Tag Archives: India

How to Overthrow a Brutal Dictator

While NATO grapples with the most effective road to victory in Libya and treads the fine line which borders supporting civilians and  overthrowing a dictator, let me illustrate a very successful example of such an overthrow, in history, and see if we can learn some lessons from there. I talk of the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War.

At the time of Independence, British India was partitioned into 2 major countries. Secular India and Islamic Pakistan. Pakistan was further divided into East Pakistan and West Pakistan. These 2 sub divisions were separated by 1000s of miles of Indian territory. Being so apart geographically, the peoples of West Pakistan and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were culturally very distinct. But the center of power lay in West Pakistan and there was rampant discrimination against East Pakistanis.

Eventually things reached a point when East Pakistanis started calling for independence in the 1970’s under the leadership of the charismatic Sheik Mujibur Rehman and a strong pro-Bangladeshi nationalist movement broke out in East Pakistan. They wanted to secede from Pakistan and form an independent Bangladesh. Pakistan was led by a ruthless military dictator called Yahya Khan. He swung the full might of the Pakistani military juggernaut against the hapless civilians of Bangladesh and carried out genocide in East Pakistan, targeting Hindus and the intellectual elite of Dhaka. Unable to bear the brunt of this brutal assault, close to ten million Bangladeshis fled to refugee camps in India. India appealed to the international community for help but none responded. India then decided to take matters in its own hands and started arming and aiding the rebels. Pakistan then attacked India and full scale war broke out on 3rd December 1971.

The Indian troops smashed through the Pakistani military defences in East Pakistan and raced towards Dhaka, the capital of East Pakistan. They knew time was not on their side. The US, the ever staunch ally of Pakistan, sent its nuclear equipped USS Enterprise into the Bay of Bengal to intimidate India into declaring a ceasefire. The Indians called the Russians and promptly there were Russian ships tailing the Enterprise. The world was dangerously close to a nuclear war involving US and USSR. The Indians raced ahead to defeat the Pakistanis before the situation got out of hand. On the morning of 14th December, 4 Indian Mig-21s, it’s pilots guided by tourist maps, tore across the skies of Dhaka and bombed the governor’s residence with uncanny accuracy. The governor was so shocked that he resigned and took refuge in the local Red Cross center. On 16th December the Indian Army blitzkrieg hit Dhaka and the Pakistani Army surrendered with India taking over 90,000 prisoners of war, the largest since World War 2. Bangladesh was free.

The above situation is not very dissimilar to what is happening in Libya now. But will NATO achieve success in the near future? From the above case analysis we can identify 3 reasons that generally make such operations successful.

1) A clear call for external help: The Bangladeshis actively supported the Indian role in the war and took economic and military aid readily. In contrast, in Libya, the rebels some times ask for more assistance and other times claim that they will overthrow Gaddaffi on their own. This approach confuses NATO and others about the extent to which the Libyans require their presence and hence are often wary to be more pro-active. In contrast, India went in confidently knowing full well that they had the support of the Bangladeshi people.

2) A strong opposition with a visible leadership: The Bangladeshis had Sheik Mujibur Rehman and his Awami League as political representatives and the Mukti Bahini which formed the military wing of the rebellion. This helped India to know who it was dealing with and let it focus on waging the war and then pulling out on victory, allowing Mujibur Rehman to focus on nation building. In contrast, in Libya there is a ragtag group of rebels and disparate tribal groups with no visible leader. This causes great discomfort in western capitals as they don’t know who exactly they are supporting. This also makes countries like the US loathe to put boots on the ground in the fear that after the war, with no clear leadership a civil war will break out and it’ll become Iraq and Afghanistan all over again.

3) A quick and decisive military operation: India acted swiftly and with full force to decapitate the Pakistani Army and had its goals clearly established. In contrast, NATO and others still seem to be fumbling over the boundaries of their operations and are hesitant to expand it to a full scale war for reasons mentioned above. This may only compound the situation further and turn the war into a messy quagmire.

Hence, NATO struggles with matching what India could achieve in a matter of 13 days against a strong adversary like Pakistan.


What makes an Entrepreneurial Society?

If there are two countries in this world that have an Entrepreneurial spirit embedded deep within their genes, its USA and Israel. What has caused this? Why have these two countries turned out to be fountainheads of entrepreneurism? What makes these two societies hold their Entrepreneurs in such high esteem? Its not simply a matter of having an economic system favorable to this cause, for there are affluent European countries which have liberal capitalistic economies and yet have shown only feeble signs of Entrepreneurism. Though Americans have descended from the Europeans, why are the former so entrepreneurial and the latter very much less so? One can argue that Europe has a more socialist mindset but then that would be missing the wood for the trees.

Im currently re-reading the book ‘O Jerusalem’, the fascinating account of how the Jewish state of Israel came into being, sixty years ago. That’s when I realised why this Entrepreneurial spirit is found in abundance in Israel and by a similar analogy in America.

The book illustrates the travails of the early Jewish settlers who migrated from Europe into the Holy Land(Palestine) in the early 20th century to build the state of Israel. They came from all parts of the world. They were of all shapes and sizes. All colors and hue. But they all had a single goal: To build a state on their traditional land so that they would never have to face persecution at the hands of non-jews again.(How valid it was to do so in Arab Palestine is a violent debate that has not ended even today.) But all these early settlers had was the land that they had bought. A desert for most part. They had to make the desert bloom if they wanted to establish a suitable home for themselves and the future generations of Jews that would come to inhabit those lands.

These settlers then set to work on building the farms, industries and institutions which would be needed to sustain a modern nation state. They may have had successful professions in their old homes in Europe. But here they were all alike, starting on a blank slate. So, lawyers dug ditches, pianists milked cows, teachers laid bricks etc. Whatever was needed to be done. They did not have the vestiges of past civilizations to fall back on. Everything that was needed  to run a country had to be built ground-up, brick-by-brick. And these settlers rose up to the challenge and how. Everyone took responsibility for building a pillar for Israel. Everyone became an entrepreneur.

Entrepreneur: a person who starts or organizes a business company, especially one involving risk.

What better example of entrepreneurs than these brave Jews who established Israel? What greater risk than doing it in the middle of a desert surrounded by hostile forces? Despite all the political turmoil, Israel remains one of the economic marvels of the world. Having built everything themselves is the reason I suspect that Israeli society holds Entrepreneurship in such high esteem.

A similar analogy can be extended to USA. North America was settled by peoples from Europe. Here too there was no legacy of civilizations ancient. Everything had to be started from scratch and the earliest settlers did just that. As the East coast became populated, the settlers ventured into the unknown lands of the West. The settlers initially struggled to cultivate the lands of the Mid-West due to the thick upper-crust soil. A man called John Deere then invented a steel plough which enabled the settlers to cultivate the land successfully. John Deere is now a massive farming company. The settlers overcame other odds too. Wind-pumps were used to draw up water from deep down, for irrigation and animals. Dry Farming, special ploughing and other methods were used to conserve moisture. Hard winter wheat (e.g. Turkey Red), introduced by Russian immigrants, was found to be suitable for the climate. New machines were invented.

Here too, like in Israel, development came on the back of immigrants and settlers. People who had left behind their pasts and took ownership of their futures. People who did not conform to the standards of comfortable living and constantly pushed boundaries, literally. Its only natural then, that with such a rich history, the societies of USA and Israel have entrepreneurship embedded in their cores.

In Europe and Asia it was different. Ancient civilizations had left behind sound structures and systems that did not have the need to be replaced. Occupational patterns set in the days of yore continued unquestioned. There was never a need to build anything from scratch. A well established order then, held back these societies from toying around with ideas of self-ownership to the extent done in America and Israel.

I guess entrepreneurial societies are a function of their historical legacies.

Introducing: Google Music (India (Labs))

Google has launched a new online music service (for fans of Bollywood songs) called Google Music India. Google has a tie up with other sites like in.com and saregama to allow streaming of songs from their music libraries. To be fair, a pop-up window basically just plays all these songs from one of the aforementioned sites. However, I dont think the majority of people were using in.com to listen to music earlier. With Google coming into the picture I think a lot more users would find it easier and more natural to use Google Music India to listen to online music. Google claims this service is to help fight the rampant music piracy in India. Users can only stream the songs online and cannot download them.

I tried it out and found that Google Music(or should i say in.com?) has a pretty comprehensive music collection. Whether you want to listen to a soothing retro Kishore-da track or the electrifying Tanvi in Delhi-6, the obscure Altaf Raja or the Pakistani rock band – Strings, you’ll find your type of music here. More power to the cloud.


India in the UNSC: Much Ado About Nothing

The Indian media is awash with the news that India has become a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council after 19 long years and the MEA pundits are patting themselves on the back for a job well done. But is it really worth all the hype? I think not. Let alone non-permanent status, even a permanent seat on the UNSC is just a bag full of hot air if you ask me. Its nothing more than mere symbolism.

There are many reasons for this. Let me not even get into the colossal failures of the UN in preventing genocides in Rwanda, Cambodia, Sudan, Bosnia etc. Lets also forget for a moment that the UN has mostly failed to prevent military conflicts, right from the Korean war to the recent Israel-Lebanon war. The UN has also failed to resolve territorial disputes like Israel-Palestine, J&K, North-South Korea in any meaningful way. The greatest successes of the UN lie in its humanitarian divisions like UNICEF, WHO etc.

Given this shaky track record, why should being on the upper echelons of this old-timer’s organization even matter? True, the UN is a global forum and for all its flaws, it does provide mechanisms for arbitration of disputes, however poor their track records may be. In this sense, it is enough to just be a member state of the UN and I do not believe that being a permanent UNSC member is of any added advantage to a country like India. China’s global clout is a result of its massive economic power and not because China is a UNSC member. If India sustains its current healthy growth rate and flexes its diplomatic muscles to forge long ignored partnerships with various countries in Asia and Africa, there is no stopping India from being counted among the world’s super-powers, with or without a UNSC seat.

But, I also believe, that as much as a UNSC seat should not matter to India, India too does not matter to the UNSC. This is because of India’s largely neutral stance on all global conflicts. Sure, India is a big economic player and it is given a lot of respect in the G8. But thats economics and India has been good at that of late. Geo-politics is a totally different ball-game altogether and India’s track record is very poor in that field.  We are not key players in any global issue and hold little influence over countries that are. Russia and China have considerable clout in Iran, and China has strong links with the North Korean leadership. In fact China wields great influence over many African nations. All this makes China an important global player. Brazil and Turkey too have been pro-active on a global-level of late. Contrastingly, India has been doggedly muted over the burning issues of Iran, Korea, Middle-East etc. The only time we have raised our voices is with regard to the Af-Pak scenario and even then noone listened to the song we were singing. So what exactly will India bring to the UNSC table I cannot fathom. Countries that are supporting our UNSC bid are doing so only as a policy of appeasing a rising economic power-house. Lets not fool ourselves into believing that we matter in global geo-politics.

Given all this, I dont think we need to bite our nails over the non-committal of US and China to our UNSC seat. Instead, we should pull our socks up, resolve  internal issues like Naxalism and Kashmir, focus on alleviating poverty, improve education etc. We have our hands full and we can do without stepping into international quagmires till we set our own house in order.

Where are the water cannons?

The Valley is burning…

Since June 11 2010, when a 17 year old boy was killed after being hit by a tear gas shell, the Kashmir Valley has been gripped in a spiral of protests. People rally to protest against such deaths and start pelting stones at the police and CRPF. The security men, unable to control such large violent mobs with tear gas, resort to firing in the air. This results in the death of more people. The next day a larger crowd turns up to protest the deaths of the innocent people killed in the previous rally and eventually they start throwing stones against the police out of anger, who as a last resort, fire in the air resulting in the death of more people. The next day more people turn up to protest this brutality and this violent vicious cycle continues….

More than 110 people have been killed on the streets of Kashmir since July this year. Which brings me to a basic question. Why doesnt the Kashmir police use more sophisticated methods of crowd control? For one, rubber bullets could be used instead of live ammo. However, there are instances of deaths caused due to rubber bullets too. Lathi charges are ruled out because of the presence of large angry mobs. So what about using water cannons? Why havent we seen the use of even a single water cannon in the Valley? And why hasn’t anyone asked this question to our politicians? Is the answer something so plainfully obvious that nobody has asked it? Are water cannons ineffective as a measure of crowd control? I dont think so. Iv never heard anyone offer any logical rationale for the J&K police and CRPF choosing to fire live bullets in the air rather than resort to water cannons. So, why are there no water cannons in the Valley?

A policeman fires a tear gas shell

The citizens of Srinagar have legitimate grouses and they have every right to conduct rallies and protest. And it is no surprise that such rallies turn violent. It has nothing to do with being Anti-Indian. Even in other Indian cities we often see protest rallies turn violent occasionally resulting in mobs burning buses, stoning buildings etc. There will always be unruly elements in any crowd trying to take advantage for their own nefarious means. The way to counter it is to have a well trained riot-police squad with the necessary riot gear. Most of the cops I see on television have nothing close to proper riot gear as seen with riot police of developed countries. With good training, sufficient man-power, necessary protective gear backed by water cannons and tear gas, such unruly protests can be controlled and subdued in a non-lethal manner by the police (as is done in other democratic countries). This would prevent fanning the flames of anger among the populace and giving legitimate reasons for more protests.

In the last few years we have seen such protests occur alarmingly regularly every summer in Kashmir, whether over the Amarnath controversy 2 years back or the Shopian murders last year. The separatists and their handlers in Pakistan have realised that terrorism is an unfeasible strategy after 9/11. Terrorists get no sympathy, however noble a cause they may claim to espouse. Their solution was to resort to Palestinian-style intifadas which garnered a lot of international sympathy. There was something rebellious yet tragic about pictures of young Palestinian boys,  facing Israeli tanks, holding nothing more than stones in their hands. The powerless innocent vs the brutal might of the State. David vs Goliath. This brought a lot of international attention to the Palestinian cause, but at the cost of hundreds of innocent Palestinian lives. A similar attempt is being made in Kashmir, by some vested interests who want to bring in international scrutiny on Kashmir.

However, it would be foolish to bracket these recent protests as being orchestrated ONLY by enemies of the state. As the parliamentary delegation found out recently, it has been for the most part, a spontaneous mass uprising (Ofcourse helped by Geelani’s protest calendars). The only way to cut the oxygen source of these protests is by stopping killings of protestors and innocent civilians. The police need to show more restraint and avoid causing fatal casualties at all costs. The J&K police force needs a dedicated riot control unit which can effectively counter these protests in a non lethal manner resulting in zero casualties, or else we are doomed to repeat the same tragedy over and over again.

True, Kashmir is a disputed territory and its people have long suffered in the cross-fire between terrorists and the Army. But it does not mean that ordinary Kashmiris will not live in peace until they are given independence from the Indian state.  The Indian govt needs to create a conducive atmosphere for the people of the valley. Once this peace is established, the govt should strive for political packages for J&K which could ease the sufferings of the common man. This is the only way to douse the simmering anger in the Valley and prevent further deaths of Indians on the streets of Srinagar.

Movie Review: Peepli [Live]

Aamir Khan has the “Midas Touch”. This phrase has been so often repeated, in newspapers, blogs, television etc. that it threatens to become a cliche. But the cerebral star has done it once again, pushing the boundaries of commercial Indian cinema with Peepli Live. Aamir has an uncanny knack of spotting potential in the most unlikely places, be it with “Jaane Tu…” or “Peepli Live“. Both movies were helmed by newbie directors and were filled with a fresh but talented bunch of actors. Yet, against all odds, as the producer of both the movies, Aamir managed to transform these low key affairs into box office hits.

As an actor too, Aamir has constantly rewritten the rules of the game. He has torn down barriers and taken leaps of faith to reach the status of being the most bankable actor in Indian cinema today. In the formula-driven hindi film industry he has re-arranged the variables, eliminated the constants and turned traditional logic on its head. It seems laughable to compare him to his contemporaries. Its clear that his only competition is with himself. The rustic Bhuvan vs the suave Akash Malhotra. The starry eyed DJ vs the poignant Ram Nikhumb. The beastly Sanjay Singhania vs the peppy Rancho. He has done it all and then some.

To cut a long story short, Peepli live is an intelligent satire about phony politicians and a manic media. A debt-ridden farmer, Natha, decides to commit suicide to claim compensation for his family so that they could be free of debt. His threat of committing suicide is a bandwagon on which politicians and the media go for a free ride. Instead of seeing the rot in the system which causes destitute villagers to commit suicide, local leaders see an opportunity in Natha’s threat to play a game of political oneupmanship. If the political class is blinded by the upcoming local elections, the national media is blinded by TRPs. In their quixotic quest of making a poster boy out of Natha, the media fails to see the sufferings and hardships of the villagers. In the end, it is a disillusioned local reporter, Rakesh, who realises that the political system and the media can not be depended upon to confront the malaise of poverty and destitution rampant in the villages of India.

Filled with witty dialogues and dark humour, Peepli Live boasts of a brilliant ensemble cast with each actor leaving an imprint on your mind; be it the manipulative elder brother or the slimy politician. Famous news reporters are good humouredly lampooned and the indian bureaucracy is shown as what it has often perceived to be: elite, lazy and disconnected. The background score blends in perfectly with the rustic setting of the movie. For once in mainstream Indian cinema, we have a realistic portrayal of a village minus the happy-farmer-singing-and-dancing-in-lush-green-fields stereotype. A definite must-watch, Peepli Live is surely one of the defining films of the year.

If a small no-frills movie like Peepli Live can receive so much critical and public appreciation, then it would behoove messrs Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar well to rethink their strategy of blowing up exorbitant sums of money on big stars and stylish movies whose plots are all fizz and no substance. With their access to seemingly bottomless pits of money, they could do Indian cinema a whole lot of good if they had the courage and conviction to make more sensible and intelligent movies like Peepli Live.

Identify the country….

Lets play a small game. I’ll post a few photos from the 1950’s and 60’s and lets see if you can identify the country that these pictures were taken in.

A university campus

Biology class in the university

A girl scout program in the capital city

Mothers and children at a city park

A phonograph record store selling the latest music records

Cabinet in session

So which country is it?

Somewhere in Europe? No.


Iran? No.

India? No.

Its Afghanistan!

This ravaged and war torn country was once a stable and developing country in the 1950’s and 60’s. These photos are from a book published during that period by the then govt’s planning ministry. I agree that this being an official govt book, it would naturally have handpicked photos which served to promote the country’s image in the west. Even then, im sure we all can agree that it is very very difficult to even imagine such normalcy in today’s Afghanistan, even in a few places. Children playing in a park, girl scouts undergoing training, a functioning modern co-ed university all seem so very surreal today. This is what 30 years of war can do to a country. It is very tragic indeed.

I found these images on www.foreignpolicy.com, in a photo essay by Mohammad Qayoumi. Click here to see all the pictures and the full essay.