Five Things That Happened Last Week (and what to make of them)

Tricolour in every home is a good campaign 

In the majority of nations around the world, the national flag is an object of pride that is revered, adored, and held with respect. In large democracies such as the USA, the national flag can be displayed and adorned by citizens in almost any way they want to. Sometimes this has led to controversy. There have been instances where the flag has been used in clothing (such as in bikinis or T-shirts) or in art form that have been construed as being disrespectful. 

But then, the right to freedom of expression in American society can lead to ludicrous interpretations of what you can do or say and get away with. In most nations, however, the flag is treated with reverence. In many European nations, the national flag is hoisted multiple times during a year: to celebrate events that can range from religious events to birth anniversaries of national icons and other momentous historical events. 

In India, till relatively recently (2002, to be precise), there were restrictions on how the national flag could be hoisted and by whom as well as even the material that it could be made of. The new Flag Code of India did away with it. Now there are no restrictions on members of the general public or institutions from hoisting the national flag as long as it is not perceived to be desecrated or disrespected in any manner.

Recently, under the aegis of the central government and espoused by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India has launched a campaign to mark the 75th anniversary of the country’s Independence. Under the campaign citizens have been urged to hoist the national flag at their homes in the run-up to Independence Day on August 15. The campaign, entitled Har Ghar Tiranga, is aimed at invoking the spirit of patriotism among Indians. The effort should be lauded.

In recent times, Indian society has become divisive and extremely polarised.The federal structure of governance in India means that there are two levels of government: one at the central level and the other at the level of the states. The uniqueness of the Indian federal model is the extremely diverse nature of its population and the regional disparities. Language, customs, clothing, food, culture and so many other things are so different between regions that each state in India could easily be considered as a different country.

Then, there is the diversity of religion. While Hindus make up 1.094 billion of the 1.4 billion Indians, if you take the minority communities, in absolute numbers their population is huge.For instance, there are an estimated 204 million Muslims in India. Just for contextual purposes, consider that Russia’s population is 144 million; Germany’s 83.2million; and the UK’s 67.2 million. The fact that the once-latent Hindu majoritarianism has been fanned up of late to become increasingly overt has further sharpened the divisiveness in Indian society. 

In that context, a campaign to revere, celebrate, and respect Indian Tiranga should be welcomed. It could be one way of uniting and bringing together a diverse, multicultural, and often conflicting population. Yes, you could say that it is only symbolic to hoist the tricolour at home but the spirit of patriotism can be one that brings together a sharply diverse society.

A heinous attack on Salman Rushdie

The India-born author Salman Rushdie, 75, was stabbed during an event in New York state last week during an event and had to be hospitalised. Rushdie’s agent said he was on a ventilator and wasn’t able to speak. The author could even lose an eye. 

Ever since Rushdie wrote The Satanic Verses, published in 1988, he has been facing death threats from Islamic fundamentalists. It began with the Iranian leader Ayatollah Khomeini placing a fatwa on him calling for his assassination. Rushdie’s book had portrayed the Prophet Mohammed in a fictionalised version and his interpretation of the Koran had incensed Islamic communities.

Following the fatwa and threat to his life, Rushdie had to spend years in hiding and was granted protection by authorities in the UK and the US.
Last week, a 24-year-old man, identified as Hadi Matar, stabbed Rushdie as he was about to begin a lecture at a literary event. Matar was arrested. Rushdie is still in hospital and has suffered injuries to his neck and abdomen.

The enigma of Nitish Kumar

If you look at the career of Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar, two things can emerge. First, is his longevity in that office. He first became chief minister of the state in 2000 for a short while. Then, he held the office between 2005 and 2014. And, following the elections in 2015, he has been chief minister of the state since that year. 

The second thing to note about Nitish Kumar is his quick political crossovers. Since 2003, Kumar has been leading the Janata Dal (United). But it is his changing alignments that are notable. Between 2003 and 2013, Kumar aligned with the Bharatiya Janata Party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Then he left the alliance and opposed it till 2017 when he again rejoined it. Now, in 2022, he has decided to quit the NDA and join the Mahagathbandhan, an alliance of opposition parties that include Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Janata Dal (United), Indian National Congress (INC), and Left parties including Communist Party of India (CPI), Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist) Liberation-CPIML(Liberation) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM). 

As leader of the Mahagathbandhan, which is in opposition to the NDA, Kumar continues as the chief minister of Bihar and the RJD’s Tejashwi Yadav is the deputy chief minister. Incidentally, RJD was Kumar’s arch rival only till recently. 

The political implication of Kumar’s newest realignment is a bit complex. The next Bihar state assembly elections are scheduled for 2025 so that is not an immediate event. However, there is much speculation about whether Kumar’s recent decision to move away from the NDA is a precursor to a possible plan to pitch himself as a prime ministerial candidate against Narendra Modi when the parliamentary elections are held in 2024. Kumar’s camp denies this but with Kumar’s enigmatic political career, the speculation continues. 

Why mandatory masks in Delhi is a good thing

Last week the Delhi government mandated that masks should be worn in public spaces by everyone once again asCovid cases began to rise in the city. It is a welcome move that ought to be adopted by the authorities in other populous Indian cities.

The several waves of the Covid pandemic that has hit India have revealed a behavioural pattern that is unmistakable. Every time Covid’s spread ebbs, people get back to their old ways, disregarding the precautions of masking or hand hygiene. 

India’s population density, particularly in its large cities, does not afford its citizens the luxury of taking it easy every time the virus’ spread slows down. It is quite clear that the Covid virus is continuing to mutate and new variants are emerging constantly. According to esports, the current variant, albeit milder than the dreaded Delta variant, is the BA.2.75 strain. This strain is believed to be causing the ongoing surge in Covid cases in the National Capital Region (NCR). 

In this context, the Delhi government’s move is one that should be emulated elsewhere.

Will China invade Taiwan? The answer is not unambiguous

The recent surge in Chinese fire drills and continuing incursions by fighter jets and warships into Taiwan’s neighbourhood have given rise to speculation over a possible invasion of Taiwan by China in the near future.

The ongoing tension escalated after the visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi, speaker in the US House of Representatives. China does not recognise Taiwan and aggression towards the island nation has been continuing for years. But will the hostilities lead to an all-out military strike?

That question does not have an easy answer. For one, China has over the past couple of decades built up its military might like never before. Also, its economic strength is at a significantly high level, driven mainly by its manufacturing sector that dominates the globe. 

However, will China risk triggering a worldwide conflict by attacking Taiwan? The consequences of doing that can have both geo-political and economic implications for China that may not be altogether desirable. Experts are divided on China’s next moves and the speculation continues.

CELEBRATING 1947

th and one on 15th August. The pomp and ceremony the British had bequeathed have  been followed de rigour with salutes, march pasts and boisterous speeches about future challenges. The pageants were started by Jinnah and Nehru who played the perfect role of the natives civilised by the British to stand  in ceremony as the British made a dignified exit while millions were sacrificed in the funeral pyre of the Raj. The two leaders of this ancient lands talked of ‘fulfilment of destiny’ and ‘tryst with destiny’ respectively as if this 5000 year old civilisation had finally reached the age of rite of passage. It certainly took some growing up time! Why does this ancient civilisation talk of ‘independence’. Isnt it embarrassing and demenaning? Will the British celebrate ‘independence from Europe after article 50 is delivered? They are too proud to give that dignity to Europe. Are the two hundred years of British rule the only ones that have mattered in the region’s five thousand years? Isn’t it playing into McCaulley’s narrative who dismissed the intellectual history of the people as not worth a single shelf of European books and then set about civilising them. Finally in 1947, Indians were deemed fit to govern and set ‘free’. The day of graduation is commemorated yearly as ‘freedom’. What was before the nineteenth century? Gestation? [caption id="attachment_18137" align="alignleft" width="300"] ISLAMABAD, Aug. 14, 2017 (Xinhua) — An aerobatic team perform during an air show to mark the Pakistan’s Independence Day in Islamabad.[/caption] In the case of Pakistan, it is understandable. There is no history beyond 14th August 1947 of a Pakistan except that of a campaign to give it birth. Its parents are the British and Islam. It owes its very being to both. One gave it the material (territorial) identity and the other its character identity. The Muslim population of South Asia was offered the opportunity of migrating to Pakistan, a country patched together from 4 different autonomous regions of South Asia. Less than a quarter migrated and only when many of them were forced by the violence as was vice versa. India existed before the British arrived on the soil. It existed before the Mughals started their Empire. It existed before Alexander invaded. Why is India celebrating 15th August as its birthday? Was it born on 15th August 1947? Somebody needs to look at India’s astrological chart from the 4800 years of gestation. Why did it take that long? Perhaps the India in the image of the British was born then, its intellectual and cultural past thrown into the history bin, fulfilling McCauley’s mission. Nothing really changed on that day except that a new management took over marking the the British Raj’s hubris with a new master class The outgoing rulers  transferred the expected violence against their brutal oppression to an orgy of butchery between the enslaved  themselves.  While the ceremony and pomp of transfer of power was taking place, all around was the stench of corpses  delivered to the god of birth. Families were uprooted, parents and children killed. Indians killed Indians in coming to terms with their new identities as Indians or Pakistanis. Only the British could have pulled that off. Nearly two hundred years of brutal colonialism was ended with a sense of triumphalism with no hint of guilt. All its laws of oppression passed over intact. And a well managed scheme of divisions was permitted to reach its ugliest expression. The once oppressed set upon each other as the oppressor walked away ceremoniously as if handing the key and map of the drains of the house to new owners with a band and a song and the essentials, such as detention laws. Perhaps the British were angered by the ungrateful natives refusing to bow in perpetuity to the rule that gave them railways, the bureaucracy, the army, English language, the legal system  etc. They decided to wreak revenge by removing the responsibility of government and withdrawing the institutions of order that ensure peace among people. Mayhem followed Academics, politicians and commentators from both sides of the partition dwell on the inhumanity of people, of neighbours, of friends as they suddenly fell upon each other. Religion is blamed incessantly for the violence of partition. These pontifs forget that only two years before, Europeans went on the biggest mass killing spree against each other without any religion involved. When people are left without the institutions of governance and order, it only takes a few individuals to light a free for all mass violence, until some order is restored again. It happens regardless of ideology or religion. Rwanda, Libya, 30 year European wars, history is replete with examples. The narrative of laying blame on religion and uncivilised people slaughtering each other was crafted by the British, even suggesting that there was ‘something abnormal’ underneath the pleasantries of the Indian. It is interesting that both Indian and Pakistanis have been peddling this narrative since 1947 with some even expressing slight sense of shame and guilt. They fail to critically see beyond the narrative. What about the culpability of the British, the criminal negligence of those in charge to let this happen, the policies of dividing people and then letting them loose on each other with orders to the Army to stand back? Does Mountbatten have a charge to answer? He must rank as the worst governing manager in the history of the world. Does India Office at the FCO (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office) have some explanations to give and compensations to pay to families who lost everything including loved ones? It was also equally interesting that in a BBC Newsnight programme on partition, every body of Indian or Pakistani origin was replicating the narrative crafted by the British. Only an ex Army Englishman pointed the finger at Mountbatten. Even then no one picked it from there either. The narrative has been so successful in deflecting responsibility. Or it could be that McCauley’s implant in the Indian-Pakistani mind is so part of he DNA that it will take another Englishman to expose colonial culpability to lift the transferred burden people of both countries bear of their culture and their religions. [caption id="attachment_18139" align="aligncenter" width="663"] Amritsar: Shiv Sena activists burn Pakistan’s flag during a demonstration against Pakistan on Pakistan’s Independence Day.[/caption] The greater tragic irony is that both India and Pakistan continue to play as actors in the script written by the departing colonists. 70 years later they still ritually hate each other, waiving nationalism and blaming each other for the division. [caption id="attachment_18138" align="aligncenter" width="691"] QUETTA, Aug. 14, 2017 (Xinhua) — Pakistani people carry a huge flag during a rally marking the 70th anniversary of the country’s independence.[/caption] Their leaders salute their respective flags as batteries of Empire designed colourfully adorned army and paramilitary forces march. Of Congress this can be expected. Congress perhaps inspired the word Westernised Oriental Gentleman with almost all its leaders from Nehru to Manmohan living up to it, psychologically seeking approval from the ex masters. But Modi with BJP’s self declared assertion of reviving the ancient rashtra cuts an odd figure saluting the flag. Surely the Bharat way is to pranam the flag instead of saluting it. That is something the BJP can learn from the Sikhs who ‘pranam’ the Nishan sahib, not salute it. There is a sort of comical tragi-drama in this 5000 year old civilisation celebrating ‘independence’ from a carrot size power while venting hate against the Mughals and other non Indian rulers. Is it because the west told it that it has achieved ‘freedom’, while blanking the need to mourn the death of a million. In celebrating independence, India dignifies colonialism. As a civilisation, India  should have more self respect than to be celebrating the end of Raj. That’s what this day is about. With their ubiquitous bands and march pasts and salutes, the British pulled off one of the biggest con tricks of their rule. They made their racist brutal rule appear to be a period of education for the Indian to reach maturity and independence. They came out triumphantly out of India and achieved what they wanted. Making the Indians remember them every year and its leaders waiving a progress card every year. Shouldn’t 15th August every year start with prayers and remembrance for the millions of souls sacrificed on the alter of the dying Raj? Perhaps then, post colonial India will start to become ‘Bharat’ again. // ]]>