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Teacher seeks V.S. Achuthanandan's intervention to end harassment by partymen


29 September, 2020


An event in the history of Malayalam television

Sashi Kumar

Tomorrow, September 30, marks the 25th anniversary of  Malayalam television channel Asianet’s first news telecast.

That, incidentally, was also the first live newscast by any private Indian channel. 

Promoted by Sashi Kumar, former chief of Press Trust of India’s TV division, Asianet began telecasts in August 1993. It was the first private Indian channel to go on air.

Sashi Kumar had conceived Asianet satellite operations as a PTI project. But the owners of PTI, who are all newspaper owners, rejected it. He then quit PTI and promoted it, not in the original form, but as a Malayalam satellite channel project.  

The government did not permit uplinking from India at that time. Sashi Kumar got over the problem with his uncle and co-promoter, Reji Menon, a Moscow-based businessman, making arrangements with an outfit at Subic Bay in the Philippines to uplink the programmes and with a Russian agency to pick up up the signals and make them available in India.

At least two private satellite channels, Zee in Hindi and Sun in Tamil, began telecast of news bulletins before Asianet did. In the absence of uplink facility, they recorded the bulletin ahead of the telecast time and  transmitted it through VSNL to the uplink centre.

Sashi Kumar was of the view that a news bulletin must be live. So he decided to send Asianet’s news readers to Subic Bay. The bulletins prepared by the desk, based at Thiruvananthapuram, were telexed to the studio at Subic Bay.

After a brief inaugural ceremony at a hotel in Thiruvananthapuram, the Minister of State for Information and Broadcasting, P.M. Saeed, switched on a television a set and the face of A. Pramod, who was at the Subic Bay studio, appeared on the screen.

 Left: Screen image of A. Promod reading Asianet's first news bulletin on September 30,1995. Right: A recent picture of Promod, now Coordimnating Editor of Manorama News. ( Images Courtsey The News Minute)

The 25 years that have passed since then have seen the birth of many more channels and the death of some.

Reji Menon ousted Sashi Kumar and took control of Asianet only to sell it to  Rajiv Chandrasesskhar, a Bangaluru-based businessman turned politician. He in turn sold to Murdoch’s Star group all but the News Division.  He is now a BJP MP and its official spokesman.

Sashi Kumar went on to establish the Asian College of Journalism in Chennai.

A. Pramod, now better known as Pramod Raman, is Coordinating Editor of Manorama News.

04 September, 2020

Sree Narayana Guuru

Unmaking of Kerala’s Renaissance

This is a sequel to “The Pioneers of Kerala’s Renaissance,” posted here on September 2.

Efforts to undo the work of Sree Narayana Guru and Mahatma Ayyankali began in their lifetime itself.

In keeping with the Guru’s all-embracing approach, membership of the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam was open to all. But its functionaries by and large enrolled only members of the Ezhava community, in which the Guru was born. It thus soon took the form of a caste organization and limited its activities to promoting the interests of that community.

The Guru disapproved of this approach and stayed away from it. Subsequently he made a public announcement that he was removing the Ypgam from his mind.

He said that because he was born in a particular caste and religion, some people think he belongs to that caste and religion. He had left caste and religion behind, and did not now belong to any caste or religion.

The concept of transcending caste and religion of birth was something small minds nurtured on sectarianism  could not even comprehend.

Eminent Malayalam poet, N. Kumaran Asan, who was the first General Secretary of the Yogam. wrote a poem deifying the Guru. In many Ezhava homes his picture found a place in the prayer room.

After he dissociated himself from the Yogam, the Guru devoted attention mainly to Sree Narayana Dharma Sangham, an order of sanyasis, which he set up to continue his mission. He enrolled in the Sangham members of all castes. They included several members of the  Nair community, a Sudra group on which the Brahmins had conferred upper caste status in recognition of its collaborative role in enforcing the caste system in Kerala society, which bore the imprint of Buddhist and Jain traditions, , probably around the 10th or 12th century. One of them, Swami Sathyavrathan, was the Guru’s choice as his successor.

Sathyavrathan’s story is similar to that of St. Paul who was a persecutor of Christians before he accepted Jesus as the saviour. Sathyavrathan had led Nair brigades against Ezhavas seeking to assert their rights, but had a change of heart and became a disciple of the Guru.

Dalit boys from around his Ashram in Varkala were among those whom he admitted to the order.

Casteism raised its ugly head in the Sangham too. Disillusioned with it, he went away to Tamil Nadu but was persuaded by his followers to return to Varkala.   

Most of his life the Guru wore white dhoti and white upper cloth. He switched to ochre robes in his last days.

Dr. P. Natarajan, who was a lay disciple in the Guru’s lifetime, wanted to join the Sangham but was not accepted. He then formed a new order, styled as Sree Narayana Gurukulam. It was from Nataraja Guru, as he came to be known, that I learnt why he switch from white to ochre.

The Guru had a lot of property in his name, all gifts made by devotees and admirers. He wanted the property to go to the Sangham. He was told that only if he was recognized as a sanyasi would the property go the Sangham. There were court judgements laying down criteria for determining if one is a sanyasi. One of them says a sanyasi is a habitual bearer of ochre robes.

Early stalwarts of the Yogam like T.K. Madhavan and C. Kesavan became leaders of the Congress as it emrged as the spearhead of the freedom movement.  After the Guru’s passing, the Dewan, C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar, weaned the Yogam’s leaders as well as those of the Nair community’s Nair Service Society away from the Congress to bolster the position of the Maharaja’s regime. When freedom came, realizing they are on the wrong side of history, the NSS and the Yogam withdrew from the political arena, leaving it to the Congress to look after their interests.

C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar damaged the Dalit movement too. Ayyankali’s Sadhu Jana Paripalana Sangham was not a caste organization, but, as its name suggests, a platform of all poor. His son-i-law, T.T. Kesava Sasthri, whom the Dewan nominated to the State Assembly, floated a caste organization, Pulaya Mahasabha. When Maharaja’s rule ended, it too switched allegiance to the Congress.

When the Communist Party of India, recognizing the influence of the caste organizations, deputed its members to capture them for the party. E.M.S. Namboodiripad, who was tasked to woo the Yogakshema Sabha of the Malayali Brahmin community, became its president. P. Gangadharan who was sent to capture the SNDI Yogam failed in the mission.

While first the Dewan and then the Congress won the loyalty of the leaders of the caste parties by offering loaves, the Ezhava and Dalit masses, who were radicalized by the Sree Narayana and Ayyankali movements, did not follow them. They lined up behind the Communist movement, which they presumed were more likely to usher in the ideal society envisaged by the renaissance leaders.

The CPI’s coming to power in 1957 in Kerala represents the high point of the renaissance movement at the political level. The land and education reform measures of the government appeared to fulfil the expectations of the marginalized sections.

But that was not to be. Even before the two measures could be implemented the government was brought down by an agitation in which the leadership of caste organizations joined hands with the Congress.

In 1958, Namboodiripad, as Chief Minister, made a daring frontal attack on reservation in the services, which was a major gain of the renaissance movement. (Note that reservation was introduced in the princely states before India became free, before the Constitution was gramed, and of course before the Mandal Commission was even thought of.)  An administrative reform committee with Namboodirpad himself as the chairman came out with a report against reservation, saying it destroys efficiency. (Note that this was after the Constitution provided for reservation for socially and educationally backward classes of people.)

The rank and file of the CPI was unable to raise its voice against Namboodiripad’s championing of caste supremacists’merit theory. But he could not go ahead with the mischievous idea after K. Sukumaran, Editor of Kerala Kaumudi, the only newspaper which  was friendly to the Communist government, blasted it in Namboodiripad’s presence at a public meeting.

Sukumaran pointed out that the Namoodirpad committee, which made the recommendation against reservation, did not have any one from the main OBC groups (Ezhavas and Muslims)  or the Dalit community.

After the Communist Party split, as leader of the CPM, Nambiidiripad came up with the idea of economic reservation to vitiate the system of reservation which was aimed at addressing social and educational backwardness.  The CPM accepted his line at the all-India level, and it is now in force in Kerala. 

The eligibility criteria laid down for economic reservation lay bare the mischievous intent of the government. If one’s family earns up to Rs 4 lakhs in a year and owns up to 2.5 acres (in a village) or 50 cents (in a city) one is still an upper caste poor! For all other purposes, one is reckoned as poor if the family’s monthly income is below Rs, 1,059 (in rural area) or Rs.1,286 (in urban area).


02 September, 2020


Sri Narayana Guru

Mahatma Ayyankali 

The Pioneers of Kerala’s Renaissance

Today, the fourth day of Onam, is the birth anniversary of Narayana Guru, the tallest figure of the renaissance movement, which put Kerala ahead of the rest of India in terms of   social development.

On this day in 1855 Nanu, who in the fullness of time came to be revered as  Sree Narayana Guru, was born in a backward class family on the outskirts of Thiruvananthapuram.

Eight years later, also during the Onam season, a Dalit boy, Ayyanhali, was born at Venganoor, another village near Thiruvananthapuram. He came to be hailed by Kerala’s dispossessed as a Mahatma.

After receiving a traditional education, Nanu opted for a life of asceticism. At the age of 33, he sent shock waves through the citadels of orthodoxy by picking up a stone from a river bed, consecrating it as a Shiva idol and installing it in a makeshift temple at Aruvippuram. While entry to temples under the control of the Maharaja’s regime was limited to those in the higher echelons of the caste hierarchy, this one was open to all, regardless of caste and creed.

He hung a handwritten placard with these words on a tree nearby: “This is a model place where all live in fraternity without caste differences and religious hatred.”

It later gained recognition as the objective of the evolving Kerala renaissance.

Priesthood challenged his right to consecrate an idol. He dismissed their objections, saying, “This is our Shiva”.

Later he built more temples at various places in response to requests from people, whom caste supremacists kept out of their temples.

Over the years he spelt out the cardinal principles of his model state in a few aphorisms:

--Ask not, Say not, Think not Caste.

-- One Caste, One Religion, one God for mankind.

-- Whatever the religion, one must be a good human being.

-- Caste, religion, dress, language - these should not divide human beings.

He explained the ‘one religion’ concept by pointing out that the essence of all religions is the same.

He urged the people to get enlightened through education and prosper through agriculture and industry.

At the instance of Dr. P. Palpu, a qualified medical professional who joined Mysore government service after being denied a job in Travancore on grounds of caste, he set up the Sree Narayana Dharma Paripalana Yogam, with himself as President, to propagate his ideals.

A special feature of the Yogam’s second annual session held at Kollam in 1904 was an industrial exhibition, said to be the third after those held in London and Paris in the 19th century.   

In the Census Report of 1911 the Travancore government acknowledged the beneficial results of the Guru’s social activities.

Yogam leader T.K. Madhavan was instrumental in persuading the Congress at its 1923 session at Kakinada to organize a satyagraha to press the demand for throwing open the roads around the Mahadeva temple at Vaikom to all. Members of the so-called lower castes were not allowed to use those roads.

Gandhi visited Vaikom during the satyagraha. On that visit, he also called on Narayana Guru at Varkala. They spoke with the help of an interpreter.

The conversation began with Gandhi asking if the Guru knew English, and his saying no. The Guru then asked if the Mahatma knew Sanskrit, and he too said no.

With large-scale conversions to other faiths in the region in his mind, Gandhi asked whether the Guru did not consider Hinduism sufficient for attaining salvation.

“Any religion is sufficient,”  said the Guru.

After Gandhi repeated the question twice, the Guru gave him the answer he was angling for. “Hinduism is also sufficient,” he said.

While addressing a public meeting at the Guru’s Ashram, Gandhi offered a facetious justification for inequalities in society. Pointing to the leaves of a tree, he said, “Look at those leaves. They are not all of the same size.”

Speaking later, the Guru said the leaves of all size will have the same taste,

 At Vaikon, for months three satyagrahis, one Caste Hindu, one OBC man and one Dalit, courted arrest each day. The Maharaja’s police and the temple high priest’s goons belaboured the OBC and Dalit satyagrahis.

The Akali Dal ran a langar at the satyagraha camp.

The satyagraha ended without a formal settlement. Once it ended and the police and the goons left, the ban died a quiet death. 

Ayyankali had no formal education, for there was no school he could go to.  

In 1893at the age of 30, he threw away the loin cloth the Dalits were required to wear and started dressing the way members of the so-called upper castes did.

He bought a bullock cart and rode in it through public thoroughfares defying the rule that barred members of his community from using a vehicle.

At a time when there were no political parties or trade unions, Ayyankali oganized a strike by Dalit farm workers in support of the demand for educational facilities for their children.  

Caste supremacists burnt down a school set up for Dalits. When the Dewan ordered that Dalit children be admitted to government schools, Caste Hindus threated to pull out their children. The Dewan then instructed the teachers to continue work with only Dalit students.

Ayyankali told Gandhi he wanted to see ten graduates in his community.

The Naharaja’s government nominated Ayyankali as a member of the State Assembly.

First-hand accounts of foreigners testifying to the extremely cruel and oppressive conditions under princely rule in the 19th century are available. Women of the so-called lower castes were forced to go topless in public. The socially disadvantaged groups bore the brunt of the tax burden. There was a breast ax on women and head tax on men.

The first woman martyr of the campaign for social justice was Nangeni of Cherthala who cut off a breast and flung it at the tax collector.

With the spread of modern education, largely due to the efforts of Christian missionaries, campaigns against atrocities began. They became widespread under the impact of the movements of Narayana Guru and Mahatma Ayyankali.

The period also saw reform movements among Christians and Muslims.

The Kerala renaissance movement was essentially the coming together of reform movements to create a progressive society.  The political parties came later.     

Thanks to the early gains of the renaissance, Kerala provided the only Dalit woman member of the Constituent Assembly, the first Dalit President and the first Dalit Chief Justice of India.

Like the Bengal renaissance, which is sometimes referred to as the Indian renaissance, the Kerala movement was sparked by the spread of English education. But, unlike in Bengal, reform movements did not begin and end with the so-called upper castes in Kerala.  On the contrary, the movements originated among the lower strata of society and travelled upwards. Within the Hindu fold, the first stirrings started with the founding of Sri Narayana’s and Ayyankali’s organizations. The Nairs and the Namboodiris mobilized themselves later, realizing they would be left behind if they did not change their ways.

Today the Kerala renaissance is in reverse gear. How that happened deserved to be dealt with at some length.  So it must wait. It will be the subject of an article to follow. 

05 July, 2020

The Wonder Girl of Coorg

When I joined The Hindu as a trainee in 1952, its editorial department was as hierarchical as any government department. The first assignment of every newcomer was preparing the Today’s Engagements column of the next day’s City edition, drawing material from communications received from organizers of various public functions. The work would not take all of six hours. But since the trainee is not given any other work he would stretch it across the six-hour shift.
On being relieved from the Today’s Engagements drudgery, the trainee gets the opportunity to edit copy.
Initially he works at the Regional Desk, which handles reports from correspondents, who may be staffers or stringers, in the Southern states.
One day, when I was handling news from the then states of Mysore and Coorg, I received a report from the Mercara (now Madikeri) correspondent which did not appear credible to me.
It said Dhanalakshmi, an 18-year-old girl, was not taking food or drinking water for some time. She was, however, able to do all the work a girl of her age normally does.
I had just completed a year as Editorial Trainee and become a probationary Sub-Editor. Someone at that level was not supposed to exercise judgment independently. So I conveyed my reservations about the report to C.R. Krishnaswamy, the seniormost of the three News Editors.
“He is a good reporter,” said CRK. “The report must be correct. Give it.”
I was disappointed with his ruling. If we believe the report must we not publish it prominently with a photograph of the girl, I asked him.
In those days, howsoever big a story, The Hindu gave it only single-column headlines. The big stories of the day will earn three-deck headlines, all in one column.
The report of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination too was subjected to the rigid single-column rule. However, the next day it was decided at the highest level to make a one-time exception and carry the report of the funeral with a banner headline.
I didn’t think Dhanalakshmi qualified for anything more than a single-column heading under the established rule. That was why I suggested using her photograph to give prominence to the report.
CRK told me he would send a telegram to the correspondent asking for a photograph of the girl and we could use it with a follow-up story.
Bowing to the News Editor’s decision, I edited the copy, and the report appeared in the next day’s edition.
Several Indian and foreign newspapers picked up the story. Among them was The Times of London.
Dhanalakshmi quickly achieved fame worldwide.
The Mercara correspondent sent a photograph of her, and it was used it with a later report.
People started going to Mercara to see the Wonder Girl. Among them were a few dignitaries, like A.S.P. Aiyar, ICS, a judge of the Madras High Court. A report quoted him as saying Dhanalakshmi had acquired a secret known to saints of old.
In the Lok Sabha, a member raised the issue during question hour. If the secret of Dhanalakshmi’s ability to live without eating was found the nation could solve the problem of food scarcity, he said.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said he would ask the Bangalore Medical College to look into the matter.
Accordingly, Dhanalakshmi was admitted to the Medical College hospital for observation.
One night the hospital authorities reported they had caught Dhanalakshmi’s brother while trying to smuggle food items into her room.
That was the end of the story of the Wonder Girl of Coorg.
I must say here I hold C.R. Krishnaswamy in high esteem. He came to the office every morning with a copy of the day’s paper marking all the mistakes he had noticed. Going through the marked paper daily was a great learning experience. In the case of the Wonder Girl he erred because of his immense trust in the reporter.


1 Comment



23 June, 2020

Recollections 1
Waiting for A Miracle

Lourdes Cathedral, Thrissur, Kerala

I was at the Ernakulam bus station to catch a bus to Aluva. I had come to the town the previous day from Aluva, where I was on a holiday, to meet some friends, and had been persuaded to spend the night there.

Since it was Sunday morning, I didn’t expect the buses to be crowded. But the first bus that pulled up was heavily packed. Since I had only a short distance to travel, I boarded it anyway.

From the animated conversation of the passengers I gathered that they were from Pala and were going to Thrissur for a vision of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.

I then remembered that a few weeks ago, Deepika, the Kottayam newspaper owned by the Catholic Church, had reported that the Virgin Mary was appearing every month before two children at a church in Thrissur. The report had mentioned the date of the next appearance too. I decided to go with them to Thrissur to witness the miracle.

When the bus reached Aluva, I did not get down. Instead I bought a ticket to Thrissur.

I was  a college student at that tme, not a journalist.  But it can be said that I already had a toehold in the press. My father was running a Malayalam newspaper, Navabharatham, from Thiruvananthapuram. It had accepted and published a short political article which I had mailed to it under an assumed name and address. When Jawaharlal Nehru visited Thiruvananthapuram, I had gone to the airport and the paper’s Chief Reporter had let me write the report of the reception to the Prime Minister. When Deputy Prime Minister Vallabhbhai Patel visited Kochi, my father asked me if I wold like to report the event and I had covered his activities there.

But I must confess I went to Thrissur with a sceptic’s mind, not a journalist’s.
At Thrissur, all of us alighted from the bus. Being new to the town, I decided to follow the group from Pala.

The courtyard of the Lourdes church was already full when we reached. There were many women and children in the crowd. We were able to squeeze ourselves in with some difficulty.

Soon a priest, a girl and a boy appeared on the veranda on the first floor of the two-storeyed building on the left side of the church. Someone said the children with the priests were the ones before whom Virgin Mary was appearing every month. All eyes turned towards them.

They were looking at the distant sky. We kept turning our eyes in the direction in which they were looking.

The priest announced that the Mother will appear before the children around one o'clock.

The sun’s colour was changing, someone in the crowd said. All around him covered their eyes with the hands and tried to look at the mid-day sun through their fingers. I saw no change of colour. But someone said the sun had turned green. Some people around him endorsed the claim.  When another person mentioned another colour there were people to back that too.

My reading outside the college textbooks in those days included books on psychology. I decided to give my little knowledge of that subject a try. The sun’s colour has changed to blue, I said. Some standing around me readily endorsed that.

I continued to play the game of changing colour of the sun for a while.

The Virgin Mary did not appear by 1 p.m.. But the priest kept the flock’s hope of a miracle alive by repeatedly stating that the children were saying the Mother would come.

Eventually, the priest announced that the children had been informed that Mother would not be coming that day. The disappointed crowd of devotees started melting away.

Coming out of the church compound, tired after the long wait and extremely hungry, I decided to get into a nearby eatery. When I put my hand in the pocket of my kurta, my purse wasn’t there.

While I was conducting my little experiment in psychology, a pickpocket had practised a trick of his trade on me quite successfully!

When I bought the bus ticket for the Aluva-Thrissur segment, the conductor had given back some change. Instead of putting it in the purse,  I had put it in the pocket.

I walked to the Thrissur railway station. I had to go to Aluva, 60 kilometres away. From the fare chart displayed there, I gathered that the change I was left with would take me only up to Chalakkudy, 30 kms away. I bought a ticket to Chalakudy and got off the train there.

I did not have the money to take any form of transport from there to Aluva. So I started walking along the railway track towards Aluva. Shades of night were falling fast when I reached Koratty Angadi station. I had covered barely six kilometres. I reckoned it was risky to walk at night along the unknown track. I sat down on a bench on the platform.

I have not eaten anything the whole day and was very hungry. But I did not ask anyone for help fearing I would be taken for a cheat. After the day’s last train towards Aluva steamed off the station, I stretched myself on the bench and soon fell asleep.

It wasn’t dawn yet when noises at the station woke me up. Apparently the first morning train was due and some passengers had come to board it. I realised that I cannot walk all the way to Aluva on an empty stomach. Reluctantly I walked up to the Station Master and told him my story.

He told me he had seen me lying on the bench when he closed the station the previous night. Shops in the area would not open so early and there was no way he could get me something to eat.

I told him if I could get to Aluva, I would have money for my needs.  Just then we heard the sound of the approaching train. The Station Master gave me a ticket to Aluva.

Back in my room at the Aluva YMCA, I wrote the story of the miracle that was not to be and mailed it to Navabharatham.

Two days later, I took a train to Koratty to pay the ticket money and convince the Station Master that the youngster he had helped was not a cheat.
Someone else was sitting in the Station Master’s chair. I told him I was looking for the person who was there two days ago.

“Oh, you are looking for Balakrishna Menon. He was the Relieving Station Master who came to hold charge when I went on leave. He left when I returned from leave yesterday. i do not know where he has been posted next.”

I have often wondered whether the failed Thrissur miracle was part of an attempt to replicate the Lourdes miracle of 1858.

That year, in the small town of Lourdes in France, Bernadette, a 14-year-old girl, reputedly had visions of the Virgin Mary on a few occasions. The first appearance was when she and two other children went to the forest to gather firewood. The Mother was wearing a white dress.

At the time of the last vision Bernadette asked her who she was, and she reportedly said in the local tongue: “I am the Immaculate Conception”.

The Catholic Church, which investigated the miracle, concluded that  Bernadette had visions of the Virgin Mary. Not all people were in agreement about the vision, but once the Pope accepted the divine miracle the controversy subsided. The Virgin Mary is now known also as Our Lady of Lourdes.

Barnadette was later canonised. Lourdes is now a pilgrimage centre which attracts more than 5 million visitors a year. 

The Lourdes church in Thrissur was built 27 years after the miracle in the French town bearing that name. The failure of the 1950 miracle deprived Thrissur of the opportunity to gain Lourdes-like fame.

The Lourdes church, however, had the privilege of receiving Pope John Paul II when he came to participate in the centenary celebrations of the Diocese of Thrissur. When the Diocese became Archdiocese, the Lourdes church became the Archbishop's cathedral.

Need to be prepared for long haul on border

BRP Bhaskar


Picture used for illustrative purpose only.

After a fierce physical fight on the undefined Ladakh border left many dead on both sides, India and China are trying to defuse the situation. The nasty clash, in which soldiers used rods, stones and bare hands, occurred even as talks were under way at the level of military commanders along the line of control, at the diplomatic level in the two national capitals and over the phone at the ministerial level. It may have been the result of premeditation at some level.

The world learned with amusement about the primitive if savage encounter between soldiers of two countries with nuclear arms. They did not use firearms in view of a prior understanding which bars patrol parties from opening fire.

There is a move to free soldiers from this restriction.

India acknowledged the loss of 20 soldiers, including a Colonel, but did not say how many were missing. The Chinese later returned 10 Indian soldiers they had captured.

China maintained total silence on its casualties. It did not even comment on reports which claimed that Chinese losses were heavier than India’s.

The two governments sought to impress upon their peoples that the clash was provoked by the other side and that they had given a fitting reply.

Both sides also sought to reassure their peoples that they would not concede even one inch of territory to the other.

These declarations set the tone for putting aside the gory event as if it were just a bad dream. Prime Minister Narendra Modi told an all-party meeting that Chinese troops had neither entered Indian territory nor captured any Indian post. The meeting extended full support to the government on the border problem.

However, some political leaders and commentators said Modi had endorsed the Chinese claim that Galwan Valley, where the clash occurred, was on their side of the LOC.

Some viewed Modi’s words as indicative of his readiness to appease the Chinese. The Prime Minister’s office accused them of giving his words a mischievous interpretation.

A media report said leaders of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the power behind the Bharatiya Janata Party, were surprised by Modi’s statement but they had since been assured that the situation in that area was very much in India’s favour after the completion of a 60-metre-long bridge over Galwan River.

Obviously Modi is operating on an extremely difficult political terrain.

The mass media, especially the raucous television channels, are unabashed Modi devotees. But the guests on their discussion panels, particularly former army officers, often make things difficult for him with jingoistic remarks.

The border flare-up has come at an inconvenient time for Modi and President Xi Jinping. Both leaders are facing difficulties at home. The corornavirus pandemic have dented their images.

Some analysts have suggested that China may have activated the border issue as a diversion from the pandemic-related accusations against it and the trade dispute with the United States. The theory appears to be far-fetched as China cannot be unaware that such a diversion will only drive India closer to the US.

The trouble on the border has cast a shadow on Sino-Indian economic ties. A few restaurants, mostly run by immigrants from Guangdong province, were the only signs of Chinese presence in India at the time of the 1962 war.  They dropped ‘Chinese’ from their names to escape Indian fury.

Now a campaign to boycott Chinese products, actively promoted by BJP leaders and possibly backed by the government, is on. Since the Indian market is flooded with Chinese products and it may not be easy to find affordable substitutes for them, many doubt if the campaign will succeed.

China clearly is no hurry to settle the border dispute. This means India has to be ready for a long haul.

Himal Southasia, a respected regional publication, recently quoted Arunabh Ghosh, a historian of modern China, as saying a glaring and embarrassing characteristic of the Indian strategic studies community is its illiteracy.

He was alluding to the experts’ lack of knowledge of the Chinese language which makes them rely on Western sources for their understanding of China.

Chinese scholarship on India is probably only marginally better, if at all.

Army men tend to imagine they are the sole defenders of the nation’s borders. Crucial as their role is, they come in only as the last resort. Borders are best secured through good neighbourliness and robust diplomacy. --Gulf Today, Sharjah, June 23. 2020.