Bangla ferry goes down (again)

So….about 100-150 dead in Munshiganj district (30 km south of Dhaka) off Mawa Ferry Ghat on the Padma river. 

This is two months since the last disaster. One year after disaster struck at (near) the same spot. Three quick thoughts that we deem to be fit for sharing.

1) In Bangladesh, waterways are basically roadways. Thus one can rationalize the ferry deaths as just the same as horrific road accident deaths in other countries (including India). But the sinking reports always look very similar: boat was overcrowded, river was rough..etc.

Bangla should be heavily investing in “water traffic control”- sensor networks, for example, which provide early warning to boats to pull over if travel conditions are poor. Sensor networks have been used extensively on Indian railways (for landslide monitoring for example in the Western Ghats- Konkan Railway) and we can point to the many advantages of such installations (low cost, reliable).

As far as overcrowding goes this must be regulated. All it requires (we imagine) are surprise inspections by traffic inspectors and immediate impounding of the vehicle (and fixed jail terms) if there is evidence of overcrowding.
2) Where is the outrage? Every few months go by and one more ferry sinks, are human beings counted so cheaply? Bangla politics is really screwed up because of the bitter, battling Begums  but surely some disasters should lead  to a national unity moment? There would be some one, one would imagine, in a nation brimming with 160 million proud people (and millions in diaspora), who would put their hands up and say “never again.”

3) We often wonder what is the motivation for (religious minded) terrorists to kill us? As it is in South Asia countless people die enough un-planned deaths through acts of God, is there really any room for additional planned deaths delivered by HIS agents?

Such a state of affairs should evoke deep compassion (and self-reflection). Focus (if you must) on why God chooses to punish us with these terrible thunder-bolts.  

But it seems people would rather prefer violence as the path to un-settle “settled facts.” The numerous partitions stand testimony to our resolve to solve problems to which there are no permanent solutions excepting mass genocide or ethnic cleansing.

We really should learn to say “never again”….if we were smart enough that is…or if our leadership had any foresight. Too bad, WE are not smart enough, and THEY are as blind, willfully so.
A ferry with
about 200 passengers aboard capsized on Monday in the river Padma
southwest of Dhaka and rescue teams took about half of them to safety,
the chief of the district administration said.

Mohammad Saiful Hasan
Badal, Deputy Commissioner of Munshiganj district, said about 100
passengers had been rescued from the vessel, identified as the MV
Pinak-6. No deaths had yet been reported.

from the Bangladesh Inland Water Transport Authority, fire brigade and
the army were engaged in the rescue operation about 30 km (18 miles)
southwest of Dhaka.

of the passengers were coming back to the city from home after
celebrating Eid-al Fitr,” Saiful told Reuters, referring to the festival
marking the end of the Ramadan fasting month.

similar capsize occurred in May, when 54 bodies were recovered from a
vessel that went down with around 200 people on board. Low-lying
Bangladesh, with extensive inland waterways and slack safety standards,
has an appalling record of ferry accidents, with casualties sometimes
running into the hundreds.

Overcrowding is a common factor in many of the accidents and each time the government vows to toughen regulations.

In March 2012, a ferry sank near the same spot, killing at least 145 people.





These girls are so good….

We had a friend in school…Fred Seiferth. Freddie was a bit too sure about himself (as are most americans). He would say things like: “I am so good that at times I scare myself.” Nice chap and fond memories of a traditional wedding ceremony in a village church near Buffalo, New York.

Well….how about Dipika Pallikal and Joshna Chinappa? They are so good (also admittedly film-star looks)…they must be scaring the heck out of their opponents…and themselves. They just created history by winning a gold medal in squash doubles in the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow. Unfortunately the mixed doubles pair of Dipika and Saurav Ghoshal did not make it to the podium.
[ref. Wiki] Dipika Rebecca Pallikal (born 1991) in a Malayali Syrian Christian family to Sanjiv and Susan Pallikal from Kerala,
India. She played her first international tournament in London when she
was in her sixth grade, and to date, she has won the German Open, Dutch
Open, French Open, Australian Open, Scottish Open on the European
Junior Squash Circuit.

[ref. Wiki] Joshna Chinappa (born 1986) is a squash player based in India. Joshna was the first Indian to win the British
Squash Championship title in 2003 in the under 19 category and was also
the youngest Indian women’s national champion. Joshna Chinappa is the
first beneficiary of Mittal Champions Trust. A trainee of the Indian Squash Academy (erstwhile ICL academy), Chennai, Joshna was ranked 19th in the world in March 2014.

Speaking of film-star looks we have this quotation from the lady
Squash star Dipika
Pallikal has received offers for acting in Bollywood films, but she’s
not interested.

Soon after she and Joshna Chinappa won their
doubles match against Nicol David and Wee Wern of Malaysia on Wednesday,
the 22-year-old former model made it clear that she is not keen on
“No, not at all,” she said on the possibility of appearing in Bollywood films. 

“Obviously I have got offers and stuff but I don’t think my fiance will allow me.”

Dipika got engaged to cricketer Dinesh Karthik last year. 

We are (slightly) conflicted about this. The first thought is Bollywood…yeww!! Then again, fellow Malayali Vidya Balan (did we say we are a fan?) has shown the pathway for successful women-centric films.

But this thing about “dont think my fiance will allow me”…..obviously marriage involves compromise and Syrian Christians are known to be rather conservative as a community (there is nothing wrong with being conservative).

In an ideal world – there should be no boundaries for girls. We are (obviously) very far away from that point. These girls are the leaders of the next generation. They are fearless and they inspire us with their attitude towards life. They should be a bit more conscious about the sister-hood that still needs support from society in order to keep breaking those boundaries. Just saying.



Shame on you: (fellow) Bongs

….”I am surely surprised that people in Kolkata known for their
righteous stand have chosen to remain silent…..I have gotten used to this….There were not many voices to
come out when I was thrown of my home – Kolkata”……
so long as the Mamata
Banerjee continues to accede to the whims of
religious fanatics, her return to the city is not possible….

Why is Taslima Nasreen universally referred to as a “controversial author” by the Main Stream Media ? Answers on a Meghdoot Post-card please (yes you are permitted to write below the line).

As we see it, secularism is a much abused concept in India, even if we take it in the sense of equal opportunity for all religions in the public square. Thus as a secularist it is not enough that we are opposed to BJP, we must support a secular Congress which is allied with anti-secular Muslim League (Kerala). This is presumably because….why (certainly not the lesser of two evils)?

Thus in its Indian avatar, secularism is a sword to keep the Hindu Brotherhood away from power. If the H-B wins, the fear is that it will take control of official levers to build an alternate power base which will then attempt to exclude the left-liberal opinion-makers from the public square. By manipulating public opinion in this manner H-B will (in the long run) replace the secular Congress as the natural ruling party of India…we mean Hindustan…..erm…Bharat-Varsha.


We agree that parties/leaders who take advantage of communal politics should be banned from participating in politics, we disagree that a one-sided approach be termed secular. Neither do we agree that such an approach has served India well and is presently fit for purpose.

Indeed to the extent this strategy boosts conservative muslim power and suppresses muslim womens’ rights (by taking active measures such as over-turning Supreme Court judgements) it can even be termed as a “war on women” (H-B is unable to claim high moral ground because its constituent members feel that rape accusations are made because they are “fashionable”).

We also feel that “secular politics” is a cynical attempt to foist dynastic politics on India by people who are staunch believers in caste-ist politics. Ideally we would like to see a left-centered and right-centered cadre based (not caste based) party. We believe India is (ever so slightly) headed in this direction at the federal level, due to the subtle workings of the first past the post system.

To give an example of how ugly is secular politics, just one name will suffice: Taslima Nasreen. It is passing strange that our left-liberal journalists and thinkers (many of them women, bongs, and bong women) have no time for her. We would say that TN is the Ayan Hirsi Ali of South Asia, except that Taslima really does not even have any friends in India. Not even the Hindu Brotherhood would protect her from Muslim thugs.

And why are conservative muslims so upset with TN? There are (as usual) some vague accusations of having hurt sentiments and having darkened the name of the Prophet. The “secular” govt in Bangladesh has maintained her state of exile from her homeland. But the main reason why the mullahs are after her is surely this- she exposed how they discriminate against Hindus in Bangladesh.

While we can understand why the Muslim Brotherhood in South Asia would unite in their hatred against this woman, it is less clear why Indian secularists (especially fellow bongs) would not be concerned with what she has to say and the fact that she is being burdened with death threats. 

Unless of course the thinking is that any talk about Hindu discrimination in Bangladesh will boost the case of Hindutva politics in India. Thus the fate of millions of Hindus can be ignored in the name of secularism. While the assault on one individual (Taslima in Hyderabad) and preventing her a livelihood (canceling her TV show in Kolkata) are shameful acts, the other is a much more serious charge.

The moral of  the story: if you are planning to be a secular opinion maker, you need to highlight the anti-secular victimization of Salman Rushdie, MF Husain, Wendy Doniger, and Taslima Nasreen. From where we stand, it is clear that conservatives of all shades are using liberal laws as well as threat of violence to shut down legitimate speech. This must be denounced by left-liberals in an even-handed manner. And if you feel that your hatred of the Hindu Brotherhood (justified) leads you into an alliance (even if de-facto) with the Muslim Brotherhood (justified as a political strategy but not as a moral one in our book) then have the courage to say so openly. And do us all a favor: do not call yourself secular.

Kolkata: Seeking long-term extension of her residence permit,
controversial author Taslima Nasreen Saturday met Union Home Minister
Rajnath Singh.

Nasreen had expressed her anguish after the government Wednesday refused
her a one-year visa giving instead a temporary permission to stay in
India for two months.

“I met Singh today (Saturday) and he assured me that my stay in India
will be extended. I gave him my book ‘Wo Andhere Din’ (Those Dark Days)
and in return he said my dark days are over,” Nasreen told IANS.

Following her outburst on a social networking site, support for her
has been pouring from various quarters with Press Council of India
Chairperson and former Supreme Court judge Markandey Katju demanding
permanent visa for the 52-year-old who has been living in exile since

Nasreen, however, expressed her surprise over intellectuals from Kolkata – her “home” remaining silent on the issue. “I am surely surprised that people in Kolkata known for their
righteous stand have chosen to remain silent. But at the same time I
must admit I have gotten used to this. There were not many voices to
come out when I was thrown of my home – Kolkata,” she said.

Exiled from Bangladesh in 1994 for “hurting religious sentiments”
with her novel “Lajja”, Nasreen took refuge in the city in 2004. But
after violent protests in the city November 2007, the erstwhile Left
Front government whisked her away to New Delhi where she has been living
since then.

Eager to come back to Kolkata, Nasreen said so long as the Mamata
Banerjee government in the state continues to accede to the whims of
religious fanatics, her return to the city is not possible.

“By banning my tele-serial Dusahobas, this government denied me a
slice of livelihood. I have been repeatedly writing to Mamata Banerjee
expressing my wish to come back to Kolkata, but so long as she continues
to listen to the fanatics my return will never be possible, she added.

She said “Dusahobas” a story of three sisters and their triumph over
the injustices meted out by the patriarchal society, would have been a
source of inspiration at a time when crime against women was on the rise
in the state.

Following protests by minority religious groups, the TV serial was refused telecast.





Facebook freedom index

…..FB per capita (users/population): Canada (17/35), UK (30/64), USA (147/318), Argentina (16/43), France (22/66), Indonesia (63/202), Mexico (36/120), Italy
(69/252), Germany (22/81), Japan (17/127),
India (115/1250)..Absentees: China (1366), Pakistan
(188), Nigeria (178), Bangladesh (156), Russia (146), Philippines (100),
Vietnam (90), Ethiopia (88), Egypt (87), Iran (78), Turkey (77), Thailand (64),
South Africa (54), South Korea (50)…..

We have taken the top 15 nations (ranking for total users) in 2013 and re-ordered them by dividing through with the population (2014). This data from April 2013 is already old, there is every indication that Facebook use is exploding, especially in the developing world (with exceptions). Also it is clear that on pure per capita terms India would not rank (yet), while Australia (we presume) would.

Americans – short-hand for free people who are (1) conscious of their
rights, (2) have unreasonable expectations from the government, and (3) unwilling to pay taxes for the same – are dialing 911 to report Facebook outage(s)- note link below. Thus temporary denial of access to social media has been elevated to a life-threatening emergency. A sign of things to come, if one was needed at all.

We are not overtly fond of social media tools. In our opinion, it brings the global community to your door-step (good) but equally it drives the person next door far away from you (bad). We observe that children are spending too much time indoors. It appears that people (especially young people) are losing their inclination/ability to make small talk or to prevent their eyes drifting to an electronic screen in a social gathering. Finally, FB culture is a global (american, western) culture. It is another way that the local culture will be driven to extinction.

That said, it is a truism that we have to accept change in order to survive. This we believe – access to social media is a new-age freedom that must be protected and even championed. How else will you know what the world is thinking right now and the impact of such thinking? You CAN be brain-washed and become a jihadist, but you will also get disillusioned by jihadist thinking soon enough (we hope). If you have the minimum needs met with respect to roti, kaapda, makaan (as well as bijli, sadak, pani), then the next important thing (we believe) is access to Face Book. Most importantly (for us), without Facebook there would be no Brown Pundits.
Did we mention that Jews are very big in the tech-world? Why raise such a controversial issue right in the middle of the Gaza war? Simply to point out that govt will use any reason to deny social media freedoms to their citizens (see below). Ironically, it is social media that is reporting on the excesses committed by the Israeli Defense Forces (with the aid of American ammunition).

So on to the FB usage data and what useful conclusions can be drawn (please feel free to add….and subtract): 

First, we consider the first world. The Anglo-Nats really really love FB – penetration is
close to 50%. OTOH, in non-Anglo countries like  France, Italy, and
Germany, the love is a bit tepid.

Now consider India. We expect urban
India (approx 400 mil) to catch up with the rest of the
world at some point in the (not too distant) future. We may also conclude
that social media freedom exists only for a tiny section of rural India
(68.7% of population in 2011 – approx 850 mil – ref. World Bank).
improvement in internet access and electricity, we expect the rural
population to catch up with their urban cousins as well in the long run (perhaps in a few

There are problems which need to be sorted out with the Indian IT Act 66(A) as documented by The Center for Internet and Society (CIS – see link below):  
Section 66A which punishes persons for sending offensive messages is
overly broad, and is patently in violation of Art. 19(1)(a) of our
Constitution. The fact that some information is “grossly offensive”
(s.66A(a)) or that it causes “annoyance” or “inconvenience” while being
known to be false (s.66A(c)) cannot be a reason for curbing the freedom
of speech unless it is directly related to decency or morality, public
order, or defamation (or any of the four other grounds listed in Art.

However, it is promising to note that Indian courts have generally taken a dim view of censorship. It is a different matter that in a number of cases, violent elements are unleashed (or cynically speaking, violent behavior is promised or anticipated) in order to suppress lawful behavior. 

The truly interesting countries are the ones which are absent or ranked low on the list…for not so obvious reasons. Why are Philippines (just
turned 100 mil on July 27, 2014- congratulations!!!!), South Korea, and
Thailand- modern countries all – missing? Why is FB
penetration in Japan so pathetic (marginally above India)?

In Latin America, why is Argentina ranked higher than Mexico, which is so much more “American” in its ways. What is the reason for Brazil to fall behind ARG/MEX?

And closer home,
how about Pakistan and Bangladesh? We know of periodic social media bans
in Pak but this is not the case for Bangla.  

Still we feel that (in the long
run), Bangla will look more like Indonesia, while Pak will be aligned
with Turkey and Iran in having restricted access to social media. 

Finally, people argue that Chinese are able to access the internet using digital
subterfuges but in our opinion, it does makes a difference if you have to
watch over your shoulder all the time.
Iranians are no longer able to use the free text messaging service WhatsApp, JTA reports,
because the app was recently bought by Facebook, which is run by Mark
Zuckerberg, who is Jewish.

That’s right: Iran banned the app, which
allows users to communicate via text message without having to purchase a
dedicated SMS plan, because it is owned by a company whose CEO is, as
they put it, is an “American Zionist.”

“The reason for this is the assumption of WhatsApp by
the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who is an American Zionist,” said
Abdolsamad Khorramabadi, head of the country’s secretary of the
Committee for Determining Criminal Web Content, Fox News reported Sunday.

The move would make more sense, though, if Facebook was also banned in Iran.
But since it’s not, this arbitrary ban is largely meaningless, serving
only to prevent the citizens of Iran from saving money while they group

It’s especially nonsensical considering how much of a presence on
social media—Facebook included—Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has built up since taking office in 2013. He tweets regularly,
and updates his Facebook profile with pictures and messages. The ban on
WhatsApp, then, seems wholly inconsistent, and almost entirely random.

It’s not the first Jewish-tinged attack on Facebook since the social
networking behemoth bought WhatsApp in February. A German newspaper published a cartoon depicting the ‘Facebook Octopus’—a hook-nosed Zuckerberg with tentacles pulling the WhatsApp logo into his reach


to LA County Sheriff sergeant Burton Brink, they received “several”
calls from dissatisfied Facebook users seeking a solution to the error
message they faced while logging into Facebook.
Frustrated, Brink wrote a message on Twitter: “Facebook is not a Law
Enforcement issue, please do not call us about it being down, we do not
know when FB will be back up!”
Brink explained it was done to prevent more people from calling about the problem.
“We get phone calls all the time, whether it be Facebook going down,” Brink was quoted as saying in a Fortune report.
– See more at:
to LA County Sheriff sergeant Burton Brink, they received “several”
calls from dissatisfied Facebook users seeking a solution to the error
message they faced while logging into Facebook.
Frustrated, Brink wrote a message on Twitter: “Facebook is not a Law
Enforcement issue, please do not call us about it being down, we do not
know when FB will be back up!”
Brink explained it was done to prevent more people from calling about the problem.
“We get phone calls all the time, whether it be Facebook going down,” Brink was quoted as saying in a Fortune report.
– See more at:

According to LA County Sheriff
sergeant Burton Brink, they received “several” calls from dissatisfied Facebook
users seeking a solution to the error message they faced while logging into

Frustrated, Brink wrote a message on
Twitter: “Facebook is not a Law Enforcement issue, please do not call us about
it being down, we do not know when FB will be back up!”

Brink explained it was done to
prevent more people from calling about the problem.

“We get phone calls all the time,
whether it be Facebook going down,” Brink was quoted as saying in a
Fortune report.

Link (1):

Link (2): 

Link (3):

Link (4):

Link (5):




Gaza and the outrage of millions

I do not follow the Palestinian-Israeli conflict very closely, but of course, given the high visibility of this issue, I am not completely ignorant of it either and do have opinions about it. Ever since the current war started, my Facebook and Twitter feeds have been aflame with outrage at Israeli actions and support for the Palestinians. I have posted a post (basically saying there is no end in sight) and a few comments here and there, but generally stayed out of it. This (relative) lack of outrage has outraged some of my friends and forced me to think about it a bit more. So here goes:

First, about my relative lack of outrage: I plead old age. I am so old, I remember when i was outraged at Nixon’s Christmas bombing of Hanoi (I was a child, but I was a precocious child in that way, in a very politically aware household). I was outraged at the genocide in East Pakistan a few years after it happened (how I missed being outraged at that in 1971 is a long story). I remember being outraged when the CIA sent terrorists to blow up stuff in Nicaragua and when right wing death squads nailed nuns to the table in El-Salvador. I was outraged at the first Iraq war (and marched in Washington to oppose it, then went to a bar and saw zero coverage of that HUGE march on TV) and approaching old age, at the second. If that looks like a leftish list of outrages, its because (like all Westernized Desis) I grew up in a Leftist milieu when it came to being outraged. But I compensated in my old age. I have since become retrospectively outraged at Lenin, Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, among others. I was even mildly outraged by our (Pakistan’s) close allies the Sri Lankan army, and their tactics in their elimination of the Tamil Tigers. But the point is, I have discovered by now that the outcome of these things is rarely determined by the number of people outraged. In actual wars, especially wars where the opposing parties look at it as a fight to the death, its usually a matter of who can fight better and longer and who has the deadlier weapons.

In short, if there is no middle ground, then the conflict (no matter who is at fault, or who did what to get here) will, NECESSARILY, be settled by the battle-axe. Any settlement by the battle-axe means more Palestinian suffering than Israeli suffering because Israel has the better axes. Supporters of Palestine (and I continue to believe that I am one, since I think a two-state solution on near 1967 borders is the most humane solution and complete defeat of either party involves too much human suffering) should keep this in mind before they valorize an armed resistance in which they themselves take absolutely no bodily risks. Israel must stop bombarding Gaza and killing civilians as collective punishment, but Hamas must also stop firing rockets and getting civilians killed. Even if we believe that the moral burden of those civilian deaths rests on the killers, not on Hamas, the price is too damned high. Moral victory at that price is not worth it.

Cheer leading that victory from 10,000 miles away on Twitter or Facebook is easy. But the price for those dying and suffering is too high. Should Hamas then accept blockade and lack of recognition and x and y?…yes and no. They must not act as if they can FIGHT their way past these restrictions because clearly they cannot. Then they should get out of the way and let more Gandhian alternatives try to improve the life of Palestinians instead of using them as cannon fodder. By not accepting X or Y, what exactly have they achieved? Has the blockade ended? has the suffering stopped? If the tactics you are using are only getting your own kids killed, then the tactics are not working. Honor and admiration from countless millions backslapping each other in their drawing rooms is not enough of a reward or achievement.

Almost all my friends disagree with me on this, but then, like me, they are safely away from the kill zone….also, many of them have had nasty words for Abbas (Abu Mazen). Well, he has not achieved what he wanted, but the West Bank Palestinians are still better off than the ones in Gaza. Their kids are not being slaughtered in the hundreds and they have the chance to resist non-violently and make their case to the world AND TO ISRAEL. Of course it is possible that (as most of my friends claim) Israel  is really not interested in making an honorable peace. But since the Palestinians do not have (and will not have in the foreseeable future) ANY way to militarily defeat Israel, their options are rather limited. Distant cheerleaders with nothing to lose are encouraging them to commit suicide so that we can all have dead heroes to admire. I dont think thats a good idea for Gazans.

Those protest demonstrations in Western capitals? I saw bigger ones before the Gulf war. What happened next is well known.

PS: What about my disproportionate attention to Pakistani Jihadists, ISIS and suchlike? I think its semi-rational. They have killed friends of mine already> they may kill more in the days to come. Their actions affect people I know personally. Its selfish, but its (sort of) rational.


Secularism (no exceptions please)

Indian secularists supposedly have a soft spot for muslims (sweet), while ignoring other minorities such as Sikhs (why? perhaps because they are successful and can look after themselves). Thus we have honest liberals like Mukul Kesavan (reluctantly) white-washing the 1984 anti-Sikh pogrom (as opposed to the 2002 anti-muslim one). MK makes the case that Congress kills because of opportunity while BJP kills because of ideology. Yes…..but so what?

Meanwhile, in Saharanpur three Sikhs (officially) have just been butchered by a muslim mob (led by an ex-Congressman) and the predictable Twitter wars have been launched.

When people are murdered do they really feel better that they are being killed on account of ideology or because of opportunity? How about the claims for justice, in which case are they more (or less) valid? Is it really true that the appointment of Man Mohan Singh as Prime Minister (who then issued a mealy-mouthed apology) is all that is required to wash away the blood-stains?
We do not see the difficulty in laying blame equally on opportunity and ideology. And we see considerable virtue in not suppressing the truth and being impartial. Thus when Hindus kill Muslims or Muslims kill Sikhs, such actions should be condemned with equal intensity.

We already know how the bigots will behave. If left-liberals also choose to be economical with the truth, they will lose credibility. People will then feel free to ignore their bleatings the next time the big bad wolf shows up at the door..
Even before Indian politicians could cause the Saharanpur riots to
snowball into a secular party versus communal party war, guess who took
their spot? The country’s media. A day after riots in the Western UP
town claimed four lives, Gaurav Sawant, a journalist with English news
channel Headlines Today tweeted questioning the reportage of the riots
by the mainstream media

He asked why the victims in the Saharanpur riots were not identified by their religion.

He also questioned why, while there had been a huge furore over a Shiv
Sena MP shoving a roti into a fasting Muslim worker’s mouth, there had
been no anger over fasting Muslims gathering to pray and leading to a

His comments kicked off a Twitter storm with people lining up on either side of the debate.

Twitter then saw a series of  squabbles over allowing him to carry on
his job as a journalist. Several petitions and counter petitions were
filed in the course of the day, with colleagues and friends tweeting
pictures in support of the journalist.

This is how a Facebook friend responded to the exit polls predicting an
easy victory for Modi:  

“One good thing about Modi becoming PM will be
the daily opportunity to dissent.”

He seems to have missed the
daily opportunity to dissent provided by the Manmohan Singh-led United
Progressive Alliance’s second term. UPA-2 did a lot of things people now
fear a Modi government will do.

There was the corruption of the
Commonwealth Games, they blamed the auditor for exposing the telecom
scam, they put Anna Hazare in jail for asking for a Lokpal and even
killed a Baba Ramdev supporter making the same demand. Students came out
to protest against rape and they responded with tear gas. 

They passed a
draconian anti-terrorism law and put Muslims in jail for fake terrorism
cases. They hanged Ajmal Kasab and Afzal Guru to appear strong, weren’t
able to do anything about anti-Muslim violence in Congress-ruled Assam,
let the situation in Kashmir deteriorate,
allowed the economy to
tumble, let Maoists get the better of them, slapped sedition cases
against people who didn’t want a nuclear power plant next to their
homes, put people in jail for criticising the government online, and
created a Central Monitoring System to snoop on all phone and internet
communication. Acts like this, if committed by a BJP government, will be
more vehemently opposed in the name of fascism.

To each crisis,
the Congress leadership responded with arrogance, compounding their
mistakes, losing the trust of the judiciary and the media, reviving the
moribund BJP. Had it not been for the self-destructive performance of
UPA-2, Modi would arguably not have chosen this election to make a bid
at the top job. If the independent Left sees Modi as a problem, it
should criticise the factors that encouraged the BJP leader’s rise in
2013-2014: the failure of Sonia Gandhi, her son Rahul and her chosen
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

Instead, when Modi was sharpening
his knives, Left-leaning intellectuals and activists were attacking the
Anna Hazare-Arvind Kejriwal-led Jan Lokpal movement. They said that the
Lokpal movement was a Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh conspiracy to make the
Congress look bad, as if the Congress needed any help with that.

the past three years, I have seen more bile, fear and frustration over
Hazare and Kejriwal on my social media timelines than over Modi. Rants
about how the Lokpal movement was proto-fascist and full of RSS workers
all served to show how the Indian Left is still traumatised by the Babri

Perhaps it is only fair that the Hindutva brigade
gets to rule a country whose liberal intelligentsia has shown such great
poverty of political imagination as to trap itself in the Congress-BJP
binary, ceding altogether the once-vibrant space for anti-Congressism to
Hindutva supporters, and thus falling into their trap.

One thing
is clear. The Left still matters. While the party Left – the world’s
first communists to contest democratic elections – have been in
self-destruction mode, the independent Left plays a crucial role in
shaping political discourse. They used that power to the hilt to
discredit the Hazare movement.

They propped up dalit politician Udit Raj
to suggest that dalits are opposed to the Lokpal bill. (Udit Raj has
since joined the BJP.) They said the Lokpal movement was not questioning
corporate corruption but then Kejriwal took on the Ambanis. They said
Kejriwal was not speaking against BJP corruption but then he took on the
BJP president, Nitin Gadkari, accusing him of a scam that forced him to
resign from his post.

It was only when Kejriwal demonstrated in
the Delhi assembly elections that he could take on the BJP that secular
intellectuals started showing sympathy for the Aam Aadmi Party. A “No
More” campaign on Facebook has argued for tactical voting to elect the
candidate who can defeat the BJP in every constituency. Leftist
activists from across the country descended upon Varanasi to tell the
people to not vote for Modi.

This is the wrong way to go about
it: simply backing the candidate that can keep the BJP out is not going
to take them anywhere. Keeping the BJP out cannot constitute an entire
political imagination. The Left needs an agenda, an idea, a cadre.
Perhaps the AAP is not that option either, but India does need a
substitute for the Congress. 

The Congress will keep making mistakes,
keep showing its elitist arrogance and being blasé about corruption, and
the BJP will keep exploiting its mistakes. This is how the BJP first
came to power, defeating Narasimha Rao after he liberalised the economy
and put it on the right track. And that is repeating itself. The party
that opened the gates of the Babri Masjid cannot be the guardian of


The stock response of the Bharatiya Janata
Party to the argument that Godhra makes Narendra Modi politically
untouchable is “What about 1984?” There are several inadequate comebacks
to that question and the best of them is that no one should use one
pogrom to justify another.

The problem
with this response, though, is that it doesn’t answer the questions that
fly in close formation behind the “What about 1984?” question, namely,
“Why is the BJP worse than the Congress?” and, relatedly, “Why is
Narendra Modi any worse than Rajiv Gandhi?” specially given the latter’s
infamous comment, “When a big tree falls, the earth shakes,” which
seemed, retrospectively, to rationalize the systematic killing of Sikhs
in the days that followed Indira Gandhi’s assassination.

These are
important questions regardless of who asks them. The fact that they are
often asked by Narendra Modi’s unlovely supporters isn’t a good reason
for not taking them seriously.

1984 had two
major consequences. First, it radically undermined the Congress’s claim
to being a secular party that respected the political tradition of
pluralism pioneered by its colonial avatar and consolidated by Nehru in
the early years of the republic. The willingness of the Congress under
Indira Gandhi to use sectarian issues for political ends had been
evident before 1984 but the party’s willingness to sell its pluralist
soul for immediate political advantage was most vividly illustrated in
the days and months after her death.
The Congress, after 1984, stood out
more and more clearly as a party that couldn’t even be accused of not
having the courage of its convictions because it didn’t have any
convictions at all. Pluralism and its traditional opposition to
majoritarianism became labels that the Congress used for brand
management in particular political contexts, not as principles that
shaped its political agenda.

Let us
return to our question, namely, “What makes Modi and the BJP worse than
the Congress and its dynasts, given the horror of 1984?” The answer is
simple and unedifying. 
The Congress, by a kind of historical default, is
a pluralist party that is opportunistically communal while the BJP is
an ideologically communal (or majoritarian) party that is
opportunistically ‘secular’.
The difference between the Congress and the
BJP doesn’t lie mainly in the willingness of the former to express
contrition about pogroms it helped organize; it is, perhaps, best
illustrated by the fact that twenty years after the 1984 pogrom, the
Congress assumed office with a Sikh at the helm who served as prime
minister for two terms.

Try to
imagine a BJP government headed by a Muslim ten years from now. It
doesn’t work even as a thought experiment. And the reason it doesn’t
work is that the BJP’s ideology is essentially the encrustation of
prejudice around an inconvenient and irreducible fact: the substantial
and undeferential presence of minority communities in the republic,
specially Muslims who, for the sangh parivar, are the unfinished
business of Partition. The idea that the BJP might appoint a Muslim head
of government (as opposed to, say, the nomination of President Kalam to
titular office) is unthinkable.

It doesn’t
follow from this that Manmohan Singh’s prime ministership is a sign of
the Congress’s political virtue; it isn’t. It is, if anything, a symptom
of the dynastic dysfunction that has diminished the Congress. But the
reason his prime ministership is possible is that the Congress isn’t
ideologically committed to anti-Sikh bigotry (despite 1984) in the way
that the BJP is committed to Hindu supremacy and the subordination of
Muslims. That’s why Narendra Modi so excites the sangh parivar’s
rank and file: the Gujarat Model is the BJP’s test run for India, and it
isn’t the economics of it that sets the pulses of its cadres racing.

So the
reason the dynastic Congress isn’t as dangerous as Modi’s BJP is
dispiriting but straightforward: while the Congress is capable of
communalism, it isn’t constituted by bigotry. With Modi, even when he’s
talking economics and good governance, we get the “burqa of
secularism” and Muslims as road kill. It’s not his fault; from the time
that Golwalkar sketched out his vision of an India where religious
minorities were docile helots, bigotry has been Hindutva’s calling card.



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The Indo-Europeans (Jats, Ezhavas)

…Ezhavas are brown Caucasians……Jat Sikhs are a lot fairer……only thing they
have in common is a martial tradition… asserting
that the two communities – that have never mixed and live thousands of miles
away – are close genetically……


India is full of interesting people and Jats are of special interest now that we have a Jat as a Chief of Army Staff (COAS). What came as a shock (to us) is the commonality between Kerala Ezhavas (the dominant shudra community) and Punjabi Jat Sikhs (the dominant shudra community).

(Lt) General Dalbir Singh Suhag (Jat but not Sikh), the 26th COAS who took over from General Bikram Singh (Sikh, most likely Jat), has a grand life-story to tell (see below), rising from a humble farm-hand background to be the highest ranked officer of the land, via the Gurkha regiment.

Our best wishes to General Singh and our hope is that we can maintain a “cold peace” in the sub-continent and that our civilian leaders will guide us accordingly.
DNA samples taken from thousands of Indians
have been compared with population groups from other parts of the world,
particularly Europe and Central Asia.

The latest one is from Kerala, which
is my home state on India’s south-western coast. According to the study, two
entirely different castes – Ezhava, also known as Thiyya in northern Kerala, and
Jat Sikh of Punjab – show remarkable genetic similarity.

In fact, Ezhavas showed more genotypic
resemblance to the Jat Sikh population of Punjab, Turks and Germans than to
East Asians, says the study by the Department of Biotechnology &
Biochemical Engineering at the Sree Budha College of Engineering in Pattoor,

It was conducted by department head Dr Seema Nair, Aswathy Geetha and
Chippy Jagannath under the aegis of Dr K. Sasikumar, the chairman of the
institute. It has also been published in the Croatian Medical Journal.

Before we jump into the study, here’s a
little note about genetics. For various reasons, DNA material undergoes slight
alterations or mutations in the course of time. The mutations then become
characteristic of the line of descendants. These mutations, or genetic markers,
are organised into categories called haplotypes. Basically, your haplotype is your
genetic fingerprint.

The Sree Budha study examined DNA from
the Y chromosome, which is also known as the male chromosome because it is
found only in males. More specifically, it examined Y Short Tandem Repeat (Y
STR) DNA present in the Y chromosome. As these DNA sequences are passed from
father to son, it is also useful in forensics and paternity testing.

The Ezhava population was compared
with other Indian populations and with selected world populations in order to
investigate the pattern of paternal contributions. Nair’s team examined 104
haplotypes among the Ezhavas. Ten were found identical to the Jat Sikhs, which
is the highest number among Indian populations, and four to the Turkish
population, which is the highest among European populations.

“The comparison suggests a genetic
link between the populations,” says Nair. Ezhavas, she argues, are genetically
more similar to Europeans (60 percent) than to East Asians (40 percent).

My interaction with Nair, who comes
across as witty and erudite, was primarily fuelled by my search for my own roots.
I belong to the same Ezhava community, which is at the centre of this research.

The Ezhavas have an intriguing
history. The most persistent belief is that they are the original people of
Kerala – the soldiers of the Villavar (archer) community which founded the
Chera kingdom. It is a measure of their martial traditions that among the
Ezhavas are the Chekavar – the only kamikaze group of fighters known in Indian

What is intriguing about the study is that
the Ezhavas, a Dravidian group, are now being described as closer to Jat Sikhs,
Europeans and Central Asians.

In terms of physical appearance, the
Ezhavas are brown Caucasians. However, typical of many Indian communities,
there are plenty of very dark and very fair people among them.

On the other hand, the Jat Sikhs who
live 3000 km up north are a lot fairer. Plus, Jat Sikh surnames such Mann,
Bader, Brar, Dhillon and Virk have an uncanny Germanic resonance.

Indeed, it is worth mentioning the
during the early part of the 20th century Sikh immigrants to the US convinced
the Immigration & Naturalization Service to grant them white status. Those
days only white Europeans were allowed to enter the United States as
immigrants. However, later the INS wised up to the fact that the Sikhs “weren’t
that white” and again categorised them as Asian.

So there you have it. One group of
Indians, the Ezhavas, and another group, the Jat Sikhs. The only thing they
have in common is a martial tradition. And yet you have this study asserting
that the two communities – that have never mixed and live thousands of miles
away – are closer genetically than to communities that live close by.

Meanwhile, down south Nair and
Sasikumar say the first report on the Y-STR profile in Kerala population is
just the beginning. Expect the unexpected.

Dalbir Singh Suhag, who took over as the 26th Chief of Army Staff
(CoAS) from General Bikram Singh on Thursday, tilled his land in a
remote Haryana village in his childhood.

General Dalbir Singh
was born in Bishan village in Haryana’s Jhajjar district on December 28,
1954. Many in the village, including his father and uncles had served
in the infantry and cavalry units but few would have imagined that the
boy who started his education in the two-roomed village primary school
would go on to lead the Indian Army one day.

According to
sources close to General Dalbir Singh Suhag, the rooms of the school
were used for senior classes and he along with his classmates took their
lessons under trees.

During his spare time, the young Dalbir
would lend a helping hand to his family in tilling his field. This help
was crucial during the harvest season. “This was crucial learning for
any child. By working the fields, they developed a deep sense of respect
for the motherland that bore them their daily bread,” the source said.

…It was
in 1961 that a development took place which would remodel the life of
this boy from Bishan. That year, the Government of India set out to
establish Sainik Schools across the country. Chittorgarh in Rajasthan
was one of the locations. Dalbir’s granduncle was an equestrian
instructor at this school and he suggested that the boy study there.
Dalbir joined the school on January 15, 1965.

His teachers from
the Sainik School days are elated. “I feel that I am 18 again,”
remarked K S Kang, a teacher who is in his 90s. H S Rathi, another
teacher, described Dalbir as: “a very sincere, hard working and obedient
student. He was also very good in sports and a gifted basketball
player.” His English teacher J N Bhargava described him as: “He managed
his studies very well. He was humility personified, a man of
determination, speed and tenacity of purpose and would do any job
assigned to him most obediently.”   

went on to join the National Defence Academy and in June, 1974, was
commissioned to the 4th Battalion of the 5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier
Force). He is the third Army chief after Field Marshal SHFJ Manekshaw
and Gen G G Bewoor who was either commissioned into or associated with
the Brigade of Gorkhas. “It was a conscious choice I made as I wanted to
join only the infantry,” says Gen Dalbir Singh of his choice to seek
out the Gorkha Regiment, whose soldiers are among the finest in the

After serving in Sri Lanka and Jammu & Kashmir, Gen
Dalbir Singh raised and commanded a Rashtriya Rifles Battalion in
Nagaland and later an Infantry Brigade deeply committed to intense
Counter Insurgency Operations in the Kashmir valley.

Gen Dalbir
Singh also commanded a Mountain Division in the Kargil-Drass sector. He
also served under the Cabinet Secretariat as an Inspector General,
Special Frontier Force. Subsequently, he was appointed Eastern Army
Commander from June 16, 2012 to December 31, 2013, and later to the post
of Vice Chief of the Army Staff (VCOAS) on January 1, 2014.



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Save Gaza is lovely….but not enough

is worse than Netanyahu, Egyptians are conspiring against us
more than the Jews” …. “They finished the Brotherhood in
Egypt, now they are going after Hamas”
is clearly a convergence of interests of these regimes with
Israel” …the Egyptian
fight against political Islam and the Israeli struggle
against Palestinian militants were nearly identical….“Whose proxy war is


Brit-Pak cricketer Moeen Ali who helped England crush India in the third Test match with a six-wicket haul was reprimanded by the International Cricket Council (ICC) for wearing a wrist-band in support of the people of Gaza. Malaysian cyclist Azizulhasni Awang has also been threatened with a ban by Commonwealth Games officials in Glasgow, Scotland.

The Hindu-Brotherhood is supposedly in favor of a “robust response” from Israel – enemies of Islam/Muslims worldwide, unite!!! Israelis are asking (and inviting Indian solidarity) what would happen if thousands of rockets were launched from Pak-administered Kashmir on Indian civilians?

That question has been answered before, not once, but many times and was crystal clear in India’s response to 26/11 attack on Mumbai. Not even a finger was lifted in anger. Hafiz Saeed is happily surviving with a 10 mil dollar bounty on his person.

There are two important lessons here which point to a single conclusion. 
First, there are credible reports that a section of the Arab leadership is not too bothered with Israel giving Hamas a kick (see below). Given the dislike (hatred?) of the Muslim Brotherhood AND Iran, it appears that the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians are condoning mass murder of Palestinians (and brother Arabs). It appears that not only there is no Ummah, but pan-Arab solidarity is also a myth.

Second, Israel today is in effect, a “Jewish democracy” where Arabs may live as second class citizens. It can also be argued that Pakistan is a “Sunni-Islamic democracy” where non-Sunni folks may live as second class citizens. How are the Shia/Ahmadi targeted killings materially different from the targeted killings in Gaza?? Where are the “Save the Shias” or “Save the Ahmadi” arm-bands??  Why is the quality of mercy so strained?

The true evil is majoritarianism whether in South Asia (or Middle-East or Indo-China). Today muslims are being oppressed in India. But the Hindu majority is not an unified whole. Indeed in Gorkhaland (Bengal) and in Telengana, Hindu-on-Hindu fighting has been going on and can be quite bloody. 

The majority needs to make sure that the minorities live in peace. Otherwise a day will come when they too will live in terror. 

Palestinian militants in Gaza two years ago, Israel found itself
pressed from all sides by unfriendly Arab neighbors to end the fighting. Not this time.
the military ouster of the Islamist government in Cairo last year,
Egypt has led a new coalition of Arab states — including Jordan, Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — that has effectively lined up with
Israel in its fight against Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls
the Gaza Strip. 
That, in turn, may have contributed to the failure of
the antagonists to reach a negotiated cease-fire even after more than
three weeks of bloodshed.
Arab states’ loathing and fear of political Islam is so strong that it
outweighs their allergy to Benjamin Netanyahu,” the prime minister of
Israel, said Aaron David Miller, a scholar at the Wilson Center in
Washington and a former Middle East negotiator under several presidents.
have never seen a situation like it, where you have so many Arab states
acquiescing in the death and destruction in Gaza and the pummeling of
Hamas,” he said. “The silence is deafening.”

Egypt is traditionally the key go-between in any talks with Hamas —
deemed a terrorist group by the United States and Israel — the
government in Cairo this time surprised Hamas by publicly proposing a
cease-fire agreement that met most of Israel’s demands and none from the
Palestinian group. Hamas was tarred as intransigent when it immediately
rejected it, and Cairo has continued to insist that its proposal
remains the starting point for any further discussions.
as commentators sympathetic to the Palestinians slammed the proposal as
a ruse to embarrass Hamas, Egypt’s Arab allies praised it. King
Abdullah of Saudi Arabia called President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi of Egypt
the next day to commend it, Mr. Sisi’s office said, in a statement that
cast no blame on Israel but referred only to “the bloodshed of innocent
civilians who are paying the price for a military confrontation for
which they are not responsible.”
is clearly a convergence of interests of these various regimes with
Israel,” said Khaled Elgindy, a former adviser to Palestinian
negotiators who is now a fellow at the Brookings Institution in
Washington. In the battle with Hamas, Mr. Elgindy said, the Egyptian
fight against the forces of political Islam and the Israeli struggle
against Palestinian militants were nearly identical. “Whose proxy war is
it?” he asked.
dynamic has inverted all expectations of the Arab Spring uprisings. As
recently as 18 months ago, most analysts in Israel, Washington and the
Palestinian territories expected the popular uprisings to make the Arab
governments more responsive to their citizens, and therefore more
sympathetic to the Palestinians and more hostile to Israel.
instead of becoming more isolated, Israel’s government has emerged for
the moment as an unexpected beneficiary of the ensuing tumult, now
tacitly supported by the leaders of the resurgent conservative order as
an ally in their common fight against political Islam.
officials have directly or implicitly blamed Hamas instead of Israel
for Palestinian deaths in the fighting, even when, for example, United
Nations schools have been hit by Israeli shells, something that occurred
again on Wednesday.
the pro-government Egyptian news media has continued to rail against
Hamas as a tool of a regional Islamist plot to destabilize Egypt and the
region, just as it has since the military ouster of President Mohamed
Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood one year ago. (Egyptian prosecutors have
charged Hamas with instigating violence in Egypt, killing its soldiers
and police officers, and even breaking Mr. Morsi and other Brotherhood
leaders out of jail during the 2011 uprising.)
diatribes against Hamas by at least one popular pro-government talk
show host in Egypt were so extreme that the government of Israel
broadcast some of them into Gaza. “They
use it to say, ‘See, your supposed friends are encouraging us to kill
you!’ ” Maisam Abumorr, a Palestinian student in Gaza City, said in a
telephone interview.
pro-government Egyptian talk shows broadcast in Gaza “are saying the
Egyptian Army should help the Israeli Army get rid of Hamas,” she said.
the same time, Egypt has infuriated Gazans by continuing its policy of
shutting down tunnels used for cross-border smuggling into the Gaza
Strip and keeping border crossings closed, exacerbating a scarcity of
food, water and medical supplies after three weeks of fighting.
is worse than Netanyahu, and the Egyptians are conspiring against us
more than the Jews,” said Salhan al-Hirish, a storekeeper in the
northern Gaza town of Beit Lahiya. “They finished the Brotherhood in
Egypt, and now they are going after Hamas.”
and other Arab states, especially the Persian Gulf monarchies of Saudi
Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, are finding themselves allied with
Israel in a common opposition to Iran, a rival regional power that has a
history of funding and arming Hamas.
Washington, the shift poses new obstacles to its efforts to end the
fighting. Although Egyptian intelligence agencies continue to talk with
Hamas, as they did under former President Hosni Mubarak and Mr. Morsi,
Cairo’s new animosity toward the group has called into question the
effectiveness of that channel, especially after the response to Egypt’s
first proposal.
a result, Secretary of State John Kerry turned to the more
Islamist-friendly states of Qatar and Turkey as alternative mediators —
two states that grew in regional stature with the rising tide of
political Islam after the Arab Spring, and that have suffered a degree
of isolation as that tide has ebbed.

that move has put Mr. Kerry in the incongruous position of appearing to
some analysts as less hostile to Hamas — and thus less supportive of
Israel — than Egypt or its Arab allies.
For Israeli hawks, the change in the Arab states has been relatively liberating.
reading here is that, aside from Hamas and Qatar, most of the Arab
governments are either indifferent or willing to follow the leadership
of Egypt,” said Martin Kramer, president of Shalem College in Jerusalem
and an American-Israeli scholar of Islamist and Arab politics. “No one
in the Arab world is going to the Americans and telling them, ‘Stop it
now,’ ” as Saudi Arabia did, for example, in response to earlier Israeli
crackdowns on the Palestinians, he said. “That gives the Israelis
the resurgence of the anti-Islamist, military-backed government in
Cairo, Mr. Kramer said, the new Egyptian government and allies like
Saudi Arabia appear to believe that “the Palestinian people are to bear
the suffering in order to defeat Hamas, because Hamas cannot be allowed
to triumph and cannot be allowed to emerge as the most powerful
Palestinian player.”
officials disputed that characterization, arguing that the new
government was maintaining its support for the Palestinian people
despite its deteriorating relations with Hamas, and that it had grown no
closer to Israel than it was under Mr. Morsi or Mr. Mubarak.
have a historical responsibility toward the Palestinians, and that is
not related to our stance on any specific faction,” said a senior
Egyptian diplomat, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the
sensitivity of the talks. “Hamas is not Gaza, and Gaza is not
However, there are a large number of people both within and outside
Israel who believe that what Netanyahu is doing is perhaps the only, and
the correct, path to take. “Israel is dealing with a situation that no
other democratic cou­ntry has had to face in recent years,” says Shira
Loewenberg, director, American Jewish Centre (AJC), Asia-Pacific
Institute. “Try to imagine that a neighbour of the US or India has
smuggled or assembled thousands of missiles with a range of hundreds of
miles, and that neighbour has declared a goal of inflicting the greatest
possible damage on our countries. What would our governments do?”
Historian Shlomo Avineri, who teaches at Hebrew University, Jerusalem,
forwards a similar argument. “Imagine how India would have reacted if an
Islamist fundamentalist organisation, based in
Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir, would have fired for years hundreds of
missiles at India’s civilian population,” he says.

But as parallel and differing narratives come out of Israel and
elsewhere to explain the current violence in Gaza, many experts say that
to understand the present situation one needs to go back to 2006, when
Hamas entered the scene as a legitimate stakeholder on the Palestinian
landscape. One could in fact go back even further, to the beginning,
circa 1948, when Palestine was partitioned to create Israel. Between
then and now, the Palestinian share of the land has shrunk (see graphic),
while that of Israel has increased consistently and substantially.
Israel, for all practical purposes, remains the occupying force in

  • 1949 Armistice declared. Israel gains more than 50% territory promised.
  • 1959 Yasser Arafat establishes his political outfit, Fatah
  • 1948 Israeli state is created. Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Lebanon reject the partition, declare war.
  • 1964 Birth of Palestinian Liberation Organisation
  • 1967 Israel wins Six-Day War declared by neighbours, occupies large territories they hold
  • 1972 Palestinian group Black September kidnap, kill 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics
  • 1973 Egypt, Syria lose Yom Kippur War
  • 1979 Egypt signs peace treaty, gets back Sinai, but is boycotted by Arab countries
  • 1982 Lebanon invaded. Israel-backed Christian militia mass­acres Palestinian refugees.
  • 1987 Palestine declares intifada
  • 1988 Palestinian State declared. Is recognised by 130 countries, including India.
  • 1994 Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres share Nobel Peace Prize
  • 2000 At Camp David, Clinton offers Palestinians territories in Gaza and West Bank. Arafat rejects it.
  • 2004 Arafat dies, arsenic poisoning by Israelis suspected
  • 2005 Mahmoud Abbas becomes Palestinian Authority chairman
  • 2006 Hamas wins Gaza in parliamentary election, is legitimate stakeholder. Israel rejects the idea.
  • 2008 Israel launches Op Hot Winter in response to Hamas rockets
  • 2009 1,000 people die in Op Cast Lead, 900 Palestinian civilians
  • 2010 Turkish activists try to break Israel naval blockade of Gaza but face IDS. Nine die.
  • 2011 Bus bombings in Israel even as PA moves UN to have statehood recognised
  • 2012 Israel’s ‘Pillar of Defence’ destroys Hamas’s arms depots, govt facilities
  • 2013 Hamas kidnaps, kills Israeli soldier
  • 2014 Israel launches military action on Gaza to destroy tunnels, killing some 800 people.
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Shah-Jahan-Abad rises from the ashes

…the victory of the
British East India Company signaled the end of Purani Dilli…..For over 200 years the Red Fort and neighbouring areas housed both
Mughal nobility and ordinary citizens…..
The capture of Delhi in 1858 led to Shahjahanabad being changed forever… was torn apart by the British….Muslims were hounded out….their properties looted and destroyed…..

From the (mythical???) all-glass capital of Indraprastha (Pandavas, Mahabharata) to the modern times and modern-day New Delhi, the valley marked by the Yamuna river to the east and the Aravalli hills to the West and South-West has been privileged as the seat of political power in India.

Take any train that terminates in the old (original) Delhi station (for example, Mussorie Express from the eponymous Hill Station) and at journey’s end you cross the river and trundle past the magnificent Red Fort. You will not easily forget the experience (we promise).

Shah-Jahan-abad is being gentrified one public toilet at a time. We would not really recommend shopping in Chandni Chowk. Try Pahar-Gunj instead, for cheap hotels and cheap finery, a brief walk from the New Delhi Railway terminus (modern one). The Delhi Metro is a wonderful thing, so you can get lodgings in posh Ramakrishna Puram (RK Puram) or Vasant Vihar and still manage to catch the sights, sounds (and most importantly flavors) of the old city. But remember what the old lady had warned about- please be home by night-fall.
After over seven years of bureaucratic apathy, confusion,
indifference and lack of long-term planning to revive the once Mughal
capital, work on the redevelopment of Shahjahanabad has begun.

The name ‘Shahjahanabad’— the place itself laid out by the Mughal
Emperor in the middle of the seventeenth century
—might conjure romantic
images of a bygone era, but the reality is far more cruel. A walk down
Chandni Chowk makes this no easier to accept. Except for tourists, both
foreign and domestic, most of those in New Delhi look down upon Old
Delhi as a crowded and noisy place that is best avoided. 

Their lack of
an emotional connection with a part of the city that was for over 200
years the actual capital can be blamed on the fact that successive
governments of independent India have looked at Shahjahanabad the same
way it was viewed by the British colonial government.

From the Red Fort, one has to cross the busy Netaji Subhas Marg
towards Gauri Shankar Mandir; hopping over piles of garbage and pools of
urine that have leaked out of broken public urinals and onto the uneven
and broken pavements that have long since given way under pressure of
encroachments and temporary stalls selling everything from unbranded
inner-wear to footwear and flowers. One has to negotiate one’s way while
getting elbowed by eager buyers, pushcarts and rickshaws, with motor
cars honking wildly to get past the chaos and confusion under the
decaying facades of Mughal-time and Art-Deco structures made uglier by
the hoardings and billboards of umpteen commercial outlets.

In 1911, King George V announced that the capital of British India
was to be shifted away from Calcutta, at an extravagant Delhi Durbar
held in what is now Coronation Park next to Nirankari Sarovar in north

The monarch had desired that a new capital—called New Delhi— be
built, one that would be contiguous with the Mughal city of
Shahjahanabad. His wish, however, was never fulfilled as the team of
architects found the area in north Delhi marshy and full of swamps. They
instead suggested that the area around Raisina and Malcha be developed
into the new capital.

But, even as New Delhi arose in the 1930s, Shahjahanabad remained the
main shopping area for Indians living in the city, while the upcoming
Connaught Place would have stores selling imported food and wines to
English administrators. New Delhi looked antiseptic and devoid of colour
and life. 

My mother, now in her mid eighties, recalls visiting Chandni
Chowk with her own mother in the early 1940s, travelling from Pusa
(where her father was heading the Imperial Agriculture Research
Institute), to shop for clothes and groceries. “The driver was
instructed to get back to Pusa before sundown as the area between Old
Delhi and Pusa was a jungle where jackals and hyenas lived,” she

The end of Mughal rule hastened the end of Shahjahanabad in many ways. ‘Dilli’,
the capital of Mughal India, would soon witness a brutal transformation
that would not just change its demographics but also its geography,
social norms, language and cuisine. In a sense, the victory of the
British East India Company signalled the end of the primacy of what has
come to be known as Old Delhi or ‘Purani Dilli’ today. For over 200 years before this change, the Qila
(renamed the Red Fort) and the neighbouring areas that housed both
Mughal nobility and ordinary citizens, together with the kilometre-long
Chandni Chowk from the Qila to Fatehpuri Masjid, had been the veritable centre of India.

The capture of Delhi in 1858 led to Shahjahanabad and Chandni Chowk
being changed forever. The city was torn apart by the British army and
its administrators as they unleashed a vendetta against the people.
Makeshift gallows in front of what is today the Sis Ganj Gurudwara were
set up, and large numbers of men, both Hindu and Muslim, were hanged for
their ‘complicity’ in the uprising of 1857. Muslims were hounded out of
the Mughal city and their properties looted and destroyed, while many
mosques were ruined. A few that were spared—like the Fatehpuri Masjid—
were sold off to Hindu traders like Lala Chunna Mal.

The exodus of a large number of Muslims from the Chandni Chowk and
Chawri Bazar areas saw Hindu traders buying and then occupying their
properties. In the early decades of the 20th century, a loan waiver
announced by the government of undivided Punjab led many Hindu traders
to settle down here as well.

According to official records, most of the British officers stationed
at the Red Fort garrison sought early retirement after this posting.
Being posted at the Qila meant that treasures like royal
turbans, illustrated manuscripts, royal furniture and the like were all
up for grabs; and officers and soldiers had the entire fort and its
palaces at their mercy. After the Red Fort was pillaged and royal
artefacts looted, auctions were held for days on end in what is called
Meena Bazar today.

The palace of the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was
demolished along with several other buildings; and in its place was
built an army barracks, which, until recently, was occupied by Indian
Army soldiers. A visitor to the Red Fort today will see standalone
buildings that remain disconnected and offer little idea of what a
thriving royal city was like. 

Few know that not a single piece of paper
was left by the British that either mapped or located the royal palaces
inside. Even the Diwan-i-Khas, where Mughal emperors once sat on the
Peacock Throne and presided over an empire that included most of modern
South Asia, was first converted into a courtroom for the trial of Zafar,
and later, to denigrate the memory of Mughals, converted into an
Officer’s Mess. Sepia tinted photographs of the period chronicle the sad
decline of the Fort.

Even outside the fort, the character of Shahjahanabad was changed
when the minarets of the mosques that dotted the skyline were pulled
down one after the other. Some overzealous Englishmen were keen to pull
down the Jama Masjid as well, to build a Christian cathedral in its
place. While Muslims remained persona grata in the area for
over a decade after 1857, Englishmen themselves fancied the vast
courtyards of Jama Masjid as a probable party area, holding frequent
evening parties and balls.

Documents well preserved in a little known building of Delhi’s
Archives reveal the city redevelopment that the British had planned.
Official orders of the Delhi Commissioner dating to middle of 1858 state
that Darya Ganj and Dariba (areas containing silverware shops) were
drastically altered. Shops and encroachments were cleared to make way
for roads. 

In fact, the road in front of the Red Fort was created after
the capture of Delhi. Soon, the road connecting the Red Fort to
Fatehpuri Masjid—now called Chandni Chowk—was targeted for a makeover.
Divided into four parts (Urdu Bazar, Phool Mandi, Jauhari Bazar and
Chandni Chowk), the area boasted single storeyed shops on either side of
a tree lined water channel. This is the place where Mughal nobles went
to shop in the evenings, and according to an English traveller writing
before 1857, cheetahs and handsome boys were on offer for nobles to buy.

The water channel was covered up to ease movement of traffic, while
the octagonal pond was demolished. In its place came up a clock tower
and, in true Victorian style, a railway station that took shape on the
ruins of a royal garden right next to the Red Fort. The beginning of the
Calcutta-Kalka train service in 1861 and the building of a railway
station changed the skyline and look of the medieval city.

The introduction of trams soon saw tracks criss-crossing what we know
as Chandni Chowk. Gurbaksh Kaur, now in her eighties, recalls the
excitement among students as they hopped onto modern trams and visited
Paranthe Wali Gali to tuck into stuffed paranthas. Two of the eateries still selling paranthas
are over a hundred years old and find prominent space in tourist
brochures, but this trip is not for the faint hearted as the rundown
look of the area is hardly inviting.

Over the years, Chandni Chowk and other historic areas have been
allowed to degenerate. Unlike many old cities across the globe where
both government and local communities join hands to preserve and
conserve the past, there has been no such success here. The
Shahjahanabad redevelopment plan needs to ‘think local’, and municipal
agencies need to be made accountable. After all, basic cleaning services
do not require any parliamentary or executive decision. Shopkeepers
have to be made responsible for waste disposal, pavements have to be
repaired and made user-friendly. 

Unlike VIP areas controlled by the
NDMC, which, flush with funds, re-lays pavements regularly to justify
its budget, Chandni Chowk has quite possibly never seen basic repair
work take place despite tens of thousands of people visiting and living
in the area. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly identified garbage disposal
as a major challenge, and the Government has promised to take steps to
boost tourism. Chandni Chowk, visited by every tourist entering Delhi,
could be the place to start with. 

Like in the UK, India needs stringent
laws on heritage conservation and the creation of a single window agency
for locals who need to rebuild in heritage areas. The exteriors of
buildings in Chandni Chowk need to be restored and protected; and for
this, any rebuilding or renovation required should be allowed within
reason, in keeping with the requirements of modern life. This has been
successfully undertaken in historic London. In this manner, the historic
nature of the area and its buildings would be preserved while letting
people living within it create new spaces.

The absence of public toilets needs to be addressed as well. Many a
foreign tourist can be seen clicking away at men lining up outside a
rundown urinal at Chandni Chowk where little is hidden from public view.

At the same time, surely no Delhiwala or Indian proud of her heritage
would like the more-than-300-year-old city of Shahjahanabad to be
replaced by hideous multi-storeyed commercial buildings. Government
intervention and strong accountability are urgently needed. Excuses of
population density and pressure from the local business community cannot
be bandied about by corrupt, inefficient and incompetent government
agencies while an important slice of India’s heritage is destroyed.






Nirvana: Viagra, plus a glass of bubbly

 ….traditional herbs…huge industry worth Rs 9,000 crore..Naxal- ridden district of Bastar in
Chhattisgarh…..champagne and a local form of Viagra….
after you eat it for three or four months, that your wrinkles have
lifted…..Tribals have lived longer and
better ….using the abundant herbs and
roots to stay vital and virile.

Here is (hopefully) a bright idea. Grant safe passage and visiting fellowships to Maoists crouching in the jungles of Bastar (and other parts of central India) to travel to Mecca (China) and see for themselves how/why it is “glorious to be rich.” 

Cheap talk you say. How can the poor tribals ever hope to get rich. Here is another bright idea- by selling herbal Viagra to the Chinese!!!

In turn, the Maoists can persuade the Chinese to not destroy all the tigers and rhinos and other wildlife in the search for the perfect penile care solution. What a win-win-win situation will that be. 
And the best part of all this is that we have a wise, witch-doctor to show us the way, a Tripathi Brahmin no less (one who has memorized three Vedas). Long time back the denizens of the Hindu Rashtra had shown us the divine path of the Kamasutra, now with natural Viagra (plus a glass of Bastar Champagne) will surely come un-natural bliss. Jai, Raja-ram ji ki Jai!!!
Mythologised, problematised, proselytised, traditional herbs are a
national (and international) obsession and a huge industry worth around
Rs 9,000 crore, according to National Medicinal Plant Board of India
estimates. From the verdant, Naxal- ridden district of Bastar in
Chhattisgarh where Bastar champagne (a rare beverage made from the sulfi
tree) and tasty fruits called kurlu are found, a
much-publicised local form of Viagra (a rare indigenous variety of safed
musli) has made a name for itself—through a man who has been
translating the bounties of the jungle for more than a decade.

“They call me ‘The Father of Safed Musli’,” says 50-year-old Rajaram
Tripathi, a strapping figure in kurta and jeans, pale and
Brahminical-looking in publicity shots from a couple of decades ago, now
tanned and very much a son of the soil. “It combats diabetes, and
rejuvenates your entire system, reverses metabolism.

People will slowly
say, after you eat it for three or four months, that your wrinkles have
lifted.” Big talk? Local Tribals are said to have lived longer and
better on traditional health practices, using the abundant herbs and
roots at their disposal to stay vital and virile.

“I felt like Alice in Wonderland,” Tripathi says of his first
experience with the jungle’s potent flora, when we meet him on one of
his 10 farms. We walk through long, vertiginous rows of trees in his
ethno-medico forest, stopping to pluck some sarpagandha (Rauvolfia serpentina,
used to create blood pressure drugs) off the plant; look at a velvety-
leaved plant which cures stomach problems; identify annatto (Bixa orellena), richest source of vitamin E. He rattles off Latin names like they are actresses’ names or stock market darlings.

Tripathi, a bank worker turned agricultural entrepreneur and Bastar
boy born and raised, has turned a cottage industry with one farm into a
10 acre, Rs 40-crore-a-year (Rs 10 crore domestic) herbal empire in
Kondagaon district: the aptly named Maa Danteshwari Herbal Products
(MDHP), extending as far as Ethiopia, Gulf countries and the
Netherlands. (The Tribal nature goddess Danteshwari is worshipped in the
area.) Functioning as a collective, MDHP employs 300 Tribal families
and works with around 22,000 farmers over 1,000 acres.

It all began with a rare variety of safed musli (Chlorophytum borivilianum),
a herb with lanceolate leaves found in natural forests from east Assam
to Gujarat and abundant here, its roots used medicinally as a source of
virility (through the saponins and alkaloids they contain), setting him
on a path of 17 years of “organic herbal medicinal and aromatic

“The biodiversity of this place is so great, endangered species thrive here. There are 60 varieties of safed musli,
of which one endangered species grows here [MDB-13 and 14]. I only work
with this one,” says the entrepreneur, who has taken bare land back
into the folds of the jungle. “I got organic certification from Germany,
and Japanese agriculture [authorities] gave me certification that
Ecocert [an inspection and certification body established in France in
1991] was not providing at that time.” The products rely on natural pest
controls like neem and spiders, and feature ‘gold’ varieties.

Winning the Royal Bank of Scotland Earth Hero Award in 2012 and
various national prizes such as the Desh Seva Ratna Award, Tripathi has
been honoured by former President Abdul Kalam and has met the BJP’s LK
Advani and Rajnath Singh, his self-devised PR package proclaims. Trained
in natural ingredients in Rotterdam and invited to speak at nature
expos in Dubai, participating in herbal trade conferences everywhere
from Jhansi to Japan, this single-minded businessman farmer is
constantly at work.

Officials and local media in Chhattisgarh’s capital Raipur applaud
Tripathi’s industry not just on its own merit, but because it offers an
option to Tribals trapped in India’s so-called ‘red corridor’, even if
they are critical of his PR. For, not much has changed in the way of
infrastructure for Tribals in the last decade or so; rampant Naxalite
guerilla warfare gathers many of the disaffected into its grip, seeking
control of their lands.

“Bastar has historically been an under- served area in terms of
health services. Kondagaon district contains some of the most remote and
forested areas in the district,” says Sulakshana Nandi, a healthcare
worker of the Jan Swasthya Abhiyan, the Indian circle of the People’s
Health Movement (a worldwide movement for health and equitable
development), who has worked for 12 years in this area. “People are poor
and are rapidly losing control of natural resources like forests that
they have depended upon for generations. This exacerbates the poor
status of health in that area.” Tripathi’s effort is one of the few to
bring Tribals together in a sustainable collective asserting their
connection to the land.

“Naxalites are the excuse for much that doesn’t happen in Bastar,” he
says, speaking to media coverage around violence in this region of
about 10,000 sq km. ‘This is the only sustainable solution for Bastar
and other [similar] regions,’ he says in his mission statement. It cites
the 6,000 to 7,000 Indian medicinal plants used in Ayurveda, Siddha,
Unani and Homoeopathy practices; about 960 species in trade, 178 of them
annually consumed in excess of 100 tonnes for an output of about Rs
10,000 crore, exports being upwards of Rs 1,000 crore. (World figures
are projected to reach trillions by 2050). Of course, violence is
reported daily and there are unexploded bombs people fear discovering,
but this doesn’t mean people shouldn’t visit this beautiful part of the
world, he opines, hinting at a resort in the works.

One of seven brothers, Tripathi and his extended family, 40 or so of
them, are all farmers. He was a State Bank of India (SBI) probationary
officer in 1989, a college professor in the past, he says. “I had lots
of jobs. After three years, a promotion was waiting for me at SBI. I was
a good officer, there were good career prospects. People said, ‘People
are committing suicide in agriculture and you are joining?’ But when I
was at the bank, I saw the economic viability of krishi
(agriculture). If you take the price of land, you have to classify this
as expenses. And if there is debit, there is credit.” He chose the
Grameen Bank model and studied 17 conventional crops, showing the
results to National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).
Loans resulted, and steady if slow growth.

Every year, 20 million tonnes of produce is stored in various storage
sheds on Tripathi’s 10 farms; his processing unit is 100,000 sq ft.
Agriculture Information, an online and print agrarian resource, mentions
Tripathi’s work with varieties of lemon grass (MDL-14) and stevia (MDS-
13 and 14) as well, and boasts of Tripathi’s tie-ups with multinational

His Ethiopia project is in its first phase: 14,000 acres for
high-value herbal farming, with the Lootah group of companies. Tie-ups
with American and European companies are in the works, he says.
guestbook is signed by visitors from the US, Japan and other countries,
not to mention countless visitors from all over India, usually in large
groups; the company provides consultancy services to corporate entities
that want to develop high value herbal farms.
A tissue culture lab
continues his experimental laboratory work; species like Guggul (Commifora wightii) and Vacha (Acorus calamus) were commercialised here.

“There were 15 years of mistakes,” says Tripathi, who was born in
Kaknar, Jagdalpur, to a family which suffered the misfortunes farmers
are vulnerable to. “Tribals have one guru with 20 students; I had 20
gurus.” Abundantly educated— he has earned a BSc and an LLB in corporate
law, MAs in Economics, Hindi and History, an Ayurved Ratna from
Allahabad, an Ayurved Bhishgacharya from the World Academy of Ayurved
(WAA)—he seems endlessly ambitious. His small bedroom, in a humble yet
relatively affluent home decorated with Bastar’s ubiquitous wrought iron
work, is lined with books. “Those books I have read,” he says, pointing
to shelves of academic- looking botanical books in Hindi, “and those I
am going to read”—another section of faded covers.

“He was top in everything,” says wife Shipra, who had a “love cum
arranged” marriage with the man she met at university. A Tribal of the
Kamar community (Gonds are also populous here), she doesn’t call her
husband by name, like many here, though her children are studying in
Raipur and they have some of the trappings of modernity: computer,
phone, rough terrain car. Tripathi is saved as ‘Father ji’ on her phone.
Part of MDHP’s management, Shipra is secretary of Samagra Adivasi
Medicinal Plant Development Association (SAMPDA), a green NGO Tripathi
founded ‘for total herbal revolution’, and involved with local women’s
groups. Except for her features, her Tribal identity seems vestigial,
like with many here; only older women go without sari blouses and bear

Tripathi has raised several other commanders in his green army. He
says he employs five experts who have studied medicinal plants at the
doctorate level or are biotech engineers, 14 marketing experts and 10
managers. When more manpower is needed, all members pitch in to make up a
workforce of around 1,000 people. “We don’t have a fixed salary,” he
explains. “We distribute weekly or monthly honorariums to all our team
members, including me, as per our work and responsibilities; from Rs
6,000 to 10,000 monthly. ‘Employees’ is not a suitable word. We say
‘associate tribal families’; 1,500 people are getting their livelihood
from this farming.”

Dasmati Netam, from Keyoti 10 km away, leads a production team; an
ambitious 36-year-old woman, she is head of MDHP’s All Tribal Women
groups and President of SAMPDA. Unlike the other Tribals, known for
their reticence, she has studied outside the state and speaks up often
about her work, taking us home for rice wine. As the apparent leader of
her village, she exudes confidence. “I’d like to go outside again,” she
says, already seeming to have left its crude wooden fences behind.

What is Tripathi’s biggest challenge, aside from the need for more
land? “Marketing. In India, until Amitabh Bachchan or Aamir Khan eats
these things, people don’t.” Indeed, his main marketing platform is
Central Herbal Agro Marketing Federation of India (CHAMF-INDIA); a far
cry from Organic India domain. “And the next step is backward linkage,”
he continues. “Our fight is with middlemen. Now we have negotiation
power—ashwamgandha , for example, no one will sell less than
100 kg. If they do, we will blacklist them. 

We have to control the
market. If everyone grows safed musli, who will buy it?”

Tripathi is set to launch ‘certified organic food supplements’ in
select towns of Chhattisgarh before taking these to other parts of
India. He projects sales of Rs 6 crore for these ‘value-added’ products.
His teas and powders may look a little too rustic for the urbane
consumer, but they are tasty and seem to find takers among the believers
they are aimed at; the sales figure may well be realised.

With success, however, has come criticism. MDHP’s annual growth rate
may be upwards of 14 per cent, but there are rumours of loans that were
defaulted on, say sources in Chhattisgarh who feel he is encroaching on ‘jungle wala zameen’
(forest land); Tripathi refutes this, saying he paid the loan off two
months ago. Tribals who have farmed for many years can get patta
(legal registration papers), but he is not one, say others. Yet,
Tribals may have found their most viable leader in the bank worker who
put his hands to work on the land of his birth.

In his mission statement, Tripathi offers 10 acres for a pilot
conservation project across neighboring states. Will the rumble spread
through his jungle? Time may prove harsh, but for now he is effusive.
During our walk, he spots a long- tailed bird and we crouch till it
takes off, feathers streaming. He asks us to close our eyes for two
minutes, and while the gesture is stagey, the sound of green is
unadulterated. “Take two deep breaths,” he says, beaming.