Cry My Beloved Country
Book review – India: The Wrong Transition by Anand K.Sahay
At the outset I wish this book had come out a few months earlier. While Anand Sahay has been writing for decades, a collection of his works makes a powerful statement when presented together in compact form.
The articles collected in India: The Wrong Transition were written in various publications, in print and online. They are presented under three headings: On the Second Republic and Other Stories, Kashmir, and India and the World.
All the articles describe the actions of Narendra Modi as PM, that is to say they cover the situation prevailing in India since May 2014.
In the introduction Sahay says that India is in the “throes of messy developments and institutional subversion.” He is obviously referring to the emasculation of the RBI, the CBI, the judiciary, the Election Commission, along with attacks on universities etc. by the BJP and its affiliates.
He believes the saffron brigade is hopeful that these may lead to the India of their dreams.
Towards that he marshals a tremendous amount of data and presents them without rancour or bitterness, and certainly none of the aggression that is frequently seen on TV. Perhaps that is why he comes across more effectively.
Going through the book one sees that Sahay was critical of Modi from the beginning of his prime ministership. In “The Quiet Republic” he mentions Modi’s unapproachability not just to the media but even to his own colleagues!
There were no press conferences and it soon became a regime of handout journalism clearly reminiscent of the Emergency. To add to the woes of journalists the PM hardly ever attended Parliament.
In effect there was no dialogue. And we know that without dialogue, democracy can easily slip into dictatorship.
Sahay alleges that when the SBI gave Gautam Adani a loan of one billion US dollars no less, to invest not in India but far off Australia, it did so without his having approached a single private bank, in India or in Australia.
Sahay claims that no individual private industrialist was ever given such a huge loan by a public sector bank before. Asking whether due diligence was done before handing over so much public money, Sahay suggests that the Supreme Court should weigh in and order a probe, or else this public money will vanish into the pockets of a single person only to become a “non-performing asset”.
Please note that Sahay said this long before the various Modis (no, not the PM) left the country with several thousands of crores owed. Talk of prescience!
Regarding the comparatively loud orchestra around the “surgical strike” of September 2016, Sahay quietly asks whether such a strike would have transpired had there not been an election in UP.
He contrasts the brouhaha surrounding the strike with the handling of the Kargil conflict by the government then in power, led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee. At the time the near silent publicity dwelt mainly on the armed forces and their chiefs, due to which General V.P.Malik, then Army Chief, had complained of politicisation of the military!
How low our leaders have fallen. Sahay’s comparison shows there may be some merit to allegations that the whole exercise was performed to gain the BJP points in the UP elections held in early 2017.
Coming to the section on Kashmir, Sahay says that the BJP’s election campaign there highlighted only Hindu interests thereby further distancing Hindus from those of other religions. Kashmir has been served very badly by its political leaders after Sheikh Abdullah, and the MLAs of the PDP in the newly elected government did not deviate from this trend.
They never protested the lack of governance because, as Sahay says, they were too busy grabbing the fruits of office.
Perhaps they were aware of the tentativeness of the ruling coalition due to the evident obscenity of the alliance and so filled their coffers in unseemly haste.
Sahay rightly states that whenever New Delhi goofs up in Kashmir it hands a small victory to Islamabad. When our politicians speak of democracy, development, integration etc to Kashmiris, they may not realise it but it only leaves the local population cold.
For long now these words have sounded hollow as Kashmiris are a people who have been constantly hurt and humiliated, even after they voted with their feet to accede to India under the terms of Article 370. The instrument of accession signed by their king wouldn’t have been worth the paper it was written on had the Sheikh not given the call for union with India.
Sahay says we are treating Kashmiris only slightly better than the way Israel treats Palestinians. By saying this, all the horror of occupied Palestine is thrown at us and the haplessness of Kashmiris is portrayed in all its starkness.
In May 2017, Sahay highlighted alarming trends as he felt that the Kashmiris were no longer scared, as seen in their snatching weapons from armed personnel whereas earlier they had dared to do so only from the police. Further, arms training is “now home delivered” whereas earlier it required having to cross the LoC!
Obviously the legitimacy of the Indian government reached a new low.
According to Sahay, Muslim politicians in Kashmir were reviled as never before thereby helping Pakistan fish in already troubled waters. He says that earlier Kashmiris wanted azadi or self-determination above all, while merging with Pakistan was the goal of only a small minority.
However, now the pro-Pakistan sentiment has flared up which is disturbing from the Indian point of view. It clearly brings out the desperation of Kashmiris in wanting to escape what they perceive as the clutches of India, even if it means going or threatening to go Pakistan’s way.
In the section on foreign affairs Sahay brings the same analytical grasp and clarity in expression as in the others. I notice some blinkers in his portrayal of the Chinese, such as when he says that “an expansionist appeal is historically built into the Chinese psyche”. I wonder where that came from. Such a sweeping statement about a whole people does not behove such an otherwise clearsighted and veteran journalist.
Also, he mentions Egypt and Pakistan are the two biggest recipients of American military hardware notwithstanding the fact that they are dictatorships. I am not sure about this. Does he mean aid? If so, then surely Israel is way above any other country. If he means purchases then Egypt and Pakistan must be way down. In fact today especially after Trump became President, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Qatar must surely rank higher.
Not that these countries need armaments, but the American military-industrial complex always needs a boost. And in any case, since when was dictatorship a stumbling block to any nefarious deal between nations, especially when the interests of big powers were in question? A caveat is due here. I think even India is quite high up in receiving American military hardware although it is paid for.
Anand Sahay has been writing for a long time. His pieces are eminently readable and informative, testifying to his ability to garner and marshal huge amounts of material, probe meticulously and present his findings crisply and elegantly. Over the past five years much information was coming our way from other sources too, but this book with such well written pieces comprehensively brings out the real character of the regime.
I wonder whether starting each section with the latest piece on the subject and then proceeding to the earliest is the best way to present these articles. The chronological approach may have been more effective in building up to the finale.
The recent electoral verdict has put paid to the hopes and desires of liberals. It has been noticed by many that it was an election full of stories and drama. Real issues were conspicuous by their absence. The government gave the opposition all the ammunition it could hope for to bring down the whole facade of crony capitalism, naked communalism, and the sheer vacuity of its policies.
Had the Congress, the Left, the Samajvadis and the Bahujans been at all alive, the pain of demonetisation, the loss of crores of jobs, the fear felt by the caste, religious and regional minorities, farmers and women would have ensured such a huge victory to the opposition that it would have taken the BJP years to recover.
Instead it was the political opposition that was given the drubbing of a lifetime.
I think when work begins towards picking up the pieces for the next round, the opposition would do well to refer to the pieces in this book to arm itself in the fight for India’s soul.
India: The Wrong Transition is published by Aakar Books, 2019.