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29 October, 2016

Recollections of a Deepavali holiday, 60 years ago

Kasturi Buildings on Anna Salai, Chennai, which houses the offices of The Hindu.  

In 1956, Deepavali fell on November 1. As usual, it was a closed holiday for The Hindu. That meant there would be no paper the next day. The previous day the management circulated the customary holiday notice. Britain and France, which were annoyed with President Gamal Abdul Nasser who nationalized the Suez Canal, had begun air raids on Egypt and the Government of India had set November 1 for inauguration of the linguistic States to be formed in the light of the States Reorganization Commission’s report.  

I thought it was a pity that the paper was taking a holiday when such developments were taking place and felt it should at least make arrangements to bring out a supplement. A lowly sub-editor with just three years’ experience, in the highly hierarchical Hindu establishment I was too small a fry to broach the idea to the management. I, therefore, conveyed my view to S. Rangarajan, the youngest and most dynamic of the three News Editors who preside over the News Room.  I suggested that the management should make arrangements to bring out a supplement and alert the news agents about it so that they would collect the bundles and distribute the paper.

S. Rangarajan

SR (in the Hindu editorial department everyone was known by initials) liked the suggestion and told me he would talk to the management about it.  A little later he informed me that the management had accepted the suggestion and arrangements were being made to produce a thin edition. I was happy that my suggestion had been accepted. But my happiness was short-lived. SR told me a little later that the management had had second thoughts and there would be no special edition.

To avoid having to handle news copy of two days the day after a holiday The Hindu had devised a system which involved a small group of sub-editors processing the copy on the holiday. They were not required to come to the office for that. An office boy would bring the copy to the house and take it back after editing, to be typeset during the night. The work may take an hour at the most but they would get a full day off as compensation for having worked on a holiday! I was put on holiday duty but I told the Head Messenger not to send copy to my house as I planned to come to the office in the evening.

On arrival at the office the next evening I went through the agency files. There was a flood of news. A sunken ship had blocked the Suez Canal. Israeli forces had crossed into Egypt. For the first time the UN General Assembly had been called on 24-hour notice to discuss the situation. Egypt’s supporters had moved the General Assembly as Britain and France could block any Security Council initiative using their veto power. Jawaharlal Nehru, who inaugurated the Andhra Pradesh State at Hyderabad, in a hard-hitting speech, condemned the aggression against Egypt, calling it a throwback to the days of barbarism.

I telephoned SR and gave him a gist of the developments. I told him the management had made a mistake in giving up the plan to bring out a supplement. He said he would talk to the management again and asked me to wait at the office. SR called back soon to say that the management had accepted the idea of a special edition. He asked me to stay on and said he would arrange with the Time Keeper to send a vehicle to fetch a Batch Leader (that was how Chief Sub-Editors were known in the paper at that time) and two more Sub-Editors.

Rangaswami Parthasarathy

As I was talking to SR I saw Rangaswami Parthasarathy (MP), a Batch Leader, walking in. (Since the initials RP had already been taken, when he moved to The Hindu from The Mail, he was assigned the initials MP, short for Mail Parthasarathy). SR spoke to MP who was only glad to stay on to produce the special edition.

In those days The Hindu used to carry classified advertisements on the front page. Even the biggest story of the day got only a single column headline, but it could have three decks of 24 pt, 14 pt and 18 pt, in that order.

Since there were no classified ads, we could carry news on the front page of the supplement. Having worked in The Mail, MP was familiar with multi-column headlines.

“How about a banner?” MP asked me. “Wouldn’t the Editor get a heart attack?” I asked him. “We will take that risk,” he said.  
MP also broached the idea of a box item. So I picked an item to be boxed.

Stories on the formation of new states came in from different capitals. MP asked me to produce a combined intro for the news agency copy on the subject. I wrote something like this: The map of India was redrawn today ….

The UN General Assembly’s special session was opening at 0130 hrs IST. A stenographer who had been summoned went to the room where there was a large, powerful radio set and tuned into a station which was relaying the UNGA proceedings, and we prepared a brief report of our own without waiting for news agency copy.

MP prepared a layout which provided for a big headline running across all eight columns of the front page.  The Suez war story ran in columns 1 to 3 and Nehru’s Hyderabad speech in columns 6 to 8. The states reorganization roundup was the bottom spread.

We produced a four-page edition. Late at night we realized that we have to mention the price at the top o the ront page. MP woke up SR to ask what price we should mention. He said he had to consult the management. Its decision was that the thin special edition should be sold at the same price as the regular edition.

I was entitled to take the next day off as I had done a night shift. But I decided to go to the oice in the evening as I was eager to know how the special edition had fared. When the bus reached the Egmore railway station I saw a hawker doing brisk business with the special edition.

At the office, SR told me that city distributors who were alerted by the Time Keeper during the night had come in the morning and picked up copies of the special edition . It sold like hot cakes all over the city and printing continued throughout the day as distributors kept coming back, asking for more copies. He had just advised the management to stop printing the special edition and start printing of the Dak editions of tomorrow's paper which had to be sent by night trains.   

An office messenger handed me a letter while I was there. It was from the Editor, Kasturi Srinivasan, expressing the management's appreciation of the work of the small team which had responded to an urgent call and helped produce a special edition at short notice.

On January 14, 1958 The Hindu started printing news on the front page. In a survey conducted the previous year, the newspaper had asked its readers whether they would like it to carry news on the front page.  Those favouring news on the front page had only a small majority. Considering that a large section of the readers was quite happy with classified ads on that page, it was decided to change gradually. The layout pattern drawn up provided initially for only three two-column headlines on the front page: one at top of columns 1 and 2, another at top of columns 7 and 8, and the third somewhere at the bottom of the middle columns.     

For more on S. Rangarajan please see this report.  
More on Rangaswami Parthasarathy here.

Here are images of special editions on the Suez War brought out by two Los Angeles newspapers.

Note the use of “Allied” in the headline. Britain, France and Israel had issued an identical
communiqué simultaneously from their capitals, announcing the launch of the attack on Egypt. It referred to their forces as Allied forces. This communiqué was the only source of information for the Indian press as the national news agency depended on Reuters of Britain and AFP of France for foreign news. World War II, in which British India had figured among the Allies, was only 11 years behind at that time, and the use of the term Allies in the reports which the Indian newspapers carried attracted criticism. The US was not involved in the attack on Egypt.  Yet the LA newspapers too used the term Allies to refer to the aggressors. 

25 October, 2016

Clueless in Kashmir

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Fifteen weeks after restive youth threw life in Kashmir out of gear in a wave of unprecedented protest parts of the valley are still under curfew. Where the curfew has been lifted, orders prohibiting assembly of people are in force. Schools and colleges are closed and shops shut. Some government offices are not functioning. 

In some places, policemen abandoned their posts. A few instances of snatching of weapons by protesters were reported, and 10 policemen were sacked for giving up their weapons without offering resistance.

The wave of unrest was touched off by Hizbul Mujahideen commander Burhan Wani’s death in an encounter with the police on July 8. Young people, many of them in their teens, poured into the streets and stoned security personnel who replied with pellets. 

The supposedly non-lethal pellets have taken about 90 lives and injured more than 14,000 people. Pellets have blinded at least 100 youths. Two policemen have also been killed.

About 7,000 people are said to be in custody. They include several hundred detained under the Public Safety Act which allows the authorities to hold persons considered security risks without trial for up to two years.

Even as Central and state police were coping with the disturbance, cross-border terrorism flared up. In response to the attack on the Uri base, which resulted in the death of 19 soldiers, the army struck at terrorist launch pads across the LOC, killing two Pakistani soldiers and an unspecified number of terrorists.

Hardly a day has passed since then without firings across the LOC. Most of the exchange of fire caused only low casualties but last week retaliatory Indian fire killed seven Pakistani security personnel. 

The deterioration in India-Pakistan relations led to shelving of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation summit in Islamabad and mutual recrimination at the UN. Also, both the countries launched diplomatic campaigns to garner international support.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s bid to internationalise the Kashmir issue once again failed. So did Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to isolate Pakistan. The US backed India’s call to dismantle terror camps in Pakistan but was not willing to brand it a terrorist state. China was even more protective of Pakistan. It would not even let the UN dub Pakistan-based Masood Azhar, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the Mumbai attacks, as a terrorist.

In the recent past, prompted by India’s growing economic clout, the West was getting out of the habit of equating it with Pakistan. By juxtaposing Kashmir with Baluchistan and human rights violations on this side of the border with those on the other side, Modi has unwittingly put the two on the same level. 

As the unrest in the valley drags on and its shadow on India-Pakistan relations persists, a question arises: what next? The protagonists have no answer. 

Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti cuts a forlorn figure as she urges protesters to go back, advises the police to hand-hold the misguided youth and pleads with Modi to walk the talk as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s first Prime Minister, AB Vajpayee, did. 

She heads a coalition comprising her People’s Democratic Party and Modi’s BJP. Under the agenda of governance drawn up by the two parties they are committed to “start a dialogue process with all shades of political opinion, including the separatists.” 

While Modi is vociferous on cross-border terrorism, he maintains studious silence on the youth unrest which has virtually eclipsed the Hurriyat Conference, the umbrella organisation of pro-Pakistan and pro-independence groups, which held the ground for several years. 

The youth movement is home-grown and leaderless. Alluding to the dangers inherent in the emergence of such a force, a Kashmiri commentator wrote last week: “Resist we will, resist we must, but if that resistance means turning men against men, denying people their livelihood, pushing society into an irrevocable chaos where anyone can attack anyone else, then our doom is sealed.” 

Not just the Kashmiris, but all concerned with the issue, which has been festering since the birth of India and Pakistan as free nations, are trapped in a no-win situation. The three wars the two countries fought did not yield a solution and it is foolish to imagine a fourth one will. The situation calls for out-of-the box thinking but there is no sign of it.
India has demonstrated its willingness and ability to hold territory. It needs to show it also has the ability to win the affection of the people who, by constitutional definition, are full and equal citizens of the secular, democratic republic of India. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 25, 2016

18 October, 2016

BRICS summit yields little

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

A verbose statement at the end of an international event is usually an attempt to cover up sparseness of the outcome. When high expectations are raised it may even become necessary to pad up public statement with platitudes to contain possible disenchantment.

The Goa declaration issued on Sunday at the end of the two-day summit of BRICS, a five-nation group (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) which accounts for 47 per cent of the world’s population, ran into more than 7,200 words. It is a good example of talking much and saying little. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi viewed the BRICS summit as yet another forum to use to carry forward the campaign to isolate Pakistan, which he launched after the attack on India’s army base at Uri.

Before the meet, there was a media campaign to make it appear that terrorism was the main issue before it. As soon as the meet ended, friendly media began propagating the idea that Modi had scored another great success in his campaign.

The Goa summit did condemn strongly terrorism in all its forms and manifestations and stress that there could be no justification whatsoever for any acts of terrorism. But, then, so did the summit held at Sanya, China, five years ago.

Of course, there was a reference to the terrorist attacks on India, which was as follows: “the recent several attacks against some BRICS countries, including that in India.” There was no mention of Pakistan or cross-border terrorism. How could they find their way into the joint statement when Pakistan’s best friend, China, is the BRICS member with the most economic clout? 

On the eve of the summit, the Chinese media had reported that there is no change in Beijing’s stand on India’s bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its demand that the UN brand Pakistan-based Masood Azhar a terrorist.

Realising that it cannot have its way at the summit, the Indian government played up the BIMSTEC (short for Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multisectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation) outreach planned as part of the BRICS summit as more important than the summit itself. This grouping, which includes India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand and Sri Lanka, was in the limbo since its formation a few years ago. It suddenly became a favourite as it does not include Pakistan or China.

When BRICS took shape the economies of its members were growing at a fast pace and the International Monetary Fund had projected that by this year their combined GDP would exceed that of the US. The recent modest recovery enabled the US to raise its GDP to more than $18 trillion, but the BRICS total fell short of the projected figure as a result of slowing down of their economies. 

In the beginning, by virtue of the political traditions of its members, BRICS appeared to have the capacity to evolve as a group that can counter the influence of the US, the sole surviving superpower. The New Development Bank floated by BRICS was widely seen as an attempt to build an alternative to the US-dominated IMF.

BRICS’s presumed anti-American potential has dimmed with the recent change of government in Brazil and the cosy relationship Modi has forged with the US, exemplified by the military logistic agreement which the two countries signed recently. However, the lone superpower dispensation is palpably on the decline and new synergies are in evidence in many regions, including India’s neighbourhood. 

Russia has been moving close to China in recent months, and a few weeks ago it participated in military exercises in Pakistan. Taking into account India’s sensitivity, the Russians got the Pakistanis to shift the exercises out of the Gilgit area, which was under the control of the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir during the British period. But that was not enough to dispel India’s chagrin. 

Chinese President Xi Jinping came to Goa after visiting Bangladesh where he committed more than $23 billion for a slew of projects over the next five years. This is ten times more than what Modi offered when he went to Dhaka last year. China and Bangladesh signed 26 agreements and about 30 memoranda of understanding during the Xi visit. 

The summit itself may not have given Modi much to cheer but it became an occasion for renewal of Indo-Russian ties. Modi and President Vladimir Putin sang paeans of the special and privileged nature of their strategic partnership. The two countries also signed three big defence deals. ;; Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 18, 2016

16 October, 2016

Towards climate justice

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

With India’s ratification of the Paris climate accord on October 2, Mahatma Gandhi’s birth anniversary, the world has moved closer to the goal of climate justice which appeared so distant only a few years ago. But there is still a long way to go and there are many hurdles to cross.

The accord, adopted last December at a conference attended by leaders of 185 countries, requires governments to draw up national plans to reduce gas emissions with a view to holding the rise in global temperatures below two degrees Centigrade.

India is set to replace China as the world’s most populous country shortly. Currently it is the fastest growing economy. It is already the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases and accounts for about 4.5 per cent of global emissions. 

The Paris accord will take effect only when 55 nations which together account for at least 55 per cent of global greenhouse emissions ratify it. The number threshold has been crossed already. In fact, India was the 62nd country to ratify the pact.

However, those who have ratified it so far account for less than 51.89 per cent of the emissions. The active promoters of the pact are keen to ensure that the second threshold is also crossed before the US elections in November as Republican candidate Donald Trump has threatened to pull his country out of the pact if he becomes the President. 

Nepal, Canada and seven European Union countries are expected to submit instruments of ratification to the UN this week. When they do, the second threshold of 52 per cent emission will be crossed.

The climate change issue had posed a big challenge to India, which had to strike a balance between its immediate developmental requirements and the need to limit gas emissions in the interest of humanity. 

It agreed to the terms of the Paris pact even though it was not fully satisfied with the provisions as it realised that it has a big stake in the issue in view of its high vulnerability to climate change impacts. A majority of Indians still depend on agriculture and related activities, and erratic monsoon often plays havoc in their lives. 

Initially, India, along with China, had placed more emphasis on its developmental requirements than on the need to check global warming, and insisted that it was the primary responsibility of the industrialised countries to bring down rising temperatures.

Many factors contributed to the Indian government’s decision to moderate its position. One of them was the sustained pressure mounted by the industrialised countries, particularly the US. It also came under increasing pressure from the less developed countries, which bear little responsibility for the deteriorating global situation but will suffer the most if things get worse.

Studies, which revealed how melting glaciers and rising sea levels resulting from global warming, can impact India’s huge population led to a better understanding of the situation and the need to act quickly. 

Ahead of the Paris meet, along with other countries, India had submitted to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change a list of contributions it intends to make during the 2021-2030 decade. In it the government committed itself to taking steps to reduce the emission intensity of its GDP to 30 to 35 per cent of the 2005 level. 

It also undertook to raise its renewable energy capacity to 175 GW by 2022, aided by transfer of technology and low-cost international finance from the Green Climate Fund and other sources. It agreed to provide for generation of at least 40 per cent of its electricity requirements from non-fossil sources by 2030.

Now the time has come or the country to take concrete steps to achieve the goals it has set for itself. The government has made plans to constitute eight sectoral missions for this purpose.

Three missions will aim at reducing gas emissions by raising production of solar energy, enhancing energy efficiency and developing sustainable habitat. Three others will take up the task of adapting new techniques with regard to water, environment protection and the Himalayan ecosystem. The remaining two will be designed to disseminate knowledge on sustainable agriculture and climate change strategy.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had hailed the Paris pact as a victory for climate justice. But all do not see it the same way.

India has sought $2.5 trillion in finance to implement the proposals it outlined in its report to the UN commission. But the chances of obtaining funds of that order do not appear bright at the moment. 

The funds the developed countries have committed so far to the Green Climate Fund add up to only $100 billion. Unless they step up contributions to the fund India will find it hard to fulfil the commitments it has made. -- gulf Today, Sharjah, October 11, 2016

04 October, 2016

Peace need of the hour

BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

Much of India is in a state of high alert as the country waits to see how Pakistan responds to last week’s “surgical strikes” on terrorist launch pads across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Home Ministry asked all states to step up vigil at strategic installations, industrial complexes, crowded places, airports, historical monuments and government buildings. Delhi and the states of Rajasthan, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Maharashtra and Gujarat were identified as possible targets for a retaliatory strike by the Pakistan army or terror outfits based in that country.

Villages within 10 kilometres of the border were evacuated. Punjab also closed down schools as a precautionary measure.

Officials indicated that the heightened alert may remain during the whole of October as three major Hindu festivals which see large congregations fall during the month – Navaratri from the 1st to the 10th, Dussehra on the 11th and Diwali on the 30th.

India’s announcement on Thursday that its armed forces had conducted surgical strikes on several terrorist launch pads in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir was followed by a warning by Pakistan Army chief General Raheel Sharif that his country would give a fitting response to any misadventure by its adversaries. Jamaat-ud-Dawa chief Hafiz Saeed, whom India has identified as the mastermind behind the 26/11 Mumbai attacks, asked Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to let the army hit back.

Pakistan barred low-level overflying by foreign commercial aircraft, citing operational reasons. Viewing it as a move directed primarily against it, India was said to be considering the advisability of banning Pakistani overflights.

India’s bare initial announcement of the surgical strike and Pakistan’s confused response – on the one hand it denied there had been any such action and on the other it threatened reprisal –– raised some questions about the nature and scope of the operation. However, they appeared to satisfy hawkish elements in the two countries at least partially.

The army operation was a calibrated response to the September 18 terrorist attack on the Uri brigade headquarters which had taken the lives of 19 soldiers. It followed diplomatic moves to isolate Pakistan, which were only partly successful, and a threat to review the treaty on sharing of Indus waters.

Pakistan took no precipitate action and no one of consequence condemned the Indian strike. International response was limited to advice to both countries to resolve all problems through talks.

Internally, the surgical strike helped Prime Minister Narendra Modi to redeem his strongman image, and the opposition parties quickly rallied behind him. He desisted from displaying the braggadocio which often characterises his public utterances, leaving it to the party faithful to blow the trumpet.

However, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar could not resist the temptation to make a scornful remark. “Pakistan is in a state of coma, just like an anaesthetised patient after surgery,” he said. His Pakistani counterpart Khawaja Muhammad Asif who talked of exercising the nuclear option invited a sharp rebuke from the US.

But hawks on both sides kept war talk alive. India’s jingoistic electronic media played up the strike across the LoC as a game-changer, but responsible commentators endeavoured to put things in the right perspective. They pointed out that there had been similar strikes in the past and cautioned against rushing to the conclusion that cross-border terrorism is now a thing of the past.

Indian officials put the number of launch pads destroyed in the attack variously at six to eight. Analysts noted that the attacks were not on terrorist training camps, scores of which exist in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, but on launch pads which are places where trained terrorists halt briefly before being led across the LoC by guides.

Low-ranking ruling party politicians proclaimed the end of the policy of strategic restraint, but Modi and the army brass said nothing to that effect. In fact, they sought to convey a different message. While releasing information about the strike, the army had stressed that it was a one-time operation. In a speech on Sunday the Prime Minister said India did not covet anyone’s land and had never attacked another country.

A terrorist attack on adjoining army and Border Security Force camps at Baramula in the Kashmir valley showed that the game remains unchanged.

Amid the beating of war drums, leading public intellectuals in both the countries sounded notes of caution. Pratap Bhanu Mehta, head of the Centre for Policy Research, a New Delhi-based think tank, wrote: “ both India and Pakistan, regimes have now tied the mast of their popular legitimacy to taking strong action against the other. That is not a reassuring thought.”  Asma Jahangir, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, tweeted: “Epidemic of insanity hits India and Pakistan again. No one wins a war. End terrorism and violence against each other and within our countries”. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, October 4, 2016.