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An American historian’s encounter with India

Moved by a deep love for India and gifted with the eye of a portraitist, historian and biographer Stanley Wolpert had a career full of rare accomplishments. In today’s era of conspiracy theories and fake narratives, his deep understanding of the subcontinent, preserved in his writing, is needed more than ever before.

Bhuvan Lall

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Early on Thursday morning, 12 February 1948, Stanley Wolpert, a twenty-year-old American marine engineer serving on a merchant ship stepped ashore in the city of Bombay (now Mumbai) to witness a scene he had never seen before. Starting from the Town Hall in the Fort area at 8:30 am, there was a two-mile-long procession of millions of white-clad mourners. One among the multitude of grievers informed the perplexed Wolpert that the saintly father of the nation had died. The marchers transporting the ashes of Mahatma Gandhi wound up at the beach along the Marine Drive after three hours. A white boat immersed the ashes in the sea. As the ashes touched the water, Wolpert witnessed the mourning Indians rush into the water and a great roar of “Mahatma Gandhi ki jai” (victory to Mahatma Gandhi) filled the skies. Many wept openly. Several stood silently with their hands clasped before their faces. The extraordinary outpouring of grief after the demise of Mahatma Gandhi, about whom the young American knew very little then, deeply impacted him. Wolpert later recorded, “That early encounter with India changed the course of my life.”

American historian Stanley Wolpert.

Returning home to Brooklyn, Wolpert, the son of Russian Jewish parents, decided to learn as much as he could about Mahatma Gandhi and his country. He abandoned a career in marine engineering and devoted the rest of his life to the study of Indian history. He enrolled at the New York City College where he met his life partner, Dorothy Guberman, a lawyer, and married her on 12 June 1953. Wolpert graduated with the Pell Medal for academic achievement in history. The Ford Foundation fellowship enabled him to pursue Indian Studies and he learnt Sanskrit at the University of Pennsylvania. Noted Sanskritist Professor W. Norman Brown, whom Indian revolutionary Dr. Har Dayal had met at the University of Pennsylvania in December 1938, became his mentor. In 1959, Wolpert earned his Ph.D. and his dissertation, Tilak and Gokhale, was selected for the Watumull Prize of the American Historical Association in 1962, as “the best book on the history of India originally published in the United States.”

In 1959, Wolpert accepted the job of teaching at the Department of History, University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA),and worked there for nearly six decades. Every morning, the sharp-eyed professor with an easy smile would walk from his Westwood home to the UCLA campus. Stacks of books littered his office where he advised his students to “read everything”. Many generations of scholars and historians gained from his devotion to India and all across the campus he was admired as the epitome of grace and intellect. He was appointed the Department Chair and was honored with Distinguished Teaching and University Service awards. The world-renowned historian’s commitment to discovering the truth resulted in more than a dozen books, and he was made Editor-in-Chief of the Encyclopedia of India. Such was the regard for his scholarship that distinguished economist and former American Ambassador to India, John Kenneth Galbraith, wrote, “To all of us who delightedly and sometimes repetitively call ourselves Old India hands, Stanley Wolpert is the acknowledged authority…” 

India remained Wolpert’s first love and he documented the nation’s contribution to humankind by observing, “Thanks to India we not only continue to enjoy cotton clothes and chess but still use Indian numbers and India’s zero to do our reckoning, and have learned the noblest of religious and secular mantras, ‘Ahimsa paramo dharma’ (Non-violence is the highest religion) and ‘Satyameva jayate’ (Truth alone conquers).”

Right through his teaching career Wolpert lived with Indian history and greatly admired the charismatic political giants of South Asia.  Wolpert’s presence in New Delhi in May 1998 during the Pokhran II nuclear tests galvanized him to trace the life of the champion of non-violence, Mahatma Gandhi. The result was the subtle yet profound biography published in April 2001, titled Gandhi’s Passion: The Life and Legacy of Mahatma Gandhi. In the book, the historian revealed that his guru Professor Brown was the first of his teachers to tell him how singularly wise a man Gandhi was. Wolpert was also privileged to meet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he visited UCLA, and they lunched together after his talk at the University Religious Conference. In that conversation, Wolpert understood how vital the influence of Mahatma Gandhi’s methods was to Dr. King’s life and his faith in nonviolent struggle and love for the liberation of all mankind. By boldly studying Gandhi the man, rather than the living god portrayed by his disciples, and quoting extensively from his books, articles, and letters, Wolpert provided a clear-eyed chronicle of an exemplary life. The book, after exhaustive exploration, was an extraordinary representation of Mahatma Gandhi’s personality, his intense fortitude and resolve, and the profound intricacies that led him to devise so many techniques of nonviolent resistance. In this even-handed biography, Gandhi emerged as a man of inner conflicts, political genius, and moral vision whose unyielding opposition to intolerance and oppression inspired the world like no leader since the Buddha. 

In 1957, Wolpert on a visit to New Delhi sought an appointment with the busiest man in India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Amazingly, sometime later, he and his wife Dorothy were seated in Nehru’s study at the Teen Murti Bhawan in conversation with India’s matinee-idol statesman about his life, work and worldview. Years later on the fiftieth anniversary of Indian independence in 1997, Wolpert presented Nehru: A Tryst With Destiny, a profile that was dispassionate of its subject and free of the typical hagiography. Though he was denied access to the critical Nehru papers, Wolpert in his nuanced documentation recorded that Mahatma Gandhi’s chosen heir had a remarkable intellectual range and was one who never felt inferior to any world leader, for he wasn’t. This helped India’s image and raised the most complex modern democratic nation’s stature on the world stage. According to the historian, India’s first PM, despite his dreamy, idealistic, and abstract socialist air, was a convinced democrat who was adored by the masses. The no-holds-barred biography described Nehru’s numerous strengths and also his flaws and blind spots that India paid for dearly long after his death. As expected. Wolpert’s less-than-totally-reverential portrait of India’s first prime minister ruffled a few feathers within the Indian political space and the book was ridiculed in academic circles. Even The Los Angeles Times’ review noted that the book was marred by amateurish attempts at psychoanalysis. Nevertheless, the serious biographer did not let the disapproval from politically inclined reviewers and Marxist historians intimidate him. Earlier in September 1962, Wolpert had experienced similar displeasure for his novel Nine Hours to Rama and the Government of India had arbitrarily placed a ban on it.

In 1980, pursuing the idea of writing a biography of Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Wolpert arrived in the lobby of the exclusive Cumberland House on Madison Avenue in Manhattan to meet his daughter Dina Wadia after several phone conversations. The reclusive Dina, who was reported to have a resemblance to her father, firmly refused to open the door of her well-guarded fourteenth-floor apartment and brusquely turned the historian back via the speakerphone. Nevertheless, Wolpert’s authoritative biography, Jinnah of Pakistan, published in May 1984, expertly chronicled one of the pivotal lives of the twentieth century. It highlighted Jinnah’s personal vision of Pakistan as an open-minded, egalitarian state, where everyone would “work together” and not a parochial theocracy nor a feudal tyranny or martial dictatorship, but a democratic polity governed by law and with equal opportunities for all. The well-crafted profile in summing up the dry, distant, and difficult barrister and the founder of Pakistan declared, “Few individuals significantly alter the course of history. Fewer still modify the map of the world. Hardly anyone can be credited with creating a nation-state. Muhammad Ali Jinnah did all three.” The portrait painted by Wolpert promptly became a bestseller in Pakistan but the military dictator General Zia-ul-Haq proscribed the biography because it detailed the Quaid-e-Azam’s unorthodox dietary practices. Wolpert was put under considerable pressure when General Zia’s regime proposed to buy thousands of copies of his book were he to expunge that particularly provocative passage. Of course, he declined. Years later, the Government of Pakistan offered a similar proposition, and again Wolpert turned it down. It is understood that a former military leader of Pakistan wanted his biography to be penned by the celebrated Professor but then precipitously retracted on realizing that a fair and frank assessment of his life by an American historian would bust all his self-created myths. Ultimately, the ban on Jinnah of Pakistan was removed and Wolpert as the patron of The Jinnah Society was summoned to be the keynote speaker at the Quaid-e-Azam’s 125th birth anniversary.

With unrestricted access to the Bhutto archives at 70 Clifton, Karachi, by June 1993, Wolpert had authored Zulfi Bhutto of Pakistan, the life story of the Quaid-e-Awam of Pakistan. Incorporating the good, bad and ugly details of the popular politician hero’s life, Wolpert described how the sometimes brilliant and mostly frightening third world leader functioned with Pakistan’s three power centers: the feudal aristocracy, the army, and the clergy. The dramatic tale that ended in a tragedy depicted Bhutto, the scion of a hugely wealthy landowning family in Sindh, as a schizoid character torn apart by conflicts between romantic dreams of magnificence and dreadful darkness. Nevertheless, the author felt that the visionary statesman and corrupt tyrant deserved a place in history for the way he rescued his country from demoralization and defeat after the disastrous war with India in December 1971. 

On a summer day in 1975, Wolpert sat across from Lord Louis Mountbatten on his deep sofa in his modest flat near the Tower Bridge in London examining the year 1947 in the history of India, Pakistan, and Britain. The flamboyant direct descendent of the first Qaiser-e-Hind, Queen Victoria,recalled, with sadness in his clear blue eyes, his role in the eclipse of an empire on which the sun had never set. Extending his own finger towards Wolpert, he revealed that Winston Churchill had pointed at him similarly and admonished him publicly on his return to Britain for the rushed withdrawal, stating, “I shall never forgive you for what you did in India, Dickie…with that he spun around and strode off across the room before I could utter a word. He never spoke to me again for six years”. Largely due to his tireless lifelong research, Wolpert’s Shameful Flight: The Last Years of British Empire in India, published in 2006, remains his most significant book. The prolific writer presented a panoramic overview and painted memorable portraits of all the key participants, including Mahatma Gandhi, Churchill, Attlee, Nehru, Jinnah and the last Viceroy of India, Mountbatten. Wolpert, in crisp detail, vigorously criticized the failure of the Hukumat-i-Britannia to manage a peaceful exit. He placed the blame for the monumental blunder on Mountbatten for fast tracking the transfer of power at an absurd pace that led to the violent uprooting of over ten million people, over a million of whom died in the ensuing inferno. It unleashed a legacy of hatred, hostility and horrific wars that have lasted for decades.

In a career full of rare accomplishments, Wolpert was recognized as one of the most remarkable historians of our times. A man of extraordinary erudition gifted with a far-reaching vision, he held the belief that “history warns us of the mistakes of the past.” At UCLA, he became the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs. After a lifetime of learning and an infinite capacity for hard work, he taught his last seminar at 90. Wolpert and his charming wife, Dorothy remained gracious hosts to Indians at their Westwood home. Then seventy-one years from the day Wolpert had first set foot on Indian soil in 1948, UCLA announced that the Professor Emeritus of history had unexpectedly died on 19 February 2019. The passing of Professor Wolpert, who was an institution in his own right, was overlooked in South Asia as both countries were at that time involved in yet another cross border engagement. 

Today, although some academics may dispute Wolpert’s unforgiving evaluations and critical scrutiny, he is nonetheless missed – especially since our traditional approaches towards world history are in urgent need of re-definition and fake narratives constructed on conspiracy theories and outright lies are now widespread. The present generation requires access to the most accurate versions of important historical incidents of India and the well-researched biographical accounts of the prominent leaders. So rather than take the streamers, broadcasters, filmmakers and social media’s versions of our past for granted, it might be prudent to embrace this Indologist’s deep understanding of South Asia. And as our history books are revised, with some luck his words, writings, and wisdom will continue to illuminate our minds. Stanley Wolpert’s boundless love for India is perceptible in his book New History of India, where he ends with Rabindranath Tagore’s “Ekla Chalo Re” (Walk alone), and explains, “perhaps only poetry can capture the essence of India’s civilization”. 

Bhuvan Lall is the author of ‘The Man India Missed The Most: Subhas Chandra Bose’ and ‘The Great Indian Genius Har Dayal’. He is currently writing the biography of Sardar Patel. He can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com.

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Opinion

SUNIL GAVASKAR’S GLORIOUS 50 YEARS IN TEST CRICKET

Pankaj Vohra

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Without any shadow of doubt, Sunil Gavaskar has perhaps been the greatest Indian batsman of all times, notwithstanding the iconic status of Sachin Tendulkar and now Virat Kohli. On Saturday, the Board of Control of Cricket in India (BCCI) honoured this legend at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad on the occasion of the 50th year of his debut in Test Cricket in the West Indies.

Young Gavaskar had created a sensation by hitting a double century and three centuries in his first series against some of the most renowned players of the game. This phenomenal opening batsman achieved what no other Indian cricketer had achieved and was proclaimed as the discovery of the decade. Gavaskar’s exploits did not end and he faced the ferocity of bowlers such as Wesley Hall, Michael Holding, Malcolm Marshall, Vanburn Holder, Dennis Lillee, Jeff Thomson, Bob Willis, to name a few. The most distinguishing feature of his batting was that he scored runs on dangerous pitches by sheer technique; he did not use any protective head gear and his reflexes never let him down while he coped with high velocity deliveries from these speedsters. Sunny Bhai, as he was called by his fans, never let them down and I recall how I would be listening to the radio commentary when India was playing in the West Indies despite the fact that the Board examinations for class eleventh were on. In fact, Gavaskar’s debut in the series was two days before another historic sporting event; the highly billed heavyweight boxing clash between two titans, Mohammad Ali and Joe Frazier, took place at the Madison Square Garden in New York on 8 March 1971. Ali lost the bout by a unanimous decision but made several comebacks to be billed as the Greatest.

Gavaskar had by his outstanding performance in the Caribbean announced his arrival in style as well. In a team led by Ajit Wadekar, the first salvo was fired by the inimitable Dilip Sardesai, who in fact ushered in the renaissance of Indian cricket on which others built. The side had some exceptional players such as Salim Durrani and E.A.S. Parsanna but the series clearly belonged to Gavaskar. The reason why I hail him as the greatest Indian batsman is that I have seen many others bat for the country as well. Sachin, Rahul Dravid, V.V.S. Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and before them Gundappa Vishwanath were unique and gifted players. However, going by sheer technique, no one could be compared to the original Little Master. I recall seeing the battle between Malcolm Marshal at his peak and Sunny Gavaskar at the Ferozeshah Kotla ground in 1983 when this wizard of the game slammed his 29th Test century, equaling the record of Donald Bradman. No player had been able to do that before him and it was a tribute to his cricketing skills that Gavaskar not only went past that magic figure but laid the foundation for many after him to cross that milestone.

Sunil Gavaskar is a successful commentator and his expert opinion always provides a different perspective. Thank You, Sunny Bhai, for being there for Indian cricket.

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Opinion

Inequality within equality in women’s education

India needs to evolve a national strategy to ensure gender and social equality across different sectors of education, domains of knowledge, as well as institutions of higher learning rather than creating supernumerary seats sporadically in a handful of institutions.

Ved Prakash

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The idea of the International Women’s Day originated from Copenhagen under the inspirational leadership of a German woman, Clara Zetkin, in 1910. Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland were the first to celebrate the International Women’s Day in 1911. Many countries had started celebrating it on different dates till the United Nations recognised the day and declared 8 March as International Women’s Day in 1977. This is the day when women must be recognised and felicitated for their outstanding contributions in the development of the society. This is also the day to pay rich tributes to the pioneers of women’s education on the one hand and to introspect and ascertain the extent to which the present system has ensured gender equality in different areas of study in colleges and universities on the other.

The history is replete with instances of how the people have played exceptional roles in women’s education. It is recognised by the UNESCO that the oldest existing university of Al-Qarawiyyin, with continuous education in the world, was established in 895 CE by a Muslim woman, Fatima Al-Fihriya in Fez, Morocco. Fatima was a keen proponent of education of her time. It was a strange coincidence that Fredrik Denison Maurice, a theologian and social reformer, established Queen’s College for Women in England in 1848 and Savitribai Phule founded a girl’s school in Pune, the same year. There were many more pioneers of women’s education in India like Harkuvarbai, Sheth Maganbhai Karamchand, John Elliot Drinkwater Bethune, Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, D.K. Karve, etc, who should be paid rich tributes on this day for their seminal contribution.  

Equal education for men and women has been a centuries-old movement. Social reformers of all times fought for women’s rights and their equality in the society. There have been several social reformers in India whose thoughts and works have made significant difference in women’s education. Nevertheless, the University Education Commission (UEC) in 1949 observed: “Indian universities for the most part are places of preparation for man’s world. Little thought has been given to the education of women as women.” This was the time when the share of women in higher education was in the ratio of 1:6 in comparison to men. The Commission made a number of recommendations for the promotion of women’s education.  

Although the proportion of women students to the total enrolment reached 21% mark due to affirmative policies of the government, it was not found sufficient in keeping with the changing needs of the society by the Kothari Commission in 1966. The Commission suggested a number of potential measures including programmes of scholarships on a liberal scale, special grants for the construction of women hostels, free access to courses in arts, humanities, science and technology, introduction of favourable courses, mixed or separate colleges depending upon the local conditions, etc. The idea of having separate institutions for women was made because in the social dynamics of our system, certain sections were not ready to send girls to co-educational institutions, thus depriving them of the benefit of higher education for their empowerment.

The trend analysis of the Gross enrolment Ratio (GER) reveals that women’s participation in higher education was lesser than men at all levels and across different social groups. But these gaps started narrowing down from the period of the 12th Five-Year Plan which had witnessed unprecedented expansion of higher educational institutions across the country. Since then the participation of women in higher education continued to improve in a progressive manner across different levels and social groups.

Today, women constitute 48.6% of the total enrolment in higher education. Interestingly, the overall GER of women is higher (26.4%) than that of men (26,3%). It is evident that their participation in higher education has been registering an incremental increase. Since more and more students access higher education in the hope of upward mobility, expanded knowledge and independent futures, the participation rates of women in higher education are steadily improving. It is interesting to note that women have quietly surpassed men, as is evident from their GERs in 2018-19, across different social groups including Scheduled Castes (SCs) and Scheduled Tribes (STs). However, narrowing down of these gaps also hide ongoing inequalities and disparities among men and women, which can only be approached with an intersectional analysis that combines gender with region, class, caste, religion and ability among others.

While the overall participation of women has registered an incremental increase, in most cases it is limited to soft disciplines like arts, humanities, social sciences, languages, education, home science, etc. There are disciplines like engineering, medicine, science, mathematics, law, agriculture, etc., where women are lagging behind men in terms of their enrolment. These differences become more prevalent at Masters and Doctoral levels since the bulk of enrolment in our country continues to be at Under-Graduate level (81%) followed by Masters’ level (9.1%), Diploma level (7.69%) and Doctoral level (0.51%).

The recent expansion in higher education has made colleges and universities more demographically diverse than ever before, with growing heterogeneity among gender and social groups. Claims of equality, dignity and the ability to live, work and study without fear of harassment are intrinsic ingredients of this moment and the fundamental rights of the citizens. The campuses of institutions of higher learning are gradually diversifying in terms of students’ population. However, the distribution of students across different domains of knowledge remains uneven.

The enrolment of women in engineering and allied disciplines continues to be far too low despite a number of affirmative measures like creation of supernumerary seats in engineering institutions. The share of women students in the most premier engineering institutions like IITs and NITs still remains as low as 18% in 2019-20. The situation is not any better even in the most leading science institutions like Indian Institute of Science (IISc), Bangalore where the share of women students is just 20% and the Indian Institute of Science Education and Research (IISER), Pune where it is only 17%.

There might be numerous reasons for uneven distribution of women students in exact sciences and technology in general and in premier institutions in particular. The success of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) and the Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) has given rise to enrolment of more and more girls from the weaker sections of the society. Majority of these girls refrain from joining science streams at the secondary stage, limiting their options to commerce and humanities & social sciences. The number of girls pursuing science stream further plummets due to poorer rate of transition from secondary to post-secondary and lack of their proper counselling both at home and at college or university. In addition, the notion of longer hours of stay in college due to lab-work, extended hours of study, higher educational expenses, non-availability of science programs in nearby institutions, liability of home chores, disapproval of family members, natural diffidence, etc, are cruel deterrents that discourage girls from joining science and technical streams. Consequently, the share of women in scientific organisations as well as in other premier institutions of higher learning remains far less satisfactory.  

 There was a long-standing myth based on contradictory reports about differentiation of cognitive abilities between men and women. But there have been multiple research studies that have debunked the myth about such differences. Men and women are equally good in coping with demands of time and energy required to deal with different areas of study. No one could still break the record of Madame Marie Curie who has the unique distinction of winning two Nobel Prizes in two different subjects, Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911. There are now 57 women who have won the Nobel Prize and a total of 58 Nobel Prizes have gone to women scientists, as Marie Curie got it twice. The problem is with the men folks who generally expect women to perform additional responsibilities and deliver more than them both at home and place of work. It is the responsibility of the educational system at all levels to create conditions and provide necessary tools to enable them as active and equal partners in shaping the destiny of the society and the world.

Concerted efforts need to be made at different levels to bridge up existing gender gaps. A beginning has to be made right from the initial years of schooling, especially focusing more on laggard states. It is not only about increasing enrollment of girls but guiding and directing them to the right kinds of streams in keeping with their aptitude. The scheme of popularization of science which was started in early years of independent India needs to be re-energised right from the elementary stage of school education. Both the states and the Central governments should introduce the science scholarship scheme for meritorious girls from the first year of the secondary stage of schooling. This will help increase the transition rates of girls from secondary to post-secondary stage of education. Special care should also be taken in meeting out their post-admission requirements.    

Increase in the number of female teachers in higher education could possibly be another favourable factor. It is evident from the obvious trends available from some of the states like Delhi, Goa, Haryana, Kerala, Meghalaya, Punjab and Chandigarh (UT) where there is a significant correlation between teachers’ gender and students’ gender. These are the states where women students have surpassed men insofar as their participation rates in higher education is concerned, and interestingly, so is the case of women teachers. It signifies that hiring of more women teachers can lead to increased participation of women students in higher education.

The lower participation of women in premier institutions of science and technology is a clear-cut reflection on the society which has not considered investing time and resources to remove the existing disparities. Gender equality in these centres of excellence is as important as in life. Special efforts need to be made by the premier institutions to increase the participation of women students by effecting conducive admission policies, stipends, and inspiring social, learning and living environment. In addition, they should also make appropriate changes in their curricular provisions and classroom processes which do not create performance gaps and gender discrimination of any kind.

It would be better if the country evolved a national strategy to ensure gender and social equality across different sectors of education, domains of knowledge, as well as institutions of higher learning rather than creating supernumerary seats sporadically in a handful of institutions. It becomes all the more important for a country which globally ranks 108th out of 149 on gender equality.

The writer is former Chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

SASIKALA’S QUITTING RAISES SEVERAL QUESTIONS

Pankaj Vohra

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A majority of political analysts were of a considered view that V.K. Sasikala, a close aide of former Chief Minister J. Jayalalithaa would be the “X” factor in the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections which are barely a month away. However, the lady who was recently released from the prison on Wednesday took everyone by surprise by declaring that she was quitting politics. In fact, her decision has put a huge question mark over the outcome of the polls with many believing that she had withdrawn herself from the political arena either under some pressure or realising that AIADMK would find it very difficult to win, and it was pointless to contribute to the defeat. By choosing to stay away, Sasikala seems aware that Amma’s followers would rally around her subsequently, thereby decimating the current party leadership which in any case has betrayed her repeatedly. The reverse side of her decision is that DMK, which is the arch enemy of AIADMK, would have a better chance at forming the next government though in her statement, Sasikala claimed that she would want the DMK to be totally routed.

In the first election being held after the demise of both Jayalaithaa and M.K. Karunanidhi, Tamil Nadu politics could throw a few surprises. With M.K. Stalin being considered as a possible Chief Minister, the AIADMK and the BJP may find it extremely hard to galvanise the party workers, who in any case are disillusioned because of acute factionalism within the AIADMK. Sasikala’s nephew T.T.V. Dhinakaran, who had after winning the R.K. Nagar by-election, formed the Amma Makkal Munnetra Kazhagam (AMMK), is equally baffled by her decision. He was banking on her to bring Amma’s legacy to the newly formed political outfit whose aim was to both expose the AIADMK and contain the DMK. He is very disappointed and has now vowed to form a third front to offer a renewed challenge to the two established Dravidian parties in the state.

So far as Sasiskala is concerned, it is evident, she realises that with Amma gone, and after the death of her husband, it was pointless to pursue a career in politics. She has no children and therefore may have thought that she should be in politics for whom? The riddle is not as simple as it appears. Many of Sasikala’s supporters continue to wonder why she was jailed in the first place under the Prevention of Corruption Act since she had never held any public office. They attribute various kinds of motives behind her arrest. Now that she has voluntarily thought of saying goodbye to active politics, these same supporters may come up with some other theories as well. There is no doubt that Sasikala could have been a game changer in these elections and could have either helped the AIADMK or assisted her nephew’s party to become a dominant force. She would be the last person who would wish the DMK to be back in the saddle.

Tamil Nadu politics has its own complexities and so far as the lady is concerned, the last word on her is yet to be heard. Even by withdrawing, she would be a factor.

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Opinion

Communism in China: A hundred years later

As China prepares to celebrate the centenary of the Communist Party, the world must remember the massacres which Communist regimes have unleashed throughout history and question why Xi Jinping’s march towards the ‘New Era’ is marked by such aggression directed at neighbouring countries.

Claude Arpi

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The year 2021 is supremely important for the Middle Kingdom and its Emperor: Not only will it bring the occasion to unveil the 14th Five-year Plan and China’s 2035 Vision, but, more importantly, Beijing will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of China.

Already, in January, President Xi Jinping declared that “the party and country are on the right track… time and momentum are on our side”, and even though the country faced “unprecedented challenges and opportunities,” he urged his Politburo colleagues to “create favourable social conditions” for the important anniversary.

On 1 March, Xi spoke at the opening ceremony of the training class for young and middle-aged cadres at the Central Party School in Beijing. He told the young cadres that they were the successors of the old comrades, “the glory of the party is in your hands”, and exhorted them to be the “faithful successor of the tradition and fine work-style of the Communist Party, constantly enhancing willpower, perseverance and self-control and making contributions in the new journey of comprehensively building a modern socialist country in the New Era while striving to create a worthy party, worthy of the Chinese people!”

And, of course, “loyalty to the party is the primary political quality of Communists,” he added.

The words of the new Great Helmsman sound great, but there is another side to the coin.

In 1997, French scholar Stéphane Courtois, along with other European academics, published Le Livre noir du communisme. It was later translated in several languages, with the title The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression in English.

The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.

Though some leftist ‘intellectuals’ objected to the Communist label being put on some of these dark events, the facts are difficult to change.

In the first chapter, The Crimes of Communism, Stéphane Courtois recalls, “Communist regimes turned mass crime into a full-blown system of government …and are responsible for a greater number of deaths than Nazism or any other political system. …Communism predated fascism and Nazism, outlived both, and left its mark on four continents.”

And today, it is still thriving in China and North Korea.

Quoting Plato’s Republic and Thomas More as Communist examples of ‘utopian philosophy’, Courtois explained, “We must make a distinction between the doctrine of communism and its practice. As a political philosophy, communism has existed for centuries, even millennia.”

Courtois gives figures, people killed by Communist governments amount to more than 94 million, including 65 million in the People’s Republic of China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 million in Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1.7 million in Ethiopia, 1.5 million in Afghanistan, 1 million in Vietnam.

In China alone, there is no doubt today that the Great Leap Forward resulted in 40 to 50 million deaths. According to Frank Dikötter in his masterly Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, “45 million people died unnecessarily …6 to 8 percent of the victims were tortured to death or summarily killed—amounting to at least 2.5 million people.” Yang Jisheng in Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958–1962 put the tally between 43 million and 46 million.

We could argue that it was another age, another time. But in this case, why continue to eulogise Communism and the Party?

Of course, Xi Jinping’s Thought is known as Socialism with Chinese characteristics for a New Era. A couple of years ago, it was even enshrined in the Chinese Constitution.

But if it is a new era, why arrest all the pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong? Recently, pro-China prosecutors argued in court that the defendants were involved in a “massive and well-organised scheme to subvert the Hong Kong government” by organising and participating in an unofficial primary election last July, although CNN commented, “such contests are a normal function in democracies around the world, during which political parties select the strongest candidates for an election.”

Look at the situation in Xinjiang where millions of Uyghur Muslims have been forced to live in ‘reeducation camps’, in Tibet, where the Communist regime wants to impose its own Dalai Lama (over one hundred years, the Party seems to have acquired great knowledge in spiritual matters), in Taiwan, which perpetually lives under Beijing’s invasion threat, or closer to us, India, which during the past nine months was subjected to an uncalled for aggression on its borders. Examples could be multiplied to show that China has not really entered a ‘New Era’.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a Chinese program on Tibet and, to my surprise, spotted an old Maoist figure named Pasang, along with the present Standing Committee of the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). The old lady served Mao well during the darkest days of the Cultural Revolution. She managed to survive the purges of other leftist officials and even the fall of the Gang of Four in October 1976 to become a vice chairwoman of the TAR Revolutionary Committee in September 1968. In 1971, she was made a deputy party secretary in the TAR Party Committee, a position she held until her retirement in 2002.

The fact that China is ready to use figure-heads of the darkest days of Communism tends to prove that the New Era has not yet landed in the Middle Kingdom.

In the coming months, Chinese propaganda will try to convince us of the contrary.

Xi Jinping, the General Secretary of the Communist Party, likes to say, “The original aspiration and the mission of Chinese Communists is to seek happiness for the Chinese people and rejuvenation for the Chinese nation… This founding aspiration, this mission, is what inspires the Chinese Communists to advance.”

Today, former Premier Zhou Enlai, who joined the CPC in 1921, the year when the Party was founded, has become a ‘lofty character’ who selflessly pursued a just cause for the common good throughout his life, says Chinese propaganda.

We remember him in India as a Machiavellian politician who took the Nehru government for a ride. The recent happenings in Ladakh have their origin in Zhou’s lofty words—the world’s standard for ‘lofty’ are obviously different than the Chinese’s.

Large-scale massacre may not occur today (mainly due to the information revolution), but has the mindset really changed in Beijing?

It does not seem so, even in the New Era.

The writer is a French-born author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist and China expert. The views expressed are personal.

The Black Book, which sold millions of copies, is still considered by many as one of the most influential publications written about the history of Communism in the 20th century. The authors documented the history of political repression by Communist states, including genocides, extrajudicial executions, deportations, killing populations in labour camps as well as artificially-created famines.

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Opinion

TIME TO GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE

Priya Sahgal

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This is the one topic that everyone is talking about these days—have you got vaccinated or not as yet. And if so, which one? The vaccine hesitancy that we saw in the early days of the roll out with even health workers hesitant to take the needle is no longer the case. As you can see from the queues of Mercedes, BMWs and Maruti Suzukis parked outside hospitals, everyone who is eligible to take the dose, is lining up for it.

The registration part is simple, however when you reach your designated hospital they will check your papers, give you a token and ask you to wait. This can vary from an hour to longer depending on the queue as most hospitals even have a counter for walk-ins i.e. those who have not been able to register themselves on the Co-WIN website. But don’t let this deter you, because the vaccination is certainly worth the trouble. And this seems to be the general mood. Going for my morning walk in south Delhi, I saw a number of elderly leaving their homes at around 9 am, picnic baskets in tow, ready for a long wait but determined to make the vaccine trek. 

There is some confusion about the gap between the two doses which currently has been set for 28 days. Not for Covaxin but Covishield as there are some reputed studies that state that a longer gap of between 8 to 12 weeks makes the dosage more effective. Since India is sticking to the 28 days gap (other countries like the UK have gone in for the longer one) it is left to the individual’s discretion. Another reason that explains the rush is that the vaccination is an added passport for those wanting to travel. India has been more successful than some other countries in combating the virus. Hence it makes sense to secure yourself before boarding that flight. 

Of course, there are still some who are hesitant to take the vaccine. Some are waiting for the nasal dosage, others for the crowds to thin. But in the end, don’t forget for the vaccination to work it is important that everyone takes it. This is important not just for making the country safe again, but also for each individual for his or her own sake. For as more than one doctor has told me on the NewsX-Sunday Guardian Roundtable, the complications of taking the vaccine are nothing compared to the complications of not taking it. So, go, get that vaccine.

What has helped the optics is that the Prime Minister himself took the vaccination. This was something that needed to be done as the Opposition and other sceptics were raising this issue and wondering about his hesitancy to do something that other world leaders had done in full media glare. Finally, once the vaccine was opened to senior citizens (and not just emergency workers) the PM took the jab—that he opted for the Indian origin Covaxin instead of Covishield was a no brainer as that fits into his narrative of nationalism. But the larger message here was more important as it gave the confidence to others to overcome their hesitancy and take the vaccine.

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Opinion

India set to make a V-shaped recovery

The sharp improvement in the performance of core sectors and the quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy indicate that India is close to achieving a fast-paced and broad-based V-shaped recovery in the third quarter of FY21.

Sanju Verma

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India’s GDP growth for Q3 FY21 has come in at 0.4%, versus the -7.3% recorded in Q2 of FY21. Earlier, the contraction for Q2 had been estimated at 7.5%, but has now been revised upwards to a decline of only 7.3%. Q1, on the other hand, has been revised from a 23.9% to a 24.4% contraction. The NSO said, “GDP at constant (2011-12) prices in Q3 of 2020-21 is estimated at Rs 36.22 lakh crore, as against Rs 36.08 lakh crore in Q3 of 2019-20, showing a growth of 0.4%.”

Will the Indian economy have a V-shaped recovery, as is now increasingly being touted? The answer, without doubt, is a resounding yes! With a Covid recovery rate of over 97%, a mortality rate of barely 1.4% and an active caseload of only 1.2%, and with over 15 million people vaccinated, the overall economy of the country is rapidly moving back to normalcy and the GDP numbers are only going to get better in Q4. This is evident from the IHS Markit India Manufacturing PMI reading of 57.5 and 57.7, recorded in February and January 2021, respectively. Composite PMI reading rose from 55.8 in January 2021 to 57.3 in February, the highest since October 2020, while Services PMI rose from 52.8 in January to 55.3 in February, the highest in a year. Unified payments interface (UPI) trades hit a new high of 2.3 billion transactions in January 2021, amounting to Rs 4.31 lakh crore in value terms. The blistering pace continued in February 2021, with 2.29 billion transactions, amounting to a value of Rs 4.25 lakh crore, further corroborating the full-fledged V-shaped recovery which is taking shape.

Services growth in Q3 fell by 1%, which is much lower than the 11.3% fall seen in Q2 and the 21.4% fall in Q1. Agriculture growth has come in at a solid 3.9% in Q3, versus 3% in Q2. Manufacturing sector grew by 1.6% in Q3, which is great news as the big decline of 35.9% in Q1 and the 1.5% fall in Q2, at the height of the Covid pandemic, has now turned into a positive number. The industrial sector witnessed a growth of 2.7% versus a -3.03% growth in Q2. This 2.7% growth was supported by a manufacturing growth of 1.6%, electricity, gas, water and utility services growth of 7.3% and a healthy growth in construction at 6.2%. The high traction in the real estate sector was on the back of the reduction in stamp duty and other levies across various states, thereby attracting home buyers to invest in new homes.

The output of eight core infrastructure sectors grew 0.1% in January 2021 as compared to last year. The infrastructure output, which comprises eight core sectors, including coal, crude oil, and electricity, fell by 8.8% during the April-January period in 2020-21, against a growth rate of 0.8% in the corresponding period in 2019-20. However, Q4 should see a turnaround in the infra space. The Modi government’s decision to invite private investment in 400 port and shipping projects worth Rs 2 lakh crore will give a fillip to the infra space. The Modi government is also aiming to attract investment worth Rs 3.39 lakh crore during the Maritime India Summit 2021, that kicked off on March 2, 2021. 

The Indian Railways carried 119.79 million tonnes of freight in January 2021, the highest ever in a month, beating its previous record of 119.74 million tonnes in March 2019, showcasing how the Indian economy’s momentum is gaining rapid traction. In February 2021, the Indian Railways’ loading was 112.25 million tonnes, which is 10% higher compared to February last year, which had been 102.21 million tonnes. On just February 28, 2021, the freight loading of the Indian Railways was 5.23 million tonnes, which is 37% higher compared to last year’s loading for the same date, at 3.83 million tonnes. 

For the December 2020 quarter, cement major ACC saw a solid 73% jump in profit, while cement behemoth Grasim saw profits rise by a massive 107%. Since cement sales are a lead indicator, it should be suffice to say that a core sector bounce is back on the cards. Car sales, another lead indicator, continued to be robust with a 16% growth year on year (YoY) in January 2021, with Toyota, Tata Motors, Honda and Nissan, witnessing a YoY growth of 92%, 94%, 114% and 220%, respectively. In February 2021, while Maruti saw a growth of 11.8% year on year (YoY), tractor major Escorts saw a growth of 30.6%, showing the all-pervasive nature of a demand resurgence that is underway in both rural and urban areas.

The economic growth in the coming year, i.e., 2021-22 (FY22) will be robust, with a broad-based momentum across various sectors. The government’s focus on infrastructure, real estate demand on the back of low-interest rates, recovery in commodity prices and healthy consumption expenditure all point to better times for the GDP trajectory. Private and foreign investment is also on the rise and capex should be higher than in previous years, aiding long-term growth. In the last one year, FPI and FDI inflows put together have been in excess of Rs 2.32 lakh crore, which speaks volumes about India’s attractiveness as an investment destination, all thanks to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s courage of conviction and reformist mindset which is now bearing fruit.

Significant recovery in manufacturing and construction segments also augurs well for the support these sectors are expected to provide to growth in FY 2021-22. Real GVA in manufacturing has improved from a contraction of 35.9% in Q1 to a positive growth of 1.6% in Q3, while in construction the recovery has been from a contraction of 49.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 6.2% in Q3. Going ahead, only for a quarter at the most, we are likely to see the continuation of a K-shaped recovery, with some sectors growing faster than others. However, beyond Q4 FY21, the K-shaped recovery will soon transform into a sharp V-shaped recovery that will be both fast-paced and broad based in FY22.

The growth stimuli available from the Union Budget and additional measures, including the production linked incentive (PLI) scheme, will lead to a sturdy growth path over the recovery horizon. The real push will be visible in the Q4 (January-March) 2021 because lockdowns in many sectors, particularly hospitality and travel, have begun to ease substantially. The 1% growth in GVA and 0.7% growth in core GVA (core GVA excludes agriculture and public administration), in particular, marks the end of a contractionary phase. In fact, all the sectors except (a) mining and quarrying, (b) trade, hotels, transport and communication services, and (c) public administration, defence and other services, have recorded positive growth in the third quarter of FY21, which is great news as it vindicates the flurry of GDP upgrades seen in recent times. Even in trade and hotels, the pace of decline has slowed down significantly from a negative growth of 15.3% in Q2 to 7.7% in Q3. In public administration, the pace of fall has been reined in at -1.5% from -9.3% in Q2. The construction sector, which contributes about 9% to India’s GDP, is back with a bang on the back of a strong recovery in execution, registering a 6.2% growth in Q3 from -7.5% in Q2, which is nothing short of outstanding. India is amongst the very few economies which are posting growth for the December 2020 quarter—one amongst 16 major world economies – which shows that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Rs 30 lakh crore stimulus package has been able to boost both business sentiment and spending via the multiplier effect.

While gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) has improved from a contraction of 46.4% in Q1 to a positive growth of 2.6% in Q3, private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) has recovered from a contraction of 26.2% in Q1 to a much smaller contraction of 2.4% in Q3. The revival of investment demand, triggered by capital spending by the Modi government, has helped in a big way. Besides the overall uptick in the economy, the resurgence of GFCF in Q3 was also triggered by capex by the Central Government, that increased year-on-year by 129% in October, 249% in November and 62% in December 2020. The fiscal multipliers associated with this capex are at least 3-4 times larger than government final consumption expenditure (GFCE), as capex induces much higher consumption spending than normal income transfers.

For the fortnight ending January 8, 2021, credit growth has picked up to 6.6% YoY, while deposit growth is 11.4%. Excellent results by banking sector biggies showcase the ongoing economic momentum. HDFC Bank and ICICI Bank posted profit growth of 18% and 19%, respectively, for the December 2020 quarter, with the retail loan book growing by anywhere between a healthy 13% to 16%. The robust profit growth for these two banking giants came about, despite a high provision coverage ratio (PCR) of 148% for HDFC and 78% for ICICI.

Needless to add, the Indian economy has seen a superb rebound from the onslaught of the Covid-19 pandemic, thanks to the Modi government’s relentless war against the Wuhan virus. From being a net importer in March 2020 to becoming the world’s second largest exporter of PPE kits and N95 masks, it is a telling tale of how “Make in India” is about a grand vision and also about the ability to translate that vision into a meaningful end result. India produced more than 60 million personal protection equipment (PPEs) and almost 150 million N-95 masks till October 2020, from almost zero in March 2020. India also exported more than 20 million PPE and over 40 million N-95 masks during this period. Speaking of Covid, the two states that account for over 72% of all the active coronavirus cases in India are Maharashtra and Kerala, one where the Congress in in power with allies and another which is a Left-ruled state. The horrific performance by these two states in reining in Covid is a testimony to all that is woefully wrong with both the politics and economics of the Congress and the CPI(M).

With a pro-growth budget, structural farm and labour market reforms and the Modi government’s bold decision to raise Rs 2.5 lakh crore by monetising 100 sick, loss making and unviable CPSEs, coupled with the RBI’s resolve to support the financial markets and economy, the Indian economy is well poised to ride the long-term structural growth path, despite states like Maharashtra being a drag due to the misgovernance of the Congress-centric Maha Vikas Agadhi (MVA) alliance.

Investments were the primary driver in pushing up Q3 GDP numbers and were up 2.1% YoY, versus a fall of 28.2% in the first half of fiscal year 2020-21 (1HFY21). Consumption was down only 2.2% YoY in Q3, versus a sharp fall of 16.7% in 1HFY21. The 4.9% growth in consumer durables and 2% growth in consumer non-durables in December 2020 are a precursor of demand resurgence. Even two-wheeler major Hero Moto Corp, for the last six months, has been selling over 4.5 lakh units every single month, with more than 14 lakh units sold in just the two months of October and November 2020. Tractor major M&M too has seen utility vehicle sales growing in excess of 20% on an average in the last few months, pointing towards a demand rejuvenation. Nominal GDP grew strongly at 5.3% in Q3, implying that GDP deflator was 4.8% in 3QFY21. While CSO/NSO expect a contraction of 1.1% YoY in 4QFY21, implying an 8% fall in FY21, this is highly unlikely. Many domestic investment banking houses believe Q4 real GDP growth could be as high as 3.5%, leading to a GDP decline of only 6.7% in FY21, versus CSO’s more conservative estimate of an 8% decline in GDP in FY21.

An 8% or 6.7% GDP decline is less relevant. The more relevant part is that growth momentum is picking up pace significantly, with GST collections in January 2021 at Rs 1.19 lakh crore and February collections being equally healthy at Rs 1.13 lakh crore. GST collections have topped the Rs 1 lakh crore mark every single month from October 2020. FASTag collections hit Rs 102 crore last Friday, crossing the earlier high of Rs 80 crore collected by way of toll in a single day. E-way billing is applicable for inter-state sales in excess of Rs 50,000. Rs 6.42 crore E-way invoice reference numbers (IRNs) were generated in January 2021, versus a number of just 26 lakh IRNs that were generated in September 2020, once again vindicating the sharp uptick in routine business activity.

The GVA equivalent of manufacturing companies, arrived at after adding up wages, depreciation, interest and profit before tax (PBT), grew a robust 17% on a yearly basis in Q3 FY21, after a 9% growth in Q2 this fiscal and a 29% contraction in Q1. Since manufacturing GVA is a leading indicator of the manufacturing sector’s performance, the sharp uptick in manufacturing GVA is indeed highly reassuring. In many cases, GVA equivalent is a better predictor of manufacturing sector’s performance than IIP since the latter captures volume of production while the former captures value of production, ICICI Securities argues. Hence, the manufacturing sector is expected to record a healthy growth in the upcoming Q4FY21. The manufacturing GVA currently has a share of 19% in the country’s real gross value added (GVA).

Moody’s has raised India’s growth forecast to 13.7% for FY22, from the earlier 10.8%. For the current FY21 fiscal also, Moody’s revised its prediction of a contraction in real GDP to 7.1%, from the earlier projected contraction of 10.6%. Interestingly, Moody’s has also said that the Modi government’s fiscal deficit for FY21 and FY22 could be much lower than the projected 9.5% and 6.8% of GDP, respectively, supported by stronger revenue generation in the fourth quarter of FY21 and higher nominal GDP growth in 2021-22 (FY22). The big upside to growth projections in FY22 are absolutely realistic and not based on a low base effect. Rather, the massive growth upside in FY22 will be driven by facilitative government measures, including the Modi government’s capital expenditure increases, with the Central Government budgeting an impressive 34.5% rise in capital spending at Rs 5.54 lakh crore in FY22, compared to the revised estimate for FY21.

Exports which were lagging too have begun to pick up, with a 6% YoY growth in January 2021, and February seeing only a minor fall of 0.25%. Imports also grew by 7% in February, versus a 2.03% growth in January 2021. Interestingly, in February, while oil imports fell by 16.63% YoY, non-oil imports rose by 16.37%, suggesting both an economic revival and improving terms of trade.

The initial policy choice of “lives over livelihoods” succeeded by “lives as well as livelihoods” is now bearing excellent results, converging with the foresight the Modi government had about an imminent V-shaped recovery when it entered the war against the pandemic. The sharp V-shaped recovery is being driven by rebounds in both private final consumption expenditure (PFCE) and gross fixed capital formation (GFCF) as a combination of the astute handling of the lockdown and a calibrated fiscal stimulus that has allowed strong economic fundamentals to trigger quick resumption of high activity levels in the economy. It would be apt to sum up India’s swift economic recovery with a brilliant quote from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Independence Day speech last year, where he emphasised the relevance of Aatmanirbhar Bharat, when he said, “It is now time for India to move forward with new policies and new customs. Now simple and ordinary will not work. Our policies, our processes, our products, everything should be the best.”

The author is an economist, national spokesperson for the BJP and the bestselling author of ‘Truth & Dare: The Modi Dynamic’. The views expressed are personal.

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