A Defiance That Refuses To Die

It is 36 years since the ill-fated Prime Minister of India, Indira Gandhi ordered India’s Army to attack one of the holiest and iconic places in South Asia, Sri Darbar Sahib (Golden Temple). The attack exposed more about 1984 India, its Army, its lack of self-confidence, its intellectual bankruptcy and the hollow nationalism of Congress party than the Sikhs. It was a junctural moment as the Indian colonialist worldview and institutions came face to face with the still unfinished simmering indigenous Swaraj movements that had brought the mighty British Empire down.

The Nehruvian vision of post-colonial ‘westernised’ India began to crumble on the day of the attack as it took on the institution (Golden Temple) that had given impetus to the decolonisation movement in British India in 1920s. The colonial ideological rot that had infected every sphere of Indian institutional, academic and literary life was to unravel.

There were bigger than life personalities. Leading the post-colonial State was Mrs Indira Gandhi, daughter of the first Indian Prime Minister Jawharlal Nehru and a formidable lady who brought in the Emergency in 1976 to secure her power, overthrew the Pakistan Army from Bangladesh and outwitted all her opponents in the Congress. Her last act was to order an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib on 1st June 1984. She paid for it with her life on 30th October 1984.

Leading the challenge to the westernised Indian State was Baba Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, a charismatic personality and steeped in the knowledge of traditional Indian discourses and driven by Sikh aspirations. He died in the attack in June 1984.

Few if any of Indian analysts saw the attack and subsequent civil unrest in Punjab in historical terms. The narrative propagated by the State was echoed without critique by the intellectuals. The State’s story was that a religious fanatic based secessionist movement pursuing its aim through terrorism was threatening the ‘unity’ of mother India. Critique, if any, was around human rights rather than the conflict of ideas, expectations and visions in post-colonial India.

The Indian intellectual was fed and bred on the idea of the perfect country and civilisation to be the secular, liberal and socialist entity in the image of the post-enlightenment European States and political culture. In this worldview, other cultures had to embark on this trajectory to progress from their primitive pasts.

ALSO READ: India’s Fissiparous Politics, An Essay

In this ‘future’, there was little of 5,000 years of Indian civilisation, its philosophies or its worldviews in the foundations. India had to be Europeanised whole sale, root and branch. India set itself to become a ‘modern developed country’ both industrially and intellectually, whatever that meant.

What remained of native India was cultural idiosyncrasies such as language, dance and religious rituals. The public sphere post-1947 was the triumph of western concepts as if 5,000 years of intellectual thought in India had only saree and curry to offer.

On 1 June 1984, this colonial ingrained India attacked the India that had survived thousands of years, tens of invasions and Empires and several attempts at changing its core pluralist civilisation. What the Mughals and the British could not achieve, the Congress Party had set its mind to accomplish. It was determined to destroy the past, the fabric of South Asian civilisation and transform it. The mission for India is revealed in Nehru’s book, Discovery of India, and it is writ large in the Constitution of India.

The Constitution, drafted from German, Irish, American and British sources, to this day puts its belief in secularism, despite thousands of years of history of pluralism or Bahuda. The modern Indian State obediently carried on the colonial strategy of marginalising indigenous Indian philosophical and political thought into the bracket of personal religion, thus making their thoughts irrelevant to the political public space. The inevitable tension between an alien political theory without hinterland in Indian thought and indigenous ideologies, first came to fore violently in 1984 at the doors of Sri Darbar Sahib.

It was the willingness of the Army to attack its own people and institutions that bewildered Sikhs around the world and many India observers. At least one to-be Chief of Army refused to indulge in Mrs Gandhi’s fantasy. In 1983, Lt General Srinivas Kumar Sinha advised gravely against it. He was bypassed and General AS Vaidya obliged becoming Chief, only later to pay with his life.

Lt Gen Srinivas Sinha advised Indira Gandhi against Operation Blue Star but he was snubbed.

An Army is a trained killing machine, fed on the idea of hostile invader enemies. The Indian Army was established by the British to treat the Indian as the enemy in order to protect the British from Indians driven by ideas of usurping the Crown in India. Post 1947, little was done to re-educate the Army to see itself as a force to defend Indians from invasions alone. It has been a pliable instrument to use in the hands of Indian political masters.

ALSO READ: Independence Day For A 5,000-Yr Old Civilisation!

Even the Chinese Army refused to attack its own people in Tiananmen Square episode. Currently, the US army has indicated its unwillingness to carry President Donald Trump’s orders to crackdown on domestic protests. Armies don’t solve political issues, they just kill. That’s what happened in 1984. Perhaps the Indian Army has changed now and become truly nationalist protecting borders rather than acting as the Praetorian Guard for an ineffectual governing elite.

In 1984, the political class and the bureaucracy was also on a rollercoaster colonial train with no brakes. It was simply new management running a defunct system that had been rejected by the Sikh uprising in Punjab and Gandhi’s Swaraj movement. Incredibly, like the evil character in a horror movie, it survived intact after 1947. The political class and bureaucracy had loads of instruction sheets left by colonial masters augmented by Oxbridge educations on running a colonial Governance but had no access to a repair manual when things went wrong.

Consequently, the system threw the same set of tools at every problem including the challenge from Bhindranwale. This was a cocktail of detention laws, police excesses, Central rule and then emergency powers bringing in the Army. The solution was run on automatic memory from colonial days when the British saw Indians as the enemy. No originality or creative political solutions have emerged in a post-colonial state badly in need of major institutional and constitutional change by engagement with people after the violence of colonialism. 

In this state of an alien governance system run by an indigenous elite, a leader from one of the natural community of the many communities in India was seen as a primitive village preacher turned terrorist challenging the ‘post-colonial enlightenment vision’. Bhindranwale was called a feisty preacher turned delusional politician until February 1984 in almost all of the Indian Press and by Indian Congress politicians.

ALSO READ: Kartarpur Langah, The Road To Peace

As his appeal and his hold on the people of Punjab, particularly the Sikhs, grew and grew, a shaken Indira Gandhi decided to label him a terrorist in February 1984. No new action or legal charges had taken place to justify that label, nor was there a warrant for his arrest. But it was a story that the scribes obliged as did some of the western liberal media to prepare the grounds for an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib. No Indian editor asked, where is the warrant of arrest?

The story of Bhindrawale as an illiterate village preacher threatening India’s rapid advance towards becoming a mirror image of a Germany or United States was also promoted by Indians around the world. These were Indians desperately aping their white role models caricatured brilliantly in the 1990s British sitcom ‘Goodness Gracious Me’. The irony was that Mrs Gandhi herself was only a Matric pass. The difference was one could speak English and the other could not, the only criterion by which a literate Indian from an illiterate Indian was judged by post colonial Indians.

Bhindranwale was a brilliant orator who could command the attention and awe of the Punjabi masses, especially the Sikhs. He was head of the DamDami Taksal, an influential Sikh seminary. Brought up in the best traditions of Sikh chivalry and fearless courage when faced with great odds, he had gained a huge following. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he knew how to articulate the hopes and expectations of the masses. In Punjab they did not want to become Brown Sahibs as fading copies of the white sahibs who had left, but to remain part of the Dharmic tradition of Sikhi and to find expression within the system of governance denied to indigenous political ideologies. This has never been analysed by Indian academics whose work often at best resembles polished journalism rather than exploration of deeper currents of history and ideas. Journalists and writers have concentrated on the personality and actions rather than the clash of visions and hopes in a narrative set for them by western academics.

Bhindranwale, like many Sikhs, was disturbed by the recurrent political campaigns in Punjab around economic and political autonomy to restore Sikh values in the regional system. This had been going on since 1947 and rearticulated in the 1971, then the 1976 Anandpur Sahib resolution. He felt the Akalis were either too weak or had been using the Anandpur Sahib resolution as an opportunist political manifesto to harvest the Sikh vote in Punjab without wanting to resolve it.

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution was based on a 1929 Lahore Agreement between Sikh leaders and Congress. Having witnessed the successful Gurdwara campaign in Punjab, Congress sought to get Sikhs on board for its struggle. The agreement was that Punjab would be autonomous in a Federal India and Sikhs would have a veto on drafting of Constitutional articles that concerned them. the resolution was passed every year by Congress until 1947.

In 1931, Gandhi had advised Sikhs that if his party ever betrayed the 1929 agreement, Sikhs were morally justified to take up arms against the State. This agreement was reneged by Congress in 1949.

Bhindranwale decided to take control of the unsuccessful rallies around Anandpur Sahib Resolution. Astutely he first used Congress to rise to prominence, then distanced himself from it and took it head on having found his base among Sikhs and other Punjabis.

The campaign under Bhindranwale’s leadership was met by State excesses such as extrajudicial executions, illegal detentions, torture of detainees and mass shootings into rallies. The Punjab is one state in India where such measures have always backfired from Mughals, the British to modern India. And it did. The result was a cycle of State and counter State violence that culminated in the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib. That precipitated a new chapter of violence and deep political chasm.

When asked about Khalistan, Bhindranwale said he wasn’t campaigning for one but if the Indian State offered it, he wouldn’t say no this time. This was making a reference to an alleged offer by Lord Mountbatten’s secretary offering a separate State to Sikhs around 1947 but Sikhs apparently didn’t take it seriously.

However, Bhindrawale did say that an attack on Sri Darbar Sahib would lay the foundations for a Khalistan. Thirty six years later, these words continue to fuel political aspirations in the world of Sikhs. The attack marked a substantive turn in Indian history.

In a provocative interview by BBC Asian programme in July 1984, I said that secular India does not need to worry too much about Sikhs. The real movement that will destroy it now is resurrection of Hindu fundamentalist nationalism because metaphorically the State has taken on the Church. Its effects will be far ranging. Neither he nor Indian academics understood the conceptual frameworks on which this statement was made. About 20 years later, the BJP was in power. Rest is history.

For many Sikhs the idea of Khalistan, a land where Sikhs can establish a system of governance formed from Sikh political theory, continues. In the flow of history, significantly, on 6th June 1984, the adulterated vision of a secular westernised India started dying at the gates of Sri Darbar Sahib and a new history began.

In that fated year, the death of two powerful personalities marked a crossover of Indian history. One, Bhindranwale, whose death started the resurgence of quest for a state based on thousands of years of indigenous concepts of Dharam. The other, Mrs Gandhi, died five months later whose death signified the end of the colonial project in the Indian subcontinent.

Media And Modi

The Press And The Prime Minister, Over The Years

Even before Narendra Modi’s advent on the national scene, the media had lost relevance to public life with its conversion from the Fourth Estate to a private mint

There’s a bee in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bonnet. His critics pillory him for not addressing a single press conference since he took office in May 2014.  

The buzz is getting louder as the Elections-2019 campaign enters its second-half. His principal rival, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, recently dared him to hold a PC.

ALSO READ: Reason Why Indian Media Is Pliable

Modi has responded with alacrity and vehemence to Rahul’s many insinuations. But his silence on this remains inexplicable. Critics call him, half-in-zest, the first premier who could enter the Guinness Book of Records for failing to hold a PC.    

His ‘non-political’ televised talk with Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar was not his “first press conference” as initially announced on April 26. Nor was it an interview despite the use of that format. Now, it has re-charged an issue on which the media and Modi observers had all but reconciled. 

India’s 16th premier in 73 years shuns the traditional media. He has done away with office of the Information Advisor. No impromptu media interactions and nothing that is not pre-scheduled.

ALSO READ: Why Media Treats Modi With Kid Gloves

That he speaks only to those who fully agree and don’t ask uncomfortable questions is a given. He shows silent contempt for the rest – mainly the liberal lot who take their adversarial role too seriously. He has steadfastly stuck to “if you are not with me, completely, you are against me” stance. This is another given.

Yet, Modi remains hugely connected to his chosen audiences. He is world No. 3 on Twitter and No.1 on Facebook and Instagram. With his official page ‘liked’ by over 43.2 million people, Modi tops the list of 50 most-followed world leaders on Facebook.  It’s puzzling how and when he finds time and energy to be on the social media.  

ALSO READ: Modi Govt Wants To Target Online Media

He connects with people through “mann ki baat” on All India Radio each month for the last four years. His Hindi oratory, the turn of phrase and coining of new slogans help him communicate like no other premier before. His penchant of talking about himself helps.

His media appearances have largely been limited to his archetypal rallies, conferences and joint appearances with world leaders whom he hugs. But a hug at home is a no-no.

Despite social media posts, broadcasts and scripted TV interviews with selected TV channels, his communication remains limited. There is a wide difference between mass media and media of masses.  

He chooses the media; the media have no choice. Bulk of them has fallen in line. Reporters and editors do not matter. An ownership overhaul, direct or remote, has ensured his overwhelming presence. A friendly TV anchor calls his not giving press conferences a “new paradigm of communication.”  Critics are mostly marginalized to web sites.  

He honed his media skills long ago. An ever-smiling official at the New Delhi headquarters of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Modi nurtured rapport with the BJP ‘beat’ media. Things changed when he became the Gujarat chief minister in end-2001. He courted controversy within weeks with sectarian violence under his watch. A thousand, mostly Muslims, were killed. The Supreme Court’s strictures on his government’s handling embarrassed the Vajpayee Government. Party hardliners saved him from being sacked.    

That was India’s first televised violence. Local media was divided, but the one from the national capital (hence labeled “national media”) was intensely critical from where the global media took the cue.

As chief minister, Modi was keen to shed the ‘communal’ baggage and mount the ‘development’ platform. He did so with fair success, projecting the “Gujarat model”, despite criticism that made him a pariah in the West.  

Once a Supreme Court-appointed probe cleared him, he doggedly shunned any questions and twice walked out of interviews when questioned about those riots. He never regretted his role and once compared riot victims as “puppies coming under a speeding vehicle.”

His silent war with the media continues. Yet, obvious, even if ironical, has happened since became the PM. The very media he shuns spend millions to report him. Media junkets, particularly the foreign ones that had become the norm since the 1970s, are passé. 

Why recall these details that are unsavory to all? The government-media relationship seems unlikely to change, no matter who wins the elections. The era of ‘Comment is Free, but facts are sacred’, as celebrated British journalist C P Scott once wrote, ended long ago.   

The media lost relevance to public life with its conversion from the Fourth Estate to private mint to print money for owners. This was long before Modi’s advent on the national scene. As one who can cause fear and distribute largess, he is certainly a big beneficiary.

Now, journalists who do not speak or write agreeably are called ‘presstitutes’. At least two of Modi’s ministers have publicly used that term. Social media troll has become everyday affair.

The media’s role and the respect journalists enjoyed in the past are arguable, but not denied. One of the largest in the democratic world, it has changed, for better or for worse.

Back to the press conference issue, since one can’t return, one can at least recall better times. Jawaharlal Nehru held press conferences annually and they were copiously published. Old timers recall the mix of humour and argument. Relationship was adversarial, but due to Nehru’s stature, also reverential.

Lal Bahadur Shastri galvanized the nation during difficult war-times during his brief tenure. The media role was highly supportive.

Indira Gandhi’s Vigyan Bhavan PCs, were long-drawn, moderated by H Y Sharda Prasad, her Information Advisor. Haughty when she chose to be, she rarely shunned the media.

Along with the Opposition, media critics were imprisoned during the Emergency, when “watchdogs became lapdogs”, as veteran L K Advani put it. Some Indira favourites wrote books lambasting her when she lost office. But after she returned to power in 1980, they survived to tell their stories.   

“Why should I tell you? Then, my task will fail,” was Morarji Desai’s ascerbic style. Media’s allergy to his advocacy against alcohol was known. Typical of politicians of his era, he once dismissed an inconvenient question by one Mr Thomas saying, “you are Doubting Thomas” and one Mr Chakravarty was told, “you are from Bengal, then you must be a communist.” His laughter, and laughter all around diluted severity of the snub.

Chaudhary Charan Singh expected traditional obeisance from the media. He was once upset when told that journalists rise only for the President. “At least, respect my age,” he chided. Newsmen obliged.  

Rajiv Gandhi spoke well when well briefed. His inexperience showed when he dismissed his Foreign Secretary at his Vigyan Bhavan PC. V P Singh was a media favourite, but his only PC as prime minister was a disaster when he came late, did not apologise and then ran into very hostile questions. Another media favourite, Chandra Shekhar’s tenure was just four months, but he remained among the most accessible politicians.                           

P V Narasimha Rao’s silence was mysterious. He would choose not to speak, but when he spoke little, softly and with determination, it was effective.

H D Deve Gowda’s only PC had a Western journalist asking a loaded question. “You have never seen a prime minister in dhoti?” he quipped with a mix of anger and amusement. The only ex-premier around, he shed tears at a PC recently.

His successor I K Gujral, known for his measured diplomatic pronouncements, was ready Punjabi jhappi.

Manmohan Singh, a good communicator as Economics teacher was heard with respect at conferences. His PCs, one in Egypt and another back home, however, had officials scrambling for damage control. Derided as “Maun Mohan Singh” by Modi, he took sweet revenge recently on the latter’s silence on economic failures.

Assuming Modi wins a fresh mandate, an avalanche of questions awaits him to deserve a PC. Will he? Won’t he?

The writer can be reached at mahendraved07@gmail.com

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Rahul Vows Guaranteed Minimum Income

We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty. If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise.

— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 28, 2019 Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also termed as “historic” Gandhi’s announcement, saying it will mark a turning point in the lives of the downtrodden. The announcement comes four days ahead of the interim budget to be presented by the Narendra Modi government before the Lok Sabha polls due before June this year. It also follows the NDA government’s decision to give 10 per cent quota to the economically backward section in the general category and a likely announcement of a relief package for farmers grappling with falling prices of their crops and to tackle distress in the farm sector. The BJP said Gandhi’s assurance is like its “hundreds of other announcements” which were not meant to be implemented and an “off the cuff” announcement made “without any preparation or any provision for funding or proper agenda”. “The Congress has decided to take a historic decision…The Congress-led government is going to give minimum income guarantee. This means, every poor person in India will have a minimum income. This means there will be no hungry, poor people in India (any longer),” Gandhi said. Asserting that he gets done what he says, Gandhi added the minimum income guarantee would be implemented across the country. Later, he tweeted, “We cannot build a new India while millions of our brothers & sisters suffer the scourge of poverty.” “If voted to power in 2019, the Congress is committed to a Minimum Income Guarantee for every poor person, to help eradicate poverty & hunger. This is our vision & our promise,” he said in his tweet. “We don’t want two Indias. There will be one India, and in that India, the Congress will give minimum income to every poor person. No government in the world has done this till now. The Congress is going to do that, it will be a historic feat,” Gandhi said at the rally. The BJP-led Union government wrote off Rs 3.5 lakh crore worth of loans of 15 big industrialists but “did not waive the loans of the country’s farmers”, he alleged. Continuing his attack on the Centre over the Rafale figher jet deal, he reiterated the allegation that the government ensured a “benefit” of Rs 30,000 crore to industrialist Anil Ambani in this “world’s biggest defence contract”. Both the Government and Ambani have rejected the allegation. On the contrary, the BJP-led governments cited lack of funds whenever the Congress demanded farm loan waiver, Gandhi alleged. “Narendra Modi and the BJP want to create two Indias — one of loan waiver (for industrialists), Rafale scam, Anil Ambani, Mehul Choksi, Nirav Modi and Narendra Modi. In that you will get whatever you want…if you want Rafale contract, you will get it. If you want land, water, electricity, you will get it,” Gandhi said. “The other India is of the poor, the weak, farmers, the youth. You are not going to get anything in that India. There you will only get ‘Mann Ki Baat’, 24 hours only ‘Mann Ki Baat’,” Gandhi said, referring to the prime minister’s monthly radio address. Gandhi also said the Congress had promised to waive farm loans in Chhattisgarh within 10 days of coming to power, but implemented the decision within a day after forming the government. He also distributed loan waiver certificates to some of the beneficiary farmers during the event, which was attended by Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel and senior Congress leader P L Punia. The Congress posted a massive victory in last year’s Assembly polls in Chhattisgarh, winning 68 of the total 90 seats and ending the BJP’s 15-year rule. Garibi Hatao (“Remove Poverty”) was the theme and slogan of Indira Gandhi’s campaign for the 1971 Lok Sabha elections which was won by the Congress under her leadership giving her a second term as the prime minister. “People of India know the reality of Congress and have seen through its games,” BJP leader and Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said. “Gandhi’s claim to provide minimum income guarantee for the poor is like hundreds of Congress announcements which are not meant to be implemented. His party remained in power for 58 years at the Centre and made thousands of announcement. If they had been implemented, the face of the country, including of the poor, would have been different,” Prasad said. In a series of tweets, Chidambaram, a former union finance and home minister, said 140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014, when the Congress-led UPA was in power. “Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s announcement at the farmers’ rally in Chhattisgarh is historic and will mark a turning point in the lives of the poor,” he said. Chidambaram said the principle of Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been discussed extensively in the last two years and the time has come to adapt the principle to the country’s situation and the needs and implement the same for the poor. “We will explain our plan in the Congress Manifesto,” he said. Chidambaram is the chairman of Manifesto Committee of the Congress for the 2019 polls. The Congress leader said “the poor in India have the first charge on the resources of the country and the party will find the resources to implement the promise of Rahul Gandhi”. “140 million people were lifted out of poverty between 2004 and 2014. Now we should make a determined effort to wipe out poverty in India,” he added. (PTI)]]>

Sikh 2020 Referendum, India Shares Responsibility

th August, to hold a rally in London and declare the referendum. The Government of India has been reacting to it and accusing Pakistan’s intelligence agency, ISI, to be behind the exercise. The campaign has been called a waste of time, a gimmick or opportunist by many Sikhs, since it has no authorisation from any State or UN or other legitimate authority. Ironically most serious Sikh Khalistani (Sikh State) groups have opposed it.  However their response has been muted because they don’t want to be seen to be on the same side as the more aggressive opposition by the Indian government to this referendum campaign. Nevertheless, the fact that it has reached such proportion of debate in Indian press and within Sikhs is a victory of sorts for SFJ, even if nothing else may be achieved. It is also symptomatic of the frustration and resentment that has continued to fester among worldwide Sikhs since 1984. The issues that have arisen recurrently between Sikhs and the Indian State are well known. The foremost is that the holiest place of the Sikhs, Sri Darbar Sahib was entrusted to Indian protection. But in 1984, the Indian Government, under Mrs Gandhi, sent in the Indian Army to invade the most powerful and influential seat of authority in the Sikh world, thus declaring a form of war without realising it.  The attack led to calls for a separate State so that the Akal Takhat Sahib and Sri Darbar Sahib can be protected by a State of the Sikhs instead. Closely following this and for many years were the unconstitutional methods adopted by the State in eliminating large number of Sikh youth to prevent a civil uprising. Over 60000 Sikhs have been executed extrajudicially and many tortured grotesquely. Some unique methods were developed by Punjab police, now copied by dictatorships around the world. The other major incident was the organised massacres of Sikhs by the Congress party that followed the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Indian Prime Minister in November 1984. New Delhi’s contribution to world civilisation was the invention of burning alive of people with tyres around their necks.  Over 4000 Sikhs were massacred with iron bars, long knives, axes and burning alive in a free orgy of violence over four days. The police looked the other way and the Army, stationed only half an hour’s distance away, remained in its barracks. The Sikhs of Punjab responded to the attack on Darbar Sahib by executing Mrs Gandhi, the Chief of Army (Gen Vaidya) who ordered the attack and the Chief Minister (Beant Singh) who gave the police carte blanc unconstitutional powers to kill as many political activists as it could. The Sikhs of Delhi put their trust in the Indian judicial system. 34 years later they have been fed 11 Commissions of Enquiry but no incarceration of any senior Congress member. It should not surprise any analyst why 34 years after 1984, resentment and hurt festers below the surface among Sikhs, leaving the community susceptible to those who imagine themselves as wannabe messiahs on a mission to lead Sikhs to freedom from this pain or worse prey to political and economic opportunists. Even the Akali Dal regularly exploits Sikh issues when in opposition but goes quiet when in power. However it is simplistic for victimhood within Sikhs to see Hindu India as a hostile, cruel inhuman country and hope for justice and restoration of mutual respect. The Indians themselves are imprisoned in a Kafkesque nightmare from which they don’t know how to step out.  Physical colonialism came to an end in 1947 in India but the institutions and political concepts of colonialism remain intact even 70 years after the British transferred power. [caption id="attachment_29480" align="aligncenter" width="300"] Presidents of India have been trapped in ceremonies left by the British.[/caption] India is a colonial edifice, to the last brick of its foundation. All modern Indian institutions were established by the British to govern ‘over Indians’ and protect themselves from the natives or promote interests of the occupying colonialists. Whether it is the constitution founded on the 1935 Act which the British enacted to rule ‘over’ Indians with some punitive accountability to ‘natives’, or the police which was to keep the natives in check while applying different rules for the Sahibs, or the Army which was orientated to protect the British from Indian mutinees and rebellions, to the legal system which was meant to usurp indigenous value systems and implant British Victorian values and system of rule or whether it is the civil service which was established to administrate Indians on behalf of the British. Nothing has changed in the founding frameworks of these institutions. The Indian State follows the blue print left by the British colonialists to rule India as conquerors. The British didn’t leave behind a repair manual nor sent revision sheets or updates, and so to date Indians haven’t found a way to solve any of the regional or cultural conflicts. Strengthening colonial era laws on detention, making colonial era torture methods even more painful and sending in the Army to protect the ‘rulers’ against the ‘natives’ is a recurring pattern of response to challenges, where politics should seek solutions instead. The political class behaves like managers. The institutional framework of British India was enacted for the British in India to act as managers on behalf of the Crown or rather British Parliament. They were not meant to govern. Government was in UK. [caption id="attachment_29482" align="aligncenter" width="300"] The Viceroy’s Carriage pre-1947. Little has changed except the logos.[/caption] Unfortunately the Indian political class acts as managers and has been managing the edifice since 1947 waiting for guidance from some mythical power above it.  India has been in management mode since 1947. 70 years later it has yet to start governing and take bold decisions, such as a new contract with the people, change of colonial era laws, overhaul of an imperialist constitution, and instil in the army that it is there to protect the borders, not kill Indian citizens etc. This is the intractable dynamics in which Sikhs and the Indians are locked in. The Sikhs are hoping India will give justice. Individually Indians weep when told about stories, the massacres, the tortures etc, but Indians as the State simply don’t know how to untangle the shackles of colonialism and transfer that empathy with minorities into solutions. Like all such scenarios, in which those in power are powerless, there is recourse to diversion such as calling secessionists as ‘dreaded terrorists’ and blaming others, such as ISI for troubles of India’s own inadequacies. The Sikhs like some other regional minorities do not expect Congress to address the issues that divide them from the State. Congress after all was the Government that attacked Sri Darbar Sahib. Congress is in fact the penultimate party of WOGS if there is such a creature. Since 1947 it has been managing a failed colonial mission, to change Indians into a poor image of European society.

RSS vision is to make India a Hindu Rahstra.

  There was hope when Modi came to power that he will bring in a fresh and bold approach to solving issues such as those of the Sikhs. But his own party has been riddled with conceptual ideologies which have little to do with Indian civilisation. The identity Hindu and the name of the country, Hindustan, was given by Muslim invaders. Both RSS and the BJP have internalised these as missions, to make India a Hindu State and take pride in calling it Hindustan. Pakistani Muslims must be smug that their forefathers gave identity both to the people and the country. If the Congress is peddling a bastardised ideology developed from nineteenth century European political theories calling it Indian secularism (if ever there was a word more nonsense), the BJP and RSS are hell bent on promoting concepts inherited from radical Islam strongly similar to Hassan al-Banna’s ideas of Muslim Brotherhood packaged in the nomenclature given by Muslim invaders, Hindu and Hindustan. The trouble is that neither the Sikhs nor the Indians have introspection of their situation. Neither seems to be aware of the time warp they remain in, frozen in 1947. The Indians are caught in a Goldfish bowl, unable to break through it. The Sikhs expect empathy and solutions that the colonial  institutional framework of post colonial India is not constructed for, hence unable to deliver. This is why 34 years after 1984, Sikhs cannot make sense of the attack on Sri Darbar Sahib, the extra-judicial executions, the massacres of Sikhs in Delhi and this is also why India has not been able to move an inch forward towards addressing the resentment festering within Sikhs. Until one or the other side understands the dilemma and weakness of the other and starts to help the other come out if its crises, the Sikhs will continue to be victims of excitable gimmick like rallying calls such as Referendum 2020 and India will continue to make enemies of its own people with the political class acting as managers of an edifice and the Army gingerly killing the very people it is meant to protect. Neither side knows how to move forward.]]>

Uniform Woe: ‘Modi’s OROP is a betrayal'

Four years into the Modi government, and some promises remain unfulfilled. The equalisation of pensions of soldiers of same rank and same length of service, or OROP, remains one, according to a section of ex-servicemen who have been protesting against the NDA government’s version of its own campaign promise. Lokmarg met Major General Satbir Singh, SM (Retd) to find out what these soldiers are so upset about:  Major General Satbir Singh is a disappointed man. But he is far from being dispirited. “We have been betrayed by the Modi government,” the 73-year-old thunders, moustache bristling as his usually gentle voice turbocharges instantly to an intensity that could reverberate across a parade ground. Or a battlefield. Because battle has been joined. The motto of the Indian Army’s Artillery arm that the general was commissioned into is ‘Sarvatra Izzat o Iqbal’—Everywhere Honour and Glory. That is the objective. “We have been thoroughly let down by the people we trusted and supported,” the retired officer reiterates in the office at his home in one of Gurgaon’s tony residential sectors. There’s a heatwave on, and his part of the millennium city is experiencing yet another power cut, but there’s no stifling this man, now the leader of the Indian Ex-Servicemen Movement (IESM). The general has cause, for he was there, on stage at a massive rally in Rewari with the great challenger Narendra Modi. This was on September 15, 2013. Three hundred thousand ex-servicemen were there too, cheering, as the man who would be Prime Minister promised to sort out their pension mess. OROP—One Rank, One Pension— was the catchword that made it to the headlines and the national consciousness in that campaign.


What is OROP?

  • OROP means one rank, one pension; it follows from the officially accepted definition, that uniform pension be paid to Armed Forces personnel retiring in the same rank with same length of service irrespective of their date of retirement and any future enhancement in rates of pension to be automatically passed on to past pensioners.
  • OROP existed since Independence in 1947 till it was ended in 1973 by the Indira Gandhi government.
  • Ex-servicemen and their kin account for about five crore votes; the Congress-led UPA tried to implement OROP in February 2014 but that went into cold storage as soon as elections were announced in March that year.
  •  In November 2015, when the NDA government released OROP, it fell short of what ex-servicemen had been demanding. According to Maj Gen Singh, the OROP announced by the Modi government is essentially a one-time increase in pension and violates the basic premise of the accepted definition. Besides, he says it has a cascading effect on future pensions and will not do away with the fundamental defect in military pensions.
  • The anomalies in the Modi government’s OROP are: using 2013, and not 2014, as base year for refixing pensions, the refixing of pensions according to an average figure for rank and service and not the highest, revision of pensions every five years instead of every year, and payment of revised pensions from July 1 2014 instead of April 1 2014.
 
Almost five years later and four years of Modi government after, there’s been an OROP, but not in the way it was sought, and not in the way it was incorporated into the covenant of achhe din that the Bharatiya Janata Party made again and again with crores of citizens. What did happen was, first, an inordinate delay in announcement of OROP by the Modi government. The government was sworn in on May 26, 2014 and approved OROP in the budget that followed that July. As late as December that year, Rao Inderjit Singh, junior minister of defence, reiterated the accepted definition of OROP in reply to a question in the Rajya Sabha. Despite this, the government continued hemming and hawing, and ex-servicemen began their protest at Jantar Mantar on June 15, 2015. On August 14, a day before Independence Day, Delhi Police cited security reasons and tried to evict the protesters, including old retirees and ex-servicemen’s widows. The action generated severe criticism from ex-servicemen countrywide, including a letter to the President from four former service chiefs who called it a “dismal spectacle”. The next day, Modi spoke from Red Fort, saying in his speech that the OROP issue was “pending”. It still took the government till November that year to implement its OROP scheme that was unacceptable to the retired soldiers — simply because it did not conform with the government’s own stated definition. “We have been systematically degraded and ill-treated, starting with the action of the Indira Gandhi government in 1973 to drastically reduce pensions of retired soldiers. Since then, the men who have served their country in the best possible way have been given the worst treatment and denigrated vis-a-vis their civilian counterparts who continue to keep their nests well-lined,” says the general. The movement continued to prick the government. In October last year, there was another attempt to clear the ex-servicemen from Jantar Mantar, a National Green Tribunal order prohibiting protests at the monument the pretext this time. Lathis were used freely; many of the women were pushed around. Senior officers like Major General Singh—who called the action a “surgical strike” at the time— were among those manhandled. In what could have been the ultimate insult to such a proud Sikh, his turban almost got dislodged in the melee unleashed on the peacefully protesting ex-servicemen and their kin. It’s not just about pensions, the veteran points out. “OROP is only one of our four basic demands. The other three are establishment of a commission for ex-servicemen, creation of options for a second career because soldiers retire much earlier than civilians, and a war memorial at India Gate.” The OROP protest may have gone missing from the mainstream media and excitement-craving TV channels. But it’s not over. “Our struggle for honour and our rights will continue. If I die, there are others who will step into my place. We have second, third, fourth ranks,” declares Major General Singh, who’s added the recent decision of opening up cantonment roads for civilian transit to his campaign for honour. Considering the number of ex-servicemen across the country and the local impact they have, these are ominous words indeed for the BJP-led government one year before the next general elections.]]>

GENERATIONAL CHANGE, CHALLENGES AWAIT CONGRESS

When Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lost the 2004 parliamentary polls, I was asked by a TV channel if the party will survive. My reply that it would was not in keeping with the new mood.  That footage was not used. The party is thriving today. To a question posed about the Congress in 2014, my reply was similar. Political parties do not just wither away. Again, the footage was not used. Congress, India’s “grand old party”, in dumps since that debacle, is picking up pace, at last. On November 19 and 20, it sought to pick up pieces from its past and to move ahead with hope.   A day after the birth centenary of Indira Gandhi passed, ignored by the government and without much commemoration outside of the party, came the announcement that Rahul, her grandson, will soon take over as the Congress President.  A period of sluggish uncertainty may end, enabling the party to leap into an uncertain future. Rahul will relieve, substantially if not wholly, his ailing mother Sonia who has led the party for over 19 years, the longest anyone has.  The ‘foreigner’ tag will go with Rahul coming in. But the Congress will have to live with the ‘dynasty’ jibes. Rahul will be the sixth member of the Nehru-Gandhi clan to head the 132 year old party. It is a paradox that the party needs someone from this family to lead. Difficult to condone it, but given the “crab culture”, anyone else would split it and weaken it further when it is already at its nadir. The existence of many more such families in India’s political firmament can neither be an excuse, nor a justification.   It had worked before because a Nehru-Gandhi pulled votes. It worked with Jawaharlal Nehru and his charisma in the decade-plus after the Independence.  It worked when Indira gave the right slogans and took actions that were pro-poor and anti-rich. Rajiv, too, gave hope to a young, emerging India.  That ability of Sonia and Rahul, notwithstanding the tactical victory of 2004, has been seriously questioned as evident from a string of electoral defeats. Few expected great things from Indira, called “goongi gudiya” (dumb doll) by her detractors, when she became India’s prime minister.  But she left behind a legacy, albeit mixed, of an “iron lady” who led the country resolutely through many crises.  In this era of populism, it needs noting that if there ever was a populist leader, it was Indira. Now, few expect great things from Rahul, except die-hard Congressmen (and women) who are too used to a Nehru-Gandhi, enough to not even contemplate electing someone from among them. Although Nehru nurtured her into politics, it was Indira who set the trend of family rule, and of working top-down. Despite his halting efforts to democratize the organization, Rahul, himself a product of this process, may try, but is unlikely to undo it. Internal contradictions and a cycle of frequent elections may prevent it.   The Gujarat polls campaign has seen Rahul spirited and biting, saying the right things mostly. He projects a ‘soft’ image in the face of Modi-led aggression. Although ‘programmed’ better by his aides, he speaks with spontaneity on substantial issues. After a dozen years of ‘probation’, he has arrived. But that is no guarantee he will defeat Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah in their political backyard. Rahul’s leadership and vote-catching capacity will be repeatedly on test in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka and other states that will go to the polls next year before the 2019 parliamentary polls. He will have to carry the party deadwood despite his understandable preference for the young. He will need to introduce a measure political and ideological clarity among party-men who are buffeted by the Left-Right-Centre confusion and by advocates of “soft Hindutva” who had misled his father Rajiv. Like Rajiv, Rahul too, lacks political training.       To turn to Indira centenary, although Rahul tweeted that his Dadi was his mentor and his inspiration and guide in political work, the party  missed the opportunity to unveil the leadership’s vision for a youthful India, especially when Rahul’s elevation, actually a change of designation, is being planned. In ignoring her centenary, like it had done with Nehru’s 125th birth anniversary, the Modi Government has been true to its form, minimizing Nehru’s contribution and demonizing Indira as the perpetrator of the 1975 Emergency, and little else. It was left to African leaders at the 2nd New Delhi Summit to recall Nehru’s role in rallying nations emerging from colonialism in the last century. And it was Russia that issued a commemorative stamp to honour Indira. Political and ideological differences are expected in a democracy. But personal hatred seems to have made those suffering from an inferiority complex to ignore Indira’s contribution.     Undoubtedly, she left behind a shaky legacy, of personalization of power and diminished institutional capacity. She took many wrong decisions after allowing crises to fester.  To name just one, she sent troops into the Golden Temple and eventually, paid with her life. People suffered and this was painfully evident in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Yet, the country cannot ignore her role in ushering the Green Revolution, ending years of abject dependence on imports and when imports could not be afforded, through largesse like food shipments under the American Law PL 480. It paved the way for food sufficiency that India attained in later years. It needs recalling that Indira was the first to talk of Indian pride after initial years of struggle, ending much of that post-colonial sentiment. Under her leadership India decisively won the only war it has in a millennium, liberating Bangladesh and dismembering the inveterate adversary. It was a strategic masterstroke. Pakistan has never been able to recover from that blow. Who can forget that act of defiance, of a rally she addressed at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds while the war was still on?    That was a time India invited sympathy from world community. Even as Western governments resented her moves, people in those very countries — the likes of Ted Kennedy, Andres Malraux, Beatles and Yehudi Menuhin — appreciated India’s humanitarian role in sheltering ten million refugees for nearly a year. She organised the nuclear tests in 1974 that earned India much opprobrium, but also grudging respect as an emerging regional power. Even world leaders like Richard Nixon found the hard way that she was not to be trifled with. They got clear message that with her leading India, no overt or covert action could destroy national unity. She was — after Mahatma Gandhi — the greatest mass leader India has seen, criticized by the middle class for her autocratic ways but connecting with the ordinary man and woman on the street or in far-flung villages in a way that no one has since, including the current Prime Minister. Late journalist-analyst Inder Malhotra listed two attributes that make her stand out among those who have ruled India since the 1960s. “One was her absolute refusal to compromise with India’s sovereignty, unity, supreme interests, honour and autonomy; the other, her matchless empathy with the poor. Whatever one might say about her radical rhetoric, the poor always believed that she cared. “She was truly a pan-Indian leader, drawing her strength from all communities.”       // ]]>