Sunday, January 27, 2008

Human organ trade in India

Life is cheap, so are organs
Everybody, including our politicians who cannot look beyond their snotty noses, will feign great shock and horror over the kidney transplant racket that has been exposed this past week in Gurgaon. There will be stinging editorials in newspapers, expressing outrage over the lack of scruples in doctors who are happy to sell their souls for a fistful of silver. The police will be castigated for not being alert and attentive to their primary task of preventing crime. Know-all journalists will come up with 'solutions' to the problem of illegal trade in human organs. Human rights activists will gather at India Gate with hand-crafted placards and hold a candle light vigil for the victims of the racket. Dumb television anchors with their trademark smirk will hold forth on how terrible things are out there beyond the confines of Lutyens' Delhi. Some of them, we can be sure, will slyly suggest that Muslims are the real victims of this horrible trade and equally slyly suppress the fact that most of the touts who helped exploit the poor and the impoverished to part with their kidneys carry Muslim names. Meanwhile, the Indian Medical Association has stolen a march on everybody else by demanding a CBI inquiry.
Less than a month from today, if not sooner, media will be chasing another story, the scandal will be relegated to the inside pages of newspapers and then be deemed too stale to merit space. Television news channels will return to peddling celebrity gossip and cockamamie stories as national news. The Indian Medical Association will be back at doing what it does best -- sleep over the professional conduct (the correct word would be 'misconduct') of doctors whose guiding angel is Josef Mengele and who will do anything for money. The police, once the heat on them is off, will find another law-breaker, scamster, racketeer or human organ trader to fleece and feather their foul nests. Our politicians will take a well-deserved break after exerting themselves by making vacuous speeches and rattling their rusty sabers. Those of them who partake of the money that travels to the top from organised rackets will be mightily displeased that such activities get exposed and cause minor disruptions, no matter how fleeting they may be.
Yes, I am being cynical. But this is also the truth. In this great and wondrous land of ours, organised crime is not the exception but the rule. And each and every criminal enterprise, from kidnapping to organ trade, is facilitated by an elaborate network of contacts in the 'right places'. So long as palms are greased, criminals can get away with anything and everything. The person behind the Gurgaon kidney transplant racket, Dr Amit Kumar, and his associates (only one of whom has been picked up by the police so far) has been minting money from this illicit trade for decades. He ran an organ transplant racket in Mumbai, virtually stealing body parts from poor people and grafting them onto the diseased, decaying and dying bodies of those flush with money. According to news reports published on Saturday, his Mumbai racket was exposed in 1993 after policemen -- they were either honest or unhappy with the hafta -- raided his Kaushalya Nursing Home at Khar. In those days, Dr Amit Kumar was known as Dr Santosh Raut. News reports quote Mumbai's Joint Commissioner of Police (Crime) Rakesh Maria as saying, "We are 100 per cent sure that Kumar is the Santosh Raut that Mumbai's crime branch has been chasing for so many years. He is among the biggest players in this illegal trade."
Big deal. For all their chasing, the police could not track Dr Santosh Raut alias Dr Amit Kumar who merrily went on with his trade after jumping bail. He is believed to have first moved to Jaipur, then Guntur, next Hyderabad and then finally to Gurgaon where his business has been flourishing for the past 13 years, if not more. There was 'shock' and 'outrage' when the horrid details of the Mumbai organ trade racket came to light, including how beggars were lured with no more than food and clothes to part with their kidneys which would then be transplanted to rich foreign clients. One newspaper has been mindful to remind its readers, "The case led to nationwide outrage and the Transplantation of Human Organs Act 1994." This Act was meant to curb illicit trade in human organs but has proved to be an abysmal failure. Just as the law that prohibits sex-determination tests has not helped curb female foeticide. In this great nation of ours, which aspires to be a world power, a slothful and corruption-ridden criminal justice system has reduced the law of the land to worse than an ass. Those guilty of committing mind-boggling crimes are rarely, if at all, punished.
A year ago, in January 2007, a similar kidney transplant racket was exposed at Vizhupuram in Chennai. A news report on that racket said, "Nearly 500 kidneys (isn't it amazing how organ transplant rackets are exposed after 500 to 600 victims have paid the price to satiate the lust for lucre of our doctors?) were estimated to have been sold by extremely poor villagers for paltry sums." The 'paltry sums' were often less than Rs 25,000. The victims of the Gurgaon racket are believed to have been paid Rs 50,000 to Rs 1 lakh while clients were charged up to Rs 20 lakh by Dr Amit Kumar and his cohorts. So, what happened to those who ran the Vizhupuram racket? Here's what another news report had to say, "In October 2007, Chennai-based doctor P Ravichandran was arrested for his alleged involvement in the kidney racket... The doctor apparently lured people into donating kidneys, which were then sold to recipients in the Gulf, making huge profits." A third news report, published 10 days ago, takes us to the conclusion of the story, "As police have no proof of his involvement in the racket, Additional Sessions Judge KD Rathod has granted bail to Chennai-based doctor P Ravichandran in the international kidney racket case... Public prosecutor RV Kini said, 'The judge held that there was no proof of the doctor's involvement and also that the investigation in regards to his role was over'."
It's not surprising that Dr Amit Kumar alias whatever-his-real-name-is should have got away all these years with his grisly trade and inhuman practice. Money fetches criminals like him immunity from the law, which in any event, is largely meaningless unless you are dirt poor and can be kicked around by those in authority and power. It is only fitting that the Gurgaon kidney transplant racket should have come to light on Republic Day -- it reflects the real state of affairs that prevails in India and is a measure of the depth to which we have sunk as a nation, as a people and as a society.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Bangali's fascination for chicken

A chicken and egg story
Lost cuisine: Bengalis have discarded their Bangaliana
In Purnima Thakur's delightful little book, Thakurbari'r Raanna, which is all of 97 pages, a huge variety of recipes, ranging from shuktani (vegetable stew) to aam-rosune'r kaasundi (mango-garlic chutney), have been listed. Many of the preparations were presumably popular in the Tagore household at Jorasanko and have a distinct 'eideshi' flavour compared to food as it is cooked and relished east of Padma. Purnima Thakur, known as Bubu'di among her myriad admirers, has included 60 recipes for cooking fish, twice the number of recipes for cooking meat, in her book. Interestingly, of the 31 recipes for cooking meat, only five recommend chicken as the main ingredient -- murgi'r rezaala, Peshowari murgi, murgi'r cutlet, Madrasi murgi'r curry and Filipini murgi'r curry. The first two are what we refer to as 'mughlai dishes', the third and fourth are of Anglo-Indian vintage, while the fifth is clearly of Filipino origin.
This preference for mutton over chicken is not surprising. Till as recently as the mid-20th century, Bengali bhadralok Hindus would not touch chicken or eggs -- both were seen as 'Muslim food' or food meant for the mlechchho, both Muslim and Christian. Even Anglicised Bengalis who flaunted their disdain for conservative Hindu society by eating beef and cooking the prohibited meat at home, would not allow chicken to be served on their tables, leave alone consume it. If poultry had to be consumed to keep up with the Europeans, it was duck meat and duck eggs. The Brahmos were more liberal and chicken was served at some Brahmo homes (that would explain the inclusion of recipes to cook chicken in Thakurbari'r Raanna), but it had to be cooked in a separate kitchen, most often in the courtyard. Later, this became the practice in most Bengali bhadralok Hindu households, although women rarely touched chicken or eggs; their bias against both did not, however, dampen their enthusiasm for maachhe'r jhaal and mangsho'r jhol.
The decline and fall of the Bengali bhadralok samaj and the rise of neo-liberalism and the boxwallah culture, best exemplified by Mani Shankar Mukherjee's Seemabaddha (Satyajit Ray later made an eponymous film based on this novel) that militated against established notions of caste and community, saw the erosion of barriers that kept chicken and eggs away from the middle class Bengali's dining table. In recent years, increased awareness of red meat's detrimental impact on health has contributed to the preference for white meat, most notably chicken, in Bengali, as in non-Bengali, households. A third factor that has contributed to popularising poultry in a State where it was pro-actively shunned is the often pathetic attempt by Bengalis to discard that which is integral to their culture and ape others. Traditional Bengali wedding feasts served on fresh banana leaves have now made way for catered food that includes chholey, panir and tandoori chicken and is served on chipped china. Mouth-watering chochchori has been replaced by chili chicken. Even the snootiest of Bengalis are not untouched by this strange metamorphosis of Bengal's eating habits. The venerable Marxist economist Ashok Mitra once told me that he felt perfectly at home in Delhi's Banga Bhavan because they served an "excellent chicken curry".
There is, therefore, need for neither surprise nor shock on account of West Bengal's Nadia district primary school council's decision to continue to serve chicken curry to children as part of their midday meal provided by Government. In normal circumstances, this would be seen as a grand gesture, since in States like Uttar Pradesh, gruel fit for consumption by cattle is served as midday meal to school children. But these are not normal times in West Bengal where avian influenza, or bird flu, has been detected in 11 districts; Nadia is one of them. Mr Bibhas Biswas, chairman of Nadia district's primary school council, insists that the State Government has banned the sale and purchase of chicken, but not the "consumption of fowl curry". The wise man could have also cited the National Egg Co-ordination Committee's advisory that chicken, even if it is infected with the H5N1 virus, cooked at 70o C is safe for human consumption. That he hasn't is symptomatic of the West Bengal Government's terrifying non-response to the snow-balling crisis caused by H5N1-infected chickens dropping dead in district after district. The virus is now knocking on Kolkata's door.
Ever since the outbreak of bird flu was first detected in a little-known place called Hargram a fortnight ago, the CPI(M)-led regime has demonstrated its incapacity to deal with a disaster situation. Not only has the Government been found to be unprepared -- a fortnight later scarcity of protective gear continues to prevent health workers from venturing forth in many affected areas -- it has once again allowed local Marxist cadre to subvert local administration. The official ban on transporting chickens and eggs out of the bird flu-hit districts is being flouted with impunity because the poultry trade is controlled by the party apparatchiki, as is all trade and business in the districts. And so the deadly virus continues to travel from district to district, although it could have been contained, as was done in Maharashtra where the State Government restrained the virus to three kilometres of the two places where it was detected.
The sheer unpreparedness of the State Government to deal with bird flu, despite there having been enough warnings and sufficient time, not to mention funds, also stands exposed by the methods of culling that have been adopted -- they are cruel and dehumanising. Health workers are decapitating terrified and squawking chickens by pulling off their heads, and in the process getting splattered with their infected blood. In Bolpur, 10,000 newly-hatched chicks have been buried alive. As if this were not bad enough, the bird flu outbreak has once again brought to the fore the corruption that prevails in West Bengal's CPI(M)-controlled panchayats. People are reluctant to hand over infected chickens for culling because they are not too sure the local panchayat will hand over the Rs 40 per bird compensation. Already there are reports of poultry owners who have had their chickens culled being told by party dadas they should not expect more than Rs 30 per bird, possibly Rs 25, that is as and when compensation is actually doled out, if at all.
Meanwhile, at Alimuddin Street, CPI(M) leaders are busy calculating the impact of avian influenza on this summer's panchayat election. Even if they were to ensure poultry owners get the compensation that is due to them, it would be less than half of what they would have earned from the culled chickens. The H5N1 virus may succeed in achieving what the Opposition could not manage. Let's wait and watch.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Persecution of Taslima Nasreen I

French award for Taslima:
But India won't allow ceremony
Dissident Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen, winner of this year's Simone de Beauvoir Feminist Award, may not be fortunate enough to personally receive it from French President Nicolas Sarkozy during his visit to Delhi later this week because the Government of India is not too keen about it.
On January 9, the French Government announced that Nasreen is this year's recipient of the coveted award named after the famous feminist writer, close friend of Jean Paul Sartre and author of the celebrated treatise, The Second Sex. The award is conferred on notable women writers.
Nasreen, who has been chosen for the award in Simone de Beauvoir's centenary year, could not travel to Paris to receive it as she remains in the protective custody of security and intelligence agencies in a safe house somewhere in the National Capital Region. There was some apprehension that if she had left Delhi for Paris, she might not have been allowed to return to India although she has a valid visa which expires on February 17.
The French authorities, therefore, decided that President Nicolas Sarkozy would hand over the award to Nasreen during his visit to Delhi later this week. This was conveyed to the Government of India, only to elicit a guarded response. It is believed that South Block has conveyed to the French Government that while India has nothing against Nasreen being accorded the honour, it would not be possible to let her attend a formal ceremony for "security reasons".
Nasreen, who has lived in Paris and whose 2002 novel, Forashi Premik (French Lover), is based on a young immigrant Bengali woman breaking free of a loveless marriage, told The Pioneer she was overwhelmed when she heard that the Simone de Beauvoir Award committee had selected her as this year's recipient. "I could not go to Paris to receive the award, so I was hoping to receive it here, but now there seems to be some doubt about that," she said.
"An official of the French Government called me on Monday night and said the French President would like to personally hand over the award to me during his visit to Delhi. I was delighted and felt deeply honoured," she told this newspaper during a telephone conversation on Tuesday. "But now there seems to be some problem."
While the Government of India is yet to communicate anything formally to Nasreen, the Government of India is believed to be unwilling to agree to a formal ceremony due to "security reasons". Nasreen, of course, insists that in "secular, democratic India I have nothing to fear" and that any suggestion of Muslim fundamentalists taking to the streets is "grossly exaggerated".
Nasreen, who was living in Kolkata for the past couple of years, was forced to leave the city by the CPI(M)-led Left Front Government after Muslim mobs instigated and led by a Congress leader, Idris Ali, ran riot on November 21 last year to protest against her book, Dwikhondito, which had been cleared for publication by the Calcutta High Court in 2004.
After spending a night in Jaipur, Nasreen was shifted to Delhi. Since November 23, she has been under virtual house arrest and is neither allowed to step out of the 'safe house' nor receive friends and visitors there by security and intelligence agencies.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Nuclear Egypt? Quite possible

Nuclear Egypt? Quite possible
Egypt's ruling elite loves to see itself at the centre of West Asian politics; for the Presidential Palace and its retinue of loyalists, Cairo is the most important place, the gateway to what Americans refer to as 'Middle East', stretching across the Maghreb and the Mashreq. Ever since Anwar Sadat decided to part company with the Russians (in those days it was the USSR) after his predecessor, Gamal Abdel Nasser's disastrous 'United Arab Republic' political and military campaign, the US has been particularly charitable towards Egypt. Sadat's historic visit to Jerusalem and the equally historic peace agreement he signed with Israel paved the path for greater American assistance, amounting to $ 2 billion every year. Egypt became the bulwark against Arab radicalism, the launching pad for America's West Asia policy. There was no change in this arrangement after Sadat's assassination by Islamists on October 6, 1981. Indeed, American support for the palace increased: President Hosni Mubarak was -- and remains -- the best choice to keep the Ikhwan-ul Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood) at bay.
But with new players emerging in West Asia and Saudi Arabia, under the tutelage of King Abdullah, who is desperate to rid his country of its 'extremist', if not Wahaabi, tag so that it is not seen as an exporter of fanatical Islam, Egypt has been suffering an erosion of its exalted stature as the key player. This is also because Egypt is now being increasingly seen as a spoiler, instead of facilitator, in the Israel-Palestine peace process. Cairo does have a tendency to scowl if others are able to achieve something which it has failed to secure -- King Abdullah's initiative to break the deadlock over Israel-Palestine peace negotiations at the Arab League's Riyadh summit last year left quite a few Egyptians smarting; many of them are still sulking.
What has added perceived 'insult' to Cairo's imaginary 'injury' is the increasing realisation in Washington that the wider Arab-Israeli conflict has now mutated into an Israeli-Palestinian issue. Hence, any peace deal has to be essentially a bilateral agreement between Tel Aviv/Jerusalem and Ramallah, or else it is doomed to fail, just like the 'Road Map' crafted by the US State Department turned out to be a miserable failure. A third factor that has contributed to what Egyptians see as their country's "diminishing" role is Iran's attempt to emerge as the sole leader of 'Greater Middle East'. While Tehran has been cautious not to overtly flaunt its Shia credentials in Sunni Arab-dominated West Asia and reached out in equal measure to both Shia Hizbullah and Sunni Hamas, the Shia-Sunni fault-line cannot be ignored. Strangely, the Arab street, which should have witnessed the manifestation of this fault-line, is supportive of Iran since it is perceived as more daring than the Arab palace in challenging the Americans.
The US knows the implications of allowing Shia Iran to gain in stature in West Asia. It also knows that Saudi Arabia can play the Sunni card with greater finesse than Egypt. Hence, Riyadh now dominates America's West Asia strategy, not Cairo. And Americans being Americans, they have not been particularly careful about Egyptian toes while shifting strategy -- diplomacy, contrary to popular opinion, is not the US's strength. This was on display during President George W Bush's visit to the region last week. Mona Eltahawy, an Egyptian journalist, is scathing in her comments on the visit: "The most recent reminder of Egypt's diminished role in regional politics came when President George W Bush ended his Middle East trip by pausing in the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. He thanked President Hosni Mubarak six times and used the word 'appreciate' 10 times. But sweet words don't hide simple maths: Mr Bush spent just three hours in Egypt -- an afterthought compared to the two days he had just spent in Saudi Arabia, where he delivered a major arms sale, and sword-danced with the relatives of Saudi King Abdullah."
Pharaohnic anger, which Mr Mubarak can summon with amazing ease, is not to be trifled with; an enraged Egypt is not good news -- for the US, the region and the extended neighbourhood which is skirted by India's western border. Early indications of the storm blowing through Cairo's corridors of power are already available. Iran's Alalam news network has put out an interesting story from Beirut: "Former Egyptian Ambassador in Tehran says Egypt strongly defends Iran's right to possess peaceful nuclear programme. In an exclusive interview, Mr Mahmoud Faraj said during Mr Bush's visit to the region Egypt strongly defended Iran's right to own atomic technology for civilian purposes... stressing Mr Bush failed in his attempt to win the Arab countries' support against Iran." According to this report, Mr Faraj spoke of the "need for restoration of Egyptian-Iranian relations (which broke down after Tehran provided shelter to Sadat's assassin, Khaled Al-Islambuli, and named a street after him) as soon as possible".
A second, more interesting report, has emanated from Cairo, disclosing that Egypt's "first nuclear reactor will be built at Dabba on the Mediterranean coast west of the main port of Alexandria". The report adds that the site "meets all the safety conditions and the requirements of operating an electricity generating nuclear plant". Egypt's nuclear energy programme dates back to the days of unrestricted Russian military aid. But unsure of the safety standards, Egypt abandoned its nuclear programme, at least officially, in 1986 after the Chernobyl disaster. There are reasons to believe that Egypt has been working towards reviving its nuclear programme, under the cover of civilian use of nuclear technology, for the last few years. In October 2007, Mr Mubarak gave rumours some legitimacy by announcing the "beginning of a national plan for setting up nuclear plants for peaceful use".
Of late the IAEA has been discomfited by reports of Egypt kick-starting its nuclear programme, not least because Cairo, which had an active nuclear weapons programme during 1954-67 but later opted for the NPT, has failed to disclose details of experiments at its revived nuclear facilities. Egypt is believed to have two nuclear reactors and signed an agreement with Russia in 2001 for "scientific and technical cooperation in the peaceful use of atomic energy according to Egypt's national nuclear needs and priorities". Are the Russians, eager to take on the Americans, behind Egypt's revived nuclear programme? After all, Moscow has been more than supportive of Tehran's bomb-in-the-basement programme. Worse, it could be Iran holding out a nuclear olive branch to its foe while all American eyes are trained on Saudi Arabia. This could mark a new chapter in that region's tempestuous history.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

America helps fund jihad

How US helps fund jihad
American Government and military officials have told The New York Times that much of the aid provided by the Bush Administration to Pakistan to fight Al Qaeda and the Taliban has been diverted for Islamabad's jihad against New Delhi. According to The New York Times report, funds have been "diverted to help finance weapons systems designed to counter India" and pay "tens of millions of dollars in inflated Pakistani reimbursement claims for fuel, ammunition and other costs". An European diplomat, aware of this diversion, has told the newspaper, "I wonder if the Americans have been taken for a ride."
The revelation has been greeted with sullen silence by the Bush Administration, which continues to invest faith in Gen Pervez Musharraf and still treats him as a "staunch ally" in the war on terror even as Pakistan falls, bit by bit, to the advancing hordes of barbarians who think nothing of slaughtering both believers and non-believers to further the cause of fanatical Islam. Pakistani officials, however, are "incensed at what they see as American ingratitude for Pakistani counter-terrorism" efforts.
In India, there is a sense of outrage and those who are not particularly fond of America (all of them aren't card-carrying Communists) have bitterly pointed out how the US will never learn from its past mistakes. They have a point. Gen Zia-ul Haq, and later 'elected' Governments and the ISI, used military hardware and funds supplied by the US during the Washington-sanctioned Afghan jihad against Soviet troops to wage a covert war against the Indian state and extract a terrible toll of innocent lives.
Just as that diversion was no secret for American officials, this diversion, too, is known to them. If despite such knowledge they have chosen to keep quiet and ply Gen Musharraf with more funds -- the Bush Administration has sought a billion dollars in non-food aid to Pakistan during fiscal 2008 -- the Americans have only themselves to blame for floundering so miserably in the war on terror. Worse, thanks to America's stupendous folly, the lives of millions of people in the region have been imperilled as never before. The fidayeen attack on Kabul's Serena Hotel is the harbinger of further dreadful news, as is the suicide bombing in Lahore.
This is not to suggest that all Americans are equally blind to the Bush Administration's shocking inability to see through Pakistan's charade. Voices are being increasingly heard on Capitol Hill, demanding that the Pakistani establishment be held accountable for its failure to deliver on promises. There are also demands that further American aid to Pakistan should be linked to actual performance on the ground in the war on terror. But every time this is mentioned, officials in Islamabad slyly let it be known that "any attempt to link American aid to certain conditions could impede Pakistan's role in the war on terror and hurt bilateral ties". And a hush descends on Washington, DC.
The stakes for Pakistan are obviously very high, given the quantum of American non-humanitarian aid it has been receiving since 9/11. A recent report on 'Direct Overt US Assistance and Military Reimbursements to Pakistan, FY 2001-FY 2008', prepared by the Congressional Research Service, provides interesting details of American funds that have reached Islamabad and a clue to how much has been diverted to acquire weapons targeted at India and to pay inflated, bogus bills. For instance, between fiscal 2002 and 2007, the US has given Pakistan $1.3 billion towards foreign military financing and an additional $418 million towards 'other security related aid'. The US has provided a whopping $5.7 billion to Pakistan during this period as 'Coalition Support Funds', which is "Pentagon funding to reimburse Pakistan for its support of US military operations". The total 'Non-food Aid Plus Coalition Support Funds' that were transferred from American to Pakistani accounts added up to $9.8 billion.
In sharp contrast, American food aid was a piffling $177 million. It would appear that the Bush Administration believes all Pakistanis shop at Harrod's. Ironically, a poll conducted by International Republican Institute, founded by the Congress and run by prominent Republicans, to gauge the issues that are likely to dominate the general election scheduled for February 18, shows 53 per cent Pakistanis view inflation as the biggest issue, followed by unemployment (15 per cent), poverty (nine per cent) and terrorism (six per cent). Acquisition of military hardware targeted at India and accumulation of riches in numbered Swiss bank accounts, facilitated by unrestricted flow of dollars from the US, may thrill Pakistanis in khaki, but the people of that benighted country are not impressed, least of all by the war on terror which has resulted in greater collateral damage than tangible, verifiable results simply because the Americans are happy to trust -- some would say stupidly so -- a wily General.
Astonishingly, in spite of the huge body of evidence that amply demonstrates America's post-9/11 policy on Pakistan has been an unmitigated disaster, opinion-makers who influence those who write out cheques in Washington, DC -- their influence would considerably increase if the Democrats were to capture the White House later this year -- continue to peddle the old line, counselling engagement with those very elements who are singularly to blame for the mess that prevails in Pakistan today.
In a policy brief, 'Pakistan -- Conflicted Ally in the War on Terror', Ashley J Tellis, senior associate at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues, "Although Pakistani counter-terrorism effectiveness has fallen short of what Americans expect, Islamabad's failures in this regard are not simply due to a lack of motivation. Instead, the convulsive political deterioration in the North-West Frontier Province in Pakistan, Islamabad's military ineptitude in counter-terrorism operations, and the political failures of the Karzai Government in Afghanistan have exacerbated the problem."
If being accorded the status of 'staunch ally' in the war on terror (notwithstanding the fact that Gen Musharraf has done nothing to put down even those whom he could, for example, Jaish-e-Mohammed's chief Maulana Masood Azhar and Lashkar-e-Tayyeba's leading jihadi Hafeez Saeed) and being provided with billions of dollars are not motivation enough, then we need to redefine this word. Mr Tellis also conveniently ignores the fact that the situation in the North-West Frontier Province and in Afghanistan is entirely the creation of Pakistan -- no doubt helped in great measure by American aid. But who is to tell the Americans that they are utterly, horribly wrong? Most of us would rather tell the naked king that he's wearing a splendid robe in the hope he will be pleased and throw some crumbs our way, too.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Tata's Nano, India's pride

Tata has made India proud
Friday's newspaper headlines said it all. It's small, it's snazzy, it's green, it's safe, it's cheap and it's great. It's Nano. Tata Motors has finally unveiled its wonder car, which will cost, after paying vat and registration fees, a little more than Rs 1 lakh. Everybody's ecstatic over the car -- as one newspaper said, "Tiny Nano triggers mega frenzy, gets rockstar reception across India." If this frenzy were to translate into demand, Tata Motors would have a formidable winner in its stable.
Mr Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Motors, when asked what inspired him to come up with India's version of the German Beatle, said it was "the image of a lower middle-class man on a scooter, the elder kid standing in front of the driver-father and the wife riding pillion with a baby on her lap", that kept playing on his mind. "Why can't this family own a car?" he would ask himself. That's how Nano was conceived, and given a shape and form by a young engineer, Mr Girish Wagh. Nano is a unique combination of enterprise and cutting edge technological innovation; in a sense, it symbolises the emergence of 'Force India'.
Yet, there are many who are mightily unhappy with the arrival of Nano. Some of them have very valid reasons, primarily that our roads, which can barely cope with traffic at present, will get further crowded, as the conceived-in-India "people's car" joins its flashier, expensive cousins produced by multinational corporations. There is merit in this argument. But there is a solution to the problem: Government should start using the taxes we pay for building infrastructure, namely roads, that we desperately need, Nano or no Nano. This would also generate badly needed jobs and create more than 100 days of dubious employment. True, this is easier said than done; infrastructure is not high on the priority list of either the Centre or State Governments. We need not take their protestations to the contrary seriously.
What rankles, however, is the rant of jholawallahs who suffer from what some of us who worked in the PMO, when Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister, would refer to as 'Instant Rejection Syndrome'. This disease is noticeably prevalent among a certain breed of bureaucrats and manifests itself in their instantly rejecting every idea/suggestion/proposal/recommendation as soon as it is mentioned to them, either verbally or on file.
For example, there was a proposal to launch, in cooperation with WHO and a Mumbai-based NGO, a pilot project for immunising children against hepatitis. A meeting was convened to discuss the proposal. Even before the NGO representative could switch on his laptop for a power-point presentation, senior bureaucrats rubbished the proposal and came up with the most astonishing reasons why it did not merit further discussion. I recall one of them pompously declaring, "We haven't eradicated malaria, a poor man's disease, as yet. There's no need to bother about a rich man's disease." The bureaucrat, who has since been promoted as Additional Secretary, was (and remains) a twice-born fool and, like many of her colleagues, suffers from acute 'Instant Rejection Syndrome'.
Those upset by Nano's appearance because it will add to non-biodegradable junk, increase our fuel consumption, leave an indelible carbon footprint, make driving unsafe and heighten aspiration levels, suffer from the same disease. India needs better public transport facilities, they argue. Of course it does. Had there been a half-decent public transport system connecting Noida and Delhi, I would have promptly sold my car. But there isn't. And since those who passionately promote the case for public transport as it exists -- ramshackle crowded buses as bad as Hitler's cattle cars which ferried Jews to concentration camps -- zip around in fancy cars, there's no reason why I must suffer the stench of sweat and puke while travelling to work and returning home.
Carping critics, lashing out at Nano even before we got to see the car or learn about its features, scoffed at the possibility of Tata Motors coming up with a cutting edge technological innovation that would meet global emission and safety standards. One of them, writing in this newspaper last week, was snootily dismissive: "Stripping down a product to its bare basics is no technology advancement." If Nano does not showcase technology advancement, then what does? Poison-spewing two-wheelers? Autorickshaws that run on petrol spiked with kerosene, as they do in most parts of the country?
It's amazing how these critics of Nano aren't bothered about the proliferation of two-wheelers and autorickshaws that are a terror on most roads and highways. It's equally surprising that they aren't hostile to fuel-guzzling SUVs which hog road space. 'Hamara Bajaj' is good, but 'Sabka Tata' is bad. Road accidents on account of two-wheeler drivers and autorickshaws who merrily violate traffic rules do not agitate them, but they are worried sick that Nano isn't safe enough. Never mind that the car has passed the front crash test and side safety test. And, although it will be less polluting than a two-wheeler, we are told that our environment is threatened by the advent of Nano!
When logic takes a back seat and glib argument is no more than assertion of absurdity, it makes little sense to contest claims that are obviously based on flawed, though not necessarily innocent, presumptions. But it's tempting to respond to some of the points that have been raised. Take, for instance, the issue of generating non-biodegradable junk. If this is a real fear, then we should immediately ensure that masses don't have access to computers to ward off the accumulation of e-junk. And mobile phones should be prohibited because their lithium batteries are lethal for our good Earth. Flat screen LCD television sets, too, should be banned. While we are at it, could we please abolish the production of polythene bags and tetrapacks? And could someone please calculate how many throwaway plastic pens are thrown into trashcans around the world every day? How many tonnes of thermocol are used by way of disposable plates and tumblers, not to mention packing material? How many mountains would be blown up to produce cement required for providing pucca shelter to our billion plus people?
It's nice to fantasise over a cup of mocha at a café and think of new ways to paint scary doomsday scenarios that can be warded off by simply saying no to Nano. But it's tough to come up with answers that are credible and solutions that are doable. It's tougher for our jholawallahs to take pride in the emergence of 'Force India'. After all, the butter on their bread is not Amul.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Barbarians at the gate

In India, but not at home!
Barbarians at the gate
It was waiting to happen all these days and it happened on New Year's Day. Nobody quite knows for sure how many of them were there -- some say there were four jihadis, others say there were three -- but there is little dispute over the ease with which they walked up to the sentry box of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) Group Centre at Rampur after killing a rickshaw-puller sleeping nearby, hurled grenades, stormed the control room and mowed down seven jawans. It was only then that they faced some resistance. It is believed one of the terrorists was injured in the shootout that followed, but that did not stop his escape. The others escaped, too, leaving behind no clues. Since then, it has been a guessing game, although the Special Task Force of Uttar Pradesh is working on the theory that one or more militants-turned-jawans, who were inducted into the CRPF after they surrendered to security forces in Jammu & Kashmir, based at the centre may have provided crucial information to those who planned the attack. But any speculation at this point would be premature.
While investigations may or may not reveal the identity of those who attacked the CRPF centre at Rampur -- inquiries into other terrorist attacks in recent times have hit a stonewall -- what has been established by the daring strike, the first of its kind outside Kashmir Valley, is that the theatre of jihadi violence in India is rapidly expanding and is no longer restricted to big cities and towns. Seen from the perspective of the jihadis, this serves a dual purpose: First, it takes the message of fanatical Islam beyond urban centres to kasbas and villages which are ideal catchment areas for recruits to jihad's army; and, second, it facilitates the percolation of terror as more and more people are seized by a sense of insecurity, the debilitating impact of which cannot be overstated.
Meanwhile, as rapidly unfurling events in Pakistan demonstrate, the barbarians are at the gate. India is the new frontline state in the war against terror. We can either summon the courage and prepare for a counter-assault, and thus protect our national interest, or we can prepare for a siege that is more likely to end with the gate being smashed. Worryingly, the UPA Government appears to have settled its mind on exercising the second option. This is partly on account of key functionaries going into a denial mode, refusing to accept that the worsening internal security scenario is on account of jihadis expanding their territory of terror, and largely because of the regime's obsessive compulsive politics of pandering to minorityism.
A fallout of this game of blind man's bluff is Government's failure to acknowledge a simple fact: There has been a steep rise in the incidence of jihadi violence outside Jammu & Kashmir, which has coincided with the UPA rolling back anti-terrorism measures adopted by the NDA Government. The scrapping of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is only one example; the absence of demonstrative action to convey the Government of India's determination - Afzal Guru spends time in Tihar Jail confident that he will not hang for his crime of plotting the attack on Parliament House till such time the Congress is in power - is another. When confronted with tough questions, the standard response of the UPA Government is to point out that things were "no better" during the NDA years. Whenever the issue is raised in Parliament, Congress leaders are on their feet, taunting the BJP: "Parliament was attacked when you were in power. Raghunath temple was attacked when you were in power. Akshardham temple was attacked when you were in power. How dare you talk about terrorist attacks now?"
That's disingenuous, to say the least. Not only because, to use a cliché, two wrongs do not make a right, but also, and more importantly, because statistics prove the situation is far worse today than it was before the summer of 2004 when the Congress and its allies took charge of the nation's affairs. While it is true that there were high profile terror strikes during the NDA years, it is equally a fact that there has been a steep increase in the frequency and spread of terrorist attacks outside Jammu & Kashmir (the decline in jihadi violence in that State has been matched by the increase in jihadi violence elsewhere) and the loss of lives has been far more with the Congress at the helm than the cumulative toll during the six years when the BJP was in power. Let's look at the facts.
A quick scan will show that there were 12 major jihadi attacks when the NDA was in power from early-1998 to mid-2004. Of these, three resulted in heavy casualties: the massacre at Chhamba on August 8, 1998 (35 killed); the fidayeen attack on Akshardham temple on September 24, 2002 (32 killed); and, the bombings in Mumbai near Gateway of India and Zaveri Bazaar on August 25, 2003 (52 killed). In all, 148 civilians were killed in these 12 attacks.
There have been 12 jihadi attacks of greater severity between June 2004 and January 2008, spread across the country. The fidayeen attack on the Ram Mandir at Ayodhya on July 5, 2005 was an astounding display of jihadi fervour, but it did not have any collateral damage in terms of loss of lives, barring those of the terrorists who were shot dead.
But virtually every attack after that has extracted a terrible toll of human lives: The bombings in Delhi on October 29, 2005, resulted in 62 deaths; the blasts at Sankatmochan Mandir and Varanasi Railway Station on March 7, 2006, left 21 people dead; the commuter train bombings in Mumbai on July 11, 2006, created havoc and claimed 200 lives (the Prime Minister went on air and asked people to pretend all is fine); the Malegaon bombings of September 8, 2006, killed 40 people; the bombing of the Delhi-Atari special train killed 68 passengers, almost all of them Indians; and, the bombings in Hyderabad on August 25, 2007, killed 44 people.
In all, 466 innocent civilians have been killed in 12 jihadi attacks after the Congress came to power in half the time the BJP and its allies were in Government. If we were to add the number of people killed by insurgents, including Maoists, and jihadis in Jammu & Kashmir to this death toll, it would be a shocking grand total.
It does not require great mathematical skills to work out whether the situation is worse today than it was when the NDA was in power. Nor does it require much intelligence to figure out what has gone wrong between then and now. The next time the UPA's drum-beaters taunt the NDA, they should have the deadly numbers thrown at them. If that doesn't wake up the Prime Minister and his colleagues from their slumber and goad them into action, then people must prepare for the barbarians to break down the gate.

In India's cities, poor don't matter

There's little to feel cheerful
Snooty Mumbaikars tend to look down upon Delhiites as Philistines (no offence meant to Palestinians) who may have a lot of cash but lack class. They have reason to look down on those who live in India's dust bowl. Unlike Delhi, where people believe politeness means weakness and men think that unless they are boorish to women their virility shall remain suspect, Mumbai is a cosmopolitan city where people say "please" and "thank you" and men do not paw women on the streets. It's all very genteel; even Shiv Sainiks are now a tamed lot.
It's not surprising, therefore, that Mumbaikars should feel outraged that two young women, escorted by two men, should have been molested by a mob of 'revellers' on New Year's eve outside a hotel in posh Juhu. Had the photographers of Hindustan Times, who happened to be there, not alerted the police, perhaps the women would have suffered worse. Last year, a similar incident had occurred near Gateway of India when drunkards in a 'celebratory' mood molested a foreigner. Mumbai appears to be losing its tag as a 'safe city' for women. From my perch in Delhi, I can seek some comfort in the fact that unlike in Mumbai, here cops don't drag women to police chowkis and rape them. Which does not mean Delhi is safe for women. Every time my daughter, who is a university student, goes out with her friends, I worry myself silly.
No, I am not gloating over Mumbai's decline and fall. Nor am I pointing out that despite its moral policing (remember the ban on women making an honest living by dancing at downmarket bars?) the Congress-NCP Government has not been able to halt the slide. It would be silly to suggest that a Shiv Sena-BJP Government will fare any better. Whether in Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai or wherever, nothing can be more disquieting than women being harassed, assaulted or molested by lecherous men with nobody even lifting a finger in admonishment. It is possible that if our laws were tough, and I mean real tough (for instance, eve-teasers would be flogged and rapists castrated without any scope for presidential pardon) men would think twice before pouncing on women. But our laws are as weak as those whom we elect to occupy positions of power and authority: The men who molested the two hapless women outside the Juhu hotel are out on bail and are probably bragging about their exploit to awe-struck friends. In this wondrous land of ours, society neither shames nor shuns those who violate the dignity of women. Sab chalta hai, yaar!
Having said this, I must also admit that I found the "shock" and "outrage" as reported by the media rather overstated. The two victims of the incident at Juhu and their escorts, all of them non-resident Indians who live in the US, are believed to be so upset that they have decided not to visit India again. That's their choice. But what if thugs assault them in the US? People do get mugged, molested, raped and murdered in America, just as they are in any other country. Would they then leave the US?
But let's get back to the issue of feeling 'outraged' and 'shocked'. Yes, it's disgusting that men should behave in such a despicable manner and go after soft targets. Nothing can even remotely justify their misdeed or mitigate their crime, not even the fact that liquor may have disoriented them into behaving like rutting animals. Yet, we should not forget that such incidents, loathsome and abhorrent as they are, do not occur every day in every place. What occurs every day and everywhere around us, strangely, does not 'outrage' or 'shock' us, leave alone prod us into making the smallest gesture to register our concern.
Driving back home from work on New Year's eve, I had to stop at a red light in Sector 18, Noida's happening place. Urchins, some no older than seven or eight years, in tattered rags held together with strings, shivering in the biting cold, rushed to the cars waiting for the lights to change. They were not begging for money. All they wanted was to warm their freezing palms by holding them on the headlights. A young couple, dressed to kill, in the car next to mine, rolled down their windows and tried to shoo away the urchins. When that didn't work, they switched off the headlights of their car. Two little girls, one of them in pigtails, who were warming their palms on the car's headlights, looked at the couple with sad puppy eyes, and then shuffled away. The woman giggled, the man guffawed, the lights changed, he switched on the car headlights, revved the engine, and both took off for more fun and frolic. May you crash into a car being driven by one of your tribe and die, I cursed.
On Friday afternoon, I had gone to Sector 18 on an errand and, as luck would have it, had to stop at another traffic light, this time near the sprawling parking lot crammed with cars and SUVs. On the pavement a family of three -- man, woman and child -- was settling down for lunch cooked on a three-brick oven fuelled by plastic bags gathered from the nearby rubbish dump. The child, a toddler, was sucking on the claws of a chicken, which the man must have collected along with the plastic bags and the woman had boiled in a sooty pot along with other offal from the kitchens of the restaurants and restobars that make Sector 18 so hip and happening.
That's the real India out there around us, the every day India where life is nasty and a never-ending nightmare, a struggle to keep body and soul together. This is what should outrage us, shock us and make us incandescent with rage. It should upset us that for all our tall claims of a prosperous India with a booming stock market, there are millions of us who scavenge for food along with snarling stray dogs in garbage dumps in our glittering chrome-and-glass cities. In the hinterland, it's worse.
Of course, we can pretend that this India does not exist, that all is fine and ours is a land of milk and honey. But that won't make the reality disappear. If you don't believe me, keep your eyes open the next time you step out on the streets, especially if you happen to be in Mumbai.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Tribute to Ashok Saikia, friend and mentor

Bhaalo theko, Ashok'da
Ashok Saikia, who passed away on December 30, 2007, was a self-effacing man with a large heart. He cared for everybody and remembered the smallest details.Above all, he was a fiercely loyal friend who was loved and admired in equal measure.

Unlike many of Ashok Saikia's innumerable friends and admirers, I can't claim to have known him for 30 or 40 years. The first time I met him was in December 1996 at Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee's residence; it was probably the last week of the year. I was introduced to him and his wife, Ranjana, and we chatted for a while. It was a brief encounter but left lasting impressions. Over the next two years, we ran into each other at Mr Vajpayee's residence a couple of times.
It was sometime in 1998 that I really got to know him. Mr Vajpayee was Prime Minister and Ashok Saikia was Joint Secretary in the PMO. One afternoon I got a call from him, inviting me to his office for coffee. He warmly greeted me and then said, "I am hungry. Kuchh khaya jaye." That 'kuchh' turned out to be a large plate of steaming hot pakodas, which we washed down with several cups of coffee. This was to become an afternoon ritual over the next few years. By the time I left his office, I was calling him Ashok'da.
Ashok'da could be a patient teacher. After joining the PMO, I was at sea and realised something as simple as writing speeches for the Prime Minister involved more than putting together words that would lend themselves to good copy. Inputs would come from various people, most of them crusty senior bureaucrats, and everybody would expect the speech to reflect his or her suggestions. It was easy to tread on too many toes and difficult to keep everybody happy.
"Just take all the suggestions and then do what you feel is right. The Prime Minister should not be seen articulating what bureaucrats think," he told me. And then over the following months he guided me, ever so gently and patiently, through the Byzantine lanes of Government. Whenever I ran into trouble, I would run to his office and he would promptly take care of it. And then order hot pakodas and coffee.
Our professional association blossomed into a loving, caring friendship. When I foolishly resigned from the PMO to take up a media assignment in Kolkata, he told me it was a wrong decision. But he stood by me, facilitating my daughter's mid-term school admission and fussing over other details of relocation. His warning came true; my new job was an unmitigated disaster; and I was increasingly desperate to get out of the jam in which I found myself. Instinctively, I turned to Ashok'da. He heard me out and then said, "Leave it to me. I shall do something. I can't abandon you!" Within a month I had a new assignment.
That was his great quality. He would never abandon anybody. He was fiercely loyal to his friends and they reciprocated with equally fierce loyalty. He treated me like his younger brother; for me, he was the elder brother I never had.
"You should have your own house," he told me one day. "I don't have the money to buy a house," I said. He called his secretary and asked him to get a membership form of the PMO Housing Society. The form came. "Fill it up and sign it," he instructed me. "But what about the money? I really don't have any money," I pleaded. "Just fill it up, we will see," he said sternly and got back to clearing files. The next day, he facilitated a housing loan; in those days, banks were reluctant to part with their money.
Each of his small gestures were those of a large-hearted man. During our first year in Cairo, my younger daughter found it difficult to cope with Egypt's blistering summer heat and would often go down with stomach flu. I casually mentioned this to him one day when he had called from Delhi to check on how we were settling in. There was a packet for me in next week's diplomatic bag, containing several bottles of Pudin Hara and a scribbled note from Ashok'da which said, "Try this, it should work." It worked.
On another occasion, Mr Prabir Sengupta, who had just retired as Petroleum Secretary, was visiting Cairo for a conference on foreign trade and Ashok'da asked me to arrange for a car for him and his wife to visit Alexandria. And could I host him for dinner? I arranged for a car and invited Mr Sengupta and his wife for dinner. They arrived with a huge, and I mean huge, box which Ashok'da had given them for us. Later that night, we opened the box with eager anticipation. It was crammed with sandesh.
"Ashok'da", I cribbed to him one day, "it's bloody impossible to buy books in Cairo. The few that are available are frightfully expensive." After that, every month a packet of books would arrive from him. I read Jhumpa Lahiri's Namesake sitting on my balcony overhanging the Nile courtesy Ashok'da. During my visits to Delhi, I would come laden with Egyptian gifts, largely tacky and designed for tourists. He would let out whoops of delight. Ranjana, whom I call 'boudi', would keep on reminding us that dinner -- tenga maachh and steamed rice -- was getting cold as he kept on pouring "the last" drink.
When I returned to Delhi in the summer of 2004, wife and two children in tow, to an uncertain future and without a job, I literally did not have a place to stay. Our apartment was in a mess and needed extensive work to make it hospitable. Ashok'da had thought of every detail without my having to tell him anything, although those were trying days for him: The Government had fallen, Mr Vajpayee and his colleagues were in a shock, and his own posting to Manila as Executive Director in the Asian Development Bank had run into some trouble with the new regime.
There were two cars at the airport which took us straight to PMO Housing Society in Noida. He had had his apartment, which had also been lying vacant, cleaned, put in beds, fixed air-conditioners in the bedrooms, and stocked the kitchen with utensils and groceries. For the next three months, we lived in his apartment while carpenters and painters worked in ours. I made bold to offer him rent. "Bahut paisa ho gaya hai tera?" he snapped.
Ashok'da left for Manila soon after my return to Delhi. Every time he was in the city, he would make time for us to have lunch together. There would be surprise telephone calls from various parts of the world where he would be travelling and e-mail that always ended with, "Love, Ashok".
After he returned from Manila in August, we would meet for lunch. It was a seamless friendship. A couple of weeks ago, he dropped into The Pioneer's office and we had a long adda over coffee. We laughed ourselves silly over things that really don't matter.
On Sunday morning, as I held Ranjana boudi's hands and wept, I could only think of one thing: I would never get to see or talk to Ashok'da again. Self-effacing as ever, he had left us quietly, silently, without creating a fuss. As his mortal remains are consigned to the flames at Titabar, his native village in Assam, I join his family, friends and admirers in praying for his soul:
Jaao hey Ananta dhaamey, moho maya paashori,Dukkho aandhaaro jetha kichhui naahi,Joraa naahi, morono naahi, shoko naahi jey lokey,Keboli anandosroto cholechhey probahi,Jaao hey Ananta dhaamey, Amritaniketaney...Jyotirmoyo aaloye, shubhro sheyi chiro bimolo punya kironey,Jaayo jetha danobroto, satyabrata punyaban...Bhaao theko, Ashok'da.

Interventionism as policy

Kanchan Gupta / Essay / November-December, 2008.

Part I

US President Barack Hussein Obama’s utterances on Jammu & Kashmir, indicating that the so-called ‘Kashmir issue’ will figure on the agenda of his Administration, just as it featured on the ‘To Do’ list of Mr Bill Clinton during his first term as President, have raised more than eyebrows in India. To his credit, President George W Bush had steered clear of the ‘Kashmir issue’; he snubbed Pakistan each time it tried to push for a revival of American interventionism, insisting that Islamabad had to deal directly with New Delhi. Even Gen Colin Powell, with his pronounced pro-Pakistan bias, could not get Mr Bush to change his view and send in Nosy Parkers from the State Department to play their insidious games. Recall a busybody called Ms Robin Raphael whom Mr Clinton promoted during his first presidential term to ‘solve’ the ‘Kashmir issue’. She used the opportunity to forge the All-Party Hurriyat Conference with disastrous consequences in Jammu & Kashmir, and colluded with Benazir Bhutto to create the monster called Taliban in the hope Mullah Mohammed Omar would look after Unocal’s business interests.
With the shadow of American interventionism as policy looming large, it would be instructive to scan the past, if only to figure out the genesis of the West’s proclivity to interfere in an issue that neither impacts it directly nor does it understand entirely. Interestingly, much before the US decided to get into the act, it was the UK which manipulated events in a manner that whetted Washington’s appetite. Equally interesting is the reason that shaped Anglo-American perception and policy on Jammu & Kashmir, which does not figure in much of the discourse on this issue but has been presented in great detail by former diplomat C Dasgupta in his path-breaking book, War and Diplomacy in Kashmir — 1947-48.
First, some bare facts. Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession on October 26, 1947, making Jammu & Kashmir an integral part of India. Simultaneously, Indian forces were airlifted to Srinagar to evict the Pakistani invaders and establish India’s sovereignty over its territory. The accession was — and remains — entirely valid in terms of the Government of India Act of 1935 and India Independence Act of 1947; it is total and irrevocable in international law. Speaking in the UN Security Council on February 4, 1948, the US representative, Warren Austen, said: “The external sovereignty of Kashmir is no longer under the control of the Maharaja... with the accession of Jammu & Kashmir to India, this foreign sovereignty went over to India and is exercised by India and that is why India happens to be here (at the UNSC) as a petitioner...”.
India went to the UN in good faith after Pakistan refused to vacate territory occupied by its armed raiders. In its formal reference, lodged with the Security Council on January 1, 1948 under Article 35 of the UN Charter, which permits member states to bring any situation whose continuance is likely to endanger international peace and security to the attention of the Security Council, India asserted: “Such a situation now exists between India and Pakistan owing to the aid which invaders, consisting of nationals of Pakistan and of tribesmen from the territory immediately adjoining Pakistan on the North-West, are drawing from Pakistan for operations against Jammu & Kashmir, a State which has acceded to the Dominion of India and is part of India... The Government of India request the Security Council to call upon Pakistan to put an end immediately to the giving of such assistance which is an act of aggression against India.”
In the reference, India also asserted its right, under international law, to self-defence by initiating military action against Pakistan by way of what is today termed as ‘hot pursuit’: “In order that the objective of expelling the invader from Indian territory and preventing him from launching fresh attacks should be quickly achieved, Indian troops would have to enter Pakistan territory...”.
In addition to the five permanent members, the UNSC in 1948 had Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Syria and Ukraine as non-permanent members. The instant reaction of the UNSC was to issue a Presidential Statement on January 6, 1948, making an “urgent appeal (to India and Pakistan) to refrain from any step incompatible with the (UN) Charter and liable to result in an aggravation of the situation”. This was followed by Resolution 38 on January 17, 1948, reiterating the Presidential Statement and requesting both countries to immediately report to the Security Council any material change in the situation.
Across the Atlantic, the Commonwealth Relations Office entered the picture at this point, formulating a political perspective that came to greatly influence the Security Council’s subsequent handling of the ‘Kashmir issue’, at least up to the formation of the UN Commission for India and Pakistan. The CRO’s perspective was rooted, and strangely so, in the British Foreign Office assessment of the emerging political crisis in West Asia. Britain in those days stood accused by Arabs (and their sympathisers in Europe and the US) of having abjectly failed in its Mandate over Palestine as it had been unable to control the immigration of Jews. Britain was also seen as having failed in its responsibility to prevent or contain the outbreak of what was then referred to as ‘civil war’ (which still continues to rage between Palestinians and Israelis).
Britain took the Palestine issue to the UN in April 1947 and announced its decision to abandon its mandate by May 1948. The UN General Assembly immediately adopted a Resolution for dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states, paving the way for Israel’s re-birth as the homeland for Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora. The Arab reaction was vicious, instantaneous and directed in bulk against Britain.

* * *

Part II

After Britain took the Palestine issue to the United Nations in April 1947 and announced its decision to abandon its mandate by May 1948, resulting in the General Assembly adopting a Resolution for the creation of separate Jewish and Arab states, thus unleashing Arab rage against the West, especially the United Kingdom, the British Foreign Office embarked on a duplicitous and dangerous course. It convinced the British Government, struggling to cope with the rapidly changing post-War geopolitical realities, that the only way Britain could contain — and reduce — Arab anger was by adopting a policy on Jammu & Kashmir that would be perceived as weighing in favour of Pakistan, a Muslim state. It believed this would assuage enraged ‘Arab nationalism’ (which the British Foreign Office, to its credit, had the far-sight to recognise as incipient radical Islamism). A second factor that propelled British policy in this direction was Britain’s oil interests that had become crucial in post-War Europe’s search for energy sources that would reduce dependency on coal.
British Foreign Office records, including minutes of discussions approved by Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Ernest Bevin, substantiate this assessment. For instance, a Foreign Office minute prepared for Prime Minister Clement Attlee said, “The Foreign Secretary has expressed anxiety lest we should appear to be siding with India in the dispute between India and Pakistan over Kashmir which is now before the United Nations Security Council. With the situation as critical as it is in Palestine, Mr Bevin feels that we must be very careful to guard against the danger of aligning the whole of Islam against us, which might be the case were Pakistan to obtain a false impression of our attitude in the Security Council.” If six decades ago the Attlee Cabinet was keen to appease Islamists by short-changing India on Jammu & Kashmir, Mr Barack Hussein Obama’s Administration may be tempted to do something similar to establish its credentials in the Islamic world since it won’t dare to push around Israel.
Interestingly, Louis Mountbatten, who had played no small role in steering the Jammu & Kashmir issue to the Security Council, found the British Foreign Office policy harmful to larger Commonwealth interests. In one of his reports he recorded: “Everybody here (in India) is now convinced that power politics and not impartiality are governing the attitude of the Security Council... Indian leaders counter this (attempts to dispel this conviction) by saying that the Anglo-American Bloc apparently attaches so high a value on the maintenance of Muslim solidarity in the Middle-East that they are even ready to pay the price of driving India out of the Commonwealth into the arms of Russia...”.
Not known for being tolerant of Indian sensitivities, Philip Noel-Baker, the Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations, was easily persuaded by Bevin’s perspective and he took it upon himself to pro-actively lobby with the US and non-permanent Security Council members to toe a pro-Pakistan line in enforcing a solution to the Jammu & Kashmir issue through a UN-sponsored plebiscite. Noel-Baker had his way with Resolution 39 adopted by the Security Council on January 20, 1948, on the setting up of a three-member UN Commission for India and Pakistan which would visit the two countries, study the ground situation, and report back to the Security Council.
Noel-Baker followed this up by aggressively pushing a draft resolution that was crafted in a manner to favour Pakistan. The US representative was initially hesitant to go along with Noel-Baker’s draft, but was soon won over. Surprisingly, at this stage the Chinese representative came up with an alternative draft that was comparatively more balanced. In a change of tactics, necessitated by his being reprimanded by Attlee who feared ‘irreparable damage’ to relations with India, Noel-Baker seized upon this draft and cunningly had it amended to such an extent that it bore no resemblance with the original draft; the Noel-Baker version of the Chinese draft came to be adopted as Resolution 47 by the Security Council on April 21, 1948.
Resolution 47 set out the terms of reference in two parts. Part One increased the number of members of the UNCIP from three to five (Noel-Baker believed that a larger team would enable a report more in tune with his perspective) and instructed the UNCIP to “proceed at once” in order to “place its good offices and mediation” at the disposal of India and Pakistan with the twin goals of restoring peace and order and holding a plebiscite. Part Two comprised the Security Council’s recommendations to India and Pakistan for achieving these goals:
i. Pakistan should “use its best endeavours” to secure the withdrawal of the raiders (tribesmen and other Pakistani nationals) from Jammu & Kashmir;
ii. India should withdraw its forces and reduce them to the minimum level required for the maintenance of law and order; and,
iii. UNCIP might employ troops of either dominion “subject to the agreement of both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan”.
Pakistan rejected Resolution 47, demanding an amendment that the deployment of Pakistani troops should not be subject to the agreement of the Government of India. The amendment was defeated. India rejected the Resolution on the ground that it was weighed in favour of Pakistan and that it skirted the main issue as contained in India’s reference to the Security Council — that of vacating the Pakistani aggression. India also pointed out that the Security Council had failed to issue a clear call to Pakistan to withdraw the raiders before going into the plebiscite arrangements. However, both India and Pakistan accepted the setting up of the UNCIP and agreed to receive the Commission.
The UNCIP visited India and Pakistan in July 1948. By May 1948, the ground situation had undergone a radical material change with Pakistani Army regulars being deployed in the occupied areas of Jammu & Kashmir. Zafarullah Khan admitted to the UNCIP that Pakistani Army regulars had been deployed since May 1948. This was seen by the UNCIP as a violation of earlier Security Council Resolutions that had insisted on there being no material change in the ground situation.
The UNCIP’s findings and its subsequent Resolutions (of August 13, 1949, and January 5, 1948) were not influenced by Noel-Baker primarily because there was no British representative in the commission. Also, by then India had launched a diplomatic offensive as well as demonstrated its determination to force out the Pakistani invaders militarily. Therefore, the UNCIP reports and Resolutions, unlike the Security Council’s Resolution 47, did not reflect a deliberate pro-Pakistan tilt; recognised that the entry of Pakistani Army into Jammu & Kashmir was a violation of Security Council Resolution 38; demanded that Pakistan must withdraw its forces from Jammu & Kashmir since their presence constituted a “material change in the situation”; and, conceded primacy to a ceasefire based on withdrawal of the invaders.
The rest is history.