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Opinion

Poverty not a curse, sterling efforts needed to be wealthy

Mukesh Ambani has added a feather to India’s cap by figuring among the richest in the world.

Vijay Darda

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Let me tell you a story of Mukesh Ambani’s vision. Reliance Group has a huge petroleum refinery in Jamnagar, Gujarat. A large area was lying barren around it. Mukesh Ambani felt that if trees and plants are planted on this land, the pollution of the refinery can be absorbed. When Mukesh Ambani decided to plant mango orchard on 600 acres of barren land, people harboured serious reservations about the success of his project.

The soil of Jamnagar and the moisture there has salinity and the winds blow at a high velocity too. In such a situation, would it be right to plant a mango orchard? This was the question in everyone’s mind, but Mukesh Ambani had decided and insisted that only mango orchard would be planted there. That was in 1997. Today, after 23 years, the salinity of the soil has been controlled, the winds have been taken care of and there are more than 1.5 lakh mango trees of about 200 species. Mangoes from this orchard are being exported all over the world because of its unmatched quality. The name of this mango orchard in Jamnagar is ‘Dhirubhai Ambani Lakhibag Amrayee’. For your information, let me tell you that the word ‘Lakhibag’ was the name of a mango grove developed by Mughal Emperor Akbar near Darbhanga in Bihar.

I told you this story so that you can understand how important it is to have vision, devotion and dedication to your work to become rich. After all, Dhirubhai Ambani started his journey from zero and built a big empire on his own. After that, one of his two sons raised his empire and the other collapsed on the ground. It is clear from this that even if you get a huge wealth by luck, you do not necessarily climb the stairs of success. It takes strength, concentration and balance to climb. Just one mistake is enough to fall! Let’s just think of Tata-Birla, Ambani-Adani, Hinduja, L N Mittal or Sajjan Jindal, Singhania, Anand Mahindra, you will find that their family started from zero. Infosys is an excellent example of our times. Narayan Murthy had laid the foundation of Infosys with a capital of only Rs 10,000. Adani started from the very bottom. Today, their success stories are for all to see. It is obvious that all this does not happen by sheer luck. For this, action and vision are required.

Many people continue to criticise industrial and business groups indiscriminately. Be it Ambani group or Adani group or someone else. People do not miss any chance to say that the government has always been ‘favourable’ to them. To me, these are all stupid and meaningless outpouring. No one can become ‘Kuber’ only with ‘favours’. For that, capacity needs to be increased manifold. Do not discuss what kind of house Ambani lives in, by which aircraft he travels, how many vehicles he has and how the wedding took place in his house. If at all, discuss that Ambani has given work to millions of hands. India has advanced in the world of technology. Do you know that while some people swindled Rs 15 lakh crore of the banks, Mukesh Ambani does not owe a single rupee to any bank! Consider why Mukesh Ambani flourishes in every sector he enters? Be thankful to all these industrialists that they have played and are playing an important role in the country’s progress. When I see the tricolour waving at The Pierre, a Taj Hotel in New York, my chest swells with pride. Isn’t it a matter of pride that Tata bought a global brand like Land Rover?

I have close proximity to almost all the industrialists I am referring to here and I know their lifestyle very closely. Humility, spontaneity and focus are their greatest assets. They have not become rich in a day. They have achieved this position through hard work. Therefore, do not curse poverty. Poverty is not a curse at all. Poverty can be transformed into prosperity by sterling actions and efforts. I know hundreds of such administrative officers who were born in a poor family but are occupying high posts today. Babasaheb Ambedkar was also poor but due to his talent, he is remembered with reverence all over the world today. Our former President APJ Abdul Kalam is the biggest example of this. His father was a fisherman and Kalam used to sell ‘beedis’ as a child. He became the best scientist in the world and also adorned the country’s highest position. Lal Bahadur Shastri rose from poverty to become the Prime Minister of the country. M S Kannamwar who once sold newspapers, became the chief minister of Maharashtra. People like Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg have also risen from the state of extreme poverty to reach the summit. Former presidents of America, Bill Clinton or Barack Obama, hailed from very humble origins. Elsewhere across the world, there have been many prime ministers, presidents, industrialists, great writers and scientists who were born poor, but they overcame their poverty through their ability and reached the top. So don’t accept poverty as a curse, take your steps, develop your potential. Success is waiting for you! The need of the hour is dedication, out-of-the-box thinking and perseverance… So what are you waiting for!

The author is the chairman, Editorial Board of Lokmat Media and former member of Rajya Sabha. vijaydarda@lokmat.com

I congratulate Mukesh Bhai that he has not only joined the select list of wealthiest persons in the world with his devotion, dedication and vision but also made the country proud. True, if the capabilities are utilised to the full, one can scale the summit. Mukesh Bhai has proved his mettle and ability in every field.

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Opinion

India’s dangerous blind spot on social media

China banned foreign social media to build its own digital ecosystem. India, on the other hand, has become a social media colony of the United States.

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Twitter’s recent ban on Donald Trump and announcements on WhatsApp’s data policies have suddenly woken up Indians to the hard truth that dependence on foreign social media is a national security threat. But, even now, the full scope of the issue is not being properly understood. The debate is being framed largely in the context of the politics of the Left versus the Right, with the ban seen as a Left-wing conspiracy against Trump. Sadly, many otherwise intelligent public voices have ignored the larger problem that India has become a social media colony of the United States.

The foundation of this blindness is Indians’ lack of understanding of the far-reaching impact of artificial intelligence and the role of public and private data as the key driver of this technology. Indians must urgently understand that AI is a weapon that amplifies the mind in good or bad ways, depending on its usage. There is nothing ‘Left’ or’ Right’ about the fact that intelligence is used against others, and AI is merely a force multiplier. India’s vulnerability to AI is not limited to ‘Left-wing’ multinationals.

During the past few years, when I was finalising my book that just got launched a few days back, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power, I tried to argue with many public intellectuals that every time they click something on social media, the machine learning systems of the tech giants makes an entry in the individual’s profile. What each person likes, dislikes, the comments, and posts—each is useful raw data in carrying out what is called sentiment analysis. What are the individual’s sentiments towards brands, politics, spiritual positions, ideologies, social issues and so forth? This allows the platform to customise the messages selected to be sent, be they posts, advertising, or what have you. Every engagement by the consumer enhances the AI system’s model of the person’s behaviour. This model becomes smarter over time to predict and even reshape behavior through manipulation.

This cognitive mapping of millions of people’s emotions, likes, dislikes, preferences and vulnerabilities is taking place by recording their activities in a variety of formats including voice, text, images, handwriting, biometrics, buying habits, interpersonal communications, and so on. AI researchers make these predictive models not only for individuals, but also for communities, cultures and nations. Such models are used to anticipate reactions and manipulate or influence groups by leveraging their own distinctive habits or tendencies. These psychological profiles weaponise the social media platforms into a means for manipulating any individual’s private psychology. And for what purpose? For the benefit of whomever, or whatever, is in control of the platform. The beneficiary could be the digital platform itself, such as Twitter, Facebook or Google, or their commercial clients—advertisers, political candidates, or anyone else willing to pay to influence a target audience.

Facebook, YouTube and Twitter freely deliver a wide range of user experiences that consumers find difficult to resist. Facebook’s strategy reinforces people’s emotional cravings and distracts them from realising that they are enthusiastically giving away intimate knowledge, and hence transferring power to the digital platform. Most users do not realise this and would rather not know the long-term implications of gratifying their social needs online.

With such immense power vested in foreign corporations, the anti-India groups whom I have called breaking-India forces, are becoming more organized to use AI for their goals to psychologically divide Indians into hostile camps that fight each other and the country at large. Artificial Intelligence is a force multiplier that can be used to undermine the unity of the rashtra, of political parties, and of communities by encouraging the flare ups of fragments. Deep learning of individual behavior can be combined with fake news to manipulate psychology and public opinion. This has serious national security implications.

Yet, Indian thought leaders continue to live in ignorance and denial. Despite all these risks, Indians are not overly worried that foreign digital platforms will end up having too much emotional control over hundreds of millions of people. Artificial Intelligence is insufficiently understood by India’s social scientists, government officials, legal experts, and education leaders. Ironically, India’s public intellectuals—social media celebrities, the blaring mainstream media voices, and political debaters—are heavily invested in supporting the digital media platforms that are recolonising India. They build their popularity and boast their identities sitting on foreign platforms that are a fake foundation with strings being pulled from faraway places. 

In contrast, China banned foreign social media to build its own digital ecosystem. India, on the other hand, is proud of being one of the largest consumers of US social media and has welcomed them with open arms. India is for sale!

A sudden stampede has started in India to play catch-up. While this wake-up call is welcome, is it going far enough?

Rajiv Malhotra is the author of many bestsellers. His latest book ‘Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Power’ is summarised at www.AIandPower.com. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

VIRAT KOHLI’S UNMISTAKABLE SELF-BELIEF STAMP ON TEAM INDIA

Pankaj Vohra

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Without taking the credit away from a bunch of rookies, who created history by snatching the greatest ever series victory for India at the Gabba in Brisbane, one cannot forget Virat Kohli’s contribution in inculcating both self-belief and confidence in the boys. Ajinkya Rahane captained the side in Kohli’s absence and exhibited that he too was a born leader and could take the ball on his chin during the most challenging circumstances. He is an extremely gifted cricketer who has shown results when it mattered, while maintaining a low profile. However, as coach Ravi Shastri said after the win that the team led by Rahane “embodies what Kohli stands for on the cricket field. You must give credit to Virat. He may not be here but his character, his personality and stamp, is there for everyone to see”.

Like Rome was not built in a day, the success was not achieved overnight. It is the result of hard work and process that started five to six years ago. Kohli has shown professional acumen both as a cricketer and leader of men, inspiring a whole generation of young cricketers, like Sachin Tendulkar had before him. Therefore, this needless controversy that has been started by a section of media pitting Kohli and Rahane against each other is totally uncalled for. They are part of the same team and are likely to share many more successes together. Kohli is back as the captain for the England tour and Rahane, like earlier, will be his deputy. There is also no doubt that at present, Kohli is the greatest batsman in the world and his presence is an asset for the team. Along with Ravi Shastri and an efficient support staff, he has motivated the boys. Thus, Team India is destined to go places.

The rookies who breached the Gabba fortress, are the future of the Indian cricket. It is evident that India’s great cricketing depth is now coming to fore. The renaissance of Indian cricket started exactly 50 years ago when Dilip Sardesai showed the way with his double century in the West Indies, inspiring Sunil Gavaskar to begin his glorious Test career. Gavaskar, to my mind, is arguably the best batsman India has had, notwithstanding Tendulkar’s feats. Similarly, the contribution of Rahul Dravid has never been highlighted. He was the wall and his role was emulated in the Brisbane Test by Cheteshwar Pujara, who by taking body blows from the bouncers, paved the way for the magnificent win along with Shubman Gill, Rishabh Pant, Washington Sundar and other unsung heroes.

There have been cricketing moments that get etched in one’s memory. The two World Cup victories, Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s inspiring leadership, Saurav Ganguly’s confidence and V.V.S. Laxman’s batting wizardry and the swashbuckling triple century by Virendra Sehwag in Multan besides the bowling exploits of Kapil Dev, Bishen Bedi, Prasanna, Chandrashekhar and Anil Kumble can never be forgotten.

The Gabba carnage of the Aussies will be long remembered and by winning the series in such a convincing manner, Team India has made the country proud. As the Times of India headline said, “No one Believed They Could, They Did”. That is what new India is all about.

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Opinion

Lokkho Sonar Bangla: Reviving the lost glory of West Bengal

West Bengal’s cultural and intellectual heritage and potential for economic growth have suffered due to decades of directionless politics. What the state needs now is robust governance, rapid economic growth and a push to reinstate its former self as a cultural and spiritual role model—all of which is part of PM Modi’s Sonar Bangla vision.

Anirban Ganguly

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For the last five decades West Bengal has lacked a long-term vision. Thirty-four years of Communist rule, which was essentially a false proletarian rule, and nine years of a false poriborton, in which Maa, Maati and Maanush were neglected and exploited, have not been able to impart a long-term vision for the state. Politics of negationism, of violence and of exploitation dominated and no party or leader was capable of imparting a long-term vision for the state. West Bengal, a state which has such huge potential, scope and possibilities, continued to remain stuck at the bottom of the development and growth index. Decades of unimaginative Communist politics, Congress’s ambivalence and compromise with Left politics and the TMC’s direction-less and confrontationist politics has pushed West Bengal to the brink over the last many decades. All of these have sapped her energies, have depleted her potential and completely stunted her growth. 

As we move towards the 75th year of India’s independence in 2022, we must also remember that 2022 will also mark 75 years of the creation of West Bengal. As free India’s first industry minister, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee had a long-term vision for the state and worked tirelessly to achieve it during his tenure in the Central cabinet. One of the tallest national leaders from Bengal post-independence, Dr Mookerjee had a national vision, and at the same time, his vision for West Bengal was that of a state which would be a front-ranking one and eventually become a major contributor to India’s growth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of ‘Sonar Bangla’ has the same goal. He constantly reminds us of the vision and the past of Sonar Bangla, of an age when Bengal was at the forefront, when India looked up to Bengal, when Bengal’s cultural and spiritual richness, industrial and economic growth and output, and intellectual capital continuously inspired India and left imprints across the world. It is a vision which had once permeated young Bengal’s mind and action; it is a vision which had once inspired Bengal’s thought-leaders to work for a refreshing narrative of change.  

An array of Bengal’s thought-leaders, led by Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore and the likes of Acharya Prafulla Chandra Ray, Acharya Jagadish Chandra Bose, Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, Kalidas Nag, Suniti Kumar Chattopadhyay, Benoy Kumar Sarkar, Radhakamal and Radhakumud Mookerjee, Ramananda Chattopadhayay and so many others, elevated Bengal’s narrative on the global stage. They situated Bengal globally, articulated her many-sided greatness, strove to contextualise the vision of Sonar Bangla and to link it to the story of a new and rising India. All these thought leaders and intellectual rishis nursed in their minds a long-term vision for Bengal: theirs was Lokkho Sonar Bangla. When PM Modi refers to Sonar Bangla, when Union Home Minister Amit Shah speaks of Sonar Bangla, they refer to this rich legacy and effort of the past, which has now been lost and forgotten. 

When we speak of Sonar Bangla therefore, we aspire to reinstate that status of West Bengal among the union of states. We aspire to remake Bengal in the mould of her past greatness, we aspire to work and to strive for the recovery of her spiritual and cultural heritage and also reclaim her material and economic status. We aim to put an end to the politics of negationism and of confrontation; we aspire to make West Bengal an equal, dynamic and vibrant stakeholder and contributor to the ‘New India’ story. We aspire to turn West Bengal into one of the leaders of Purvoday—of the rise of eastern India. For instance, West Bengal’s strategic location and position make her the ideal bridge between India, the Indian Ocean and ASEAN and the Far East. Our thought-leaders had this vision; they saw this potential and hence set sail repeatedly, in the past, to establish these connections. The relaying of the dynamic foundations of those links will also open up avenues of prosperity for West Bengal. 

To reinstate Sonar Bangla is to reinstate West Bengal as a cultural, spiritual and philosophical role model for India and the world, to reinstate the culture of good governance, ensure rapid and sustained economic and cultural growth, secure the future of our youth, women empowerment, affordable and quality healthcare for all, poverty elimination, work for a comprehensive framework of farmers’ empowerment and rural welfare, emphasise the creation of world class infrastructure in the state, and ensure development for all without discrimination and justice for all, with appeasement to none. It is all of these and much more. 

Inspired by Prime Minister Modi’s vision of ‘New India’ and ‘Sonar Bangla’, the BJP has launched its mega outreach campaign, Lokkho Sonar Bangla. To engage with opinion makers and influencers, to reach out to civil society and to engage with them, to tell them of the vision of Sonar Bangla, to ask them to spell out their vision of it, to ask them to articulate their aspirations, the needs of their region and district and to, dot by dot, create a grand canvas of how Sonar Bangla ought to appear. It is a positive outreach, a positive effort, to generate a positive vision. It aims to address the fundamental questions of what West Bengal has achieved in the last seventy-five years and how she will appear on the centenary of her creation. What has West Bengal contributed to India’s growth? What have the people of West Bengal achieved or received in the last seven decades since the formation of the state? It is through these questions that the path ahead towards a Sonar Bangla lies.  

The TMC regime and its chief minister and her ministers and advisors have no vision or urge to work for West Bengal’s greatness. Propping their politics on violence and confrontation, pilferage and revenge, they have failed to think new, to think fresh and to think big for the people of the state. Their politics has now reached the double expiry date. The future of West Bengal lies with the politics of performance, with the politics of service. It is through these that the goal of Sonar Bangla will eventually be reached.  

The writer is Director, Dr Syama Prasad Mookerjee Research Foundation, New Delhi. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

GOVERNMENT FINDS A MIDDLE WAY; WILL THIS END THE STALEMATE?

Priya Sahgal

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The government seems to have found a middle way to address the farmers’ concerns—put the reform laws on hold for a year-and-a-half. This is the latest suggestion offered to the protesting farmers during the 11th round of talks between the farmers and the government representatives. This comes after the Supreme Court intervention which had suggested a committee to look into the farm laws. But since the court-appointed committee’s brief was merely to relook the current laws and not repeal them, the farmers opted out of the committee. What didn’t help was that the committee was seen as being filled with pro-reformist members and also given a mandate of two months to submit its findings. This was seen by the farmers’ lobby as merely an instance of delaying the implementation of the laws by two months and also ensuring that the agitation loses its steam. For, as one farmers’ leader after the other said on TV: Once we disband, we cannot get the same momentum again, so we are not leaving till our demands are met. And their demand is simple: Roll back the laws.

Now this latest offer is not the rollback that they were hoping for, but it does give them a longer breather than the two months’ mandate of the court committee. Will the farmers take the bait? The mood is divided, the main concern being a lack of trust that this too is not a tactic to delay the inevitable. It is interesting that RSS general secretary Suresh Bhaiyyaji Joshi too recently asked the government to show “sensitivity” in handling the farmers’ agitation. In an interview to The Indian Express he had stated: “It is not good for the health of society for any agitation to run for too long.” He asked the government to find a “middle way”. Apparently, this is the sentiment that was echoed at the RSS meet in Ahmedabad recently as well. 

However, the latest approach seems to have hit some sort of a chord with the farmers who did not reject it outright as they did the earlier overtures. In fact, the farmer leaders were heard complaining that the ministers came late to meetings, issued ultimatums and left. For their part, government sources too claim that the farmers came to the meetings with their minds made up, so there was little one could do. 

Well, at least some steps are being taken in the right direction. One can only hope that solutions are found sooner than later. The government may be working with a limited deadline of the 26 January parade, but for the farmers it’s much more than that.

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Opinion

Subhas Bose: The loneliness of long-distance time travel

As India gears up to finally recognise Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during his 125th birth anniversary celebrations, we have once again an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the true liberator of India.

Bhuvan Lall

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For over two decades, I had walked into dark endless libraries, searched dimly lit underground archives, browsed through numerous dusty bookshops, meandered into war cemeteries, listened to fragments of recorded memories, heard speeches on old scratchy tapes, played back worn-out military marching tunes, sat through monotonous speeches at book launches, attended tedious academic lectures, mined the Internet to its depth, read tattered timeworn newspaper cuttings, examined faded photographs, viewed hours of archival documentary footage, photographed derelict statues, communicated with dozens of elderly folks about historical events, filmed interviews with old soldiers, talked to erudite professors and driven to far off memorials, museums and monuments in Asia, Europe, and North America through snowy blizzards, pouring rain and the summer heat researching Indian history’s most exciting period—the life, the times and the radical thinking of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. The mission to write his biography had completely consumed me.

 Inspired by my late father who had lived through those long-forgotten times, I set out ambitiously to investigate this enigmatic revolutionary. A star of the Indian independence movement Netaji was an extraordinary man. In India’s most testing time of colonisation, Netaji became the hope of a nation. An indispensable figure of our history he walked with destiny. At the moment of supreme crisis, with the entire Congress leadership jailed after the Quit India movement during the WW2, millions of Indians turned to him for leadership. It was as if his entire life was a preparation for leading India to freedom. He had the power of words to communicate his resolve with clarity, force and inspiration. For the men, women and children who heard Netaji speak on the Azad Hind Radio from Germany, Japan and South East Asia, his words transformed them forever. Recordings of his speeches still provoke goose bumps. His Majesty’s Government and Prime Minister Winston Churchill banned him from their media, terrified that his penchant for militarism would spur a revolt in India. Later British historians summarily dismissed him as a misguided patriot, fascist and even a quisling. In deeper examination it is crystal clear that Netaji was a revolutionary and his views of gender equality, non-sectarianism and economic justice were contemporary. He was also the master of the art of the possible entering into Faustian pacts with the Axis powers. And without a doubt, Indian National Army’s motto ‘unity, faith and sacrifice’ created by Netaji’s inspired a generation of Indians who sought to emulate him. Today Netaji’s overriding achievement as the foremost anti-imperialist during India’s freedom movement can be summed up in a single sentence: he was the true liberator of India.

As I set out on the trail of that Prince of Patriots, I was aware that plenty of books had already been written about Netaji. However, in my exploration, I went beyond compiling chronologies, presenting dry facts or imposing a single thesis across a lifespan. I searched for numerous facts that had been buried away for over half a century as well as unearthed deceptions that had been spread around for petty personal gains. In this enterprise I surveyed the entire period of European colonisation from Vasco da Gama’s first sighting of the coast of India in May 1498 to the liberation of Goa in December 1961 by the Indian armed forces and from Plassey to Partition in between. In the retelling of the dramatic story of Netaji’s life I sought answers to what really transpired between him and the Congress leadership at the famous Tripuri session in 1939 and meticulously scrutinized the minutes of his meetings with leaders of the Axis Powers. Even though the specifics were very sketchy, I studied Netaji’s fantastic escape from Kolkata in January 1941 and his three-month long two-stage submarine journey in 1943 that had never been attempted before by anyone. I carefully traced the stories of the Indian National Army from the victory at Moirang near Kohima right to the end of INA trial at Red Fort in Delhi where three Indian patriots Gurbaksh Singh Dhillion. Shah Nawaz Khan and Prem Sehgal emerged victorious against the mighty British Empire. I also connected the dots between the Ghadr of 1857, the Ghadr Party revolutionaries throughout WW1 and the heroic Indian National Army during WW2. More importantly despite the elusiveness of some important facts I tried to inhabit Netaji’s world—to understand what motivated him, how did he align his intentions with actions, what was his spiritual impulse and how did he accomplish the unthinkable?

However, life stories don’t just write themselves. Biographies have themes. They have chapters, a beginning, middle and end. There are established standards of narrative craft and execution in this genre. Writing biographies require discipline, focus, and a vast reservoir of perseverance plus neutrality of Swiss proportions to see them through. In addition, I faced the challenge that every biographer of Netaji faces: How to balance a life filled with moments of triumph and disappointment and adulation and tragedies. While eavesdropping for years on another century there were long and lonely stretches when I wondered where this never-ending journey would lead. At times some professional colleagues, close friends and relatives respectfully inquired, “What do you do for a living?”. But all that did not distract me from my mission. The harder part however was sitting down face to face with the blank iMac screen staring at me and filling it gently with words, sentences, paragraphs, and chapters. Perhaps this is the story of a typical day in the life of someone who lives by the pen. Yet at that stage, it did look like it would take an entire lifetime for me to write this biography. The amount of dedicated time and hard work the effort entailed forced me to postpone the idea of publishing it multiple times. Then there were a series of events that forced my hand.

Some years ago, my brother and I were fortuitously placed across a fine-looking German gentleman at a formal high-powered dinner in Cannes during the film festival. As we began to break bread and make polite conversation even though we had not yet exchanged business cards, I inquired if he had ever been to India? He revealed that his father had lived in India.

I probed, “Ah when was that?”

He replied, “1940-44”

On hearing this I immediately sat up. I knew from my research that all German nationals in India during WW2 had been interned and delicately asked him if his father had stayed at the Pant Nagar Camp near Dehradun?

A bit surprised he softly answered, “Yes he had – but how do you know?”

Then intuitively I probed further, “Was your father the man who escaped?”

Bewildered he confirmed, “Yes, he did escape—but how do you know all this?”

Before I could react, he questioned me in halting English, “Do you know about Subhas… Chandra… Bose?”

That stunning May evening at an Italian restaurant facing the marina in the South of France, I was sitting in front of one of the three sons of Heins von Have, a German businessman who along with his friend Rolf Magener had a breathtaking escape from British India’s prison camp near the Himalayas to distant Burma in the middle of WW2. On the afternoon of 29 April 1944, Have and Magener disguised themselves as British military officers complete with swagger sticks and marched right through the main gate of the prison camp past the eleven feet high perimeter wire with the Indian guards saluting them. Heinrich Harrer, the famous mountaineer masked as an Indian worker, was one of the men escorted out by them in that daring escape. He rushed off into Tibet, where he became adviser to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and author of Seven Years in Tibet. Meanwhile Have and Magener caught a train to Calcutta (Kolkata now), more than 1,000 miles away. They took the names of Harry E. Lloyd and John Edward Hardin and their play-acting surprisingly succeeded even though they had a few narrow escapes. In Calcutta swarming with military officers, they pretended to be Swiss businessmen and travelled on by train and a river steamer to Chittagong. Once close to the Burmese front, they walked through the jungle and guided by the sound of heavy artillery fire crossed the front line near Maungdaw. Thirty-one days out across the jungle, in the dark they accidentally encountered a Japanese patrol that was shocked to find the two Germans in Burma in the middle of a war. The incredulous Japanese corporal confused them for British spies and the Japanese Intelligence interrogated them. Finally, they met Netaji who spoke to them in German and rescued them. After living in Tokyo for a while Heinz von Have eventually made it to Germany at the end of WW2. An autographed picture of Netaji has graced the living room of the home of von Haves in Hamburg for over seven decades. I knew about the astonishing escape of Heinz von Have and had detailed it in my book.

Subsequently a very respected Indian hotelier and a fan of Netaji on his ninetieth birthday in Mumbai put my commitment to test. Having suffered a stroke and knowing that his time was running out he tightly clasped both my hands and whispered, “You must finish what you started…” and then with watery eyes expressively added, “Promise me you will tell the world the story of our Netaji…”. Unable to give a firm date for the launch of my book I remember I had simply said, “Jai Hind Sir”. And soon thereafter that amazing man passed away but before departing he had encouraged me enough to continue writing. These two meetings finally convinced me that I had no reason to defer publishing my book.

Ultimately, on the evening of Monday, 23 January 2017, the train of my thoughts and ideas finally reached its destination. On the birth anniversary of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose, I stood before my family, relatives, teachers, classmates, friends, colleagues, and many well-wishers, as I unveiled my investment of twenty years and launched The Man India Missed The Most, the biography of Subhas Chandra Bose. There it was a story of our nation’s legendary hero and his role in our war of independence told in about 160,000 words. The Oxford Cambridge Society supported the book launch and its highlight was the presence of the living legend of Indian cinema, Subhash Ghai who consented to be the Chief Guest. The response of the audience at the prestigious India International Centre in New Delhi was staggering and I was unexpectedly mobbed for autographs for the first time in my life. A day after the book launch a short email arrived in my inbox, Dr. Anita Pfaff Bose wrote to me from Augsburg in Germany—congratulating me for writing a book about her father.

And from that day onwards the course of my life changed drastically. I experienced a profound transformation—I became an author. Readers of the biography wrote back from all over the world, convincing me that Netaji continues to live in the hearts and minds of millions across this planet. And now as India gears up to finally recognise Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose during his 125th birth anniversary celebrations, we have once again an opportunity to follow in the footsteps of the liberator of India.

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 Gautam Buddha’ and can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com. The views expressed are personal.

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PRESIDENT BIDEN SET TO ADOPT A HARD LINE ON CHINA

Joyeeta Basu

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On Tuesday, 19 January, less than 48 hours of Joe Biden assuming office as the 46th President of the United States, outgoing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement on China’s record of persecuting Uyghur Muslims in the harshest possible terms. He referred to Nazi Germany and equated the treatment of Uyghurs by the Communist Party and Xi Jinping as “genocide”. The statement ended with the assertion, “We will not remain silent. If the Chinese Communist Party is allowed to commit genocide and crimes against humanity against its own people, imagine what it will be emboldened to do to the free world, in the not-so-distant future.” Significantly, Antony Blinken, who is Biden’s choice for Secretary of State, echoed Pompeo, when at his Senate confirmation hearing on the same day, he was asked if using the term genocide was correct. “That would be my judgement as well,” he replied. “Forcing men, women and children into concentration camps, trying to in effect re-educate them to be adherents to the ideology of the Chinese Communist Party, all of that speaks to an effort to commit genocide,” he added. Blinken also said that “…President Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China… I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.” Blinken went on to talk about Hong Kong, where “democracy is being trampled”, and how the US under Donald Trump should have acted sooner on the matter.

In fact, China was the dominant theme in other confirmation hearings as well on Tuesday. Avril Haines, who is Biden’s choice for director of national intelligence, said that countering the threat from China would be her top priority; while Biden’s choice for Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen was equally categorical. “We need to take on China’s abusive, unfair and illegal practices…we’re prepared to use the full array of tools” for this purpose, Yellen said. She also flagged China’s “horrendous human rights abuses”, apart from accusing China of “undercutting American companies” by providing illegal subsidies, by dumping products and by stealing intellectual property. In other words, the tone has been set for President Joe Biden’s China policy. It is going to be as hard line as Donald Trump’s, minus the “spectacle”, the drama, the confusion and the incessant flow of tweets that had become synonymous with the Trump presidency. There will be continuity in foreign policy.

These statements coming from Biden’s Cabinet picks will be music to the ears of those who were apprehensive that the Biden administration would revert to Barack Obama’s—and in general Democratic—policy of humouring China in the hope that it would be integrated into the rules-based political and economic global mainstream and become open and democratic. Blinded by this belief, Obama did not lift a finger when China illegally grabbed the Scarborough shoal in 2012. He thus left all US allies in the South China Sea disillusioned and helped China entrench itself in that region. The worry was that Biden, being an Atlanticist, would stay focused solely on Russia, when it is China that is the clear and present danger, with Moscow at best an appendage of Beijing. India, in particular, can expect that there will be continuity in US’ Indo-Pacific strategy as well under President Biden, for the centre of gravity of geopolitics has shifted to the Indo-Pacific and the primary goal of the free world should be to ensure that China is unable to remake the international order with Chinese characteristics.

The sound-bites coming from Washington will not be music to China’s ears, considering Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi has been vocalizing Beijing’s hope for “a smooth transition in China-US relations” post Trump. But then perhaps Mr Yi has forgotten the tiny detail about the Wuhan virus that his government has unleashed on the world—the virus that infected around 2.4 million people and counting, in US alone, apart from killing nearly 400,000 people in that country. The world will find it difficult to forgive Xi Jinping for this genocide and US is no exception.

In this context, mention must be made of the strange role that the European Union is playing in all this—scurrying to cut business deals with China. It’s as if the virus did not happen; as if there is no need to seek accountability from China for crippling the world economy and for killing over 2 million people; it is as if democracy has not been killed in Hong Kong or Uyghurs have not been sent to concentration camps; it is as if China is not a malevolent power. It is as if security/sovereignty and trade can exist in silos. Driven by domestic economic compulsions, EU seems to have calculated that the US is a spent force and China’s time has come. Hence, President Biden has his job cut out: to reclaim the global primacy that the US is perceived to have lost to China. For that, he first needs to convince his EU allies—a part of the “free world” with which he hopes to counter China—that a world with Chinese characteristics will not be a pretty one.

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