Saturday, 13 July 2019

Why India needs to look at Bangladesh very differently


Next year will mark the 100th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose struggles delivered independence for Bangladesh. It provides an opportunity for us in India to learn to appreciate that country better. For what that country stands for. For what their aspirations. For why they are totally deserving and justifiably of India’s respect.

The first description that needs correction is the Indian characterisation of the events of 1971 on the eastern front as an India Pakistan war. It wasn’t.  Instead it should be seen as Bangladesh’s war of independence. Yes, India fought Pakistan. Yes, we sent our army in. Yes, the air force followed thereafter. But let none forget that while 3,900 Indian soldiers died and another 9,851 were wounded, the loss of Bangladeshi life was far more. Some say that the genocide unleashed by Pakistan caused upwards of 3 million deaths. If the quantum of sacrifice made by its people is any criteria, it was clearly Bangladesh’s fight in which India provided substantial assistance with men and material to help the local population capture power.

At the 100th anniversary celebrations that start in March next year, no other country has as much claim to be on the main stage as India. During the 1971 war, only India and Russia were with Bangladesh. China sided with Pakistan but clearly Bangladesh has mended fences with China, with the latter offering to invest huge sums of money in Bangladesh. Even with Pakistan, Bangladesh relations are on even keel as evidenced by the socio cultural interaction between the two countries from time to time. While it is true that the Sheikh Hasina’s Awami League has sided with India on issues involving Pakistan, the same cannot be said of the two main opposition parties, namely, Begum Zia’s BNP or General Ershad’s Jatiya Party, both of whom have given Hasina hell for cosying up to India.

It has been 48 years since independence. For more than half the period, Bangladesh had governments which were not favourably disposed towards having good friendly ties with India even if they may not always been completely inimical. The population of Bangladesh at the time of its independence in 1971 was 65 million, today it is 165 million. Which means that most of the population has no recollection of Mujib and his sacrifices or India’s contribution. The 100th anniversary is a perfect opportunity to tell them about Bangabandhu, his sacrifices and his contribution to the creation of Bangladesh. India would therefore do well to showcase its own role but without making Bangladesh uncomfortable. It is a perfect opportunity for India to pay homage to the memory of the 3 million Bangladeshis who died during the independence struggle. 

It is in India’s interests to do so. Bangabandhu, or friend of Bengal, Mujib wore his Bengali identity proudly on his sleeve. Which is how, even today, the Bengali identity trumps the Muslim identity for most Bangladeshis. The anniversary provides an opportunity to reinforce this in the minds of the post independence generation. From India’s point of view that alone will be enough to provide a bulwark against mass radicalisation of the population. Bangladesh attaches great value to its secular credentials and the fact that there are more than 100 temples where there is daily worship provides testimony to this. Equally important, there is the Gurdwara Nanakshahi, in memory of Guru Nanakji who visited Dhaka in the 16th century. It is important for India to be invested in ensuring that Bangladesh stays secular and does not become a breeding ground for any kind of radicalisation that can hurt India. But to get there, we in India need to change.

The Indian mindset on Bangladesh has to change.  Take the name with anyone and everything you hear is negative. Illegal migration. Basket case. Poor country. Terrorist haven. There is no denying that Bangladesh has its share of problems. But today’s Bangladeshi is a proud Bangladeshi. And there is much for him to be proud of. And he wants to be appreciated for it. With good reason too.

The Brookings Institution calls Bangladesh one of Asia’s most remarkable and unexpected success stories in recent years. “Bangladesh defies economic and political gravity,” screams the Nikkei Asian Review. They are self sufficient in food and earned the world’s respect when they gave shelter to the Rohingyas fleeing persecution in Myanmar in much the same way India did when millions of Bangladeshis took refuge in India in 1971. Even Pakistan calls Bangladesh a success story, admitting candidly that Bangladesh has done much better than Pakistan itself.

There is more. I did not know until last week that India exports 10 billion US $ of goods and services to Bangladesh and that we run a trade surplus of over 9 billion US $ with them. It means that Bangladesh buys over Rs 70000 crores worth of stuff from us. That is a lot of jobs they are helping us create in India. They deserve our gratitude for this alone. But the story does not end there. In 2017, more than 2.2 lakh Bangladeshis came to India for medical treatment, that number will be much higher by now. They create jobs too. With them come their families. The Indian High commission issued over 15 lakh visas to Bangladeshis annually. I am not sure if there is any other country on earth that sends as many visitors to India. Many of them come to Kolkata for weekend shopping, some have started going to Guwahati after a direct flight was introduced. The impact of these 15 lakh on the Indian economy cannot be overstated. Thank you, Bangladesh. It is high time we acknowledged their positive impact on the Indian economy.  And give them the respect they so rightfully deserve.

If that’s not all, Bangladesh trumps India on several indicators. Bangladeshis’ average life expectancy is now 72 years, compared to 68 years for Indians says the World Bank.  When it comes to banking, only 10.4 percent of Bangladeshi bank accounts are dormant compared to 48 percent of Indian bank accounts. Dormant accounts are those where there has not been a single transaction for a year. When it comes to ready made garments, Bangladesh beats India by a long way.

If none of this resonates with you as being reason enough for Bangladesh to be proud, allow me to remind you of Shakib, whose performance at the World Cup has been nothing short of phenomenal. The success of Shakib has given the young Bangladeshi reason enough to walk with his held high. It is time we in India recognised this and give them the respect that they so rightfully deserve.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Why a loss in Bihar will be no setback for the BJP

It will be a miracle if the BJP combine wins in Bihar. but if they do, the message will be loud and clear that the Modi sheen is not fading and if anything, it is even getting stronger, much stronger.

But I am not sure if even the BJP expects to win Bihar, their public posturing notwithstanding. Not that that is going to make a huge difference.

Consider this.

Even in the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 when Nitish Kumar was humiliated, the BJP polled just under 30 % of the votes polled. The JD (U) of Nitish Kumar,  the RJD of Lalu Yadav and the Congress received 16%, 20 % and  9 % % respectively.

If one recognises that the BJP cannot better its pe

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

How Ahmad Javed, the new Mumbai police Commissioner, transformedpolicing in Navi Mumbai

When Ahmad Javed,  the new Police Commissioner of Mumbai, used to be the Police Commissioner of Navi Mumbai which was not very long ago, he did something very simple which changed the face of policing in Navi Mumbai for as long as he was there. He asked for notice boards to be put up in every police station in Navi Mumbai with his mobile number on it.

What is the big deal, you may ask. especially when the mobile numbers of many police officers are available on the web. Let me tell you it was a big deal, a very big deal.

On this board he had arranged for display at every police station were the mobile numbers of three people. The message on the notice board exhorted people who were unhappy with the service at the police station to call any of the three officers whose numbers were displayed. The first was that of the Station in Charge. The second was that of the Deputy Commissioner of Police who had supervisory responsibilities over the police station. The third was his.

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Silly idea this, Justice Katju

As the world celebrates the advent of the month of Ramzan, my mind goes back to a day last month when I visited the Cheraman mosque in Kerala.

I am reminded of a plaque on the wall announcing that the mosque was set up in 629 AD, which, in case you did not realise it, was during the life time of the Prophet. The story goes that Cheraman Perumal, Chera king, sufficiently intrigued to hear about the Prophet from visiting Arab traders, decided to make the trip to meet the Prophet. He would never made it back home, dying on his return journey but by then, he issued instructions for this mosque to be built.

Christianity too was introduced to India early on and can be traced back to 52 AD when St Thomas, one of the 12 Apostles showed up. He came to Kerala where, as he would discover, there was already a Jewish settlement.

What do both of these say about this country ? It shows that this has been a country embraced seekers of all faiths. Some came to conquer, some to take refuge from the tyranny in their own lands. "I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth," said Swami Vivekananda. He defines the essence of India, when he went on to say, "We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true."

 Which is perhaps why conversions did not happen. Christianity has been around for ever but Christians in this land account for less than 2.3 % of the total. By any yardstick, the proselytzation agenda of the Church has failed. 

Islam fared better in terms of numbers. May be because of the Mughal invaders who ruled the country for long. Yet, Muslims, inspite of all the invasions and the forcible acts of conversion by successive Mughal kings, don't add up to more than 15 % of the total population. 

Both religions failed to get more traction because people may not have felt the need to convert. Except when forced to do so. The my-god-is-better-than-your-god theme of various proselytizers seems to have found no takers. Which is how even now, this plural society is over 80 % Hindu. 

And in the Hindu belief, there is provision for as many Gods as one chooses. If you believe in one god, that is okay. If you believe in two, that too is okay. Three, sure. You don't believe in God, that too is fine.  In every human settlement, they made up their own Gods. Every village had a God, a guardian god. Thats how as a country, we ended up with more than a million Gods and counting.

What then is secularism ? I honestly don't know.

But I can say that it cannot be about saying that among my Facebook friends or Twitter followers, 14.5 % are Muslims, which roughly corresponds to the national demographics.

I can say that it is about not looking at religious beliefs when hiring a CA or a techie. Religion should not matter.

So you could have your Rama while I had my Krishna or Shiva. It is this that laid the foundation for the acceptance of a Christ or Allah similarly. Whoever. Society gave each one freedom to find ones own  truth. It was about self realisation. Over the years conflicts did happen. But the core essence remained. Of tolerance. Of co existence. Of recognising the need to allow each to find ones own path,  to explore other paths.

Which is why what is happening around me is scary. The emergence of us and them. When some of my colleagues in the office talk in such terms, it makes me shudder. When I hear a retired Supreme Court Judge Markandey Katju talk about secularism not being a one way traffic, he talks of a balance rooted in reciprocity.

In asking Hindus to fast for one day during Ramzan while exhorting Muslims to fast one day during Navratri, he misses the point completely. It is not my recollection that we ever fasted for Navratri at home. I hail from a  part of the country which is different from those parts where they do fast for Navratri. So  what does the Judge suggest that Muslims do by way of reciprocity to make me happy? This tit for tat, however endearing a  concept, is going nowhere. It is simply a variation of an eye for an eye approach, which ultimately makes the whole world go blind.

I was in Guruvayur not long ago where the ban on Yesudas' entry still holds. That is ridiculous. His tapes are playing ecverywhere but they wont let him in because he is a Christian. He should be allowed to go not because they allowed me to go into the Cheraman Masjid and that I wish to offer something to Christians in return, but because it is fundamentally against what this country has espoused all these years. In most temples around the country, non Hindus are not permitted. in my view, it should not matter what your belief system to be allowed into a sacred space. that is how this country has been forever,

What then is secularism ? Honestly I don't know.  Though I can say that it is not what Justice Katju is proposing. Just as I can say vehemently that it is not about having Muslims make up 14.5% of your Facebook friends or Twitter followers arguing that that is reflective of the country's demographics. Where personal religious beliefs do not matter to perform a function, these considerations should not enter. For me that is secularism. Like when one goes to a lawyer or a doctor. One goes to them for their professional competence. Or when one hires a software engineer. Or a finance professional. Or even a maid at home. Or when someone is cast for a role in a movie.

Should we have taken this approach with our cricket team where at one point in time, more than 2 Muslims were playing? Or our hockey team where Christians have a greater presentation that their demographics would warrant. Or for many years, Sikhs.

To propose a you-do-this-for-me-if-you-want-me-to-do-this-for-you is a lousy approach and totally unbecoming of a retired Supreme Court Judge.  This is not the test of a secular society. This is just plain silly and not what this country needs today. I would have ignored it if was just silly but the problem is that it is also dangerous.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Remembering the worst genocide in my living memory

In just 9 months in 1971, the Pakistani army killed 3 million people in what was then known as East Pakistan and is now known as Bangladesh. Contrast this with Hitler's atrocities when 6 million Jews were killed between 1941 and 1945. For the sheer intensity of the atrocities, for their sheer brutality packed within a short time, Pakistani's annihilation of Bangladeshis beats any other purge anywhere in the world. Which is why it is a matter of huge regret that the the world has not paid much attention to this genocide.

(The atrocities by Pol Pot in Cambodia were spread over 4 years when 2 million were killed)

As I see pictures of Narendra Modi, the Indian PM, who landed in Bangladesh earlier today, my mind goes back to those days. I was 8 going on 9. it started as a game for me and my sister. Every evening the sirens would go off. Sometime around then, power to would be cut. We would do our homework under the light of hurricane lamps. My sister and I would race to see who could get more windows covered with brown paper so that the light from the lamp could not be seen by overflying aeroplanes looking for a target to bomb though I don't think any Pakistani plane ever got close. We would seal up the windows good. Once in a while, we would rush to the terrace hearing the sound of a plane which were told was an Indian fighter jet rushing to defend Bangladesh. If we spotted one, we would scream in sheer delight.

Not that I understood much. I did not know why there was a war, I did not know anything about the genocide that was going on less than 100 miles away from where we lived in Calcutta. I only knew that something big was happening. I got really excited my when my grandfather took me to Southern Avenue to see Indira Gandhi drive past in an open jeep. The roadsides were lined up with more people than I had ever seen. I waved to her and she waved back. I did not know then that that was a victory procession. I did not understand the significance of it then. A few weeks later my father took me to see a Pakistani tank which was kept in the Maidan area. There was not much of a crowd and we were allowed to go in. I got to play inside the tank for a few minutes. I did recall thinking how anyone could sit inside all cramped up.

Over the next few weeks and months and even years, the enormity of what happened sunk into me gradually. I heard about this place called Salt Lake on the outskirts of Calcutta where the refugees were being settled. Millions of them. i heard abut the squalour and the dirt and how the area had become smelly. Today that area houses the affluent of Calcutta. Over the next few years I read about how many refugees were moved to a place called Dandakaranya in Orissa.

This post is triggered by an article I read today by Ravi Venkatesan describing India as a poor country. When I recall the enormity of the sacrifices that must have been made by people at that time to accommodate the displaced people from across the border, the enormity of which is sinking into me only now, I can tell you that it cannot be the act of a poor country. We have poor people in this country alright, but when I recall what we did then, I would hesitate to call ourselves poor.

It strikes me that that was then India as a world power came on the world stage. Because being a world power is about caring, it is about caring for the consequences of one's actions not to mention of that of others. But for the genocide which the world is yet to recognise for what it was, I am not sure Indira Gandhi would have intervened. Of course it must have occurred to her that if she won, as she did, her position in the government would not be challenged. The human cost of the refugee influx may also have been a factor. But you don't act if you don't care. And she showed that India cared. She showed that India which had been a home for displaced people from all over the world over the ages, could still provide comfort to the displaced from across the border.

Today as my Prime Minister stands in Dhaka, I want him to remember that the greatness of India was reinforced by her actions. I want him to spare a thought to the memory of Indira Gandhi.

Why India needs to look at Bangladesh very differently

Next year will mark the 100 th birth anniversary of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, whose struggles delivered independence for Bangla...