1. Bose v. Gandhi: Playing for Keeps

Gandhiji with Subhas Chandra Bose at Haripura Congress in 1938.

Gandhi and Bose in 1938

On 29 January 1939, as Subhas Chandra Bose sipped tea at a party in Calcutta celebrating the wedding of his eldest nephew, his mind was elsewhere. As the Bose family engaged in festivities, votes were being counted across the country for the election of Congress Party’s Presidency. For Bose, it was a make or break moment. He had positioned himself as a challenger to the party establishment and gone against some very powerful people. The electoral contest had been bitter, with dirty tricks and harsh invectives being hurled by both sides. By the day of the election, it had become a nail-biter. As early trends poured in, Bose allowed himself to relax. Province after province began to turn his way – Bengal, United Provinces, Assam and a sweep of the South. To those who called in to congratulate, he happily declared, “we are winning”.

Two thousand kilometers away, on the other coast of India, Mahatma Gandhi was meeting with peasants of Bardoli, Gujarat, as election results trickled in. This frail-looking man dressed only in loin cloth was the most powerful politician in India. For the last two decades, he had single-handedly picked men to run the Congress Party. Although his modesty would have never allowed him to admit it, often a mere nod from Gandhi had been enough for leaders to become Party Presidents unopposed. Now, however, it seemed that the unchallenged hegemony of Bapu was coming to an end. His name did not appear on the ballot, but everyone had known that this election was between Bose and him. And the people wanted Bose. By the end of the day, Bose had won the election with 1,580 votes against his opponent’s 1,375. There are no records of this, but one can easily imagine Gandhi going about his daily chores after hearing the news, not showing any signs of distress. Yet it is likely that he knew that this battle was far from over. In fact, it was just beginning. Continue reading

Revisiting India’s Television Debut

I am pleased to announce the launch of a project that I have been working on for the last couple of months: Kingmaker, a television show on Indian political history, written by me and produced by the very talented Rishi Sinha. The show chronicles sagas of men and women jostling to get to the highest office in the land – the post of Indian Prime Minister- how they got there and how they stayed there. This show is about political struggles and palace intrigues, persons who tried to attain power and others who paved the way for them.

We began our story in the 1960s, with the first power struggle of Independent India – ascent of Lal Bahadur Shastri to the throne. We plan to end it with the arrival of the UPA Government in 2004. All in all, the show will run for ten episodes, covering the political backstory of every prime minister since Shastri.

The show is on a new Hindi news channel called Focus News on Friday nights at 9:00 pm and Saturday nights at 7:00 pm. You can watch one of the episodes right here:

1971 India-Pakistan War: Loyalty

This is the second post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. First part can be  read here

Richard Nixon (left) and Henry Kissinger, two most controversial figures of the 1970s

Richard Nixon (left) and Henry Kissinger, two most controversial figures of the 1970s

Six days after Pakistan Army began massacring its own people, a meeting on the East Pakistan Crisis was held in the White House Situation Room.  It was chaired by Henry Kissinger, the US National Security Adviser and President Richard Nixon’s right-hand man when it came to the American foreign policy. Kissinger, a former Harvard academic, was brilliant, ruthless and extremely powerful. Perhaps the most controversial figure in the American foreign policy of the time, he was an ardent worshipper of realpolitik in foreign policy, which often translated to celebrating cold-blooded calculations.

On this day, the calculation was about East Pakistan and Yahya Khan. A week into the crisis, Kissinger and his boss, Nixon, had already made up their mind to stay out. Despite the mounting reports of a bloodbath coming in from their own consulate in Dacca, the mood in White House was to let Yahya do what he wanted.  In the meeting, Kissinger’s main concern was whether Pakistan Army could actually succeed or not. As the meeting progressed, Kissinger asked about the people killed in Dacca University. “Did they kill Professor Razak? He was one of my students.” He was informed by a CIA official that Razak probably had been killed. Kissinger, apparently referring to the previous rulers of South Asia, replied, “They didn’t dominate 400 million Indians all those years by being gentle.”

This detached statement perfectly represented the American attitude towards the East Pakistan genocide. And it was about to get worse.  Within a month, US will shed its disinterested neutrality and will actively begin aiding Pakistan in the massacre. Why? Because Nixon and Kissinger were secretly working on a project to change the world.

Continue reading

1971 India-Pakistan War: Genocide

This is the first post of a four-part series on India-Pakistan 1971 War. The second part is available here

Yahya Khan: The man responsible for the genocide

Yahya Khan: The man responsible for the genocide

On the night of 31 March 1971, two men huddled under a small culvert somewhere on the India-East Pakistan border. A week ago these men – Tajuddin Ahmad and Amirul Islam – were riding the greatest high of their lives, a landslide victory in the Pakistani elections. And now they were hunted men, escaping from their own country like criminals. Their boss – Sheikh Mujibur Rahman – was already in jail and the Pakistani Army was rounding up thousands of their supporters as of that moment.  As the morning came, Ahmad and Islam, cold, hungry and scared for their lives, heard the familiar footsteps of army boots. Soldiers in green uniforms began to appear around them. Islam breathed a sigh of relief. For these were Indian soldiers, here to give them refuge.

It was still hard to see, but the entry of these two men into India was going to set in motion a chain of events leading to perhaps the most significant war in South Asia since the Second World War.

The crisis that had brought Ahmad and Islam to India had its roots in the end of the British Raj. Independence of India and its consequent partition into two countries had left resultant Pakistan as a geographical anomaly unique in the world. Two wings of the nation – West and East Pakistan – were not just separated by a thousand miles of a hostile India, but also by ethnicities and languages. While the west was dominated by Urdu-speaking Punjabis, the east was almost entirely made up of ethnic Bengalis. Further, accidents of history had ensured that the West Pakistan enjoy a certain political dominance over the East. Invariably, this had led to a build-up of resentment that the Bengalis had nursed for decades. The relationship between the two parts of the country was always rocky and periodically worsened over issues like national language. Enter an alcoholic dictator – General Yahya Khan.

Continue reading

India and the Korean War: Damned are the Peacemakers

"China has many people. They cannot be bombed out of existence. If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, I can too. The death of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of." Mao tells a shocked Nehru.

“China has many people. They cannot be bombed out of existence. If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, I can too. The death of ten or twenty million people is nothing to be afraid of,” Mao tells a shocked Nehru.

On 25 November 1950, the 300,000 men of the Chinese Army attacked the Americans in North Korea. Carrying off one of the biggest surprise attacks in the history of warfare, the Chinese action shook the entire world. But in New Delhi, Jawaharlal Nehru was more frustrated than shocked. He had been warning the Americans for weeks that this would happen, but Washington had ignored him. And now world’s most powerful nation was at war with the world’s biggest country. On one side was the US, threatening to use the atomic bomb. On the other side was Chinese dictator Mao, saying that a few nuclear weapons were hardly going to make a dent in the vast Chinese population. It was a nightmare scenario; the whole world could be swallowed by Third World War at any moment. Stuck in the middle of it all, Nehru commented “the world is determined to commit suicide”

The Korean War was perhaps one of most dangerous moments of the Cold War, fuelled by ideological conflict, geopolitical jealousies and general stupidity. At the end of Second World War in 1945, like the world, Korea was divided by the Soviet Union and the United States into two countries- one communist and one democratic. However, desire of a united Korea persisted, particularly in the mind of North Korean dictator Kim Il-Sung (grandfather of the current North Korean dictator). On 25 June 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, causing the United States to immediately jump in the war, dispatching troops under the banner of United Nations.

Continue reading

Correction: Official vs. National Language

In the initial writing of the article “Hindi, English or Nothing: Politics of India’s National Languages“, this author made an error, using the terms “official language” and  “national language” interchangeably at one point. The mistake is deeply regretted. Since this blog aims to be a credible source of information and analysis, it must own up to its mistakes. By the way, thanks to Achal Kathuria for pointing it out.

There remains considerable confusion over the clear distinction between Official and National Language, to the extent that Gujarat High Court had to rule on it 2010. Even now, it seems there are no good legal definitions on the subject. Here is a good way to understand it:

Continue reading

Hindi, English or Nothing: Politics of India’s National Languages

Sorry for disappearing for so long. I have been working on another very exciting project to popularize history that I hope to share with you guys soon. In the meantime, this post is a by-product of my struggles of re-educating myself of my own mother tongue.

Demographics at play

Demographics at play

Before the middle of nineteenth century, Hindi had no patrons in India. The language was essentially a collection of dialects spoken in large swathes North India, but it held no formal recognition. Mughal Empire used Persian as the official language, which the British Raj had continued to a certain extent. Parallel to it were the native courts, which used Sanskrit. Sanskrit was an exclusive domain of the Brahmins, incomprehensible to both British and common Indians. Brahmins were happy hold back its spread to ensure their own continued influence.

The first political patrons for Hindi emerged from the Hindu-Muslim antagonism that was building up in the country in late 1800s. These promoters of the language saw Hindi as a tool to counteract the influence of Muslims who spoke and read Urdu. The initial attempt was spread Hindi as far as possible, in effort to claim most population and regions as Hindi speaking. Since Hindi was such a vague, ill-defined group of dialects, an easy way to do this was claim other languages as Hindi. The direct victims of this strategy became border regions like Rajasthan, Bihar, Himachal and Uttarakhand. Many linguist experts maintain that Rajasthani, Bihari and Pahari should be a different language group. But all this was swept aside in a campaign to spread Hindi. So, for instance, in 1881 Bihar Government adopted Hindi as the sole official language of the state, ignoring, not only Urdu but also Maithili, Bhojpuri etc. A lot of government work and education programmes were transferred to Hindi medium. Over the decades, this situation ensured that most Biharis, regardless of their mother tongue, end up becoming Hindi speakers. Such efforts continued across North India, with much success, except in Punjab, where Sikhs, with the force of their religion, were able to consolidate a counteracting force.

Continue reading