Archive for the 'Leaders' Category

Ramachandra Guha on ‘Gandhi before India’

Ramachandra Guha has just published “Gandhi Before India“, a new work chronicling the life of Mohandas Gandhi before he became the Mahatma. Interview in WSJ:

WSJ: What do you think Mahatma Gandhi would have made of Narendra Modi, chief minister of Gujarat and prime ministerial candidate for the Bharatiya Janata Party, India’s main opposition party?

Mr. Guha: I don’t want to say what Gandhi would have made of Modi, after all he died 65 years ago. But clearly Modi departs from the Gandhian mode of politics in many ways.

The obvious departure is that under Modi’s regime thousands of Muslims were butchered and hundreds of thousands still languish in conditions of poverty and insecurity.

Gandhi died for the cause of Muslim-Hindu harmony. You could argue that his attempts to keep India united failed, but he recognized this. He spent his last years fasting and taking on the might of Hindu fundamentalism and it was a Hindu fundamentalist from the RSS [Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, a right-wing Hindu organization] who killed him.

Modi is true to the RSS view of Hindu supremacy and in that sense he’s clearly not a Gandhian. But the question is that of personality. Gandhi was an open-minded questing person, always curious about other people’s views, always conscious of his own fallibilities.

Whereas Modi is a megalomaniac; It’s all ‘me, I, myself.’ This is a man who in terms of his authoritarian personality is as far removed from Gandhi as any Indian could be and any Gujarati could be, since he’s also Gujarati.

Of course I don’t want to single out Modi. There are other politicians who dissemble, who lie, who are secretive, Indian politicians who are hypocritical including the Congress party, which violates Gandhi’s teachings on an almost daily basis. More:


Thatcher, Chandraswami and I

India’s former foreign minister K. Natwar Singh in The Hindu (Extracted from K. Natwar Singh’s new book “Walking with Lions — Tales from a Diplomatic Past,” HarperCollins):

India House is among the better known diplomatic establishments in London. I first set eyes on the imposing building in 1952, when I was a student at Cambridge University. Thirty years later I entered India House as Deputy High Commissioner. One of my less attractive duties was to meet the unreasonable demands of visitors from India. Not all were disagreeable but many were.

Early in the summer of 1975, Mr. Chandraswamy telephones me. He was in London. The late Yashpal Kapoor had asked him to contact me, Chandraswamy invited me to meet me at his place. I said if he wished to see me, he should come to India House. This he did the next day. At the time he was in his late twenties. He was in his “Sadhu” attire. He did not speak a word of English. Now he does.

At this, our first meeting, he dropped names. After a few days he again come to see me. He invited my wife and me to have dinner with him.

The food was delicious. After dinner he said to us, “I will show you something you have never seen”. He then produced a large sheet of white paper and drew lines from top to bottom and left to right. Next he produced three strips of paper asked my wife to write a question on each strip, make a ball and place each one on a square on the chess board. My wife wrote the questions in English. He closed his eyes and went into a trance. I was, by this time getting restless. Suddenly he asked my wife to pick up any of the paper balls. She did so. Opened it. Chandraswamy then told her what the question was. He was spot on. My wife, who is an amateur astrologer, was sceptical at this stage. When Chandraswamy got the next two questions right, she was amazed and interested. I was intrigued. I could not, as a rationalist, accept mumbo-jumbo. Neither could I dismiss Chandraswamy as a complete hoax. More:

Modi, the man and the message

Harish Khare in The Hindu:

During a recent three-week stay in the United States, I was often asked to explain the Indian media’s current obsession with Narendra Modi. The only reasonably cogent answer to give was the convergence between the corporate ownership of the electronic media and Mr. Modi’s corporate bank-rollers. The Gujarat Chief Minister’s induction in the Bharatiya Janata Party central set-up has been celebrated as if he has already been invited by the Rashtrapati to form the next government at the Centre.

Like most Indian political leaders, Mr. Modi is a non-biodegradable entity. He will not disappear. Machinations by the BJP central leadership may delay his storming the party headquarters, but he is not going to be talked out of his national ambitions. It is only the voters who can knock the stuffing out of him and his outsized pretensions.

Mr. Modi promises to do things differently and better than what is being done in New Delhi or even in the other BJP ruled States. Not only is he contemptuous of the Manmohan Singh style of consensus approach to resolving contentious issues, he is also derisive of his own party and its leadership. He believes the BJP has become too flabby as an organisation and that most of its impresarios are compromised and tired.More:

The man who would rule India

Ramachandra Guha in The Hindu:

A journalist who recently interviewed Narendra Modi reported their conversation as follows: “Gujarat, he told me, merely has a seafront. It has no raw materials — no iron ore for steel, no coal for power and no diamond mines. Yet it has made huge strides in these fields. Imagine, he added, if we had the natural resources of an Assam, a Jharkhand and a West Bengal: I would have changed the face of India.”(see The Telegraph, January 18, 2013).

This conversation (and that claim) underlines much of what Narendra Modi has sought to do these past five years — remake himself as a man who gets things done, a man who gets the economy moving. With Mr. Modi in power in New Delhi, says or suggests Mr. Modi, India will be placed smoothly on the 8 per cent to 10 per cent growth trajectory, bureaucrats will clear files overnight, there will be no administrative and political corruption, poverty levels will sink rapidly towards zero and — lest we forget — trains and aeroplanes shall run on time. These claims are taken at face value by his admirers, who include sundry CEOs, owner-capitalists, western ambassadors and —lest we forget — columnists in the pink papers, the white papers, and (above all) cyber-space.

Mr. Modi’s detractors — who too are very numerous, and very vocal — seek to puncture these claims in two different ways. The unreconstructed Nehruvians and Congress apologists (not always the same thing) say he will forever be marked by the pogrom against Muslims in 2002, which were enabled and orchestrated by the State government. Even if his personal culpability remains unproven, the fact that as the head of the administration he bears ultimate responsibility for the pogrom, and the further fact that he has shown no remorse whatsoever, marks Mr. Modi out as unfit to lead the country.

The secularist case against Mr. Modi always had one flaw — namely, that what happened in Gujarat in 2002 was preceded in all fundamental respects by what happened in Delhi in 1984. Successive Congress governments have done nothing to bring justice to the survivors, while retaining in powerful positions (as Cabinet Ministers even) Congress MPs manifestly involved in those riots. More:

The truth about Mahatma Gandhi: by Patrick French

In The Telegraph:

This week, the National Archives here in New Delhi released a set of letters between Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and a close friend from his South African days, Hermann Kallenbach, a German Jewish architect. Cue a set of ludicrous “Gay Gandhi” headlines across the world, wondering whether the fact the Mahatma signed some letters “Sinly yours” might be a clue (seemingly unaware that “sinly” was once a common contraction of “sincerely”).

The origin of this rumour was a mischievous book review two years ago written by the historian Andrew Roberts, which speculated about the relationship between the men. On the basis of the written evidence, it seems unlikely that their friendship in the years leading up to the First World War was physical.

Gandhi is one of the best-documented figures of the pre-electronic age. He has innumerable biographies. If he managed to be gay without anyone noticing until now, it was a remarkable feat. The official record of his sayings and writings runs to more than 90 volumes, and reveals that his last words before being assassinated in 1948 were not an invocation to God, as is commonly reported, but the more prosaic: “It irks me if I am late for prayers even by a minute.” More:

Soft-spoken but tough as steel: RIP I.K. Gujral

In an older piece in Rediff, Janardhan Thakur recalls when former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral stood up to Sanjay Gandhi’s bullying

The mind and personality of Inder Kumar Gujral were best revealed during the traumatic days before the Emergency. The Rising Son of India, Sanjay Gandhi, had organised a Boat Club rally in support of his mother, and he thought it was a great success, a big event. When he returned home, he was told the Doordarshan had not bothered to telecast the rally live.

Sanjay lost his temper and telephoned Gujral when was then the minister of state for information and broadcasting. Why hadn’t the rally been telecast live, he had demanded roughly. Gujral told him coolly that he would look into it. He had not even said sorry!

Sanjay’s complaints against Gujral were piling up. The RSS daily, Motherland, had been attacking him day after day, and Sanjay had wanted the paper to be closed down ‘without delay’. He told Gujral, but he pointed out that there was no provision under which they could do this. At best newspapers could be sued for libel, he said. more

Through his wine glass, darkly

Image: The Indian Express

Shekhar Gupta on Bal Thackeray in The Indian Express:

Was Balasaheb Thackeray a mass leader or a mafioso? The truth is, you will find his followers and detractors only describe him in extremes. But both will agree on one thing, that he was truly an original.

I learnt how much of an original he was when, in a ‘National Interest’ article more than a decade ago, I described him and his party as mafiosi. My phone rang late that Saturday evening as I sat with my family at dinner in Baan Thai restaurant (shut down in 2005) in the basement of New Delhi’s Oberoi. It was a call from Balasaheb in Mumbai. I went out looking for better signal and braced myself for a diatribe.

But the voice at the other end was dripping charm. “Of all the people who abuse me, Shekharji, you write most delightfully”, said Balasaheb.

“Thank you, Balasaheb”, I said, relieved. “So what are you doing for me for abusing you so delightfully?”

He offered me dinner the following Thursday at Matoshree, suggested I bring along my wife and asked if we were vegetarian or teetotallers. And when he was told we were neither, he warmed up again.

“Aap Gupta ho kar bhi yeh sab kuchch kartey hain?” he asked.

“Jab aap Thackeray ho kar itna kuchch kar sakte hain…”, I said. More:

He has had the last laugh

Namita Bhandare on Bal Thackeray in Hindustan Times:

The life-size effigies strung up on lamp-posts were terrifying – at least to a child. In the late sixties/early seventies, they symbolised the South Indians who the Shiv Sena was determined to drive out of Bombay, as the city was then called. It was a sight designed to intimidate.

Forty-odd years later, intimidation remains the party’s chief weapon. Over the years, the ‘enemy’ has changed, from South Indians to Muslims to Biharis, but the tactics remain the same.

With the ashes of their party supremo, Bal Thackeray yet to be immersed in the Godavari, it was business as usual: strike against those who oppose the party, even if that opposition comes from a 21-year-old girl. Shaheen Dhada’s Facebook post questioning why the city had shut down to mark the death of a politician prompted Bhushan Sankhe, the Palghar head of the Shiv Sena, to file a complaint on the absurd charge of ‘hurting religious sentiment’. The police, responding with rare alacrity, arrested Dhada as well as a friend who had ‘liked’ her post.

The arrest was the one sour, though not out-of-place, moment in an otherwise grand send-off to a man who had dominated the city’s politics for over four decades. Few could explain the presence of 20 lakh people, including film stars and industrialists with obsequious tributes, who turned up to bid farewell at Shivaji Park. Few could explain the contradiction of how a man whose politics was founded on fear could have summoned such crowds in death. More:


An authentic Hindu fascism

The Shiv Sena gave a voice to a Nazi impulse in Indian politics, writes Praveen Swami in The Hindu

“Fascism”, wrote the great Marxist intellectual Antonio Gramsci, in a treatise Balasaheb Keshav Thackeray likely never read but demonstrated a robust grasp of through his lifetime, “has presented itself as the anti-party; has opened its gates to all applicants; has with its promise of impunity enabled a formless multitude to cover over the savage outpourings of passions, hatreds and desires with a varnish of vague and nebulous political ideals. Fascism has thus become a question of social mores: it has become identified with the barbaric and anti-social psychology of certain strata of the Italian people which have not yet been modified by a new tradition, by education, by living together in a well-ordered and well-administered state”. more

Previously on AW: Ethnic Politics in Mumbai’s Melting Pot

Ethnic politics in Mumbai’s melting pot: RIP Bal Thackeray

Meena Menon in The Hindu analyses Shiv Sena founder and leader, Bal Thackeray’s origins and legacy

Bal Thackeray, the man who could bring Mumbai and the entire State of Maharashtra to a standstill by a single command, and whose ethnic and communal rhetoric added a strain of perpetual menace to an already fraught metropolis, died in Mumbai on Saturday. He was 86.

Never one to mince his words, he once famously described himself as the “remote control” of the first Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra in 1995. Two months ago, as the illness to which he eventually succumbed spread, he told Saamna somewhat mirthfully that he didn’t have the remote control for age in his hands.

Ever since Thackeray founded the Shiv Sena, or ‘Army of Shivaji,’ in June 19, 1966, it has set the tone for politics in the State. With his brand of rather vicious humour and fondness for mimicry, he forged a bond with his followers, speaking to people in a language they could understand. Exhorted by his father Prabodhankar Thackeray, young Bal formed the Sena as a social organisation. Its aim: to take care of the Marathi manoos, who were ostensibly slighted in their own State due to a proliferation of migrants to the prosperous region. more

Also read Vir Sanghvi, Pritish Nandy on Bal Thackeray

In Frontline, How Thackeray & Co. figure in the Srikrishna Commission Report on Mumbai riots

In Economic TimesPatrick French on problems his heirs will have to face

Interpreting Sonia Gandhi

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

In Zareer Masani’s recent memoir of his parents, And All is Said, he quotes a letter written to him by his mother in 1968. “Yesterday we went to Mrs Pandit’s reception for Rajiv Gandhi and his wife,” wrote Shakuntala Masani, adding, “I can’t tell you how dim she is, and she comes from a working-class family. I really don’t know what he saw in her.”

And All is Said was widely reviewed when it was published, but no reviewer seems to have picked up on this comment. Shakuntala Masani was the daughter of Sir J.P. Srivastava, once one of the most influential men in India, an industrialist with wide business interests and a member of the viceroy’s executive council besides. Shakuntala’s husband, Minoo Masani, was a well-educated Parsi from a family of successful professionals, who was himself a leading politician and writer. By upbringing and marriage Shakuntala Masani was a paid-up member of the Indian elite. Hence the condescending remarks about the working-class Italian whom Rajiv Gandhi had chosen as his wife.

The object of Mrs Masani’s contempt has, for some time now, been the most powerful person in India. How did she achieve that power, and what has she done with it? Sonia Gandhi’s rise in politics has been at least as unlikely as Barack Obama’s. Moving to Cambridge to learn English (but not at the university), she met and fell in love with Rajiv Gandhi. He brought her to India, where she lived a life of quiet domesticity, bringing up her children and attending to her husband. Through the turmoil of the 1970s, through the Emergency and its aftermath, Rajiv Gandhi stayed well out of politics. His stated ambition, at this stage, was to be promoted from flying Avros between Delhi and Lucknow to piloting Boeings on the more prestigious Delhi-Bombay run. More

The Nehru-Edwina-Mountbatten story: a personal tryst

“So sweet together, they really dote on each other,” wrote Lord Mountbatten, India’s last viceroy, about the relationship between his wife, Edwina and India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. Will this unusual relationship be made into a film, or has that film run into trouble with the country’s sensitive politicians, asks Glenys Roberts in The Daily Mail.

‘At the stroke of the midnight hour when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.’ Those powerful words, memorable to everyone who loves India, were uttered by the father of the modern nation, Jawaharlal Nehru, when the country became independent more than 60 years ago. Behind this famous ‘tryst with destiny’ speech lay a deeply personal fight to escape the domination of the British Raj, a struggle all the more meaningful because of Nehru’s private life.

For the handsome widower had formed a more than usually deep bond with, of all people, the beautiful wife of the chief representative of the occupying power, Edwina, Lady Mountbatten. If you came across their romance in a novel, you would dismiss it instantly as fiction. But the fact is the couple shared an extraordinary love. Their deep attachment lasted from the moment they met in 1947 in New Delhi until the day Edwina died 13 years later.

It was such a meaningful relationship that even Lord Mountbatten himself found it best to turn a blind eye. more


Understanding the obligations of ruling India

Harish Khare pays a tribute to Brajesh Mishra,  India’s first National Security Advisor and principal secretary to the former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, in The Hindu:

The year was 2002. Two days after bloody riots erupted in Gujarat, I got a call late in the evening from an Ahmedabad-based officer of the Indian Police Service. The policeman simply said: “Sir, I am embarrassed to make this call. I am told that a local BJP legislator in Mehsana district is planning to undertake a massacre of Muslims tonight. And I am ashamed that there is no one here who will listen.” The police officer gave me the name of the village and taluka where the BJP “leader” had invited the village for a feast before the mob could be worked up to march on to a nearby village with a large concentration of Muslims.

Overwhelmed by the enormity of the imminent crime, I rang up my friend Brajesh Mishra. Fortuitously, Mishra picked up his mobile. I simply narrated to him what I had been told from Ahmedabad. He heard me out, noting down the sketchy details, and said: “Let me see.” Next morning I got another call from the police officer, who was obviously relieved and said: “Sir, I do not know what you did or to whom you talked; within two hours, an army posse reached the spot, rowdies were made to stay put, and their bloody plans sabotaged. Over 100 lives were saved. Thank you.”

A few days later, when I went over to the Prime Minister’s Office to have my weekly tea with Mishra, I thanked him profusely. With becoming dignity and gravitas he observed: “Those of us who have the good fortune to work in this office for the Prime Minister of India can never become indifferent to the obligation of social harmony.” More:

Women hurting women

In New York Times, Nicholas D Kristof weighs in on the Sheikh Hasina-Muhammad Yunus face-off and says women in power can be ‘every bit as contemptible as men’.

It would be nice to think that women who achieve power would want to help women at the bottom. But one continuing global drama underscores that women in power can be every bit as contemptible as men.

Sheikh Hasina, prime minister of Bangladesh, is mounting a scorched-earth offensive against Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bankand champion of the economic empowerment of women around the world. Yunus, 72, won a Nobel Peace Prize for his pioneering work in microfinance, focused on helping women lift their families out of poverty. more

India’s accidental dairy king

Manu Joseph on Verghese Kurien in NYT:

When Verghese Kurien demanded an autopsy on a dead fly, it was to protect the honor of his milk. Did the fly drown in the milk, or was it dead before it landed there? Was the fly planted by his foes?

It was the 1950s, and Mr. Kurien, a young engineer who had returned to India from Michigan State University, was the improbable chief of a cooperative society of impoverished dairy farmers in the western state of Gujarat. Under his leadership, their milk production had increased dramatically, and with success came bitter enemies — and the discovery of the fly in the milk that the society supplied to a vital wholesale buyer. Mr. Kurien’s ludicrous demand for a postmortem to determine whether the fly had indeed drowned in the milk, according to him, made the scandal vanish.

It was among the many tricks he was to play in the decades to come as he turned India from a milk-deficient nation into the world’s leading milk producer, transformed a cooperative society of dairy farmers in a small pastoral town into the country’s largest food brand, rescued millions of dairy farmers from crushing poverty and gradually became one of the few beloved public figures in India. He died on Sunday, at the age of 90, following an illness. The man who described himself as an employee of farmers lay in state on Wednesday inside a coffin in a large auditorium in Anand, the small town where he had spent most of his life. Thousands came to pay their respects. More:

From ‘silent’ prime minister to a tragic one

In Washington Post, Simon Denyer looks at the two terms of Manmohan Singh to see a tragic decline in reputation.

 India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh helped set his country on the path to modernity, prosperity and power, but critics say the shy, soft-spoken
79-year-old is in danger of going down in history as a failure.

The architect of India’s economic reforms, Singh was a major force behind his country’s rapprochement with the United States and is a respected figure on the world stage. President Obama’s aides used to boast of his tremendous rapport and friendship with Singh.

But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions. more

Gujarat CM Narendra Modi interviewed by WSJ

Amol Sharma in WSJ:

WSJ: Do you see yourself as a future prime minister?

Modi: I don’t carry the burden of the past or the madness of the future. I live in the present. My present is my Gujarat, the 60 million people of this state, the villages, the poor farmers, the children – to change their destiny. I can’t think beyond that.

WSJ: Your critics say you should apologize for the 2002 riots. Why won’t you?

Modi: One only has to ask for forgiveness if one is guilty of a crime. If you think it’s such a big crime, why should the culprit be forgiven? Just because Modi is a chief minister, why should he be forgiven? I think Modi should get the biggest punishment possible if he is guilty. And the world should know there isn’t any tolerance for these kind of political leaders.

Read the full story here, Q&A here.

And what he said on malnutrition:

“We are the first state in the country to raise the issue of malnutrition. It came to our mind that Gujarat is by and large a vegetarian state. And secondly, Gujarat is also a middle-class state. The middle class is more beauty conscious than health conscious – that is a challenge. If a mother tells her daughter to have milk, they’ll have a fight. She’ll tell her mother, ‘I won’t drink milk. I’ll get fat.’ They have money but she’s beauty conscious, she’s not health conscious. So being a middle-class state is also a problem for me. A large segment of the population in my state is middle-class. Second is vegetarianism.

More on this here


Imran Khan interviewed by The Economist

Imran Khan must be doing something right

Pankaj Mishra in the NYT Magazine:

On a cool evening in March, Imran Khan, followed by his dogs, walked around the extensive lawns of his estate, sniffling with an incipient cold. “My ex-wife, Jemima, designed the house — it is really paradise for me,” Khan said of the villa, which sprawls on a ridge overlooking Himalayan foothills and Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. “My greatest regret is that she is not here to enjoy it,” he added, unexpectedly poignantly. We walked through the living room and then sat in his dimly lighted bedroom, the voices of servants echoing in the empty house, the mournful azans drifting up from multiple mosques in the city below.

Khan, once Pakistan’s greatest sportsman and now its most popular politician since Benazir Bhutto, exuded an Olympian solitude that evening; it had been a long day, he explained, of meetings with his party’s senior leaders. The previous two months, he said, had been the most difficult in his life. His party was expanding amazingly fast and attracting “electables” — experienced men from the governing and main opposition parties. But the young people who constituted his base wanted change; they did not want to see old political faces. “I was being pulled apart in different directions,” Khan said. “I thought I was going mad.”

Khan’s granitic handsomeness, which first glamorized international cricket and has sustained the British media’s long fascination with his public and private lives, is now, as he nears 60, a bit craggy. There are lines and dark patches around his eyes. The stylishly barbered hair, thinning at the top, is flecked with gray, and his unmodulated baritone, ubiquitous across Pakistan’s TV channels, can sound irritably didactic.

“The public contact is never easy for me,” he said. “I am basically a private person.” More:

After Nehru

Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books:

There is always some gap between the ideals of a nation and the practices that seek or claim to embody them. Its width, of course, varies. In the case of India, the central claim is sound. Since independence, the country has famously been a democracy. Its governments are freely elected by its citizens at regular intervals, in polls that are not twisted by fraud. Although often thought to be, this is not in itself a unique achievement in what was once called the Third World. Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Jamaica and Mauritius can match regular elections as independent states. What sets Indian democracy apart from these is its demographic and social setting. In sheer scale, it is unlike any other democracy in the world. From the beginning, its electorate was more than twice the size of the next largest, in the United States. Today, at some 700 million, it is more than five times larger. At the far top of the range in numbers, India is close to the bottom in literacy and poverty. At independence, only 12 per cent of the population could read or write. Comparable figures for Jamaica were 72 per cent, Sri Lanka 63 per cent, Malaya 40 per cent. As for poverty, per capita income in India today is still only about a sixth of that of Malaysia, a third of that of Jamaica, and not much more than half that of Sri Lanka. It is these magnitudes that make Indian democracy so remarkable a phenomenon, and the pride of its citizens in it legitimate.

To be impressive, however, is not to be miraculous, as Indians and others still regularly describe the political system that crystallised after independence. There was never anything supernatural about it: terrestrial explanations suffice. The stability of Indian democracy came in the first instance from the conditions of the country’s independence. There was no overthrow of the Raj, but a transfer of power by it to Congress as its successor. The colonial bureaucracy and army were left intact, minus the colonisers. In the mid-1930s Nehru, denouncing the Indian civil service as ‘neither Indian nor civil nor a service’, declared it ‘essential that the ICS and similar services disappear completely’. By 1947 pledges like these had faded away as completely as his promises that India would never become a dominion. The steel frame of the ICS remained in place, untouched. In the last years of the Raj, its upper ranks had been Indianised, and there was no other corps of native administrators available. But if this was true of the bureaucracy, it was not of the army. Indigenous officers and soldiers had fought bravely, arms in hand, against the Raj in the ranks of the Indian National Army. What was to be done with them, once the British left? Their record a potential reproach to Congress, they were refused integration in the armed forces of the former colonial power, composed of veterans of domestic repression and overseas aggression fresh from imperial service in Saigon and Surabaya who now became the military apparatus of the new order. Nor was there any purge of the police that had beaten, jailed and shot so many in the struggle for independence: they too were kept intact. For the Congress high command, the priority was stability. These were the sinews of a strong state. More:

Choosing the ‘Greatest Indian After Gandhi’

Ramchandra Guha in The Hindu:

Nations need heroes, but the construction of a national pantheon is rarely straightforward or uncontested. Consider the debate in the United States about which faces should adorn the national currency. The founding figures of American Independence — Jefferson, Washington, Hamilton, Madison, and Franklin — are all represented on the dollar bill, albeit on different denominations. So are the 19th century Presidents Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, and Ulysses S. Grant.

In recent years, right-wing Americans have campaigned for their hero, Ronald Reagan, to be represented on the national currency. This, it is said, is necessary to bring it in line with contemporary sentiments. Of 20th century Presidents, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is represented on the dime, and John F. Kennedy on the dollar. Both were Democrats. Republicans now demand that the pantheon feature one of their ilk. In 2010, a Congressman from North Carolina, Patrick McHenry, canvassed for a law mandating that Ulysses S. Grant be replaced on the fifty dollar bill by Ronald Reagan. “Every generation needs its own heroes”, said McHenry. The American hero he was anointing for our times was Reagan, “a modern day statesman, whose presidency transformed our nation’s political and economic thinking”.

Turn now to that other large, complex, cacophonous, democracy — our own. After India became independent, the national pantheon offered to its citizens was massively dominated by leaders of the Congress Party. Mahatma Gandhi was positioned first, with Jawaharlal Nehru only a short distance behind. Both had played important roles in the freeing of the country from colonial rule. Both were truly great Indians. That said, the popular perception of both was helped by the fact that the party to which they belonged was in power for the crucial decades after Independence. Newspapers, the radio, and school textbooks all played their role in the construction of a narrative in which Gandhi was the Father of the Nation and Nehru its Guide and Mentor in the first, formative years of the Republic’s existence. More:


Jemima Khan talks to Pervez Musharraf

In New Statesman:

General Pervez Musharraf, former president of Pakistan, former chief executive of Pakistan, former army chief and former chairman of the joint chiefs of staff committee, is watching the England v West Indies Test series in his neat, unostentatious flat off the Edgware Road in west London. He has spent the past three years living between here and Dubai, in self-imposed exile, watching cricket, keeping fit, playing golf, giving lectures for large fees and plotting his return to Pakistani politics. There are no armed guards, no entourage and no fanfare. His private secretary, Anjum Choudhry, a friend I’ve known as “Jim” for many years, sits quietly and reads a paper at the dining room table as the general, in a brown suit and pink shirt, welcomes me into his home and invites me to ask him anything I want. Which, given the rumpus that resulted from my last interview with him (when, on the eve of the 2007 presidential election, he told me a number of things that he later regretted), is very trusting indeed.

In this way, Musharraf differs from most politicians I have met. He is unguarded, forthcoming and at times appears disarmingly naive. He tells me of his imminent return to Pakistan to contest elections, as his housekeeper offers samosas, meethi (Pakistani sweets) and chai. “I think one can look after one’s security. There will be danger but not as much as all my family and all my friends think.” Already there have been many attempts on his life.

Musharraf thinks that politically he is in with a good chance. In October 2010, he launched a new party, the All Pakistan Muslim League, of which he is the president, and he plans to return to contest elections in Pakistan next year. He tells me that according to a recent, informal poll, conducted by a friend from Lahore, 91 per cent of respondents want him to be president and Imran Khan, the leader of Tehreek-e-Insaf (“Movement for Justice”), to be prime minister. “I strongly believe this is the feeling. Even my own supporters tell me Imran is the person who should be with us. I think we can turn the tables if we are together. If he is alone and if I am alone I don’t think we can turn the tables.”

I pass this on to Imran later. He laughs, and says: “And then did he wake up . . . ?” More:

Manmohan Singh: Guilty on many counts, not corrupt

Harish Khare, Indian Prime Minister’s former media adviser, in The Hindu:

My mind instantly recalled a conversation I had had with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh the day I joined him as Media Adviser in June 2009. That afternoon he spent an hour with me, sharing his views and thought-processes. At the end of the conversation, just as I was leaving, he beckoned me to sit down again and said: “One more thing, Harish. If you ever hear anything about any member of my family engaging in any kind of hanky-panky, please come and tell it straight to me, however unpleasant or painful it may be.”

Now this man is being called “corrupt” by a bunch of self-appointed Shankaracharyas who have arrogated to themselves the licence to declare someone clean and someone else corrupt. The charge of “corrupt” carries with it a suggestion of active collusion in abuse of governmental discretion in exchange for a monetary consideration.

Last year the argument was: “So what, if you are honest?” This season the demonisation game has been ratcheted up to declare Manmohan Singh to be corrupt. Was it not George Orwell who had warned us against how political language was “designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable”? Old George would have admired Team Anna’s homicidal finesse.

Manmohan Singh is not corrupt, but he is definitely guilty. He can be easily charged — along with his political partner, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi — of pursing a politics of decency and of elevating reconciliation to a matter of state policy. More:

Aung San Suu Kyi, a true Gandhian

Ramachandra Guha in The Telegraph:

The comparison is natural, not forced. As I see it, there are at least six respects in which Suu Kyi’s career parallels that of the Mahatma: 1. a leavening of politics with morality, which comes in both cases from a religious faith, which is devout without being dogmatic; 2. a commitment to non-violence in word and in deed; 3. a willingness to reach out to one’s rivals and opponents; 4. an openness to ideas and innovations from other cultures; 5. an utter fearlessness, with death holding no dangers for them; 6. great personal charm, a feature of which is a sense of humour.

However, while Aung San Suu Kyi can certainly be compared to Gandhi, she cannot (as she perhaps would be the first to acknowledge) be equated to him. Gandhi came first, crafting the techniques of non-violent resistance of which Martin Luther King, the Dalai Lama, and Aung San Suu Kyi have been such outstanding exemplars. Besides, Gandhi’s range of interests (and obsessions) was far greater.

India is much larger than Burma, and much more diverse in linguistic and religious terms. Gandhi lived and died for Hindu-Muslim harmony, but we know little of how Suu Kyi intends to stem Budddhist chauvinism in Myanmar by giving greater respect to Muslims, tribals and other minorities. India is a far more hierarchical society than Myanmar; so can be no real parallel in Suu Kyi’s life to Gandhi’s lifelong struggle against untouchability. And Gandhi was also a precocious environmentalist.

That said, Suu Kyi is far closer to Gandhi, and a much better Gandhian, than any Indian now living. More

Mamata Banerjee personifies populist force in Indian politics

Simon Denyer from Kolkata in The Washington Post:

She spent her life fighting communists but is the biggest obstacle to economic liberalization in India today. She is the leader of a small regional party but wields more power than the prime minister.

Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of the state of West Bengal, is a rising force in Indian politics, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton paid a special visit to Kolkata this month to meet her.

The 57-year-old Banerjee — determined, resolutely populist and hardworking, yet eccentric and intolerant of dissent — holds the balance of power in India’s coalition government and has used that political might to huge effect.

Time after time, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s efforts to introduce economic reforms have foundered because of Baner­jee’s opposition. Time magazine recently listed her among the world’s 100 most influential people, and 25 out of 50 CEOs surveyed by a leading Indian newspaper last week said she was the biggest stumbling block to economic growth.

Banerjee is the personification of a fundamental change that is transforming Indian politics: the declining vote share of the country’s two main political parties and the rising influence of regional parties. More:

Why the Congress represents Indian values best

Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

We are a Congress-minded nation.

In saying this, I don’t mean we’re a nation of Congress voters, though that also is not inaccurate. Other than in one election, 1977, Indians have always voted for the Congress more than for any other party.

What I mean is that Indian values are best, and I would even say, only represented by the Congress. These values are religious accommodation, comfort with racial and linguistic diversity, acceptance of caste in politics, comfort in dynasty and a preference for compromise over principle. This flexibility has kept India democratic, and it is a Congress trait. The party also represents the middle-class consensus which views India as a great civilizing force, and seeks a nurturing of India’s cultural aesthetic.

In Pakistan’s The Express Tribune, Khaled Ahmed wrote on 8 April: “The Indian Constitution informs the attitude of the Indian middle class, which is tolerant of secularism.” This is true, and as an idea it is owned by the Congress.

Unlike the Tories and Labour in the UK or Republicans and Democrats in the US, we don’t have division by ideology in Hindu middle-class society. More:

Does this cartoon offend you?

On Friday, India’s Lok Sabha was disrupted by MPs protesting a 60-year-old cartoon drawn by Shankar that shows B.R. Ambedkar, Pandit Nehru and the Constitution. So great was the furore over the cartoon which has featured in class XI NCERT text books since 2006, that Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal had to issue an apology. By the end of the day two senior NCERT advisors, Yogendra Yadav and Suhas Palshikar had resigned. But no one had an answer to the question: what exactly is so offensive about this cartoon?

Lines of Mahatma – Trailer

A painting exhibition displays, old drawings of Mahatma Gandhi, done in 1960′s by the eminent Chennai based artist K. M. Adimoolam. At the suggestion of the filmmaker, after a gap of almost 3 decades, K. M. Adimoolam once again attempts to do a sketch of Gandhi. The film reflects upon the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi through the drawings of Adimoolam.

A letter to Mamata Banerjee: “…Madam, perhaps it might be time for you to resign and go.”

The Indian Express front page

The Telegraph front page

Ruchir Joshi in The Telegraph:

Madam Chief Minister Banerjee,

 I am writing this letter to you on my own computer and sending it out for publication via my own email. I am not, and have never been, a member of any political party, of any communist party anywhere including the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPI(M).

I am a citizen of India, of West Bengal, of Calcutta, and I live in the constituency you formerly represented as an MP — South Calcutta.

I have also never been a supporter of yours or of your party, though I was certainly among the millions who celebrated after the election results last year. All of us were celebrating the end of the long, incompetent, corrupt, oppressive rule by the Left Front, even though I’m certain some millions of us were anxious as to what your tenure in power would bring.

But we had believed in the hope of paribartan. I think we, the sceptical West Bengali millions, were hoping that you would lead a better, cleaner, fairer government than the disgraced, departing Left Front. In the euphoria of the election results it was impossible to imagine that you could do worse than Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee’s government.

I myself made a resolution that I would not write anything critical of you or your administration for at least one year. It was only fair, given the huge mess you were inheriting, a mess that was not only administrative and financial but also, centrally, moral. The Left had so completely dismantled and thrown away all decency and humanity in matters of State that you could trace the roots of all their other failures to this institutionalized immorality; surely you had to be given a fair chance to begin to clean up this overflowing sewer?

Sadly, despite my best efforts, I’m going to fall short of my promise by exactly one month. I am now forced to write to you openly in this column. Madam, in only eleven months you have proved yourself to be a grotesquely disastrous chief minister. More:

The D-Queen and her magic mirror: Mamata’s rule is fast turning into a tyranny

Ruchir Joshi in The Daily Mail:

What the people couldn’t see was that Queen-Didi always carried with her a huge mirror that was invisible to all but herself and her followers.

This mirror was both convex and concave. When she turned it one way, it made the Queen-Didi look like a really large Dude-y, when she turned it the other way it made her followers look like really small green-coloured Doodles.

So, when the D-Queen took over the castle and installed her DDCompany in cabinet, there were only one or two minister-people who weren’t her Doodles.

Soon, D-Queen began to make sweeping changes: she removed all billboards in the heritage areas of the city except the ones advertising her own party; she made grand deals with the Mountain People and promised the earth to the Jungle People; she made tough noises about the Sindustrialists; she promised the police would be given independence from all politicians. Read full story here

The people’s politician and the power of dressing: Sunanda K. Datta-Ray in The Telegraph

When Bilawal met Rahul

Jim Yardley in New York Times’ IndiaInk, on the differing style of two hereditary politicians

It did not take Bilawal Bhutto Zardari long during his first visit to India to show he is a very different type of political prince than Rahul Gandhi – at least when it comes to public relations. The moment the son of Pakistan’s president, Asif Ali Zardari, and the late former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto landed Sunday in New Delhi, he launched what became a daylong monologue on Twitter.

“AOA India Peace be with you,” he tweeted, presumably using shorthand for the greeting As-Salamu Alaikum, upon arriving. “I have just landed in Delhi. 1st ever visit.”

If Sunday’s main event was the meeting between the Pakistani president and India’s prime minister, Manmohan Singh, the choreographed interplay between the younger Mr. Zardari, 23, and Mr. Gandhi, 41, who sat next to each other at lunch, proved an irresistible sideshow.  The two men share similarly tragic pasts. Mr. Gandhi lost a father and grandmother to assassination. Mr. Zardari lost his mother to assassination while his grandfather was deposed and later hanged. more