The Hindustan Times – The Taste with Vir Sanghvi: V S Naipaul didn’t hate India, he resented it

Vir Sanghvi writes about his meetings with VS Naipaul, who died earlier this week

Op/Ed 13 August 2018. The biggest obstacle to writing anything meaningful about VS Naipaul, who died over the weekend, is that there is nothing left to say that has not already appeared in Patrick French’s masterly biography.

Naipaul authorised the biography cooperated with French, and then when the book appeared in print (it pretty much destroyed his reputation as a human being while remaining respectful of the writing), said virtually nothing about it though his wife repeatedly trashed the biography.

I was no great friend of Naipaul and was never overly impressed with the fiction. (Yes, I know he won the Nobel Prize for Literature; so this may say more about me than it does about Naipaul’s work.) And some of the early non-fiction, especially the stuff relating to India, left me annoyed.

The young Naipaul called India An Area of Darkness (the title of the book that made his reputation) and in middle age he decided we were merely A Wounded Civilisation (a second book, much praised by the British press but treated with loathing in India).

Looking back, I reckon we were too sensitive about some of the things he said. Many of his observations were undoubtedly valid even if they sounded unkind. But I never quite lost the sense that these were books written by a man with a grudge; somebody who had an axe to grind. Many years later when I read one of his essays about an early trip to India, I thought he was almost comically misguided.

In the essay, Naipaul writes about meeting an old friend from Trinidad in Delhi. The two men talk about how much is wrong with India. Then, they discuss how far ahead of India their own Trinidad is.

I have nothing against Trinidad but I doubt if any sensible person believes that it has been far ahead of India at any time in the last several decades.

Things did not begin to fall into place till I finally met Naipaul.

He had come to Calcutta to research the book that would become A Million Mutinies Now and somebody had given him my number. He would get bored in Calcutta, he was told, so here were the numbers of some people he could talk to and meet up with in the evenings. My name and number were on the list.

There were no mobile phones in that era. So Naipaul called my office and left a message. When I saw it, I was a little taken aback. What was Naipaul doing in Calcutta? Why was he calling me?

I called the hotel, the Oberoi Grand, where he was staying and asked to be connected to his room. The operator went off the line for a couple of minutes before returning and saying “Connecting you sir”.

The phone rang and rang till a voice finally answered. “Main kitchen, can I help you?”

Obviously there had been some mistake. So I called the hotel again. After several tries they finally located Naipaul who was writing quietly in his room. (He wrote every single day, he later told me.)

He was pleased to hear from me but said he was fed up of the hotel. I promised to take him out for lunch the next day. Would he like to try a Chinese restaurant that had just opened? There was a silence on the line.

“No”, he finally said. “Anywhere else?”

So we agreed on a non-Chinese venue and noting his irritation I called the General Manager of the Oberoi Grand. Did he realise that V S Naipaul was staying with him and that nobody could get through to his room?

The General Manager said he would check and call me back.

When he did, he was apologetic. They had a pastry chef called Nagpal, he said. So naturally all calls for any name that sounded like Nagpal were being directed to the kitchen.

This was not a terribly satisfactory explanation and I said so. Oh well, he said, who was this Naipaul fellow anyway?

The next day when we met for lunch Naipaul complained again about how badly he was being treated by the Oberoi. I told him that I had spoken to the General Manager.

His mood brightened, we had a good meal and he apologised for turning down my offer of a Chinese meal. “Very dirty,” he said. “You know Shanghai used to be the dirtiest city in the world.”

I thought that this generalisation was a little strange (and inaccurate, and probably racist) but we agreed to meet again, a few days later.

When we did, Naipaul was annoyed about The Oberoi again “You know, some fool, who said he was the General Manager, came to see me to apologise,” he said.

And this was a bad thing?

“Yes. He disturbed me. I was writing and he made me sign copies of my books”.

Ah okay, I said to myself, this is one complicated man.

I kept that in mind as we met several times again including a memorable dinner at my home where Naipaul drank too much and let his hair down.

It turned out that he had strong views on nearly everything. He hated Salman Rushdie, joked about the Satanic Verses fatwa (“an extreme form of literary criticism”) and said he was delighted that Rushdie now had to seek the help of a woman he had called Mrs. Torture. (Margaret Thatcher.)

He did not like black people. He did not even like the term ‘black’, he said. Much better to call them ‘negroes’ which, to be fair, was not always regarded as an offensive term in the late 1980s. And on and on he went.

All of it made me uncomfortable and though we kept in touch intermittently for a few years, we never became friends. There were, however, the odd meetings where he would talk about his life in a surprisingly frank fashion.

He liked India, he said. He thought I was lucky to live here. I reminded him of An Area of Darkness and A Wounded Civilisation. He responded that a) India had changed since he wrote those books and b) he had never felt he belonged here till recently when India had ‘opened up.”

So where did he belong? His native Trinidad?

“Oh, absolutely not,” he answered vehemently. “I could never live there.”

This was followed by a diatribe about Trinidad’s black population. So much for Trinidad being far ahead of India!

What about England?

“Whenever I think of England, I feel a deep melancholy,” he said. ‘A deep melancholy.” (He had a way of repeating phrases.)

And then came what I thought was the most important admission: “People of your generation can go to places like Oxford, come back to India, made a good living, drink good wine and be happy. We never had that opportunity.”

Perhaps I am oversimplifying but after that conversation, I thought I had cracked it. Naipaul did not hate India, he resented it. What he did really hate was his native Trinidad (no matter what he wrote in his earlier pieces). And he never felt quite at home in England either.

He was, essentially, a stateless person who envied Indians for creating a modern country of our own. Only in the late 1980s and early 1990s, did he finally make his peace with the Indian part of his identity. And from that point on, he kept coming back to India.

In the aftermath of his death, there has been a stream of social media abuse. Some of it relates to his views on Muslims. I can understand why his influential 1980s book, Among the Believers, can be considered borderline prejudiced by some but, let’s be honest, many of his concerns in that book have been validated by later events.

Naipaul said that Islam was increasingly becoming an Arab religion (even though the majority of the world’s Muslims were non-Arab) and that Muslims were being asked to abandon their own cultures and to accept a severe, repressive, fundamentalist kind of Arab Islam.

Three decades later, can anyone seriously argue that Naipaul was wrong?

There is anger, also, over what people saw as his pro-Hindutva learnings. This stems from an ill-advised visit to a Sangh Parivar operation (which he is supposed to have later regretted) and a few loose remarks.

But in all his body of work, there is not one pro-Sangh Parivar article and as for the charge that he was anti-Muslim (one reason why bakhts love him), he married a Pakistani Muslim and never once showed signs of prejudice against individual Muslims.

So yes, he was a racist when it came to black people. Yes, he often wrote about other people’s countries without fully understanding them in a dangerously naïve and arrogant manner.

I once had lunch with him and his British-Argentinean girlfriend of the time and she spent much of our lunch telling me (and him) how Naipaul got everything about Argentina wrong when he wrote about the country.

And he got lots wrong about India too. At the beginning of An Area of Darkness, he writes about touts approaching passengers on the ship he had arrived on and asking if they had any cheese.

This provokes a bout of contempt for India. The country still hadn’t learnt how to make cheese, he scoffs! It had to be procured on the black market and bought off visiting passengers.

In fact, as Patrick French points out, what the touts were probably asking was whether passengers had any ‘cheez’. In the early 1960s there were strict import controls and liquor, cigarettes, electronics etc. were much in demand.

But Naipaul did not know what ‘cheez’ meant. And he offered up a diatribe about primitive Indians who did not even know how to make cheese, purely out of ignorance.

As most of the obituaries have noted, Naipaul may been a great writer but he was also a deeply flawed human being. Nobody can dispute how brilliantly he wrote. But let’s not forget that though he called himself a novelist, he was far better known for his non-fiction than for his novels.

Will his novels stand the test of time? Does anybody still read say, A House for Mr Biswas? Will they read it ten years from now?

I wonder.

I advise everybody to read ‘A house for Mr Biswas’ I read it many times and enjoyed it every time.
Man in Blue


Dawn – The politics of religion

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 08 August 2018. The 2018 elections have proved to be a mixed bag for the religious right. While the vote bank of the mainstream Islamic parties has shrunk, the strong showing of a newly formed radical group has led to jitters.

Although it has failed to win even a single seat in the newly elected National Assembly, the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) has emerged as the fifth largest group in terms of vote share, and is nominally behind the MMA which itself is an alliance of the mainstream Islamic parties.

Indeed, the growing electoral support for the extremist outfit whose politics is based on animus against other religious groups and that justifies violence in the name of faith is worrisome; yet it is not likely to change the power matrix in the country.

The rout of the top leadership of the MMA came as a huge surprise in the elections, and so has the expansion of the TLP’s popular base.

There may or may not be any correlation between those two developments; still, the spectacular rise of a radical Barelvi movement has given a new and dangerous twist to the issue of religion and politics in the country.

It may be indicative of disenchanted voters of the mainstream Islamic parties leaning towards extremist groups with a stronger bias against adherents of other religious beliefs.

Although they remain on the fringes of power politics, religious groups in the country continue to wield more influence than their electoral support base indicates. The combined share of the vote for the religious parties, mainstream or otherwise, however, remains below nine per cent.

It was significantly lower than the over 11 % achieved by the MMA during its remarkable success in the 2002 general elections when for the first time in Pakistan’s history the religious parties had managed to lead a provincial government. Their triumph, however, was largely limited to one province, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

While also losing ground in its stronghold, the mainstream Islamic coalition seems to have been completely wiped out in Punjab and Sindh where the TLP has made significant inroads.

That also raises the question of whether the TLP electoral gain has largely been at the expense of relatively moderate Islamic parties like the Jamaat-i-Islami and the JUI-F.

The spectacular rise of the TLP over the past year has changed the dynamics of religious politics in the country.

Traditionally, the JI, in particular, has had a significant vote bank in the two provinces. This time, it was perhaps the worst electoral performance by the party that has long been the face of political Islam in the country.

Most shocking has been the humiliation suffered by the religious parties’ coalition in KP where the entire top leadership comes from. Its resurrection has raised the prospect that the MMA would at least present a formidable challenge to the PTI juggernaut. But that did not happen. There have been several factors contributing to the defeat.

It was evident that both the JI and the JUI-F which remained in opposite camps for the past five years had lost much credibility in KP. It was mainly an alliance of expediency to prevent the division of the religious vote that had cost the two parties in the 2013 elections.

Moreover, there was nothing new the alliance could offer to the electorate to counter the PTI’s overwhelming support in KP. The slogan of Islam was not enough to win public support.

Meanwhile, the spectacular rise of the TLP over the past one year has changed the dynamics of religious politics in the country. In fact, it is a movement rather than a well-knit and organised political party born out of the execution of Mumtaz Qadri, the murderer of former Punjab governor Salmaan Taseer.

It has also been an assertion of Barelvi radicalism against Wahabi and Salafi groups.

Led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, the TLP used the blasphemy issue to whip up religious sentiments both in the urban and rural areas.

It was given further impetus during a two-week siege of Islamabad. The virtual surrender of the state emboldened the group. The clerics were also encouraged by the widening civil-military divide.

The group showed its electoral prowess for the first time in the by-election for NA-120 in Lahore last year by getting a significant number of votes, more than the JI candidate. Its growing electoral appeal was also witnessed in the Peshawar and Bhakkar by-elections.

Yet the TLP’s performance in the general elections across Punjab and Karachi was beyond expectation. It had put up candidates in almost all the constituencies of the national and provincial (Punjab) assemblies, eating not only into the vote bank of JI but also of the PML-N that had traditionally enjoyed the Barelvi vote.

Surprisingly, the TLP’s biggest success came from Karachi where it won two provincial seats and came very close to winning a National Assembly seat.

The party seems to have received support from followers of groups like the JUP that has traditionally had a significant vote bank in the metropolis. The disintegration of the MQM and the gap thus created also helped the TLP make inroads.

It was most intriguing how the Election Commission registered a party with a sectarian/communal base and that preached extremism and violence, and then allowed it to participate in the elections.

It gets more and more bizarre as even Pemra had banned the telecast of TLP rallies because of the vitriolic speeches of its leaders. How come the two state agencies have different laws applied to a such a group?
Similarly, some banned militant outfits were also allowed to participate in the election under new banners in violation of the law. This is more than a policy of appeasement and has raised questions of tacit backing from some state institutions.

Radical groups deal a serious blow to the nation’s struggle against extremism and militant violence. The TLP may not have a concrete programme for it to be a formidable electoral force in the long term. But allowing such groups to operate freely and participate in elections could be disastrous.

It remains to be seen how the new PTI administration deals with this scourge of extremism. Given its soft stance towards the religious right, fears are that such groups may get greater space.

The writer is an author and journalist.

Published from Notre Dame du Chant d’Oiseau
1150 Brussel/Bruxelles

Dawn – Time to move forward

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 01 August 2018. With the numbers game more or less over, the PTI appears well set to form the next government both at the centre and in Punjab. It was already in the saddle in KP and, most likely, the party will be a part of an emerging ruling coalition in Balochistan.

It is indeed a great moment for the PTI and its leader Imran Khan who relentlessly pursued his course to the pinnacle of power. However tainted they might have been, the July 25 elections have cleared the clouds of political uncertainty, though not entirely. Now, it is time to move forward.

Shunning the call for a boycott, the opposition parties have prudently decided to use the forum of parliament to fight their battle. Derailing the system was not an option, however serious the reservations over the fairness of the polls may be.

Surely, allegations of foul play on polling day and the delay in the announcement of the results must be investigated. But there is also a question regarding whether the reported irregularities would have drastically altered the overall outcome.

Confrontation over the issue could provide an opportunity for non-elected institutions to intervene. A strong opposition in the house will certainly help strengthen the democratic process. Let there be a new beginning.

Only a strong parliament can help the government regain its democratic space.[centre/italics]

Imran Khan’s victory speech has raised hopes for the return of some rationality to his politics. He certainly sounded more circumspect and conciliatory while offering his party’s cooperation in addressing the opposition’s complaints about poll rigging.

He has laid down the priorities of the incoming administration, promising greater focus on institution building, human development and the alleviation of poverty. Improvement of relations with Afghanistan and India seem to be at the top on his foreign policy agenda.

This is all good but things are not as simple as they sound. It will require more than populist rhetoric to move forward.

The challenges are grave, and difficult for any administration to deal with, perhaps more so for a minority government that is dependent on a coalition of disparate groups and a leader with no prior experience of government.

The new administration will be constrained by the worsening state of the economy and civilian institutions being in a state of utter shambles. The crisis of governance is much more serious than it appears to be.

Delivering on their promise of a ‘naya Pakistan’ will be a test for Imran Khan and his team. True, the PTI has ruled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for a full five-year term, but it is a completely different ball game running the central government and the country’s biggest province.

The party had given an ambitious plan for its first 100 days in office, which includes turning around the economy, expanding job opportunities, dealing with the housing problem and carrying out structural reforms.

But does the party have the capacity and expertise to deliver on these promises? Imran Khan says he will gather a team of technocrats to help the government. This may be a good idea, but these experts cannot deliver without an effective administration in place.

There are certainly many good people among the newly elected lawmakers to fill the cabinet positions. One can only hope that the new PTI administration has learnt from the mistakes of previous governments that promoted cronyism.

Moreover, the existing political polarisation in the country worsened by widespread protests over alleged poll manipulation has made the situation more complex.

With not enough numbers in either house of parliament at the centre, it will be extremely difficult for a fledging coalition to introduce any meaningful legislation needed for the implementation of the party’s reform agenda, without the cooperation of the opposition benches.

That will require a more pragmatic approach. Is Imran Khan ready for that? A strong opposition could create a serious hurdle for the new government.

Imran Khan’s own attitude towards elected institutions in the past raises questions about his ability to take parliament along. His disdain has been evident in his derogatory remarks about the elected house.

He would rarely attend parliamentary sessions. It remains to be seen if he changes his attitude when his party is in power. He must understand that by strengthening parliament he would be strengthening the democratic process and his own government.

The requirement of parliamentary democracy is very different from personalised rule. Will Imran Khan shed his apparent arrogance and adhere to an institutional decision-making process? The question becomes more pertinent given the imbalance of power among various institutions of the state.

Only a strong parliament can help the government regain its democratic space. The ugly race to win over independently elected legislators in order to form the government in Punjab has dealt a serious blow to the credibility of the democratic system.

There are some legitimate concerns about the PTI’s controversial position on religious extremism that poses a serious threat to national security and the country’s unity. The use of the blasphemy card against the PML-N during the election campaign reinforced the perception that the PTI was catering to the religious right.

This is extremely dangerous for a party that seeks to change Pakistan. For the country to progress and improve its image abroad, it’s imperative to take a clear position on the scourge of religious extremism. Bowing to radical groups out of political expediency is costly business that the country can’t afford.

Like his (civilian) predecessors, Imran Khan will also have to deal with the perennial problem of civil-military relations, though his detractors contend that his rise to power owes to the backing of the security establishment.
The issue of the civil-military imbalance of power is inherent in the system given the overarching shadow of the military over the political spectrum.

The political crisis triggered by the judicial action against former prime minister Nawaz Sharif allowed the military further space. But the problem cannot be resolved through confrontation.

The imbalance of power can only be resolved through strengthening parliament and other civilian institutions, and good governance. It is certainly not going to happen overnight. Pakistan’s external and internal security situation demands a better balance.

It will be tough going for the new prime minister and one hopes he can deliver on his promises.

The writer is an author and journalist

Dawn – Has Imran Khan’s moment arrived?

Zahid Hussain

Op/Ed, 18 July 2018. Imran Khan thought he was there in 2013, but it was not to be. He claimed the elections were stolen. He won’t accept defeat and was willing to go to any extent to force mid-term polls. He failed. He was a man in a hurry, yet the ‘umpire’ would not come to his help.

It’s 2018 now and back to the hustings. Has IK’s moment finally arrived? He is surely much closer to fulfilling his dream this time with a favourable playing field.

Various opinion polls show the PTI is fast closing the gap with the PML-N, its main rival. It does not seem difficult for the party with a strong, popular base to cross the barrier with ‘electables’ and ‘angels’ on its side.

A change of tack, from idealism to pure expediency, has certainly helped bring Imran Khan closer to his goal. The dice is further loaded in his favour with the decapitation of the main opponent. Yet nothing is ensured given the volatility of electoral politics. It’s not over till the last lap.

Described as the dirtiest ever, the 2018 polls are already mired in controversy. The zing witnessed in the previous elections is missing, with widespread allegations of pre-poll engineering.

The wave of terrorist violence targeting election rallies has also dampened the spirit. Nonetheless, electioneering has picked up momentum with the aspirants out on the campaign trail. The trend is much clearer now with only one week left to go.

The real battleground is Punjab: it could make or break Imran Khan’s dream

It seems almost certain the PTI will be able to hold its ground in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, breaking away from the tradition of the province not re-electing the incumbent.

Most opinion polls show that the party could even expand its tally in the province which it has ruled for five years. Although electables may have enhanced its prospects, the party, unlike in Punjab, has mainly relied on the old guard.

Some fundamental institutional reforms carried out by the PTI provincial government in education, health and the police system, sectors that matter most to the ordinary people, seem to have paid off. Of course the PTI faces challenges from other political parties in the field but none of them is in a position to dislodge it from its stronghold.

The revival of the MMA was expected to lay the groundwork for a strong electoral contest, but there is no indication as yet of the religious alliance generating the wave needed to contain the PTI. The squabbling among the allied parties and the rise of an extremist sectarian group like Tehreek-i-Labbaik Ya Rasool Allah has further eroded the MMA’s chances even in its stronghold.

Other political parties like the PML-N, PPP and ANP are also in the field vying to get a share of the pie, but four-way electoral battles in most of the constituencies, especially in the Peshawar valley, give the PTI a clear edge. The PML-N is likely to retain some seats from the Hazara region that has traditionally been an extension of Punjab politics.

While a clear victory in KP does matter in the final reckoning, the real battleground is Punjab that could make or break Imran Khan’s dream. It is certainly not going to be an easy battle despite the alleged pre-poll management tilting the balance in the PTI’s favour.

The large-scale defections from PML-N ranks and the electables joining the party’s bandwagon has certainly increased the PTI’s chances in south Punjab. But it is not going to be smooth sailing given the existing political polarisation that seems to have intensified after Nawaz Sharif’s conviction and imprisonment.

It is central and northern Punjab that will finally determine the country’s future political scenario and of course Imran Khan’s fate. With the bulk of the National Assembly seats concentrated in the region that largely constitutes urban constituencies, unlike feudal-dominated southern Punjab, the rules of the game are completely different in the heartland.

There is no indication of the PML-N losing ground in its bastion despite some high-profile defections and alleged meddling of the ‘angels’ persuading candidates to switch sides.

There may not be a groundswell of mass sympathy for the PML-N after the imprisonment of Sharif and his daughter Maryam, but there is no evidence of any major cracks yet in the party’s popular support base either.

Surely the PTI seems to have made some inroads into the PML-N powerbase, yet it is difficult for it to dismantle the fortress notwithstanding ‘intervention’ from any quarter. The PTI will be banking on some independents getting elected, but there will not be many from central Punjab.

It may still stay in contention even if it manages to get 25 out of 95 from central and northern regions because of its potential advantage in KP and south Punjab.

In Sindh, the party has reached an electoral adjustment with the Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) a conglomeration of disparate anti-PPP groups. With the party itself likely to get some seats and the GDA supported candidates winning a few more from interior Sindh, the PTI hopes to have some electoral presence in the province where the PPP appears unassailable.

The disintegration of the MQM that has dominated the politics of urban Sindh for almost three decades has provided an opportunity for the PTI to grab a few more seats from Karachi.

Electoral politics in Balochistan is entirely a different ballgame where electables hold sway irrespective of which party they belong to. The emergence of the establishment backed Balochistan Awami Party on the scene following the Senate elections has brought a new element to provincial electoral politics.

The PTI seems to have already established some understanding with the group during the Senate chairman’s election early this year.

With these likely permutations, the PTI certainly stands a chance of scraping through to the pedestal in what are being described as one of the most controversial elections in the country’s recent history. It is the best and probably the last opportunity for Imran Khan to fulfil his dream. But there’s still a long way to go before the final lap.

The writer is an author and journalist. – Op/Ed: Misogyny in the Khalistan movement – View of a Kaur

Guest Contributor, Anonymous Kaur (UK)

UK, 29 June 2018. The Khalistan movement divides people as much as it unites them. I am strongly in support of it and everything that it stands for.

However, what I do not support is the toxic, overbearing, testosterone-fuelled, egocentric, masochistic voices that think they have earned the right to speak on behalf of everyone else who identifies as a Khalistani (like myself).

These young men are in their mid to late twenties and have appointed themselves ‘speakers’ and ‘activists’ from various different organisations across the United Kingdom. One would think that due to the fact these individuals are from specific groups, they’re accountable to something or someone for their behaviour.

Wrong. There is no accountability which in term has directly contributed to their disrespectful and outlandish behaviour.

As I mentioned before, the Khalistan movement does not sit favourably with many people. Instead of politely engaging with those who are against (or frankly do not understand) the movement, these so-called activists and speakers berate, attack and slander anyone who holds an alternative point of view.

On social media I witness countless arguments and very quickly the subject matter divulges in to participants hurling hostile and personal abuse at each other; the discourse of Khalistan having been long forgotten.

These young men cannot handle the idea that there are people who will never adhere to their way of thinking, especially people from their very own community. Anyone who holds political views that are in direct conflict with the principles of the Khalistan movement automatically becomes diasporic panthik enemy number one.

It’s all well and good being provocative behind a screen and shouting your opinions in uppercase lettered sentences littered with undesirable expletives across various different social media platforms. There comes a time when one should voluntarily move away from this sort of juvenile behaviour and actively do something for the betterment of the sangarsh.

I have noticed many times over the majority of these self-proclaimed male experts on the Khalistan movement are fantastic at trashing other people’s opinions but they fail spectacularly at providing decent counter arguments.

Their natural knee-jerk defensive reaction is to jump in to victim mode and repeat the same constant stream of rhetoric like a stuck record: if you criticise or do not support the Khalistan movement, you’re automatically on the side of the oppressive Indian government.

There’s an ever-present invisible agreement amongst these Khalistani men that any other opinions must be attacked, annihilated and silenced in to submission. This is true of dialogue I have experienced online, in personal discussions and formal academic spaces.

It’s “my way or the highway”, for them it is simply not plausible to engage in healthy political discourse in any context. For these men, everything exists in black and white; what they fail to realise is that many people are learning and forming their point of view, they are still firmly existing in the grey area.

Undoubtedly there is an inherent male dominance in the movement and this has negative repercussions for women who contribute tirelessly. To a certain extent, the role of female Khalistani activists are not taken seriously at all and they’re severely undermined.

You are only granted a shred of credibility as a female activist if you are amritdhari. This culture of male dominance must come to an end and the idolisation of a token female amritdhari activist must also stop. Women must be given the same respect as their male counterparts.

The Khalistan movement is incredibly emotionally charged and of course, why shouldn’t it be? We are up against a genocidal government that has always been intent upon erasing Sikhs and everything that we stand for. A stereotypical image of a Khalistani would be an amritdhari Sikh man with a black dhumalla grasping an AK-47.

While all this makes sense because a black dhumalla is symbolic of our resistance and sovereignty and the AK-47 is a symbolic reference to freedom and liberation, the image of the Khalistan movement is changing.

No longer does the movement exclusively consist of Taksali amritdhari Sikh men, the Khalistan movement like any other political movement is organic and ever-evolving; these men have no choice but to accept that.

With the arrest of Scottish activist Jagtar Singh Johal, many young Sikhs are waking up to the harsh reality they were previously ignorant of. They are showing interest in the Khalistan movement and all that it’s about. I beg these egotistical Khalistani men to think about their behaviour and the ramifications it could have.

If you do not agree with someone, there is no need to descend in to chaos. Furthermore, displays of behaviour like this will drive people away from the movement, particularly young Sikh women. There is already plenty of ill-feeling and disillusionment surrounding our movement, we do not need to add anymore fuel to the fire.

I know my words will not be well received across the board but that was not the purpose of writing this. The truth always tastes most bitter to those who have difficulty digesting it.

These men have no choice to change their behaviour because there may come a time in the near future where they inflict serious irreversible damage all because they are slaves to monumental sized egos.

I mostly agree with my sister. Sikhs in general are very bad at disagreeing with respect, and the followers of the ‘Dhumma Taksal’ and their likes are worse than most. The Guru teaches that we should stand up against injustice, not that we should use violence against those that have different views. I have have always felt comfortable working with Dabinderjit Singh, first in the Sikhagenda group, later in the Sikh Federation.

Dawn – Curbs on thinking

Huma Yusuf

Op/Ed, 07 May 2018. It is no secret that our university campuses have become spaces of intimidation rather than debate, censorship rather than critical thinking. Panel discussions are cancelled, speakers are forced off campuses, student events are disrupted by mobs, professors who encourage engagement are fired.

The threats to critical thinking and debate come from many sources: so-called ‘state functionaries’, student wings of religious political parties, firebrand students wielding blasphemy charges, politicised academics, complicit university administrators, and even right-wing media commentators who name and shame educational institutions, forcing them to go on the defensive and resort to self-censorship in lieu of jeopardising students’ safety from mobs.

The range of issues deemed too sensitive to debate grows every day. Beyond academic debate on matters of national security and foreign policy, discussions on culture, history, law, constitutionality and even science are increasingly perceived as too sensitive.

Opportunities for debate are cancelled both by authoritarians for fear of what might be said, but also by the academically inclined for fear of the violent reaction that genuine debate may provoke.

How is the next generation meant to learn how to think?

And this is the fate of those who dare to speak, to engage, to question. The ranks of those who no longer bother, who opt for silence and safety over debate and danger is growing.

A new report from Media Matters for Democracy, a Pakistan-based, not-for-profit initiative, on the practice of self-censorship among Pakistani journalists found that 79 per cent of respondents had self-censored their personal expression online and in the company of strangers (aside from the routine self-censorship required in a professional context).

One can imagine that these statistics among university students would be similar.

The demise of debate, and the critical thinking it necessitates, on university campuses is especially problematic because Pakistan’s youth don’t have access to other spaces where they can engage their minds.

According to the excellent Pakistan National Human Development Report on youth released last week, 85pc of young Pakistanis do not have access to the internet, and a shocking 94pc do not have access to a library. How is the next generation meant to learn how to think?

The various groups cracking down on academic debate think that by enforcing silence they enhance their power and, eventually, wrangle the public’s consent and compliance. Terrifyingly, they are right.

If you suck ideas and opposing viewpoints out of circulation, at first, they live on behind closed doors, then they start to seem irrelevant, and ultimately, they cease to exist.

And what takes their place, in our case, conspiracy theories, paranoia, fanaticism, sectarian and ethnic hostility, is taken for truth, and not recognised as the pressure tactic that was its first incarnation.

In the short run, widespread censorship does result in a pliant population. The silencing that the Zia generation endured explains the attractiveness of hare-brained conspiracy theories today. Pliant populations are also easier to govern.

People who are intimidated into silence in one arena of their life will be placid in others too. Students who watch every word they utter on campus are unlikely to become entitled citizens demanding service delivery, human rights and state accountability.

But this conception has one major flaw, it is underpinned by an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality. Censorship and the stifling of debate require an elite who decides what can and cannot be said, and a public that complies.

There is an uncomfortable power dynamic here, a division of the polity into those who can use critical thinking skills to manipulate debate and knowledge and those who are not entitled to anything beyond obeisance.

How short-sighted, then, are those who seek to silence? Today’s students are that elite of tomorrow. By stifling critical thinking on campus, we are ensuring a future in which Pakistan has corps commanders, parliamentarians, judges, senior bureaucrats, CEOs, police chiefs and doctors who are incapable of sophisticated reasoning.

These are the people who will have to plan the country’s economic trajectory and allocate increasingly scarce resources. They will have to negotiate trade and defence deals on behalf of our country.

They will have to engage in diplomacy on the world stage. They will have to win business. They will have to keep Pakistan safe. And they will have to train the generation that comes after them.

To do any of these things, you need to think critically, engage with and process facts, identify alternative possibilities, and reason or negotiate with people on the other side of the table.

If all you know is the power of brute force, if your comfort zone is that of censorship, authoritarianism, silence and complicity, then you are not fit to do any of the things needed to help a country and a society prosper. As such, today’s silence is being bought at the expense of Pakistan’s future. Is it really worth that much?

The writer is a freelance journalist.
Twitter: @humayusuf

Dawn – Triangular cold war

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi

Op/Ed, 07 April 2018. A triangular cold war is developing which could be much more dangerous than the 20th-century Cold War. This new cold war ranges the US against Russia and China.

The US remains the world’s number one military, S&T, economic and financial power. However, despite its global full-spectrum dominance, it is challenged in Europe and the Middle East by Russia, in East Asia by China, and in Central and South Asia by both.

The Pentagon officially says the “long war” against international terrorism is drawing to a close. It argues “the US must bolster its competitive military advantage relative to the threats posed by China and Russia” because “inter-state strategic competition, not terrorism, is now the primary concern in US national security”.

It concludes “the US-dominated global order today is challenged not by Al Qaeda and ISIS but by the aggressive behaviour of China and Russia”.

According to Prof Michael Clare “a permanent campaign to contain Russia and China in Eurasia has begun. The US military has committed itself and the nation to a three-front geopolitical struggle to resist Chinese and Russian advances in Asia, Europe and the Middle East”.

Centcom commander, General Votel, told the Senate “the containment of China and Russia has become an integral part of Centcom’s future strategic mission”. Of particular concern is “the Chinese-managed port at Gwadar in Pakistan” which could contribute to “China’s military posture and force projection”.

What are the implications of a new cold war for Pakistan?

This answers questions why the US plans a long-term presence in Afghanistan and why it is concerned with Gwadar, CPEC and the Belt and Road Initiative. This is also the context within which it pressures Pakistan on Afghanistan, terrorism and its nuclear arsenal, and in which it has recruited India to its strategic camp.

The current spate of US and Western accusations against Russia and diplomatic expulsions increasingly seems an orchestrated prelude to a new cold war.

The US aims to sanction and isolate Russia into withdrawing from Ukraine and Syria, disengaging from its strategic embrace of China, abandoning its developing understanding with Iran and Turkey, and refraining from building a significant political presence in Afghanistan.

Russia may be economically vulnerable but militarily and politically it is strong. Moreover, Russians admire Putin because even if he has not delivered democracy and prosperity he embodies Russian defiance and resilience.

Russia has developed Sarmat 2 missiles which it claims the US cannot intercept. If true, it would have a nuclear first-strike capability. The US claims a similar capability. A US-Russian mutual first-strike capability is extremely destabilising.

In case of a serious military confrontation, neither side could risk not striking first. During the last cold war a shared second-strike capability helped avert such doomsday scenarios.

Despite mutual suspicion, China does not want Russia humiliated and destabilised by a US that regards China as its main adversary. The renewed American cold war with Russia and possible trade war with China brings both countries together.

The blustering Trump is a weak leader whom neither Moscow nor Beijing can trust to control his hawks. This is the opposite of what Nixon and Kissinger achieved. They exploited Sino-Soviet mistrust and enabled the US to become the preferred interlocutor for both China and Russia.

Today, according to Prof James Petras, “while China exports economic products, the US exports arms and wars”.

The US has a surplus of arms exports and a growing commercial deficit. China has multibillion-dollar infrastructure investments in over 50 countries that enhance trade surpluses. The US has multibillion-dollar expenditures in over 800 military bases that enhance trade deficits”.

Moreover, a “trade war with China will result in higher prices for the US consumer, unskilled labour, war debts and financial monopolies. China will simply divert trade from the US to other countries and redirect its investments towards deepening its domestic economy and increasing ties with Russia, Asia, Africa, Latin America and Oceania”.

America’s response is to rely on its military supremacy to compensate for its woeful diplomatic and economic strategies.

What are the implications of a new cold war for Pakistan? US demands to “do more” will further escalate.

The US-Indian strategic alliance will deepen as the US remains distant and demanding towards Pakistan. India will progressively if not completely downgrade its strategic relations with Russia. It will bide its time with China which in turn will keep a door open to India, especially if Pakistan remains dysfunctional.

India would expect very significant transfers of military and development technology from the US and its allies, enabling it to eventually engage with China on less disadvantageous terms, at the expense of Pakistan.

Apart from these grave implications of a new cold war for Pakistan, the 21st century poses existential challenges that have been largely ignored by derelict governments and educationally and ethically challenged leadership, abetted by the narrow security focus of an overwhelming ‘deep state’. Pakistan’s population will be 400 million in 30 years.

Climate change threatens water scarcity and loss of agricultural land leading to widespread famine and disease.

Human security is also threatened by deliberate underfunding for general, vocational and S&T education; generating family-supporting jobs in a global knowledge economy; providing adequate health and other basic services; developing institutional capacities and credibility; reforming the criminal justice and police systems; ensuring the rule of law; and guaranteeing human rights protections.

The government doesn’t even want to know about these challenges. They can only be addressed by good governance at home; deeper geostrategic and geo-economic cooperation with China and Russia; good and substantive if non-strategic relations with the US based on addressing each other’s concerns; a non-confrontational, dialogue-based and problem-solving working relationship with India despite outstanding differences and futile provocations; and developing mutual confidence with Afghanistan. I have suggested specific measures (see ‘Who is listening?’ in Dawn, 9 October 2017).

Longer-term perspectives, rational mindsets, due diligence and honest common sense are what is required for policies to develop credibility, direction and momentum. Political and other non-civilian policy decision-makers should listen to and consider objective, professional and relevant advice and input.

The writer is a former ambassador to the US, India and China and head of UN missions in Iraq and Sudan.

Dawn – Mother of all confusions

Muhammad Amir Rana

Op/Ed, 28 January 2018, International politics is the art of constructing narratives, which in turn cultivate public opinion. This requires diplomacy and opinion-making, yet the arguments embedded in a narrative are themselves the most important part.

When a narrative loses appeal it simply requires a review. Harping on lost arguments creates only confusion and distraction.

Pakistan is annoyed at the international community’s repeated concerns about the alleged presence and status of non-state actors on its soil. Pakistan tries to convince the world by describing multiple anti-militant actions it has taken and the sacrifices it has rendered. It also claims that it does not distinguish between good and bad militants.

However, a drone strike and a subsequent press conference, or public demonstration by the leaders of banned organisations and their other public activities, offset the impression. The blame lies largely with the civilian governments that have failed to diplomatically defend Pakistan’s case.

For instance, just before the recent visit of the UN Security Council’s sanctions monitoring team, Hafiz Saeed, the leader of a banned group, approached the Lahore High Court to prevent his arrest. He suspected that the government would put him under house arrest during the team’s visit.

He got temporary relief from the court but the media coverage of one of his news conferences resulted in his views being known abroad. Who now would believe that Pakistan recently took serious measures against banned groups?

Banned militant groups are continuously giving Pakistan diplomatic stress.

The monitoring committee looks into the implementation of UNSC Resolution 1267, dealing with sanctions by the body on designated militant groups. Media reports indicate that the government took special measures to convince the UNSC monitoring team.

The committee was particularly interested in the case of the Jamaatud Dawa and a few other banned groups operating under the garb of welfare organisations.

Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi had also indicated that JuD charities and assets would be taken over by the government. In the past, these had been taken over by the Punjab government that found itself having to allocate a budget to run them.

The UNSC monitoring team’s visit was part of its regular inspections but the Financial Action Task Force, an international body that combats money laundering and terror financing, shares concerns with many other international actors about the activities of banned groups in Pakistan.

Banned militant groups are continuously giving Pakistan diplomatic stress. It has been discussed at various high-level national forums that these groups have become a strategic burden for the country. And that they are also causing internal security problems.

These groups provide recruitment bases to anti-Pakistan and global terrorist networks and also have an impact on relations within law-enforcement departments.

Most importantly, these groups are a major source of confusion at multiple levels. When they take refuge under the cover of nationalist agendas, ambiguities are created in the public perception.

On social media, members of banned groups portray themselves as the ‘ultra-patriotic’ custodians of the ideology of Pakistan and defenders of the country’s borders. The silence of state institutions regarding their activities in cyberspace creates fear amongst ordinary citizens.

Though the effective implementation of banning militant groups is part of the National Action Plan, and the government has taken steps to put pressure on these organisations, the latter have devised a counter-strategy: they are building a soft image through expanding their outreach in political spaces and avoiding confrontation with the government.

The establishment of the Milli Muslim League is a case in point. But a recent development did not receive enough notice. The new narrative of ‘Paigham-i-Pakistan’, prepared by religious scholars to counter militant narratives, was also endorsed by the heads of banned organisations present at the President House during the launching ceremony.

Interestingly, the media did not create a hype this time as it did a couple of years ago when the same leaders met the then interior minister, Nisar Ali Khan; at that time, even the court took notice.

The counter-strategy of banned militant groups has proved effective. Federal Interior Minister Ahsan Iqbal sees the workers of JuD and other conventional militant groups as ‘ex-militants’ who are engaged in welfare work. He has cautioned that if disturbed, they may join terrorist outfits.

Interestingly, he was expressing these views after attending the graduation ceremony of the Counterterrorism Force at the Police Lines Headquarters in Islamabad. He also claimed that about 4,000 to 5,000 militants had quit militancy and were raising funds for welfare activities.

It is not certain where he got these statistics from as the JuD claims it has more than 50,000 registered workers across the country.

It may not be true that civilians and the military establishment have not tried to find out a way out. But two major issues lie in the way of a clear position.

The first is linked with the state’s long association with these groups, during which they have hijacked the ideological narrative of the state, and the second is about the strategy of dealing with the groups.

That is why despite repeated debate and policy input provided on the prospects of rehabilitating, reintegrating and mainstreaming certain groups, no coherent policy has been chalked out yet. For this purpose, the government and military establishment will have to be on the same page.

This is the time to remove all ambiguities and confusion regarding banned groups, as a national security policy is in the making and an internal security review under way. The architects of our security policies have to come up with a comprehensive, workable mechanism to deal with the challenge.

One cannot ignore the role of parliament, which should have a frank debate on banned militant groups. Army chief Qamar Bajwa endorsed this idea when he addressed the Committee of the Whole in December and stressed that parliament take the lead in devising policies, including defence and foreign affairs.

He held out the assurance that the army would abide by such policies. It is parliament’s turn to assert itself through taking over policy discourse on critical challenges.

The writer is a security analyst.

The Times of India – Is 1984 India’s guilty secret?

John Cheeran in Arrackistan

Op/Ed, 23 January 2018. When a big tree falls, the earth does shake a little. The tremors are still being felt with the Supreme Court ordering early in January 2018 for a fresh investigation into 186 cases related to the anti-Sikh riots in 1984.

The failure of the Congress government and the newly sworn-in prime minister Rajiv Gandhi to quell the bloodthirsty Hindu mob out to revenge for the dastardly assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1984 remains a blot in India’s polity especially when very few have been held guilty of butchering innocent people—stunned men, hapless women and children belonging to the assassins’ religion.

It is another part that the Congress as a party made amends with the past and the Sikh community by elevating a scholar-politician from the community as prime minister for 10 years. This should not be ignored when the BJP’s project of a ‘minority-mukt’ Bharat remains a work in progress.

The huge backlash against the Sikh community as a reaction to Indira Gandhi’s assassination and the long-festering demand for Khalistan in Punjab and not so distant images of bloodletting during Partition was predictable but that the ‘grief-stricken’ Congress government could not get its act together to fulfill its constitutional obligation let the nation down.

The most remarkable fact is that, then, in 1984, nobody took Rajiv Gandhi and Congress to task over its failure to uphold law and order, not even the BJP which now relishes in targeting the party for its misdeeds of that winter.

For BJP, the guardian of the Hindu right, the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 were an expression of itself, even though the party was reduced to a mere two seats in the Lok Sabha. That the whole of a shell-shocked India did not seem to excoriate Congress for spilling the blood of innocent Sikhs may come as a surprise to many now.

It was a highly subtle Hindutva moment that led even an indefatigable anti-Congress newspaper baron to back the rise of Rajiv (lotus) Gandhi. The lotus, of course, bloomed later.

But to a woman who did not object to having bodyguards from a hugely resentful and vengeful community in the wake of Operation Blue Star, what Beant Singh and Satwant Singh did was nothing short of unspeakable treachery. A trust was violated and the nation paid its price.

Today the cries of revenge have died down but not all the pleas for justice. There have been many books on the 1984 anti-Sikh riots but Pav Singh, a UK-based researcher and journalist, argues in 1984: India’s Guilty Secret (Published by Rupa, Pages 268, Price Rs 500) that even without the assassination of Indira Gandhi, the Sikhs were to be taught a lesson by the Congress government and many were in knowledge of the grand design.

In fact, this is not a new theory, as Singh admits, first floated by human rights activist Amiya Rao in December 1984.

Today, Congress rules Punjab, one of the very few states the party has managed to hang on to in the Modi Era, defeating the combined might of Akali Dal and BJP.

That in itself is enough evidence that both Congress and the Sikhs have moved forward from the calamitous consequences of 1984. Captain Amarinder Singh, the former maharajah of Patiala, who had resigned his parliamentary seat and membership of Congress, is Punjab chief minister now.

Singh argues that the use of word ‘riot’ was deliberately chosen by the Congress government to absolve itself from any responsibility for the organized violence and to draw the attention of the international community away from what was “in effect an anti-Sikh genocidal massacre.”

Pav Singh has written ‘1984’ largely for an international audience. Written in two separate segments as The Crime and The Cover-up Singh is at his weakest ground when postulating that Congress had an agenda to teach the Sikhs a lesson even without the Gandhi assassination.

Singh, however, captures what happened, not the design but lack of action, during the three days that followed the assassination in others’ words and testimonials. He quotes Rajni Kothari, political scientist and President of The People’s Union of Civil Liberties.

“Rajiv Gandhi must also take the blame for the revenge following his mother’s assassination. Gandhi not only knew of, allowed and condoled the violence, he took advantage of it. He was advised that this was politics as usual, and he did not question this advice in any way.”

Kothari, in a nutshell, explains the failure of Rajiv Gandhi as a prime minister. This is important and should not be forgotten, although, in what has become a farce, people only slam Narendra Modi for post-Godhra riots targeting Muslims but not the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Significantly, Singh recounts the two judicial ‘scandals’: the Ranganath Mishra Commission and the Nanavati Commission. That Mishra, then a sitting Supreme Court judge, who wanted people to forget what had happened in 1984 went on to become the CJI in 1990 and, later, the first chairman of the National Human Rights Commission is nothing but a national shame.

That elaborate cover-up had been done to shield the culprits, ranging from politicians to police officers, is generally accepted now.

But even among the Sikhs, there were not enough dogged pursuers of justice is explained by the background of the majority of the victims who happened to be poor, nomadic communities of the Labanas and Sikligars, unlike the prosperous Jat Sikhs, the backbone of Akali Dal.

Singh pitches for a truth and reconciliation commission for a closure to 1984 and urges western governments to put human rights above trade deals. It is unlikely that that would ever happen.

Views expressed above are the author’s own

The Hindustan Times – India’s polity suffers from a strong caste bias

The OBC representation in Parliament has declined in the past decade to pre-Mandal levels of around 20% even as upper caste numbers have sharply risen to 44%.

Rajdeep Sardesai

Op/Ed, 5 January 2018. Caste narratives expose inner fault lines in our hierarchical society and can easily spark off controversy. Last week, when Jai Ram Thakur was selected as the BJP’s Himachal Pradesh chief ministerial candidate, I tweeted about how nine of the 11 BJP chief ministers (excluding the north-east) now belong to upper castes.

Predictably, the tweet raised an avalanche of protest. Since 280 characters on Twitter aren’t enough to make a nuanced argument on the divisive issue of caste, I deleted the tweet.

Thakur, a five-time MLA and the son of a mason and a farmer may be a deserving choice, but is also a beneficiary of Himachal’s ‘Thakur-waad’ dominance with nearly half the ruling party MLAs belonging to the community.

Indeed, my central argument is unshaken: Seventy years after independence, despite the push for a more ‘inclusive’ politics, we remain an upper caste-led polity.

When Narendra Modi became the country’s prime minister, it was seen as a watershed moment, one that would genuinely effect a change in the power pyramid. Until then, the highest executive post in the country was controlled by upper castes (the one exception was Deve Gowda, a Vokkaliga from Karnataka, whose brief tenure must be seen as an aberration).

Modi skillfully played up his OBC credentials during the 2014 campaign, especially in the caste cauldron of north India. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s sneeringly snobbish ‘chaiwallah’ comment only gave Modi the space to affirm his credentials as someone who had risen from a low-caste, low-income background to challenge the Brahminical elite.

Three years later, that elite is still very much in power. Just take a look at the senior ministers in the Union cabinet: the all-powerful Cabinet Committee on Security, for example, is monopolised by Brahmins and Thakurs. The senior bureaucracy is also dominated by the upper castes.

The Opposition is led by a Janeu-Dhari Hindu, as we were firmly reminded by the Congress during the Gujarat campaign. Yes, the President of India is a Dalit, but his tenure in Rashtrapati Bhavan is unlikely to lead to greater Dalit empowerment, just as a Pratibha Patil’s nomination hardly promoted women’s emancipation.

Truth is, the ‘Bahujan-isation’ of Indian politics has been an experiment fraught with risk. The rise of the Dravida parties in south India and the Dalit-Bahujan assertion in Maharashtra was preceded by a reformist social revolution that ensured a relatively smooth transition of political power.

By contrast, the Mandal revolution of the late 1980s in north India led to greater Dalit-OBC representation in electoral politics but also witnessed a fierce upper caste backlash.

Statistics now show that OBC representation in parliament has declined in the past decade to pre-Mandal levels of around 20% even as upper caste numbers have sharply risen to 44%.

The manner in which the BJP’s Hindutva wave swept aside narrow caste-based loyalties of the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh in 2017 could be a pointer to the future. Even after courting non-Yadav OBCs and non-Dalit Jatavs during the elections, the BJP chose a saffron-robed upper caste Thakur as its Hindutva mascot to lead the government.

With the Yadav ‘parivar’ of UP and Bihar along with the BSP’s Mayawati typecast as a corrupt, self-aggrandising, family raj leadership, the BJP has tried to co-opt the disenchanted Mandal foot-soldiers, many of them from smaller, poorer communities, within a broader Hindu religious umbrella.

The Congress too, is attempting to build a rival ‘rainbow’ coalition by aligning with a new generation of aggressive and articulate Dalit-Bahujan leaders like Jignesh Mevani while also embracing a Hardik Patel.

Neither the co-option nor the alignment may be smooth in every instance with dominant caste interests often clashing with the rest. The troubling events in Maharashtra this week where there was an attack on Dalits who were marking the 200th anniversary celebrations of a battle in which a British contingent comprising a sizeable number of Mahars (a Dalit sub caste) defeated the Peshwas reflects how old animosities are finding new expressions.

Amid growing rural distress and economic inequities, influential agrarian caste protest movements have also surfaced amongst the Patidars in Gujarat, Marathas in Maharashtra and the Jats in Haryana, each pushing for a share in the reservation pie.

Accommodating these powerful groups without alienating sizeable Dalit-Bahujan interests is now a big challenge for any major political force, one that could shape the future of post-Mandal politics.

Post-script: To those turned off by caste arithmetic in politics, how about a review of the matrimonial columns in newspapers that so glaringly mirror social prejudice? As for us journalists, we too maybe need to look within and ask the inconvenient question: how many Dalit, OBC, Adivasi editors do we have in Indian newsrooms?

Rajdeep Sardesai is a senior journalist and author

The views expressed are personal