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A Dalit poet writing in English, based in Kerala
Foreword to Media Tides on Kerala Coast
Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


19 March, 2019

PMs-in-waiting queer the pitch

BRP Bhaskar


e grand alliance against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, which was being promoted by some opposition leaders, has not materialised.

The biggest stumbling block to a national-level alliance was the conflicting interests of opposition leaders with prime ministerial ambitions. Some of them believe a hung Lok Sabha with low Congress representation will better their chances.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and former Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati are among those who have an eye on the Prime Minister’s chair. Both are women who have risen to the top without any dynastic advantage.

Mamata Banerjee had broken away from the Congress in 1998, unhappy with its unwillingness to take West Bengal’s ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front head on. She then formed the All-India Trinamool Congress, which, despite the name, is essentially a regional party. In 2011, it put an end to 34 years of Left Front rule.

Mayawati, a Dalit, was groomed by Kanshi Ram as leader of the Bahujan Samaj Party which he had founded in 1984. Overcoming the disabilities of caste and gender, she became Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, the country’s largest state. She held the post five times.

Adept in social engineering, Mayawati furthered her career by devising schemes from time to time to attract Brahmins and Muslims. Recently she tied up with Akhilesh Yadav, leader of the Samajwadi Party, which draws support mainly from the other backward classes.

Until the last Lok Sabha election, Mayawati stayed out of electoral alliances. While most of the candidates she fielded outside UP forfeited their deposits, the tactics enabled the BSP to emerge as the third largest party after the BJP and the Congress, in terms of popular votes.

In 2014, as a Modi wave swept the Hindi states, she could not win a single seat even from UP. This prompted her to revise her tactics but she is now on a course that may indirectly help Modi. The BSP-SP alliance’s failure to keep the Congress on its side and Rahul Gandhi’s decision to bring in his sister Priyanka Vadra to boost the party’s campaign in UP have opened the way for multilateral contests.

Mayawati is keen to restrict the Congress strength in the new Lok Sabha. She reckons it will rule out the possibility of a government led by Rahul Gandhi and improve her prospects in the prime ministerial race.

Soon after the BSP-SP alliance was finalised, Akhilesh Yadav indicated his preference for a Prime Minister from UP.  Many took this to mean he would back Mayawati for the post. But he has asked his father and former Chief Minister Mulayam Singh, a prime ministerial aspirant, to contest the election.

Some time ago Rahul Gandhi had said he was ready to accept Mayawati or Mamata Banerjee as the Prime Minister. However, many senior Congress leaders are against his conceding leadership of a coalition government to anyone else.

Three southern leaders, Tamil Nadu’s Dravida Munnetra  Kazhagam leader MK Stalin, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Chandrababu Naidu and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao recently made interventions calculated to influence the course of national politics.

Stalin, son and political heir of former Chief Minister M Karunanidhi, is waiting for his turn to occupy the big chair in Chennai. He has endorsed Rahul Gandhi’s prime ministerial candidature.

Chandrababu Naidu and Chandrasekhar promoted the idea of opposition unity, the former more vigorously than the latter. It is not clear if they entertain prime ministerial ambitions or want to play the role of kingmaker.

The absence of a national-level alliance does not mean the BJP will have a walkover. Several small national parties and regional parties are strong enough to block its advance in their strongholds. Modi’s best hope now lies in the one-upmanship of the rival opposition leaders with overweening ambitions which is queering the pitch ahead of the poll.

In the event of a hung Lok Sabha, as the incumbent Prime Minister, Modi will be in a better position than either Rahul Gandhi or any of the other opposition leaders to cobble together a working majority.

If the Lok Sabha fails to throw up a government fresh elections will become necessary. Elections cost a lot of money, and no party, least of all the small ones, will want to go through them once again so soon.

Most of the small parties ranged against Modi were the BJP’s allies in the government led by AB Vajpayee during 1999-2004.  Ideological differences may not, therefore, prove difficult to surmount. -Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 19, 2017.

05 March, 2019

Back from the brink
BRP Bhaskar
Gulf Today

The subcontinent heaved a sigh of relief during the weekend following a palpable improvement in the situation after days of tension generated by war cries and some military action in the wake of the bomb attack at Pulwama in Kashmir.

More than 40 security personnel were killed in the attack which came after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, overlooking a series of daring attacks on Indian military establishments, claimed there had been no terror attacks in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s time.

Modi, who had strenuously projected a macho image of himself and earned applause from his Hindutva supporters, had said the sacrifices of the security personnel would not go in vain. 

Prime Minister Imran Khan, while calling for talks, sought to match Modi’s mood with a reminder that he was a Pathan’s son. Any retaliatory action would meet with a response, he warned. 

The army in both the countries dutifully reiterated their readiness to face any eventuality.

The Indian response came in the form of a pre-dawn operation in which Air Force planes bombed a Jaish-e-Mohammed training camp at Balakot, across the line of control in Jammu and Kashmir.

The Pakistani response also took the form of violation of the line of control. India’s aged MiG-21s scrambled to challenge Pakistan’s F-16s and a dogfight ensued.

The price each side paid for the brief display of military prowess is not quite clear as both sides have been niggardly with facts, the focus being primarily on satisfying popular sentiments at home.

While the military issued a matter-of-fact statement on the Balakot air strike, Indian officials, keen to please hyper-nationalists, fed the media with a casualty figure of more than 300 dead. 

Pakistan said it shot down two MiGs and captured the pilot of one of them. India said it had downed an F-16 and acknowledged a pilot was missing in action. Neither side said anything about the pilots of the other planes which were allegedly hit.

As the media played up the aerial encounter, the military and civilian casualties in truce violations and encounters with militants in Kashmir received little attention. 

Kashmir media reported the Pulwama toll had gone up to 49 with some security men succumbing to their injuries. However, the government did not revise the casualty figure. 

There was considerable anxiety in India over the fate of the captured pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, against the background of the experience of former Navy officer Kulbhushan  Jadhav, who is facing the death sentence in Pakistan on charges of spying. 

Jadhav’s case is now before the International Court of Justice at The Hague.

The world watched developments in the subcontinent with concern as India and Pakistan, which fought three wars between 1947 and 1972 with conventional weapons, now have nuclear weapons too.  

China’s recent statement that it does not recognise either country as a nuclear nation makes no difference to the fact that they have the capacity to cause immense harm to themselves and to the neighbourhood.  

India asked for safe return of the pilot. Anti-war groups in both the countries also demanded his release. 

As everyone was wondering what steps each side would take next, tempers cooled as Imran Khan announced in the National Assembly that the pilot would be returned to India on Friday as a peace gesture. 

Imran Khan was in a happier situation than Modi in dealing with the situation as he did not have to face an election immediately. Modi has to seek a fresh mandate in April-May.

Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party’s vested interest in heightened tension became evident when its top leader in Karnataka, BS Yeddyurappa, blurted out that the Indian air strikes would help the party win as many as 22 of the state’s 28 Lok Sabha seats.

When tension eased, party propagandists claimed the turnaround was the result of Modi’s diplomatic efforts.    
While war clouds hung over the subcontinent, a silver lining was provided by small groups in both countries, mostly comprising young people, who raised ‘no war” cries above the sounds of the drums. 

Both war-mongers and peace campaigners were active in the social media. Some cities of India and Pakistan witnessed small peace rallies. Indians and Pakistanis at Oxford University issued a joint statement calling for peace.  

Which of the two tribes will increase? In the answer to this question lies the future of the subcontinent. -- Gulf Today, Sharjah, March 5, 2019. 

02 March, 2019

Some Recollections of Wars of My Time 2
Demonization in times of war and peace
A bridge across Ichogil Canal destroned by the retreating Pakistanni soldiers to prevent Indian troops' advance towards Lahore. 

Those fed on communal venom may find it hard to digest Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s reference to the professionalism of the Pakistan Army in the video in circulation.  It can be easily dismissed as words spoken under duress and part of Pakistani propaganda. But let it not be forgotten that on ejection from the downed aircraft he fell into the hands of a lumpen mass. If Pakistani soldiers had not intervened immediately he could have met with the same fate as the alleged cow-lifters who had fallenl into the hands of lynch mobs in some North Indian states.

Demonization of The Other is a part of war-time propaganda everywhere. In India and Pakistan, there are vested interests that do it in peacetime as well in pursuit of their sectarian interests.

 The Indian and Pakistan armies were created by dividing the British Indian Army at the time of Partition. They thus began their separate existence with common traditions built up over two to three centuries.

The first British soldiers set foot on India in 1662. The British government made available only a small number of soldiers to protect the East India Company’s factories. The Company supplemented the white force with local recruitment of foreign mercenaries and Indians.  It created three separate armies at Calcutta, Madras and Bombay. The Indian recruits included people belonging to all religions and all castes from Brahmins to Dalits.

More than seven decades have passed since Partition.  That is a long enough period to evolve new traditions.  Pakistan became an Islamic republic and its Army rulers found it necessary to cultivate the Islamic establishment.  India opted to be secular, and our early governments took steps to end the communal division that the British had maintained in their Indian army. The quick disappearance of Pakistan’s founder, M.A. Jinnah, and first Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan created a leadership vacuum which made it easy for  the armed forces to seize power.  The ease with which the Bharatiya Janata Party has been able to attract retired military officers to its ranks is a clear indication that India also has officers with latent political ambitions. Some retired officers’ fulminations in the sickening television debates suggest that the communal virus has infected the Indian forces too. 

To come back to war recollections, Gen. Ayub Khan sent infiltrators to stage an insurrection, believing the conflict will be confined to Jammu and Kashmir.  But Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri ordered Indian troops to cross the international border.  From Amritsar they marched up to the Ichogil Canal outside Lahore.

Pakistani bombing caused damage to the Amritsar military airport. Realizing it could soon become unserviceable India started extending the runway of the civil aerodrome there to handle military jets. The Pakistanis did not interfere with the work but our civil aviation and military authorities knew they would target it once military planes started  using it. One person who was worried about the prospect was the officer in charge of the civil aerodrome, whose family was with him in the quarters close to the aerodrome. He decided to send his wife and children home to Kerala.

A transporter with a fleet of trucks was also eager to get out of Amritsar with his family.  When the war started the authorities had requisitioned all his trucks. He managed to get one truck released to move out with  his family and some necessities.  He offered to carry the aerodrome officer’s family to Delhi.

When I heard this story I was struck by the trust our military and civil aviation authorities had in the good faith of the Pakistanis which persuaded them to believe that the civil aerodrome would not come under attack until it was used for military purposes.

How did I get to knowof  all this? Well, one of my sisters was a post-graduate student at the Amritsar Medical College at that time.  She was acquainted with the aerodrome officer’s family.  When they got the chance to move out of Amritsar they picked her up too and brought her to Delhi with them.

I had a taste of the effect of demonization in Pakistan in 1972. A young woman who greeted me in the lobby of  the hotel in Rawalpindi was shocked when she learntthat  I came from India. “Hindustan se aayaa, baapere baap! ” she exclaimed with a gasp. Then she regained her composure and said, “But you look like a Pakistani.”

“What did you think Indians looked like?” I asked.

She was too confused to answer.  I confounded her confusion by asking another question: “Do you know your father was an Indian before he became a Pakistani?” 

01 March, 2019

Sindhis keep their lost land in their hearts 

In Search Of A Lost Home: Sindhis In India Are Struggling To Save Their Language
Sindhis in Ajmer celebrating the Sindhi New Year Day
The recent attack on the Karachi Bakery in Bengaluru belonging to a Sindhi group displayed not only the deep-rooted prejudice of  sections of our society but also their gross ignorance of the history and culture of other sections.

The Sindhi language finds mention in the list of India's national languages in the constitution. There are about 2.77 million Sindhi-speaking people in India now. They are spread across the country and  there is no state or region they can call their own. Our National Anthem refers to their place of origin but it is part of Pakistan.

Enterprising Sindhis began migration in the 18th or 19th century and established themselves in business in other parts of the subcontinent as also in foreign lands. The Kishinchand Chellaram group, one of the oldest Sindhi business houses, began with a textile shop in Madras nearly one and a half centuries ago. By the early part of the last century it had outlets in Japan and Hawaii. 

In the elections held in British India under the Act of 1935, the Congress came to power in Sindh. As the Pakistan movement gained ground, the Congress' influence waned, and the Muslim League and the Hindu Mahasabha formed a coalition government.  

Following Partition about 776,000 Sindhi Hindus came to India as refugees. Their descendants live with nostalgia for the land of their forebears which few of them have seen. 

In New Delhi, the person I hd to deal with in the bank from which I bought foreign exchange for my travels was a young Sindhi. One day in1972 I went to him with an exchange permit and told him I had to take a flight to Karchi that night. As he was arranging my travellers cheques, he asked me, "Will you do me a favour?"

"What favour can I do for you," I asked.
"Please bring me a little bit of the soil of Sindh."

While we were talking, one of his colleagues joined us. He too was a Sindhi, and he too wanted a bit of Sindh's soil.

My return flight to Delhi was also from Karachi. On my lasy day there, after dinner I went into the lawn of my hotel with two empty match-boxes and filled them with the soil of Sindh.

At the Delhi airport the customs officer became a little susicious when he saw two match=boxes in my suitcase. "Do they contain match-sticks?" he asked. "No," "I said. "They cotain soil I scooped up in Karachi for two Sindhi friends who has asked for it."  

The two friends told me later they were keeping the sacred soil of Sindh in the prayer room. 

I had the privilege of having Harikant Jethwani (1935-1994), a leading Sindhi writer of our time, as my colleague. Hewas in the night shift all the time as he had a day job elsewhere. His family had moved from Sindh to Ajmer in Rajasthan at the time of Partition. From there he came to Delhi to work as a journalist. 

He wrote poems, short stories and plays in Sindhi. He received the Sahitya Akademi award in 1991. 

Harikant was  a very quiet and unassuming person. Few who worked with him knew that he was a well-known writer in his  language.