Tribute to a Mother …

Posted on May 21, 2018. Filed under: Great Writing, Personalities |

That ‘Maverick’ Shashi Tharoor – on his Mother –

My mother just bought a new car. It is a gleaming red Nissan Micra, and she proudly drove it to the temple to get it blessed before journeying to the market and bank. Nothing exceptional about any of this—except that she is 82.

I have been pleading with her for years to get a full-time driver, but to no avail. She relishes her independence. A couple of years ago, she finally agreed to hire a driver for her frequent four-hour drives from Kochi to her tharavadu veedu (ancestral home) in Palakkad district.

But for shorter trips, she prefers to be behind the wheel, not in the back seat.

She also stubbornly refuses to hire full-time domestic help. She cooks, cleans and entertains guests. Yes, a maid comes in for an hour a day to scour the dishes and mop the floors, but that’s it. Self-reliance is my mother’s mantra. She doesn’t like depending on others’ help.

My sisters live abroad. My mother lives alone. In recent years, I have begged and pleaded with her to move in with me, but she declines. She comes for a few weeks at a time and gets restless. She likes being in control, enjoys her routine and her neighbours. She regularly phones a wide circle of friends and relatives.

She reads incessantly and borrows books from a circulating book club. She admits she feels lonely, but that has been the case since my father, a larger-than-life dynamo, passed away a quarter of a century ago at 63.

Her antidote to boredom is the internet. She is a tireless emailer and browser of articles, which she forwards widely. Recently, she has discovered WhatsApp and is unremitting when it comes to passing on morning greetings, trending videos, and, occasionally, ‘fake news’.

In her time anything that appeared in print was reliable, and she extends the same credulity to what she reads on the internet. But offline, her scepticism is her shield.

My mother and I have not always had the easiest of relationships. What mother and son do? I know my personal and professional journeys have challenged her. And, as I know too well, she is a direct, no-nonsense woman.

She can be charming if she wants, but generally does not waste time on pleasantries. When others feel the whiplash of her tongue, I shrug apologetically: “Welcome to the club.”

Growing up, I often felt that nothing I did was good enough for my mother. She had the highest expectations of me, which meant she never allowed me the luxury of self-satisfaction. She never congratulated me on my prizes or distinctions; they were expected, nothing more.

The result was that she drove me to excellence. She drove me, too, to debate and quiz competitions, to All India Radio to participate in children’s programmes, and to act in school plays. As the mother of two beautiful daughters, she pressed them to enter the Miss Calcutta contest in 1979. One sister won, the other was first runner-up. My mother expected nothing less.

My mother is multi-talented, but does not stay focused for long. She sings beautifully, but is untrained. A music director who heard her at a party once called her for an audition, but she chose an unwisely high-pitched song and, unused to the studio’s sound system, screeched herself out of a playback career.

She has tried pottery and ceramics. Every visitor to my home is awestruck by a Ganesh she painted on glass in the Thanjavur style, and yet she has given up painting. I dedicated my 2001 novel, Riot, to her: “tireless seeker who taught me to value her divine discontent”.

Still, she can be determined when she has something to prove. After my father passed away, she single-handedly built a house in the Coimbatore suburbs, overcoming innumerable obstacles, and named it for her childhood home. Her point made—that she could do it—she sold it thereafter.

She disapproved of my entering politics, and prays regularly that I quit and return to what she sees as respectability. But, she has queued up to vote for me each time, and when I faced a particularly tough race in 2014, gamely climbed onto my campaign wagon to show her solidarity and support.

She goes on vacations with her septuagenarian friends, pays tribute annually to Sai Baba’s samadhi at Puttaparthi and travels widely solo. She embodies the principle that you are only as old as you allow yourself to feel.

As she confidently soldiers on in her 80s, with two titanium knees, both eyes surgically freed of cataracts, but refusing to surrender to age, I feel an admiration welling up for her that I have rarely been able to express before. I grew up thinking of my mother as critical and temperamental.

But, I failed to see the steel beneath signs of her insecurity, brought on by the ill-health of an improvident husband.. Her strength in coping with such an early bereavement, independence of mind and body, faith in herself and determination to face life on her own are an extraordinary lesson.

I am lucky to have a mother who sets such an amazing example. Happy Mother’s Day, Mummy.


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The Jap NELSON …

Posted on May 12, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

Togo Heihachiro in uniform.jpgIs

During the Russo-Japanese War, in 1905, Marquis Togo Heihachiro astounded the World when his Naval Fleet destroyed the Imperial Russian Navy’s Baltic Fleet in the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905.

Just one hundred years earlier on Oct 21, 1805,  Nelson at Trafalgar, had defeated the French and Spanish Fleets, capturing 21 Ships.

The Russians lost eleven battleships – four more were forced to surrender and would end up as prizes of war. They also lost four of  eight cruisers and six of nine destroyers.  ……. The Japanese lost three torpedo boats.                                                                                                                The Battle was fought in the Tsushima Strait between Korea and S Japan. The Russian Fleet had traveled 18000 Nautical miles to reach the Far East. The Russians might just have escaped detection as their was heavy fog at night but the lights of a Hospital ship gave away the presence of the Fleet. The Japanese had additional advantage of wireless.

“The battle of Tsushima was by far the greatest and the most important naval event since Trafalgar”  Tōgō. just prior to the Battle signalled – ‘The Empire’s fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty’.

At the end of the Battle, the Russian Admiral, knowing his life would be forfeit in Russia addressed his men before Surrender, “You are young, and it is you who will one day retrieve the honour and glory of the Russian Navy. The lives of the two thousand four hundred men in these ships are more important than mine”.

It had all been too easy. Looking at Tōgō’s victory over one of the world’s great powers convinced some Japanese military men that with more ships, and bigger and better ones, similar victories could be won throughout the Pacific. Perhaps no power could resist the Japanese navy, not even Britain and the United States Russia was at the time the world’s third largest naval power.

Of the 36 Russian warships that went into action, 22 were sunk, six were captured, six were interned in neutral ports and only three escaped to the safety of Vladivostok.

In contrast at Pearl Harbor, the US lost 4 Battleships and one ex Battleship sunk, four damaged. three Destroyers and three  Cruisers were damaged. One Harbor Tug was sunk.

Isoroku Yamamoto, the future Japanese admiral who would go on to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor and command the Imperial Japanese Navy through the early parts of the Second World War, served as a junior officer (aboard Nisshin) during the battle and was wounded by Russian gunfire.
On his death in 1934, at the age of 86, Togo was accorded a state funeral. The navies of Great Britain, United States,Netherlands, France, Italy and China all sent ships to a naval parade in his honor in Tokyo Bay.

xxxxxxxxxxxxx …

World’s Mightiest Battleship


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How China became Red …

Posted on May 5, 2018. Filed under: Books, Personalities, Uncategorized |

Gen Bhimaya Writes – General of the Army, G.C. Marshall held almost every important appointments (Army Chief of Staff, Secretary of Defense, and Secretary of State, during the critical stages of World War 2.) He also was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the Congressional Gold Medal. Hailed as the Chief Architect of Allied victory in World War 2, Marshall was expected to bring about the reunification of China, under a non- communist leader; Chiang-ki-sheik..

Unfortunately, despite his prior knowledge of China and his experience in handling Chinese commanders during war, he was outwitted by Zhou-in-lai who was equally well versed in statecraft, having studied and mastered it in Sorbonne, France. In fact, Zhou even transformed Clausewitz’s concept of war literally and figuratively. (Clausewitz: War is a continuation of politics by other means   Zhou: All diplomacy is a continuation of war by other means.)

Marhall, it is believed, failed to understand the Chinese culture: While Marshall relied on tactical adjustments as a prelude to the final reunification of China, Mao, ably supported by Zhou, yielded to tactical agreements, while stubbornly maintaining the aim, that is, a reunification of China under communist ideology.

James D. Hornfischer ‘s  ‘The Man who Lost China”

Here are some things no one ever says about Gen. George C. Marshall today: That he was vain, dull, a bungler. That he was guilty of “criminal folly” in his handling of foreign affairs. That he was not only disloyal to his country but also part of “a conspiracy so immense and an infamy so black as to dwarf any previous venture in the history of man.”

These dumbfounding slanders, delivered by Joseph McCarthy on the floor of the Senate in the summer of 1951, are well and deservedly forgotten. But they reflected the tremors of their time, after the United Nations “police action” in Korea had spun beyond control, engulfing U.S.-led forces in a massive ground war with China—the same China that less than a decade earlier had been a U.S. ally.

What had Marshall, the now almost universally admired U.S. Army chief of staff who had contributed so much to victory in World War II, supposedly done wrong? He had dared and failed in something grand. In December 1945, he went to China as a special envoy of President Harry Truman in an attempt to broker peace between Chiang Kai-shek’s governing Nationalists and Mao Zedong’s insurgent Communists. In the end, though striving mightily, Marshall failed. As Mao drove Chiang and his forces to Taiwan and unified the mainland under Communist tyranny, his good name back home fell into a snake pit of paranoiac partisanship.

In “The China Mission,” Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, the executive editor of Foreign Affairs, skillfully tells the story of Marshall’s quixotic and forlorn diplomatic initiative. Deeply researched and written with verve, the book ought to be read by any U.S. foreign-policy maker practicing diplomacy in Asia. Marshall’s oft-forgotten experience in Asia has been covered before, notably in Forrest C. Pogue’s four-volume life (1963-87). But Mr. Kurtz-Phelan has performed a service in reviving this important episode with such aplomb, rigor and pace.

Three days before Christmas 1945, Marshall arrived at a small stone bungalow in Chongqing to begin a series of parleys aimed at ending 18 years of civil war. After an eight-year hiatus following the Japanese invasion in 1937, the conflict had resumed with a vengeance.

While there was idealism in Marshall’s heart—he was gravely concerned about the famine confronting ordinary Chinese people—power politics justified the effort too. Without a strong, unified China, Washington calculated, the Soviet Union could assert control of Manchuria, which it was already infiltrating and pillaging for industrial capital and infrastructure. Truman and Marshall believed a negotiated peace could serve American interests at home and abroad. Yet the American people in 1946 had little patience for expensive foreign projects.

Doggedly pushing through thickets of disagreement, Marshall won a quick cease-fire pact between Chiang and Mao’s emissary, Zhou Enlai. Chiang had come to the table because his extermination campaign against Communist forces failed once they retreated into China’s hinterlands. Though Mao professed to be a “Soviet pupil,” Stalin had humbled him, signing a peace treaty with Chiang’s government.

‘The China Mission’ Review: The Man Who ‘Lost’ China

On Jan. 22 Marshall handed Chiang a draft bill of rights, a procedure for a constitution and a plan for interim coalition government. He followed this up by securing an understanding to unify the rival Chinese armies under Chiang’s national leadership. “Marshall had achieved what even cynics were calling a miracle,” Mr. Kurtz-Phelan writes.

Praising him breathlessly were not only American journalists, who believed peace in their time was finally at hand, but his Chinese hosts as well. Chiang’s emissary called Marshall the midwife of unification, the leading strategist of the world and an ambassador of peace. Thus the American general departed Mao’s headquarters on March 5, 1946, flattered and hopeful.

But a stronger geopolitical tide was rising. On that very same day, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill gave his “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri. America had already resolved to contain Soviet Communism, of course. And the previous June, the U.S. War Department had concluded that the “Chinese Communists areCommunists,” in league with the movement directed from the Kremlin.

The three-man “truce teams” dispatched throughout China to effect the cease-fire soon encountered difficulty. Both Chinese sides considered the negotiations a stratagem for improving their position on the battlefield before the peace terms froze the lines in place. The cease-fire provided a rationale to press disputes that kept the fighting going.

Mr. Kurtz-Phelan’s brisk narrative handles all this as a compelling drama. He adeptly paints his characters as more than mere avatars of political positions. Zhou was polished and gracious, a talented actor and dissembler who had become a communist in Paris, where he learned to debate with the best the Sorbonne had to offer. With a “personality full of mobility,” he engaged Marshall with relish about “Lincoln’s spirit of freedom and Washington’s spirit of independence.” One of Marshall’s aides thought Zhou “could run General Motors.”

Mao himself needed the talents of Zhou in order to play Marshall, for the Communist leader was by his own admission emotional, arrogant and quick to point fingers. Mao’s strength was his mystical sense of himself and a massively ambitious ego fueled by the resentments of his upbringing.

Marshall emerges in “The China Mission” as a figure of considerable sympathy. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan shows him as a devout public servant, a consummate professional and a sincere idealist who relied upon the good faith of all with whom he dealt. He could command a room yet conveyed “abject humility.” His Olympian calm coexisted with what the author calls “a reputation for truth-telling, for an almost insolent integrity in rooms of yes-men.” He was less a battlefield leader than a superlative organization man. In World War I he had spoken truth to power—to Gen. John Pershing, who promptly made Marshall his aide. In World War II, his talents had helped defeat Hitler and Hirohito. But the problem of China, in the end, was beyond him.

His warm personal relationships with Chiang and Zhou did not seem to matter. Culture was part of it—at every turn, the American was desperate to make a deal. But the Chinese civil war had a momentum, a ruthlessness, all its own. The talents that made Marshall an effective leader in Allied war councils doomed him to failure with his cynical Chinese counterparts. “Each side overplayed its hand when momentum seemed to be in its favor and them came back to negotiate when the momentum had shifted, at which point the other side was no longer interested,” the author writes.

Before Marshall knew it, American troops stationed in China to oversee an orderly repatriation of Japanese troops were caught in the rekindled civil war. Marshall pressed on nonetheless. Unable to parse the murky relationship between Mao and Stalin, he gambled on good faith, hoping for the best. An honest broker trapped in a wicked game, Marshall was in the end whipsawed by cultural and political forces beyond his ken.

By November 1946, Marshall was all but finished. More than two-thirds of his truce teams had been recalled to headquarters for reasons of their safety. With Truman’s domestic poll numbers in the tank, the midterm elections saw a Republican sweep of Congress. Marshall flew back to Honolulu two months later, never to return.

His failure inadvertently offered up America as a scapegoat for the continuing misery of ordinary Chinese. The Communists exploited it to the hilt. Chiang, meanwhile, believing that Republicans were more sympathetic to him, was counting on the 1948 presidential vote to save his cause. But his reading of U.S. politics was no keener than Marshall’s reading of China’s. With a fatal overconfidence, and poor counsel, Chiang saw his Nationalist forces stretched thin, too heavily outfitted to pursue Mao’s guerrillas into the hills. The same day Chiang’s armies finally lost Manchuria, Truman won a close re-election.

Chiang’s collapse produced an opening for McCarthyites in Washington to push back against Marshall’s idealism. The general returned home to vicious gossip. “There have been rumblings and rumors around Washington to the effect that you have been taken in by the Chinese Communists,” his colleague Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer told him.

The Marshall Mission was, by any standard, a failure. The 13 months of frenetic negotiation led to all-out war, and a Communist government in Beijing that vexes America to this day. The question is whether it had any chance of succeeding at all. After World War II, with the U.S. carrying out a massive demobilization (Truman preferred the term “disintegration”), failure was probably foreordained. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan’s book is valuable for its reminder that diplomacy is futile when it is backed only by the frail regiment of hope.

When a chastened Marshall, as Truman’s secretary of state, turned his attention to Europe, he found that change and peace were possible in war-torn regions of the world. The success of the Marshall Plan was a godsend for the ravaged continent and a boon for America too. But U.S. largesse toward Europe summoned forth hungry supplicants around the world. When Chiang’s ambassador in Washington said there should be a Marshall Plan for China—his chorus of supporters posited the existence of a racist double standard—Marshall could only laugh. Mr. Kurtz-Phelan does so right along with him. “Predictions by American diplomats and journalists that the Chinese Communists would turn into mere ‘agrarian democrats’ proved laughable.” Mao’s victory made it possible for Stalin to approve North Korea’s invasion of South Korea.

We know how the movie ends: the Communists in control by 1949, Chiang defeated and exiled to Taiwan, a customer of American arms. After Moscow tested a hydrogen bomb and war broke out on the Korean peninsula, the Cold War hit full stride.


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Karl Marx at 200 …

Posted on May 5, 2018. Filed under: Personalities, The Germans, Uncategorized |

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Frederick the Great …

Posted on April 30, 2018. Filed under: Personalities, The Germans |

Austrian co-ruler Emperor Joseph II wrote –

“When the King of Prussia speaks on problems connected with the art of war, which he has studied intensively and on which he has read every conceivable book, then everything is taut, solid and uncommonly instructive. There are no circumlocutions, he gives factual and historical proof of the assertions he makes, for he is well versed in history.

Historian Robert M. Citino describes Frederick’s strategic approach:

In war…he usually saw one path to victory, and that was fixing the enemy army in place, maneuvering near or even around it to give himself a favorable position for the attack, and then smashing it with an overwhelming blow from an unexpected dir

ection. He was the most aggressive field commander of the century, perhaps of all time, and one who constantly pushed the limits of the possible.

Historian Dennis Showalter argues, “The King was also more consistently willing than any of his contemporaries to seek decision through offensive operations.”

Foresight ranked among the most important attributes when fighting an enemy, according to the Prussian monarch, as the discriminating commander must see everything before it takes place, so “nothing will be new to him.”

Thus it was flexibility that was often paramount to military success. Donning both the skin of a fox or a lion in battle, as Frederick once remarked, reveals the intellectual dexterity he applied to the art of warfare.

Much of the structure of the more modern German General Staff owed its existence and extensive structure to Frederick, along with the accompanying power of autonomy given to commanders in the field.

[According to Citino, “When later generations of Prussian-German staff officers looked back to the age of Frederick, they saw a commander who repeatedly, even joyfully, risked everything on a single day’s battle – his army, his kingdom, often his very life.”

As far as Frederick was concerned, there were two major battlefield considerations – speed of march and speed of fire. So confident in the performance of men he selected for command when compared to those of his enemy, Frederick once quipped, “A general considered audacious in another country is only ordinary in [Prussia]; [our general] is able to dare and undertake anything it is possible for men to execute.

Even the later military reputation of Prussia under Bismarck and Moltke rested on the weight of mid-eighteenth century military developments and the territorial expansion of Frederick the Great.] Despite his dazzling success as a military commander, Frederick was no fan of protracted warfare, and once wrote, “Our wars should be short and quickly fought…

A long war destroys … our [army’s] discipline; depopulates the country, and exhausts our resources.” Martial adeptness and that thoroughness and discipline so often witnessed on the battlefield was not correspondingly reflected on the domestic front for Frederick.

In lieu of his military predilections, Frederick administered his Kingdom justly and ranks among the most “enlightened” monarchs of his era; this, notwithstanding the fact that in many ways, “Frederick the Great represented the embodiment of the art of war”.

Consequently, Frederick continues to be held in high regard as a military theorist the world over.

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India – why it cannot progess …

Posted on April 29, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

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Facts belie Modi Xi Bonhomie …

Posted on April 29, 2018. Filed under: Chinese Wisdom, Personalities |

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Names – Roads, Scholarships, Towns …

Posted on April 26, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

As Received –

“What`s in a name?” Shakespeare asks in Romeo and Juliet, “That which we call a rose/ by any other word would smell as sweet.”

Perhaps that`s true if you are in love, and Romeo`s Montague house matters not a whit to Juliet who belongs to the rival house of Capulet. But if you are in politics, or assailed by political correctness, things look very, very different.

You may remember the furore caused by the change of name of Aurangzeb Road in Delhi to Dr A P J Abdul Kalam Road in August 2015. The decision was taken by the New Delhi Municipal Council in 15 minutes flat. That wasn`t the only speed record: Dr Kalam had died only the previous month, so commemoration came fast. Obviously sentiment was on his side. But was history?

Amazingly, just a couple of months earlier (in April 2015), the government told Parliament that many requests had been received for changing names, but the 1975 guidelines on the subject were against it. The guidelines said: “Changes in the names of streets/roads etc not only create confusion for the Post Offices and the public, but also deprive the people of a sense of history.” For that reason, suggested changes to the name of Aurangzeb Road like Guru Gobind Singh Road, Guru Tegh Bahadur Road and Dara Shikoh Road were rejected.

There was a bit of an historical irony involved here: both Tegh Bahadur (the ninth Sikh guru) and Dara Shikoh (the heir-apparent of Emperor Shah Jahan, and older brother of Aurangzeb), were executed by Aurangzeb. Would the history of India have taken a different turn if Shikoh, who, like Akbar, was secular in his outlook, defeated Aurangzeb in the battle for the throne?

Just there, you see how road names reveal so much of history, which is a good reason to keep names intact, whether they commemorate the good, the bad or the ugly.

But we are not alone in this. There have been recent controversies in England and in the United States about Cecil Rhodes (at Oxford University) and Confederate memorials (in the American South). Both raise interesting questions.

Cecil John Rhodes was a British mining magnate and S African politician who instituted and funded the Rhodes scholarship for post-graduate studies at Oxford in 1902. At the last count, eight Rhodes scholars (including Bill Clinton) went on to become heads of state and many others rose to high positions in many fields.

There are a number of Indians too, like Girish Karnad, Montek Singh Ahluwahlia and Siddhartha Mukherjee. The Rhodes is also important because it led to over a dozen international fellowships being set up, like Marshall and Fulbright

The problem with the scholarship lies in its charter: It was set up “for the furtherance of the British Empire, for the bringing of the whole uncivilised world under British rule, for the recovery of the United States, for the making of the Anglo-Saxon race but one Empire.”

In 1902, these must have seemed laudable motives for an Englishman; to-day they make you cringe.  Consequently, there has been a campaign to rename the scholarships and remove Rhodes’ statue from Oxford`s Oriel College.

How can you cancel the name of the benefactor of a scholarship? Did its nearly 9,000 beneficiaries, more than half of them still living, have to subscribe to Rhodes’ views? Should they have accepted the scholarships in the first place? We can think of a dozen similar questions of this nature, instead of which we should look at the positives: the character of the scholarship changed with time, and has done a world of good to students in 100 countries.

The US question is a bit more complex. Demands arose for the removal of statues of General Robert E Lee and Thomas ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, leaders of the Confederate army which fought in the American Civil War over the issue of slavery. These demands became stronger in the wake of the June 2015 Charleston Church shooting in which a white supremacist shot dead nine African Americans.

Now the questions: However repugnant and barbaric slavery was, wasn`t it part of American history? Wasn`t the Civil War an important milestone? Weren`t Lee and Jackson heroes for a large number of people? By removing the statues, and other Confederate memorials, aren’t you wiping out parts of the country`s history?

In this case, however, the American Historical Association has unexpectedly favoured the removal of the memorials on the grounds that in this case, to remove the monuments “is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history.”

This isn`t as specious as it sounds because their reasoning rested on the fact that most of these monuments were erected between the 1890s and early 1920s as well as late 1950s to mid 1960s, basically to assert white supremacy when civil rights movements were beginning to sprout. It`s a nuanced position, worth considering.

The arguments for and against will go on and on. And we haven`t even touched upon the case of Adolf Hitler!

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Adventures of a Techie turned Farmer …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

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Modi n Muslims …

Posted on April 25, 2018. Filed under: Personalities |

Mr. Dhume is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a columnist for – Modi’s failure to confront violence – 

When Indians elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi three years ago, he promised “development for all.” If he’s serious, he needs to do a better job of convincing members of India’s 172-million strong Muslim minority that this vision includes them.

You can hardly blame Indian Muslims for feeling jittery about the turn their country has taken. A stepped-up campaign against cow slaughter by the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party threatens the beef and leather industries, both of which employ Muslims in large numbers.

The BJP in March entrusted the leadership of Uttar Pradesh, India’s largest state, to Yogi Adityanath, a Hindu monk whose violent anti-Muslim rhetoric had until recently marked him as too extreme for such high office. Meanwhile, Mr. Modi, quick to tweet about far-flung tragedies across the world, finds it hard to stir himself to condemn violence against Muslims in unequivocal terms.

Mr. Modi’s supporters tend to bristle at the charge that he isn’t living up to his promise of even-handedness toward all Indians. They argue that in a country of India’s size and complexity, you can hardly expect the prime minister to comment on every stray incident.

Some believe that secularist media elites selectively highlight crimes where Muslims are victims while playing down those where they are the victimizers. They point out that in a speech last year, shortly after an attack on Dalits—the Hindu group formerly known as untouchables—Mr. Modi proclaimed that cow vigilantes angered him, and that most of them were social undesirables masquerading as cow protectors.

When he speaks, Mr. Modi tends to say the right things. Last year, he told a gathering of Sufi Muslims in Delhi that Islam “literally means peace.” He has sworn his commitment to India’s secular constitution by calling it his government’s “only holy book.” Apart from Mr. Adityanath, most of Mr. Modi’s picks for top positions—cabinet ministers and chief ministers of states—have been sober figures who tend to choose their words carefully.

Mr. Modi’s fans see nothing amiss in his silence now. He may not have condemned the murder in April of Pehlu Khan, a 55-year-old Muslim dairy farmer who was beaten to death by a mob that accosted him on a highway while he was transporting cows for his business.

But by the same measure, the prime minister has also remained silent about a bloody feud in the southern state of Kerala, where communist thugs sometimes murder workers from the Hindu-nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, the group that supplies the BJP with both foot soldiers and top leadership.

It’s unreasonable, some party members argue, for Muslims, who tend to oppose the BJP, to expect special attention. Under party president Amit Shah, the BJP has figured out a way to win elections without their votes.

The trouble with all these arguments is simple: They are parched and lawyerly, more suitable for a petty block-level politician than for the leader of the world’s largest democracy. That Mr. Modi condemned cow vigilante violence last year shouldn’t foreclose his condemning it again this year, or demanding that BJP-ruled states clamp down on it.

And while it’s true that the prime minister needn’t comment on every act of violence in a nation of 1.3 billion people, it’s equally true that he must speak up clearly on those that stand out.

Last month, vigilantes in the BJP-ruled state of Jharkhand lynched seven people—four Muslims and three Hindus—in two separate incidents on the same day. One of the victims, Mohammed Naeem, was captured on camera pleading for his life in a blood-drenched undershirt before being killed.

Police were on the scene, but they only watched. They were reportedly too afraid of the mob to interfere. Like several other victims of recent violence, Naeem was a cattle trader, though in this case the murder appears to have been spurred by false rumors about child-kidnapping gangs spread over the messaging service WhatsApp.

Had Mr. Modi condemned the Jharkhand killings and condoled with the victims, Hindu and Muslim alike, it may have assuaged the fears of those Muslims who, not unreasonably, see a pattern in such crimes. Not doing so opens the prime minister to the charge often made by his opponents that he cannot speak up clearly against anti-Muslim violence because some of his party’s supporters rejoice in it.

For India, the long-term consequences of allowing religious minorities to lose faith in the secular state could be disastrous. Regardless of their voting preferences, the government cannot simply wish away the 14% of Indians who are Muslim.

Some BJP supporters may view Islam as an alien faith and fervently wish that Muslim conquerors had not set foot in Hindu India a thousand years ago. But this only makes it more important for Mr. Modi to distance himself clearly from the toxic anger they represent.

If the prime minister really believes in “development for all,” then he shouldn’t be miserly about reassuring his fellow citizens that he means it.


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