Our Pakistani Conundrum

I’ve often observed that most of the commentators on India-Pakistan relationship view it from a very narrow prism of their own world view of geopolitics. While the hawks take a hardline approach and call for military action, the doves & peacenicks are in a perpetual hope for talks. And more often than not, such statements are made just after an event, be it some breakthrough in talks between the heads of the states, or, a terrorist attack. In my opinion, this is a very myopic view, given the history of Pakistan, which itself is mired in contradictions. Through this piece, I want to highlight the various dimensions of Indo-Pak relationship, and perhaps, attempt to provide some measures. I do believe that some of them have already been employed to a great success. However, anybody looking to find a coherent strategy to deal with Pakistan is in for a disappointment, since it’s a very dynamic and complex situation. Here are a few dimensions that are worth noting:

a) History (creation of Pakistan, Bangladesh debacle) – Pakistan was founded on the basis of an Islamic ideology for the Muslims of the Indian-Subcontinent. Anybody telling us facts contrary to this is a hogwash. In early 1920s, the Muslims of this region extended their full support to the Khilafat movement happening thousands of mile away, and, also had the patronage of leaders of that time, for instance, MK Gandhi. While that movement failed in Turkey, it did sow the seeds of an Islamic Caliphate in the Indian Subcontinent. This event was followed by large scale massacre of Hindus in Kerala by Moplah Muslims, and, more such incidents in Bengal (Direct Action Day), in the later years. In short, creation of Pakistan meant an irretrievable breakdown between the two nations. The people of India adhered to their dharmic ancestry (well, most of them), people of Pakistan started to claim an Arab descent, and, proclaimed themselves to be legal heirs to the legacy of Mughals. This is taught in Pakistani schools till date, and, they have to live up to the expectations set as a self-proclaimed custodians of Islamic Umma. Given this synthetic unity, no wonder that they required a unifying language, Urdu, to trump over the local languages of different regions. This, coupled with the arrogance of Punjabi Sunnis to hold on to power and economic institutions finally led to the creation of Bangladesh, where people outrightly revolted. The direct fallout of this revolt was massive suppression & persecution of Bangladeshi Hindus & liberal Muslims by Pakistani Army, which resulted in migrant crises of epic proportions for India. To handle this, India did finally intervene and fought a war with Pakistan in 1971, where they were defeated miserably and 90,000 of their soldiers were captured by just a couple thousand of our soldiers. The Pakistanis, especially, their Army elite hasn’t forgotten that drubbing. And hence, the doctrine of ‘bleeding India by a thousand cuts’ by Zia Ul Haq still holds good today.

b) Kashmir issue & Indus Water Treaty – Right after the partition, Pakistani Army invaded the then independent estate of Jammu & Kashmir using tribals. The reason given back then was that since it was a Muslim majority area, it was natural that it merged with Pakistan. While the then king of J&K, Hari Singh wanted to remain independent, he reluctantly signed the instrument of accession in favor of India. The matter should have been closed then and there since this was the same instrument of accession that was offered to other princely estates too. If it was valid for them, by the same logic, it was valid for J&K too. However, Jawaharlal Nehru, in a bout of self-grandeur, did not allow the Indian Army to recover the lost portion of PoK, and, took the case to the UN on ill-advise of Lord Mountbatten. Rest is history. However, the Pakistani claim to J&K is not really about people, so for instance, a major chunk of people in Leh-Ladakh region are Buddhists, in Jammu region are Hindu/Sikh, even in Muslim dominated areas, there are quite a few Shias. None of these communities ever expressed their wish to join Pakistan. Even the so called “Azad” Kashmir is governed indirectly by Pakistan via a proxy government, and, Gilgit-Baltistan, directly by the Federal government. So much for the claimed “autonomy” to these regions. Given this fact, the real deal for Pakistan is the geography of the region, especially the rivers that flow through it. Under the Indus Water Treaty, Indus, Chenab & Jhelum are under Pakistani control and India can not just construct a dam, or, divert water for irrigation without keeping Pakistan in the loop. However, this does give India, a leverage, in an eventuality of a conflict with Pakistan. The Pakistanis are well aware of it, and faced with permanent famines in one region or the other, want total control over these rivers. The situation has become trickier now since China has promised to invest $46 Billion in CPEC, and, quite a bit of this route passes through G-B, which is a disputed territory, hence, there are legal & people issues.

c) Military-ISI-Civilian Government-Terrorist complex – They say that a state has a military, however, in case of Pakistan, the military has a state. The Army in Pakistan is a prime example of an elitist and a feudal mindset. All other institutions, whether representing democratic ethos or otherwise, exist to please the army elites and their lackeys. Even the so called democratically elected government of Pakistan can not appoint a Prime Minister, who doesn’t have the patronage of the men in the uniform. ISI, with a facade of intelligence organization is actually a terrorist organization, used to run the covert agenda of the Pakistani Army. The other terrorist organizations such as LeT, JeM, LeJ, Afghan Taliban are just extensions of this agency. With a forced synthetic unity of the state of Pakistan, there came multiple internal & external threats, for which, ISI was created. It’s no secret that the Army uses ISI, on one hand, to brutally suppress internal insurgencies, for instance, in Baluchistan, and, on the other, to liaise with various other extremist Islamic organizations in India Sub-Continent and beyond. It has been proven beyond a shadow of doubt that insurgency in Kashmir & Punjab had ISI written all over it. Operations of ISI are not only limited to that, and, it is also involved in Hawala channels, fanning communal hatred by funding Madrasas & other propaganda machinery (NGOs). Claims have been made to such an extent that some Indian politicians and media persons are on the payroll of ISI. Given the current state of affairs, such claims look quite credible. It is important to note here that the Pakistani Army, and by that extension, ISI, is dominated by the Sunni Punjabis. Being a Punjabi myself, one thing I can safely say is that we tend to wear our egos on our sleeves. Having a bruised ego is even more dangerous because it causes a perpetual state of anxiety to seek revenge. It’s the deep rooted inferiority complex in this organization due to defeats in various wars, to achieve a parity with India on global scale, and, to maintain their fiefdoms, which drives the hatred. In order to achieve this, they need to remain relevant and above the civil government, with no questions asked on the budget and the nature of operations. Hence, existence of a permanent enemy is a very convenient excuse, and, India fits the bill. This is exactly the reason why there is a very fragile democracy in Pakistan and a largely missing middle class with a backbone. The few who try to stand up are silenced using the state actors (often termed as “non-state” actors). This is not going to change anytime soon.

d) Afghanistan, Iran and Central Asia – Barring a few years of Taliban rule in Afghanistan & economic sanctions on Iran, India has shared fairly good cultural & economic ties with both of them. Pakistan, on the other hand, has always sought to establish a strategic depth in Afghanistan, right from the times of the US-Russia standoff in 70s-80s, when mujahids were trained by ISI to fight against the Russian forces. When that ended, Pakistan sought to use their protégés as a power center in Afghanistan, to marginalize Indian interests. Some of the trained mujahids were also packed off to Kashmir in late 80s, early 90s, to fuel an insurgency, which was later passed off as local Kashmiri struggle against the Indian state. Iran and Pakistan relationship has see its own ups and downs, especially since Iran is a Shia majority, while Pakistan being Sunni dominated. Unfortunately for India, all roads to Afghanistan, passed via Pakistan, since it’s a land locked country. Iran was a little easier, since it has a coastline and we’ve been able to dock our ships there. Afghanistan & Iran are our passage into Central Asia, and, herein lies our problem. In absence of an alternate route to reach over to Afghanistan and beyond, we are constantly at a mercy of Pakistan, to let the goods through. Central Asia is well endowed with natural resources, especially, oil & natural gas and we would like to tap into them for our energy needs. However, unreliability of a rogue state in the middle puts a spanner in our plans. This is the reason why ‘I’ in TAPI (Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India) pipeline is dead on arrival. Having said that, all is not lost and there is a ray of hope. More on this later.

e) USA, China – Both these countries have played sugar daddies to Pakistan at one point in time or the other. USA supported Pakistan throughout the Russian occupation of Afghanistan, to the extent that it simply glossed over the information about secret Pakistani nuclear plans, shared by Mossad & RAW. US also sought to hedge Pakistan against India due to our close proximity with a Communist Russia. Later, when the USA declared a war on terrorism in the wake of 9/11, Pakistan had to reluctantly ally with them, although they were paid for the services rather handsomely, while playing both the sides. So essentially, during the later years, Pakistan became a necessary evil for them because, yet again, all roads to Afghanistan passed via Pakistan, which became an essential lifeline for the NATO forces fighting there. US is still playing ball with Pakistan despite several red flags because it doesn’t really want to loose the assets it nurtured in the region for a long time, and that, it also wants to keep an eye on the Chinese activities in Pakistan. In the meanwhile, Pakistan is still milking them by projecting that it is fighting the war against Afghan Taliban by launching a sham operation called ‘Zarb-e-Azb’, which apparently, has killed more civilians than terrorists due to carpet bombings. No wonder then TTP is targeting the Pakistani establishment.

China has its own strategic interests in the region of finding a reliable way to meet its energy requirements. The route via South China Sea is fairly long and China is in dispute with Several countries in sharing the waters. A land route proposed via CPEC would benefit China in this regard. Another angle worth considering is that like the USA, now China is also hedging its bets on Pakistan against India. The idea is to keep India engaged in low intensity conflicts (be it Kashmir, Nepal, Arunachal Pradesh) so that we are not able to fulfill the larger economic goals, so essentially, a strong India is antithetical to Chinese hegemony. In addition to this, China also wants to keep and eye on the ETIM cadres operating in its Xinjiang province along with local Uighurs, who have found a base in FATA & NW. However, the way Chinese operate, Pakistan would be yet another vassal state.

f) Bleeding hearts in India – This is the worst thing that could ever happen to India, simply because, this is the enemy within. These are the ‘Aman ke Aasha’ cadres who are always lapping up any opportunity to light candles, hold peace marches and attend track II diplomacy events, helping themselves with chai-pakoras. Some of the people in this category are plain simple good hearted ignorants, others, as already mentioned, might be working at behest of vested interests. Nonetheless, both are dangerous. These are the same people who would highlight the plight of even a dog in the Kashmir valley, yet, would keep a carefully studied silence when it comes to rights of Kashmiri Pandits. If India has been unable to deal with terrorist threats effectively, I would squarely put the blame on this category.

Having gone over the various dimensions affecting Indo-Pak relationship, there are a few things we can do to safeguard our National interests. Please note that some of these are already a work in progress, so just reiterating for the sake of providing a comprehensive list.

1) It should be within our reach to pin point the locations of jihadi camps in PoK and other bordering areas. We should actually undertake limited surgical strikes on these camps. I don’t believe that Pakistan would be willing to bring out it’s Tactical Nukes against these strikes, simply because these are their territories. The idea is to get in there, do the deed and get out, just don’t get caught. If it’s done in “Azad” Kashmir, they should not really bitch about it, after all, it’s “Azad”. If we are already doing this, I’d say, keep up the good work! (It’s best if media coverage is avoided.)

2) For high value targets such as Dawood Ibrahim, Hafeez Saeed etc. we need to find an insider who would do the deed for money. Even spending $5 million per head is not a bad deal. Promise of a new life on some beach town in Indian Ocean Region should be tempting for someone.

3) On one hand, carry out such strikes, on the other, keep taking to them just to appease the International Community and our bleeding hearts. Please remember that we also need to attract FDI, and, a semblance of peaceful atmosphere is a must for that. Pakistan may have already been branded as a state sponsoring terrorism, but we have everything to loose by allowing things to escalate. At the same time, our diplomats need to keep working on isolating Pakistan in the International Community by making loud noises about complicity of Pakistan in terrorist attacks. Lately, quite a few of terrorist attacks all over the world have a link to Pakistan in some way or the other, works for us.

4) Perhaps, it’s about time that we step up the heat on Pakistan by taking the plight of Baluchistan to the UN. We’ve defended our position on Kashmir for a long time now, let the Pakistanis feel the pain. It might also not be a bad idea to invite the Baluch separatists in exile for talks, the way their High Commissioner to India meets Kashmiri separatists. It is a myth that a stable Pakistan is good for India, the only Pakistan which is good for India is a balkanized one. The sooner it happens, sooner we go about doing our business.

5) A re-look at the Indus Water Treaty is long overdue. It was signed when our food and energy requirements were different, however, with a growing population, we need to cater to the growing demand of the people of that region. Moreover, if China can revisit the Brahmaputra water usage, we have a strong case. This would also take care of the bravado some Pakistani generals display on TV channels while brandishing their nukes. You try to nuke us, we stop the water, go figure.

5) Strengthen the hands of Sheikh Hasina in Bangladesh. Land Boundary Agreement with Bangladesh was a brilliant step. She is cracking down on Islamists close to Pakistan and also engaging with India on matters of economy & energy. We need to help her destroy Khalida Zia and her affiliates. We simply can not afford to fight wars on multiple fronts.

6) Find an alternate route to Afghanistan via Chabahar as soon as possible. While this deal has been in works for years, it did not move much due to US sanctions on Iran. Now that the sanctions are almost gone, we need to expedite the process. Granted Iran would want to raise the stakes and ask for more concessions, as more players have entered the scene, we should be able to make some allowance keeping our strategic interests in mind. Iran is in any case, wary of Pakistan, we need to leverage this situation to our advantage by increasing people to people contact.

7) Keep the goodwill in Afghanistan running. Ghani, during his initial days, tried to cozy up to Pakistan, but, having seen their treachery like his predecessor, is looking towards India for help. I believe we did well to give him space to explore, waiting patiently for a turn around. We need to keep the momentum going with any help possible, except putting boots on the ground.

8) While I’m not too hopeful, China does understand the threat, jihadi factories across Pakistan pose to the Western province of China. However, if it’s willing to overlook our interests in G-B, we need to up the ante in Tibet. At the end of the day, China is not in a position to get into a full scale war, or, a direct conflict with India. However, the minor irritants would continue in the Eastern borders, and, we can counter that by aggressively developing the NE.

9) Go after the domestic ISI network. There was a news recently that some BSF jawaans have been arrested for colluding with ISI. I’m quite sure this is not the end of it and there are some big names involved too. While their complicity may not be directly apparent, they operate at a totally different level. For instance, through hawala channels funneling money for the jihadis. An obvious example is the nexus between Bollywood and underworld dons. Granted that the hawala money trails are hard to track, an agreement with some of the tax havens and some Mid-East countries, for instance, UAE, could help us tighten the noose around such people.

In conclusion, I’m not really an expert, however, neither are most of the arm chair journalists who rant about one thing or the other while sitting comfortably in their studios. It’s important to question and pull up the government when there is some serious lacuna, but, it’s plain stupid to question each and every move, because, most of us civilians are not aware of the intricacies of a situation, and, we definitely don’t have the big picture while assessing a specific event.

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The Hypocrisy of Khalistanis

While a demand for ‘Khalistan’ (or pure state) has disappeared from the mainstream politics in Punjab, it refuses to die, and, raises its ugly head every now and then. There are 2 specific causes for that, one, some of our opportunist politicians raise this issue, whenever elections in Punjab are near, two, foreign intelligence organizations such as ISI have their covert operations alive & kicking by funding “apolitical” fronts such as SFJ (Sikhs for Justice), which is in cahoots with IAMC (Indian-American Muslim Council) etc. to demand “justice” for minorities (specifically, for events that transpired in 1984). I won’t go into the local politics because people of Punjab largely see through it these days, however, point#2 requires a bit more elucidation. Now, any rational person would not be averse to this since it’s for a just cause, however, the manner of their operation is of concern, both to the Indian government, and, the security agencies. Such organizations, propelled by their handlers (such as ISI, and others too), not only, often generate exaggerated, or, at times, fake atrocity literature to corner the government diplomatically, but also indulge in anti-national activities by fueling separatism. The downside of this being, Indian establishment can not present a coherent case to the International community, highlighting the role of ISI, because it is conveniently termed as a ‘homegrown insurgency’ due to human rights violations. This is exactly what has been happening in Kashmir for the last 2 and a half decades.

Although there are wider implications, I’d like to restrict the discussion to the role of SFJ, and, their much celebrated “Sikh Referendum 2020”. There are a few pointed questions that would expose the hypocrisy of organizations of this nature that play with the emotional sensibilities of people, by keeping their wounds alive and making promises which are dead on arrival. Specifically, SFJ is instigating the Sikh community living abroad for a referendum to demand a separate Sikh nation, aka, Khalistan. Hypocrisy of this move is highlighted by following points:

1. Birthplace of Sikhism is Nankana Sahib (West Punjab in Pakistan), however, I don’t see that being a part of talks during Khalistan. Why only East Punjab citing Harmandir Sahib in Amritsar as the spiritual seat of Sikhism?

2. What legal ground does SFJ have, to hold a referendum? A referendum is possible for a group of people who actually own some land. However, since SFJ (and other organizations) don’t own any land, this demand is a mere eyewash. Moreover, the provision to hold a referendum should be available in the host country’s constitution, but, no such clause exists in the Indian Constitution. No matter how much they cry hoarse at the UN, this is legally not permissible.

3. My understanding is that Khalistan is a ‘pure state’ where Guru’s 5Ks (articles of faith: Kesh, Kangha, Kara, Kachera, Kripan) need to be adhered to. However, there are quite a few Sikhs supporting Khalistan out there who don’t adhere to these tenets, especially in the west. Do these organizations imply that such Sikhs would become more pious once Khalistan is formed, and that they are not pious enough yet? Most of these young people were born in late 80s, early 90s, who have assimilated with the western societies. Is it realistic to expect that they would suddenly adopt these articles of faith and move to Khalistan?

4. As per an Indian Khalistani crusader Simranjit Singh Mann, ‘Sikh Nation’ is to be comprised of East Punjab, West Punjab, Sindh, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan (not sure why this is included). This region would act as buffer state between 3 nation-states of India, Pakistan (whatever is left of it) & China. Let’s for an instance consider that they are able to create a Khalistan via referendum from the Indian Part. How do they plan to take hold of West Punjab & Sindh? Considering that Pakistan is developing tactical nukes and won’t be shy to use them, if push comes to shove. Moreover, given that Sikhs & Muslims have been at odds politically, can they really expect the Punjabi Sunnis to be mute spectators, who, for the record, did not even tolerate Bangladeshi co-religionists.

5. A follow-up question with the previous premise. How do they plan to sustain Khalistan economically? Foreign remittances only? Khalistan (considering only East Punjab) would essentially be a landlocked “country”, with 3 bigger countries surrounding it (India, Pakistan, China). How do they plan to maintain the sovereignty of this fabled ‘Sikh nation’, despite 3 nuclear states around it? If the modern day history of nation-states teaches us anything, it is that all smaller countries around a bigger one live in its shadow.

6. Considering the rise of Islamic terrorism, and, more often than not, Sikhs being targeted in the west because of them resembling Muslims with beards (which is only going to increase in future because of ISIS). Do they really believe that they would be able to sustain their campaign, given that the West is dealing with problems in its own societies.

It all sounds good from a distance, and, a notion of land based on religious tenets that are pure is an idea worth romanticizing about. And, one would not even fathom that it would be an oppressive state like Pakistan or Saudi Arabia considering that Sikhism is a dharmic faith, hence, has some plurality built into it. However, given the geopolitics in this region, it’s just an idea that might sound utopian on paper, but, is impossible to achieve and sustain. In addition to this, India could not be balkanized back in 60s-80s when it was at its weakest, I don’t see such a possibility arising in current times when we have grown economically, and, attained an equilibrium to sustain a middle class comprising of all communities.

A curious case of manufactured outrage

This last year and a half, and especially, last few months have been really unsettling. This started with the monsoon session, which, like Mumbai rains, was a total washout. There were 3 main narratives used by the opposition and exacerbated by the Main Stream Media (aka MSM), which were, Vyapam Scam (an almost 10 year old scam), Vasundhra Raje’s complicity in helping Lalit Modi (unproven) & farmer suicides (a perpetual phenomenon in India). While none of this was path breaking, however, the narrative created around these issues was so big that it gave Congress, enough material to beat up the government. So much so that 2 of the most important bills, GST & Land Acquisition could not even be debated in Rajya Sabha. Just after the session ended, these issues were taken off screen and now, nobody has even the remotest idea about what the status is. In other words, the issues have been conveniently put on the back burner, to be taken up again at an opportune time.

Fast forward by a couple of months, there was another beast in making, called Bihar Elections. There were several permutations-combinations of political alliances formed/broken and eventually, only two survived, NDA & the so called opportunist ‘Mahagathbandhan’. Moreover, it’s not a secret that the biggest vote share in Bihar is that of minorities/dalits/OBCs etc. NDA entered the arena with its time tested agenda of development and a win here would’ve meant a rebalance in RS. However, the secular parties felt the heat and had to come up with something quick. Now, I’m not claiming that all the incidents happened in recent time were manufactured, but, the timing is surely debatable. Anyway, the bigger point here is, the way in which these isolated incidents were blown out of proportion tells a different tale altogether. Frankly, I’m not even going to condemn an incident like Dadri lynching because I’ve become apathetic (thanks to the MSM). In any case, feeling sad about each and every incident would leave me in a permanent state of loathing because something of this nature happens everyday all over the world. But this is not the point I’m trying to make. There are actually larger geopolitical forces at work here and we need to examine them closely.

For starters, West has always tried to maintain its hegemony through one way or the other. In olden times, it was a direct colonialism or military confrontations, however, with the advent of global economies, the focus shifted on financial authority. There is a well defined modus-operandi. Just target the non-favoring regime in a country and install the one which is more favorable. There are several examples where this has been successfully accomplished at some point in time, for instance, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran etc. India poses a challenge in the sense that we are a democracy. So, a direct installation of a puppet regime is not a possibility. If this is the case, what is the best way to achieve this goal? No points for guessing that it’s to manipulate people perception, who are the voters in a democracy. How does one achieve this? By simply actively engaging with the local media to build up a “suitable” narrative. Why would the local media oblige? Well, because of the money, International glory involved, not to mention, plum positions in foreign universities, and, acceptance of their kids/relatives in top universities.

So far, we’ve established that why and how the narrative is manufactured. The next big question is, how is it actually used? All these manufactured outrages are used to generate ‘atrocity literature’. So for instance, the Dadri incident would be used to highlight the plight of minorities, burning of Dalit kids in Haryana would be used to highlight plight of Dalits and Casteism in Hindu society. However, the biggest traction is being obtained via the ‘award wapsi drama’, where the so called “intellectuals” claim that there is rising intolerance, hence they are returning awards. This is picked up by MSM and a narrative of curb on ‘freedom of speech’ is being created. Then, more 2 cent writers quote this narrative and return their awards. Circular logic? If one actually goes into the original incidents themselves, Dadri lynching happened in UP, law & order being a state subject, should’ve been attributed to SP government, however, it is somehow being linked to NDA led government at the center. Burning of Dalit kids happened in Haryana, where Rajputs were accused of this crime. Granted that it is a BJP ruled state, there was a recent forensic investigation report that attributed the cause of fire from within the room and not an outside source. The manufactured controversy of Beef ban takes the cake. There was a ruling in 1955, which allowed states to formulate their own laws to deal with cow slaughter and sale of beef. Hence, most of the states have enacted their own laws, however, it is now being attributed to the NDA government as if the ban was imposed just last year. I probably digressed here a bit but it was important to put things in proper context. Once the atrocity literature is prepared, it is fed into the well oiled machinery of organizations such as USCIRF, UNHRC etc. These organization then release reports on various parameters, for instance, religious freedom, human rights violations for a specific country (mostly Asian & African). These reports are in turn, used by the various governments (mostly Western) to shape up their foreign policies, private organizations such as Moody’s to give their diktat on conditions favoring/disfavoring business, and, quoted by left-leaning “liberals” while making a case for rise of intolerance (more circular logic). The extreme form of “punishment”, a country could face is unilateral economic sanctions and blockades against it.

Now, one might argue as to why would foreign forces do this to us, considering that we don’t wish them harm, and, they are our friends. Sure, but this is not how everybody in the west thinks. Remember the global hegemony dream we talked about earlier? They want to tap India’s huge market to dump their manufactured goods, while outsourcing low end service jobs. Any increase in our manufacturing capabilities (defense and other areas), or, indigenous high-tech research in various fields is detrimental to their economic sustenance. The only country to ever have escaped from their hegemony is China, which has them by the balls now. The only other country with a similar potential besides China, is India. The West is well aware that the NDA government, with it’s massive mandate is in a position to bring about reforms in various sectors that can potentially be a game changer. Hence, the “sleeper-cells” of MSM “terrorists” have been activated to run a sustained and relentless campaign against Modi and his government. Of course, the other political parties are willing to play ball since it gives them sufficient political mileage. I’ve also often heard people say that this really doesn’t affect them in their day to day activities, so why should they bother to call out the bluff of MSM and “liberals”? Well sure, for now and short term future, this doesn’t really affect a majority of us, however, in the long term, this is going to have an adverse affect on the economy of the country, hence, on the future generations. Lastly, people also make a case that had Modi spoken up about these specific incidents and condemned them in unequivocal terms, things would not have gone this far. I strongly disagree to this point of view since given the larger picture in the scheme of things, this propaganda machinery would never stop. There would be one controversy after another. The only way to fix this is to bring about a change in ‘national narrative’ to include debates that actually matter, which is essentially about the prosperity and growth. The manufactured outrages & fear mongering has to give way and it’s about time that we reclaim the narrative.

A Nation of Apologists

I’ve often wondered as to what our country would’ve been like had it not been subjected to the Muslim invasions and British onslaught. Frankly, it’s really hard to even contemplate such a scenario since our consciousness has been imprinted with an indelible mark of all those things that are foreign to our original Dharmic culture. Now, I’m not making a case that perhaps, everything foreign that has befallen our nation throughout the medieval and modern ages is corrupting and wrong, or for that matter, morally degraded, however, it does make a compelling case to investigate some of the perverted sense of morality that has creeped in. But then, a detailed discussion on that topic is a story for another day.

Having said that, it does raise a question about our study of History in general, especially of the medieval period. It is a general belief that the history is written by victors, and, there is a high probability that the ones who loose are generally glossed over, no matter how much they have contributed to the formation of a society. Such has been the case in medieval India too, but, there has been a peculiar pattern, a twist, if you will. The victors in this case, mostly Muslim invaders, have left chronicles citing instances of their cruelty, atrocities committed against the locals (Hindus), understandably so, since they were acting on behalf of the divine, propagating the will of the ‘Allah’. In fact, there have been instances of one-upmanship to raise the bar of cruelty than the previous ruler, all in the name to curry favor from the ‘true one’, on the judgment day. Some of the most salient names being, Mohd. Bin Qasim, Mahmud Ghazni, Mohd. Ghauri, Babur, Aurangzeb, Ahmad Shah Abdalli and so on.

This leads us to the pertinent point that in the current day, when we have a seemingly ‘secular’ governance set up, how should the students of History, especially in schools, be taught the subject. It appears that back in the 60s/70s, History in schools was taught with the motive of actually giving the students, a fair assessment of what happened back then in a non-partisan way. However, in the 80s, this changed. History became more secular and the text books were revised to take out the parts that portrayed Mulsim rulers/invaders in extremely bad light. All that was left was that the Muslim invaders used to come, loot, rape, kill and leave, no details. The Tuglaks and Mughals, who made this region, their “home”, suddenly became benevolent rulers who gave much culture to India as we see today, in form of Art, Food, Music, Architecture etc (as if we did not have all this already). The most atrocious thing they committed was charging Jizya from the Dharmic folk, to let them live in peace and harmony. There was brotherhood among Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and the rulers ensured that communal harmony was maintained. There are individual chapters dedicated to some of the Mughal rulers, however, some of the actual benevolent and peaceful personalities have been completely glossed over, for instance, Dara Shikoh. I can guarantee that most of the people would not even know who this guy was. To put things in perspective, he was the elder brother of Aurangzeb, a seemingly secular person of that age, a rightful heir to the throne and was mercilessly killed by Aurangzeb, who later usurped the throne. It is then, a travesty that we have a city (Aurangabad) and a road named after the most brutal of Mughal rulers’, Aurangzeb, who not only forcefully converted the masses to Islam, put numerous to sword (including his family) and destroyed thousands of Hindu temples.

But, the bigger tragedy is, due to secularization of History, even when there are historic records or ‘farmaans’ available (in Persian), which clearly contain the Royal decrees issued back in the day, such an evidence is clearly ignored and the apologists try to present alternate interpretations. One such striking case is that of destruction of Kashi Vishwanath temple. There is a document available citing the confirmation by the general authorized to raze down the structure and build the Gyan Vapi mosque on it, but, the apologists have diluted the history so much that a random document (farmaan) is being circulated on the social media, which states that Aurangzeb had explicitly asked not to destroy the temple. If this were true, then, why a mosque stands where the temple was supposed to be located poses a serious challenge to commonsense. Apologists would have an answer for this too, it was done out of the camaraderie, the locals shared, to have a Mandir and a Masjid, side by side as a sign of communal harmony. I believe there are more similar versions out there. A more contemporary example is in form of introducing Yoga in schools, which was originally supposed to include ‘Surya Namaskar’. However, since the Muslim board had objected to it citing it as un-Islamic, it is being proposed to be removed from the process. Now, there are two fundamental problems here, one, that Yoga has it’s roots in Dharmic Shastras and no matter what the apologists say, it’s a part of Hindu culture. Two, why is the essence of the Yoga process being changed just because some random people don’t approve of it?

We boast of having a Minority Commission, which is responsible for the welfare of religious minorities (mostly Muslims and Christians). Taking a quick peek at History reveals that we’ve been ruled over by Muslims for about 800 years and by Christians for about 200 years. Globally, Christianity is practiced by ~2 billion, Islam by ~1.5 billion and Hinduism by ~950 million. Given these facts, one really wonders as to how the first two religions constitute a minority, and, an oppressed one at that. Moreover, if we are all Indians, what is the whole point of a commission that is based on religion? And, what exactly is the role of this commission, given that all the religions have equal freedom under our ‘secular’ Constitution. The reservations based on religion are then, an anti-thesis to the social fabric. Why is it that we talk about women rights but can not have an open debate on Uniform Civil Code? Isn’t this akin to corrupting the minds and sowing the seeds of a separate identity, thus leading the people into an identity crisis, which is what, a country like Pakistan is going through. Frankly, there is a need for an honest assessment by asking ourselves a question, are we not, a nation of apologists?

Organized Religion

It is said that ‘religion is the opium of the people’ (Karl Marx). This essentially means that if it can be controlled and run as an organization, it is as good as a highly profitable corporate with a huge client base and the associated moolah. This is not something that has dawned upon some random guy in isolation in the 21st century, but, has actually been a phenomena for a long time, with, none other than some of the Abrahimic faiths taking a lead and also milking it like crazy. The unequivocal and unquestionable authority of Pope (and Cardinals) & the Ulema for Christianity and Islam respectively is a direct consequence of it. One might argue about the role of the ‘board of directors’ of this corporation, since, everything that needs to be known is already written in the holy books (The Bible & The Quran), so to speak, the end products are already in the market for general consumption. However, this is what differentiates these Abrahimic religions from the Dharmic faiths, in the sense that these ‘board of directors’, given their sole authority, make it incumbent upon themselves to interpret (or, at times, conveniently mis-interpret), the text from these books, with none of them admitting that everything written in those books is not the universal truth (or if you will, ‘the law’).

Throughout the medieval history, the Church has twisted and even fabricated facts to meet it’s ends of justifying inquisition throughout Europe. The whole colonial model was based on the superiority of the Church, and, the white man as it’s defender. Multifold approach was used, first, to belittle the native cultures, if that didn’t work, major appropriations were done to reflect the native tradition as an extension of the Christianity. Several ancient civilizations, for instance, Mayan, Greek etc. were lost. If nothing else worked, brute-force was used to subdue the native culture, as is the case with Indian sub-continent. So for instance, the whole Aryan-Dravidian theory of racial classification was based around a lie of the fair-skinned Aryans migrating from Europe & Central Asia and enslaving the native dark-skinned natives of this region. Then, the Church was portrayed as their savior comprising of the pure Aryans coming back to save the Dravidians from the cunning Brahmins (Aryans, who fell from grace). Several texts of classic Tamil literature were appropriated and passed off as an inspiration from the Christian beliefs, blatantly refusing to acknowledge the Vedic background. The lust of power for this ‘core team’ is such that while many in the west are calling out the bluff of the doctrines of the Church, they are looking for new places to harvest souls in the developing world.

To be fair, while on one hand, Christianity did undergo reforms (with the blessings of the Church) and made peace with the current times at the face of it, Islam, has had no transformation whatsoever from the original principles that were laid down 1400 years ago. Most of the modern Muslim nations still follow the tenets of Shariah, the regressive Islamic law. The Maulvis and Muftis pronounce fatwas at the drop of a hat. The most recent one being against a Sri Lankan Muslim female who came out in support of sex workers back in 2012 (‘retrospective fatwa’), or, an Indian Muslim female who interviewed some other Muslim females of her locality about their views on Shariah being antithetical to women empowerment. There is a fatwa against female footballers because the dress is not Shariah compliant. A Muslim can not leave the religion and speak up his/her mind calling out the bluff because it is punishable by death. There has been an internal turmoil in the Muslim world (for centuries) because of the rift between Sunnis-Shias-Ahmediyas because for each of them, their interpretation of the Quran is perfect and unambiguous. No points for guessing that their respective Clerics are the final authority for interpreting the book and none of them took the pains to reconcile with the other version. The situation is exacerbated by the fact that none of the liberal or well meaning Muslims would come out in the open and condemn the so called fatwas, or voice their support for the cause, for the fear of a backlash (another fatwa) from the Ulema.

Compare this with Sanatan Dharam. There is no central authority, which is out to there to win souls for the gods. There may be organizations claiming to uphold the tenets of Dharma, but they are definitely not believed to be the power center or the final authority on the Vedic text. They don’t even have the power to issue religious doctrines or notices to the general public to follow a specific way of life. Sanatan Dharam is flexible enough to facilitate any person to find his/her own path to the ‘absolute truth’, or, Moksha. Even if a person doesn’t really believe in god or concept of moksha, Sanatan Dharam has enough built in leeway to facilitate that (pursual of artha, kama & dharma). The man made laws, manu smriti, were not set in stone and were supposed to be changed according to the current context of different times, hence, those exist in a fluid state, not specifically controlled by a single person or an organization. In fact, there have been several reforms at various times, be it, by Adi Shankracharya, RamaKrishna Paramhansa, Swami Vivekanand, none of whom claimed to own the religion. Ramayana, one of the most revered scripture in Sanatan Dharam has hundreds of variations, and, none of them conflict with each other as far as the basic premise is concerned. The inherent variations are easily reconcilable given the fact that it has been transferred by the word of mouth through millennia as a story, and, each storyteller added a minor variation according to his/her style. This absence of a central authority in Sanatan Dharam has also been a bane in the sense that Abrahimic faiths have been given a free run to achieve their agenda of proselytization. Hence, it is imperative that as a member of this community, we take it upon ourselves to preserve a faith that has given us, an ‘Open Architecture’.

My Transition

Pretty much all my adult life, I’ve been a fence sitter, as far as religious matters are concerned. It’s not a bad choice after all, given that I’ve been lead to believe that religion and science don’t go together. I’ve even mocked my friends/family for following their faith, without bothering to understand about the philosophy and the tenets. The weird part being, even they don’t know, or, fully comprehend the ‘why’s’ of it all. Since I was so liberal in my thoughts, the concept of “India” was vague & a very recent phenomena, a gift of the British, so to speak. I really wondered at times (being a Punjabi) that since current day Pakistan’s West Punjab was a part of India’s Punjab, why are we even fighting? Since the Kashmiris were promised a plebiscite, why not give it to them and get it over with? I’ve even fought online wars with other keyboard warriors on these topics, not to mention, the heated debates with real friends. My secular credentials ensured that I was in the Congress camp for a large part of my life, only to get disillusioned by the scams in UPA-II regime. I had pretty much given up on political affiliations when AAP came along as a breath of fresh air. I even donated 5k towards the cause, hoping that it might be the change in political landscape everybody dreamt about, but never happened. Please note that BJP was not an option because it was a party of Hindutva forces backed by the “terrorist” organization, RSS.

But then, something strange happened in 2014, which shook the basic premise of Indian polity of last 30 years. Narendra Modi led BJP to a historic landslide victory. Although, the drama had already begun to unfold on the television debates on how “evil” Hindutva forces were gaining ground and the society was getting polarized. I could not comprehend the need for such vitriolic discussions & venom spewing, after all, this wasn’t the first time, a BJP government was coming to power. It had happened very recently, back in 98. It is also important to point out that this was the time when clear boundaries had been drawn between the different camps on social media too. Now, this was the hardest part, when your friends’ opinions are clearly divided with no reconciliation, and, “facts” being thrown from all sides. This, coupled with those TV debates, newspaper blogs, caused an information overload of sorts. It just looked as if the world was going to explode and all the religious minorities (mostly Abrahimic faiths) would be wiped off from the face of India. I believe, this is when a realization of sorts kicked in. A quick introspection revealed that I was born and raised as a Hindu, but I don’t subscribe to the ideology, as was being portrayed all over the place. There had to be more than met the eye.

This is when I started to research and read more about the events being reported by our “intellectual” journalists from different sources and the corresponding counter arguments. The more I read, more I realized that there was a specific bias in reporting the events, with an inherent subliminal message. So for instance, every incident that portrayed Hindus in bad light would include keywords like “Hindu fundamentalism”, “Hindutva ideology”, would clearly specify the names of persons involved, however, something related to muslims would have keywords like, “a particular religion”, “local fundamentalists”, with no names whatsoever. Then, there were TV debates and interviews, where the anchors, instead of nonpartisan approach, had a clear leading agenda, particularly among them, Arnab Goswami, Rajdeep Sardesai, Sagarika Ghose, Barkha Dutt, Karan Thapar. Some of the news items would start off with such a great fervor as if there was nothing more important to report, but just disappeared from the news arena when no specific Hindu group involvement was proven (for instance, the Church attacks or the nun-rape case in Ranaghat). While we are at it, I must also point out that this hasn’t been happening in isolation as a recent phenomena. There has been a concerted effort to distort and subvert our history, lies or partial truths have been planted via our history texts in schools, just to ensure that the collective consciousness remains colonized to the whims and fancies of a few. Yes, my obvious reference is towards a particular dynasty and it’s lackeys. So, for instance, there is a reason why our school history text books have dedicated chapters on pretty much all the Muslim rulers and British, whereas, nobody knows in detail about the resistance Hindus/Sikhs offered to their atrocities. In fact, the texts would go on elaborating the contribution of the Mughals, but would never talk in detail about the destruction caused by them. In a more recent context, it would be a travesty to just talk about the rights of Kashmiri Muslims, and not include the forcefully displaced/persecuted Kashmiri Pandits/Sikhs of the valley. Or, that the gap between Sunni Punjabis in West Punjab and Hindu/Sikh Punjabis in East Punjab can not be bridged because it’s an ideological difference based on the two-nation theory, exacerbated by the Islamization of Pakistan back in 70s. However, the peaceniks would have us believe otherwise.

It’s not been my intention to belittle or demean any person or a community. Neither am I advocating for any violence against anybody. However, I’m of the belief that history should be taught, the way it happened. It is also imperative that the intelligentsia, while debating in any forum should be armed with the relevant facts and not solely rely on emotions. An important part of de-colonization is to study about our Vedic/Dharmic past, the basic tenets of Sanatana Dharma, and embrace, feel proud of them, instead of brushing them under the rug by terming them as antiquated and old-fashioned. I’m not claiming that we’ve have had a perfect past, or that we were the only greatest civilization that ever lived, however, it’s important to discover an identity for oneself. It’s also incumbent upon us to fix (or rather change), the concepts which don’t make sense in the present day and age. The so called ‘secularism’ (I’d prefer the phrase ‘mutual respect’) is inbuilt into our way of life, hence, it’s not a coincidence that it has survived for so long. We’ve already won the war against brute force, which has been waged against us for millennia, however, as Rajiv Malhotra points out, it’s an ‘Intellectual Kurukshetra’ that we need to win now. I can no longer remain a fence sitter.