Sunday, June 26, 2005

Poker Faced

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar: Poker-FAced

A reshuffle should not be confused with a shuffle, nor a shuffle with ministry formation. When a new government is sworn in it is at the high point of energy and potential, having just been selected by a popular verdict.

It has the thrill of virginity and all the hopes of fresh consummation. The electorate, like any beaming mother-in-law, wants children as soon as possible. The electorate, like any gruff mother-in-law, sours quickly when it gets only bath water instead of a baby. A shuffle after a year’s waiting period (normal pregnancy pause) is proof that not everyone in government is delivering.

The impending shuffle of the Manmohan Singh ministry is going to be a limited one. None of the allies will release any quality portfolios they might have got unless they are offered better ones and there is no hope of that.

Lalu Prasad Yadav and Sharad Pawar therefore are locked into railways and agriculture for the life of this government. The Congress ministers have no locks. Only Dr Manmohan Singh seems to be secure behind a lock and there too Mrs Sonia Gandhi has the key. This will also be the first shuffle in history where the Prime Minister will be consulted while the final decision is taken elsewhere. This is logical. The Prime Minister did not win the election, so his power is checked by a balance.

A shuffle is an image from a card game, and who can deny that Delhi is the democracy’s most expensive casino? A deck of cards is a good analogy for government and not only because so many governments are a house of cards. There is an ace of spades which is more equal than the other aces; there are kings, queens and jokers. And anyone below the level of a joker is obviously around only to fill the room.

Mrs Gandhi holds the pack with nimble fingers. There may be lapses on her part in understanding the nuances of the complete Indian poker game but she deals fluently within the Congress culture. The two criteria, either of which can make a king into a joker and an ace impotent, are efficiency and loyalty. There used to be a third dimension, that of ideas, but ideas, like the fabled river Saraswati, have gone dry. The Ganga and Jamuna are efficiency and loyalty. For best results there must be confluence at Allahabad.

Since Dr Singh is safe, Mrs Gandhi has 51 cards to play with and 15 honours to juggle. After a year, some performance results are evident. The aces have not pulled their weight. Decency is no substitute for leadership in the home ministry, and while sartorial elegance has its merits, the country expects something more than a daily fashion statement from home minister Shivraj Patil. Kashmir has been gradually eased out of his beat, and the Northeast has frozen into a septic swamp under his watch. A crisis across the country, the Naxalite revolt, has reached epidemic proportions. Andhra is linked to the arc under the Himalayas and there is neither the reality nor the perception of a response from Delhi.

The Naxalite revolt is not another communal problem that will spurt and wither; it is a mighty fever that will turn India’s body politic into a shivering mess if not medicated. It began when Jawaharlal Nehru was in power. It was controlled when Indira Gandhi was in power. It could turn into a plague of Chairman Mao’s dreams when Sonia Gandhi is in power. Mao promised a prairie fire across India, and young men saluted his name and carried his torch in universities and villages. That fire is now in full rage and the home minister seems out of his depth.

The foreign minister on the other hand seems curiously incapable of differentiating between shallows and deep waters: he gives equal time to both so that he has time for neither. This is curious because Natwar Singh should know his job. The foreign ministry has been his life. His time seems to be allotted according to travel schedules rather than concerns. It can be a fatal weakness.

The third ace, Pranab Mukherjee, is simply not interested in his job. There is little to do in defence except ironically defend the status quo and that does not need his talents. After having been finance minister in his 40s he expects to be Prime Minister in his 70s. Arjun Singh should have been an ace, but he is only a king and the kings are in flux. P. Chidambaram’s budget was neither a dream nor a nightmare, merely a pleasant nap from which the economy could wake up at the first sign of drought.

But the real problem with the Congress element of the Manmohan Singh government is not individual variance but a collective fault. The Congress is in power because it was elected, directly, to the Lok Sabha. It has a government that has been elected, indirectly, to the Rajya Sabha.

The Lok Sabha is represented by the allies.

The Congress began with 17 Cabinet ministers. All the powerful positions are either with Rajya Sabha members or with those who add no value to the party despite being in the Lok Sabha: the names of Dr Manmohan Singh, Shivraj Patil, Natwar Singh, Arjun Singh, H.R. Bhardwaj, P.M. Sayeed, Ghulam Nabi Azad come at once to mind. Chidambaram, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Meira Kumar have won because of fortuitous alliances and are therefore politically insecure. Pranab Mukherjee entered the Lok Sabha for the first time, possibly with help from the Marxists. In any case he and Priya Ranjan Das Munshi represent a state where the Congress has just been relegated to third position in the election for mayor in Kolkata. Ghulam Nabi represents neither Kashmir nor Muslims and Sayeed neither tribals nor Muslims, which is why both prefer silence on issues of their community and cannot help the party get a single Muslim vote in UP and Bihar. Bhardwaj is a good minister but politically insignificant in Madhya Pradesh or indeed anywhere else. Mahavir Prasad, if you recognise his name, brings nothing from the Dalits although he is in the Cabinet because he is a Dalit. Sisram Ola is not, trust me, going to set Indian politics on fire.

Only three Congress Cabinet ministers lend genuine weight to the party at the electoral level: Shankersinh Vaghela, S. Jaipal Reddy and Kamal Nath. All are men who have fed from the grassroots, irrespective of where they may have come from. Vaghela and Reddy helped revive their party in their states and deserve their place in power; Kamal Nath lost his state but will be part of the revival if it is to come. The Congress is in power because it won handsomely in four states: Andhra, Assam, Delhi and Haryana. If you look at the numbers, Andhra alone has more seats than the other three combined. In other words, there is a great deal of work to be done.

The task before Sonia Gandhi is so obvious that it hardly needs reiteration. She has to revive the electoral fortunes of her party through a proper management of power. She needs ministers who can deliver in both their portfolios and their states. A Nehru or an Indira Gandhi Cabinet always kept a little space for techno-competence, a Krishnamachari or a Kumaramangalam, but it was packed with leaders who were there not because either liked them but because they could deliver for the party.

Indira Gandhi once put her worst enemy, a man who had contested on the Janata ticket against her in a crucial byelection from Chikmagalur, Veerendra Patil into her Cabinet. He was more shocked than anyone else. But that sustained the Congress in his state, Karnataka, so she did it. Who among Sonia Gandhi’s preferred aces can add a single vote to the party? Natwar Singh is an excellent individual, but Rajasthan is beyond his reach. We have discussed the value of Azad and Sayeed, the two prominent Muslims. That is only the beginning of the syndrome, hardly the end of it. This is not personal judgment. These are obvious facts.

Now consider this. It is common knowledge in Delhi that a shuffle is imminent, and lists of hopefuls are doing the rounds. No one knows what Mrs Gandhi is going to do, but we do hear the names of the hopefuls high on her alleged list. Which are the names at the Cabinet level? A.K. Antony, Satish Sharma, Motilal Vohra, Ambika Soni, Ahmed Patel. What do they have in common? You guessed it. They are all Rajya Sabha members. The same is true of candidates for minister of state. Being in the Rajya Sabha does not automatically make you irrelevant. Antony deserves a place in the system and Ambika Soni has done sterling work while guiding Sonia Gandhi through the political marsh. But if you consider the problem coolly, you have to conclude that whatever happens in this shuffle, it will be certain individuals who will gain and not the party. And if useless sycophants are rewarded rather than politicians of genuine capability then a state like Andhra could well plummet as Karnataka has done.

Is this because the Congress has no genuine leaders who connect with the voter? If that be true, then the party cannot be revived in the large areas of the country where it has become fallow. It is not obituary time yet for the Congress.

But. It came to power by accident. It should not lose power through complacency.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Man of Irony

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar: Man of Irony

Could President Pervez Musharraf ever have imagined, when he asked us to think out of the box, that a BJP leader like Lal Krishna Advani would leap out of the box and land at the doorstep of Mohammad Ali Jinnah? Peace has its compulsions no less dramatic than war.

When irony invites paradox for dinner, you can be certain it will be a riotous feast. We underestimate the subtlety of irony if we see no further than the obvious. L.K. Advani’s epiphany on the road to Pakistan is not ironic. It is an evolutionary, well-conceived step designed to serve more than one purpose.

An immediate objective is evident. By going to Pakistan, and praising Jinnah’s famous speech at the Constituent Assembly, Advani stimulated the bipartisan peace process. It was proof that you do not have to be in power to contribute to policy. As Advani notes, peace is built on trust, and you cannot gain a Pakistani’s trust by demonising the father of that nation. But the episode is much more than a diplomatic gesture. Consciously or otherwise, Advani has also sought to exorcise demons from a discourse that has punished the subcontinent with war, and condemned Indian Muslims to trauma and riots.

The reaction within the BJP, which has milked belligerence against both Pakistan and Indian Muslims, confirms the power of the Advani swivel. Advani is not a traitor to his cause. He believes that it is time his cause grew up and acquired a more mature rationale for existence. The dialectic of conflict can take you only so far, and the BJP has reached that point. It must now seek a dialectic of inclusion. This fits in with a larger conviction that the only way forward for the subcontinent is within the secular space. He was also reminding Pakistan of the Jinnah that many Pakistanis prefer to forget, the Jinnah who wanted a democratic, secular Republic of Pakistan.

The irony lies not in the action, but in the reaction.

Let us examine the worst. Praveen Togadia, whose face boils over with hatred at less provocation, decided that Advani had become a "traitor". Acharya Giriraj Kishore, whose beard camouflages his feelings but whose eyes are a giveaway, was livid that Jinnah had been called secular.

Ours is a free country. We even allow the freedom to hate, though not the freedom to be violent. Such reactions from these eminences were predictable. What was interesting was how the term "secular" had become, almost surreptitiously, a positive word in their terminology. How? They hated the thought that Advani had praised Jinnah as secular; ergo, "secular" was a positive attribute which they wanted to deny Jinnah.

Correct me if I am wrong, but I thought that the one thing that the Togadias and Kishores hated was "secularism", that Gandhian concoction under which Muslims had been made free and equal citizens of a Hindu-majority India. "Secularism", a sort of Leftist-Congress disease, was, in their lexicon, a synonym for hypocrisy, anti-Indian and anti-Hindu behaviour. It was reassuring therefore to learn that Togadia and Kishore considered secularism a virtue, and did not want to extend the compliment to their favourite bogey, Jinnah.

Their compatriot in the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Mahant Avichaldasji, has decided to launch a movement demanding the resignation of Advani from the Lok Sabha because he has "deceived" the Hindus. He is also upset that Advani called the day of the destruction of the Babri Masjid the saddest day of his life, and claims that the voters do not want Advani anymore.

Advani was elected from Gandhinagar, capital of Gujarat. What greater irony could there be than the fact that a city named after Gandhi, a Gujarati, should seek to reject Advani because he spoke a language that Gandhi would have understood? Gandhinagar has become a measure of Gujarat’s betrayal of Gandhi. The parallel irony of course is that Advani helped create such a voter, and now is being asked to pay the price of his own past.

Which, neatly, brings us to the next irony: Advani, who sparked the revival of the BJP in the second half of the Eighties with the Ram Mandir movement, had become to Pakistanis what Jinnah was to Indians, the object of a hate-cult. The role reversal has a particular piquancy. One can sense the depth of shock within the BJP. They had barely managed to digest the liberalism of Atal Behari Vajpayee, and now they were being confronted with a recast Advani. Who can remain stable when the world totters at both the North Pole and the South Pole?

The poles shook similarly when Jinnah made his speech on 11 August 1947: after having created a nation for Muslims, he rejected the idea of a Muslim nation in the sense of a theocratic state. Pakistan, he said, would become a great nation only if every citizen had "equal rights, privileges and obligations". He continued: "You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan… You may belong to any religion or caste or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State… We are starting with this fundamental principle that we are all citizens and equal citizens of one State…"

But of course the debate that Advani has started over Jinnah, is not a debate about Pakistan but a debate about India, which takes irony to unprecedented heights. It is a debate with many contours around a central question: was Jinnah solely responsible for the partition of India? Who destroyed the Cabinet Mission plan of 1946, often called the last chance for Indian unity? How much did newly-elected Congress president Jawaharlal Nehru’s press conference in Mumbai on 10 July 1946, where he withdrew from the Congress commitment, affect the unity of India? (Azad was deeply upset by Nehru’s remarks and Sardar Patel wrote to D.P. Mishra on 29 July that Jawaharlal’s "emotional insanity" had wrecked everything.) How justified was Nehru in his conviction that to provide guarantees to one community would open a Pandora’s box from which India might never recover. Was the Plan itself too fragile to last? These might seem, after all these years, questions of detail, the trees preventing us from seeing the wood. But there is a basic question we cannot escape: how did a man who never believed in communal politics deliver a nation for a community? Did he change? Was he driven into that corner? Such questions will never be answered satisfactorily as long as the politics of bias shapes our "facts".

A politician with an inclusive attitude often rejects certain facts for the larger good. Dr B.R. Ambedkar has become an icon to Dalits. Will any leader of an Indian political party, with any sense, seek to hurt the Dalits by picking on some elements of Ambedkar’s politics, like cooperation with the British, or will he woo Dalit sentiment by recalling the extraordinary contribution Ambedkar made to the psychological uplift of his people?

The debate has a second hinge: is our future best protected by a secular, inclusive spirit, or by separatist urges? This question is relevant internally, for all nations of the subcontinent are divided by competing identities, as well as externally, for only a common commitment to a secular spirit will enable India, Pakistan and Bangladesh to cooperate as politically sovereign and economically inter-dependent nations. So far, the separatist urge has controlled our fortunes, literally: "fortune" is a word of economics.

It is a question that Advani has addressed to his own party much more than to others, and legitimately so. The Bharatiya Jana Sangh, predecessor of the BJP, belongs to the third phase of the Hindutva movement. The first phase was a search for renaissance and reform, and came to an end with the death of Swami Dayanand Saraswati. The second saw the institutionalisation of this search. In 1907, a year after the Muslim League was created, the United Bengal Hindu Movement and the Punjab Hindu Sabha were born. At the Lahore Congress session of 1909 the Hindu Sabha was formally recognised as a Congress forum. The RSS replaced the Sabha as the institutional force after its formation in 1926. The third phase began after the tears of partition, with the birth of the Jana Sangh in 1952. It was a mirror-image of the Pakistan demand, for it sought power for Hindus in India in the way that Muslims had established their base in Pakistan. Five decades later the president of the BJP is telling his party to move away from the 20th century and into the 21st.

It is a debate that will be welcomed by Indian Muslims, who have long been burdened by the "guilt" of partition. The Congress, paradoxically rather than ironically, has been as insistent upon demanding this price as the Hindutva parties, creating a tribe of "Congress Muslims" whose rise to power has often been in direct proportion to their ability to pour venom upon Jinnah. Once again, it is time to move on.

I have been wondering which is the greater irony: that both Jinnah and Gandhi were Gujaratis, or that both Jinnah and Advani were from Karachi. Whatever the answer, of this I am certain. The BJP’s Man of Iron has become India’s Man of Irony.

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar: Jinnah


Ambition and frustration are two reasons commonly suggested in India, but they are not enough to create a new nation. Jinnah made the demand for Pakistan only in 1940, after repeated attempts to obtain constitutional safeguards for Muslims and attempts at power-sharing had failed. What happened, for instance, to the Constitution that the Congress was meant to draft in 1928? On the other hand, Congress leaders felt that commitments on the basis of any community would lead to extortion from every community. The only exception made was for Dalits, then called Harijans.

"Well, young man. I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics. I part company with Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria."

The young man was a journalist, Durga Das. The older man was Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The reference is from Durga Das’ classic book, India from Curzon to Nehru and After. Jinnah said this after the 1920 Nagpur session, where Gandhi’s non-cooperation resolution was passed almost unanimously.

On 1 October 1906, 35 Muslims of "noble birth, wealth and power" called on the fourth earl of Minto, Curzon’s successor as Viceroy of India. They were led by the Aga Khan and used for the first time a phrase that would dominate the history of the subcontinent in the 20th century: the "national interests" of Indian Muslims. They wanted help against an "unsympathetic" Hindu majority. They asked, very politely, for proportional representation in jobs and separate seats in councils, municipalities, university syndicates and high court benches. Lord Minto was happy to oblige. The Muslim League was born in December that year at Dhaka, chaired by Nawab Salimullah Khan, who had been too ill to join the 35 in October. The Aga Khan was its first president.

The Aga Khan wrote later that it was "freakishly ironic" that "our doughtiest opponent in 1906" was Jinnah, who "came out in bitter hostility toward all that I and my friends had done… He was the only well-known Muslim to take this attitude… He said that our principle of separate electorates was dividing the nation against itself".

On precisely the same dates that the League was formed in Dhaka, Jinnah was in nearby Calcutta with 44 other Muslims and roughly 1,500 Hindus, Christians and Parsis, serving as secretary to Dadabhai Naoroji, president of the Indian National Congress. Dadabhai was too ill to give his address, which had been partially drafted by Jinnah and was read out by Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

Sarojini Naidu, who met the 30-year-old Jinnah for the first time here, remembered him as a symbol of "virile patriotism". Her description is arguably the best there is: "Tall and stately, but thin to the point of emancipation, languid and luxurious of habit, Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s attenuated form is a deceptive sheath of a spirit of exceptional vitality and endurance. Somewhat formal and fastidious, and a little aloof and imperious of manner, the calm hauteur of his accustomed reserve but masks, for those who know him, a naïve and eager humanity, an intuition quick and tender as a woman’s, a humour gay and winning as child’s … a shy and splendid idealism which is of the very essence of the man."

Jinnah entered the central legislative council in Calcutta (the capital of British India then) on 25 January 1910, along with Gokhale, Surendranath Banerjea and Motilal Nehru. Lord Minto expected the council to rubber stamp "any measures we may deem right to introduce". Jinnah’s maiden speech shattered such pompousness. He rose to defend another Gujarati working for his people in another colony across the seas, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. Jinnah expressed "the highest pitch of indignation and horror at the harsh and cruel treatment that is meted out to Indians in South Africa". Minto objected to a term such as "cruel treatment". Jinnah responded at once: "My Lord! I should feel much inclined to use much stronger language." Lord Minto kept quiet.

On March 7, 1911 Jinnah introduced what was to become the first non-official Act in British Indian history, the Wakf Validating Bill, reversing an 1894 decision on wakf gifts. Muslims across the Indian empire were grateful.

Jinnah attended his first meeting of the League in Bankipur in 1912, but did not become a member. He was in Bankipur to attend the Congress session. When he went to Lucknow a few months later as a special guest of the League (it was not an annual session), Sarojini Naidu was on the platform with him. The bitterness that divided India did not exist then. Dr M.A. Ansari, Maulana Azad and Hakim Ajmal Khan attended the League session of 1914, and in 1915, the League tent had a truly unlikely guest list: Madan Mohan Malviya, Surendranath Banerjea, Annie Besant, B.G. Horniman, Sarojini Naidu and Mahatma Gandhi. When Jinnah did join the League in 1913, he insisted on a condition, set out in immaculate English, that his "loyalty to the Muslim League and the Muslim interest would in no way and at no time imply even the shadow of disloyalty to the larger national cause to which his life was dedicated" (Jinnah: His Speeches and Writings, 1912-1917, edited by Sarojini Naidu). Gokhale that year honoured Jinnah with a phrase that has travelled through time: it is "freedom from all sectarian prejudice which will make him (Jinnah) the best ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity". In the spring of 1914 Jinnah chaired a Congress delegation to London to lobby Whitehall on a proposed Council of India Bill.

When Gandhi landed in India in 1915, Jinnah, as president of the Gujarat Society (the mahatmas of both India and Pakistan were Gujaratis), spoke at a garden party to welcome the hero of South Africa. Jinnah was the star of 1915. At the Congress and League sessions, held in Mumbai at the same time, he worked tirelessly with Congress president Satyendra Sinha and Mazharul Haque (a Congressman who presided over the Muslim League that year) for a joint platform of resolutions. Haque and Jinnah were heckled so badly at the League session by mullahs that the meeting had to be adjourned. It reconvened the next day in the safer milieu of the Taj Mahal Hotel. The next year Jinnah became president of the League for the first time, at Lucknow.

Motilal Nehru, in the meantime, worked closely with Jinnah in the council. When the munificent Motilal convened a meeting of fellow-legislators at his handsome mansion in Allahabad in April, he considered Jinnah "as keen a nationalist as any of us. He is showing his community the way to Hindu-Muslim unity". It was from this meeting in Allahabad that Jinnah went for a vacation to Darjeeling and the summer home of his friend Sir Dinshaw Manockjee Petit (French merchants had nicknamed Dinshaw’s small-built grandfather petit and it stuck) and met 16-year-old Ruttie. I suppose a glorious view of the Everest encouraged romance. When Ruttie became 18 she eloped and on 19 April 1918 they were married. Ruttie’s Parsi family disowned her, she separated from Jinnah a decade later. (The wedding ring was a gift from the Raja of Mahmudabad.)

As president Jinnah engineered the famous Lucknow Pact with Congress president A.C. Mazumdar. In his presidential speech Jinnah rejoiced that the new spirit of patriotism had "brought Hindus and Muslims together … for the common cause". Mazumdar announced that all differences had been settled, and Hindus and Muslims would make a "joint demand for a Representative Government in India".

Enter Gandhi, who never entered a legislature, and believed passionately that freedom could only be won by a non-violent struggle for which he would have to prepare the masses.

In 1915 Gokhale advised Gandhi to keep "his ears open and his mouth shut" for a year, and see India. Gandhi stopped in Calcutta on his way to Rangoon and spoke to students. Politics, he said, should never be divorced from religion. The signal was picked by Muslims planning to marry politics with religion in their first great campaign against the British empire, the Khilafat movement.

Over the next three years Gandhi prepared the ground for his version of the freedom struggle: a shift from the legislatures to the street; a deliberate use of religious imagery to reach the illiterate masses through symbols most familiar to them (Ram Rajya for the Hindus, Khilafat for the Muslims); and an unwavering commitment to the poor peasantry, for whom Champaran became a miracle. The massacre at Jallianwala Bagh in 1919 provided a perfect opportunity; Indian anger reached critical mass. Gandhi led the Congress towards its first mass struggle, the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1921.

The constitutionalist in Jinnah found mass politics ambitious, and the liberal in him rejected the invasion of religion in politics. When he rose to speak at the Nagpur session in 1920, where Gandhi moved the non-cooperation resolution, Jinnah was the only delegate to dissent till the end among some 50,000 "surging" Hindus and Muslims. He had two principal objections. The resolution, he said, was a de facto declaration of swaraj, or complete independence, and although he agreed completely with Lala Lajpat Rai’s indictment of the British government he did not think the Congress had, as yet, the means to achieve this end; as he put it, "it is not the right step to take at this moment … you are committing the Indian National Congress to a programme which you will not be able to carry out". (Gandhi, after promising swaraj within a year, withdrew the Non-Cooperation Movement in the wake of communal riots in Kerala and of course the famous Chauri Chaura incident in 1922. Congress formally adopted full independence as its goal only in 1931.) His second objection was that non-violence would not succeed. In this Jinnah was wrong.

There is a remarkable sub-text in this speech, which has never been commented upon, at least to my knowledge. When Jinnah first referred to Gandhi, he called him "Mr Gandhi". There were instant cries of "Mahatma Gandhi". Without a moment’s hesitation, Jinnah switched to "Mahatma Gandhi". Later, he referred to Mr Mohammad Ali, the more flamboyant of the two Ali Brothers, both popularly referred to as Maulana. There were angry cries of "Maulana". Jinnah ignored them. He referred at least five times more to Ali, but each time called him only Mr Mohammad Ali.

Let us leave the last word to Gandhi. Writing in Harijan of 8 June 1940, Gandhi said, "Quaid-e-Azam himself was a great Congressman. It was only after the non-cooperation that he, like many other Congressmen belonging to several communities, left. Their defection was purely political." In other words, it was not communal. It could not be, for almost every Muslim was with Gandhi when Jinnah left the Congress.

History might be better understood if we did not treat it as a heroes-and-villains movie. Life is more complex than that. The heroes of our national struggle changed sometimes with circumstances. The reasons for the three instances I cite are very different; their implications radically at variance. I am not making any comparisons, but only noting that leaders change their tactics. Non-violent Gandhi, who broke the empire three decades later, received the Kaiser-I-Hind medal on 3 June 1915 (Tagore was knighted the same day) for recruiting soldiers for the war effort. Subhas Bose, ardently Gandhian in 1920, put on uniform and led the Indian National Army with support from Fascists. Jinnah, the ambassador of unity, became a partitionist.

The question that should intrigue us is why. Ambition and frustration are two reasons commonly suggested in India, but they are not enough to create a new nation. Jinnah made the demand for Pakistan only in 1940, after repeated attempts to obtain constitutional safeguards for Muslims and attempts at power-sharing had failed. What happened, for instance, to the Constitution that the Congress was meant to draft in 1928? On the other hand, Congress leaders felt that commitments on the basis of any community would lead to extortion from every community. The only exception made was for Dalits, then called Harijans.

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, who remained opposed to partition even after Nehru and Patel had accepted it as inevitable, places one finger on the failed negotiations in United Provinces after the 1936-37 elections, and a second on the inexplicable collapse of the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 which would have kept India united - inexplicable because both the Congress and the Muslim League had accepted it. The plan did not survive a press conference given by Nehru. Jinnah responded with the unbridled use of the communal card, and there was no turning back.

A deeply saddened Gandhi spurned 15 August 1947 as a false dawn (to quote Faiz). He spent the day not in celebrations in Delhi but in fasting at Calcutta. Thanks to Gandhi - and H.S. Suhrawardy - there were no communal riots in Calcutta in 1947.

Facts are humbling. They prevent you from jumping to conclusions.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Surprise, Surprise!

Edited & Brought to you by ilaxi

Byline by M.J.Akbar : Surprise, Surprise!

Never underestimate the magnetic power of a sideshow. While the crosscurrents of history sweep through the larger stage, and Hurriyat does what was unthinkable day before yesterday and unacceptable yesterday; while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Pervez Musharraf lift the spirit of their language far above the stodgy bureaucratic wrangling that must inevitably inform discussions on detail; while the leader of the Indian Opposition and an architect of the Ram Mandir movement, Lal Krishna Advani, apologises for the destruction of the Babri mosque during a visit to Pakistan; Gohar Ayub Khan, son of Field Marshal Ayub Khan, pinches some of the headlines with the titillating claim that an Indian brigadier sold India’s 1965 war plans.

Who is this top spy? Mr Khan refuses to reveal the identity but strews the path with teasing hints. The spy is still alive. His wife needed the money for a hobby, canning fruits. The payment was made in London, through the Pak military attaché there, Brigadier Said Ghaus. The plan was so comprehensive that for a while Ayub Khan even suspected it to be a plant and had it double-checked by other intelligence assets in Delhi. The plan envisaged the Indian Army falling back behind the Beas in case of reverses. In later interviews Gohar Khan, never without a Frontier twinkle in his eye, said that the brigadier was director of military operations between 1951 and 1958. I saw one Indian television news interview in which Mr Khan blithely claimed that everything relevant on the table of the Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru eventually reached his father, Ayub Khan.

As an Indian I was terribly reassured by this last statement, since Nehru was not Prime Minister of India during the 1965 war: Lal Bahadur Shastri had been Prime Minister for some sixteen months when Ayub Khan launched Operation Gibraltar in the autumn of 1965, and sank this subcontinent into an era of economic stagnation and human despair from which we are at long last making a serious effort to recover. Alas, the television interviewer did not mention this to Mr Gohar Khan. It might have clouded at least some of those twinkles. It is possible, however, that the TV interviewer himself did not know this. Presumably the papers on Shastri’s table were safe.

My problem with the story is not that Gohar Khan made these claims, but the effortlessness with which journalists swallowed them. Even a cursory check with common sense induces cynicism. If the Great Indian Spy (henceforth to be codenamed Gus, a variation of GIS) was brigadier in 1951 he must be in his Nineties now, and twenty thousand rupees in the Fifties must have bought a lot of cans for fruit. But these are negligible objections.

Field Marshal Ayub Khan was a Sandhurst graduate and saw action in the Second World War. People have called him many names, from hero to villain, but no one as yet has called him a fool. While every Army has standard operational plans against any neighbour deemed to be hostile, or even deemed to be friendly, to call something written in the Fifties the war plan for 1965, is about as absurd as it gets. It is even more stupid to believe that there can be anything like a comprehensive plan, for the simple reason that no one knows where the enemy will concentrate its strike, unless of course some Gus has told you. The alleged plan on Ayub Khan’s desk could not have been much use because India had no intention of starting a war in 1965. (This is in contrast to 1971, when India had every intention of starting a war, and a Gus in 1971 would have been extremely useful to President Yahya Khan. But like Shastri’s desk, Indira Gandhi’s desk was also clearly beyond the reach of any Gus.)

I know it is currently unfashionable to be aware of history, particularly the history of your own country, but there was a pretty startling episode in the history of the Indian Army between the Fifties and 1965. This was the war against China in 1962 in which the Indian Army was humiliated and India humbled. The catastrophe of 1962 came near to taking Nehru’s job; his defence minister Krishna Menon did have to pay a heavy price. The Army command inevitably was churned up. Once again, would any general in Pakistan with minimum IQ have believed that a document of the Fifties would have survived the rethinking and revaluation that took place after 1962? General Ayub Khan was not such a dud as to base operational plans for 1965 on intelligence purchased in the Fifties, if indeed there was any such Brigadier who sold any such plan. For starters, the Indian Army of 1965 was a very different force from the Army of the Fifties and indeed of 1962.

Here is a key question for Gohar Khan. If the Brigadier had given Ayub Khan the full Indian plan for the 1965 war, how come Pakistan was surprised by the Indian thrust across the international border, and shocked by the fact that Indian troops reached the Ichogil Canal? A war plan that did not include what happened was not much of a plan, was it?

There were three surprises in the 1965 war. Perhaps, in hindsight, neither side should have been surprised, but neither country had enough foresight. The first surprise was Operation Gibraltar, in which the 7,000-strong Gibraltar Force began to slip across the Cease Fire Line in twos and threes from the morning of 7 August 1965 with the objective of sabotage, disruption, distribution of arms and the creation of conditions for a mass, armed uprising in the Kashmir valley. The objective conditions seemed right for such a move. The Indian Army was still reeling from the shock of 1962. The valley was in turmoil, particularly after the disappearance of the Mo-e-Muqaddas (the hair of the Prophet) from the Hazratbal shrine in the last week of December 1963. Its recovery, and, more important, acceptance that the recovery was genuine, calmed matters for a while but convinced Nehru that Sheikh Abdullah’s long imprisonment was a costly mistake. The Sheikh was released in April, and in May — after consultations with Acharya Vinoba Bhave, Jaya Prakash Narayan and C. Rajagopalachari — introduced the novel idea of a confederation of India, Pakistan and Kashmir. On 23 May 1964 the Sheikh went to Pakistan to sell his three-nation theory, but Ayub Khan was in no mood to purchase uncertain goods. On 26 May however the Sheikh did announce that there would be a Nehru-Ayub summit.

On 27 May 1964 Nehru died, and the Congress began to backtrack, leaving the Sheikh furious. On 15 January 1965 the Sheikh said in a public speech that the peaceful agitation might not remain peaceful forever. He went on a Haj trip with political ramifications, meeting Chou en Lai (the visit was arranged by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto), and returned to India in May to find rearrest awaiting him.

By this time, Pakistan had tested Indian arms, with success, when fighting broke out in the Rann of Kutch on 9 April, and there were hopes of greater success when Gibraltar was launched. Instead, the Kashmiris, for the most part, supported the Indian response, which included moving to block the passes through which the Gibraltar force had come. But if Gibraltar failed, the second Pak punch, Operation Grand Slam, commanded by Major-General Akhtar Hussain Malik, launched on 1 September, was a stunning success. The bridge across Chenab lay in front of 7 Division and Jammu was at its mercy, with the possibility that the Indian Army in the valley would be surrounded and cut off. At this point something totally inexplicable happened. Malik, the hero of the hour, was shifted to Kargil and Major-General Yahya Khan was told to take command in mid-battle. While Pakistan soldiers were waiting for the code word to move forward, headquarters was playing favourites. (The memoirs of General Mohammad Musa are illuminating.) The stalled Pak offensive reached Jaurian only on 5 September, and despite orders to take Akhnur as quickly as possible, Yahya Khan dallied. He gave India the only thing she needed, time.

On 6 September India opened a front from Sialkot to Kasur, and it became a different story. This was the second surprise. It was Pakistan’s turn to be outflanked. It is true that India’s Army chief General Chaudhry had contemplated, during those days in which the situation seemed hopeless, that India consolidate behind the Beas, but his colleagues would not consider what would have been an abject surrender of Punjab. Punjab meant something to Sikhs like General Harbaksh Singh. Rather than retreating from Amritsar, they took the war into Lahore.

Gohar Khan exaggerates the role of one driver and his accident, which he says, prevented Pak armour from breaking through on the Punjab front. More sensible accounts talk of the lugubrious nature of tank movement. Suffice to say that Indian generals found a brilliant tactic: they stalled the heavy Patton tanks (heroes of the Second World War) by flooding the monsoon-moist fields of Punjab, and then poured withering fire on the trapped elephants in a decisive battle known in India as "Asal Uttar" (the Real Answer). This was the third surprise.

No plan can ever contemplate such realities.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Seven Deadly Sins

Seven Deadly Sins commited by Media has eroded its credibility.

These SEVEN SINS are:

* Media owners, journalists becoming players in game of business and politics
* Bias in various guises
* Pomposity of journalists
* Seriousness generating boredom in readers
* Triumph of trivia
* News on sale
* Ignorance

I feel the media owners and journalists who became willing players in the game of business and politics were committing a major sin.

The second sin is 'Bias' which is projected in various guises. The third one is pomposity which led scribes to think that they are more important than the reader.In the name of seriousness, many newspapers are generating boredom among the readers.

I presume, “A newspaper is like a thali where you have the main course along with pickles; The thali remains incomplete without pickles but it is suicidal to confuse it with rice”. Another ‘deadly sin’ is the idea of “news on sale”. The sacredness of news space had been compromised in this process. The seventh sin is ignorance which is strongly prevalent among the new generation of journalists.

- M.J. Akbar
(From Hyderabad, at the national round table on “Lakshman Rekha for the News Media)