British Meltdown, Modi’s Promises & Rahul’s Yatra

Britain Ran Markets, Now Markets Run Britain

The once mighty Empire now seems rudderless, confused and in need of real leadership. So desperate is its position that it has promoted a person of Indian extraction to bail it out of its seemingly bottomless hole. Without saying aloud, many of the older generation are uncomfortable with this but with the world money markets pushing Britain towards the well of bankruptcy, it seems it had few choices. Rishi Sunak, Punjabi of course, has become the most unlikely Prime Minister of Great Britain.

What happened? Britain decided that it could still revive its old glory and power and reinvent ‘Rule Britania, Britania rules the waves’ (sound waves now). So it went Brexit. It decided to ditch its European partners. Why be tied to restrictive Europeans! Be free and promiscuous with any country and even polygamous with many at the same time. ‘Plenty of Fish’ etc was the thinking.

Times change. Powers change. But fallen Empires take a long time to come to terms with their shrinking status.

Britain’s posturing and its actions are classic. It happened to Rome. It happened to Mughals and it’s happening to good old Britain. The psycho drama of imperial loss is the same irrespective of how many psychiatrists a country can boast.

Not only did Britain think that it could unhinge from Europe and become Global Great again, it even decided to reincarnate Victorian era economic policies under the ‘we can again’. The Victorian period were halcyon days when indifference to poverty, planet destruction, industrial pollution, cruelty and making the rich richer by any means had led the Empire to its zenith and every English man a master of the world. In came the bombastic goddess, Liz Truss, in a puffed up vintage tank of dreams.

But Prime Minister Liz Truss was tossed out within six weeks. She campaigned on the slogan of ‘growth, low taxes, low spending’. Her 37 days in power have been a spectacle of comedy and parody.

It was crazy and unbelievable 37 days. Liz Truss was running after the money men with bags of money shouting, ‘Here, I am giving all this and more to you, grow grow grow Britain with it’. Her grin was unbearable to the parents of children who barely eat one meal a day in Britain, or to the disabled dreading further squeeze on their support packages.

It was a case of robbing and bonding the future of the poor and being benevolent to the rich, a bizarre proclamation under the nose of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

But the money men were running away from dizzy Lizzy. Fortunately many of the powerful money men have grown out of the Victorian era. While the Oil giants and energy companies were counting imaginary trillions coming their way by squeezing the needy, the powers who control the market, the investments companies, thought otherwise about promised windfall taxes from the poor.

They knew that there is nothing to invest in Britain. It has decimated its once dominating manufacturing industry in favour of financial institutions. Britain’s labour force is far more expensive than that of China, India and South America. In fact it doesn’t even have enough of a labour force, having kicked Europe out and ill with immigrant phobia. What could money invest in, perhaps more Universities and Royal family outings?

The money men also know a country with a few enviable rich and the rest with deepening poverty, child hunger, pauperised wages and housing deficit will implode one day. Hardly a stable future for one’s investment. Not every country is like India with the ‘Ananis’ and ‘Amanis’ joining the world’s richest and walking indifferently over destitute people sleeping in the streets. Social scientists often say the marvel of India is that those with most expensive houses in the world live side by side with those who only have the pavement and sewers for home and yet no one thinks of a revolution! A marvel of contentment surely to promote along with yoga as Dharma Karma. Doesn’t work in most parts of the world though.

In Britain, Dharma Karma worked differently. The market took flight outwards. Grow Grow Grow Britain’s Victorian economic dream went into Blow Blow Blow Britain economy, blowing a hole the size of a continent in Britain’s financial health. ‘The Market’ told Britain, to get its act or look at the bottom of Mount Vesuvius crater.

Quickly the panicked powers that be, pushed the Grow Grow Grow Prime Minister and her Finance Minister out of Airbnb’s most prestigious potential temporary residence, 10 Downing Street, after only 37 days. Democracy be damned when it comes to money. She grew into the Guiness Book as the shortest lasting Prime Minister of UK plc whose tenure wasn’t shortened by death.

Britain once controlled the world’s markets. Now the markets run Britain. The markets told Britain’s Tory MPs to appoint Rishi, a money man with experience in Hedge Funds and handling money. From boisterous wannabe Churchill Boris to nationalist Penny Mordaunt, the Conservative Party bowed to the market. And so emerged the great Rishi Sunak, a thin wiry small man in a country that worships great warriors. This is Karma Dharma as opposed to Dharma Karma. Try work that out.

What next? The stony road of unBrexiting Brexit Britain.

Modi’s Achche Din Rainbow Glows Again

Modiji had promised millions and millions of jobs when he ran for Prime Minister. He promised every Indian family will have at least one member in a job and almost every graduate will have a job to look up to.

Achche Din (anyone remember that) also promised every person will have a house, lakh rupees in the bank, the cleanest streets in the world and world’s fastest train that would go from Mumbai to Delhi in 1 Modi hour.

To some extent this has happened with some political license on the dictionary. Every Indian does have a roof on his/her head. Those on the streets have a cardboard roof, those in the fields have leaves over their head and some lucky ones have tin roofs. Luckier ones have pukka roofs. One promise reached.

Every Indian also has a lakh. They have a lakh dreams in the Brain bank. When one has that, sometimes with help of ‘charas’ one has plentiful. Life is a leela. It depends on how leela is defined.

The streets are also clean. They have been cleaned off any remaining fresh air. Smog and pollution is everywhere and India has been cleaned off breathable air. The moaners can do yoga.

World’s fastest train is in fact faster. Sit on your laptop in Delhi and one can talk to another person in Mumbai within seconds on the zoom train. Whereas in the real iron train Modi 1 hour is different than Greenwich 1 hr. It’s how the hour is defined.

As for jobs, it’s the people’s refusal to take the one job Modiji has made available universal for all Indians. He has given them the slogan to chant, ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’. This means that if ‘Modi is there, possibility is there.’ Unfortunately pesky uncontrollable democratic Indians don’t quite think alike and many have their own heroes other than Modiji. So very few are doing the job of Modi Simran, ‘Modi hai to mumkin hai’. And he didn’t say it will be a paid job.

Now Modiji is becoming realistic and promising just 10 lakh jobs (or 1 million) at Diwali. This 1 million is a promise to a population of 1.4 Billion, or 1,400 million.

Modiji hasn’t said whether this time he means the promise to be taken literally or is it still subject to political license.

Congress Divides, Congress Unites

The Congress party of India, called Grand Old Party (GOP) as Indian journalists like to copy western idioms (mimicking American word for Republican Party), has now embarked on gluing together the priceless vase it had wilfully broken into a thousand pieces during its rule.

For most of its reign, the Congress Party of India had engaged in divisive policies to ensure vote banks while bellowing the slogan, ‘unity in diversity’. It had pitched Muslim vote against Hindu vote, Hindu vote against Sikh vote, lower caste vote against upper caste vote and caste against caste, region against region, religion against religion.

This divisive tactic ensured Congress rule for over 40 years with communal violence, casteism, sectarianism, nationalism becoming a norm. The delicate fabric of thousands of years of a civilisation which was pluralist with enviable foundations of coexistence of polar differences, was shred apart by Nehru dynasty.

Now every broken piece has its own leader, its own party, its own agenda and its own political identity.

Having broken this priceless vase into a thousand pieces, the crown prince, Rahul has decided he will glue the pieces together. He started his Bharat Jodo Yatra. What cruel farce upon a civilisation that could have taught the world so much but was torn apart by this family. Somebody needs to show the family mirror to him.

A broken vase never recovers when glued together. The cracks are too visible. The legacy of Nehru family is a divided, sectarian violent India where coexistence is daily forced by draconian laws, police and armed forces. The politically blinkered still follow him.

Cusswords in Hindi Movies

The Badass Bollywood

In celebrations of Amitabh Bachchan’s 80th birthday last week, how the “angry young man” evolved as a significant part of his filmography was debated. A point missed, perhaps, was that in his many portrayals, he did not use profanity to heighten that anger.

Neither Vijay of Deewar abused when he challenged society, nor Jai of Sholay. To contrast the characters of Jai and Viru, who fought banditry in the revenge saga in Sholay, the latter did hurl a few at Gabbar Singh, the rampaging villain.

Dilip Kumar playing the farmer-turned-dacoit who fought feudal oppression in Ganga Jamuna died fighting without using cuss words. The anti-hero that Shah Rukh Khan played in his early years, with a blood-splattered visage and all, did not swear.

Dharmendra and Sunny Deol, the father-son duo, popularised their brawny portrayals in many films. But papa did not go beyond yelling “kuttey, kamine…” On anything more severe, his lips moved, but the voice was muted. Sunny’s character in Ghadar fought an entire Pakistan Army regiment, it would seem, displaying his famous foul temper, but not the foul mouth.

Profanity in Hindi movies was restricted until recently to phrases combining canines, nasty people and individuals of suspicious intent. The general rule was that the villains did the swearing and the noble, if erring, heroes lost control of their tongues only when provoked.

Speaking generally, heroes no longer have to compete in crudity with villains who continue to swear. Better directors fine-tune their negative characters to make them effective. Govind Nihalani’s Ardh Satya used vulgar colloquialisms that were perfectly in sync with the characters. Foul language has now replaced the dressing and demeanour that a villain earlier had.

This century’s Hindi cinema does not deal with the noble and the righteous so much as it seeks to portray life as it is lived. It is more about what is, not what should be. There is no effort at building an idealistic society as our peers had visualized. To that end, technology has taken over artistry and the victims are the language and culture as we have known. The old sabr is lost in the fast lanes and nazaqat to the demands of time and transactional relationships.

Bandit Queen (1994) was the pioneer. This writer recalls seeing it with his spouse. She was shocked beyond belief and wanted to walk out, till we found that there were other families, perhaps, equally shocked. The raw treatment of a woman dacoit filmed in the rural badlands was underscored best by the frequent use of abuse. You couldn’t quarrel with that.

Through the last century, the angry repertoire of even the villain was confined to “Harami, Kutta, Suar ki aulad or Napoonsak”.  The cuss words have gained currency in the last two decades and are heard in Gangs of Waseypur, Ishqiya, Udta Punjab, Rangoon, Omkara, Satya, Shootout at Wadala, NH10 and many more.

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Almost all these stories narrate the crass, violent, reality of rural or urban India. They are about the world of crime and confrontation with the law. Udta Punjab deals with drugs. Wasseypur is about gang war and so is Badlapur.

While British cinema has by and large stayed clean, Indian cinema, which has for long copied and competed with Hollywood, has surrendered to the f-word. Cuss word has become contemporary and a useful tool to make films seem more realistic.

In an inter-mix of cinema and society, Indian filmmakers have started to embrace the flowery language heard in our surroundings. Whether or not it works to enhance a film’s authenticity, one cannot be sure. But abusive language does add certain oomph to the narrative and its presentation.

The problem is with profanity for its own sake, even granting that people do talk that way to get over an unwelcome situation. Profanity can be a staccato, the easy way out. There can be ten other, better ways to say the same thing. But we are living in the era of instant coffee and instant gratification.

There is less and less exploring of literature. The new emphasis is on real-life characters and incidents. With varying results, writers and filmmakers are tinkering with fresh formulas and templates.  Their version of real life has meant that gangsters and college students must sound as if they are in our midst. They must drop f-words, jokingly refer to sexual functions and doubt the ancestry of those they seek to insult.

Just two decades back, there was a great deal of focus on getting the language right, whether at home or in public. People don’t bother anymore. The language per se has deteriorated.  It is for the filmmaker to decide whether the use of the f-word or its numerous Indian variations is appropriate — forget sexism and insults to womankind.

The state made an unsuccessful bid to intervene. In 2013, an expert committee headed by Justice Mukul Mudgal prepared a new Cinematograph Bill to update the old Cinematograph Act of 1952. The report begins thus, “The Committee is [of] the view that the provisions of the Act dealing with guidelines for certification must include provisions which protect artistic and creative expression on the one hand while on the other requiring the medium of cinema to remain socially responsible and sensitive to the values and standards of society.”

But this failed when the Censor Board for Film Certification headed by Pehlaj Nihalani issued a list of cuss words banning their use and then withdrew it when filmmakers protested.

This brings us to the changing norms being increasingly established in products on OTT platforms. The censorship is less stringent, if not benevolent or lax, compared to mainstream cinema.  It is becoming the rule as these platforms become the end-users of films that have failed in cinema theatres and multiplexes, whatever the reasons.

Combine this complex process with India’s urbanisation. The audiences hunger for entertainment to relax at home. Add to that the increasing trend to make Indian cinema for global audiences. The tone may be different, but the language spoken in films even with small-town settings is roughly the same as what is spoken on roads, on transport or in company boardrooms.

Cuss words are used as endearments, in perfectly normal conversations, even between husband-wife or lovers. Slow, thoughtful prose is passé. The poetry and the old Sher-o-Shayari have gone, replaced by jarring night club and party beat. And dancing that requires no skill. On the floor are men and women, all compulsively young and good-looking, who drink, smoke and abuse.

Indians generally don’t kiss in public. But Kissing in films has become common and no longer elicits feelings because we are used to seeing it. Will profanity also gain social acceptance in the near future?

Saying all this does sound anachronistic. Since times are a-changing and the f-word is their flavour, one may, like it or not, join in with “what the-f”.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Protests Against Dictatorships

Standing Up To Dictatorships

Remember the final scene in the Silence of the Lambs? Dr Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins) is on the phone with Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) calling from an unknown location, perhaps in Africa or the West Indies. “Have the lambs stopped screaming Clarice?” he asks… He thereby looks at an enemy arriving, and says: “I am having an old friend for dinner…”

Despite the electoral recovery, a discredited Jair Bolsonaro might still lose the final round in the Brazilian elections to the Centre-Left former president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. That would be demoralising news for the Indian prime minister, whose other buddies, Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu, have lost earlier in America and Israel. This marks a series of defeats for Right-wing extremists in many parts of the world, especially in Latin America. The victory of the neo-fascists in Italy is still in a Catch-22 scenario, with the Rightist coalition shaky, and trapped as Italy is in the European Union’s political economy.

Cannibalism is the latest big news in Brazil. He has been accused of being a fascist, sexist, racist, etc, and a Trump-clone, by the media across the West and in South America. It is widely believed that thousands would have not died in his country of Covid, if he, like Trump, would not be in an absurd state of denial! Well, the Indian PM did not deny it, but the deadly delta wave did kill thousands, including in Delhi, with people gasping for breath, cremation grounds overflowing, while the dead were floating in the Ganga in UP, its shores lined with tattered cloth as tragic flags fluttering to mark the dead buried in the sand.

“Bolsonaro has revealed that he would eat human flesh,” proclaimed a TV ad by the Lula campaign. They have dug up an old interview, with a New York Times journalist, where he actually boasts, almost like ‘Hannibal the Cannibal’: “I’d eat an Indian, no problem at all.” He was talking about his visit to an indigenous community where he was allegedly offered human flesh to eat. Obviously, the Yanomami community has rejected his claims with utter contempt, though the interview has gone viral.

The Guardian reported the conversation (October 9, 2022):  “Yes, to eat,” answers Bolsonaro, then an obscure congressman. “They cook it for two or three days and then eat it with banana. I wanted to see an Indian being cooked but the guy said if you go, you have to eat it. ‘I’ll eat it,’ I said. But no one else in my group wanted to go… so I didn’t go. But I’d eat an Indian, no problem at all. It’s their culture.”

Cannibalism and insanity apart, except for Xi Jin Ping in China, where he will be ‘chosen’ for the third time unless there is a coup, things don’t seem so rosy for dictators – from Vladimir Putin in Russia, and his lackeys elsewhere, such as Viktor Orban in Hungary. Putin’s mobilization call has led to mass protests and arrests, thousands of ‘military-age’ Russians fleeing Russia, and his ‘annexation’ has led to heavy losses with Ukraine seizing back a large mass of its territory. Russian soldiers are exhausted, demoralized and dying to go back to their homes — – still not reconciled to the logic of this mindless ‘war’ with people “who are just like them only”.

Besides, Hungary, seems suddenly on a boil. Despite the clampdown, thousands of parents, teachers, students blocked the Margaret Bridge, in the heart of Budapest, early this month, making a human chain, leading to the main square of the Parliament. This is unprecedented. The ‘I want to teach’ civil disobedience campaign, demanding higher wages and the right to strike, has sparked off a wave of unrest.

Students carried banners: ‘Do not sack our teachers’, ‘For a glimpse of the future, look at the schools of the present’, and, ‘No teachers, no future’. In the Orban era, this is one of the largest protests, while Hungary has been described as a “hybrid regime of electoral autocracy” by EU lawmakers – reminding us of similar descriptions about India in recent times. (The Varieties of Democracy (V-Dem) Institute, based in Sweden, had said about India: “The world’s largest democracy has turned into an electoral autocracy.”

Lawmakers have raised serious concern about Hungary: suppression of fundamental rights, freedom of expression, privacy, pluralism, media, academia, the independence of judiciary, the rights of minorities, LGBTIQ and asylum-seekers etc., — uncannily reminding us of the current state of affairs in a ‘secular and pluralist democracy’ like India.

Meanwhile, despite the killings and the mass arrests, the women’s movement seems to be flying in Iran. Even school girls are stomping over the portraits of the Ayatollahs, while unmarked cars are entering the schools to pick up and detain girls.

Nika Shakarami, 16, was badgered to death, her head smashed, claimed her mother Nasreen Shakarami.  She said that the government did not inform her about her daughter’s death for 10 days, removed her body from the morgue and buried her in a remote village without the family’s consent.

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Nika’s death, like the murder of many women, have galvanized the month-long movement instead of creating a terror psychosis. “You see something about a gathering (online) and then you go there, and you are not sure whether you will come back home alive or not,” said a protester in Tehran to the Observer by phone. “The people have decided what they have to do. Just remember there was no internet in 1979 and people did what they wanted.”

University campuses have become centers of rebellion with men and women singing and shouting slogans in unison. Women, with no hijab, hair flying, are dancing on the streets in small towns and in campuses. Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi came to the Alzahra University in Tehran, equating “rioters” to flies while reciting a poem. A video shows that female students are chanting, “Raisi get lost” and “Mullahs get lost” while he was in the campus.

Parandeh, 21, Iranian-Azeri artist and writer, told the ‘Jacobin’ in the US (October 4, 2022), “…It was illegal to be a Leftist under the Shah, and he imprisoned many of them. While the Shah imprisoned them, Khomeini killed them…The Iranians protesting here are chanting, ‘No Mullahs, No Shah, Just Democracy’… This is not an uprising but a revolution…They are standing in the face of the army and saying, “Death to the Dictator, Death to Khamenei, Death to the Islamic Republic…

Zan, Zendegi, Azadi,’ or ‘Women, Life, Freedom.” ‘, has become the slogan of the Iranian women and solidarity actions across the world. One of the iconic and heart-breaking moment of rebellion which has emerged is that of a young girl standing in front of the grave of her mother, who was killed during the protest. She is not wearing a hijab, her head has been shaved off, and she is holding a lock of her own hair in her hand.

Meanwhile, after the massive, peaceful and protracted struggles against the NRC/CAA in India, the Shaheen Bagh movement across India led by mothers and sisters, and the great and glorious farmer’s movement, there are anguished and angry calls every day for the release of all the political prisoners rotting in jail for no rhyme or reason, including young, brilliant scholars like Umar Khalid and Gulfisha, among others, widely perceived to be imprisoned on cooked up charges under a draconian law. Indeed, do the brave women in Iran strike a chord in India?

Besides, the Bharat Jodo Yatra from Kanyakumari to Kashmir with Rahul Gandhi walking for 25 km every day along with thousands of people has undoubtedly struck a deep emotional chord with millions in India. Against the politics of hate, for love, unity and harmony, against hunger and poverty, for jobs, equality and sustainable development, against authoritarianism, for secular democracy – these slogans have become integral to this long march, healing wounds, resurrecting hope and courage. Among the many iconic images in the march there is one of Rahul Gandhi holding the hand of Indira Lankesh, the mother of Gauri Lankesh, while her sister Kavitha Lankesh walks along. Wrote Rahul Gandhi in a post: “Gauri Stood for Truth. Gauri stood for Courage. Gauri stood for Freedom. I stand for Gauri Lankesh and countless others like her… Bharat Jodo Yatra is their voice. It can never be silenced.”

Safe Drinking Water

Is India’s Water Mission A Pipe Dream?

India, the world’s second most populous country trailing China by a thin margin, hosts 18% of global population in a land area of 3.28 million square kilometre equalling 2.4% of earth surface. To add to the disadvantage of high population density in many parts of the country, it has only 4% of world water resources. No wonder, India figures among the world’s most water-stressed countries.

The government think tank Niti Aayog has made an obvious admission in a report that a large number of Indians living in villages, small towns and cities remain exposed to “high to extreme water stress.” Not only are people perforce doing with insufficient water for drinking and other daily chores, in most cases what is available is not actually safe for human consumption.  The point is buttressed by the BJP led government recently informing the Rajya Sabha that in almost all districts in the country groundwater, the principal source of water supply, contains more than permissible toxic metals making it poisonous. From arsenic to chromium to cadmium to uranium to iron, all these are found in more than permissible limits in drinking water whose consumption is health damaging.

According to the Ministry of Jal Shakti, over 80% of the country’s population uses groundwater, which itself is a depleting resource, a cause of major concern. When so many, including new born babies and children are drinking water with traces of toxic metals and chemicals, a major fallout inevitably is widespread waterborne diseases that claim hundreds of thousands lives. The more common waterborne diseases in India are: amoebic dysentery, hepatitis A, cholera, typhoid, malaria, giardiasis and shigellosis.

All this apart, the presence of arsenic raises the risk of skin diseases and cancer, drinking water with high levels of iron over long periods could cause Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s by disturbing the nervous system and kidney ailments could be traced to cadmium in water. For over half the country’s 1.4 billion people, their home is in villages and their falling sick results in pressure building up on the rickety healthcare system in rural India.

That shortages of water and its stinking quality – as much as 70% of water here is contaminated – have assumed crisis proportions  become clear from following research findings: (i) Around 85% of rural population and half the urban population fulfil their daily needs by using groundwater, which continues to fall annually by 10 to 25 mm; (ii) Alarmingly, India is the world’s largest user of groundwater extracting more than the US and China put together; (iii) Unless corrective steps are taken on an urgent basis, as much as 40% of the country’s population would possibly have no access to drinking water by 2030. In any case, according to Niti Aayog developed composite water management index, India’s water demand will far exceed supply by 2050; (iv) As is experienced in many parts of the world, the quality of groundwater is compromised with its depletion. Quality fall is particularly acute where there is high population density and also in places of intensive cultivation drawing irrigation water. The green revolution of the 1960s and use of high-yielding seeds for a variety of food and commercial crops have led to high use of groundwater. Availability of subsidised electricity for farmers in many states has worked as an incentive to be indiscriminate in using groundwater. At least 65% of farm irrigation comes from groundwater; and (v) No wonder World Resources Institute finds India among 17 countries in the world experiencing extreme water stress. All these problems will get further exacerbated by climate change, already experienced in growing frequency of floods and droughts across the country.

New Delhi and also the states, which primarily are responsible for making water available to citizens will do well to remember as climate change is making rainfall pattern increasingly unpredictable – the current season is witness to that with unusually high October rains likely to affect the rice crop –importance of groundwater will be felt more, underpinning its replenishment. A World Bank study says groundwater in almost two-thirds of the country’s districts has hit threateningly low levels. Expectedly, fall in groundwater levels has is a contributor to contamination.

The study bares the fact that poverty is 9-10% higher in districts where groundwater level has sunk below 8 meters and the phenomenon makes small farmers particularly vulnerable to economic distress. It says: “If current trends persist, at least 25% of India’s agriculture will be at risk.” Water scarcity is heightening with every passing year. In the current worsening water scene, the authorities must not lose sight of two realities: First, India is one of the largest water consuming countries per unit of gross domestic product (GDP). Second, among the most water-intense economies, the country is also the largest net exporter of virtual water, that is, the amount of water that goes into making of products exported, from rice to wheat to textiles. Poor appreciation of the crisis that loomed over decades and the resulting policy pitfalls have for long exposed the majority of countrymen to very low and poor quality water.

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India nurses aspiration to become a $5 trillion economy by 2029 through annual GDP growth of 9% and also covet a place among developed countries in 25 years (Narendra Modi announcement from ramparts of the Red Fort at last Independence Day celebrations). All that is fine, but the country must at the same time seriously address the issue of saving new born babies and children dying at a rate higher than global average. Much of that mortality is because of drinking of sub-standard water. Diarrhoea is a common ailment in India, especially among babies and children.

Professor Michael Kremer won the 2019 Nobel for economics along with Abhijeet Banerjee and Esther Duflo for developing an “innovative experimental approach to alleviating global poverty.” The three economists have often worked together over more than two decades in several low and middle income countries on small and specific problems through carefully designed field experiments and recommended the “best solutions.” At a recent water and health related conclave in Delhi, Professor Kremer said an important finding of his field study in a number of districts was that nearly 30% infant deaths could be prevented by making available safe drinking water to family households. Sustainable access to potable water delivered through pipes could cut one in every four deaths of children, says Kremer. But water, subject to regular testing at sources and final delivery points of prescribed quality and quantity, will have to be supplied.

Coinciding with Independence Day celebrations in 2019, the government made a bold but highly relieving decision that under the Jal Jeevan (water is life) Mission (JJM) attempts will be made to build a robust enough water infrastructure in rural India, where over half the country’s population lives so that every household and public institution such as schools and panchayat offices get potable drinking water through pipe by 2024. JJM proposes supply of 55 litres of water per person per day in every rural household.  But as unfortunately happened, the country was hit by Covid-19 pandemic triggering multiple lockdowns which forced labourers to return to their villages, suffering untold privation. Laying ductile iron (DI) pipes for conveyance of water from principal sources to distribution points is highly labour intensive in spite of use of all the high-powered machines to cut trenches through the ground.

Therefore, en masse labourer migration to villages and restrictions on assembly of people in the open during the Covid resulted in serious delays in JJM work execution. DI pipe laying work since has resumed in force. But for the Covid related time lost, Tata Metaliks managing director Sandeep Kumar says: “I don’t think JJM giving piped water connection to every rural household will be completed before 2030.” (Incidentally, Tata Metaliks, a Tata Group constituent, is among the country’s leading producers of DI pipes. The other industry leaders are Welspun Corporation, Electrosteel Castings, Jindal Saw and Rashmi Metaliks. This industry has enough capacity to generate export surplus after fulfilling domestic demand rising annually at the rate of 12%. Moreover, some Indian groups own pipe manufacturing units in West Asia, Europe and the US.)

New Delhi is, however, showing its commitment to make up for as much of the lost time as possible by heftily raising the 2022-23 budget allocation for JJM to Rs60,000 crore from the earlier year’s Rs40,000 crore. The enormity of challenge in providing Har Ghar Jal through pipe becomes evident from this set of statistics of Jal Shakti ministry: Of the total rural households of 191.467 million, 32.363 million had tap water connection at JJM launch. Since then, the coverage has risen to 102.11 million, still leaving millions of households without piped drinking water connection.

Alongside the attempts to improve safe drinking water in rural India, the government cannot any further postpone the task of relieving the water stress of households in urban cities and small towns. Parallel to providing clean drinking water universally, the government will have to take forward the programme of linking of rivers and storage capacity of fresh water that comes as nature’s gift by way of rains, which have a seasonal pattern about them with 50% precipitation happening in just 15 days. Unfortunately, in the absence of preservation of the precious resource, most of the rain water goes into the seas through the rivers.

Mahatma Gandhi

Gandhigiri to Push Back Goondagiri

Specially invited to participate in Mahatma Gandhi’s birth centenary celebrations in 1969, ‘Frontier Gandhi’ Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan went on an indefinite fast to protest sectarian violence in Gujrat, till Prime Minister Indira Gandhi apologized on behalf of a distraught nation.

Not that communal violence has ebbed. Over 58 major communal riots are estimated to have occurred in 47 places since 1967. They have taken more collective and diabolical dimensions in recent years if you follow the aftermath of Indira’s 1984 assassination, Babri Masjid’s demolition in 1992, across Gujarat again in 2002, and many more.

Both the Gandhis would have strongly disapproved of this trend. If around today, they would have fasted to protest the numerous incidents of violence. While not always taking the form of a communal riot as understood in the last century, it nevertheless has political content and overtones that are concealed by authorities and overlooked by the mainstream media. But since a smartphone allows for pictures/clips these days, they get amplified on social media platforms. It doesn’t require great research or insight to see through these persistent trends.

Thus we had “Nathuram Godse Zindabad” trending in cyberspace to mark this year’s Gandhi anniversary. A “Gandhi look-alike” was displayed as Mahishasura, the demon, at a Durga Puja pandal in Kolkata, hosted by the Hindu Maha Sabha (HMS). Public outrage ensured that the asura got a new look; a wig was added, and the spectacles were removed.

This is precisely how the message is driven home — take a resolute, mischievous step forward, and then step back if things get hot.

Keeping silent on acts that encourage hatred is as bad as voicing support. The complicity is not veiled. For the fading HMS, the pandal episode could well be an attention-grabbing bid to remain in the public consciousness.

The HMS is known for its right-wing stance that is more radical than that of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS), the ideological mentor of the country’s current political dispensation. Interestingly, the latter’s proponents who point this difference out, on social media again, did not disapprove or distance themselves from the HMS’s Kolkata act. The organisation’s branches in parts of the country have set up Godse shrines in the recent past, till they gather protests or till the police booked those responsible.

The Union Government’s unwillingness to tackle fringe elements, and asking the state administrations to do the same, has facilitated their exponential rise. Their clout has grown. Their capacity and ability to create public disorder and take the law into their own hands assume newer, disconcerting forms daily.

Across the country, however, there is no dearth of such hotheads eager to leave their imprint and be noticed, even if for all the wrong reasons. To be sure, some of them are MPs and MLAs, even ministers.

Officially called “fringe elements” when criticized by the governments and rights bodies abroad, a motley crowd of ill-read, jobless, systematically filled with hatred people is being motivated to run riot. Not reining them in is fraught with serious consequences. The blame would lie not with the fringe players, but those who choose to let them thrive.

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These are but tips of the proverbial iceberg that those in power tacitly condone and even promote. In the given discourse among the urban middle classes that are gaining increasing strength and voice in the media, not surprisingly, children have begun to question the wisdom and the need of having the Mahatma’s photograph on currency notes.

The elders who ought to reason with the young are not doing their part. They are too squeamish to ween the latter away and are okay swimming with the ‘young’ tide. It’s the “khao-piyo-aish-karo” culture.

This attitude of the old and the young alike, history books warn, is precisely what promoted extreme right-wing ideas – fascism and Nazism — in the name of nationalism in Europe in the last century between the two World Wars. Significantly, among the afflicted are several countries that claim to practice liberal democracy and preach the same to others.

Parties propagating right-wing ideas are on the rise across Europe and as in Italy’s case, have captured power. The fascist leader Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter is a star in the party of Prime Minister Georgia Meloni. In France, Marin Le Pen has gathered more votes than before. In Germany, although not moved far-right, much of the good work that Angela Merkel did during her long years in office, is being undone. In distant Brazil, former president Luiz Inácio Lula is engaged in a see-saw electoral battle with the foul-mouth, army-backed President Jared Bolsonaro.

The wheels of history appear to have come full circle and there are legitimate worries if India is following the global trends. It is worrying because time was when India, despite being poor, provided the moral compass to the world in the last century. Non-violence was a noble goal, whether or not a people actively pursued it.

India’s concrete contribution – although in celluloid form — was facilitating the making of the film Gandhi. This is the fortieth anniversary of the film that revived global interest in Gandhi, and through him, India.

It was made in 1982. Part-financed by the National Film Development Corporation (NFDC), it had a distinct India stamp, even if it was produced and directed by Sir Richard Attenborough, a Briton to boot, with no commitment to non-violence. Indira Gandhi braved domestic protests from the filmmakers’ community that boasted numerous names with global standing. Even Gandhi was played by a Briton with part-Indian parentage.

Acknowledged as a classic, the film bagged Oscars and several other awards. Indira had taken risks, and India won. Pakistan, by contrast, made a film on its founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, in a copycat act, but failed to make an impact.

The intervening years have seen many films featuring Gandhi, some even critical of Gandhi, like Gandhi, My Father, on his deeply flawed relationship with his eldest son. But the theme of truth, love, non-violence, and communal harmony have been the same. Even Munnabhai’s “Gandhigiri” spread that universal message amidst laughter and entertainment.

The man and his message are intensely relevant to the present times. As India aspires to play the Vishwaguru, the global teacher, it needs to curb sniping at the Mahatma who has close proximity to what the world thinks India is and should be.

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Indian Defence Exports

India Aims Its Missiles On Exports Front

According to reports, India would supply the ‘Pinaka’ multi-rocket launcher system, which can fire a salvo of 12 HE rockets in 44 seconds to Armenia besides anti-tank missiles and a variety of ammunition as part of a package agreement. The complete details of these armaments have not yet been disclosed. Pinaka saw service during the Kargil War, where it was successful in neutralising enemy positions on the mountaintops.

While the deal’s value has not been disclosed, the report claims armament worth $250 million or INR 2,000 crores would be sold over the next few months. The deal was signed earlier this month and supplies are to be fast-tracked.

It is not the first time that Armenia has received weapons equipment from India. In 2020, India triumphed over Russia and Poland in a $40 million defence agreement with Armenia providing it with four indigenous ‘Swathi’ counter-battery radars.

This disclosure comes days after India called on the “aggressor side” in fresh fighting along the Armenia-Azerbaijan border to “immediately cease hostilities” without directly naming Azerbaijan. Latest fighting erupted between the two sides on September 13.

India’s defence exports

Meanwhile, it seems the Armenian-Azerbaijan conflict has helped India to boost its arms exports. According to reports India recently announced figures for the highest-ever defence export growth that swelled by a staggering 334% over the last five years.

In fact India is chasing an even higher target. In 2020, the Modi government had set a target of Rs 35,000 crore ($ 5 billion) export in aerospace, and defence goods and services in the next five years. This is part of the turnover of Rs 1.75 lakh crore ($ 25 billion) in defence manufacturing by 2025 that the government is aiming to achieve.

India’s defence exports touched a record Rs 13,000 crore in 2021-22, “eight times” of what it was around five years ago.

Besides the strategic importance of the deal with Armenia, the export order is a boost for the indigenous defence industry with the Indian government keen to increase the value of Indian arms exports.

India had also signed a contract with the Philippines in January 2022 for the sale of BrahMos missiles.

Currently, India exports defence equipment to 75 countries and these include weapon simulators, tear gas launcher, torpedo loading mechanism, alarm monitoring & control, night vision monocular & binocular, light-weight torpedo & fire control systems, armoured protection vehicle, weapons locating radar, high-frequency radio, coastal surveillance radar among others.

Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict

The issue of the conclave of Nagorno-Karabakh has always been the bone of contention between Armenia and Azerbaijan ever since the two countries became independent republics, after gaining independence from the erstwhile USSR.

The disputed region of Nagorno-Karabakh lies in Azerbaijan and is inhabited mostly by ethnic Armenians. The conflict escalated into a full-scale war in the early 1990s which later transformed into a low-intensity conflict until four-day escalation in April 2016 and then into another full-scale war in 2020.

A ceasefire signed in 1994 in Bishkek was followed by two decades of relative stability, which significantly deteriorated along with Azerbaijan’s increasing frustration with the status quo, at odds with Armenia’s efforts to cement it.

Azerbaijan, for one, has received backing from its traditional allies and supporters, Turkey and Israel. During the 2020 skirmish between the two combatants, Baku turned the tide in its favour by overwhelmingly deploying Turkish Bayraktar and Israeli kamikaze drones.

While Armenia has often turned to Russia for support, Moscow’s preoccupation with the on-going war against Ukraine has resulted in not a very supportive response, this time.

In the face of rising hostilities and little military aid, the defence deal with India may prove to be a shot in the arm for a beleaguered Armenia.

Azerbaijan-Turkey-Pakistan relationship

India’s military assistance for Armenia comes against the backdrop of its regional rival’s bonhomie with Azerbaijan. Pakistan has consistently backed Azerbaijan in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and has refused to establish diplomatic ties and legally recognise Armenia as an independent state.

Azerbaijan is seen by many as part of an emerging axis with Turkey and Pakistan. It has used Turkish drones to fight war against Armenia, and is also in talks with Pakistan to buy the JF-17 fighter aircraft.

In 2017, Turkey, Azerbaijan, and Pakistan had signed a Trilateral Ministers Agreement that established security cooperation, and built upon previous bilateral military aid arrangements. These three countries also conducted a joint exercise named ‘Three Brothers’ last year.

The rise of Azerbaijan with increased Turkey-Pakistan military cooperation is a direct warning to India. Azerbaijan has acquired many deadly weapons by increasing friendship with Turkey and Pakistan in the name of Islam. Indian fears that other countries may also go along this route in the name of Islamic countries are not unfounded.

However, in spite of these developments, an interesting fact is that India has stronger economic ties with Azerbaijan than with Armenia. Indian company ONGC has also invested heavily in Azerbaijan’s gas sector. The Indian bilateral trade with Azerbaijan in 2019 stood at $1093 million, while with Armenia it was only $48 million in 2020.

Broadly this latest defence deal will place India as one of the emerging global powers with rising defence exports capability. In addition it will also allow it to play a significant role in the central Asian republics and regionally, both.

Indian Foreign Minister

India’s Strategic Success On Ukraine

Seven months into the Ukraine conflict, Russia has annexed much of the Donbass region and more or less achieved what it set out to do. The fall-out of this conflict is far reaching which could fundamentally change the nature of international institutions, the balance of power and the broad camps. Russia has annexed land before. This time the West decided to make a stand. Led by the United States, it attempted to impose its idea of World Order, otherwise known as Pax American. Countries like India have been caught in a very difficult situation. India does not want to be a push over or be caught on the wrong side of the flux taking place nor be tied to one camp.

Foreign Minister S Jaishankar summed up the new mood in India in its international relations when he said, “…Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.” That statement oozed confidence. Not only did it gain respect for India but many developing and underdeveloped countries found a champion to remain neutral in the resurging cold war.

India has stood aside in the Ukraine war, officially refusing to back US sanctions or condemn the Russian State. In recent years, the Indian Government has been inching closer to the United States than Russia. The USA habitually calls favours from friends to support its global strategies. In the Ukraine war, the US has expected all NATO countries to toe its line. It has also called on Japan, and other countries who it considers to be in its axis.

India was expected by the United States to fall in line, condemn Russia and endorse sanctions. That didn’t happen. This shocked the Americans a bit. After all it does a lot of trade with India and has taken in a lot of professional Indians on H1B visas. India is a democracy, hence the US and other western countries like to think of it as part of their family.

India however had other priorities. Its official and get-out clause was simple. Its defence arsenal is largely Russian made and needs Russian parts. It does not want to compromise its defence. The West has not been a willing partner to sell India advanced defence equipment. Moreover the USA has armed India’s enemy neighbour, Pakistan, with powerful weapons.

US foreign policy is simple and tends to discard complexities of international theory. It is a case of ‘you are with us or against us. If you dither, we will quietly work on you to be in our orbit. But don’t ask us to be with you in your hour of need unless it serves US interests.’ There is usually a one-way price to pay for friendship with the United States. It is not the fault of the USA. Its democratic political structure is constructed in that way.

Europe and what is called the West, are beholden to the US. While Americans will sleep in warm homes and drive cars without worrying too much about the price of gas, Europeans are already trembling at the prospect of cold nights as gas prices become unaffordable. Many don’t drive cars now to save money on pricey petrol. Some of the countries going through this sacrifice were not keen to make a stand against Russia. But they had no choice with American demands. In Europe, what America wants, America gets. Macron, president of France is no Chirac and despite his attempts to present himself as a deal maker, could not stand up to bellicose British taunts or American expectations.

The US imposed sanctions isolated Russia at the UN, treated it as a third world country and tried to enforce no-fly zones across the world against any Russian travel outside the country. Apart from China, most countries were scared of going against the US but at the same time did not agree with it. They had no champion.

It is India that has given them strength and means to stand up as neutral in the conflict. India took a sophisticated approach. It didn’t want another dispute on the India-China border or with Pakistan currently. It knew that the Americans would not come to its aid unless it served them to do so. The Americans didn’t physically come to the aid of Ukraine, so neither did the European states. The question in India would be: Will the United States physically come to the aid of India if China and Pakistan invaded concurrently? The obvious answer is NO, unless United States saw tactical benefit in it.

India continues to buy oil from Russia. It has not supported Russia at the UN. However it has not voted against Russia much to the dismay of US. India hasn’t imposed sanctions or no-fly zone against Russia. It is even trading in Russian currency since dollars have been cut off from Russia. Extraordinarily, India has been selling Russian oil to the United States.

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India’s strong position on neutrality and refusal to be dragged into this war against Russia has in fact strengthened its hand in its relations with the US. The US needs India more than India needs the US. The US feels threatened by growing Chinese influence around the world. It feels it will lose its eminent place in the world and the Dollar could suffer. It relies on India to be its partner against China. India on the other hand has the option of improving its relations with China if the latter reciprocates and let the US fight its own battle.

India’s stand encouraged many middle east countries to remain almost neutral. Even Israel sat on the fence. Saudi Arabia has refused to condemn Russia. While these countries may have remained neutral anyway, India’s stand gave them that extra courage to gently rebuff the USA.

African countries have in fact quietly praised the leadership of India in this dispute. Many are too weak to refuse the US. But once India did, they felt they could fall behind India’s position.

India has thus gained respect and prestige as a result of refusing to be pushed around by the United States. Currently it appears that actually it is the West which has been isolated in the Ukraine situation rather than Russia. Europe unfortunately had no choice as it is heavily indebted to the US.

A positive result of India’s position is that China seems to have reviewed its entrenched hostility towards India. It was of the opinion that India would jump when the US asked and felt that India was doing America’s bidding in geo-politics. India joining the QUAD (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) with United States, Japan and Australian had heightened China’s suspicions. Now, China may soften its position against India. It may lead to better regional relations if it understands that its own posturing may be pushing India into the US camp.

Given the complexity of the Ukraine situation, it seems India has not only retained an independent position, it has gained respect around the world and may well achieve regional peace. India’s fine-tuned foreign policy on Ukraine has also left it room to tilt towards the USA if the conflict goes against Russia.

British Monarchy

The Queen Is Dead Long Live The King; And Tharoor’s Grumbling

There are many props that keep the British Monarchy going, alive, and kicking. The Queen of Great Britain and Colonies and Commonwealth (including India) and Anglo-Saxon countries such as Canada, Australia, and New Zealand passed away after first meeting Boris Johnson, then Lizz Truss, one after the other. Maybe it was just a coincidence. One was thrashing every custom in England, and the new one has started thrashing Britain without Russia having to invade.

Nevertheless, the Ex Queen’s son, Charles has taken over as King and become King Charles III. He will probably dream of steering the ship back on course. Although British Monarchs are sovereigns only in name. They sign documents and cut ribbons, wear tiaras, put on fancy clothes, and go around waving in costume dramas for the masses. Power actually exists in Downing Street and in theory, in Parliament.

During her reign, Queen Elizabeth II successfully managed to gracefully lose or give away (depending on interpretation of history) almost the entire Empire inherited by her. This greatly reduced her workload of ‘babysitting’ little Maharajahs and Chiefs around the world. After that she only had to do a few ceremonies in her palace handing out knighthoods to people who did some good work and some to those who handed some money to her politicians for things like wallpapers or campaign funds. Rise Sir Money a Lot or Rise Sir Loyal Civil Servant or Sir ‘Mars seen through looking glass scientists’. All good people for the realm.

Some bits of the Empire that once spawned half the world and where the Sun never set, are still left in the net. These colonies feel a bit suffocated and want to leave as they feel all those ceremonial days dressing up, going to the airport getting the British Monarch and staging  a ‘rumba rumba’ dance is getting tedious. There are more important things to do in life such as responding to Twitter, Tiktok and such things. So they want to cut the knot.

Even the Anglo Saxons in Anglo Saxon countries like Australia and Canada are feeling they have psychologically grown up and don’t need a ceremonial Daddy to look after them. So there are rumblings of becoming republics. Moreover they are becoming a minority in the occupied lands anyway.

Which means King Charles III will have quite a bit of signing to do and hand out royal charters certifying ‘This country has now grown up and can freely determine its own course in life’. That will leave Scotland, Wales, Gibraltar, Falklands and the little treasure Islands where all the world’s invisible money is stashed away, still part of the Empire or King’s apparent rule.

Will he pack up the Monarchy after that? Will the English get bored with monarchy? These are questions perpetually cropping up in late night talk-shows. For the rest of the world, British Monarchy is becoming a theatrical oddity or an irrelevancy, a ruler without power. Even many British people are less interested in the pomp etc as their own lives get difficult with the crashing economy and rising energy prices and a Monarchy that won’t raise a finger to help them. Its not like old days when Monarchs looked after the subjects.

On the horizon however are other prospective monarchies. Will Xi eventually crown himself as the Emperor (Huang di) of the Xi Dynasty in China? What about Modiji, Rao Sahib of Maha Kutch?

Congress And The Coconut Tree

Talking of dynasties, it seems the Nehru dynasty is finally on its way out. The minions or in polite circles called Congress Netas, have finally rebelled and are calling for a Gandhi-Mukt Congress. Although they had no part in the dynasty’s fall. One of the meek who has found courage is Shashi Tharoor. He has made an industry in blaming the British, for everything that India has not been able to do right.

Luckily Tharoor hasn’t come across any Sikhs or other critical thinkers in his verbose delirious lectures given at Oxbridge or to Indian Press. His big claim is that India had 25% world GDP before British entered and was a beggar country when they left. A sharp wit in the audience would have asked, ‘If you were that clever to have amassed 25% world GDP, why were you so stupid not to have protected it?’ Doh. But there is a select audience.

Shashi hasn’t quite grasped that without the British there would be no ‘my India’ as he calls it. The party he wants to become president of would not be in existence without the British. After all they set it up, made its constitution and brought in the first Brown Sahibs. They encouraged them to attack them (the British) in lectures etc and campaigns. They taught them to ask for freedom and groomed them to take over a structure constructed by them (British) to be able to trade with them and bring some trained personnel to run the British economy, hospitals, buses etc.

Shashi went on to become Under Secretary at UN. His expertise in human rights was really a championing of British, French and American value systems. The only authentic Indianness he and other Congress Netas bring in is kurta-pyjama outfit.

After the BJP overturned and crushed the European secularism fetish in Indian politics, Congress leaders like Rahul did Mandir yatras to be seen as Hindu and Shashi wrote a book ‘Why he is proud to be a Hindu’. Even after reading the book, one does not get a contextual understanding what he means by a Hindu. Without the British he wouldn’t be a Hindu as it were they who finally consolidated the identity in legal terminology without bothering to define it.

Shashi is still fighting the independence campaign as his party was programmed to do by Allen Octavian Hume, the retired British civil servant who set up the Congress Party in 1885 along with some other British colleagues from the establishment and after seeking the approval of the Viceroy! Indians were being taught democracy, parliamentary system and to behave like gentlemen Brown Sahibs and under the Viceroy’s watchful eye, educated on how to ask for ‘freedom’.

Shashi has put his head forward with a grovelling statement that Gandhis are in the DNA of Congress. Of course they are. Old man Nehru was the foremost of Indian coconuts who even wrote a book about his adopted country, ‘Discovery of India’. Invaders, explorers and tourists ‘discover’ a country. Does a native person discover his own country? The title of the book said it all about the Nehru dynasty and Congress, a party and entity alien in its own land.

Always feasting on crumbs and then grumbling like a moaning teenager, Shashi has inherited an India stitched together by the British, a party set up by the British, a religion legalised by the British, a democracy inherited from the British, an intellectual framework learnt from the British and now he wants to take over the Presidency of Congress, made available by courtesy of Modi’s BJP.

It was Modi who squeezed the Gandhis out of Congress like the gel from a toothpaste tube. Shashi wants to climb in and refill it with the same sticky paste. But as everyone knows, one cannot really refill a toothpaste tube. Modi has emptied it of any meaningful use in an India looking for originality and move on from colonialism.

It would be better if the British Foreign Office does the decent thing and bring the rump of the coconut tree (Congress Party) and its final coterie of Brown Sahibs in a single British Airways flight home to London and let then wander in Hyde Park corner moaning and groaning about the Raj. Congress Mukt Bharat, put Congress in the British Library or Museum.

Read More:https://lokmarg.com/

Indo-Pak Relations Peace

Why Peace Remains Elusive In Indo-Pak Relations

On Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s 115th birth anniversary last week, his life and death for an undivided India’s freedom, and that he is revered on both sides of the India-Pakistan divide were recalled. But save such sentiments shared by minuscule sections, little is left to work on building good-neighbourly relations.

One people for centuries, they became two adversarial ‘sides’ 75 years ago. Separation resolved nothing; it only deepened the crevices. Unwilling to forget the past, and unable to deal with the present, they are trapped in a cul-de-sac and unable to move forward to that goal.

The sad thing is that once you begin exploring prospects of improving the perennially tense relations, you run into innumerable obstacles and imponderables.

As one sees Pakistan posturing for peaceful ties in diplomatic forums, this is yet another moment. Everyone knows that the current government has neither the mandate nor the pull with the military, to smoke the peace pipe. The all-powerful force where the buck stops is clueless about how to resolve the problems it created by playing favourites, and has conceded space to the squabbling politicians.

Aware that this is the neighbour’s weak moment, India is simply not interested. That has long been its stance. For every Pakistani salvo on Kashmir, India returns the terrorism charge. To every charge of the ‘Hindutva’ campaign, India points to the ill-treatment of Pakistan’s minorities. India’s undeclared goal is to make hay while the sun is not shining on the neighbour.

Social media talks of a contrast. The 4,500-year old drainage system of Mohen Jo Daro in the Indus Valley efficiently disposed of the rain and flood waters when a third of Pakistan was under water. But three Chinese companies gather and dispose of garbage in modern-day Karachi, nicknamed ‘Venice of Sewage’.

What about the flooding of Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, and other Indian cities? Actually, we are sailing in the same boat that is stuck in sewage. Climate change is hurting both, but they are bogged down in old, divisive issues, unable to discuss such common threats and address them jointly.

Amidst constant diplomatic wrangling, there’s a déjà vu. Like it did in the 1980s, India has protested the $450 million US dole to Pakistan for the “sustainment and support” of the F-16 combat aircraft. It did not work then and it is unlikely to work now.

The sale in that Cold War era was meant to shore up Pakistan’s defences against India. That fig leaf is not available in the radically changed geopolitical situation. Instead, Washington now insists that the aircraft are meant for counter-terrorism. India’s S Jaishankar said: “At the end of the day, for someone to say I am doing it because it is for counterterrorism when you are talking of an aircraft of the capability of an F-16, everyone knows where they are deployed, what is its use, what is its capability. You are not fooling anybody by saying these things.”

Does Anthony Blinken really believe what he says? With changed equations, India sees itself as a bigger US ally, but the latter has always drawn the line at the India-Pakistan border. India is an ally against China only in East and Southeast Asia. That is unlikely to change since the US continues to woo Pakistan to keep it away from China.

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Diplomacy can be brazen. Both India and Pakistan must now await its subtle strokes. Like earlier American administrations, particularly the Democratic one, Biden also wants India and Pakistan to talk. But the two are in no mood. In anticipation of this, like two boxers in the ring hitting out before the bell rings, there was no ‘adaab’ from Shehbaz Sharif, nor an extended hand from Narendra Modi at the recent Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit. Unsurprisingly, while the two committed themselves to peace, the Kashmir-versus-terrorism drill also played out at the UN General Assembly.

India’s approach has unanimity – the political opposition is afraid to even utter the word Pakistan for fear of annoying the ultra-nationalists. Pakistan’s stance is also well-calibrated. Shehbaz listed Kashmir as the Number One issue — he can’t afford to miss. His brother Nawaz suffered when he skipped it at Sharm el-Sheikh in 2009.

Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari told a French TV network that India had not helped in fighting floods, “nor was there any expectation.” Surely, Modi telephoned Shehbaz to empathize but did not offer any help the way India does to countries far and near that are hit by natural calamities.

Doubly assuming that the offer was made and Pakistan accepted, it would have caused controversies. Modi would have been accused of feeding the ‘enemy’. Shehbaz had to be careful. Damned for having ‘surrendered’ to a “Hindutva driven” India, he would have gifted a missile to Imran Khan, who wants a snap poll, whatever happens to Pakistan. He has added ‘war’ to his set of issues that would not deter his campaign. War against whom?

There are always “fringe elements” thriving with official or tacit support from the powerful. Amidst global appeals for help and inviting the likes of UN Secretary-General and Angelina Jolie, tomatoes imported from Iran were destroyed by Sunni militants, in full public view, because they were ‘Shia’ produce.

Like ‘fringe’ elements in India shouting “go to Pakistan” to anyone they disagree with, the India angle is strong in Pakistan as well. Imran Khan – and he is not a “fringe element” – playing to the political gallery, has accused the Sharifs of trying to reach “a secret understanding” with India to “promote their business interest.”

Khan and Pakistan’s elite with farming backgrounds do not appreciate this, but there is something about the Sharifs that Indians find easier to work with. The Lahore summit and the unscheduled Modi visit at a Sharif event in 2015 indicate this.

How does one talk trade when that word is anathema? Pakistan Army chief General Javed Bajwa does not say it anymore. In March 2021, he stirred a debate by stressing geo-economics. Among other things, the “Bajwa Doctrine” recommended restoring peace within by putting down various internal insurgencies, reviving economic growth, and reconciling with the neighbours. Analysts thought this was a radical change in the Pakistan Army’s stance. Taking the cue, the commerce ministry decided to resume trade with India.

But the Khan Government annulled it. Sections of the business community saw a win-win situation in bilateral trade, even working to Pakistan’s advantage. But they have been ignored. Nobody in Pakistan has bothered to explain why the “Bajwa Doctrine” was junked, and India couldn’t care less.

Last but not the least, both have electoral compulsions – there will always be. Politicians on both sides indulge in this profitable pastime in the name of democracy, despite Covid, calamities, and constraints on the economy. And ‘war’, if you note Imran Khan’s resolve.

One of Pakistan’s most perceptive writers, F S Aijazuddin, writes: “… the funeral of the late Queen Elizabeth II has caused many to marvel at the plans made for it years in advance. That is not unusual. Pakistani politicians, too, have been planning each other’s funerals for years.” Isn’t it the same, across South Asia?

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

Iron Women of Iran

On Mahsa’s graveyard, they said, in collective mourning, “She is not dead.” With barren hills as backdrop, the women threw their hijabs into the air even as her funeral began, their heart-breaking in mournful cries, in chorus, their angry tears choking the blue sky. They are also shouting for justice. Mahsa Amini is not dead, they are saying. She lives.

Her hair lives, her eyes and face live, her soul and heart live. Her youth, and dreams, they too live. On the inflamed, inflammatory, enraged streets of Iran. In the angst and anger of all the women out there — protesting.

All over Iran, across its big cities and small towns, across its 36 provinces, on by-lanes, streets and roundabouts, they are in rage, the women of Iran, and men in solidarity, screaming: Death to the Dictator. The young portrait of Mahsa, without a head scarf, is on every poster.

A murder as a grotesque public spectacle. The murder of a young, Kurdish girl in Tehran, walking with her brother, peacefully. Just about 22. Heart attack? Natural causes? Certainly not.  Beaten to death? Yes, undoubtedly, the scars on her body prove that. Did we not see her suddenly collapse in that heavily edited official video?

So why did they kill her? Why? Because of her hair? Her head scarf? Why do they beat women so brutally if their hair shows, or, if they think the dress is not damned appropriate?

Yes, they beat women. And they can do worse!

So who are they? The notorious neo-Nazi Gestapo of the regressive, religious police, male Islamic fundamentalists of the most ruthless and retrograde species — the morality police; in this case, as in the past, a relentless, brutalizing, degrading, inhuman, irrational, torture and murder machine let loose on the streets to stalk and hound women citizens of Iran at the behest of its ultra-orthodox regime, pushing both rationality and modernity to the abyss of absolute dismay and despair.

Meanwhile, at other places, the impossible seems to have happened: stoning the portraits of Ayotollah Khomeini, and burning the pictures of Imam Khameini, the highest symbols of patriarchal power; surely, this is the biggest act of blasphemy in Islamic law in Iran. Even as the government has unleashed its armed and unarmed forces on the streets, including pro-regime loyalists, male demonstrators, shouting the usual slogans to counter all forms of democratic dissent – Death to America and Death to Israel.

At least 50, or more, are dead, including women shot on the streets. Men cops are forcing screaming women inside unknown vehicles. Women are being arrested and packed off to that notorious prison and torture/interrogation chamber of Evin, situated in the picturesque hills of Northern Tehran. A prison, which started its bloody torture-and-death-in-custody rituals during the ‘free’ days of the Shah of Iran, backed by America.

They are crying, tears streaming down in memory of Mahsa, and their own deep, personal memories, ancient memories, screaming, dancing, holding each others’ hands, going round in circles singing songs, shouting slogans, running from the cops and regrouping, and, most crucially, cutting their hair and burning their head scarves in public bonfires. Don’t look at our hair, they are saying. Leave our hair alone! Who are you to tell us what to wear? Why are they so obsessed with our beings, our bodies, our presence, our identity, our human existence and essence? Our hair? Go and look somewhere else. Why do you have to look at us on the streets at all? What is it to you if we show our hair or our face or discard the hijab?

Who are you to tell us to do this and do that, to control our young and adult minds, our education, our children, our love and life, our social identity, our aesthetic, political and existential essence, our existential freedom? Go to hell, they are shouting out there, you can hear them, the videos are out there despite a total ban on internet; the fire and the slogans are all over. The whole world is watching the protests, the whole world is watching the brave women of Iran – go ban the internet and instagram!

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The authorities claim 25, but there are at least 50 dead, according to sources, including women. The ambulances are being attacked, because the protestors claim, that the male soldiers and morality police are using the ambulance to transport arms and men. One woman stands all alone in front of a water cannon. The memory of Tiananmen Square, June, 1989, comes back as a resurrection, yet again.

History repeats itself in different kaleidoscopes and rainbows. The water cannon stops and retreats. Another woman hits the window of a police car. Another shouts at the cops, hair flying, eyes aflame, surrounded by her comrades.

Somebody has made a flag with a pole and women’s hair flying like a glorious monument of great bravery and beauty; oh, let the hair fly, without a hijab, in defiance, in magic, in freedom, in joy, in beauty and rage. Let the hair become the body and the soul and the heart! Let the hair become the sublime song of the women street fighters.

What is it with the hair of a woman? What is it with a head scarf not worn properly? What is so goddamned proper and not proper with the hair of a woman? What is so pathologically sick and perversely insane with these fundamentalists who are obsessed with how the women dress, and how they should wear their hair and scarf? In this age and in these times! What do they teach the boys in school?

They are writing poetry and saying that if we are dead then our dead bodies will still write the poetry. They are saying that if you are render us silent and mute, then our silence and exile will create a new poetry. They are saying that you want to brutalise and control us, but this is not acceptable anymore, we shall defy and fly.

Hadis Najafi, 20, no hijab of course, fixes her golden pony tail and spectacles as she joins the peaceful protest. Just about 24 hours later she is dead, women grieving over her dead body, her portrait now in a hijab. But she too would live defying the orthodoxy, her golden pony tail as a testimony of living history.

A young, spectacled girl, her angst and anger becoming the melancholy melody of her face and eyes, sings a magic-realism Bella Ciao in Persian – oh, how beautifully she sings; oh, how exquisite and refined is this language, full of strange substances and sensibilities! Turkish artist Masis Aram Gözbek, performs a play, ‘Enough’, like a synthesis of solo and chorus protagonists, all young, in solidarity with the women of Iran. You look at the play, and you don’t have to understand the language. Every face and voice tells the same story – Yes, Enough!

Reminds me of the peasants in the profoundly poetic films of Milos Jancso, in the picturesque countryside of Hungry in East Europe, with the peasants going round and round, the girls forming circles holding bread as the symbol of their labour and love, and their imagined homeland, and the horses with soldiers and their whips circling around them, like the repressive State apparatus. Remember the magical poetry of a film — ‘Red Psalm’!

Round  and round they go, as round and round the women go, on the streets of Tehran, around a bonfire, burning their hijabs in a bonfire, forced on them outside their will by a regressive, orthodox, control-freak patriarchal, feudal, fundamentalist Islamic male regime led by fossilized and frustrated clerics and misogynists, brutish, nasty and short.

Enough, said the women. We are fed up!