves. The move was branded as akin to the fall of the Berlin Wall by politicians.

Until August 1, about 50,000 people were living in 111 Bangladeshi and 51 Indian enclaves on the India-Bangladesh border, cut off from their parent countries. Daily chores such as visiting the market were cumbersome process because they involved crossing national boundaries.

The Land Boundary Agreement played a historic role in advancing the exchange of 111 enclaves (17,160.63 acres) from India to Bangladesh and reciprocatively the latter transferred 51 enclaves (7,110.02 acres) to India. In addition, the choice of citizenship in either country was offered by states to enclave residents.

Easy Visa Process

India-Bangladesh visa rules were being gradually relaxed and five-year visas would be granted to students, senior citizens and patients. Earlier in 2018, an agreement, Revised Travel Arrangement (RTA)-2018, stated that freedom fighters and elderly Bangladeshi nationals will get five-year multiple visas from India. Easy and hassle-free visa services have been ensured for the travellers of the two countries.

Bangladesh-India Rail Services

Transport between India and Bangladesh bears much historical and political significance for both the countries. A direct Kolkata-Agartala link running via Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, is being developed by both the countries. The Maitri Express (Friendship Express) was launched to revive a railway link between Kolkata and Dhaka that had been shut 43 years ago.

The first container train arrived from India via Benapole-Petrapole rail link carrying FMCG cargo and fabrics loaded in 50 containers, and those were handed over to Bangladesh on July 26 this year. With this container train service, a huge opportunity has opened up for bilateral trade via rail. Bangladesh Railway’s freight trains, noted for bringing stones and fly ash as raw materials for cement, from India, are now used to bring onion, garlic and ginger and other essentials amid the coronavirus pandemic.

In July this year, India handed over 10 broad-gauge diesel-based locomotives to Bangladesh that have a residual life of at least 28 years. These are 3,300 horse-power locomotives that can run at a speed of 120 km/hr. These 10 locomotives are expected to increase the use of the rail sector.

Cooperation in Power and Energy Sector

Cooperation in the power and energy sector has become one of the hallmarks of India-Bangladesh relations. Bangladesh is currently importing about 660 MW of power from India. In March 2016, the two Prime Ministers inaugurated the export of power from Tripura to Bangladesh as well as the export of internet bandwidth to Tripura from Bangladesh.

Five hundred megawatts of electricity was added to Bangladesh’s national grid from India in 2018 as part of India-Bangladesh cooperation in power and energy sector. Sheikh Hasina and Narendra Modi jointly inaugurated the power supply to Bangladesh-India Power Interconnection Grid at Bheramara of Kushtia through a videoconference. In September last year, Bangladesh signed an agreement to buy 718 megawatts of electricity from India’s Reliance Power over the next 22 years.

Earlier, the Bangladesh Prime Minister unveiled her power import plan and said, “We plan to import 9,000 MW of electricity from our neighbours by 2041 under a regional cooperation framework and I hope India will remain by our side in this endeavour.”

There are several other issues where Bangladesh and India have developed the highest level of friendship and bilateral relations. These two friendly neighbours are also great examples of greater understanding, dialogue, diplomacy and regional cooperation.

The author is the editor-in-chief of Bangladesh Post (ANI)

Covid-19 Has Maimed Sports Fraternity

If you thought Covid-19 has played havoc only with daily activities in India since this March, spare a thought for those whose life revolves around sport. The last six months have been one of turmoil for athletes, be it those competing at the international level, national level or local level in various cities, big and small.

The resumption of sporting activity, which has been permitted by the Ministry of Home Affairs since June-July, is only for the elite athletes training for the postponed Tokyo Olympics. Even those in the development group are facing immense problems in training, as several stadia and sports complexes remain shut. In the case of venues which are open, coaching has not been allowed, which is quite baffling.

It is easy to blame the number of rising Covid-19 cases in the country for sporting activities to come to a screeching halt. However, where the government has wanted to help, it has done so with a large heart, with permission being granted for conducting the Indian Premier League in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

To be sure, when one talks of sport in India, one immediately thinks of cricket. Yes, cricket remains the No. 1 sport but to stifle other sport at all levels is something grossly unfair.

On social media, we see Union Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju singing paeans day in and day out about Fit India Movement and how a fit nation is a healthy nation. All this is nothing more than lip service, as playing sport has become impossible.

A common grouse among sport lovers is, if so much planning can be done by the government for the IPL, why ignore all other sporting activity. Sports minister Kiren Rijiju would do well to answer it.

Lakhs of coaches, assistant coaches, sports venue administrators, ground staff and related personnel have been made to suffer immense financial losses in India today. Not only have they been unable to ply their trade, minus coaching schemes in place, their revenue and reserves have dried up.

ALSO READ: IPL Organisers Are Shameless

LokMarg spoke to some coaches, and the reactions from coaches who have helped produce national champions was one of huge distress. Surinder Khanna, former India wicket-keeper batsman, who lives in South Delhi, and former Test cricketer Madan Lal said that shutting cricket academies so long was painful.

“I have cricket academies, and with no permission to run coaching programmes, the financial impact is huge. How long can one pay coaches and groundsmen? There is no revenue model for sustaining the academies and I do not know how long this will continue. An entire season has been wiped out and so many young cricketers with talent have been hit,” said Khanna. Madan Lal echoed the sentiment: “Parents are reluctant to send children, so cricket academies are in a state of inertia.”

In Delhi alone and the neighbouring NCR region, there are thousands of academies in cricket, football, tennis, badminton, table tennis and other sport. “I have my coaching centres in DDA complexes and we have not been allowed to impart coaching. When every activity has been opened up, it is baffling why academies should not function,” said senior tennis coach Vinod Kumar.

Badminton coach Malvinder Dhillon was more emphatic in his observations. “Summers are the best time for young kids to learn the sport. Covid-19 has done immense damage to the entire season. Still, there is no answer as to why coaching should not be allowed. We are ready to follow the guidelines but there is huge confusion, as a result of which, academies cannot function,” said Dhillon.

The worst hit are the swimmers. While permission has been given for pubs, gyms, malls and Metros to run, swimming pools have been shut for over six months. If the fear is of contamination in the pool, then the authorities need to realise that a higher chlorine content in water does help in providing a safer atmosphere. Abroad, in Europe and the United States of America, swimming pools were never shut even during the peak onset of Coronavirus.

At the school, college and university level, sporting activity has ceased. It has killed an entire year and many budding sportspersons have no idea how they can make up for a lost year. The worst hit will be students who hope to do well in sport and then hope to find small jobs.

This year, admission to universities is expected to take place without any seats being allotted to sports quota aspirants. If at all admissions take place under sports quota, it will be only on the basis of national certificates the students hold and no open trials. The advantage with trials is it gives a chance to weed out dubious certificate holders. However, this time, no thought has been given to this aspect.

With respect to the elite athletes in India, from athletics to boxing, and hockey to weightlifting, national camps have sprung to life slowly but suffered due to increasing cases of COVID-19. From National Institute of Sports (NIS) Patiala to the elite Sports Authority of India (SAI) centre in Bengaluru, camps have not been able to build up intensity due to the pandemic.

Athletes who are supposed to be physically stronger, with better immunity, are struggling to hit peak form. In athletics, the parent federation (AFI) has kept the athletes in Patiala under close watch under a sort of bio bubble. With a bit of luck, once normal train services resume, Patiala could host a few national events.

ALSO READ: ‘How My Sports Instincts Saved Me’

The same could be tried out in Bengaluru as well as for the men’s and women’s hockey teams training for the Tokyo Olympics. They need match practice and sharpness. Nobody knows how this will take shape, as Covid-19 continues to rage.

All talk of a bio-bubble is good but it does not mean an athlete or coach will never be affected by the virus. It is a matter of chance, despite best efforts, that you could still contract the deadly virus. The bottom line is that preparations must go on, SOPs (standard operating procedures) followed, and hope one day there will eventually be herd immunity in India.

At local level, players without competition and coaches drawing small salaries have virtually quit. Some have turned into vegetable sellers in Delhi and others have chosen to drive e-rickshaws or autos. They are doing this out of compulsion and do not want to be identified out of shame.

What is appalling in a place like Delhi is that the central government and the state government has done nothing for sportsmen and coaches. Each day, more athletes are losing hope as survival has become so tough.

For many, sport was a dream to become a champion like Virat Kohli or PV Sindhu. Sadly, Covid-19 has not only ruined their dreams but even leading a normal life filled with sporting activity has become impossible. It is anybody’s guess how long this trend will continue.

At the school level, almost all kids attend Zoom classes and so on. But the time lost, when they should have been on the playgrounds, can never be recovered. It would not be a bad idea to encourage children to play a sport in their own neighbourhood so that they do not become couch potatoes. This is something which schools need to plan for in Zoom meetings.

From Nixon To Trump, India Has Come A Long Way

The “Bass Bomb” that exploded last week may not damage the Americans, even Indian Americans, as they prepare to vote in the United States’ presidential elections, come November 3, when incumbent Donald Trump has staked his all for a second term.

The ‘bomb’ is in the shape of confirmation of what is known about how the American leadership of 1971 – President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger – enforced their ‘tilt’ against India and favouring Pakistan, fully aware that the latter was ‘cleansing’ East Pakistan of ‘rebels’ who had voted overwhelmingly against the west-wing.

The duo thought India had contrived or encouraged the flow of ten million-plus refugees. With China factor looming large – Pakistan had facilitated the reach-out to Beijing – the two condoned one of the grimmest man-made disasters, and invited their own diplomatic one, that the last century’s cold war had witnessed.

What is new are official details contained in White House tapes, now declassified and acquired by Prof. Gary J Bass of the Princeton University. They unmistakably paint the two in darkest colours. As they worked their South Asia policy, they frequently engaged in racist remarks and misogyny targeting Indians in general, especially then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, calling them names.

What we know are the un-bleeped, or less-bleeped taped conversations. Should one be surprised at Trump’s racism and misogyny (he is not alone) in the current electoral discourse? It shatters the image the Americans and their successive leaderships have wanted to cultivate of them being the world’s greatest democrats.

The Bass confirmations, rather than revelations, may not impact Trump who may win. Analysts who predict this, in the same breath, disapprove of him and his policies. They point to his improving his position in the presidential race precisely for the type of racism and misogyny that his peers had engaged in the 1970s.

Analysts predict a likely Trump victory even as they criticise his turning a thriving economy into a jobless one and his handling of the Coronavirus pandemic that has killed more Americans than the two World Wars. Not just the Americans, much of the world today is witnessing strange times, of being ruled by right-wing demagogues.

It would thus be naïve to think that the American voter will be influenced by a diplomatic disasters that occurred nearly half-a-century back. As elsewhere, foreign policy does not impact American elections.

Equally, the Indian American numbers matter but marginally, be it for partly-Indian Kamala Harris, the running mate of Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, or for Trump who did make a bee-line to India, especially Gujarat, being hosted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

While showing Americans the mirror, Bass’ account painfully reminds of the Americans’ low esteem when the Indians’ rush to California was gathering momentum in the 1970s and even later, in the 1980s. They can look back with some satisfaction of having done well in the last three decades. Whether they will retain their traditional Democratic preference or vote with “Howdy Modi” will need watching.

ALSO READ: From Howdy Modi To Kem Chho Trump

Of course, India is no longer the US’ Cold War adversary. Four million Indians, many of them prosperous and many related to India’s policy-making elite, enjoying visa preference over others, study and work there. The two are tied in a strategic partnership that has significantly altered geopolitics of the region well beyond South Asia.

For Indians at home, who have seen many American presidents and many premiers of their own, the “Bass bomb” could revive a measure of anti-American feelings. The Indian political class of that era, it needs reminding, was united in its criticism of the US and had wholeheartedly welcomed Bangladesh’ emergence. Atal Bihari Vajpayee, at least, had called Indira goddess ‘Durga’. The argumentative Indian was never so united – and never since.

The Bass account draws a positive picture of Indira when the Congress party she once led is at its lowest and she and her entire family are being systematically vilified. Will the party want to dwell on her 1971 role, and to what effect, in the face of the hostile Modi/media/middle class juggernaut?

Did Nixon-Kissinger know enough Indians before calling them, among other names, ‘bastards’ and wondered how Indian women “sexless and pathetic people reproduce in large numbers?” Kissinger called Indians “superb flatterers” whose “great skill” was to “suck up to people in key positions”. It is not worth exploring.

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Some explanation for their personal peeves and prejudices is, however, available from the account of Maharaj Krishna Rasgotra, whom Indira sent as envoy to the US and was later India’s Foreign Secretary. He had met Kissinger in 1969 in the first few weeks of reaching Washington.

In his 2016 book A Life in Diplomacy, he quotes Indira as saying before posting him: “Richard Nixon means trouble for India. He dislikes India and he hates me.” The ‘hatred’, it turned out, was mutual.

For Nixon and Kissinger, often used to dictators grovelling at their feet – Pakistan’s General Yahya khan was a ‘friend’ — “it was a novel and unpleasant experience to be defied by an Asian leader”, one who led the world’s largest democracy. “In their frustration, Nixon and Kissinger heaped insults and abuses on the Indian prime minister,” writes Rasgotra whose overall worldview shows no anti-US bias.

How did Indira respond? “She bore all that with unwonted sang froid, but left no doubt in her talks with Nixon in 1971, that Pakistan’s pushing ten million of its nationals into India was tantamount to an aggression on her country and would be dealt with as such. She ignored their threats of aid cuts and made it clear that if the US were to embark on a course of hostility, she would live with that too and explore other options.”

Although India received food under American Law PL480, it was no ‘Banana Republic’. Mind you, by that time in August, India had already signed the Peace and Friendship Treaty with the Soviet Union. The US was blind to its likely implications. Nixon relied on Kissinger’s doctrine about establishing ‘linkages’ of bringing in China if Pakistan was in trouble. That never happened. Today, when Pakistan’s economy is dovetailed into Chinese, Trump wants to ‘help’ India against Chinese border incursions. Times have changed.

Rasgotra recalls: “Henry knew (and so did President Nixon) that their policy was in shambles. There were rumours in Washington that Dr Kissinger was in a state of deep depression and that for three or four days, even President Nixon had shunned him.”

Till she lived, Indira never uttered a word about the duo’s ill-treatment. She showed what she and India could do in December 1971. She is no more. Nixon, who had to leave the White House in disgrace over Watergate Scandal, is dead.

Kissinger is around. He has repeatedly apologised. He has visited India and interacted with Indians. Hopefully, he has changed his views of them. Even Bass records that Kissinger may have just echoed Nixon’s prejudices probably without really believing in them.

Rasgotra, who admires Kissinger – nonagenarians both, he is a year younger — records that the latter, at one of their meetings, insisted that he was “not anti-India”. “I let that pass,” Rasgotra concludes.

The writer can be reached at

One Hundred Years Of Satyajit Ray

The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race, which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. …I feel that he is a giant of the movie industry. Not to have seen the cinema of Ray means existing in the world without seeing the sun or the moon.… It is the kind of cinema which flows with the serenity and nobility of a big river. People are born, live out their lives, and then accept their deaths…
–Akira Kurosawa

The lockdown, the quarantine, the pandemic, or the disease, distress, deaths and dying might have pushed the celebration of Satyajit Ray and his work back of the stage, but this is exactly the time when the life and times, craft and cinema of this versatile genius should be remembered – with both, a tinge of spoofy, dark and subtle humour, as much as the brilliance and enlightenment of a chronicle foretold, celebrating the lucid excellence of a story-teller.

Indeed, Ray never really was too bothered with abstract art or symbolism or surrealism or Dadaism of art cinema as an allegedly higher echelon of cinema or film-making. He was too intelligent and too rooted a creative modernist, deeply trained in rural, folk and oral traditions, so as to get trapped in this ism or that. He was deeply committed to social and political realism, but he never professed himself to be a Marxist or belonging to the progressive school of thought, which gave so many greats to Indian cinema, literature, lyrics and music. Like the finest in his craft, such as Charlie Chaplin or Alfred Hitchcock, or the finest of European filmmakers, he was beyond any fixated and limited framework or ideology.

The cinematic language of his film, every moment and every slice of it, its sound, cinematography, lyrics, music, theatre, acting, story, screen-play and plot, revolved around the simplicity and lucidity of a story-teller, in visual and imagery, not as an experimental parallel cinema filmmaker pushing the viewer to the edge of difficult and dense intellectual challenges. His conversations and his writings, indeed, are reflective of this simplicity of the paradigm, where not a moment or a dialogue or image or sound or music is ever wasted.

Of course, his father Sukumar Ray, whose book of nonsense rhyme is legendary and still remains a bestseller at bookshops in Kolkata, was a great influence on Ray. However, his choice of writers, as much as stories and plots, and the manner they unfold in his cinema, seems so inevitable to the eye of his camera. Writers with epical fountain pens like Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, or Munshi Premchand; the great creators of the Apu trilogy, Shatranj ke Khilari and Sadgati.

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Even death comes with great shock or deep heart-wrenching sorrow as a fleeting moment, a river in motion, it does not ever become melodramatic, or theatrical, forcing you to mourn or cry or die of angst. Witness the slow and quick movement of the arthi on the shoulders of four men of the old woman in the family in Pather Panchali, as if the camera is only too sad and affected by the tragedy, that the moment can just be held back for a fleeting passing movement. Or the heartbreaking death of the protagonist in Benaras, his wife stuck by lightening, holding her emotions like a straw in a turbulent ocean, even as the birds just scream and flutter their wings in this unadulterated moment of shocking tragedy and sorrow.

The finality of death is nothing but the intimacy of life and its celebrations, as Durga dances and enjoys and gets drenched in the rain in Pather Panchali, only to catch a cold and fever, and die thereby, surrounded by the green, the foliage and the abject poverty of the house. Or the young boy, discarded by the father who himself is grief-stricken after the death of his beautiful and young wife whom he loved with such intensity, hesitating, rethinking, drawn to his father but not so sure if he will find reciprocation or enduring love, even while the river flows quietly in the backdrop like the journey of life within two shores. He is not sure when the father, his introspection over, his eyes dark and full of sorrow at his own denial of his son, calls him: come, come.

So the child runs and the father picks him up on his shoulder, and a new journey begins, along with the river, a journey of love, hope and beauty. A new relationship between the child who is the father of man and the father, who has yet again become a child, as they walk along the river, to a new destination of bonding.

It is this deep celebration of life and its changing contours, the kaleidoscope of multiple moments, the unpredictability of the next corner, the total avoidance of inevitability and fixities, the open-ended, open-hearted, open-to-sky courtyards of open minds, which marks the non-dogmatic rainbows of his cinema.

Often straightforward like American movies some of which he liked a lot, or subtle and nuanced like the best of European cinema, his body of work is illustrative of the vast variety with which he experimented the truthful telling of the visual and audio medium. Be it serious cinema with highly talented actors, or actors moulded according to the script and the directorial mind, even big box office actors like Uttam Kumar, Saumitra Chatterjee, Madhabi Mukherji or Utpal Dutt in Bengali cinema, or Sharmila Tagore, as a mega star, or great and truly talented and seasoned actors like Shabana Azmi, Sanjeev Kumar and Saeed Jaffrey, became integral to the story that is the Ray trademark of natural brilliance.

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Even his films made for children, which are also adult films, or the detective fiction as much as detective cinema, as represented by tall Feluda, are full of classical meanings and learning lessons. Feluda smoking Charminar in his long red kurta, and his assistant Topse, the young boy, along with the pulp fiction writer Jatayu, became household characters in Bengal as they solved one mystery after another, with a lot of sprinkling of science, encyclopedic knowledge, current affairs, and lessons on geography and history, as in Shonar Kella, which also put into perspective the problems of para psychology, quite a fad during the 1980s.

Indeed, his Mahanagar with great actress Madhabi Mukherjee from a typically low middle class struggling Bengali family, is a celebration of early feminism, the woman becoming an icon of independence, autonomy and empowerment.

The greatness of Ray of course remains in his vast repertoire of artistic brilliance. He is an illustrator, writer, author of stories for children, science fiction specialist, painter, poster-maker, block printer, copy writer, screenplay and script writer, cinematographer and camera man, sound editor, lyricist, musician and editor, and of course, a director par excellence. His film posters are classics, like that of Devi with Sharmila Tagore as the lead actress. Indeed, he would draw every frame of his movies into sketches and art drawings and paintings, before shooting them, observing and documenting every little and tiny detail with meticulous insight. This was fun, but this was real hard work too.

For Ray, life was too short for his insatiable and infinite body of work. There was really too much to do, but so little time. The river too has to finally meet the sea and the ocean.