The recently announced privatisation plan would lead to a radical power shift and greater decentralisation of economic activities, necessitating a new form of generative mechanism and cooperative partnership between the Centre, states, and the private sector.
From Jawaharlal Nehru’s socialistic vision of controlling the commanding heights of the economy to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s new paradigm that the government should not be in the business owning and running enterprises, India is taking definitive steps towards privatisation and marketplace economy. In 1951 India was overwhelmingly an agrarian economy; there were only 5 public sector enterprises; and the government’s role in establishing the industrial base was a compelling necessity.
Today there are 348 Public Sector Undertakings (PSUs) with a total investment of Rs 16.41 lakh crore and more than a million employees, according to the Department of Public Enterprises. Privatising them would open up huge space for the private sector to expand and innovate as well as create tremendous investment opportunities for Indian and global players. The government, however, announced that four strategic sectors including atomic energy, space and defence; transport and telecommunications; power, petroleum, coal and other minerals; and banking, insurance and financial services, would be still under the state control. Despite the proviso that each strategic sector would have no more than four public sector units, there would be, nevertheless, 332 PSUs up for privatisation.
Privatisation at such a massive scale amounts to a radical power shift, both political and economic. Such a fundamental transformation occurred in 1969 when Indira Gandhi nationalised banks, followed by other industries, which resulted in tremendous concentration of power at the Centre. Prime Minister Modi on the other hand is decentralising economic power without diminishing his political power.
Therefore, keeping the stakeholders in mind including the bureaucratic establishment, labour unions, and the political parties committed to state control of the economy, as well as the bogey of crony capitalism, smooth transition would be a humongous task. Not least there will be the loss of political patronage for political bosses.
In the first term, the Modi administration, in spite of the promises of privatisation, did not take serious steps in this direction. In fact, the first term was a continuation of the welfare schemes of the previous administration. Though, with the addition of massive nationwide toilet building programme, housing construction, gas connection, direct benefit transfer, PM-Kisan income support scheme, among others, the welfare programmes were enhanced and speeded up through digital technology. But the welfare state—a political constant in India—cannot continue without a rapid pace of wealth creation for which the state is not well equipped, looking at the performance of the public sector since Independence.
One does not have to count the virtues of the private sector, which in its own self-interest for profit-making and staying competitive in a global environment, takes calculated risks, innovates through investment in R&D, employs highly trained professionals, and uses best practices to raise productivity and improve efficiencies.
One consequence of shifting more than 300 PSUs to the private domain would be that entire private sector would go through creative destruction leading to continuous product and process innovation replacing the old production technologies with the new ones. The challenge is how to do it so that the process and the outcome create public trust. In the case of Maruti, for example, as some analysts have observed, the devolution process happened so successfully that today it is one of the most competitive auto companies in the world.
If India were an authoritarian state a la China, it would have been easy to say, to borrow a trope from Star Trek, that: Resistance is futile. But as we see in the continuing farmers’ protest against the government efforts to improve farm economy through exposure to market forces, and the romancing of the farmer by pop culture and youth activist icons such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg, it is unthinkable that such a massive transfer of economic power and political patronage from the state to private companies would go unchallenged. Last December the farmers’ attacks on the Reliance Jio’s towers in Punjab showed how deep the resistance is against the rising marketplace and manufacturing culture in India. This needs to be overcome.
Since the privatisation process cannot be a turnkey project and would take a number of years to accomplish, the government would need to adopt a two-pronged strategy.
First, the government needs to launch a massive public relations campaign to explain, educate, and persuade people as to how the privatisation of PSUs would have a multiplier effect on the job market by creating thousands and thousands of small and medium enterprises necessary to build up new supply chains to feed the expanding private sector.
A regular programme like Prime Minister Modi’s “Mann Ki Baat”, if done by noteworthy and trustworthy public intellectuals and believers in free enterprise, aimed at explaining as to how privatisation and wealth creation would lift all boats, would go a long way in public persuasion. There’s a widespread suspicion about the business community in India as tax dodgers and greedy profiteers. The business community must step forward and create a positive image through transparency in hiring and business practices.
Second, in order to accomplish the task successfully the government must adopt pragmatic approaches. Divesting such a large and diverse categories of PSUs is a complex undertaking that necessitates approaching each unit with open-mindedness and flexibility, however, focusing on the expected outcomes. What worked in the past as in the case of Maruti disinvestment may or may not work for other PSUs, depending upon the stakeholders’ expectations.
Most importantly, if the ultimate goal of the Modi government is to enable the rise of a manufacturing and muscular India based on “aatmanirbharta” (self-reliance), without which India wouldn’t have a seat at the global table, a new form of generative mechanism and cooperative partnership between the Centre, states, and the private sector is absolutely vital.
Narain Batra is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Jawaharlal Nehru to Narendra Modi’. He is professor of communications and diplomacy at Norwich University, Vermont. The views expressed are personal.
Privatisation at such a massive scale amounts to a radical power shift, both political and economic. Such a fundamental transformation occurred in 1969 when Indira Gandhi nationalised banks, followed by other industries, which resulted in tremendous concentration of power at the Centre. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on the other hand, is decentralising economic power without diminishing his political power.
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BORIS JOHNSON NOT SERIOUS ABOUT INDIA-UK TIES
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson did it again—cancelled his visit to India. The visit was scheduled for next week, but was cancelled because of the current surge in coronavirus infections in India. The first time he did it was for Republic Day, when he was invited to be the chief guest but cancelled the trip because of a surge in infections in UK. While a Prime Minister going abroad when coronavirus is sweeping across his/her country can be bad optics domestically, by cancelling next week’s visit Boris Johnson essentially expressed his lack of confidence in the Indian government’s ability to protect him from the virus. This is rather strange considering a state guest of the stature of Boris Johnson would have been accorded the same security protocol that this country’s Prime Minister is given. A sanitized bubble would have been created for him, just the way it is created for the Prime Minister of this country when he is travelling. Anyway, the visit was meant to be a short one and only to New Delhi, and not to other cities that he was initially supposed to go to. So where was the need to cancel it? The irony is, it was his own government which failed to create a bubble for Boris Johnson, because of which the British Prime Minister ended up contracting the virus a few months ago.
The visit to India was supposed to be PM Johnson’s first major overseas trip after being elected to office in December 2019. If he had continued with the visit, he would have been considered a true friend of India. Instead, by cancelling it he proved that he was not serious about UK’s ties with India. This has to be seen in the context of French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian’s visit to New Delhi last week—in the middle of the pandemic—when he had a full-fledged meeting with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar. Let’s also not forget that the corona pandemic did not stop Prime Minister Narendra Modi from visiting Bangladesh to participate in that country’s golden jubilee celebrations. Internationally too such visits are taking place, a case in point being Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s visit to Washington to meet US President Joe Biden at a time when the pandemic is raging in both countries. It is from actions like these that the depth of a relationship is proven—how much importance leaders and countries give to ties with other countries. And obviously, in spite of all those Indian origin ministers in Boris Johnson’s government, in spite of the presence of such a huge Indian diaspora in the UK, in spite of the apparent collaboration in different areas, UK’s relationship with India just does not have that kind of depth.
India is no longer the British colony it once was, while UK is yet to recover from its colonial hangover, so finds it difficult to accommodate India’s interests—a case in point being the trouble that India faces trying to get some crooks extradited from there. Also, it appalls Indians that the UK allows its parliamentarians to discuss India’s internal matters and cast aspersions on India’s democracy, or that India’s high commission in London is attacked by Pakistan-backed radicals but the British government doesn’t take any action, or that British soil is allowed to become a hotbed for anti-India activities. And all these things have been happening on Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s watch. There exists a lot of scepticism about UK in India. Moreover, the British media’s blanket negative coverage about anything India and Indian is seen as problematic by a large section of policymakers in this country. Boris Johnson has not done anything “spectacular” about India ever since he has taken over as Prime Minister—first as a successor to Theresa May in July 2019, and then elected Prime Minister in December 2019—that should inspire India’s confidence in him. Even his current focus is primarily about having a trade agreement with India, now that Britain is out of the European Union. It’s not known how interested he is in paying heed to India’s concerns. UK also wants to focus on the Indo-Pacific perhaps because every European power has started sailing its vessels there. But then Britain’s presence in the Indo-Pacific can only strengthen the alliance of the free world and may help in containing China, so that is welcome.
There is a lot that India and UK can do together. A visit by Boris Johnson would have gone a long way in building trust. Instead, news is that soon after PM Johnson said that he was not travelling to India, Britain added this nation to its red list of countries from where most travel is banned. And this in spite of India being generous enough about continuing its flights to and from the UK at a time when the UK strain was sweeping through Britain—the strain that largely caused this second wave in India. But then India approached India-UK bilateral ties in the true spirit of partnership. But the way things are shaping up, UK under Boris Johnson is not a reliable partner for India. India has shown enough generosity towards UK. Not anymore. It’s time India sent out a message to UK by withdrawing its invitation to PM Boris Johnson.
The difference between faith and fanaticism
A person of faith recognises the truth that God is, whoever it may be, for him and others, while a fanatic is certain that only s/he knows who or what God is and is blinded by her/his passion. That is where differences between the two arise.
Fanaticism has been in evidence across the world. Even Europe has no respite from the scourge, as one saw during the summer of 2016—from the acts of terrorism in Brussels on 22 March to the machete attack in Belgium on 6 August. And the trend continues till date. This wave of fanaticism raises certain questions for all people of faith. They are proud of the strength of their religious convictions, but so is the fanatic. What then sets a person of faith apart from a fanatic?
This question becomes particularly relevant in the context of terrorism, as one could pose a similar question about terrorism. The state uses violent force to combat terrorism but the terrorist also uses violent force against the state. So what is the difference between the two? All of us feel uneasy with an equation of this kind but we need to think clearly about this issue in order to feel clearly about it. In a country, the state has a monopoly on the use of violent force, which is supervised by a democratically elected government. Such moral and legal supervision is lacking in the case of a fanatic and that is why the apparent equation is misleading.
The difference between faith and fanaticism runs along similar lines. Fanaticism results from being blinded by the intensity of the luminosity of one’s own religious tradition by standing too close to it, instead of seeing the whole world transfigured in its light. The person of faith also stands close to his or her tradition but lives in the light, not in darkness. Unlike the fanatic, the person of faith realizes that faith, almost by definition, is faith in things unseen, and that when we say we have faith in God, we also acknowledge that we cannot quite really know the whole of God. Some would even say we cannot know God at all, but we can relax that position and say that we can know God in some ways. But most will acknowledge, even the most faithful, that we can only know God as we can relate to God, not to God as God, not to God as God is by himself, herself, or itself. Right there we have a built-in check which prevents honest and profound faith from degenerating into fanaticism, because fanaticism presumes to know what God is. It is strange that sometimes religions tend to believe that they have a monopoly on God and that’s where fanaticism comes in. But if they examine the concepts of God in their own traditions, they will find that the traditions insist that one cannot know God fully.
Allow me to elaborate this point with an example from Islam, since some members of this tradition have been associated with many acts of terrorism in recent times. The fanatic member of this tradition is out to get the infidel, but in order to define someone as an infidel, we need to know who a true Muslim is. At this point a crucial distinction in Islam between the legal and theological identity of a Muslim becomes crucial. According to Islamic law, any person who recites the Islamic confession of faith in good faith in the presence of witnesses must be accepted as a Muslim and may not be denied access to a gathering of Muslims. He or she may not observe all the obligations of being a Muslim, such as performing the five prayers daily, but that only means that the person is not a good Muslim and cannot mean that she is not a Muslim. Thus, while the distinction between a Muslim and a non-believer is fairly clear in legal terms, the theological understanding of who is a Muslim is much more subtle. Whether one is a true believer or not is known only to God, and one and oneself only really know whether one is a true believer or not in the presence of God on the Day of Judgement. One can see how easy it is to fall in the gulf between these two understandings.
Perhaps a distinction needs to be drawn between truth and certainty. Often, when we think we are seeking truth, we are really seeking certainty. If such is the case then, yes, there is great potential for fanaticism in a faith, if we arrive at a conclusion and feel that it is absolutely certain. But the genuine seeker after truth realizes that we ourselves cannot know everything conclusively, except perhaps for the conclusion that ‘God is.’ Admittedly, there is a discomfort involved here. But if we can live with it—and all genuine faith recognises that we have to—then we have a built-in check against fanaticism, in faith itself.
Another distinction gains importance in this context. Whether one is a person of faith or a fanatic also depends on our attitude towards other people of faith. If we are certain that the people of other faiths are condemned, and abide by the ‘legal’ conception of one’s identity, then we have no purchase on our spirituality. If, however, we realise that only God can pronounce such a judgement and not mere human beings, then, as people of faith, it might be easier for us to understand that there are other people who are also people of faith like us. And that if we deny them their right to their faith, then in a sense we are questioning our own faith, or at least our humanity. Actually, when you become a fanatic, then in a sense, instead of worshiping God, you start playing God. Thus, like any other passion, even religious or moral passion can blind a person.
The writer is the Birks Professor of Comparative Religion at the McGill University in Montréal, Canada. He is also associated with the Nalanda University in India. The views expressed are personal.
The difference between faith and fanaticism runs along similar lines. Fanaticism results from being blinded by the intensity of the luminosity of one’s own religious tradition by standing too close to it, instead of seeing the whole world transfigured in its light. The person of faith also stands close to his or her tradition but lives in the light, not in darkness. Unlike the fanatic, the person of faith realises that faith, almost by definition, is faith in things unseen, and that when we say we have faith in God, we also acknowledge that we cannot quite really know the whole of God. Some would even say we cannot know God at all, but we can relax that position and say that we can know God in some ways.
COVID WREAKS HAVOC ACROSS INDIA AS DEATH FIGURES MOUNT
Multiple theories regarding the sudden surge in Covid cases across India, particularly in metropolitan cities such as Delhi and Mumbai, have come up with the government struggling to bring the situation under control. It is being said that China could have unleashed a double mutant of the virus in West Asia from where it has travelled all the way to this country since there is a large Indian diaspora which lives in that part of the world. According to this theory, the new strain of virus may have come to Mumbai, Delhi and Kerala, through Dubai. In any case, the mounting cases are a cause of immense worry, and both the state as well as Central governments should prepare themselves for meeting this growing challenge.
Another issue that is being debated is that why was the Sputnik vaccine not made immediately available here, even after reputed medical journals had rated its efficacy higher than that of other vaccines. It is evident that the powerful pharmaceutical lobbies operating out of the West and in parts of India, were interested in keeping the Russian product out of the market. The pharma companies have made tonnes of money in the past couple of months and many people who have been vaccinated were also getting afflicted, which effectively means that the pandemic is far more dangerous than what was the initial assessment.
It has to be clearly understood by all political parties that Covid does not carry any election symbol and therefore it was most important to keep politics out of this nationwide effort to combat this dreaded disease. There have been suggestions that like Britain, India should go in for a prolonged lockdown in order to decrease the number of cases. The flip side of this argument is that in an economically depressed nation like ours, people have to go out and work in order to support their families. There are reports of migrants once again returning to their native places. In the past 13 months, so many people have lost jobs or have their salaries reduced to one-fourth and in many cases, have not been paid for months. The Centre must come out with a policy to safeguard the interests of the citizens who are essentially bearing the brunt of this pandemic.
It is really strange that the Election Commission has chosen not to merge the remaining phases of the Bengal elections, even though several political parties have urged the constitutional body to do so. Election rallies and religious congregations must be immediately curtailed. What is unexplainable is that when schools and colleges can be closed and examinations postponed indefinitely, why cannot an appropriate decision be taken regarding the elections which are being needlessly prolonged. India must take some firm steps by involving experts who can help in providing solutions. The political establishment has been found inadequate in dealing with the matter. Therefore, the issue should now be dealt with experts who can help in containing the pandemic. Wearing masks and maintaining a safe distance is a reality that should not be allowed to be ignored.
PRIVATE UNIVERSITIES NEED TO GO BEYOND QUESTIONS OF CONVENIENCE
Private sector can play a significant role in realising the goal of expansion, equity and excellence as envisaged in NEP-2020, provided it makes right kind of investment in areas like curriculum reforms, recruitment of competent faculty, and research and development.
The first attempt to lay down the foundation of modern Indian higher education was made in 1781 by the people of Calcutta when they petitioned Governor General Warren Hastings to establish institutions of higher learning. He paid no heed to their appeal for a long time. British did not want to repeat the same folly which they had committed in America by establishing educational institutions and losing control over its territory.
After what seemed like a long wait of thirty-six years, Raja Rammohan Roy formed an association and founded the Hindu College at Calcutta on 20 January 1817. This was the outcome of an altruistic desire of the people of Calcutta to improve human welfare. Soon after that, in the same year, the CMS College, Kottayam was established by the Church Missionary Society of England. There is a little controversy about the year of establishment of CMS College as some still believe that it is the oldest existing college, two years older than the Hindu College.
The philanthropic endeavour of these two groups caught the imagination of the people of the country, resulting in some more colleges in the later part of the nineteenth century. Prominent amongst them are Serampore College (1818), Agra College (1823), Wilson College, Bombay (1832), Medical College, Calcutta (1835), Grant Medical College, Bombay (1835), St. Joseph’s College, Tiruchirappalli (1844), Krishnagar Government College, Nadia (1846), Thomason College of Civil Engineering (1847), Elphinstone College Bombay (1856), Brennen College, Thalassery (1862), Christ Church College, Kanpur (1866), St. Xavier’s College, Bombay (1869), St. Stephen’s College, Delhi (1881), Fergusson College, Pune (1885), Khalsa College, Amritsar (1892), Hindu College, Delhi (1899), Cotton College, Guwahati (1901), Ramjas College (1904), St. Bede’s College, Shimla (1904), etc. All these colleges were established by arduous efforts of social reformers, philanthropists and missionaries as the government was not keen to spend on the education of Indian citizens.
The first wave of expansion of colleges in the country was mostly due to private enterprises. The scope of higher education widened a little with the arrival of Wood’s Despatch of 1854 in which he made the recommendation of establishing three universities in the country on the model of University of London. The main function of these three universities, that were established in 1857 in the cities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, was visualized to confer only degrees after testing the value of education imparted not on their campuses but through different colleges.
Subsequently, some more universities were established through the efforts of luminaries like Pandit Madan Mohan Malviya, Sir Akbar Hydari, Sir Syed Ahmed, Thakur Rabindranath Tagore, Raja Sir Annamalai Chettiar, Sir Hari Singh Gaur, Pratap Singh Gaekwad, Krishnaraja Wodeyar, to name a few. In fact, higher education in India owes a great debt to private initiatives undertaken by people and societies of variegated backgrounds including social reformers like Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Pachayappa Mudaliar and societies like the Deccan Education Society and the Arya Samaj. It was their selfless service to the society with no profit motive. Ironically, the spirit of that selflessness amongst most of the present set of educational entrepreneurs is incredibly lacking.
Most of the institutions during the pre-independence period were established with the help of generous donations from private individuals and princely states. Over the years, they found it difficult to support their programs due to growing enrollment and lower rates of internal recoveries leading to depletion of resources. There were only 21 universities at the time of independence and of them, 9 were teaching universities and all others were teaching-cum-affiliating. There were about 500 colleges that were affiliated with these universities. All of them gradually turned into grant-in-aid institutions.
There has been a steady increase in the number of universities during the post-independent period. However, it remained confined only to the public sector because there was no legislative framework available for the establishment of private universities. The era of liberalisation put an intense pressure on the state governments to open up the sector for private service providers as the public system was not in a position to fulfil the aspirations of swelling the middle class population. Thus, a beginning was made by the states of Madhya Pradesh and Sikkim in 1995 when they enacted legislations for the establishment of private universities and set up one university each. Thereafter, the government of Chhattisgarh went overboard in this direction and established as many as 112 private universities within a short span of one year, in 2002. The government of Chhattisgarh enacted the law in a manner that had completely done away with any kind of control of the Regulators (UGC) over these private universities. It compelled the former Chairman of the UGC, Prof. Yashpal, to file a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) in the Supreme Court against the government of Chhattisgarh and others, which resulted into complete shutdown of those universities in 2005.
After the severe jolt in Chhattisgarh case, the private entrepreneurs resorted to an alternate option, of becoming a deemed to be university. Consequently, the number of deemed to be universities shot up exponentially from 72 to 128 within a short span of four years from 2005 to 2009. Such a sudden spike in the number of deemed to be universities sent an alarm bell ringing in certain quarters compelling the UGC to replace its guidelines with the rigorous Regulations in 2010, to frustrate the proliferation of sub-standard institutions as deemed to be universities.
As soon as the private entrepreneurs realised the complexity of establishing a deemed to be university, they reverted to their earlier strategy of approaching the state governments to enact legislations for the establishment of private universities. More and more state legislatures enacted the laws resulting in an exponential rise in the number of private universities from 69 to 372 within a period of eleven years from 2009 to 2020. As of now, there are twenty-five states which have already enacted legislation for the establishment of private universities. The largest number of private universities are in the state of Rajasthan (52) followed by Gujarat (43), Madhya Pradesh (39), Uttar Pradesh (29), Haryana (24), Karnataka (19), Maharashtra & Uttarakhand (18 each), Himachal Pradesh (17), Jharkhand & Punjab (15 each) and Chhattisgarh (12), while in others it is in single digit.
It is important to recognize the trend in the growth of private universities and their massive proliferation in just thirteen states. The issue of only a few states with maximum concentration of private universities of unacceptable standards is a matter of great concern. It is extremely concerning that nearly 43% of them have not yet cared for UGC’s mandatory inspection. An equally worrying aspect is the quality of their programmes as is evident from their abysmally poor show of accreditation. The latest data from the National Assessment and Accreditation Council (NAAC) reveal that out of 372 private universities only 55 have got themselves accredited thus far. And, what is even worse is that none of them has been able to make the cut to the top grade (A++). Just 3 of them could barely make it to grade A+ and 13 to grade A. Most of these universities are offering run of the mill programs without qualified faculty and proper infrastructure that are necessarily required for proper transmission, certification and creation of new knowledge. Obviously, these developments are unacceptable, and beyond that, extremely disturbing.
Private sector can surely play a significant role in realising the goal of expansion, equity and excellence as envisaged in the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, provided it makes right kind of investment in areas like curriculum reforms, recruitment of qualified and competent faculty, professional development, classroom processes, students’ assessment, research and development. In addition, they should make the best use of the existing regulatory, ranking and accreditation mechanisms for quality enhancement rather than considering them as infringement of their academic freedom. These reforms should no longer remain in the form of an idea but become a reality. They better learn fast that only then they would be able to survive in this fiercely competitive world.
It may be pertinent to mention that there are over hundred institutions deemed to be universities that are in the private sector. Somehow, they seem to be doing much better than the state private universities as is evident from their NAAC accreditation and NIRF ranking. It is evidently clear that the overall situation of the state private universities is far from satisfactory. It urgently requires both programmatic approach and curricular reforms on a significant scale to give a much-needed boost to the private sector. There is a need to evolve pan-India norms in terms of land and infrastructure requirements to minimise wide variations that exist across the states. Each state should have its own regulatory authority which should monitor and evaluate the programs of the state private universities on a continuous basis and ensure their timely accreditation. UGC on its part should also make necessary amendments in its private university regulations and provide in it for a periodic review as is caused in the case of deemed to be universities.
The growing generation of private entrepreneurs should also draw inspiration from former reformers and philanthropists who had provided high quality higher education to the country with much lesser resources. It is true that the current challenges are far more difficult than the earlier ones but principles of exemplary dedication for selfless service, consistency and unyielding commitment to empowering youth can still be as much contributing factors for excellence in teaching and learning as for the advancement of knowledge.
Most of these entrepreneurs need to change this impression that there is no sense of urgency for them to fulfil even the mandatory requirements of the regulators and accreditors. If they continue with this lackadaisical approach even towards basic reforms that have been there for long then they are going to meet the same fate as the second-rate engineering institutions. They will have to go far beyond questions of convenience to provide real-life practical experience to students by modernising and transacting curricular provisions under the watchful eye of qualified and competent faculty.
The writer is former chairman, UGC. The views expressed are personal.
CHALLENGES FACING MAINSTREAM POLITICS IN BANGLADESH TODAY
In the 50 years since its independence, mainstream politics in Bangladesh has faced a difficult challenge. The main opponents of democratic politics are now Islamist fundamentalist groups which have gradually accumulated massive power in Bangladesh, a state based on secularism and national identity. However, there are countless forces that do not believe in the basic principles of Bangladesh. Political analysts believe that the reasons for their rise include the two military coups, the lack of proper practice of democracy, the indulgence of Islamist parties on various pretexts, and failure to take timely action to stop their rise and prevent Islamist groups from contacting Pakistan.
During the War of Liberation, two main pro-Islam political parties opposed the independence of Bangladesh. One was the Muslim League and the other Jamaat-e-Islami. Among the leftist parties, the Chinese, who were divided into different factions, were against the liberation war. After Independence, the Muslim League was politically abandoned and the government banned Jamaat-e-Islami. At that time, Jamaat leader Ghulam Azam formed a committee to restore Pakistan and traveled to different countries, urging governments and heads of state not to recognize Bangladesh. Later, the Bangladesh government revoked Azam’s citizenship.
After the assassination of “Bangabandhu” Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975, army officer Ziaur Rahman came to power and formed a political party called the Bangladeh Nationalist Party (BNP). The BNP was joined by leaders and activists of the Muslim party, which was defeated in 1971, and the majority of leaders and activists of the pro-China political parties. At that time, Ziaur Rahman allowed the anti-liberation Islamic fundamentalist party Jamaat-e-Islami to enter politics and also reinstated the citizenship of Ghulam Azam. From this time onwards, the politics of Bangladesh was divided into two streams—for and against the liberation war.
Sheikh Hasina returned to the country after being elected the President of the Bangladesh Awami League from her political asylum in Delhi. Under the leadership of Sheikh Hasina, the Awami League quickly became strong. After her return, the politics of the country started flowing in two streams again: pro-Awami League and anti-Awami League. Sheikh Hasina declared that her party’s policy would be based on secularism and Bengali nationalism. Hasina formed a political front with 14 leftist political parties which believed in the spirit of the liberation war. On the other hand, Khaleda Zia formed a political front with seven political parties. Besides the radical Jamaat-e-Islami, the other allies of this front were also pro-Islam.
In its 2008 election manifesto, the Awami League announced the trial of major leaders of Jamaat-e-Islami who were accused of war crimes. When Sheikh Hasina came to power, she started the trial process of the war criminals in 2009. Several top leaders of the party were convicted and sentenced to death. The most powerful fundamentalist party in the country fell into disarray at this time.
However, the radical Jamaat-e-Islami adopted four new strategies to sustain itself. On July 8, 2010, the party sent a circular to all its branches, issuing instructions to party leaders and workers to infiltrate the ruling Awami League. Youth workers were asked to join the court as lawyers so it could save them from police harassment. Thirdly, workers were also asked to take up journalism as a profession and join the pro-Awami League journalists’ forum. Finally, leaders and activists were told to take over the leadership of various branches of Hefazat-e-Islami instead of Jamaat-e-Islami. In the circular, Shafiqur Rahman, the current Amir of Jamaat, also mentioned that this was the way to go for the time being in order to survive and secretly organize themselves for the future.
In addition, Jamaat-e-Islami has invested huge sums of money in and sent its cadres to Europe, the US, Middle Eastern countries and Malaysia, from where they launch cyber attacks and spread propaganda against Sheikh Hasina’s government. The Awami League government has also failed to respond to such cyber propaganda. The cyber sphere in Bangladesh is now under the control of the fundamentalists. Investigation shows that about 56,000 leaders and activists of Jamaat and Shibir have already infiltrated the Awami League since 2010. The government is not able to stop further infiltration.
Although Khaleda Zia’s party, the BNP, has several anti-fundamentalist and liberal democracy-minded leaders, the main leader, Tariq Zia, is in favour of giving shelter to the fundamentalists. There have been several demands to expel Jamaat made by the BNP’s political front, but that has not been done yet. Why not? The top leader of the BNP, known as a liberal, has said that so many Jamaat members have infiltrated the BNP that a large part of the party’s top leadership is from the fundamentalist party.
These fundamentalists are now sustaining themselves in Bangladesh through various tactics. By occupying the country’s cyber space and putting out misleading interpretations of Islam, they are inciting the youth of the country against the principle of secularism and Bengali culture.
Why Tintin is forever
From seven to 70-year-olds, Belgium to Tibet, and comic books to the silver screen, the swashbuckling reporter Tintin has left an indelible mark on the world—and through his iconic stature lives on the talent and charm of his creator, Georges Remi, or as he was better known, Hergé.
Eight decades ago, on 15 April 1941, many parts of Europe were in flames. Nazi Germany had wreaked havoc across the continent. France and Belgium were under Nazi occupation. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had walked through the bombed sites in Bristol devastated by the Luftwaffe. It was noted that tears filled the tough-minded British Prime Minister’s eyes. For Churchill and Britain, it was not so much a battle for survival but a struggle to survive. Across the Atlantic, President Roosevelt made a speech promising aid to the British and their allies in their war against the fascists “until total victory has been won”.
On that April afternoon, in the middle of the World War, a 33-year-old Belgian comic book creator, artist, and writer, Georges Remi, was at the Théâtre Royal des Galeries, Brussels to attend the performance of a play penned by him. Born on 22 May 1907 in Etterbeek district of Brussels, Remi drew and wrote under the name Hergé (his initials G. R. transposed and pronounced air-zhay). With his artistic hand and creative storytelling, he gave life to the perpetual adolescent hero, Tintin. The first-ever Tintin comic appeared in black and white in the French-language newspaper Le Vingtième Siècle on 10 January 1929. It was an instant hit. Right from the beginning, Tintin the teenaged snub-nosed Belgian reporter with his trademark quiff of hair, accompanied by Snowy, his faithful fluffy white fox terrier, embarked on voyages and swashbuckling adventures around the world. Tintin, whose cause was just and whose heart was pure, personified courage and loyalty by fighting for the oppressed. Each episode was a page-turner sprinkled with slapstick comedy, sophisticated satire and political comment. Hergé once admitted Tintin was a projection of his inner self, stating, “I am Tintin… I am no hero. But like all 15-year-old boys, I have dreamed about being one. And I never stopped dreaming.”
Hergé dispatched his hero to Russia to denounce communism, teach African children in Congo, sail to America to take on gangsters, and witness Native Americans being driven from their land. Subsequently, Tintin chased drug smugglers through Indian jungles in the Kingdom of Gaipajama, dealt with spies and drug smugglers in China, headed off to the deep forests in Latin America in search of a statue, pursued a gang of counterfeiters across Scotland, and even saved the Balkan state of Syldavia from annexation by its neighbor Borduria, whose leaders had been plotting with a fictional character ‘Musstler’ (a contraction of Mussolini and Hitler and a great anti-fascist statement).
Then 12 years after Tintin first arrived, in the spring of 1940, the Nazis landed on his doorstep in his hometown as the occupational force. It was a difficult year for artists and writers in Belgium. The Nazi regime turned significantly more repressive and the persecution of the Belgian Jews escalated. On orders from the Nazis, Le Petit Vingtième, the publisher of Tintin, was shuttered, never to reopen, and Hergé was forced to transfer the adventures of the journalist from The Daily Reporter to one of Belgium’s main dailies Le Soir, that was a known Nazi collaborator. Working in the stifling climate of censorship, Hergé was disturbed by the constant sirens, bombardments and noisy air raids. Yet he continued to contribute to the popularisation of comics in Europe. In April 1941, Hergé watched Jeanne Rubens perform the lead role in Tintin aux Indes – Le Mystère du Diamant Bleu (Tintin in India – The Mystery of the Blue Diamond) on the stage in Brussels. It was a three-act theatre piece set in distant India, co-written by Hergé with Jacques Van Melkebeke.
In the play, the intrepid Belgian comic book hero solved a mystery about a stolen blue diamond in the fictional state of Padakhore. The play concluded with the relentless do-gooder catching the thief in the medieval hall of the Chateau of Syldavia. Directed by Paul Riga, Tintin aux Indes received a positive response from the Belgians, and to Hergé’s satisfaction, it had three more outings. Surviving through the war years, Tintin, the world traveler from the small European nation, continued to raise Belgian spirits and became an indisputable national hero. However, in the post-war period, Hergé was shockingly detained for questioning four times on unsubstantiated charges of collaboration with the Nazis. The members of the resistance who loved Tintin came to his rescue. Then due to the occasional appalling language, narrow ethnic jokes, stereotypical caricatures of non-European characters, crude propaganda, and colonial tints in some of the comics, Hergé faced accusations of racism, resulting in multiple revisions of his works. Hergé touched up, redrew, and recoloured the old stories and soon his creation evolved into Belgium’s most celebrated exports.
Over the next decades, the young Belgian, imbibed with high moral standing through his 23 plus one half-finished comic book adventures, captivated millions of fans, cutting across age and nationality. Hergé surrounded his protagonist with over 228 zany and eccentric characters including the vast of the brain, hard of hearing, absent-minded scientist-inventor Professor Calculus, the yowling shrill-voiced Milanese nightingale Bianca Castafiore, the irritating chatterbox insurance salesman Jolyon Wagg, the overworked butler Nestor, the bumbling hapless bushy-mustached bowler-hatted detectives from Interpol – Thomson and Thompson twins, and his gruff sidekick, a quick-tempered alcoholic bearded sailor Captain Archibald Haddock, who screams “Billions of Blue Blistering Barnacles” and has a collection of more than 220 insulting epithets like “Bashi-bazouks”, “Ectoplasms”, and “Sea-gherkins”. In his comic, the mild-mannered Hergé also made the Hitchcockian appearance and was seen discreetly attending ceremonies, taking notes, or interviewing Tintin as a reporter himself.
In the pre-social media, Internet, and television era, countless people, from seven to 77-year-olds, followed Tintin as he traveled beyond his home at the Marlinspike Hall to new countries, cultures, landscapes, and natural phenomena which were still relatively unheard of. In the 62-page comic books, the footloose allrounder hero with his usual squadron of supporting characters and crazy villains covered continents on foot, horses, carts, hand rickshaws, camels, elephants, cycles, motorbikes, cars, trucks, buses, tanks, trains, boats, rafts, ships, submarines, helicopters, light aircraft, fighter planes, airliners, private jets, spaceships, and even a flying saucer. Tintin took his fans to lands as far afield from the perilous seas, rainforests, snow-clad mountains, and burning deserts to a meteorite and even outer space. It is rumored that when Neil Armstrong finally landed on the moon in July 1969, President Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire reminded President Richard Nixon that it was Tintin – the one-time visitor to Congo – who had reached the moon first. In 1954, Tintin wearing an orange space suit made the trip through space in a red and white chequered rocket and landed on the moon in the double comic books, Destination Moon and Explorers on the Moon.
Tintin’s enduring appeal made him an iconic character and a friend to millions of children worldwide. With fans even as far as India, Hergé had once claimed, “I receive… a lot of mail from India. Here, in the office, are two letters from Calcutta. Now, what can there be in common between a boy in Calcutta and myself?” In 1934, his hero crash-landed in an Indian jungle in his fourth adventure, The Cigars of the Pharaoh. Besides the clichéd fakirs, fortune tellers, tigers, cows, snake charmers, and cobras, Tintin met with some British residents of the colonial era and in the end joined his host, the Maharaja of Gaipajama, on a bejeweled elephant, in a victory procession. Later from September 1958 to November 1959, Studios Hergé serialized the twentieth volume of the comic series, Tintin in Tibet. The comic book’s release coincided with His Holiness Dalai Lama’s successful escape from Lhasa to India. Worked out after extensive research, it told the story of Tintin’s search for his friend Chang, who goes missing in the Himalayas after a plane crash. Desperate to find him, Tintin and Haddock land at the Willingdon Airport in Delhi as a brief stopover on their way to Kathmandu. In the afternoon they visit the Red Fort and Qutub Minar, and take a trip through a typical Indian bazaar. Lost in the Himalayas, they seek refuge in a Buddhist monastery inhabited by a levitating monk. Eventually battling blizzards, Tintin retrieves his friend from the snow-bound heights and also encounters a very emotional Yeti. Tintin in Tibet was voted the greatest French-language graphic novel of all time and was said to be Hergé’s favorite. By the 1970s Hergé became interested in eastern philosophy and Tintin took to yoga in Tintin and the Picaros.
Hergé with his talent for pacing, intrigue, and action, elevated comic book storytelling to almost the thrill of watching movies. On 6 December 1961, Tintin et le Mystere de la Toison d’Or, the first of the two Tintin original feature films starring Jean-Pierre Talbot as Tintin and Georges Wilson as Haddock, was released to mixed results followed by a similar outcome with the second live-action film, Tintin et les Oranges Blues in 1964. Hergé’s little masterpieces had been adapted for the radio, stage, puppet shows, musicals, animation, television, movies, and even BBC programs, but Tintin could not cross over to America and Hollywood perhaps because he was not a superhero. Interestingly on the 44th page of Tintin in America, the victorious reporter is surrounded by the American press in Chicago and a Hollywood agent in a suit shouts: “Paranoid Productions are starring you in their new billion-dollar movie spectacular!”
By a strange quirk of fate, in 1983, Hollywood’s most successful filmmaker, Steven Spielberg, while reading the French language reviews of his blockbuster hit, Raiders of the Lost Ark, came across repeated references to Tintin. He got hold of a Tintin adventure Prisoners of the Sun and was immediately smitten, accepting, “Every single panel told a story in cinematic terms, including color pallet, composition, figures in action… that was I think the genius of Hergé. It was a movie”. A call was organized in the middle of February 1983 with Hergé and it turned out the artist was a fan of Spielberg, having loved his first film, Duel, in 1971. Spielberg, who decades later in 2011 directed and produced The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, later revealed that Hergé had told him, “You are the only director I feel who can do justice to my book”. After the call, a meeting between Hergé and Spielberg was arranged first in London and then in Brussels but it did not materialize. The health of 75-year-old Hergé was failing and on 25 February 1983, he was rushed in an ambulance to the Saint-Luc Clinic in Brussels. Seven days later on 3 March, as the clock hit ten in the evening, Georges Remi, one of the greatest comic book artists of the 20th century, passed away. The adventures of Hergé ended that night and his death was front-page news in the Francophone world. A headline ran, “Tintin est mort”. Everyone realized that there would be no Tintin without Hergé.
Over the years, with more than 200 million copies in more than 80 languages, including Tibetan and Esperanto, sold worldwide, the simplicity and complexity of Hergé’s comics resulted in Tintin attaining superstardom and a global following. General de Gaulle had famously declared that Tintin was his only international rival while Hugh Grant professed his love for Tintin’s King Ottokar’s Sceptre. Andy Warhol who met Hergé was a big fan, and so was Roy Lichtenstein. The French philosopher Michel Serres declared that Hergé was the author who has had the “most impact on contemporary French life.” In 1999, following a survey by Le Monde, Tintin’s The Blue Lotus was ranked 18th amongst books that left their mark on the 20th century. On 1 June 2006, the Dalai Lama bestowed the Light of Truth award posthumously to Georges Remi and the Hergé Foundation for producing Tintin in Tibet and making a significant contribution to the public’s understanding of Tibet. Tsering Jampa, representing the International Campaign for Tibet, stated, “For many, Hergé’s depiction of Tibet was their introduction to the awe-inspiring landscape and culture of Tibet”. Hergé’s instantly recognizable style of sketching has acquired a name, ligne claire, and Tintin was the first comic strip to enter the modern art collection at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. There are Tintin stamps, coins, shops, museums and a bronze statue of Tintin and Snowy stands in a square in Brussels. Also on 14 January 2021, a Tintin drawing by Hergé, originally illustrated as a cover for The Blue Lotus in 1936, was sold in Paris for 2.6 million euros ($3.1 million), breaking the record for the most expensive comic book art in history. A planet in outer space has been named Hergé in his honour.
Ninety-two years since making his debut, Tintin the unbeatable hero of many adventures is a global phenomenon with over two million comic books sold every year. Countless Tintinologists believe that the eternally youthful and indefatigable reporter with two dots for eyes, a little nose, and a distinctive tuft-hairstyle is still out there doing good somewhere in the world with Snowy chasing a butterfly next to him. Numerous fans retain a bit of Tintin within them from childhood onwards. And for millions, Tintin is forever.
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 Path of Gautama Buddha”.
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