Unless we’re able to face China, we will only be left writing books: Arun Shourie – Maxin Mathew

Maxin MathewWe have to prove that we’re serious about our own development and security. I sincerely hope he (Modi) doesn’t think that increasing trade with China is going to defang it. China has large trade ties with Japan and the United States, but it is also determined to overcome America in dominance and influence. Unless we prepare ourselves to face China, we will only be left writing books.” – Maxin Mathew

Arun ShourieAn intellectual who carries off his fearless persona and animated repartee with effortless panache, Arun Shourie lived up to the billing perfectly at the Bangalore Literature Festival.

The former cabinet minister and veteran journalist’s views on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fierce focus on China and simmering Indo-Sino border relations were received with a standing ovation by a packed audience on Sunday, the last day of the festival. Excerpts:

Question: How effective will Modi’s Chinese gameplan be?

We have to prove that we’re serious about our own development and security. I sincerely hope he (Modi) doesn’t think that increasing trade with China is going to defang it. China has large trade ties with Japan and the United States, but it is also determined to overcome America in dominance and influence. Unless we prepare ourselves to face China, we will only be left writing books.

Question: Modi has been aggressive in his speeches about Pakistan and China, but why aren’t we seeing any change?

Options depend on capacity, rather than the rhetoric of an individual. Over the years, we’ve always deluded ourselves that if we keep talking sweetly, the dragon will become vegetarian. After 1971, Pakistan realized they cannot take us on in a frontal war. So General Zia ul-Haq devised this strategy of a proxy war, built a capacity and have succeeded for 20 years. We didn’t build a counter-capacity to do a Kashmir in Balochistan. Maybe Does the dragon have the tiger by the tail?Modi spoke firmly about the border, but talking is not as effective as building capacity.

Question: Ironical that during the Indo-Sino talks, tensions were building on the border?

It’s a crucial Chinese strategy — Claim, keep repeating the claim, grab, hold on and let time pass till the adversary gets used to it. China is India’s long-term problem. Their determination to get Tawang is a powerful signal to Southeast Asia and the rest of the world that if India is not able to look after its own interests, what will it do to help you?

Question: Your thoughts on Jayalalithaa’s conviction

First, I want a safe passage to the airport (laughs). No case involving a public servant should take 18 years. This is a good move by Modi to dispose of such cases in a year. In cases involving public servants, there should be no adjournments. We must have confiscation of all assets, and not just those that are acquired through corruption. And we must involve physical incarceration and not just fines, with the person being barred from public life for ever. – Times of India, 29 September 2014

Putin is selfish, wants to rebuild Berlin Wall, says Dalai Lama

Dalai Lama
Patriarch Kirill & Dictator Putin“We had become accustomed (to the fact) that the Berlin Wall has fallen,” the Dalai Lama said, alluding to the shattering of the Communist bloc begun 25 years ago. Now President Putin seems to want to rebuild it. But he is hurting his own country by doing this. Isolation is suicide for Russia.”

Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama criticised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin as “self-centred” in a German newspaper interview Sunday, saying Putin seems to want to “rebuild the Berlin Wall”.

“His attitude is: ‘I, I, I’,” the Dalai Lama said, pointing out that Putin had served as Russian president, then prime minister and then president again.

“That’s a bit too much,” he told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper. “This is very self-centred.”

The Buddhist leader also had more criticism for Russia, now in the worst standoff with the West since the Cold War, than for China, which has ruled Tibet since its 1950 invasion.

“China and Russia, these are two very different cases,” said the Dalai Lama, voicing hope that “the modern world supports China becoming a democratic country”.

“China wants to be part of the global political system and will be ready to accept the international rules in the long run,” he said in the interview conducted in English.

“I don’t have the impression that this accounts for Russia and President Putin, as well, at the moment.

“We had become accustomed (to the fact) that the Berlin Wall has fallen,” he said, alluding to the shattering of the Communist bloc begun 25 years ago.

Now President Putin seems to want to rebuild it. But he is hurting his own country by doing this. Isolation is suicide for Russia.” – AsiaOne, 7 September 2014

 Berlin Wall

Rending the veil of historical negationism in India – Bharavi

S.L. BhyrappaAn analysis of Aavarana: The Veil by S.L. Bhyrappa. Translated into English by Sandeep Balakrishna. Paperback: 400 pages. Publisher: Rupa Books Co., 2014. ISBN-13: 978-8129124883

Introduction

Ostensibly a work of historical fiction, the Kannada writer S.L. Bhyrappa’s book is apt to touch raw nerves for readers of every persuasion, especially if they endure till the bitter end. Without saying so, it reminds us that the Indian national motto “Satyameva jayate naanrtam” (‘Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood’, Mundakopanishad 3.1.6) takes some character and conviction to live by, or risks being reduced to sloganeering and eventually, to irony and parody in equal parts.

Mr. Sandeep Balakrishna, who has translated the book from the Kannada original into English, richly deserves the collective gratitude of Hindu society for having brought this book to a larger reading public, potentially including foreign scholars.

Among historical novels and even history books, Aavarana is likely to stand tall for its candor and accuracy tempered by human sympathy. Few Indian historians and fewer Indian novelists have dared to approach the subject of this work, either due to a lack of the requisite erudition or for fear of political incorrectness.

The main theme of the book is the prevalent, official negationism of the less savory events and effects of the Islamic conquest of India on the Hindu psyche and society. This negationism is what the term “aavarana” literally denotes – the covering up of inconvenient facts in the service of ideology at best and expediency at worst. However, many other sub-themes are woven together in a literary style that India has known since the days of the Ramayana and Mahabharata – that of the ‘story within a story’. Dialogues between different characters and even mental soliloquies can pique the inquisitive and attentive reader into commencing new directions of investigation, just as the thought-provoking dialogues of classical works do.

The framing narrative in Aavarana is that of a modern Hindu Kannadiga woman in independent India, Lakshmi Gowda, who discards her ancestral religion in favour of what is called ‘Progressive thought’, followed by conversion to Islam for the sake of marrying a Muslim filmmaker and integrating into his orthodox family.

In this and other efforts to break free of what she considers the archaic, patriarchal and parochial mores of Hindu society, she is encouraged by an ‘eminent intellectual’, Prof. L.N. Sastri. He is of her own ethnicity, a Brahmin who leads by example, most prominently by marrying a British Catholic woman and flaunting his beef-eating in a defiant newspaper article.

Many years after her marriage, while filming at Hampi, where the ruins of the Vijayanagar empire lie strewn around, ‘mute witnesses’ (Sita Ram Goel[1]) to wanton destruction motivated by Islamic iconoclasm, Razia Begum Qureshi née Lakshmi Gowda starts the examination of the facts on the ground, literally and metaphorically. Here, news of the death of her Gandhian father who disowned her on her marriage and conversion decades ago reaches her. Razia, emotionally affected by the sudden turn of events, visits her natal house. An intellectually transformative event occurs when she chances upon her father’s study wherein he had accumulated a large number of books (including several by Muslim historians) describing various facets and periods of India under Islamic rule. He was apparently planning to write a book using this material, and had made copious notes, but was unable to complete the work before his death. Wanting to complete her father’s work, but not being an academic scholar herself but an artist, she decides not to write a book on history, but a historical novel based on the material available, and with scrupulous adherence to the truth. This novel is the second narrative within the book.

Aaravana: The VeilAn eye for detail

This is a novel with a mission – to encourage Indians to think objectively about their history on the basis of primary evidence, rather than take refuge in pleasing platitudes that have metastasized into unsupportable speculations and mindless sloganeering in the service of political and ideological fashions. In this account of not one, but several intellectual journeys, Razia is the freethinker who has done a Malhotran U-turn[2] in reverse, and Prof. Sastri is the distilled essence of our ‘eminent historians’ who write ‘official history’.

Bhyrappa deals very knowledgably and with great sympathy and accuracy about doctrinal matters and worldviews essential to the Hindu-Islamic encounters, not incidental to them. In the latter category of incidental matters we may include linguistic borrowings and the adaptation of Hindu art forms to Islamic tastes, the basis of the much-beloved and laboriously contrived, but nevertheless unreal, contemporary ideal of a ‘composite culture’.

The overall effect of this approach is to maintain a rare clarity of thought and a high level of detail, framing each issue in sharp relief, until the reader can disagree with the inevitable conclusions only by closing (or banning) the book. This is what the Indian secular establishment has been doing – ‘strangling by silence’[3] – simply refusing to acknowledge, leave alone trying to systematically examine the literary and material evidence.

Perceptive and conscious Hindus will additionally find in this book a welcome literary revival of their hoary philosophical tradition of ‘poorva paksha’. This involves rendering the opinion of others with utmost honesty and fidelity. Each of the arguments and thoughts of the characters involved is imbued with these admirable qualities precisely because this is truly a book of essentials. As Bhyrappa writes in the acknowledgements, he spent time traveling, researching texts and interacting with people to the extent of having practicing Muslims advise him on the finer points of Islamic customs and manners. This level of research constitutes a clean and hopefully irreversible break with the harmful legacy of mindless sloganeering by Hindu religious and political leaders culminating in Gandhi’s ‘sarva dharma sama bhaava’ (equanimity towards all religions) – an opiate designed for Hindu consumption that no Muslim or Christian can subscribe to without committing a combination of social hypocrisy and doctrinal heresy.

Hindu leaders (except perhaps the late Swami Dayananda Saraswati of the Arya Samaj) have historically contented themselves with blaming fanatics among Muslims, but obstinately refrained from even the simplest study of core Islamic doctrines, leave alone analysis of the consequences of those doctrines for the Hindu society. Thus, Hindu leaders lead their followers astray by pretending to know all about Islam (and other competing ideologies) without having read any foundational texts worth the name.

Dr. Shreerang Godbole, a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS – ‘National Volunteer Association’), exposed a major instance of self-deception among contemporary Hindu nationalists in a series of articles and some revealing correspondence[4]. Instances of Hindu-led, self-delusional ‘inter-faith’ exercises can be multiplied, going back to the nirguna(‘attribute-free’) strains of the medieval Bhakti movement itself and, nearer our own times, Gandhi’s obstinate attempts to remain doctrinally illiterate. Bhyrappa administers the much-needed corrective to such persistently ad hominem and ad hoc reactions from Hindus by going back to the fount, as we shall see.

HijraReopening suppressed facts

Aavarana also treads on territory that has been scrupulously kept out of sight in Indian textbooks, and even in much of Hindutva literature – the enslavement of Hindus by Islamic conquerors that, in the case of young male captives, was often accompanied by forced emasculation. Even a cursory review of Islamic history (e.g. the Ottoman caliphate) will indicate that the slave-taking and eunuch-making described in the book was but a local instance of a more widespread behavioral pattern. When such uncomfortable facts cannot be avoided, the standard secularist tactic is to either allege ulterior motives on the part of the informant (shoot-the-messenger or spit-and-run policy) or to creatively recast the account as an ancient instance of some contemporary social ideal.

An example of the last tactic was recently in evidence in the self-described ‘India’s national newspaper’, The Hindu. In his review of a work on the history of the Delhi Sultanate, Mr. Ziya-Us-Salam bemoaned contemporary homophobia and prejudice against the transgendered and neutered, saying that the Delhi sultanate was much ‘wiser’ in such matters by highlighting that Alauddin Khilji’s famous general, Malik Kafur, was both a eunuch and a converted Hindu, not a Turk. Yet, Kafur’s gender was never a point of concern for his contemporaries. All the way into Mughal times, eunuchs continued to hold important positions and to actively participate in the politics of the time.[5] The review concluded with a clarion call for an equitable attitude towards LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) rights:

“In the liberal ways of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughals lie a few lessons for us today.”

Now, a liberal attitude towards contemporaneous LGBT individuals is unexceptionable for anyone who cares for human rights. But, the inconvenient historical fact glossed over is that Malik Kafur was surnamed ‘Hazardinari’ i.e., ‘costing a thousand dinars’. He was a Hindu boy captured as booty during Alauddin’s Gujarat campaign, castrated and eventually sold for the aforementioned dinars. Understandably, you would be hard-put to discover prejudice against eunuchs in a society that created them and valued them for their services. These facts again highlight the contemporary relevance of Bhyrappa’s investigation into the liberties one can take with historical facts, even to support valid social causes. Razia’s novel within Aavarana is in the form of the autobiography of a eunuch who was a newly-married seventeen year-old Hindu prince prior to his capture and enslavement in war, followed by forced castration.

We will let the late historian K.S. Lal have the last word on the status and role of eunuchs under the Islamic dispensation:

“The need for turning so many boys and men into eunuchs and also obtaining them from outside is obvious. The safety, security and surveillance of a large number of beautiful women in the seraglio could not be left only to female matrons. And normal healthy men could not be trusted to serve in the harem in which resided so many sex-starved young women. So the safest thing was to make men who were on duty in the harem harmless. The king also lived in the harem, and nobles and servants personally attending on him also had to be eunuchs. The cruelty entailed in this system was nobody’s concern in a despotic regime. On the other hand, it was very advantageous to the master. Once a man was made eunuch, his sensibility for manhood was dwarfed, his spirit of assertiveness destroyed, and he was perforce turned into a loyal and devoted slave; it did not matter to the master if his loyalty and devotion were fruits of compulsion. So the practice of making eunuchs went on and on under Muslim rule. If eunuchs were denied “the greatest pleasures attainable in this world”, they were compensated by sometimes performing great feats of bravery, by showing great loyalty to the master or by just piling up great wealth.

It is not the task of the historian to pity the eunuchs or condemn those who emasculated them. But pernicious was the system in which man could exploit man to this extent. It is another matter that most eunuchs perforce reconciled themselves to their lot, though cruelty and crime could go no farther than deforming and desexing of man by man. Many people suffered because of the medieval Muslim slave system, but undoubtedly the eunuchs suffered the most.”[6]

Thus, the signal merit of Aavarana lies in the scrupulously faithful characterization of not only historical events and persons, but also the contemporary secularist Indian-Islamic axis and praxis. The secularist technique of maintaining hegemony by limiting access to relevant information or depending on the ignorance of their audience is a technique that is long past its expiry date.

Most damagingly, in Bhyrappa’s hands, the prompt juxtaposition of the lofty, yet shifty, Indian secularist ex-cathedra proclamations and ‘analyses’ with the inconvenient historical data leaves the reasonable reader in no doubt as to how silly Indian secularism can be when it is not actively poisoning Indian society. Thereafter, only the wilfully duplicitous or compulsively self-deluded can keep up the charade of Indian secularism. That this simple juxtaposition could have been successfully deferred for nearly half a century after India’s independence in 1947 speaks volumes of the intellectual climate of the Nehruvian-Stalinist state that India had been reduced to, until the advent of more modern and less controllable forms of information transfer, particularly the internet.

Aavarana vividly demonstrates the truth of Arun Shourie’s assertion – ‘cut out and store their (i.e. secularists’) vituperation — in less than no time it mutates into the ridiculous.’[7] These facts sufficiently account for the extreme distaste with which Bhyrappa is being viewed by sections of the Kannada (secular) literary establishment.

Even more problematically from the Indian secularist viewpoint, Bhyrappa has not fallen into the vulgar error of blaming Muslims as a community. Going deeper than the compilation of various historical accounts, he highlights the doctrinal foundations of Islam – the Koran, the Hadiths and the Sunnah. These foundational texts of Islam, we find, in and of themselves, sufficiently account for the attitudes and behavior of conscious Muslims towards Kafirs and their practice of Kufr. In less politically correct times, this was an obvious fact admitted as much with pride by Muslim historians themselves, and is still being repeatedly highlighted by the so-called ‘radical’ Islamic groups and regimes, but it bears restating in the current climate of gratuitous, and often, professional obfuscation.

Heads in the SandAcademic corruption and the Indian progressive/secular/Marxist intellectuals

Aavarana will (or should) make every academic (and not only in the social sciences) sit up and think, if not cringe: Absolute truth may well be distant, abstract, even unattainable, but are they doing violence to more mundane, observable facts in blind devotion to cherished theories? And, what about the hefty governmental grants and patronage that are employed to these ends? Do academics that make honest errors bother to correct themselves?

However, Aavarana’s most ominous and troubling question about the academic establishment (especially its Indian avatar) is left unstated, so let us make it explicit.

Now, right or wrong, at least the temple-breakers and Kafir-enslavers had the honesty to admit the reality of their intentions and actions, and acknowledge their rootedness in doctrinal convictions. Do our academics have any such principles, or do they hunt with the hounds and run with the hare as it suits them? Are they rank opportunists who fall into one of the four categories of ‘eel-wrigglers’ enumerated by the Buddha?[8]

One can only shake one’s head with cynicism when we find Prof. Sastri eating beef as a gesture of defiance one day, but happily agreeing to give a discourse on the wisdom of cow protection for a Gandhian organization on the next. This writer witnessed in person an ‘eminent historian of India’ waving off Timur’s admission of Islamic motives in his autobiography by censuring the British historians who documented this (Elliot and Dowson) for their ‘imperial-colonial motives’ (see: shoot-the-messenger and spit-and-run above). So, I can tell from experience that Prof. Sastri is pretty much true to type, as are the outnumbered and organizationally outmaneuvered Hindu activists who try to call the secularist bluff at ‘progressive’ seminars.

But then, Prof. Sastri is also the true hero of this novel. Without his undeniable erudition and command over the English language that are ‘gainfully employed’ to justify anything ‘progressive’ with aplomb, to suppress key facts and wilfully indulge in outright fabrication when mere misinterpretation won’t suffice, all in the name of secularism and communal harmony (see: eel-wriggling, above), the central problem of the novel – the veiling (Aavarana) of the truth in history-writing – would not even exist. Verily a case of philosophia ancilla theologiae (pace St. Thomas Aquinas)! In passing, we also note that Yoginder Sikand’s confession about the lucrative and prestigious progressive academic-activist circuit[9] eerily corroborates Bhyrappa’s characterization of Prof. Sastri, so that this book is well-nigh ‘certified’ too by high authority, if such were required. This only enhances Bhyrappa’s standing as a careful and conscientious gatherer of facts and as a consummate storyteller who weaves them into a coherent narrative.

Non-Indian academics and assorted “India/Hinduism experts” should also take Bhyrappa’s unstated warning seriously. From their positions of prestige, they should not mindlessly first swallow, or worse, unthinkingly propagate, notions fed to them by their native informants (or ‘academic collaborators’) in the Indian secularist establishment. They need to engage directly with primary data to make sure that they are not being fed cock-and-bull stories sugar-coated with fashionable ideologies by the allegedly progressive secularists of India. More importantly, for their own sakes, they also need to get their act in order and function with at least some appearance of disinterested objectivity, if they are to salvage what is left of their integrity

On the Hindu side, Ram Swarup’s words bear reiteration if Hindus are not to discredit themselves in turn by going to the opposite extreme and disregarding all academic researchers (even those hostile to Hinduism) as a matter of policy:

“… But there were also others (British historians) who had genuine curiosity and in spite of their pre-conceived notions, they tried to do their job faithfully in the spirit of objectivity. In the pursuit of their researches, they applied methods followed in Europe. They collected, collated and compared old manuscripts. They deciphered old, forgotten scripts and in the process discovered an important segment of our past. They developed linguistics, archaeology, carbon dating, numismatics; they found for us ample evidence of India in Asia. They discovered for us much new data, local and international. True, many times they tried to twist this data and put fanciful constructions on it, but this new respect for facts imposed its own discipline and tended to evolve objective criteria. Because of the objective nature of the criteria, their findings did not always support their prejudices and preconceived notions. For example, their data proved that India represented an ancient culture with remarkable continuity and widespread influence and that it had a long and well-established tradition of self-rule and self-governing republics, and free institutions and free discussion.” [10]

An example of negationism by a non-Indian academic is that of Richard Eaton who documented cases of temple destruction by Sufis in the book, Sufis of Bijapur[11]. However, flying in the face of facts, Eaton has also written apologetics for Islam. One would think that, being a free American citizen and an academic with tenure at the University of Tucson, Arizona, he would have robustly stood by his scholar’s prerogative to unearth inconvenient facts with complete honesty, and left it to the distant Indian society to deal with these facts as best as it might. In fact, this is routinely done in every case of ‘drain inspection’ carried out on the ills of Hindu society.[12]

Rather, Eaton laboriously tried to establish a false parity between Hindu and Islamic kings by highlighting an imagined ‘continuity’ in temple destruction, citing pre-Islamic instances of rival Hindu kings taking away images of deities during conquest for re-installation in their own temples.[13]

This ‘continuity’ is, of course, entirely in the eye of the scholar. A little thought and common sense will indicate that the Hindu kings’ appropriation of images worshipped by their rivals is in no way equivalent to the Islamic act of carrying away Pagan idols where their eventual fate is not respectful re-installation and worship in the Islamic Sultan’s personal shrine, but melting down for precious metals, or breakage and embedding into doorsteps so that they could be subjected to desecration by the faithful for the foreseeable future. These indignities are in addition to disrupting Pagan idol-worship at the original site, which is not the case with pre-Islamic India, where the defeated Hindu king was free to re-commence worship of a different image. Eaton’s (and others’) historical skullduggery rooted in a studied refusal to examine Islamic doctrine for reasons underlying Islamic behavior have been documented and critiqued at length by Koenraad Elst in his book Negationism in India.[14]

Ram SwarupOn the Pagan response to prophetic revelatory religions

Bhyrappa ends his work on a very tantalizing note that has not been much remarked upon even in favorable reviews as far as I could see – Vivekananda’s attempted yogic analysis of wahi – the process of divine revelation in Islam. He also offers instances wherein Hindu thought categories are used to analyze events, something that is hardly met with even in Hindu-friendly literature.

So far, the Hindu revivalist author Ram Swarup has been the only Hindu to interpret the process of prophetic-monotheistic revelation from a yogic viewpoint.[15] On the secular front, the Dutch scholar Herman Somers, a former Jesuit priest and a qualified psychologist had unearthed psychopathological syndromes associated with many instances of prophetic revelation in the Bible, including that of Jesus. His findings, inaccessible to those who don’t know French or Dutch (including this author), have been ably summarized by the Belgian Indologist Koenraad Elst in his book Psychology of Prophetism.[16]

Hindus, especially their assorted, well-funded gurus, would do well to read these books and develop their own informed critique of other religions at deeper, doctrinal levels and desist from misleading their families and flocks with misinformation in the guise of ‘promoting religious harmony’. This intellectual shoddiness and poverty of thought has been termed ‘radical universalism’ by Frank Morales, a Hispanic-American convert to Srivaishnava Hinduism.[17]

Bhyrappa has therefore performed a signal service to Hindu society by taking his readers on a whirlwind tour of both the historical and doctrinal aspects of the Hindu-Islamic encounter, while scrupulously avoiding the pasting of collective or inherited guilt on contemporary communities. It is obvious that durable peace between these two communities will require a lot more than mere political correctness and formal niceties involving soppy, Bollywood-style inter-religious love stories, lavish Mughlai food or florid Urdu poetry, not to mention candlelight fairs at the Indo-Pak border post at Wagah.

Taslima NasrinConclusions

Aavarana is a literary efflorescence (detractors would like to say recrudescence) of what the likes of Sita Ram Goel,[1] Arun Shourie[18] and Koenraad Elst[14have painstakingly achieved for serious history writing over the last few decades – an exposé of the official Indian negationism of the career of Islam in India, as well as the legal censorship of all doctrinal critiques of Islam that has prevailed for most of independent India’s recent history. The denial of asylum to the Bangladeshi atheist-feminist writer Taslima Nasrin and the denial of an Indian visa to Salman Rushdie by the Indian government are merely two notable manifestations of this self-imposed censorship.

Of course, two can play this game of officious legality and offended religious sensibilities. Thus, the Hindus, in their turn, filed cases in the courts against the Muslim painter M.F. Hussain and the Jewish-American academic Wendy Doniger, on the grounds of offending their religious sentiments. As a result of legal harassment, M.F. Hussain chose to end his days in exile in Qatar and Penguin India, the publishers of Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History, opted for an out-of-court settlement, pulping all the unsold copies of Doniger’s book and refraining from releasing any new copies in India.

Interestingly, Doniger could not resist doing her own bit of veiling – Aavarana – in the wake of this controversy. Referring to Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, under which Penguin India were hauled to court in the first place, she wrote as follows in a statement in Outlook magazine:

“They (Penguin India) were finally defeated by the true villain of this piece – the Indian law that makes it a criminal rather than civil offense to publish a book that offends any Hindu, a law that jeopardizes the physical safety of any publisher, no matter how ludicrous the accusation brought against a book.”[19]

The innocent reader may justifiably conclude that this villainous law is preoccupied solely with offended Hindu sentiments, something that would befit the secularist scarecrow of a rabid Hindu theocracy. However, on closer inspection, the British-era law, though intended primarily to pre-empt Islamic riots that erupt with monotonous predictability on grounds of outraged religious sensibilities, takes adequate care to use neutral language befitting an even-handed concern for all groups:

“Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of citizens of India (originally ‘British India’)…[20]

Yes, any class of Indian citizens, not just Hindus – potentially every religious, linguistic, regional, vocational, sectarian, or caste grouping. Suppressio veri, suggestio falsi, and that too by an American academic, the “Mircea Eliade Distinguished Service Professor of the History of Religions; also in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations, the Committee on Social Thought, and the College…”[21] no less.

Given such instances, Bhyrappa’s concerns about the truth being hidden or conveniently diminished by our ‘eminences’ holding forth from their lofty pulpits are fully warranted. Time and again, the Indian secularist establishment and their foreign fellow travelers have painted themselves into inconvenient corners, often with their own weapons used against those very cherished humanistic values and ideals whose custodianship they have arrogated to themselves.

Secularists, especially Bhyrappa’s fellow Kannadigas like Girish Karnad, Aravind Adiga and U.R. Ananthamurthy, have concentrated their ire on Bhyrappa, either disowning him or condemning him. Aravind Adiga characterizes Bhyrappa as a novelist ‘in search of an ending’ and one who is ‘in danger of having a fanbase composed entirely of bigots’.[22] Indeed, the ‘danger’ exists precisely because of the falsification and fabrication that has become de rigueur in the teaching (or preaching?) of Indian history.[1][14][18] Six years ago, when asked about his (Adiga’s) own choice to portray the crushing poverty of India in his novel, Adiga proclaimed that ‘provocation is one of the legitimate goals of literature’.[23] Clearly, he is not interested in extending that legitimacy to Bhyrappa now. Another instance of the famed ‘Aavarana’?

The only way to ‘save’ Bhyrappa, if the likes of Adiga sincerely want it, is to have the snooty ‘eminences’ dismount their high horses, and make amends for their chronic negationism, and allow for glasnost in the critiques of ‘minority religions’. And, a truly secular way to combat the feared ‘Hindu bigots’ would be to address their legitimate contemporary concerns regarding Islamic violence as well as treat the historical record of Islam in India in a more professional manner than has been in evidence so far.

Of course, none of this is possible without at least a tangential critique of Islamic doctrine, a move fraught with a real, as opposed to an imaginary shot (pun intended) at martyrdom that every secularist knows only too well.

There are more vital and interesting facts in this novel, especially about traditional Hinduism, the views on conquest and polity in the Dharmashaastras, historical material on Aurangzeb’s times and policies and so on, that have not been purposely touched upon by this reviewer to avoid ‘spoilers’.

Bhyrappa deftly has Razia write a bibliography within Aavarana, which indicates the extent of research and reading he has undertaken. Therefore, aside from the dominant theme of the Hindu-Islamic struggle, Hindus can learn much about their own heritage, legacy and history from Aavarana, and the bibliography can serve as a starting point for further inquiry. In addition to fulfilling its literary function as a novel on a historical theme using classical Hindu literary devices, Aavarana can reasonably double as a popular introduction, a Berlitz if you will, for lay Hindus to the landscape of what may well develop into an academic specialization in its own right – ‘Indian secularism studies’.

Jihadi: Koran in one hand, AK-47 in the other!The elephant herd in the already crowded room – recurring street riots, petty violence and arson, not to mention chronic acts of terrorism against the Hindu populace of India, often aided and abetted by the Indian Muslim enclave of Pakistan – cannot be wished away by platitudes alone. This book should initiate introspection among serious and observant Hindus and Muslims about the doctrinal foundations of their respective religions.

Under the circumstances, resolving to consciously eschew the less humane aspects of religious doctrines and practices might seem a reasonable course of action to adopt. However, upon such objective scrutiny and reform, person-and history-centric religions like the Abrahamic ones[24] will probably end up all the worse for the wear, as compared to Pagan ones. And therein lies the rub: Why should anyone willingly choose inconvenient truths over beautiful secular constructs? A Pagan myself, I may tentatively suggest an answer culled from an Abrahamic text – ‘And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free’.[25]

All right-thinking (in the sense of ‘decent’ not ‘politically conservative’) Hindus and Muslims should be thankful to Bhyrappa for holding up a mirror to their attitudes and mores, unflattering though the reflections may be on occasion. After all, to err is human, but not to realize one’s error when so clearly highlighted would only qualify as incorrigible obstinacy or sheer perversion. Though hardly remarked upon by inimical secularists, a relentless focus on fact and truth constitutes the truly ‘fanatic’ aspect of this singular novel. Posterity will recall it as a pioneering literary contribution to the Hindu-Islamic narrative from the Hindu side or, to put a truly secular slant on it, a sorely needed infusion of reality into the fashionable, not to say lucrative, business of inter-faith dialogue in India.

Notes and References

  1. Hindu temples: What happened to them (vol.1).   A preliminary survey. (1990). SR Goel (ed).   pp. 41-154. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://voiceofdharma.org/books/htemples1/ch10.htm
  2. Dey A. (2006). Rajiv Malhotra’s “U-turn theory.” http://www.deeshaa.org/2006/02/16/rajiv-malhotras-u-turn-theory/
  3. Elst K (2001). India’s only communalist: A short biography of Sita Ram Goel. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/articles/hinduism/sitaramgoel.html
  4. Time for stock-taking: Whither Sangh Parivar? (1997). Goel SR. (ed.) Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
  5. Ziya-us-salam. In wiser days. In The Hindu, April 25, 2014http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/in-wiser-days/article5947289.ece
  6. Lal, KS (1994). Muslim slave system in medieval India, ch. 9. Aditya Prakashan, New Delhi, India. http://voiceofdharma.com/books/mssmi/ch9.htm
  7. Shourie A. Cut, paste and preserve their calumny. In The Observer,January 22, 1999. http://arunshourie.voiceofdharma.com/print/19990122.htm
  8. In the Brahmajala Sutta the Buddha refers to ‘ascetics and Brahmins’ who equivocate as those who ‘wriggle like eels.’ http://buddhasutra.com/files/brahmajala_sutta.htm
  9. Sikand Y. Why I gave up on ‘social activism.’ In Countercurrents, April 19, 2012. http://www.countercurrents.org/sikand190412.htm
  10. Swarup R. Historians versus history. In The Indian Express, January 15, 1989. http://www.voiceofdharma.com/books/htemples1/ch6.htm
  11. Eaton RM. (1978). Sufis of Bijapur, 1300-1700: Social Roles of Sufis in Medieval India. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.A.
  12. This refers to Gandhi’s characterization of the racialist and anti-Catholic historian Katherine Mayo’s (in)famous book Mother India as being a ‘the report of a drain inspector.’
  13. Eaton RM. Temple desecration in pre-modern India and Temple desecration and Indo-Muslim states. In Frontline, December 22, 2000 and January 5, 2001. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_eaton_temples1.pdf; http://ftp.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00islamlinks/txt_eaton_temples2.pdf
  14. Elst K. (2002). Negationism in India: Concealing the record of Islam. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/books/negaind/
  15. Swarup R (1982). Hindu view of Christianity and Islam. Voice of India, New Delhi, India.
  16. Elst K (1993). Psychology of prophetism: A secular look at the Bible. Voice of India, New Delhi, India. http://koenraadelst.bharatvani.org/books/pp/
  17. Morales, FG. All religions are not the same. The problem with Hindu universalism, a critique of radical universalism. In Hinduism Today, July/August/September 2005 issue. http://www.hinduismtoday.com/modules/smartsection/item.php?itemid=1424
  18. Shourie A (1998). Eminent historians: Their technology, their line, their fraud.ASA Publications, New Delhi, India.
  19. Doniger W. I do not blame Penguin Books, India. Statement in Outlook, February 11, 2014. http://www.outlookindia.com/article/I-Do-Not-Blame-Penguin-Books-India/289473
  20. The Indian Penal Code. Of offences relating to religion (Chapter XV). Note that the chapter itself refers to ‘religion’ not specifically ‘Hinduism.’ http://districtcourtallahabad.up.nic.in/articles/IPC.pdf ,
  21. Quoted verbatim from the official website of Prof. Wendy Doniger at the University of Chicago. http://divinity.uchicago.edu/wendy-doniger
  22. Adiga A. A storyteller in search of an ending. In Outlook, March 11, 2013. http://www.outlookindia.com/article/A-Storyteller-In-Search-Of-An-Ending/284084
  23. Adiga, A. Provocation is one of the legitimate goals of literature. Interview with Vijay Rana, InThe Indian Express, 18 October 18, 2008 http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/-provocation-is-one-of-the-legitimate-goals-of-literature-/374718/0
  24. Malhotra R. Dharma Bypasses ‘History-Centrism.’ Published June 13, 2013. http://www.speakingtree.in/spiritual-blogs/masters/philosophy/dharma-bypasses-historycentrism
  25. The Bible. John 8:32 (King James Version). Lest I should be accused of indulging in radical universalism and aavarana myself, I hasten to add that the original context of the statement has nothing to do with knowing objective or cosmic truths. The ‘truth’ referred to is simply Jesus’ reiteration to his Jewish followers that he was indeed their promised messiah. But the rhetorical impact is significant nevertheless. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage

When will India get a strong foreign policy? – Gautam Sen

Dr. Gautam Sen“The Anglo-Americans, leave aside China, which is fully committed to the Pakistani goal of harming India, have little to gain from switching their support to India and effectively abandoning Pakistan. In turn, the West will have no value to Pakistan if it repudiates all support for its claim to Kashmir and suspends help to sustain its quest for some sort of military parity with India, which the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal has indeed substantially allowed. The West would then lose an ally that has shown little hesitation in doing its bidding, even though there has been a public display of various discords in the recent past.” – Dr Gautam Sen

Sushma SwarajIndians and their policy makers share a belief that they are ineffably decent people, who embody worthy moral values. This was clearly the basis for Nehru’s much-reviled, pompous self-righteousness. It was in fact a distorted legacy of the Gandhian syndrome of self-harm that assured partition of the worst kind imaginable. By and large, the good Indian took this unprecedented calamity in his stride even while its victims languished indefinitely in the paradise Nehru sought to inflict on a hapless nation. But Indians and their deluded rulers earnestly expected the world at large to note the solemn conviction pertaining to their essential goodness and behave with appropriate diligence towards their interests.

The real world predictably intruded very promptly and Indian expectations had to adjust to the harsh realities of a world indifferent to righteousness and thoroughly unpredictable. Hard experience forced India to accord greater priority to realistic behaviour that required self-defence in the shape of expensive weaponry, counter-intelligence, etc. But somewhere in the recesses of their psyche Indians never quite overcame the delusion that they would wake up one day to find the world had understood them and begun to engage with due regard.

The paradox is that in reality India only invites ridicule, contempt and even hatred abroad rather than the respect and affection it craves. Every single Indian neighbour espouses an admixture of these sentiments and the one to which is supposedly closest culturally harbours the greatest animus. Unfortunately, the upright Indian, preoccupied with reaping a harvest of crass material gratification, having lots of fun and generally self-absorbed, has not bothered to introspect. Every now and then Indians experience a rude shock, whether in the shape of the Kandahar hijack, aided by their very own estranged neighbouring cousins or 26/11, administered by their sworn enemy. But self-indulgence presides and everything is quickly forgotten.

An evaluation of some specific critical issues in the backdrop of Indian self-delusion and cupidity might provide insights into the Indian political predicament. It may be inferred that India has espoused the goal of economic and social development as paramount. In addition, dealing with its two adversarial neighbours has been a constant preoccupation, which, in fact, militates against the first goal. Both China and Pakistan seek to cut India down to size. It is an aspiration that has not diverged unduly from the entrenched British impulse to punish an India ruled by what they have always regarded as wily Hindus that dared expel them. The US soon subscribed to this view since India refused to kowtow with the great white imperial ruler of the earth, which also found its alleged proximity to the communist USSR insufferable.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US-Pakistan_relationsThe Anglo-Americans immediately embraced Pakistan, which abandoned with alacrity the supposed political and religious rationale that had prompted partition. Instead, it eagerly seized the opportunity of becoming foot soldiers in the millennial struggle against ungodly communism. The outcome was the complete and enduring militarization of Pakistan and its transformation into an aggressive ghazi state, committed to warfare. The consequences of that fateful decision have since led to its veritable unfolding implosion. The pinnacle of Pakistan’s wholehearted commitment to the Anglo-American imperial cause, in the name of Islam of course, came in the 1980s and the US war to corner the USSR in Afghanistan. As a reward for its cooperation, investigations reveal the US discreetly helped Pakistan’s quest to best India by acquiring a nuclear arsenal. It was of course facilitated directly by unstinting help from its all-weather friend, China. The three cynical agents of godly moral purpose engaged in a crusade to undermine the ungodly USSR and its supposed friend, India.

The question that might be posed is what would be the rationale for the Anglo-Americans to now abandon Pakistan in favour of India. India has of course been arguing strenuously that Kashmir is a legitimate part of the Indian Union, while also tenaciously upholding legal provisions that simultaneously undermine that very claim! Its response to Pakistani terrorism has been wayward, at the very best, but it has also been warning plaintively that Pakistani terrorism against India will spill over and impact the West itself. It duly did so on 9/11 and elsewhere, from London to Madrid. There is now an earnest Indian hope that the West, namely the US, will use its enormous financial and military clout over Pakistan, as its principal supplier of weapons, to somehow restrain it. There is, as yet, no sign of such a gratifying finale for India.

However, the reason for this Indian disappointment is not far to seek. The Anglo-Americans, leave aside China, which is fully committed to the Pakistani goal of harming India, have little to gain from switching their support to India and effectively abandoning Pakistan. In turn, the West will have no value to Pakistan if it repudiates all support for its claim to Kashmir and suspends help to sustain its quest for some sort of military parity with India, which the acquisition of a nuclear arsenal has indeed substantially allowed. The West would then lose an ally that has shown little hesitation in doing its bidding, even though there has been a public display of various discords in the recent past. One suspects these were manufactured to shield Pakistan’s military dictators from domestic hostility for their supine conduct in allowing the US carte blanche in the region.

Pakistan PM Nawaz Sharif is overshadowed by the army.Yet, Pakistan remains the only Muslim country with a serious army, which earlier protected US allies like King Hussein of Jordan. A military contingent, led by none other than the late President Zia ul-Haq, crushed a Palestinian revolt in what came to be known as Black September during 1970. It was Pakistani commandos who also rescued the reviled US-backed Saudi monarchy when the Grand Mosque was seized by religious zealots in 1979. Most significantly of all, Pakistan contributed hugely to the Afghan campaign, effectively instigating the retreat of the USSR from Afghanistan. The Afghan victory culminated in the historic triumph of the West in the Cold War. However, unpalatable it may be for self-important Indian bureaucrats and deluded Indian politicians, Pakistan’s usefulness to the West can hardly be doubted.

It should also be noted that the West does not actually hold the Pakistani government and establishment responsible for 9/11. In private, there is acknowledgment the catastrophe was partially due to forces unleashed by the historic Afghan campaign to dislodge the USSR from the country. In addition, Pakistan is cooperating exhaustively with the West to interdict further attacks on Western targets, if not others. In recent months, the usefulness of Jihadis from Pakistan has been rediscovered by the US, with a contingent, perhaps led by the Pakistani army itself, making its way to Syria to help overthrow Bashar al-Assad.

Pakistan, along with Turkey, has been the key third world allies of the West during the Cold War. Pakistan’s usefulness to Anglo-Americans political machination, especially in the Middle West, can hardly be denied. As a result, Pakistan has powerful allies in the US, whether it is the State Department, the CIA or the Pentagon, ready to argue its case. To quote the pithy raison d’être offered by one US President in another context: ‘they may be bastards, but they are our bastards’!

By contrast, if the US somehow compelled Pakistani authorities to cease terrorist activities against India the result can well be surmised. From the point of the view of the US, it would entail the loss of a substantial source of leverage over India if such an unlikely goal was attained. At present, fear of conflagration on its western border is a key facet in India’s calculus of feasible policy options. In the aftermath of the end of the Cold War, India views with trepidation open hostilities with Pakistan since Chinese intervention may be in prospect, without the likelihood of a Russian response to deter the latter. Should this constraint on policy options disappear, India would have less need of US goodwill, for example, even in the climactic situation of a nuclear standoff with Pakistan, when US intervention would be invaluable.

Map of secret terrorist training camps in PakistanThe end of Indo-Pak hostility, which the cessation of terror against India would effectively imply, would transform Indian defence options. It would free anything up to 600,000 troops as well as other critical defence assets, for use on its northern border. It would, in other words, be a transformative moment for India. India would gain a degree of policy autonomy it has not possessed since independence. Its dependence on others, who may have helped achieved this highly advantageous outcome, would, paradoxically, also be far less. It should be noted that the legion of ignorant amateurs in India, pronouncing endlessly on peace with Pakistan and settlement with China, have understood little. These two conflicts are inseparably interlinked for India. Neither adversary is likely to jeopardise the core interests of their declared ‘all-weather’ ally by negotiating a separate settlement with India that would leave the other completely exposed!

India has two urgent goals with respect to China and their achievement through the intercession of the West, namely the US, is also problematic. The first is to maintain the northern LAC status quo and second, to curb China outsourcing nuclear deterrence to Pakistan. However, it should be noted that China regards India as one of the two countries with which it will need to settle accounts to emerge as the major player in Asia and attempt equalling the US in the global arena eventually. It is unclear what India’s now obdurate conviction that the US needs it, because of changing geopolitical conditions, means for its modest goals of security on the Indo-Chinese LAC and a restraining influence over Pakistan’s rapidly growing nuclear arsenal.

The US calculus of how India might be useful, in the event of tensions with China and as a source of Chinese restraint, is not necessarily co-terminus with the two Indian goals identified above. In fact, there is little evidence that Chinese incursions into the Indian side of the LAC have been influenced by US grand strategy in Asia. However, it might be contended there would be major diplomatic fallout over serious Chinese adventurism along the border with India. Of course the US is seeking a measure of economic and military collaboration to reinforce India’s defence capability and its value should be acknowledged. But they do not decisively assist India’s immediate twin concerns, with Sino-Pak nuclear collaboration only continuing to deepen.

Perhaps India needs to consider the unsentimental reality of the Asian predicament that has emerged with the rise of a China determined to achieve its goals, by force if necessary. Countries in South East, like Vietnam, as well as the Philippines and indeed Japan, are not in a position to help India in the immediate future in the event of a dramatic denouement. Japan’s interests have converged with India’s and it has a strong incentive to become a stakeholder in India’s economic advance. However, that will require a decade or more and a serious Indian economic policy framework that its political class has hitherto proved incapable of implementing. Much more alarming is the highly plausible self-interested outcome of a Sino-US condominium in Asia than direct military encounter in Asia, which will suit neither. In negotiating such an overall settlement, the US will likely accede to two non-negotiable Chinese goals, the first pertaining to Taiwan and the second, securing unassailable control over Tibet, which may require border adjustments disfavouring India.

Obama, Clinton & KerryThe sheer cynicism of US foreign policy cannot escape cursory observation of its shocking activities in the contemporary Middle East. It is prepared to destroy entire countries, indeed civilisations, to achieve shifting targets. Knowledge of the full history of the 1962 Indo-China border war and the international context continues to elude. Nehru’s dislike of the armed forces and inept interference, despite zero knowledge of military affairs and frequent threats by Defence Minister, Krishna Menon to court martial officers who dissented from him, may have instigated disloyalty within it.

It may be hazarded that some of India’s most senior army officers and the IB chief were also suspicious of Nehru’s perceived attachment to communist hyperbole and were secretly in touch with Anglo-American governments. These Indian officers had achieved career successes during the British era, serving the colonial power faithfully and had not defected to the INA! They also evidently espoused sympathy for the Cold War Western response against the Soviet Union. The US had been meeting Chinese representatives in Warsaw since the mid-50s and was aware of Sino-Soviet differences and could have also known in advance of China’s intention to attack India. It may have been anticipated by parties to the possible conspiracy, including disloyal senior Indian military officers, that a military encounter with China would bounce India out of the Soviet camp and into the arms of the West. The US had already concluded that Indian behaviour indicated fealty to the despised Soviet camp.

On the issue of India’s unfulfilled aspirations of economic advance and social transformation, the idea that these goals will be actively aided by the outside world is another chimera of the ideological detritus of empire. Nothing could be further from the truth, Ricardo, Hecksher-Ohlin, Samuelson, et. al. notwithstanding. The real-world agents of the international economy, mostly operating from New York and London, are pitiless marauders. Their rapacious, scorched earth misconduct worldwide has apparently been missed by India’s comprador class. Admittedly, these insatiable agents, wallowing in Pharaonic wealth, do not today dispatch armed levies to seize, in an older tradition, though that too happens more often than understood. They will do nothing for India that does not entail gargantuan returns for themselves. They will also subvert India, much as the international retail giants, being welcomed by their paid local Indian agents, are poised to do.

India will surely need foreign capital, but only a strong and ruthless Indian state can bend them to India’s national purposes. The competence to do so has been singularly lacking in an India in the thrall of a third-rate media, a second rate bureaucracy and an essentially self-seeking political class. Rascals abound in every Indian Elephant in the Living Roomnook and cranny, especially in the benighted city that is its capital. They are the overweening presence in the shape of the elephant in the living room, which needs to have its tusks, embedded in Indian body politic, extracted unceremoniously. The performance of the exceptional recent political dispensation, which came to power in May this year and assured the nation of its determination defend India’s people, is still to unfold. – India Facts, 2July 2014

» Dr. Gautam Sen taught international political economy at the London School of Economics and Political Science

US intrusions into West Asia and India are ruinous – Gautam Sen

Dr. Gautam Sen“Iraq, Libya and Syria are examples of the brutal cynicism of Anglo-American and French humanitarian intervention to achieve imperialist goals through regime change. The fascist Islamic ISIS, failing to make sufficient headway in Syrian, decided to create a Caliphate out of Iraq. The Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki had done everything to alienate its substantial Sunni population through blatant sectarianism, thereby facilitating the Sunni reprise. The US is now facing a dilemma since a militant Sunni enclave, hostile to the West, threatens to emerge across of a swathe of the region.” – Dr Gautam Sen

George W. Bush & Tony BlairThe final denouement of Iraq is proceeding apace. The sustained assault against Iraq and its people began because Saddam Hussein fell into a trap set by the US when he invaded Kuwait. The latter, a mediocre Anglo-American colony of no observable merit, did everything to provoke the Iraqi invasion of its territory by asserting unwarranted territorial claims and other acts of provocation, etc. But such is the total dependence of degenerate oil sheikhdoms Kuwait’s rulers acted as shameless agent provocateurs of its Anglo-American patrons and accepted the high cost entailed for their people of the Iraqi invasion. The subsequent US invasion of Iraq on the flimsiest excuse, which now stands exposed as a gigantic hoax, resulted in its virtual destruction as a society and deaths of anything up to two million Iraqis. Yet one of the principal schemers, the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, remains at large, as some sort of trifling envoy. He travels the world counselling assorted dictators and presides shamelessly over a real estate empire like any suspect used car salesman.

The US had also sponsored a Sunni-Shia sectarian war in Iraq to gain political advantage because it found itself in an unanticipated quagmire after its initial rapid military successes. The Saudis, another ever pliant sheikhdom with few historical parallels in political venality and moral bankruptcy, played the role of facilitator and financed much of the grotesque mayhem. Its dominant role in financing and promoting religious extremism across the world on an unprecedented scale has not bothered the legion of hand-wringing Anglo-American politicians and their paid media pundits. For all of them, Islamic terrorism was merely a useful tool of statecraft and 9/11 a golden opportunity for advancing imperial goals. Significantly, for Indians, Pakistani Islamists were sent to Syria recently to help overthrow Bashar al-Assad, largely a US project.

Saddam Hussain & Bashar AssadIt is has now been officially revealed that it was Bashar al-Assad’s Syria that possessed chemical weapons, but it was Saddam Hussein the US decided to remove because it was alleged Iraq had the ‘capacity to produce chemical weapons’. Syria soon also became the target for regime change, a counterpart of US attempts at regime preservation in India to thwart Narendra Modi becoming its prime minister. The decision to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, admittedly a particularly unattractive and blinkered dictator, impervious to reason when it might have yielded a political settlement when the first protests began, has a wider political dimension. Having failed to achieve regime change in Iran, despite assiduous efforts to subvert its unpopular clergy, striking a blow by removing its key Shia Syrian ally was regarded as masterstroke to undermine it. But the Israelis were not altogether convinced since Bashar al-Assad, like his father Hafez al-Assad before him, had reserved belligerence to talk while ensuring tranquillity in the Golan Heights. But they too assented because the Iranian clergy‘s attempt to enrich uranium was viewed as the greater challenge to its security.

The murderous Sunni ISIS reprise is the inadvertent product of US failure to manoeuvre successfully in Syria. It failed to achieve its preferred outcome of removing Assad and his cronies, without empowering a militant Sunni alternative. It only aided the anti-Assad insurgents sufficiently to pressurise Bashar al-Assad in the hope of forcing him out and replacing him with someone pliant, whom Israel would also find acceptable. But Russian help has allowed Bashar al-Assad to hang on though much of the country, like Iraq, is now in ruins, its people destitute refuges and dying in unconscionable numbers. The experience of Iraq, Libya and Syria are examples of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadithe brutal cynicism of Anglo-American and French humanitarian intervention to achieve imperialist goals through regime change. The fascist Islamic ISIS, failing to make sufficient headway in Syrian, decided to create a Caliphate out of Iraq. The Iraqi regime of Nouri al-Maliki had done everything to alienate its substantial Sunni population through blatant sectarianism, thereby facilitating the Sunni reprise. The US is now facing a dilemma since a militant Sunni enclave, hostile to the West, threatens to emerge across of a swathe of the region.

The cost in hapless non-white lives is deemed inconsequential by these three principals of old-fashioned imperial terror and no venality, like the continuing manipulation of Islamic terrorism when useful, is beyond the pale. Historically, Islamic terrorism has been used against India and Russia whenever the US sought to achieve its purposes. At present, the twin Anglo-American goals in the Middle East appear to be to secure even better leverage over oil resources and secure Israeli interests. They have been by handing control of oil resources to separatist regional governments they themselves have sponsored and enabling their effective political independence, as they have now done in Iraq and Libya. The latter is considered to possess vast oil reserves, now safely in the indirect custody of local nominees of the West. These separatist enclaves are then beholden to the US to fend off the parent state and disposed to sign lucrative contracts with US companies. The Kurds are the most obvious example of this model of imperial control. The other ancillary goal has been to demolish all possible military challenge to Israel since it can intervene in US domestic politics to oppose plans that do not suit it.

Hillary ClintonIt should be a salutary reminder of their folly to Indian nationals who have taken to appearing before US Congressional committees to denounce India, virtually inviting US intervention into their country. The alleged 2002 Gujarat genocide (sic!) has been the stick to beat Hindu India with, now known to have been cynically espoused personally by none other than Hillary Clinton. No doubt US Indian NRIs are busy raising funds for her presidential campaign, in exchange for a briefest glimpse of this utterly cynical anti-Indian creature. She has taken a leaf out of her husband’s determined earlier campaign to injure India. In the past two decades, Anglo-American agencies have had a free run in India owing to the ignorant cupidity of successive governments. No email exchange or conversation in India by any communications medium is private and foreign-funded NGOs and foreign-national nationals, often masquerading as journalists and academics, are diligently inciting protest and engaged in subversion. Yet India is too large to easily commandeer directly though many Indians are apparently ready to sell their proverbial grandmother for consideration. Yet fate has brought into power a government and a prime minister determined to defend Indian sovereignty. The new dispensation needs no reminding that seventeenth century European marauders, who eventually seized India in entirety, first arrived modestly to trade and were then allowed to build fortifications by weak and foolish rulers.

After the Portuguese arrived in Japan in 1543, along with commodity exchange and an enormous slave trade in Japanese women, they proselytised massively, converting large numbers. But Japanese rulers read the writing on the wall and by 1610 all missionaries were banned. All their activities were curbed four years later and commerce restricted to Hirado and the southern port of Nagasaki. The Tokugawa prescience prevented the eventual conquest of Japan. India’s seventeenth and eighteenth Muslim rulers failed to comprehend European imperial designs because they themselves were foreign conquerors, looking to West Asia for political and spiritual succour. India’s historical fate was almost re-enacted in the past decade by the most violently anti-Hindu government India has known since the end of British rule. Its treasonous protagonists have only been thwarted temporarily, but not erased and remain alive, nurturing foreign-sponsored plots against Indian sovereignty. - India Facts, 26 June 2014

» Dr Gautam Sen has taught Political Economy at the London School of Economics

Tony Blair

Russian Imperialism: Putin will surely screw himself in Ukraine – P. J. O’Rourke

Russian Dictator Vladimir Putin & Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill: Ukrainians, especially nationalists, are Uniate Catholics and the Russian invasion of Ukraine is also a religious invasion.

P. J. O'Rourke“Russia lost World War I, not an easy thing to do when you’re on the winning side. After the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Russia was too much of a mess to keep fighting Germany. The Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk surrendering Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russian Poland, and Ukraine—containing in total a quarter of the population of Imperial Russia—to the Central Powers just eight months before the Central Powers had to surrender to everybody. … Now, because of what he’s doing in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has a higher smerd popularity rating than Ivan the Terrible or even Stalin. We certainly should have screwed him over. But Russian history is on our side. He’ll certainly screw himself.” –  P. J. O’Rourke

Putin & ObamaNow that we’ve failed to use Russia’s corrupt and degenerating economy, subservience to the international banking system, and vulnerability to falling energy prices to pop Vladimir Putin like a zit, we’re going to have to sit on our NATO, E.U., and OSCE duffs and take the long view of Russian imperialism.

Fortunately the long view, while a desolate prospect, is also comforting in its way, if you aren’t a Russian.

In the sixth century A.D. Russia was the middle of nowhere in the great Eurasian flat spot bounded by [nothing] on the north and east, barbarian hordes and the remains of the Byzantine Empire on the south, and the Dark Ages on the west.

Wandering around in here, up and down the watershed of the Dnieper River from Novgorod (which hadn’t been built yet) to Kiev (ditto) were disorganized tribes of Slavic pastoral herdsmen herding whatever was available, pastorally. They were harried by Goths, Huns, Khazars, and other people who had the name and nature of outlaw motorcycle gangs long before the motorcycle was invented.

The original Russian state, “Old Russia,” was established at Novgorod in A.D. 862 by marauding Vikings. They’d set off to discover Iceland, Greenland, and America, took a wrong turn, and wound up with their dragon boat stuck on a mud bar in the Dnieper. (Historians have their own theories, involving trade and colonization, but this sounds more likely.)

The first ruler of Old Russia was the Viking Prince Ryurik. Imagine being so disorganized that you need marauding Vikings to found your nation—them with their battle axes, crazed pillaging, riotous Meade Hall feasts, and horns on their helmets. (Actually, Vikings didn’t wear horns on their helmets—but they would have if they’d thought of it, just like they would have worn meade helmets if they’d thought of it.) Some government it must have been.

Viking Prince Ryurik: “Yah, let’s build Novgorod!”

Viking Chieftain Sven: “Yah, so we can burn it down and loot!”

That’s pretty much it for Russia’s Golden Age. After the 18th century, Russia devoted itself mostly to being big fat loserland.

Czar Vladimir Putin IIThe Russians weren’t converted to Christianity until A.D. 988—a thousand years late to “Peace be unto you” party, the basic principles of which still haven’t sunk in. (And maybe never had a chance to. Russia’s conversion came at the hands of St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, who was reputed to maintain a harem of 800 concubines.)

The death of St. Vladimir, and every other ruler of Old Russia, was followed by assassinations, mayhem, civil strife, and the other hallmarks of change in Russian leadership evident to the present day. Oxford historian Ronald Hingley notes that “the first and only Russian ruler to fashion an effective law of succession” was Tsar Paul I (1796-1801). Tsar Paul was assassinated.

Anyway, things went along pretty well for almost 400 years. (Pretty well by Russian standards—a free peasant was known as a smerd, meaning “stinker.”) Then, in 1237, when the rest of the West was having a High Middle Ages and getting fecund for cultural rebirth, a Tatar horde invaded Russia.

The Tatars were part of the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan. They had a two-pronged invasion strategy: Kill everybody and steal everything.

Kiev, Moscow, and most of Russia’s towns were obliterated. Tatar control—part occupation and part suzerainty over impotent, tribute-paying Russian principalities—lasted more than 200 years.

The Russians have heroic stories about fighting off the Tatars, but in fact it seems like the Tatars gradually lost interest in the place and went off in a horde back to where they came from.

Professor Hingley says the “Tatar Yoke” left Russia with “a model of extreme authoritarian rule combined with control through terror.” It also left Russia with a model of leadership best summarized by a passage from John Keegan’s A History of Warfare:

“Genghis Khan, questioning his Mongol comrades-in-arms about life’s sweetest pleasure and being told it lay in falconry, replied, ‘You are mistaken. Man’s greatest good fortune is to chase and defeat his enemy, seize his total possessions, leave his married women weeping and wailing, ride his gelding [and] use the bodies of his women as a nightshirt and support.’”

Russian President Putin holds hand of German Chancellor Merkel during tour of Hanover Messe in HanoverWhy Putin wants Angela Merkel for a nightshirt is beyond me. But that’s a Russian dictator for you.

Around the time Europe was getting a New World, Russia was getting tsars. Several were named Ivan, one more terrible than the next until we arrive at Ivan the Terrible in 1533.

Ivan created a private force of five or six thousand thugs, the oprichnina, who wore black, rode black horses, and carried, as emblems of authority, a dog’s head and a broom. (The hammer and sickle of the day, presumably.)

Oprichniks were entitled to rob and kill anyone, and did so with a will. Ivan suspected Novgorod of disloyalty, and the oprichnina spent five weeks in the city slaughtering thousands and driving thousands more into exile.

Ivan presided over and sometimes personally performed the roasting, dismembering, and boiling alive of enemies and people who, left unboiled, might possibly become enemies.

He killed his own son and heir by whacking him over the head with the monarchial staff in a tsar-ish fit of temper.

He conducted a 24-year-long war against Sweden, Poland, Lithuania, and the Teutonic Knights, and lost.

Russia’s economy was destroyed. Drought, famine, and plague beset the country.

But Ivan put Russia on the map as an international player. He defeated what was left of the Tatars, mostly by conniving with leaders of what was left of the Tatars. He expanded Russian rule into Siberia, his success due to almost nobody being there. And, draw what parallels you will, Ivan the Terrible’s popularity rating was very high among the smerds.

After his reign, Russia, if you can believe it, got worse. “The Time of Troubles” featured more drought, more famine, more plague, foreign invasions, massacres, the occupation and sacking of Moscow, and tsars with names like False Dmitry I and False Dmitry II. The population of Russia may have been reduced by as much as one-third.

The remaining two-thirds reacted to increasing anarchy in traditional Russian fashion, by increasing autocracy. The Russians aren’t stupid. We’re talking about a country where chess is a spectator sport. Autocracy is just a Russian bad habit, like smoking three packs of cigarettes a day and drinking a liter of vodka.

In 1613 the Romanov dynasty was installed, providing Russia with a range of talents from “Great” (Peter I, Catherine II) to “Late” (Ivan VI, Peter III, and Paul I killed in palace intrigues; Alexander II blown to bits by a terrorist bomb, and Nicholas II murdered with his family by the Bolsheviks).

The Romanovs adhered to what Harvard historian Richard Pipes calls a “patrimonial” doctrine, meaning they owned Russia the way we own our house (except to hell with the mortgage). They owned everything. And everybody. The Romanov tsars imposed rigid serfdom just as that woeful institution was fading almost everywhere else.

Ukrainian victims of ChernobylRussia never had a Renaissance, a Protestant Reformation, an Enlightenment, or much of an Industrial Revolution until the Soviet Union. Soviet industrialization produced such benefits to humanity as concrete worker housing built without level or plumb bob, the AK-47, MiG fighter jets, and proliferating nukes. (Although the only people the Soviets ever killed with a nuclear device was themselves at Chernobyl, located, perhaps not coincidentally, in what’s now Ukraine, for the time being at least.)

Russia was out in the sticks of civilization, in a trailer park without knowledge of how to build a trailer. But Russia kept getting bigger, mostly by killing, oppressing, and annoying Russians.

Peter the Great (1682-1725) led a military expedition against the Turkish fort of Azov that was a disaster. But Peter came right back and, getting more Russians killed, overwhelmed the Turks. The same thing happened in the Northern War against Sweden. Although it took 21 years after Peter ran away at the battle of Narva, Russia finally got a Baltic coastline. Which Peter didn’t know what to do with, so he built St. Petersburg in a swamp with conscripted serf labor. The number of Russian serfs who died building things in the swamp equaled the number Russian soldiers who died in the Northern War.

Peter the Great raised taxes, made the Russian nobles shave their beards, and caused the death of his recalcitrant son and heir, like Ivan the Terrible did, but on purpose.

Catherine the Great (1762-1796) doubled taxes on the Jews and declared they weren’t Russians, as if anyone would want to be. She was the first but not last leader of Russia to annex Crimea. NATO member alert, code red—she won two wars against Turkey and partitioned Poland. (Like Peter the Great on the Baltic, she got the swampy part.)

Under Catherine, Russian settlements pushed all the way east into Alaska, the most valuable land Russia has occupied. (Annual GDP per capita, Alaska: $61,156. Annual GDP per capita, Russia: $14,037.) But—E.U. shame alert—when Russia was facing financial difficulties and geopolitical conflict, Tsar Alexander II was forced to sell Alaska to the United States in 1867 for 2 cents an acre. Later, as mentioned, Alexander got blown to bits.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and United States Vice President Richard Nixon debate the merits of communism versus capitalism in a model American kitchen at the American National Exhibition in Moscow in July 1959.And that’s pretty much it for Russia’s Golden Age. After the 18th century, Russia devoted itself mostly to being big fat loserland, losing pace with the modern world, wars, Alaska, a communist utopia, a million victims of Stalin’s purges, 6 million victims of the famine of 1921, 8 million victims of the famine of 1932-33, a “Kitchen Debate” between Nikita Khrushchev and Richard Nixon, ICBMs in Cuba, the space race, the arms race, the Cold War, and finally, 14 independent countries that were once in the USSR.

Napoleon actually won the war part of his war with Russia. If “General Winter” and the general tendency of Moscow to be periodically destroyed hadn’t, for once, sided with the Russian people, you’d be able to get a good bottle of Côte de Volga and a baguette in Smolensk today.

Russia began a series of wars in the Caucasus that it has yet to win.

In 1825, the Decembrists, a reform-minded group of military officers, staged a demonstration in favor of constitutional monarchy and were hanged for taking the trouble.

Political oppression, censorship, spying, and secret police activity reached such a level of crime and punishment that Dostoyevsky himself was sentenced to death for belonging to a discussion group. He was standing in front of the firing squad when his sentence was commuted to exile in Siberia. (Whether to thank Tsar Nicolas I depends upon how weighty a summer reading list you’ve been given.)

“Exiled to Siberia” says everything about Russian economic and social development in that land of mountains, lakes, and forests with a climate, in its lower latitudes, no worse than the rest of Russia’s. I’ve been across it on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. If this were America, the route from Irkutsk to Vladivostok would be lined with vacation homes and trendy shops, and “exiled to Siberia” would be translated as “exiled to Aspen.”

Russia lost the 1853-56 Crimean War. NATO member alert, code green—Russia lost to Britain, France, and Turkey.

In 1861 Tsar Alexander II freed 50 million serfs. If “freed” is the word that’s wanted. The serfs had no place to go except the land they were already farming, and if they wanted any of that, they had to buy it with the nothing they made as serfs. Later, as mentioned twice already, Alexander got blown to bits.

Russia lost the Jews. Being robbed, beaten, and killed in pogroms was not a sufficient incentive to stay. More than a million Jews emigrated, taking what common sense the country had with them.

Russia lost the 1904-05 Russo-Japanese War in the best Russian loser fashion at the naval battle of Tsushima.

Japanese Admiral Togo Heihachiro “crossed the T” of the Russian fleet, a rare execution of a tactic where you get your ships in a horizontal line so that your guns can be aimed at the enemy, whose ships are in a vertical line so that their guns can’t be aimed at you.

The Russian fleet was demolished. Eight battleships and most of the smaller ships were sunk. More than 5,000 Russian sailors died. Just three of 38 Russian vessels escaped to Vladivostok.

Barack Obama &  Vladimir Putin: Sour faces!Russia lost World War I, not an easy thing to do when you’re on the winning side. After the October 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Russia was too much of a mess to keep fighting Germany. The Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk surrendering Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Russian Poland, and Ukraine—containing in total a quarter of the population of Imperial Russia—to the Central Powers just eight months before the Central Powers had to surrender to everybody.

Russia lost both sides of the 1917-22 Russian Civil War. The White Russians were losers. The Reds were total losers. We know how their revolution turned out.

Russia might as well have lost World War II. Between 18 million and 24 million Russians died. That’s three times as many military and civilian casualties as Germany suffered. There must have been a better way to kill a bunch of Nazis running low on food and ammunition and stuck in frozen mud.

Now, because of what he’s doing in Ukraine, Vladimir Putin has a higher smerd popularity rating than Ivan the Terrible or even Stalin. We certainly should have screwed him over. But Russian history is on our side. He’ll certainly screw himself. – The Daily Beast, 11 May 2014

A visitor takes a picture of the artwork entitled "Travesty" by Konstantin Altunin at an exhibition at the Muzei Vlasti in St. Petersburg.

Putin’s Barefaced Lies: Crimea was never part of Mother Russia – Oleg Shynkarenko

Putin & Gang

Oleg ShynkarenkoCrimea was never a part of the Russian nation as such, it was a conquered part of the Russian Empire that was wrested from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century after changing hands many, many times among many powers.” — Oleg Shynkarenko

Russian dictator Putin.Russian President Vladimir Putin announced today that Crimea and its main port, Sevastopol, will become part of the Russian Federation, a move that is likely to bring more and heavier sanctions. He did this, he said, because the Russian people want it and especially because the Crimean people want it.

There it is once again: the fiction—amazingly repeated again and again all over the world as if it were true—that 96.6 per cent of the people in Crimea voted in a hastily organized referendum for “reunification” with Mother Russia. “We are going home,” declared Crimean Parliament Speaker Vladimir Konstantinov in the capital Simferopol on Sunday night. And that’s the way Putin made it sound, of course.

But from top to bottom, these claims are pure rubbish. A week before the vote just 41 percent of Crimeans wanted their land to be a part of Russia, yet the returns came back showing 96.6 pecent approval. The electoral commission, such as it is, released numbers indicating 474,137 people voted in the port city of Sevastopol, which would be 123 percent of the registered population there.

Just look at the fundamental question on the ballot: “Are you for reunification of Crimea with Russia with the rights of a Russian Federation subject?” What “reunification”? Crimea was never a part of the Russian nation as such, it was a conquered part of the Russian Empire that was wrested from the Ottoman Empire in the late 18th century after changing hands many, many times among many powers. Map of Crimea(This video animation of Europe’s shifting borders over the last 1,000 years gives a good idea how fluid the frontiers have been.)

From 1917 to 1954 the Crimean peninsula was part of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the Soviet Union, then transferred to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, where it remained until 1991 when the USSR ceased to exist. Since then, it has been part of Ukraine, but as an autonomous republic. So the legal premise of “reunification” with the Russian nation is pretty dubious, Moscow’s tools are determined to ram it down the throats of the people there, in Ukraine and the world.

That’s why the cheery speaker, Konstantinov, is high on the White House hit list for American sanctions. “Konstantinov is being designated for threatening the peace, security, stability, sovereignty, or territorial integrity of Ukraine,” says the statement issued in Washington, “and for undermining Ukraine’s democratic institutions and processes”.

What that means specifically one can see on the walls of Crimean buildings where graffiti reads “Tatars, get out of Crimea!” often written alongside a swastika. Muslim Tatars have been in Crimea far longer than Russians, but are now a minority of about 10 percent because the Russian dictator Joseph Stalin forced hundreds of thousands to relocate to far-flung corners of the USSR during World War II claiming that some had collaborated with Hitler. Many starved to death in their new “homes.” Those who returned to Crimea to live after it became part of an independent Ukraine now face ferocious prejudice—or worse:

Funeral of Reshat AmetovReshat Ametov, a young Tatar, went missing on March 3 after telling his family he was going to enlist in the Ukrainian military to fight against Russian aggression. On March 16 his corpse was found near the Crimean village of Zemlyanichnoye. His body showed signs of torture.

But it seems that the new Crimean regime is not going to limit itself to kidnappings and murders. The Ukraine foreign ministry claims that Russian soldiers are handing out AK-47s to their supporters outside the new “republic.” Why are they doing it? Crimean Deputy Prime Minister Rustam Temirgaliev said the aim is to help “free” the neighboring Russian-speaking regions of Kherson, Nikolayev and Odessa from the authorities in Ukraine. But the deputy minister was careful to avoid saying Crimea is protected by Russian forces. He continued to claim that the military units are Crimean “self-defense” forces, and the tanks and other heavy weapons were taken from the Ukrainian military—another fiction. — The Daily Beast, 18 March 2014

Tartars of Crimea

Geopolitics of South Russia

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