Category Archives: Indian History

Why cows for Hindus are holy? -by Karolina Goswami

GST and the Indian nation-state

Surendranath Banerjee’s newspaper the Bengalee made the point on 18th January, 1902:

“The agitation for political rights may bind the various nationalities of India together for a time. The community of interests may cease when these rights are achieved. But the commercial union of the various Indian nationalities, once established, will never cease to exist. Commercial and industrial activity is, therefore, a mighty factor in the formation of a great Indian union.”

India’s diverse cultural pluralistic society

Source : Press Information Bureau, Government of India >>

Challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it: Vice President

Addresses Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco

The Vice President of India, Shri M. Hamid Ansari has said that the challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it. He was delivering a lecture at the Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco, today on the topic ‘Accommodating Diversity in a Globalising World: The Indian Experience’. The Moroccan University later conferred an honoris causa degree on the Vice President.

The Vice President said that Indian Muslims have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years and that has impacted on modern India and its existential reality of a plural society on the basis of which a democratic polity and a secular state structure was put in place.  He further said that the framers of our Constitution had the objective of securing civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as essential ingredients of citizenship with particular emphasis on rights of religious minorities.

The Vice President said that the Muslim experience in modern India is that its citizens professing Islamic faith are citizens, consider themselves as such, are beneficiaries of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, participate fully in the civic processes of the polity and seek correctives for their grievances within the system. There is no inclination in their ranks to resort to ideologies and practices of violence, he added. He further said that in countries having complex societal makeup, accommodation of diversity in political structures and socio-economic policies is not an option but an imperative necessity ignoring which can have unpleasant consequences.

The Vice President said that the Indian model was of relevance to our globalizing world because in India, an attempt was being made to look beyond the traditional virtue of tolerance and seek acceptance of diversity and adopt it as a civic virtue.

Following is the text of Vice President’s address:

Accommodating Diversity in a Globalising World: The Indian Experience

 A traveller from a distant land in mashriq-al-aqsa comes to Maghrib-al Aqsa and marvels at his good fortune. His sense of history quickly reminds him that centuries earlier a great name from this land had travelled to India and recorded in some detail his impressions about the governance, manner and customs of Indians. He attained high office and also had his share of minor misfortunes.

I refer, of course, to Sheikh Abdullah Mohammad ibn Abdullah ibn Mohammad ibn Ibralim al Lawati, better known as Ibn Batuta of Tanja.

I thank the Government of the Kingdom of Morocco, and His Excellency the President of the University, for inviting me to address the Mohammad V University today.

Even in distant India, the contribution of Moroccan intellectuals to modern thought and challenges is known and acknowledged. Names like Abdullah Al-Arui and Abid al-Jabri readily come to mind; so do the contributions of feminist writers like Fatima Mernisi and Fatima Sadiqi. The challenge in each case was that of modernity and the contemporary responses to it. Each addressed a specific aspect of the problem; the general question was posed aptly by al-Jabri: ‘How can contemporary Arab thought retrieve and absorb the most rational and critical dimensions of its tradition and employ them in the same rationalist directions as before – the direction of fighting feudalism, Gnosticism, and dependency?’

This is a rich field, amply and productively explored by contemporary thinkers in Arab lands. This included the debates on Arabism, nationalism, democracy and Islam. Much has also been written about the trauma, self or externally inflicted, experienced individually and collectively by Arab societies in the past seven decades. The misfortunes visited on Arab lands since the 19th century was in good measure a result of their proximity to Europe in the age of imperialism.

I would like to pause here and take up a related matter to draw the attention of the audience to some terminological questions. In current discussions in many places, the terms ‘Arab’ and ‘Islam’ are used together or interchangeably. But are the two synonymous? Is Arab thought synonymous with Islamic thought? Is all Arab thought Islamic or visa versa? Above all, can all Islamic thinking be attributed to Arabs?

I raise these questions because for a variety of reasons and motivations the contemporary world, particularly the West, tends to create this impression of ‘a powerful, irrational force that, from Morocco to Indonesia, moves whole societies into cultural assertiveness, political intransigence and economic influence.’ The underlying basis for this, as Aziz Al-Azmeh put it, are ‘presumptions of Muslim cultural homogeneity and continuity that do not correspond to social reality.’

Allow me to amplify. Islam is a global faith, and its adherents are in all parts of the world. The history of Islam as a faith, and of Muslims as its adherents, is rich and diversified. In different ages and in different regions the Muslim contribution to civilisation has been note worthy. In cultural terms, the history of Islam ‘is the history of a dialogue between the realm of religious symbols and the world of everyday reality, a history of the interaction between Islamic values and the historical experiences of Muslim people that has shaped the formation of a number of different but interrelated Muslim societies.’

This audience is in no need of being reminded of the truism that reasoning should proceed from facts to conclusions and should eschew a priori pronouncements.

What then are facts?

The Wikipedia indicates the world’s Muslim population in 2015 as 1.7 billion. The Pew Research Center of the United States has published country-wise and region-wise religious composition and projections for 198 countries for the period 2010 to 2050. It indicates that in 2010 Muslims numbered 1.59 billion out of which 986 million were in Asia-Pacific. It projects that four years from now, in 2020, the corresponding figures would be 1.9 billion out of which 1.13 billion (around 60 percent) would be in Asia-Pacific. The comparative figures for West Asia–North Africa would be 317 and 381 million (19.9% and 20.52%) and for Sub-Saharan Africa 248 and 329 million (15.59% and 17.31%) respectively. Within the Asia-Pacific region Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Turkey together would account for 830 million in 2010 and 954 million in 2020.

These numbers underline the fact that an overwhelming number of Muslims of the world are non-Arabs and live in societies that are not Arab. Equally relevant is the historical fact they contributed to and benefited from the civilisation of Islam in full measure. This trend continues to this day.

The one conclusion I draw from this is that in ascertaining Islamic and Muslim perceptions on contemporary happenings, the experiences and trends of thinking of the non-Arab segments of large Muslim populations in the world assume an importance that cannot be ignored. These segments include countries with Muslim majorities (principally Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Iran, and Turkey) as also those where followers of the Islamic faith do not constitute a majority of the population (India, China, and Philippines).

Amongst both categories, India is sui generis. India counts amongst its citizens the second largest Muslim population in the world. It numbers 180 million and accounts for 14.2 percent of the country’s total population of 1.3 billion. Furthermore, religious minorities as a whole (Christians, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, and Parsis or Zoroastrians) constitute 19.4 percent of the population of India.

India’s interaction with Islam and Muslims began early and bears the imprint of history. Indian Muslims have lived in India’s religiously plural society for over a thousand years, at times as rulers, at others as subjects and now as citizens. They are not homogenous in racial or linguistic terms and bear the impact of local cultural surroundings, in manners and customs, in varying degrees.

Through extensive trading ties before the advent of Islam, India was a known land to the people of the Arabian Peninsula, the Persian Gulf, and western Asia and was sought after for its prosperity and trading skills and respected for its attainments in different branches of knowledge. Thus Baghdad became the seeker, and dispenser, of Indian numerals and sciences. ThePanchatantra was translated and became Kalila wa Dimna. Long before the advent of Muslim conquerors, the works of Al-Jahiz, Ibn Khurdadbeh, Al-Kindi, Yaqubi and Al-Masudi testify to it in ample measure. Alberuni, who studied India and Indians more thoroughly than most, produced a virtual encyclopedia on religion, rituals, manners and customs, philosophy, mathematics and astronomy. He commenced his great work by highlighting differences, but was careful enough ‘to relate, not criticize’.

Over centuries of intermingling and interaction, an Indo-Islamic culture developed in India. Many years back, an eminent Indian historian summed it up in a classic passage:

 ‘It is hardly possible to exaggerate the extent of Muslim influence over Indian life in all departments. But nowhere else is it shown so vividly and so picturesquely, as in customs, in intimate details of domestic life, in music, in the fashion of dress, in the ways of cooking, in the ceremonial of marriage, in the celebration of festivals and fairs, and in the courtly institutions and etiquette’.

Belief, consciousness and practice became a particularly rich area of interaction. Within the Muslim segment of the populace, there was a running tussle between advocates of orthodoxy and those who felt that living in a non-homogenous social milieu, the pious could communicate values through personal practice. In this manner the values of faith, though not its theological content, reached a wider circle of the public. This accounted for the reach and popularity of different Sufi personalities in different periods of history and justifies an eminent scholar’s observation that ‘Sufism took Islam to the masses and in doing so it took over the enormous and delicate responsibility of dealing at a personal level with a baffling variety of problems.’

It also produced a convergence or parallelism; the Sufi trends sought commonalities in spiritual thinking and some Islamic precepts and many Muslim practices seeped into the interstices of the Indian society and gave expression to a broader and deeper unity of minds expressive of the Indian spiritual tradition. The cultural interaction was mutually beneficial and an Islamic scholar of our times has acknowledged ‘an incontrovertible fact that Muslims have benefited immensely from the ancient cultural heritage of India.’

I mention this because I am aware, but dimly, about the role of Sufi movements and ‘zawiyas’ in the history of Morocco. There is, in my view, room for comparative studies of Sufi practices in Morocco and India.

It is this backdrop that has impacted on modern India and its existential reality of a plural society on the basis of which a democratic polity and a secular state structure was put in place.

The framers of our Constitution had the objective of securing civic, political, economic, social and cultural rights as essential ingredients of citizenship. Particular emphasis was placed on rights of religious minorities.  Thus in the section on Fundamental Rights ‘all persons are equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right freely to profess, practice and propagate religion.’ In addition, every religious denomination shall have the right to establish and maintain institutions for religious and charitable purposes, to manage its own affairs in matters of religion, and to acquire and administer movable and immovable property. Furthermore, all religious or linguistic minorities shall have the right to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice. A separate section on Fundamental Duties of citizens enjoins every citizen ‘to promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities’ and also ‘to value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture.’

Given the segmented nature of society and unequal economy, the quest for substantive equality, and justice, remains work in progress and concerns have been expressed from time to time about its shortfalls and pace of implementation. The corrective lies in our functioning democracy, its accountability mechanisms including regularity of elections at all levels from village and district councils to regional and national levels, the Rule of Law, and heightened levels of public awareness of public issues.

The one incontrovertible fact about the Muslim experience in modern India is that its citizens professing Islamic faith are citizens, consider themselves as such, are beneficiaries of the rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution, participate fully in the civic processes of the polity and seek correctives for their grievances within the system. There is no inclination in their ranks to resort to ideologies and practices of violence.

The same diversity of historical experience, and the perceptions emanating from it, is to be found in Indonesia that has the world’s largest population of Muslims and where two Islamist parties – Nahdatul Ulema and Muhammadiyah function legally, have large memberships, and participate in political activities including local and national elections. On a visit to Jakarta a few months back, I had occasion to solicit their views on contemporary debates on Political Islam. They said Islam in Indonesia has united with the culture of the people and their Islamic traditions have adapted themselves to local conditions. They felt Indonesian Muslims are moderate in their outlook, that Islam does not advocate extremism, and that radicalization of Islam is harmful and does not benefit the community.

Both instances cited above indicate that in countries having complex societal makeup, accommodation of diversity in political structures and socio-economic policies is not an option but an imperative necessity ignoring which can have unpleasant consequences.

 I come back to the principal theme of this talk. Why is the Indian model of relevance to our globalizing world?

Globalization has many facets – economic, political and cultural. All necessitate the emergence of a set of norms, values and practices that are universally accepted. A sociologist has defined it as ‘the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole.’ An obvious implication of this would be assimilation and homogenization. In a world of intrinsically diverse societies at different levels of development, this could only result in denial of their diversity and imposition of uniformity. Such an approach can only result in conflict.

The challenge for the modern world is to accept diversity as an existential reality and to configure attitudes and methodologies for dealing with it. In developing such an approach, the traditional virtue of tolerance is desirable but insufficient; our effort, thinking and practices have to look beyond it and seek acceptance of diversity and adopt it as a civic virtue.

We in India are attempting it, cannot yet say that we have succeeded, but are committed to continue the effort. We invite all right-minded people to join us in this endeavour.

Thank you.”


Source: Russia & India Report

In May 1964, Indian Defence Minister Yashwantrao Chavan made a visit to the Pentagon, the HQ of the American defence department. Chavan, who was trying to rapidly modernise the Indian military, requested the Americans to sell India the F-104 Starfighter – the most advanced jet fighter of that era.

Although the US had supplied the F-104 and the F-86 Sabres in large numbers – virtually free of cost – to Pakistan, India’s request was rebuffed in an extremely crude manner.

In his brilliant little book, ‘1965 War: The Inside Story’, former Maharashtra chief secretary R.D. Pradhan narrates what US Defence Secretary Robert McNamara told Chavan: “Mr Minister, your air force is like a museum. I wonder whether you are aware of the variety of aircraft in your air force. You are still operating with Hunters, Spitfires, Vampires, Liberators, Harvards – exotic names of World War II vintage. All these aircraft are only worthy of finding a place in a museum.”

McNamara suggested that until India disbanded that fleet, it was no use acquiring any sophisticated aircraft.

What the American secretary said was offensive – and true. Although the US did not offer any help, what India did with its antiquated planes and vintage tanks remains the stuff of legend. Pradhan says, “With that background, it was an exhilarating moment when some of those junk planes, such as the Mysteres, Vampires and Hunters performed brilliantly against Pakistan’s sophisticated F-86s. In fact, the indigenously built Gnat, a small beaver-like fighter, brought down several F-86s.”

The 1965 War remains memorable for two things. One was a monumental miscalculation by Pakistan. President Ayub Khan, egged on by his scheming and feckless Foreign Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, sent a top-secret order to his army chief General Mohammed Musa: “As a general rule, Hindu morale would not stand for more than a couple of hard blows delivered at the right time and the right place. Such opportunities should therefore be sought and exploited.”

Secondly, India’s leadership – as it has done consistently over the past 2500 years – frittered away on the negotiating table what the soldiers won on the battlefield. Pradhan writes: “In a way, India’s leadership, out of its sense of restraint, fair play and endeavour to seek enduring peace and goodwill with the neighbour, seems to have missed opportunities to solve the problem.”

At the end of a bruising 22-day war, India held 1920 square kilometres of Pakistani territory while Pakistan only held 550 square kilometres of Indian land. The Haji Pir pass was also captured by Indian soldiers after an epic battle. And yet India surrendered everything at the Tashkent Declaration in January 1966.

Western ways

The US, which was embroiled in a bloody war of its own in Vietnam, acted mostly through the United Nations. However, the defining western aim was to see their satellite Pakistan get through the war without getting battered. This view is amply summed by Chavan, who wrote about British Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s ceasefire proposal at a time when India had the upper hand: “I insisted on military advantages being maintained. The UK proposals look like a trap.”

As three divisions of the Indian Army were slicing across Pakistani defences and thundering across the Ichhogil canal to Lahore, Wilson sent a message to Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri and Ayub Khan: “Both governments bear responsibility for the steady escalation which has subsequently occurred, and today’s attack in the Lahore area presents us with a completely new situation.”

Wilson’s message implied that India was as much to blame for the war on the subcontinent as Pakistan. “Shastri more or less brushed aside that message,” says Pradhan. “Bias on the part of Britain would rule out the UK from playing any effective role in events after the ceasefire.”

Russian role

Russia, which was following the events with deep interest, maintained its traditional stand that Kashmir was part of India. Pradhan writes Moscow accepted the disturbances in Kashmir had been created by infiltrators from Pakistan.

Russia also backed India at the United Nations. K. Vijaykrishnan writes in ‘The Soviet Union and the India-Pakistan War, 1965’, “Support was available for India on some important technical points and objections India had raised,” he says. Russia supported the Indian position that the Security Council should only deal with “questions directly connected with the settlement of the armed conflict” and not drag in the Kashmir issue.

Fending off China was a trickier affair. Russia did not want an open confrontation with Beijing, but Moscow decided it would not remain a passive spectator if India had to battle on two fronts. According to Vijaykrishnan, during the thick of the conflict, India received a reassuring message from Russian Premier Alexei Kosygin indicating support in the event of a Chinese attack.

Sisir Gupta writes in ‘India and the International System’ that India was aware Russia would never like to see India humbled or weakened. “A strong and friendly India occupying a pre-eminent position in South Asia was very much a Soviet foreign policy interest. Notwithstanding the fluctuations in the Soviet attitude and the zig-zag nature of the course it pursued, there was throughout a broad assumption underlying Soviet policies towards South Asia, that India was the key factor in the region and that any policy which created distrust and dissension between the two countries was to be avoided.”

China got the message and backed off despite Pakistani appeals for help. Chinese strongman Mao Tse-Tung was reported to have told Ayub Khan that “if there is a nuclear war, it is Peking and not Rawalpindi that will be the target”, writes G.W. Chaudhury in ‘India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and the Major Powers: Politics of a Divided Subcontinent’.

Road to Tashkent

With the US disinterested in the conflict and the UK showing its true anti-India and pro-Pakistan colours, it was left to Russia to play honest broker.

It was after some initial hesitation that both India and Pakistan accepted the Russian offer. Ayub Khan later said that Pakistan went to Tashkent as it did not want to risk a veto by Moscow.

There was another reason for Pakistan’s eagerness for talks. According to Pradhan, “The continued presence of Indian troops on the east side of the Ichhogil canal, facing Lahore city, was hurting Pakistan’s pride.” The heat was clearly on Islamabad.

Before leaving for Tashkent, Shastri – who was hero-worshiped by Indian soldiers – had promised his victorious troops that he would not return the land captured from the enemy after so many sacrifices. But after six days of talks, Shastri proved once again that Indians are bad negotiators. He gave away everything.

Was Shastri feeling the pressure from the international community? Most likely not, but perhaps he felt – like his successor Indira Gandhi after the 1971 war – that showing leniency towards Pakistan would buy its goodwill.

Mystery of Shastri’s death

If you were Shastri, you would dread having to face the Indian soldier back home. Hundreds of them had died while capturing the strategic Haji Pir pass, which if India had kept, would have forever nullified Pakistan’s advantage in Kashmir.

On the night of January 10, 1966, the diminutive Prime Minister but a giant among men died of a heart attack. It was his fourth cardiac seizure and was likely triggered by his anxiety at having to face an irate public and having to look into the eyes of his jawans – soldiers – whose hopes he had dashed.

There have been all sorts of conspiracy theories but the reality is that none of the major countries benefitted from his death. Russia had scored a spectacular diplomatic coup, America fully supported the Tashkent Agreement, and Pakistan was happy to get its land back.

That the Indian Prime Minister died of a heart attack comes from a most unlikely source. Shortly after Mikhail Gorbachev’s liberalisation policies in 1991, Soviet Land magazine in India published an account by an ex-KGB officer.

According to the former intelligence agent, the KGB was spying on both the Indian and Pakistani delegations in order to find out how much each country was willing to yield during the negotiations. When Shastri started getting a seizure, the KGB was listening but decided not to alert his aides because that would give away their game and lead to a diplomatic showdown with India.

Prelude to Tashkent

Having dissected what transpired at the negotiating table, we need to discuss the prelude to Tashkent.

Although Pakistan was on the verge of being trounced – unlike in 1971 and 1999 when it really got hammered – India generously agreed to a ceasefire after repeated pleas from the major powers.

Why did India stop fighting when it had Pakistan reeling? Why did Chavan and Shastri, who swatted away western pressure and gave a free hand to the Indian military, cave in?

The problem was army chief Jayanto Nath Chaudhuri. The Kolkata-born general came from an affluent background and had become army chief purely on the back of family connections and pure luck. He was elevated following the resignation of another Sandhurst-educated general, Pran Nath Thapar, the army chief of the 1962 War.

Chaudhuri’s mentors were the Sandhurst educated British generals – who had utterly failed before the Germans and Japanese during World War II – and predictably he also lacked war fighting qualities. “He was so good on paper that Chavan often wondered how good he would be in warfare,” writes Pradhan.

Chavan mentions in his war diary that Chaudhuri would frequently lapse into depression. Each time the Indian army suffered a setback, the general would walk into the Defence Minister’s room, and Chavan had to give him a pep talk. Chaudhuri so completely lacked courage that Chavan often forced him to visit the front and personally take stock.

Pradhan writes, “On September 20 when the Prime Minister asked Chaudhuri whether India could expect to gain if the war continued for a few days more, he informed the PM that the army was coming to an end of its ammunition holdings and could not sustain fighting for much longer. Chaudhuri advised acceptance of the ceasefire proposal. It was later discovered in overall terms only 14-20 per cent of the Indian Army’s ammunition stock had been used up. At the moment of our greatest advantage the army chief’s non-comprehension of the intricacies of the long-range logistics deprived India of a decisive victory.”

In contrast, Pakistan had expended 80 per cent of its ammo. It had also lost 250 of its latest US-supplied tanks.

Chaudhuri was also criticised for his lack of daring. When the Pakistani cities of Sialkot and Lahore could have been easily taken after the dash and bravery shown by Indian troops, Chaudhuri told Shastri: “We must move with the caution and wisdom of an elephant. We will take them in God’s good time.”

In fact, when the Pakistan Army attacked in the Khem Kharan sector in Punjab, Chaudhuri ordered the Army Commander Harbaksh Singh to withdraw to a safer position. The commander refused, and what followed was the Battle of Assal Uttar – the greatest tank battle since Kursk in 1943. The Indian counter attack on the night of September 10 was so ferocious that by the morning they had knocked out 70 Pakistani tanks.

But what the Battle of Assal Uttar will be memorable for are the 25 enemy tanks found abandoned with their engines running and wireless sets on. It was the perfect metaphor for the plight of the Pakistan Army.

Had India kept its head, today we’d have a lot more to celebrate.