Republic Day.

India became a Republic on January 26, 1950. Yes, the Republic is Sixty Years old today.

India became an Independent country, shrugging off British rule in 1947. It took us about two years and some months to draw up our constitution which replaced the Government of India Act of 1935. The day January 26, was chosen as it was on that date in 1930, that Indians declared their intention to become independent from British rule.

It is a mature nation if you consider sixty years of existence as being equivalent to a human being. Like all sixty year olds, our nation too has many plus points and as many minus points about it.

I can wax eloquent about both the pluses and minuses, but shall leave my readers with two links to indedpendent views. I liked both of them despite their rather unflattering references in some instances.

One is by Anne Applebaum who writes in the Washington Post and the other is by Harmeet Shah Singh, who writes for the CNN.

I will be very happy to answer any questions that my readers may have after reading both articles.

Our 26/11 Anniversary.

Last year, after the Mumbai terrorism, I had written many posts and responded to comments and my regular readers will recollect the mention I had made of my friends and their son Kaizad. Kaizad was a budding chef in the Taj Hotel, and he was deliberately shot and killed by the scum. I reproduce the article interviewing Nawaz and Noshir that appeared in our local newspaper by a scanned copy as the article is not appearing in the eversion of the newspaper. By clicking on the image, you can enlarge the image to read better and you will also see the photograph of Kaizad the gentle giant.

My young friend Sandeep has written a poignant post in his blog about Mumbai and you can see my comments on it here.

The Times of India has published another very interesting article which is worth reading as is the article in the Independent.

Pakistan has indicted seven people in Pakistan for the roles played by them in the massacre but the key players still enjoy official protection and patronage. Pakistan is imploding everyday and I envisage major problems for Pakistanis, refugees from there who would like to come over to India and Indian Muslims who would like to help them, in the days to come. I hope that the Pakistani establishment would get a grip on its country, its economy, its development and its people to avoid becoming like Somalia.

The Duke Of Edinburgh Medals.

I read Mihir Bose’s article in the Independent on the 26th inst. I read this in the BBC news on the 30th. I just could not resist the temptation to ask my brother Barath who is a naturalized Brit as to what is going on!

Barath being the only Duke of Edinburgh Medal winner that I have ever known, I thought that his views on the subject should be worth a read. What I did not realize was the depth of emotions that the subject would evoke.

He has written a guest post on the subject, which I find fascinating and am sure that my readers would do too. So, without further ado, here is his response.

“I first participated in the DOE award scheme back in the early sixties after my arrival from India as a callow 16 year old youth. I was befriended by an engaging Scot called Fred with whom I commenced a five year apprenticeship in Edinburgh.
Being befriended by that worthy has taught me a lot about how the Scots are a misrepresented race not only as being represented by the English as carrying a chip on each shoulder, and being mean. Without any reservations, let me first of all state that the Scots as a race are not at all mean in the sense of being stingy with their money, they are what I would call as being “careful” with their money which means that they spend it on important issues , not frivolously. Secondly, a more welcoming race who befriended an alien and made him feel at home tells me that they have no chip on any shoulder, and it is entirely due to that friend that I joined the Boys Brigade which was a competitor for the Scouts organisation, but more orientated to promoting the life of Christ’s Kingdom on Earth.
It is under the banner of the Boys Brigade that I was made aware of the Duke of Edinburgh award system, and I first participated in the Silver section of the award (I was too old by then to have participated in the Bronze) in 1968, this is important in the context of the furore currently surrounding the Prince’s comments, on the excitement of the danger of death associated with the 3 day hike which forms part of the gold award.
The Duke of Edinburgh scheme covers many aspects, Life Saving, Fire Brigade education, a hobby of some note (mine was to collect stamps in a formal manner), physical excellence which covers 100m race where a minimum time is required to be met, throwing a ball a minimum distance, Long jump of a minimum distance etc . The main part of the scheme is to make the participant proficient in map reading and becoming self reliant, which means participating in following a pre-determined route, AGREED with a parent body , to hike 15 miles for the bronze with friends in a day, 30 miles for the silver with a fellow award participant for an overnight stay, and finally a hike over 50 miles and over a Munro (a mountain greater than 3000 feet in height) and two overnight stays on your own.

The Bronze award requires, obviously, a less stringent standard, and as the award increases in colour, the standard required becomes more stringent. For instance, I was actually timed in my 100 m race at 10.8 seconds for the gold award in 1969 but the standard required was under 11 seconds. Hence, the hike is quite a high standard to be met, and there are clear dangers present in Scotland if you carry a back pack with a tent and spend two nights in the open in mountainous territory. Bad weather and mist and fog can disorientate a person never mind an 18 year old. This is the danger spoken of by Prince Harry and I have no problem with this view. However, what the Prince failed to outline was the training given to the individual, before he takes on such a task. Clearly, the representative bodies under whose auspices these awards are entered by a participant, spend a lot of time and effort training the worthy in being able to map read, carry the necessary equipment to survive a three day hike, and to recognise where one is and in the old days, we had no GPS system to let us know where we were, we had to rely on reading a 1” map of the area accurately including the contour lines.

However, notwithstanding all the training there is no doubt that this is not a walk in the park, and that there could well be weather related hazards which in the extreme can be fatal. People who underestimate such a hazard would be well advised to stay away from entering such a programme.

Suffice it to say that I was the second Boy in Leith ever to win the Duke of Edinburgh Gold award, and Fred’s parents accompanied me to Hollyrood Palace where I was presented with the Gold award by Prince Phillip and I still have the photograph with my “in loco parentis”. He kindly spent a few minutes chatting to me and asking me if I had enjoyed the programme and I outlined to him the joy I had in participating in the scheme.

It is amusing to read Mihir-Bhose’s version of a party at the Palace where the Duke informed a Gent by the name of Patel that there were several of his relations present there that day, which caused the Gent some concern. I am sure that the Duke has come across many Indians (Rajgopaul must have been a difficult name for him to get to pronounce correctly all those years ago), but as in India, there is an undercurrent of Humour in the UK where all Englishmen are called Smith and a lot of Indians are called Patel, there would be no undercurrent of racial tone in a remark which I am sure the Duke would have made in jest, but in today’s world of political correctness, saying to one’s friends that “the wife is in the kitchen” (which may well be true) is seen a s a Chauvinistic statement. Mr. Bhose, get a life and stick to cricket, you are good at it!!!”

Thank you Barath.

Tornado, Steam Locomotive.

This morning, one of our newspapers, the Business Standard carried a beautiful photograph of the Tornado, steaming its way over the Ribblehead Viaduct near York in the UK. The news about the run however is available here. Unfortunately, I am unable to give a link or reproduce the photograph despite some serious attempts including a phone call to the Executive Editor of the news paper. I have however been able to locate another photograph which may be over the same viaduct.
My readers will remember my fascination with the Indian Railways, when I was goaded into writing a post by Sandeep. This morning’s photograph reminded me of the promise that I had made to him about writing more posts on railways, and here is one of them. I hope to write a few more, but of a different nature than this.

When The Economist wrote about the Tornado in February of this year, I had every intention of getting to the UK some time soon and traveling by this train. That situation changed subsequently and all my travel plans are on hold, but the article that I had saved up for future reference is still with me on my “To do List”. This is a fascinating story of nostalgic enthusiasts coming together and making such a great enterprise possible.

In the process of conducting some more research, I came across another blog which gives some more information about the trust that made this possible and that too makes fascinating reading.

It appears as though I shall soon have to make a short trip to a town about 600 Kms up north west from here and I plan doing it by train by transiting at Mumbai. I really look forward to it, and if I do, it will make for a great blog post.

Crank’s Ridge

Danny Kaye0
When a friend sent me a link to a YouTube link for a video on Louis Armstrong and Danny Kaye singing ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’, it brought back so many memories to me that I wanted to share some with some of my younger friends.

I forwarded the link to some who are jazz enthusiasts and one of them Sandeep, promptly got back to me about how much Danny Kaye reminded him of ‘Crank’s Ridge”. Apparently Danny Kaye’s daughter, Dena Kaye set up a hospital there which is operational even today.

Sandeep, a keen runner, trekker, mountaineer and an enthusiastic, if somewhat irregular blogger, decided to blog about what this chain of memories brought back to him and has written a fascinating blog – “Up On Crank’s Ridge: Where It’s Always 1969.”

You can learn a lot about Almora, the town nearest to Crank’s Ridge if you google for it as you can about Crank’s Ridge itself. I have been to Almora but not to Crank’s Ridge. When it was suggested that I go there by my friend in Almora, I as usual joked about the name and said I want nothing to do with Cranks. Apparently, even before all the notables mentioned by Sandeep discovered Almora, it was called Crank’s Ridge either after some British Colonial named Crank, which is quite likely, or due to the British calling it so, because cranks kept going there. I would not know. It however appears that before too long, I may just find out.

Sandeep plans to settle down close to Crank’s Ridge and has promised me a hut in a corner of his estate where I could quietly meditate on my navel. He promises me that, while all the money that would be collected from devotees visiting me will be kept by him, he will not interfere with the female devotees. What a considerate friend to have!

Terrorism in India

To understand terrorism in India, we need to look at some historical facts and their impact on current Indian attitudes.

When it became obvious that India will win independence from British rule, Pakistan came into existence with the idea of providing a homeland for the Muslims of the sub continent as it was feared that the then India, with its vastly larger Hindu population will mean less opportunities for Muslims. This happened in 1947. Prior to this, Hindus and Muslims lived together in harmony and none of the animosity that is seen now was known.

Partition itself caused untold misery and death to many on either side, and the wounds have just begun to heal, with the passing away of the older generation with first hand experience of the horrors of partition.

Almost all Hindus and Sikhs of what is now known as Pakistan and Bangladesh were driven out of Pakistan and became a very substantial force of refugees. These, the Punjabis, Sindhis and East Bengalis, were welcomed into India and offered a new start and it is to their credit, that despite losing everything that they had, they succeeded and make for a very vibrant and prosperous middle class in India.

Many Hindus, not quite the majority, felt that, had Mahatma Gandhi (MG) not given consent, the partition would have never taken place. It was felt, and subsequent information confirmed that MG was quite willing to let Jinnah be the Prime Minister of a united India but, Jawahrarlal Nehru and a few others simply would have nothing of it. This created the final parting of ways with MG’s reluctant blessing. In this atmosphere, it must also mentioned that the British saw an opportunity to divide and rule by remote control, a post independence sub continent for purely commercial and strategic reasons.

This perception of MG having agreed to the partition, was to result in his being assassinated by a Hindu extremist.

From the Indian side, most educated Muslims of the middle classes consisting of lawyers, doctors, civil servants, educationalists etc, went away to Pakistan under the impression that in India the non-Muslim population will prevent their progress. Despite this, a very large portion of Muslims chose to stay in India due to the assurances given by Jawaharlal Nehru and the Indian National Congress that they would enjoy the protection of the Indian state under its secular approach to governance. Those that chose to stay behind were essentially the working class, artisans, petty traders, agricultural landlords and workers. These people almost entirely formed a vote bank for the Indian National Congress.

The then ruler of Jammu and Kashmir was a Hindu Maharaja who originally was not in favor of joining either Pakistan or India but was forced to seek merger with India when Pakistan sent tribal irregulars into Kashmir. The Kashmir valley is predominantly Muslim in its population and the Jammu region, Hindu. The Kashmiris who had been terrorized by the invaders welcomed Indian armed forces. The Indians drove the intruders back and since then, Kashmir has been a bone of contention between the two countries and Pakistanis are perceived to be encouraging cross border insurgency through jehadi religious fanatics and malcontents.

Pakistan, since its inception, has not been able to succeed as a democracy due to its own internal contradictions, and has had a number of military coups. On the other hand, India has succeeded as a democracy and moreover, economically prospered to a greater extent than Pakistan. This has been reported to be galling for the Pakistani establishment and it does not hide its hostility to India.

In 1965, Pakistan and India went to war with each other over Kashmir and the valley was divided into two under the UN mandate and a line of actual control (LOC) has been in existence since then. That war was also a watershed in the sense that Pakistan realized that it could never win a conventional war with India. Indian troops were well into Pakistani territory and Russia brokered a peace treaty with India withdrawing into the pre war areas. Since then, Pakistan has been fighting a remote controlled war with India, which has just now been publicly acknowledged by the West after Pakistani double dealing has been exposed.

In 1971, Bangladesh came into existence, after a bloody war of independence with the Pakistani establishment, which could not stomach the Bengali Muslims ruling over the rest in a fairly won election. Bangladesh simply had more people and thus more elected representatives. What happened in Bangladesh prior to the war of independence is well known to the world and needs no repetition. This war of independence however was won with the actual support of the Indian armed forces that were forced into it due to millions of refugees flooding into India from the then East Pakistan. The war resulted in a humiliating defeat for Pakistan, with India taking over 90,000 prisoners of war. It was after this that the famous “War of one thousand years with India”, slogan was raised by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the late father in law of the present President of Pakistan. Taking revenge is the one ambition that drives the Pakistani military establishment, which through its ISI has consistently been blamed for the proxy war with India via the terrorism route.

The Indian Muslim has always been blamed by the fringe elements of Hindus, perhaps with some justification, for Pan Islam – a notion that Islam is greater than nationality and the Muslim brotherhood transcends borders. Some miscreants for instance would cheer the Pakistani cricket team against the Indian and would mourn the former’s loss and celebrate their wins.

The vast majority of Indian Muslims are poor, in fact, much poorer than their Hindu counterparts. They are too busy eking out a living and do not represent any threat to anyone. Education for most Muslims is also only at the local religious school level and they hardly ever go to the schools and institutions that Hindus go to. They learn to read and write Urdu or Arabic and to recite the Quran. They are totally unequipped to handle modern life as they are by and large ghettoized. Most young Muslims are therefore inadequately equipped to fight for a place in the growth story of India. Some readily come under the influence of radical elements and give a bad name to the entire community.

Following a massive family planning program, the Indian population growth stabilized but due to the message not reaching the Muslim population for whatever reason, or for economic reasons, the population growth of Muslims was perceived, I repeat perceived, to be greater than that of the Hindus. A piece of information or misinformation that caused considerable panic among hard line Hindus.

The ‘secular’ political establishment in the meanwhile, interpreted secularism to mean minority appeasement and allowed Muslim Personal Law to be applicable for Muslims which gave their men to have four fives, adding fuel to the fire, with the Hindus crying that this would increase Muslim population further. Many instances of appeasement by the political class were used to aggressively promote a brand of Hinduism hitherto unknown in India. Two instances will illustrate. A Muslim woman thrown out by her husband sought the intervention of the Indian laws for maintenance, which was granted to her. The Muslims raised a hue and cry saying that this was contrary to the Muslim personal law and the Indian National Congress, succumbed and amended the laws of the law! As this is being written, a terrorist convicted by all the possible courts right up to the Supreme Court, and given the death sentence is not being hanged by the secular parties worried about how the Muslim population would react.

Such developments resulted in the strengthening of a nascent political movement and a Hindu national party with hardly any presence in the parliament was able to substantially improve its hold on the Hindu imagination and fears and gain many more seats, in fact overtaking the tally of the oldest Indian political party, the Indian National Congress. As I write this, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) widely perceived to be a hard line Hindu party, is governing some important Indian states, including the state of Karnataka, where Bangalore, familiar to my friends in the USA is located,.

Ayodhya, a town in the Hindi heartland of India, is believed by all Hindus to be the birthplace of one of their Gods, Lord Rama. Babar, a Moghul emperor, is believed to have destroyed a temple marking the exact spot. He is also believed to have built a mosque on that spot till recently called the Babri Masjid. This mosque has not been in use for many years and was in a decrepit condition. Hindu extremists, who wanted to build a temple dedicated to Ram there, demolished this. This development started off the major Hindu Muslim confrontation that continues till today, despite the majority moderate elements from both sides calling for an end to it. Some volunteers from Gujarat, who had gone to Ayodhya to construct a temple there had to return without doing so. On their way back, a railway coach that they were traveling in was torched by some Muslim miscreants and when this message was received in other parts of Gujarat, the famous riots took place causing serious damage to lives and property to both sides but more severely to the Muslims.

In the meanwhile, Kashmiri Muslims known to be of a tolerant form of Islam, made it impossible for the Hindus living their for thousands of years, and the mainland plains had to accommodate one more set of Hindu refugees. This further fueled the Hindu right-wingers’ argument that the Muslims are treating India and Hindus as a soft target. Added to this, is a steady stream of illegal Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh who are rightly economic refugees fleeing abject poverty. They perceive India to be a better place and most of them do find employment of sorts and are able to live better than had they stayed on in Bangladesh. They too become pawns in local politics, further adding fuel to the fire.

There is no denying the fact that except at the educated and prosperous levels of both religions, there is considerable suspicion of each other, which only gets exaggerated every time an act of terrorism, or a communal riot takes place.

The establishment (Read the so called secular political parties) blames almost all such developments as cross border terrorism by the ISI of Pakistan. The opposition on the other hand, blames the so-called pseudo secularists for them. Both sides play vote bank politics without really addressing the core issue – alienated malcontents on both sides of the divide.

Misguided youth from both religions resort to violence and acts of terrorism. The latest development being attacks on Christian institutions and churches blaming some proselytizing Christian sects, for converting ignorant and naïve Tribals.

National (Federal) and State elections are round the corner and the political activities have shifted gears to attract the maximum from this chaotic situation. The ordinary citizen suffers. There is the saving grace in Indian politics that, none of the national political parties are in a position to form a central government on its own strength due to the strong presence of many regional political parties. Coalition governments have therefore been in power for many years now, and this has enabled some semblance of sanity, due to the pulls and pressures exerted by regional outfits in the center.

Barring the Communists, there is little to differentiate between the main political parties in India for their ideological commitments. Religion has stepped in, either to give a weapon to target the opposition parties or to safeguard vested interests.

This is what started off my original lament, that enough is enough, and the State has to act before it becomes too late.

The great majority of Hindus and Muslims are not responsible for the present state of affairs. Some misguided people from both sides are responsible. It is my submission that if we can make our economic progress and consequent benefits to reach all segments of our populace, India can live in peace and prosperity. The upwardly mobile elements in both religions want this, but they are the silent majority like in most countries of the world. Perhaps the time has come for them to become more proactive.