Monday, July 4, 2016

Some Thoughts on Chakravyuh (the play) And Beyond...

This weekend I went to see a 100-minute long Hindi play on the well-known episode of Chakravyuh in the Mahabharata where on the 13th day of the Great War, Drona, the commander of the Kaurava forces arrays his army in a circular formation. In the past, this play has been staged for an audience as high-profile as members of the Parliament of India with leading politicians in attendance. The BJP stalwart L.K. Advani is said to have attended multiple performances at various venues. In case you are not aware of the Chakravyuh story, Google is your friend. Here is an interesting Quora thread for the more curious ones:


(The next two paragraphs are about the play and the rest about stuff beyond it)

The biggest attraction of the play for me was Nitish Bharadwaj reprising his role as Krishna, albeit off-screen this time. Having been an ardent fan of the way he played his character in the BR Chopra version of the epic that used to air in the late ‘90s, I was quite pleased. I had booked my ticket 2 weeks in advance and was fortuitous to get a seat in the third row, the first two being reserved for high profile guests and not available for booking. Bharadwaj didn’t disappoint and played his part with the same flourish, fluidity and touch as he did on-screen two decades ago. Age did seem to show on his face a bit with some wrinkles visible from so near the stage. The performance itself, however, was flawless. The expressions and the dialogue delivery had an all too familiar ring to them. The actor also engaged in a 10-minute Q&A session with audience members post the play where he was questioned on various aspects of the play and the epic.

Among other characters, the actors playing the parts of Duryodhana and Yudhishthira were cast very well in their respective roles. Those playing Abhimanyu, Uttara and Subhadra did justice to their roles as well. Sachin Joshi as Bhishma didn’t seem quite convincing though. The force of Bhishma’s personality and his towering presence were missing. War scenes showing Abhimanyu taking on the mightiest Kaurava warriors single-handedly have been very well-choreographed with high energy and intensity on display throughout. The play provided several instances of levity throughout with Krishna taunting and berating the Pandavas in his characteristic style, made all the more effective by Bharadwaj. Quite a few dialogues prompted spontaneous applause from the audience for the wisdom they professed to reveal. Credit is due to Atul Satya Kaushik who has written and directed the play. Expectedly, the play ended with a couple of dialogues from Krishna about the analogy of Chakravyuh with our modern day lives and the possibility of attaining moksha only if we manage to find a way to extricate ourselves from it.


The play delves on some little-explored facets of the Great War. In response to Arjuna vowing to kill Jaidratha the following day or give up his own life, Krishna’s patience gives way to frustration at the habit of the dynasty’s stalwarts to take vows and oaths. He admonishes the Pandavas saying that it was this tendency that had led to this war in the first place. Bhishma’s vow of protecting the holder of Hastinapur’s throne, no matter what, forces him to side with Duryodhana. Bheema’s vows to drink Dushasana’s blood and wash Draupadi’s hair with the same (not to mention Draupadi’s vow not to tie her hair till she had done so) as well as to break Duryodhana’s left thigh with his mace led to the war getting unnecessarily prolonged. He cites two instances when Abhimanyu had Duryodhana at his mercy but let him off keeping in mind Bheema’s vow. Arjuna too could have finished off Duryodhana easily whenever he wanted, for the latter was no match to him with a bow and arrows. The continued survival of Duryodhana was causing the war to drag on endlessly and tragically. It’s another matter though that despite the boon of bodily protection granted by his mother Gandhari, Duryodhana has been repeatedly described as getting injured in the story of the war, whichever version you read. The protection works only against the blow of a mace it seems.

More than the story itself, it is the many subtle and vital questions about the various facets of society – erstwhile and current- as well as human nature which are thought-provoking and intriguing. Krishna tries to give courage to the young Uttara who is all of 16 and just been widowed when she asks how she would be able to raise her unborn child without its father. He gives several examples of single mothers from the past, states that every human being has both male and female characteristics and mentions that in the future single motherhood was going to become all too common.

Nitish Bharadwaj talked about the thinking of the times (or zeitgeist as we know it) in response to a question after the play and another audience member asked if the thinking of the times forced the elders in the court to keep silent during the Draupadi disrobing episode. Bharadwaj interestingly pointed out that the question Draupadi asked of the elders was whether Yudhishthira had the right to gamble away her freedom when he had already lost his. According to the shastras, the elders knew that Yudhishthira, even as a slave had that right but they didn’t want to utter this in court and hence kept silent. Basically, Draupadi asked the wrong question. If she had invoked her status as the daughter-in-law of the dynasty and asked the elders to act, they would have been compelled to. Bharadwaj cited the book “Yugaant” by Irawati Karwe (originally in Marathi, now translated to Hindi and English) for this. The name sounded familiar to me and I soon found out why when I added it to my Wish List on Amazon. It had been sitting there already for quite some time!

The one thing I have never understood is why Arjuna held Jaidratha as the chief culprit in the tragedy that befell Abhimanyu. The latter was simply doing his duty in not letting the Pandava brothers past the entry to the Chakravyuh. The deceitful plot to kill Abhimanyu was suggested by none other than Drona, his revered teacher who also partook in the boy’s shameful murder. Was it because Arjuna wanted to avoid confronting this uncomfortable truth out of the reverence and awe he held his teacher in, and was looking for a scapegoat? The anger that Arjuna feels when Dhrishtadyumn murders Drona while the latter had his eyes closed suggests that in Arjuna’s eyes, Drona was not a culprit. And yet, Krishna is able to rouse Arjuna enough to persuade him to shoot a defenceless Karna by invoking the part played by the latter in Abhimanyu’s killing. It seems that even the heroes of yore were not immune to double standards and convenient rationalisations.

Another aspect of the story doesn’t quite sound convincing. In the play Arjuna asks Krishna, who had been Abhimanyu’s teacher throughout, why he hadn’t taught the latter all about the Chakravyuh as a part of his education. Krishna replies saying that Arjuna was Abhimanyu’s father and it was his duty as a father to finish what he started (alluding to the fact that Abhimanyu had learnt the art of breaching the formation while in the womb). Krishna says that he cannot substitute for Abhimanyu’s father. Two simple reasons why one can’t digest this sorry explanation are the fact that the guru was held in higher regard than parents in those times and that Arjuna had no way of knowing that Abhimanyu had obtained half the knowledge.

All said and done, I strongly recommend watching the play if you get a chance to do so. Do share your opinions on some of the mysteries and unresolved questions in the epic. 

Monday, February 15, 2016

अरमानों की उड़ान...

मदमस्त हवा के झोंकों का नशा जो है छाया
तो बेखुदी का ये आलम है, जहान की न खबर है
क्षितिज पर नीले आसमान में पिघलता जो समुन्दर है
तो अपलक देख रहीं आँखें, भागते वक़्त का न होश है 
बीते लम्हों की याद में खोया मन
ढूंढ रहा ज़िन्दगी के फलसफे है
इस सुहाने मौसम में यूँ गुमसुम है दिल क्यूँ
क्या खोया इसने, गम है इसे क्यूँ
कुछ सन्नाटे तो हैं सबका हिस्सा
बीत गया जो वो है कल का किस्सा...

दिल को संकरे दायरों में बांधें रखा है क्यूँ तुमने
अरमानों को जेहन में समेटे रखा है क्यूँ तुमने
ये जो पल हैं आज और अभी हैं
थाम लो इन्हें, पहले इसके की ये हो जाएं गुम
हसरतों को पिंजरे से करो आज़ाद
और मिलाने दो नीले अम्बर से साज़
रखोगे बुलंद जो हौसले
और हिम्मत से लोगे फैसले
कायनात भी करेगी साज़िश
कि कामयाबी करे खुद तुम्हारे पते की गुज़ारिश...

ज़िन्दगी में कभी धूप तो कभी बरसात है
बुझे न कभी उम्मीद की शमां बस यही दुआ है
किस्मत के थपेड़ों से जूझकर ही तो
मिलेगा जीवन का समुन्दर नील गगन से
हमसफ़र का इंतज़ार न करो निकलने से पहले
मिल ही जायेगा वो तुम्हें चलते-चलते
साथी के साथ से डगर हो जाती है कुछ सुगम
पर सफर तन्हा भी यूँ कुछ बुरा नहीं
मंज़िल अपनी देर-सबेर पहुँच ही जाओगे, रफ्ता रफ्ता भटक कर ही सही
गुमराह तो वो लोग हैं, जो दूरियों के डर से घर से निकले ही नहीं...

सफलता की खोज में....

आँखों में सपने संजोए, मन में संकल्प लिए
दिल पर पत्थर रख घर से हम चल दिए
कुछ कर गुजरने की चाहत में
अनजाने सफर पर निकल पड़े...

रेगिस्तान की मृग-मरीचिका समान
सफलता बस थोड़ी दूर नज़र आती है
समीप पहुंचते ही उतनी दूर और चली जाती है
सुध-बुध गवाँए प्यासे की तरह अब भी पीछे भाग रहे हैं
यही है अपने जीने का सबब, खुद को समझा रहे हैं
साहिल की लहरों को चीरती
बरखा, तूफानों को झेलती
किनारा ढूंढ़ती जीवन की ये कश्ती
है अग्रसर पल-पल प्रतिपल...

सहयात्रियों को आगे निकलता देख
हिम्मत है टूटती, मनोबल फिर डोलता
संदेह होता अपनी काबिलियत पर
व्यर्थ प्रतीत होता परिश्रम, जीवन लगता मायाजाल है...

मगर यारों ! जीवन है लम्बी दूरी की दौड़
यहाँ थकना-हारना है मना
कल फिर होगी सुबह
होगा सूरज का आविर्भाव नया
दिनकर की रश्मियों के तेज से
ऊर्जा का होगा संचार नया
जीवन रण पुनः आरम्भ होगा
कल की पराजय का कोई दुष्परिणाम होगा...

करें हम शंखनाद, संभालें रथ की कमान
भेदने को चक्रव्यूह हो जाएं तैयार
मनोबल है अपना कवच और श्रम तलवार
चुनौती है प्रतिद्वंदी और डर उसका हथियार
बनें कुरुक्षेत्र के हम अर्जुन
हो जाएं नतमस्तक सब जन
निराशा-हताशा के बादलों को चीरते
कुछ गिरते, कुछ संभलते
अंजानी डगर पर हम डटे रहें
लें शपथ! पार करेंगे ये अग्निपथ, पार करेंगे ये अग्निपथ...

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Plans Ahead: Some Notes To Self

With the herculean task of getting a job out of the way and nothing specific on the agenda for the next 3 months, this looks like a chance as good as any to do the things one has always wanted to do but never got around to because, well, where was the time?? Yours truly has been a not-so-proud member of the club thus far but it's time to relinquish the badge.

To begin with, getting way from everything and going off on a nice, quiet holiday all by self sounds like a good idea. (I also hope to finally have an answer to at least one dreaded HR interview question: What is the most adventurous thing you have done in your life?) Perhaps to a historical destination/destinations. History, especially Indian history, has always fascinated me. I have spent many nights in bed as a kid fantasizing how life must have been in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata era. A bit more of history reading in higher classes, combined with the heroic tales of bravery of historical figures who have become the cultural totems of today, planted romanticised notions of life in the earlier times in my head. All the associated stories of plunder and massacre seemed like minor inconveniences then, serving no purpose but that of interfering with the narrative. It’s only once that I started doing some serious history reading that it struck how harsh life must have been in those times without all the mechanical and electrical conveniences of today. Heck, had I been born 50 years too early, life would be nothing as exciting and convenient as today. All those sturdy forts constructed back then and pan-country military expeditions carried out would have required humongous resources, time and effort. And yet, despite the tyranny of distance, large empires were forged and sustained over hundreds of years and architectural marvels that have withstood the test of time and weather were erected. While reading and all is fine, I’d like to actually “feel” the history in my bones. A tour of Jaipur about a decade back and one of the glorious Vijayanagara capital of Hampi last year whetted that appetite but has by no means satisfied it. An extensive tour of Rajasthan, Delhi and Madhya Pradesh would be my priority. I could spend hours at those places in quiet contemplation trying to reconstruct the times of yore, undisturbed and unhurried by anything else (Let’s ignore here the fact that I partook not a drop of history in Delhi in the two years I spent there). My role-model is Sanjeev Sanyal who is a global strategist for Deutsche Bank based out of Singapore and lives and breathes history in all his spare time. His book “Land of the Seven Rivers” is an excellent Indian history primer. Wish they had such books as text books during school.

 May be I could go away to a quiet town for a few days somewhere in the hills up north, (Kasauli, may be?) be cut off from the Internet and hopefully mobile communication. It’s damn difficult to switch off completely these days but I could really do with a break from the daily chaos.  I’d like to spend time going for long nature walks, reading stories and poetry for a change (some by Ruskin Bond perhaps whose writing is steeped in life in the hills), reflect on the past and the future- the things gone right and wrong, figure out what and who matters, shed some baggage of the past and figure out my own philosophy of life (very important, if for nothing else then to impress a gathering of friends). Being in the lap of nature and having no deadlines to adhere to may finally get the creative juices flowing for all one knows and I may end up writing something worthwhile. (Ok, I saw today a junior from BITS announcing on Facebook the imminent publication of her first book so right now motivation is at its peak, else I am too lazy to make the effort) Jokes apart, it would kind of feel nice to jump on to the Engineer+MBA+Writer bandwagon some day.

In the days left over, I’d definitely like to start clearing my reading backlog. At least 30-40 books I’ve accumulated in my collection over time are gathering dust, waiting to be opened. My Pocket repository is bulging with links saved over the last two years some of which I am sure are no longer active and the content lost forever. More importantly, I need to figure out how to do more focused reading- decide on a topic or theme and read stuff only along those lines for a few days before switching over to something else. Hopefully, this will allow better retention and depth of knowledge by helping to form a mental map of ideas connected to that theme.

The one thing I would likely accord priority to is a course on the Vipassana meditation technique. It’s going to be very difficult to find a 10-day break once working life begins and all leaves would become precious enough to relegate meditation to a lower status in the list of priorities. I need better focus, clarity and evenness of mind and would like to optimize the output of my time and effort on all fronts. I am hoping that a regular practise of Vipassana would help me achieve that.

All said and done, the best-laid plans more often than not meet a sorry fate. More ambitious the plan, the higher the probability of failure. I’m under no illusions it’s going to be a challenge to meet even half the goals I’m setting for myself. One also becomes immune to self-motivation beyond a point. Placing a wager on to lock oneself into a commitment contract may actually not be a bad idea...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

India’s Strategic Landscape for the 21st Century

This piece will seek to analyze and examine India’s strategic position vis-à-vis its neighbours and its broader engagement with the world over different issues.

The simultaneous rise of India and China over the last two decades has completely altered the strategic landscape of the region and brought the Indian Ocean Region(IOR) countries into sharp focus. Asia today has some of the most dangerous flashpoints of the world. It is the battleground for struggle against Jihadi forces and the centre of some of the bitterest ethnic conflicts. It has a number of nuclear powers living in close proximity with relations between them perennially on the edge. Add to it the intense conflict of interest over resources- oil, metals, minerals and now water- to meet the voraciously growing appetite of prospering populations and one finds oneself caught in a vortex difficult to escape.

India and China:
The rising prosperity of the world’s two most populous nations, India and China, has led to a manifold spurt in demand for raw materials to feed the growth engine. Both countries have sought to secure energy supplies for the long-term by investing in oil-fields and oil companies abroad- whether in Central Asia or Africa. The fight for coal has intensified after China turned a net importer of the commodity, both countries slugging it out in Indonesia, South Africa and Australia. Coal is desperately needed to feed the thermal power plants which are still the main vehicles for power generation owing to their cost-effectiveness. Chinese companies have been aggressively buying stakes in the biggest mines and mining companies themselves the world over. The state-backed behemoths with the full backing of government funds are more than a match for any private company the world over and have leveraged this advantage to the hilt by outbidding the latter everywhere. The biggest oil companies in the West find themselves unable to compete with Chinese companies, which sweeten the deal by offering cheap Chinese state-backed credit, soft loans and investment in the host country’s infrastructure development. The Western companies are further constrained by law to not engage in business with pariah states and autocratic rulers whereas the Chinese with their policy of “non-interference in a sovereign country’s affairs” hardly blink an eye in sealing deals with them. India on the other hand, has so far chosen to rely on soft power to gain influence, seeking to gather the goodwill of the general populace rather than the benevolence of rulers.

For all its might, China still sees India as a potential and the only threat in the region to its great power status. It has sought to checkmate India through its now well-known “String-of-Pearls” strategy under which it is building a string of ports and bases in the Indian Ocean region to surround India. Gwadar in Baluchistan(Pakistan), Hambantota in Sri Lanka, Chittagong in Bangladesh, bases around the Andamans and a newly-announced naval base in the Seychelles are a cause of great alarm for India. As Robert Kaplan points out in his book “Monsoon”, Gwadar on the Makran Coast of Pakistan will allow China to keep a check on security of oil supplies coming through the Strait of Hormuz, Hambantota will allow it to keep an eye as the oil moves through the Indian Ocean sea lanes towards the Strait of Malacca and the Seychelles naval base will allow it to pre-empt any naval blockades in the Malacca Strait, undoubtedly the most vulnerable chokepoint in the route. Chittagong port in Bangladesh and the Sittwe port in Myanmar will secure the supplies coming from Africa through the Bay of Bengal to Myanmar from where they will be transported via long pipelines to China. Gwadar is also rumored to have a listening post to keep track of Indian activities in the Arabian Sea. The growing might of the Chinese navy with the establishment of an underground nuclear submarine base in the Hainan province and the recently launched aircraft-carrier don’t do anything to inspire confidence, further deepening Indian suspicions of Chinese intentions. The Chinese navy has begun flexing its might in the region by engaging in tense stand-offs with Indian naval vessels, engaging in a high-level diplomatic spat with Japan over Senkaku (Diayou for the Chinese) islands(and thereby cutting off supplies of rare-earth metals for a long period) and claiming rights over vast swathes of the South China Sea by defining it as a “core-interest” all of a sudden.  The audacious attempt to warn India against signing an off-shore oil-and-gas exploration agreement with Vietnam by defining the territory as “disputed” underscores its seriousness in making these claims.

As noted defense expert Brahma Chellaney points out in his new book, water is another potential area of conflict in the coming decades. The rising demand for food and growing populations in India and China have brought freshwater supplies under tremendous pressure. With surface-water supplies dwindling owing to damming, pollution and receding of glaciers, groundwater resources are being tapped at a rate exponentially higher than replenishment rates. Water tables have gone down, making it increasingly difficult and energy-intensive to extract further. Also, at these depths, replenishment doesn’t take place so it’s a permanent loss. China is in a unique position whereby control over Tibet gives it control over origins of almost all the major rivers in the region that represent a big chunk of total freshwater supplies in the region. Its obsession with building large dams over these rivers(like Brahmaputra) has left lower-riparian states like India at a significant disadvantage owing to reduced flows, besides resulting in adverse environmental consequences for China itself. Its Three Gorges Dam, touted as the biggest engineering achievement since the Great Wall, is a case in point. The renewed Chinese claims over Arunachal Pradesh have been made with an eye on its bountiful freshwater reserves.

Militarily speaking, there is hardly any parity between India and China. The latter has the world’s largest standing army, a fleet of over 70 submarines- most of them nuclear-powered, a superior number of fighter aircraft, inter-continental ballistic missiles, a nuclear arsenal whose size can only be guesstimated and most importantly mind-boggling infrastructural and logistical capabilities that enable it to transfer almost 4.5 lakh troops(thus outstripping Indian forces 3:1) to the border in double quick time than India.  More significantly, its defense spending is assumed to be almost double of what it officially declares every year, the declared amount itself being twice the Indian expenditure.

The struggle for resources, aggressive Chinese moves in the region coupled with its unwillingness to come to the negotiating table to resolve contentious issues including  those related to borders, provocative moves such as stationing of troops in the PoK region and issuance of stapled visas to Kashmir residents make co-operation between the two countries difficult. In absence of a proper dispute resolution mechanism, friction is bound to increase. Heavens forbid, if this leads to military exchange in future, the consequences could be catastrophic given the nuclear armed status of the two nations. It is therefore in the interest of both countries to seek a common minimum ground, engage in diplomatic exchanges, refrain from whipping up nationalistic rhetoric and make co-operation rather than competition the lynchpin of their relationship in the foreseeable future.

India and Pakistan:
Any amount of writing space would be insufficient to do justice to the intricate relationship these arch-rivals share. However, I shall try my best to touch upon broad contours and the plausible way ahead.
Pakistan till date hasn’t brought 26/11 perpetrators to book and continues to shield, fund and encourage them. Extremism has become a Frankenstein’s Monster over which the military establishment exerts only partial control now. Some of the groups have turned against the government and the Army there in retaliation to the perceived co-operation they give to the US. Nevertheless, the terror infrastructure is still intact, terrorists continue to be pushed across the border and efforts are being made to set up indigenous terror groups in India by indoctrinating and misguiding youth through propaganda. The latter, Pakistan hopes, would give it room for deniability whenever a terror strike takes place. Even with its own economy in shambles and on a lifeline of US-supplied aid, the maverick Generals continue to harp on the India threat. Alarmed by Indian efforts in Afghanistan to improve infrastructure, it has repeatedly tried to sabotage such efforts for fear of losing influence in a region it relies on for “strategic depth” in its war doctrine. Even though nearly bankrupt, it continues to grow its nuclear arsenal at an astonishing rate. Amusingly, it seeks to blame India and the US for all its ills. It accuses India of funding, aiding  and abetting separatist movements in Balochistan while shamelessly seeking to fan insurgency in Assam and supplying money and arms to Naxalites. India is blamed for depriving Pakistan of its rightful share of water under the Indus Water Treaty which is in-fact, perhaps the most generous treaty ever formulated between an upper and a lower riparian state. All of this when its own former foreign minister admits that the problem is one of inefficient use and large-scale wastage than that of availability.

A country where the Army is the only properly functioning institution, democracy has never been given a real chance, feudal landlords control the economy and dominate the political space and where blasts are the norm rather than an exception, cannot be but a tinderbox case. The civilian government has no real authority to negotiate on vital contentious issues and its Army shies away from direct engagement to keep up the façade of democracy. Platitudes apart, making any real progress has thus proved impossible.

To hedge its bets against India, Pakistan has continued to draw closer to its “all-weather” friend China. The latter helped Pakistan achieve nuclear capability, transferred blueprints of ballistic missile systems and continues to supply a large chunk of its military hardware including fighter jets. It has even been audacious enough to disregard Nuclear Suppliers’ Group(NSG) rules in supplying additional nuclear reactors ostensibly for nuclear power generation. In order to checkmate Indian in the Arabian Sea, Pakistan has invited China to formally set up a naval base at Gwadar. Given the closeness of this relationship, one finds it quite curious that China provided only a pittance in the form of aid to Pakistan when it got ravaged by floods last year. On the other hand, western nations including the US pitched in generously almost instantaneously.
With US forces slated to withdraw completely from Afghanistan by end of 2014, competition for influence in Afghanistan is only set to intensify further. India and Pakistan apart, China and Iran too are jostling for space. China has already won lucrative mining contracts for the new found Afghan mineral wealth and rides piggyback on the security provided by international forces. To deter India, it’s only to be expected that Pakistan will indulge in more attacks in Afghanistan as well as inside India. Pakistan perceives that a strong Afghan National Army trained by India is not in its interest and it would like to do everything in its power to become the training provider itself.

All in all, predicting the trajectory of India-Pakistan relations for anytime beyond the visible horizon would be foolhardy. Since the tide of terrorism is not expected to abate anytime soon, the major factors for deviation from the predictable are likely to be the domestic political situation in Pakistan, the relations between the Army and the government and the way the Afghan end-game plays out over the next couple of years. The challenge would be keep the relations from deteriorating beyond a point in order to avoid an all-out war. An attack on the lines of 26/11 would constrict political space for leaders on both sides who’ll not only find peace a difficult proposition to sell to their people, but may be obliged to give in to nationalistic demands to teach the adversary a lesson. Civilian led efforts to promote ties in the area of culture, arts and music may be the best bet ahead in order to keep emotions and tempers in check.

India and the Rest of the World:
The Indo-Russian partnership has stood the test of time even after momentous events such as the break-up of the Soviet Union. Occasional friction on account of poor quality of military hardware or the Russian propensity to go back on contracts to negotiate for better terms mid-way through a deal have not deterred leaders from both sides. Joint projects such as the design, development and production of the fifth generation fighter aircraft, the PAK T-50, and the joint development of cruise missile BrahMos are two examples of ongoing collaboration. Indian companies have also acquired significant stakes in the development of oil and gas fields in Siberia with an eye on energy security. Relations are likely to be cordial in the foreseeable future.

The evolution of the India-US partnership over the last decade, underpinned by the Nuclear Deal, has been a seminal event. The growing unease with Chinese intentions in the region has brought the two nations closer, both of whom have an interest in maintaining the freedom of navigation in international waters. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region such as Vietnam, Indonesia and Philippines, intimidated by China, have sought to come closer to India and US. India and US continue to iron out differences, even as India seeks to avoid being counted as an outright ally of the latter, for fear of inviting China’s displeasure.

 A seat at the High Table:
Although India has repeatedly sought to stake a claim over permanent membership of the Security Council at the UN, it would first have to demonstrate an ability to take unambiguous stands over critical issues rather than choosing to sit on the fence. Without it, few would be ready to consider India’s candidature seriously. India has adopted an incoherent approach to the Iran issue and maintained silence on the Arab Spring and the Libyan affair. It has also shown little spine in dealing with the Chinese, giving in to unreasonable demands to clamp down on the Tibetan protests and Dalai Lama’s activities. Chinese provocations in the form of issuance of stapled visas and its protests over the Indian PM’s Arunachal visit have not been responded to in a tit-for-tat manner despite ample existence of diplomatic vulnerabilities at the Chinese end such as its annexation of and atrocities in Tibet and Xinjiang. A nation unwilling to stand up for itself can earn little respect from others, let alone be entrusted with the responsibility of protecting the security interests of weaker countries. India has rejected the notion of a permanent membership without the veto power but it needs to ask itself whether it has demonstrated enough spine and leadership capabilities to earn this privilege.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Is it time to rethink Democracy ? -I

The ruckus and the pandemonium that was witnessed in the Bihar Assembly today has become a routine affair in the country's elected bodies, whether Municipal Corporation bodies, State Assemblies or the Parliament itself. Members throw mikes, slippers and just about anything and everything within their reach; brandish wads of currency notes in the House; push, shove, punch and kick each other and then brag about their "feats" in front of cameras. They are audacious and impudent enough to cloak their actions in the veneer of right to freedom of speech and expression and most ironically - DEMOCRACY.

It's difficult to pin-point a precise starting point for this sorry state of affairs, for each and every link in the chain only serves to reinforce and strengthen the preceding. The rot sets in with the very process of electing representatives. No election can be won without pumping in massive sums of money on campaigning, the costs are incurred not just on printing of campaign material but also on collecting crowds for rallies and gatherings and on cronies who carry out campaign management for the candidate.The prescribed limits for expenditure are nothing but a joke, enforcement is either lacking or in case of conviction, toothless. Where does all this money come from? In part from party funds and in part from the candidate's own pocket. Who gives these funds to the party? Corporate houses, businessmen with deep pockets and crime-lords are some of the much publicized sources but not the only ones. A large chunk of the cash also comes from government officials paying huge bribes to the powers to-be for plum postings in different departments. Check-posts at various borders invariably collect large amounts from businessmen whose trucks are at the mercy of check-post officials. Fines are collected not only for genuine offences but also under false pretexts. Businessmen are ready to pay in order to avoid undue harassment and opportunity loss of business arising out of seizure of vehicles. And hardly any of these fines find their way into state coffers for they are actually bribes. A percentage is retained by the officials and the rest is sent to politicians who in turn retain a percentage and deposit the rest into party coffers which fund election costs. Businessmen recoup their costs from the end-user of the raw materials or the finished products which drives up market prices of the goods. A very recently publicized case involved an illegal iron-ore mining scam to the tune of 60000 crore in Karnataka where all political outfits at different points of time have grown fat on the earnings. The ruling BJP government at first tried to muzzle investigations by the Lokayukta by tying down his hands and taking away prosecution powers and when the issue became a hot potato owing to the latter's resignation in protest, reinstated and reposed full faith in him. The opposition led by the Congress wants the issue investigated by the CBI - not just because CBI is under Congress' control at the moment, but also out of fear that the Lokayukta will go after politicians of all hues whereas the CBI can be used for selective targeting. The past three assembly elections in Karnataka have been funded majorly out of illegal iron-ore export earnings. The same story is true for every state in India, with iron being replaced by other commodities such as bauxite, zinc, copper and even timber. So the very process of electing representatives festers and nurtures an ecosystem that loots the country of its resources and the citizens of their wealth. And what do we get in return? Abusive hooligans throwing slippers and shoes and putting on an unabashed reality show style display of physical strength.

There is nothing to show that those running the country even understand the enormity or complexities of the problems and issues facing the state, let alone being capable of solving them. The country today finds itself in the middle of a civil war that keeps engulfing more and more districts and states with every passing day. The threat of Pakistan-sponsored terrorism never abates. ISI has built an incredibly vast and complex network of spies, sleeper cells and surrogate organizations in almost every state of the country. Southern states of Karnataka and Kerala increasingly find themselves in the midst of Islamic radicalization of their youth. UP has the largest presence of ISI spies in the country.(You'll find an AK-47 being sold at a paan shop in Azamgarh district of UP.) Certain districts of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh are in control of jihadi elements. Kashmir one doesn't even need to talk about. Insurgencies in the north-east are being fueled and festered by the ISI operating from Bangladesh and Nepal. And the most heart-wrenching aspect of each and every of these Hydras is the tacit support of the political establishment- the same which we bring into power by voting for them in elections. Vote bank politics relegate everything else to the background. Religious fanatics, particularly those belonging to the minority communities, are appeased and allowed to carry out their nefarious activities in return for electoral support, the common man be damned! The recent case of a lecturer's hand being chopped off in Kerala by an Islamic party PFI(Popular Front of India) went unpunished with the Congress-led government trying to play down the issue. This party has links and ties with jihadi elements in and outside India as has been revealed by police investigations time and again. Yet, the green signal for taking action is never forthcoming from the political establishment. The state is becoming a hotbed of radical activities but neither the Congress nor the Left seem keen to risk political capital by antagonizing minority communities. If there is one party that has contributed the most to the security ills plaguing the country today, it's the Congress. It has always shown and led the path when it comes to sycophancy and short-term selfish gains, others following suit. To win minority support it scrapped POTA- the only legislation that had any teeth to deal with terrorist activities calling it "draconian","anti-minority", "biased" and a myriad other adjectives. The legislation itself says nothing of the religion of an offender. If an overwhelming majority of the terrorists belong to a particular community,how does that make the legislation "biased"?? Quick to renounce and berate Hindu extremist actions, its leaders try to put a question mark and raise doubts whenever a Muslim terrorist is gunned down by the security forces. Digvijay "foot-in-mouth" Singh calls into question the genuineness of the Batla House encounter in Delhi when on a tour to Azamgarh where the killed SIMI terrorists hailed from. Doesn't matter that the Delhi police force lost its best officer in the encounter. Since the terrorist was a Muslim, it's a crime to have killed him irrespective of the fact that he was behind bombings in Delhi and a wanted man. Not one statement was forthcoming from any of the Congress leaders over revelations by David Headley that Ishrat Jahan was an LeT recruit, something which Narendra Modi has been claiming all along after her death in a police encounter and Congress crying itself hoarse over the issue. Abdul Rehman Antulay, who has long outlived his utility as a politician seeks to resurrect his political fortunes by raising questions over the encounter during the Mumbai attacks. Elements in the government,bureaucracy,judiciary and police are on the payroll of crime gangs,slum lords,smugglers,land and forest mafia and anti-national elements yet we never hear of a conviction or a punishment. If it takes more than two years for a Ajmal Kasab to be handed the death sentence for killing hundreds with sheer impunity in full public and camera glare, there must be something dreadfully wrong with our public institutions. And mind you, the case first goes on to High Court from here and then to the Supreme Court and if both uphold the death sentence the defendant has the option of seeking mercy before the President of India. And going by the government's own claims a decision over the plea can't be taken before clearing the 20-30 petitions already pending(and have been pending for years).
Hail democracy!!

The first part dealt with the issues of electoral malpractices and national security.

The next part will talk about the misuse of democratic rights by miscreants to create more problems for others and the role democracy plays in hindering economic growth and development of the country. All of these are not without consequences for the poor and helpless in the name of whom all of it is done which shall be examined.

Friday, October 9, 2009

On the brink of a Civil War - I

Warning: This post is a very long one and deals with the Naxalite/Maoist movement.There are no photographs to break the monotony of narration so read only if actually interested in the issue.

What served as an immediate trigger for this post was the beheading of a police inspector (an intelligence officer to be precise) from Jharkhand by Naxalites (or Maoists if you please).For the purpose of this post I shall be using the two terms interchangeably for there is no difference between the two. As for the why part, for those who couldn’t care less about the names, I’d suggest that they skip the rest of this particular paragraph which is just some boring history.The term Naxalite is derived from the name of a village called Naxalbari in West Bengal where a peasant movement first started in 1969 under the leadership of Charu Mazumdar in protest against the landlords who treated them inhumanly-long working hours, petty wages, violating their womenfolk etc. The movement gradually spread and the instigators came to be known as Naxalites.They formed a party of their own-the Communist Party of India(Marxist-Leninist) (which didn’t fight polls for they didn’t believe in democracy.As a fact, Communists don’t believe in democracy, their doctrine tells them that democracy is a sham invented by the bourgeois class.).As the movement spread,these people took inspiration from the Chinese leader Mao who had led Communists to power in China in 1948 and gradually came to be known as Maoists. “The Little Red Book” mandated by Mao for all his countrymen became the book of gospels for these people and they subsequently came to be known as Maoists.It’s a different matter altogether that time and again Mao brought nothing but misery to his people with his policies and committed indescribable atrocities right from the time he gained power(and in the course of taking it as well) till the end of his rule.

Time and again we keep coming across news items on the front page describing either Naxal atrocities or stories of encounters between them and the police. What do these people want? Why all this violence and bloodshed? Simply put, the aim of Maoists is the overthrow of the state and replacement of the existing system of governance with their own which envisages justice, equality and empowerment of the poor and the downtrodden etc. In short,the classic utopian Communist dream. And the path they have chosen is that of direct confrontation with the state in keeping with the Maoist doctrine ,”Political power flows from the barrel of a gun.” Hence the violence.

The officer referred to in the beginning was abducted to make a swap deal with the government wherein the extremists wanted the release of Maoist Kobad Ghandy who was arrested a few days back for his activities. The refusal of the government to bend to their demands sounded the death knell for the officer. The Maoists have shown themselves to be what they really are- a bunch of violent maniacs whose activities amount to treason and who need to be reined in immediately.This is not an isolated incident.There have been several more in the past but the Taliban-style beheading is a novelty. Yet, there is no dearth of intellectuals in the civil society who sympathize with their cause and romanticize their movement. True, those who join the movement at the lower rungs are mostly those who have been discriminated against or wronged in one way or the other. Some of them have even seen their own family members killed, raped or tortured by individuals acting on behalf of the state (the police mostly) and failing to get justice have chosen the violent path. But nothing, nothing whatsoever justifies this kind of gory violence against the society. Ours is a democratic country and there are processes and systems in place to ensure checks and balances. Conceded,the system is not always fair and it is far from perfect but democracy is the best option the world has at the moment. The recalcitrance of the Maoists in trying to replace it with a system that has been successful nowhere in the world and has only brought humongous levels of pain and suffering is exasperating. Agreed that a lot of rot has set in with money doing most of the talking but efforts and energies have to be directed towards eliminating that rot and not uprooting the tree.

In my opinion, the main culprits are the leaders of these outfits who encourage and instigate the disgruntled to rebel and take by force what they deserve; for these leaders are mostly educated people who understand the stakes involved and the consequences of fighting the state.They read Communist and Maoist literature, get influenced by it and seek to influence others. They are people like you and me who see the injustice around them in their youth and college years and try to find a way to end it, some go about it in a manner befitting a vibrant democracy and others in a truculent manner, ending up fighting the state with arms. The irony is that those elements in the system who may have perpetrated crimes against people mostly go unpunished.If I have been wronged by an XYZ policeman and take up arms in response what are the chances of me encountering him again in future? My organization won’t go looking for a particular policeman, would it? It is fighting a planned struggle, seeking to weaken the administrative and defence machinery of the state as a whole, why is it going to expend time and money in helping me settle personal scores with a particular individual when all of its members have their own grievances and their own fish to fry? The organization would never be able to work for its stated goals if it sought to serve the selfish interests of its members so it simply doesn’t; it exhorts you to work for the greater good and the larger cause. Would I not have a better shot at justice and bringing the real culprits to book if I followed the democratic path?In all fairness, it may not be possible for everyone to do so thanks to the rotten system but that still doesn't justify killing somebody else to satiate your anger,does it?It would amount to no better than an act of blinded vengeance,cloaked in the veneer of ideology.

To those sympathizing with the cause being fought for,namely the upliftment of the poor I pose this simple question : If the government were taking affirmative action in backward areas and the rebels hampered those would you still continue to be misled by their purported aims? Not if you really have the people's best interests at heart I believe. I say this because time and again Naxals have exposed themselves to be what they are-a bunch of power-hungry animals-by blowing up railway tracks,cell-phone towers,hampering road construction for public transport and eliminating any and every other semblence of infrastructure in the backward areas.Is this their way of helping their "brethren"?

To those who claim local support for these insurgencies, I would like to counter by claiming that the local support is cultivated by these groups for two selfish purposes- to get information on the activities of the government aimed at rooting them out and to get food,shelter and refuge in times of combing operations by the forces.The morality and propriety of having a state-funded militia such as the Salwa Judum may be debatable but you cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that such a force wouldn't even exist were disillusioned tribals happy with the trigger-happy Naxals.It's a false claim that Naxals don't kill civilians, there is ample record and proof to show the contrary-and I'm not even referring to civilian casualties as collateral damages but calculated,cold-blooded torture and murder in the so-called courts of their "Janatana Sarkar".Human rights activists who are out baying for the blood of the police at the drop of the hat,in response to criticism for their one-sided,hypocritical actions, have lately taken to issuing token statements and press releases condemning violence by the rebels as well.But I never see them filing cases, fighting bitter court battles and taking out marches in favour of police even in the most gruesome and unjustified killings of its men.Since they do all of it for their beloved Naxals,if this is not hypocrisy WHAT IS??Are all human rights only for the rebels and not for the security forces?What crimes have the latter committed to deserve such apathy and negligence?That of taking up the responsibility of protecting you and me at the cost of their own lives,working in the most pitiable conditions at meagre wages with outdated weapons and inadequate training?? If you can't be thankful the least you can do is not to degrade their sacrifices. The truth is that while opposition to the state howsoever spiteful will be tolerated,bitter criticism of Naxals is a sureshot invitation to retribution.While all the onus of being lawful and democratic is put on the state,the Naxal cause is justified,their actions seen as not a cause but a consequence of state violence.Let one thing be clear : human rights are for humans and not animals,I could give umpteen bone-chilling accounts of the ruthless and barbaric killing of police personnel by the Naxals but for now please make do with a small sample.

In Ranibodli in March 2007,one of the rooms of the police camp was bolted from outside by the Maoists and petrol bombs thrown inside towards the off-duty,unaware police personnel.Some escaping security men were targeted from tree-tops,killing a total of 55 police officers.As if this couldn't pacify their quest for sadism they laid down IED's(Improvised Explosive Devices)all around the building to hinder even the evacuation of casualties.The charred bodies of the personnel could not be recognized even by their kin. If the perpetrators still manage to win your sympathy and you still feel that they should be arrested and tried rather than be killed on the spot even if unarmed, I personally can only hope that one of you never becomes in-charge of dealing with these animals.

The next post shall deal with the ideal strategy to counter the movement,discussing the development-first versus action-first debate,the actions taken so far by various states,their successes and failures,the road for the future and finally the dire consequences of not dealing with this menace while there is still time.