Monday, June 17, 2024

Intellectual Integrity Vs Machiavellian Morality

Intellectuals of a society are its leading lights; not weathervanes!

In a speech delivered in Bristol in 1780, Edmund Burke told his constituents

“I did not obey your instructions: No. I conformed to the instructions of truth and nature, and maintained your interest, against your opinions, with a constancy that became me.”  

He was elected to the parliament from the city in 1774 and was seeking reelection. Bromwich, Burke’s biographer observed: 

“Like Shakespeare, Burke knew the glamour and influence of the Machiavellian morality, in politics and in smaller-scale, human wheeling and dealing.” 

Leadership literature has an unverified story that explains the seamy side of leadership of mass movements. During the days of the French revolution, so goes the story, a newspaperman was having a tête-à-tête with a leader of the revolution in a Paris café. As they were sipping coffee and chatting, a wildly howling mob screaming slogans stomped by. The newspaperman wondered what the procession was all about. On hearing this, the ‘leader’ shouted “Oh my God, I am supposed to the lead the procession” and ran out! 

Burke risked his electorate’s possible displeasure in choosing intellectual integrity. In a benign era in which the electorate was not corrupted by Machiavellian morality, his candour was appreciated! In a polity as fractured by caste and creed as India’s, with rare exceptions, politicians tend to choose Machiavellian morality over intellectual integrity. 

The biggest failure of ‘public intellectuals’ in India is their inability to forge national unity based on a society that does not think in terms of castes and creeds. In a 1954 judgement, the Supreme Court expressed its fervent hope that the Indian Constitution would bring about a 

“[…] new order … with its new allegiance springing from the same source for all, grounded on the same basis: the sovereign will of the peoples of India with no class, no caste, no race, no creed, no distinction, no reservation.” 

The Supreme Court, it appears, was carried away with its own rhetorical flourishes in pluralizing ‘people’, and the reinforcing qualifier at the end of the sentence. 

The phrase ‘public intellectual’ was coined by Russell Jacoby in his 1987 book, “The Last Intellectuals”. Absorbed as the Indians were in ‘divisive’ versus ‘integrative’ polemics, there has not been much debate on the role of ‘public intellectuals’ or rather the sad scarcity of balanced public intellectual discourse. The words ‘divisive’ and ‘integrative’ too have diametrically opposing connotations based on from which perspective they are looked at! Jacoby observed 

“[…] intellectuals, if noticed, are usually blessed or subsidized…and one consequence—at least—unnoticed and profoundly damaging: the impoverishment of public culture”.  

A scan of the articles on ‘public intellectuals’ in India leads one to believe there are public intellectuals only on one side of the ideological divide. For some strange reason, even the thought of ‘public intellectuals’ throws up unintelligible gobbledygook. Just look at this passage from an article on the subject in an Indian daily: 

“[…] public intellectuals in India need to challenge the traditional assumptions that have reinforced positivistic methodologies, apathetic scholarship and an increasing fascination with a calculative leadership”! 

Whatever did it mean! The picture that accompanied the article leaves no one in doubt about ‘the necessary and sufficient condition that should be satisfied to earn the label ‘public intellectual’. Indeed, intellectuals have to be blessed or subsidized to be noticed! A far more serious problem as Richard Posner observed is with ‘public intellectuals’ who bend facts and law to fit their political preconceptions”.  

There are several issues over which ‘public intellectuals’ could have educated, enlightened and shaped public opinion. On the issue of forging unity of castes and creeds, making splintering a virtue as ‘unity in diversity’ appears a bit tenuous or worse disingenuous. It suits the politicians to reap electoral dividends by manipulating divisions, fueling dissensions, pitting one group against the other, or by incentivizing divisions, but why should ‘public intellectuals’ legitimize the political line with tortuous Op-Eds?  There are internal divisions in many countries but they do not go to town preening about diversity. They function as a united nation within and outside and not as a ‘united nations organization’! 

Or take the current craze of electoral sops. Politicians do not mind the long-term damage their promised sops are likely to do to the economy as long as they help them to win. When revenues plummeted during the Covid pandemic, a regional politician who made a fine art of governing his state through sops asked “Why doesn’t the Central government print more currency to meet the demand?” Consumed by the desire to perpetuate his rule he offered a sop for every conceivable section of society that can vote in bulk. As a result, the state is languishing without development or servicing of infrastructure projects. This is the same case in several states where politicians usurped power by offering sops. Their leaders now lament that they are not able to answer their publics on the lack of development. 

The Indian government must be commended for its fiscal prudence in not succumbing to the temptation of issuing paper money. On the other hand, the USA—whose nationals earned the maximum number of economics Nobels—put the idea into practice by printing an additional $3 trillion! The government hoped it would help borrowers by easing interest rates. It did for a while. Stock market indices zoomed. But the extra money supply could be helpful only if there is a corresponding increase in production. It was too late for the decision makers to realize that too much money chasing too few goods would result in high inflation in the long-term, consequent rise in interest rates (negating their original intention) and market volatility. In fact, following the infusion of paper money into circulation the United States saw the highest inflation rate in four decades. Does the American experience hold any lessons for the Indian politicians? Going by the vigour with which most Indian politicians are indulging in competitive populism they do not seem to be even aware of it.    

This article was first published in the Times Of India Blogs

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Formation of India’s First Government

The Formation of India's First Government
“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it [the battle ground], far above our poor power to add or detract. … It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” — Abraham Lincoln, “The Gettysburg Address”, November 19,1863.

For the masses of India, it was a long-awaited culmination for a hundred-year struggle. It should have been a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” that should have been formed. Instead, what was formed was a government of compromise or a series of compromises for power. As Munshi (1967:48) noted “In 1946-47, the Interim Government, formed at the Centre, of Congress and League representatives, was a ghastly failure.” He adds “[L]ooking back over the years … if the decision had been otherwise, the whole country would have been at the mercy of the Muslim League.” The bloodbath unleashed by the League on the ‘Direct Action Day’ on August 16, 1946, bear testimony to this.  

According to some analysts the INA trials of (Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army) which were held between November 1945 and May 1946 and the [Royal] Indian Naval Mutiny between February 18 and 25 1946 convinced the British that they could no longer hold on to power in India. The British ‘Cabinet Mission’ plan of June 1946 set a target date of June 1948 for what it called the ‘transfer of power’ to the Indian leadership. Appointed to execute the ‘plan’, Lord Mountbatten, however advanced the date to August 1947. His unseemly haste to score a personal achievement led to disastrous consequences, with about two million lives lost.  

As a first step for the ‘transfer’, the British formed an ‘Interim Government’, which was in fact, inclusion of a Cabinet of Indian leaders in the Viceroy’s Executive Council. A group of ministers headed by Jawaharlal Nehru [as Vice President of the Executive Council] was sworn in on September 2, 1946. Jawaharlal Nehru became the Vice President by virtue of his being the President of the Congress party. 

The ‘Constituent Assembly’ too was a British creation following the implementation of the ‘Cabinet Mission Plan’. However, the body was not constituted on the principle of universal adult franchise but indirectly elected from the provincial assemblies. Could a body constituted by the imperial power (which therefore it had the right to abolish it) has the moral authority to draft a ‘Constitution’ for governance of the liberated nation? Dr. B. R. Ambedkar (the Chairman of the Drafting Committee) acknowledged the moral dilemma and the weakness inherent in the Constituent Assembly to write the Constitution. (Deb, 1949: 1644-67)

Indian Constituent Assembly

Turning back to the formation of the ‘Interim Government’, by June 1946, when the ‘Cabinet Mission Plan’ was announced, it was clear that the president of the ‘Indian National Congress’ would be anointed the head of the government. Abul Kalam Azad who was the Congress president did not seek re-election (as he originally intended) but stood down in favour of Jawaharlal Nehru. (Azad, 1960:167). There were two contenders, one was Vallabhbhai Patel and the other J. B. Kriplani, who later became president in the same year. M. K. Gandhi made it clear that the president should be elected unanimously and favoured Jawaharlal Nehru. As he did on several earlier occasions (twice when Subhas Chandra Bose and once when Vallabhbhai Patel were the favoured candidates), he contrived to nullify the election and have ‘his man’ elected! Having headed the ‘Interim Government’, since September 1946, it was but natural for Jawaharlal Nehru to be ‘anointed’ the first prime minister of independent India in August 1947. He thus continued to be the unelected prime minister for another five years till the first general elections were held in 1952.

In the interim, between 1946 and 1952, the unelected ‘Constituent Assembly’ functioned as the parliament and carried out amendments to a ‘Constitution’ it wrote! The Constituent Assembly submitted the Constitution to the president on November 26, 1949 which was adopted on January 26, 1950. The first amendment was enacted on June 18, 1951, i.e., within eighteen months of its adoption! Curiously the very first amendment of the nascent democracy aimed at curbing freedom of speech and stalling judicial scrutiny of legislations.


Azad, Abul Kalam. (1960). “India Wins Freedom”. Longmans, Green & Co. London.

"Constituent Assembly Debates". Vol. IX, 17 September 1949.

Munshi, K. M., (1967). “Pilgrimage to Freedom”. Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. Bombay.

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Kashmiri Pandits: A Forsaken Minority

Kashmiri Pandits: A Forsaken Minority

It has been a quarter of a century since the Kashmiri Pandits were uprooted from their home and hearth and cast about as refugees in their own homeland. Another anniversary of their exile passed us by in January this year. India’s left-liberal intelligentsia never tire of warning us against the dangers of majoritarianism. Strangely the Kashmiri Pandits were victims of majoritarianism and fundamentalism.

The tragedy and tribulations that befell this unfortunate community for the last twenty five years include some of the most heart-rending stories. Theirs is a story of humanitarian disaster of unprecedented magnitude since the Holocaust, but strangely, had gone unnoticed by the rest of the world and more importantly by their own countrymen here in India. As K. P. S. Gill, former police chief of Punjab put it,

“[...] one of the reasons for the apathy [of the rest of the world] could be the non-violent nature of the community itself.”

They have stoically suffered their fate without even a single retaliatory act of violence. Writing in the ‘South Asia Terrorism Portal’ (SATP) K. P. S. Gill said,

“[…] pogroms of a far lesser magnitude in other parts of the world have attracted international attention, censure and action in support of the victim communities, but this is an insidious campaign that has passed virtually unnoticed, and on which the world remains silent.”[1]

Our intellectuals and media crib and caw about the Israeli settlements in Gaza and West Bank, and the injustices done to Palestinians but not a whisper from them about the fate of the exiled Kashmiri Pandits. No group of prominent public figures petitioned on their behalf; no celebrity authors cried in their defence. Could one ask, ‘How many awards were returned?’ Jug Suraiya gives us an insight into how the ‘secular’ media treated the tragedy in Kashmir:

“By then Kashmir edits had become an exercise in somnography, or sleep-writing. They were written—or gave the appearance of being written—in a state of deep slumber, or even a coma. And they were read—if ever at all—by readers who were in an equally comatose state as a consequence of reading them. [...] In short, a Kashmir edit, any Kashmir edit, never said anything new. In fact, it never really said anything at all, really.”

What if half-a-million Kashmiri Hindus have had to abandon their home and hearth to become refugees in their homeland? What if they have had to undergo untold miseries in the refugee camps? What if thousands of security personnel have had to lay down their lives in the defence of the motherland? For his ‘exercises in somnography’, Jug Suraiya was confirmed as Op-Ed page editor of The Times of India![2]

They were once the elite of Kashmiri society. The community produced artistes and artisans, poets and musicians, doctors and lawyers of amazing wisdom. At the turn of the century there were about a million Kashmiri Hindus in the state of Jammu & Kashmir. At the time of independence the proportion of Hindus in the Kashmir Valley was 15% of the population. By 1991 it came down to less than 1%. According to a press release of the Kashmir ‘Pandit Sangharsh Samiti’ on April 7, 2010 99.14% Kashmiri Pandits were forced to migrate out of Kashmir.

The word ‘genocide’ has been worn out in popular usage during the last decade. It has been so freely bandied about in public discourse that it lost its original meaning. If ever there was a context for it to be justifiably applied, it was in the case of Kashmiri Pandits. ‘Genocide’ means, ‘the systematic and widespread extermination or attempted extermination of an entire national, racial, religious, or ethnic group’. This is what happened to the ethnic identity called the Kashmiri Pandits.

The United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide (of December 9, 1948) defined genocide as: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) killing members of the group; (b) causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.”

‘The International Military Tribunal’ which investigated Nazi war crimes in 1945 defined crimes committed on a mass scale in Article 6 of its Charter. 

Art. 6a. CRIMES AGAINST PEACE are defined as ‘planning, preparation, initiation, or waging wars of aggression, or a war in violation of international treaties, agreements, or assurances, or participation in a common plan or conspiracy for the accomplishment of any of the foregoing.’ 

Art. 6b. WAR CRIMES are defined as ‘violations of the laws or customs of war. Such violations shall include, but not be limited to, murder, the ill-treatment or deportation of civilian residents of an occupied territory to slave labor camps or for any purpose, the murder or ill-treatment of prisoners of war or persons on the seas, the killing of hostages, the plunder of public or private property, the wanton destruction of cities, towns or villages, and any devastation not justified by military necessity’. 

Art. 6c. CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY are defined as ‘murder, extermination, enslavement, deportation, and other inhumane acts committed against any civilian population before or during the war; or persecutions on political, racial, or religious grounds in execution of or in connection with any crime within the jurisdiction of the Tribunal, whether or not in violation of the domestic law of the country where perpetrated’.

The rise of Islamic militancy was the trigger for ethnic cleansing in Jammu and Kashmir. In a way the state too contributed to it by first releasing hard-core terrorists in the second half of 1989 and then abdicating its responsibility in preserving public order. Thus the state was guilty of genocide by omission if not commission. The terrorists, who were trained in Pakistan in the handling of weapons of destruction, were released against the advice of a three-member Advisory Committee headed by the Chief Justice of the Jammu and Kashmir High Court. The swap of five hard core terrorists, Hamid Sheikh, Sher Khan, Javed Ahmed Zargar, Mohd. Kalwal and Mohd Altaf Bhat on December 13, 1989 for the release of Rubaiya Sayed the daughter of the Union Home Minister Mufti Mohamed Sayed led to a demoralisation of the law and order machinery and the collapse of the state administration.

In the 1989-90 period an estimated 300,000 Pandits were forced to flee the Kashmir valley. A total number of 700,000 Kashmiri Hindus were estimated to be displaced between 1947 and 1990. Of these 300,000 have been living in refugee camps outside Jammu and another 100,000 in Delhi. According to the ‘Panun Kashmir Movement’ (PKM) an organisation of the exiled Pandits some 25,000 standalone houses belonging to the Pandits were burnt during the period. If the houses were situated in crowded localities where it was not possible to burn them they were simply occupied by others. Their properties were purchased by members of the majority community at throw away prices. Even their cremation grounds were not spared but encroached upon. PKM says the process of ethnic cleansing began in 1967 but gained momentum after 1989 when Pakistan sponsored militants arrived on the scene.

The torture inflicted on the Pandits took several forms: strangulation by using steel wires; lynching; branding with red hot irons; draining of blood; slicing; gouging of eyes before assassination; breaking of limbs; slaughter; hanging; dragging to death; dismemberment of body; drowning alive; burning alive; impaling.[3]

The destruction of Hindu temples which has been going on since the fourteenth century has gained momentum in the nineteen eighties. Between 1986 and 1992 (prior to December) 79 Hindu temples were destroyed. In the immediate aftermath of the Rama Janmabhumi-Babri Masjid demolition in December 1992, 81 more temples were destroyed.

The 1989 exodus followed the brutal killing of Tika Lal Taploo a noted lawyer and national executive member of the BJP and Justice N. K. Ganju of the Jammu & Kashmir High Court. In another incident Pandit Sarwanand Premi, an 80-year old poet and his son were kidnapped, tortured and killed. A Kashmiri Pandit nurse working in the Soura Medical College Hospital was gang-raped and beaten to death. In the days that followed warnings were sounded to the community over public address systems, either to flee or face death. The Farooq Abdullah government abdicated its responsibility and all but handed over the administration to the militants. Government offices ceased functioning, taxes were neither paid nor collected and the militants began running a parallel judicial system.

Life in the refugee camps has been physically and psychologically shattering for the unfortunate Pandits and may be described as sub-human. An entire family of 7-8 people had to share a small room. There are instances when three generations of a family were put up in one room, the room being partitioned by bed sheets. The combined effects of the undercurrent of terror, forced migration and sub-human living conditions made the community prone to a host of new diseases and syndromes. These include heat trauma, heart ailments, amoebic dysentery, tuberculosis, allergies, diabetes and sexual and reproductive disorders. Menopausal age in women dropped from 50-55 to 40-45 to 35-40. There was a steep drop in birth rates while mortality rates climbed. In one of the camps surveyed, which had 350 families, there were only 5 births between 1990 and 1995 as against 200 deaths. This is not all. The community became increasingly prone to a series of mental disorders ranging from depression, insomnia, anorexia, anxiety states, delusions, panic disorders, manias, phobias and schizophrenia. Women were the most affected.

Even more tragic than the suffering is the treatment meted out to the Pandits by the rest of the Indian polity and the central government. They became orphans of history, abandoned by their compatriots and condemned to live a life of deprivation and suffering. Governments have come gone, both at the state and the centre but nothing changed, not even during the six year BJP rule.

In 2004, Frank Pallone, a US Democratic Congressman expressed his surprise and shock that the new Indian administration did not mention the Pandits in its Kashmir policy. In his letter of August 23 to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Pallone urged him to “include the Pandits in any negotiations with Kashmiri constituents and in developing the future course of action in Jammu and Kashmir.” Manmohan Singh’s government sent a team of interlocutors to Kashmir last year but the Pandits did not seem to be on the radar of either the team or the government.

The Jews have a custom of greeting each other with ‘Next year in Jerusalem!’ at the end of Yom Kippur and Passover feasts. They kept up the tradition for nearly two thousand years—till the formation of Israel in 1948—even though many of the exiled Jews never set their eyes on the city nor had a hope in the world of ever doing so. Will the Pandits of Kashmir have to wait for 2000 years for a semblance of justice to be meted out to them?

[1] Gill, K. P. S. 2004. “The Kashmiri Pandits: An Ethnic Cleansing the World Forgot.” Accessible from

[2] Suraiya, Jug. (2011) JS & The Times of My Life—A Worm’s-eye View of Indian Journalism (2011). Tranquebar Press. Chennai. pp 307-9

[3] “Kashmir Documentation: Pandits in Exile” Panun Kashmir Movement. Jammu. p.18


Excerpted from Twisting Facts To Suit Theories & Other Selections From Voxindica (2016). Authors Press. New Delhi. pp 386-392. An earlier version of the article was published in VOXINDICA on February, 3, 2012

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Tale Of Two First Amendments

In a landmark judgement delivered on June 30, 1971, the US federal Supreme Court upheld the right of The New York Times (New York Times Co. v. United States) to publish articles based on the Pentagon Papers 

In 1967, Secretary of Defence, Robert McNamara commissioned the preparation of a top secret report (the Pentagon Papers) on the USA’s political and military involvement in Vietnam since the end of World War II. The report drew its material from the archives of the State Department, Defence and the CIA during the reigns of Harry TrumanDwight D. EisenhowerJohn F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Daniel Ellsberg, a former US Marine Corps officer and a strategic affairs analyst at RAND Corporation, was a member of the team which prepared the 7000-page report. The report made clear that all the administrations misled the American public and contrary to the government’s pronouncements, intensive bombing of North Vietnam, did not break the will of the ‘enemy’. 

In the initial years, Ellsberg supported US involvement in Vietnam. But by the time the report was finalised in 1969, he came to the conclusion that there was no possibility of the USA winning the war. An estimated 500,000 American soldiers participated in the war and by the time it ended in a fiasco for the US in 1973, it consumed 58,000 lives. In view of the general concern about mounting casualties, Ellsberg felt that the contents of the report should be shared with the public. In March 1971, Ellsberg (by then working with MIT’s Center for International Studies) shared parts of the report with Neil Sheehan, a reporter of The New York Times. The paper began publishing a series of front-page articles based on the report, from June 13, 1971. Articles based on the report also appeared in The Washington Post and the Boston Globe. After the third instalment was published, the US Department of Justice obtained an order from a local court restraining the papers from continuing the series, arguing that the publication was harmful to national security. The New York Times and The Washington Post approached the federal Supreme Court against the order. In a 6-3 ruling the Supreme Court held that the government was unable to justify its claim of harm to national security, and under the protection of the First Amendment, the papers had a right to publish the articles. 

The First Amendment to the US Constitution adopted in 1791 protects freedom of speech, religion and the press: 

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” 

The protective umbrella of the First Amendment stood the test of time and helped citizens and the press in freely exercising their freedom of speech. While adjudicating matters related to freedom of speech, US courts generally upheld the right, with the exceptions of libel, obscenity and sedition. For example, in Schenck v. United States (1919), the Supreme Court upheld the conviction of Socialist Party activist Charles Schenck after he urged young men in a pamphlet to dodge conscription during World War I. 

While upholding the secular nature of the constitution guaranteed under the First Amendment, the courts however, generally made a distinction between religious beliefs and civic practices. In Reynolds v. United States (1878), the Supreme Court upheld a ban on polygamy. In Braunfeld v. Brown (1961) the Supreme Court upheld a Pennsylvania law requiring business establishments to close on Sundays, against the objection of orthodox Jews. In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971) the Supreme Court struck down a Pennsylvania law that allowed the state to pay salaries of teachers in Catholic schools.   

A Texas court held that Gregory Lee Johnson, a young communist broke the law by burning a flag in a protest against the Ronald Regan administration in 1984. The Supreme Court upturned the judgement and held Johnson ‘not guilty’. The US Congress responded to the ruling by passing the Flag Protection Act (1989). In United States v. Eichman (1990), the Supreme Court decreed the Flag Protection Act was unconstitutional. While the rulings were generally welcomed as a benchmark of liberal jurisprudence, Robert H Bork, former judge, Solicitor General and professor of law at Yale Law School differed. He felt that the Court’s majority failed to see that no idea was being suppressed but a particularly offensive mode of expression.” He rejected the idea that “desecrating the flag should constitute a protected form of expression.” (Batchis, Wayne. 2016. The Right’s First Amendment. Stanford University Press.p.1) 

There cannot be greater contrast between the First Amendment to the US Constitution and the first amendment to the Indian Constitution. While the US amendment explicitly protected the freedom of the press, the Indian amendment was enacted as a peevish reaction to criticisms in the press. The Indian amendment was aimed at ‘imposing reasonable restrictions on the right [to freedom of speech and expression]’. 

Strangely, it was both the left and the right press that angered the administration to rush in to enact the first amendment within fifteen months of adopting the Constitution. In 1949, Romesh Thapar’s left-leaning weekly Cross Roads was banned in the erstwhile state of Madras. What was the reason for the ban? The magazine criticised the policies of the central government, especially its foreign policy. The Supreme Court struck down the ban in Romesh Thapar vs The State of Madras (1950). Similarly in 1950, the government sought to censor the RSS weekly Organiser. What was the reason for the pre-censorship order? The magazine criticised the response of the central government to the refugee influx from East Pakistan. The Supreme Court struck down the censorship order in Brij Bhushan And Another vs The State Of Delhi (1950).  

This is a slightly modified version of the article originally published in The Time Of India Blogs 

Labels: Boston Globe, Braunfeld v. Brown (1961), Brij Bhushan And Another vs The State Of Delhi (1950), Cross Roads, Daniel Ellsberg, Dwight D. EisenhowerFirst Amendment, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), Lyndon B. Johnson, New York Times Co. v. United States, Organiser, Pentagon Papers, Reynolds v. United States (1878), RAND Corporation, Robert H Bork, Robert McNamara, Romesh Thapar, Romesh Thapar vs The State of Madras (1950), Schenck v. United States (1919), The New York Times, The Right’s First Amendment” (2016), The Washington Post, United States v. Eichman (1990), Wayne Batchis.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Story Of The Liberation Of Hyderabad

On this day in 1948, Hyderabad was liberated and integrated with the Indian Union. Here is a brief account of the liberation excerpted from ‘Twisting Facts To Suit Theories’ And Other Selections From Voxindica (2016. Authors Press. New Delhi), pp. 309–318    

The erstwhile Hyderabad state is in the heart of India bridging the north and the south. Surrounded as it was on all sides by Indian territory, it was a landlocked state with no access to the sea. What were then known as the Central Provinces lay to its north, Bombay to the west and the Madras Presidency to the south and east. It was predominantly a Hindu state with Hindus comprising 85% of the population. However, under the Nizam’s rule the bulk of civil service, police and armed forces were almost monopolized by Muslims. In the 132-member state legislative assembly constituted in 1946, the Muslims had ten more seats than the Hindus, to ensure the Muslims a majority and ipso facto a veto power over all matters.

Rejecting the June 1947 British partition plan, the Nizam demanded the status of an independent domain and membership of the British Commonwealth. He did not send any representatives to the Constituent Assembly. We are unable to ascertain whether the Nizam was able to gauze the mood of the people aright, with winds of independence and democracy sweeping across the landscape. But he was constrained by two factors. One was that the bulk of his administration (civil, military and police) were made up of Muslims who feared they might lose their elite position in a democratic set up. The second was Kasim Razvi’s Muslim communal organization, the Ittehadul-Muslimeen (MIM): 

“The Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen was a Muslim communal organization. Its leader was one Kasim Razvi who combined fanaticism with charlatanry. He had organized a shock brigade called the Razakars. The organization aimed at creating a theocratic and totalitarian State. Militarist demonstrations were part of their routine.”12 

The accession and integration of Hyderabad was complicated by another factor, which the Nizam and his advisers exploited to almost scuttle the process: 

“Sardar and V. P. Menon were dealing with the situation through me [K. M. Munshi, the Agent General of the Government of India in Hyderabad] to secure the accession of the State on the same terms as the accession of other States. Lord Mountbatten, the Governor General, carried on negotiations with the Nizam’s Prime Minister, Laik Ali, supported by Sir Walter Monckton, and was prepared to concede substantial autonomy to Hyderabad if the Nizam only signed a document to come into the Union. [...] Jawaharlal Nehru was averse to the line followed by Sardar.”13 

The Nizam warned of communal trouble and even bloodshed in Hyderabad, in the event of his state’s accession to the Indian Union. As negotiations between a delegation sent by the Nizam14 and the Indian government were going on, the state was clandestinely preparing to take on the Union. It had placed an order for arms and ammunition worth three million pounds sterling with Czechoslovakia. It had also been in contact with Pakistan for a possible accession. 

Earlier, the Nizam’s British legal adviser Walter Monckton (a friend of Mountbatten, whose services he secured for the Nizam) was in touch with British Conservative party leaders like Samuel Hoare to negotiate separate Commonwealth membership for Hyderabad. This was even before the process of transfer of power by the British and the dissolution of Paramountcy began. Monckton was mediating with the Portuguese for the acquisition of port facilities in Goa and laying a railway line to the port. He advised the Nizam to have an association (which could be annulled at any time) and not accession (which was of a permanent nature) with India. This was probably the reason why the Nizam was willing to arrive at an agreement with the Indian government for his state’s association but would not sign the ‘Instrument of Accession’. He had sent his own draft of the agreement which the government of India was not willing to entertain. 

It was the avowed policy of the government of India that there would be no variation in the terms and conditions offered by it to the princely states. The rulers had to sign the ‘Standstill Agreement’15 and the ‘Instrument of Accession’16 without variation and at the same time. Despite this, as time was running out and to avoid a possible communal conflagration in the state, the Indian government agreed to sign an ‘Agreement’ (it was called ‘Heads of Agreement’) with Hyderabad that combines the gist of the ‘Standstill Agreement’, incorporating in it important matters like ‘defence’ and ‘external affairs’ (from the ‘Instrument of Accession’) along with a collateral letter from the Nizam. The drafts were passed back and forth between Delhi and Hyderabad amended each time to accord additional concessions demanded by the Nizam’s negotiating committee. The Nizam’s Executive Council deliberated on the last draft for three days and decided to accept it. But the Nizam postponed signing it again and again. In hindsight one might wonder whether the Nizam postponed it long enough for the MIM to mobilise enough crowds to blockade the members of the negotiating committee—which was to leave for Delhi to submit the ‘Agreement’ for countersigning and ratification. 

In the early hours of October 27 a mob consisting of twenty five to thirty thousand cadres of the MIM surrounded the residences of Nawab of Chhatari, President of the Executive Council, Nawab Ali Yawar Jung, Sir Walter Monckton, which were all in the same locality. Its objective was to prevent the negotiating committee members to leave for Delhi for concluding the agreement. The Nizam reconvened the Executive Council meeting. It was here his character appeared dubious. While on the one hand condemning MIM for threatening the negotiating committee members and physically blocking their departure to Delhi, he invited MIM leader Kasim Razvi to the meeting! Razvi wanted the Nizam to reject the negotiated agreement and insist on the Indian government signing the original draft provided by the Nizam. He was sure the Indian government would not resort to any precipitate action as its army was tied up in Kashmir. Indian troops were moved to Kashmir to repel the (Pakistani) tribal invasion that began on October 23. 

As negotiations with the Indian government meandered on, Kasim Razvi and his MIM were firming their grip on the Nizam. The Nawab of Chhatari resigned as the President of the Nizam’s Executive Council. At Razvi’s instance the Nizam appointed Mir Laik Ali a prominent businessman and a former representative of Pakistan in the UNO as its President. At the same time the negotiating committee too was reconstituted. While Nawab Moin Nawaz Jung and Pingle Venkatarama Reddy were retained, significantly Abdur Rahim a hard-core, fanatical member of the MIM was included as the third member. The reconstitution of the Executive Council and the negotiating committee with MIM fanatics brought about a dramatic change in the Nizam’s approach to whole issue. In a fresh letter sent to the government of India the Nizam threatened that if negations broke down this time, he would immediately conclude an agreement with Pakistan. The Nizam, it appeared, was all along planning his moves in consultation with Pakistan. 

The Nizam finally signed the two documents, the ‘Standstill Agreement’ (or the renamed ‘Heads of Agreement’) and the collateral letter on November 29, 1947. The ‘Standstill Agreement’ was valid for one year, as agreed upon earlier. Indian leaders in Delhi had divergent views on the agreement. Nehru thought that at last peace was bought in the south. Mountbatten thought that he bought time to soften the Nizam and would be able to persuade him to sign the ‘Instrument of Accession’ eventually. Sardar with his uncanny vision was doubtful. He was right. Declassified secret documents relating to the liberation of Hyderabad bear this out. The Nizam had said that the signing of the agreement was just to ‘mark time.’ He was prepared to have a European Prime Minister, if it would help him avoid accession to India and get him membership of the Commonwealth. Intelligence reports of the time confirm secret gun running between Pakistan and India with planes carrying illegal arms landing in Bidar and Warangal.17 

The administration in Hyderabad was waiting for the Indian army to be withdrawn and recoup its strength. Almost immediately after signing the agreement, which it had no intention of honouring, it started needling the Indian government. It issued two ordinances, one for banning export of precious metals from Hyderabad to India and the other rendering Indian currency invalid in Hyderabad. It appointed a Public Relations Officer in Karachi and advanced a loan of 20 Crore to the government of Pakistan without consulting the Indian government. It did its best (or worst) to make the functioning of K. M. Munshi (Government of India’s Agent General in Hyderabad), very difficult. His movements were restricted, so much so, he became a virtual prisoner in his own residence in Hyderabad. 

While the government of India was lulled by a false sense of achievement, the MIM in Hyderabad was up to its treasonable activities. Razvi began inciting Muslims and abusing Hindus in his rabble rousing speeches. The objective of the Razakars was to terrorise the Hindu population. Munshi kept filing reports and the government of India was waiting and watching. Neighbouring states like Bombay and the Madras Presidency were complaining about the attacks on their borders by the Razakars. In one such incident, the Madras-Bombay mail was waylaid in the Gangapur railway station in the Hyderbad state. Hooligans armed with daggers, hockey-sticks and lathis attacked the train from both sides, while policemen on the platform looked on. While the mob attacked the train, armed Razakars stood by on the platform. In the incident two men travelling in the train were killed, eleven seriously injured and thirteen were reported missing. The law and order situation in many parts of the state deteriorated. In Jalna, Aurangabad, Parbhani and Nanded districts looting, arson, murders, rapes and molestation of women were reported, in which surprisingly, police personnel joined the Razakars. In despair, Hindus sought shelter outside the state. J. V. Joshi a member of the Nizam’s Executive Council felt compelled to resign his position. In his resignation, he detailed the deteriorating law and order situation: 

“A complete reign of terror prevails in Parbhani and Nanded districts. I have seen in Loha a scene of devastation which brought tears to my eyes—Brahmins were killed and their eyes were taken out. Women had been raped; houses had been burnt down in large numbers. The most disconcerting news which reached us was that the Razakars had allied themselves with the Communists. In 1943 the Nizam had banned the Communist Party throughout the State. This ban was now lifted. Moreover, we came to know that the Communists were being supplied with arms.18 (Italics added.) 

So much for the nationalism, patriotism and law–abiding nature of the communists! As the Government in Hyderabad continued to violate the ‘Agreement’, Mountbatten and Nehru continued to hope things would sort themselves out on their own. They gave more time and more concessions to appease an administration, which was quite apparently controlled by the MIM. Mountbatten was to retire on June 21 and would leave India for ever. He wanted a prize trophy to take home. Nehru indulged him. Patel willy-nilly went along, probably marking time till his departure. Another—futile—‘Heads of Agreement’ (with obviously more concessions, beyond which, even the pliant Nehru could not stretch) was broached, discussed, debated, and tossed back and forth between Hyderabad and Delhi. 

The view in Hyderabad, no doubt formulated by the MIM, was that no matter what the provocation, the Indian government would not dare send its troops into Hyderabad as it would anger the entire Muslim community in the country. A section of the political establishment in the government in Delhi was apprehensive of possible repercussions and hence wanted to avoid decisive action. In the third week of August, Laik Ali complained to the government of India about ‘flagrant violations’ of the ‘Standstill Agreement’. Even before receiving a reply, the Nizam administration addressed a letter to the president of the UNO. 

In the meantime the law and order situation deteriorated further. After careful consideration of the pros and cons, much against the wishes of Jawaharlal Nehru, the Home Ministry decided to move Indian troops to Hyderabad. The operation to liberate Hyderabad was codenamed ‘Operation Polo’. It was led by Maj. Gen. J. N. Chaudhuri. On September 13, the army marched into Hyderabad along two axes: Sholapur–Hyderabad and Bezawada–Hyderabad. There was some resistance on the first two days but it petered out after that. The Hyderabad army surrendered on September 17. According to Menon, the casualties on the Indian side were few but on the other side: 

“[..] owing to scrappy operations and lack of discipline, the Irregulars and the Razakars suffered comparatively more casualties. The number of dead was a little over 800. It is unfortunate that so many should have died in this action, though the number is insignificant when weighed against the killings, rape and loot inflicted by the Razakars on the Hindus of the State.”19 (Italics added.) 

Menon, as befits a former bureaucrat, gave a staid, straight forward account of the happenings leading to partition and the integration of states, without frills and embellishments. As it was a personal narrative there was perhaps a slight accent on ‘I’ but he steered clear of either eulogizing or criticizing the principal players, including Mountbatten. Therefore, there is no reason to doubt the casualty figures mentioned by him. Why bloated figures of huge numbers of casualties of the Razakars and the Muslims, propagated by Pakistani sources should be accepted in India as eternal truth and etched in popular perception is a mystery. 

Maj. Gen. Chaudhuri was appointed the Lt. Governor of Hyderabad on September 18. On September 23, the Nizam cabled the UNSC, withdrawing his earlier complaint. The integration of the state into the national mainstream took another three years. There is a footnote to the Hyderabad story told by K. M. Munshi: 

“If Jawaharlal had his way, Nizam’s Hyderabad would have remained unintegrated and would have become a second Pakistan in the ‘belly’ of India, an intensely hostile State separating the North and the South—although after the success of the police action Jawaharlal Nehru was the first to go to Hyderabad to receive an ovation as the liberator of Hyderabad. [...] As the Hyderabad situation was inexorably moving towards a climax, due to the intransigence of the Nizam and his advisers, Sardar considered it advisable to let the Nizam’s Government know clearly that the patience of the Government of India was fast getting exhausted. Accordingly a communication to that effect was sent from the States Ministry by V. P. Menon. [...] When Jawaharlal Nehru came to hear of this, he was extremely upset. A day before our army was scheduled to march into Hyderabad he called a special meeting of the Defence Committee of the Cabinet [...] flew into a rage and upbraided Sardar [...] He concluded his outburst with the remark that in future he would himself attend to all matters relating to Hyderabad. [...] The meeting [however] dispersed without transacting any business.”20 


N. B.: End note numbers are as in original. 

12 Menon, V. P. (1955). “The Story Of The Integration Of The Indian States”. Longmans Green & Co. London. p. 221. 

13 Munshi, K. M. (1967). “Indian Constitutional Documents: Volume 1. Pilgrimage to Freedom” Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. p. 169. 

14 Nawab of Chhatari, President of the Executive Council, Nawab Ali Yawar Jung, Sir Walter Monckton, K.C., Abdur Rahim and Pingle Venkatarama Reddy. 

15 It is an agreement that assures continuance of any ‘existing agreements and administrative arrangements in the matters of common concern’ existing between the Indian state and the British government. It specifies eighteen administrative areas in the Schedule attached to the agreement. It also signifies the end of Paramountcy of the British government. 

16 It is an agreement signed by the ruler of the princely state and the dominion of India subjecting the princely state to the Government of India Act 1935. The Instrument of Accession binds the state to the jurisdiction of the Union government for making laws in the areas of Defence, External Affairs, Communications and some ancillary matters. 

17 Joseph, Josy. (2013). “Gandhi is an old fool and his character is doubtful, Nizam said”. The Times of India. August 1, 2013. See 

18 Menon, 1955. Cited supra. p. 252-253. 

19 Menon, 1955. Cited supra. p. 256. 

20 Munshi, 1967. Cited supra. p. 170

Monday, June 29, 2020

P. V. Narasimha Rao And The Elusive ‘Bharat Ratna’!

P. V. Narasimha Rao And The Elusive ‘Bharat Ratna’!
One may not agree with Lord Birkenhead’s view that ‘India is a land of mobs’ (1930, Turning Points in History), but it is a land of inconsistencies. However, he might not have been far off the mark when he said that ‘more than any [other] country in the world, single individuals of outstanding personality have been able temporarily to impose their will upon its destiny’. A Prime Minister might be ranked third in India’s official order of precedence but a Sonia Gandhi took precedence over the Prime Minister for ten years of its recent history. Her son-in-law did not need any official order of precedence to be treated as a ‘more equal’ citizen at airports and for Chief Ministers to kowtow before him.

In the official order of precedence, No. 5A was inserted to accommodate the Deputy Prime Minister (probably after Vallabhbhai Patel became the first Deputy Prime Minister in 1950) and No. 7A after the institution of the Bharat Ratna in 1954. Article 18 (1) of the Indian Constitution prohibits the use of Bharat Ratna as a title and therefore, it cannot be used to prefix names, despite its general misuse. Its recipients are known as laureates.

As an aside it might be mentioned that Article 18 (2) prohibits Indian citizens from receiving ‘any title from any foreign state’. This precluded Sunil Gavaskar from accepting a British Knighthood but it did not prevent Sonia Gandhi from accepting the Belgian title, Order of Leopold.

However, Bharat Ratna, which officially, cannot be flaunted as a title, accords its recipients precedence over Ambassadors, Chief Ministers and Governors of states who are, in that order ranked at No. 8.

Indians generally rue the omission of Mahatma Gandhi from the Nobel roster but there have been several notable omissions from the list of Bharat Ratna laureates. One of them was Sathya Sai Baba who was passed over, presumably because he was a Hindu god-man. One can say without any exaggeration, that Sathya Sai Baba’s service to humanity was (and is) unparalleled anywhere in the world. He established world-class schools, colleges, universities and hospitals all of which provide free services to the poor. Thousands of devotees who flock to his ashram daily are provided free food.

Under the ‘Sri Sathya Sai Drinking Water Supply Projects’ he constructed a drinking water project at a cost of US$ 63 million to supply drinking water to 1.2 million people in 750 villages of the arid Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh. Similar projects supply drinking water to drought-prone villages in Mahabubanagar and Medak districts in Telangana, and Chennai. His super-specialty hospitals in Puttaparthi and Bengaluru conducted 24,473 open-heart surgeries between November 1991 and October 2014, without charging a dime. They were all free. They continue to do so.

The other notable exception is that of former Prime Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao. In order to understand the magnitude of his contribution to national revival, the circumstances that prevailed when he became Prime Minister should be viewed in perspective. In point of fact, the year 1991 marks the beginning of a new epoch in independent India’s history. Rajiv Gandhi’s assassination brought to the nation’s helm a man who was preparing to quietly walking away into the sunset. Narasimha Rao had been in politics since independence and served as Chief Minister, Union Home Minister, Foreign Minister and Defence Minister.

The economic crisis that came to a head that year was looming large on the horizon for years, fuelled by bureaucratic sloth, economic profligacy and political myopia. The economy was floundering on account of a depreciating rupee, billowing external debt and the resultant balance of payments crisis. The last straw on the proverbial camel’s back was the dramatically rising oil prices caused by the 1990-91 Gulf War. In order to cope with the crisis, the Chandra Sekhar government had to first sell twenty tons of gold (on which India had a repurchase option for six months) to raise $400 million in May that year and the successor government had to pledge a further forty-seven tons in July to raise a further $200 million loan. It was a national shame for a culture that treats gold as goddess Lakshmi, to part with family gold for daily necessities. Dr. Manmohan Singh who became the finance minister in the successor government did not have the heart to use words like ‘sell’ or ‘pledge’ when he informed the parliament about the transactions in November 1991. Instead, he said ‘sent abroad’ and ‘export’!

Following the crisis, the Narasimha Rao government initiated a series of steps to redeem the economy. The steps were a radical departure from the pernicious ‘Nehruvian socialism’ and set the nation on a track of progress. Those who do not want to credit the progress to Narasimha Rao, ascribe the economic policy to Manmohan Singh’s genius. Yes, the policy framework could be designed only by an economist with vision but it required Narasimha Rao’s sagacity to give political cover for its implementation. Second, he needed the boldness first to sell the reforms to his own party which considered any departure from Nehru’s policies a sacrilege, and then to the nation. The validity of the argument could be seen when we notice Manmohan Singh could not continue with his reform policy when he himself was the Prime Minister for ten years.

While Narasimha Rao’s economic policies are willy-nilly acknowledged there are two other areas of governance in which he left an indelible stamp on the history of the nation.

The first was defeating the Khalistani movement, which ‘had consumed 21,469 lives before it was comprehensively defeated in 1993’. The principal protagonists of the operation were K. P. S. Gill who as Counter-terrorism Chief of Punjab mercilessly and relentlessly executed it and, Beant Singh, who as Chief Minister of Punjab and Narasimha Rao as Prime Minister gave him political cover. Citing Julio Rebeiro, former Director General of Police, Punjab, Gill has this to say of the genesis of the problem:

“I regard Operation Bluestar and the November 1984 massacres as the two most important victories for the cause of ‘Khalistan’ […] not won by the militants, but inflicted […] upon the nation by its own government […] These two events, in combination, gave a new lease of life to a movement which could easily have been contained in 1984 itself.” (Gill, K.P.S. “Endgame in Punjab 1988-1993”. South Asia Terrorism Portal. Accessible from 

By the by, the political authors of Operation Bluestar and the 1984 Sikh genocide had both received the Bharat Ratna! Gill elaborates why stern counter-terrorism measures were needed to eradicate the scourge: 

“The defeat of terrorism in Punjab, and I have said this before, was unambiguously the result of the counter-terrorist measures implemented in the state by the security forces. Moreover, the use of this coercive force was (and is) not just a necessary expedient, but a fundamental obligation and duty of constitutional government, and its neglect inflicts great and avoidable suffering on the innocent and law abiding.” (Ibid.) 

Lest anyone had any doubt about the political processes (pursued by the aforesaid political authors of Operation Bluestar and the 1984 Sikh genocide) having achieved the objective of annihilating terrorism in Punjab, Gill clarifies: 

“One of the dominant myths that these propagandists have tirelessly, and in some measure successfully, circulated is the idea that terrorism in Punjab was defeated not because, but in spite of the use of armed force against the militants. No evidence is ascribed to shore up this claim, but a variety of nebulous theories—essentially populist and politically correct slogans—are propounded regarding a ‘people’s victory’ or a ‘political solution’ that brought peace to the strife-torn province.” (Ibid.) 

Had the political master not had the vision to support the stern measures to put down terrorism with an iron hand we would have had another festering wound in the west in addition to the ones in the north and the east, the existence of which is undoubtedly owing to another Bharat Ratna! Who knows, had Narasimha Rao had another shot at power, he would have had some out of the box ideas to contain them! 

Another bold step Narasimha Rao took was in the area of foreign affairs by establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel. Although India recognized Israel in September 1950 (a little over two years after its formation), it was not until February 1992 that full diplomatic relations were established. Considering the benefits a bilateral relationship with Israel could provide in the areas of agriculture, defence and counterterrorism, this was inexplicable. The overt reason for India not establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel was that it would displease her Arab neighbours, but the unstated reason was to placate the Muslim vote bank in India. As by the time India established full diplomatic relations with Israel, the Narasimha Rao government was in office for just over eight months, the decision must be said to have been taken very quickly. 

Excerpted from ‘Twisting Facts To Suit Theories’ And Other Selections From Voxindica. (2016). Authors Press. New Delhi. pp. 429–434