Scale – In Satyagraha, Societies, and Statecraft

By The Emissary Leave a comment

One writer who caused an evolution of my thought is the fiery Nassim Nicholas Taleb. His brash yet precise style, swashbuckling smashing of intellectuals, and ancestral Mediterranean insights provided an alternative thought diet in a world that force-feeds the same message to me on television, social media, and amongst my friends here in a buffet of American coastal elites. From the jest of randomness, the beauty of black swans, the advancement of antifragility, and piercing skin in the game, Taleb created a dancing sequence of jabs and hooks to create a battle-hardened mentality to approach the world and knowledge.

One of the biggest yet most nuanced lessons I learned from Taleb was that of scale – how inputs yield outputs differently, depending on size and magnitude. An easy example of this common-sense concept is the difficulty in enforcing an exercise and diet regimen for oneself versus one’s entire family versus one’s entire community and so on. Trying to do good things is easier and possibly more effective in the long run when done on a smaller scale.

It’s one thing to change oneself on an individual level, another to create a visible shift in societies, and another to execute proper governance accounting for different groups along with the externalities and the headaches that come along with policies.

The Search for Truth

Satyagraha or the holding of truth paved the road in Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent struggle for India’s independence. Inspired by the ahimsa of Hinduism and Jainism, Gandhi brought his own interpretation taking an ancient concept to new frontiers.

The principles of satyagraha:

  1. Nonviolence
  2. Truth
  3. Not stealing
  4. Non-possession (not the same as poverty)
  5. Body-labor or bread-labor
  6. Control of desires
  7. Fearlessness
  8. Equal respect for all religions
  9. Economic strategy such as boycott of imported goods (swadeshi)

Admirable qualities that built the legend of the Mahatma, the great soul. Selflessness at its apex captured the hearts of Indians across the subcontinent in a mass non-violent movement at such a scale that it has no parallels in world history before or since. While an individual taking on satyagraha is highly laudable, expanding it to society proved a double-edged sword.

With the British reeled from a cataclysmic World War at home and a cracking crown jewel in the Raj, their leaders eventually acquiesced to the rightful demands of an independent India. Truth had met victory in the eyes of the Mahatma’s disciples, but this satyagraha would now face a much older foe that had made its home in the subcontinent over centuries.

Jinnah and Gandhi Prior To Their Falling Out Early On In The Indian Independence Movement

Naiveté crept into a population until it was maimed by the madness of a maniac with Muhammed Ali Jinnah’s call of “Direct Action” severing the dreams of Gandhi and millions of other Indians for a united India. What Gandhi and his ideological descendants, Gandhians, got wrong is how values apply at scale. Stunningly noble principles for individuals could not be forced upon a people who were facing a polar opposite ideology filled with aggressive malice and cultivated by despicable men to match.

“Hindus should never be angry against the Muslims even if the latter might make up their minds to undo even their existence.” —Mahatma Gandhi, Birla Mandir, New Delhi, on April 6, 1947; Partition Would Occur 4 Months Later

The beauty of satyagraha was smeared with the ugliness of Islamism and this duality incarnated by way of a bloody partition. An assassin would cite the suicidal idealism of Gandhi as the gunpowder to his fatal and fateful bullet that transformed a man into a martyr and Gandhi into a god. The last breath of Gandhi permeated throughout Indian politics since.

Forsaking looking at others’ faults and focusing on your own to improve are great actions on an individual level. Trying to apply this mentality at a large scale is impossible and can be disastrous. Gandhi’s goal to apply the kindness and tolerance that he practiced throughout his life at a larger level provides a testament to the dangers of this ruinously beautiful ideal.

Primus Inter Pares

While I may have been harsh on Gandhi, his satyagraha was a very inspirational movement that achieved its primary aim (with the help of several violently resisting Indians of course, too) and would echo in the minds of different generations and geographies. Its failures would only truly come to fore when reciprocity broke down as scale increased and satyagraha faced the sinister.

A communal concoction that had been boiling for centuries spilled over once again just as Gandhi tried to ease the concerns of an ambitious Jinnah and company who were decided in their choice to break India. What went so wrong here?

Good behavior scales badly. Bad behavior scales goodly.

An essential lesson to impart here is that the kindness that we should all so admire shouldn’t be extended frivolously in the world at large scales. Strive to be exceedingly kind to all the individuals in your life, but expect less of a return as familiarity decreases and quantity increases. The world of geopolitics and governance is witness to how might towers over magnanimity as scale maximizes. And it is here where we need to examine a powerful chapter across world history for the past several decades – social justice.

Inspired By Gandhi’s Non-Violent Movement, Martin Luther King Jr. Marched For Civil Rights and To End Segregation

Social justice has yielded some of the greatest moments in politics as policies such as apartheid and segregation were thrown into the abyss, while reservations in India helped lower castes climb out of the abyss. Tangible benefits were born through simple and actionable policies and goals.

Today, however, social justice movements have been plagued by vague goals and a lack of dynamic leadership. Faceless protests descend into rioting at an alarming rate with politicians taking advantage of the chaos and righteous movements thwarted by themselves. No Gandhi’s, no Dr. King’s, no Mandela’s lead the wave of change today. The absence of these emissaries who create a dialogue between the masses and politicians means that when social justice is applied at scale, it descends into disarray with vultures disguised as politicians picking and prodding at a soon to be carcass of a movement. Justice has inherent danger when applied at scale and needs the right leaders and values to guide it properly.

On the flip side, there are also the potential horrors of hyper-local justice such as in the panchayat system of rural India, where a clan of elders decides the fate of the accused, sometimes with cruel and Hammurabi style punishments. We are seeing this hyper-local eye for an eye type justice now extrapolate to larger scales amongst many intelligentsia and political leaders, a notion that would lead to disastrous strife if the scale continues to ramp up.

Virtualism

Bruno Maçães, a prominent political analyst and now part-time philosopher, proposes that America is entering a period where fantasy supersedes reality. The digital world at your fingertips is shaped by the hand of technology. What you see and consume on your timeline is a lens with a distorted scale of the world. What is anecdote becomes amplified into annals as the speed of the extreme races past the mundane on the information superhighway.

THE SPREAD OF SOCIAL MEDIA AND TECHNOLOGY HAVE BLURRED THE LINE BETWEEN FANTASY AND REALITY

Outrage oscillates the Overton Window wildly as technology’s reality distortion field melds our perception. This pendulum pushes our politics in an increasingly divisive direction as upstart politicians wield clout and clicks on social media steering agendas into fantastical territories that are disconnected from realities and history. Technology and social media have brought notions of the past closer to us than ever as rabid battles over who oppressed who pan out in the digital theatre of war.

Elite consensus is upended by guerrilla historians, sometimes erroneously but many times rightfully. These intellectual insurgents zoom out and in on specific instances to promote their perspective, occasionally out-of-context but every so often right on the money. The thin selection of stories published by establishments has given way to an explosion of untold chapters bypassing traditional media and academia, all with the help of technology.

Protests Have Quickly Descended Into Riots Across The US As No Leader Stands On The Same Platform As The Giants of the Past

However, this has directly lead to an exacerbation of the application of justice. Crimes of the past are scaled out to include those in the present. Justice morphs into its fraternal twin, revenge. Now, I don’t believe it’s right to silence the discussion of the horrors of the past as that is essential to reconciliation. However, this discussion must be joined with efforts to bring real justice – opportunity and truth – to those who have been oppressed and not extend the hatred of the past to the descendants of oppressors in the present. Funny enough, the answer to opportunity may lie in economics (whether welfare reform, access to capital, ease of business, tackling inequalities, etc…) rather than culture wars.

Today’s society values performatives over pragmatism. In the quest to fight historical injustices, we can’t ask for revenge that spirals into a wheel of fire. We should remember the great effort to organize mass non-violent movements such as satyagraha and civil rights in an era today where the embers of violence quickly follow the gasoline rhetoric of many of our politicians and “activists.” For only great men, great women, and great movements transcend the limits of scale and sculpt our tomorrow.

This is a repost from The EmissaryPlease visit the blog for more content and thanks to Brown Pundits!

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Reflections on Nadir Shah’s exploits in India

By srikanth 9 Comments

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

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From OIT to AIT

By GauravL 122 Comments

For TL;DR jump to My reasons for this position today are


Yesterday I tweeted about how OIT is becoming an Article of Faith on the Hindutva Wing in a thread related to Ruchir Sharma podcast where he dodged the AIT question. I further tweeted the change in my position of one supporting OIT (till 2018) to AIT by 2018 especially in face of the recent genetic evidence and following the work by Razib Khan. I was contacted by BP regular guest and host of the Carvaka podcast – Kushal Mehra and we had a long (3 hours) chat. His reading of the issue (Archeology and Rgveda) is much more robust than mine and I felt as Hemu’s army would’ve felt battling Babur’s projectiles. (though I am still not convinced by his argument). Hence I write this piece to evaluate my evolution with the Aryan question and also putting my current position & its defense in digital ink.

Like most Indians, I had read about the Aryan invasion theory as a historic fact and only got introduced to the inherent racism in the initial framing of the AIT after my schooling. In 2008 the paper, Reconstructing Indian Population History came out and the terms ANI and ASI got popularized. The media commentary on the paper (as with the Rakhigarhi paper) seemed to suggest the genetic data had refuted the AIT. Influential public figures like Subramanian Swamy (who appeared a lot more respectable to me in 2008-09) and few lesser-known Marathi influencers and others championed the debunking of the AIT myth in the public sphere which was not refuted except well enough except by historians like Romila Thapar (in whom I have low trust around politically charged topics as proven in Babri case). Things started getting heated in Indian Media around 2013-14 with after the publication of Genetic Evidence for Recent Population Mixture in India. But my interest in the Aryan issue came due to this article by scientist and influencer Anand Ranganathan on newslaundry (before then I had been largely ignored the arguments and counterarguments). I had some instinctive unease with these ANI/ASI argument against AIT but chose to ignore my doubts as Geneticists from India & commentators like Anand Ranganathan (who is a scientist), Sanjeev Sanyal, even anti-Hindutva Shashi Tharoor chose to concur with the views refuting the AIT.

In the following year or two, I read the following

  • Romila Thapar on Ancient History (small bands of herders)
  • Upinder Singh (who is non-committal)
  • Michael Daninos Lost River (the most reverent Sarasvati)
  • Free Papers on Academia – especially the Michael Witzel and Shrikant Talegeri debate.
  • Koenraad Elst’s blogs.
  • Edwin Bryant’s Indo Aryan controversy book.
  • Sections of Mallory’s book
  • Ambedkar’s book on Shudras

I particularly saw the linguistic arguments for AIT to be weak largely attributable to my ignorance of the field. I see myself as extremely ignorant about history in general around then, for my interest in non-fiction is very recent (2015 onwards). In some ways, I am still not well-read compared to most authors/commentators here. I  haven’t read any history from outside India other than British, American, and WW2.

Hence I was moderately convinced by Danino’s Sarasvati argument back then. Additionally following the Witzel-Talageri debate I found a lot of criticism of Talageri ad-hominem and patronizing. The dismissal of Talageri’s work as a bank clerk’s revisionist Hindutva did not seem scholarly to me (I mean Witzel’s criticism did not appear scholarly but ad-hominem). In my view, Edwin Bryant’s book confuses as it doesn’t take a position after 500+ pages. However in the end the lack of Archeological support for AIT (no significant change in material culture) made me convinced that the AIT was flawed. As I see this as a binary problem i.e either AIT or OIT has to be true to explain the spread of Indo-European languages, my position was that of OIT. I also felt AMT is a workaround for the problematic parts and holes in the AIT.

In 2017-18, around the time The Genomic Formation of South and Central Asia hit the biorxiv and created quite a few waves in the Indian media, articles by Tony Joseph, Shoaib Daniyal, and Hartosh Bal made enough noise on my twitter timeline to make me take a renewed interest in the controversy. Around that time David Reich’s book was published and most AIT guys used Reich’s book to bolster their claims. By the time I had completed Reich’s book I was almost convinced of the AIT yet I made an effort to cross-check the counterviews. I reached out to Anand Ranganathan who sort of dodged my cross-questions. I also reached out to Swarajya Magazine (of whom I was a subscriber in 2018/19) and was not at all convinced by the explanation given by them here and here. On reading work by Razib & other genome bloggers who got a shout out in David Reich’s book I was even more convinced by their arguments. I read Tony Joseph’s Early Indians and it does a good job of laying out the data IMO. However one always notices the author’s political biases coming up especially around his handling of Caste( I find it extremely stupid to look back at events that are speculated 2000 years ago with today’s moral compass and use it making political points calling the Brahmins in 100 AD the original Tukde-Tukde gang.)

I have since, also read David Anthony’s book, Narsimhan and Shinde papers, read most BP blogs (including JR’s pieces) and comments on AIT/OIT, followed a small bit of linguistics, and listened to the views of Niraj Rai, Shrikant Talageri (on Carvaka), Koenrad Elst. I still continue to hold the view that AIT probably happened and more importantly OIT seems highly implausible.

My reasons for this position today are:

  1. I am partial to the view that Genes and Languages are moderately correlated. There are exceptions as readers of this blog would know, but they are exceptions. As the genetic data points out that 10-20% of Indian ancestry comes from Bronze Age Steppe, I find it highly implausible that such large changes wouldn’t result in some language change – especially given the gradients of Steppe wrt North/South and Caste. Additionally, the complete absence of AASI like genetic ancestry beyond the boundaries of the Mauryan & Mughal empires at their zenith is big deal. If any kind of OIT that doesn’t explain satisfyingly falls short. (Roma Gypsies have AASI)
  2. On the whole, I find the Steppe hypothesis works well linguistically and archaeologically to an exceptional degree in my reading – for Europe. By Occam’s razor, it would be fair to assume India isn’t an outlier among regions speaking Indo-European. Small objections like this don’t debunk the entire Steppe hypothesis IMO.
  3. The lack of material culture change associated with AIT is a problem, but the same objection is also present for OIT. Lack of evidence isn’t the absence of evidence. At best archaeologically the AIT/OIT debate is a Tie.
  4. I find Talageri’s work lays excessive claim on his interpretation of Rgveda and Avesta. I find the Rgveda has no memory of invasion argument weak. What we know of the Rgveda might just the memory preserved post the Bharata victory in the Dasarajna (Victor’s memory). It would be plausible that memories of invasion may be lost by accident of history. I am no expert on either Rgveda or Linguistics (I have read only 4-5% of Ralph T.H. Griffith translation) but I still find the lack of scholarly approval of Talageri’s work a problem from believing his work. However, on Kushal’s advice, I am going to read his entire work – 3 books hopefully by sometime next year.
  5. I take the Horse argument seriously. The paucity of equid bones IVC itself is significant. Especially if you compare them to Steppe sites. (The Botai & other steppe sights are extreme in the sheer quantity of horse bones). On the whole, I find Anthony’s horse hypothesis holds in face of the data we have today.
  6. I don’t see the Sanuali find as a game-changer. The Daimabad hoard Bull drawn cart/chariot has been known for decades. I don’t think the argument for Sanauli chariot being Horse-drawn is convincing yet. Also, the lack of spoked wheels would make the chariot less agile which would make it not a War-chariot like Sintasta. Anthony had to fight a lot for years before even his finds (which are far more impressive than Sanauli) at Sintasta were taken seriously as a war chariot by the community. His chariots were disproved by peers for things like width, length, etc. At the least, it’s premature to call the Sanauli chariot as a deal-breaker for AIT. Additionally latest the dating of Sanauli at 1800BCE isn’t far enough from the 1500+-200 date given for AIT. Rather the 1800BCE dating appears consistent with Asko Parpola’s first Pre Rgvedic Arya migration theory.
  7. I have heard Slapstik’s BP podcast, read his comments, and also those of some others who know linguistics along with some light reading of linguistics. The linguistic argument appears robust enough for my non-expert ears.
  8.  In historic times, since the Persian invasion during the time of Bimbisara to the invasion of Abdali – the flow of invasions has been Strictly One Way – from the Bolan/Khyber pass to the Subcontinent. (in some cases as speculated with some Hunas – via Kashmir). Examples of these being Persians, Greeks, Sakas, Parthians, Kushanas, Hunas, Arabs, Turko Afghans, Mongols, Mughals, Persians, and Afghans. These invasions have a concrete economy to them – the fertile and prosperous lands of the Indo-Gangetic plains. So it begs the question – why would Indo-Aryans go out if they were indigenous. Many reasons for coming IN & almost no for going out.
  9. I find the arguments over Sarasvati which convinced me once unconvincing today. I think the argument comes from the position of reverence to the holy Sarasvati from the Rgveda & laying excessive emphasis on it. I am convinced by the general argument of the same names being used for rivers by migrating people and we have many examples of that in the country. Additionally, the Shtich that the Yamuna changed course and dried up Sarasvati made famous by Amish’s fiction appears on its face – an extraordinary claim with almost no concrete evidence.

Closing comments:

  1. It’s fair to say both sides in India are fairly motivated by politics. I don’t find the OIT arguments as ridiculous as some AIT supporters find, but one can’t ignore the identity politics and question of Islam being catalytic in the debate. Personally, I don’t think this is a coherent position, I supported the OIT while being a Liberal opponent of Hindutva for almost 2-3 years and even today I am open to change my mind in face of new evidence. However, I think it’s unlikely that I will be easily convinced without some genetic data or more archaeological data (more chariots around 2500 BCE with horses).
  2. A salient point made by Talegiri is worth noticing. He claims that the Indians who continue to support AIT are Brahmins who have not yet given up their supremacist mindset. He also conjectures such support for AIT goes hand in hand with the defense of Varna. Growing up as a Chitpavan Brahmin I know this argument has some truth to it, though Maharashtrian Brahmin communities have given up those supremacist ideas in 2020. In a way, Hindutva has united what Varna/Jati had divided.
  3. A version of OIT seems to be too fantastic to be true but works with genetics and archaeological findings. This theory being Aryas composed the Vedas before 3000 BCE, some of them settled in IVC cities, some went out into the Steppe. And then these Steppe people spread the languages and a pulse came back around 1500 BCE and composed the latter Rgveda. I naturally don’t buy this 🙂
  4. In the end, the difference is what kind of evidence people are willing to buttress their arguments on. Most of the time such opposing views would talk past each other. I get a feeling no amount of Ancient DNA will convince OIT folks who take the Rgvedic & archeological arguments over Genetics/Linguistics. Personally, I am partial to Genetics\Linguistics as I find it more Sciency than Reconstruction from texts & archaeology (or lack thereof).

Postscript:

I plan to read Talageri’s books, Asko Parpola’s Roots of Hinduism, Mallory’s book again in the coming years as I find the issue fascinating. I guess that Razib, Slapstik, and others who have been at this topic for years on the blog might be finding the topic boring by now. Still, I would urge them to comment and point out any inconsistencies or blindspots I may have had in my summary above. Same for OIT guys – as already mentioned I will be reading Talegiri – is he the main guy you rely on? How many of you are patrons of Kushal’s AIT/OIT work ? which appears to be very extensive.

I said above that Talageri is not Hindutva but have been corrected by Kushal made the change in the blogpost.

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NCERT Books – Early Muslim invaders

By GauravL 8 Comments

 

Even though the comment thread on my previous blog post – Playing with Fire was the immediate trigger for me writing this post, but I have been meaning to wade into this topic for some time. History writing in India has been a controversial topic especially since the ascendency of Hindutva. NCERT books on history are often blamed for preventing the “Truth and Reconciliation” between the Hindus and Muslims. While these criticisms have some merit, I often feel they’re overstated and straw-manned. Left-Liberal historians – Messrs Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib, Satish Chandra has been the favorite punching bag of Hindutvavadis in general. A lot of times people get carried away in hubris while punching these histories. Generalizations and misrepresentation of writings of these historians are rife in the Hindutvavadis.

I will go through Medieval India by Satish Chandra (class 11 history), Romila Thapar’s Medieval India (class 7), and Medieval history book by Nios (by multiple authors).

This piece focuses on the treatment given to Pre-Delhi Sultanate Muslim Invaders – the famous Ghazis of Islam. My recollection of textbooks is that the Mughals (except Babur and Aurangzeb) are glorified to a certain extent – especially Akbar, but none of the previous Muslim rulers are. I may be wrong – I am yet to read those chapters and will be posting about them later.

Mohammad Bin Qassim :

The Ummayad General doesn’t get much mention in these texts as by most accounts the Arab conquests of Sindh were at most localized events and did not have lasting consequences beyond Indus. Yet the one mention he gets in the Medieval history NCERT book isn’t something which appears positive.

  1. NIOS book – Module 2 – Page 134 History Module 2:  “Arabs were also attracted by the wealth of India. Arab merchants and sailors had brought back stories of great wealth of India. However, the reason for the invasion of Sindh was to avenge the plunder of Arab Ships by pirates of Debol. King Dahir refused to punish the pirates. Hajjaj the governor of Iraq despatched an army under Muhammad Bin Qasim. He arrived in Sind in AD 712, and besieged Debol which was situated on the sea coast. After crossing the Indus he marched forward. At Rawar, Muhammad Bin Qasim attacked Dahir who was defeated. Arabs killed a large number of fleeing soldiers. Dahir was also caught and killed. Muhammad Bin Qasim now proceeded forward and within a short span he conquered various important places in Sind including Brahmanabad”

Mahmud of Ghazni:

  1. In Satish Chandra’s Medieval history, the period from 1000-1200 is called the Age of Conflict. The intra-Turkic conflict between Muslim and Non-Muslim Turks before the consolidation of Turkic sultanates also finds mention in the chapter. Additionally, he notes “The Islamized Turkish tribes were to emerge as the greatest defenders and crusaders of Islam. The love of plunder went side by side with the defense of Islam. About Mahmud – Mahmud is considered as a hero of Islam & the ghazi spirit further increased during his time. In India his memory is only of a plunderer and destroyer of temples. Mahmud also posed as the great But-shikan or destroyer of images. Mahmud also broke the Shivlingam and ordered parts brought back to his capital.”
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history, Mahmud doesn’t get a positive treatment. Thapar says “One of the attacks which is frequently mentioned was the destruction of the Somnath temple. Destroying temples had another advantage – he could claim as he did that he had obtained religious merit by destroying images. In 1030 Mahmud died and people of North India felt relieved“. After this Thapar does state his achievements for his capital and state along with his patronage of scholars like Firdausi and Al-Birauni.
  3. NIOS book – Module 2- gives a slightly more neutral characterization of Mahmud “Mahmud enriched his treasury by looting the temples of Nagarkot, Thanesar, Mathura and Kanauj. The attack against Nagarkot in AD 1008 has been described as his first great triumph. In AD 1025, Mahmud embarked on the most ambitious Indian campaign, the attack on the Somnath temple in Saurashtra. Mahmud captured the city after grim struggle in which more than 50,000 defenders lost their lives. His attacks on India were an attempt to fulfil his ambition to make Ghazni the formidable power in the politics of Central Asia. Mahmud’s raids into India were only to acquire the famous wealth of India.

Mohammad Ghori: 

  1. In Satish Chandra’s book – The Ghurid invasions and Mohammad’s legendary battle against Prithviraj Chauhan finds considerable space given to it. The analysis is neutral and doesn’t get into speculations beyond a point. The other exploits of Mohammad and Qutubuddin Aibak are explained in some detail. The author makes no claims of iconoclasm except in the case of Bakhtiyar Khalji in Bihar and Bengal. About Khalji he writes “he destroyed some of the great Buddhist monasteries at Nalanda and Vikramshila“. Additionally, he notes “Neither was really concerned with Islam, though neither scrupled over the use of Islam to justify their plunder of Indian cities and temples
  2. In Romila Thapar’s Medieval history – she also focusses on the Battle of Tarrain and appears neutral towards Mohammad Ghori and the Ghurids in general.
  3. NIOS book also gives a neutral and brief analysis of Ghurid invasions and capture of North India.

    Romila Thapar’s Medieval History is meant for 7th standard and hence doesn’t have the details seen in Satish Chandra’s 11th standard history book. Satish Chandra’s book captured a lot of facets of these invasions including religious.  Reading these chapters, it is fair to conclude that none of these books glorify these early Muslim Ghazis. It can be fairly argued from Hindutva point of view, that Islam’s role in these conquests is understated (especially in Thapar’s Medieval History). But that book is meant for 12-year-old kids.

    On the broader reading of history, I guess Islam is necessary but not sufficient in explaining the Turko-Afghan invasions of India in the 11th and 12 centuries.

    Treatment of Delhi Sultans next.

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The Ambition of the Emirates

By The Emissary 6 Comments

 

For a large part of history, the inhabitants of the Arabian peninsula were on the fringe in the rise and fall of empires. They alternated raiding and trading as this wheel of fire rolled on across the dunes. But eventually, the Arabian caravan would be equipped with both sword and word to make haste across the Old World in a relentless raid that would change both history and humanity.

Yet just as quickly as the prized Arabian horses would gallop into newly conquered lands, the Arabs would soon scatter leaving their language, faith, and the prestige of their roots behind in strange lands. Tribalism trumped their newfound unity and the Arabs would once again retreat into their wildernesses and pilgrimages.

That is until wealth erupted from its wastelands. The old elites of the Middle East would now return from their desert exile to begin another round of a game of thrones.

Continue reading “The Ambition of the Emirates”

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Some tidbits on the state of United States in 1800

By srikanth 5 Comments

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

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History beyond the screaming

By Razib Khan 30 Comments

Last night I realized I’m not going to weigh in on history discussions on Twitter if they pertain to the Indian subcontinent. Even people who I know are not 13-year old incels behave totally emotionally and engage in shitposting posturing constantly. It’s really impossible to get a signal out of the discussion.

Indians and Pakistanis seem so intensively invested in various topics that it is literally and seriously impossible to get value out of any exchange, the swell of stupidity and bad faith (on all sides!) is so intense. There is a reality out there. There is a true history. But this is not what most of you really care about it, is it?

For example, reading India in the Persianate Age: 1000–1765 gives a nuanced and fully textured picture in outlines of the subcontinental elite in the premodern period. It aligns in broad sketches with what I know about human psychology and history elsewhere. But attempting to bring nuance seems like a fool’s errand in most of these debates.

Understanding the history of the Indian subcontinent is rewarding to me because there are comments here on the general human condition. I will not turn away from that. But, I do need to reflect on whether that is best done in solitude rather than engaging with the world “out here.”

Note: I don’t mind or care too much if particular truths are leveraged in some ideological manner. Rather, my suggestion is ideological priors are doing all the sifting of which truths are correct or not.

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Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis

By Slapstik 15 Comments

This is an updated version of an old article of mine on the decline of Hindu Shahis from the Kashmiri POV. The primary source of this account is the rājataraṅgiṇī (lit. river of kings) by kalhaṇa the Sanskrit chronicle of Kashmir’s history written in the mid 12c CE, which also set the standard for all later Sanskrit and Muslim histories of the region.

The events described in this account occurred over a period of 50 years in the first half of the 11th century CE, as Turkic Ghazi hordes started their expansion into the Indian Subcontinent. The backdrop of Kashmiri politics paints a very vivid picture of the pre-Islamic society during this tumultuous time.

Continue reading “Eclipse of the Hindu Shahis”

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Liberalism – A brief history

By srikanth 7 Comments

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”

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