Tag Archive for 'Nehru'

The untold story of how Tibetan Buddhism first came to America

In Tricycle:

The combined efforts of Geshe Wangyal and Takster Rinpoche at the birth of the organized Tibetan resistance made it possible for ST Circus, the CIA’s codename for its anti-Chinese effort, to achieve its most notable success: the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet. Fortuitous contact by members of the first class of US-trained Tibetan resistance fighters with the Dalai Lama’s escape party in March 1959 allowed the CIA to be informed daily of the Dalai Lama’s whereabouts throughout the grueling ordeal. At the time, 50,000 People’s Liberation Army soldiers and dozens of spotter planes scoured the Tibetan side of the Himalayas trying to thwart his escape—or, as they suggested, to rescue him from kidnappers.

 Besides keeping their CIA patrons updated on the escape party’s coordinates, the guerrillas used Geshe-la’s telecode to request from Prime Minister Nehru’s government political asylum in India for the Dalai Lama, his cabinet, and his family. Three years earlier, Nehru had turned away a similar request and essentially forced His Holiness to return to Tibet after a brief religious pilgrimage to India. It was thus a great relief when Nehru’s consent to the asylum request, after traveling through several bureaucratic levels of the US and Indian governments over a 24-hour period, was relayed to the Dalai Lama’s Lord Chamberlain by the CIA-trained guerrillas. That message permitted a then ailing Dalai Lama to cross into Indian refuge ahead of his pursuers.

 His Holiness’s decision to leave Tibet at that time, almost nine years into China’s occupation, and the details of how and whether he was eluding the Chinese army became fodder for international journalistic speculation as hundreds of newsmen flocked to India’s remote Himalayan outposts hoping to witness his arrival. Few can remember today that this was the most internationally covered cliffhanger of that era, one that resonated well in the existential drama of the ongoing Cold War.

 Once His Holiness the Dalai Lama was safely in India, Geshe Wangyal would soon discover that the follow-up task of bringing His Holiness to the United States might be more daunting than the just-concluded escape. For that project, he would need other allies—and plenty of patience. 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:

Recovering Budhni Mejhan from the silted landscape of modern India

Budhni inaugurating the power station at the Panchet dam in December 1959. PHOTO: NEHRU MEMORIAL MUSEUM AND LIBRARY, NEW DELHI. / The Hindu

Chitra Padmanabhan in The Hindu:

A few months ago, the retired schoolteacher’s story became a part of my present when she asked me to gather information on the places she had visited in 1957. I want to write a detailed account of my best trip ever, she said with a glint in her eye.

Sometimes an innocuous request leads you to the past only to snake back into the present as a story sounding like a sigh, waiting for more than 50 years to be told. Who was to know that a straightforward task of collecting dry facts about a dam visited 54 years ago would bring me face-to-face with the story of Budhni Mejhan, a Santhal tribal, whose life became a testament to nation-building in a way that could never have been imagined; who lived all her life like a pebble trapped under a huge boulder?

I chanced upon Budhni while ferreting out information about the Maithon dam in Dhanbad district (Jharkhand) bordering West Bengal, which was a high point of Surjit’s itinerary. The third dam of the ambitious, multipurpose DVC, established in 1948 on the lines of the Tennessee Valley Authority, it had been inaugurated around the time of the schoolteachers’ visit.

After Maithon I could have moved on to Surjit’s next destination. However, a predisposition to stray from the highways of search engines lured me towards material on DVC’s fourth dam at Panchet in Dhanbad district, near its border with Purulia (West Bengal). The dam was built across the Damodar river known as the ‘sorrow of Bengal.’ Not only was this Rs.19 crore dam DVC’s biggest until then; its inauguration on December 6, 1959 had been graced by Prime Minister Nehru himself. More:

Unmaking of Modern India

In Open, Hartosh Singh Bal interviews Ramachandra Guha on his new book, Makers Of Modern India:

Q How would you define modern India?

A Some have argued for 1858, the year after the Mutiny, when the British take direct control of India. But I go further back. For me, modern India begins in the early 19th century. The industrial revolution has taken place at the end of the 18th century and the ideas of democracy and nationalism are emerging at this time.

Q Do you think your choice of 19 thinkers will arouse many passions, raise many questions?

A A very dear friend of mine, an IIT and IIM graduate, works with the poorest Adivasis in West Bengal and has set up an ashram for tribal children. His reaction was, why is Vivekananda not there? Swami Agnivesh, a man I greatly respect, called me and said, why is Dayanand Saraswati not on the list? I think Gandhi supercedes Vivekananda, and then, it is difficult to relate to Vivekananda’s writing, his archaic and exhortative prose. So, this is a book that certainly reflects my biases.

Q Could I run through four names that do not figure in the list and try and understand why they were left out? a) EMS Namboodiripad, for making it possible for Marxists to co-exist with democracy.

A Namboodiripad calls for a good biographer. It would be enlightening to read the story of a Congressman—in fact, a landlord who joins the Congress—and then joins the Marxists. His writings on social and economic matters are voluminous, but they are not impressive. I did look closely at another Marxist, MN Roy, who is a slightly better stylist, but again he is not original. More:

The human face of our national idols

In his book A Contemporary’s Estimate, Walter Crocker says Nehru would push and slap the people who got too close to him in public, as Indians tend to do. Aakar Patel in Mint Lounge:

Indians revere their leaders, but don’t read them. This comes naturally to a culture that worships physical forms, rather than ideas. But it means that the leader remains unexamined. Here are some facts about great people that we would rather not know.

In his book A Contemporary’s Estimate, Walter Crocker says Nehru would push and slap the people who got too close to him in public, as Indians tend to do.

Nehru was irritable, but also bombastic and verbose, making too many speeches (often three a day) and spending too much time lecturing the West. He was careless with his time, once giving 3 hours to a high school delegation from Australia, while his ministers waited.

Crocker, who served in Delhi as Australia’s ambassador, thought Nehru “had no sympathy for Gandhi’s religion, or for religiousness at all”. But there is a photograph in Mushirul Hasan’s The Nehrus that shows Jawaharlal entering the Ganga wearing a janoi, the Brahmin’s sacred thread. The thread looks new, however, and it’s not visible in two other photographs of him bare-chested, one in swimming trunks and the other doing shirshasan.

Nehru’s annexation of Goa was illegal, though only Rajagopalachari and Jayaprakash Narayan opposed it. Crocker writes what many of us will not believe: If Portugal had insisted on a plebiscite, Goans would have preferred Portuguese rule to Indian. More:

Scientist, citizen, artist

Nehru, Bhabha, JRD Tata and K. Chandrasekharan at TIFR, 1962. Photo: Penguin

In The Indian Express, C. Raja Mohan reviews a book on Homi J. Bhabha (A Masterful Spirit: Homi J. Bhabha; Penguin) by Indira Chowdhury & Ananya Dasgupta:

Homi Jehangir Bhabha was unquestionably one of the most refined modernists of 20th century India. As the architect of independent India’s science and technology institutions, Bhabha’s legacy will endure .

He is often cited and always praised. And his name is invoked with reverence, not necessarily for the right reasons. Recall how Bhabha’s three-stage programme for India’s nuclear energy development was made the ultimate criterion for judging some of the terms of the controversial civilian nuclear deal with the United States. As an authentic internationalist and cosmopolitan, Bhabha might have been shocked by the provincialism and knee-jerk anti-Americanism of his successors at the Department of Atomic Energy.

As a man committed to scientific temper, he might have been saddened by the uncritical chanting of his three-stage formula, without any reference to the changed conditions and improved knowledge of reactor physics. More:

From INC to Congress Inc.

It was a party of educated professionals once, and Rahul Gandhi wants to make it so again. But his father before him had tried, and he will succeed only if he finds a new way to do it. Jatin Gandhi and Hartosh Singh Bal in Open:

Indeed, as an organisation, the current Congress faces the same challenge any family-run business faces—how to bring about greater professionalisation while retaining control. The need to do so is not in doubt, spelt out as it is by the first of Ramachandran’s working hypotheses: family businesses with a higher level of professionalism practised both in business and by the family are likely to perform better and perpetuate their success over a longer time frame.

This, though, is easier said than done. Within the Congress, the idea has been in the making since Rajiv Gandhi’s ascent to power. But what was then a limited initiative to bring in a few friends with professional qualifications has now given way to a far more ambitious approach. Already, in the transition from Rajiv to Rahul, Sonia Gandhi has managed to implement an important step. She has placed a ‘professional CEO’ such as Manmohan Singh in charge of what managers call a ‘key result area’ (KRA): governance. Since 22 May 2004, Manmohan Singh has wrought professionalism across several governance functions, but his party itself has remained much the same. More:

[Image: Open]

A taste of summers

Ian Jack in The Telegraph, Calcutta:

indian_summerWhat we do know from the little evidence made available is rather more important than whether or not sex occurred: the facts are that the two were besotted with each other, exchanged daily letters between England and India, and made elaborate efforts to meet each other in an era when transcontinental travel was much slower and more complicated than it’s since become. ‘In love’ has become the conventional verdict on Edwina and Nehru, and nobody can blame the makers of the film, Indian Summer, about the events of 1947, for wanting to demonstrate the point by including a kiss or two. That India’s information and broadcasting ministry should object to the kissing is, I suppose, also predictable; though its insistence that the film be billed as ‘fiction’ suggests that the government of India still thinks that, in films and books, fact and fiction can easily be separated or told apart. We might wish it were so, but in a whole range of artistic endeavour – from literary biographies to biopics – reconstruction of past events means that the ‘recorded facts’ are omitted or distorted, or supplemented by making stuff up. The tradition is long and sometimes respectable. Macbeth was a real Scottish king and Scotland is a real place; but we can assume that Shakespeare invented the bit where Lady Macbeth prowls around the castle at night trying to scrub imaginary blood from her hands. More:

End of an affair: Nehru-Edwina movie scrapped

From the Telegraph, Calcutta:

indian_summerIndian Summer, a Hollywood film based on Jawaharlal Nehru and Edwina Mountbatten, has been shelved, leaving behind a mystery on what the film-makers found too hot to handle: money or Indian prudes.

The film was supposed to focus on one of the most sensitive chapters of the final days of the Raj – the relationship between India’s first Prime Minister and the wife of Britain’s last Viceroy.

Universal Pictures, among Hollywood’s oldest studios, has postponed plans for shooting, apparently because of the scale of the budget, thought to have been between $30 million (Rs 138 crore) and $40 million (Rs 184 crore).

Sources said director Joe Wright considered making the film, Indian Summer, starring Cate Blanchett and Hugh Grant, for less than $30 million, before deciding to wait for more favourable market conditions. More:

Previously on AW: Nehru and Edwina: the movie

And in Foreign Policy: What the censorship of a film about India’s founding father shows about New Delhi’s cautious relationship toward its own history:

The film’s international cast of superstars — Academy Award-winner Cate Blanchett playing Edwina, and Hugh Grant tipped to portray her husband, Louis — did nothing to deter New Delhi from issuing a series of silly cuts. Among them: no kissing, no scenes of physical intimacy between Nehru and Edwina, and no use of the word “love.” The director, Joe Wright, whose previous films include the hugely successful Atonement and Pride and Prejudice, has no choice but to comply if he wants to shoot the film in India. And that’s not all: Should Wright go ahead, the completed film will have to be shown to a government “expert” who will judge whether it depicts “a correct and balanced perspective on the topic covered.”

Invoking a mystic Indian identity

In the Telegraph, Sunanda K. Datta-Ray reviews Jaswant Singh’s “Jinnah: India-Partition-Independence“:

Jinnah and Gandhi

Jinnah and Gandhi

If Mohammad Ali Jinnah was the first Paki and Lord Mountbatten the first Paki-basher (as an old joke went), Calcutta’s Direct Action Day was the first Jehad. Jaswant Singh records that a leaflet warning the “Kafer” of “the general massacre” on August 16, 1946 also reminded Muslims they had once worn the crown and ruled this country but “had become slaves of Hindus and the British”. Displaying Jinnah’s picture, the leaflet spoke of “a Jehad in this very month of Ramzan”.

This is worth repeating because inspired gossip accuses the author of glorifying Jinnah as the apostle of Indian unity and of blaming Jawaharlal Nehru and Vallabhbhai Patel for demonizing him. Neither charge can be sustained, confirming that the contrived furore over the book reflects the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s dislike of the author and a demoralized Bharatiya Janata Party’s internal power struggles. The ambitions of the egregious Narendra Modi, who cannot have read this massive volume of 669 pages and probably would not have understood it if he had, obviously helped to whip up hysteria.

Modi’s understanding must not be faulted too much, however, for in his anxiety to be fair to all sides, Jaswant Singh often seems to contradict what appears to be his thesis. More:

The degradation of the Indian National Congress

Ramachandra Guha in the Telegraph:

congressWhen Sanjay died in an air crash in 1980, Indira Gandhi immediately drafted her other son into the Congress. When she was herself killed in October 1984, this son, Rajiv, was sworn in as prime minister. One of his first acts was to bring his old schoolfriends into politics. Like his mother, he could not bring himself to trust his own partymen. While promoting his friends, he behaved arrogantly towards senior leaders of the Congress, and towards senior bureaucrats. At least one chief minister and one foreign secretary were sacked at impromptu press conferences. Meanwhile, his friends from outside politics gave him the most disastrous advice, persuading him to open the locks in Ayodhya and to upturn the Supreme Court’s judgement in the Shah Bano case.

Jawaharlal Nehru did not hope or desire that his daughter should succeed him as prime minister – a fact that is not as widely known as it should be. On the other hand, Indira Gandhi worked to make first Sanjay and then Rajiv her political successor. Sonia Gandhi has followed her mother-in-law scrupulously in this respect, for she has likewise ensured that her own son would head the party, and, perhaps in time, the government. The example set by India’s greatest political party has been followed by many lesser ones. Had Indira Gandhi and Sonia Gandhi not acted in this fashion, perhaps Bal Thackeray, Parkash Singh Badal, M. Karunanidhi and Mulayam Singh Yadav would not so brazenly have treated their own political parties as family firms. More:

Indian Summer: story of the Mountbattens

Drama, glamour and performance: Alex von Tunzelmann‘s book about the Mountbattens is made for film. From The Sunday Times:

Had Dickie Mountbatten lived long enough to read Alex von Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer – a lively history of India’s partition in 1947, in which, as last viceroy, he plays a central role – a few details might have irked him. Her portrayal of his early naval career as a catalogue of catastrophic blunders, for instance, might have grated. The open discussion of Nehru’s affair with Mountbatten’s wife, Edwina, would likewise have offended his sense of decorum. One thing about Indian Summer, however, would have thrilled him: the book is to become a film. Even better, Hugh Grant is rumoured to be playing Dickie and Cate Blanchett his wife.

Mountbatten loved the movies. He and Edwina, always a handsome couple, even appeared in one during their honeymoon of 1922: Nice and Easy, starring Charlie Chaplin. Mountbatten’s life, moreover, was a constant performance. He loved the pomp and ceremony of officialdom, and in particular the brilliant white uniforms it allowed him to strut about it in. Indeed, so inherently cinematic were the lives and loves of the Mountbattens that their friend Noël Coward based the leads in In Which We Serve and Brief Encounter on them – the latter picture prompting the viceroy to exclaim “how deeply it moved me”.