Sunday, January 23, 2011

Split of Sudan: India needs a tight rope walking

The January 9-15 referendum in the hitherto autonomous region has proved that Southern Sudan is all set to be enlisted in the group of nations that have seceded from their mother countries.
The significance of the development cannot be underestimated. The referendum has split Africa's biggest country between the mostly Arab and Muslim north, and the mostly black and Christian or animist south. The remarkable feature of this split which would materialize by July, 2011 is that Southern Sudan will run away with the oil-rich sections. Predictably, this has sparked off apprehensions of large scale violence as Sudan has lived through civil wars in the recent times.
Secession in Africa and the rest of the world over has a long interesting history. The trend, which started in the Latin America in the early 1820s, has seen the number of countries in the world swell over the years, especially in the last 50-60 years. During this period, countries have seceded for various reasons from the grave and absurd to the mundane.
We hav our experience of creation of Pakistan out of mother India and then pakistan too split creating Bangladesh.
Again, way back in 1861, the southern states of the United States moved for secession. The establishment of a conglomerate known as the Confederate States of America by the southern states, comprising South Carolina, Georgia, Mississipi, Texas, Florida and Alabama, in 1861 led to the American Civil War of 1861-1865. The split of USSR was another pathbreaking chapter in the last century.
However, old school history experts say, the earliest known breakaway in the modern world was the secession of Venezuela from Colombia in 1830.

Thus the split of Sudan has left greater significance for Indian foreign policy think tank and the decision makers as India is extensively engaged with Africa and highly values its relations with the region.
On the part of African nations too, New Delhi is now taken more seriously than in the past.

India will have to weigh all the options very minutely as it has firmly resolved to commit itself sincerely for “stability” in the Sudan region. Predictably, India will be too keen for a peaceful development of African including Sudan region – that includes the new country – “irrespective of the outcome of the referendum”.

Thus, stagnancy on the Sudan front by Indian government would not be feasible. Thus, the government of India would have to delve a little deeper and try to focus on specifics – on how to make the tight rope walking between Sudan’s ties with India as much as India’s relations with the new country, Southern Sudan.
The age old ties with Sudan have been cemented in the new millennium with people to people contacts, higher emphasis on trade and commerce, investments and a broad strategic views. The fundamental guiding principle would be that in no way New Delhi should be seen “siding with one country against the other”.
But they admit, its easier said than done. It is much easier to maintain a friendly relation with a country than maintaining it with two countries created out of vitriolic cessation out of one.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indo-Africa New Partnership: Working towards Greater Glories

In the more recent times, the gradual broadening of India’s global economic reach and influence along with Africa’s immense potential have only provided fresh opportunities to boost the bilateral ties between the two sides.
South Africa in diplomatic and economic strategic parlance is already regarded as the corporate captain of African continent.
New Delhi had also strongly backed South Africa’s entry into the coveted international block BRIC, comprising Brazil, Russia, India and China.
According to Indian Commerce Minister, Anand Sharma, India has set a target to explore opportunities for a comprehensive market opening trade pact with South Africa as the two nations are likely to touch the 10 billion US dollars bilateral commerce.
In fact, during his stay in Johannesburg the minister has given a further boost to efforts to work out a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA).
Trade between the countries has risen to over 7.7 billion US dollars in 2009-10 and during the visit of South African President Jacob Zuma to New Delhi in June, the two sides had set a target of 10 billion US dollars trade by 2011-12.
However, despite the historic ties and keenness to drive economic cooperation, it is also a fact that India so far has a relatively small 5.91 per cent slice of the African trading pie.
Both sides, therefore, have reasons to continue to enhance mutual cooperation and tap potential business opportunities especially by the small and medium enterprises to set their footprint in each other country.

Today, China is Africa’s third largest trading partner after the U.S. and France; and hence there is urgent call to promote India-Africa trade and economic relations.
Making a path breaking gesture, by early 2001-02 New Delhi even had decided to ignore the protests from the west and particularly the United States and started investing in countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe. By early 2003-04, in fact, India had completed a $200 million pipeline that links Port Sudan on the Red Sea with the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. The much infamous Darfur 9XX) controversy did not bog down India.
In retrospect, say Indian officials, the New Delhi India Africa Forum Summit in 2008 marked a new beginning though by 2003 itself, the then NDA regime was giving a much push to the policy of ‘development cooperation’ for greater India-Africa partnership.
In fact, the NDA regime undertook a Focus Africa programme beginning from 2002-03 laying emphasis on the Sub-Saharan African region with added approach on seven key players in the region, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Ghana.
Official estimated also say put together these countries account for around 70 per cent 70 per cent India’s total bilateral trade by the start of fiscal 2003-04.
Initially, products like cotton yarn, fabrics and other textile items; drugs and pharmaceuticals; machinery and instruments; transport equipments; and telecom and information technology were identified. It was also decided India’s exports to the region would be enhanced through integrated efforts of the Government of India, India Trade Promotion Organisation, Export Promotion Councils, Apex Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Indian Missions and institutions such as the Export-Import Bank of India.

Now how do we checklist the issues and broad areas on how India has been benefiting from the enhanced ties?
Firstly, Africa possesses several vital ingredients that could potentially fuel the Indian growth.
Secondly, Africa has vast stretches of cultivable lands that can collectively become the food basket of the world and India’s cooperation can only help itself, says an official handling IBSA files.
Likewise, many parts of Africa have large untapped hydrocarbon resources that are drawing considerable international interest. Foreign investments into these sectors will provide the necessary growth impetus for the African nations. Namibia, for example has tied up to help India procure plutonium.
Other factors and initiatives also played catalytic role in strengthening the India-Africa economic partnership through path-breaking initiatives like the annual CII-Exim Bank Conclave on India Africa Project Partnership stands out as the most enterprising event.
These bring us to look at synergy and new trends in Indo-African trades.
The mutual trade has risen almost four-fold in the last five years, from US$ 9.9 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 39 billion in 2008-09.
India’s exports to Africa have risen from US$ 5.6 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 14.6 billion in 2008-09, whereas India’s imports from Africa have risen from US$ 4 billion in 2004-05 to US$ 24.3 billion in 2008-09.
The South Block officials also say India’s investments in Africa during 1996 to December 2007 amounted to US$ 5.7 billion. Mauritius (US$ 3469.7 mn) and Sudan (US$ 1153.1 mn) are top destinations of India’s investment. Major investments have taken place in oil and gas sector; important investments are also in areas such as infrastructure development, telecommunications and rural electrification, transport sector, railways, educational and manpower development and IT sector.
Other areas of cooperation:
The South Block officials claim there is a significant boost to strategic ties between India and African nations only underlining New Delhi’s enhanced prestige in the comity of nations.
“Besides cooperation in the IT, health care, agriculture, mining, small industry, infrastructure and hydrocarbon sectors, an important element of Africa policy relates to defence cooperation with select countries such as Nigeria, Zambia, Lesotho and Botswana,” said one of them.
It is in this context, they say, the External Affairs minister S M Krishna has held a informal meeting with a few select experts for starting a process under which some select ‘knowledgeable people’ from African countries can be brought in for cooperation and working closely with organizations like the Institute of Defence Studies and Analyses, the Indian Council of World Affairs, the Association of Indian Diplomats and even select universities.
The government of India is also keen to workout a sustained attention to Africa at the political level.
“We are not stagnant on these," says an official even as he pointed out that the Vice President Hamid Ansari paid visits to Zambia, Malawi and Botswana.
S M Krishna visited Mauritius and Mozambique and New Delhi also hosted crucial meetings with the top leaders and nation heads of Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa and Botswana.
New Delhi is working with the renewed momentum for the important India-Africa Forum Summit in 2011, say bureaucrats in the MEA.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

Literature: Why Saratchandra’s women characters could not attain happiness?

My previous blog on Saratchandra Chatterjee’s portrayal of female characters has predictably sparked off a bit of debate among patrons and friends. Well it’s on the expected lines.

Predictably, a few friends among Bengali-pride obsessed giants have taken the opportunity to slam me on usage of phrases like ‘Marxist-over ruled Bengal’ and that Saratchandra had inherent ‘limitations’ in highlighting the pathos of his female protagonists.
Well, to make first thing clear, I am personally a big fan of Saratchandra and my desire to take the liberty in penning the blogs on his works is only essentially based on utmost love and respect for the ‘katha-shilpa (an artist of fictions)’. Secondly, on political front it’s a reality that West Bengal is in effect “over ruled by Marxists” and so much has been its impact that today the state is looking for an alternative in someone like Mamata Didi….

As of now, like millions others I am also afraid that she can be only a governance disastrous! And one wishes sincerely that the fear does not translate into a reality.
Now to come back to Saratchandra’s works…. Let’s continue the debate.

One might not agree to the manner he dealt with his characters; but the clarity of thought and speeches Saratchandra gave them are extraordinary in many ways. That is precisely the reason his stories retain their freshness even a century after they were written.

For instance his portrayal of Saudamoni in ‘Swami’ talks about a woman who wants to break free the old cobweb and seeks liberty from her highly idealistic husband for her pre-marriage lover Naren. But in the ultimate, Saratchandra’s perhaps own faith in the social system prevails strongly.
It is therefore, Saudamoni abandons her move to elope with the lover at the last moment and instead fall at her husband’s feet, who graciously forgives her saying any genuine seeker of pardon ought to be pardoned. This is an instance I have tried to pin point in my previous blog while arguing that Saratchandra’s women characters did not go for the kill while they could have done it easily.
In ‘Baikunther Will’, Saratchandra portrays a jewel-hearted-step mother, whom the middle class world and the then Bengal society had always seen with a jaundiced view.
Thus far, while portraying the character of the step mother, he highlights a new sense of humanism among the female protagonists. The portrayal simply challenges the established beliefs that a step-mother can be no do good.
Similarly in other characters also, Saratchandra was able to spin out intriguing situations often depicting conflicts between conservatism and social change; idealism and pragmatism and superstitions and rebellion.
But in doing so he ensured in a steadfast manner that no protagonist of his would flout the established moral basis of then Bengali Hindu society.
Typically, this characteristic is unlike other writers including Bankim Chandra Chatterjee though critics largely agree that in his initial years Saratchandra was definitely influenced by Bankim among others.

But having said these, one ought to state that however, Saratchandra’s women would be known for courage, tolerance and devotion to the social values. But hardly the women characters could attain happiness for them.
In his quartet Srikanta published in 1917, 1918, 1927 and 1933, he typically exemplifies in sketching the characters dealing with conflicts between their individual and social perception of profanity and piousness.
So the next question is why did he do so? As someone brought up in poverty, did commercial compulsions dominated overwhelmingly? Well, this issue too needs a bit of debate and objective analysis.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

NCP fumes on Rahul, retracts - that's coalition politics - Pawar saheb style

Rahul Gandhi, the paragons of all virtues for Congress, blamed coalition
politics for price rise - giving a good fodder to BJP.
Not so curiously, the remarks left NCP and Sharad Pawar's party in anguish.
A day after Rahul Gandhi reportedly attributed 'coalition politics' for
the price rise and which seemed to target Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar, NCP initially termed the remarks as signs of "arrogance"
but later sought to play it down saying the Congress
general secretary's remarks was in general sense and not against any party.
"The price rise is collective responsinility in any cabinet
government. Any statement from a senior Congress leader should
reflect humility and not arrogance,” NCP spokesman Prof D P Tripathi
waxed eloquent. But later in the day, NCP chief's Man Friday, Mr Praful Patel was fielded to do the damage control.
"Mr Tripati's statement is out of context..... I completely dissociate
myself from the remarks," he said in a clear snub to the party spokesman.
“Congress party is the principal party in the UPA. It must understand
that no single minister, including Pawar, could be held
responsible for the price rise as it is the collective
responsibility," Tripathi said.
He said personally he had always "admired Rahul Gandhi" and only felt
saddened by his remarks in Lucknow yesterday as the observation was not based on facts.
He claimed contrary to remarks made by a section of Congress leaders,
the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh had complimented Pawar for handling food and agriculture. Did PM really do so?
Well, another toast of the town was Maratha strongman wants to quit.
NCP spokesman Tripathi also sought to counsel the Congress leadership saying unlike Indira Gandhi era, this is a coalition era and went onto
announce that no single party rule will be possible in the “distant”
and “foreseeable” future.
“These are the days of pluralism," Prof Tripathi said adding the essence
of people’s verdict in 2004 and 2009 general elections
was for following of “coalition course and not collision course”.
This is also a direct attack to Congress and Rahul Gandhi's sycophant loyalists - who are probably already rehearsing the crown prince's swearing in as the PM.
Contrary to Rahul Gandhi's statement on Indira era, the NCP spokesman
also said the biggest mass movement against price rise had taken place in 1974-75 when Indira Gandhi was the Prime Minister.
Tripathi was not alone. Another party general secretary Mr Tariq Anwar also said "I do not agree with Rahul's opinion....This is injustice to anyone because controlling price rise is the responsibility of the entire government".
“The Congress should understand what is ground reality…it’s high time.
After the Bihar elections, the Congress should know where it stands,” Anwar said.
However, later in the day, NCP vice president and Union Minister Mr
Praful Patel, however, sought to undertake a damage-control exercise, saying “I don’t think Rahul Gandhi’s statement should be read in the context of current coalition as he was replying to a general question asked to him by students. He has not criticised any party in particular".
Congress also denied that Mr Gandhi had made any statement targeting
the NCP or any other party.
Prof Tripathi had gone into temporary silence after the vitual snub from Patel.
That's Pawar's style of coalition management.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Afghan Peace Mission : S M Krishna does plain speaking

The war in Afghanistan has put both the US and its most trust worthy
partner United Kingdom in a quandary. The U.S-led troops parked in that country was aimed at making the native Afghan residents feel safer and Taliban militants more fearful.
But with this not happening; the respective ruling regimes in world’s
most influential ‘global players’ find them on the spot in more ways than
There is sustained pressure on both the ruling dispensations the Obama
administration in Washington DC and the new UK government has only mounted.
The impression is now clearer. Despite the pro-US tilt Indian
foreign policy makers, led by the Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh, have not missed that perhaps the President Obama and his British “friend in need” are giving a signal of weakness vis-à-vis the Taliban.
On this score, it must be understood that strategically speaking, the Afghan geo-political position is of more consequent to India’s concerns now than probably ever in the past.
This concern has only gained currency with the exit plans from the western blocks led by the United States and the United Kingdom.
In this context, it is worth taking note of the two-day visit to Afghanistan by the external affairs minister S M Krishna during the weekend. Wrapping up his trip, in quite a significant statement at a joint press conference with his Afghanistan counterpart Zalmai Rasoul, Krishna warned that outside interference could undercut the prospect of a stable Afghanistan.
"India has always supported the efforts of Afghanistan to reintegrate those individuals who are willing to reject violence,” Krishna said adding any external interference in the reintegration process would be detrimental both for its success and for the future of a democratic, stable, pluralistic and prosperous Afghanistan.
The provocation to make the candid remarks is obvious because there were reports in recent past that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is about to initiate moves to reintegrate the Taliban -- over which New Delhi has strong reservation.
Actually it is not for the first time that India has given upon itself the role of impressing upon the Afghan government to be cautious against the Taliban and their sympathizers across the border; that is Pakistan. In fact, it goes without stating that any analysis of Taliban’s rise cannot be complete without understanding properly the central role played by its patron, Pakistan.
It may be mentioned here that the Taliban was born among the Afghan refugee population in Pakistan with the support from Pakistani army, especially Pashtun top brass and the ISI.
There is another apprehension that the turmoil in Afghanistan and the battle against Taliban along with the exit plans of US-led forces could only give way to heightened militant activity in Jammu and Kashmir. Therefore, it was in the right spirit when the Indian foreign minister saw merits in visiting Kabul and telling the government there about “continuing assaults” on Indian targets allegedly by the Taliban and Al-Qaida insurgents.
Therefore, ahead of his visit, the external affairs minister said point blank that the Indian missions in Afghanistan were under constant threat though the Afghan government has "fully assured" New Delhi of their security.
India has a strong presence in that war-ravaged country. Besides the embassy in Kabul, India has consulates in Jalalabad, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif and Herat. Besides the staff in missions, about 4,000 Indians are building roads, sanitation projects and power lines in that country. In adition India is also building the new Afghan Parliament.
New Delhi’s concerns are not without good reason that in February last year, seven Indians were killed in a Taliban suicide attack on foreigners in Kabul, which claimed 16 lives and left 20 people critically injured.
New Delhi is strongly pushing its view that peace and stability in Afghanistan should be 'Afghan-led and Afghan-owned' peace deal.
Based on its own experiences and how Pakistan soil is often used by militants to target India, New Delhi wants Kabul to attain peace and stability for itself by its own strength ---- independent of too much of influence from Pakistan.
In the ultimate, for India, Afghanistan is an exceedingly valuable partner. India wants stability in that country for greater stability and prosperity in the region. And even the external affairs minister during his visit has made it clear that India will continue its role for development and reconstruction of Afghanistan.
Krishna also said that would donate 100,000 tons of wheat to Afghanistan to help it fight the drought even as he pointed out that India has pledged USD 1.3 billion for reconstruction activities.
India seeks cordial, cooperative and friendly ties with all its neighbours and would remain steadfast in this pursuit. Afghanistan does figure much prominently in that list. It is also true in successive public opinion surveys in Afghanistan, for example, India has consistently been rated very highly by the common people of Afghanistan. This is a reflection of how India-assisted projects are changing the lives of ordinary Afghans.


Saturday, January 8, 2011

Onion pricing crisis: Who'll bell the cat?

“Onion is politically hyper sensitive. But the onion growers have
never got due attention in India,” remarked a small-time onion trader in north Delhi. Well, he has a point.
As the continued rise in prices of onion has left the UPA regime headed by Dr Manmohan Singh and the agriculture ministry in despondency, market
watchers largely feel at policy level as a food item it has remained “neglected always” despite being a politically sensitive
My undrstanding is there is no clear understanding at the level of agriculture ministry and policy makers on what is good monsoon or untimely rainfall as far as onion cultivation is concerned.
By the official definition, onion is not considered a “major crop” in India as the quantity of exports is abysmally small.
It goes without saying that though onion is a base vegetable in practically every Indian dish, official estimates of the use of the crop per person on daily basis is modest 20-25 gram. Hence all these years at at the government of India and the union agriculture ministry level nothing concrete has been worked out.

The approach of the government, especially the Commerce minister Mr Anand Sharma, a known Manmohan prtege, and a section of politicians that
the onion prices have gone up due to hoarding is in fact “faulty”.
“This is a new discovery. Onions hoarding is not possible due to
various factors. How did the government suddenly discover onion
hoarding?,” asks mt trader friend. However, the IT raids showed in some quarters, unscrupulous elements had tried to store onion to garner some quick buck.

Market watchers say the official response especially since December
2010 is also “surprising” and “drastic” and not based on proper
In India We do not have any future markets in onions, to send any advance
price signal about supply conditions. Probablt this needs greater attention than the run-of-the-mill Left and socialist inspired argument that future trades encourage high inflation.

The government response to the onion crisis was very generic and media centric. The abolition of import duty only fetched them media coverage and probably nothing else as Pakistan also showed its special relation with India and said it cannot allow onion export to ease the market in this country and help out the Dr Manmohan Singh government.
It is a “big mistake” for the government or anyone to ignore the real
possibility that onion prices have gone up due to production
shortfall following unseasonal rainfall.
So far, no mechanism is talked about on how to deal with a situation when there is production shortfall in onion and other items.
Perhaps only Sharad Pawar made the right observations but probably
at a wrong time summing up the complacency remains.
So instead of taking knee-jerk reactions, policy making and considerable attention have to be devoted by the Agriculture ministry to improve the farm output.
After a relative 10-day respite, the fear around onion crisis returned yet again by January 4 with reports spreading like wildfire that despite quantum leap in imports of the base vegetable item from Pakistan the prices are still on high in several Indian markets.
A beleaguered Agriculture ministry was put on the defensive as reports
emanated from cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Chandigarh, Pune and
other northern and western Indian cities that the onion prices are
gradually shooting up.
The rise in prices of onion was reported within days the union
agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar yet again in a quite
foot-in-the-mouth syndrome made a speculative remarks that the prices
of onion will “start declining from the second week of January”. “The
unseasonal rainfall affected the onion crop, leading to a hike in its
price. However, the prices will start declining from the second week
of January,” he said in Satara district of Maharashtra.
Coupled with minister’s remarks, the situation only aggravated as
about 8 containers of onions from Pakistan have been lying at the
Jawarhalal Nehru Port (JNPT) in Mumbai for the last five days, waiting
for the requisite clearances before they are dispatched to the
wholesale market. The agriculture ministry has reportedly acted on the
issue only following media reports.
These bottlenecks ought to be addressed properly.


Friday, January 7, 2011

Indian Muslims can explain the 'correct position' of Islam

Immediately after a soft piece on literature, I am back to more hardcore subject. But the provocation was from one of the responses to my last blog on my new book ‘Ayodhya: Battle for Peace’. As the comments box suggest, one esteemed patron wants me to analyze little more on Hindu-Muslim relations and the more hardcore stuff about Islamic fundamentalism, or Jehad as is romanticized often.
Firstly, let me make it clear about my impression that the 30 September, 2010 Ayodhya verdict has opened avenues for talks between the Hindus and the Muslims – though hardliner elements in both the camps have refused to buy the line.
In the book I have said that “One primary aspect, I think, that should be underlined is the emphasis on peace and reconciliation made by Justice S U Khan, a prominent figure of the august bench. The most laudable aspect of Justice Khan’s ruling is his appeal to the Indian Muslims to tell the world the “correct position” of Islam.”
In fact, if this aspect of Justice Khan’s ruling is adhered to, I have rather asserted in the book that “many misgivings on Jihad as propounded in Islam could also be put to rest”.
True to the spirit of the words of wisdom from Justice Khan, I must say, Indian Muslims would also do well to understand what London-based author, Irfan Hussain wrote for Pakistani newspaper, ‘The Daily Times’. Hussain pointed out ‘Seen through Hindu eyes, the Muslim invasion of their homeland was an unmitigated disaster. Their temples were razed, their idols smashed, their women raped, their men killed or taken slaves. When Mahmud of Ghazni entered Somnath on one of his annual raids, he slaughtered all 50,000 inhabitants. Aibak killed and enslaved hundreds of thousands. The list of horrors is long and painful.
Having said these, ‘Ayodhya: Battle For Peace’ also tries to argue that
the desperation of the US government to make exit from Afghanistan reveals that the Muslim (read Taliban) militants are capable of employing complex new tactics and fighting it out.
“The key aspect of the radical face of Islam can be seen in the context of Salafi thought and Khurasan Front in Afghanistan …… Now where from comes the resilience power? It’s more in the heart and mind than the technology of modern warfare,” says my book ‘Ayodhya: Battle for Peace’.

The book waxes eloquent that though emergence of Bangladesh has proved that the issue of nationality “cannot be mortgaged to religious affinity, yet often Muslims have given the impression that the sense of nationhood was less than their religious identity.” This is why organizations like SIMI and Indian Mujhaideen have flourished, claims Dev, who has in the past also penned a book on Gujarat riots of 2002.
It is on this backdrop, the book says the Muslim fanatics “have a will to kill themselves and everyone” around them in order to accomplish religious as well as strategic ends.
“…… for Taliban and the Afghan fighters, it would not be wrong to suggest that in the case of Osama bin Laden, they see in him not only a ‘hater’ of all things Western, but more importantly a catalyst for a cultural and religious war, the Jehad as the media world has hyped and romanticized,” it says.
The book, which otherwise claims that the fundamentalism would ‘bury its head’ soon in South Asia including India and Pakistan, maintains that “the Bin Laden forces have stayed back because of Afghanistan’s strong identification with “Bilad-i-Khurasan’ - a land, Muslims believe, where Islamic armies will finally regroup and go to liberate the “land of Abraham” from the “enemies”.
Importantly, the Taliban’s resurgence in Afghanistan is viewed by global strategic studies experts and also the militia as a part of the promised battles of Khurasan, ancient Khurasan comprising mostly Afghanistan, the Pakistani tribal areas and parts of Iran.
One cannot agree more with Justice Khan, as he says, "Muslims in India enjoy a unique position. They have been rulers here, they have been ruled and now they are sharers in power. They are not in majority but they are also not negligible minority. In other countries either the Muslims are in huge majority which makes them indifferent to the problem in question or in negligible minority which makes them redundant. Indian Muslims have also inherited huge legacy of religious learning and knowledge. They are therefore in the best position to tell the world the correct position."


Monday, January 3, 2011

Literature: Why and how Saratchandra's female characters were submissive?

On the personal front in retrospect in the year bygone, 2010, I did encounter many things new. There is nothing special about it as it happens every year and definitely with everyone. Life is all about such new phases amid continuity. But down the memory lane as I look back, I often wonder did I do everything right. Definitely not! There were several mistakes. In lighter vein, often I took up fight with wife – for reasons right or wrong – often I screamed at my mother and also did argue with my father, brother and colleagues and occasionally scolded my daughter.
But I don’t have much regrets over those as somewhere I have read, --

So such is that defiant mood that it must have helped me to chalk out the roadmap during the circa 2010 often.
Well, launching this blog was one such move.
Now was that decision right? Well, if I feared being wrong, I would not have dared to start the blog and also undertake the few risks I took. One of them was to write a book on Ayodhya verdict. At the end of the year, ‘Ayodhya; Battle For Peace’ was published by Har-Anand Publications.
Whether that was a risk worth taking would be decided in months to come and therefore as my guru R C Rajamani often has a pet phrase, “the answer to that question remains in the womb of time”.

So far so good. Now a suggestion has come from my brother-in-law Mukesh urging me to try something new --- “more creative” as he puts it. His obvious reference has been to the overdose of blog contents here and also my three books, ‘Godhra-A Journey to Mayhem/ (2004), ‘The Talking Guns: North East India’ (2008) and now the latest one on Ayodhya.

So what’s the new ‘more creative?

‘Fiction writing’, quipped my brother-in-law and smartly added “there are characters all around you”.

Just then as I looked around, two people were around me in the tiny rented flat I do reside in Delhi, wife Swati (Mili) and quite a demanding daughter Tanvi…. Tinni.

So am I to write stories….. aha novel based on these two people. I am not quite sure. But as I was pondering about such a possibility…….. suddenly thoughts flashed in my mind about great Bengali writer, Saratchandra Chattopadhyay (Chatterjee), my favourite among regional litterateurs.

More so because – his female characters had always left me in utter bewilderment!

Sorry, I am not talking about characters as portrayed in Bollywood films – especially Sanjaly Bansali-variety ‘Debdas’ --- the latest of which in 2000 - which I am sorry to mention - has possibly left poor Sarat Chandra much disappointed above.

But lets give a little space to his characters in critically acclaimed novels like ‘Charitraheen’, ‘Shrikant’, ‘Swami’, ‘Arakahaniya’, ‘Patherdabi’, ‘Palli Samaj’, ‘Pandit Moshai’ and even ‘Debdas’.

Many students and albeit scholars on Sarat Chatterjee’s works have not missed the point that he was highly comparable to Charles Dickens especially in terms of portraying the poverty and the much deprived and exploited women characters.

Saratchandra truly depicts Indian women as an exploited class. This exploitation only gets heightened when he paints them in poverty as well as through the prism of strong caste system prevalent in then Bengal.

In practically, all his works, tenderness and beauty tempt her and the women protagonists is more often left in tears – often isolated.

As I discuss the issue with my wife Swati Deb, a more genuine student of Bengali literature and Saratchandra’s works than me, readily agrees and argues rather eloquently that in most cases, the characters like Saudamani (Swami), Parvati (Debdas), Rajlakshmi (Shrikant) either died or withdrew themselves from any affair/relation.

Strikingly, she opines Saratchandra hardly showed widow marriages unlike other contemporary Bengali writers of his time.
At one point, my wife, said, “Caste divisions remain a dominant feature is Saratchandra’s writings and he hardly showed smaller and neglected caste characters getting justice from zamindars and Brahmins”.
So does it mean, Saratchandra lacked the revolutionary fire unlike say Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay of ‘Ananda Math’ fame?

Bankim’s characters like ‘younger daughter-in-law’ in ‘Devi Chaudhrani’ and Kapalkundala were far more stronger.

Does it also mean, Saratchandra also preferred exuberance of sentimentalism and dreamy characters? So were characters like the affectionate and sobbing ‘step mother’ in ‘Baikunther Will’ unreal and too idealistic to be real?

But we must not miss the point that even in an era dominated by masters like Rabindranath Tagore, Bankim and for that matter the political emancipation of Mahatma Gandhi and Aurobindo; Saratchandra had his distinct individual tenor.

To sum up, one must say, today’s Marxist-over ruled Bengal has been always a land of poverty and idealism. This unique synthesis is hardly understood in other parts of India. In portraying the characters, Saratchandra not only thus gave them flesh and blood, but discovered the soul pretty well – notwithstanding the limitations he showed in highlighting the pathos.

But somewhere Saratchandra, to use a Bengali phrase ‘sroter tane ga bhasiye deoa’, he floated with the wave. If one ought to sound caustic, probably Saratchandra had no strength to dissociate himself from the bondage of tradition – the feudal structure and crystal clear male domination. His characters thus reflect the real life of courtyards of Bengali homes and this he has done successfully. Saratchandra’s female protagonists are not extraordinarily brave or revolutionary but rather remaining aloof in the margins of society and family – and that he has done pretty well.