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16 August 2016

How Old Is India?

When archaeology, archaeogenetics, anthropology and palaeontology are introduced to the discourse, we hardly find an era where there was no such thing as an Indian society

The recent reports that say Varanasi in particular and India as a land in general are at least 8,000 years old have led to some consternation in the community of historians. While the Marxists among them are deliberately looking the other way, as though no such revelation has taken place, even those who are anti-left find the Times of India stories “sensational” [details in Swarajya’s July issue in print].

Historians, geologists, archaeologists, evolutionary anthropologists and palaeontologists follow different paths to establish the past of a place under study. Ideally, the historian must emerge at the end of the process when the others have reached their respective conclusions. But most in the profession narrate the past as told by their predecessors through published books. For a scientist, on the contrary, a research project must be approached with no pre-conceived notions; the past is at best an indicator, not a binding rule. The reader may walk along with us in all these explorations to draw his own inferences.

If Varanasi has been found to be as old as the Harappa civilisation, can the oldest relics unearthed from the area by IIT-Kharagpur’s scientists be dismissed as Mesolithic (Middle Stone Age), Neolithic (New Stone Age) or Chalcolithic (Copper or pre-Bronze Age)? Can we pooh-pooh the Times of India reports as sensationalist, saying that it’s no big deal as fossils of even hominids have been found in different parts of the country dating 2 million years ago? It is difficult to believe that the human-like creatures that walked on the soil of Varanasi 8,000 years ago were hominids and not Homo sapiens. If even Marxists agree that we were here 5,500 years ago, we could not have evolved from hominids in a matter of just 2,500 years while, in the same time span, we might have learnt how to make alloys. That is, Varanasi 8,000 years ago has got to be Bronze Age, not Stone Age.

We are certainly not considering the Hindu right wing that claims India has existed since Satya Yuga, as human beings like us did not even surface on the face of the earth so early. The Vishnu Puarana says that the Satya Yuga lasted 17,28,000 years and that came before 12,96,000 years of Treta Yuga, 8,64,000 years of Dwapara Yuga, and 3,000 odd years of the 4,32,000 years of Kali Yuga that we have already lived.

Other opponents of Marxists argue that this nation must be older than Harappa and Mohenjodaro, if not as old as the Satya Yuga. It is this group that will be excited by the finding that we are older than the Indus Valley Civilisation by at least 2,500 odd years.

This is not the first time we are looking for further antiquity of our land and its people. A group of marine scientists had, way back in 2002, told us that an archaeological site off the west coast of India could be 9,000 years old. Pottery and wooden blocks from the Gulf of Cambay were too advanced to be Palaeolithic (Old Stone Age). The 7,000 year old Nandeeshwara Temple at Malleswaram in Karnataka and evidence from genome sequencing that revealed that farmers from India moved to Iran 7,000-8,000 years ago certainly point towards a way of living—namely farming—far more advanced than the cave dwelling prevalent in the Stone Ages. And that the stories dated 2016 cannot be sensationalist! Is it anybody’s case that the BBC, as much as the ToI, is sensationalist?

If these findings have largely been reported during the NDA governments (2002, 2015 and 2016), under the UPA regime in 2008, too, archaeologists discovered 15,000-20,000-year old stone weapons in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal. The last three years of UPA 1 coincided with a watershed period for this subcontinent’s archaeology. The Hindu reported in 2007 that the soil beneath Bhirrana, a Harappan site in the Fatehabad district of Haryana, yielded “a red potsherd with an engraving that resembles the ‘Dancing Girl’, the iconic bronze figurine of Mohenjodaro”. Dawn reported Pakistani archaeologists’ finding of a city older than Mohenjodaro at Lakhian Jo Daro near Goth Nihal Khoso in the district of Sukkur. That year, evidence of agricultural practices—cereals, oil-yielding seeds, custard apple, etc—surfaced in Tokwa in the Mirzapur district of Uttar Pradesh, where the Belan and Adwa rivers meet. While the cereals were Neolithic, the seeds and fruits were of the early Iron Age.

Then, an ancient urban settlement of about 25,000 people was discovered in the same year of UPA rule in Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar, which dated back 2,500 years. Beyond the present Indian territory, Afghanistan yielded square coins with icons of Vasudeva Krishna and Balarama Samkarshana engraved in them—believed to belong to a civilisation dated 180 BC when found in 2008. That very year, the Wadagokgre site near Guwahati came up with findings of remains of an octagonal temple of the 4th century. Once again in 2008, they found a 30-ft high mound in Moghalmari, a village 5 km away from Dantan in West Midnapore of West Bengal. The Times of India reported, “Archaeologists believe it is one of the missing monasteries mentioned in Hiuen Tsang’s memoirs that was yet to be found.”

The list above is not exhaustive; we have left out more instances of archaeological findings of the UPA period than we could enlist here. But the drift is clear. Whether a relic was of Stone Age, Bronze Age or Iron Age is only of academic import to the lay. Putting all these findings of artefacts belonging to different centuries and millennia together, we are led to an irrefutable conclusion that social life never ceased to exist in the region that is now divided between India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Let’s begin with prehistory. The claim that south Indians migrated from Africa is disputed. Even if the Marxist theory of Aryan-Dravidian divide is accepted, Homo dravida as identified by Edgar Thurston were not Africans; they resembled Australian aboriginals to a greater degree. But this too was at best a hypothesis—derived from the warring traditions of Kallar and Maravar regions and tree climbers of the Anamalai hills. No DNA profiling of this group was done and matched with Australian natives to establish this story. There was another hypothesis by ethnographer Friedrich Ratzel that said Dravidians had a genetic affinity with Tibetan Mongoloids [The History of Mankind by Ratzel, 1898].

The story that was certainly politically motivated was the British Martial Races Theory. As some Indian communities sided with the East India Company or were conspicuous by their absence among the Indian armies that rebelled during the Mutiny of 1857, a Briton called Heather Streets, in his Martial Races: The military, race and masculinity in British Imperial Culture, 1857-1914, hypothesised that Dogras, Gurkhas, Garhwalis, Sikhs, Jats and Pakhtuns or Pathans were “martial races” while other Indians were not quite valorous. Bogus! That followed equally phony theories by some officers of the Indian Civil Service (ICS) like Herbert Hope Risley (1908) and William Crooke (1915) in the form of a repeatedly revised book titled The People of India.

Subsequently, another Briton, Susan Bayly, Professor of Historical Anthropology in the Cambridge University Division of Social Anthropology and a Fellow of Christ’s College, Cambridge, dismissed Thurston and Risley as “disciples of the French race theorist Topinard and his European followers” who, she said, had “subsumed discussions of caste into theories of biologically determined race essences”. She dismissed Crooke not only as a “material or occupational theorist” but also as a “folklorist”.

It is a matter of academic shame that the post-independence Anthropological Survey of India, first established in Varanasi and then moved to Kolkata, adopted the same title The People of India (1992—…) and made a bunch of IAS officers do anthropological studies. This bunch of pamphleteers stooped to the extent of passing off castes as biological races. Nothing can be more unscientific. When Kumar Suresh Singh is described as a “tribal historian”, for example, the institution is clearly mixing up evolutionary anthropology with sociology. Indeed, the research paper titled “Indian Anthropology—History of Anthropology In India” by Abhik Ghosh, Senior Lecturer, Department of Anthropology, Panjab University, Chandigarh, says, “… those in sociology departments in Indian universities often tend to refer to themselves as anthropologists when dealing with issues of reflexivity”, citing Delhi University anthropologist Roma Chatterji’s dissertation dated 2005, page 173. The description of these ethnographers by Laura Dudley Jenkins is uncharitable to say the least.

When real science was introduced to the history of human beings in the subcontinent, the historian’s narrative stood discredited. Anthropologist Joseph Deniker found that while some Indians living to the south of the Vindhyas resembled both Indonesian and Australian natives, these people inhabited a big area leading up to the Ganga basin in the north—“into the middle valley of the Ganges,” he wrote. Physical anthropologist Carleton Stevens Coon then further decimated the theory of Aryan-Dravidian divide when he found that the so-called Dravidians resembled the Caucasoids of Europe too—going by the structure of their skulls! [Source: The Living Races of Man, On Greater India] It is to be noted that this Harvard scholar did not study India specifically; instead, while studying Caucasoids of Europe, he found that some of them lived in the region that is now called India. Therefore, the question of a political motivation—to disprove Marxist historians—behind his theory does not arise.

But when Marxist historians had to cling to a semblance of science, they latched on to the basis of languages that somewhat endorsed the “Caucasoid” view. Some present Indian languages were found to have descended from the lingo of the Sintashta culture of the European steppes that travelled to India via the Bactria-Margiana culture of Central Asia. [Source: DW Anthony’s The Horse, the Wheel, and Language] One can see why Marxists love this story. It supports their pet Aryan migration theory!

However, language cannot be a stronger scientific base than skull shapes and other biological traits to establish the roots of a people of a land.

Digging deeper into the basis of languages, the Indians-came-from-Central-Asia theory stands exposed, too. The Ancestral North Indians (ANI) and Ancestral South Indians (ASI) began mixing genetically in 2,200 BC. [Source: “Genetic evidence for recent population mixture in India” by P Moorjani, K Thangaraj, N Patterson, M Lipson, PR Loh, P Govindaraj, and L Singh in The American Journal of Human Genetics] And they were not all Central Asians; there were also Ancestral Tibeto-Burmese and Ancestral Austro-Asiatic peoples in the mix. Since this theory says they all became endogamous—marrying within an ethnicity or clan—at a later stage, how did the biological differences between them blur? It is an undeniable fact today that the people of India, except a few tribes in the Northeast, show no remarkable genetic differences among them.

This wing of anthropology makes another Marxist theory doubtful—that the immigrants from Central Asia pushed the natives down south. For, proto-Dravidians themselves are supposed to have been brought in by farmers of Iran. If high-resolution analysis of Y-chromosomal polymorphisms reveals signatures of population movements from Central Asia to south India—rather than from Central Asia to present-day Pakistan that housed the Indus Valley Civilisation—do Marxists mean that one group of Central Asians pushed another group of Central Asians down south?

This, and the theory mentioned earlier that Dravidians might have Tibetan genes, too, together implies that the Aryan migration theory is not adding up.

Finally, since anthropology in India is not a matured or advanced science, we move on to the next parameter to know how old and how continuously we have been living here.

Animal husbandry and palaeontology
The Geological Survey of India officiates over this field of studies involving exploration of extinct (and some living) animals and plants of the land. The fossil parks that the GSI maintains should tell us what living things accompanied human beings through the millennia, but they don’t. So, we study such an animal that still lives. The originally Indian cow Zebu or Bos indicus, inseparable from the Hindu faith, has several breeds.

The Gir (referred to as Gyr by some Americans) cattle, which produces the largest volume of milk among all breeds, originated in Gujarat. The Sahiwal originated in Punjab on the present India-Pakistan border. The Red Sindhi originated in Sindh, the Rathi in Rajasthan, the Deoni and the Khillari in Maharashtra, the Kankrej in Bhuj of Gujarat, the Ongole in Guntur of Andhra Pradesh, the Amritmahal and the Hallikar in Karnataka, the Kangayam in Coimbatore of Tamil Nadu, the Vechur in Kerala, among 17 other native breeds, are some of the other varieties. The Gir has also been taken from India and bred in Brazil and the United States.

According to the Marxist migration theory, the “Aryans” came into India, herding their cattle. If so, how come the European breed reared in Central and West Asia, which is Bos taurus, so few and far between in India? If the so-called immigrants dominated and occupied the whole of north India and settled here with their livestock, as Marxists claim, most of our cows should be of the Bos taurus breed. They aren’t. Most of them are indigenous species mentioned in the previous paragraph.

Hariana breed of Zebu cattle in north India; they are indigenous; they did not come from Central Asia
The preceding Marxist theory was one of “invasion”, wherein the “Aryans” were supposed to have arrived in this land riding horses. This story was debunked when they couldn’t produce evidence of a battle in the region that is now Pakistan to have occurred in the period between 3,300 BC and 2,600 BC. No fossil of embattled horses could be traced in the archaeological sites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. However, it could be established that horses accompanied people in a period predating the Indus Valley Civilisation by about 2,000 years. In fact, they existed in India in the prehistoric period, too—the extinct Equus namadicus in the Pleistocene levels (2,588,000 to 11,700 years ago) and a related species, prehistoric Equus sivalensis, in the Himalayan foothills, for example. [Source: “Antiquity of the Narmada Homo erectus, the early man of India” by Arun Sonakia and S Biswas of the Palaeontology Division, Geological Survey of India] Nearer in history, the Equus ferus caballus Linn was found to have existed from 2265 BC to 1480 BC in and around Allahabad and from 1500 BC to 1300 BC in Karnataka. [Source: The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture by Edwin Bryant]

These were domesticated, not wild, horses—meaning that they were part of a human civilisation. Edwin Bryant and Edwin Francis Bryant write in their book, The Quest for the Origins of Vedic Culture: The Indo-Aryan Migration Debate, “… the supply of horses… has been a preoccupation of the rulers of India from nearly one end of its recorded history to the other…” quoting Thomas R Trautmann [page 119]. And the Bryants are talking about Equus ferus caballus Linn.

Man had, of course, learnt to tame horses as early as in 3,500 BC as evidenced from fossils in Kazakhstan. [Source: The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W Anthony] Thereafter, wherever they have been located as born and bred in captivity—marked by reduction in average size due to limited diet and restricted space in stables—it can be undeniably deduced that these were domesticated horses, thus proving the existence of civilisation in that epoch [ibidem].

Another piece of evidence of domestication lies in the fact that the breeds that were not domesticated turned extinct. The Equidae, for example, were all dead in the western hemisphere towards the end of the Ice Age [Stephen Budiansky’s The Nature of Horses]. Even in the wild, horses used to live in groups. Therefore, they naturally took to herding, making them more comfortable in human company, which extended their life expectancy.

Importantly, the horses written about in this article are not those that were propagated by some Hindutva websites and debunked by a Harvard University Indologist and a comparative historian commissioned by Frontline for its 13 October 2000 issue. The horses this article speaks about were discovered as fossils and not imagined or theorised out of Indus Valley seals.

Going by the nature of this discipline, one could have included this in the section on anthropology (evolutionary, not sociological). However, we are going by the category that the scientific community has decided for it. Arguably the real “breaking news” that we received under this classification was a Nature story dated 23 September 2009. It said conclusively that most present-day Indians shared a DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) pattern, which also happens to be indigenous. Bringing together the studies of the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, India, the International HapMap Project and the Human Genome Diversity Cell Line Panel of 51 global populations, the magazine said that, while there were two genetic streams that made Indians historically, there has been too much of a cross-breeding between the two and, therefore, now the gene pool is wholly Indian. That is because, about 50,000 years ago, the ancestral node of the phylogenetic tree of all the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types—among the South Asian strain and a mix of Central, West Asian and European strains—not only converged but many of the strains from Central Asia, West Asia and Europe were also found in the South Asian variety, thus proving that even the “foreign” component was not, or might not have been, entirely foreign [“Archaeogenetics: DNA and the Population Prehistory of Europe” edited by Colin Renfrew and Katie Boyle].

As the report in Nature says, if the DNA strains of South Asian and Central/West Asian and European Caucasoid groups are similar, we cannot say for sure that the component that was European was actually, wholly and originally European. Maybe it was South Asian, too! In all likelihood, thus, people were moving in and out of India and the theory that Indians—or at least the ANI—came in wholly as a group from some other place is at best facile.

Mitochondrial DNA, being inherited by a human individual solely from the mother, is a good indicator of ancestry although 16,569 base pairs of it constitute merely 37 human genes. There is genetic unity in Indian sub-populations’ mtDNA. This was reported by the study, “The Place of the Indian Mitochondrial DNA Variants in the Global Network of Maternal Lineages and the Peopling of the Old World” in Genomic Diversity, “Mitochondrial DNA Diversity in Tribal and Caste Groups of Maharashtra (India) and its Implication on Their Genetic Origins” in the Annals of Human Genetics, and “Trends in Molecular Anthropological Studies in India” in the International Journal of Human Genetics.

The timeline of Indian history, beginning with the prehistoric period of 2000000 BC – 100000 BC, Early Neolithic Age of 9000 BC, beginning and end of the Indus Valley Civilisation in the period 3300-2600 BC, cultures of less duration in between, Mauryan Empire (321-232 BC), Gupta Empire (320-554 AD), etc, has several gaps. But when archaeology, anthropology and palaeontology are introduced to the discourse, we hardly find an era pertaining to which fossils indicating social living, including human-animal cohabitation, have not been discovered. Finally, when archaeogenetic findings are included in the study, we find the Indian population to have biologically (or genetically) united about 50,000 ago.

All this put together makes a compelling argument to dig deeper to ascertain whether, as a civilisation, Indians never ceased to exist. Civilisation, after all, is not just about emergence and collapse of kingdoms. It is fundamentally about society—people living in interactive groups.

09 July 2016

Media Waffles On Modi's Shuffles - 2

Here's why Modi transferred, demoted, promoted and left untouched some of his ministers and MPs of BJP

Continued from Part 1

Subramanian Swamy

A transfer that would have been just short of a revolution was Arun Jaitley’s from the Finance Ministry. Accept it, no BJP supporter likes him. While the Subramanian Swamy camp makes no bones about their disapproval of Jaitley, supporters who are more loyal to Modi stay silent on his performance, camouflaging their disaffection for Jaitley with invectives showered upon Swamy like “he is a maverick”; “he was once with Jayalalithaa and then he went after her”; “he wrote an article against the RSS once upon a time”; “he was behind the Vajpayee government’s fall in 1999”, etc [Click on this link for Swamy’s rebuttals].

Modi knows better than any of us what Swamy is. If it is not the 75 years age limit that went against Swamy, it is also a good idea to keep a rabble rouser out of ministries. This is not to say Swamy has no utility; he is actually of immense political use, especially as a one-man demolition squad against the Nehru-Gandhi family. But if he has to do justice to his litigious self, it’s better to not push him into administration for the sake of all the ongoing trials where he is the most visible plaintiff. The cases, when concluded, might well come in handy in the nick of time for the BJP’s renewed bid for power in 2019.

Arun Jaitley

Modi knows him, too, better than we do. The impatience of BJP supporters notwithstanding, the current Finance Minister’s stature has not grown in the government in its first two years. First Jaitley lost the Defence Ministry to Parrikar. Now he has lost the I&B Ministry to M Venkaiah Naidu. This is over and above the insider account Swarajya had shared with its readers about how Jaitley’s powers were gradually getting delegated to top economists in the Finance Ministry and NITI Aayog in the very first year of this government — after he read out the Vote on Accounts speech that sounded, beyond the first paragraph, like a draft prepared by bureaucrats. Not quite satisfied with this much of clipping of Jaitley’s wings, Modi further ensured that the Finance Minister called on him time and again in course of the preparations for Budgets 2015-16 and 2016-17 to get the boss’s vision translated as per the boss’s roadmap. This much is enough, Modi would believe, being a leader who never experimented with drastic changes in Gujarat.

As an additional reason, one may factor in the dreaded Lutyens’ network, most significantly comprising the Delhi-based media, which never wrote or spoke a word against Jaitley throughout his career. But the legendary Lutyens’ metaphor has shrunk in the new council of ministers, too. The new ministers hail from areas that are too far-flung, minding their regional businesses so far, to be part of the capital city’s elites.

Talking of the present government’s communication mechanisms, one would say that, mercifully, the Congress-led UPA’s appointees no longer decide how the BJP-led NDA government should be projected via Doordarshan, which was the scene for a long time after Modi assumed Prime Minister’s Office and moved to 7 Race Course Road. There were some glitches, of course. A journalist who was seen as close to the BJP and Sangh Parivar was made a senior consulting editor of DD News last year to usher in pro-government changes. Unfortunately for the right wing narrative, it is not as shrewdly disciplined as the left wing is. Mutual envy and rivalry surface in no time in the right wing. This journalist turned insecure in the new position soon, telling the staffers of the channel that none of the known BJP sympathisers should be invited to the channel’s talk shows. Those who were his friends till a day before changed overnight, in his perception, to threats of competition! The scenario changed only after he was moved from Doordarshan to a school of mass communication.

Though Jaitley with a formidable experience in keeping journalists in good humour could handle such puerility, finance was his prioritised portfolio from which he couldn’t be expected to spare too much of time managing the psychology of pro-BJP journalists. And Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, his deputy, does not have the foggiest of ideas about how to manage the fourth estate. So, in comes Naidu as his new senior.

M Venkaiah Naidu

How successful will Naidu be in managing journalists? Here is another insider’s account. It’s an informal meeting of scribes with some ministers during the NDA-1 government. While our fellow professionals are enjoying what is known as “high tea”, a friend and former colleague approaches Naidu, first shakes hands with the politician, saying, “Aur sir, kaise hain (how do you do, sir)?” Naidu smiles back. So far so good! Next, this journalist puts his hand on Naidu’s belly and, making circles on the leader’s belly with his hand, asks, “maamla theek hai na (everything alright)?” The BJP’s then media manager and head of intellectual cell is stunned. Other journalists in the hall look on for a few seconds with disbelief, perhaps envying this man’s equations with the leader. But Naidu does not mind the scribe’s crude display of proximity to him. The two are still good friends.

In the meantime, another good networker from the D4 of LK Advani’s era gets Naidu’s Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs: Ananth Kumar. “D4” or “Delhi 4” was a deprecatory term used to refer to four BJP leaders who were believed to form Advani’s coterie: Jaitley, Naidu, Kumar and Sushma Swaraj.

Sushma Swaraj

The last of the quartet has been away from the humdrum, managing external affairs without fuss and turning into an object of silent admiration of NRIs, PIOs and this country’s frequent international travellers. She addresses their concerns with alacrity first via Twitter and then ensures their safety and security by alerting the foreign missions and, if need be, making personal visits to disentangle the knots. The issue that the Congress had raised about her daughter being in the battery of lawyers of Lalit Modi was effectively countered by the minister in Parliament; it is now a settled debate.

Ravi Shankar Prasad

Not as high profile like the four above, but quite a recognisable face, Ravi Shankar Prasad could not solve the call drop issue while working as the Minister for Communications. Forget known critics of the BJP, the party’s own supporters, some of them with a massive following in social networking sites, had begun saying Prasad couldn’t figure out the head or tail of telecommunication technology. Jogging the memory, one would say this is his second failure in a technical field of work. In the NDA-1 government as the then I&B Minister, he had failed to persuade cable operators to switch to the Conditional Access System or CAS.

DV Sadananda Gowda

A lawyer, Prasad replaces DV Sadananda Gowda in the Law Ministry. Gowda may be a Good Samaritan, but that is not enough to succeed in administration. While losing his Railway portfolio to Suresh Prabhu earlier, he was allegedly found to be devoid of the tact needed to manage bureaucrats, as few completed the tasks given to them by Gowda within the deadlines. In the Law Ministry as well, some representations of the government in the court have caused a loss of face once in a while. Recall the stand taken on the Kohinoor issue recently, for example. In fact, awkward affidavits filed in the Supreme Court have been a nagging problem with the current government, and the entity to be blamed for that is the Law Ministry. Gowda had to go.

Faggan Singh Kulaste

Well, these were the big names. I will specially mention just one new minister whose work in the Madhya Pradesh-Chhattisgarh belt was explained to me during the recent Simhastha Convention in Indore-Ujjain. Working with an NGO headed by a descendant of Lahiri Mahasaya, Faggan Singh Kulaste has transformed Adivasis with militant tendencies, touched their poverty-stricken lives with compassion and brought them from Maoism to the Hindu fold. The Mandla district is one place where no tribal man, woman or child doubts that Adivasis are Hindus. Few ministers in past and present governments can boast of bringing about such a social transformation at the grassroot level. Delhi-based media does not even know about it. How can they report it?

Experts not required

Other new ministerial appointees will narrate their stories in some months. No doubt, these are no political big wigs. Their personalities certainly do not permit making decisions or sticking to them, let alone look the boss in the eye. But you must be uninitiated to believe Modi would have an Atal Bihari Vajpayee-like Cabinet. After a respite of 14 odd years between PV Narasimha Rao and Vajpayee, India has gone back to singular persona-driven political parties in the last 12 years. Imagine the Congress without Sonia Gandhi, the SP without Mulayam Singh Yadav, the BSP without Mayawati, the TMC without Mamata Banerjee, the AIADMK without J Jayalalithaa, the DMK without M Karunanidhi, the NCP without Sharad Pawar, the AAP without Arvind Kejriwal… Hell, the JD(U)’s Nitish Kumar couldn’t stand even an ailing George Fernandes who, the current Chief Minister of Bihar thought at the time, was breathing down his neck!

As for expertise, if an ex-FICCI Amit Mitra cannot turn the fortunes of West Bengal under Mamata Banerjee — Manmohan Singh’s futility under Sonia Gandhi is too well known for reiteration — of what use is a minister’s domain knowledge? Ergo, Dr Harsh Vardhan, among the few ministers in Modi’s first Cabinet who knew the department he was given, saw himself removed from the portfolio in the first shuffle. Thereafter, expecting experts of domains to head the respective ministries was callow.

Yes, this is Modi’s show, a one-man show, which journalists sometimes get right, but then forget again as they did in the last three days. This is Modi’s gamble. Come 2019, he gets credit for everything good from the supporters and all the brickbats for everything the detractors believe has gone wrong.

Media Waffles On Modi's Shuffles - 1

Speculations are rife whenever journalists try to read the Prime Minister’s mind. In the last three days, as always, Modi drove them to their wit’s end just as he had the day before inducting his first council of ministers two years ago

Prime Minister Narendra Modi seemed to have some fun, virtually challenging the media to read his mind for 48 hours. On 4 July, even as journalists had been speculating on the shape of the then impending Cabinet reshuffle, he told the Press that it would be an expansion drive, not a reshuffle. Hiding its disappointment, television channels ran tickers on the screen, relaying the announcement, and newspapers the next morning reported that the Cabinet would merely see some new appointments while no NDA MP was gaining or losing a job. With the swearing-in ceremony for the new appointees on 5 July, Modi appeared to keep his word initially. But as is a political commentator’s wont, tongues would wag with whatever information available. So, until the surprise unravelled, there were those usually suspected commentaries like this was nothing but “social engineering”, “with an eye on Uttar Pradesh polls”. Not wrong, but Modi must have smiled at the journalist’s naïveté. And then, by the evening, there were several transfers and demotions and a few promotions.

Proven wrong and right in a span of two days, the regular faces on television somehow regained their composure and fired the next salvo — “these 19 ministers have no track record in governance”, almost saying they will prove incompetent. The Prime Minister proved them wrong again, much as the next flurry of information from the government did not quite circulate among the people, thanks to a media embarrassed by surprises in quick succession. The PMO via Ministry of Information & Broadcasting (I&B) sent a directive to DD News that its anchors must deal with the administrative aspects of the reshuffle rather than its political implications. The obedient employees of the State let the panellists know as much while meekly saying “you are not bound as we are; you may talk politics if you want to, but speak more on administration, please”.

The new ministers

The prime-time debate on DD News, supposed to be of half-an-hour, then began with a 15-minute report on the curricula vitae of the new ministers. That there was a diktat from the top to play these résumés is not important; every government would like the national broadcaster to project a positive image of the dispensation. The point this article is making is about the number of times scribes frothing at the mouth on Twitter and private news channels were proven to be opinionated without adequate information at their disposal.

Indeed, none of the 19 ministers turns out to be a bumpkin, fresh out of a backwater with no exposure to governance, legislatures and other mechanisms of dealing with the people and making policies for them. So what if five of them are from the Scheduled Castes, two from the Scheduled Tribes, one from the socially-forward-avowedly-backward Jat community and quite a few from the Other Backward Classes? So what if Modi felt it would be an inopportune time to drop a Brahmin from the Cabinet before the Uttar Pradesh election? Is it possible for any government in India to put in place a council of ministers where you couldn’t tell the caste of any? If there is a skew in the Cabinet’s demographics, the commentariat have a problem; if there is quite an even distribution of posts among castes, the commentariat still have a problem! We spent decades lamenting the fact that our ministers are much older than their foreign counterparts. Then Modi introduces an upper age limit of 75 years. The commentariat continue to have a problem!

First of all, here is the list to address the issue of “inexperience”. If you were to say that the MPs elevated as ministers have got quite a career in administration, the commentariat would call your “hagiography” was not needed as the info is in the public domain now. But the fact is that such lists in media websites were uploaded late in the night of 5 July after the Doordarshan act. By then, high-profile journalists heading the same media houses had already dismissed the reshuffle as perfunctory.

There is one new minister who will get a special mention in the second part of this two-part article.

Piyush Goyal

But has the exercise satisfied the supporters of the government? They expected, for example, a promotion for Piyush Goyal, arguably among the best of performers in this government, the other performers being Nitin Gadkari, Suresh Prabhu and Manohar Parrikar. But pragmatic that Modi is, of what practical use was promoting an MoS with independent charge to the Cabinet rank? A pat on the back for good work? Modi is less sentiment-driven than you think. What about the licence to attend Cabinet meetings where crucial decisions are taken collectively? For that, replay the soundbytes of the new ministers after they were sworn in and assigned portfolios. “I will carry out Modiji’s instructions” is more or less what all of them said. “Modiji’s instructions” apply to Goyal, too — more so because he is relatively young with years of politics left in him.

Cheerleaders of Goyal, who has endeared to many with his disarming smile as much as he awes the people with his electrification drive, must keep in mind another aspect of Modi’s nature. He does not like any one of the functionaries of his government to be singled out for treatment reserved for a hero. When the media says somebody is getting something from Modi, the MP or minister can be almost sure he is not getting it. Remember 26 May 2014? No speculated minister got the ministry television channels were saying he or she would. Therefore, if you care for Goyal, just temper down your publicly expressed enthusiasm about him.

Gadkari, Prabhu and Parrikar were already Cabinet ministers. They couldn’t have been raised even higher, and the fact that they have retained their respective ministries is appreciation enough from the Prime Minister.

Smriti Irani

As for keeping at bay those with a proclivity to create controversies, which is what the media speculated for a whole day, this may not be the only reason for moving Smriti Irani from the MHRD to the Textiles Ministry. Irani did a harm that few or none in the media reported. She turned some eminent supporters of Modi into sworn enemies of his government. If you happened to hang around in the Delhi University campus during the Lok Sabha election campaign, talking to pro-BJP professors who are members of DUTA, the university teachers’ union, and if you happened to talk to them again after the messy settlement of the four-year undergraduate programme dispute, you would know the damage Irani did. “She talked to us as though we were peons in her office,” you would hear these professors say. Forget their feudalistic refrain against the dignity of labour of a Class IV staff; you get the drift, don’t you?

In fact, so high-handed was Irani in the MHRD that some bureaucrats in other ministries who learnt of her style of functioning were awestruck by her act of throwing her weight around. When the Ministry of Culture, for example, was taking time to determine an appropriate action against the then secretary in Sangeet Natak Akademi who faced several charges of corruption, some babus in the said cultural department said they wanted the “indecisive” Mahesh Sharma to be replaced by an “assertive” Irani! That was being unfair to Sharma who naturally needed time to hear out all the parties to the dispute and study all the relevant files.

As someone who was surprised to see Irani as the education minister on the day of her selection for the portfolio two years ago, I must say she had no vision for the education sector alright, but she was more of a mess maker rather than an education minister who did things that only behove uneducated people. No, Modi couldn’t have been entirely upset about the Rohith Vemula and Umar Khalid episodes. That is a hypothesis of communist newspapers. Supporters of the ruling party were happy that the communists had handed over the plank of nationalism on a platter to the BJP in that duration. Communists received the snub of the century at that time when they felt the urge to carry the National Flag and march through the streets of different cities to prove their patriotism — something they had never done before in the almost 70 years since 15 August 1947.

Irani’s problem was that, as an inexperienced politician, she was leaving too many fingerprints of what should have been her covert acts. Take the action recommended against Vemula, for example. Why to send formal letters from the MHRD to the Hyderabad Central University advising suspension of some recalcitrant students when, as the country’s Education Minister, Irani could have derived the desired result through some phone calls to the varsity’s authorities? Shrewd politicians speak through aides; their voices are hardly caught on tape and they do not leave their signatures or their officers’ on tell-tale documents.

Prakash Javadekar

Will Prakash Javadekar do a better job of it? One is not sure his assertion that he is a product of student agitation under the JP movement helps in clearing impasses of the JNU kind. What he does have in his arsenal is a weapon that Goyal possesses, as mentioned above. While not coming across as suave like Goyal, Javadekar can disarm anybody with his polite behaviour and soft demeanour. Irani and he together make a study in contrasting characters. The education sector is not going to be revolutionised in the near future, but the new person at its helm is likely to hit far less discordant notes. HRD is a prominent ministry, and Modi has entrusted Javadekar with the task not only for the negotiating skills that the Maharashtrian brings to the table but also for his remarkable record in carrying out instructions from the PMO.

Perhaps no ministry has witnessed a paradigm change as much as the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MoEFCC) that Javadekar headed as the MoS (IC) until a few days ago. The “Jayanti Natarajan tax” Modi mocked about during his 2014 campaign is now a forgotten chapter as are the industry’s clashes with the ministry under Jairam Ramesh. And for this, Javadekar did not offer clearances at the drop of a hat, contrary to the propaganda against him in some newspapers. He cleverly reduced the number of authorities that once signed on the dotted line. Now, if a factory springs up in your locality, which you think was licensed wrongly, blame your state government instead of the Centre. Javadekar’s stewardship of the MoEFCC has been the most remarkable crusade against UPA-era “policy paralysis”. He did not rule that environmental sanctions would no longer be required for potentially polluting industry, which could disturb environmentalists. He just changed the rules so that an applicant no longer had to knock on two doors — Centre and the state — for any given clearance; the provincial authority alone sufficed. Modi had to recognise the wise man’s talent.

The second part of this article has been published in this blog after it was carried by Swarajya. It deals with Arun Jaitley, Subramanian Swamy, M Venkaiah Naidu, Ananth Kumar, Sushma Swaraj (though she has not been moved from the position she held in the Cabinet), Ravi Shankar Prasad, Sadananda Gowda and Faggan Singh Kulaste

25 February 2016

JNU Students Allege Political & Religious Discrimination By Teachers

Most of the time, it is subtle. The teacher would make snide remarks about you as you pass through a corridor and, sometimes, even while a lecture session is on — if you do not happen to share the teacher’s political ideology. It is not necessary that you are affiliated to the ABVP or the teacher owes his/her allegiance to the CPM, CPI or CPI(ML)-Revolution. The professor might have been a communist when s/he was a student in JNU years ago, or the constant company of communist colleagues has had an influence on his/her mindset.

Saying so, however, would sound no better than a right winger’s pet theory. So, let’s study some specific cases. The identities of the students will stay hidden — lest their careers should be affected. The names of the teachers must be told, however; or else this story will not be credible.

Moushumi Basu is an Associate Professor and CIPOD’s coordinator with the Equal Opportunity Office (EOO) of JNU. Several students have heard her boasting of having reached out to Parliament House attack convict Afzal Guru at the Tihar Jail when he was alive. She says she used to carry food to the criminal on death row. During one such chat in the campus, a student pooh-poohed her ‘feat’. When it was this otherwise promising girl’s turn to face the oral exam for her MPhil, Basu gave her a grade of 4.7 whereas a minimum of 5 is required to move to the next year. This student is an OBC.

The alibi was predictable. When questioned by the unfortunate girl’s classmates, Basu said that the girl’s presentation skills left a lot to be desired.

Recently, some newspapers had carried stories of caste discrimination in the JNU administration and campus which, curiously, came up juxtaposed with the Rohit Vemula story as though the same set of people were responsible for the acts of discrimination in both the varsities. Now our readers know that leftists are behind the practice of the caste scourge in JNU. Or, they penalise a student if he appreciates the work of “BJP’s” Narendra Modi — never mind that the country’s prime minister is an OBC, too.

JNU Poster 1
What was that desire of Afzal Guru that these communists wish to realise? Destroying India, of course
ABVP students cutting across different centres of humanities in JNU have been complaining since the NDA government took charge at the Centre that the professors openly threaten them with comments like: “Let’s see how long Modi lasts; he is not going to be around for 50 years, is he? Who will protect you then?”

And how brilliant are the communist students who keep passing these exams, living and overstaying in hostels till they are middle-aged? Eyewitnesses of the incident of the night of 9 February say that many young students found the demonstrations by DSU “cool”. They added to the chorus of hailing Afzal Guru and Maqbool Bhatt. While dispersing, however, they were asking one another who this goddamn Maqbool Bhatt was. He must be another unfortunate social activist whom Modi hanged recently, they presumed on their way back to their hostels. Indira Gandhi must have squirmed in her afterlife.

The other day, there was a heated debate on Times Now over letting DSU, a part of the All India Revolutionary Students Federation (AIRSF), a frontal organisation of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist), function in university campuses. Our readers should be given a piece of information that Arnab Goswami could not extract from his panellists. DSU cannot be prohibited because it is not a registered union in the first place.

How does one identify DSU in a campus then? Well, the same set of 20 odd students — including the 10 named in the poster inviting students to the 9 February event at Sabarmati Dhaba — and teachers surface again and again with Maoist agendas, under fanciful banners. Sometimes Anirban Bhattacharya, “Anjali Jha”, Anwesha, Aswathi Nair, Bhavna Bedi, Komal Bharati Mohite, Reyaz ul Haq, Rubina Saifi, Umar Khalid and Samar Khan call themselves the Cultural Front. At times, the same set becomes the Students’ League. At other times, they are the United Left. So on and so forth! That fateful night, they had invited JNU inmates to a “Cultural Evening”.

One of the names has appeared in quotes above because she cannot be traced anywhere in the campus. However, her name figures in the posters made by these students time and again.

Within the DSU fold, there was an act of dissent last year. Anirban, Anubhav, Aswathi, Banojyotsna, Gogol, Priya Dharshini, Reyaz, Rubina, Srirupa, Umar and Ufaque resigned from the union, citing the reason of not being allowed to speak on “gender relations and patriarchal oppression” within the organisation. They registered their protest in a private website run by some communists like journalists Binu Mathew and Satya Sagar, filmmaker KP Sasi and film editor Ajith Kumar B.

JNU Poster 2
Poster inviting students and teachers to the controversial event of 9 February 2016
And how do these communist students manage to get into the good books of their respective professors? The most effective tool the students of AISA, AISF, SFI, DSF and the elusive DSU employ to strike a rapport with these teachers is inviting them to post-dinner talks. The minor differences between different communist ideologies are forgotten as both moderates and radicals invite the likes of Kamal Mitra Chenoy, Jayati Ghosh, Mridula Mukherjee et al. None of these teachers affiliated to different unions — or to no union while being leftists nevertheless — ever decline an invite.

In these late night talks, students shower eulogies on the scholars for their ‘brilliant’ informal lectures. A regular student attendee of these talks, unless he or she is totally dumb, never fails. In contrast, the students of the ABVP — as well as pupils not fascinated by communism — are the regular targets of derision of these professors. Besides the teachers named above, students complained to this correspondent against Nivedita Menon, a faculty member at the Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Sachidanand Sinha and Atul Sood, both professors at the Centre for the Study of Regional Development under the School of Social Sciences, and Balbir Singh Butola. Centre for the Study of Regional Development.

Happymon Jacob, Associate Professor, Disarmament Studies at the School of International Studies, and AK Ramakrishnan, Professor, Centre for West Asian Studies at the School of International Studies are two teachers to watch out for their virtually secessionist views on all parts of India that brave insurgencies, with a special interest in Jammu & Kashmir.

The students I spoke to alleged that some of these professors were present at Umar Khalid & Co’s event at the Sabarmati Dhaba on 9 February. Some of the interviewees suspected that Jacob and Ramakrishnan might have played a role in organising the function at least by inciting the student organisers.

Names of professors who participated in the commemoration of the first anniversary of Afzal Guru’s “martyrdom” can be seen in the following poster. Ramakrishnan’s name can be seen in it. Along with the hyperventilating author Arundhati Roy, one can find on the list Maoist ideologue Sujato Bhadra, filmmaker Sanjay Kak, Manipuri activist Malem Ningthouja, Prof Tripta Wahi and alumnus Kunwarpal Singh and anti-sedition advocate RS Bains.

JNU poster 3
Communist commemoration of the first anniversary of the Parliament House attack convict's execution
Then there are instances of religious discrimination. Blunt attacks come from the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies’ Centre for Arabic and African Studies. The teachers are expectedly all Muslim and students mostly so. The Hindu students of the discipline I spoke to said they have to constantly live with the teachers’ observation that “Arabic is Allah’s language” and, therefore, the “Hindus are not blessed” to learn it.

Two students who complained so said that they could be identified in the class if the names of these professors came out. Therefore, an inquiry committee must be constituted to identify who out of M Aslam Islahi, FU Farooqi, Basheer Ahmad, Mujeebur Rahman, Rizwanur Rahman, Ubaidur Rahman, Md Qutbuddin, Khurshid Imam and Md Akram Nawaz made these prejudiced remarks. These are the names of faculty members at the said centre.

The department of Persian language has several non-Muslim names in the list of faculty members. But some of the Muslim professors even here have been heard saying Muslims alone “deserve” to learn Arabic, the “language of God”, while Persian and other languages spoken in Islamic countries may be made accessible to lesser mortals!

A non-Muslim student of Arabic, Persian and Urdu, which incidentally I happen to be, can vouch for the authenticity of this allegation. It is not just in JNU where Muslim teachers create an impression that non-Muslim students have come to the wrong classroom. We don’t deserve to learn Arabic, their god’s language!

Let them be deluded in madrassas. In secular institutions, shouldn’t a proper probe be initiated against these teachers and disciplinary action taken against them?

Who will bell the cat is the question. The communists of JNU are reportedly unhappy with the findings of the committee that found eight students guilty of raising anti-national slogans in the campus on 9 February and suspended them based on its report. The reason for their displeasure is that, unlike on  several previous occasions, they couldn’t bulldoze their way into the committee to issue to all accused students a clean chit. A professor of the Centre for Indo-Pacific Studies, School of International Studies, for example, who was an SFI activist in the past but who is not involved in activism at present, holds that JNUSU president Kanhaiya is innocent while conceding that radical leftists are active in the campus [The name of this teacher has been withheld because the complainant fears it will expose his name, too].

Since 12 February, when the internal committee of JNU submitted its report and action was taken against eight students, almost no teacher in the humanities discipline is holding a regular class. All the time allotted for lectures is spent on informal chats over police action on alleged anti-national students.

And what kind of justice is meted out by an inquiry committee whose composition suits the communist teachers? The language school had one Arshad Alam as a faculty member. The man’s services had earlier been terminated at Jamia Milia Islamia after he was accused of rape. He was accused of raping a student again at JNU. The university authorities merely dismissed him instead of handing him over to the police.

But make no mistake. Muslim teachers alone do not have the dubious distinction of creating an environment in the classrooms that is not conducive to healthy learning. Parnal Chirmuley, Associate Professor at the Centre of German Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, would make such obnoxious comments on Hindu festivities that it would be difficult for a believer to maintain a calm composure necessary for concentration on the curriculum. Besides dismissing festivals like Holi, Diwali and Durga Puja, she would brag about having thrown garbage at Ganesh Chaturthi processions while she was in Maharashtra as a mark of her protest.

Chirmuley believes the burqa is a symbol of women’s emancipation as it saves them from the evil gaze of men! And she hails the Taliban for being “the world’s most formidable anti-imperialist force”.

One must also know how the communist students increase the strength of their tribe. This is necessary in the context of this article to get the overall picture of revulsion an apolitical student might get from the campus. My readers who happen to have gone to a communist-dominated university campus of West Bengal, where professors do not overtly profess their political views but SFI activists make the experience unbearable to no less an extent, can relate to it. I am using the description "revulsion" because I, an apolitical person during my undergraduate years, am against student unionism of the political kind while those who have been part of such unions fail to appreciate that their attitude and activities vitiate the atmosphere of learning that an educational institution is supposed to provide.

Initially, students from the hinterland reach JNU in an unassuming and gullible state with little or no political predilections. After living a hell lot of taboos in their villages and small towns, the JNU campus comes across to them as a sudden, overwhelming experience of freedom. Before the realisation sinks in, they are swept off their feet by the leftist advocacy of “free sex”. Well, that is not the term the communists use, but that is the sense the villager-turned-townsperson gets — more so due to the first-day reception by girls.

In contrast, the ABVP looks dull, boring and anachronistic, espousing views that sound regressive even to urbane right wingers. Moving around the campus, I heard out ABVP affiliates ruing the fact that they still couldn’t master the art of political correctness that, most importantly, entails the right gender and caste mix. Unlike the Brahmins in communist parties, they are also loath to using assumed surnames that would camouflage their castes. They bemoaned the fact that no corrective measure is taken by the RSS to make their union more appealing to the college-going youth in general.

Fence sitters are wooed — rather dragged — to the communist fold by another technique. The communist students offer those who fail to get hostel accommodation space in the dormitories dominated by communists. Here, demonstrations raising typically communist issues are a regular activity. An ‘indebted’ newcomer normally obliges his communist senior when urged to join the processions, sloganeering and talks. In due course, an apolitical yokel from some remote corner of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Bengal, Odisha, Tamil Nadu or Kerala turns into an indoctrinated soldier of the red brigade.

I am reproducing the original draft of my report (with typographical errors corrected) after its first publisher took off the names of professors from it. The report contains allegations by students affiliated to the ABVP as well as unaffiliated, apolitical students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University. If a teacher mentioned in this report wishes to raise an objection to the complaints, he or she may send a rejoinder to dasgupta.surajit@gmail.com. That will be published in this blog, too.
 — Surajit Dasgupta

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Surajit Dasgupta treats no individual, organisation or institution as a holy cow.