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THE LIFE OF DALIP SINGH SAUND: INDIAN BLOOD AND AMERICAN DREAM

Bhuvan Lall

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On 16 December 1949, an affluent agriculturist from India living in Southern California took a decision that would transform his life and the lives of Indian immigrants for decades to come. That morning a beaming Dalip Singh Saund, after living in America for twenty-nine years, stepped forward, raised his right hand, and took the oath of allegiance to become an American Citizen. In those long-lost years, the color of Saund’s skin had deprived him of numerous privileges in the race-conscious United States of America. However, the passing of the Luce-Celler Act of 1946 permitted people of Indian descent to obtain citizenship.

Saund’s amazing life’s journey began on 20 September 1899 in Chhajalwadi, a small village twenty-five miles east of Amritsar. Early in life, he lost his father Natha Singh who was a construction contractor. His mother Jeoni Kaur without formal education herself ensured that he went to school. The young man entered Prince of Wales College, Jammu for a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. During his college years, WW1 raged in Europe and Saund extended his reading to the speeches of Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson. After graduating he resisted working for Hukumat-i-Britannia. Instead, he gradually leaned towards the idealism of American democracy and sought a passage to America to study food preservation with plans to set up a canning factory in Punjab. With financial support from his brother, he packed his bags for America. At the time of his departure Saund’s mother suppressing her tears, advised him, “Son, make friends everywhere and no enemies.”

Saund disembarked from the ship S.S. Philadelphia at Ellis Island on 27 September 1920. Onboard, he encountered a Czech artist Emil J. Kosa Sr, and his family— including his twelve-year-old daughter Marian. They were returning to America after WW1. From New York, Saund immediately headed west and enrolled in the master’s program at the University of California at Berkeley. The Graduate programs were free, and the Indian students stayed without charge at Sikh Temple Stockton’s hostel located on 1731 Allston Way. Saund studied hard at Berkeley and in the nationalistic debates he emerged as a natural leader with his witty rejoinders, charming personality, and remarkable public speaking skills. Soon he won his first election in America as the President of the nationwide Hindustani Association of America. Simultaneously, the brilliant Indian student mastered French and German languages at Berkeley and obtained a Doctorate in Mathematics in May 1924. Saund later recalled in his autobiography, Congressman from India, “My constant inspiration was the memory of my wise though unlettered mother, who had loved me dearly and taught me the lessons in good living.”

The colossal global impact of the Ghadr Party revolutionaries had compelled the Hukumat-i-Britannia’s Secret Service operatives to spy on politically inclined Indians in America. Hukumat-i-Britannia secretly scrutinized Saund’s anti-British statements at Berkeley and marked him a Ghadr movement sympathizer. With the threat of imprisonment in India looming large he aborted his plans to return to Punjab and extended his stay in America. At the job interviews, Saund’s overpowering confidence, excellent diction, and world-class education were overlooked. He faced multiple rejections due to his dark skin. Indians had encountered color bias since the early days of immigration in the late 1880s and on 4 September 1907, a race riot targeting Indians had erupted in Bellingham, Washington. Penniless and jobless, Saund headed to Southern California’s desert valley to be employed as a field foreman on a cotton farm. He noted, “All day while waiting for the pickers to come in, I read books on literature, poetry, drama, and early American history.” Meanwhile, in May 1927, Katherine Mayo, covertly assigned by the Hukumat-i-Britannia to indulge in India bashing, published her vitriolic book titled Mother India. Back in India Mahatma Gandhi aptly termed Mayo’s trash, “the report of a drain inspector”. From the library of El Centro, Saund wrote his first book My Mother India, rationally contradicting and exposing the prejudiced Mayo. His book was dedicated to Bhagat Singh Thind, a WW1 American Army veteran who was denied citizenship. Saund’s commendable narrative busting ensured many public-speaking engagements. During this period, he came across a young Czech artist Emil Kosa Jr employed at the 20th Century Fox studios who decades later won the Oscar for Cleopatra. Emil the awe-inspiring Indian orator to his house and Saund was serendipitously reunited with the Kosa family, his co-passengers on the S.S. Philadelphia in 1920. In time Saund fell in love with Emil’s sister Marian, a student at UCLA. He proposed to her on Laguna Beach, and they got married in 1928. Shockingly under the terms of America’s Cable Act of 1922, Marian instantly lost her American citizenship for marrying an Indian. Nevertheless, soon the indomitable couple relocated to a ranch house in Westmoreland just north of the Mexican border to raise their American-born son Dalip Jr. and two daughters, Julie and Ellie.

In Westmoreland, Saund gave shape to his ambition to become a farmer. But the Alien Land Act forbade an Indian from purchasing real estate in America. An American friend stepped in to sign the land deed for him and he began growing lettuce and hay. By his sheer hard work, honesty, and fortitude he became a successful agriculturist farming on hundreds of acres in the Imperial Valley. Yet the racial discrimination continued. The hotels frequently denied admission to the family. The Great Depression of 1929 adversely impacted Saund, but he refused to declare bankruptcy and gradually paid off his debts. Subsequently impressed by the ability of the American system to bounce back after any crisis, Saund gravitated towards a political career and lobbied for the inclusion of Indians in the immigration act. In his autobiography, he admitted, “By 1932, I had positively and definitely become a Democrat by outlook and conviction.” Following nearly two decades of farming and making America his home, in 1953 Saund founded a new enterprise, D.S. Saund Fertilizers, headquartered in Westmorland. By then Marian taught at a school in Los Angeles and the family lived on Dearborn Drive, right beneath the Hollywood sign. Saund had achieved more than he could ever have dreamed. The time to give back and contribute to America had come.

By now Saund was well recognized in the Westmorland community and decided to run for the office of Judge in 1953. This was unheard of at that time and his opponents straightaway hurled racist taunts. One guy accosted Saund in a restaurant and asked, “Doc, tell us, if you’re elected, will you furnish the turbans or will we have to buy them ourselves, in order to come into your court?” Saund smiled and responded sensitively, “My friend, you know me for a tolerant man. I don’t care what a man has on top of his head. All I’m interested in is what he’s got inside…” Eventually Saund’s fierce determination led him to victory by 13 votes. In the next four years, Judge Saundh cleaned up the prostitution and gambling rackets in Westmorland and exhibited his fine legal mind against accomplished attorneys. Widely respected for his moral courage, his term served as a springboard for national office. By October 1955, Saund resolved to campaign for a seat in the House from California’s 29th District on a Democrat ticket. It was an audacious idea and Saund’s constituents thought, “it ain’t gonna happen”. Historically, Americans had never elected a Congressman of Asian origin. His grandson, Eric Saund, a research scientist from California, recollects, “His district had been traditionally Republican… It seemed like a long shot, but my grandfather was ambitious and had accrued a group of supporters, so he took the gamble.”

The Republicans fielded, Jacqueline Cochran Odlum, a decorated WW2 army pilot and a nationally recognized celebrity who owned a cosmetics company. She was also the wife of the Uranium King of America, Floyd Odlum. Flying around to win the election at all costs, Odlum had her candidature endorsed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon, who delivered speeches for her. Dr. Amarjit Singh Marwah, at present a 95-year-old prominent Indian American became Saund’s campaign manager. He reminisces that back then the election was fought with minuscule funding. Saund’s family Marian, Ellie, Dalip Jr veteran of the Korean War, along with his wife Dorothy joined in the canvassing. They went door to door and rang doorbells of thousands of homes appealing for votes. Dorothy noted that though several people slammed the doors on their faces many admired Judge Saund too. During the extensive campaigning, Saund’s refined eloquence and ability to connect with the voter remained his greatest asset. He spoke in a high-pitched tone, with a faint accent, and presented himself as a perfect embodiment of the American Dream. Fortuitously the popular Senator John F. Kennedy reinforced Saund’s electioneering and declared, “Judge D.S. Saund has proved conclusively his understanding of and devotion to the basic meaning of our American ideals… We need this man’s wisdom and loyalty in the Congress of the United States.” By now Saund’s campaign made national headlines and the election at the 29th District between the famous female aviator and the Judge of Indian origin was intently followed by the rest of America. This was a time when the Civil Rights movement was ruffling feathers with the Rosa Park incident. Predictably Saund’s ethnicity and religious beliefs became the critical issues in the intensely contested election. Confronted by outright racism, Saund turned to his late mother’s advice at the time of his departure for America. He unwaveringly refused to malign his adversary and maintained, “My religion teaches me that love and service to fellow men are the road to earthly bliss and spiritual salvation.” History was made and the voters of the 29th District decided to send Saund to Washington. In the nail-biting finish, he won by 3,300 votes. On 3 January 1957, Saund stood in the Congress building in Washington to take oath as a congressional representative. Saund became the first Asian, first Indian American, first Sikh and first follower of a non-Abrahamic faith to be elected to the United States Congress. From being subjugated to race riots in 1907 to the election of Congressman Saund fifty years later, the Indian American community had traveled a fair distance in America. The trailblazer fittingly asserted, “The American people elected me to their Congress… Where else in the world could this happen?”

Saund moved his home to Washington to be a tireless champion of his district and was extremely effective on agricultural issues. He was also a fierce supporter of the 1957 Civil Rights bill. With seismic geopolitical shifts underway, he was made a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee and the House of Representatives dispatched him to Asia as their official emissary to counter the Communist threats. On 15 November 1957 Saund accompanied by Marian, and Ellie landed in India. The Saund family’s simplicity won the hearts of millions, and they received an enthusiastic welcome across the nation. On returning to Chhajalwadi after thirty-seven years, Saund spoke in his mother tongue Punjabi to over ten thousand people surrounding the local hero. With tears in his eyes, he emotionally recalled his mother’s wise counsel, the graffiti he had left drawn on his school wall, and his childhood friends, few of whom had died during the partition violence. Subsequently, Marian’s statement in Punjabi, “I love you all”, was vociferously applauded. President Rajendra Prasad and Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru honored the distinguished son of India who was now a symbol of hope for all Indian Americans. Saund addressed a joint session of the parliament and the man known for his Lincolnesque riposte specified, “Here I am— a living example of American democracy”. He added, “Americans sincerely desire to promote the closest relationship with India”. For the first time, Indians heard the viewpoint of the American administration from an Indian perspective. Advocating a deeper relationship between the two great democracies of the world, the Indian American Congressman received a roaring ovation.

On 1 May 1962, Congressman Saund boarded a flight from Los Angeles to Washington, at the end of his campaign for a ground-breaking fourth term. In midair, he suffered a debilitating stroke. Suddenly the mover and shaker in America lost his facility to speak and walk. Saund’s dazzling political career was over by January 1963, and he remained confined to his bed in his Hollywood home for over a decade. The forerunner in Indian American politics suffered a second stroke on 23 April 1973 and passed away. Marian was by his side all along. The story of one man’s courage, passion, and triumph had ended in a tragedy. The House gathered in the Capitol and eulogized America’s inspirational star politician who rose higher than anyone could imagine. Today a life-size portrait of a sharply dressed Saund is prominently placed in the House of Representatives. His oft-quoted remark, “There is no room in the United States of America for second-class citizenship” appears below the painting. A Dalip Singh Saund Post Office Building in Temecula, California, shines a light on the life of an extraordinary Congressman from India. Generations of Indian immigrants in America continue to stand on the shoulders of giants like Dalip Singh Saund. (2198w)

The writer is the biographer of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose and Lala Har Dayal. He can be reached at writerlall@gmail.com. Views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

PM MODI’S PENCHANT FOR SELF-ADVERTISING IS UNPARALLELED

Priya Sahgal

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All politicians like to promote themselves; it’s part of the branding and some would say a necessity of public life, for what is the use of doing good if the public that votes for you doesn’t get to know about it. I recall an old adage about advertising: Doing business without advertising is like winking at a girl in the dark! So, take it as foreplay that will be consummated on voting day.

However, too much of even a good thing has its perils, especially when the delivery does not match the advertisement. The BJP knows this all too well for this is what happened during its “India Shining” campaign of 2004. While life in the metros glittered, the same was not true of the villages that felt cheated and left out; and people went and voted for the Congress which claimed that “Congress ka haath, Aam Aadmi ke Saath”. Today again we are seeing a certain narrative unfold around the promised “Acche Din”. That the promise has fallen short is not for me to claim, our economic statistics and unemployment figures tell their own tale. But, statistics and figures fall flat when faced with the PM’s overpowering rhetoric— his government had not only managed a comeback in 2019 but also dared to dream about 2024.

Yet, of late, I am seeing a certain disquiet with the PM’s penchant for hoardings and staking ownership for every (positive) move the country makes. Take his picture on the vaccination posters for example. By now, thanks to the power of social media we have all heard about the Indian at Frankfurt airport who was quizzed because his vaccination certificate had the PM’s picture instead of his. The number of hoardings thanking the PM for free vaccinations that have sprung all over the countryside is hard to miss. Unfortunately, most of them can be found at our petrol pumps at a time when the petrol cost is skyrocketing for this has been the backdrop of many selfies by hapless automobile, scooter, and bike owners who say a sarcastic “Dhanyavaad Modi” for the rising costs.

Recently the Sports Ministry came up with a website where one could cheer for our Olympic contingent. It was called cheer4india.narendramodi.in and quite naturally it is the PM’s face and message that dominates. However, it was only after our hockey teams (both women and even the men) performed well at the Olympics that a lesser-known fact was unearthed. It was not the PM so much as another political figure to whom the credit goes for supporting Indian hockey. It is Naveen Patnaik who has taken it upon himself to make Odisha the sponsor for Indian hockey for five years since 2018. He has also hosted the World Cup Men’s Hockey tournament in 2014 and has built a host of stadia and other infrastructure. The world’s largest hockey stadium is coming up in Rourkela in time to host the World Cup Hockey tournament in 2023. If there is any name on the Indian jersey it is that of Odisha, not the CM, and certainly not his picture. Sometimes the delivery speaks for itself.

Hence, while all politicians excel in self-advertisement— we have the Congress to thank for showing the way— it would be a wise move to tap into the public sentiment as well. And not try and change the public mood to suit a certain narrative. So far the latter strategy has worked, but of late it has also begun to backfire, just a bit.

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Opinion

2022 UP elections: Saga of India’s political destiny

Nationally, it is the electoral outcome in Uttar Pradesh that will be crucial. In 2014, had UP not elected 71 BJP MPs, it would have been a ‘hung Parliament’ and PM Modi’s political trajectory may have been quite different. If the party cedes ground in 2022, it will lose steam for 2024.

Arun Bhatnagar

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While India’s next tryst with political destiny is two and a half years away, the BJP does not seem to be leaving much to chance, so far as their electoral strategy, backed by almost limitless resources, is concerned.

The ministerial revamp was meant to signal a fresh start and insulate the government from Covid criticism, the endless suffering because of an appalling lack of medical infrastructure, floating bodies in the Ganges, and denial of dignity, even in death. However, it has been projected as a radical step towards toning up governance and addressing the hardships of Dalits and the poorest sections of the people.

It wasn’t such a momentous exercise, after all, the media hype notwithstanding. The spotlight was taken away from the tragic demise in prison of Father Stan Swamy and the passing of an all-time icon, Dilip Kumar (Mohammed Yusuf Khan), both in Mumbai.

In the government, none of the Big Four were affected. To many a neutral analyst, the performance of the Finance, External Affairs, Home and Defence ministries appeared wanting. The portfolios of the best-rated member of the cabinet, Nitin Gadkari, did not attract upward movement. He is more a blue-eyed boy of the RSS than anyone else’s.

To the best of one’s information, a 45-year old John Barla (elected to the Lok Sabha from Alipurduars) is the only Christian in the Council of Ministers; he was once a tea garden worker and belongs to Jalpaiguri, West Bengal.

A Kerala Christian – K.J. Alphons – took early retirement from the IAS and was a Union Minister of State (2017-19) in Modi’s first term. The estimated Christian population of the country is 2.8 crore.

The lone Muslim in the government holds charge of the Ministry of Minority Affairs.

As a consequence of the reshuffle, the average age of the Union Council of Ministers stands at 58 years, compared to 61 years of the previous Council formed after the 2019 Lok Sabha mandate. Fourteen ministers, including six cabinet ministers, are below 50.

If the Cabinet changes fail to deliver in substantial measure, another round of the same could be attempted, say around 2023. The new Health Minister (born 1972), a Rajya Sabha member from Gujarat, can be axed, should things not go well with the pandemic.

One of the stars amongst the young inductees— Ashwini Vaishnaw— hails from Jodhpur, Rajasthan, and was originally an Odisha IAS who was nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP, with the backing of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD). Armed with an MTech from IIT, Kanpur, and an MBA from Wharton, he is expected to demonstrate multi-dimensional skills, sorely needed, in the Modi administration. He is not an ex-bureaucrat on the pattern of other ministers with origins in the IFS or the IAS who come from the ranks of those superannuated from lucrative government assignments.

Significantly, Vaishnaw set up two automotive components manufacturing units in Gujarat. He later joined the BJP and amply fulfils, alongside several others, the critical criterion of undiluted and unquestioning loyalty to the PM.

This, coupled with the ‘political messaging’ (in terms of regional, caste, and sub-caste configurations, a new social calculus) for the 2024 polls – via the intervening State elections – comes close to summing up the story of the cabinet reshuffle which marked a final exit of the Vajpayee team that had a high level of Brahmin and upper castes representation.

It is the electoral outcome in Uttar Pradesh that will be crucial. In 2014, had U.P. not elected 71 BJP MPs, it would have been a ‘hung Parliament’ and Modi’s political trajectory may have been quite different. If the party cedes ground in 2022, it will lose steam for 2024. With seven new entrants from the state, the number of ministers from the UP has gone up to 15, that is, one-fifth of the total strength.

The fate of the Rae Bareli and Amethi parliamentary constituencies (in the Avadh region), erstwhile bastions of the Gandhi-Nehru family, should be particularly interesting to observe in 2024.

More vital will be the contest in Varanasi which has long been a BJP stronghold; the seat was last won by the Congress in 2004 when Rajesh Kumar Mishra secured victory.

The holy city (also called Banaras) is cosmopolitan and has a population of Bengalis. The zamindars of Bengal had been constructing ‘kothis’ and occupying lands along the Ganges; a bigger influx of Bengalis began in 1948 after the Partition. Varanasi resembled a ‘mini-Bengal’ where the Pujo celebrations had a pronounced Calcutta touch. The Bengali style Durga Puja was started by a landlord, Babu Anandmay Mitra.

The narrow lanes of Bengali Tola are crowded with buildings whose architecture is reminiscent of twentieth-century Bengal. Most of the properties are now owned by north Indians but the engraved names of the original occupants remain on the houses. The first Bengalis settled in 1757 (the year of the Battle of Plassey) and Rani Bhabani built temples around which the Tola was formed. The Bengali population was mainly of the Brahmin caste that worked as priests or taught in Sanskrit schools.

As of now, developments — encouraging or otherwise — in the struggle with Covid-19 and an evolving situation in Afghanistan constitute issues over which the government of the day can exercise but limited control, not to mention the tensions with China and Pakistan. In the domestic sphere, not much appears to be improving in respect of an unprecedented unemployment crisis, food inflation, and spiraling fuel prices.

Global factors are at play. As the reality of the U.S. withdrawal in Afghanistan takes hold, the future may largely depend on the Kabul-Taliban dynamics and Pakistan’s role. The Taliban have advanced to the cities and could enforce a return to the brutal theocracy they imposed during their previous stint in power.

The portents may yet turn ominous for India, despite the reassuring words of the External Affairs Minister.

A respite from public health concerns could afford a chance to commence a journey on the path of economic recovery. The ongoing farmer protests have definite political overtones and are aimed at consolidating the opposition against the BJP in the poll-bound states of Punjab, U.P., and Uttarakhand in 2022.

The Grand Old Party (GOP), as the Congress is often termed, can aspire to play a pivotal part in the emergence of an Opposition Front led by politicians of stature. In this context, even as the names of Mamata Banerjee (66) and Sharad Pawar (80) come to mind, it is pertinent to mention that the Congress’ interim president enjoys credibility that can bring parties and individuals together, with assistance coming in from the likes of M.K. Stalin (68) and Arvind Kejriwal (53).

For this to happen, the GOP will need to appreciably augment its existing Lok Sabha numbers and come close enough, if not reach, a three-digit figure. It may also have to give up on ideas of leading an opposition alliance.

As for the BJP, they might conceivably face a ‘single largest party’ scenario, despite the appeal of a Hindutva agenda (Ayodhya and, possibly, Mathura and Kashi) and the hard work of the RSS cadres. What may spell real trouble would be a fall to around 160 seats, the level attained by Vajpayee’s BJP in 1996. The Party was able to form a short-lived government (13 days) at that time. In such a contingency, howsoever unlikely, even unimaginable, the Amit Shah-Nadda duo will have to do better than the late Sushma Swaraj and Pramod Mahajan. The silence of the lower middle classes can be deceptive.

This writer suggested, in an article appearing in The Week in June 2019, that Congress should consider getting Mamata on board to challenge the BJP. Earlier, in his book India: Shedding the Past, Embracing the Future, 1906-2017 it was stated that ‘…… Sonia Gandhi and Mamata Banerjee share a cordial personal equation. Politics makes strange bedfellows; what may be virtually impossible to envision at present can emerge as a practical possibility…..’.

A massive win in West Bengal has since put Mamata in the front row on the national stage. During the electioneering in the state, she approached Sonia Gandhi for help in places like Malda where the Congress has a presence, and said that she shares the Congress DNA. Bridges could still be built between Congress and the TMC.

Be that as it may, the election battles ahead are likely to be joined, sooner rather than later. A longer story could be cut short — one way or the other — if Mamata Banerjee becomes a candidate for the Lok Sabha from Varanasi in Uttar Pradesh in 2024.

The writer was formerly in the IAS. The views expressed are personal.

The fate of the Rae Bareli and Amethi parliamentary constituencies (in the Avadh region), erstwhile bastions of the Gandhi-Nehru family, should be particularly interesting to observe in 2024. More vital will be the contest in Varanasi which has long been a BJP stronghold; the seat was last won by the Congress in 2004 when Rajesh Kumar Mishra secured victory.

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Opinion

THE FARMER-IMPASSE CONTINUES, EVEN AS DELHI SUFFERS

Joyeeta Basu

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Almost nine months after farmers protesting the three farm laws passed by Parliament gathered on Delhi’s borders, they are still stationed there. Even though they are not hitting the headlines with the regularity as they were earlier in the year, does not mean that they are not blockading several roads, making the lives of local residents and commuters miserable. Talks between the government and the farmers broke down post the Republic Day violence perpetrated by some farmer groups, during which the Red Fort was vandalized and a religious flag was hoisted at this national monument. Even otherwise, the farmers had taken a maximalist position about the farm laws. That the laws were viewed by most experts and stakeholders to be reform oriented and worth giving a try, did not make any difference to the protesters. In fact, except for with the farmers of Punjab and a handful of farmers from Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, the agitation did not find any resonance in a country which still has nearly 50% of its workforce employed in the agricultural sector.

The government was ready to make several concessions, including putting the laws on hold for up to 18 months. But the farmers were adamant, thus raising questions about the political nature of the “movement”, where the intention was to ensure that Government of India came across as weak and unable to bring in any reforms. It was a clear case of the farmers being misled by vested interests, who used disinformation to make the farmers fearful of the amended laws. Considering the whole premise of the movement is to bring the government to its knees, and with individuals such as Rakesh Tikait actively campaigning in Assembly elections in his capacity as a “farmer leader”, the fig leaf of the movement being apolitical has been destroyed. And the minute any movement gains a political colour, the obvious question is about the political benefits that some seen and unseen forces are hoping to derive from it.

With Uttar Pradesh and Punjab Assembly elections coming up early next year, it is increasingly appearing that the so-called agitation will continue well into 2022, or at least until the elections are concluded. The idea is to keep the issue alive until the elections in the hope of influencing voters, apart from gaining political legitimacy for these “farmer leaders”. Hence, these unscrupulous leaders are taking advantage of the gullible farmers by painting dire pictures of loss of land and livelihood to corporates because of the farm laws. The counter-narrative is yet to take hold of public mind, at least in Punjab. So the lives of Delhi-NCR residents are expected to stay thrown out of gear for another six-seven months minimum, which should raise some serious questions about the government’s inaction on this.

Why is the mighty Indian state bent upon appearing a soft state, where groups of individuals can hold the national capital to ransom for months, break every possible law, and get away scot-free? The whole idea of having an internal security apparatus is to pre-empt such disruptions. Why are such agitations not being broken up inside the first few days of the protesters blocking roads? It was the same in the Shaheen Bagh protests, which started in 2019 December and was allowed to fester for three months. But for the restrictions imposed because of Covid, it would have continued perhaps for a much longer time. The farmers’ agitation did not even bother about Covid restrictions and continued through the deadly second wave, thus spreading the infection to the hinterland. And now the worry is that some other agitation will start around October-November-December, when the weather is conducive to organizing outdoor sit-ins and it will continue for weeks, if not months. Such disruptions in Delhi not only ensure national and international media spotlight, but are also a good way of showing the Central government as weak and vacillating. As for the farmers, it is hoped that they will realise that they are being misled by their leaders. Holding the national capital to ransom is no solution to their grievances.

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Opinion

Blinken’s India visit sent a strong message to China

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first-ever visit to India underlined the US commitment to stay engaged in the Indo-Pacific region. During the visit, Blinken held discussions with civil society representatives, including the delegate representing the Tibetan government-in-exile, and the move was a calculated step to send a message to China.

Surendra Kumar

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Amidst media reports of the capture of a large swath of territory in Afghanistan by the Taliban, it was speculated that Kabul would be at the top of the agenda of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s visit to India. It is because the US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and the growing foothold of the Taliban have a direct bearing on India’s security.

External Affairs Minister Jaishankar, and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken address the joint statement, in New Delhi on Wednesday. (ANI)

Well, Afghanistan was on the agenda. But on his first visit as the Secretary of State, Blinken reviewed the entire India-US relationship with External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, held discussions with Ajit Doval, and called on PM Modi. Besides covering bilateral relations including defence, security, trade, business, investment, energy, education, Science and technology, Blinken and Jaishankar, also exchanged views on Covid-19, Indo-Pacific, Quad, climate change, terrorism, cybercrime, snooping, etc. Their comments during the joint press conference suggested that their talks were frank and candid; there was convergence on several issues but their perceptions differed on some issues as well.

Jaishankar’s initial remarks provided a context: “Our bilateral cooperation has vastly expanded in the last few years. Our interests are shared, our concerns are similar and our convergences are strong.” Probably, shared interests and similar concerns relate to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and China, and given India’s location and past experiences, the concerns are similar but not exactly the same.

And strong convergence is as well discernible with regards to Indo-Pacific, Quad, terrorism, cybercrime, growing menace of intelligence gathering, and the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic

Jaishankar emphasized, “Peace and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific are as important for both of us as democratic stability in Afghanistan. Deepening the Quad as a qualitative platform is in our mutual interest and we must work together even more closely on key contemporary challenges like terrorism, climate change, pandemics, and resilient supply chains.”

Recollecting how India had helped the US 2020 and how the US provided “exceptional” help when India was battling the second wave of the pandemic, Blinken said, “We are determined to end this pandemic, and India and the US will work together to do it, including through the Quad vaccine partnership, which will bring safe and effective vaccines to others across the region. India and the US together will be leaders in bringing this pandemic to an end and setting up a stronger global health security system..”

The US has already extended Covid-19 related assistance of $200 million. Blinken announced additional assistance of $25 million. Total assistance from the US including from private sources and Indian Americans has crossed over $500 million.

Both Blinken and Jaishankar reiterated that the peace process in Afghanistan must ensure her sovereignty; it has to be Afghanistan led and Afghanistan owned government leading to the establishment of a democracy representing all ethnic groups, and the sovereign establishment will uphold human rights including the rights of women and will not allow the return of terrorist groups who carry out attacks inside Afghanistan and against its neighbors.

Blinken stressed that there was no military solution to the situation in Afghanistan, and both, the Government and the Taliban must come to table and strive to set up an inclusive and fully representative administration.

Blinken dampened the Taliban’s triumphal bravado by asserting that, “Afghanistan would be ‘pariah state’ if Taliban took control by force.” He also dismissed suggestions that with the exit of its soldiers, the US will wash its hands off Kabul. “Even as we withdraw our forces from Afghanistan,” he said, “We remain engaged in Afghanistan. We don’t only have a strong embassy there but we also have important programs that support the country economically through development and security assistance.”

Airstrikes by planes and unmanned drones from outside Afghanistan during the last week signal that the US intends to bolster the capabilities of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and allow the Ghani government not to be run over by the Taliban, at least for now.

Blinken applauded India’s role in Afghanistan, and said, “India and US share a strong interest in peaceful, secure and stable Afghanistan. As a credible partner in the region, India has and will continue to make a vital contribution to Afghanistan’s stability and development.”

Unfortunately, Pakistan, China, Russia, and Iran don’t share this perception. Russia has held the meeting of the TROIKA (Russia, China, and Pakistan) and a large Taliban delegation was received in China. While the US exits from Afghanistan, Imran Khan has the gall to pronounce that the US “messed it up in Afghanistan”.

Blinken clarified that Quad wasn’t a military alliance and its objective “was to advance cooperation on regional challenges while reinforcing international rules and values that we believe together underpin peace, prosperity, stability in the region.”

Jaishankar’s said, “China needs to get over the idea that others are doing something to target them.” China does indeed believe that Indo-Pacific and QUAD are essentially anti-China fronts. Russia supports China’s assessment here too.

Like Biden, Blinken sees US relations with China as marked by competition, rivalry, and cooperation; Climate Change can’t be addressed without China’s close cooperation.

Nevertheless, India sees China differently, given the long-pending border dispute, bloody clashes in Galwan valley last year, the impasse on the LAC, and the adverse trade balance.

America acknowledges Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the table and its continuing relevance for containing them and for peace and stability in Afghanistan. But we have misgivings about Pakistan’s role in a Taliban-dominated government in Kabul and also apprehend a spike in terrorist attacks against India.

Blinken thanked Jaishankar on Twitter for “collaborative discussion on many areas of cooperation, including efforts to support peace and stability in Afghanistan. India is one of our most valued partners, and the US welcomes India’s emergence as a leading global player.”

Blinken’s dialogue with Ajit Doval is believed to have covered Afghanistan, Indo-Pacific, bilateral defense and security, and economic technology. He also exchanged views on contemporary and futuristic issues related to regional and global security.

As anticipated, Blinken held a round table meeting with the representatives of the civil societies. His stress on democratic values, freedoms including freedoms of religion and expression, rule of law, human rights, and the role of civil societies, were couched in a polite, non-accusatory tone; he mentioned that both the US and India, the largest democracies, weren’t perfect and that they were work in progress. Expectedly, Jaishankar countered Blinken by saying that those who expect certain standards from others must first achieve those standards themselves.

In March 2018, the Indian government had advised the Tibetan Bureau to shift the function commemorating 60 years of Dalai Lama’s exile to Dharamshala. Following Galwan Valley clashes, there seems a shift; we are signaling to China that we can play the Tibetan card. On 6th June, PM Modi telephoned Dalai Lama to wish him on his birth anniversary; China wasn’t amused.

And China wasn’t pleased that Blinken’s meeting with the civil society was also attended by the Director of the Tibetan Bureau in Delhi, Geshe Dorji Damdul. Blinken also separately met a Rep of the Dali Lama, Ngodup Dongchung, reflecting Biden’s support for the Tibetan cause.

The US has openly said that Dalai Lama’s successor should be selected by the Tibetan people.Blinken’s emphasis on the shared value of democracy provoked a sharp reaction from China. “One man and one vote and a multi-party system is not the sole form of democracy…it shouldn’t be used to smear other countries and stoke confrontation,” said the Chinese spokesman, Zhao Lijian.

Evidently, though physically absent, shadows of China loomed large on Blinken’s talks in Delhi.

The writer, a former Ambassador, writes on political and strategic affairs. The views expressed are personal.

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Opinion

BORDER DISPUTES BETWEEN STATES CANNOT BE LEFT UNRESOLVED

Pankaj Vohra

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The dispute between Assam and Mizoram needs immediate attention and the Centre must step in to ensure that the mini-civil war does not escalate any further. It is indeed most unfortunate that the police forces of the two states were involved in an armed confrontation that left several people dead.

The Mizoram authorities have registered an FIR against the Assam Chief Minister, Himanta Biswa Sarma and an early resolution to this sensitive issue does not seem to be in sight. The genesis of this confrontation may lie in the colonial past of our country but it does not mean that differences cannot be ironed out amongst disputing parties. The Centre has to play a pro-active role in bringing the two sides together even though the meetings between the DGPs and the Chief Secretaries of the two states, have not made any headway. It is shocking that two States of India are involved in this kind of violent altercation. One could have understood if these clashes pertained to Indian forces on one hand and the soldiers of other countries on the other on our international borders. This inter-state squabble is unacceptable from all counts and demonstrates that the intelligence agencies were unable to anticipate this build-up and take remedial measures much before this armed confrontation took place. There have been disputes in the past between Punjab and Haryana over Chandigarh and sharing of waters but despite being emotive issues, the matter did not end up in a physical fight. Tamil Nadu and Karnataka have often quarreled over the quantum of their share over the waters of the Cauvery river and Maharashtra has had a different viewpoint regarding the areas that fall within Karnataka and touch its borders. Andhra and Telangana have a different perceptions regarding some territories but never have any of these states resorted to the use of arms. The elected governments of the two states—Assam and Mizoram—need to behave more responsibly instead of making a public spectacle of their inability to sort out things amongst themselves. Indeed, regional pride often thwarts any attempt to drive sense in the heads of disputing parties but violence has no place in our country. There have been instances where Chauvinistic feelings were aroused in the past over re-organisation of states. When Punjab was sought to be divided in the mid-1960s into lingual lines, the members of the erstwhile Bharatiya Jana Sangh listed their mother language as Hindi instead of Punjabi in multiple instances. The result was that when Haryana and Himachal were carved out of Punjab in 1966, several Punjabi-speaking areas found themselves to be parts of Himachal and Haryana instead of Punjab. This anomaly exists till today but all the three states progressed on their own steam and the misrepresentation of language at one stage, is a forgotten matter. The creation of Maharashtra and Gujarat from the Bombay State also led to bitterness and led to the birth of Shiv Sena in the early 1960s. Over time, a lot of things have come and gone. Similarly, Mizoram and Assam need to come to a solution acceptable to both sides as early as possible in the national interest. 

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Opinion

India must revisit Tibet policy to stop Beijing bullying

Xi Jinping visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. His objective was to ‘implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau’.

Claude Arpi

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The last few weeks have been eventful as far as Tibet is concerned.

From June 21 to 23, Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China (CPC) visited Central and Southern Tibet after a gap of ten years. When the Chinese president landed in Nyingchi City (previously called Prefecture), near the Indian border of Arunachal Pradesh, it immediately rang bells in the security establishment in India.

The China Daily reported about his stage-managed arrival: “He [Xi] was warmly welcomed by local people and officials of various ethnic groups.” Xi inspected the ecological preservation in the basin of the Yarlung Tsangpo River and its tributary, the Nyang River.

For India, this was an important part of the visit because first, the Chinese President was accompanied by Gen Zhang Youxia, Vice-Chairman of the Central Military Commission (chaired by Xi), and second, due to the proximity of ‘Bayi’ (which means ‘8-1 or August 1’, a term reserved to the People’s Liberation Army which was founded on August 1). Bayi is the Headquarter of the forces facing India in Arunachal Pradesh. Though no details have filtered, Xi was probably briefed about the situation on the border (a meeting with the PLA top brass of the Western Theater Command and the Tibet Military District was later organized in Lhasa).

The visit has to be seen in the context of the CPC’s 100th anniversary and the 70 anniversary of the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion’). The People’s Daily resumed the objectives of the visit: “to implement the party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era and write a new chapter in long-term stability and high-quality development of the snow-covered plateau.” This refers to the 7th Work Forum held in August 2020 which defined the development policies for Tibet for the five next years, particularly the sinicization of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Chinese President’s tour was hardly over, that another development took place in Delhi: on July 28 morning, US Secretary of State Blinken ‘briefly’ met the Dalai Lama’s representative Ngodup Dongchung during the former’s maiden trip to the Indian Capital.

Later photos of a meeting with members of the Indian ‘civil society’, attended by Geshe Dorjee Damdul, Director of Tibet House, the Dalai Lama’s cultural centre in Delhi were released. Confusion was created between the two meetings, because Dongchung was called ‘a’ representative of the Dalai Lama, while he is the ‘The’ Representative in Delhi. The US embassy should have certainly given the full name of the Representative, to avoid such ambiguity.

A couple of days earlier Wendy Sherman, the US Deputy Secretary of State had met State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi in China.

A State Department communiqué said: “The Deputy Secretary and State Councilor Wang had a frank and open discussion about a range of issues… [She] raised our concerns about human rights, including Beijing’s anti-democratic crackdown in Hong Kong; the ongoing genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang; abuses in Tibet; and the curtailing of media access and freedom of the press.”

All this is fine and welcome, but one question remains: has India a Tibet Policy?

It is India that has long and tense border with Tibet from Demchok in Ladakh to Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh; is it not high time for Delhi to have its own ‘Tibet’ Policy and start immediately engaging Dharamsala?

At first, Indian officials should meet the newly elected Sikyiong Penpa Tsering; it has not helped India to keep the relations with Dharamsala at a low key (or non-existent). Both India and the Tibetans need to seriously discuss several issues, whether of common interests or problems facing the Tibetan refugees in India.

The election of a new Sikyong Penpa Tsering as the head of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) is an ideal time to sit together.

Contentious issues, if any, should also be brought to the table (for example, why, nearly three months after the result of the elections, half the recently elected members of the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies have still not yet taken the oath? Is there a Chinese angle behind this?). This should be frankly discussed (and not necessarily made public).

Several areas of Indian interests need to be discussed.

First, the recruitment of Tibetans in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Militia; it has been reported in the Indian media that China wanted to match India by raising a Special Force composed of Tibetans. It is doubtful if this can succeed as Beijing’s trust in the Tibetans remains extremely low, even 70 years after the so-called Liberation of Tibet (read ‘invasion), but Delhi should ascertain Dharamsala’s views; and the CTA should eventually issue a statement stating its views.

Exchanges should also take place about some aspects of the Tibet-Indian border, whether in the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh), Central Sector (Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) or the eastern part of the Western Sector (Demchok area); what is Dharamsala’s historical take on these issues?

This is particularly important at a time when it has been reported that the Chinese have erected tents on the Indian side of the Charding Nala near Demchok in Ladakh. The Tibetans are certainly aware of their traditional border with India and can hopefully openly state their position.

Another area of interest (not to say worry) for India, is the demographic change on the Indian frontiers. Since 2017, the mushrooming of ‘model’ villages in Tibet, at the proximity of the Indian border, is disturbing; hundreds of ‘xiaogang’ (‘moderately well-off’) villages have come up in the last four years with a mixed population of Tibetans and Hans.

Further, the authorities in Tibet have started to entice the local Tibetan population to side with the Communist Party. A new formula can be found in every speech of the local satraps, the inhabitants of China’s borders (with India) should be “the protectors of the sacred homeland and the builders of happy homes.” Officially, this development is linked with ‘poverty alleviation’ and the ‘defence of the borders’.

There are other areas of common interests, for example how to communicate with the Tibetans inside Tibet? Once the Ladakh episode is over, Delhi should facilitate cultural contacts between Tibetans in India with those in Tibet and why not invite the latter for religious or cultural happenings in India.

Environmental issues are also of concern for India, particularly the mega hydropower plants to be developed by China on the Yarlung Tsangpo/Brahmaputra; what are Dharamsala’s views on this?

From India’s side, assurance should be given that Delhi will stand by the Dalai Lama’s choice for his succession.

Finally, a mechanism should be set-up for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilization cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

The writer is a noted author, journalist, historian, Tibetologist, and China expert. Views expressed are writer’s personal.

A mechanism should be put in place for regular exchanges between Delhi and Dharamsala; centuries of close kinship between the Roof of the World and the Indic civilisation cannot be erased just for political expediencies , or due to Beijing’s bullying tactics.

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