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Posts Tagged ‘Indian independence’

The Kashmir Story: A Western Narrative

September 20, 2012 2 comments

Western academia and media has little difficulty in justifying military invasions of countries like Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan – but see moral issues with India’s annexation of Kashmir.

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General.  |  Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy - cartoons.ac.uk

On January 25, 1957, Kashmir was merged with India, ignoring a UN ruling. Harold Macmillan, Selwyn Lloyd, Richard Austen Butler hectoring Nehru on Kashmir. Dag is Dag Hammersjold, the UN Secretary General. | Cartoonist: Michael Cummings in Daily Express, 28 Jan 1957; source & courtesy – cartoons.ac.uk

Abdullah, the Lion of Kashmir as he enjoyed being styled, was a Muslim leader who, like Badshah Khan in the North-West Frontier Province, had been an ally of Congress in the years of struggle against the Raj, and become the most prominent opponent of the maharajah in the Valley of Kashmir. There his party, the National Conference, had adopted a secular platform in which local communists played some role, seeking independence for Kashmir as the ‘Switzerland of Asia’. But when partition came, Abdullah made no case of this demand. For some years he had bonded emotionally with Nehru, and when fighting broke out in Kashmir in the autumn of 1947, he was flown out from Srinagar to Delhi by military aircraft and lodged in Nehru’s house, where he took part in planning the Indian takeover, to which he was essential. Two days later, the maharajah – now safely repaired to Jammu – announced in a backdated letter to Mountbatten, drafted by his Indian minders, that he would install Abdullah as his prime minister.

Does Pakistan have any legitimate claim to any further territory or people  |  ZAHOOR'S CARTOON on Wednesday, July 13, 2005; source & courtesy: dailytimes.com.pk

Does Pakistan have any legitimate claim to any further territory or people | ZAHOOR’S CARTOON on Wednesday, July 13, 2005; source & courtesy: dailytimes.com.pk

For the next five years, Abdullah ruled the Valley of Kashmir and Jammu under the shield of the Indian army, with no authority other than his reluctant appointment by a feudatory he despised and Delhi soon discarded. At the outset, Nehru believed his friend’s popularity capable of carrying all before it. When subsequent intelligence indicated otherwise, talk of a plebiscite to ratify it ceased. Abdullah enjoyed genuine support in his domain, but how wide it was, or how deep, was not something Congress was prepared to bank on. Nor, it soon became clear, was Abdullah himself willing to put it to the test. No doubt acutely aware that Badshah Khan, with a much stronger popular base, had lost just such a referendum in the North-West Frontier Province, he rejected any idea of one. No elections were held until 1951, when voters were finally summoned to the polls for a Constituent Assembly. Less than 5 per cent of the nominal electorate cast a ballot, but otherwise the results could not have been improved in Paraguay or Bulgaria. The National Conference and its clients won all 75 seats – 73 of them without a contest. A year later Abdullah announced the end of the Dogra dynasty and an agreement with Nehru that reserved special rights for Kashmir and Jammu, limiting the powers of the centre, within the Indian Union. But no constitution emerged, and not even the maharajah’s son, regent since 1949, was removed, instead simply becoming head of state.

There is an increasing level of noise in Pakistan, that a 'Kashmir solution' was nearly finalized with India. Does this mean, that Pakistanis coming to terms with realities?  |  Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies.

There is an increasing level of noise in Pakistan, that a ‘Kashmir solution’ was nearly finalized with India. Does this mean, that Pakistanis coming to terms with realities? | Cartoon by Jimmy Margulies.

By now, however, Delhi was becoming uneasy about the regime it had set up in Srinagar. In power, Abdullah’s main achievement had been an agrarian reform putting to shame Congress’s record of inaction on the land. But its political condition of possibility was confessional: the expropriated landlords were Hindu, the peasants who benefited Muslim. The National Conference could proclaim itself secular, but its policies on the land and in government employment catered to the interests of its base, which had always been in Muslim-majority areas, above all the Valley of Kashmir. Jammu, which after ethnic cleansing by Dogra forces in 1947 now had a Hindu majority, was on the receiving end of Abdullah’s system, subjected to an unfamiliar repression. Enraged by this reversal, the newly founded Jana Sangh in India joined forces with the local Hindu party, the Praja Parishad, in a violent campaign against Abdullah, who was charged with heading not only a communal Muslim but a communist regime in Srinagar. In the summer of 1953, the Indian leader of this agitation, S.P. Mookerjee, was arrested crossing the border into Jammu, and promptly expired in a Kashmiri jail.

Pakistan's Faustian Deal with British-American clique has harmed Pakistan more than they have been able to harm Pakistan  |  Cartoon by Zahoor on February 15, 2011, in tribune.com.pk

Pakistan’s Faustian Deal with British-American clique has harmed Pakistan more than they have been able to benefit Pakistan | Cartoon by Zahoor on February 15, 2011, in tribune.com.pk

This was too much for Delhi. Mookerjee had, after all, been Nehru’s confederate in not dissimilar Hindu agitation to lock down the partition of Bengal, and was rewarded with a cabinet post. Although since then he had been an opponent of the Congress regime, he was still a member in reasonably good standing of the Indian political establishment. Abdullah, moreover, was now suspected of recidivist hankering for an independent Kashmir. The Intelligence Bureau had little difficulty convincing Nehru that he had become a liability, and overnight he was dismissed by the stripling heir to the Dogra throne he had so complacently made head of state, and thrown into an Indian jail on charges of sedition. His one-time friend behind bars, Nehru installed the next notable down in the National Conference, Bakshi Gulam Mohammed, in his place. Brutal and corrupt, Bakshi’s regime – widely known as BBC: the Bakshi Brothers Corporation – depended entirely on the Indian security apparatus. After ten years, in which his main achievement was to do away with any pretence that Kashmir was other than ‘an integral part of the Union of India’, Bakshi’s reputation had become a liability to Delhi, and he was summarily ousted in turn, to be replaced after a short interval by another National Conference puppet, this time a renegade communist, G.M. Sadiq, whose no less repressive regime proceeded to wind up the party altogether, dissolving it into Congress.

Abdullah, meanwhile, sat in an Indian prison for 12 years, eventually on charges of treason, with two brief intermissions in 1958 and 1964. During the second of these, he held talks with Nehru in Delhi and Ayub Khan in Rawalpindi, just before Nehru died, but was then rearrested for having had the temerity to meet Zhou Enlai in Algiers. A troubled Nehru had supposedly been willing to contemplate some loosening of the Indian grip on the Valley; much sentimentality has been expended on this lost opportunity for a better settlement in Kashmir, tragically frustrated by Nehru’s death. But the reality is that Nehru, having seized Kashmir by force in 1947, had rapidly discovered that Abdullah and his party were neither as popular nor as secular as he had imagined, and that he could hold his prey only by an indefinite military occupation with a façade of collaborators, each less satisfactory than the last. The ease with which the National Conference was manipulated to Indian ends, as Abdullah was discarded for Bakshi, and Bakshi for Sadiq, made it clear how relatively shallow an organisation it had, despite appearances, always been. By the end of his life, Nehru would have liked a more presentable fig-leaf for Indian rule, but that he had any intention of allowing free expression of the popular will in Kashmir can be excluded: he could never afford to do so. He had shown no compunction in incarcerating on trumped-up charges the ostensible embodiment of the ultimate legitimacy of Indian conquest of the region, and no hesitation in presiding over subcontracted tyrannies of whose nature he was well aware. When an anguished admirer from Jammu pleaded with him not to do so, he replied that the national interest was more important than democracy: ‘We have gambled on the international stage on Kashmir, and we cannot afford to lose. At the moment we are there at the point of a bayonet. Till things improve, democracy and morality can wait.’ Sixty years later the bayonets are still there, democracy nowhere in sight.

via Perry Anderson · After Nehru · LRB 2 August 2012.


The Lost Tagore

December 6, 2011 5 comments

After nearly 60 years of Congress propaganda, are Indian writers beginning to write realistic biographies?

RABINDRANATH TAGORE — A Pictorial Biography: Nityapriya Ghosh; Niyogi Books, D-78, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase-1, New Delhi-110020. Rs.1500.  Image source and courtesy - thehindu.com  |  Click for source image

RABINDRANATH TAGORE — A Pictorial Biography: Nityapriya Ghosh; Niyogi Books, D-78, Okhla Industrial Area, Phase-1, New Delhi-110020. Rs.1500. Image source and courtesy - thehindu.com | Click for source image

Tagore, like most writers, comes across as a man who was extremely sensitive to criticism — to the extent of refusing to forgive the critic. Saratchandra Chattopadhyay, the novelist who happened to ridicule Tagore’s story Yogayog , was shown no sympathy by the poet when his book Pather Dabi was proscribed by the British in 1927. Instead of extending moral support to his fellow-writer, Tagore wrote to Saratchandra saying that he should not expect mercy at the hands of the government, if he had written a seditious novel.

Even Subhas Chandra Bose found himself at the receiving end of Tagore’s unforgiving nature on occasions more than one. In 1928, a dispute arose in the City College of Calcutta after seven Hindu students were penalised for conducting Saraswati Puja in the hostel. They were accused of defying the hostel superintendent’s fiat that idol worship was not allowed in a Brahmo institution. When Bose took up the cause of the Hindu students, Tagore, an ardent Brahmo Samajist, did not take it kindly.

Shortly thereafter, when Bose wrote to Tagore from jail requesting an introductory letter to some eminent people in Europe — where he planned to go for medical treatment — the poet obliged him with just two bland sentences: “My friend Subhas Chandra Bose is going for his treatment. I earnestly hope my friends will be kind to him and help him.” And Bose tore up the letter. (via The Hindu : FEATURES / BOOK REVIEW : A human being rather than a flawless god).

‘Secular’ Saints

In post-Independence India, Congress propaganda painted Indian leadership in glorious style. All Congress leaders at the forefront of anti-British actions were elevated to sainthood – albeit secular saints.

One such leader was Rabindranath Tagore. To most of India Tagore is propaganda shell today. Based on this review, we may start getting to know the real people.

Is the tide changing?

If Patel …

December 1, 2011 7 comments

What if had we Sardar Patel, instead of Nehru. Sardar Patel would have still died on December 15th 1950?

It is forgotten today that close to 50 millions died during the British Raj - due to extermination by armed mercenarties; violence against ethnic groups; administration that was callous and indifferent . All that Gandhiji could do with some officials was produce post-facto guilt.  |  Cartoonist: Matt Wuerker; Pub. Date: 2010-06-16  Source and courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com  |  Click for source image.

It is forgotten today that close to 50 millions died during the British Raj - due to extermination by armed mercenarties; violence against ethnic groups; administration that was callous and indifferent . All that Gandhiji could do with some officials was produce post-facto guilt. | Cartoonist: Matt Wuerker; Pub. Date: 2010-06-16 Source and courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com | Click for source image.

If …

A popular past time with the Indian Right is to be pose a rhetorical question, “What if Sardar Patel had become India’s first Prime Minister – instead of Nehru?”

Sardar Patel would still have died on December 15, 1950 – less than a year after the Indian Constitution was adopted on January 26th, 1950. To any further ifs … I can only say,

If only such commentators would stop posing such futile scenarios.

Tactics and solutions rooted in their time, place and context. |  Cartoonist: John Deering  |  Pub. Date: 2010-07-27 |  Source & courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com   |   Click fopr source image.

Tactics and solutions rooted in their time, place and context. | Cartoonist: John Deering | Pub. Date: 2010-07-27 | Source & courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com | Click fopr source image.

Similarly

When people try to be speculative and start with …

I believe Gandhi would have admired the energy and community spirit in Zuccotti Park, but if he were at the protests, he would have taken up the human microphone and suggested some modifications.

First, Gandhi would reject the division between the 99 percent and the 1 percent. Gandhi did not believe in enemies: he worked on the premise that solutions emerged only from cooperation. This truth is often lost in discussions of his political tactics of noncooperation and civil disobedience. Noncooperation is best understood as an invitation to cooperate. “We are the 100 percent” may not make for a dramatic slogan, but from Gandhi’s perspective, it is the only way to achieve true and lasting change in society.

Gandhi would underscore that social transformation requires significant responsibility on the part of each of us. The world is not a static system or an unalterable one. Society exists in a certain way when we enter it, but it is our actions or our inaction that maintain the status quo, make things worse, or transform them for the better. Gandhi explained this most pointedly when he declared that the British Empire existed because Indians had let it exist. He would say the same thing about the drastic income inequality in America today: it is here because Americans collectively allow it to be here.

He would therefore encourage the protesters to focus their efforts on direct social assistance and positive political action. In regard to social work, the protesters’ eviction from their tents in the park may be a blessing in disguise. At the height of his prominence in 1930, Gandhi renounced his own home and political headquarters and later moved into the heart of rural India (via What Would Gandhi Do? – NYTimes.com).

You can bet your bad penny, that such people don’t have two ideas to rub together.

More than 2000 years ago, Buddha and Indian kings sent Buddhist monks to help local rulers implement Bharattantra - then known as Dharma. | Cartoonist: Mike Peters Pub. Date: 2007-10-11; source and courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com | Click for source image.

More than 2000 years ago, Buddha and Indian kings sent Buddhist monks to help local rulers implement Bharattantra - then known as Dharma. | Cartoonist: Mike Peters Pub. Date: 2007-10-11; source and courtesy - cartoonistgroup.com | Click for source image.

His time and place

Gandhiji too was a product of his times. Satyagraha, non-cooperation, boycott of British products had all been used as political weapons before Gandhiji used them.

The credit to Gandhiji is for his timing and public awareness before he used them. His uncanny knack to find situations to use these tactics was useful. His ability to find intellectual figures and ideas acceptable to the West (from Tolstoy, Thoreau, Jesus) as ‘citations’ for his cause and tactics, much criticized today, was useful then.

And that is what is important.

Right time, place and tactics.


Who will guard the guards?

November 18, 2011 2 comments

India must work on more freedom, less governance model of polity – unlike Desert Bloc systems that need more laws, more powers that limit freedom.

Anna Hazare has an empty agenda. Zero ideology. (Cartoon by Ajit Ninan; source and courtesy - timescontent.com). Click for source image.

Anna Hazare has an empty agenda. Zero ideology. (Cartoon by Ajit Ninan; source and courtesy - timescontent.com). Click for source image.

Santosh Hegde ran protection money cartel as Karnataka Lokayukta, claims IPS officer

A senior police officer who was part of the Karnataka Lokayukta during Justice N. Santosh Hegde’s tenure has alleged that the watchdog was steeped in corruption.

In an interview to a Kannada daily, IPS officer Madhukar Shetty said: “The officers have formed a cartel to extract protection money from a particular department in return for a free run.” Shetty, who was the SP in the Lokayukta’s police wing during Hegde’s tenure, is now in the US on study leave for two years. (via http://indiatoday.intoday.in | Santosh Hegde ran protection money cartel as Karnataka Lokayukta, claims IPS officer).

Seduced by the glamour of 'progress', media attention, moral 'superiority', the anti-corruption crusade is an empty jihad. (Cartoon by Ajit Ninan; Posted On Friday, April 29, 2011; source and courtesy - mumbaimirror.com). Click for source image.

Seduced by the glamour of 'progress', media attention, moral 'superiority', the anti-corruption crusade is an empty jihad. (Cartoon by Ajit Ninan; Posted On Friday, April 29, 2011; source and courtesy - mumbaimirror.com). Click for source image.

Even if this is untrue

Even if these accusations are not true, this brings an important question to fore: Is more governance an answer to a corrupt system?  So you put a Lokayukta on top of all the politicians – how do you ensure that he/she is not corrupt? In fact – as the IPS officer alleges, the Lokayutka was running his own “protection money racket.”

Pay me or else I will report you!

What India needs

Both Anuraag’s model of भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra or the Indic Triad of Freedom, presented in Operation Red Lotus, view Indic polity that makes freedom not governance as the basis for a political system.  The question of who will guard the guards was answered by devolution of power, not concentration of power.

As long as India continues to embrace Desert Bloc models of top-down hierarchical systems of polity, questions such as “who will guard the guards” remain relevant.

Empty ideas

The proposed लोकपाल or a national Ombudsman will aggregate this power even further!

Will Anna Hazare look within India for answers or continue to be seduced by western models with Indian names?

Will Anna Hazare listen?


Hindu Muslim Bhai-Bhai – End of an Era

September 1, 2011 1 comment

Urbane, educated, certain local and foreign elements served the British, Pakistani leaders, Indian princes, appealed to Hindus, Muslims using religion – and gained everywhere. But in each case, India lost.

Bhishma on the Bed of Arrows (image source and courtesy - http://www.harekrsna.com). Click for larger image.

Bhishma on the Bed of Arrows (image source and courtesy - http://www.harekrsna.com). Click for larger image.

My grateful  acknowledgments are due to His Highness the Nizam and His  Highness the ruler of Mysore for their princely donations. The  Nizam is a Mahomedan prince. Any contribution coming from him in aid of a work like the Mahabharata could not but  indicate His Highness’s enlightened sympathy for literature in  general, irrespective of the nation or the creed which that  literature represents.  As an administrator, Sir Asman Jah promises to rival the  fame of Sir Salar Jung. So long also as an officer like  Nawab Sayyed Ali Bilgrami is about the person of His Highness … (from the foreword of The Mahabharata of Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa (Anusasana Parva) Translated into English prose Published and distributed by Pratapa Chandra Ray Published 1893 by Bharata Press in Calcutta . Written in English).

What’s religion got to do with this?

Soon after the 1857 Anglo-Indian War of 1857, we had the remarkable instance of the Baroda Gaikwad commissioning a ‘Basra’ pearl carpet for the prophet’s tomb at Medina, which was recently auctioned for US$5.5 million.

And here we have the case of a Muslim king, the Nizam of Hyderabad, who partly funded the translation and publication of the Mahabharata in English.

Coming storm

But, this was soon to change.

In 1905, Bengal was partitioned along religious lines, by Lord Curzon. West Bengal, Orissa, and Bihar on one side and the erstwhile East Bengal and Assam were divided into the other part. All India Muslim League and All India Hindu Mahasabha followed. The official logic was that Bengal was too large a province to be administered by a single governor.

An India that seemed possible and probable was brokento two pieces - and a Kashmir legacy left behind.

An India that seemed possible and probable was broken in to two pieces - and a Kashmir legacy left.

This explanation did not account for communal boundaries – and did not explain Curzon’s tour of East Bengal in February 1904, where he promised a separate zone for Muslim Bengalis.

Protests against this partition in the form of Arandhan (no food was cooked across Bengal), boycott of British goods, and Tagore suggested that Raksha Bandhan would be observed in a spirit of brotherhood between Muslims and Hindus. Lord Minto’s ‘reforms’ in 1909, was the next major step in division of India along religious lines.

Simultaneously, soon after the publication of Tarana-e-Hind (Song of India) in 1905, of the sare-jahaan-se-achcha hai-hindustan-hamaraa fame, Iqbal was sponsored by British authorities for ‘modern’ studies in Europe in 1906. In England Allama Iqbal joined with Major Syed Hassan Bilgrami, ex-Indian Medical Service, to form and promote the Muslim League in England, in 1908.

The mechanics of divide et impera

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the text for Simla deputation, headed by the Sir Sultan Muhammad (the Aga Khan), who with seventy ‘representatives’ of the Muslim community, asked the Viceroy for elections along communal lines.

The immediate cause for the Simla deputation was the matter of language. Soon after 1857, at Benares in 1867, with the expanding role of the State, a case for using Devnagari script was made. This issue simmered and in 1900, the Urdu-Nagri Resolution was notified by Sir Anthony Macdonald, Lieutenant-Governor, United Provinces, in April 1900 giving parity to Hindi as a official-language along with Urdu in UP. Muslim paranoia was watered and nurtured by the British.

By creating claims and supporting counter-claims, responding to alternate parties, the British administration created frenzy around a simple administrative issue. Pakistani historians to this day see this as “the machination of Dr. Feelan, District Inspector of Schools and Anthony Mac Donald, then Collector of Muzaffarpur, the two bitterest antagonists of Urdu”.

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the Simla address - presented to the Viceroy on October 1st, 1906, calling for separate electorates. (Image source and courtesy - storyofpakistan.com).

Major Syed Ali Bilgrami wrote the Simla address - presented to the Viceroy on October 1st, 1906, calling for communal electorates. (Image source and courtesy - storyofpakistan.com).

The rest of the story, most of us know.

Behind the man

Major Syed Hassan Bilgrami, an academic from Lucknow, was also from the same family as Sayyed Ali Bilgrami. Sayyed Ali Bilgrami was selected for employment by Salar Jung, one of the nobles in Nizam’s kingdom.

Syed Ali Bilgrami (Image source and courtesy - themuslims.in).

Syed Ali Bilgrami (Image source and courtesy - themuslims.in).

Designated as Imud ul-Mulk Bahadur, he presided over the setting up of Dairatul-Maarifil-Osmania, Hyderabad (or the Osmania Oriental Publications Bureau) in 1888. For some time, he was the tutor to the future Nizam of Hyderabad,

Connections everywhere

Sayyed Ali Bilgrami donated his own collection of books, manuscripts and texts to form a core for the Asafia State Library (1891). Of the initial nearly 24,000 volumes, nearly 16,000 were Persian, Arabic or Urdu. Some 7600 were in English and other European languages. There was, of course, no place for any books in Hindi, Telugu, Sanskrit, Marathi, Kannada – which was the languages used by more than 95% of the Nizam Kingdom’s population.

Sayyed Ali Bilgrami studied at Kolkatta where he also learned Sanskrit – and later translated the Atharva Veda. That possibly explains Sayyed Ali Bilgrami links to Kisari Mohan Ganguli and the publication of Mahabharata by Pratapa Chandra Ray – and funding through the Nizam Government.

Soon after 1905, Sayyed Ali Bilgrami became an activist in affairs of Urdu and Muslim affairs. Another member of the family, active academically, was Syed Asghar Ali Bilgrami who published Ma ‘athir-i-Dakan (Hyderabad, 1925) in Urdu and another study in English, called Landmarks of the Deccan (Hyderabad, 1927).

Collaboration Chronicles

Urbane, educated, the Bilgramis served the British, Pakistan, Indian princes, appealed to Hindus, Muslims – and gained everywhere. Post-independence, some of the Bilgramis moved to Pakistan. A few members of the family chose to remain in Hyderabad, and other parts of India. Today, they can be found in the UK, Germany, UAE – and many emigrated to the US.

This translation of the Mahabharata, by Kisari Mohan Ganguli and publication by Pratapa Chandra Ray, for which one of the Bilgramis arranged funding, remains the most popular and accessible work of the last 100 years.

Below are book extracts from a rather revealing and well-researched work on British colonialism in India.

Chronicles of Collaboration. Excerpts from Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic identity: the search for Saladin  By Akbar S. Ahmed, pages 56 and 64). Click to go source at books.google.com

Chronicles of Collaboration. Excerpts from Jinnah, Pakistan and Islāmic identity: the search for Saladin By Akbar S. Ahmed, pages 56 and 64). Click to go source at books.google.com

The British Salt Tax. How Damaging?

July 29, 2011 3 comments

British taxes on salt made common table salt into a high-expensive commodity; created shortages which killed millions.

Gandhiji Dandi Salt March (March 12 - April 6, 1930) channeled seething rage on the salt tax into a frenzy. Click for larger image.

Gandhiji Dandi Salt March (March 12 – April 6, 1930) channeled seething rage on the salt tax into a frenzy. Click for larger image.

In 1770 famine hit Bengal. The land revenue had only been sporadically collected by the Mughals, especially in times of difficulty. After the Company took over the Diwani it was fully and ruthlessly collected. In 1969 the crop was poor. In 1770, after six months without rain, the crop almost totally failed. There has never been a failure of crops all over India. Local shortages can always be rectified if there is money to buy in grain. However, following the looting of Bengal by the Company and its employees, money was extremely scarce. The Company had no mercy; it took its dues in full. As people began to die, the amount of land revenue due from the survivors increased. It was so fiercely collected that many had to sell their seed corn. Out of the millions they collected, the Company gave back 90,000 rupees in famine relief — 90,000 rupees for 30,000,000 people.

Meanwhile the Company’s employees and their agents cornered the rice market. They bought up rice in those areas where the crop had not failed, warehoused it under armed guard, and sold to those with the most money. The price of a maund (82 pounds) of rice rose from about 0.4 to 13 rupees. The wealthier Indians exchanged their savings and jewellery for food. The peasants and labourers, who only earned 1 or, at most, 2 rupees a month, perished. Between one-third and one-half of the entire population — at least ten million people — died. The Salt Tax was, of course, still collected by the Company in full on the salt that was consumed. However, many could not afford to buy salt. In any case, the supply of salt was severely disrupted by the death of so many salt workers, bullock cart drivers and boatmen. …

The size of an average family was another point of contention. However, at the lower end of the scale, it is reasonable to assume that a small family, of two adults and three children, needed at least half a maund of salt, 41 pounds a year. Half a maund of salt, in 1788, retailed for 2 rupees or more — two months’ income for many families. The situation continued for many years and agrees with the evidence given to a Parliamentary Select Committee of 1836 by Dr. John Crawfurd of the Bengal Medical Service: ‘I estimate that the cost of salt to the rural labourer, i.e., to the great mass of the people of Bengal, for a family, as being equal to about two months’ wages, i.e., 1/6th of the whole annual earnings.’

(via The Salt Tax – Excerpted from The Great Hedge of India by Roy Moxham, Harper Collins, India 2001).

By the time Gandhiji picked up this peice of salt from the sea-shore, hundreds of thousands had died due to salt-starvation. Click for larger image.

By the time Gandhiji picked up this peice of salt from the sea-shore, hundreds of thousands had died due to salt-starvation. Click for larger image.

The Salt Famine

One more chapter in famines created by British misrule in India.
Roy Moxham’s book traces how extortionate taxes by the British Raj created virtually a salt famine – which also killed hundreds of millions. In today’s world, where salt has become common, easily available and cheap, it is not easily understood how salt imbalances killed many Indians.

The British Raj created a price regime where Indians could not afford to eat salt.

How Tax was Levied

Interestingly, Roy Moxham’s book details how the British tried for 10 years to create a thorny hedge, to prevent smuggling of cheaper salt from bordering kingdoms ruled by Indian kings. Rarely mentioned in history, it was referred to as the The Great Hedge of India or Inland Customs Line.

A customs line was established, which stretched across the whole of India, which in 1869 extended from the Indus to the Mahanadi in Madras, a distance of 2,300 miles; and it was guarded by nearly 12,000 men and petty officers…it consisted principally of an immense impenetrable hedge of thorny trees and bushes, supplemented by stone wall and ditches, across which no human being or beast of burden or vehicle could pass without being subject to detention or search. (Strachey and Strachey 1882, 219-20).

Gandhiji at the Dandi , Gujarat Salt March. Surrounded by adoring crowds, the end of the British Raj came in sight. (Image source - Associated Press File; Courtesy - pressherald.com ).

Gandhiji at the Dandi , Gujarat Salt March. Surrounded by adoring crowds, the end of the British Raj came in sight. (Image source – Associated Press File; Courtesy – pressherald.com ).

Birth of corruption

The Customs Line soon became a Corruption Line. Many small little Clive’s sprouted wings and extorted money for salt and other commodities. This corruption persisted, in a perverse way even encouraged by the Raj, in the other laws – in the money lending regulations, excise, customs, octroi – at every tax point.

Even as India was on the verge of independence from the British Raj, in September 1946, Nehru reminded his party of the “the colossal corruption and nepotism that are rampant everywhere.” In late 1945, Nehru said “Corrupt people have to be swept away by a broomstick,” while campaigning for Congress Party.

But much before this, way back in 1928, then a much-less famous man, wrote

Corruption will be out one day, however much one may try to conceal it; and the public can, as its right and duty, in every case of justifiable suspicion, call its servants to strict account, dismiss them, sue them in a law court or appoint an arbitrator or inspector to scrutinise their conduct, as it likes. – Mahatma Gandhi in Young India (1928).

Sarojini Naidu carried forward Dandi Salt March to the Dharsana Salt Works, Gujarat, in May 1930, which was covered by the international press in chilling detail. End of British Raj and the Salt Tax is close to end.  Click for larger image.

Sarojini Naidu carried forward Dandi Salt March to the Dharsana Salt Works, Gujarat, in May 1930, which was covered by the international press in chilling detail. End of British Raj and the Salt Tax is close to end. Click for larger image.


Desi Nostalgia For British Raj

July 26, 2011 2 comments
The conversation between Indian Swaraj Snake and the British Snake Charmer - Snake: I had hoped for something more congenial from this new instrument. Secretary for India: The Instrument may be new but I don't propose to change the tune just yet. Meanwhile you've got to be charmed with it, wether you like it or not. Note: British cartoon from Punch magazine, featuring British Labour Government as a Snake Charmer, the snake is called Swaraj which was the India Home Rule movement. (Image source and courtesy - collectorsprints.com.).

The conversation between Indian Swaraj Snake and the British Snake Charmer – Snake: I had hoped for something more congenial from this new instrument. Secretary for India: The Instrument may be new but I don’t propose to change the tune just yet. Meanwhile you’ve got to be charmed with it, wether you like it or not. Note: British cartoon from Punch magazine, featuring British Labour Government as a Snake Charmer, the snake is called Swaraj which was the India Home Rule movement. (Image source and courtesy – collectorsprints.com.).

Raj nostalgia among Indians

Many of the old Indian élite miss the British Raj. For its opulence, pomp, show and glitter. Forgetting, that the British Raj was built on groaning famines and grinding poverty.

The numbing atrocities were a bonus from the British Raj.

Raj legacy?

For glorification of the British Raj, Indian railways remains the favorite prop of the Raj elites and loyalists. A recent instance is a post on Indian railways that ends without once using the word British.

The writer Sunanda K. Datta-Ray, in his syndicated column remembers ‘a childhood spent in railway colonies’ when ‘trains were always on time’. This is not a fact and not even fiction.

So, where does Shri Datta-Ray gets his info from?

Sunanda K. Datta-Ray uses ‘instincts’ to illuminate us with his journalistic ‘revelations.’

Dens of iniquity

Indian railway systems of 20th century, during and after the British Raj, became increasingly notorious for accidents, lack of punctuality, high costs; and horribly elitist. This state of affairs continued for about four decades after Independence. It took LB Shastri’s resignation to bring home the fact that the responsibility for these accidents lay at the highest level – and not at at the end of rope.

While Sunanda K. Datta-Ray glorifies colonial railways (cocoons of permit and privilege) modern trains, faster and better, are dismissed as ‘upstarts of the railroad.’ Any which way, there is no satisfying Sunanda K Datta-Ray. He just cannot find anything good in modern India.

At least not in modern Indian railways.

In Britain, governing India was never seen as easy - and an intractable problem. (Churchill on the Problem Indian Elephant, with 'India Problem' across the elephants' forehead. Artist: Leonard Raven-Hill. Published in Punch Magazine - 8 March 1933. Source and courtesy - punchcartoons.com.). Click for source image.

In Britain, governing India was never seen as easy – and an intractable problem. (Churchill on the Problem Indian Elephant, with ‘India Problem’ across the elephants’ forehead. Artist: Leonard Raven-Hill. Published in Punch Magazine – 8 March 1933. Source and courtesy – punchcartoons.com.). Click for source image.

While people like Sunanda K. Datta-Ray were put up at ‘a good restaurant with khansamas in crisply beplumed turbans and gleaming brass medallions’, the paying underclass (like most of us), had to make do with Third Class ‘facilities’ – and treatment.

Dim lights, no fans, windows without safety grill, seats without even a cushion, dirty toilets and floors, corrupt TTEs, obsolete rolling stock, crumbling tracks, malfunctioning signal systems.

All the benefits of the Raj. The works.

Times change

Strangely, Shri Datta-Ray thinks that the removal of the viceregal saloon means ‘trains have been downgraded,’ and it is ‘likely that so have the rails and supporting infrastructure.’ Maybe, Datta-Ray should look up the meaning of non-sequitur.

Viceregal saloons were removed from Indian trains, because the successor to the British Viceroy uses a jet aircraft.

Plus the egalitarian impulse asserting itself. Notice the steady increase in ‘General Compartments’? Add voter-orientation. Instead of catering to an odd full-fare passenger in luxury class, it is more profitable to look after millions of economy class passengers.

Surrounded by servants, positions acquired by loot, power by massacres, the surviving elite pine for the age gone by. (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers, image source and courtesy - allposters.com). Click for source image.

Surrounded by servants, positions acquired by loot, power by massacres, the surviving elite pine for the age gone by. (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers, image source and courtesy – allposters.com). Click for source image.

Clearly, the focus during the British Raj was more on the comforts of the extracting elites, rather than on the economically declining masses. No wonder, ‘the main platform at Howrah used to be ablaze with the movers and shakers of the world.’

Metalosaurus

Railway engines that Sunanda K.Datta-Ray so lovingly talks about, were decrepit steam engines that were left by the British Raj.

Only in India. Iron hulks that clanked and wheezed their way to oblivion. Elephants were used for ‘handshunting’ – as shunting engines were not available. Sometimes humans too. Ramshackle steam engines pulled collapsing bogies, over crumbling bridges, on tracks that needed replacement. All this on trains that were late – and engines of corruption.

Life of leisure, massacre, extortion, servants, luxury, it is not surprising that some are nostalgic for that exploitative past. ((Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy - collectorsprints.com). Click for source image.

Life of leisure, massacre, extortion, servants, luxury, it is not surprising that some are nostalgic for that exploitative past. ((Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy – collectorsprints.com). Click for source image.

Seen from below, the railway underbelly was quite unlike Sunanda’s rose-tinted view from railway colonies.

Losers’ lament

Old elites, shoved aside after undue ceremony, isolate and magnify ‘consequences of mismanagement’ in post-colonial India. Diluting achievements of post-colonial India, the old elites confuse the legacy of ‘a creaking bullock cart packed with diseased and malnourished people’ that modern India inherited from the British Raj. Reluctantly, they admit the reality, of ‘an India trundling to the moon.’

As if the preceding ‘management’ was superior. India’s new élite, powered by voter-pandering and industrial oligarchies, is the current flavor of ‘mismanagement.’ It has overseen India climb out of the hell-hole of British Raj.

Step-by-excruciating-step – an unparalleled feat in world history.

A British magistrate 'surrounded' by 'supplicant' natives. How the British Empire 'brought' civilization to India? (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy - books.google.com). Click for source publication.

A British magistrate ‘surrounded’ by ‘supplicant’ natives. How the British Empire ‘brought’ civilization to India? (Image from “Curry & Rice” on Forty Plates: or the Ingredients of Social Life at “Our Station”; Published 1859; written by George Francklin Atkinson, a captain of the Bengal Engineers. Image source and courtesy – books.google.com). Click for source publication.

Old vs New

The earlier ‘management’, made-up of British overlords and Indian ‘sepoys’, releases a steady drip of deprecatory commentary. Now stripped of privilege, preferences, privacies, built at the expense of cornered and huddled Indian masses, the Indo-British élite has seen itself decline into obscurity and inconsequential.

Left to maunder over their decline, the discarded élite fall back on evaporating nostalgia, using  a ‘manufactured’ past, for running down a ‘better’ India. Taking aim at present pock-marked India, against a ‘doomsday’ tomorrow is always an easy shot.

As Hindu, Muslim and Sikh tigers tore each other, departing British rulers hoped that they will be called back soon - as 'Only The British' could 'rule' over India. (The Rope Trick. Artist: Leslie Illingworth. Published in Punch Magazine - 28 May 1947; Source and courtesy - punchcartoons.com). Click for image source.

As Hindu, Muslim and Sikh tigers tore each other, departing British rulers hoped that they will be called back soon – as ‘Only The British’ could ‘rule’ over India. (The Rope Trick. Artist: Leslie Illingworth. Published in Punch Magazine – 28 May 1947; Source and courtesy – punchcartoons.com). Click for image source.

Especially compared to the horrors of the British Raj.

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