Sub-nationalism and Bihar – The missing link

Unlike Europe, Indian nation-state is not a homogeneous entity based on a single language or culture, and therefore it is called nation-state with multiple nationalities. The Indian nationalism was a product of anti-colonial sentiments and thus brought together the vast geography of the subcontinent under the common umbrella of “freedom movement”.

But post independence, when anti- colonialism was not an issue, people started looking at other things to unify themselves. Yes, the Indian identity was already there but a vast country like India with so much diversity could not obviously find a common ground. And so emerged the sub-nationalism of the states/provinces. Fearing further partition initially our founding fathers were hesitant to establish provinces on linguistic lines but gradually they did so via the SRC of 1956. Unlike the previous haphazard administrative units of the English, these linguistic provinces proved quite useful in improving the efficiency as people could associate themselves with the state in form of say Marathi or Tamil or Malayali identity etc. The shared history, culture and language provided an impetus to the people for working towards the development of their state. India as a cumulative of these multiple nationalities gradually moved on the path of modernization.

The symbols of sub-nationalism in India can broadly be seen in three realms. Firstly, the obvious language one. The creation of linguistic provinces is the case in point. Secondly, the cultural one , which includes festivals (like Ganesh chaturthi Durga Puja etc), dance forms (Bharatnatyam, Garba etc), food habits (Idli-Dosa, Lassi, Bajre ki roti etc). The name of each of these can clearly be associated with their states and thus serve as the cultural symbols. Thirdly, the personalities, which are intricately connected to the pride of those states like Chatrapati Shivaji (Maharashtra), Ram Mohan Roy and Rabindranath Tagore (Bengal), Ranjeet Singh (Punjab), Periyar (Tamil Nadu) etc.

The states which have witnessed substantive sub-nationalism like Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra, Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab etc are relatively more developed and have progressive culture unlike the those which lacked it , like Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar etc. Here I’ll focus more on Bihar, its lack of sub-nationalism, underdevelopment and the way forward.

Hindi heartland in general and Bihar in particular have a unique issue with the language. The official ‘kadhi boli’ Hindi , is not spoken among the masses and the dialects which they speak do not get official representation. Bhojpuri, Magahi, Awadhi, Haryanvi all are dubbed as the offshoots of Hindi, thus homogenizing the vastly different cultural groups. Bihar itself is broadly categorized in three linguistic groups , namely Bhojpuri, Magahi and Maithili (if we include Angika and Vajjika as part of Maithili). The Hindustani which formed the basis of separation of Bihar from Bengal and which could have been more accommodative and flexible in post-independence Bihar was blown away in the Indo-Pak division. Thus, in brief, linguistic sub-nationalism has not been possible in post-independence Bihar.

As language forms the basic core of any nationalism, its Hindi Chauvinism did create the divide among the federal polity of India but at the same time brushed aside the rich regional linguistic traditions of the region. The people could not emotionally connect to the Sanskritised Hindi and thus could feel no unity among them. The love for state identity called “Bihari” was a far cry. After our identity after Indians were just reduced to our caste identities.

Just like the language, the state of Bihar also lacked any unifying cultural symbol as well as any towering personality which could be claimed as Bihari pride. Here, you may argue about the glorious past of Bihar and talk about Jainism, Buddhism, Nalanda University, Chandragupta Maurya, Aryabhatta etc. But these are not intricately associated with Bihari identity. They are located way back in the past and serve as the emblems of rich Indian civilization than the Bihari identity .Modern leaders like Rajendra Prasad too have been more national than provincial. Even if they could have been, the attempts have never been made. Thus here too “nationalism” dominates over “sub-nationalism”. Again Bihar sacrifices its history for the national cause.

Other plausible reasons which I find for lack of Bihari sub-nationalism are – 1) it has been centre of pan India empires unlike south which never directly came under centralized rule. The decentralization helped the Southis to preserve their culture better than the north. 2) British policy of direct annexation and Permanent settlement – again it led to centralized control and imposition of imperial culture. Rajasthan and some parts of south where spared of this direct annexation, which again allowed regional culture to flourish. Permanent settlement, as opposed to Mahalwari and Ryotwari was the most draconian and it changed the tiller-zamindar relations forever. 3) Primacy of political movements over social movements – Bihar and UP have been on the forefront of political movement right from non cooperation to the mandir-mandal politics. These political movements without the backing of social wisdom created animosity among the caste groups, which can be seen even now. Caste relations continue to dictate the politics here and thus make difficult to forge a common Bihari identity. Contrast it with Tamil Nadu , which saw strong anti Brahmin movement. But after the reform, all the groups came together under the umbrella of Dravidian movement.

Finally, after decades of lack of Bihari identity, the state is gradually searching for common symbols which can truly define Bihar. One such symbol is the Chaath Puja, which has got immensely popular across the globe in the last 6-7 years. Now the Biharis don’t shy away from identifying with the state which earlier they used to do (maybe because of Lalu’s regime, he damaged Bihar’s reputation immensely). But still a lot needs to be done to break the stereotypes, to move away from caste centered identity and politics and have the urge to work for the state.

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Dr Sachchidananda Sinha – The Architect of Modern Bihar

Most of us have heard the name of Sachchidananda Sinha only as the interim President of the Constituent Assembly. However, it was no achievement for him, as the senior most member of the assembly was to act as interim President. His achievements lie in his contribution as an educationist, politician and an ardent advocate for the cause of Bihar. He was instrumental in the formation of the province of Bihar and its subsequent rise in the national arena.

Dr Sinha was born in Arrah district of present day Bihar in a relatively well off Kayastha family. After his early education in Arrah school, he went on to complete his graduation from Patna College. Later in 1889, he moved to London for studying Law. It was there he came in contact with leaders such as WC Bannerjee, George Yule, SN Bannerjee etc. He even campaigned for Dadabhai Naroji , who was fighting elections to enter the British House of Commons.

But what marks a turn in his life is the experience he had in Britain regarding his birthplace Bihar. There he faced an identity crisis as he found that no one even knows about a place called Bihar, as it was a part of Bengal Presidency. He himself recalls it as, “It would be difficult for me to convey the Bihari of today the sense of shame and humiliation which I, and some equally sensitive Bihari friends , felt while prosecuting our studies in Britain, on realizing that we were people without any individuality, without any province to claim as ours , in fact without any habitation with the name.” ( His British friends used to show him the map of India, asking if there’s any place called “Bihar” )

Not only the Englishmen, while returning from Britain he found a Punjabi man, who again was unaware of any place called Bihar. After elaborating in detail they would recognize it as Bengal. Further on returning Bihar, he found a Bihari policeman at railway station with the batch of “Bengal Police”. All this events along with the administrative, political, and historical discrimination and neglect let Sinha to make a resolve of creating a separate province for the Biharis.
In the ancient times Bihar was the centre of Indian civilization, with the seat of power of powerful dynasties like the Haryanka, the Maurya and the Gupta. It not only saw the great rulers in form of Bimbisara Ashoka, Chandragupta, Samudragupta etc but was also the centre of socio- religious movements in form of Buddhism and Jainism. The great scientists like Aryabhatta, Bhaskaracharya, Varamihira, charak etc were the products of this great land.

Bihar faced a reversal of fortune after the fall of Gupta empire with the centre of power shifting towards Kannauj, Agra and Delhi in the west and Bengal in the east. It was reduced to just a buffer zone between the eastern powers like Palas and Senas in Bengal and the Rajputs and Sultanate in Agra-Delhi. Its development both cultural and economic was compromised as there was no state patronage. As a result Bihar was pushed into oblivion.

Sher Shah with his brief interregnum after defeating Humayun did try to restore Bihar’s glory but again the rise of Mughals in Agra pushed Bihar to margins. Although Akbar carved the suba of Bihar but it was sandwiched between the politically important subas of Awadh and Bengal. The treaty of Allahabad (1765) , following the Battle of Buxar was the final nail in the coffin for Bihar as it Diwani rights along with Odisha was given to the English company at Calcutta. From here on Bihar became completely subordinate to the Bengal.

In the decades to come, feudal Bihar which had faced historical neglect was overrun by the “newly enlightened” Bengalis, who controlled both economic and political activities of Bihar. They dominated the educational institutions as well as the government services. Even the Patna College which was setup to promote higher education in Bihar was dominated by the Bengali bhadralok.

The feudal minded people of Bihar are also partly to be blamed for their antipathy towards English education, but at the same time it needs to be acknowledged that the enlightened Bengalis did not in any way try to impart education to their Bihari “brothers”. All they were interested in was to dominate the political and economic landscape of Bihar. Even if there were some educated Bihari men like Govind Charan, they found jobs with much difficulty as everything was tilted in favour of Bengalis.

Further Bihar was culturally and linguistically completely different from Bengal and their union was only an artificial one. All these things were argued by the advocates of Bihar which besides Dr Sinha, included the likes of Mahesh Narayan, Hasan Imam etc. Together they published the newspaper called “The Bihar Times” , which tried to mould the public opinion in favour of a separate state. In fact Dr Sinha called the birth of this newspaper as the starting point of Bihari Renaissance.

The dream of a separate province of Bihar received a setback in 1905 when Lord Curzon went on to partition Bengal on communal lines to weaken the National Movement (However, official reason was administrative convenience). As like any other Indian, Bihari leaders did criticize this communal partition and Dr Sinha in ‘Hindustan Review’ came up with the article titled “The Partition of the lower provinces -an alternative proposal”. He along with Mahesh Narayan also came up with the book titled “Partition of Bengal and Seperation of Bihar”, in which they denounced the Bengal partition of 1905 and instead argued that separating Bihar and Odisha would be a better decision from administrative point of view. For that they provided statistical data of representation in government services and also the linguistic and cultural angle.

Gradually, the government also came to recognize the discrimination and poor representation of Biharis and thus made knowledge of Hindustani language compulsory for serving in Bihar.

In 1910, Dr Sinha was elected to the Bengal Legislative Council, where he strongly raised the demand for the separate province of Bihar. He further convinced Ali Imam to become part of Governor General’s Executive Council, which was again used for arguing the cause of Bihar. All these efforts finally led Lord Hardinge to annul the communal partition of Bengal of 1905 and announce the creation of separate province of Bihar and Odisha in the Dilli Durbar of 1911. Thus, on 1 April 1912 , the province of Bihar and Odisha came into being with Patna as its capital. It was in fact the first British Indian province to be carved out on linguistic basis (Andhra Pradesh was the first one after independence).

Dr Sinha continued to work for his motherland in the years to come. Some of his achievements after the creation of Bihar include- first Deputy President of Central Legislative Assembly (1921), member of Governor’s executive council of Bihar and Odisha as well as President of its Legislative council, chairman of Odisha Boundary Commission (1930) and Vice Chancellor of Patna University from 1936 to 1945.

Failed US foreign policy and the crisis of “Middle East”

With the renewed confrontation of long time foes US and Iran, following the series of events – withdrawal of US from “Iran deal”, refusal of oil sanction waiver to select countries (including India), recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory by US, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as “terrorist organization” , and the subsequent Iranian retort, the Gulf and Middle East (West Asia) is yet again at brink of war, which may have global ramifications.

If we go beyond the invincible American propaganda and analyse deeply the American policy in the Middle East in the past 40 years or so, it becomes quite clear that US is mainly responsible for all the mess which we witness these days ranging from Afghanistan to Syria and from al-Qaeda to ISIS. US policy has been complete failure, both from American as well as global perspective. What it has led to is just the highly volatile and unstable situation, deeply divided society, loss of millions of lives , global refugee crisis and rise of non-state actors.

Let’s look at some of the classic American misadventures and my argument that why continued US intervention in the region is uncalled for.

  1. Afghanistan

It all started with the land which is called “graveyard of empires”. Afghanistan historically has been the junction between great empires in Turkey, Persia, Mongolia and India, but no power could ever exercise complete control over it due to the difficult terrain and paucity of resources. But its strategic location has been the reason for the warring factions to compete for this landlocked area, as it provided them with much needed line of defence.

The British although a military giant couldn’t conquer Afghanistan even at its peak but was able to control its foreign affairs against the rival Russia. After the decline of “Empire” era, Russia sought to spread its communist revolution to this land and thus led a ground invasion in 1979.

From here on the rise of monster called “Mujahuddin” or “jihadists” started taking shape. US, which had already tasted severe defeat in Vietnam, was now hell bent on making Afghanistan, “the Vietnam” for the Soviets. Instead of directly fighting the Soviets, US tried to rouse the extreme religious feelings among Afghan tribals against the “Godless invader”. They armed the Mujahuddins with the latest weapons to wage the holy war. Not only this the radicalized youth from across the Islamic world ranging from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia , who were encouraged to move to Afghanistan to fight the holy war (jihad).

This was a call something like the medieval times, in which religion was invoked by Sultans in order to fight the war, which shouldn’t have the place in late 20th century. But unfortunately, the cold war politics dragged into itself the Islamic fundamentalism.

With the help of proxy wars , US although was able to force Soviet Russia to withdraw from Afghanistan, but at the same time it completely decimated its secular power structure which existed till 1978. As US had no long term plans for Afghanistan, other than driving Soviets out, the lack of any central authority led to civil war in Afghanistan. Out of the warring Mujahuddin groups emerged the all powerful Taliban which ascended the throne of Kabul in 1996. From among the several militant groups promoted by the US emerged the al-Qaeda, led by Laden.

US, obviously had no problem with all this until and unless, it itself came under fire by the fundamentalists. The bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania followed by the 9/11 attacks, established al-Qaeda as a potent force to reckon with.

What followed next was ground invasion of Afghanistan, to rout the Taliban regime and capture Laden. US as expected toppled Taliban regime within three months but as is said about “graveyard of Empires”, it got struck there. The American army , were now beaten in their own game by the guerrilla war tactics of Taliban militants. Given the geography of Afghanistan, US could never exercise full control, especially in the rural Afghan areas.

In the meanwhile, Taliban expanded itself not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and now poses a serious challenge to the governments in both these states. Having exhausted its resources for years and realised the futility of their stay US started withdrawing in 2014 , the process which is now continuing under Trump. Now US, seeks to have “talks” with the same Taliban, as it couldn’t defeat them.

Among all the power game, the ultimate sufferers are the people of Afghanistan, who once enjoyed much peace and freedom, now live under perpetual fear of fundamentalist forces.

2. Iraq

The story of Iraq is also much like Afghanistan, the ground invasion on the pretext of alleged “chemical weapons” , the power vacuum and subsequent rise of ISIS.

Iraq, presents a completely confused picture of US foreign policy. Although not big supporters of Saddam Hussein, US justified its invasion of Iran in 1980 , obviously due to it’s more antipathy towards Iran. Not only US but Soviet Union too, helped Saddam in his war against the Iranians. But in spite of all the efforts war ended in a stalemate, much against the US wishes. This should better be acknowledged as the diplomatic defeat of US.

The Gulf war of 1991 was high point for US, both military and diplomatically. It was successfully able to liberate Kuwait, cripple Saddam and yet not remove him from power. US policymakers under senior Bush rightly realised the need of Saddam, in order to check Iranian ambitions.

But then again the blunder came in 2003 when junior Bush ventured upon invading Iraq and removing Saddam on the flimsy grounds of alleged use of chemical weapons. This greed for total control over Iraq, in order to gain control over its resources, was to have serious implications in the years to come. For few years American military had a strong presence in Iraq, but then its gradual withdrawal was to lead to struggle for power as happened in case of Afghanistan.

The weak regime at Bagdad, gradually lead to rise of ISIS by 2013, which controlled large areas in Iraq and Syria. The devastation caused then by the ISIS and the allied forces, brought misery to the people of Iraq. With the rising tensions between US and Iran, Iraq needs to fear again as it will be used as the prime base for US military to launch attacks on Iranian territories.

3. Iran

The latest foreign policy misadventure was done by Trump regime last year with its withdrawal from the “Iran Nuclear Deal”. The deal made after much negotiations was expected to bring relative peace in the region, which in fact it was doing with Iran adhering to much of the regulations.

But unexpectedly, the war mongering Trump administration in order to please its core voter base went on to withdraw from the deal unilaterally (withdrawing unilaterally has become tradition under Trump), much against the wishes of its European allies.

Given the history of bad blood between US and Iran, which could be traced back to Iranian revolution of 1979 and subsequent hostage crises, the current provocation by Trump is not going to help the peace process in any manner.

In the last 40 years, the proxy war led by Iran and US (and its allies) have caused lots of death and destruction right from Lebanon to Yemen. Presently, if their is a war between the two, it again would be a foreign policy disaster for US.

Although US has an upper hand over Iran militarily, but what is the guarantee that Russia will not involve itself, just like that of Syria. Besides history also needs to be taken into account. The nacently revolutionized Iran in 1980 was successfully able to resist Saddam, who was then backed by both US and Soviet Russia.

Given the strategic importance of Strait of Hormuz and the whole gulf at large, any full scale war will lead to a global oil crisis , which could rattle the markets across the globe. Besides this an unstable Iran , will be more dangerous than Afghanistan and Iraq, Trump should keep this in mind.

4. Syria

Before 2011, US used to align with any sort of regime be it the totalitarian states like Libya and Egypt or the monarchy such as Bahrain and Jordan, given that its economic interests were fulfilled. It at least did not try annoy its friendly dictators. The policy had paid US dividends for long and maintained a relative peace in these nations.

But come 2011 Arab Spring, Obama administration tried to reverse its previous policy. It deposed its friends in countries such as Libya and Egypt, thus leading to long political instability in these countries. It tried the similar experiment in Syria but failed thoroughly. Assad refused to bow to US diktat and what followed next was years of proxy civil war. The civil war in the meantime also paved way for the rise of ISIS.

With the active support of Putin, Assad was able to crush both the rebels and the ISIS but all this came at a huge cost. Much developed and growing Syria was completely rattled with millions of deaths , widespread poverty, hunger and a severe global refugee crisis.

Finally, having realised the futility of war after killing millions, Trump finally decided to withdraw last year, adding to its list of failed misadventures.

After looking at all the cases and several others which are their by products in several Mideast countries, it can be concluded that continued intervention of foreign superpowers have been the reason of the sorry state of affairs. There is obviously no immediate solution to this but the global and regional superpowers must realise that their continued misadventures and involvement in domestic affairs of any country is not going to help anyone other than aggravating death and destruction.

Need to revise the criteria for “Special Category Status” (SCS)

With the recent demand by Odisha CM, Naveen Patnaik , following the devastating Cyclone Fani, the issue of Special Category Status has yet again drawn the national attention. Well it’s not a new demand , it keeps popping up now and then by one or the other state since the last two decades. The issues has become poll plank in several elections, yet public knows very less about SCS except that so and so leader is demanding it. Before brushing it aside as electoral gimmick, as many of the “economists” do, we should delve deeper and understand the nature of such demand.

First of all let’s be clear that SCS is quite different from Special Status (Article 370) and Special provisions (Article 371). These two are conferred constitutionally, while SCS has nothing to do with the constitutional provisions. Article 370, provides for a separate constitution for the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Article 371 , on the other hand has intra-state provisions for different areas lying in the same state, say for Marathwada and Vidharba in Maharashtra or the administration of tribal areas in the state of Assam.

SCS, unlike the previous two was constituted by National Development Council (NDC), which is itself a statutory body. It was done so on the recommendation of 5th Finance Commission which was headed by Mahavir Tyagi. Initially only three states were part of it, namely, J & K, Assam and Nagaland. Gradually due to redrawing of boundaries the no of states went on to 11, which includes Meghalaya, Mizoram, Manipur, Arunachal Pradesh, Sikkim, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh.

It can be defined as the classification given by the Centre to assist the development of those states which face geographical and socio-economic disadvantages like hilly terrain, strategic international borders, economic and infrastructure backwardness, sizable tribal population and non – viable state finances. Thus, this mechanism seeks to maintain the federal balance in growth and development by giving a helping hand to the disadvantaged one.
The economic federalism of the country allows them to get a fairly larger share than the normal states that too at a concessional rate. Of the National Cental Assistance, 30 percent of funds are for SCS states, of which the grants to loan ratio are in form of 90:10, as compared to 30:70 in case of normal states. The unspent money dosen’t lapse for them and besides they are also entitled for Central Special Assistance.

Besides the 11 states already designated as SCS states, the other states demanding SCS are Bihar, Chattissgarh, Odisha, Telangana, Rajasthan, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh. Of these Andhra, Bihar and Odisha are quite vocal in their demand, which however, has been declined by Centre time and again citing their ineligiblity for the same. Centre further contends that as the states share has been extended to 42 percent from 30 percent by the 14th Finance Commission, so now SCS is no longer relevant. But the fact remains that even then the funds are allocated in proportion to the states and so it will not lead to any relative advantage for the backward states.

Let’s examine the needs and requirements of the three demanding states ,viz Bihar , Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, based on the existing criteria and the possibility of any new criteria for the same.

  1. Bihar

Of the given criteria, Bihar fulfills two of them – economic and infrastructure backwardness and non-viable state funds. 36 of the 38 districts of Bihar are reported backward and the state of infrastructure still remains quite poor in varying aspects of health, education, roads etc.

Due to largely agrarian economy and the paucity of industrial growth, state finances are quite weak with much dependence on Centre. In addition the bifurcation of state, led to all the resource rich areas going to Jharkhand, thus further aggravating the problem. Bihar certainly needs to be compensated for this loss.

Going beyond the stated criteria, Bihar has been historically disadvantaged, due to the power asymmetry. After the fall of Gupta empire, in the ancient times, Bihar has largely remained a buffer zone between the seats of power at Delhi-Agra and Bengal. In such a scenario it has completely been exploited by the victorious powers, which without any responsibility kept Bihar at the margins of development process.

Further, geography too, has played a role in the misery of Bihar. It’s a landlocked state, unlike Maharashtra, Gujarat or Bengal. CM Nitish Kumar contends in this regard, “categories of land locked and least developed states are internationally eligible for special and differential treatment.” The lack of trade opportunities due to absence of any coastline , coupled with the frequent floods in North Bihar (foothills of Himalayas) makes certainly Bihar more dependent on the Centre.

2. Odisha

The state of Odisha just like Bihar is again a very poor state with it’s own unique set of challenges. Although it does have a coastline, but it itself has been a cause of continuous misery for the Odia people. Four major cyclones in last five years- Phailin, Hudhud, Titli and Fani have hit the coast of Odisha, and continues to cause huge loss to lives , property and infrastructure. Rebuilding the state after a cyclone like Fani is in itself quite a momentous task, which not only requires short term relief package but also a long term helping hand for its preparedness.

Of the present criteria, too, Odisha fulfills at least three of them. It has significant tribal population, has a hilly terrain in certain quarters and obviously a low level of infrastructure especially railways. It still further has LWE affected areas, due to widespread poverty and hunger. In fact it has lower per captia income than some SCS states like Himachal and Uttarakhand.

3. Andhra Pradesh

Andhra Pradesh although not poor like Bihar or Odisha, it has it’s own share of immediate problems and it is infact demanding only immediate relief. The SCS status for five years, which was announced by then PM Manmohan Singh in the Parliament (BJP was asking for 10 years at that time, and now Mr Jaitley rejects it).

The primary reasons for Andhra’s demand for SCS are due to the ill-effects of bifurcation. They lost the city of Hyderabad, which was their backbone of the economy and were also needed to built a new capital from scratch.

After examining the given cases and the fact that India is a “holding together” type democracy in which the Centre largely holds the strings of the state coffers, there is a need to maintain a federal equilibrium, in which citizens of none of the states feel inferior to the other. For such a scenario a level playing field needs to be created. If SCS is chosen as medium for that than other deserving states too should be considered. Criterias are never sacrosanct and they too need to be revised. I would prefer to include three more criterias to the same – historical backwardness, level of natural disasters and agrarian economy.

Left and Right in Indian Politics – A Contrasting Story of Rise and Fall

The French Revolution of 1789 was a landmark moment in the world history. For the first time it brought to the surface the ideas of republicanism and democracy. It talked about rights as well as the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity, which went on to become fundamentals of governance across the world. Much in line with these timeless political terminologies it also gave us the political scale of Left and Right.

In a largely two party system, it’s quite easy to brand the left and the right based on their relative social and political stand and therefore are at times equated with the terms liberals and conservatives. However, in a multiparty democracy, there are too many formations with often contrary social and economic aims , so it becomes quite difficult to mark them clearly as left , right or centre. And so emerges the political positions of centre-left, centre-right, far left, far right, liberal left, liberal right etc.

Unlike the western democracies, which until the recent times lacked any strong electoral communist party and any far right communal party, India has been witness of both of them. Both had their own unique and I would better contend , contrasting political trajectories and electoral fortunes. The rise and fall of the two opposite trends of politics can better be understood by dividing India’s post-independence electoral history in four phases. Let’s look at them one by one.

1. From 1951 to 1977

The two extremes of this phase mark the first general elections of independent India (1951-52) and formation of first non Congress govt at the Union level(1977). In the first decade of independent India, right wing was completely missing from the political scene and it was largely the contest between Congress and the radical CPI.

CPI with the legacy of recent Telangana and Tebhaga movements coupled with the communist euphoria across the world, was the only political formation to pose any significant threat to the Congress. Although quite less as compared to Congress, it steadily increased its seats in Lok Sabha in the first three general elections. Besides this, CPI became the first democratically elected govt across the globe in the province of Kerala in 1957.

The Indian Communists suffered a severe backlash in 1962 for their soft attitude towards the Chinese invaders and subsequently suffered a split in 1964, much on the lines of global Sino-Soviet split. It suffered further divisions with the rise of Naxalbari uprising in 1967. Clearly the Indian left was battling within itself instead of Congress or the rising Swantrata Party.

The deeply divided comrades were further divided when Congress lured CPI faction into governance. Clearly this situation was later to lead into disillusionment with the left. Left wing extremism , too, played it’s own part, in creating a sense of fear among the public.

Although the left was able to hold on to its decent no. of seats in Lok Sabha and govts in Bengal and Kerala, the idea of a Communist revolution was now a forgone conclusion which was once considered inevitable.

The Indian right gained significant importance much later than Left, with the formation of Swatantra Party by ex – congressmen like C Rajgopalchari, KM Munshi and others. It was a classical right party, with market oriented ideology, which sought to counter the command economy model of Nehru. The founding leaders were visionary and themselves a product of national movement. Though conservative in approach they were not communal and were open to liberal ideas. They could rightly be labelled as centre-right party, which India has been missing since its decline

It won fairly decent 18 seats in its first elections of 1962 and went on to become largest opposition with 44 seats by 1967. It even became principal opposition party in the states of Odisha, Bihar, Rajasthan and Gujarat. Unfortunately, it went into oblivion with the death of Rajaji in 1972. I consider it a lost opportunity of the rational, principled and articulate right.

The other right party Jana Sangh, although with bits and pieces of electoral success couldn’t make much impact on the Indian political scene and merged with the Janta agglomeration in the post emergency elections. Failure of Janta experiment and disbandment of Jan Sangh , created a void in Indian right for some time.

2. From 1977 to 1989

The foundation of left politics was further jolted in this phase when it lost ground in the heartland states of UP and Bihar to the proponents of Social Justice by the second half of 80s. The Left was now only to be visible in the pockets of Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. However, the left continued its dominance among the intelligensia , media, literature etc, which were still a dream for the right.

The right, too, was shunted in the national arena for about a decade, BJP being reduced to just 2 seats in 1984 elections. However, it was provided Oxygen by Rajeev govt itself with the Shah Bano misadventure and subsequent opening up of temple doors. The growing anti incumbency (of Rajeev govt) and the renewed interest in Ram, helped BJP to find foothold in electoral map of India with 86 seats in 1989.

3. From 1989 to 2004

This period was to see a contrast between hesitant left and the growing power hungry BJP. Both started by supporting JD govt of VP Singh, but the Mandal came in between. While left struggled to find answer to Mandal brahmastra, the BJP , under Advani, ventured upon risky Rath Yatra.

Having realised its politically “untouchable” position , Advani did bow down to allow more accommodative Vajypee for PM post. Contrast it with left, which yet again deeply divided stopped Jyoti Basu from becoming PM in 1996. Although CPM still doesn’t admit this mistske, Jyoti Basu himself called this a historical blunder.

While Vajypee established a 22 party coalition running it successfully for a term, and tried to give BJP a pan India character, left on the other hand inspite of getting it’s best ever result in 2004, went for “outside support”. If played wisely it could have got several important ministries in Manmohan govt and thus could have shown their ability to the nation. Unfortunately, our comrades lived in a Utopian world.

4. 2004 and beyond

The Left , now under Karat camp was to learn no lessons from its previous mistakes and ventured upon new misadventures. The most infamous being withdrawing support from UPA govt over Civil Nuclear deal. Further, it was beaten in it’s own game in the battleground of Singur by Mamata “didi”. Having, lost Bengal in 2011, the left moved towards irrelevancy in the growing market oriented 21st century India.

The hardliner Karat camp , seemed in no mood of revising there classical Marxist strands, were reduced to just above double digit in the phenomenal elections of 2014. Their fort of Tripura was further crumbled in 2018, and this general elections may be the last nail in the coffin for the left.

The BJP on the other hand did everything what left did not. They worked hard at grassroot level with RSS support, enhanced their media and social media presence and most importantly came up with a narrative which was appealing to the growing middle class. Riding on the huge anti- incumbency of the Manmohan govt, BJP under Modi came to power with a thumping majority. Inspite of getting majority at centre, BJP unlike the left did not rest. They continously tried to expand beyond the heartland, deep in the South as well as in the Northeast.

With five years of Modi govt , left not only lost its electoral grip but also the socio – intellectual group, with RSS-BJP making inroads in the varied domains of Media, Cinema, Universities etc. Looking at the state of affairs of the left, the question obviously needs to be asked , “what’s left for the left ?”

Revisiting the forgotten battles

From times immemorial history has been a weapon in the hands of the political powers of the day. They have used it to legitimize themselves, demonise others, create public memories and erase the same and most importantly present a set of ideals in front of the coming generations. India is no alien to that trend.

Post – independence history writing in India has been the story of the struggle between the two set of ideologies, the Marxist and the Nationalist, they have been instrumental in deciding the textbook material as well as moulding the public memory of events according to their own brand of “politics”.

Post 1969 (year of formation of ICHR) , the discpline of history has largely been dominated by the Marxists (Romila Thapar and co)and Congress nationalists (like Bipan Chandra), who though established the canon of scientific study of history have been selective and biased at times. A lot has been suppressed due to several superstructural reasons and have come to the surface only after the coming of regime change of 2014. Obviously, I am not here trying to justify right wing’s attempt to erode the scientific basis of history but to accept the events which have previously not been evolved. Because if it’s only the power that holds sway over this discipline, than obviously the contribution of different set of powers should be accepted in order to create a wholesome mosaic of past events.

Here as the title indicates I am going to discuss about four battles of Indian history (obviously there are many others and they need to be glossed upon as well), which have come on to become part of public memory in the last four years due to several different reasons. The battles under discussion are – Battle of Imphal and Kohima(1944), Battle of Saragrahi (1897), Battle of Saraighat (1671) and Paika rebellion (1817). Let’s look at them one by one.

1. Battle of Imphal and Kohima

The battle of Imphal and Kohima , and the battle of Saragrahi, are two of the very important battles fought by the British Indian Army. They never got place in our textbooks and Indian historians are not at ease with them as they consider it to be a part of colonial history, and believe that we as victims of colonialism should not give due importance to achievements of British Indian Army. This raises a very pertinent question of history being selective and defies the logic of bringing the truth, however, harsh and unpleasant in front of the readers. Celebrated author and politician, Shashi Tharoor , accuses the British saying that there a history major student of British University never ever reads about colonialism. Isn’t the same logic applies here in India as well, our University students never hear about battle of Imphal and Kohima. So, the story remains same, it’s just that where you stand.

Last month this forgotten battle of the Raj, in which thousands of Indian soldiers participated, celebrated its 75th anniversary and for the first time Indian Navy in a gesture to the battle named its guided missile destroyer as INS Imphal. This is obviously a welcome step and hopefully will open new doors for renewed research by the Indians about this battle.
The battle of Imphal and Kohima was a part of East Asian theatre of war and after defeating the mighty British power in SE Asian states of Malaya, Singapore and Burma , and the other European powers in Vietnam and East Indies the Japanese military was knocking at the heart of Raj, India. Having, realised the imminent collapse of British power and their hasty withdrawal, Gandhiji had given the call of “do or die” in 1942 itself to ready Indians to fight the probable Japanese invasion. The fall of Calcutta would obviously have emboldened the Japanese and they would have been on verge of establishing their Greater Asian empire.

But thanks to the British Indian Army under commander William Slim, they checked the Japanese advance under General Renya Mutuguchi , at the outskirts of Imphal and convincingly defeated and drove them out of India. Japanese themselves regard it as their biggest defeat in the second world war with around 54000 casaulties of which around 13,000 succumbed to death. The remains of the tanks and artillery still lie in the countryside of Imphal and Kohima, waiting for the time India realizes its relative importance and abandons its policy of looking at history in terms of black and white.

2. Battle of Saragrahi

This is yet another emblem of heroism of Indian soldiers of British Indian Army, not given due recognition by Indian historians (due to obvious reasons) but brought into public imagination by the popular culture. Recently the film named “Kesari” starring Akshay Kumar was based on the iconic last stand at Saragrahi.

We Indians know a lot about the mighty war fought by 300 Spartans but not about this war in which 21 Sikh warriors fought against the invading force of around 10, 000 Pathans. The Saragrahi fort was established as a part of forward policy by the Britishers in order to check the tribal insurgents from Afghanistan.

21 Sikh soldiers under Havaldar Ishar Singh, instead of running away from the battlefield fought bravely, killing more than 600 enemies and thus securing the other major forts of Gulistan and Lokhart. In fact these soldiers were posthumously were awarded the highest gallantry award “Indian Order of Merit”
Queen Victoria went on to say in the Parliament, “It is no exaggeration to record that the armies which possess the valiant Sikh cannot face defeat in war.”

3. Battle of Saraighat

Saraighat, the present day city of Guwhati has been largely ignored in the mainstream history with just a passing reference during the rule of Aurangzeb. The history textbooks, no doubt devote more time to the Deccan and Rajputana and the NE theatre always remain at the margin of political discourse of history of medieval India.

As the previous two battles, this battle too came under public discourse after the BJP victory of Assam in 2016. The book titled “The Last Battle of Saraighat” written by Rajat Sethi and Shubrastha outlined the inside story of BJP strategy of Assam vijay. But the binaries which created of Hindu – Muslim is a problematic one. Assamese politics has rarely seen religious polarization and certainly it was not the case in the original battle of Saraighat . The Hindu Ahoms did have a lot of Muslims fighting for them and similarly the Mughal army was commanded by Raja Ram Singh, the prince of Amer.

The fact that Ahoms ruled Assam and NE continously for around 600 years is quite remarkable achievement in itself. There have been very few parallels in world history, the most famous one being of Ottoman empire.

The battle of Saraighat, was led by two very powerful generals of the time, Raja Ram Singh from the Mughal side and Lachit Borphukan for the Ahoms. Infact the heroism of Lachit was such that, in his memory National Defense Academy confers Lachit Borphukan Award to the best cadet every year.

The Ahoms under Lachit, successfully repelled Mughal advances owing to their superior military skills , guerilla tactics and obviously the energetic leadership of Lachit. Aurangzeb who had even went on to conquer the mighty Bijapur in the Deccan failed here and no doubt 1671 was the biggest military defeat for the Alamgir. The Assam thus remain independent until the English invasion in 1826.

4. Paika rebellion

This is obviously the most controversial of the four which have been discussed above. It’s recognition as the first war of independence in NCERT textbooks is no doubt an out and out propaganda by the ruling regime which seeks to find a place in the politics of Odisha. If this rebellion is to be given national character then the question obviously arises , why not others, say Poligar rebellion or Vellor Mutiny or Santhal rebellion. Its spread and impact is quite limited in character as compared to the mutiny of 1857.

Whatever be the politics but yes the regional and the marginalized are getting representation in the mainstream history. The fact that it completed 200 years of its anniversary in 2017, calls for remembering its heros , the Paikas, the brave warriors of Odisha and obviously their leader Bakshi Jagbandhu who led the Khurda revolt in 1817. Rest I find it as just another rebellion against the colonial rule by some disgruntled feudal lords.

Universal Basic Income – An idea whose time has come

While delivering his iconic budgetary speech in 1991, then finance minister Dr Manmohan Singh quoted Victor Hugo, saying, “No power on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.” And yes, it was an idea, the idea of opening up giant Indian economy , which was a tectonic shift in the “socialistic” heart and soul of Indian economy and polity. The idea whose benefits we are still reaping with high rate of growth, free movement of goods and capital and an aspiring middle class.

Thirty years down the line, there is another very crucial debate which has engulfed not only the Indians but the economists all across the world. The growing unemployment, automation due to rise of AI, jobless growth and increasing inequality have forced the academicians, economists and policy makers to come up with some kind of responsible capitalism.

The BIEN (Basic Income Earth Network ) – a network of academicians advocating for UBI describe it as “ a periodic cash payment unconditionally delivered to all on an individual basis, without means – test or work requirement. The key words to note here are – periodic (being paid at regular intervals, not lump sum), cash payment (not in kind or vouchers, leaving it on the recipient to spend it as they like), individual (not to household or families), universal (for all) and unconditional (irrespective of income or prospects of job).

Successful pilot projects (preliminary experiment studies) in varied countries such as Alaska (US), Namibia, Kenya, Finland and Netherlands and the Indian province of Madhya Pradesh have generated a debate all across the world for its wider implementation. The scheme seeks to pull people out of poverty, improve the quality of living, decrease crime rates and also increases creativity (due to income security).

In India , the idea of UBI was first mooted by former CEA (chief economic advisor) Arvind Subramanian in the economic survey report of 2016-17 (So, the bhakts need not get offended that Rahul Gandhi is going to loot India). Besides the already held pilot project in MP, Hyderabad is going to organize the 2019 BIEN Congress In addition the state of Sikkim is going to implement UBI in total by 2022.

In a highly populous and agrarian state like India, which has large no of subsidies and varied govt schemes, we need to thread with caution, unlike the advanced European nations. Till now Indian poor has seen a platheora of govt schemes in the last 70 years, a lot of which have indeed helped them but most of it provide instead relief only, instead of making structural changes.

The Centrally sponsored schemes which currently number around 950 are a burden on the state exchequer and the state dosen’t get anything in return. Similarly, the farm loan waivers adopted by states from time to time, on one hand have a limited impact while at the same time affects the credit culture severely. Govts have failed to ensure farmers well being even through minimum support price.

Some form of UBI can be an answer to all this. The biggest catch of the scheme is direct cash transfers. Instead of providing any vouchers, the scheme leaves upon the individual to decide upon how they wish to spend the amount. This ensures liquidity in the market, reduces leakages and increases the purchasing power of the individual. The Modi govt already embarked upon this idea of direct cash transfers way back in 2015, when it encouraged opening up of Jan Dhan accounts. Transferring the gas subsidy amount to these accounts, where the initial steps towards the idea of direct cash transfers.

Further the Rythu Bandhu scheme of Telangana govt has been quite successful in the manner it provided farmers with minimum income support, instead of some loan waiver or support price. Taking lessons from the above model Modi govt too in the interim budget of 2019 came up with Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana, which seeks to provide farmers with less than 2 hectares of land, a minimum support income of Rs 6000 annually. Such schemes have gained quite important position in the wake of agrarian distress which India has been reeling under since last 6- 7 years.
Finally, the idea of basic incomes was on a large scale was brought at the centre of political discourse by Rahul Gandhi with his electoral promise of Minimum Income Gurantee (MIG). Its a welcome step that he is at least trying to touch upon the concrete issues of poverty and employment unlike the “nationalist” rant of Narendra Modi.

Rahul’s MIG is not exactly UBI, as it’s not universal as it targets only the “poor” strata , so it can better be dubbed as partial UBI or quasi UBI. Given that India which has 125 crore population it’s not possible to ensure minimum income for everyone. It will have to proceed in stages. A significant aspect of MIG announced is the decent minimum income of Rs 72000 annually , instead of just being a token amount. This huge amount can obviously give govts the liberty to cut down some subsidies such as PDS and fertilizer subsidy. It further ensures that farmer loan waiver will no longer be required.

Other significant implications include the women empowerment as the income is to be transferred to the woman of the family. The extra income may also provide a boost to the MSME sector which in turn will help in realising the Make In India.

A lot of Indians worry that this scheme is something like that of Robhinhood ,looting money from the rich and redistributing it amongst the poor. Well if you call so that is the subsidy and the loan waiver. Income support on the other hand will fuel the economy with the increased purchasing power.

Therefore, going by the trends it won’t be far fetched to say that it’s an idea whose time has come.