Muses and Rumblings from Oceans Away…
Many septuagenarians who answered the call to arms, after two innings in ’62 and ’65, and played in the ’71 test, can take special pride inthe75thIndependence Day and the emergence on the world stage of a country as young as ourselves. The journey was fraught with challenges, obstacles natural and man-made, navigating through geopolitics of cold and hot wars, shifting alliances, along with a neighborhood bully and aside kick –the stuff Bollywood is made of!
As we celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event, success was not assured by fate or destiny but by sweat, blood, and toil of generations before us and our compatriots, in uniform or not. As we go forward in this journey, we must acknowledge the broader canvas and tapestry– the hand dealt to us — before this moment is lost and drowned out by competing voices, all clamoring patronage.
Many had written obituaries calling out and upon the devil, real or imaginary, assigning blame, the latter-day saviors (last and least true friends) still lurk as the guiding lights, painting alternative narratives. So, what to do, sahib…. Ask Gungadin, again!
A Colonial Project
The traumatic events as the last gasp of an empire were not inevitable or preordained, but a continuation of the Great Game. Unsettled borders, social-cultural strife, ambers of political-ethnic animosities, and hot simmering proxy warfare are not the only legacies of falling/failing empires but are in fact, well-honed exit strategies. Often, cleverly crafted and concealed, these are left behind as booby-traps, minefields, and back-doors for re-entry with much fanfare, regality, pomp, and show (see examples: Northern Ireland, Cypress, Hong Kong, Georgia, Armenia-Azerbaijan, and currently, Ukraine–who is dancing to whose tunes?).
For more than half a century, the Colonial Project exceeded all expectations by rebranding the period 1857 to 1947, as the Raj– falsely claiming a romantic and majestic era, just and moral if not by divine right, while whitewashing 90 years of ugly and brutal colonial past like a dip in the Holy Ganges!!(Subject of another topic).
Likewise, this grand colonial project with collateral damage in far-off places was conceived to maintain global order and balance of power – most critically, access to the Persian Gulf, or keeping the energy life-line open, influence over oil-rich and volatile middle-east, and check Russian expansion (an obsession since Napoleonic Wars when Britts offered help with Indian Sepoys…)
While15th August 1947 is applauded and celebrated around the world as a momentous moment, marking a peaceful transfer of power and liberation of a sixth of humanity by a magnanimous power, which had just fought and won a war in the name of ‘democracy and freedom’: Was that peace dividend from another era to be shared, a reward–baksheesh –for hard-fought battles on the three continents, where the Indian Military contributions –men, material, treasure, and sacrifices — were huge, if not the largest, though did not make it to the Liberation of Paris photo-op(… Raj Kapoor, in lead roles?)Alas, the prize belongs to the victor, only!
While many public pundits and cohort media pause to mark, marvel, and reminisce about this day for the opportunities seized and missed, the purpose of the project was to maintain hegemony over a sixth of humanity through instability, and deny the emergence of rival power, even as the inglorious Raj, is lost.
With benefit of hindsight, and recently de-classified files (5-eyes spooks, no-win the public domain), the absence of peace in the region can hardly be an act of God (… some gods, sure had a hand in it) anymore than the 1943 Bengal Famine. Oxfam, a British charity and today a leading CSO, was mounting a major effort to relieve 1943 starvation in Greece (with WC’s blessings).
Basic statecraft requires keeping a toe-in, and the region instable and off-balance, projecting power, peddling influence, and profiting from chaos………so said, Kautilya, nearly 2,000 years back!!
Our own narratives seemingly underplay the huge role of the heroes, who since the early 1800srebelledin scores of revolts against the English, took up arms with bravery and courage, and sacrificed so much for their cause, amply recorded in many diaries, books (including British historians, and current scholarly research at many world-class universities) and folklores, yet not studied, researched, understood, or given their due place and celebrated!
The massive 1857 Uprising that shook the foundations of the British and ignited an enduring fight for freedom, inspired millions, is still widely known(… why?) as a Sepoy Mutiny and not recognized as the First War of Independence and remembered as a National Day of Martyrs,
Similarly, the brave men and women of the INA and the Indian Navy’s1946 revolt who delivered a punch to a rickety empire and hastened the exit, need recognition and remembrance, as heroes.
And, last but not least, the stand taken by the 20 Brave hearts, in line of everyday duty, was anything but ordinary. Their firm stand reverberated around the world and demonstrated the true grit of a determined nation.
We came through with flying colors and carved a well-deserved place in the front ranking of countries that matter. While the last decades tested our mettle, with strong footings and foundation, in the next decades we can shape our destiny, molding global affairs and challenges, in an Unpredictable World, with far more certainty.
Own Your Narrative, or lose at your peril.
• Even today, the Westerners get puzzled by others labels like snake charmers and IT prowess and find it difficult to reconcile and understand.
• ‘the Raj’, conjures grandeur and glory for some, while cleverly hiding famines and misery for others: lulled into believing as their own picnics and tiger shoots!
• South Asia highlights low common denominator while masking individual gains/differences.
• Chanting India-Pakistan in the same breath like Siamese twins, while hiding glaring differences; e.g., intolerance/religious-ethnic cleansing, democracy, etc.
‘Civil Society’ — ‘civilizational-mission-2.0’, to improve the lot of global-south through training in human-rights/minorities-protection, democracy, rule of law, and special apps, like advocacy, gender-equality/preferences, LGBTQ, etc.
• Pray, why the neighbours are let-off easy, who nearly eliminated a big minority to 2-7% from 20%, vs, the home team, where the big minority prospered from 14 to 20%?
• Like true- love and salvation, democracy, human rights, rule of law, transparency, press freedom are great ideals and hard to realize; but work well as a political tool and keep others inline.
• Like Pope’s recent visit to Canada, cannot wash away the past wrongs or sins against the native/indigenous people in many countries. Vote suppression, constitutional violation, racial/religious intolerance/violence, including torture, genocides, and police shootings are more wide-spread than acknowledged.
CSO-Civil Society Organization is Edward Said’s Orientalism in action!!
Note: Oxfam, one of the oldest and leading CSO’s has worked in India since 1950s, for Bihar famine relief.
Mr. Rastogi has covered the long story of India well. His warning about the perils of not knowing or forgetting one’s story is very valuable. We must guard our land and heritage from the attackers within and without. We must lend hands to those who are taking stand against these attackers. Some say that the players in First War of Independence had contradictory motives and were bound to fail. Let us unite in earnest.