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POET VAJPAYEE VS POLITICIAN VAJPAYEE

Atal Bihari Vajpayee argued that literature and politics need not be two separate compartments and felt that if politicians got interested in literature, it would improve their sensitivities.

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Vajpayee comes across as someone quite rooted in the Indian milieu—its culture, civilization, traditions and values. He was a liberal in the Indian sense but very different from the classical Western liberal as defined by John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Stuart Mill. Western secularism arose in reaction to the Church’s stranglehold over social life. This was absent in India, where secularism meant equal respect for all faiths. This difference comes out clearly from Vajpayee’s writings, speeches and actions.

His literary taste, too, was interesting. He elaborates it in great detail in a biographical note he wrote for Bindu-Bindu Vichar as well as in Decisive Days. Both of these long essays, though they cover a large span of time, were coincidentally written in the 1996-99 period. Three of his speeches in Parliament—when he moved a no-confidence motion against the Narasimha Rao government on 17 December 1992, after the demolition of the Babri Masjid; his speech on 27 May 1998, when he moved a motion of confidence in his short, ill-fated government; and his reply a day later—present a fairly clear exposition of his views of nationalism, Indian culture and traditions, and secularism and its politics.

The Ramcharitmanas of Goswami Tulsidas had a profound impact on Vajpayee, and he refers to it as his source of inspiration. According to Vajpayee, the comprehensive view of life that it presents has no parallel in the world. The Ramcharitmanas was even translated into Russian when Russia was ruled by the Communist Party. Vajpayee had an eclectic taste in his choice of literary works. However, Indian epics, folklore, patriotism and the tales of heroic figures dominated his reading list. The writers and works he has cited include Jaishankar Prasad (Kamayani), Nirala (Ram Ki Shakti Puja), Mahadevi Verma, Ageya (Shekhar: Ek Jeevani) and Jaganath Prasad ‘Milind’ (Pratap Pratigya). Vajpayee stressed that Premchand’s writing continued to be popular because it was rooted in a realism whose relevance resonated with contemporary readers.

He approved of Jainendra Kumar, who, he said, captured the reader’s imagination even as his works created controversies. Vajpayee was particularly drawn to Vrindavanlal Verma and made references to a number of his stories, like ‘Jhansi Ki Rani’, ‘Mrignayni’, ‘Virata Ki Padmini’, ‘Gad Kundar’, ‘Kachnar’, etc. The historical settings of Verma’s writings and the regional context of Braj drew Vajpayee to him. Surprising for a poet, Vajpayee felt that while poetry captures the angst of an individual, fiction has the potential to capture both the individual and society.

Vajpayee argued that literature and politics need not be two separate compartments and felt that if politicians got interested in literature, it would improve their sensitivities; a poet as a dictator would not shed innocent lives! Authoritarian rulers were cruel because their sensibilities were not developed. Vajpayee was upset that communists had misused the arts to promote their ideologies and hoped that the literary arts would be allowed to flourish without such political interference.

Vajpayee often mentioned in his writings and speeches in Parliament that he should have remained a writer. He wistfully speculated giving up politics and going to a quiet place where thinking and writing was possible, but then realized that this could not happen. In that sense, his life in politics was a dilemma which, as he wrote, he sorted out by expressing his individuality/ personality through the medium of his speeches. The writer in him spoke through his speeches, but it was not as if the politician in him was silent. He explained that the politician presented his thoughts to the writer, and the writer reconsidered them and, after study and contemplation, expressed them. The politician had gained a lot from the writer. The writer did not let the politician cross the boundaries of dignity (maryada). It is because of this vigilance that the writer was balanced in his choice of words. The politician’s speech was bound by the writer’s discipline.

Again, for a full-time politician whose career spanned more than five decades, he came across as someone quite critical of politics and political life. He wrote that politics destroyed mental peace, affection (mamta) and compassion (karuna). Political life created an unusual hollowness in the practitioners as they lived from moment to moment and assumed that their momentary glory was permanent. In politics, idealism had been replaced by opportunism, and differences between ‘left’ and ‘right’ had become personal rather than ideological. He was extremely critical of the politics of dynastic succession, which had become all-consuming. Vajpayee lamented that politics had become all about struggle for power, and that this was more so within parties than among opponents. As a loyal party person, he said that he felt happy that these evils were comparatively less in the party that he belonged to, and quoted K.B. Hedgewar, the founder of RSS, who had warned RSS members against seeking self-publicity.

Though Vajpayee did not always agree with his party, he never made his differences public, and once a decision was taken, he went along with it. Reacting to the statement that he was the ‘right man in the wrong party’, Vajpayee always explained that the fruit was a product of, and drew its qualities from, the tree. Similarly, he always rose to the defence of the RSS when it was attacked. During the 1996 confidence vote, when a lot of negative things were said about the RSS, Vajpayee strongly refuted them, saying: “I regret that during the discussion, the names of such organizations were mentioned here which are independent and are engaged in the task of nation- and character-building I am referring to the RSS. One can have differences with the ideology of the RSS but the allegations levelled against the RSS are not warranted. Even the members of Congress and other parties respect and admire the constructive work being done by the RSS and also lend their cooperation for the same. If they go and work among the poor and work for the spread of education in tribal areas, they should be felicitated for their endeavour.”

Vajpayee’s world view seems to have been profoundly affected by the communal poison that Jinnah and the Muslim League injected into Indian society on the eve of Independence, the resultant tensions and riots, and the Partition. Even in Lahore in February 1999, he publicly spoke against the division of India but added that the reality of Pakistan had to be accepted. During the 1946–47 period, Vajpayee was a student at DAV College in Kanpur, coincidentally along with his father. The city was a stronghold of the Muslim League. The times were traumatic, and as Vajpayee wrote, the more the Muslim League opposed Independence, the angrier people got with them. The result was communal polarization, tensions and riots. He described a function held in his college to discuss the Noakhali riots, when a call was made for volunteers to go to Noakhali to protect the Hindus. Though the call drew lots of support, Vajpayee opposed it at the risk of offending the majority, saying that youth would be needed in Kanpur itself to protect people against riots instigated by pro-Pakistan elements. He then gave a specific example of how many, including him, went near a Muslim-dominated area one night and patrolled the area; after that, he said, there was no more violence in that locality.

For Vajpayee, Independence Day, on 15 August 1947, came drenched in blood—a freedom on whose altar the unity of India had been sacrificed. There was both happiness and depression— happiness at the end of 1000 years of dependence; depression at the partition of the motherland. Vajpayee wrote a dark poem to commemorate Independence Day, titled ‘Swatantrata Divas Ki Pukar’ (The Call of Independence Day). He wrote that Independence was incomplete, that dreams are yet to become reality, and the oath taken on the Ravi was still to be achieved.

HOW VAJPAYEE REMAINED ‘ATAL’ IN THE FACE OF DEATH

Vajpayee’s assessment was that the rising popularity of the RSS, because of the attractiveness of its ideology, irritated the Congress. Gandhi’s assassination created an opportunity for the RSS to be banned. The RSS realized that there was no one to speak for it politically. It therefore teamed up with Dr Syama Prasad Mukherjee, who had broken off from the Hindu Mahasabha due to differences with V.D. Savarkar. Dr Mukherjee had been a minister in Nehru’s first government but later quit because of what he felt was India’s failure to protect the minorities in Pakistan, and especially with the Nehru–Liaquat pact. Dr Mukherjee’s wisdom and legislative skills were well known, and it was in their coming together that the Bharatiya Jana Sangh was established in 1951. The Jana Sangh contested the first Lok Sabha elections in 1952, won four seats and was recognized as a political party with the deepak (lamp) as its symbol. In April 1998, while inaugurating the Konkan Railway in Ratnagiri, Vajpayee would recall that the Jana Sangh had won the Ratnagiri seat in 1952.Vajpayee wrote that he was not afraid of death, and he demonstrated this in real life at least twice. On 22 January 1993, the Lucknow–Delhi Indian Airlines flight, IC 810, was hijacked, with Vajpayee on board. Vajpayee negotiated with the hijacker and got him to surrender. Later, it was established that the hijacker’s threat to blow up the plane was hollow, since he did not have any explosives on him, but this fact was not known when Vajpayee was singly persuading the hijacker to surrender. There was real fear, but that did not deter Vajpayee. On another occasion, he was quite calm, even joked about a state funeral, when the small plane he was on, flying to Dharamshala, lost its navigational aid and got enveloped in fog. The plane somehow reached Kullu, over the Dhauladhar range. It was a providential escape, but at no stage was Vajpayee frightened, while his fellow passenger, Balbir Punj, was in a panic.

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Book Beat

Author-approved books that make great Mother’s Day gifts

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Are you confused about what can be a thoughtful Mother’s Day gift but don’t have much time for it? It might be too late for a personalised gift, but there’s one gift you might be able to buy in a jiffy: a book. Whether your mother is a bookworm or you want to encourage her to begin reading books. This can be a good starting point. She is going to appreciate this gesture, we think. Which book should you gift her? There’s likely a novel out there that will suit her interests. Here are few author recommended books that can be amazing Mother’s Day gifts.

Books can be Cathartic, enjoyable and also revolutionary. For me, some books have been life-altering and transformational, bringing home my own evolution as a woman and as a human.

These books shine bright when I think of books that women must read.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I read this book at a young age when conditioning and gender-specific roles were the norms. For the first time, it brought home the havoc keeping silent in the face of injustice can cause. It shocked me is an understatement, but then I thought this is a dystopian setting and hence very unlikely that it could ever occur for real. Recently, as Wade vs Roe is being relooked at in the USA, we are on the precipice of the book having foretold the future of women. Hence, this book is the most pertinent in today’s time.

Jorasanko by Aruna Chakravarti

This book is a layered symphony of women trying to find themselves, fulfil their dreams, carving out love in their mundane lives constrained by a patriarchal society. This struggle for space in a man’s world has remained the same in all spectrums and verticals and through all ages. The book is the story of the women of Rabindranath Tagore’s household and their personal challenges. But I think that women of today will find women characters who are relatable and who voice their pain and longing.  

Dr. Harshali Singh.

Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

I don’t know of any woman who is a reader and has not read this book. It is one of the must-haves. The story of Draupadi, of the Mahabharat from her point of view. It taught me that a changed outlook can make all the difference in assessing a person. One person’s right can be another person’s wrong. Were there any winners in this Dharma Yudha? It raised more questions than answers and set me on a quest to fill the gaps that I had never even thought to question.

—Dr. Harshali Singh, author of ‘A Paradox of Dreams’

Nothing epitomises better than what Oliver Wendell Holmes said about mother, Youth fades; “love droops, the leaves of friendship fall; A mother’s secret hope outlives them all.”

Thinking about instances when a mother inspired a son or a daughter to create a new world, I always remember three books.

My Experiments with Truth By Mahatma Gandhi

Gautam Borah.

This book is an inspiring account of how Mahatma Gandhi’s love and respect for his mother finally blooms into his courage and conviction to lead India to freedom.

Conqueror Series by Conn Iggulden

This book on life of Ghenghis Khan is an inspiring story of how a mother inspired a destitute child hounded by many to become the ruler of the world.

Shivaji: The Great Maratha by Ranjit Desai

This is the best example and can inspire anyone how the blessings from a mother can inspire someone to face even the unsurmountable dangers and emerge victorious every time.

—Gautam Borah, Director of and eCommerce set-up, Speaker, and author of ‘Monetising Innovation’

There are several memorable books that I can suggest but these particular ones stand out for me. In my opinion, these three books can be wonderful Mother’s Day gifts.

Family – The Ties that Bind…And Gag! by Erma Bombeck

Bombeck’s style of writing is fun, humorous, easy and full of family faux pas anecdotes. This book was like a bible for me during my early days of motherhood. The challenges of bringing up a child with many allergies, my shift into a new city, forging relationships with new in-laws as relatives, no income, stretch marks and being overweight, Bombeck kept my spirits alive.

The Mother by Maxim Gorky

This book was part of my English literature. As a young girl, literature moved me. But when I became a mother, only then I realised the sacrifices she had made for her son. ‘The Mother by Maxim Gorky’ moved me beyond words.

Aam Atir Bhepu by Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay

Mohua Chinappa

This is the film ‘Pather Panchali’ by Satyajit Ray that was the adaptation from the Bengali novel ‘Aam Atir Bhepu’. The story is set in rural Bengal of a poor family of 4 with a widowed aunt. The novel is poignant, full of pathos that even today some parts of the book makes me weep copiously thinking of Sarbajaya the mother. She suffers daily indignities heaped on her as a poor family. She reacts to situations against her nature while raising her rebellious daughter Durga, who one day falls ill and finally dies in the novel. Her struggles and her little moments of joy will remain etched in my heart forever. As I write these lines, I can see Sarbajaya in so many women who are mothers and are bravely fighting each day to be there for their children.

—Mohua Chinappa, author of ‘Nautanki Saala Other Stories’

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A battle for health: Real foods vs ultra-processed foods

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Ultra-processed foods are created in factories. They are pumped full of inexpensive commodity ingredients that are exclusively for industrial use, such as protein isolates, modified starches, dextrose, etc. To convert the industrially manufactured foods into something edible, to prolong its shelf life and to make it look appetizing, multiple difficult- to-pronounce chemicals, preservatives, colourings, enzymes, binders, bulkers, flavourings, additives, emulsifiers, trans-fats and artificial sweeteners are usually added. All of these chemicals can upset our gut communities. The industry has got around this by hiding controversial ingredients under names and varieties that sound less deadly. So artificial colours are masked under E numbers, like E110 or E104, modified starch is called E1422 and so on.

For all practical purposes, a product is identified as ultra-processed if its list of ingredients contains at least one item characteristic of the ultra-processed food group. These substances are never or rarely used in kitchens, such as high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils, hydrolysed proteins, etc. They usually appear in the beginning or in the middle of the ingredients list. The presence of classes of additives in the list of ingredients also identifies a product as ultra-processed. They are at the end of lists of ingredients and expressed as a class, such as flavourings or natural flavours or artificial flavours.

So, going by the NOVA classification, instant noodles, ice creams, chips, biscuits, cookies, ketchup, cakes, sauces, colas, sugary drinks, candies, crisps, crackers, jams, jellies, instant soups and ready-to-eat, ready-to-drink or ready-to-heat, ‘fast’ or ‘convenient’ packaged products and the like are all ultra-processed foods, and it is not difficult to understand why.

I also want to talk about foods that are assumed to be healthy but are processed junk in disguise. Many products you may not have thought about are actually ultra-processed. For instance, you’d think that multigrain bread is healthy. But the front of food packaging can be very misleading and cannot be trusted. Instead, you need to look at the back of the label. I found multigrain bread from one of India’s oldest food companies packed with over a dozen or two undesirable ingredients. So, the multigrain bread that you toast up for a healthy breakfast comes under the NOVA category of ultra-processed foods. Mass-produced, pre-packaged bread is filled with junk, irrespective of whether it is whole wheat, whole grain or multigrain. A traditional loaf needs only four ingredients: flour, water, yeast and salt. Bread that is truly healthy is the one that is close to the original recipe. It is no wonder then that according to the Supreme Court in Ireland, Subway bread is not legally bread! In October 2020, the court ruled that because of the high level of sugar it contains, Subway’s bread is legally closer to cake than bread! It cannot be denied that Subway’s slogan ‘Eat fresh’ fools us into believing that the food is healthy.

On the other hand, a samosa is often looked down upon as unhealthy and fattening because it is made from maida. As a matter of fact, when made at home, mixed with fat-burning spices like jeera, etc. and fried in good-quality filtered oil, the samosa is devoid of any ingredients characteristic of the ultra-processed food group. There isn’t any compelling reason to think of it as harmful. Not that I am advocating that one should eat samosas all day or every day. With regard to grains, a bowl of khichri, for example, sits at the top of the hierarchy, as it is packed with more nutrients than a samosa. But is a samosa healthier than the pack of mass-produced bread picked up from a swanky speciality store? Hell yes!

JUNK IN DISGUISE

Let’s discuss a few more apparently clean foods and try to interpret what their label says.

1. Nut milk alternatives: Cartons of almond milk, cashew milk lined up on the shelves of your neighbourhood supermarket scream ‘health’. But to thicken, emulsify and preserve the milk, an additive called Carrageenan (E407) is used. There is evidence that Carrageenan is associated with leaky gut, is highly inflammatory and toxic to the digestive tract. It has been found to cause cancer in lab rats.

2. Sugar-free delights: Ever asked yourself how the ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no added sugar’ desserts, frostings and sweets taste so sweet? They contain sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol). Though sugar alcohols are processed and commercially produced from sugars itself (such as from glucose in corn starch), marketers don’t need to declare them as sugar and can safely label the foods as ‘zero sugar’ products.

3. Gluten-free innocence: Gluten, the name of a wheat protein that no one outside the scientific community knew of 20 years ago; but today, everyone seems to know its name! I will address whether you should go gluten-free or not in later chapters, but for now, you should know that many of the gluten-free products are filled with highly refined modified starches (tapioca or corn or potato flour), artificial sugars, inflammatory vegetable oils, food dyes, food stabilisers and gums. Just because something is labelled ‘gluten-free’ does not mean it is a healthy choice; it is still ultra-processed junk food.

4. Low-fat miracles: Food products labelled ‘low fat’ are in reality high in sugar. They contain trans-fats and end up having a very similar calorie count to the original product. Here’s how: To maintain the taste and texture of the food that has been stripped of fats, manufacturers need to add or increase sugar in them. If you read the ingredients carefully, you will find that many low-fat products have as much sugar as a candy bar.

It should now be clear to you that what matters most about food is not calories or nutrients, but whether it has been cooked by a human being or a corporation. The quality of your food depends on who is cooking your food. The fact that there are often ingredients in the industrialised foods that don’t ‘have to’ appear on the label adds to the challenge of sorting the good from the bad. The thumb rule is to avoid foods that come in slick packaging with nutrition labels and long shelf lives.

Modern diets consist of these edible food-like products or ‘ingestibles’, as I like to call them, whereas long-established traditional dietary patterns are based on real foods that are minimally-processed and freshly-prepared. The benefits of the latter have been proven as well; let me illustrate with an example. Villagers in Burkina Faso, a country in west Africa, have continued to retain their traditional practices of eating. They subsist on a diet of mostly millet, sorghum, beans and rice. In 2010, a group of Italian microbiologists compared the microbes the young villagers harboured with those of children who were being brought up on Western diets in Florence, Italy. The study revealed that compared to the Florentines, the otherwise poor villagers seemed wealthier in a way that science is only now beginning to appreciate. Despite their relative material poverty, these villagers had higher microbial diversity, whereas a lot of these bacteria were found to be lost in the Western human microbiota. The good news is that the losses aren’t permanent and can be reversed by correcting what we eat. Eliminating ultra- processed foods and feeding your microbes with foods that your family has traditionally been eating over generations is an important first step towards this goal.

The excerpt is from ‘Yuktahaar: The Belly And Brain Diet’ (Penguin Random House India). The author is a celebrity nutritionist.

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Book Beat

Celebrating role of grassroots women leaders during pandemic

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Women who courageously supported their communities across India during the Covid-19 pandemic feature in a new book ‘The First Responders: Women Who Led India Through The Pandemic’ released at Raisina Dialogue 2022 on Wednesday.

The book, published by Reliance Foundation and Observer Research Foundation, celebrates the leading role of women in helping combat the challenges of the pandemic at the grassroots and shows the importance of supporting leadership capacity building for women. The book lists heroic stories gathered from across India in partnership with a range of partner organisations. The launch of the book at the event with international delegates from over 100 countries was followed by a panel discussion on the subject, ‘The First Responder: Women Leadership and the SDGs’.

The speakers included Smriti Irani, Minister for Women and Child Development; Kwati Candith, Deputy Minister, International Relations and Co-operation, South Africa; Waseqa Ayesha Khan, Member of Parliament, Bangladesh; Vanita Sharma, Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, Reliance Foundation; and Shombi Sharp, Resident Coordinator, India, United Nations.

The book, ‘The First Responders’, spotlights the work of 25 Indian women across governance, education and skilling, health and nutrition and entrepreneurship and livelihoods, and highlights their individual journeys to leadership over several years and how they were able to utilise those skills during the pandemic.

Each of the women featured rose up to the challenge of steering their communities forward at a time when physical contact was risky and the pandemic posed uncertainty on the way ahead, Reliance Foundation said in a statement.

From a water conservation advocate in Uttarakhand to a health worker in Madhya Pradesh and from a football coach in Manipur to a police officer in Telangana, the women leaders featured in the book are from varied walks of life.

These women do not know each other, but their stories of leadership have key similarities that represent the untold stories of many such women across the country who stepped forward to help during this time.

Their stories also illustrate the importance of creating a conducive environment to nurture a woman’s intrinsic ability to lead, promotion of sustainable livelihoods for women, promoting multi-level collaborations and communication, ways to reduce the burden on public healthcare system and recognising as well as ensuring a woman’s right to life with dignity.

The practices, methods and tools used by the ‘First Responders’ to steer their communities have learnings for policymakers and development practitioners, particularly regarding the importance of supporting capacity building for women leaders. The book exemplifies the outcomes envisaged in Goal 5 of the UN Sustainable Development Goals that calls upon the international community to ensure full and effective participation and equal opportunities for women.

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KASHMIR: EARTHLY HEAVEN, A TURBULENT HISTORY

India’s then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru declared, ‘wherever there is a dispute in regard to any territory, the matter should be decided by a referendum or plebiscite of the people concerned. We shall accept the result of this referendum, whatever it may be’.

Narain Batra

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Jammu and Kashmir has a fascinating history. Since 1846 the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, which also included Ladakh in the northeast, bordering Tibet as well as Gilgit–Baltistan in the northwest bordering (now) China’s Xinxiang Province, was ruled by a Rajput Dogra dynasty. The composite state was partly clubbed together by the East India Company, who, after the First Anglo–Sikh War in 1845–1846, annexed Kashmir from the Sikh rulers and transferred the territory to Raja Gulab Singh of Jammu under a subsidiary alliance arrangement that included an indemnity payment of 7.5 million rupees. As the hereditary ruler of Jammu, Gulab Singh’s kingdom was a tributary of the Sikh Durbar, but after the East India Company transferred Kashmir to him, the maharaja as the ruler of Jammu and Kashmir acknowledged the paramountcy of the East India Company; and then after 1858, the British Crown.

The maharaja ruled over a vast and ruggedly beautiful region of valleys, lakes and mountains covering 85,806 square miles. From the southern plains and low hills of Jammu, there rises a range of mountains called the Pir Panjal that leads one to the Kashmir Valley drained by the Jhelum River. Through the uplands of Bhadarwah and Kishtwar runs the deeply gorged Chenab River. Further north and northwest are located Baltistan and Gilgit, while Ladakh sits on the eastern plateau between the Kunlun mountain range and the Himalayas. The Indus River originating from the Lake Mansarovar region in Tibet runs through Ladakh and onwards to Baltistan and Gilgit; and then to the south draining along with its tributaries the vast region of Pakistan before it merges with the Arabian Sea. Jammu and Kashmir sits under the awe-inspiring, majestic, protective shadow of the colossal mountain ranges from the Hindu Kush, the Palmir, the K2 (near the Godwin-Austen Glacier) and the Karakoram Range to the Kunlun Mountains and the Himalayas. ‘Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast’ (If there is a heaven on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!), said the awestruck Mughal Emperor Jahangir when he visited Kashmir in the seventeenth century. And the Mughals loved Jammu and Kashmir.

Until 1947, Jammu and Kashmir had better transportation links with the southwest region, what became Pakistan, than with India. One could travel from Kohala near Murree to Leh in Ladakh; and also from Rawalpindi via Kohala to Muzaffarabad and Baramulla to Srinagar in Kashmir. It was through these multiple routes that Pakistan’s tribal militias poured into the Kashmir Valley in October 1948.

In 1947, Jammu and Kashmir had a Muslim majority (more Sunnis than Shias) population of 76.4 per cent, Hindus 20.1 per cent, and Sikhs and Buddhists 3.49 per cent. Ethnically the population mix-up included Punjabis, Gujjars, Arains, Jats, Sudhans, Rajputs, Pandits, Tibetan-Mongolians and Dards. Over this motley population of disparate ethnicities, religions, languages and dialects, and cultures spread over the plains, the valleys and the mountains ruled the Hindu Maharaja Hari Singh who had led, by and large, a sheltered life under the tutelage of the British Crown.

Like the nizam of Hyderabad and the nawab of Junagadh, Maharaja Hari Singh toyed with the idea of wanting Jammu and Kashmir to become an independent country, the political status that the state did not have under the British Crown, the Sikh rulers or the Mughals. To keep trade, transportation and communication links open for the landlocked state and maintain the status quo, the maharaja offered Standby Agreements to both India and Pakistan. Pakistan accepted the Standby Agreement expecting that Jammu and Kashmir being a Muslim majority state, would accede to Pakistan. India, on the other hand, refused to accept the Standby Agreement. Jammu & Kashmir National Conference (JKNC), a secular party in the image of the Indian National Conference, led by a popular leader Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah, wanted the state to join India. The maharaja’s prime minister, Mehr Chand Mahajan, too advised the maharaja to accede to India.

In this environment of uncertainties and indecisiveness, Pakistan was hatching military plans to knock the state out of the royal hands of the maharaja. First of all, Pakistani irregulars called Gilgit Scouts, under the command of sympathetic British officers, staged a revolt in Gilgit and Baltistan, and the region was annexed by Pakistan. Soon after, Northwest Frontier tribals, mostly Pashtuns, Mehsuds and Afridis, from Pakistan’s badlands—the same tribals who since then have been subjecting Pakistan and Afghanistan to lethal doses of Jihad—were let loose like bloody hounds into the Kashmir Valley. The maharaja cried for help from India; but Lord Mountbatten wouldn’t budge unless the maharaja signed the Instrument of Accession, which he did on 26 October 1947. With the formal acceptance of the state accession by the Governor General of India Lord Mountbatten on 27 October 1947, Jammu and Kashmir became a part of India, and the state’s defence became India’s obligation.

In a short time, India called forth the best of its military and organizational forces, and liberated most of the territory and pushed back Pakistani hoards to what became known as Azad Kashmir. Under coercive persuasion from India, the maharaja released Sheikh Abdullah from jail, where he had been locked up for his opposition to the maharaja’s rule, and appointed him as the state prime minister. Subsequently, the maharaja appointed his son Karan Singh as the prince regent until 1952, when the Constitution of India came into effect, and the Dominion of India became the Republic of India.

WAR AND THE DRAMA OF ACCESSION

Within weeks of gaining Independence, Pakistan hatched a plan to launch a seemingly clever scheme of invading and annexing Jammu and Kashmir. That was the time when Indian leaders were busy settling millions of brutalized, ravaged, sick and hungry refugees who were pouring into India from East and West Pakistan while at the same time protecting the left behind vulnerable Muslims. As the top-secret strategic plan Operation Gulmarg was getting ready to be rolled out, perchance the blueprint fell into the hands of Major Onkar Singh Kalkat of the Bannu Brigade, a military cantonment in Pakistan’s Northwest. Major Kalkat opened the envelope marked ‘top secret’ from Pakistan’s British Commander-in-Chief General Frank Messervy addressed to the Brigade Commanding Officer C.P. Murray, who at that time was away.

Being a non-Muslim military officer, who should have gone to India along with other military officers, Major Kalkat came under suspicion for having seen the top-secret plan and was jailed; but he escaped and reached Delhi on 18 October 1947. When he told the story to his military bosses in the defence ministry, no one believed him until after the invasion had actually begun on 24 October.

By the first week of September, as per Operation Gulmarg, 20 tribal militias, each with a strength of 1,000 tribesmen, were to be enlisted from various Pashtun tribes and made battle-ready at brigade headquarters at Bannu, Wanna, Peshawar, Kohat, Thall and Nowshera, with a timeline of reaching the launching pad at Abbottabad on 18 October and breaking into Jammu and Kashmir on 22 October 1947. With a pincer movement, ten militias were to attack through Muzaffarabad to advance to Kashmir Valley, a stronghold of Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference and another ten militias to advance to Poonch, a stronghold of the Muslim Conference, the town whose population was sympathetic with Pakistan, in order to advance to Jammu. The meticulously detailed plan of attack prepared by the British commanders of the Pakistan Army obviously had the approval and blessings of Pakistan’s leadership, including Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan and Governor General Mohammed Ali Jinnah.

By 1 October, the regiment, Prince Albert Victor’s Own (PAVO) Cavalry, in charge of executing the military plan, with the South Wing based in Gujarat (a military cantonment in Pakistan), the North Wing based in Abbottabad and the Central Wing based in Rawalpindi had completed the task of arming and training the tribals. With so much preparation going on in tribal areas for the recruitment, arming and mobilization of 20,000 militiamen, Pakistan’s streets must have been abuzz with stories of something momentous happening. But the grapevine scuttlebutt did not reach India. And when Major Kalkat, who had stumbled upon the attack plan and escaped to India, wanted to brief his superiors, there was no one who would listen to him. Poonch, a principality of Jammu and Kashmir, offered Pakistan the most encouraging prospects because its restive population, mostly Muslim, felt closer to the neighbouring state of Punjab (Pakistan) than to the Muslims of Kashmir Valley under the influence of Sheikh Abdullah’s secular National Conference Party. Poonch was also a major recruiting area for the British Army during World War II. When, after the war was over, Poonch soldiers returned home with their arms on their shoulders, the maharaja was alarmed and he ordered them to be disarmed. With fewer job prospects for thousands of discharged soldiers and high taxes, the discontent roiled the people of Poonch and turned them into a rebellious militia, which, though soon crushed by the state troops, nonetheless frightened the maharaja. He decided to reorganize his administration, and on 25 August 1947, he invited a pro-India jurist Justice Mehr Chand Mahajan of the Punjab High Court as prime minister. The Muslim Conference, the party that was committed to Pakistan, exploited the situation and accused the maharaja’s troops of committing indiscriminate atrocities on innocent people, and in a message to Pakistan Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, urged him to take action before it was too late.

Pakistan wasted no time, and soon, essential supplies including petrol, sugar and salt for which Jammu and Kashmir depended upon Pakistan were cut off, apart from the suspension of train services to Jammu. In order to assess the political situation and the ground realities in Kashmir, Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan sent Mian Iftikharudin to Srinagar. On his return in September, he reported to the prime minister that the National Conference, under the leadership of Sheikh Abdullah, had an overwhelming following and influence in Kashmir and there was little prospect of fomenting a popular revolt in the Kashmir Valley. Nor was there any prospect of the maharaja succumbing to the economic and trade embargo and acceding to Pakistan. Armed invasion was the only choice. On 12 September, Pakistan prime minister, Liaquat Ali Khan met with Mian Iftikharudin, Colonel Akbar Khan and another Punjabi politician, Major Shaukat Hayat Khan, to consider Pakistan tribal supported ‘popular uprising’ against the maharaja. Because of his unwillingness to join Pakistan, there was no other choice except to mobilize the frontier tribes as liberators of their brethren in Kashmir.

With the simmering rebellion in Poonch and economic blockades, the maharaja was in desperate straits and once again asked Mehr Chand Mahajan to hasten his decision to assume the state’s prime ministership, promising reforms and accession to India, which Prime Minister Nehru, however, would not accept unless the National Conference leader, Sheikh Abdullah, was released from prison and allowed to participate in the government. Consequently, upon further negotiations, Sheikh Abdullah, a friend and admirer of Nehru, was released and received a rousing welcome in Kashmir Valley, where he was hailed the Lion of Kashmir. With Sheikh Abdullah’s release, Jammu and Kashmir’s accession to India became closer and war with Pakistan more imminent, even though Nehru declared, ‘wherever there is a dispute in regard to any territory, the matter should be decided by a referendum or plebiscite of the people concerned. We shall accept the result of this referendum, whatever it may be’.

The excerpt is from ‘India in a New Key: Nehru to Modi: 75 years of Freedom and Democracy’ (Rupa Publications).

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Prem Rawat launches ‘Hear Yourself: How to Find Peace in a Noisy World’

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The renowned author and ambassador of peace, Prem Rawat, launched his new book, ‘Hear Yourself: How to Find Peace in a Noisy World’, at the Tata Theater, the National Centre for Performing Arts, Mumbai. The book was launched along with actress and television presenter Mandira Bedi. ‘Hear Yourself: How to Find Peace in a Noisy World’, published by Harper Collins India, offers a unique message that the noise of modern life can be deafening, and ultimately leave us feeling stressed and uneasy. The book advises ways to listen to oneself and quieten the noise of the modern world.

Prem Rawat and Mandira Bedi holding ‘Hear Yourself: How to Find Peace in a Noisy World’.Prem Rawat and Mandira Bedi discussing his new book.

While addressing the audience at the event, Rawat explained that because life is short, we must savour every moment. It is the pleasure and gratitude that we can take with us when we die. We have more wisdom than we think. We must tap into the wisdom and potential that we already possess. To obtain tranquilly, one must depart from the world of belief and enter the realm of knowledge.

Rawat said, “There have been people who have tried to address one simple thing that there should be peace on earth, that there should be peace for every human being. The track record is very clear, we have created huge organisations, incredible technologies, discovered many places, written many books, created schools, in fact, we have successfully managed to multiply ourselves many times over in a short period of time… but when it comes to peace, it remains an enigma, we don’t understand what it is.”

He, also, advised people not to be scared. To Rawat, peace has always been something that one discovers within oneself; one can find peace even in the middle of a furious argument.

Bedi also praised that book, stating that the book helped her to find peace within. Rawat, further, has said that the book is not a tutorial; it is something to help one discover one’s own potential for understanding and appreciating life.

In the end, when asked by RJ Archana about his mantra, Rawat said, “I close my mouth; I close my mind; I open my heart”. The author is also renowned for his writings about his interactions with amazing people during his extensive travels, including religious luminaries, political leaders, convicts in some of the world’s most secure jails, and people from all walks of life.

The book launch event, organised by HarperCollins India in association with TimelessToday, was attended by dignitaries, intellectuals, celebrities, and other individuals. The book is brought to life through timeless stories from the ancient and modern worlds and was earlier released in the US in September of last year and immediately became a New York Times best-seller. It is also available in many other languages, including French, Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

‘There have been people who have tried to address one simple thing that there should be peace on earth, peace for every human being. We have created huge organisations, incredible technologies, discovered many places, written many books, created schools, in fact, we have successfully managed to multiply ourselves many times over in a short period of time… but when it comes to peace, it remains an enigma, we don’t understand what it is.’

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LONG WAY FROM HOME

The fear that sets in when a kind neighbour and an ‘outsider’ gets harassed by local goons.

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It’s been 30 odd years since I left the turmoil that haunted the tiny lanes of Shillong. While the unrest in Kashmir has always been in the global news, the North-Eastern part of India, which has been equally riddled with problems, remains unexplained; barely covered by the media, misunderstood by most across the country.

Shillong with its pristine beauty has always tugged at my heartstrings. The meandering lanes give way to a vast expanse of free, blue skies.

We took this freedom for granted, as the narrow lanes always held the promise of a known destination. It felt safe and secure. But we were forced to make decisions about whether we wanted to continue staying, given the political unrest.

Like countless other Bengalis who had grown up in Shillong, I too was forced away from this paradise, thrust into a life I had not chosen. Generations of non-tribals who had toiled hard to create a home in the peaceful hills of Meghalaya had to bid goodbye to the bright dahlias that grew in every corner of the state. The struggle to rebuild our lives from scratch was real and daunting.

You need to face the heartbreak of migration to truly understand what it means to leave your safe space forever. We felt dwarfed in cities, rich with ostentation and power-hungry individuals. But the flip side was that in larger cities, identity and acceptance were not linked to ethnicity but financial success; money allowed one to merge seamlessly with the rest.

I was luckier than most and was embraced easily by my peers. My command over the English language, my easy talent with the guitar, my innate ability to gel, made me blend in and forget the pain and loss of Shillong.

My mixed hill features lent me an exotic air and impressed the Hindi-speaking crowd of Delhi. In the mad city rush, I often missed the placidity of Shillong but I learned to quell those thoughts. Instead, I began learning the ways of the city folk; the way they entertained, dressed, and even spoke. On some rainy nights though, the past caught up and I was forced to acknowledge it even as I nursed a fine malt while staring out at the urban dystopia from the vantage point of my high rise.

I remembered Mr Das, his face bleeding as he walked home one evening from work. His head hung low, his shirt was torn, and blood was smeared across his sweater.

Mr Das was our neighbour. He was gentle but very strict about his routine. We could tell time just by his activities. Every morning, he sat under the mellow Shillong sun and read the papers. This was followed by a staple breakfast of rice, lentils, and vegetables. He was short in tature like many Bengali men and had well-oiled hair; a cloth bag always slung purposefully across his shoulders. He carried his tiffin to work and a copy of the Anandabazar Patrikaas well. This he devoured during his break. He waved to his kids and left for AG, the Accounts General office approximately 20 minutes away.

Mr Das could walk blindfolded on this route.

The little tree-lined lanes, small shops, and the dewy fresh mountain air were all companions on his daily route to work. It was 1981, and we knew we were not welcome there by then. We had started to sense the change in the political direction, the stiffness of the nods, and unreturned “hellos.” We were getting used to the idea that we were not safe and needed to leave.

On 24th December, Mr Das left work and went to the bakery to buy a fresh cake for the children and his shy wife. Leaving the bakery with a fresh cake in his hands, he carefully stepped over the little stream trying not to wet his polished leather shoes.

That’s when he noticed his son’s classmate, a local, approaching him. He used to come home regularly till the absurd tension had created a rift between the tribals and non-tribals. He was with four other boys, all his son’s age. Mr Das smiled at them.

As they approached, his son’s friend yanked Mr Das’s hair and punched his face with metal studded leather bike gloves, all the while yelling, “Get out of this state, you dirty pigs. Get out.”

The excerpt is from ‘Nautanki Saala’ (OakBridge Publishing).

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