Indian Thought

Sad, Stricken Story of Delhi n Drugs …

Posted on January 3, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

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New Year Cheer …

Posted on January 2, 2019. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Extracted from The Wire – The poetry of fearlessness –
Avijit Pathak

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high;
   Where knowledge is free;
   Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
   Where words come out from the depth of truth;
   Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection;
   Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
   Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening
thought and action
   Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”

I begin my journey towards the ‘newness’ in the New Year with this extraordinary poem of Rabindranath Tagore.

Yes, I am aware of the fact that I am reading Tagore at a time when the psychology of fear invades our existence. Fear paralyses us. Can we overcome this life-killing fear?

Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way.

At this moment I find the blend of Raj Kapoor and Mukesh once again. What a lovely song in Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s film Anari! I close my eyes, and begin to absorb the song (thanks to lyricist Shailendra, and music director Shankar Jaikishan):

Falling for someone’s smiles
Borrow, if you can, someone’s strife
Open your heart for someone’s love  
That’s the pleasure of life.  

When social Darwinism or the doctrine of the survival of the fittest becomes the language of the neoliberal market, it is not easy to borrow someone’s strife.

Furthermore, as the glitz of consumerism seduces us, and the ‘having mode of existence’, as Erich Fromm said beautifully, generates a sense of chronic restlessness for more and more, it is not easy to acquire the richness of simplicity, and sing:

What if I have no wealth
Yet I’m rich at heart
Falling for love
That’s life.

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2018 – Year of Frauds …

Posted on December 31, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Sharp Increase in Fraud Cost Indian Banks Rs 42,167 Crore in 2017-18, Says RBI
Nirav Mody

Despite “stringent monitoring and vigilance,” data released by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) reveals that fraudsters have looted India banking institutions of Rs 42,167 crore in 2017-18.

This is a sharp increase of 72% from Rs 23,933 crore from the previous year, according to the Indian Express.

And another –

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Swatch Bharat …

Posted on December 31, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

According to a 2015 study on the costs of poor sanitation authored jointly by the LIXIL Group Corporation, Water Aid and Oxford Economics, poor sanitation cost the world $222 billion in 2015. India accounted for almost half of that cost at $106 billion, or 5.2% of the country’s GDP. 

Kabir Agarwal’s series on open defecation in Uttar Pradesh stood out for me. Kabir has a knack for making the reader feel like they are embedded in the story, which he does here as well through his extensive reporting. The three-part series brings out the issues with the crucial Swachh Bharat Mission, with evocative narratives of false government claims and the daily struggles of people on the ground.

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India vs China n Chess vs Go …

Posted on December 19, 2018. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom, From a Services Career, Indian Thought |


Satellite map of Chumbi Valley, Doklam region. Credit: Scribble Maps

Here are dictums for would be Napoleons —

Talking of Strategy vis a vis Tactics – the Guy said the former is what you do to handle the Mom n the latter is what you do to tackle the Daughter ………………………………………………………………………………………………………………And talking of Plans, this is what he thundered – “If the Enemy does this then your plans must ensure he gete ‘F…..d’ Right Royally but if he does the Alternate, then your plans must ensure that he gets ‘B……d’ – Good and Proper…

And By Jove – if he does what You have not thought of —- then be prepared for him to do Both to You!!!

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As Good as it Gets – Modi n RBI …

Posted on December 13, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

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Right to Privacy – India …

Posted on September 30, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

From the Wire – In the Adhar Case, Justice Chandrachud’s dissenting judgment – a tome in itself – is, therefore, an occasion for us to celebrate our 3,000-year-old history of revering dissent.

Justice Chandrachud’s judgment, by keeping the individual at the centre, has provided the crusaders of democracy with words that will be sung in times to come.

His dissenting judgement gives us the intellectual architecture to understand the fundamentals of our democracy – of how when it comes to certain inalienable rights, bargaining cannot be an option.

And the extraordinary impact of this lone dissenting voice, in the short span of time since the verdict came out, demonstrates that an individual voice that refuses to bend still matters. Burnished by the courage of its conviction, it matters, even in a minority of one.

Governments, however, are run on the arithmetic of assembling a majority. They are known for attempting to appear tenable by making hole-and-corner compromises, more so when the people at the helm have the ability to shift their premise to suit the latest opportunity that knocks at their doorstep.

A nine-judge SC bench, by a unanimous verdict in the case of Justice K.S. Puttaswamy (Retd.) v. Union of India (2017), rejected the originalist interpretation of the ‘right to life’, holding the right to privacy as an extension of the right to live (with dignity), unequivocally declaring it to be a fundamental right.

The core of the message cannot be emphasised enough:

“To live is to live with dignity… Dignity is the core which unites the fundamental rights because the fundamental rights seek to achieve for each individual the dignity of existence.

Privacy with its attendant values assures dignity to the individual and it is only when life can be enjoyed with dignity can liberty be of true substance…

Hence, it would be an injustice both to the draftsmen of the constitution as well as to the document which they sanctified by constricting its interpretation to an originalist interpretation.”

It needs to be understood that well-established legal jurisprudence requires that even in cases where a “compelling interest” can be shown by the state to justify abridgement of certain rights, the policy needs to be the least restrictive possible option.

Even assuming that Aadhaar is needed for the state to clamp down on identity fraud and ensure the targeted delivery of welfare benefits, it still appears to be the most intrusive means of securing that end.

In this context, Justice Chandrachud observes: “One right cannot be taken away at the behest of the other. The State has failed to satisfy this Court that the targeted delivery of subsidies which animate the right to life entails a necessary sacrifice of the right to individual autonomy, data protection and dignity when both these rights are protected by the Constitution.”

Walter Kirn’s words have never seemed more appropriate: “Everyone loves a witch hunt as long as it’s someone else’s witch being hunted.”


This innocuous looking phrase was to have serious repercussions. For starters, it conferred on the government the power to introduce the Bill as a money bill. A money bill is basically a bill which can only be introduced in the Lok Sabha; and while the Rajya Sabha can suggest amendments thereto, it is the Lok Sabha’s prerogative to accept or reject them.

Jaitley’s party had a majority in the Lok Sabha, but the Rajya Sabha’s composition wasn’t as obliging. So, to him, the voice of the Rajya Sabha, of which he is himself a member, didn’t matter.

Justice Chandrachud’s observations are instructive in this regard. Passing the Aadhaar Act off as a money bill and circuventing the Rajya Sabha’s approval prompted him to call the move a “fraud on the Constitution.”

“Differences with another constitutional institution,” says the judgement, “cannot be resolved by the simple expedient of ignoring it. It may be politically expedient to do so. But it is constitutionally impermissible. This debasement of a democratic institution cannot be allowed to pass. Institutions are crucial to democracy. Debasing them can only cause a peril to democratic structures.”

Our constitution places the person at its centre. And the dignity of the person is a constitutional value and goal. Imposing a compulsory mode of identification on the citizenry as the only barter for rights he is lawfully entitled to, becomes problematic.

What becomes even more problematic is the fact of a 12-digit number determining an individual’s self-actualisation, taking us as far apart from the Lockean ideal of a “politically free man in a minimally regulated society” as is anyone’s guess.

What Justice Chandrachud’s lone voice does, is take a stand against the refusal of the State to recognise an individual except on the basis of a non-consensual agreement to subject oneself to Aadhaar.

And while it may be only a single voice in this judgment, this noteworthy remark by Justice Charles Hughes offers some solace: “A dissent in a court of last resort is an appeal to the brooding spirit of law, to the intelligence of a future day when a later decision may possibly correct the error into which the dissenting justice believes the court to have been betrayed.”

The range of Justice Chandrachud’s reason has touched the hearts of the Indian people. “A defeated argument,” in the words of Amartya Sen, “that refuses to be obliterated can remain very alive.” Justice Chandrachud has delivered a judgement for the ages to come.

Chandan Karmhe is a chartered accountant and an alumnus of IIM-Ahmedabad.


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Urdu – An Indian Language …

Posted on September 15, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

Arslan Jafri in The Wire …

A lot of people mistakenly believe that they don’t know Urdu. Chances are, if you’re a Hindi speaker, then you’re familiar with Urdu, whether you realise it or not.

In order to understand what Urdu is, we first need to understand the linguistic makeup of northern India.

The first misconception we suffer from is thinking that Hindi is the lingua franca of north India, in actuality the language that binds the region together is Hindustani, or for simplification, Hindi-Urdu.

If you were to watch an Urdu news channel or Pakistani soap opera, you’d notice immediately that Urdu and Hindi share the same grammar, but in Urdu’s cases a lot of words have Persian and Arabic roots, whereas Hindi words often derive from Sanskrit.

It could be said that one is speaking Hindi if there is negligible use of Persian-Arabic words or Hindi if she uses more Sanskrit words.

However, when it comes to our daily speech, it’s impossible to limit our usage of either Persian-Arabic or Sanskrit for a simple reason – understanding each other.

For example, if we replace the Persian word zyaada (more) with adhik (the Sanskrit version), or if we replace the word koshish (attempt) with the word prayaas, people would mock us for being “purists” and using words that don’t fit into our regular vocabulary.

Therefore, the vernacular language is Hindustani, and “pure” Hindi and Urdu survive only as literary languages.

It’s funny that most people don’t know that the language that they speak is not the language that they think they speak, simply because we rarely recognise our spoken language as Hindustani. When we write Hindustani in Devanagari, we call it Hindi, so if we write it in the Arabic script, then we call it Urdu.

Since we’re talking about Hindustani, it’s worthwhile to look at one of the theories on how Urdu originated. Dr. Masud Husain from Aligarh Muslim University thinks that the language developed around the time that Persian entered the subcontinental area with Muslim invaders, mixing with Hariani and resulting in the creation of a new language, Urdu. While this sounds like it happened instantly, new languages take centuries to develop.

We all speak a little Hindi and a little Urdu, so it’s unfortunate that we’ve come to think of Urdu as a Muslim language. Just like the religious divide emphasises more differences than there really are, this linguistic distinction draws a firm boundary where there isn’t really one.

The people who are ignorant of the Nastaʿlīq script presume that Urdu is linked to Islam because of its resemblance to Arabic, which is the language of the Qur’an. This, coupled with the fact that Urdu is the national language of Pakistan has contributed to its Other-ing in India.

The truth however remains that Urdu is a language of India. Urdu played a significant role in India’s independence, the slogan ‘Inquilab Zindabad’ was given by Maulana Hasrat Mohani in 1921 (Zee News, 2017). This Urdu slogan empowered many freedom fighters, including Bhagat Singh. Another example is the popular revolutionary couplet:

Sarfaroshi Ki Tamanna Ab Hamare Dil Mein Hai

Dekhna Hai Zor Kitna Baazu-e-Qaatil Mein Hai

It was written by the poet Bismil Azimabadi and popularised by Ramprasad Bismil during the freedom struggle.

Urdu was also the language of the progressive writers’ movement or Taraqqi Pasand Musnafeen-e-Hind as it was called in Urdu. It was a literary movement which started in pre-partition India, the movement produced some of the finest lyricists, writers and poets our nation has seen, including Sahir Ludhianvi, Munshi Premchand and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. The movement thrived on the ideas of communism and Marxism, inspiring Urdu literature that veered far from conservatism and religious fundamentalism.

Even looking at Urdu as an “Islamic” language yields surprising results. For instance, only 8% of Pakistan’s population speaks Urdu, it’s official national language, as its first one.

Whereas 48% people speak Punjabi as their first language (Virk, 2016). Coming to the other neighbouring Muslim country, Bangladesh.

When, in 1948, Muhammad Ali Jinnah announced that Urdu was going to be imposed on Bangladesh (then, East Bengal), the Bengali-speaking population protested vehemently, as they felt they would lose their cultural identity by accepting an alien language.

Outside of the Indian subcontinent, Urdu is not spoken at all. Most countries with majority Muslim populations speak Arabic (Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Morocco etc) or Persian (Iran, Tajikistan, etc).

Urdu is a language unique to the Indian subcontinent and so ingrained in our Hindi that it’s hard to imagine speaking without it. That’s something to be celebrated not derided.


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The Bombay Mumbai Story …

Posted on July 23, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought |

According to our ancient history, a group of 7-seven islands comprising Colaba, Mazagaon, Old Woman’s Island, Wadala, Mahim, Parel, & Matunga – Sion formed a part of the Kingdom of Ashoka the Great of Magadh, ironically in North India.
The 7 islands of Mumbai passed through many hands – the Sultans of Gujarat, the Portuguese & the British. Every ruler left behind proof of residence in Mumbai.
The Mauryans left behind the ★Kanheri-Caves (Borivali N-Park), ★Jogeshwari-Caves ★Mahakali-Caves & the caves of “Ghara-puri” island more popularly called.. Elephanta.
The Sultans of Gujarat built the Dargahs at Mahim & Haji Ali.
The Portuguese built the two Portuguese Churches, one at ,Prabhadevi & the other, St. Andrews at Bandra. They also built Forts at Sion, Mahim, Bandra & Bassien (today’s Vasai). The Portuguese named the group of 7 slands ‘Bom Baia’, Good Bay.
The British built a city out of the group of 7 islands & called her Bombay – spoilt from the original Mumbai. The original settlers of the 7 islands, the Koli fishermen, worshiped Mumba Devi, her Temple still stands at Zaveri Bazar/Paydhuni.. Cotton Exchange ..near Chowpatty.
The Kolis called the island Mumbai, ‘Mumba’-devi, Mother Goddess’
In 1662, King Charles II of England married the Portuguese Princess Catherine of Braganza, & received the 7 islands of Bom Baia as part of his dowry. Six years later, the British Crown leased the 7 islands to the English East India Company for a sum of 10 pounds in gold per annum.
It was under the “English East India Co” that the future megapolis began to take shape ! After the first War for Independence in 1857, Bombay once again became a colony of the British Empire
History has forgotten this but the first Parsi settler came to Bombay in 1640, he was Dorabji Nanabhoy Patel.
In 1689-90, a severe “plague” प्लेग epidemic broke out in Bombay & most of the European settlers succumbed to it.
The Siddi of Janjira Fort (MS) attacked in full force. Rustomji Dorabji Patel, a trader & the son of the city’s first Parsi settler, successfully defeated the सिद्दी Siddi (African-Nigro) with the help of, the Kolis & saved Bombay.
Gerald Aungier, Governor of Bombay built the Bombay Castle, an area that is even today referred to as Fort. He also constituted the Courts of Law. He brought Gujarati traders, Parsi shipbuilders, Muslim & Hindu manufacturers from the mainland & settled them in Bombay.
It was during a period of 4 decades that the city of Bombay took shape. Reclamation was done to plug the breach at Worli & Mahalakshmi, and Hornby Vellard was built in 1784.
The Sion Causeway, connecting Bombay to Salsette, was built in 1803. Colaba Causeway, connecting Colaba island to Bombay, was built in 1838. A Causeway connecting Mahim & Bandra was built in 1845.
Lady Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, the wife of the First Baronet Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy donated Rs. 1,57,000 to meet construction costs of the Causeway. She donated ₹ 1,00,000 at first ! When the project costs escalated & money ran out half way through, she donated ₹ 57,000 again to ensure that the vital Causeway was completed.
Lady Jamsetjee stipulated that no toll would ever be charged for those using the Causeway. Today Mumbaikars have to pay ₹-75 to use the Bandra-Worli Sealink, connecting almost the same two islands.
Sir JJ Hospital was also built by Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy. The ship building “Wadia family of Surat” was brought to Bombay by the British. Jamshedji Wadia founded the Bombay Port Trust & built the Princess Docks in 1885 & the Victoria Docks & the Mereweather Dry Docks in 1891. Alexandra Docks were built in 1914.
A Gujarati civil engineer supervised the building of the Gateway of India.
The Tatas made Bombay their headquarters & gave it the iconic Taj Mahal Hotel & India ‘s first civilian airlines, Air India. The Godrejs gave India its first vegetarian soap. Cowasji Nanabhai Daver established Bombay ‘s first cotton mill, ‘The Bombay Spinning Mills’ in 1854.
By 1915, there were 83 textile mills in Bombay largely owned by Indians. This brought about a financial boom in Bombay ! Although the mills were owned by the Gujaratis, Kutchis, Parsis & Marwaris, the workforce was migrant Mahrashtrians from rural Maharashtra.
Premchand Roychand, a prosperous Gujarati broker founded the Bombay Stock Exchange. Premchand Roychand donated Rs. 2,00,000 to build the Rajabai Tower in 1878.
Muslim, Sindhi & Punjabi migrants have also contributed handsomely to Mumbai. Apart from its original inhabitants, the Kolis, everyone else in Mumbai, are immigrants.
When the Shiv Sena came to power in 1993, the name Bombay was replaced with Mumbai.
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Army’s Strike Mtn Corps Shelved …

Posted on July 23, 2018. Filed under: Indian Thought, Personalities |

From The Wire – Ali Ahmed, a former Infantry officer with a PhD from JNU, has worked at a think tank and taught at a central university in New Delhi.

It is reported that the Indian army’s much vaunted mountain strike corps (MSC) has been put in cold storage. An insinuation attributed by the media to unnamed sources has it that the decision to raise the MSC was a result of institutional factors rather than strategic necessity.

According to these sources, the army officer corps saw the MSC as a way of accessing a greater slice of the defence budget. By blaming the army for inflating the threat perception in order to make itself the primus inter pares among the three services suggests, however, that the sources are set on diverting attention away from the implications of the decision for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government.

The government, well past its honeymoon period, has been coming in for criticism lately. Its actions following the prime minister’s end-April dash to Wuhan for an ‘informal summit’ with Xi Jinping – the renaming of Taiwan as ‘Chinese Taipei’ on the Air India website, the reins put on the army’s assertive actions on the Line of Actual Control and the visible distancing from the Tibetan government-in-exile – have drawn adverse comment.

The perception is that there seems to be that the policy of self-assertion – whose high point was the 73-day standoff with the Chinese at the Doklam plateau last year – is being reversed.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping as they take a boat ride on the East Lake in Wuhan, China, April 28, 2018. Credit: PIB//Handout via Reuters                                                                                  ……

Further, the government downsized the defence budget to its lowest proportion this year in terms of gross domestic product since 1962.

Mindful of the unforeseeable consequences of a diplomatic or military crisis in an election year, the government apparently has developed cold feet on its policy of standing up to China. It therefore needed to send a signal to Beijing that it is drawing its claws back.

The MSC had been cleared by the previous UPA government very reluctantly and rather late in its tenure, when, in its second avatar, too weak to fend off the army’s pitch for the MSC any longer, it had sanctioned the corps.

The May 2013 Chinese intrusion in the Depsang sector perhaps forced the government’s hand, with its approval coming quick in wake of the intrusion that July. The first division for the corps started being raised in January 2014.

The Modi government took a view of the new raising early in its tenure, with finance minister Arun Jaitley – temporarily double-hatted as defence minister – going about reviewing its necessity. In the event,  Manohar Parrikar, who became full-time defence minister after Jaitley, indicated that the decision was a ‘temporary, not permanent freeze’ on its size. 

While on the one hand the BJP-led government wanted to project a tough-on-security image, the prime minister had indicated at the combined commanders’ conference that the army should turn to technology rather than compensating for capacity voids with manpower, as it was wont to do.

The decision came despite the Chinese intrusion early in the Modi tenure in the Chumar sector, even as the Chinese president Xi Jinping was being hosted by Modi at Ahmedabad.

Even so, the army persisted with its raising, though it was difficult going. Immediately prior to the 73-day stand-off with the Chinese at Doklam last year, the second division of the MSC was reportedly under raising at Pathankot.

The army had to dig into its war reserve stocks to equip it, thereby depleting those stocks as the defence public service utilities and ordnance factories could not keep pace. Its vice chief controversially admitted to the parliamentary standing committee that war reserves had fallen short of the stipulated levels.

It appears that the government has finally taken a call and clamped down on further new raisings, affecting the corps gaining its full complement.

Hopes are now pinned on the study underway by the army training command on ‘optimisation’, whereby manpower for the completion of the MSC can be created from within existing resources rather than by an increase in recruitment, as was the case so far.

In other words, the MSC is not quite shelved. It can be completed without expanding the size of the army. In any case, the completion date had been projected at 2021, as the MSC was to be set up under the 12th army plan and part of the 13th army plan, part of the long term integrated perspective plan looking out to 2027.

Weapons acquisition has been underway for some two years now, with the 145 ultra-light howitzers cleared for purchase at the cost of $750 million under the fast track foreign military sales route in June 2016. In other words, the MSC completion is only postponed.

This begs the question as to why. 

The Modi government has been in election mode all through its tenure. Even as it has gained control of over a dozen states, it is hesitant to face national elections, with some of its initiatives, specifically demonetisation and the GST scheme being poorly conceived and implemented.

Its strategy of polarisation has been called out for taking India down the Pakistan route with religious majoritarianism potentially undermining governance and the rule of law.

Modi is well aware that the feel-good, high-wattage advertising of India Shining had not worked to preserve the pervious NDA government in power. He is also aware that the social outlays of the UPA government had allowed it to retain power in 2009.

In what is now an election year, Modi knows he needs to focus on the domestic and can do without the distraction of a border crisis, especially with a superior foe.

He does not need China in the political strategy underway of internal polarisation as he approaches the 2019 elections. Pakistan serves him well on this score.

Thus, he has temporarily toned down the assertive strategy in relation to China, even as he remains free to   revert to it once the elections return him to power.

The invitation to Donald Trump to grace Republic Day suggests India continues to take its United States partnership seriously, implying that another turnaround may be at hand once elections are out of the way.

If election compulsions are behind the decision to delay the MSC, placing the army in the line of fire by implying – through ‘sources’ – that the army’s organisational pathologies were behind the move to raise the MSC inflicts collateral damage on the army’s reputation.

The army had advanced a strategic rationale for the MSC, arguing that India faced a ‘two front’ threat. While India had the offensive capability to tame its western neighbour, the army argued that it required a similar capability for tackling its neighbour to the north.

The army wished to move from dissuasion to deterrence. While the two defensive divisions that were formed in 2009-10 enabled defensive deterrence or deterrence by denial, an offensive corps would provide the punch for deterrence by punishment.

The UPA reluctantly fell in line not because it agreed with this rationale but because of its well-known institutional weakness. The Modi government’s parliamentary majority gave it the political clout to  challenge the army’s MSC rationale but it chose not to because it believed that standing up to China would work to its political advantage.

Now, at the fag-end of its tenure, the BJP’s willingness to call into question the army’s strategic perspective and advance a reason that deflects any blame from itself for going slow on the MSC front marks a new political low.

The Modi government’s inability over the past four years to put out an overarching strategic doctrine accounts for its twists and turns in the strategic field, belying its claim to a credible record on defence. It must not be allowed to profit electorally from its false claims.   

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