The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, July 9, 2000
"Seizing guns without the ammunition
Review by Deepak Singh
"Arabian Nights" today
Review by Manju Jaidka
Flashing alarms to democracy
Review by Padam Ahlawat
The divine message, now in English
Review by Mohinder Pal Kohli
Know thy neighbour’s armed might
Review by Rajendra Nath
A quickie on the Leader
Write view by Randeep Wadehra
An afternoon with my uncle Sat Pal Dang

"Seizing guns without the ammunition
Review by Deepak Singh

Do And Die: The Chittagong Uprising: 1930-34 by Manini Chatterjee. Penguin Books, New Delhi. Pages 356. Rs 295.

MUCH has been written on India’s freedom struggle and yet one cannot treat the hitherto recorded history as all comprehensive. Most of these writings are either centred on the Gandhi-led movement or the role played by big leaders like Gandhi or Nehru. It is precisely because of such preoccupations with "mainstream" history writings that the relatively less known but not necessarily insignificant actors have been pushed to the margins or periphery of freedom struggle. It is this underlying reality that gets firmly reinforced in Manini Chatterjee’s maiden book "Do and Die: The Chittagong Armoury Uprising: 1930-34".

The author, a journalist of repute, begins by questioning the "unidimensionality" and "selectivity" of history writing in which the nonviolent satyagraha stream of the national movement has assumed dominance at the cost of other strands. As evident from the very title, this book is about the revolutionary stream which believed in an armed struggle to overthrow alien rule and how their contribution towards the common cause of freedom has gone unnoticed in the post-independence history. Within this stream, this book deals more specifically with what Chatterjee rightly calls, and as confirmed by secret British records, the "most spectacular and successful" underground action ever undertaken by any revolutionary stream in colonial India — the Chittagong Armoury Raids in 1930.

The author discusses at length how the revolutionaries who carried out the raids made tragic mistakes and failed to achieve their objective and how over the next three years a failed insurrection was transformed into a successful insurgency. It is this history of three years of incessant and protracted struggle for freedom waged by the Chittagong branch of Indian Republican Army and the role played in it by "normal, everyday, flesh-and-blood human beings" which, the author argues, has significantly faded from nationalist memory. It is this history that forms the core of the book.

As the author herself puts it, "Textbooks invariably mention the Chittagong Armoury Raids in a paragraph or two but not the uprising it initiated — an uprising in which Hindus and Muslims, peasants and students, men and women participated, unknown patriots forgotten by post-independence history".

The all-subsuming nature of "mainstream" nationalist historiography is brought out quite cogently in the remarks of the author.

"When independence came amid blood and carnage, their sacrifice was all but forgotten as new generations were taught to believe that the transfer of power was exclusively a result of nonviolent satyagraha. Occasionally, individual heroes — notably Bhagat Singh — have been remembered and lionised but the revolutionary stream as a whole has been largely neglected, at least in the nation’s popular imagination."

Drawing upon a large corpus of original source material, ranging from British records and official publications to interviews with the survivors and personal memoirs and writings of the actual participants to newspaper reports and contemporary political records, Manini Chatterjee reconstructs the history of the Chittagong Armoury Raids and the uprising it ignited by providing a riveting account of this important period in the history of India’s freedom movement. The narrative is so graphically presented that it almost unfolds like a minute- by-minute account of real life drama.

Inspired by the Easter Rising and the Irish struggle for freedom, the Chittagong revolutionaries who numbered no more than 64 meticulously planned to follow the Irish example under the leadership of Surya Sen, popularly known as Masterda, who along with five others — Nirmal Chandra Sen, Lokenath Bal, Ambika Chakravarty, Anant Singh and Ganesh Ghosh — provided leadership to a young band of revolutionaries ever willing to die for the abstract cause of freedom.

Much in the same fashion as that of the Irish revolutionaries who had wrested control from British imperialists and successfully set up a "provisional government of the Irish Republic", the Chittagong revolutionaries too had captured the armouries, the telegraph office and other key official installations and declared the formation of a national revolutionary government for the first time ever on the soil of colonial India.

The author argues that the revolutionaries were not naïve in carrying out their mission as they knew that such an isolated incident would not lead to India’s independence. What they were indeed sure of was that such an action would demonstrate the basic fact that what could be done in Chittagong can be repeated in other parts of the country as well.

However, despite meticulous planning and careful execution on the night of April 18, 1930, the revolutionaries discovered to their dismay that they had committed a faux pas as they could not gather prior information on the status of the magazine in the armouries they had otherwise successfully raided and seized. Their failure to get the ammunition was one unforgiveable mistake, wrote Ananta Singh, the only one among the top five leaders to write a detailed account of the Chittagong revolt, that would "mock us till the end of history". This failure is explained by the author in terms of their ignorance of an elementary fact of military strategy — that an armoury and a magazine are never placed together.

Despite this failure on their part, the author argues, the revolutionaries had scored a huge victory in terms of panic it created in the almighty British Raj and its general impact on the revolutionaries in other parts of the country. As the author puts it, "They cursed themselves for their failure to do a Dublin in Chittagong, but their achievement that night far surpassed their all too human errors. The British rulers as much as revolutionaries in the rest of the country were stunned by the success of April 18, its reverberations sweeping across Bengal and beyond the seas to touch Whitehall and Westminster in London."

Chatterjee shows at length how the two diametrically opposite nationalist streams associated with Indian national movement, in fact, complemented each other. The revolutionary stream in Chittagong, she argues, genuinely believed that Gandhi’s nonviolent satyagraha may actually be the ultimate answer to India’s independence. All the six key leaders had, as a matter of fact, actively participated in the non-cooperation-Khilafat movement of 1920-21 led by J.M. Sengupta in Chittagong. Surya Sen, for example, believed that "in the national struggle for freedom, the question of violence or nonviolence was not only insignificant but also totally irrelevant". For the revolutionary groups the Gandhian movement, argues Chatterjee, was neither unacceptable nor antithetical to their goal but often complemented their activities. The revolutionaries believed that nonviolent satyagraha had a very important role to play, but an armed struggle must also be carried out simultaneously.

A classic example of such a belief can be seen in the run-up to the raids on the night of April 18, when the revolutionaries used their association with the Congress as a cover for all their underground preparatory activities. Despite close vigilance on the revolutionaries, the British authority could not get an inkling of their plan owing to their close association with the District Congress Committee. Similarly, while insisting that a violent struggle had no future in India, Chatterjee shows how "Gandhi skilfully used the threat posed by `terrorism’ as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the British government."

The author then goes on to explore the reasons that caused the fissures between the two streams and concludes that a series of policy pronouncements by Gandhi bitterly disappointed the Chittagong revolutionaries. Most notable among these, apart from the abrupt decision to call off the non-cooperation movement in the wake of the Chauri Chaura incident, was the Gandhi-Irwin Pact reached in February, 1931. Gandhi’s stoic silence on the release of Bengali detenus as part of the truce conditions greatly annoyed the revolutionaries who had pinned their hopes on him.

Content with the release of the satyagrahis who had taken part in the Civil Disobedience Movement, Gandhi did not even insist on the commutation of death sentences hanging over Bhagat Singh, Sukhdev and Rajguru despite powerfu popular sentiments shared by many Congressmen. It was this pact, Chatterjee argues, which led to the hardening of the revolutionary stance and finally proved the turning point in the attitude of the revolutionaries towards the Congress.

In a separate chapter, "Warriors, not terrorists", Chatterjee shows how the contribution of the armed militants has been denied and denigrated both during the course of the freedom struggle and in the post-independence history by the consistent use of the term "terrorist" to describe them. In sharp contrast to the popular perception that the British rulers alone used the word , Chatterjee shows that the leaders of the Congress and the Left employed this expression so widely that the militants too ultimately started using it to describe themselves. While the British used both terms "terrorist" and "revolutionary" interchangeably and regarded the revolutionary movement with the `fear and respect it deserved" as they knew of the aim of the militants was to end their rule and that this nationalist army had the full support of a large mass of urban and rural people, the mainstream Congress-led national movement preferred to use the term terrorist.

The same approach has continued in the post-independence history writing among the academics who still call it either "revolutionary terrorism" or simply "terrorism" on the ground that "practitioners of violence confined their battle to individual assassinations, armed dacoities and illegal manufacture of small arms and explosives — the classic hallmarks of terrorism". It is this mindset that the author attacks by showing that terror was merely employed as a tactic just as picketing was used as a tactic in the civil disobedience movement.

While acknowledging the contribution of the armed revolutionaries in the battle of Jalalabad — perhaps the only direct armed battle in India’s tortuous post-1857 struggle for freedom – the author contends: "In the Jalalabad Hill, young warriors in military uniforms with muskets in their hands fought a pitched battle against a fully equipped army. They may not have been the most skilled soldiers but to call them terrorists is a travesty of truth and a desecration of their memory."

This book also merits attention for showing that the Chittagong Uprising marks a completely new stage in the participation of women in the freedom struggle. Amongst many unique achievements scored by the Chittagong group, the author argues, the uprising was unique not only in terms of being the first of its kind in which a woman led men in action but also for witnessing the first woman martyr since Rani of Jhansi in India’s struggle for freedom. This woman was Pritilata Waddadar who chose to die in order to set an example for the women of India to follow.

"The Chittagong experience," writes Chatterjee, "goes far beyond women making bombs and firing guns; it was the first, and possibly only, instance of women decisively crossing the Lakshman rekha that bound them to home and family, and living dangerously in the underground with men whom they had barely known." Another heroine of the uprising was Kalpana Joshi (nee Datt), mother-in-law of Manini.

Lucid in its language and powerful in its expression, this is a seminal work and a must read for both a serious and lay reader on an important chapter in the history of India’s struggle for freedom.


"Arabian Nights" today
Review by Manju Jaidka

Arabian Nights and Days by Naguib Mahfouz and translated from the Arabic by Denys Johnson-Davies. Doubleday Anchor Books, New York. Pages 228. $ 12.

TELL me a story, says the child. The mother reaches out for one of those big illustrated books stacked by the bedside, selects a story, and reads. The child listens for a while, his eyes wide with excitement. Then sleep overpowers him. He tries hard to stay awake to hear all of it. But the body is tired and demands its accustomed rest. Very soon, the eyes close, the chest heaves with gentle snores, a smile plays on that cherubic face. The child is dreaming. Dreaming of kings and queens and genies. Of hidden caves, magic lamps, and flying carpets. Of ghosts and demons. Of a world of the imagination far beyond the ordinary, where everything is possible.

What is the book the mother reads from? Any guesses? You’re right: ‘‘A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.’’ Surely, it still stands out vividly in your memory as an important landmark of your childhood years. Those magical days filled with possibility when you were green and easy, living in the never-never valley of gold before Time, that kill-joy, took you by the hand and led you out of the age of innocence!

You heard, enjoyed and accepted the thousand and one stories of the ‘‘Arabian Nights.’’ Accepted unquestioningly all those tales which began with Shariyar, the blood-thirsty ruler craving for virgin blood, taking a new bride every day only to behead her the next morning. You were delighted with the web of stories spun by Shahrzad (in most versions Scheherazade). Stories that kept the interest of the ruler alive and spared her life at the end of 1001 days. You heaved a sigh of relief when the ruler decided to let her live.

The stories themselves were spell-binding: Sindbad the Sailor, Alladin and the magic lamp, Marrouf the Cobbler…. One story leading to another, looping back to the original, taking off at a tangent again. A hapless young bride’s desperate attempts at preserving her life with the help of her ingenuity, her resourcefulness and her imagination, The stories mark one thousand and one nights spent in royal terror, with the sword dangling over her menacingly before reprieve is finally granted!

But, what happens after the 1001 nights? Did they "live happily ever after" as all married couples in fairy tales are fabled to? Or was there greater misery in store? Did you ever pause to contemplate this question? Perhaps, in the remote corners of your conscious mind it did occur to you but fleetingly. You accepted the tales of fantasy on their own terms and thought little of them later.

This was, however, not the case with Naguib Mahfouz, the best known Arabic fiction writer today, recipient of the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. The questions that kept troubling Mahfouz’s mind were many: What happened to Shariyar and Shahrzad later? What was the sequel to the tale? How did the other characters of the "Arabian Nights" fare in later life? For a mind alive with curiosity, desirous of knowing more and more, there had to be a story beyond the ending, beyond the "Tamam Shud".

In ‘‘Arabian Nights and Days,’’ first published in Arabic as ‘‘Layalialf Laylah’’ in 1982, Mahfouz turns back to the ageless stories to take up the thread where Shahrzad left off. The vizier, Dandan, learns that his daughter Shahrzad, has succeeded in saving her life by enthralling the sultan with her wondrous tales. But she is unhappy for she distrusts her husband, who might be still capable of bloody doings.

All is not well outside the palace either, where the medieval Islamic city is fraught with intrigue and corruption. Human existence is precarious as there are mischievous evil spirits at large, playing havoc with the destiny of human beings.

This is the backdrop against which are narrated 17 interlinked tales of love and passion, jealousy and revenge, social injustice and retribution, human affairs and supernatural intervention. Mahfouz borrows this backdrop from the old, familiar folk tales but in his re-telling, infuses the stories not simply with a contemporaneity but with a all-pervasive timelessness, taking up issues that relate to human life in general and cross all barriers of time and space. Sure, there is magic. There are inexplicable happenings, supernatural events beyond the ken of man. But ultimately the message that the writer conveys is that there is no magic wand to heal the sorrows of the world. There has to be a reformation in human character, a change of heart like the one Shariyar must undergo at the end of this narrative – or else there will be no mercy.

The concluding page of the novel spells out its didactic intent, a message worth repeating for its universal applicability: "It is an indication of truth’s jealousy that it has not made for anyone a path to it, and that it has not deprived anyone of the hope of attaining it, and it has left people running in the deserts of perplexity and drowning in the seas of doubt; and he who thinks he has attained it, it dissociates itself from, and he who thinks that he has dissociated himself from it has lost his way. Thus there is no attaining it and no avoiding it — it is inescapable." Some basic truths simply have to be confronted, whether we are willing or not!

The stories that Mahfouz narrates are independent yet connected. At the centre of the city is the Café of the Emirs, the hub of all action. This is where all characters, the high and the low, meet to exchange news and events. It is here that the dreams of Sindbad take concrete shape. The Café thus becomes a technique that connects all the disparate segments of the book and imparts a unified structure to them. It is evidence of Mahfouz’s skill as a story-teller.

‘‘Arabian Nights and Days’’ employs the classical Arabic narrative form with its imaginative sequences. This is a device far removed from Mahfouz’s earlier works which began in the form of historical romances with ‘‘Whispers of Madness’’ in 1938, moved on to the realistic mode of ‘‘The Cairo Trilogy’’ (1957-67), the allegorical style of the controversial ‘‘The Children of Gebelawi,’’ and the social and political realism of "God’s World" and "The Thief and the Dogs."

It is not difficult to trace the connection between the literary output of a period and the socio-political climate in which it is produced. Mahfouz’s writings have evolved synchroniously with the history of Egypt. When the country was still a British protectorate, the writer’s ambition was to write historical romances in the manner of Sir Walter Scott. With time, however, his concerns changed and he focused more and more on the realistic portrayal of the life and times of his people.

Between the two world wars – l’entre deux guerres – he was caught up in the ongoing struggle for national independence. After 1952, the year in which Gamel Abdel Nasser proclaimed the formation of a republic, Mahfouz’s efforts concentrated on finding new ways to express Arabic culture." Arabian Nights and Days" is one such attempt. These reworked stories of "1001 Nights" revive a fabular world lost in time even as they explain the familiar contemporary situation.


Flashing alarms to democracy
Review by Padam Ahlawat

BJP-led Government and Elections 1999 by C.P. Bhambhri. Shipra Publi-cations, Delhi. Pages 232. Rs 395.

PROFESSOR C.P. BHAMBHRI of Jawaharlal Nehru University is a prolific writer, with many books to his credit. This book is a collection of 39 essays, many of which had been published in newspapers.

The writer takes a look at the decline of the Congress, growing fragmentation in society and polity, nuclear issue, small states, Hindutva, regionalism, coalition arrangements, Kargil as an election issue and finally the 1999 electoral verdict.

The decline of the Congress is attributed to the fragmentation of social classes and the politics of mandir/masjid. Charan Singh was the first leader who walked out of the Congress to organise the backward and the peasant classes, leading to the first failure of the Congress in UP to form a government. It was V.P. Singh, whom the writer considers the messiah of caste politics, and the one who was responsible for fragmenting society and polity with the Mandal Commission recommendations. The result was that OBCleaders began to dominate the populous states of UP and Bihar, the states in which the Congress lost its hold.

The Muslims were annoyed with the Congress over the Babri Masjid demolition. While the BJP cornered the Hindu communal votes, the Muslims backed the OBC blocs. The Congress was also deprived of the votes of the Dalits, with the emergence of Mayawati and Kanshi Ram. The Congress actually failed to measure up to the emerging reality, instead harping on its role in the freedom struggle and its faith in secularism.

The writer is harsh on coalition governments which he believes come together with the sole aim of capturing power denied by the electorate. "That is their sole binding factor." One of the negative fallouts is that they prove to be unstable. The Janata government of 1977 or the V.P. Singh-led government of 1989 could not last for two years. The Janata Dal government of Deve Gowda too proved to be short-lived.

The writer says, "If Morarji Desai could not manage the conflicting goals of five partners and if V.P. Singh could not deal with the contradictions of two major supporters from outside, the Deve Gowda government was an extremely inconvenient arrangement of 13 partners."

The BJP has taken to coalition culture with far greater ease than the Congress. This has been because the BJPwas a member of the Janata Dal government in 1977 comprising those parties opposed to the Congress. However, if the Congress was responsible for bringing down the Deve Gowda and Chandra Shekhar governments, the BJP has been responsible for toppling the coalition government of 1977 and the V.P. Singh government in 1990. While the BJPwas a member of the Janata Dal government in 1977, it is the main party in the present arrangement, or rather it is a BJP-led government.

The author writes, "... the BJP is very clear about its agenda of Hindutva and it is pursuing its own agenda with deligence and enthusiasm. Third, all front organisations of the Sangh Parivar are very active because they have a clear message that the present so-called coalition is in reality the BJP Government." Despite the Congress harping on secularism, the BJPis a natural ally of most of the other secular parties.

In the essay, "Hindutva riding on secular shoulders", the writer makes out that the BJP has managed to increase its strength with the help of secular parties like the TDP, DMK, Trinamool Congress and the BJD. He also makes it a point to show that even Jayaparkash Narayan had given the RSS a good chit. He writes, "Thus the BJP was completely legitimised because the Janata Dal, the socialists and the Communists in 1989, as an extension of the experiment of 1977, worked together to keep the Congress out of power."

Bhambhri thinks that the BJP is playing the nationalist card in its stance on nuclear testing and Kargil. However, he seems unconvincing when he writes, "... the Vajpayee government is consciously shifting the balance of power in favour of the military elite by according them great public credit for the performance of their normal and routine duties as nuclear or military service personnel." He even resents the privatisation of the DRDAas a move to strengthen the military.

The writer goes on to hold the BJPresponsible for the orchestrated attacks on Christians and the churches, especially in Gujarat.

Regionalism seems to be weakening the political and administrative unity and the writer believes that coalition governments are not in the national interest. But one cannot escape the reality. The Congress cannot come to power as long as it is weak in UP and Bihar and it cannot hope to improve its tally of Lok Sabha seats by opposing the regional backward class leaders of these states. With no party gaining a majority, it is inevitable that only a coalition government can be formed with the help of regional parties.

A worrisome aspect of democracy in India is the extremely complicated exercise of conducting elections. Elections in several phases, stretching over a month, with the police forces being shifted from one end to the other. If democracy has to be defended by the gun, its health is not all that good. We may be the largest democracy, but the democratic spirits does not seem to permeate all.

Poll violence, threat of violence to influence the voter behaviour and the large-scale deployment of the police force to ensure fair elections are issues that should cause more concern if democracy is to survive.


The divine message, now in English
Review by Mohinder Pal Kohli

The World Divine: Guruvak — Gleanings from Sri Guru Granth Sahib compiled and transcreated by Kartar Singh Duggal. UBS Publishers Distributors, New Delhi. Pages 367. Rs 250.

THE Sahitya Akademi published a 527-page selection from the Guru Granth Sahib and Dasam Granth presented by Kartar Singh Duggal in 1997. The comprehensive volume comprised selections in original Punjabi in the series "Classics in Indian Literature".

The well-known writer, besides authoring a number of books, has also published a 1600-page trilogy of epic dimensions which is a harmonious blend of history, anthropology and fiction, and has extensively written on Sikh history, literature and religion, both in English and Punjabi. It was indeed an appropriate choice of the Akademi to publish his selection from the holy scriptures. The present volume includes the English transcreation of the Bani, to mark the tercentenary of the creation of the Khalsa.

We have been so preoccupied with our language and history that scant attention has been paid to the spiritual and philosophical aspects of Sikhism and its propagation. I suspect that the indifference has been due to the uncritical acceptance of the views of western writers.

It is amusing that there is not even a short article on Sikhism in the Concise Encyclopaedia of Living Faiths edited by R.C. Zeahner (1959). In a long article on Hinduism contributed by A. L. Basham, there is a short paragraph on Sikhism in which the founder of the faith has been mentioned as a Punjabi hymnodist "amongst those influenced by the teachings of Ramanand and Kabir".

There is not a line from the Adi Granth in the 535-page first volume of "Sources of Indian Tradition" published by the Columbia University Press in 1958 although the editor, Theodore de Barry, was assisted by a team of scholars, including two Indians. Even the authentic "Indian Philosophy" by S. Radhakrishanan (1545 pages in all), S.N. Dasgupta’s five-volume 2450-page "A History of Indian Philosophy" (1922-1955) and Hiriyana’s 420-page "Outline of Indian Philosophy" have nothing ot say on Sikh thought.

In this background of our stoic unconcern, the centenary celebrations have provided a ray of hope. Translations are being attempted in various languages, seminars are organised to critically assess the contribution of the Gurus to world thought.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib known as the treasure house of Indian wisdom exhibits trans-spiritual dimensions, blossoming into a composite spiritual experience and fulfilment. The scripture contains the revealed Bani of Guru Nanak Dev; Guru Angad Dev, Guru Amar Das, Guru Arjan Dev and Guru Tegh Bahadur along with the crystallised compositions of 15 saints and 11 bhattas written within a period of six centuries right from Sheikh Farid (a 12th century Sufi saint) to Guru Tegh Bahadur (1621-1675).

The first codex was collected and collated by the fifth Guru, Arjan Dev (1563-1606), in 1604. Guru Gobind Singh is said to have "redone the original compilation’ and he incorporated the verses of his father, Guru Tegh Bahadur. His own voluminous bani is collected in a separate vulume known as "Dasam Granth". However, some quarters of Sikh studies maintain that Guru Gobind Singh availing himself the editorial prerogative had one or more couplets interspersed in the sequence of slokas by his father.

The pristine purity of the text remained undefiled because of the sagacity and endeavour of Guru Arjan Dev who acquired the codices, compared and arranged them and raised the huge volume to the level of a holy scripture. It is said that before Guru Gobind Singh breathed his last, he enjoined upon his devotees gathered around him with the words which were recorded later, as translated by Duggal: "As ordained by the Lord Eternal, a new way of life is evolved, all the Sikhs are asked to accept the Holy Granth as the Guru. Guru Granth should be accepted as the living Guru. Those who wish to meet God will find Him in the world.

Thus the Granth remained in the process, as it were, an authoritative text of the medieval period, unaffected by the ravages of time.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib embodies 5871 shabads in 1430 large-size printed pages. Out of these 4955 are of the Gurus and 916 have been composed by saints and bards. The Japuji by Guru Nanak, Anand Sahib by Guru Amar Das and Sukhmani by Guru Arjan Dev are lengthy conceptual, philosophical and theological expositions. The Gurus and the saint-poets used the saint lingua franca of north India. However, the language of the Gurus is tempered with Punjabi, of Trilochan and Namdev with Marathi, of Kabir and others with eastern Hindi and of the bards with western Hindi. The Gurus’ vocabulary is seasoned with "lehndi", "pothohari" (Sindhi" and other dialects — a signal achievement of unity in variety and variety in unity of concepts. The major portion of divine poetry is arranged in tunes prevailing contemporaneously.

The poetry of the Adi Granth (distinguished form the Dasam Granth) reflects the socio-political milieu of the times of its creation. At places Guru Nanak’s compositions are a strong response to the political upheavals and social unrest caused by continual outside invasions and the degrading atrophy of the Hindu society. He fearlessly condemned the brutalities perpetrated by the Afghan and Mughal aggressors. The Gurus deplored the listlessness of the rulers and the debilitated masses steeped in the evils of caste, creed and superstitions. He talked about freedom of man, dignity of man, oneness of humanity and oneness of God. With the arrival of the invading hordes establishing their rule, there had to be what we generally term "a cultural shock". The gurus gave a slogan of self-esteem emanating from a formidable faith in His Will.

The central issue in the Adi Granth, of course, is surrendering of the self to God, yet the message contained therein, according to the book under review, revolves around three major concerns: there is neither a Hindu nor a Muslim, all are one; eat out of your labour; worship God without renouncing the responsibilities of life. Couched in sublime simplicity, the holy Granth is perhaps the only religious scripture in the world to have exalted the living Guru of the faithful.

The hymns of the Granth provide an idea of the identical mystic experiences of their contributors. Otherwise it would not have been possible for the compiler to include them. I am reminded here of the German physicist Schrodinger, who wrote about the theme of the changeless subject beyond the changing egos at the core of the individual subjective reality. His remarks of the unity of consciousness are as apt today as they were centuries ago: "Consciousness is never experienced in the plural, only in the singular... consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown..."

At the same time, it cannot be denied that a individual inhabits the cosmos of his own cultural tradition, a certain milieu, an ambience in which he breathes. The Gurus transformed the heritage and "dyed their teaching with love for God." The masters were moved by the wonder of creation, what Spinoza called the intellectual love of God and what Dattatreya in the Bhagvad prays for the spontaneity and innocence of the child, arising through the veil of cognition in the process of perceiving and knowing.

The discerning compiler, by including the works of the other medieval saints, reinvigorated the dharma, seasoning it by the practical experience and expressive vision in order to establish inter-religious relations and what in Gurdjieff’s term known as "search for the real I".

The translation of such a sublime mystique is indeed an arduous task. There is ample reason for the French saying to the effect that to translate is to betray or even terser Italian formulation "translator — traitor". It is difficult to translate poetry, more so verses set to regular musical order. Personally I think it is impossible. Mallarme castigated Degas for his lack of proper words for substitution in translations of great poems.

When we cannot substitute one word of the same language for another in great poetry, how much more difficult it would become to translate poetry where all the worlds have to be substituted with a different language. And what about rhythm, which is an essential part of all poetry? On Pope’s translation of Homer, Bentley commented, "A very pretty poem Mr Pope, but it is not Homer." It could not be Homer. Fitzgerald’s "Rubayyat" is an excellent translatin, but it is not, it could never be, Omar Khayyam.

The concept of "faithful" translation has always given rise to endless debates which point towards the procrustean relationship in the transposition of source language to the target one giving rise to the hackneyed non-serious anti-feminist slogan, "if faithful then not beautiful" and vice versa. Under such conditions the translation of the scriptures has to be just, exact, and lexically correct.

When a devout believer attempts to recreate the Holy Granth’s simplicity of idiom, mystic inflexions, divine musicality, liquid lyricism and meaningful symbolism into direct simple and rhythmic target language, the result could be pleasing enough conforming to the spiritual idiom enshrined therein.

Duggal’s project is a welcome addition to the literature in English meant to propagate the message of the Gurus during the tercentenary celebrations. Howsoever apprehensive we may be about some translations available to us, it is a creative art aiming at reproducing from one language to another the existing through, emotions and imagination, grace and charm of one tongue into another. There is no other alternative.

I believe this volume will bring the blissful message of the holy Gurus to those who have no access to the original Granth.


Know thy neighbour’s armed might
Review by Rajendra Nath

A History of Pakistan’s Army, Wars and Insurrections by Brian Clughley. Lancer Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. Pages 435. Rs 595.

IT is said that Pakistan has a well-motivated and properly trained army which has never won a war. But the Pakistan’s political, military and bureaucratic elite has brain- washed the army and its population into believing that Pakistan has won all wars — in 1948, 1965, 1971 and 1999 (Kargil). The setback in Bangladesh in 1971 was due to treachery on the part of Bengalis and not due to Indian military prowess. So Pakistan still considers itself superior in martial prowess and strategic concepts compared to India. Therein lies the danger, for Pakistan may indulge in another Kargil-like operation which may escalate into a full-scale Indo-Pak war. It is therefore necessary that India understands Pakistan, particularly its army.

India has fought four wars with Pakistan and even now the relations with Pakistan are highly strained. But so far, no Indian writer, military or civilian, has written a comprehensive book on the Pakistan army, which is a good fighting force while Pakistan has been ruled by army officers for nearly half the time of its existence. Yet we are not fully aware of the changing ethos of the Pakistani army, its tactical thinking, its efforts to modernise itself and its close relations with China. For example, how many in India know that Pakistan sends good officers to do company commanders and battalion commanders courses to Germany for the past few years? Do we know what Pakistani officers think of the Indian army and its capabilities? How come Pakistan’s public not only happily accepts the military rulers but sometimes even welcomes the change? This book throws light on the reasons as to why democracy has not struck roots in Pakistan.

The author is well qualified to write this book as he has spent many years in Pakistan. He served as deputy head of the UN Mission in Kashmir from 1980 to 1982 and was Australia’s military attache in Islamabad, 1989-1994. The fore- word has been written by General Waheed who was Chief of Staff of the Pakistan Army 1993-1996. The Pakistan army has ordered 500 copies of this book. No wonder, the author has been rather careful while writing about Pakistani Generals and has criticised only a few of them like Gen Niazi, for their mistakes.

The book starts with the partition of the subcontinent and describes the birth pangs of the Pakistan army. It talks of the Pakistan’s incursion in J&K in 1947 which later on became a regular war. According to him, Pakistan had three brigades in Kashmir by May, 1948, along with 10,000 irregulars.

He describes the long rule of Field Marshal Ayub Khan saying, "he served his country well, but made many mistakes, not the least of which was to go to war with India in 1965". But he calls him the father of the Pakistan army for his good work to improve its standard. He deals with the 1965 Indo-Pak war in fair detail. Pakistan had only one corps HQ in 1965 to control six infantry divisions and one armoured division which adversely affected its operational capability. According to the author, Bhutto was the ultimate hawk and has assured the military rulers in 1965 that India would never attack in Punjab, no matter what Pakistan did in J&K. According to the book, China has been the main ally of Pakistan since 1965.

In the 1971 Indo-Pak war, he praises Field Marshal Manekshaw for his capable handling, calls Morarji Desai a CIA agent, and blames the Pak leadership for being unwise to engage in open warfare by attacking India in the west on December 3, 1971, which suited India. He blames Gen Niazi for his inept handling of the forces in Bangladesh.

Amongst the Chiefs of Staff of the Pakistan army, the author praises Gen Mirza Aslam Beg who was COAS in the nineties when Pakistan was "becoming tacky, squalid, sordid, venal and dangerous to live in". Beg insisted that no officer should be given extension of service and also no officer should be appointed to any post because a politician wanted it. There was a sigh of relief from the bureaucracy and politicians when he retired!

Amongst his achievements in the army, he introduced improvements in administration and operational planning. The promotion and selection procedures were speeded up, the role of administrative areas was examined and aligned with operational requirements, surface-to-surface artillery was included in tactical planning, armour tactics were re-examined, command and control of artillery was enhanced by the introduction of an artillery division and air defence was given a much needed boost and inter-service liaison was improved by the establishment of the air defence command. He also describes the ongoing fighting in the highest mountain ranges in the world — in Siachen.

While talking of wasteful casualties in Siachen, the author feels that both India and Pakistan have problems at home, and it seemed that political survival had priority over any overtures that would save lives but endanger the politicians’ future. According to the author, India spends much more money in Siachen as compared to Pakistan.

The army takes over control in Pakistan, states the author, when corruption becomes the order of the day and the country becomes well nigh ungovernable due to mismanagement of resources. But the army’s running of the country does bring order and ends chaos which, according to the author, "is a land of conspiracy where nothing is impossible". When the army takes over, good and tactically sound officers are drafted to deal with civil problems and they have no time to go back and train their units and formations. There is certainly some improvement in the civilian set up, but it is at the cost of proper training and thorough planning for war in the army. So overall, it does not really suit Pakistan’s national interests to have military rule, for it is at the cost of army’s efficient functioning. Well, Pakistan cannot have its cake and eat it too! It is also a lesson for Indians to think about this aspect of military rule in a neighbouring country.

The chapter entitled "The new modern army" gives information regarding the present-day army and what it thinks of the Indian Army. India is perceived as a threat,but that is not as great as it appears on paper, in spite of the nuclear factor. India’s defence forces are large but their equipment is ageing, and attempts to design and manufacture advanced weapons have been costly and largely unsuccessful. Replacement of foreign weapons systems is expensive and cannot be obtained in the quantities as in the past. The Indian Army has 43 divisions (34 plus 27 independent brigades) but then its commitments are many. It can never be certain that China would not interfere should there be another war with Pakistan. India has to keep a dozen divisions on its northern border (although) some mountain divisions are temporarily redeployed in Kashmir in an attempt to contain the insurgency there. Insurgencies in the north-east also require stationing of regular troops and there is evidence of serious unrest in other states. If this is Pakistan’s assessment, then Pakistan is not really all that concerned regarding the threat from India.

Pakistan does not want to be called an aggressor in spite of what it is doing in J&K. At the same time, it does not rule out a pre-emptive attack by Pakistani forces should there be a build-up across the border that conveys a clear signal of impending hostilities. It shows Pakistan’s aggressive attitude. It is for this reason that our extension of confidenc-building measures is important in the subcontinent, for both the countries have often concentrated their forces on the border in the past whenever tension between the two countries was at the peak.

According to the author, both India and Pakistan have earmarked two armour heavy strike corps to attack each other’s territory. If India’s two armour-heavy/mechanised infantry strike corps manage to penetrate the line of Gujranwala-Multan-Sukkur and reach the outskirts of Hyderabad in Sindh, it is likely that Pakistan would have to accept defeat or employ nuclear weapons. In fact Pakistan may use nuclear weapons in case India’s advance towards Multan-Hyderabad is considered fast by the Pakistan authorities, the author feels.

What about Pakistan’s offensive capability? Irrespective of where the Indian strike corps attack Pakistan’s two strike corps, which are also armour heavy, Pakistan would endeavour to advance east to a depth of about 200 km, far enough to present a threat to Delhi. Meanwhile, Pakistan would rely on its defence lines to hold back the Indian advance which would, of course, attempt to bypass the areas in which they are aware that fixed defences exist. The author feels that the agreement to refrain from attacking each other’s nuclear installations would be ignored in case of hostilities.

As regards the overall strength of the Pakistan army, it has nine corps HQ, each generally having two infantry divisions. Pakistan has in all 21 divisions. Some of the corps HQ have armoured divisions or armoured brigades on their strength. Like I Corps at Mangla has two infantry and one armoured divisions while V Corps at Karachi has two infantry divisions and one armoured division, though without a formal division HQ. In all, Pakistan has three armoured divisions in its army.

The author finds Pakistan’s higher command and control organisation adequate. The main drawback is the requirement for GHQ Rawalpindi to command all nine corps directly. Pakistan has no Command HQ to control the nine corps as of now. But there are plans for establishing Army HQ north and Army HQ south to help the GHQ during a war with India.

The Pakistan Army is keen to improve its training and is sending its officers to Germany for doing company commanders and battalion commanders courses. Germany has increased its influence in Pakistan, the author states. India has stopped sending officers on company commanders/battalion commandeers courses outside India, partly due to financial constraints and partly because we feel that our college of combat gives the latest training to our company and battalion commanders. This may or may not be the case, for interchange with armies of advanced countries can give our officers new ideas regarding the latest tactical doctrines and their applications in the fast moving operations in the plains.

According to the book, Pakistan does not send officers for training to China, though Pak-China military relations are close and China supplies Pakistan with the latest weapons systems and is establishing factories for the production of important weapons. The author feels that the famous Pakistan Khalid tank project has not been a success, that is why Pakistan has acquired 320 T-80 tanks from Ukraine along with a highly successful rebuilding programme, upgrading the gun and fire control systems. Chinese supplies and other improvements will ensure that armoured units maintain their effectiveness in future. There is a possibility that Pakistan armour capability could surpass that of India if New Delhi’s procurement plans remain inflexible and reliant on the indigenously produced Arjun tank which is reportedly a poor fighting vehicle, states the author. Pakistan’s Khalid programme is likely to continue but it will probably involve further acquisition of Chinese-type T-85 tanks of a later make. Even Pakistan’s surface-to-surface missile programme has relied heavily on Chinese input. These are not very accurate missiles. Even Hatf-III is said to be Chinese assembled M9 or its derivative.

The junior and middle-level Pakistan army officers openly display their anti-US attitude. The Pakistani military and the general public were not whole-hearted supporters of the US-led operation in Kuwait and slowly the attitude of the public is becoming anti-US and this includes the military also. It is time for Indian diplomacy to ensure that India-US relations improve, particularly in military-to-military relations, like in the training field.

The author finds that the junior officers in Pakistan lack adequate education and have developed fundamentalist ideas. The author narrates some interesting episodes. "During an exercise I crawled 100 metres to a dug-in in a military observation post where an officer showed me a laser range finder with which I busied myself. After congratulating him on his device, I was treated to an explanation on how, in fact, there is no need for advanced technology provided one believes in Allah."

"On another occasion, he was informed by a junior officer that the beard of one of his soldiers had turned red of its own accord, because of the piety displayed by him during the Haj. His commanding officer buried his head in his hands, but made no comment."

The Indian newspapers have also reported that the Pakistan army is steadily becoming Islamised, for the junior officers form the majority of the officers. The author has recommended introduction of the Chief of the Defence Staff system in Pakistan. The GHQ should also have two main subordinate air and land HQ formed for North and South Pakistan, he feels.

As regards the conditions in the country, the author frankly states: "The country is far from stable, corruption continues on a massive scale, the economy is in tatters and the rule of law is all but defunct." It is under such circumstances that Gen Pervez Musharraf has taken over the country, so the population is satisfied.

The last chapter of the book throws some light on the conflict in Kargil in 1999. The author agrees with the Pakistan authorities view that it is India that is not allowing the plebiscite to take place in J&K. He does not believe that Pakistan is inducting well-trained and well-equipped terrorists into J&K notwithstanding the on going proxy war. Pakistan’s economy has been hit adversely after its nuclear explosions and the Kargil conflict with India, asserts the author.

But Pakistan’s attitude towards India remains hostile as ever. Pakistan is our neighbour. Our politicians, intellectuals and economists have to find ways and means of tackling various vexed Indo-Pak problems, particularly the ongoing proxy war in J&K in a satisfactory manner. However, one important factor must be remembered; if Pakistan ever perceives a weakness in our defence forces, it is likely to take a risk and start a conflict with India.

It is a well researched book which gives useful information about Pakistan’s army as well as its politicians.


Write view
A quickie on the Leader
by Randeep Wadehra

Atal Behari Vajpayee: Decisive Days edited by N.M. Ghatate. Shipra Publications, Delhi. Pages viii+352. Rs 550.

THERE was a time when the then Bharatiya Jana Sangh (the earlier political avtar of the BJP) was something of a perpetual underdog. Its candidates had a slim chance of even saving their deposits, as the Congress then had in its ranks several stalwarts led by Jawaharlal Nehru — an internationally respected statesman. Yet, with quixotic zeal they entered the election fray.

No wonder then that they needed someone who could play the anchor role for the party. The man in shining armour was none other than Atal Behari Vajpayee, whose mettle was acknowledged by none other than Nehru himself. One would realise Vajpayee’s accomplishments if one learns of the giants who strode the Indian political firmament. Men like G.B. Pant, Acharya Kriplani, S.A. Dange, Hiren Mukerjee, Minoo Masani et al would have daunted any greenhorn parliamentarian seeking to make his presence felt.

Vajpayee’s very first speech on foreign policy attracted the attention of the House. Unlike most others, he decided to speak in Hindi. When Nehru rose to conclude the debate on August 20, 1958, his speech was in English, but he, with the Chair’s permission, referred to the points raised by Vajpayee in Hindi. He said, "....During his speech Shri Vajpayee had said one thing...He said that in order to speak, speech is needed but to keep silent both speech and discretion are required..." Then followed a long soliloquy of which only Nehru was capable. Of course nowadays Vajpayee uses the same weapon to force his critics into silence.

Atal Behari Vajpayee’s political rise is more due to his hard work than any historical accident. It was slow, uncertain and checkered. A wag once called him a poor man’s Nehru, referring no doubt to the latter’s elitist upbringing. Despite the presence of Deen Dayal Upadhyaya and others, it was Vajpayee who became the main fund-raiser and vote-getter for the party. Buffeted by the post-Bangladesh war and "garibi hatao" appeal that wiped out almost all opponents of the Congress, the Jana Sangh soldiered on nevertheless.

This volume consists of an autobiographical piece by Vajpayee and a collection of his speeches on various national and international issues confronting India in the new millennium, foreign policy, national security, Indo-Pak relations, etc.

Vajpayee can be described as an improved version of previous Prime Ministers. Imbued with Nehruvian idealism, Vajpayee has no grand designs of having his name etched in the pages of history. Vajpayee is adept at attracting media attention but with modesty. He has Indira Gandhi’s pragmatism without her propensity for cynical political intrigue.

Moreover, unlike Pokhran-I, the advantages of Pokhran-II have not been frittered away. Thanks to the Vajpayee government’s firm stand, the nuclear technology has been successfully weaponised in the teeth of international opposition. Is it any surprise that now China and the West give more weightage to the Indian leader’s utterings than when India was a non-nuclear state? In fact, foreign affairs have always been Vajpayee’s forte. This time he has an able ally in Jaswant Singh who appears to be on the same wavelength as he. Thus Pakistan has been cut down to its size. Its pretensions as a regional power of consequence have received rather serious jolts recently.

But will Vajpayee succeed where Rajiv Gandhi failed? Yes, if one is talking of the Sri Lankan crisis which has been presenting successive Indian Prime Ministers with an explosive mixture of international real-politick and domestic compulsions.

No government at the Centre can ignore Tamil susceptibilities while dealing with the Eelam issue. The simplistic military response like the IPKF will only complicate the problem. The NDA allies like the DMK and other Tamil parties have already made it clear where their sympathies lay.

No doubt there is an element of oneupmanship in all this, but that is only to be expected in an emotionally surcharged atmosphere. Tamil sentiment seems to favour bifurcation of Sri Lanka. Already the man in the street is pointing out to the ruling elite’s double speak on Bangladesh vis-a-vis Tamil Eelam.

Yet there are failures too. Despite the so-called economic reforms that promised prosperity for all, the plight of the poor has only worsened, as unemployment is getting out of hand. The minorities are feeling increasingly insecure. Worse, the law and order situation is worrisome. If panchayat polls have to be conducted under shoot-at-sight orders, there is something terribly wrong with the polity.

One can’t blame Vajpayee for all of our national ills. But then he is the man at the helm. Isn’t he?


Book extract
An afternoon with my uncle Sat Pal Dang

This is an abridged chapter from "India Unbound" by Gurcharan Das.

THUS, I return to the original question: If we were once rich, why are we now poor? Following my grandfather’s advice, I went to meet my uncle Sat Pal (Dang). He had always been my grandfather’s favourite. He came from Ramnagar, the village where the English forces had won the decisive battle against the Sikh army in 1849, paving the way for a hundred years of British rule in Punjab. Sat Pal went to our local Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School and later to the Government College in Lyallpur, where he won all the prizes. My grandfather used to dream of a brilliant career for him until, one day, to his horror, he discovered that Sat Pal had become a Marxist. It was a great blow to our family, whose bourgeois hopes of prestige and wealth were shattered.

After Independence, Sat Pal became a respected labour leader in Cheharta, near Amritsar. He was loved by the workers and feared by industrialists. Welcoming me into his austere two-room home, Sat Pal painted the most devastating portrait of British colonial rule. The English began by robbing and plundering soon after they took over Bengal in 1757, he said. Their Lancashire mills crushed our handloom textile industry and threw millions of weavers out of work in the 19th century. As a result, our textile exports plunged from a leadership position (before the start of Britain’s industrial revolution) to a fraction.

Simultaneously, the indigenous banking system, which financed these exports, was also destroyed. Since the colonial government did not erect tariff barriers, Indian consumers also shifted to cheaper English mill-made cloth and millions of handloom workers were left in misery. In the process, British colonial rule "deindustrialised" India, and from an exporter of textiles, India became an exporter of raw cotton. Sat Pal quoted Sir William Bentinck, a contemporary observer, who had noted that "the bones of the cotton weavers were bleaching the plains of India."

I was about to interrupt my uncle when Vimla, his attractive Kashmiri wife, entered the room with two steel tumblers of buttermilk. She too was an ardent activist, and was now a member of the state legislature. They had met in Lahore during their heady student days in the 1940s. In their charmed leftist circle, Vimla was admired for her good looks, her deep convictions, and her glamorous background. Her father worked for the BBC. Her mother had been trained in Italy in the Montessori teaching system, and taught at Sir Ganga Ram College. They used to meet at the India Coffee House and listen to the poetry of Iqbal and Faiz Ahmed Faiz. It was something of a coup, I thought, that he got her to marry him when she must have been coveted by so many.

As we drank our buttermilk, Sat Pal turned to agriculture. Britain taxed the Indian farmer heavily. It changed the old land revenue system to the disadvantage of the farmer, who had to pay revenue whether or not the monsoon failed. Agriculture lost its capacity to generate savings and a series of famines followed in the bad years in the last quarter of the 19th century. The worst one, in 1896-97, affected 96 million people and killed an estimated five million. Food production also declined in areas where jute, indigo, cotton, tea, and coffee plantations were set up by the Europeans. Although these cash crops were profitable, the surpluses remained with the Europeans who transferred them to England. The railways commercialised the food crops by moving them over long distances and the enlarged national market sucked away the surpluses, which the peasants had earlier stored for the bad years. Thus, agricultural production remained stagnant for a century.

After paying the cost of its huge imperial establishment in India, the British government transferred its surplus revenues back home. Since India consistently exported more than it imported in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, Britain used India’s trade surplus to finance its own trade deficit with the rest of the world, to pay for its exports to India, and for capital repayments plus interest charges in London. According to Sat Pal, this represented a massive drain of India’s wealth — 8 per cent of our gross national product was transferred to Britain each year. Thereby, Britain impoverished the Indian masses, and we financed its industrial revolution.

"In that case," I said, "now that we are free and England has lost its colonies, India will become richer and England will become poorer. Is that right?" He nodded. My uncle had put forth the classic nationalist case for India’s poverty during the colonial period. It was compelling. Sat Pal and Vimla’s selfless life of integrity and simplicity also left a deep impression on me. After lunch, Vimla brought out an album of photographs of their younger days. One of the pictures was taken in a Bengal village. It showed Sat Pal and Vimla, two idealistic faces, helping out during the terrible famine in 1943. Another photograph showed Vimla in Prague in 1947, where she had gone to attend the first World Youth Festival as leader of the All India Students Federation. There was triumph in her eyes because she had been elected vice-president of the World Federation of Democratic Youth. Her face conveyed the wonderful confidence that she must have felt as a youth leader at the peak of the international communist movement. At that moment she had every reason to belive that right was on her side and communists would rule the world one day. I thought of that spring day in 1968 when Soviet tanks had moved to crush freedom in Prague as I looked again at Vimla’s happy face in the picture.

My meeting with Sat Pal and Vimla spurred me to read economic history and I found that the scholars mostly confirmed my uncle’s classic analysis of India’s poverty. Britain’s trade policies, they agreed, had encouraged the import of manufactures and the export of raw materials. And by heavily taxing the farmer, Britain contributed to the stagnation of Indian agriculture.

As the years went by a new generation of historians emerged who began to challenge the classic picture. These serious scholars expended much time and effort interpreting the historical data. One of them concluded that the land tax had not been exorbitant—by 1900 it was only 5 per cent of the agricultural output, which was less than half the average per capita tax burden. Another agreed that there had been a "drain of wealth" from India to Britain, especially in the 19th century, but it was only 1.5 per cent of GNP every year. The revisionist historians argued that India’s payments to Britain were for real military and civilian service and to service capital investments (which increased India’s wealth). Also, the overhead cost to maintain the British establishment — the so-called "home charges"—was in fact quite small. If India had maintained its own army and navy, it might have had to spend more money. They conceded that India did have a balance of payments surplus which Britain used to finance part of its deficit, but they said that India was partially compensated for it through the import of gold and silver into India. Only a part of that precious metal was minted for coinage and most went into private Indian hands. Indians have always been mesmerised by gold and silver. Even the Roman, Pliny, had observed this, and had called India the "sink of the world’s gold".

The revisionists’ most serious challenge was to the nationalist thesis that Britain had deliberately deindustrialised India. They agreed with my uncle that Indian industry declined in the 19th century. They calculated that India enjoyed 17.6 per cent of the world’s industrial production in 1830s, while Britain’s share was 9.5 per cent. By 1900 India’s share had declined to 1.7 per cent while Britain’s had grown to 18.6 per cent. But this decline, they argued, was caused by technology. The machines of Britain’s industrial revolution wiped out Indian textiles, in the same way that traditional hand-made textiles disappeared in Europe and the rest of the world. Fifty years later Indian textile mills would have destroyed them. India’s weavers were, thus, the victims of technological obsolescence.

Handlooms all over the world gave way to mill-made cloth, and weavers everywhere lost their jobs no less than in India. Unfortunately, there were more weavers affected in India because India was the largest maker of textiles in the world. This is not to take away from the great misery and enormous suffering caused by their impoverishment. If the British Raj had been sensitive to their plight, it might have erected trade barriers in India. This might have cushioned the impact and Indian hand-made textiles might have survived for a period. (It is true that the British government did put up barriers in 18th century England against Indian textiles.)

After 1850, Indian entrepreneurs began to set up their own modern textile mills. By 1875, India began to export textiles again and slowly recaptured the domestic market. In 1896, Indian mills supplied only 8 per cent of total cloth consumed in India; in 1913, 20 per cent; in 1936, 62 per cent; and in 1945, 76 per cent. Both British and Indian capitalists made large profits during World War I. While the British businesses remitted their wartime profits to England, Indian businessmen reinvested theirs in new industrial enterprises after the war. Thus, Indian industry began to grow rapidly after the war. G.D. Birla, Kasturbhai Lalbhai and a dozen other entrepreneurs built significant industrial empires in the inter-war years. Manufacturing output grew 5.6 per cent per annum between 1913 and 1938, well above the world average of 3.3 per cent. The British government finally provided tariff protection from the 1920s. This helped industrialists to expand and diversify. The Birlas went beyond textiles and jute into sugar, cement, and paper. Others diversified into shipping (Hirachand), sewing machines (Shri Ram) and domestic airlines (Tatas).

By World War II the World War I supremacy of British business was broken and Indian entrepreneurs were now stronger and in a position to buy out the businesses of the departing foreigners. The share of industry in India’s GNP doubled from 3.8 per cent (in 1913) to 7.5 per cent in (1947). The composition of India’s trade also changed — the share of manufactures in its exports rose from 22.4 per cent (in 1913) to 30 per cent (in 1947), while the share of manufactures in imports declined from 79.4 per cent to 64 per cent. Industrial employment, however, did not grow in tandem. Modern industry could not make up for the loss in jobs suffered by handloom weavers.

Indian nationalists have exaggerated the economic importance of India to Britain. They thought that the Indian empire was hugely profitable. They got the idea from Cecil Rhodes, the great imperialist of the 19th century, who used to say, "The Empire is a bread and butter question... (we) must acquire new lands for settling the surplus population of the country, to provide new markets for the goods produced in factories and mines." Churchill was a leading exponent of this view in the 20th century. Conservatives certainly believed it, but even the left wing of the Labour Party thought so. Bevin told the House of Commons: "If the British Empire fell... it would mean the standard of life of our constituents would fall considerably."

The truth is that the Indian colony was not terribly profitable to Britain. After the crude period of exploitation in the 18th century was over, Britain’s rising prosperity in the next century owed more to its free trade with the "new world" and to its investments in America. If there was a "drain", it was by the transfer of dividends by English companies from America. Certainly, a few Englishmen became very rich from India—the owners of the tea and indigo plantations, the shareholders of the East India Company and other commercial firms, the employees of the managing agencies, the railway builders, the civil and military personnel, and others connected with India. But the profit to Britain as a whole was meagre.

My uncle’s prediction also turned out to be wrong. Britain did not become poorer after losing India, instead it enjoyed shocking prosperity in the 1950s and ‘60s, at the very time that it was losing its colonies. So did France, Holland, and other colonialists. The fact is that Britain’s colonial prosperity was not founded on the exploitation of India.

In the end, whether Britain impoverished or enriched India is really an academic question. What is more relevant is why the forces of global capitalism in the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century did not release widespread growth and development in India, as they did, for example, in Japan. The rapid building of railways and canals and the simultaneous expansion of foreign trade should have acted as a strong engine of growth. India had an exprienced merchant class which had begun to develop modern industry.

By 1914, India had the world’s largest jute manufacturing industry, the fourth largest cotton textile industry, the largest canal network, the third largest railway network, and 2.5 per cent of world trade. Fifty years earlier, Karl Marx had predicted that the introduction of railways and modern factories into India would transform the subcontinent. Whey didn’t it happen? India remained largely non-industrial and extremely poor at the time of Independence. Modern industry contributed only 7.5 per cent of national income at Independence, and employed barely 2.5 million people out of a population of 350 million. Why didn’t an industrial revolution occur?

My father’s English boss and other colonial officials used to blame India’s poverty on the other-wordly spirituality of Hindu life and its fatalistic beliefs. Max Weber, the German sociologist, who admired the richness of India, attributed the absence of development to the caste system. Gunnar Myrdal found that India’s social system and attitudes were an important cause of its low productivity, primitive production techniques, and low levels of living. According to Myrdal, poor work discipline, contempt for manual work, lack of punctuality, alertness, and ambition, low aptitude for cooperation, and superstition were the result of inhibiting attitudes.

These were componded by unfavourable conditions, such as a debilitating land tenure system, low standards of efficiency and integrity in public administration, weak participation of the people in local affairs and a rigid and unequal social structure. Myrdal believed that these pre-modern attitudes and institutions had to be attacked directly, primarily through education, and India could not wait to erase them as a by product of growth and income.

The only agent that could break the forces of stagnation, he felt, was the Indian state. But the Indian government would not be able to do it, he concluded, because it was a "soft state". It would not be able to impose the social discipline that this required. He said this in 1967, and the Indian state has become even "softer" since then.