Even the hard core Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar couldn’t believe that the rusty Talibans wearing dusty sandals would be dancing inside the plush President’s palace in Kabul on 15th August, “We have reached a victory that wasn’t expected,” he said. The world witnessed with shock and utter dismay the fall of Kabul in the hands of Taliban within two weeks of their capturing Zaranj in the South-West Afghanistan. The combined forces of USA and NATO could not make Afghanistan Taliban free in spite of camping there for twenty years. Joe Biden’s prophecy, notwithstanding, the strong contingent of army of 300,000 with state of the art weaponry fell like a pack of cards against a Taliban force of only 75,000. Ashraf Ghani fled his palace and country just in time to save his own life, after the Talibans made their triumphant entry in Kabul. Whether Ashraf Ghani had a tacit understanding with the Talibans or the Afghan forces themselves decided to surrender without raising arms will not be known for quite some time, but it is bound to intrigue the political analysts that how after occupying Kabul and other major cities of Afghanistan for twenty years, the Talibans could take control of the entire country even before the complete withdrawal of American troops.
India after investing 3 billion dollars in Afghanistan for various developmental work has now decided to shut their embassy in Kabul. Eyebrows are bound to be raised for this infructuous investment, when in all probability, Indian Government could face the onslaught from Talibans, along with the likes from Al Qaeda, Jaish- e -Mohammed,Lashkar-e-Taiba, Haqqani network, to name a few. Time will tell if this enormous amount of investment will get due recognition from the new regime.
Be that as it may, India’s foreign policy after the American soldiers took control of Kabul twenty years back was formulated to nurture the peace initiatives in Central Asia and therefore, to join hands with the US and NATO to participate in the nation building of Afghanistan was but natural. That India decided not to send any troop in spite of US pressure had been a prudent diplomatic move. Historically, India share a common understanding and emotional bonding with the Afghan nationals for the last two centuries. Long before the Afghan refugees started to come to India to escape the Taliban atrocities , Afghan businessmen used to flock to India in connection with trade. According to one estimate, there are 15,000 Afghan nationals residing in India. In Kolkata alone there are approximately 7,000 Afghans residing in various Khan kothis.
I remember to have seen the Afghans even travelling to obscure places in West Bengal to sell their products. Afghan people used to be fondly addressed as Kabuliwalas in Bengal, possibly a name derived from Rabindranath Tagore’s famous short story in the same name. I can vividly recollect a kabuliwala, Usman khan who used to come frequently to our house at Suri, a remote town, 150 miles away from Kolkata. In the lazy afternoon during our summer vacation, my Grand mother would be taking a nap after her household chores. We would have our free time to do some bowling practices in the courtyard of our house. Suddenly, the lanes and by lanes of our para (locality) would be reverberated with the Hing chai, hing chai ( Need asafoetida?) sound. My grand mother would immediately get up from her bed and ask me to call Usman. We never had to call him though, as he would invariably knock at our Khirki door (a second door in a Bengali household meant for the informal entry of localites or maids). For the next one hour or so, we all brothers and sisters would be surrounding him to be engrossed in some scintillating stories of his country. My Granny would talk to him in Bengali and Usman khan in Hindi. My Grannie would buy from him her 2 to 3 months quota of Hing which is a very popular spice in Bengali cuisine because of its fragrance.
There are innumerable stories of Bengali girls falling in love with the Afghans. The story of Sushmita Banerjee who had fallen in love for Jaanbaz Khan is known to almost all the Bengalis. Sushmita decided to get married to Jaanbazz Khan in spite of her parents’ vehement objection. She was converted to Islam after her wedding. But to her utter dismay, on reaching Afghanistan, she found that Jaanbaz had another wife and she would have to share the bed with her. Jaanbaz was not from Kabul. He was from a little known place, Paktika which was around 75 miles away from Kabul. This place was more conservative and had tremendous influence of Talibans. Sushmita was a courageous girl not to sit burqua clad in a remote corner of her husband’s house. She started a dispensary to offer medicine to the villagers as there was no facility of treatment in the locality. She had to face the ire of Talibans, because of coming out of her house without a male escort. This was the time when Soviet influence in Afghanistan was dwindling and Taliban movement was taking shape under the leadership of Mullah Omar. Mullah Omar started a militant outfit by collecting fifty students from Madrasas in Pakistan. Sushmita was threatened time and again by the Talibans. She made a few abortive attempts to flee from Afghanistan to be brought back again by her in laws. Finally in 2003 she managed to escape to Kolkata where she could reunite with her husband. They decided to go back to Afghanistan once again. This time, she was brutally killed by the Talibans who emptied 20 bullets on her, some on her life less body; her hair pulled out; her face unrecognizable. It had been such a tragic end to what was more than a love story.
The Talibans are now back and back with a bang. The whole world is blaming Joe Biden for the hasty withdrawal of US and NATO forces from Afghanistan paving the way for the Talibans to take control of the entire country, but seeds of this hasty withdrawal were sown by none other than Donald Trump during Doha peace talk in February, 2020. Trump acceded to the Taliban demand to release 5,000 hardcore Taliban fighters and set a date, May 1, 2021 as the final withdrawal from Afghanistan. Not only that, the Trump administration reduced the number of US troop from 13,000 to 2,500 by January, 2021 when Joe Biden took over. What is more intriguing is, Ashraf Ghani was not even asked to participate in Doha peace talks. Ghani raised feeble objection (Saying it’s a dangerous ploy of the Talibans, unilaterally accepted by America without consulting him) initially regarding release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners from jail, but Donald Trump refused to pay attention to it. It’s this haughty attitude of condescension to a democratically elected Government by the US leadership, which ultimately costed them the space created in the last twenty years.
That the US backed Afghan Government meekly surrendered without a fight contrary to the popular belief of the American leadership that this would not happen has raised a lot of questions on the effectiveness of military intelligence network of USA. Even if we set aside the wrong assessment of American leadership about the timing of take over of Kabul by the Talibans, the fact remains that the US wanted to get rid of Taliban without fulfillment of its objective , or for that matter, they never had any objective other than teaching a lesson to the ferocious Al Qaeda. After Osama Bin Laden’s death and dismantling of Al Qaeda group, America was in the search for an escape route from Afghanistan. Henri Kissinger has pointed out in TheEconomist (25th August), America has lost sight of both the strategic objective as well as political- “strategic, to make clear the circumstances for which we fight; political, to define the governing framework to sustain the outcome both within the country concerned and internationally.” As the US decided to accede to all the Taliban demands in Doha which resulted in their hasty exit, two of its most significant fallout are quite evident today: one, USA’s 22 billion dollars (According to a conservative estimate) worth of arms and ammunition are now in possession of the Talibans; two, the huge contingent of Taliban soldiers have suddenly found themselves unemployed. What will the Talibans do with this state of the art equipment left behind as gift by the Americans? They are certainly not going to decorate their houses or put these up for exhibition. The Talibans, throughout their life, have only been indoctrinated to fight a war. So these unemployed soldiers with a huge inventory of arms will become a headache for the Taliban political leaders. They are required to be gainfully deployed in fighting wars in others’ territory, if Afghanistan has to remain peaceful internally. America has created more problems in respect of cross border terrorism in central Asia rather than than solving an iota of it.
American leadership has virtually given the Chinese everything on a platter without their asking for it. The geopolitical scenario in central Asia is going to be rewritten now under the hegemony of China. We will not be surprised to see a new power axis being created in Central Asia, consisting of China, Russia, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan. China has declared a friendly and co-operative relationship with the Talibans, internally to get them by their side in their mission to indoctrinate a million Uyghur Muslims of Xinjiang to the cultural milieu of main land China and internationally to drive the Americans away from Central Asia. Iran and Russia, on the other hand, once hostile to Talibans, now relish the defeat of their common enemy, USA in the hand of Talibans. What China and Russia couldn’t achieve, the Talibans did and did it with style, that too without much of bloodshed.
Where does India stand in this new geopolitical axis? India’s survival will depend on how India battles it out to create a balance of power in this region. It has dawned quite late to the Indian external policy specialists that US cannot be trusted as a dependable ally. Even as the former Defence Minister of Taiwan, Andrew Yang says, “This (American retreat) is a lesson to learn and Taiwan should depend on its own self-defences in stead of US support,” our former Defence Secretary Nirupama Rao says, “It has devalued the worth and credibility of American power in the region.” This gives an enormous scope to India to become a dominant force and act as a balancing power in this region. It’s a tough ask, no doubt about that, as India will have to draw up a contingency plan in the short run to thwart the likely fallout of American withdrawal discussed in the preceding paragraphs and in the long run, to reach out possibly to Israel and Japan, the two other dominant forces of Asia. Having said that, India will have to keep America in the fray also to take advantage of their veto power in UN security council. Not only that, it’s also expected from Biden Administration to take Quad more seriously and keep the Chinese busy with constant deployment of their naval out fit in South China Sea. India, of late, has started taking active interest in Quad which was not given due importance initially by New Delhi.
Should India recognize Afghanistan? India didn’t in 1996. Taliban’s assurance of maintaining peace can never be taken on the face value. A section of Indians are of the strong view to recognize the Taliban Government even before Pakistan and China do it, as if to get some sort of early bird concession. Before taking any decision, we have to keep in mind that the Talibans have already announced that their land is not suitable for democracy. China, Russia, Iran who have supported the Taliban take over of Kabul are itching to recognize their Government. All these countries have totalitarian Government as a result of which recognition of another totalitarian Government is not a big deal for them. Pakistan, in spite of having an elected Government, is controlled by a strong military set up nurturing cross border terrorism as part of their foreign policy. The Taliban movement started from Pakistan and during the last twenty years when they were chased down to their hide outs by the US force, it was Pakistan’s ISI which stood rock-solid by their side. So it’s not expected that foreign policy adopted by the new Government will be independent, devoid of Pakistan’s interest. Moreover, by recognizing the Taliban Government, we will put our stamp of approval to the sinister design of Pakistan to perpetrate cross border terrorism. If, in their totalitarian approach, the Talibans decide to form an inclusive Government by way of representation of major ethnic groups, such as, Pashtuns, Hazaras, Tajiks, Uzbeks etc. India could consider recognizing them. However, establishing an inclusive Government by Talibans is easier said than done, as infighting among the various ethnic groups in this country never allows the system to reach a steady state of equilibrium. India, in the mean time, is required to consolidate its position on the North-Western front to stop insurgency across the border and keep a close watch to monitor and counter the impact of any euphoria created among the jihadis of Kashmir valley.
In a recent report published in TheEconomist (22nd July, 2021), the death toll from Covid 19 in India has been estimated at 4 million which is ten times the official estimate of 400,000. This is based on a study carried out by Abhishek Anand, Justin Sandefur and Arvind Subramanian at The Centre for Global Development, Washington. According to the report, the death toll of India is grossly under reported to hide the number which equals the rest of the world and is much higher than 600,000 in USA and 500,000 in Brazil. This is despite the claim of the Government of India that the reporting system on Covid infections and mortality is robust and transparent. In support, the Health Ministry refers to its system of decentralized structure of generating the report right from the District level on daily basis. If we accept the study of Centre for Global Development as factual, the number of deaths at the global level reported by WHO doubles up to 8 million out of which half the baggage is carried by India.
Interesting to note that Arvind Subramanian, former Chief Economic Adviser of Narendra Modi’s NDA, is part of this study group. Mr Subramanian, after resigning from the post of Chief Economic Adviser joined Ashoka University as Professor of Economics in July, 2020. He decided to relinquish his job of Ashoka University on the ground that the university was unable to provide him space for academic expression and freedom. Coming back to the issue of jaw-dropping scale of mortality due to Covid in India, the research paper says about adopting three calculation methods over seven states of India: one, data from civil registration system that records births and deaths; two, blood tests showing the prevalence of virus alongside global Covid fatality rates and three, an economic survey of nearly 900,000 people done thrice a year. This study conducted in seven states has taken into consideration the mortality statistics arising from all causes and compared the data to mortality of previous year and extrapolated to pan India to arrive at the death toll of 4 million.
Karan Deep Singh, a New Delhi based reporter of New YorkTimes, in his article dated 20 July, 2021, has also referred this study as a comprehensive examination of the true death toll of the pandemic in a nation with 1.4 billion people. “At the height of second wave,” writes Karan Deep Singh, “interviews by New York Times reporters at cremation grounds across three states in India revealed an extensive pattern of deaths far exceeding the official figures.”
Medical journal Lancet has described India’s second wave of covid as a self inflicted catastrophe or a man made disaster. The British medical journal didn’t stop at that. In it’s editorial, it estimated the total death toll in India could exceed one million by August 01, 2021 creating panic among the rank and file of Indian citizens. It termed India’s vaccination programme as botched and concluded, “Modi’s actions in attempting to stifle criticism and open discussion during the crisis are inexcusable….. It seems Modi Government is more intent in removing criticism from the social media than to control the pandemic.”
People in India might recollect that John Hopkins University (JHU) of USA in its study in March, 2020 wrote that 300 to 400 million people were likely to be infected by July 2020. They referred the underdeveloped health infrastructure, lack of managerial ability and the maladministration to be the likely causes of such massive infection in India. This report was vehemently criticized by the Government of India as a result of which the university subsequently disassociated itself from it. JHU clarified, “The use of our logo was not authorized in this case and JHU is engaging with CDDEP on it.” Incidentally CDDEP, i.e, Centre for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy is a research organization of USA, founded by Mr Ramanan Lakshminarayan who is incidentally an economist, not an epidemiologist. He appeared in a number of TV interviews in India in March, 2020 when Modi declared complete lock down; he came up with astronomical number of likely infections of 300 to 500 million by July, 2020. He also predicted a death toll of 2.5 million by that time. What was the basis of such claims made by an economist and his NGO known as CDDEP based in USA? They have adopted the mathematical models used in USA and UK and extrapolated the forecast for India.
Ramanan Lakshminarayan had got some support base in India too. Barkha Dutt after her interview with him tweeted, “Many are saying these projected numbers by Ramanan Lakshminarayan will cause panic. I disagree. I think him telling us that India could get 300 to 500 million corona cases by July is a call to action. It brings home gravity of what could happen if we don’t isolate diligently.”
Arundhati Roy wrote a long article captioned we are witnessing a crime against humanity in the British newspaper TheGuardian, dated 28th April, 2021. Arundhati Roy has made a scathing attack on the Modi Government on every possible front, from its vaccination programme to its mismanagement of oxygen supply, shortage of hospital beds and even Hindu backlash on Muslims in the states of Gujarat and UP. She has literally mocked Modi when she writes, “Modi the magician takes a bow for saving humanity by containing the coronavirus effectively. Now that it turns out that he has not contained it, can we complain about being viewed as though we are radioactive? That other countries’ borders are being closed to us and flights are being cancelled? That we’re being sealed in with our virus and our prime minister, along with all the sickness, anti-science, the hatred and the idiocy that he, his party and its brand of politics represent?”
India’s handling of Covid during its first wave was acclaimed internationally. In spite of the forecast of 300 to 500 million people likely to be infected by July, 2020 by some of the foreign media, the actual numbers could be restricted to 5 or 6 million. Contrary to this US, with its much vaunted health infrastructure, was virtually reeling under the fury of virus with 200,000 deaths by end July, 2020. India, however, failed miserably to control the second wave. There was definitely a sense of complacency, as the intensity of the first wave was not so severe, it was expected that the country would be able to manage the second wave as efficiently as it did for the first. But that it was not to be became quite evident within a month of the arrival of second wave. The second wave of the virus was of different characteristic which resulted in an indirect attack on lungs. This mutant caught medical practitioners unaware and the country could not cope up with the shortage of oxygen and medicine supplies and hospital infrastructure.
In the mean time there was an urgent need to step up the vaccine production. USA imposed restrictions to export raw materials to prioritize domestic production. It may be recalled that it was not Joe Biden, but his predecessor Donald Trump had invoked war-time Defence Production Act to give priority to produce Covid 19 vaccine and personal protective equipment to domestic companies. It was the same Donald Trump who during the acute crisis of Covid 19 in USA appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to lift the ban on export of hydroxychloroquine. India did lift the restrictions and resumed supplies immediately thereafter, not only to US but to other countries, such as, Brazil, Mexico as well.
In response to India’s severe crisis and indifferent attitude of the western countries, Dr Anthony Fauci, US president’s chief medical adviser told The Guardian, Australia that the world and wealthier nations in particular, have failed India which is now overwhelmed by a massive number of Covid 19 cases and high mortality. India, on the other hand joined the Covax initiative of WHO to supply vaccines to various poor countries of Asia and Africa. The humanitarian approach adopted by the Indian Government drew a flak in India, as opposition parties vehemently criticized the Government to export vaccine when there is a shortage in India.
The Biden administration soon realized the seriousness of the problem of India and assured to ship the requisite raw material to Serum India at the earliest to ensure continuity in the supply chain. Biden said, “Just as India sent assistance to the United States as our hospitals were strained early in the pandemic, we are determined to help India in its time of need.”
The sudden impact of the second wave in India confirms that the only certainty about this virus is its uncertainty on making a new copy. Just as you start thinking that you are in control of the situation, you commit a grave error, because the virus comes razing, mutated. Dr Rob Orford, the Welsh Government’s Chief Advisor for Health says that the virus is ruthless and every time it makes a new copy, there arises a chance of mistake.
So when the author of God of Small Things ridicules the Government policies, she doesn’t think about a logical analysis of the problem but prefers to speak out from the point of extreme abomination and disregard to the system. She doesn’t wish get into the nitty-gritty of the characteristics of the virus against which the whole universe is fighting out. She, as if, is engrossed in careful cataloguing of the events right from the Gujarat riot to the farmers’ movement only to score a point against Modi. She says that the system hasn’t only collapsed, in fact the Government has failed. “Perhaps failed is an inaccurate word, because what we are witnessing is not criminal negligence, but an outright crime against humanity.” Finally she concludes, “One man makes all the decisions in this Government, and that man is dangerous – and not very bright.” For Modi her judgement is that he should take a break from all his hard work. He and his men could leave in that $564 million Boeing 777 idling in the runway for a while. “He and his men could just leave. The rest of us will do all we can to clean up their mess.” A long read in The Guardian, but worth a read.
Whether people think that Arundhati Roy is a leftist or ultra-leftist because she sympathizes with the Naxals of Bastar district of MP, one thing is for sure that she has always been consistent in her anti-establishment stance . In 2010, during UPA’s rule she had gone to Kashmir and said that Kashmir was not an integral part of India for which sedation charges were levied against her. She denounces the hanging of Afzal Guru; she has been opposing Sardar Sarovar Project; she has even justified the Mumbai attacks. So when she writes in The Guardian that Modi Government have paved the ways for the two vaccine manufacturing companies to make ‘obscene profit’ or the Indian vaccine sold by these two companies are the costliest in the world and poor people of India are spending their entire month’s income to take vaccine, her sole purpose is to fulminate against the establishment. I won’t put these in the category of emotional outbursts, as some journalists deftly resort to such techniques to turn an outburst into an opportunity; she, on the other hand, is a champion in triggering the adrenaline glands by projecting sordid tell-tale stories to captivate her target readers.
If Roy’s article is a catalogue of events listed to damian the present establishment, the research paper compiled by the Centre for Global Development is ludicrous defying all logic of extrapolation to calculate the death toll in India. Estimates of four million deaths during the second wave spanning over a period of two months will not even be acceptable to the fiercest critics of Modi Government.
The need of the hour is to propagate what is known as constructive journalism. ‘If it bleeds, it leads often’ tends to confuse the reader, as he doesn’t find a solution most of the times. While it is essential to depict the true story of misery, poverty, disaster as quality reporting, stories such as these do not represent a picture in totality. A journalistic piece sans a probable solution is not what a complete journalist will ever endeavour. Sensationalism, negativity in reports need to be adequately balanced with true and fair picture in the perspective to present a comprehensive study and offer a solution to the problem. For example, lot of literature has been written, videos have been uploaded to depict the dismal picture of death, anguish, mismanagement during the second wave of Covid in India, but on how many occasions the common people have been educated to restore order, to get out of the crisis or bench mark with the best practices of the world . There is no denying the fact that the world is facing a grim reality and each country has been trying to manage the situation to the best of its abilities. It’s difficult to attain perfection when the stakes are high and uncertainties are looming large.
By the time I am writing this piece, situation in Wuhan has once again deteriorated. We may recollect when the whole world continued to grapple with spectres of death and lock down miseries last year, Wuhanites hit the dancing floor to rejoice after coming out of a year long grueling quarantine. The authorities there have again decided to test the entire 11 million people. To describe the present situation, we may quote from Star Tribune of June 18, 2021: “Your head’s in the freezer, your feet are in the oven, and your average temperature’s just right….Some people think this (pandemic) is just gone now, that this is it. And it’s not. Globally, these have been the worst few months of the pandemic.”
Rekha Das owns a small shanty at Pakhiralaya, a remote village of Sundarban delta. She earns Rs 150 to 200 a day by selling tea and biscuits. During my visit to Sundarbans just before the Bengal poll, I asked her about the damage caused by Amphan cyclone. Rekha Das’s thatched roof was completely blown away and she was left with virtually nothing. “Didn’t she get Rs 20,000 from the Trinamool Government to rebuild her house?” She couldn’t get a penny from them, but some of the other guys, without any perceptible damage to their property, managed to get Rs 15,000, foregoing Rs 5,000 as the cut money. Though Rekha Das was angry with the local Trinamool leadership, she admires didi for quickly sanctioning Rs 20,000 in the aftermath of the disaster. “What can didi do, if the the panchayat pradhan here becomes dishonest?”
Mamata has become the face of Bengal and the rural folk consider her in high esteem. BJP’s decision not to announce a chief ministerial face in Bengal election could be from this fear psychosis. In its failure to do so, it allowed TMC to up the ante for a possible show down between a country’s prime minister and a state chief minister. As you land in Kolkata airport and travel through its arterial road to the city centre, you will observe numerous bill boards of mamata Bannerjee and Narendra Modi. Local leadership from BJP has been conspicuously missing.
Amit Shah, the modern day Chanakya of Indian politics has applied saam, daam, dandabhed in his indomitable style to win over Bengal. He declared with a lot of conviction ‘Aab ki bar 200 paar.’ Finally he couldn’t cross double digit mark! This is, in spite of It’s central leadership camping for more than a year in Bengal. J P Nadda, Amit Malavya, their IT head and Kailash Vijaybargyia have virtually made Bengal their home turf. As much the central leadership was afraid to announce a chief ministerial face, as they wanted to keep the reins of Bengal election under their control. They never ever delegated the authority to state leadership. As a matter of fact, even the declaration of candidates was done from Delhi. There were protests, agitation among the rank and file of the BJP workers for making the turncoats from TMC as their candidates, but the central leadership refused to relent.
BJP strategized their election based on the results of Lok Sabha 2019 when the party won 18 seats against Trinamul’s 22. They could garner a vote share of 40% vis-a-vis Trinamul’s 43%. They also had high hopes on the splitting of Minority votes, an opportunity created by the entry of AIMIM in the electoral arena of Bihar, which ultimately resulted in their victory over there. Mamata Banerjee, on the other hand, took bitter lessons from the election results of 2019 and started readying her core team, ground level workers . What she did was to plug the loopholes in various pockets where she fared badly in 2019 election. She planned out to reverse the trend in Jangal mahal, tribal belt, Matua community and north Bengal area which voted in favour of BJP. In addition, she pushed her social welfare programmes vigorously. In her budget (Vote on accounts) just before the election she was magnanimous in giving grant to parar clubs, some 26,000 of them, announced Swasthashathi scheme covering 90% of population and promised free ration to the entire population, among many others. She wanted to reach women voters specifically when she announced payment of Rs 500 to 1000 to the eldest woman member of a family. Mamata Banerjee, however, has always been a true believer in dole politics. These social welfare measures are synonymous to development in her scheme of things. But it’s impact on the vote box can only be incremental, as all political parties today are vying for some attention through these kind of freebies. TMC is no exception. TMC’s 48% vote share has different connotation, as we shall see it below.
Khela Habe (Will Play the game)
Didi announced khela habe. Modi and Shah accepted the challenge. Amit Shah played all his cards. Didi too played her cards or that’s what Amit Shah thought that she had. Didi had a hidden card to her chest. Little did Amit Shah realize that it was the trump card. Amit Shah had planted a toxic tree in the name of CAA in 2019. By amending the citizenship act of 1955, he singled out Muslim as the only community from attaining citizenship in India, if they have entered before December 2014. Not only that, he wanted to formulate a national register for citizenship with the objective of identifying the infiltrators from neighbouring country Bangladesh. Muslim, as a community, felt isolated. The CAA and proposed NRC had given rise to vehement protests all over India. Modi Government was in a tight spot when the minority community people gathered at Shaheen bagh in Delhi to lodge a peaceful protest. At that point of of time Covid became the savior for the BJP. But there is no denying the fact that the issue of NRC and CAA will be used to their advantage by all political parties to score against BJP. Didi appealed to her voters that if they voted for BJP, they would be sent to Bangladesh – “I am requesting my minority brothers and sisters with folded hands, do not divide the minority votes after listening to the shaitan who had taken money from the BJP”. ‘Shaitan’, here, is Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui, who formed Indian Secular Front (ISF) in January (will discuss about him in the subsequent paragraphs).
Demographics of Bengal – From Poll Perspectives
If we dissect the demography of Bengal from the point of view of religion and caste, Muslims constitute 30% of population, 14% belongs to Matua Community, 6% is the tribal population, balance 50% the Hindu population (including SCs). The Matua community belongs to Namashudra class which also is categorized as scheduled castes. Why we have categorized them separately is due to their togetherness as a sect. They are vaishnavite Hindus. Some of the Matua people had infiltrated from East Pakistan after partition, the majority, however, after 1971. Both BJP and TMC had been trying to garner the support of Matua community. Modi while attending the Golden Jubilee of Bangladesh Independence made it a point to visit Orakandi, which is the birthplace of Matua sect founder Harichand Thakur. Around 15 million Matuas are settled in and around Takurnagar area of North 24 Parganas. They are the deciding factor in about 35 assembly constituencies. BJP got a substantial Matua vote in 2019. The election rallies visualized a virtual tug of war between BJP and TMC to capture this 14% vote share. While Amit Shah told them if they voted them to power, citizenship would granted forthwith. Didi, on the other hand, have assured, they have nothing to lose because they are already the citizens of India. They are legalized voters. In addition, they hold caste certificate also.
Muslim have always been exploited
At the time of independence, the Bengali Muslim population was about 12% which increased to 27% as per 2011 census. Thus Muslims have always been considered a decisive factor in Bengal election. The Left Front Government which ruled the state for three and a half decades have gained rich dividends by wooing the Muslim votes. Congress miserably failed to break this allegiance of Muslims to the Left Front. The Left, however, did nothing for the Muslims. The Sachar Committee report of 2010 was an eye opener for the Muslims of Bengal. The report highlighted issues facing the Muslim community and their representation in public life. With High birthrate, low education, low per capita income, the Muslims represented lowly in Government employment or employment in the organized sector. In effect, they are the exploited lot whom the political parties have always used as vote bank but very little they did for their socioeconomic upliftment. Sachar committee observed that Muslims forms a minuscule 2.5% of bureaucratic jobs in spite of constituting 14% of total population in India. Even the scheduled caste population of India is better placed than the Muslims.
Left Front Government could enjoy uninterrupted power for 34 years due to the Muslim support base. So it was expected that the leftists would help to level up the socioeconomic plight of the Muslims as a quid pro quo. What did Left do for them? Surprising that till 2008, there was no Muslim representative in politburo. Even in the West Bengal cabinet, the left had only 10% representation from the minority community. Following Left Front rule of about 23 years under Jyoti Basus’s chief ministership, Muslims represented less than 4% in State Government jobs, less than 60% in literacy rate (75% for Hindus). Even if we compare the status of West Bengal with reference to the national average we find deplorable state of affairs of Bengali Muslims. Around 24% of Muslims are matriculate in India, the figure is 12% in West Bengal, whereas, 13% of SC/STs and 38% of Caste Hindus are matriculate in Bengal. The condition of Muslims in Bihar is better than Bengal – in Bihar 16% Muslims are matriculate. As far as Graduates are concerned only 3% Muslims are graduate compared to 5% for India as a whole. The idea of presenting this data is that the Bengali Muslims have not only been lagging behind the other communities in Bengal in respect of literacy and higher education but they are much behind the Muslims of India as a whole. If we turn our attention to economic well being, in rural Bengal, 33% of Muslim population is living below the poverty line as compared to 21% of Hindu population. The data, however, is required to be updated in 2021 census.
Mamata Banerjee after assuming power in 2011, had announced a few measures such as, introduction of imam bhatta, inclusion of a few backward Muslim categories in the OBC fold which helped to increase the representation of Muslims in the state Government. However, her policy also is incremental in nature and could at the most be termed as some sort of appeasement policy to garner votes. TMC always believed in short term gain by introducing doles and financial assistance, leaving the development agenda at the back seat. “Truth is TMC & Left’s most loyal voters,” Asaduddin Owaisi, of AIMIM, says,”have got nothing but humiliation for decades. In return for their loyalty@MamataOfficial has likened Muslims to cows to be milked.” He was referring to a comment of Mamata Banerjee in 2019, when after the debacle in Lok Sabha election she was to attend an iftar. She commented, ” Since I appease Muslims, I shall attend it 100 times. If a cow yields milk, one must be prepared to face its kick.”
A significant development in the election scenario of West Bengal was the formation of Indian Secular Front by a 33 years old Muslim cleric Abbas Siddiqui. Abbas Siddiqui is a junior pirzada of Furfura Sharif which controls over 3,000 mosques in Bengal. Abbas Siddiqui decided to form an alliance with Congress and left parties. Targeting the TMC he said, “We must remove Mamata first to stop BJP. And we do not talk much about BJP because they are not in our thought process.” Md. Salim of CPM, in the mean time, played all his cards to rope in Abbas Siddiqui’s ISF to forge an alliance. He requested Abdul Mannan of Congress to convince Adhir Choudhury to join hand with ISF. Adhir Choudhury was never comfortable with an alliance with a Muslim outfit, though after lot of dilly-dally he finally gave in.
2021 Election was all about garnering 30% vote
Politics is stranger than fiction. The leftists voted for BJP in 2019 to keep TMC at bay while 2021 was the other way round. If we compare the vote share of 2014, 2019 and 2021 it would be easy to analyze the poll result of 2021.
YEAR 2014 (LS) 2019 (LS) 2021 (Assy)
TMC 40 43 48
BJP 17 40 38
LEFT+CONG 40 14 8 (+ISF)
While the vote share of Left and Congress went in favour ot BJP in 2019, this time their share has gone in favour of TMC. BJP’s vote share reduced by only 2% , whereas their seats reduced from 121 (in terms their lead in the assembly constituencies in 2019 LS poll) to 77 in 2021. However, in terms of vote share TMC is much ahead of BJP- a wide gap of about 10%. It’s evident from the above table that the vote share of Congress and left has reduced by 6%, a significant percentage of which has gone in favour of TMC. It may not be feasible to calculate the percentage of Muslim votes garnered by TMC- but according to the political analysts 80% of Muslim votes polled went in favour of TMC. Considering 85% of polled votes in respect of Muslims, Didi could garner 20% votes from this segment. The balance 28% votes have come from Matua (Approx 6%), tribal population (2%) and caste Hindus, including SC (20%). In West Bengal one fourth of the population belongs to SC/ST category, because of which 84 assembly seats are reserved. BJP hasn’t done too bad in these seats, winning 39 of them, TMC wresting the rest. BJP’s dominance in Jangal Mahal area has, however, substantially dwindled, in as much as the party losing all the four seats in Jhargram district. Thus BJP has got 50% of their tally from the reserved seats. Out of the balance 210 seats, BJP could win only 38 seats. About 110 seats of Bengal belong to areas dominated by Muslim voters. The Muslim voters have a strong presence in the two districts of Malda and Murshidabad, and to a great extent in North and South Dinajpur. Kolkata has also a significant Muslim population. BJP has virtually drawn blank in these districts. If we remove these 110, the balance seats are dominated by caste Hindus. BJP hasn’t done badly here either.
BJP failed to change a course correction midway
The world’s most famous fictional detective Sherlock Holmes said that once you have eliminated all the possibilities whatever remains, however impossible, must be true. The BJP leadership has always banked upon winning this election on a single premise – the split of minority votes between TMC and the third front. It was icing on the cake when Abbas Siddiqui formed a separate party and AIMIM leader Asaduddin Owaisi also decided to contest in 8 seats. TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee was apparently perturbed at the meteoric rise of a young clergy of Furfura Sharif. She masterminded to thwart the effort of Abbas Siddiqui by taking a number of steps. How she did it leads us to the improbabilities which became truth later on.
First, she released an official grant of Rs 26 million to Senior Pirzada of Furfura Sharif, Toha Siddiqui for the development of the shrine. Toha siddiqui is uncle of Abbas Siddiqui. Pirzada Toha Siddiqui vehemently criticized his nephew for forming a new party to oppose TMC. He wholeheartedly showed his allegiance to didi.
Second, an interview of Abbas Siddiqui was taken by Suman Dey, Senior Editor of Bengali news channel ABP Ananda on 12th March, 2021. In this interview Suman Dey virtually grilled him, ragged him to totters. He displayed two important videos of Abbas Siddiqui to the viewers. In one video, he can be heard appealing to the crowd to pray to Allah so that he sends a deadly virus to India which would kill 500 million people. He hoped that India would soon follow China’s footsteps so that this country too gets affected by coronavirus pandemic. This speech was made on 23rd February, 2020, when covid 19 was playing havoc in China. In another video he called for the flogging of actor and TMC MP Nusrat Jahan and said she made money by selling her body. In this one interview itself, Pirzada Abbas Siddiqui’s political carrier was nipped in the bud.
Third, on 7th April before the 4th phase of election in Cooch Behar, didi urged the the women activists of her party to gherao CRPF personnel deployed in the state on election duty. On 10th April, four persons died of firing by CRPF personnel at Sitalkuchi. Sitalkuchi is a Muslim dominated area and all the people killed due to police firing were Muslims. Sitalkuchi incident was a major turning point in Bengal election. TMC never looked back after this. The incident is still shrouded in mystery. Reports have been submitted by the SP of Cooch Behar. No video has so far been uploaded. In the absence of any published documents, it’s not fair to comment on such a sensitive issue.
Fourth, Rahul Gandhi was one of the first national leaders to congratulate Mamata Banerjee on her stupendous victory. The way the other senior Congress leaders such as, Kapil Sibbal, Anand Sharma, Ashok Gehlout and Verappa Moili have showered heaps of praise on Mamata Banerjee and her leadership, it cast aspersions on the motive of Congress leadership. Mamata Banerjee enjoys a good relationship with Sonia Gandhi. That Congress is rejoicing the victory of TMC over BJP, indicates only one thing, that senior leadership of the party decided to give a walkover to TMC. Such action or rather inaction is, however, not uncommon in the field of sports, war and politics. Indian politics have witnessed this in the past. History of Bengal has shown us how Mir Jafar, in spite of his presence with a huge contingent of soldiers decided not to participate in the battle of Palashi in 1757 so that Nawab Siraj-Ud-Daulah is defeated by Col. Robert Clive of East India Company. During the election campaign, Central leadership of Congress party refused participate in the election meetings and rallies. Rahul Gandhi attended a lone meeting and then subsequently cancelled all his meetings. Priyanka Gandhi never showed her face. The message was loud and clear to the state leadership – pass on the votes to TMC. By doing so, the party drew a blank, not representing in Vidhan Sabha for the first time, and who knows what is in store for the grand old party in Bengal. If Congress gives a walkover to TMC, can Left be far behind? Left also left the battle field to assist their bitter opponents. Perhaps, the party leadership had taken a considered view of what the CPI(ML)(Liberation) General Secretary, Dipankar Bhattacharya said – “the Bengal faction of CPM lacked anti-BJP thrust.” He advised the CPM leadership to identify BJP as political enemy number one. He said, ” TMC and BJP can’t be put in the same bracket. A BJP Government in West Bengal will be a bigger threat for the Left and the entire set up.” The initial euphoria created in Brigade Parade Ground meeting which was attended by their Secretary General Sitaram Yechuri lost midway during the course of election process. The leftists did a good job in selection of their candidates. Lot of new faces, intelligent and educated students were fielded by state leadership. Unfortunately, they were not backed up either by the state leadership or by the central leadership leading to their ignominious defeats by huge margin.
Fifth, Malda and Murshidabad districts considered to be the bastions of Congress were swept off by TMC this time. The Congress has always won Sujapur of Malda district. Not in 2021. Md Abdul Ghani of TMC defeated Isha Khan Choudhury, the sitting MLA by a huge margin of 130 thousand votes. Consider this statistics also – in 273 out of 294 seats the fight was bipolar between TMC and BJP. TMC has won 199 of these seats and BJP was second to TMC in 200 seats. So, is the debacle of Left and Congress accidental or matter of chance? Certainly not. It was a part of TMC’s game plan –Khela habe. In Malda and Murshidabad there was a whisper campaign. The Muslims voters were clandestinely approached and told not to waste their vote to the third front, but cast it to TMC. Muslims were scared that in case BJP comes to power, they all would be sent back to Bangladesh. Is Amit Shah listening? When he referred the immigrants from Bangladesh as termites and declared he would throw them out, little did he realize that his statement would backfire one day.
Getting a vote share of 48% is a tremendous achievement for a party which fought tooth and nail against all odds. TMC supremo focused on strategy dynamics which is a fact based approach to analyzing and improving performance over a period. ( Kim warren – Strategic Management Dynamics). Such a strategy is a mix of planned and unplanned activities to never reach a full equilibrium state. Compared to this, the strategy adopted by BJP leadership was static – it refused to align to real time situation. Perhaps, BJP’s macro economic management also suffers from this deficiency in as much as its political strategy does.
The Finance Minister during her budget speech this year drew inspiration from the great victory of Indian cricket team in Australia- “I can’t help but recall the joy that we as a cricket loving nation felt after the team India’s recent spectacular success in Australia.” As India emerges out of the year-long pandemic, it’s been a tall ask to present a budget for a nation of 1.3 billion people. The situation was so grim on the economic front that the country’s GDP had gone for a drastic free fall of 24% in the first quarter of 2020-21.
Noted economists Raghuram Rajan and Abhijit Banerjee were not happy with the economic package announced by the Finance Minister during the pandemic. They strongly favoured monetizing the fiscal deficit, wherein the Reserve Bank of India purchase Government debt and finance the debt by printing currency. Central Government, in turn, distribute cash to the common public to boost up demand.
The initial revival package announced by FM, unfortunately didn’t increase the Government expenditure to a significant extent. I recall the words of a great cricket commentator, Kishore Bhimani who, in one of the test matches of India with Australia when India was batting in the fourth innings fighting for a win or draw, gave his expert advice that the need of the hour was concentration in the first place, then consolidation and finally aggression to win. Perhaps Nirmala Sitharaman followed the advice of Kishore Bhimani unknowingly. She batted like Cheteshwar Pujara to begin with, but by doing so, she overlooked the contribution of shubman Gill. Gill wasn’t adventurous in the mould of Rishabh Pant, neither did he play the role of a consolidator like Pujara- but his was an approach of caution with a bit of aggression. When Nirmala sitharaman announced the revival package, she actually missed a trick by ignoring the wonderful opportunities of putting the economy back on rail through investment in the infrastructure sector of rural India.
Prime Minister Modi announced a complete lock down of the economy, but in effect the lock down was strictly implemented only in the urban sector. The rural economy continued to grow at a healthy pace of around 3% when the chips went down so badly for the manufacturing and services sector of urban India. A big push in the rural sector would have created alternative employment opportunities releasing pressure on the farm land and raising the consumption demand.
Be that as it may, the Finance Minister has finally broken down all the shackles and batted like Rishabh Pant and Washington Sundar in her union budget by nearly hitting the bull’s eye in her third attempt. The bold announcement to come out of the FRBM Act of 2003 by raising the fiscal deficit to 6.8% of GDP in 2021-22, increasing the FDI in insurance sector to 74%, privatization of Air India, BPCL, one General Insurance Company can certainly bring in resources without taking recourse to the easy way of printing currency notes. In addition, creating Asset Reconstruction Company or Bad Bank, concept of National Monetization Pipeline to monetize idle assets of PSUs & Government Department and creating Development Financial Institution for Infrastructure financing are steps in the right direction. Though these announcements may not lead to a paradigm shift in Indian economy, but this is a good beginning from a party influenced by RSS ideology which is against any decision of privatization or foreign capital infusion. These decisions coming at the backdrop of severe farm protest against the three farm bills speak volumes on the Government’s intent for a reform based growth.
However, the opposition leaders including some of the noted economists such as, West Bengal Finance Minister Amit Mitra thinks that the Government should have declared cash incentive to the lowest 25% people for a period of six months. According to Dr Mitra and kaushik Basu, professor of economics, Cornell University, the FM has done too little and too late in terms of revival of the demand in the economy. Cash incentive and not the infra push could only be the answer to the question of quick and immediate revival of sagging economy. The Indian economy is consumption based and what Covid has hit badly is the consumption which constitutes 58% of our GDP; so its recovery from the present day crisis has to be looked into an effective demand management policy.
Kaushik Basu was incidentally the Chief Economic Adviser when Indian economy faced recession due to the impact of global economic downturn of 2008 arising out of sub-prime crisis of USA. It would be interesting to see what the Government did to revive the economy during 2009-10. The situation was almost similar in 2008 and 2009 although the intensity was far less severe as compared to the precarious situation prevailing today. The Indian economy began to slow down even before the global recession hit our economy in 2008. The downward trend commenced in the first quarter of 2007-08 after reaching a GDP growth of 9.8% in the last quarter of 2006-07, a situation somewhat similar to the three quarters of pre-covid period when rate of growth of GDP started shrinking. Rate of growth declined to 6.7% in 2008-09. There was a sharp drop in export, sale of commercial vehicles, tax revenues reduced by 19%. What did the then Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee do to create demand in the economy? He took a series of measures towards fiscal stimulus, such as, reduction of excise duty, central sales tax, and announced incentives for export. Fiscal deficit for 2008-09 was 6.2% of GDP and 6.8% in 2009-10. Pranab Mukhrjee’s budget of 2009-10 was hailed as expansionary and so is the budget of 2021-22. Budget 2008-09 saw a steep rise of expenditure by 33% over the previous year. Nirmala Sitharaman increased the expenditure in 2020-21 to Rs 34.4 trillion from Rs 26.8 trillion in 2019-20. Expenditure projected for 2021-22 is Rs 34.8 trillion which, however, is a very modest increase over revised estimate of 2020-21. Perhaps, she could have stretched a bit more. I will come to that later. More important is the paradigm shift in Sitharaman’s budget to allocate a massive dose of capital expenditure amounting to Rs 5.5 trillion in 2021-22, a rise of about 28% over the last year. The UPA Government shied away from an infra push in their economic management. According to K V Subramanian, the Chief Economic Adviser of the Modi Government, there is a multiplier effect of 2.5 in respect of infrastructure investment in India. Thus an investment of Rs 5.5 trillion will generate Rs 13.75 trillion in the economy.
Subramanian and also Vivek DebRoy, Chairman, Economic Advisory Council feel that by investing enough in the formation of capital assets will not only ensure employment generation but result in adequate return in the near future helping to push the GDP upwards. There are enough instances in Indian history to erect monuments and grandiose structure to generate employment in crisis situation. One such building is the famous Bara Imambara or bhul–bhulaiya of Lucknow, an architectural masterpiece built by Nawab Asaf-ud-daula in 1780 to give employment to the people during a famine which lasted for a decade. It was a project conceived much before the modern era when the British economist John Maynard Keynes thought of state intervention to generate employment to tide over the great depression of 1930’s. Vivek Debroy, while supporting the idea to invest in infrastructure, has said that the policy is as good as teaching a person to fish instead of offering him fish, a quote ascribed to the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius.
The big budget presented is full of promises and bold initiatives- quite a bit of it was beyond our expectations leading to the equity market euphoria, which was in jitters just before the budget. Psychologically, big business houses, the ultra-rich and high net worth individuals were anticipating a higher tax burden. That the FM left them unscathed and untouched is itself a big bonanza or for that matter the budget 21-22 has done wonders in instilling a sense of confidence among the business community.
The FM has earned some brownie points no doubt, but budget 2021-22 will not be as smooth sailing as it is thought out to be. Sluggish bureaucracy, strong labour unions and an under-nourished rural economy are likely to put a dampener on the execution of various policy issues which are so sacrosanct for the efficacy of the budget. Take for example, the disinvestment target of Rs 1.75 trillion. The Government plans to privatize Air India, BPCL, IDBI and two PSBs which will bring in Rs one trillion. Rs 750 billion will be generated out of the disinvestment of a number of PSUs and IPO of LIC. Will these be achieved in a time line of 12 months? Without being skeptical about the intent of the FM, let’s see what she did on her disinvestment programme in the last two years. The FM had set a target of Rs 2.1 trillion disinvestment for 2020-21 and Rs 1.05 trillion for 2019-20. The actual achievement against this is Rs 500 billion in 2019-20 and a minuscule 320 billion rupees in 2020-21 (Estimated; actual achievement is 200 billion Rupees till December). As a matter of fact, we have never observed a sense of urgency to achieve the disinvestment target in the past. Privatization of IDBI and BPCL was planned out in 2020-21 and Air India much before that. If we continue to miss the disinvestment target by such huge margin, it would be well nigh impossible to finance the ambitious target of capital infusion without further raising the bar of fiscal deficit. Covid could be cited as an escape route to miss the target in 2020-21, but such excuses will not be tenable in 2021-22.
One more issue which the FM has grossly neglected is the investment in rural infrastructure. How much is the allocation to rural sector out of the allocated capital expenditure of 5.5 trillion Rupees? Virtually nothing. She has only increased the allocation to Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (Under NABARD) from 300 billion Rupees to 400 billion. But she hasn’t announced any new infrastructure development programme in the rural sector. Let’s remember that more than 60% of our population live in rural India. According to a statistical report presented by NDA Government in Parliament in 2019, there is a wide disparity between rural and urban per capita income in terms of Net Value added, which is Rs 98,000 for urban India and Rs 40,000 for rural areas. The media and the erudite urbanites keep debating about the accumulation of wealth in the hands of a few industrialists, but they are oblivious of the standard of living conditions in rural India. It is unfortunate that our rural population have always been considered as tailenders or B team. As a matter of fact, budget doesn’t bring them something to cheer about. An allocation of about 50% of the proposed capital outlay of the 2021-22 budget, say an amount of Rs 2.75 trillion towards development of infrastructure in the rural sector could have triggered a never seen before growth momentum in rural India. Additional capital outlay of Rs 2.75 trillion would have raised the fiscal deficit bar to 17.75 trillion Rupees which is 8% of GDP. Fiscal deficit of this order was certainly manageable with the type of multiplier effect it would have generated. With additional employment generation and increase in purchasing power, demand for the FMCG would have risen manifold, a phenomenon which would have boosted the growth of urban sector alike.
Since the Finance Minister decided against traversing the country roads this time, we have to wait one more year with the hope to get a better deal for our friends living in the countryside.
To celebrate the gallant effort of Bihar regiment which could successfully thwart the Chinese aggression at Galwan valley on 15th June, the Northern Command of Indian Army has tweeted a video: “Born to fight. They do what they do. They are not the bats, they are the Batman.”
What happened on 15th night sent shock waves across the country. In the past, the Chinese had transgressed into our territory umpteen number of times, but they went back after holding out for a few days. This time even after the bilateral talks for disengagement, they attempted to build fortifications in our territory, which resulted in pushing and shoving by our soldiers to their side of LAC. The Chinese were well prepared to pick up a fight using clubs wrapped with barbed wire. The Indian side had to bear the brunt of the first attack, till reinforcement was hurriedly sent in to retrieve the situation. But how did the Chinese soldiers set up camps in our side of LAC without being noticed? The intrusion and construction of bunkers at the valley did not occur overnight. It must have taken a few weeks for the Chinese soldiers to take positions at the vantage point of Galwan valley overlooking the confluence of Galwan and Shyok river. The Chinese soldiers do an annual exercise in Aksai Chin region after the winter is over. Indian side keep a close vigil on this area due to its strategic location. Perhaps, (perhaps because there is no official statement released by Indian Army), LAC at Galwan valley side was left unguarded, which could be due to a depleted strength of Army personnel as a result of covid 19. The Chinese have taken this golden opportunity to their advantage, because they know that the whole world is busy fighting a war with an invisible enemy. The map down below show the spots where Chinese soldiers have made an intrusion.
Galwan valley and Pangong tso are the two hot spots where the Chinese have already transgressed into our area and have started building bunkers and other permanent structures much to the chagrin of our leadership. Having said that, the question remains how we can go back to April 2020 position without losing our face. To do this we got to turn the pages. But before this, we must look into the intriguing Sino-Indian history to analyse the current problem in proper perspective.
Aksai Chin, the Mountainous Land Mass once so Unimportant, has become the centre of attention
R A Huttenback in his article, A historical note on the Sino-Indian dispute over the Aksai Chin in China quarterly of June 1964 issue, has described the area in the extreme North East of Ladakh, a bleak uninhabited highland which in the past was visited only by the inhabitants of the adjacent territories in search of salt (Salt flats are found here) and by occasional hunters. In 1717, however, the Aksai Chin was traversed by Tsunagar invaders of Tibet, and as if, to prove that history repeats itself, the Chinese occupied the area after 243 years, in 1960. Why were the Chinese interested in this desert area? After occupying Tibet in 1950, the Chinese wanted to connect their Xinjian province and Tibet by road.
As mentioned by Mr Huttenback, the British Government addressed a letter to the authorities in Peking in 1899 suggesting a mutual delimitation of the whole Sino-Indian border. Interestingly, the letter written by Sir C M Macdonald on behalf of British India Government dealt with Aksai Chin area also. The Chinese never replied to this proposal, nevertheless, in all their border negotiations, post 1947, both the Indian and the Chinese Communist Government have attempted to interpret this letter to their advantage, which means, this letter is well documented. We are restricting our discussion to Aksai Chin only, therefore, shall keep aside the other aspects dealt by Huttenback in his article. The map referred by Mr Huttenback suggests that more than half of the area of Akshai Chin (Eastern part) would fall in the Chinese territory, whereas, the rest of it till Karakoram pass would belong to India. Thus according to the proposal of British, the road built through Aksai Chin by China in 1957 fall in the Chinese territory.
China Completed building a road through Aksai Chin in 1957, but even before this, in 1956 China incorporated the whole of Aksai Chin area in their map.
Brigadier J P Dalvi, in his book, Himalayan Blunder, has written- In 1954-55, when Pandit Nehru was busy in furthering Panchsheel with zhou Enlai, the Chinese started surveying Aksai Chin to surreptitiously build a link road between Xinjiang and Tibet. India was caught napping until September, 1957, when the Chinese would announce the news of opening up an all weather road through Aksai Chin for movement of traffic. India sent a reconnaissance party to the area and one was arrested for intrusion.
Nehru decided to bite the bullet. He didn’t even inform the Parliament about the development in Aksai Chin. When questioned he gave a cryptic reply, “No particular occasion arose to bring the matter to the house because we thought we might make progress by correspondence, and when the time was ripe we would inform the house.”
One of the strangest episode of this period (1956-1958), recalls Brigadier Dalvi, is the visit of a high powered Chinese military, Naval and Air Force delegations, consisting of Marshals and Generals. To the utter amazement and consternation of the Indian Army, the delegation was sent on a sight seeing visit to every military establishment in India, with the orders to “show them everything.”
Time and again the Chinese troops intruded in parts of Ladakh and NEFA region in the late 1950’s, as if to give a wake up call to our political leaders about an impending battle. The game plan of the Chinese used to be very similar to what they have been doing in the last decade or so. They transgressed five to six kilometers inside our territory, had an eye ball to eye ball contact with our Army contingent in Ladakh or Assam Rifles in NEFA, and then all of a sudden, as if nothing had happened, would pull back. Right till 1962, Prime Minister treated such recurring Chinese incursions as isolated incidents and never contemplated any military response.
Opposition was never consulted on important matters such as, defence and foreign affairs. Why opposition, even the Prime Minister’s party colleagues were not consulted, other than perhaps the Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon and few senior bureaucrats. Welles Hanges, the famous journalist, while commenting on the Congress party said, “(It’s a) huge, amorphous coalition of conflicting interests united in little but their self interest.” The Party was made up of heterogeneous elements from princes to people from extreme right to extreme left, bereft of any common ideology. Without meaningful debate and compliant parliament and an adoring public, Nehru was left living in the fond hope of a peaceful settlement of Sino-Indian conflict.
An interesting episode of the parliament has been narrated by Shiv Kunal Verma, in his book, 1962: The war that was not. In August 1959, a Chinese contingent crossed the border and outflanked the Indian outpost at Longju (NEFA). They opened fire without any provocation. The Assam Rifles suffered heavy casualties and relinquished the post. Nehru felt so perturbed that he decided to inform the house about this incident. The Prime Minister admitted that serious disputes existed between India and China regarding India-Tibet border and that several thousand square kilometers of area in Ladakh was under Chinese control. He disclosed that China has already built a road across Aksai Chin. He then acknowledged that an outpost at Lonju had been taken over by the Chinese. Finally he announced that he decided to hand over NEFA to Indian Army. The announcement was made as if to reassure the members that the Government was in the know of the problems of the border and appropriate action was on hand. Shockingly, the announcement was greeted by the congress MPs by thumping their desk. Little did they realize about its implication and what was in store for our country! It would not be out of place to mention that the announcement to hand over NEFA to Indian Army was made without even consulting the then Chief of Army Staff General Thimayya.
Two years down the line when India faced Chinese aggression in Ladakh and NEFA region, China would come 160 to 170 kilometers inside NEFA. Bomdilla fell on 18th November and Chinese troops penetrated close to Tezpur, when, all of a sudden they declared a cease fire and moved back to the original positions. They, however, kept Aksai Chin and a few other areas of Ladakh under their possession.
Genesis of the Border Issue
Aksai Chin has a chequered history, but the border conflict arose not due to its usurpation by China, but due to their insatiable hunger to occupy the vast land mass known as Tibet which was discretely treated by the British as buffer zone between India and China. The border crisis with China was non-existent when Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) took control of the country in 1949, as such China was not a player in our national security. Tibet and India didn’t have any dispute over border, as Tibet accepted the Mcmohan line. Mao Zedong also considered Tibet as a separate country, a status enjoyed by Dalai Lama from an agreement with China in 1912. While the PLA was on long march they passed through the border regions of Tibet. They were provided food and shelter by the Tibetans, which was duly acknowledged by Mao Zedong: “This is our only foreign debt, and some day we must pay the Tibetans for the provisions we received from them.” (From Red star over China by Edgar Snow). However, in October 1950, the situation changed all of a sudden when People’s Liberation army made an intrusion inside Tibet and Mao Zedong proclaimed the liberation of three million Tibetans from imperialist aggression (Meaning British arrangement existing in Tibet). Tibetan Government sent SOS to Prime Minister Nehru for help. Nehru turned a deaf ear; Tibet was advised to settle the dispute peacefully with the Chinese authorities. British had always given utmost importance to the Northern border and planned it to work as a buffer state. Due to the existence of Tibet and Nepal in the Northern boundaries India had never faced any problem during British rule. The political leadership could not visualize the potential danger of northern border suddenly opening up. In the North East, China had already occupied Xinjiang which opened up Ladakh and now the entire NEFA region got exposed due to annexation of Tibet. No, I am not commenting this on the hindsight. B N Mullik, the chief of IB, advised the Govt for intervention, if possible by sending Indian troops, if not, by internationalizing the issue. Army Chief, General Cariappa refused to spare any troops for thwarting Chinese aggression in Tibet. B N Mullick later wrote in his book, Chinese Betrayal, “What Cariappa said at that time was very discouraging and disappointing because I had favoured military intervention in Tibet to save it from China.” India’s Deputy Prime Minister Ballabhbhai Patel also advocated to take up the issue strongly with China.
Later on, he wrote a letter on 7th November to Pandit Nehru highlighting the probable consequences of annexation of Tibet by China. This letter is a masterpiece from a visionary whose farsightedness in assessing the game plan of China seventy years ago is amazing, so much so that, it’s relevant about the Chinese even today. It’s a long letter, therefore, I am reproducing a few lines from it.
“The Chinese Government has tried to delude us by professions of peaceful intention. My own feeling is that at a crucial period they manage to instil into our Ambassador (Indian ambassador Mr K M Panikkar advised Nehru against any military assistance to Tibet) a false sense of confidence in their so called desire to settle the Tibetan problem by peaceful means. There can be no doubt that during the period covered by this correspondence the Chinese must have been concentrating for an onslaught on Tibet. The final action of the Chinese, in my judgement, is little short of perfidy.”
2. “In the background of this, we have to consider what new situation now forces us as a result of the disappearance of Tibet, as we knew it, and the expansion of China almost up to our gates.”
3. He cautioned Nehru against Chinese imperialism in a scathing attack against communism, “Recent and bitter history also tells us that communism is no shield against imperialism and that the communists are as good or as bad imperialist as any other….. Chinese irredentism and communist imperialism are different from the expansionism or imperialism of the western powers. The former has a cloak of ideology which makes it ten times more dangerous.”
4. “Thus, for the first time, after centuries, India’s defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of superiority over Pakistan. In our calculations we shall now have to reckon with with communist China in the north and in the north-east, a communist China which has definite ambitions and aims and which does not, in any way, seem friendly disposed towards us.”
5. He suggested to Nehru to step up procurement of arms, ammunition and armour, improving border roads, rails and communication system and create sufficient frontier outposts.
6. He also mentioned to reconsider India’s support to Chinese entry into UNO, “In view of the rebuff which China has given us and the method which it has followed in dealing with Tibet, I am doubtful whether we can advocate its claim any longer.”
How prophetic was Sardar Ballabhbhai Patel! So what did Nehru do on receiving this piece of advice from his deputy? He did nothing. On the contrary, when Tibet attempted to raise this issue in UNO for a discussion through El Salvador, the matter was not taken up on India’s suggestion, – ‘we shall resolve the issue mutually among India, China and Tibet’, that’s what the Indian representative said. So the matter rested there. Nehru also decided to divest Patel of his portfolios which included Home Ministry citing the reasons of his ill health. Patel was informed after the decisions were made. Sardar Patel passed away on 15th December, three days after he was stripped off his responsibility.
Nehru became busy in initiating a number of peace missions in Afro-Asian region. Taking a leaf from Buddhist philosophy, he signed Panchsheel with Zhou Enlai in 1954 to usher a peaceful co-existence among nations. Bhimrao Ambedkar commented in Rajya Sabha, “Our Prime Minister is depending on Panchsheel which has been adopted by Comrade Mao and Panchsheel which is one of the clauses in the non-aggression treaty on Tibet…….If Shri Mao had even an iota of faith in Panchsheel, he would have treated the Buddhists in his country in a different manner……..Prime Minister will realise the truth in my words when the situation matures further. By letting China take control of Lhasa, the Prime Minister, in a way, helped the Chinese to bring the armies on the Indian Borders. Any victor who annexes Kashmir can directly reach Pathankot, and I know it for sure that he can reach the Prime Minister’s house also.”
Why is Galwan valley a flash point?
The 1962 war began on October 20 in western sector, at Galwan valley. India maintained a fortification at the valley. A strong Chinese contingent intruded from Aksai Chin and started firing on our soldiers without any provocation. India lost 33 soldiers in the battle. The war had officially began. Galwan river valley has again become the flash point in 2020, when 20 Indian soldiers laid their lives on 15th June. PLA have already claimed that this valley belongs to them and India’s occupation of the valley is illegal. The importance of Galwan valley has increased manifold after construction of Darbuk-Shyok-DBO (DSDBO) road which has eased the forward movement of troops from Leh to Daulat Beg Oldie (DBO) airstrip situated at an altitude of 16500 feet. DBO airstrip had been made operational in 2005 by Air Marshal Pranab Barbora when he along with five other Air Force officials landed an AN 32 transport aircraft on DBO. Presently, the airstrip has landing facilities for Super Hercules C130 transport plane which can carry enough troops and armour for deployment around Galwan valley. The airstrip is located at a vantage point and its distance from Karakoram pass is only seventeen Kilometers. The place is adjacent to Chip Chap river and lies 8 kilometers south of Chinese LAC. Aksai Chin is within striking distance from DBO airstrip. The DSDBO road moves along Shyok river. The confluence of Galwan river and Shyok river is further south of Galwan valley. So if the Chinese take control of the valley, they will be able to damage the newly built DSDBO road and cut off link to DBO airstrip which will severely impact the movement of troops and other materials. The airstrip is also important to keep the supply chain to Siachen glacier operational even during inclement weather. The following map shows the location of Galwan valley in relation to the other important spots. Galwan river originates from Aksai Chin and and joins Shyok river, as shown in the map.
Historically, the Galwan valley was never part of the Chinese territory. Ladakh was under the occupation of the Sikhs until 1846, when they were defeated by British and entire Ladakh became part of British India. However, due to low strategic importance of the area at that time, the area between Pangong lake and Karakoram pass was left undefined. The border line drawn by Macdonald in 1999 (Map 2 of above refers) includes a portion of Aksai Chin as part of China, though it is amply clear that the confluence of Galwan and Shyok river and the valley above it, is shown under Indian occupation. At the time of independence, India adopted Johnson line (Made in 1865) which included the entire Aksai Chin under India. The Tibetan Government never objected.
It would not be out of place to turn the pages of history to know more about this region. The Galwan river valley is named after Ghulam Rasool Galwan, a resident of Ladakh, who used to accompany the Europeans on their trips to various parts of this region. Ghulam Rasool Galwan, while accompanying a team of European explorers in the late 1890’s, found out a narrow passage through the ravines to easily move ahead when they were virtually stuck by a tall wall of mountain. The leader of the expedition team, Dunmore Murray named the adjacent nullah after Galwan. Ghulam Rasool Galwan, later on, became very close to Francis Younghusband, a British explorer and started to work as his guide to travel to various parts of Ladakh and Tibet. With his help he wrote a book, Servant of sahibs – a book to be read aloud. Ghulam Rasool has written about his ancestor Karra Galwan who was a robber and was hanged by the Maharaja. According to Rasool, Galwan in Kasmiri means robber. Rasool knew only 14 to 15 words of English. That he could compile a travelogue spanning the vast terrains of Ladakh, Xinjiang, Tibet and Kashmir speaks volume about his grit and determination. He has narrated quite a number of incidents of altercation with the Chinese. However, since the stories are not much of relevance in the present context, I will close this episode with an interesting incident narrated by Rasool about their encounter with a group of Chinese. While travelling from Khotan to Keriya (both these places are located in Xinjiang) in a carriage, they got involved into a brawl with a Chinese group who were travelling from the opposite end. Rasool Galwan’s friends, Razan Akhun and Kalam Rasul took out knives to attack the Chinese. The Chinese also took out knives to fight. In Rasool Galwan’s own words, “When I begged the Chinese,then stopped the fight. But the friends got angry. Then he said-You are a foolish man as a mad man. This matter will bring bad luck, and you will kill some men; then will bring a bad name for the sahibs. This is no good, anybody to fighting in next country.”
Are the Chinese people listening?
Pangong Tso was a Place of Tranquility, but no More
I still remember my trip to Ladakh in 2006, when I had some intimate discussions with the army personnel. The situation in Ladakh, at that time, was peaceful. Indian Army had an outpost at the mouth of Pangong, from where they used to patrol on the lake by boat. The serene beauty of the surrounding mountains reminded me of Omar Sharif’s adventure in search of a canyon full of gold in the famous Hollywood block bluster Mackenna’s Gold. The lake is 13o kilometers long, out of which a third belongs to India and rest to Tibet. The water of the lake is bit salty, definitely not potable. One amazing feature of water of the lake is its change of colour throughout the day, obviously due to the reflection of various colourful mountains surrounding it.
The area’s strategic importance is not so much when we compare it with Galwan valley or Depsang, nonetheless, the Chinese made sufficient forward movement of their troops in this area in 1962 war. At present, there is a difference of opinion between the PLA and Indian Army about the line of actual control in Pangong lake. India claims that its territory extends up to finger 8 as against the Chinese claim that the area between finger 4 and 8 belongs to them. A finger is defined as mountain ridge protruding in the lake. The approximate length of the area between finger 4 and 8 is eight kilometers. India has established a post at finger 4. The Chinese side, on the other hand have already created bunkers and semi permanent structure on the hill located at finger 4. This has put a stop to the patrolling of India soldiers beyond finger 4.
As shown in the map, the Foxhole point located near finger 4 falls inside Indian LAC, but it’s presently occupied by China.
Khurnak fort located in the midway of Pangong lake (On the northern side of the lake, on the tip of Aksai Chin-map 2 refers) has also been a point of dispute between the Chinese and the Indians. The fort was under Indian control and they had a post there. However, the Chinese wrested control of the fort around July, 1958. In 1962 they further advanced up to Sirijap, the area around finger 8. The Chinese decided to forgo the land captured by them in NEFA, after declaring ceasefire, however, they kept control of Pangong tso upto finger 8 which has since become the LAC. Therefore, the Chinese claim of extending its LAC up to finger 4 is disputed by India.
Need for a Course Correction in India’s China Policy
It’s evident from our analysis that Chinese incursion in different parts of Ladakh are not isolated incidents. These are well orchestrated moves by the PLA of China with the backing of their top leadership. History of the Chinese Communist Party for the last seventy years is enough to indicate that these moves are akin to the forward movement of a pawn in a chess game to be followed by tactical movement of bishop or rook to put your enemy surrounded. Whether we call it a sinister design to establish a hegemony in Asia, or for that matter in the whole Afro-Asian region and Europe, or to ruthlessly decimate all democratic principles at home or abroad, we cannot but agree that its leadership is looking much ahead of us. There is, of course, no denying the fact that they have some advantages – upholding the doctrine of state capitalism, censoring media & press, backing powerful army to crush any opposition and the list goes on. When a single individual heads the legislature, executive and judiciary of a country, all decisions will be thick and fast unlike in a democratic set up. The National People’s Congress of China has removed the two term limit on Presidency and made Xi Jinping the life long President of the country. Xi Jinping has drawn an ambitious vision document 2050 to commemorate centenary of people’s revolution in China. He formulated a massive Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) project in 2013 spanning across Asia, Africa and part of Europe. He roped in sixty countries accounting for two thirds of global population. However, some of the prominent global leaders (which includes Modi), have stated that Xi’s idea is heavily biased towards his geopolitical ambition than it being an economic project. Modi objected to the construction of China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which is part of BRI. CPEC passes through the disputed area of Pakistan occupied Kashmir. Recently India also quit the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) consisting of 10 ASEAN nations, citing reasons for not providing adequate protection to India’s agricultural sector. China knows that India has decided to quit the forum to counter, dumping of cheap Chinese products into India. Quad (Quadrilateral Security Dialogue) consisting of India, Australia, Japan and USA has been formed much to the discomfiture of China, because it is seen as an initiative to oppose China’s continued militarization attempt to control strategic waterways in Asia-Pacific region.
Some of these decisions have irked Xi Jinping who has started to view India as the only road block in his ambitious expansionist plan in Asia. What can China do to teach India a lesson? The same what they did in 1962. India has an amorphous border of 3500 kilometers with China. So it wants to create disturbances along the border. In the eventuality of a war, India will fight a war either in its own land or in Tibet, but not in China, because China has created a buffer zone in 1950 by forcibly occupying Tibet. If China can position its soldiers in Nepal (not talking of today, but in the long run), parts of Eastern UP, Bihar will also be exposed.
Chinese leadership has been opposing India at the slightest pretext, using its veto power at the Security Council to support Pakistan and stall every proposal raised by India. China of today has objected to India’s entry to NSG, vehemently opposed its membership to Security Council, used its veto to the UN proposal to label Masood Azhar a global terrorist. We do appreciate Modi’s strong will power to thwart the Chinese programme of BRI in India. But, unfortunately, his other actions on China do not corroborate such mental toughness. It may sound bizarre, but both Modi and Xi are traversing the path of their founder fathers in formulating their bilateral policy with the neighbours-Modi’s bellicose attitude with Pakistan and soft pedaling with stronger neighbor China remind us of the Nehruvian approach of 1950’s; Xi’s brinkmanship, on the other hand, cast him in the mold of autocratic and expansionist leader, Mao Zedong.
Modi has met the Chinese President 18 times, yes 18 times in the last six years to foster friendship. Obviously, he has in mind, China’s aggressive posture, enormous economic and military strength. Therefore, it’s indeed debatable, if you can call it friendship or an appeasement policy. China is champion in playing a mind game. The Chinese military power house is testing and teasing India likewise they did in the 1950’s. But the days of appeasing the Asian giant are over after what has happened at Galwan Valley. If the medieval barbarism unleashed by the Chinese is a not a wake up call, then what would it be? Now is the time to openly despise China for its aggressive mannerisms in Hong Kong and raise our voice for the Uighurs in Xinjiang province of China. Fast tracking the infrastructure project in the border areas, installing state of the art electronic surveillance system, deploying Unmanned Aerial Vehicle for strike at short notice are to be planned in advance, not when we have the enemy at our door step. Sardar Patel talked about improving border roads in 1950. We have taken 20 years (2001-2020) to complete the construction of DSDBO road. Had it been completed in 2012, its original schedule, we wouldn’t have to face this ignominy today. Prime Minister Modi has to take a call to review his China policy. He had risked investing enormous political capital in one man, wasted so much time, energy to construct a relationship with a leadership which is imperious, domineering, ruthless and not trustworthy.
India’s reaction time, though late, appears to be adequate to win the psychological warfare. If need be, hopefully, India will not shy away to give a befitting reply in the valley. One important change which needs serious consideration by the Foreign Ministry, is permitting Indian troops to intrude into Chinese unguarded territory else where. These occupied spots can subsequently be used as leverage to free those areas infringed upon by them at Pangong lake and Galwan valley. We must not allow history to repeat itself. We must not languish in grief when a Prime Minister of a country had to say, “Perhaps there are not many instances in history where one country (i.e, India) has gone out her way to be friendly and cooperative with the Government and people of another country (i.e, China) and to plead their cause to the councils of the world, and that country returns evil for good.”
“One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.”
Indomitable Donald Trump
Any writing on covid 19 has to invariably invoke President Donald Trump. We haven’t seen any other global leader briefing daily to the media persons on the status of this deadly virus and thereby not losing any opportunity to take head on his detractors, such as, New York Times, Washington Post and the Democrats. By doing so, Trump claims that his viewership has become comparable to the most popular TV soap opera. The graph of coronavirus and his popularity are on the rise simultaneously. In the middle of February he said, “one day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Two months later when more than eight hundred thousand Americans are infected and death toll has risen over forty thousand, President Trump is nonchalant. In the same White House press briefing, he joked about hooking up with models during a presentation by Dr. Debora Birx, the white House coronavirus response coordinator. She was explaining various scientific models which could potentially lower the impact of the virus gradually to which President Trump quipped,
“The models show hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, I want to come way under the models. The professionals did the models. I was never involved in a model. At least this kind of a model.” Let’s not forget, first lady Melania Trump is a former fashion model, so were his other two former wives.
Back Home- Modi and his Lock Down
Back home the deadly virus has eased the life of Prime Minister Modi. Appearance of corona has ensured meltdown of opposition and NRC movement. Nirmala Sitharaman who had a torrid time during the Union Budget session this year is now a relaxed, calm and composed Finance Minister. Nobody is questioning her on NPA, GDP or fiscal deficit. Nobel laureate Abhijit Banerjee is recommending to print currency notes to generate purchasing power in the economy. Fiscal deficit is passe, life and livelihood are in thing for coffee house discussion.
So a relaxed Modi, appeared on our TV screen on 24th March and declared-Mere Pyare Deshvasiyo, aaj raat bara bajese, zara dhyanse suniyega, aaj thik raat bara bajese, sampurna bharatme sampurna lockdown hone ja raha hai (Dear countrymen, from 12 o’ clock tonight, complete lock down is imposed in our country). Same domino effect-but mitron is replaced by deshvasiyo.
Trains halted, buses stopped, flights suspended, all industries shut shops with a four hour notice. At the stroke of midnight of 24th March, fifty million workers lost their jobs. Modi’s pyare deshvasiyo didn’t raise an eye brow, as if sampurna lock down was inevitable. His biggest critics Mamatadidi and Kejribhaia supported him wholeheartedly. What Modi couldn’t achieve in seven years, Covid 19 gave him in just one month.
Lock Down in the Reverberated City Known as Kolkata
Kolkata is a city of contrasts, the most vibrant, yet chaotic. The constant hustle and bustle brings a life to this city. But as an outsider, I am sure, you will feel claustrophobic in the swell of humanity on the road, in the railway stations, in the metro trains and in the market places. Then, that’s what the city is, it’s the people which make this city reverberating, pulsating with energy. So how do the Calcuttans feel during lock down? Are they bored? Let’s find out.
Two days after the imposition of lock down, I rang up one of my old friends, who is a board member of a reputed public limited company.
“So how are you enjoying working from home?”
I was surprised to hear his grumpy voice- “I am not working from home, I am working for home.”
“Arrey, then what will your juniors do, if you don’t guide them?”
“I still guide them, but only on how to work for home.”
I realized, the business models are reshaping very fast. Then he goes on to explain me how busy he is in restructuring the household chores by applying various management techniques. I believe, he is doing a process reorientation in his kitchen by applying lean management principles.
My Housing Complex
Talking about our engagement and busy schedule, I would like to invite you to visit my housing complex- that could certainly become a role model during lock down.. The residents, here, have constituted a three tier management structure to fight Covid 19. They are holding daily meetings (of course, video meetings) and taking so many important decisions!
However, the most crucial decision that they are unable to take is whether to permit the maid servants from entering into the premises. Or if they are permitted, what SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) should be prescribed for their hygiene. Some of the residents are convinced that maids do not maintain proper sanitation, so each of them can be a good conductor of this virus. Strong logic. By stopping the entry of maids they are sure to keep the deadly virus at bay. Seems, the male folk are finding the household work more fascinating than office work. Modi will have a tough time to take these people back to work.
Second important issue is how to take the pet dogs for roaming inside the complex. So the decision is to take only one dog out at a time from each building. Dogs too have to maintain social distancing. By the way I am a bit confused by the term ‘social distancing’. Does it include physical distancing also? Hey, I don’t want to be in this controversy because I have serious doubt in my linguistic proficiency. Since everybody is using this term, I may use it as well. The latest, I heard from my fellow residents, is that pet owners are extremely busy in teaching the dogs how to use commode. We have many management experts in our township; they will, for sure, train them to use flush as well.
Be that as it may, I must admit that there is no dog menace in our society. These dogs are truly their masters’ voice. Alas, only a few obstinate residents are refusing to follow instructions of the Housing Committee. The third serious issue is how to disinfect the elevator. The maids, paper vendors and milkman all are using the same elevator, so chances of spreading virus through elevator is maximum. Somebody gave an excellent suggestion- why don’t we distribute match box to all people, so that in stead of using their fingers, they can use a match stick to press the floor number button? One suggested that each elevator should allow four passengers and they should stand at four corners facing the elevator wall, so that norms of social distancing are not violated.
Bongs are sorely missing the joy of visiting Shabji Bazar
Kolkata boasts of a number of retail vegetable outlets all around the city. Kolay market, Jadubabu’s bazar, Lake Market, Hatibaghan bazar, Manicktala Bazar draw huge crowd daily. Then we have the famous Shyambazar, Radhabazar, Jan Bazar etc all of which became famous places because of the existence of a bazar there. Bengalis are fond of going to the market daily to buy vegetables and fish. They will not eat basi food (Overnight). Buying vegetables is not so easy, in fact it’s an art, or that’s what I learnt from my father who would go to the market daily. He took me along with him one day, when I was in class VI. He gave me a few tips before venturing out to deal with the sabjiwalas, who I found, were shouting in different tones to attract the customers-imagine half a dozen cacophonix singing around you! “First and foremost,” my father explained, “you must make several rounds in the market and check the prices in different shops. Then, you go to the shop offering the lowest price.”
“You should check the quality of each of the vegetables before the seller start weighing. Check the freshness of ladies finger by breaking its tip. If the brinjal is light weight, double check it for insect inside.” ” Most important of all”, he said, “what vegetable you buy will help you decide the menu for your lunch and dinner. That’s how you decide to buy different types of vegetables for Shukto, Chachhari or mochar ghanta.”
I must admit, I became an efficient supply chain manager later on by following these simple tips. Lock down has truly dispirited the ever enthusiastic Bengali market goers.
I couldn’t help quoting a hilarious Whats App post that I came across recently.
I oent to bajar today, holding my tholey tight
A beauty samar morning it oas, hot and bright
The eyar is so clean, no poblem, no riks at all
Few shops open, I cud count them all
Ginni ordered in the morning-go, buy alu, posto and pheesh
My dhoti loosen in fear, I deyar not defy her ooeesh
I did the bajar to the content of her heart
Ginni ooeel be relax, ish how nicely I did my part
I was oaking back home, whistling like Rajesh Khanna
My tholey full with tarkari and pheesh, for ginni’s ranna
Suddenly I felt a pen deep in my pachha
In anger, I turned turned around, “Ke re byata, shuorer baccha?”
Oh Maa Kali. What I see,
shuorer bachha is none other than pooleesh, putting danda at me
I ran like Naxalite, like Maradona, Pele
Who ooeel eat ginni’s ranna, ami more gele.
Coffee Houser Sei Addata
aaj aar nei (The famous adda of coffee house is missing). My memory lane goes back to the days, when I used to take a long leisurely walk down the roads of Behala, I could find out plenty of people squatting on the footpath to play cards and carrom. There are those other set of people who will sit in the small chai shop and discuss about all issues ranging from cinema, politics or literature. The more intellectual types would assemble in the iconic coffee house of college street to discuss about a book of poems or a novel. Then there are many colonial era private clubs in Kolkata, such as, Calcutta club, Bengal club, Tollygunge club and Saturday club where educated, cultured and aristocratic group of people would assemble and sit for an adda. Nowhere else, people have the time and inclination to sit at leisure with friends to have a long chit chat session. Bengalis are proud of their adda culture, because this is what gives them the intellectual spark. In our residential complex we have a few designated adda zones which are all occupied by senior citizens. One of my young friends who is around 45 years of age is already a worried man. He says, “You guys have occupied all the adda zones in our premise. What will happen when we retire from our services?”
“You wrinkly senior citizens are also not going to die soon because so much medicines are coming up daily to keep you fit.”, he grumbles. Thank God, his wishes might now be fulfilled with corona’s entry.
Celebrating nababarsha and celebrating 25th Baishakh, kabiguru’s birthday with the rendition of lots of rabindra sangeet, dance drama and poem will all be missing this year. Bengali literature, I am sure, is going to take a beating in the absence of adda.
Dude, it’s Party Time
The younger lot have to stay put in their houses, because they are working from home. So Saturday and Sunday are the only days they can join a party, I mean the virtual party. So each of them in their respective groups sit at 8 in the evening with drinks and dinner, log on to their laptop from different places and join the cloud party. The sudden lock down with a four hour notice had initially put the young brigade to a lot of inconvenience. How do they enjoy their weekend parties without drinks? Mamatadidi came to their rescue. She introduced home delivery of foreign liquor, of course at a premium. But then, money is not an issue for these youngsters. While talking to one of the young guys working in IT sector, he admits that they have started enjoying the lock down days. You don’t have to drive in a metro city, no hassles of traffic jam, you relax while you work or work while you relax. Food arrives at the door step. And you enjoy the week ends. Finally, I could see some silver lining!
Missing the Yellow Cabs
Ambassador is at the receiving end for the last few years, particularly after the introduction of Ola and Uber in Calcutta roads. In our younger days, we had seen the yellow taxies (black and yellow then) driven by the sardarjis. However, on returning to this city after 35 years, I found the Sardarji drivers were missing. I came to know that most of them left for Punjab, after the Sikhs were massacred in 1984 riot. Most of the ambassadors, now a days, are driven by Bihari drivers. But much like the missing Sikh drivers, the yellow ambassadors have also disappeared in Kolkata streets once the lock down is imposed. We still find a few Uber cabs plying in the city. I do not know the reasons for the State Government’s decision to permit Uber and not the iconic Ambassador on Kolkata roads during lock down.
Coronavirus Lost the Race Finally
Don’t be ecstatic. I am talking about the great comic strip of Asterix and Obelix who defeated Coronavirus in a chariot race. I am so fond of these guys that I have started reading their adventures all over again. And I profusely thank Prime Minister Modi for giving me this wonderful opportunity to revisit them and many more during my sojourn. R. Goscinny and A Uderzo, the creators of this wonderful comic strip are no longer there. In their absence Jean-Yves Ferri and Didier Conrad are doing a marvelous job in creating new stories. One such engrossing story is “Asterix and the Chariot Race,” published in 2017. The duo Asterix and Obelix took part in a chariot race organized by who else than the Roman King Julius Caeser. The race commenced from Modicia (in Sicily) and concluded at Neapolis (Naples) near Mount Vesuvius, thus covering the whole of Italy. Rome participated in the race with a masked charioteer named Coronavirus ably assisted by Bacillus. At the fag end of the race Asterix and Obelix defeated coronavirus and were declared winner. Lo and behold: when the charioteer was unmasked it was found that coronavirus was none other than Caeser himself.
Today, coronavirus has made us wear mask. We are waiting for the day when coronavirus (or its disappearance) will unmask us!!!
The wheel has turned full circle. Dr. Shyama prasad Mukherjee, the founder of Bharatiya Jana Sangh, was a severe critic of the decision to grant special status to Jammu & Kashmir by incorporating Article 370 in Indian constitution. He was refused permission to visit Kashmir in 1953 to support the Praja Parishad which was established by Jammu’s majoritarian Hindu population as a challenge to National Conference. Praja Parishad raised the slogan for one nation, oneconstitution, one flag and one Prime Minister in order to raise their voice against the special status given to Kashmir. Dr. Mukherjee was arrested while entering Kashmir without valid permit. He died mysteriously, while in custody, on 23rd June. Came 5th August, 2019. Home Minister, Amit Shah snapped the seventy year old Gordian knot with one stroke, and with that, claims BJP that they have fulfilled the dream of its founder Dr. Shyama Prasad Mukherjee.
Kashmir Just after independence
Modern Kashmir’s history dates back to 1846, when Gulab Singh purchased the Kashmir valley from East India Company on payment of Rs. 75 lakh and established Dogra regime. Gulab Singh was granted autonomy except defence and foreign affairs which continued to be under British paramountcy. In course of time, he acquired Gilgit-Baltistan region. Ladakh was already with the Dogras before they got hold of the valley. By the end of 19th century, Jammu & Kashmir shared border with Afganistan, Tibet and Sinkiang province of China. The strategic importance of J & K acting as a buffer state between China, Russia (only a small strip of land in Afganistan separated Russia and Kashmir) and Tibet (still independent) was enormous. At the time of independence and creation of Pakistan, J & K was ruled by Maharaja Hari Singh, the great grand son of Maharaja Gulab Singh. The state had a predominantly Muslim population which made Mohammad Ali Jinnah to think that it should join Pakistan after partition.
Vallabhbhai Patel, India’s Home Minister, was inclined to give away Kashmir to Pakistan, if Pakistan abandoned its claim on Junagarh. Junagarh was a state which had a majority Hindu population under Muslim ruler. When Jinnah refused to relinquish his claim on Junagarh, Patel decided to stake India’s claim on J & K. But Maharaja Hari Singh had other idea. He refused to accede to either India or Pakistan. He wanted J & K as an independent country. In the mean time, Sheikh Abdullah had established National Conference. He demanded complete transfer of power to the people of Kashmir. According to him, it was not the Maharaja but the people of Kashmir who should decide their fate, whether to merge with Pakistan or India.
Dramatic development in the valley
In September 1947, Nehru confided to Patel that he was not feeling at ease with the attitude of Maharaja Hari Singh who had been procrastinating on his decision to join India. He suspected that something serious was brewing up from Pakistan. Patel wanted to annex J & K without delay, otherwise, it would seriously jeopardize India’s balance of power in the region. Nehru was toying with the idea to remove Hari Singh and install Sheikh Abdullah as the head of the state with guarantee of some sort of autonomy to the state. Nehru drew enmity with Hari Singh when he was arrested in 1946 while entering the valley to meet Sheikh Abdullah. On the other hand, he was impressed with the secular ideology and rising popularity of the Sheikh in the valley. The two leaders met first time in 1937 and both of them seemed to have developed a mutual admiration for each other on various sociopolitical issues. In 1939, Sheikh decided to rename his party from Muslim Conference to National Conference to include Hindus and Sikhs as members of the party. Inspired by India’s Quit India Movement, Sheikh Abdullah led a massive quit Kashmir movement against Hari Singh in 1946. Sheikh was arrested. Nehru supported Sheikh Abdullah wholeheartedly, which antagonized Maharaja so much that he got him arrested in Kashmir. That he regretted Nehru’s arrest a year later after Kashmir joined India was another story. With the bonhomie between Nehru and Sheikh growing stronger and Sheikh opposing him tooth and nail in the valley, Maharaja now (in 1946) loathed the idea to join India. If he joined India, Sheikh Abdullah’s National conference would slowly unseat him with the backing of Nehru. The question of joining Pakistan would endanger the status of Hindu minority population of J & K, as Pakistan had been carved out on religious line . Maharaja, including his council of ministers, decided to remain independent. Maharaja stated that he wanted to keep friendly relationship with both India and Pakistan. His dream was to make Kashmir the Switzerland of of the East.
By the end of October the situation changed dramatically in the valley. The Pashtuns from the North Western Frontier Province invaded Kashmir from the western side. Till today it is not clear who instigated the Pashtuns to invade the valley. Some believe that Pakistan precipitated a proxy war to destabilize the region and throw out Maharaja Hari Singh who was not inclined to join Pakistan. Jinnah denied such allegation. Eye witnesses confirmed that Pakistan didn’t directly participate in the invasion, however, logistics were provided by them to help the forward movement of the tribal. Be that as it may, the tribal invasion crushed the hope of independent Kashmir for good. The tribal force moved quickly down to Jhelum Valley. They captured Muzaffarabad (now the capital of Azad Kashmir). In a couple of days, Uri fell to the tribesmen. They captured and plundered Baramula which was hardly 80 kilometers away from Srinagar. Maharaja Hari Singh understood the gravity of situation. He fled to Jammu and sent a message to Delhi for military assistance. Nehru, on the advice of Governor General Lord Mountbatten, assured assistance subject to accession of J & K to Indian dominion. Things moved thick and fast in the next few days. On 26th October Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession in Jammu and next day Indian troops landed in Srinagar.
The tribal force could not match the military acumen of Air Force and Army. Normal life returned to Srinagar soon after. Indian army captured Baramula on 8th November. Uri fell a couple of days later. However, the military operations were suspended temporarily due to advent of winter in the valley. Indian Army could not proceed towards Muzaffarabad which was still under tribal occupation.
Nehru’s thoughts on Kashmir
Nehru, however, was not feeling comfortable to continue a long drawn battle in the valley. He began his peace initiative by sending Mountbatten to Pakistan to hold discussion with Jinnah. Liaquat Ali Khan, Prime Minister of Pakistan was also invited to Delhi. The discussions failed. Indian side proposed to hold a plebiscite which was not acceptable to Pakistan as they feared Muslim population could be influenced by Sheikh Abdullah to be on India’s side. Nehru wrote a letter to Maharaja Hari Singh and suggested four alternatives to solve the Kashmir problem. First option was to go for a plebiscite by which people of J & K would decide whether they would join Pakistan or India. Second option was to make the state independent with its defence looked after jointly by Pakistan and India. Third option was to merge Jammu with India and rest of the state with Pakistan. The last alternative was to integrate Jammu and the valley with India and rest with Pakistan. Nehru strongly believed that a lasting solution would be possible if the fourth alternative was adopted. Ramachandra Guha, while referring to Nehru’s letter, commented: It shows that, contrary to the popular wisdom, the Indian Prime Minister was quite prepared to compromise on Kashmir. (source: India after Gandhi)
Nehru was greatly influenced by Lord Mountbatten and Sheikh Abdullah for his Kashmir policy. He wanted Sheikh Abdullah to form a democratic Government in Kashmir valley. As a matter of fact, Mahatma Gandhi too thought highly about Sheikh. Gandhi, in a meeting in Delhi, spoke about Sheikh: Kashmir cannot be saved by Maharaja. If anyone can save Kashmir , it is only the Muslims, the Rajputs and Sikhs who can do so. Sheikh Abdullah has affectionate relationship with all. Sheikh Abdullah was quite familiar with the valley (India occupied Kashmir) which had 90% Muslim population from Sunni sect, whereas, the Pakistan occupied Kashmir had predominantly Shia population (80% in 1947 since reduced to 40%). Sheikh Abdullah was not interested in the territory beyond Poonch. Maharaja Hari Singh finally accepted Nehru’s proposal to appoint Sheikh Abdullah as his Prime Minister in March 1948. Mountbatten was reprimanded by both Clement Attlee and Winston Churchill for his complicity with Nehru and Sardar Patel to decide on the issue of sending troops to Srinagar. Alex Von Tunzelmann narrated the proceedings of the meeting between Mounbatten and Churchill in her book IndianSummer. In November, while India was fighting war in Kashmir Valley, Mountbatten travelled to London to attend his nephew’s (Prince Phillip) royal wedding. He met Churchill who told him categorically that his sending British soldiers to crush and oppress the Muslims in Kashmir was an act of betrayal. He described Nehru and Patel as enemies of Britain and the Muslims as Britain’s allies. Mountbatten came back to India and mounted pressure on Nehru to take the Kashmir issue to United Nations. India approached UN in January, 1948 with the suggestion to issue directive to Pakistan to clear the northern parts which were occupied illegally by groups loyal to Pakistan. Both British and Americans vigorously supported the Pakistani position. Nehru later regretted to internationalize the Kashmir issue on the advice of Mountbatten.
The bloody war that followed
Summer set in and Ice started melting in the valley. The issue of Kashmir still hanging in UNO, India and Pakistan commenced their first battle to take control of Kashmir. Indian forces attacked the southern side recapturing Jhanger and Rajauri. Poonch was freed after a siege over one year. The tribal forces with the backing of Pakistani Army infiltrated to Ladakh region. They captured Drass and Kargil and brought Leh under siege. India’s counter offensive in Ladakh as narrated by Sandeep Bamzai is reproduced below:
On 1 November 1948 while the snow fell and bitter frost and chill enveloped the valleys across the Zoji La, the first offensive was developed by the combined efforts of the Indian Army’s tanks and infantry. General Thimmaya was at the head of the advancing columns and personally visited every section and brought the various columns-armour, infantry and gunners-into proper formation with a view to poise them against the enemy.
Source: Nehru and Kashmir by Sandeep Bomzai A squadron of Stuart MK-VI tanks were dismantled and physically pushed by the jawans to Zo Zila height. The very appearance of the tanks dampened the morale of the Pakistani soldiers who made hasty retreat. After conquering Zo Zila, Indian troops advanced towards Kargil which was recaptured on 24th November. Thus Indian soldiers cleared the mountain ranges of both sides of Kargil. The defeat of Pakistan Army in Kargil resulted in clearance of the entire Ladakh region including Zanskar, Nubra Valley. While the Indian army was advancing in full swing after recapturing Kargil, Pakistan army retreated and planned to defend Skardu, as that could be the next target of Indian Army. The Indian army wanted to move on towards Muzzafarabad in the west and Skardu in the north. Nehru’s private Secretary Dwaraka Nath Kachru visited the places and sent personal reports which had been documented. On one occasion Kachru wrote to Nehru, ‘The military operations are going on successfully and according to plan and gradually large areas are being liberated and reclaimed. If, however, the request of General Thimmaya is acceded to and some more troops are loaned to him, we may in the very near future find ourselves in the occupation of Muzzafardabad.’ However, the request was not granted. Indian Army halted its forward movement with substantial portion of western and northern parts of Kasmir still under Pakistani occupation. Ceasefire, finally agreed upon by both sides under UN mediation, was made effective on 5th January,1949, with the condition that Pakistan would withdraw its force and Indian side would keep a minimum strength just to preserve the law and order situation. After completion of the formalities, a plebiscite would be held to determine the future of Kashmir. The plebiscite could never be held as Pakistan and India refused to comply with the process of demilitarization; India insisting that Pakistan had to withdraw first and Pakistan raising doubt about India’s intention to withdraw subsequently.
Kashmir map redrawn
Before Kashmir was annexed to India, its total area was 2,22,236 Sq. Kilometers. Subsequent to the ceasefire, 45% of Kashmir is under Indian control, 35% under Pakistan control and 20% is under the control of China. Pakistan is occupying the Western Zone known as the Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan region which was leased out to British by Maharaja Hari Singh. Gilgit-Baltistan area was annexed to Pakistan by Major Brown who was the commanding officer in charge on behalf of the British. The total area occupied by Pakistan is 78,000 sq km. China is in possession of Indian territory of Aksai Chin covering an area of about 37,250 sq. km. In addition, Shaksgam valley covering an area of 7000 sq. km ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963.
On 28th August, 1959, Nehru made a startling announcement in Lok Sabha about Aksai Chin: Some reports reached us between October 1957 and February 1958 that a chinese detachment had crossed the international frontier and visited Khurnak Fort, which is in the Indian territory…… The Chinese claimed that part of the territory was theirs……..We sent a further note to them expressing surprise at this claim and giving them the exact delineation of the traditional international frontier in this sector…..No replyhas so far been received. He further added: This area is practically uninhabited. It is mountainous, even the valleys are at a height of 13,000 feet. The exact time when Aksai Chin was annexed by China has not been disclosed till date. Three days later, Nehru further disclosed that China had already built a 1200 kilometer road, connecting Xinjiang and Tibet, which passes through Aksai Chin.
As the border dispute with China was taking an ugly turn it was necessary to sort out the differences through diplomatic channel. The two sides finally agreed to meet in 1960 to resolve the border dispute. The Chinese premier Chou En-Lai had a marathon discussion with Nehru in New Delhi in the month of August, 1960. Chou En-Lai insisted that delimitation had never been carried out either on the eastern sector or on the western sector, whereas, Nehru referred to the existing Mcmahon line demarcating the respective territory of India and China. Finally the Chinese premier offered to maintain status quo which meant that both sides would accept the border in line with the areas under their administrative control. It was evident, China was more interested to retain control over Aksai Chin to facilitate quick movement of their supplies and troops to Tibet from XinJiang region. As a quid pro quo, they would not claim NEFA (now Arunachal Pradesh) on the eastern sector. With this, the border dispute could be resolved once for all between the two nations.
Nehru had a great opportunity to resolve the border dispute with the Chinese Premier, nevertheless, he refused to budge probably because he was apprehensive about the backlash from the right wing parties . An amicable solution of border dispute in 1960 with China was possibly the best course of action to prevent the Sino-Indian war of 1962.
Autonomy Vs Integration-A never ending debate
Now that India and Pakistan agreed to withdraw their respective troops behind UN monitored ceasefire line, it was time for Nehru to settle the future of Kashmir. Sheikh Abdullah was firmly on the saddle as the first Prime Minister of J & K. Sheikh wanted Kashmir to be part of India, because he thought, and therefore, convinced the people of Kashmir (Valley) that full freedom was impractical and joining Pakistan was against the secular principles of National Conference. But Kashmir needed more autonomy with respect to the other states of India. Therefore, he proposed to have a separate Constituent Assembly for the state to draft its own constitution. Delhi Agreement of 1952 was historic. The state was already accorded (1949) special status under article 370. J & K was now given separate constitution and flag of its own. The head of the state and Government would be called Sadar-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister respectively. Special permit would be required to enter the state. Matters relating to defence, foreign affairs and communication would be dealt by the centre. In addition, Artcle 35 A was enacted in the Indian constitution in 1954 through a Presidential order to define permanent residents of the state and empower them with certain special privileges, such as, purchase of land and property in the state, right to vote and contest election, seek Government employment. Non permanent residents were not entitled to these benefits.
J & K was not the only state which enjoyed some special privileges. Artcle 371 of Indian Constitution also gives certain special privileges to some of the North Eastern states to retain their ethnic character. Artcle 371 A states that no act of parliament will apply to Nagaland relating to religious and social practices of Nagas and ownership of transfer of land and resources, which means state legislature alone can take decisions in all such matters. Artcle 371 G with similar provisions is applicable for Mizoram. Article 371 F and 371 H with special provisions apply to Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh respectively. Indian citizens need Inner Line Permit to enter Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram and Nagaland.
Dilution of Article 370
A number of steps were taken by the union Government during the period from 1953 to 1975 to extend various provisions of Indian Constitution which have made significant erosion in the state’s autonomy. Some of these are listed below.
(i) In 1958 all India services (IAS, IPS) were introduced. The functions of C & AG were also extended to J & K.
(ii) In 1960 the state was brought under the jurisdiction of Supreme Court.
(iii) In 1964 Articles 356 and 357 of the constitution were made applicable to facilitate imposition of President’s rule during emergency
(iv) In 1965, the posts of Sadar-e-Riyasat and Prime Minister were replaced by Government and Chief Minister.
(v) In 1966 provisions related to direct election to Lok Sabha were made applicable.
(vi) In 2017, GST which was introduced in the state one week after its implementation in rest of India, in a way, destroyed the state’s fiscal autonomy.
Who robbed Kashmir of its autonomy?
History has been too unkind to the people of Kashmir. There is a plethora of histories written on Kashmir and its people and almost all historians are unanimous in their opinion about exploitation of the Kashmiris due to relentless nonnative rule. A peek into the history makes it evident that Kashmir’s people never enjoyed freedom and autonomy. Ever since the annexation of Kashmir by the Mughals in 1589, the region has never been ruled by Kashmiris themselves. After Mughals came the Afgans and after Afgans came the Sikhs. Dogras ruled the state for hundred years until India and Pakistan took over. Kashmir was virtually treated as commodity when Dogras purchased the valley from British by paying Rs. 75 lakh. India and Pakistan decided to divide the state into two slices and kept one each to fulfill their own ambition of territorial expansionism.
Years of exploitation and oppression by the foreign rulers perhaps silenced the valley people. When Maharaja Hari Singh was undecided about his decision whether to join Pakistan or India, the people of Kashmir didn’t express their opinion. When Pashtuns infiltrated Kashmir and defeated Maharaja’s force, they neither fought against them nor did they extend their arm of friendship to the intruders. When Kashmir was annexed to India and Sheikh Abdullah compromised with Delhi for truncated autonomy of the valley, they didn’t raise their voice. Each of the three top leaders, Sheikh Abdullah, Pandit Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah, played a distinctive role in shaping the future of Kashmir.
By the time India was independent Sheikh became an undisputed leader of the valley. He had already called for freedom from the kingdom and establishment of democratic set up in the valley. Kashmiris were ignorant about their right to participate in the democratic process. Sheikh made an immense contribution to the people of Kashmir to propagate the principles of secularism, pitfalls of the Dogra dynastic rule and establishment of a democratic set up. But Sheikh Abdullah was quite vacillating in his character, which had often been reflected in his decision making. In stead of earning a special status for Kashmir, he could have easily fought for independence of Kashmir in 1948 when he had the mass support behind him. Sheikh, in consultation with his friend Nehru decided to choose the easier option to become Prime Minister of the partitioned state with truncated autonomy. Azad Kashmir had shia dominated Muslim population and Sheikh had little influence on them. He advised Nehru not to proceed beyond Poonch and be content with the territory that Indian Army could recapture till December 1948. His sole objective was to oust Maharaja Hari Singh and compromise on the principle of complete autonomy of the valley. When he realized his mistake in 1953 and started having dialogue with the Americans for economic assistance for an independent valley, it was too late. He was imprisoned by his long time friend and guide Pandit Nehru. Sheikh, later on, repented his act of compromise in the Delhi Agreement of 1952.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru
Nehru was a Kashmiri himself, so he had always been sentimental about Kashmir issue. His decision making process on Kashmir was greatly influenced by emotions rather than logic and visionary strategy. Such intense was his love for the valley that once he confided to Edwina Mountbatten: Kashmir affects me in a peculiar way; it is a kind of mild intoxication-like music sometimes or the company of a beloved person. (Source: Indian Summer by Alex Von Tunzelman). Nehru wanted Kashmir to be an integral part of India, but he was always fearful about staging a war which would undermine his stature as a peace loving person. How beautifully Alex Von Tunzelman has described the momentous decision of sending troops to the valley on the 26th of October when J& K acceded to India. Nehru, Mountbatten, Sam Manekshaw, Patel were debating in a meeting in Delhi about sending troops to Srinagar. Nehru, as usual (as told by Manekshaw to Ms. Tunzelman), was attempting to contextualize the Kashmir situation, talking about it in relation to Russia, the US, the UN. Eventually Patel exploded: Jawaharlal, do you want Kashmir or do you want to give it away? Nehru replied: Of course, I want Kashmir. Before he could add anything else, Patel turned to Manakshaw, and said: You have your orders. It was Patel who went off to All India Radio and ordered a command requisitioning private aircraft. It was Patel who organized the fly-in of Indian troops to Kashmir the next day. Only later did Mountbatten realize that the Home Minister must have had the whole operation planned in advance.
Nehru never wanted full autonomy of Kashmir. On more than one occasion he had shown his apprehension about the stability of an independent Kashmir. An independent Kashmir could be usurped by Pakistan and ultimately become ‘an exploited part of that country’. People may argue- why did Nehru favour a plebiscite in the Indian part of Kashmir? Nehru had two objectives in mind-One, he was quite confident of the result of a plebiscite in Indian part due to the enormous influence Sheikh commanded over the people in the valley; and two, Volunteering a democratic process would magnify his image, for sure, at the global level. After the imprisonment of Sheikh Abbdullah in 1953, when he expressed bitterness about Delhi agreement and started talking about an independent Kashmir, did Nehru backtrack his opinion on plebiscite.
Two of the greatest follies about Nehru’s Kashmir policy, however, had not been his own: one, internationalizing the matter by referring it to United Nations, which he did on the advice of Mountbatten and, two; not sending reinforcement to the Kargil sector and Poonch, when General Thimaaya had a definite plan of forward movement to Skardu in the North and Muzaffarabad in the west. This he did on the advice of Sheikh who never wanted his territory beyond Poonch.
Muhammad Ali Jinnah
If Sheikh Abdullah never relished the idea to join Pakistan, Jinnah always expressed his displeasure about Nehru’s decision to make him at the helm of Kashmir affair. Jinnah always played his Islamic card. At the time of partition he had been confident of Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan (not independence) because of its Muslim majority and geographical location. When Kashmir decided to join India, he felt kind of deceived by the Maharaja and the British (more precisely Lord Mountbatten).
Kashmir could have easily acceded to Pakistan in stead of India in October 1947. Mehr Chand Mahajan was the Prime Minister under Maharaja Hari Singh when the Instrument of Accession was signed. Meher Chand Mahajan, in his autobiography, Looking Back, has written what transpired among Nehru, Patel, Sheikh Abdullah and him on 26th October in Nehru’s residence. On 24th October, Ram Lal Batra, the Deputy Prime Minister of Kashmir arrived in Delhi with Maharaja’s consent letter for accession provided military assistance was extended immediately. Nehru didn’t take any decision till 26th when Mahajan air dashed to Delhi with the SOS from Maharaja. In the meeting, Mahajan told the Indian Prime Minister: Give Army, take accession and give whatever powers you want to give to the popular party (National Conference), but the Army must fly to Srinagar this evening. I have the orders to go to Pakistan in case immediate military aid is not given. Nehru became so upset that he immediately retorted back: Mahajan, go away. Mahajan got up and and was about to leave the room when sardar Patel said: Of course, Mahajan, You are not going to Pakistan. Just then a piece of paper was passed over to Nehru. Nehru read it out loudly: Sheikh Sahib also says the same thing. Sheikh was sitting in the adjacent room and was hearing all the conversation. Nehru then told Mahajan to wait for a decision of the Defence Council meeting (which was held later in the day).
Whether or not Abdullah was India’s man, he certainly was not Pakistan’s. in April 1948, he dismissed Pakistan as a theocratic state and the Muslim League as pro-prince rather than pro-people. When a diplomat in Delhi asked Abdullah what he thought of the option of independence, he answered that it would never work as Kashmir was too small and too poor. ‘Besides, Pakistan would swallow us up.’ (Source: India after Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha)
Eroding Kashmiriyat in the valley
Having said that an independent Kashmir was never in the agenda of the policy makers, and neither was it thought to be an option by the people of valley, it’s necessary to analyse what transformed the valley into a chaotic cauldron over the last three to four decades. Relationship between Nehru and Sheikh was turning sour a few months after signing the Delhi Agreement. Sheikh Abdullah who once stated that independent Kashmir was not in his agenda, started talking about bidding goodbye to the Delhi Government. His meeting with US Political Analyst Adlai Stevenson added some more spices to the discussions over coffee in the political circles of Delhi. The talks disturbed Nehru who confided to his sister Ms Vijay Laxmi Pandit that he was not feeling comfortable with the behaviour of his long standing friend. Nehru finally got the recalcitrant Sheikh Sahib imprisoned in 1953 and replaced him with Bakshi Gulam Muhammad. Kashmir was never at ease with the new head of the state. The ten years of his administration was marred by sporadic violence and riots, the worst of which was the theft of a relic from Hazratbal mosque.
One of the greatest contribution of Sheikh Abdullah to the Kashmiri people was his land reform. With the new land holding restriction in place, the zamindars could hold land up to 22 acres. The peasant class was immensely benefited. The people who were oppressed by the landlord class for centuries became the owners of land and this change had an electrifying effect among the downtrodden people of the valley. Slowly a transformation was taking place in the valley. Kashmiris became aware of their democratic rights of which they were deprived of until yesterday. A nationalistic feeling for the state was taking shape among the common people. The rise of National Conference, removal of Maharaja from the seat of power, uprising of home grown leaders, owning a flag and constitution, exercising adult franchise to elect representatives to the assembly-all these created a constitutive identity known as Kashmiriyat. Sheikh Abdullah and other leaders of National Conference nurtured the idea of Kashmiriyat through political rallies, speeches, religious sermons, newspaper articles, educational institutions.
The testimony of Kashmiriyat could easily be perceived during 1965 Indo-Pak war. Hazratbal incident led to Muslim uprising in the valley, which was wrongly construed as support for Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan by Ayub Khan. Radio Pakistan announced that a popular uprising had broken out in the valley. In August 1965, Pakistan masterminded infiltration of thousands of troops into the Kashmir valley to incite a popular rebellion against the Indian Administration. However, in stead of getting any support from the people of the valley, their effort was thwarted, so much so that some of the intruders were handed over to the Indian Army. The refusal of Kashmiri Muslims to support the intruders was the manifestation of Kashmiri nationalism which was notably missing during the Pashtun invasion of 1947.
The situation of the valley underwent drastic changes from the mid eighties due to certain internal and external factors out of which the following three are considered to have impacted maximum on the peace and stability of the valley. First was the election of 1987. Muslim United Front and National Conference in alliance with Congress were fighting the election. The election was marred by rampant rigging, manipulation under the direct influence of Rajiv Gandhi Government at the centre. The game plan was to make Farooq Abdullah the Chief Minister who was considered subservient to the Congress party. MUF was was the coalition of like minded Muslim parties which came together in 1987 and which, as many predicted, would win the mandate. The MUF leader, Mohammad Yousuf Shah, was falsely implicated in the rigged election. He was subsequently imprisoned. Kashmiris observed with horror how democratic principles were throttled. The unfortunate rigging gave rise to a number of militant outfits, notable among them were Hizb-Ul-Mujahedin and Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF).
Second was the operation Tupac launched by ISI of Pakistan in 1988. Under this scheme, instead of sending troops into the valley, it started brainwashing the local youth to resort to violence against the armed forces of India. These young Kashmiri Jihadis were trained with modern weapons in Pakistan and sent back to Kashmir to cause disintegration of India. General Zia-Ul-Haq laid out the evil designs of this proxy war in a secret meeting in Islamabad in 1988: There should be no mistake, our aim is totally clear and strong liberation of Kashmir valley. We cannot allow our Kashmiri brethren to remain with India for a long time. Though the people of the valley are mentally and physically with us, but they are very simple minded people and, therefore, they cannot fight like punjabis and Afganisagainst foreign rule.(Source: Memorial of Mistakes converted Kashmir- A bitter saga of ReligiousConversion by Narender Sehgal). ISI has been successful in taking youths from Kashmir to training camps set up in Pakistan to train them in sophisticated weapons. But the biggest success of operation Tupac is that it could change the mindset of the youths to act against the establishment and take up arms against those who are anti-jihadis. Violence erupted in several parts in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Social cohesion was under huge stress. Thousands of Kashmiri pandits fled the valley for fear of life. Kashmir valley virtually witnessed an ethnic cleansing in 1990.
Third issue was the rise of separatist movement called Hurriyat (meaning liberty). ISI played an active role in the formation of Hurriyat conference in 1993. According to the Hurriyat conference, J & K is a disputed territory and India’s control over it is not justified. One faction of Hurriyat advocates the idea of independent Kashmir, whereas, the other faction views Kashmir as part of Pakistan. The turn of events in the last thirty years or so have made Kashmir a battleground of competing ideologies. The Kashmiriyat which was once inculcated among the people of the valley, is giving way to Islamic fundamentalism. The community known for its secular principles, liberal ethos, nationalistic fervour is slowly abandoning the core of syncretism.
Making Kashmir independent is no longer a wise decision
The ideal solution to Kashmir problem is to merge the valley with Azad Kashmir and make it an independent country, while maintaining status quo with Jammu, Ladakh and Gilgit-Baltistan. But in geopolitics idealism doesn’t often work. The decision has to be taken after a due diligence considering the presence of other stake holders of the region. The prevailing situation in the northern and western part of Kashmir has made the valley strategically more important for India. In 1947, Indian think tank never thought about the importance of Kashmir from geopolitical perspective. Even if we consider to grant full autonomy to Kashmir from humanitarian perspective, it could prove to be a disastrous decision from strategic view point.
Strategically Kashmir is surrounded by three nuclear powered countries. The mountain ranges along with the line of control works as the first line of defence, without which Himachal Pradesh and the plains of Jammu and Punjab will be under direct threat from Pakistan. China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) will provide China direct access as the route passes through Gilgit-Baltistan. Most important issue is the water resource. Three out of six rivers, which run through Pakistan, originate from Kashmir, as a result of which Pakistan’s agriculture depends, to a great extent, on the water flowing from Kashmir valley. India must never lose the relative advantage of water resources by holding onto Kashmir valley and using it as a diplomatic checkmate if situation so warrants. India can never leave Siachin Glacier which is acting as a buffer zone in the Northern Frontier.
Was it necessary to rescind Aritcle 370?
Having said that, the question still remains about the purpose of the Government towards abrogation of Article 370, when much of it has already been diluted over the years, and provisions of Article 371 give certain special powers to other states as well. In a federal structure, it’s an universally accepted principle to load certain areas with special privileges based on ethnic, cultural and social milieu. While debating in the parliament to repeal Artcle 370, Home Minister said, ‘They are correcting a historical blunder.’Perhaps the Government’s principal agenda was to rescind Artcle 35 A to facilitate people to buy property and settle down in J & K with the objective to change the demographic structure of the state. However, the special Provision relating to ownership of property by the residents of the state under Artcle 35 A existed long before Kashmir was annexed to India. In fact Maharaja Hari Singh introduced this provision in 1927, which got incorporated in Indian Constitution in 1954 to maintain status quo ante. Abrogation of Article 370 has integrated Kashmir to India, but it hasn’t changed the geographical location, as a result of which expecting any deescalation of terrorist activities all of a sudden is an impetuous thought. Pakistan’s sinister design of operation Tupac can gain momentum with the tacit support of China and active support of Jihadi militants from the backyard of Kashmir. Let’s not expect any abatement in churning out Jihadis from the terror facotries of Pakistan. Prime Minister Modi has stated that Kashmiris were so long deprived of the benefits of development. In his outreach to Kashmiris, he has assured that integration will lead to greater investment in infrastructure and industries which will generate employment and improve the purchasing power of the people. However, no Government in the world, howsoever strong it may be, is in a position to put a stop to the Fidayeen attack. We mustn’t also forget the threat from Talibans after US decide to withdraw their troops from Afganistan. We are not aware if the BJP Government at the centre has drawn up a meticulous counter-offensive plan to deter such menacing activities. Decision so important as this should have been preceded by a due diligence exercise without which it could prove to be yet another tactical blunder.
Prime Minister Vajpayee once (in 2003) said: Issues (on Kashmir) can be resolved if we are guided by three principles of Insaniyat (humanity), Jamoohriyat (democracy) and Kashmiriyat. The present think tank of BJP hasn’t been guided by the Bajpayee doctrine. History will never be kind to us if a decision is taken without giving a thought to the possible impact it could have on the various stake holders (Kashmiris are important stake holder). Rajiv Gandhi made a blunder by amending the constitution to deny the entitlement of alimony to Shah Banu in order to uphold the provision of Sharia. Only months later, he created another blunder to restore the balance between the two communities by opening the lock of Ayodhya temple. The country is still suffering from its aftermath. Maintaining status quo doesn’t mean indecisiveness, rather it proves to be a judicious decision after considering various pros and cons. Today, the Kashmiriyat has sunk into oblivion; Insaniyat has lost its significance; let’s at least make a last ditch effort to restore Jamoohriyat.
“The winner takes it all, the loser’s standing small”
India with nine hundred million voters is by far the largest democracy in the world. USA with 250 million voters is a distant second in the race. It’s amazing and quite fascinating to find out how the political parties reach out to their voters. Now that the polling festival has come to an end, the drama….the enigma…. the stratagem behind the scenes are slowly getting unfolded in the public domain. The analysis of the policies, strategies and programmes which failed to produce the desired result are sure to give a lot of insight to the opposition parties into the causes of their defeat.
2. Shiv Kumari Gautam stays at a small hut at Semra, a remote village under Amethi constituency. She earns her livelihood, like many others in her village, as a daily wage earner. Her income is a paltry Rs. 3000 in the harvest season. After the death of her husband she has become the only bread earner in her family comprising six members to feed. It was a big surprise for her, when on a chilly morning of 14th January, 2009, Rahul Gandhi along with David Miliband, British Secretary of state, visited her thatched one room house. Rahul Gandhi ate food in her house and stayed overnight in her charpoy. Rahul later assured her, ” I can feel your distress. I will raise your issue in the parliament. Things will change very soon.”
3. Shiv Kumari stares at the cultivable land. She couldn’t earn much money this year as there is severe shortfall of rain. She is a worried person with five children-how to feed them. She became a celebrity overnight in 2009. Yes, a truckload of bricks was sent to her doorstep to construct a pucca house. But, that’s the end of the story. Nobody has since enquired about her. She has reconciled to the situation that she has to fight a lone battle to make both ends meet.
4. Smriti Irani lost the electoral battle of Amethi in 2014. But she didn’t lose heart. She identified Barulia, a small remote village without any connectivity to the outer world for adoption by Manohar Parrikar under the Sansad Adarsh Gram Yojana. Today the village has pucca road, a number of toilets, improved irrigation facility and solar lights. After observing the excitement and enthusiasm among the villagers, Parrikar decided to adopt another village, Hariharpur, under Amethi constituency in 2017. In the absence of Parrikar, Smriti Irani started looking after these villages.
5. When Rahul Gandhi was busy meeting the press and cross section of intelligentsia to talk against Modi Government’s policy of demonetization, hasty implementation of GST , Smriti Irani was making silent inroads into the Gandhi bastion at the grass root level with an eye to make the impossible possible. Rahul Gandhi couldn’t keep up his promises to the people of his own constituency. It’s not that he didn’t visit his constituency, in fact he took lot of initiatives, the most important being to take Bill Gates along with him to Amethi in 2010. Rahul Gandhi and Bill Gates addressed the villagers and the self help group. Bill Gates explained the importance of computer at the gatherings and offered to extend support to create an IT hub in Amethi. Most of the villagers didn’t know who this gora sahab was. But they were told that he was the richest man from America. While inaugurating a school in Amethi in 2018, the Rahul Gandhi said, “After 10 to 15 years, when people will mention Singapore and California, they will also mention Amethi in the same breath.”
Paradigm Shift in Modinomics
6. On becoming prime minister in 2014, Narendra Modi promised achhedin for the 1.25 billion people of India. Restoring economic vigour through good governance and decisive reforms was at the top of his agenda. Reforms, such as, scaling up foreign direct investment, boosting domestic consumption by entry of multi brand retail, land reform for easier acquisition of land to facilitate industrial growth, labour reform, disinvestment of public sector units, restructuring some of the government departments, such as, Food Corporation of India, Indian Railways, Planning Commission were some of the steps that Modi thought, would catapult the economy to a higher growth trajectory. Aravind Panagariya was brought in from from Columbia University to take charge of Government of India think tank Niti Aayog. Mr. Panagarya views growth as panacea for all economic ills and therefore, economic reforms must be strengthened. One idea was to transform the economy by factor market reform, i.e., land and labour market reform as step I as compared to the product market reform of 1991. With all the reforms plan drawn in his sketch book, Modi had visioned to take the Indian economy from two trillion dollar to 10 trillion dollar by 2030. Modi, however, got a big jolt in the assembly election of Bihar in 2015. Rahul Gandhi’s jibe of Suit boot ki sarkar, Modi’s pro-business image and the Mahagathabandhan of Congress with JDU and RJD led to a big success for the unified opposition. Modi stumbled; decided on a course correction. The economic agenda for reforms was replaced by a series of welfare measures. Modi and his team wanted to reach the electorate at the grass root level. He wanted to reach every nook and cranny of the country. He wanted to establish a direct communication link with the downtrodden masses. A series of welfare schemes were announced to benefit the rural and urban poor. Modi wanted to remain firmly seated even after 2019.
Walk the Last Mile
7. Gauri, a dalit woman from a remote town in West Bengal aged about 50 years was ecstatic on getting possession of her two bedroom brick built house. Gauri makes her both ends meet by working as a maid servant in a number of houses. She has been living in a thatched house until now. Today she has a pucca house with a toilet, LPG connection and an electric meter. Gauri didn’t have to pay any cut money for her house. She received Rs. 1.60 lakh in her bank account in three installments. She had paid only Rs.15,000 by cash towards construction of a staircase which was not included in the Government scheme. There are lakhs of Gauri all over India who have been beneficiary of PM Awas Yojana.
8. Inclusive finance became the new pillar of Modinomics. Jan Dhan Yojana to open bank account for the BPL families benefited over 300 million people. Modi implemented Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of subsidy on LPG and food security by linking bank account with Aadhar card. Today, 550 million people get payments through bank DBT for various welfare schemes. The leakage of revenue has virtually stopped. People have started getting the benefit of all welfare schemes directly in their bank account. PM Gramin Awas Yojana is set to benefit 2 million houses in rural India. Saubhagya Yojana has set a target to provide electricity connection to 38 million households impacting 25% of rural population. Under Ujjwala Yojana, the Government has already provided LPG gas connection to 40 million people. If we take an average family size of 5, this scheme alone will impact 200 million people who are categorized under BPL. Seeing the positive response, the Government now plans to cover another 40 million households. PM Modi’s flagship programme Swachha Bharat Mission aims to make India open defecation free. Seems impossible? But Modi is personally monitoring its implementation. By March 2019, the number of open defecation free cities in India are more than 2500. In rural areas more than 70 million toilets have already been constructed out of 100 million households that do not have toilets. Mudra loan is yet another flagship programme of Modi Government to extend credit to micro amd small enterprises. These enterprises can avail loan up to Rs. 10 lakh under the MUDRA scheme.
9. Ayushman Bharat launched in September, 2018 aims to provide health care facilities to over 100 million households, impacting 40% of the population. Economic Times wrote, ” The big bang scheme is targeted at the rural and urban poor, the segment of voters crucial for Modi. The universal health care scheme, if implemented without any big hitches, can sway a large number of voters towards Modi.” The CEO of Ayushman Bharat said, ” We want to create a brand so that beneficiaries know where to go and whom to contact to get the services. The publicity, especially the audio and visual communication, helps in reaching the beneficiaries effectively.” Piyush Goyal, while presenting the interim budget of 2019-20, informed the house that 10 lakh patients have already been treated under the scheme. The maximum no of of patients are from a Congress ruled state, Chattishgarh, which was reluctant to implement the scheme initially.
Why Congress’s Narratives failed to Impact voters
10. Delivery at your doorstep! The e-commerce industries have become successful today due to their ability to deliver any product at any remote corner of a country. A man residing at a remote town, Jhumri Telaiah in Jharkhand, can become a customer for a silk saree sold at chikpet market of Bangalore or a chandelier sold at Firozabad of UP. Modi has perhaps taken a leaf out the global supply chain management of e-commerce industries and meticulously implemented it to ensure the last mile delivery of his schemes. Under his Government, a person sitting in a remote village of Mechuka in Arunachal Pradesh gets the benefit of LPG connection or Modi health care, just as the people of Maharashtra and Gujarat can get. He is no longer isolated. He is part of the system. No Government prior to NDA has paid so much attention to reach out to rural masses.
11. The conundrum of attaining electoral success for the grand old party has become a kind of challenge for the poll experts. Lot of post poll analysis has been done to find out the reasons for the debacle Congress has faced in 2019 election. I feel Rahul’s narrative of suit boot ki sarkar to be the primary reason for his electoral defeat. Modi’s pro-business community and anti-poor image was successfully marketed by Rahul Gandhi with the help of this slogan. But this jibe instigated Modi to make a course correction midway from his reform agenda to inclusive development agenda. Rahul, in the mean time, misjudged the media reports about high unemployment and farmers’ distress as possible signs of widespread resentment against Modi Government. His allegation of corruption in Rafale aircraft deal was magnified out of proportion by a section of media as if to score a point against Modi. Arun Shourie, Yashwant Sinha and Prashant Bhushan spearheaded the attack , ably supported by N Ram of HIndu. I don’t find a parallel to the kind of onslaught, a particular section of media pitched against the Rafale deal without any corroborative evidence. Rahul was misguided and misinformed thoroughly. Praveen Chakravarty, the management graduate from Wharton school and an investment banker by profession was engaged by Rahul Gandhi to head Shakti, the data analytics group of Congress. Not only did Shakti fail to assess the mood of the voter, but it gave wrong advice to the Congress President to continue his relentless attack on corruption issue in Rafale agreement. The idea to checkmate Modi with the slogan Chowkidar chor hai fell flat on the voters. Little did he realise that less than 5% people of India was interested in the narrative of Rafale. The huge rural vote bank and majority of urban population were totally ignorant of Rafale issue. How Rahul Gandhi was deluded about the ground level situation has been amply reflected by the post poll introspection by Shekhar Gupta in his online news portal OpIndia. Gupta confessed that though he was looking for evidence against schemes of Modi Government, he found none, “We were hoping to see evidence for the contrary but we were not finding it. We were finding gas cylinders. We would even peek inside a house and find a gas cylinder.” He admitted, “Initially, I thought Mudra loans were all fakes. But I have videos…. 50 kms from Azamgarh, a dalit saying that I got Rs 50,000 Mudra loan, made this chai shop, I repay Rs 1300 every month.” The journalists, media people completely ignored the fact that people got doorstep delivery first time in their life without a cut money. The actual beneficiaries were a bit surprised too, because, they are used to the system of cut money even to get 100 days employment under MNREGA. It’s a big change. It’s good governance. Vote boxes did reflect their feelings.
Rahul Gandhi’s Romanticism done by Modi’s Classicism
12. Robert M Pirsig in his best seller book, Zen and the art of motor cycle maintenance (published in mid seventies), has divided human understanding in two categories: romantic understanding and classical understanding. A classical understanding sees the world primarily from an underlying form itself. A romantic understanding sees it primarily in terms of immediate appearance. The romantic mode is primarily inspirational, imaginative, intuitive. Feelings, not facts, predominate. The classical mode proceeds by reasoning, analysis, and therefore, facts predominate in it. Pirsig draws an example from motor cycle maintenance. When the motor cycle is analysed part by part into major assemblies, minor assemblies, detailed parts, such as, cylinders, piston. crankshaft, fuel pump it leads to a classical interpretation. Thus motorcycle riding is romantic, motorcycle maintenance is purely classic.
13. This analogy is appropriate in Indian political scene too, because, when we look at the strategy of the two main political parties of India, Congress depended more on rhetoric, whereas, BJP adopted a classical approach to reach to the granular level. It’s amazing to see how namo was packaged and sold through nano management. The planning, strategizing, organizing and above all the execution excellence of the party can dwarf the think tank of some of the professionally managed companies. The strategy was decided by central leadership. Its execution was entrusted at the grass root level. In its execution plan, BJP divided a state unit into seven levels, starting from state level, to district, Lok Sabha, Vidhan Sabha, Mandal,Shakti Kendra and ending at booth Itlevel. Each Mandal has 50 to 60 booths under its jurisdiction. A committee of 12 to 15 karyakartas are made in charge of a Mandal. Then there are shakti pramukhs made in charge of Shakti Kendras comprising five to six booths. Below shakti pramukhs are booth palaks to take care of around 2000 to 2500 voters. In the lowest rung of the ladder is PannaPramukh to target 50 to 60 voters. The panna pramukhs are trained to apprise their target voters about various welfare schemes and cross check if the benefits are actually reaching them. The communication channel from panna pramukh to the district level is made so disciplined and methodical, that any loophole noticed at the ground level is plugged instantaneously. The implementation strategy was a bottom-up one, not the other way round as followed by Congress.
14. In comparison to the well oiled electoral machinery that BJP could muster, perhaps made possible, due a huge cadre base and micro planning, Rahul Gandhi depended on hired workmen who failed to walk an extra mile to convince the voters. Feedback mechanism, so pertinent, was completely missing, which, in a way trapped Rahul Gandhi into a make-believe situation, created by his sycophants and a section of media. Rahul’s own idea, Nyay couldn’t even convince his colleagues in the party. The scheme’s promo made a jump start without any viable implementation plan. It failed to reach the 20% target families who were to benefit from it. Urban middle class discarded the idea for the fear of additional tax burden.
15. The journey for Rahul Gandhi from 2014 to 2019 has been tough and arduous. The road was not a flat bed, rather full of potholes without any noticeable back up support. Resurfacing it with a fresh layer of asphalt may not yield the desired result. The situation demands a complete overhaul. Let it be a process driven exercise without an element of subjectivity. Leave aside your oversize ego; pull all your resources to strike a chord with the masses; change over from traditional top-down to bottom-up democracy. People are sure to repose faith in you, once a reasonable degree of credibility is established. Till that time, the need of the hour is to play a constructive role as an opposition, both in and out of parliament, else, it would undermine the democratic accountability. Hope the party leadership will withstand the test of time.
Bongs are born intellectuals. They often consider themselves culturally superior to rest of the Indians. If you are ready to accept some quirks, a little bit eccentricity, you can live happily in a Bong neighbourhood. Sudeep Chakravarti in his book, ‘The Bengalis,’ has narrated an interesting incident. He lost a bengali friend after confessing that he also liked Sri Lankan teas, and the finest from Nuwara Eliya possess fragrance unlike….she then cut him off mid-delusion. To her, there is no civilized option to the very Bengali oeuvre of Darjeeling tea, and that narrowed down to the offerings to two particular estates, Makaibari and Lopchu. That Lopchu is owned by a Marwari family and politically and ethnically charged Darjeeling is inhabited by Nepali population couldn’t distort her feeling of Bengali ownership of Darjeeling tea.
It’s not the homeland alone, it’s the race, the language and above all the heritage that they are proud of. You come to Bengal and confront any Bengali, he will talk about the intellectual awakening of Bengal of the 19th century, somewhat similar to the renaissance movement of Europe of 16th century. He will talk about Tagore, Vivekananda, Vidyasagar and Netaji in the same breath. Today, when Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee declares that she will make Kolkata a look-alike London, you realize that Bengalis are still living in the colonial hangover, because this was the second best city in the British empire.
Bengalis are fond of their cultural identity
Bengalis love spending their time basking in the glorious past, debating and discussing on the legendary icons of 19th century. Mamata Banerjee invariably talks about Kolkata’s pride place in India as the cultural capital in all her speeches. She even declared that Kolkata would become the cultural capital of the world. To prove her point, she started renaming all metro stations after the names of legends of Bengal. She built a number of auditoriums, amphitheatres to foster cultural activities. She is fond of invoking names of all the legends in her speeches- we are the land of Rabindranath Thakur, Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Rammohan Roy, Swami Vivekanand, Nazrul Islam. Aagami dine ei Bangla aabar Bharatke path dekhabe. (Bengal will once again show the way forward to India in future)
In every Bengali, you will find the romanticism of an Apu, depicted beautifully by Satyajit Ray in his debut film, Pather Panchali. The romanticism will not be manifested ordinarily, but when you join an adda, over garam chai and alu chop, you will discover the idealistic intellect which makes serious issues, such as poverty, hunger and death mundane. Watching them discuss varied topics even in an environment of small shanty, you might, perhaps, be amazed at their erudite knowledge. On the other hand, if you visit College Street Coffee House, you will encounter a different set of intellectual crowd. The cigarettes, the aroma of coffee, the crunchy fish fry along with endless discussion on Jean Paul Sartre, Zen, Fidel Castro, Henry Miller or Paolo Coelho are bound to mesmerize you, in case you are a first timer. Famous literateurs including Sunil Gangopadhyay, Shakti Chattopadhaya, Joy Goswami, Shankha Ghosh frequented coffee house in the 70’s and 80’s and add to its intellectual quotient. Bengalis are elated to learn from Satyajit Ray’s film Agantuk that the origin of the tradition of intellectual discussions dates back to Socrates and Plato in ancient Greece. Ramachandra Guha compares Bengalis to the French for this habit of nirbhejal (without any qualms) adda. To narrate the characteristics of Bengalis, he quoted the French historian Jules Michelet’s description of the French: ” We gossip, we quarrel, we expand our energy in words; we use strong language, and we fly into great rages over the smallest of the subjects”
While taking a long walk along Diamond harbour Road towards Behala Chowrasta (Opposite to Saurav Ganguli’s house), I used to come across a number of people squatting cross-legged on the footpath engrossed in playing bridge. I stood by a particular group one day and struck a conversation. In Kolkata, you can discuss any topic with anybody at any place. Yes, it could be in a taxi, or in a non-descriptive shanty, or on a road. The bridge enthusiasts inform me that they don’t have any regular source of income. But they are are not unhappy. They have already formed a club and now they are quite excited to participate in a footpath tournament shortly.
You need Druid’s magic potion to rejuvenate the present intelligentsia
Had there been less of this passion and more of the pragmatism, Bengal would not have seen such mass exodus of its working class. Movement of educated and skilled working force across provinces is not an uncommon feature during development. But the economy of a state is in trouble when dereliction sets in the performance of the Government leading to large scale migration of its work force. Whenever I travel to Howrah and Sealdah railway stations, I find hundreds of people queuing up to board south and west bound trains in search of jobs. The only jobs created in Bengal today are the lowly paid jobs of civic police and para teachers who get a fixed monthly remuneration of Rs. 8000 to Rs. 13,000. The State Government has appointed 50,000 para teachers, as there is shortage of fund to appoint full time teachers. The Government lacks adequate fund to pay DA in line with the Consumer Price Index to the teachers and State Government employees. Wage revision has already been implemented by Central and other state Government, but here the Pay Commission has been asked to delay the submission of its report to buy time. In the mean time Government decided to increase number of holidays for its employees, as if to compensate the delay in wage revision.
There is a huge uproar among the intellectuals of Kolkata and the social media on the issue of vandalizing the statue of Pandit Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar. But how many people know that the statue of Vidyasagar hasn’t been broken for the first time. It happened twice in the past, once in 1970 and again in 1978 . Unfortunately, the Bengalis of today have started focusing their attention on a symbolic issue of vandalizing a statue with an utter disregard to systematic demolition of our moral fibre over the years. Any act of vandalism is despicable, but the same intellectuals who have raised such hue and cry, conveniently preferred to close their eyes on severe irregularities made in the recruitment of school teachers in 2017. It is alleged that the Government refused to publish the list of empanelled candidates, because the selection is flawed to give undue favour to party cadres. In the latest report of HRD Ministry on the standard of education at secondary level, West Bengal has been categorized in the fifth grade along with Bihar, UP, Jharkhand and Tripura. Where were the intellectuals in Bengal when more than 200 poor people committed suicide in the aftermath of one of the most notorious ponzy scams, Saradha? The group collected around 200 billion Rupees and duped lakhs of depositors. Mamata Banerjee was reported to have said, ‘ Ja gechhe, ta gechhe.’ She announced to establish a corpus of Rs 500 crore to compensate the small investors; levied an additional tax of 10% on tobaco products; requested the citizens to light up more cigarettes.
Bangladesh writer Taslima Nasrin’s book Dwikhandita was banned by the West Bengal Government in 2003. Taslima herself was thrown out of Bengal in 2007. Nobody protested. The Government decided to disburse Rs. 5 lakh to each of the 15000 club across the state after coming to power in 2011. A whopping amount of Rs. 600 crore has already been spent from the Government exchequer. Kolkata’s leading Bengali newspaper ‘Ananda Bazar Patrika’ and English daily ‘Telegraph’ became scathing critique of the State Government. Mamata Banerjee openly retorted, ‘I hate Ananda Bazar. I have instructed all the Government libraries to stop subscribing this newspaper. Please don’t read this paper; tear it off the moment you see a copy.’ Government advertisements were stopped. Ananda Bazar made a volte-face. Since tamed, it now publishes articles to virulently attack a particular ism.
It appears Bengali intellectuals of today can only act or react under the direction of a superpower. I recollect the fantasy movie Cocoon, where a group of elderly people had to be rejuvenated by aliens. Perhaps, we should invoke the super natural power of Druid to make some magic potion for their resurrection.
Nirad C Choudhury on his own community
No write up on Bengalis is complete without a reference to Nirad Chandra Choudhury. I am not going to quote from his famous work ‘Autobiography of an unknown India’, but from his not so famous book in Bengali-‘Aamra Atmaghati (Suicidal Us) and second part of his autobiography-‘Thy Hand, Great Anarch! India.’ It was Tagore who wanted Bengalis to cross the boundary and be a vishwa Manab (Universal Man). Nirodbabu went a step further and provoked- “Bangali hoibo na, Manush hoibo?” (should I be a Bengali or a human being?). Niradbabu made a blistering attack on Bengali sentiments in his book, Thy hand, great anarch! Bengalis, according to him are intellectually fragile, weak in character. He wrote, “No one can deny that in the 19th century, the Bengali people created a new life, not only for themselves, but for the entire Indian people, by their intellectual and moral effort. For present day Bengalis all that is now thing of past, except for retrospective, senseless and unmanly bragging…”. He predicted the fading away of Bengali slowly but steadily. In Atmaghati Bangali, he wrote, “We do not know how the end will come, whether through a cataclysmic holocaust or a slow putrid decay.”
Where is the fabled intellectual bhadralok (gentleman)?
If you desire to meet one, rewind to the glorious past. The last vestiges of bhadralok culture have sadly extinguished with the demise of Bidhan Chandra Ray. Bengal was besieged with problems during the last two years of Buddhadeb Bhattacharya’s tenure. Ratan Tata, nonetheless, showed high regards and respect for Buddhababu’s ability to steer Bengal to the growth path. He described the leftist chief Minister a true bhadralok, genuinely interested in the industrial development of the state. When virtually all industrial houses left Bengal during the misrule of left front Government, when Bengal’s economy had a free fall into bottomless pit, Buddhadeb Bhattacharya made a last ditch effort to invite industrial houses to Bengal to uplift the fragile economy of the state. Buddhababu put all his effort to establish Nano factory at Singur. But he was not a good strategist, therefore, he failed to connect all the dots. He couldn’t even garner support from his own party men and ultimately fell into the trap, opposition had set for him. Nano was shifted from Singur to Sanand. If the leftist policy against computer in the late 1990’s is considered as the first nail on the coffin, the decision to drive Tata out of Singur tantamount to the last nail.
The exit of last bhadralok from the political scenario paved the way to the rise of fire brand leadership in Bengal’s political arena. Bengal is drawing attention from the whole country today, not for social reforms, not for visionary outlook or for its once much vaunted colleges and universities, but for ugly poll violence, vitriolic behaviour of its politicians. In 2018 more than 70 people were killed in panchayat election alone. Opposition parties could not field their candidates in 34% of the constituencies. Anuubrata Mandal, Trinamul Congress President of Birbhum was nonchalant in his reaction,’ Candidate debe ki kore? Rastay unnayan dnariye aachhe. Ora unnayanke dekhe bhoy pachhe.‘ ( How can they field their candidates? Development is standing in the way. Oppsition is scared of development).
The abuses hurled against each other in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections are simply unparalleled. If Anubrata Mandal instructs his party workers,” the CPM rats are trying to peep out of the paddy field, kill them as soon as you notice”, BJP President Dilip Ghosh goes one step forward in his diatribe, ” If anybody attempts to stop BJP, we will ensure that he is placed in the history book. No hospital will be able to save him.” Fire brand leader, film star turned politician, Locket Chatterjee from BJP threatens a polling officer, ” I will take off your skin, if you don’t listen to me”. Mamata Banerjee’s vilification, on the other hand, is unidirectional to Narendra Modi and Amit shah. She has openly declared that she will drive Modi out of the country after 23rd May. She doesn’t recognize him as India’s Prime Minister. Modi is expiry babu. Perhaps, the most vitriolic has been her this comment on Modi, “I will make him do 100 sit ups holding his ear.” Seems, as if she wants to punish an unruly student in the class room.
I will end my story with an anecdote which I heard during my college days. This is an interesting conversation between a ruffian Bihari and a student of Shantiniketan. The student from Shantiniketan takes great pride to explain that Tagore was a great poet; he got nobel prize; he has written thousands of melodious songs. The Bihari snubs him, abuses Tagore and says-Tagore was not at all great. Our Ramdhari Singh Dinkar was a better poet than your Tagore. The student from Shantinikatan lost his cool and could no longer control his anger. He blurts out, “If you utter one more word against Tagore I will be compelled to call you sala.”
Bad behaviour sells. Absolute bad behaviour sells absolutely!
Switzerland is the first country to go for a referendum in 2016 for implementation of the concept of Universal Basic Income (UBI). The proposal was rejected by a majority of 77% people voting against the concept. But this is only one side of the story. There is a growing concern today over the anticipated job loss with the arrival of industry 4.0. The job loss and increased automation are closely interlinked. Mark Zuckerburg advocates the idea of UBI to compensate the loss of jobs due to automation. Milton Friedman, the famous economist supports the idea of UBI, as it will help to reduce poverty. It would be fascinating to see if the companies going in for more and more 3 D technology and robotics would like to include the cost of compensation towards job loss in their business plan or leave it entirely to the Government.
Rahul Gandhi’s idea of Nyuntam Aay Yojana (NYAY) or minimum income scheme is, however, a bit different from the UBI scheme, nonetheless, conceptually both the schemes aim to alleviate poverty of the downtrodden people of the society. UBI warrants a minimum amount of cash transfer to the accounts of all citizens of a country irrespective of their present income level. It also aims to subsume all the other subsidy schemes, such as, food, fertilizer, Fuel etc. In comparison, NYAY is aimed to target a segment of population based income level. The scheme proposes to transfer an amount of Rs. 72,000 to the bank account of five crore families earning below Rs. 12,000 per month. Taking an average family size of five, the scheme will extend benefit to 25 crore people which constitute 20% of population. India’s GDP is estimated to of the order of Rs. 190 lakh crore. The proposed expenditure towards NYAY is Rs. 3.60 lakh crore or around 1.9% of GDP.
Before going into the nitty-gritty of the scheme, let’s look into similar such schemes implemented in India and abroad. Among the BRICKS nations Brazil is the first country to introduce a cash transfer scheme known as Bolsa Familia (Family Grant). The scheme was implemented in 2003 as part of their poverty alleviation programme. About 30% of Brazilian people is covered under the scheme. Bolsa Familia, depending on the family income, transfer cash every month to the bank account of the female member of a family. The objective of the programme is to promote food and nutrition safety for the lowest rung of the people in Brazil. There is only one condition attached to the cash transfer,i.e. the beneficiaries commit to keeping their children and teenagers in school and taking them for regular medical checks. The programme is estimated to cost 2.5% of the Government expenditure, and about 0.5% of GDP.
Back home, Telengana Government’s Rythu Bandhu Scheme introduced in May, 2018 aimed at helping marginalized farmers to tide over indebtedness and buy better seeds and fertilizers. The farmers are given Rs. 4,000 per acre twice a year, one for kharif season and the other for rabi season. Not to be undone, Naveen Pattanaik introduced Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation (KALIA) in Odisha on similar lines. The amount of cash transfer under KALIA scheme is Rs. 5,000 per seasonal crop. An idea of a guaranteed basic income for the poor was included in the Economic Survey, 2016-17 when Arvind Subramanian was the Chief Economic Adviser to Modi Government. Arvind Subramanian proposed to implement a similar concept to the UBI by replacing all the existing subsidies.However, the idea could not garner support from Niti Aayog which declared it unfeasible due to paucity of fund and difficulties in execution.
The NDA Government in their union budget of 2019 announced the scheme of Kisan Sanman Nidhi under which payment of Rs. 6,000 as financial assistance would be made to all the farmers in three equal installments. An amount of Rs. 75,000 crore has been earmarked in the central budget to meet the expenditure. Under this scheme 12 crore farming families having less than two hectares of land will be benefited. Introduction of such a scheme by Modi signals a paradigm shift in the policy of Central Government over cash transfer. The assurance from Congress on farm loan waiver, subsequent loss of power of BJP in three states and Rahul Gandhi’s announcement in Chhattisgarh (a week before the date of union budget) to implement a minimum income guarantee scheme if voted to power, perhaps, dug deeper into the thought process of the ruling party, compelling them to do a course correction. Otherwise, Prime Minister Modi has always been a firm believer of the growth theory to eradicate poverty. A debate between Jagdish Bhagwati and Amartya Sen surfaced in 2014 when Modi came to power. While Jagdish Bhagawati always voiced in favour of accelerated economic growth, the benefits of which, he thinks, would percolate down to the people living below poverty line, Amartya Sen, on the other hand, thought investment in social sector, providing subsidized food and free health services and universal education would help to eradicate poverty. Modi replaced planning commission with Niti Aayog and made Aravind Panagariya, known to be in the same league as Jagdish Bhagawati, its Vice chairman.
Modi voiced his concern against farm loan waiver and MGNREGA scheme introduced by UPA after becoming Prime Minister. He was not against the idea of creating man days as a method of subsistence, but he wanted to translate the man days into tangible production in a planned manner. However, his Government failed to make any perceptible change in MGNREGA other than implementing Aadhar Card for purchase of man days and payment by cash transfer to individual’s bank account. BJP Government in UP, after winning the election, decided to waive off farm loan amounting to Rs. 38,000 crore in 2016. Central and various state governments, in the past ten years, have waived off farm loan amounting to Rs. 2.2 lakh crore without bothering to analyse the inherent structural deficiencies in the farm sector. The hurriedly taken decision in the union budget of 2019 to pay Rs. 6,000 to the farm families is a step aimed to counter the Congress move of minimum guarantee scheme.
Having said that, it would be worth deliberating to analyse the intricacies of Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management (FRBM) at the centre and state level. Quantum of subsidies in the total budgetary expenditure today stands at 12%. The Government is spending Rs. 1.8 lakh crore towards food subsidy alone, another Rs. 20,000 crore for LPG, Rs. 70,000 crore for fertilizer. With the addition of Rs. 75,000 crore towards Kisan Sanman Nidhi, the Government is already spending a staggering Rs. 3.6 lakh crore on explicit subsidy alone. If we add the projected expenditure towards NYAY, the total quantum of subsidy of the Central Government will be Rs. 7.5 lakh crore which is 25% of the budgeted expenditure. Please remember the Central Government spends only half of this amount towards capital expenditure. The Government allocates only 2% for health care and 3.5% for education. No political party has ever raised any concern for such a low budgetary allocation towards education and health services.
Rahul Gandhi’s Finance Minister is bound to get jitters in doing his fiscal management act to execute NYAY. The proposed fiscal deficit for 2019-2020 is 3.4% of GDP vis-a-vis the original target of 3.1% set by Arun Jaitley . International credit agency Moody’s has already criticized the Government for missing the target of fiscal deficit. The target has obviously been missed due to allocation of Rs. 75,000 crore under PM-Kisan Sanman Nidhi. With the introduction of NYAY, the fiscal deficit is likely to shoot up to 6% with the present level of tax collection. No doubt, India has a very low tax- GDP ratio compared to all the developed countries. The tax- GDP ratio is 17% in India, whereas, it is 26% in USA and 34% in UK. But tax-GDP ratio is generally low in the developing countries, because the tax base is relatively lower. A tiny percentage of people pay income tax in India. The total number of tax payers does not exceed 65 million which is 5% of 1.3 billion people. 0.6 billion people engaged in agricultural sector are exempt from paying income tax. No political party has the gumption to introduce agricultural income tax. It’s no big deal in taxing the rich farmers to pay for the cash transfer to landless agricultural labour. But who is going to rake up an issue such as this which has almost been forgotten during our existence of 70 years? What we must not forget is that a vast majority of lawmakers are stake holders in the farm sector. They will never allow to introduce agricultural income tax.
There is not much scope to enhance rates of corporate tax either, as the Government is committed to reduce the rate of corporate tax to 25% progressively. With the introduction of GST, there is hardly any scope to mop up additional resources from indirect tax segment. Congress and other opposition parties have been vociferous in their demand to reduce tax rate since its implementation. According to Rahul Gandhi GST is Gabbar Singh Tax which should immediately be reduced to 18% max. Any increase in the excise duty on petroleum has always been opposed by all the political parties in unison. Increase in customs duty will severely impact bilateral trade. We are already at the back foot with the US Government regarding our duty structure- any attempt to meddle here may have serious repercussion on our bilateral relationship. In such a scenario, finding a reasonable fiscal space becomes the biggest challenge. The total tax collection of the Central Government is 12% of GDP (17% when tax collection of the states is added), out of which about one third is transferred to the states. So out of the remaining, 25% will go towards NYAY, in case the Government fails to raise further resources through taxes.
So how do you find resources to fund Rs. 3.6 lakh crore to fund NYAY? Rahul says he has consulted a number of economists who have said the scheme is doable. He has taken the name of Raghuram Rajan. Raghuram Rajan is known for his conservative approach in his macro economic management. During his tenure in RBI, he has given priority to control the inflation over economic growth by following a tight money policy. He refused to reduce the repo rate in spite of a downward trend in rate of inflation. Raghuram Rajan has appreciated the idea of Congress as a means to eradicate of poverty, but cautioned on the need for effective fiscal management. In his interview to India Today he has stated, ” The Government that comes needs to see what the fiscal space looks like. As of now, it is very tight. You can not add scheme upon scheme. A view should be taken post elections within the fiscal space available.” If you can not increase tax revenue you have the option to cut down subsidy in food, fertilizer, LPG and release the amount for NYAY. But this means you take out the money from one pocket and fill the other one. He gets only some add on benefits. The other option is to cut down expenditure on capital formation. This will impact future economic growth. You can resort to borrowing or print notes. An additional infusion of Rs. 3.6 lakh crore in Indian economy in one year without commensurate output will have a severe impact on inflation. As this will be a continuous process, we can not rule out the possibility of spiraling inflation gripping our economy. With an estimated fiscal deficit of 6% of GDP and with the addition of another 4%, if we combine the share of the state, rate of inflation is likely to touch double digit figure. There will be upward movement in the lending rate of banks and financial institutions making credit dearer. Further, deviation from our commitment to fiscal discipline and targeted fiscal deficit and Government borrowing under FRBM Act will lead to downgrading our rating from the present level of Baa2 ( Moody’s rating in 2017 indicating investment grade with stable outlook) impacting cost of borrowing and FDI inflows.
The moot point is that cash transfer doesn’t change the job market. The Garibi Hatao programme initiated during Indira Gandhi’s time in the 1970’s was based on an entirely different perception. Post Bangladesh war, food was a scarce commodity, as such, subsistence of the people was a genuine problem. Today, the number of destitute and starving people are virtually non-existent. What the unemployed and under employed people are asking is access to middle class living standard. Take the case of Sujoy. He is a young boy of 18 years engaged in washing cars in our residential complex. He earns Rs. 8,000 approx in a month. He is looking for a respectable job so that he can buy a motor bike. There are many such sujoys who are disgruntled with the job market scenario and apathy of Government machinery. The opposition too, in stead of trying to find out solution by way of structural changes in the economy, is trying to look for easier solution through dole economy.
Be that as it may, there’s no doubt that NYAY is an important strategic move by the grand old party, because cash is always the king. Not to be undone by the Telengana’s Rythu Bandhu, Odisha’s KALIA and Modi’s PM-Kisan Sanman Nidhi, Congress has resorted to the best political ploy for the 2019 election. Time will tell whether this will be a game changer. Only niggle for Rahul Gandhi is the timing of the announcement. As the scheme is meant for a target population, the challenge is how soon can they reach the voters and convince them with the scheme to cast their votes in their favour. It’s easier said than done. Majority of the target population live in the villages. They are not tuned to social media like the urban population. Moreover, the workers at the grass root level may not be aware which are the families earning below Rs 12,000. Mind it, if you earn a rupee more you lose your entitlement to receive ‘nyay’! Till such time, the new Government is formed, NYAY will continue to remain a political gambit sans economics.