Some notes on the accession of Junagadh vs. Kashmir

Whenever there is a debate on Kashmir, there is often a parallel drawn, particularly in Pakistan, between the accession of Junagadh to India, and the accession of Kashmir (also to India).

The narrative in Pakistan typically goes –

In the case of Kashmir, a predominantly Muslim state acceded to India, as its Maharaja was Hindu. While in Junagadh, India insisted on a plebiscite and eventual accession to India though its Muslim ruler had acceded to Pakistan. 

While this criticism may seem superficially sound, it is very specious and misleading as it ignores how different the case of Junagadh was from that of Kashmir. It is worthwhile to reflect on the circumstances surrounding the accession of the two states.

A few things –

1. Junagadh was not contiguous at all with Pakistan. In contrast J&K in its entirety was contiguous with India.  The Nawab’s accession to Pakistan was in violation of the contiguity principle. Here’s a map locating Junagadh in Southern Gujarat.

On the other hand, all of Jammu and Kashmir in its entirety was and is contiguous to the rest of India. So the “contiguity principle” was very much adhered to in the Maharaja’s accession to India


Image Source : wiki

2. Junagadh, with its population of 700K, was ~85% Hindu. The Nawab’s decision to accede to Pakistan was clearly in violation of the wishes of his subjects. In the plebiscite that succeeded the Nawab’s Pakistan accession, well over 95% of the voters chose to accede to India

In contrast, J&K was about 75% Muslim. Also unlike in Junagadh, where Hindus dominated the whole state, in J&K, the Muslim predominance was mainly in the Kashmir valley, while the Hindus were numerous in Jammu and Buddhists in Ladakh.

3. Junagadh’s Hindu population revolted strongly and vocally against the Muslim Nawab’s decision to accede to India. Close to 100K Hindus fled the state in the fall of 1947 as per VP Menon, leading to a near collapse of Kathiawar economy.

The plebiscite in Feb 1948 was prompted by this revolt against the Nawab’s decision. Which ofcourse settled the matter in favor of India. In contrast, in J&K, there was no major clamor among the Muslim population in favor of Pakistan. The major Muslim political body National Conference supported the Maharaja’s decision to accede to India notwithstanding its differences with the Hindu princely ruler. So it was a situation fundamentally different from that of Junagadh.

4. The Nawab of Junagadh unilaterally and hastily decided to join Pakistan, under the influence of his Dewan – Shahnawaz Bhutto (father of Pak PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto) without even the common decency of letting the Indian govt know of the decision through proper channels.

In fact, Sardar Patel and VP Menon learnt about the decision through the media in late Aug 1947, and later got it confirmed by the Nawab. The Nawab had gone back on the word of his earlier Dewan Abdul Kadir, who had assured Gujarati press as late as April 1947, that the state won’t join Pakistan.

In sharp contrast to the indecent haste and reneging of promise by the Nawab, the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, was deeply conscious of the fact that 70% of his subjects were Muslim. He did not accede to India in a hurry.

The accession happened only as late as 26 October 1947, following the invasion of Kashmir by “irregulars” and tribal militias sent from Pakistan. So Hari Singh’s sensitivity and judiciousness was tested to the limits and his hand was forced by Pakistan’s aggression.

5.  Next, let’s examine the attitude of India and Pakistan in either case – radically different approaches.

In Junagadh, Muslim league politicians tried to “force” the hand of the Nawab through Shahnawaz, though the Nawab ruled over a Hindu province with no borders with mainland Pakistan.

While in the case of Kashmir, Sardar Patel and VP Menon assured Hari Singh throughout 1947 that they would be okay if he chose to accede to Pakistan. So the Indian attitude was a cool-headed dispassionate one that acknowledged whatever decision Hari Singh would take.

Pakistan in contrast tried to force the issue militarily in Kashmir, not just using its Army and its “irregular” agents, but by cutting off supplies and transport to Jammu from Pakistan, in an attempt to intimidate the Maharaja into acceding to Pakistan.

So these are five major ways in which the case of Junagadh differed from that of Kashmir. Clearly there is no parallel.

There is no ideological contradiction in the way India handled both cases. The Indian reaction was pragmatic and philosophically consistent.

References for the thread :

  1. TCA Raghavan, The People Next Door: The Curious History of India’s Relations with Pakistan
  2.  On Kashmir Demographic history –

Post-script : 

In the first draft of this piece, it was mentioned that Hindus were predominant in Jammu in 1947. I have corrected this to “Hindus were numerous in Jammu”, though maybe not in a majority. The census numbers of 1941 are unreliable on account of WW2, and also the Jammu specific numbers may have been impacted in the course of 1947 on account of both the riots against Muslims in Oct 1947 and against Hindus / Sikhs in Mirpur / Rajouri the following month.

Also the % share of Muslims in the state of J&K has been edited from ~70% to ~75%, as the latter number is a fairer estimate based on 1931 census, while the former number stems from the 1961 census

Correlating ancestral legends with Genetic data

I stumbled upon an interesting project to collect data on the Y-haplogroup from a section of the Indian population (brAhmaNas), and correlate it with the claims of descent from certain ancient sages by brahmins today.

Link to read up more –

I personally find it to be an intriguing idea. And worth investigating.

Some notes for the uninitiated on Gotra / Pravara

  1. A significant chunk of the Indian population has a Gotra record.
  2. Technically your Gotra records your male line of descent, though the individual after whom the Gotra is named need not necessarily be the earliest male ancestor of yours that you know of.
  3. Gotras are likelier to indicate a specific line of descent in the case of brahmins, where the Gotra/pravara record is more carefully preserved than among the rest of the Indo-Aryan population
  4. Pravaras are a set of 3 or 5 individuals – typically sages who feature in your male line of descent. These individuals may precede the sage mentioned in your Gotra, or succeed him.

Correlating Gotra information with Y-haplogroup data may give insights on whether there exist striking similarities between brahmins who share a certain Gotra.

An example of how Gotra / Pravaras look like –

My Gotra is vādoola. Legend has it that he was likely a sage in the late Vedic period, who cannot be located accurately. He has certain texts of the late Vedic tradition including a Shrauta sutra to his credit.

My Pravara is Bhārgava / vītahavya / savetasa : Among these three, BhRgu is actually not my biological ancestor. The latter two are. Vītahavya was actually a king of the Heiheya dynasty who turned “brahmin” when he was residing in the Ashrama of sage Bhrigu.  So this particular clan that descends from vītahavya are Kshatriya-converts to Brahmin-hood, to put it crudely. Likely this legend dates to the middle Vedic period (1000 BCE) , or maybe earlier.

In this particular case, the Gotra RSi (vādoola) is actually a descendant of Vītahavya. So the gotra is not named after the earliest male ancestor that we know of.

Individuals belonging to this somewhat rare gotra are found largely in Tamil Nadu and Andhra today. Not elsewhere. It would be curious to see if the Y-chromosome data provides any commonalities among those who share this gotra.

Post-script : None of this should be seen as any kind of “supremacist” exercise. It is just one way of possibly validating traditional claims (which may be bogus for all you know) , though it is not likely to yield a conclusive narrative.

Reflections on Nadir Shah’s exploits in India

Last year marked the 280th anniversary of Nadir Shah’s invasion of the city of Delhi – an event as catastrophic as the invasion of the city by Timur in 1398.

It is worth reflecting on this remarkable event in early 18th century – an episode that underscores the perils of a weak state.

Source : wiki images

State of the Empire in the 1730s

What’s remarkable about this invasion is that it happened barely 32 years after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 – a time when the Mughal Empire was still very formidable and pan Indian in extent (albeit a tad over-extended). By 1739, the decline of the empire was well underway. The Mughal emperor at the time of Nadir Shah’s assault was Muhammad Shah, Aurangzeb’s great grandson.

Now it is well known that Aurangzeb was just the 6th Mughal emperor, between 1526 and 1707. But Muhammad Shah who ascended the throne in 1719, was the 12th!

So you had six new emperors in the ten years following Aurangazeb’s death – as many emperors as the number between 1526 and 1707 – a commentary on the chaos at the head of the empire in the years succeeding Aurangzeb.

Now let us do a quick summary on the state of the region just before Nadir Shah’s assault –

  • Bengal was already semi-independent, with Murshid Quli Khan becoming the first Nawab of the region circa 1720.
  • Avadh was on its way to autonomy with Saadat Khan becoming its first Nawab in 1722.
  • The Marathas were clearly in the ascendant. By 1737, they had gained tax collection rights in Deccan, Gujarat, Bundelkhand. In 1737, two years before Nadir Shah’s raid, Baji Rao attacked Delhi and scored a remarkable victory – despite having an army half as large as the Mughals. Post the battle of Delhi, Malwa was ceded by the Mughals to Baji Rao’s Marathas. In 1738 on the eve of the Nadir Shah invasion, the Mughal crown was already weakened considerably.

The other point to note is that even after 2 full centuries of Mughal rule, the nobility of the land was largely foreign born. So power was wielded by men who felt no patriotism for India, and had no affinity to the traditions and culture of the land.  Let’s take some examples –

      • Nizam Ul Mulk, perhaps the most influential noble in early 1700s, was of Uzbek ancestry. His grandfather had migrated from Samarkhand
      • Saadat Khan, the Nawab Avadh, was a native of Nishapur (north eastern Iran), who had moved to India in early 1700s

This goes contrary to the perception pushed by many historians today that Mughals shouldn’t be regarded as foreigners as they were “thoroughly assimilated” and “rooted” in the Indian soil. Hardly the case.

The foreign origins of much of the creme-de-la-creme of the nobility meant a somewhat weak affinity to the land, and susceptibility to treason against the state. Saadat Khan in fact later advised Nadir Shah to assault Delhi, and ask for a large ransom.

Now let’s examine the situation in Persia in the decades leading up to Nadir Shah’s invasion of India.

The Safavid empire ended in 1722 following an Afghan rebellion. But this proved shortlived, with Nadir Shah defeating the Afghans and establishing his rule over Persia starting 1736.

With respect to Afghanistan – Mughals had lost Southern Afghanistan (including Qandahar) to Persia in the mid 1600s. However they retained control of Kabul / northern parts of the country.

Right from the start of his reign, Nadir evinced great interest in the Mughal Empire. He could see the waning power in Delhi as an opportunity. Also the Persian hold over Qandahar meant a strategic advantage for Persia, lost to the Mughals for nearly a century.

Failed Diplomatic efforts

What’s interesting though is that Nadir didn’t simply launch an assault on India with a savage horde. He engaged in extensive diplomacy, with multiple communications with Mughal crown!

E.g. in 1736, Nadir Shah sent an envoy to Delhi, informing of his intent to expel Afghan rebels from Qandahar, and requesting that the Mughal power in Kabul should obstruct these Afghans and not give them refuge. The Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah responded agreeably. But when the expulsion of Afghans happened from Qandahar in early 1737, the Afghan rebels did flee to Kabul. The Mughals breached on their promise!

When Nadir Shah sought an explanation for this breach through an envoy, Delhi gave him no reply. And on top of that detained the Persian envoy!

Even communication between Delhi and Kabul was terribly slothful! When the Mughal governor in Kabul sought funds for his troops, his repeated requests were turned down by Muhammad Shah the emperor. So clearly you had a situation when the frontier regions of Afghanistan and Punjab grew gradually defenceless through neglect, at a time when Persian power under Nadir Shah was on the rise.

This was an empire waiting to be assaulted.

The Battle at Karnal

Nadir conquered Northern Afghanistan in 1738. Peshawar and Lahore soon followed. Then the Shah marched to Karnal, where a decisive battle awaited him. In the great battle that ensued at Karnal (February 1739), the Persian army numbered at 55K cavalry. The Mughal army was likely larger, but heavily reliant on elephants – a ponderous and outmoded carrier.

What’s also remarkable is that the Mughal armies took for ever to assemble at Karnal! Saadat Khan, the noble from Awadh, took a whole month to arrive with his troops in Karnal.

It took him 3 days to travel from Delhi to Panipat – a mere distance of 55 miles! This is in sharp contrast to the blitzkrieg raids that Marathas were undertaking elsewhere in India at the same time. The Mughal army (in part perhaps because of its reliance on elephants) was not mobile enough. Not nimble enough.

The other major difference was in the familiarity and comfort with fire-arms. The Persian army revelled at fire-arms. The Mughal army still relied a great deal on swordsmanship and “felt a contempt for missile weapons” (to quote Jadunath Sarkar)

Here’s Sarkar elaborating on the Indian inefficiency at fire-arms

So the result at Karnal was a resounding victory for Nadir Shah. But what followed was not a raid on Delhi rightaway, but extensive negotiations for peace!  This included face-to-face conversations between Nadir Shah and the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah at the Persian camp near Karnal.

Negotiations post battle

Here’s an account from Sarkar drawing on the primary sources of Harcharan, Anandram et al on the first meeting between Nadir Shah and Muhammad Shah.

But the emperor reneged on his word and did not pay the requested ransom of Rs 20 crores! This angered Shah and eventually led to a second meeting with the emperor and the latter’s house-arrest

Raid on Delhi

What followed was the famous raid on Delhi, which lasted about 50 days. But a point to note is that the provocation for this trigger came from the Mughal side. Saadat Khan in particular – the Nawab of Oudh.  While Nadir originally had an indemnity of 50 lacs in mind, it was Saadat who told Nadir after the Karnal battle, that if he were to go to Delhi, he could get 20 crores! As opposed to 50 lacs.

Nadir’s raid on Delhi was focused mainly on collection of ransom. Not just from the treasury, but also from private mohallas, with the consent of the Mughal emperor. But he did not intend to engage in a massacre. What triggered the massacre was an uprising in Delhi against the stationed Persian soldiers. Some 3000 Persian soldiers were killed by Delhi-ites. Nadir had to retaliate with a massacre, which likely claimed some 20K Delhi civilian lives in a span of a few hours. This is a conservative estimate, with other estimates as high as 4 lacs.

Consequences and Takeaways

So that brings us to the end of this brief account of Nadir Shah’s raid of Delhi. What were its consequences?

First of all the raid did not trigger the empire’s decline per se. The Mughal empire’s decline had started long before Nadir Shah set foot.  But Nadir Shah’s invasion unlike Timur had some political consequences – it resulted in the loss of Afghanistan and the modern Frontier province to Persia. Eventually it led to the loss of Punjab to the Afghans (under Ahmed Shah Abdali) a few decades later. The Maratha raids on Bengal too ensued a few years after Nadir’s raid.

So it could be said that Nadir Shah’s invasion hastened the decline of the empire, though not necessarily the cause of it.

More importantly it has some lessons for our times. We tend to think of “invaders” as ravaging hordes lacking in civilization and human values. But Nadir was a shrewd diplomat. He engaged in multiple diplomatic overtures, though the Mughals bungled every one of them.  Even the ransom amount to him was suggested by a Mughal insider, Saadat Khan. So was the idea to raid Delhi. Even the massacre at Delhi that ensued was in large measure a retaliation of the massacre of his own soldiers by Delhi civilians

We live in an age of constitutional patriotism, where deference to the state has to transcend ethnic ties. But Nadir Shah’s episode has lessons for us in this respect.

The reason the invasion was facilitated was because of high treason, which in turn was caused by the fact that much of the Mughal nobility was of foreign origin, and felt little patriotism towards India.

Some 30 years ago, there was a debate in India around “Foreign origin” of Sonia Gandhi and whether this should bar her from public office and electoral politics. The debate settled in Sonia’s favor

But then when we reflect on episodes like these from the past (Saadat Khan’s treason for instance), you wonder if an ethnic connect to the land is a pre-requisite to expect a high degree of patriotism.

We will conclude on that note.

References: Jadunath Sarkar’s “Nadir Shah in India”.

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

Some tidbits on the state of United States in 1800

The United States today is the 3rd most populous country on earth with 330MM people. We all know that the first European settlements in North America began circa 1600. But what did the eastern seaboard look like, some 200 years later in 1800 – a good twenty four years after the Declaration of Independence?

To understand America some 200 years ago, one of the best books to read is Henry Adams’s History of the Administrations of Jefferson and Madison. The period covered is from 1800 to 1816. But let’s focus on Chapter 1 of the work – that discusses the physical state of US in 1800.

In 1800 the whole of United States (i.e. the 13 states, and not the whole continent) had 5.3 MM persons. To put that in perspective, the US in 1800 when Jefferson took office had fewer people than the city of Bangalore today.  The figure of 5.3MM is relative to the 15MM who lived in the much much smaller British Isles the same year, and the 27MM people in the French Republic post revolution. Out of 5.3MM, about a fifth were African slaves. So the free white population was about 4.5MM. This excludes the native American population (on whose population I can’t readily find estimates in the book or elsewhere).

Nearly all of this 5 MM was concentrated along the Atlantic seaboard and the 13 original states. Barely about 0.5MM lived beyond the Alleghany mountains of Pennsylvania and had made their way to territories westward like Ohio and Kentucky.

Travel was mostly through land for getting to the interior regions even on the eastern seaboard. And land travel as one would expect was pretty expensive and very very long.

Let’s take the cities of New York and Boston – separated by some 220 miles – a distance covered in about 4 hours by car today. Back in 1800, the Boston to New York journey was a 3 day affair, despite the existence of a “tolerable highway” in Adams’s words. There were apparently stage-coaches from NY that departed to Boston thrice a week carrying passengers and mail. So it’s not just about the 3 day long journey but also the infrequency of travel options. Just thrice a week.

Let’s take NY to Philadelphia – two towns separated by 100 miles (and a 2 hour cab drive today). Back in 1800, the stage-coach ride from NY to Philadelphia took the “greater part of two days” in Adams’s own words. The journey between Baltimore and Washington DC (the country’s capital then as now) was a perilous one in 1800 – as there were forests to traverse. These two towns are barely an hour’s drive from each other today.

Let’s see what Adams has to say about housing in 1800 US –

“Fifty or a hundred miles inland more than half the houses were log-cabins, which might or might not enjoy the luxury of a glass window. Throughout the South and West houses showed little attempt at luxury; but even in New England the ordinary farmhouse was hardly so well built, so spacious, or so warm as that of a well-to-do contemporary of Charlemagne.”

Back in 1800, it used to take 16 days for a mail to reach Lexington Kentucky from Philadelphia – two towns separated by 650 miles. A mail from Philadelphia to Nashville took 22 days.

How large were the great cities of US in 1800 –

  • Philadelphia – 70,000 people
  • New York – 60,000
  • Boston – 25,000

So Philadelphia was no larger than a midsized town like Liverpool (also 70K) in England. London to put things in perspective had 1 million inhabitants in 1800.

For those familiar with NYC, here’s an interesting tidbit from Adams on how the city was back in 1800 – “the Battery was a fashionable walk, Broadway a country drive, and Wall Street an uptown residence”!!

So this was the state of US, a good 200 years after the European first settled it! That’s a long long time. Even after 200 years, two third of the American population was within 50 miles of the Atlantic seaboard!

Adams’s take on the state of US presided over by Jefferson is very sobering. It tells us how difficult “progress” is, and how much of a long haul just about everything was all over the world, before the railroad and the steam engine (particularly in the absence of waterways).

Also this chapter underscores the sheer physical challenge posed by the American continent – a far greater challenge than say Western Europe where the sea is within a couple of hundred miles of most parts.

It also helps explain why North America was so uninhabitable and backward for millennia despite being colonized by man as early as 15,000BC. Even the highly civilized Eurasian man could barely bring himself to move away from the seaboard after spending 200 years on the continent.

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

On Indians in East Africa

The Indian diaspora is said to be over 30 million. While the popular tendency is usually to talk of the diaspora in the West (which is recent in formation), Indians have played a far more important role in East Africa if we take a long historical view of the past 150 years

Thomas Sowell’s very fine book “Migrations and Cultures” is an eye-opener in this respect as it sheds a great deal of light on the Indian engagement in Africa since the middle of 19th century. This short post dwells briefly on the Indian contributions in East Africa (particularly Uganda / Tanzania / Kenya) drawn mainly from Sowell’s work.

Let’s take the Tanzanian island outpost of Zanzibar off the African east coast. While the Indian presence in Zanzibar today is not much to write home about, this island was one of the first African territories to be settled by Indians. There was a phase in history when Zanzibar was practically run by Indians. In 1860, a report mentioned – “All the shopkeepers and artisans at Zanzibar are natives of India”!

The numbers of Indians in Zanzibar weren’t great. Only about 5000 in the 1860s. But nearly all foreign trade was conducted by them. As of 1872, an American trader owed Indian financiers in the Island $2MM and a French firm owed these financiers at least $4MM.

While in mid 19th century, Indian presence was largely in Zanzibar and some coastal areas of East Africa, the interior was opened up when the British constructed the great railroad that connected Mombasa port in Kenya to Lake Victoria in Uganda in late 19th century. 16000 laborers were involved in the construction of this great pioneer Railway project. Of which 15000 were Indians.

What’s interesting is that these coolies were pretty expensive compared to the indigenous African labor. Yet the expensive indentured Indian labor from thousands of miles away was preferred as they were more valuable and productive than locally available African labor. The railroad construction proved the trigger for much of the Indian migration to the African mainland – particularly Kenya and Uganda. Much of the migration was from Gujarat.

The Indian settlements in these parts were a momentous event in Africa’s long history. In Sowell’s words, the Indian shops in East Africa were the first commercial retail establishments ever encountered by these African villages in their entire history. The Indians in East Africa were the first to import / sell cereal. Sowell credits them for “transforming East Africa from a subsistence and barter economy into a money economy” in the late 19th / early 20th century.

As an example Taxes in Uganda until late 19th century were paid in kind. Starting in 20th century they were paid in money and the currency was rupees!

In 1905, a report in Kenya declared – “80% of the present capital and business energy in the country is Indian”. In 1948, Indians owned over 90% of all cotton gins in Uganda. In the 1960s, when the Indian population peaked in Uganda, their share of the population was about 1%. But as per some estimates the “Asian” contribution (mostly Indian) to the national GDP ranged from 35% to 50%.

In 1952, there were twice as many African traders as Indian traders in Uganda, but the Indian traders did 3 times as much business as the Africans! Despite Govt regulations which hampered Indians from setting up shops (again as per Sowell).

Resentment against Indian dominance eventually got a lease of life when most of the East African countries became independent in the 60s and 70s. The dictator Idi Amin’s expulsion of most Ugandan Indians in the early 70s was a notorious episode at the time when the Asian population in Uganda dropped from 96K in 1968 to ~1000 in 1972.

The case in Kenya was not very different from Uganda. Indians dominated the Kenyan economy. Yet post Kenyan Independence, the pressures to “africanize” meant that the Asian (mostly Indian) numbers in Kenya dropped from 176K in 1962 to 25K in 1975.

Today Indians play a more marginal role in the region than they once did. .While we tend to diss imperialism a lot, we sometimes forget that imperialism was also a driver of such unlikely inter-continental migrations which brought commercial culture to hitherto unexplored regions.

Political independence to the region did not work out very well for the enterprising Indian diaspora. The Indian businessman who had played a large role in building these economies was driven out of it, with little gratitude.

The story of Indians in East Africa is a much unheralded one, that ought to be celebrated more in India, and must be taught in Indian textbooks. This was not a political colonization driven by kings. This was a mission undertaken by hard working ordinary Indians who shone with their probity, enterprise and sweat.

All the more reason to celebrate and commemorate it.

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

On language diversity in India – North vs South

Language remains a bone of contention within Indian discourse, and much of it surrounds the North Indian insistence on Hindi (more specifically Khariboli, the high prestige dialect of Hindi spoken traditionally in the region around Delhi) versus the Southern insistence on lingual diversity and the immense pride in regional lingual traditions (be it Tamil, Kannada or Telugu)

But the fundamental divide is this –

Lingual diversity in North India is significantly lower than in the Deccan, which creates fundamental differences in the attitudes towards lingua franca like Khariboli

Roughly 450 million people from Bikaner to Jamshedpur speak similar tongues Yet the 60 million people in Karnataka can barely follow the 70 million people in TN

The reason Khariboli in my view established itself as the primary lingua franca of the North Indian plain is because the differences across the various languages spoken from Panipat to Gaya were not as massive to start with. Clearly smaller than the differences between say Telugu and Tamil.

But why is that? One obvious proximate reason –

South had regional polities unlike North where Empires spanned the whole Indo-Gangetic plain, driving greater homogeneity in the spoken Prakrits.

But what are the underlying reasons for the greater political unity of North India?

    • The Northern terrain is more uniform, unlike South which is a plateau. Also the nature of the terrain varies a lot down south. E.g. Tamil Nadu is clearly a plain, while neighboring Kerala is hill country and Karnataka is an elevated plateau. This perhaps limited social intercourse of people in ancient times.
    • In the North we have the great Ganges river. The Ganga-Jamuna river system unites the land, linking the whole expanse of land through maritime commerce.  South has no such single river system but separate provincial rivers like Krishna, Godavari in AP, Kaveri in Karnataka and TN.
    • North India was setted earlier by the Indo-Aryans. Its proto-historical period can be conservatively dated to 1500-1000 BCE. In contrast, Southern India emerges out of pre-history much later towards the beginning of the Common era. The earlier settlement meant that the Gangetic plain is significantly denser and also uniformly dense. E.g. UP’s density is over 800 per sq. km, while Bihar is at 1100. Whereas in the South, there is greater variation in population density. Tamil Nadu is at 550 per, Kerala is 800+, while Karnataka and Andhra are significantly less dense (around 300).. The higher and more uniform density up north perhaps contributed to a more homogeneous lingual culture.

But the last hypothesis is unsatisfactory. It leaves us with the question – Why didn’t the less dense and more isolated parts of North India (Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh evolve distinct regional cultures? Having said that, it must be noted that the relatively denser parts of these two states – Malwa and Mewar are culturally closer to the Gangetic mainstream culture than other parts of these provinces where we do see greater variation in dialect (E.g. Marwar)

I feel the vastly different levels of lingual diversity between the Northern plains and Deccan impact how the discourse is conducted today on the issue of Hindi and Khariboli.

The “typical” North Indian argument underrates the diversity down south. And hence goes like this –

Hey. We are Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri speakers. We don’t mind our differences, and have chosen to embrace Khariboli as the “standard” tongue. Why can’t you southerners do so as well?

The “typical” South Indian argument overstates the lingual diversity up north.

Hey..why are you guys adopting Khariboli without resistance. Why have you guys given up on Braj, Avadhi, Bhojpuri? Get a spine!

Both sides in my view get it wrong. Northerners understate lingual diversity down south. Southerners overstate lingual diversity up north. This is at the root of most culture wars around language

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

On Language wars and the rise of the Vernacular in history

Language wars are a constant feature of Indian public life. Most recently there was much discussion on Language on Indian twitter triggered by the National Education Policy (NEP 2020). But amidst the language squabbles, we tend to reflect less on the root cause of all the language schisms –  The rise of the Vernacular. A relatively recent phenomenon in Indian history.

Back in 1000 CE, Sanskrit reigned supreme as the primary literary tongue of India. There was some Prakrit literature and considerable literature in some of the older Southern languages – Tamil and Kannada in particular.  But for the most part Vernaculars had a position secondary to Sanskrit.

The language of prestige and literary expression was undoubtedly Sanskrit, though it was hardly the mother tongue for a large percentage of Indians. Vernaculars reigned at home, and in common speech. Yet in an age of limited literacy, they never competed with Sanskrit for “prestige”. This was very much the case not just in India, but in much of the western world as well. In Europe, as late as 15th century, 70% of the printed literature was in Latin!

Continue reading On Language wars and the rise of the Vernacular in history

Some musings on the Bengal riots of 1949-50

While any discussion of Partition tends to focus a lot on the migrations and violence circa 1947, we tend to forget the mayhem that followed in Bengal with a lag. As late as 1950! In Bengal the violence peaked in late 1949 – 1950 unlike in Punjab. Particularly in East Pakistan.

The discussion of these riots and the agreements that ensued in 1950 in TCA Raghavan’s book “The People Next Door” make an interesting read.

The partition in 1947 had left both sides of Bengal with similar proportions of minority populations. West Bengal had five million Muslims in a population of twenty one million. East Pakistan was left with eleven million Hindus in a population of thirty nine million.

Unlike in the Punjab, a full-fledged ethnic cleansing did not occur in Bengal. Perhaps in part because of the presence of Gandhi in Bengal for a couple of crucial months in 1947. There could be other reasons that can explain why Bengal didn’t start with a blank slate unlike Punjab. I can only think of the Gandhi-factor as of now

The violence festered in Bengal right up to 1950, but it peaked in the month of February that year, particularly in East Pakistan. The violence against Hindus provoked much political unrest in India, causing Nehru to assume stances that seem very hawkish to us today.

Jawaharlal Nehru addressed the Parliament on Feb 23rd of 1950, expressing outrage at the East Pakistan riots


Then he went on to suggest a possible military action against East Pakistan while concluding his speech – Note the words – “We shall have to adopt other methods


But then the invasion idea was dropped. It was not just a question of Nehru being pusillanimous. The President of India, Rajendra Prasad, a supposed right winger, wrote a letter to Nehru, suggesting that he drop the idea of attacking / annexing East Pakistan!


I find this curious.

An interesting example of a “conservative” voice in India (Rajendra Prasad) persuading the supposedly more dovish and liberal Nehru to drop the idea of military action against East Pakistan

Another thing that I find curious about this episode is that the very large scale migrations that ensued in early 1950, were mostly undone by the end of the year by reverse migrations, following the Nehru-Liaquat agreement in April 1950.

Between February 7th and April 8th 1950, 1.5 million people crossed the borders! 850K Hindus from East Pakistan to West Bengal, and 650K Muslims from West Bengal to East Pakistan.

The agreement was signed on 8th April 1950, but it did not reverse the migration tide immediately. Between 9th April and 25th July, 1.2 million more Hindus left East Pakistan for India, while only 600K returned back to Pakistan prompted by the agreement.  That’s roughly a return-ratio of 1 in 2.

But it appears the ratio was much better for Muslims for exactly the same period (9th April to 25th July) following the treaty. In this timeframe, 450K Muslims left West Bengal for East Pakistan, but 300K returned back.  That’s a ratio of 2 in 3.

So it appears the agreement reassured the Muslims more than it did the Hindus. But nevertheless it did prompt Hindus to return back to East Pakistan in larger numbers by the end of the year.  A million Hindus had returned back to East Pakistan by December of that year.

One wonders if we could’ve had a more peaceful subcontinent in later decades, had the powers that be sat down and planned a more systematic population transfer, instead of idealistic reassurances to minorities, which did help stall the large scale transfer in the short run, but kept communal tensions simmering for several more decades.


  • TCA Raghavan’s “The People Next Door”
  • Jawaharlal Nehru’s Speeches, Vol II

The author tweets @shrikanth_krish

Notes on the religious demography of Punjab and Bengal

India got partitioned in 1947 and the two provinces that got split were Punjab and Bengal. But the religious demography of the two provinces took different routes.

Today the Muslim population in Indian Punjab is 1.6%, while the muslim population in Indian Bengal is 27.1%. So while there was huge emigration of Muslims from Punjab, there was less so in Bengal.

There are still districts in Indian Bengal today where Muslims are in a majority

      • Murshidabad : 66%
      • Malda : 51%
      • Uttar Dinajpur : 50%

Nothing like it in Punjab where they are in single digits across the state. This is notwithstanding the fact that back in 1947, Muslims were upwards of 40% in the districts of Amritsar, Ferozepur, Gurdaspur and Jallandhar – all of which are in Indian Punjab today.

Punjab started with a clean slate. On either side of the border. Whereas Bengal remained complex demographically, with significant Hindu population in East Pakistan and significant Muslim population in West Bengal.

But the trends of the minority population on either side of the border in Bengal, have been radically different since 1947.  In Bangladesh / East Pakistan, Hindu population has reduced significantly since the 1950s. A decline from 22% in 1951 to 11% in 2015

Hindu population in East Pakistan / Bangladesh


In sharp contrast in Indian Bengal, the minority population has thrived, with a significant increase since 1951. Here are the numbers –

Muslim population in West Bengal


But it’s also interesting to see the demographic evolution of the provinces before Partition. We tend to think that the demographic mix changed decisively in 1947 (more so in Punjab than Bengal). But that doesn’t mean there weren’t major changes in late 19th / early 20th century.

Let’s take a look at the religious composition for Punjab as a whole (both Indian and Pakistan portions) before 1940s. We see a declining Hindu population in Punjab as we move from the 1880s to 1940s. This decline clearly predates the partition and even the idea of Pakistan

Religious demography of Punjab : 1881 to 1941


Notice the sharp decline in Hindu population from 43% in 1881 to 29% in 1941. But this drop is not accompanied by a rise in Muslim numbers. Rather we see a near-doubling in the Sikh % between 1881 and 1941. One is not sure if this was indeed driven by conversions, or whether Sikhs became more conscious of their distinct identity and separateness from Hindus in those six decades, leading to a surge in Sikh census figures.

When we look at East Bengal pre-independence, we see a similar story. The demographic change long predated the partition, though it was less drastic than in Punjab. Please note these numbers are for East Bengal and not united Bengal.

Hindu pop in East Bengal : 1901 to 1951


I found these numbers fascinating, The purpose is not to emote people, but to understand the long run trends and the underlying demographic reality of these provinces.

We tend to think of partition as a “discrete” event. But demographic change long predates Partition, and it continues long after the Partition particularly in Bengal (both West and East). Less so in Punjab, as Punjab was rendered homogeneous on either side by Partition violence.

References : 

The numbers on Punjab demography were sourced from this very fine paper –

(The author tweets @shrikanth_krish)

Liberalism – A brief history

Glad to contribute on Brown-pundits

Thought I’d start with an essay I’d written some time back on the history of Liberalism –

I tweet @shrikanth_krish

Liberalism – A Short History

The rise of populist “right wing” movements around the world has caused many commentators to bemoan the decline of the “Liberal world order”.

Notably Lord Meghnad Desai, the British Labour Peer in the House of Lords, wrote in his 2017 book – “Politicshock” –

“Brexit and Trump mark the collapse of the liberal order worldwide, a phenomenon which saw its beginning with Modi’s rise in 2014”

But what was Meghnad talking about? What is this “liberal world order”? It is one of those nice sounding words of modernity that everyone wants to appropriate, but few offer a precise definition. It is a term which is so universally attractive and capacious that individuals who embrace it often range across the political spectrum.

What does it mean? What are its principles? What is its history? How has it evolved over time? What are its limitations? What is its prognosis in the 21st century? And why is it that many pundits are worried about its health all of a sudden in the past couple of years?

Let us first make an attempt to understand what it means. One of the reasons Liberalism is extremely hard to define is because of its immensely complex history and the internal contradictions that do exist among liberals on many fundamental political questions.

Continue reading Liberalism – A brief history