Book Review: Jugalbandi- The BJP Before Modi, by Vinay Sitapati

By Maneesh Taneja 6 Comments

An oft mentioned take by the critics and opposition of the BJP and the ruling dispensation in India, on social media, reads- BJP and its supporters think that patriotism is a post 2014 phenomenon. A fair rejoinder to the take would be- opponents of the BJP and ruling dispensation think the fault lines in India and opportunist politicians aggravating these fault lines is a post 2014 phenomenon. The rejoinder got reinforced as I read Vinay Sitapati’s new book Jugalbandi- The BJP before Modi.

The book is on the careers and partnership of Atal Bihar Vajpayee and Lal Krishna Advani across their stints with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the Jan Sangh and with Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP).

The lives and careers of these two gentlemen coincide with the first six decades of the republic and in writing the story of their partnership, Sitapati gives us a ringside view of political developments that have shaped post-independence India.

Extensively researched, the book in part a biography of Vajpayee and Advani, commences with an introduction to their childhood and the early influences that shaped their lives- conservative Hindu and semi-urban mores for Vajpayee, growing up in the princely state of Gwalior, where the Maharashtrian rulers give RSS foothold and cosmopolitan, upper class mores that get overruled by the anxieties and aftermath of partition and nudge Karachi boy Advani towards the RSS.

As the duo evolve and grow in tandem with RSS and post-independence broader Hindu Nationalism, the book brings out the ideological pining, the organizational structure and years of grassroot work that paved the way for RSS, an organization banned in the aftermath of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination, helping form the government at the Centre within thirty years of the ban.

Sitapati presents Hindu Nationalist ideology- spearheaded by the RSS as one convinced that Indian sub-continent is Hindu/Non-Abrahamic in nature, that lack of unity amongst the Hindus has caused hemorrhaging of territorial integrity and a fear of demographic change that will be disadvantageous to the Hindu majority. The purpose of the political arm of Hindu nationalism is to build a unified Hindu identity, overruling its various caste lines, that will help in maintaining the territorial sanctity and preserve Hindu cultural identity.

Sitapati alludes the success of RSS in becoming a major political force to its ability to work as a Unified entity, no individual is bigger than the organization and all disputes, owing to personality or ideological differences, are managed internally and away from the public eye. It’s ability to nurture and groom talent that helps communicate its point of view clearly to the world at large and talent that keeps the organization a well-oiled machinery and above all to an organizational design that fosters and forges a sense one family amongst its members.

Between the two of them Vajpayee and Advani help implement the RSS ideology, first with Jan Sangh and then later with BJP as they play the roles of the Orator- Vajpayee the supreme orator- within and outside the parliament and Organizer- Advani the quintessential party man and ace organization skills, with ear to the ground; Sitapati credits their Jugalabandi, fine-tuned with their long-standing personal friendship, that withstands the test of time, to the complementary skill sets that they brought to the partnership and their years spent as active workers of the RSS. A partnership that saw its high noon with Vajpayee serving as the Prime Minister and Advani as the deputy PM of the country.

In the book Vajpayee comes across as a wily politician, who seeks acceptance within and outside the parliament by sticking as close to the prevailing political consensus and what he feels is the popular mood. Advani comes across as an RSS man, who is happy to play second fiddle to Vajpayee till the late 1980s when he truly discovers himself as a political leader after the Rath Yatra. Sitapati contends they are both similar in their deference to the Nehruvian consensus- left of the centre on economy and extension of differential rights to religious minorities, till there is a ground up pushback to this consensus from populace at large.

It is in explaining the duos response to feedback from their voters that Sitapati presents an insight often overlooked by commentariat and ignored by polarized and angry participants on social media- politicians act in accordance with the wishes of their voters. They thrive and survive when they respond to what their voters wants.

Vajpayee and Advani, hard as it may be to believe, were laggards when it came to the Ayodhya movement, Indira and Rajeev Gandhi nurtured the movement before Vajpayee and Advani’s BJP took charge. The duos Jugalbandi that led to formation of an avowedly right-wing government, was the two of them letting go of their deference to Nehruvian consensus and whole heartedly aligning with mood of the nation. This submission leads to the question how much of present-day India is because of Modi or is Modi a product of present-day India.

The writing is lucid and the author sticks to the language akin to journalistic reportage. The expanse of the book- the collection of characters who make an appearance and events that unfold, are all written in the style of long form journalism, the book is unputdownable for new junkies and history buffs. The book however, does not help us understand what led to marginalization of Advani after 2004. What made the true organization man break the ideological connection- his statement calling Jinnah a secular leader on a trip to Pakistan in 2005? How much the disarray of BJP, between 2004–9, can be attributed to Advani? For the takeover of BJP by Modi and Shah is also one of the legacies of the Vajpayee Advani duo.

The big take away though is how political parties in a democracy respond to the public mood and the limited say they have in shaping the public opinion. Be it Indira Gandhi’s nationalization of banks, her polarizing the Hindu votes in elections in J&K or the support that Indira, Rajeev and the Congress party extended to the Ayodhya movement in its early years. V.P. Singh implementing recommendations of the Mandal commission report, Vajpayee accepting the indispensability of Modi to the BJP in Gujarat or Advani turbo-charging the Ayodhya movement. These are all instances of politicians responding to an incentive structure designed for catering to feedback from voters.

The ‘liberals’ and ‘resistance’ to current government in India perhaps need to relook at their methods of building a robust opposition. Op-eds in foreign publications, never ending columns on websites all written in a European language and tweets for an echo chamber can only go this far, opposition needs a political party that gets the pulse of the nation for there is no dearth of issues on which the Modi-Shah duo can be challenged.

P.S: Post reading the book I heard a podcast by Amit Varma where he talks to Vinay Sitapati about the book. The episode is available on Varma’s podcast channel The Seen and The Unseen, the episode is an excellent addition to understanding the Vajpayee Advani Jugalbandi.

 

+1

Open Thread – 01/02/2021 – Brown Pundits

By Razib Khan 256 Comments

Here is hoping for a better 2021!

Lots of questions about this tweet. I like Niraj Rai and Gyaneshwer Chaubey personally. But, I’m pretty skeptical of how people are interpreting this. My own views are pretty straightforward, and outlined in my post the “Aryan Integration Theory”.

I believe that about 14% of the total ancestry in South Asia derives from the Central Asian steppe ~3,500 years ago. These people derive from a “reflux” migration from Central Europe of a Corded Ware related people (“Battle Axe Culture”).* The fraction is higher in Pakistan, 20-30%. Much lower in southern India, ~5% or so (excepting Brahmins). Whenever this is a “massive migration” is up to you to interpret.

I do think they brought R1a and lots of aspects of Indian culture, such as Indo-European language. On the other hand, most of the ancestry and a lot of the culture was “indigenous.” The Indic culture we see in the Iron Age is clearly a synthesis, which was present even in the Vedic corpus.

Also, in the annals of self-promotion, I had some free posts on my Substack before Christmas:

The Age of Genetic Engineering Begins

The Original Chinese Man

Applying IQ to IQ

Your Roots are Showing

In Gods We Trusted

* Something I point out to people is that this assumes that the steppe people arrived from Khorasan unmixed. If the Indo-Aryans who arrived in the Punjabs already mixed with Iranian peoples in their sojourn then the fraction is an underestimate, though I doubt it is 2-fold.

+3

General AAK Niazi, Military career

The following is a note from Dr Hamid  Hussain about the military career of Gen Niazi, who later earned infamy in the eyes of humanists for the genocide in East Pakistan and in the eyes of Paknationalists for surrendering Pakistan’s Eastern Command on Dec 16 1971.  Based on these events, most people imagine that he was an incompetent buffoon at every stage in his career, but as this note makes clear, that is not entirely true. While no Rommel or Guderian, he had done reasonably well in various positions until he got promoted above his level of competence..

26 December 2020

Someone had asked about Lt. General Niazi’s career especially early days.  The journey ended up picking many interesting points.  I thought would be interesting to document a chapter of history of Pakistan army.

Hamid

 Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi – Career Profile

Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi was commander of Eastern Command in December 1971 when East Pakistan seceded with the help of Indian army and emerged as an independent nation of Bangladesh.

Niazi was born in 1915 in a small village near Mianwali district of Punjab.  He joined Indian army as a sepoy.  Details of early part of his career are not available and even in his own autobiography, Niazi did not mention it.   He joined the army probably in 1935 (this estimation is based on the information that in a news item published in 1946 about him when he commanded the guard of honor for Lord Mountbatten during his visit to Java in May 1946 stated that he had eleven years of military service).  He probably joined the ranks of Ist Battalion of 7th Rajput Regiment.  Class composition of this regiment was fifty percent Hindu Rajputs and fifty percent Punjabi Muslims. Continue reading “General AAK Niazi, Military career”

0

The massive Indian migration to Southeast Asian

By Razib Khan 17 Comments


Over at my other weblog I put up a post, Indian Ancestry In Southeast Asia Is Older Than Statistical Genetic Tests Suggest. If you look at two populations in Southeast Asia and find one has Indian ancestry you often can’t find the admixture older than 1000 A.D. (in peninsular Malaysia there is more recent intermarriage between Muslim Indians and Malays too). This seems far too recent. My explanation is simple: these dates reflect the assimilation of a hybrid Indian-Southeast Asian population across much of Southeast Asia. I have done the analyses myself, and in Cambodia, I get dates around 1000 A.D. Cambodia is not close to India and there isn’t evidence of a large Diaspora in recorded history. But, we know that Hinduism was a major influence in the region, and the Vietnamese Cham are still predominantly Hindu.

The kingdom of Funan, known mostly from Chinese accounts, flourished in Cambodia for the first five centuries of the common era or so. There is an inscription in Sanskrit from the region dated to the 5th century A.D. that refers to the moon of the Kauṇḍinya line (… kauṇḍi[n]ya[vaṅ]śaśaśinā …) and chief “of a realm wrested from the mud”. The text is in the Grantha script.

Further west, Dvaravati also had a strong Indic influence, no later than the 5th century A.D.

The genetic results indicate on the order of 10-20% of the ancestry of people in central Thailand is broadly Indian. This is not a trivial fraction. Who were these people? How early did they come?

On a minor editorial note, I’ll observe there is lots of discussion about possible Indian gene flow to the north and west (into Iran and Turan), but the data on Southeast Asia is clear and of greater magnitude. But there is far less discussion and exploration of this.

+3

Rise of the millennial grifter: Book Review

By AbdulMajeed Abid 4 Comments

“A good story is a problem. It makes your mind shut down, and you ignore everything else”.

ATF agent in Manhunt: Deadly Games 

I have recently been reading ‘Billion Dollar Loser’ by Reeves Wiedem, about WeWork and its founder Adam Neumann. It reminded me of an NYT article from Amanda Hess last year titled “Fyre Festival, Theranos and our never-ending ‘scam season'” about the rise of grifting among Millenials. She pointed to Billy McFarland (Fyre Festival), Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), and Anna Delvey (SoHo grifter) as examples of American Millenials who have become infamous in the last few years for overselling bad products/personalities and underperforming or outright lying people out of enormous amounts of money. Jia Tolentino wrote in 2018 that “At some point between the Great Recession, which began in 2008, and the terrible election of 2016, scamming seems to have become the dominant logic of American life.” She further expounded on this phenomenon as “Grifter season comes irregularly, but it often comes in America, which is built around mythologies of profit and reinvention and spectacular ascent. The shady, audacious figures at its center exist on a spectrum, from folk hero to disgrace. The season begins when the public catches on to a series of scammers of a particularly appealing sort—the kind who provoke both Schadenfreude and admiration.”

Adam Neumann, the co-founder of WeWork, is another addition to this list. Some on Twitter would argue that Elon Musk, and to a certain extent, Travis Kalanick, should be mentioned in the same breath as these grifters, but he is not a millennial and at least has something to show for all the hype. There are many similarities among this lot, including the worship of Steve Jobs (Neumann in passing, Holmes to the extreme), megalomania (Neumann telling a rabbi, “I am WeWork”), abusive behavior with employees (Neumann hired people for office jobs and forced them to do hard labor, Holmes was frequently threatening, McFarland did not pay local workers in Exuma), no or little experience in the industries they wanted to disrupt (Neumann had been a landlord for one floor of a building before starting WeWork, Holmes came with a background in chemical engineering undergrad training which she never finished, McFarland had never organized a musical festival before), middle class upbringing (Neumann’s parents were doctors, Holmes’s worked in the government, McFarland’s were real estate developers), using family and friends for early funding (Neumann through his wife Rebekah Paltrow and the connections he made at the Kabbalah center, Holmes through her family friends such as Tim Draper and Victor Palmieri), nepotism (Neumann employed his wife, sister and brother in law, Holmes installed her brother and his fraternity brothers at Theranos), and lots of charisma. There was even overlap between Neumann and Billy McFarland. McFarland had started his first company out of a WeWork office.

There were a lot of dissimilarities too. Neumann fudged numbers, but Holmes outright lied to people about her technology and what it could achieve, possibly harming cancer patients. Neumann had a major benefactor, Masayoshi Son, who invested billions in WeWork, an opportunity that Holmes did not get but more on Holmes later.

Neumann wanted to disrupt an industry that he did not understand well and which may or may not need to be “disrupted.” WeWork was a lousy landlord that provided small spaces for high prices with the promise of ‘community building’ in the form of common areas, beer on tap, and fancy coffee. Neumann tried to frame it as a tech company even though there was little to no technology involved in this operation. He wanted to ride the wave of success that tech companies were on. Unfortunately for him, he believed in his own bullshit. At its height, WeWork was opening up a new co-working location every day. By the summer of 2019, WeWork had 528 in 29 countries. The company had raised $12.8 billion but was losing $219,000 an hour.

The person who I find the most similar to Adam Neumann is, ironically, Donald Trump. They share many traits such as megalomania, exploiting their employees, hypocrisy (implementing vegetarianism at WeWork while having Lamb dinners), nepotism, fondness for opulence (Private jets, fancy cars), self-dealing (Neumann buying buildings and renting them to WeWork), showmanship, wanting absolute power, and expanding their brand outside their areas of expertise. The final days of Neumann at WeWork are reminiscent of the final days of the Trump presidency: everyone around Neumann knew that the jig was up, but they were too afraid to say anything. There is still litigation going on about his exit.

The tale of WeWork’s rise and fall is also the story of how venture capitalists (V.C.s) have taken over the startup world. In a NewYorker story titled “How Venture Capitalists are deforming capitalism“, Charles Duhigg wrote that ‘Whereas venture capitalists like Tom Perkins once prided themselves on installing good governance and closely monitoring companies, V.C.s today are more likely to encourage entrepreneurs’ undisciplined eccentricities.’ He writes at length about what happened at WeWork once the leash was off:

“WeWork had a number of internal problems that should have concerned Dunlevie and the other board members. In the spring of 2018, the board learned that a senior vice-president had prepared a lawsuit accusing a colleague of giving her a date-rape drug. She also alleged that executives often referred to female co-workers with such epithets as ‘bitch,’ ‘slut,’ and ‘whore.’ (The senior vice-president received a settlement, and the suit was not filed; Dunlevie told me that he has no recollection of the complaint.) There were reports, too, of top executives using cocaine at events, dating subordinates, and sending texts like ‘I think I should sleep with a WeWork employee.’ Some board members knew that Neumann used drugs, that he had once punched his personal trainer during a workout session in his office, and that a raucous party in Neumann’s office had ended with a glass wall shattered by a tequila bottle.

The board had also allowed Neumann, a passionate surfer, to take thirteen million dollars in WeWork funds and invest them in a company that made artificial-wave pools, even though surfing had nothing to do with WeWork’s business. Neumann spent millions more to finance an idea from Laird Hamilton, a professional surfer, to manufacture ‘performance mushrooms.’ The board knew that WeWork had spent sixty million dollars on a corporate jet, which Neumann and his family took to various surf spots. It had stood by as WeWork’s name was changed to the We Company; not long afterward, the company paid Neumann $5.9 million in stock because he had trademarked the word ‘We.’ (The payment was later returned.)”

For decades, venture capitalists have succeeded in defining themselves as judicious meritocrats who direct money to those who will use it best. But examples like WeWork make it harder to believe that V.C.s help balance greedy impulses with enlightened innovation. Rather, V.C.s seem to embody the cynical shape of modern capitalism, which too often rewards crafty middlemen and bombastic charlatans rather than hardworking employees and creative businesspeople.

———————————————————————————————–

“I tend to be wary of charismatic people. My father always reminded me that Ted Bundy was also very charismatic”. A former WeWork employee on the podcast WeCrushed.

 

There is an alphabet soup of regulators and regulations that governs laboratory medicine in the United States, including but not limited to FDA, CMS, CAP, AABB, Joint Commission, CLIA, and so on. Devices in a laboratory are regulated by the FDA. Any new device that one brings on or any new testing methodology that one wants to start requires permission from the FDA. Recently, many labs have applied for or received emergency use authorizations (EUA) from the FDA for their lab-developed tests (LDTs). Getting a full authorization for an LDT is a painstaking and tedious process involving loads of paperwork, which hindered the early rollout of COVID testing in the U.S. Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is responsible for regulating lab personnel and effective running of testing. They have approved some organizations such as The Joint Commission (TJC), CAP, or AABB to do inspections on their behalf. A lab director (M.D. or Ph.D.) has to get licensed to work as the lab director, and the buck stops with them. College of American Pathologists (CAP) is one of the leading organizations in the U.S. that inspects and provides guidelines to pathology labs. CAP is mentioned in the book ‘Bad blood’ by John Carreyrou inaccurately as the “medical association representing laboratory scientists”. CAP is an association of board-certified pathologists who are distinct from medical lab scientists (MLS).

Theranos considered itself above all these regulations. They constantly lied and manipulated data to satisfy the minimum requirements for getting their lab registered. They showed a running loop of pre-recorded videos to Novartis that showed blood flowing their cartridge and getting tests done for their Theranos 1.0 machine, in order to sell their product. Holmes was not trained in pathology, not even biology. She came with an unfinished bachelors degree in chemical engineering. Holmes’s mind veered from idea to idea until something stuck. She started Theranos initially to develop a wrist-worn device that analyzed a person’s blood, then switched to using small amounts of blood for lab testing and wanted to deploy it to help cancer patients, then to use the same technology to detect swine flu, to use the same technology to assist the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq, and to have her machines in Safeway and Walgreens.

Holmes was a control freak. She would ask anyone visiting the Theranos offices to sign an NDA first, this included all employees as well. She would pit one team of engineers against another for similar tasks. She appointed people to keep an eye on when employees came to work and left. In a tactic also used by WeWork, Holmes would order dinner frequently that arrived at eight o clock at night, ensuring that employees stayed late. Anyone who dared dissent was purged from the company without explanation. There was a lot of staff turnover at Theranos during its existence. There was a lot of hype created by Elizabeth, using her idea as revolutionary and selling it to gain reputation and money while actually delivering nothing. Along the way, she fooled V.Cs, CEOs of Pfizer/Safeway/Walgreens, General Mattis, Herny Kissinger, Rupert Murdoch, Larry Ellison, and David Boies.

These two stories illustrate two ambitious millennials who wanted to change the world, fooled enough people, spent billions of dollars to achieve their dreams but ended up as cautionary tales. As old Abe Lincoln would say, “You can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time”.Good riddance Elizabeth Holmes and Adam Neumann.

Books and podcasts that I accessed while reading this piece, 1) Billion dollar loser by Reeves Wiedeman 2) Bad Blood by John Carreyrou 3) WeCrashed podcast 4) The Drop Out, podcast.

An article comparing WeWork and Theranos that complements this piece is from Bussiness Insider: https://www.businessinsider.com/with-wework-theranos-line-between-charm-and-fraud-doesnt-exist-2019-9

P.S I think Adam Driver should play Adam Neumann in the movie version of WeWork. Both of them have a military background, are very tall, and of course, charismatic.

0

Nadir Ali 1936-2020, RIP

By Omar Ali 23 Comments

My father, Colonel Nadir Ali, was born in Kohat (KPK) in 1936 to a Khatana Gujjar lawyer who was the first in his village to go to school, to college and then to Aligarh. The family soon moved back to Gujrat (district Gujrat, in Central Punjab) where he grew up in our village (Machiana) and the city of Gujrat. As a precocious 11 year old he helped his father to rescue some kidnapped Sikh and Hindu girls during the partition pogroms (because he was young enough to be allowed to go into the women’s quarters to talk to them). He attended Normal School Gujrat and Cadet College Hasanabdal before joining the Pakistani army in 1958. He got married to my mother in 1960 (what in Pakistan used to be called a “love marriage”) and for 61 years the two of them showed the world, through thick and thin, what true love could be like.

He served three tours in the SSG and was a much loved instructor at PMA when he volunteered to rejoin 3 commando battalion as it conducted “internal security” duties in East Pakistan in April 1971. He returned to West Pakistan in October having been, in his own words, driven mad by the experience (link to  a speech he delivered in Bangladesh about these events is attached at the end of this post and can be read for more details).

After a spell in psychiatric care he left the army and started a new life that eventually saw him become a Punjabi poet, an award winning short story writer, an active participant in Najam Hosain Syed’s Punjabi literary circle and the patriarch of a large and growing family. He always idealized his childhood in the village and refused to adapt to the pretensions and sterile isolation of modernity. He was also a fan of Marx (who he usually referred to as “nabi akhir uz zaman”, the last prophet of the age) but his well-developed bullshit detector saved him from falling blindly for any party or political movement. Above all else, he loved children. His own children, grandchildren and great grandchildren were endlessly indulged and unquestioningly and unstintingly loved and supported in everything they ever wanted to do, but his love was not limited to his own family. Every child was his child and every child felt this and responded to him with affection and joy.

It is impossible to put in words how much we will miss him.  And “we” are legion: his wife and kids and their spouses, kids and grandkids will never forget his affection, his jokes, his songs, his wisdom and his high spirits. But then, neither will his brothers Colonel Azam Ali and Sarwar Ali, his sisters Safia Choudhry and Razia Choudhry, his brother in law Justice Sajjad Sipra, his sisters in law Zohra and Shahida Sipra, his boon companion Altaf Malik, his best friend Brigadier Aslam Malik, his mentor and teacher Najm Hosain Syed, his cousin Major Akram, his countless other friends and admirers, the list goes on and on. And so many that have left us already; who knows, he may be up there right now singing and dancing with friends and family who left us before he did. I at least would like to believe this is indeed the case and he and Professor Haider Ali, Choudhry Sher Ali, Choudhry Hakim Ali, Imtiaz Sipra, Riaz Sipra, Iftikhar Sipra, Ayaz Sipra and so many others are right now looking down at us, drinking and singing old Indian film songs. And of course, he is with his father, Choudhry NIamat Ali, who came in his dreams recently, asking him to join him.

Details of his talk and interviews regarding 1971 can be found here.

Nadir Ali Reading one of his stories:

Ae sab sael bahar da hai ee.. (this is a voyage on a trackless ocean, without ship  or shore..

Banhan jinhan diyan pakRiye, sir deejay, banh na choriye..  (once we take someone’s hand, we should be willing to lose our head, but not let go of the hand)

+17

Bangladesh’s War of Liberation-Historicising a Personal Narrative

By Omar Ali 3 Comments

The following is from a talk given by Colonel Nadir Ali at BRAC university in Dhaka in 2007..

Bangladesh’s War of Liberation
Liberation War-Historicising a Personal Narrative
December 16, 2014 0 2,619 Views
|By Col Nadir Ali (Retd) , Pakistan Army|

Former Pakistani Col Nadir Ali’s talks of his experiences from 1971 in Bangladesh at the BRAC University in Dhaka.

Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you for providing me with this opportunity to be in the great city of Dhaka and be in the BRAC University addressing this august gathering.

But this interaction can only be meaningful if you ask me questions. I will answer your questions honestly and candidly. Hopefully, we will add to each others’ knowledge in this interaction.

Historicizing a personal narrative is difficult in the best of times. Recalling 1971 is a very sensitive issue and it touches most of us very deeply.
First, a litte of the personal: I was in Dhaka at the Army Ordnance Depot at Tejgaon from 1962-1964 and in 3 Commando Battalion at Thakurgaon and Chittagong from 1965-1966. As an army officer, I also happened to know several Bengali officers who later became major players in Bangladesh . Among them, General Zia-ur-Rehman was a fellow instructor at Pakistan Military Academy. Brigadier General Khalid Musharraf was my roommate and course mate at Military Academy and a fellow officer in the commandos in the early sixties. General Mir Showkat Ali was also a course mate in the Military Academy . Major Ziauddin of the Naxalites and now a maulana is a personal friend. Brigadier Abu Tahir was a fellow officer in the commandos and a friend too. Many of my students at the Pakistan Military Academy also rose to high ranks in the Bangladesh Army. The life of an average West Pakistani officer in the then East Pakistan , remained confined to cantonments among the overwhelming majority of West Pakistani officers.

The handful of Bangladeshi officers who had also served in West Pakistan were naturally much more relaxed here. But the majority of Bengali officers remained distant from the West Pakistani officers, who occupied the command and key staff positions. I spent the happiest four years of my life here, but my life remained confined to family, office, officers mess, Dhaka Club. Language is the house of being. We remained non-beings in Bangladesh , or alien beings in this respect, because we did not learn the Bengali language and did not partake of the rich culture of this land.

While my personal experience in Bengal had been very positive, the story in the historical context was very different. The Bangladeshi fellow officers in the Pakistan Army rarely became close personal friends with West Pakistani officers. Even two of the very prominent Bengali officers, Lt Col. (Retd) Qayyum, whose elder brother was the Head of Bengali Dept at Dhaka University , and Group Capt MM Alam of air force who stayed on in Pakistan , are now alienated and lonely beings. People as prominent as Sher-e-Bangla Mr. Fazlul Haq and Mr. Husain Shaheed Suhrawardy, despite their prominence in the Pakistan Movement and Pakistan politics, were alienated by the dominance of West Pakistanis in politics, which resulted in the creation of the Awami League, which played a central role in liberation.

AK Fazal Ul Haque started his career as early as Praja Conference of 1914. Mr Surawardy was not only a Prime Minister, but opened the China door door and set up Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission and Pakistan Institute of Nuclear Technology. All these came to play key roles in our subsequent history. There may even be some lesson in history, in the sub-continental context, in the fact that the Neta Ji Subhash Chander Bose was the most fascinating of figure in the forties. He was very different from Mr. Gandhi. Who was more right is a question for you to decide. In any case, “History,”as Hegel said, “has a certain cunningness and history is always rational.”

We the Punjabi Pakistanis were fighting against reason and we were the oppressors. At the same time, Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman’s leadership defined the rationality of history. The Indian Army only acted on the rationale that had been created by the Awami League victory in the 1970 elections. But today I want to talk about Bangladesh and my limited personal experience in the midst of these historic and tragic events.

Before I move on to the grim events of 1971, let me recount some of my earlier experiences in Bangladesh that may illustrate the way we, as army officers, thought and were encouraged to think. One of the major political events of the sixties was the 1964 winter presidential election, contested by General Ayub Khan and Miss Fatima Jinnah. Historically, it was a non-event, but it gave me some insight into the working of the civil government at the time. I, a young non-entity of a captain, while doing election duty in Manik Ganj subdivision of Dhaka district, was personally called on the telephone by Mr. Monem Khan, the then Governor, to say that the area magistrate police officer and Member National Assembly were working for the Combined Opposition Party.
I submitted that I had come on duty in aid of civil power and the magistrate and police officer were supposed to tell me what needed to be done and not the other way around.

Again, while on duty during the Hindu-Muslim riots in Narayangunj area, I received a call from Governor House to ask why I was feeling restrained by the DIG Police and magistrate, i.e.: I should go out and open fire whenever I felt the need. During the day, I had been reprimanded by Gen. Yahya, the General Officer Commanding, as to why some civilians were standing around as he drove past. I said that I had been evacuating some Hindu families who had been attacked. “You are not the Red Cross, boy!” the General had roared. It is likely that he had reprimanded the Governor as well. I was then ordered to carry a machine gun instead of single shot rifles and the DIG and magistrate were removed. Legally, the position was that the GOC was junior to the governor and I was way junior to the DIG and magistrate, and I was also supposed to get their written permission before opening fire. But in actual practice, the GOC could order the governor around and I could freely bypass the civilian magistrate and the senior police officer.

The next significant political event in the sixties was the Agartala Case. In 1968, at Staff College , we were given a briefing by Director General Military Intelligence. It was done very dramatically, by shutting all doors and with music from the movie “From Russia , With Love.” It was a common joke in the officer messes, that the Bengali officers called each other “General”, a rank they would supposedly hold when they seceded from the Pakistan army.
What we had always treated as a joke was now being cited as “treason discovered.”! The farcical nature of the “conspiracy” can be gauged from the fact that someone as junior and insignificant as an air force sergeant and corporal were also mentioned as major characters in the conspiracy to topple state authority.

I felt then that we were headed for disaster because the powers that be were living in another world. The die was finally cast in the 1970 elections, but rumbles could already be heard. I was at heart against martial law and West Pakistan ruling over East Pakistan . But I was a young nobody and among a tiny minority in the army. The 1970 election was as cyclonic as the cyclone over Hatya Island that year. The Six Points had been voted for and that meant autonomy for then East Pakistan .

Bangabandu had thrice used the word ” Bangladesh ” in his election speech in Nov 1970. The then head of Pakistan Television, Mr. Roedad Khan, has written that he had told Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman to delete these words. But the agreement was to allow the leaders to say what they wanted and he refused to delete those words, it was aired as such. The results were stunning. History had been made. But while the fellow Bangladeshi officers were elated, West Pakistanis were not happy with the results.

Then came the unwillingness to accept the election results, the military action in East Pakistan and the Liberation War! The war touched your lives deeply and those who lived through it in Bangladesh mentally and physically paid a very heavy price. The entire population of Bangladesh was terribly oppressed when the army ran riot. Death stalked everyone’s life and neither life nor honor nor property was safe. I unfortunately, was a witness and participant in those events, though I never killed anyone or ordered anyone to be killed. Still, I knew and heard about a lot of killing and other atrocities. I may have a thousand stories to tell of what I saw from early April 1971 to early October. But one person’s, experience is not history nor its accurate picture.

I rejoined 3 Commando Battalion on 10th April, 1971 as second in command of the battalion and took over its command on 6th June 1971 and was there till the beginning of October 1971. A detachment of this battalion had arrested Bangabandu Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman on the night of 25th-26th March 1971, only two weeks before I joined it. I was directly under the Eastern Command Headquarter and I interacted frequently with General Niazi GO C-in C Eastern Command, and General Rahim and General Qazi, commanders of 14 Din and Gen Mitha who assisted Gen Tikka till Gen Niazi took over.

The first major incident was the arrest of Sheikh Mujib-ur-Rehman. Colonel Zaheer Alam, who led the detachment charged with arresting him, saluted Bangabandhu and said, “Sir, we have been ordered to take you into custody.”
According to his book, when he reported to Eastern Command after the arrest the three generals, Gen Hamid, Chief of Army Staff, Gen Tikka and Gen Mitha who were present all asked only one question: “Why did you not kill him?”

Imagine, if he had been shot, that would have been a catastrophe and changed many things even further for the worse. The reaction would have been far worse and the whole of Bangladesh would have gone up in flames.
But though we did not kill him then, did we not murder him as well as Mr Bhutto in a span of four years in the late seventies?

In Pakistan the state apparatus was dictatorial and willful and it got worse over time. The State’s insensitivity to the dictates of law and justice was neither political nor civilized. It would decide the fate and state of the nation. Murder Incorporated had taken over. I arrived in Bangladesh on 10th April 1971. On 11th April, 1971, I traveled to Rangpur as one of our sub units was there. The night before, I had heard enough accounts at Army and Air force messes. I wanted to orient myself.

Most of the boasting in the messes was of the night of the generals on 25th/26th March and how a brigade column from Joydeblpur had “sorted out” Dhaka . There were tales galore of the Mukti Bahini’s alleged massacre of non-Bengalis and there was an album of blood and gore at Chittagong .
When I got to Rangpur, the senior tank unit commander boasted of how he had lined up the miscreants, the noisy political workers who had taken over the town till 25th March. He added some professors too for good measure. Then he took them all to a nearby brick kiln and had them shot. When I asked if there was any resistance or use of arms by those people or others in town, he said,
“Nadir, you should have seen how they behaved before 25th March. They jeered at us”
….that jeering and protesting was apparently enough to earn them a summary death sentence.
Then he added,
“One of my Bengali officers too-he was protesting too much. I had him shot too.”
I mildly protested. “He was a fellow officer and only a proud kind?”. And he was a brother officer. Sympathy for civilians was even less likely. While the commanders in Rangpur were painting a picture of too much resistance in Rangpur, Gen Mitha had landed there in a helicopter single handedly with a Bengali ADC, whose pistol was the only weapon they carried.
He rebuked the local commanders. He had known Bangladesh and knew what and how much resistance was likely. Perhaps his background also mattered. Gen Mitha, from Mumbai, was married to a Christian lady of Bengali origin, whose father was Dr Chatterji, the famous philosophy teacher.

The other had come to be defined in religious terms in India and Pakistan .
Your level of education and political beliefs could go only as far as the fellow soldiers and your army commanders allowed it. There was a feeling of revenge among the troops for the social siege and aggressive political stance of the Awami League. The soldiers thought that Awami Leaguers were not patriotic. But the senior commanders/Generals led the way and decided that this supposed rebellion had to be put down with the force of arms.
Somewhere the think tank had also decided that Hindus were the root cause of the problem. Orders were given to spread out and pacify by force of arms, by terrorising and by picking out and killing the Hindus. A license to kill, given to a soldiery with a besieged mentality, to whom the whole of Bengal appeared alien, made it a free for all, a horrifying dance of death.

I had gone from West Pakistan . I found relief in walking out and seeing for myself. I drove all the way from Rangpur to Dhaka by road with only a driver and our personal arms. I faced no resistance or threat. If you were sympathetic with the politics of the people and could gauge the extent of resistance, you saw thought and behaved differently.

My first so called operation was on 15th April, after a day of aerial reconnaissance, I took off with two columns of commandos and was heli dropped east of Faridpur town. I was told “It is a hard area. It is Mujib-ur-Rehman’s home district. Go and let them have it! And pick out especially the Hindus.”
The man giving orders was my old teacher and friend. I said
“Sir, I cannot kill anybody who is not armed or firing at me. Don’t expect me to do that. That is against the law sir, even if it is martial law.”
He said
“You have just come from West Pakistan , teaching your Bengali students and drinking with your Bengali friends, you don’t know what has been happening here.”
When finally I was dropped on the road to Pabna, east of Faridpur, we took position and fired to make a base for ourselves. We were up high on the road. On the low ground, I saw some civilians running towards us. I halted the firing.
“What do you want?”
I asked the man with a bucket.
“We have brought water for you to drink.”
I ordered a ceasefire.
We sat down, resting against the bridge wall and started making tea. I asked the civilians,
“I saw Awami League flags here yesterday, from the air.”
“Sir, we have taken those down. We have put up a Pakistan flag. You can see one from here.”
I did not know whether to laugh or cry. Then I saw a glimpse of collaboration.
The villagers were kicking and dragging a poor fellow.
“Sir, he is an Awami Leaguer and was demanding mon;ey from the villagers.”
I searched his pockets and found some thirty bucks. I returned these to the villagers.
“Should I shoot him?” asked a soldier.
“I will shoot anyone who so much as touches his weapon.” I said.
But the villagers too wanted to join us in eliminating this innocuous symbol of rebellion. They wanted to earn our approval. Soon the main army column that had come through the city of Faridpur came by they were setting fire to every village along the road.
“What is the score?”
asked a Rommel like colonel standing in a machine gun fitted jeep.
“Sir, there was no resistance so we killed no one.”
He gave a burst from his machine and some of the innocent onlookers standing around us fell dead. “That is the way my boy,” the Colonel told this poor Major.

The next episode was around 25th April, to clear Barisal , the last district town to come under army control. I knew the area and had gone as a guide with the battalion attacking Barisal . The advance party of thirty who had gone by naval gun boats the night before was missing. The colonel waited out the night on the outskirts and called an air strike before moving in the morning. As we moved forward, the city of Barisal had already been conquered by our missing advance party of thirty men! Only a sweeper, whom the colonel had killed in panic, was a casualty. But after that the battalion did do a lot of killing and looting, as I learnt later during a tour of the area. Meanwhile, “Three-pronged attack on Barisal repulsed,” said a banner headline in an Indian paper from Calcutta .

On 6th June, from a dug-in position a regular rebel battalion of East Bengal Regiment in Belonia with minefields, repulsed a brigade attack from the Pakistani army. The 53 Brigade from Commila failed with forty dead. I was called in to give commando support to a reinforced brigade attack. The night before the planned attack I jumped into the midst of the battalion at night.
We faced little resistance as we were in the middle of forward and rear positions. Where the brigade attack had failed, I succeeded. The whole salient next morning was found vacant.
Somehow, with this I became a hero.
My CO, who had refused the mission, was sacked and I became commando battalion commander. The General commanding 14 Div Gen Qazi, after that took me along on most visits and I traveled all over Bangladesh . We provided flying guards to PIA aircrafts flying in the area and I could issue air tickets. I was very mobile.

One day after my taking over as a commanding officer, they announced demonetization of big denomination notes. I was sitting having tea in my balcony. It was raining and I saw a lot of high denomination notes flowing down into the drain. Some soldiers of mine had obviously looted those notes. My command was going to be difficult. I would never know what would happen when I turned my head!

I was also reminded of an event in a distant past. In 1947 after the first monsoon rain on Aug 16,1947, I had seen looted material floating down a drain. How many holocausts was one to see in a life time!

To stay away from the kill and burn forays on the home ground, I started operations across the border with volunteers provided by Jamaat-e-Islaami. I met Prof Ghulam Azam and Ch Rehmat Elahi, who used to come to my office. I also frequently met Mr. Fazlul Qadir Chaudhry and Maulana Farid Ahmed.
I did not indulge in any killing nor ordered any, but I was aware of a lot of killing and looting done by the army all round Dhaka . At the same time, a false sense of normalcy prevailed in the limited circuit of my social life i.e, Dhaka Club, Officers Mess, Chinese food near DhanMandi.

Meanwhile every Bangladeshi was oppressed and terrorized, even if not directly a victim of it. When I saw hundreds of abandoned cars on the Ghat on the road west of Dhaka and saw a fleet of cars in my own unit, I was aware of the missing or robbed masters. There were nearly 10 million refugees in India and more than ninety percent of them were Hindus.  Thousands were killed and millions rendered homeless. Over nine million went as refugees to India. An order was given to kill the Hindus. I received the same order many times and was reminded of it . The West Pakistani soldiery considered that Kosher. The Hamood Ur Rehman Commission Report mentions this order. Of the ninety-three lakh (9.3 million) refugees in India, ninety lakh were Hindus Casualty figures may have been exaggerated, but every citizen was scared and oppressed and feared for his life. Nobody felt secure even in his own house.

What drove me mad? Well I felt the collective guilt of the Army action which at worst should have stopped by late April 1971. Moreover, when I returned to West Pakistan, here nobody was pushed about what had happened or was happening in East Pakistan. Thousands of innocent fellow citizens had been killed, women were raped and millions were ejected from their homes in East Pakistan but West Pakistan was calm. It went on and on .The world outside did not know very much either. This owes to the fact that reporters were not there. General Tikka was branded as “Butcher Of Bengal”. He hardly commanded for two weeks. Even during those two weeks, the real command was in the hands of General Mitha, his second-in-command. General Mitha literally knew every inch of Bengal. He personally took charge of every operation till General Niazi reached at the helm. At this juncture, General Mitha returned to GHQ. General Tikka, as governor, was a good administrator and made sure that all services ran. Trains, ferries, postal services, telephone lines were functioning and offices were open. There was no shortage of food, anywhere by May 1971. All in all, a better administrative situation than Pakistan of today ! But like Pakistan of today, nobody gave a damn about what happens to the poor and the minorities. My worry today is whether my granddaughter goes to Wisconsin University or Harvard. That nobody gets any education in my very large village or in the Urdu-medium schools of Lahore, where I have lived as for forty years so called concerned citizen, does not worry me or anyone else.

In Dhaka, where I served most of the time, there was a ghostly feeling until about mid April 1971. But gradually life returned to normal in the little circuit I moved: Cantonment, Dacca Club, Hotel Intercontinental, the Chinese restaurant near New Market. Like most human beings, I was not looking beyond my nose. I moved around a lot in the city. My brother-in-law, Riaz Ahmed Sipra was serving as SSP Dhaka. We met almost daily. But the site of rendezvous were officers’ mess, some club or a friend’s house in Dhan Mandi. Even if I could move everywhere, I did not peep into the hearts of the Bengalis. They were silent but felt oppressed and aware of the fact that the men in uniforms were masters of their lives and properties.

Dr Yasmin Sakia, an Indian scholar teaching in America, told me once an anecdote. When she asked why in the 1990s she could not find any cooperation in tracing rape-victims of 1971, she was told by a victim,” Those who offered us to the Army are rulers now.”

One can tell and twist the tale. The untold part also matters in history. Two Bengali soldiers whom I released from custody, were issued weapons and put back in uniform. They became POWs along 90 thousand Pakistani soldiers and spent three years in Indian jails. I discovered one of them serving as a cook in 1976 in Lahore. I had regained my memory. “Kamal –ud-Din you?” I exclaimed on sighting him. “Sir you got me into this!”

The Pakistani Army had thrown them out. The other guy teaches in Dhaka now.

The untold part of the story is that one day I enquired about one soldier from Cammandos unit. He used to be my favourite in 1962. “Sir, Aziz-ul –Haq was killed”, the Subedar told me rather sheepishly.

“How?” was not a relevant question in those days. Still I did ask.

“Sir! first they were put in a cell, later shot in the cell”.

My worst nightmare even forty years later is the sight of fellow soldiers being shot in a cell. “How many ?” was my next question. “There were six sir, but two survived. They pretended to be dead but were alive,” came the reply.

“Where are they ?”

“In Commilla sir, under custody”.

I flew from Dacca to Commilla. I saw two barely recognizable wraiths. Only if you know what that means to a fellow soldier! It is worse than suffering or causing a thousand deaths. I got them out, ordered their uniforms and weapons. “Go, take your salary and weapons and come back after ten days.” They came back and fought alongside, were prisoners and then were with difficulty, repatriated in 1976. Such stories differ, depending on who reports.

All these incidents, often gone unreported, are not meant to boast about my innocence. I was guilty of having volunteered to go to East Pakistan. My brother-in-law Justice Sajjad Sipra was the only one who criticized my choice of posting. “You surely have no shame,” he said to my disconcert. My army friends celebrated my march from Kakul to Lahore. We drank and sang! None of us were in two minds. We were single-mindedly murderous! In the Air Force Mess at Dacca, over Scotch, a friend who later rose to a high rank said, “ I saw a gathering of Mukti Bahini in thousands. I made a few runs and let them have it. A few hundred bastards must have been killed” My heart sank. “Dear! it is the weekly Haath (Market) day and villagers gather there,” I informed him in horror. “ Surely they were all Bingo Bastards!,” he added. There were friends who boasted about their score. I had gone on a visit to Commilla. I met my old friend, then Lt. Col. Mirza Aslam Beg and my teacher, Gen. Shaukat Raza. Both expressed their distaste for what was happening. Tony, a journalist working with state-owned news agency APP, escaped to London. He wrote about these atrocities that officers had committed and boasted about. It was all published by the ‘Times of London’. The reading made me feel guilty as if I had been caught doing it myself! In the Army, you wear no separate uniform. We all share the guilt. We may not have killed. But we connived and were part of the same force. History does not forgive!

When I received orders to move back to West Pakistan for my promotion at the end of September, I was suddenly shaken out of my state of unreality. I completely lost my mind. I got out of my VIP power boat over Rangamati lake and got onto a nauka to share dal bhat with the surprised poor boatman.
I was dined out later that evening by the rich and famous of Dhaka . I was also given a farewell dinner at Gen Niazi’s house, who as usual gave me the gift of some dirty jokes that always interspersed his daily order sessions.

I returned to West Pakistan and broke down with paranoid schizophrenia, completely out of touch with reality. I was a mental patient for two years, was hospitalized for six months and lost my memory in the process of treatment. I was retired as a disabled person in 1973.

Over many years, I have rediscovered and reconstructed myself as a Punjabi poet. I acquired a literary and artistic consciousness from Bangladesh and I hope I can now validly represent the literary conscience of Punjab .
Now, as a Punjabi poet and writer I offer apologies and ask forgiveness from those who suffered so terribly in 1971. And I want to say that there are many more in Punjab who feel the same shame and regret and who are also discovering a connection between the military mindset that led to those tragic events and our own loss of culture. But alas at the time of my departure no one except my brother –in- law Justice Sajjad Sipra, decried my choice of posting.
Today, the world is changing fast. Any of the three looming crisis: the falling dollar, rising oil prices or runaway inflation and high food prices may ruin us and the regional economy. Let Bangladesh , which is thriving after liberation, lead the way. And why not ; it was here that you first talked of praja, the people , swaraj the independence and Liberation War Mukti Judh. Be it Azad Hind Fauj. Krishak Praja Dal or Mukti Bahini, these all had their origin in Bangladesh .
Neither across the ocean nor across the Himalayas is anyone coming to rescue us. Together, we three can make a formidable alliance. Let us attend to our teeming millions of poor and not be misled by our habitually misleading leaders. Half of the entire world’s poor live in the sub continent. Let us not raise huge armies that can only destroy each other. I will sum up with Faiz Ahmed Faiz’s lines on Bangladesh :
“After how many Shraban rains,
Shall be washed the blood stains
After friendly intimacy.
We became strangers again.”

There was a lengthy question and answer session. Instead of twenty minutes I spoke for over an hour at the directions of the chair and people received it very well and wanted some more. There had been a lot of discussion on the subject of War Crimes Tribunal. When asked my opinion, I submitted, “Sir between you and me, the War criminals do very well in life. The real culprits always live well above the Law and only the poor and politically marginlised people will be prosecuted.”

+9

BP Unlurk Thread

By Razib Khan 10 Comments

In the post where I allude to “10 years of BP” someone mentioned old comments pre-2014 (I do have those posts in tables I need to load up). That suggests to me that some few of the readers here date to the beginning and transitioned to the blogspot site and back again.

So here is an unlurk thread where you can tell us who you are. Are you Indian? Are you a techie? What is your caste/jati? The usual.

0

Open Thread – 12/26/2020 – Brown Pundits

By Razib Khan 67 Comments

Brown Pundit emeritus Zach pointed out on Twitter that BP launched at the end of 2010. A lot has changed. At BP and the world.

There is actually MySQL table data with archives back to 2010. I should resurrect those at some point.

A lot has changed in the last 10 years. The biggest thing is the size of the brown faction on the internet is now huge. About as many Indians read this website as Americans.

0

On Ahmadiyyas and Jains

By London Observer 33 Comments

One of my favourite examples to demonstrate why Hindus and Muslims are like chalk and cheese (or cheese and chalk- no value judgment implied by the metaphor!) is their respective treatment of Jains and Ahmadiyyas.

We all know about the plight of Ahmadiyyas in Pakistan. Not a week goes by when there isn’t a story in the media on Ahmadiyya persecution. To Indian eyes, this can be quite baffling. The Ahmadiyyas reserve a highly exalted position for Prophet Muhammad. By all socio-cultural markers: naming and dressing conventions, eating habits, praying patterns etc., they appear “Muslim”. Yet certain theological red lines are crossed- including the recognition of Indic icons such as Buddha and Krishna as prophets, but most importantly the perceived violation of the doctrine of Khatam-un-Nabiyeen: the finality of Muhammad’s prophethood. A clear case of orthodoxy trumping orthopraxy. This hostility towards the Ahmadiyyas is not a recent phenomenon and can be traced back to the views of the founding fathers of Pakistan, such as Allama Iqbal.

From a Hindu perspective, this can appear bizarre- ethnic Punjabi “Muslims” who share so much in common in both cultural and kinship terms are so hostile towards each other due to some theological disputes. There are more consequential theological disputes within sects of Hinduism. For example, within Vaishnavism, there is the Dvaita Vedanta school founded by the 13th century scholar-saint Madhavacharya which believes that the Divine (i.e. Vishnu or the supreme being) is distinct from the individual. The better known Advaita Vedanta school founded by Adi Shankaracharya is Monistic (i.e. believes in the essential unity of the Divine or Vishnu and the individual). From a theological perspective, these ruptures are perhaps as radical as those between Sunni Muslims and Ahmadiyyas. Yet, the average modern Hindu, even someone who self-identifies strongly as a Vaishnavite, would find the notion of being hostile to other Vaishnavites on the basis of doctrinal differences to be bizarre and laughable.

Continue reading “On Ahmadiyyas and Jains”

+5