Renaming India, Rewriting History


Featured Illustration: Juergen Dsouza/ Arré

This essay was originally written as a submission for Amity Law School’s 3rd National Essay Writing Competition on Nation and Nationalism. This piece was awarded All India Rank 1.

STALIN FALSIFIED PHOTOGRAPHS. Hitler burnt books. India’s obsession with renaming public spaces is a desi contribution to the universal phenomenon of rewriting history for political ends. The Marxist Historian, Eric Hobsbawm writes, “Historians are to nationalism what poppy-growers in Pakistan are to heroin addicts: We supply the essential raw material for the market.

History is the essential ingredient that goes into making any kind of nationalism: the more inclusive Indian nationalism as well as the narrow religious nationalisms. It is helpful to study the recent spate of changing the names of public spaces with Islamic sounding names to more “Hindu” or “Sanskritized” names from this framework. It is not mindless cultural vandalism by people who don’t know what they are doing. It can’t be reduced to the routine exercise of wooing voters before an election. Rewriting & distorting history is an essential part of the very project of Hindu nationalism.

Hobsbawm further writes,

It’s no surprise that history has become a battleground for a lot of ideological fights in our country. The Indian nationalists tried to weave a history that was inclusive & respectful to the varied diversity of the country. The Hindu nationalism, on the other hand, privileges the Hindu religious identity as predominant & distorts the histories of other communities like the Muslims. While the nationalist histories too aren’t immune to the seduction of manipulation of the historical narrative to suit one’s end, the Hindu nationalist version of history is outright inimical to the democratic fabric of our society.

A version of history told by figures ranging from Vivekananda to Dayanand Saraswati depicts a glorious Hindu past from which the Indian society has gradually declined. This decline made the Indians easy prey to the foreign invaders, first Muslims & then British. It is a version of history in which the Hindus have been victims of oppression by foreign rulers for the last 1200 years. This reading is discernible in Prime Minister’s phrase “Twelve hundred years of servitude”. Only if we revive the ancient past, we will regain the lost glory, goes the argument. In the case of Muslim nationalism, the deviation from the fundamentals of Islam was seen to be their fall from grace. Their solution was to go back to the basics, to a more fundamentalist Islam. In the case of Hindu nationalism, the past had to be invented. The story of 1200 years of “slave mentality” doesn’t hold water when you look back at the past.

In her essay “Reflections on Nationalism and History”, Romila Thapar provides two powerful arguments against this narrative. First, the Hindus are not a homogenous people who have always lived in an egalitarian utopia that the Hindu nationalist imagine. The caste Hindus have oppressed the lower castes & Dalits for over two millennia. This subjection has been legitimized by the Hindu scriptures themselves & the upper castes have found this hierarchy quite justifiable. Some continue to do so. Secondly, the history of Hinduism in the past 1200 years presents a very different trajectory than what the Hindu nationalists want us to believe. Hinduism has been as vibrant as ever. The kind of Hinduism practised by most Indians today, the Bhakti & the tantric traditions, originated in the last thousand years. The bhajans of Mira & Surdas and the poetry of Kabir & Tukaram were all composed in this period. This period saw the blooming of several new renditions of Ramayana like the ones by Tulsidasa & Krittivasa. There have been several achievements by Hindu Scholars in other fields from literature to mathematics. Madhava’s “Sarvadarshansamgraha” on the prevailing schools of philosophy, Samaysundra’s “Artharatnavali” on linguistic explorations & belief systems were written in this period. Sayana’s exposition of Rigveda in the fourteenth century, numerous commentaries on Dharmashastra, the list goes on. Far from being victimized, the Hindu culture flourished in this period & benefited a lot from its interface with other cultures.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu from the Bhakti Movement

One of the brightest examples of such a cultural confluence was the syncretic faith that the Mughal Emperor Akbar tried to propagate. Although the experiment failed, the mention of “Ilahi” or the divine as against the Islamic “Allah” found mention in the name of the city “Illahabas” that Akbar founded. This city was recently renamed to Prayagraj. Prayag literally translates to “confluence” in Sanskrit & hence, the area along the confluence of the rivers Ganga & Yamuna is called Prayag. It got the name “Prayagraj” as it was referred to as the king of pilgrimages in the Hindu mythology. The city of Allahabad was never called Prayag or Prayagraj. Prayag was just a small part of the city of Allahabad. In the late 16th century, Akbar founded the city “Illahabas” on the bank of the river Ganga. The name itself was an amalgamation of two cultures — the Hindustani suffix ‘basa’ or home added to the Arabic word for “divine”. The Mughal Emperor can be regarded as one of the architects of Modern India with a vision of plural and inclusive society. The name ‘Illahabas’ was later anglicized by the British to Allahabad. This mispronounced name was mistaken to be associated with the word “Allah”. As the Hindi saying goes, Dhoondne se toh khuda bhi milta hai (If you look for it, you can even find the god), the Hindu right was able to manufacture an opportunity to bolster their pro-Hindu credentials. A Hindu holy city which was renamed by the alien Mughals is finally restored to its original name, is how the renaming intervention is being advertised. This is the best story that the Hindu Right can find. It reinforces the Hindutva narrative of the victimization of Hindus for a thousand years & the ruling party is painted as the saviour who finally restored the old glory. A Vedic golden age is imagined & convenient history is invented to suit a particular political narrative.

A Vedic golden age is a foundational myth for the Hindu ethno-nationalist. This imagined golden age was a time when women were held in honour, child marriage was unknown, people were politically & economically free & the caste system had not acquired the rigidity it would later attain. This is an invention of a past that wasn’t. All the above-mentioned traits are just the characteristics of Western individualism that have been imported to ancient India. If the historicity of this myth is brought into question, the entire project of Hindutva stands exposed. So, the Hindu nationalists have been obsessed, almost paranoid with Indian history. From throwing eggs on historians of the Hindu religion to commissioning school textbooks to fit the Hindutva narrative, history is the default tool to fight other kinds of nationalism.

Ernest Renan observed in 1882,

When the Hindu nationalist mobilized against the dredging of Adam’s bridge for the Sethusamudram Shipping Canal Project, their primary objection wasn’t about the sacredness of the bridge which many Hindus believe was created by Lord Rama. The Hindu right was adamant on emphasizing the historicity of the Ram Setu or Rama’s bridge. The renaming of public spaces is just another deliberate instance of getting the history wrong. The past needs to change because the present demands so.

A few years ago, the Haryana government headed by Bharatiya Janata Party rechristened the erstwhile Gurgaon to its new name Gurugram (the village of the guru). The guru in question is Guru Dronacharya, the teacher of archery in the epic Mahabharata. In the story popular among upper-caste Hindus, Eklavya, a low-caste student of Dronacharya is asked to cut-off his thumb by the same teacher who refused to accept him as a student because of his low birth. This narrative that evolved under the influence of Brahminical hegemony was circulated with a strong emphasis on Eklavya’s sacrifice in the service of his teacher. Today, the Dronacharya doesn’t come off as an ideal teacher. In an alternative reading, Dalits have pointed out that how Dronacharya asked for a “guru Dakshina” in the form of Eklavya’s thumb so as to prevent him from usurping the rank of the best archer in the world, which Dronacharya wanted Arjuna to occupy. This story is also seen as one of the resilience of the Dalits in the face of injustice & their ability to acquire education in spite of their socio-economic status. Both the narratives are in the service of particular political ends: the Bahujan Samaj Party has endorsed the Dalit narrative while the RSS takes pride in the former. The latter narrative is in consonance with the constitutional goals of pulling the Dalits from millennia-old socio-economic oppression. The former narrative is frankly anachronistic in this age of merit. The renaming of Gurgaon is an attempt to glorify a regressive past & privilege the narratives of upper-caste Hindus over other identities. The forgoing of the vernacular “gaon” in favour of the Sanskrit “gram” also strikes of a history that privileges upper-caste Hindu values rather than the inclusive character of our constitution.

If the Indian history is to Hindu Nationalists really what opium is to drug addicts, it is safe to say that the most preferred drug of the Hindu Right is the history of the Mughal Empire. In their version of history, all the Muslim rulers — Delhi Sultanate, the Deccan sultans & the Mughals — are all foreigners who looted India. While Babar, the first Mughal Emperor, may have come to India from abroad but his descendants were as Indian as one can get. If they looted India, they spent all the proceeds of the loot in India itself instead of sending it to some far off land as the British did. Sultans or even the great Mughals & that includes the much reviled Aurangzeb did not go to Mecca or Medina. They went to the dargah of Moinuddin Chisti in Ajmer & Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi. Islam in India & the Muslim rulers in India were as much Indian as any Rajput or Maratha. If & when they destroyed temples, it was for political reasons rather than religious ones as the Hindu right like to pretend.

Historians like Audrey Truschke argue that the vilification of the Muslim rulers & the claim that they despoiled the Hindu land is “neither a continuous historical memory nor based on accurate records of the past”. As the Historian, KM Panikkar has shown even the liberal & tolerant rulers like Asoka, Akbar, Jai Singh, Shahu Maharaj & Wajid Ali Shah do not get a mention in this history. The Hindutva version of Indian history is simplistic: Hindu- Good. Muslim- Bad. So, the renaming continues.

“Kun Faya Kun” Song from the Hindu movie ‘Rockstar’, dedicated to Nizamuddin Auliya. Sufi Music is immensely popular in Bollywood.

Aurangzeb road was renamed after former President Abdul Kalam, replacing a supposedly “Bad Muslim” with a “Good Muslim”. While this was rationalized by recounting the distorted history of the Mughal ruler, it was just the start of stripping public spaces of any reference to the Mughals. The iconic Akbar road was renamed to Maharana Pratap road. This involves another rewriting of history. Some Rajasthani textbooks portray the latter as the victor in the battle of Haldighati against the Mughal emperor Akbar. How then did Akbar go on to rule the country for the next three decades? In the words of Vivek Agnihotri, the Indian incarnation of Joseph Mccarthy, who made a career out of accusations of treason without any regard to evidence, “Who said facts are facts?”

How was this inferiority complex born? Why are the Hindu nationalists so insecure even when eighty per cent of the country’s population belong to the Hindu faith? The answer does not lie in premodern history. The colonization of the country brought with it a need to introspect. “Why is the country subjugated by a puny little Island that pompously called itself Great Britain?”, they asked.

One of the answers was given by V.D. Savarkar in his book “Hindutva: Who is a Hindu?”. Like all the European nationalisms, it looked for an enemy within. In protestant countries of Europe, the Catholics were the problem. In Catholic countries, protestant were the problem. All over Europe, the Jews came to signify everything that was wrong with their nations. In India, the Muslims were blamed. Then came, the second Sarsanghchalak of RSS, MS Golwalkar. The ideas in his book “We or the Nationhood defined” almost mirrored Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews. It was so virulent that the even RSS has distanced itself from that work. To make this narrative more palatable to the majority of upper caste Indians in North India, Deen Dayal Upadhyay appropriated some elements from Gandhian discourse and sprinkled them over the same virulent ideology that Golwalkar espoused.

Vinayak Damodar Savarkar

A.G. Noorani, the constitutional expert, calls Deen Dayal Upadhyay a “Merchant of Hate”. Our Prime Minister, addressing his party’s National Council in September 2016, reiterated the former’s words, “do not appease Muslims; do not shun Muslims but purify them.” While the spokesperson of the party tried to give the word “purity” a palatable spin, what it really refers to is the notion of “shuddhi” rituals propounded by Hindu revivalists like Dayanand Saraswati. It referred to the reconversion of Dalits who had become Muslims or Christians. Such an emphasis on Shuddhi betrays a suspicion of Muslims & doubts their loyalty; that they aren’t loyal to India but to Mecca & Medina. The large crowds that gather at the dargahs of Nizamuddin Auliya, Mu’in al-Din Chishti & numerous other saints is a testament to the fact that while the ideologues may be attracted to Mecca or Medina, the popular Islam practised in the Indian subcontinent is largely reverent to local sacred sites. The Sufi saints didn’t go to Mecca & Medina but they engaged in an intense spiritual conversation with yogis, making their homes in India besides Hindu shrines. The “purification” as Deen Dayal Upadhyay believed was the solution to all our woes is redundant in the case of Indian Muslims. Such suspicions only tend to alienate Indian Muslims who are already in a dire socio-economic position in Modern India. The Hindi Movie “Mulk” by Anubhav Sinha beautifully paints the tragedy of Indian Muslims. When the character played by Rishi Kapoor is asked to prove his loyalty towards the nation, he replies:

Jan Sangh & its successor Bharatiya Janata Party have accepted this philosophy as their official philosophy. In the words of A.G. Noorani, for Upadhyaya, the Indian Muslims “were to be treated as hostages to bring Pakistan to heel.” With a year dedicated to the centenary celebration of Upadhyay’s birth, naming numerous government schemes after him & renaming the emblematic Mughalsarai Junction to Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyay Railway Junction, the Hindu right is trying to elevate a rabidly anti-muslim ideologue to a position that has till now been reserved only for Mahatma Gandhi.

Professor Apoorvanand from the University of Delhi calls this incessant renaming of public spaces a “cultural genocide”. This may come off as an exaggeration typical of the polarizing times we live in when the ideological “other” is considered to be the worst there can be. There is actually some validity to the use of the term “cultural genocide” for what’s happening in India. We may not be able to tick every box in the checklist of what it means to commit cultural genocide but if we are to believe professor Apoorvanand, this “Sanskritization” of our geography is just a small teaser to the full-fledged project. While its bloodier counterpart, physical genocide, is well defined in International law, the concept of cultural genocide is complicated. Raphael Lemkin coined the word ‘genocide’, defined it not just as physical destruction of a group but as a broader concept that involves deliberate destruction of a group on a cultural level. This translates into annihilation of the essential foundations of the group’s life.

The Islamic-sounding names of various public spaces like the Mughalsarai Railway junction or the Urdu Bazaar or the names of cities like Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Ahmednagar, Faizabad are a testament to the fact that the Muslims in India contributed as much to the cultural life of India as any other group. It is a rebuke to all those who question the loyalty of Indian Muslims, a reminder that this country belongs to each citizen of India & not to a certain community — a sentiment captured in the words of the Urdu poet Rahat Indori.

The Shayari loosely translates to — The ones sitting on the throne today, won’t be there tomorrow; They are just tenant, They don’t own the house. The soil of this land is infused with the blood of all; Hindustan isn’t a fief of a single community.

What’s the way out of this madness? The BJP party president said, “no one can dethrone BJP for the next 50 years”. But the aforementioned Shayari by Rahat Indori makes it’s very clear, the Hindu Nationalists are just tenants occupying the highest seat of the Indian democracy. The people of the nation can always get them out of that seat. That’s how a democracy works. But what can be done when the people themselves have fallen for the narrative of the golden past that needs to be revived? A US-based journalist conducted a poll on Twitter asking what Indians thought about the recent renaming of Allahabad to Prayagraj. A whopping 90% out of the total 6,450 people answered that it was a good choice. Such figures make one doubt one’s own convictions. Is our’s the wrong way?

I think the problem lies in distancing oneself from the word “Nationalism”. The Hindu Right has appropriated the term and anybody who subscribes to the adjective “nationalist” is seen to be primitive by the progressives & secularist. Nationalism doesn’t need to be a dirty word. As is commonly misunderstood, Nationalism is not a homogenous entity. The Nationalism that Hitler invoked was entirely different from the nationalism that Gandhi invoked.

It’s almost insulting to group Gandhi’s nationalism & that of Hitler in the same basket. The former was inclusive, the latter exclusive.

The European nationalism was essentially aggrandizing nationalism that put the nation above the people. It was about the status & the “wealth of nations” & not about improving the standards of living of the people that constituted it. In contrast, the nationalism that arose in anti-colonial movements across the world was inclusive. It was first & foremost about the people. This sentiment was captured in Gandhi’s quote about how the essence of freedom was in wiping the tears from the eyes of every Indian. While the European nationalism tried finding an enemy within, the Indian nationalism tried to be supportive of all communities because a fight with the mighty empire couldn’t be fought if we were to bicker among ourselves. The Hindu nationalism is a western import that is clothed with the Hindu religion. It is aggrandizing in nature, puts the interest of the nation above the people & survives on the fear of the internal enemy.

Related: Nationalism Good or Bad?

So, let there be new hospitals by the name of Begum Hazrat Mahal & Wajid Ali Shah. Let there be new world-class schools affordable even to the most downtrodden by the name of Rammohan Roy & Keshub Chandra Sen. Let there be new universities by the name of Asoka & Akbar. This narrow religious nationalism cannot be countered with globalism or scepticism towards nationalism. It can only be countered with the Indian nationalism that is unabashedly secular, inclusive & in the service of the people. After this, if we are named names, we can always brazenly retort with those words made of gold. 

“Yeh Hindustan kisi ke baap ko thodi hai!”

Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav

Understanding The Indus Water Treaty

Parenting Indian Juveniles Can Involve Repeating Bullshit Sentences.

That’s a mnemonic for you to remember the rivers in the Indus water system. Under the Indus Water Treaty, the water of the western rivers— Indus, Jhelum & Chenab— are allocated to Pakistan. That is P for Pakistan & I_J_C. On the other hand, India has unrestricted access to the three eastern rivers— Ravi, Beas & Satluj. That is I for India & R_B_S.

Those are the bare bones of what may someday lead to a “water war” between two nuclear-armed nations. And it’s important for all of us to understand why.

When Radcliffe divided erstwhile British India into two, the rivers of the Indus water system decided not to give a fuck. “The government officers, clerks with chairs, pens and inkpots were distributed” & so were people with mental illness including Manto’s fictional character Toba Tek Singh. But the Indus & its sidekicks had been flowing the way they did since eternity & they were not going to be perturbed by this newfangled concept called a nation-state.

The six rivers of the Indus basin variously originate in Tibet & Northern India as the hills lie to the northeast of the Indus basin. Pakistan lies downstream & hence by the sheer virtue of geography, India found itself with a dangerous level of control over most of these streams.

In May 1948, the Karachi Dawn, one of Pakistan’s leading newspapers, wrote:

As a blazing sun poured itself over the dry and parched lands of Montgomery and Lahore, anxious and overwrought people of the province asked, “When will the canal water come?”

In April, India had stopped water flows from the Ferozpur headworks to some canals in the Punjabi areas in Pakistan. About a million acres of land in Pakistan faced drought. India later restored the water flow but only after Pakistan paid compensation for the water. With this incident, Pakistan realized its folly. It hadn’t insisted on canal water distribution at the time of the Radcliffe award.

Two Opposing Conception of Territorial Sovereignty

Let’s say you have 20 people packed permanently in a large room. There are 20 water taps installed on an equal distance on the four walls. While everyone can access the water tap whenever they want, the main switch to all the water taps is located on a particular corner of the room. Sixteen of them are fans of John Green & four of them love Rushdie.

The sixteen people thought of the four as intellectual snobs while the Rushdie fans considered the remaining sixteen as lacking in literary taste. They fought a lot over what one should read & sometimes they got into fist fights too. One day, an outsider arrived to “solve” their problems. He built a wall divided the room. About one-fifth of the room was allocated to the four Rushdie fans. They got one-fifth of everything— books, pens, food supplies, etc. They had one water tap for each person too. But soon they realized the main switch to all the water taps was on the side of John Green fans.

Now, what do you think we should do to arrive at a fair arrangement?

The John Green fans could say that they have the right to do whatever they want with the things in their territory & that involves turning the switch on or off whenever they want. This view is called absolute territorial sovereignty or the Harmon Doctrine. According to it, Rushdians have no right to question if the Greenies switch off the water taps forever & leave them the Rushdians to die. In 1895, When the government of Mexico protested against the US diversion of water from the Rio Grande river, the US justified its action by Harmon Doctrine. This is a very uncivilized way of looking at things & It is no longer in use in the International law.

The Rushdians can say that water did not belong to the land but to the people. So, they were entitled to the same amount of water they had enjoyed historically. The party in control of the switches could not do whatever they wanted. There are some internationally accepted rules & the two parties must abide by it. This view is called Limited Territorial Sovereignty or the theory of territorial integrity.

Under the theory of territorial integrity, every lower riparian is entitled to the natural flow of streams entering its territory.


The right to exploit a river to a greater extent than in the past must be denied an upper riparian since it would affect the amount of water, or its quality, flowing downstream.

This is how Pakistan has viewed the Indus problem from its inception. This theory too isn’t applied anywhere in practice yet. These are the two extreme views. The Indus Water Treaty is based on a middle way— the theory of reasonable & equitable utilization.

It follows from (these principles) that the rights of the several units concerned in this dispute must be determined by applying neither the doctrine of sovereignty, nor the doctrine of riparian rights, but the rule of equitable apportionment, each unit being entitled to a fair share of the waters of the Indus and its tributaries.

After 1948, when India stopped the flow of water to Pakistan, the two countries with the World Bank as a broker tried to negotiate a more civilized arrangement. At the beginning of the negotiations, India just asked for the water of the river Beas for exclusive Indian use. But till the end, India got unrestricted access two three eastern rivers— Ravi, Beas & Satluj. This was commensurate with India’s needs. About 20% of the watershed of the Indus water system is in Indian territory & India got unrestricted access to about a similar percentage of water. In addition to that, India was also allowed to small storage on the western rivers for cultivation & to generate electricity. This was the Indus Water Treaty signed between the three parties— India, Pakistan & the World Bank— in 1960.

Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav

Old Acquaintances: India And The OIC

This year, India had been invited for the 46th session as a “guest of honour” as OIC completed its 50th year in 2019. But our relations with OIC are quite old.

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) calls itself “the collective voice of the Muslim world” & its stated objective is this:

To safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.

India has the third largest Muslim population in the world. India is home to about 10% of the world’s Muslims. Any organization genuinely interested in protecting the interests of the world’s Muslims should obviously have India as one of the most important players. All the member countries of the OIC have a majority Muslim population. Russia & Thailand, with a significant Muslim minority, are the observer members of the organization. But, in my opinion, to really “protect the Muslims of the world”, you first need to have countries with significant Muslim minority populations as the members because those are the Muslims who may not have an adequate voice in their country.

So, if India isn’t a member of OIC & it has been invited for the first time in 50 years, we should rather ask, “Why the hell India isn’t a part of OIC yet? Doesn’t this miss the whole point of having an organization to protects the Muslims of the world?”

The preparatory committee that decided the composition of OIC in 1969 led down the following criteria for the countries to be invited for the meeting:

  1. countries having a Muslim majority population; or
  2. those having a Muslim head of state.

Pakistan wanted to paint India as a Hindu country rather than a secular country where Muslims have no place. India’s inclusion in OIC has always been opposed by Pakistan. If India is included in OIC, it means that the government of India actually represents a sizeable number of the world’s Muslims.

Mohammad Ali Jinnah

This is against the very idea of Pakistan. The two nation theory assumes that the Hindus & Muslims are two nations and Pakistan is the only true guardian of Muslims in the territory of Indian Subcontinent once ruled by the British. India’s inclusion in OIC would have created an identity crisis for Pakistan.

India was actually invited to the first OIC conference & in effect, India is one of the founding members of OIC. While Pakistan felt uneasy with India’s inclusion, it couldn’t muster a valid reason why India shouldn’t be included.

Around the same time, communal violence in Gujarat broke out. It was the first major Hindu-Muslim riot after partition. With this, Pakistan had now found a reason to refuse India’s entry into OIC.

This is what Gurbachan Singh, India’s then ambassador to Morocco, has to say about what happened:

The following day, on the 24th morning, Laraki asked me to see him before the conference was to reconvene. He said that news of the Ahmedabad riots was beginning to cause some disquiet amongst the delegations and suggested, on a personal and friendly basis, that I should not participate in the morning session. I readily agreed and asked the other members of the delegation to attend the conference.


During this time members of all the delegations had waited in the conference hall. Rumours were floating around. It transpired that the president of Pakistan was refusing to leave his villa until he received an assurance that the official Indian delegation would not be permitted to participate in the meeting. Many leaders of delegations attempted to telephone him but reportedly he would not even answer the telephone.

Pakistan didn’t want India to be part of OIC. India was asked if it could accept an observer status. The Indian delegation wasn’t happy with the suggestion. The Moroccan delegation asked India if it would voluntarily withdraw from the conference to ensure the success of the first conference of OIC. India was initially “unanimously” invited to OIC & it was not going to give up the membership due to Pakistan’s antics. India refused to withdraw.

Pakistan’s volte-face, it is evident, was not because of the Ahmedabad riots or a governmental delegation or a Sikh acting leader of the Indian delegation, though all, in turn, were presented as reasons. It is also on record that Pakistan was part of the consensus when an invitation had been extended to the Government of India. The real reason was that, when word got back to Pakistan of the invitation to India, there was a spate of protests in the country including, significantly, by many political opponents of the regime such as Asghar Khan, Bhutto, Mumtaz Daultana and others.

The Indian delegation at OIC was labelled as the “the Muslim community of India” instead of “the government of India” in the final declaration.

India could not accept anything lesser than the member status because it was “unanimously” invited as so. Pakistan, on the other hand, ensured that India wasn’t invited to any subsequent conferences. Pakistan has used OIC to garner support for its Kashmir cause. In the 1990s, it doubled down on the particular issue. So, India wanted to be part of the OIC to present its side of the story. But Pakistan thwarted all such efforts.

Now, that the major countries like Saudi Arabia & UAE want to be on India’s good books due to India’s economic rise, they have been trying to rethink India’s position in the OIC.

That’s why we had this “guest of honour” invitation. The anti-India days of OIC are gone & we shouldn’t be worried too much about our inclusion. So, if we are to participate in OIC, it should only be as a member, nothing less than that.

Kadyalwar Sunil Abhinav

IMF & World Bank: How do they differ?

The IMF and World Bank are called the ‘Bretton Woods Twins’. John Maynard Keynes labelled IMF & World Bank as “Master Fund” and “Miss Bank” respectively. This assignment of gender reveals the functions of the two Institutions quite well.

(Note: This characterisation plays to the gender stereotypes. Apologies for that but it does serve the purpose well.)

International Monetary Fund, called the “Master Fund” by Keynes is narrowly focused on macroeconomic imperatives like stabilizing currency exchange rates, financing balance of payment deficits and advising borrowing governments to make the requisite changes in its economy. It is seen as a meaner of the two twins. In 1991, as India battled with its balance of payment crisis, India had to knock on the doors of IMF. The Indian economy, which had been a closed one till that time was forced to liberalize itself. They call it ‘structural adjustment’ measures.

IMF’s help is conditioned on the country’s promise to change itself. That does have an overtone of a tight-fisted gentleman (or not-so-gentle man). If you want to be more generous in your perception of IMF, think of it as your father who tries to discipline you once in a while when you go off the road. If your finances are not in shape, he will lend you but only if you promise to mend your ways of handling your finances. And yes, like all fathers, he too thinks that he knows what’s best for you: Free Market.

At IMF, you’ll find mostly professional economists and financial experts. IMF publishes reports which sound pretty highfalutin like Global Financial Stability Report & World Economic Outlook.

World Bank, or officially the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), is primarily aimed at financing economic development. ‘Development’ is a softer word that the more muscular term “economic growth” & thus the label “Miss. Bank”, a nourishing institution looking at development as just as sound economic fundamentals but as quality healthcare, education, water, infrastructure, etc. It is seen as more benign than IMF.

World Bank’s current projects in India can help you understand its purpose. It collaborates with Government of India on a project called ‘Atal Bhujal Yojana’ which is a plan for managing groundwater. Similarly Tejaswini project is for Socio-economic empowerment of Young women and adolescent girls. Its contribution to schemes like National Nutrition Mission, Projects on Climate resilient agriculture, etc gives you an idea that World Bank is focused on a broader definition of development.

World Bank comprises of IBRD and International Development Association (IDA) which gives loans at concessional rates to poor countries. At World Bank, you’ll find a whole range of people like economists, engineers, urban planners, agronomists, statisticians, lawyers, portfolio managers, loan officers, project appraisers, as well as experts in telecommunications, water supply and sewerage, transportation, education, energy, rural development, population and health care, and other disciplines. World Bank’s report do not sound as intimidating as that of the IMF’s. They are Ease of Living Index Report, Universal Health Coverage Index, Remittance Report, etc.

IMF and World Bank have different purposes, Size and Structure (World Bank is about three times the size of IMF), Sources of Funding and recipients of funding (IMF only lends to countries in distress). This is a very simplistic way to look at the two institutions but it helps.

Coke Studio as Pakistan’s Soft Power

Alexa, Play “Pak Sarzameen” by Coke Studio.

For the uninitiated, let’s first understand what “Soft Power” exactly means. Military & Economic might are considered as “Hard Power”. With a strong military, you can intimidate your enemies & defeat them in battles. That is one way to get what you want. Then, you have the economic power. Why does the US impose sanctions on countries it doesn’t like? Because it can. Economic power gives you various tools like aid, sanctions, or the age-old trick of bribing the officials. These are coercive methods.

But then there is “Soft Power” too. This term was coined by Joseph Nye, an American Political Scientist. Soft Power creates a favourable image of a country in the minds of foreigners. Soft Power influences the behavior of others to make them want the outcomes you want. Like, in South Asia, Indian democracy is a benchmark. Among many things like Bollywood or Yoga, India’s democracy itself is its soft power. If the people of Bhutan are attracted towards Indian democracy, they may as well start demanding outcomes similar to what India wants. The outcome, in this case, can be staying away from authoritarian China. That is an example of soft power. The essential thing about soft power is that it is non-coercive as against the coercive hard power. There is a lot of disagreement if Soft Power is of any real use but It will be very difficult to bomb the people who your countrymen truly love.

An example of Soft Power that I want to discuss is Coke Studio Pakistan.

Chaap Tilak, one of my favourite songs from Coke Studio

What image conjures up in your mind when I say the word Pakistan? Terrorism? Military Dictatorship? Islamic Fundamentalism? Poor Citizens in Burqa and Pathani Salwar? The rich elite epitomised by the likes of Hina Rabbani Khar? For some of us, it isn’t an image but a sound, the soulful sound of Coke Studio Pakistan.

Pakistan always had an image problem. It had tried to project itself as a protector of Islam. A slogan popularized by the dictatorial regime of Zia-ul-Haq went like this:

Pakistan ka matlab kya hai? La illah illallah

(What is the meaning of Pakistan? There is no God but the God.)

There was always an effort towards uniformity. The distribution of political & economic power is Pakistan is highly skewed even today. In 1971, Bangladesh said, “Dude, I am done with you. We can’t hold this together anymore.” Pakistan has been harbouring terrorists in its territory. Osma Bin Laden was found chilling near its military garrison in Abbottabad. Then you have the Pakistani Support for Taliban, the nuclear weapons & growing intolerance & sectarian violence. This is surely not a good resume.

Coke Studio Pakistan is a show where singers & musicians perform together on the same platform in a kind of “Jugaldandi”. I have talked about the political & economic distribution in Pakistan but Coke Studio gives you a feeling that Pakistan is inclusive at least in a cultural sense. The songs are a fusion of various musical influence— eastern classical, folk, rock & contemporary popular music. The songs are easily available on YouTube & the provided translations in Urdu & English makes them reach a wide audience all over the world. It gives an impression contrary to what we have— a diverse & inclusive Pakistan where all cultures all equally respected. This is what the Coke Studio website says:

Coke Studio prides itself on providing a musical platform, which bridges barriers, celebrates diversity, encourages unity & instils a sense of Pakistani pride.

Most importantly though, the first season essentially put on the map the Coke Studio philosophy of peace & harmony and celebrating life.

This promotion of Pakistani music when the country felt truly lost is similar to the projection of French culture, its language & literature through the Alliance Francaise, which was created in 1883. This helped France repair its shattered prestige.

The songs in Coke Studio are sung in various languages— Brahui, Seraiki, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Farsi, Poorvi, Marvari, Balochi, Brahui, Persian, etc. Listen to the song called “Daanah Pah Daanah” written and composed by Akhtar Chanal Zahri. Just in one single song, about five languages are used. It is about a shepherd telling a story & introducing us to the beautiful land, rivers & mountains of Balochistan.

A new song in Season 11 called “Baalkada” features two transgender singers.

It is also a confluence of tradition & modernity. It takes both Western influences & indigenous classical & folk influences. Adrian Malik, the Video Producer at Coke Studio says:

The music is an honest representation of where we are today, it’s both timely & timeless; both purely Pakistani & palatably global. Coke Studio is all about unity— the collaboration of a big-hearted, open-minded Pakistanis to create something unique, beautiful & truly our own.

Pakistani music as a whole is a soft power for Pakistan. Geniuses like Abida Parveen, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Rahat Fateh Ali Khan have been Pakistan’s cultural representatives. Coke Studio is just its culmination.

But does it work?

To an extent, yes. Open a Coke Studio song on youtube & scroll down to the comment section. The comment section brims with Indians and people all over the world praising how beautiful Pakistani music is. You will find Indians professing their love for the Pakistani neighbors like you won’t find anywhere else.

As CSP’s tagline goes, it truly is the “Sound of the Nation”.

Should India Engage With Taliban?

In 1999, the Indian Airline IC 814 was hijacked in Kathmandu by Hurkat-Al-Mujahideen & flown to Kandahar in Afghanistan. The hijackers demanded the release of three terrorists.

One was Maulana Masood Azhar who was also involved in the attacks on the Indian Parliament in 2001. The second terrorist to be released was Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, the subject of the movie ‘Omerta’ by Hansal Mehta who achieved notoriety for the abduction & murder of an American Journalist named Daniel Pearl.

Rajkumar Rao as Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh in Hansal Mehta’s Omerta

The third was Mushtaq Ahmed Zargar who fomented insurgency in Kashmir & trained terrorists in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.

Ajit Doval, who was the chief negotiator then says:

If these people (the hijackers) were not getting active ISI support in Kandahar, we could have got the hijacking vacated. The ISI had removed all the pressure we were trying to put on the hijackers. Even their safe exit was guaranteed, so they had no need to negotiate an escape route.

Apart from this, according to an Indian Army official, at the peak of Taliban rule in Afghanistan:

about 22 per cent of terrorists operating in Jammu and Kashmir were either of Afghan origin or had been trained there.

This ISI-Taliban Yaarana has been a real pain-in-the-arse for India. Why, then, should India engage in dialogue with the Taliban & give this terrorist organization the legitimacy it yearns for?

IC-814 in Kandahar

It’s better to choose to engage with the Taliban now than being forced to talk to them later.

It’s just a matter of time that the US will withdraw a majority of its troops from Afghanistan. What happens next? The Afghan government controls just about half the Afghan territory. The rest is either controlled by the Taliban or it is still a contested area. The Taliban is just getting stronger by the day & if the military conflict goes on, it will just end up occupying more territory.

An International consensus is emerging that a peace process is the only way forward. Any outcome of the peace process will definitely involve the Taliban governing the country or at least sharing the power. The Taliban knows that it is in control & It is supporting the peace only on its own terms. It is inevitable that we will have to engage with the Taliban sooner or later.

Some Contra Points

Firstly, Pakistan uses the Afghan Taliban as a hedge against India.

This should be enough of a reason for India to be reluctant to engage in any dialogue with the Taliban. But even Pakistan doesn’t want a stable government in Afghanistan even if it is ruled by the Taliban. It loves to keep Afghanistan in eternal chaos.

A strengthened Taliban, backed by the ISI, can spread its influence in the neighbouring Pakistan & Kashmir. This too is a big problem for India. Ideally, India would have loved to have a world without the Taliban. But if the Taliban’s ascendance is inevitable, we better extend a hand of friendship or even dialogue to the Taliban. That’s the only way our interest can be secured. An antagonistic Taliban will only make matter worse at the border.

We can hope that a Taliban which will have a country to run will be less subordinate to the wishes of Pakistan. India has gained some goodwill in Afghanistan through its developmental work & any anti-India activity will be an unpopular move by the government. We can also hope that it stops exporting terrorism.

Our Afghanistan policy is mainly determined by two factors— the desire to limit Pakistan’s influence & to gain access to energy markets in Central Asia. Our investments in Chabahar will only bear fruits if the routes through Afghanistan are stable. Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan too have started the dialogue with the Taliban. If the Taliban remains hostile to India, the routes through Afghanistan are not any better than those through Pakistan. Isn’t that something we were trying to avoid through Chabahar?

Taliban’s one-time foe Russia in on the table. Iran & the US are on the table. We don’t have a lot of options. In diplomacy, they say,

If you are Not at the table, you are on the menu.

If India isn’t part of the peace process in Afghanistan, we can expect that our interests will be ignored. There is a need to have a stable government in Afghanistan that doesn’t resort to exporting terrorism. For that, we’ll need to neutralize Afghanistan & not let the Taliban remain the proxy of Pakistan.

In 1992, India’s ally President Mohammad Najibullah was overthrown & a Pakistan-backed Mujaheddin government took power. India duly recognised & engaged with the government.

Why did it do so? The International community backed by the UN supported this transition & the Indian diplomats were able to reach an accommodative policy with the Mujahideen. The new peace process with the Taliban will also have a large number of countries at the table & India should try to secure its interest through diplomacy.

So, yeah. India should engage with the Taliban.

Nationalism: Good Or Bad?

Just about three years ago, in the month of February, Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested & accused of sedition. He, his friends & the entire institute— Jawaharlal Nehru University— was labelled “anti-national” by a large portion of media. How did the JNU react to this?

Every day, as the clock struck 6 in the evening, JNU’s administrative block area would become an open-air classroom. Students & Professors, with notepads in their hand, gathered to listen to lectures on Nationalism. Well-known academics like Romila Thapar, Tanika Sarkar, Achin Vanaik & many more gave talks on Nationalism. All the talks are available on YouTube.

I am going to summarise one of those talks. It was the talk by the renowned economist & political commentator Prabhat Patnaik titled “Two Concepts of Nationalism”. You can watch the video & refer to this answer as your “notes” to revise what he says.

Is Nationalism good or bad? The question assumes that Nationalism is a homogenous entity. The Nationalism invoked by Mahatma Gandhi was different from the Nationalism invoked by Hitler.

We know that the former was good while the latter was obviously evil. So, we must draw a distinction between the two concepts of Nationalism. The European Nationalism was very different from the Nationalism found in the third world which originated as a form of resistance to European colonization.

Nationalism in Europe had three important characteristics:

One, It looked for an enemy within— the Jews everywhere in Europe, the Catholics in Northern Europe which was protestant & the Protestants in Southern Europe which was Catholic. It was not an inclusive nationalism but something that was directed against an enemy within.

Two, It was imperialist from the very beginning. The struggle for empire, including within India, was from the very inception a part of this Nationalism.

And three, It put the Nation above the people. It was not about the people’s living standards, their well being or the poverty in the country. It was about the power, the prestige and the wealth of the nation. Adam Smith’s ‘The Wealth of Nations’ too is just about the wealth of the Nation & nowhere it talks about wealth being trickled down to the masses. The nation is put above the people.

These features made the European Nationalism essentially an aggrandizing nationalism— something that tries to enhance the reputation of the Nation. Fascism was the apogee of this aggrandizing Nationalism.

In today’s Europe, Nationalism is looked down as a “dirty” word by the progressives because for them Nationalism can only be of one kind—the aggrandizing nationalism. The horrors of fascism have taught them how that isn’t a great path to walk on.

But this presumption is wrong. There’s an alternative nationalism, the one found in countries like India in their anti-colonial movements.

It was more or less an inclusive nationalism. It had to be an inclusive nationalism because what it was fighting was the mammoth Empire. Only a united nation could fight such a battle. Everybody was part of this nationalism as opposed to the “enemy within” from its European counterpart. In Europe, the word “nationalism” is only talked about in reference to the parties of the Right but in India, the Left, as well as the right, can claim to be nationalist.

It had to have solidarity with other anti-colonial nationalisms & it recognised the validity & the legitimacy of other nationalisms rather than excluding them. This too is very different from the European counterparts.

And thirdly, it did not glorify the nation above the people. This is apparent in that famous quote from Gandhi that the essence of freedom for him meant wiping tears from the eyes of every Indian. This nationalism was about the people. The nation was not above the people, it was constituted by the people.

All these anti-colonial nationalisms were based on a social contract. It had to be based on a social contract in order to bring people into the anti-colonial struggle. The examples of this are the freedom charter in South Africa & the Karachi Congress resolution in 1931 which talked about equality before the law, secularism (that the state will have no religion) & many other things. Other similar nationalism had such a moment of social contract. This, in essence, has been translated into our constitution too.

So, nationalism isn’t inherently bad. We have inclusive nationalisms & divisive nationalism. We have nationalisms that are about the glory of the nation even if the people are kept wretchedly poor. We have nationalism that is first & foremost about removing poverty & any kind of discrimination against the historically oppressed classes.

So, if you really want to be a nationalist, there are some really great items on the menu. You don’t necessarily need to go for the poison.

There For Each Other: Saudi Arabia & Pakistan

Saudi Arabia may not be Pakistan’s “all weather” friend as China claims to be but the two countries have almost always been there when the other one needed.

From the outset, the two countries “completed” each other— one’s weakness was other’s strength. Together, they looked after each other. Saudi Arabia was & is the spiritual leader of Sunni Islam but lacked human capital. In the 1960s, Saudi Arabia would send the members of its military to Pakistan for training. Pakistan, which got a disproportionate military strength after partition, was good at that job. In the 1960s, it was Pakistani military officers who helped Saudi Arabia a great deal in building an army & air force. By helping Saudi Arabia against Nasser, a republican who overthrew the monarchy in Egypt & helped to do the same in Yemen, the Pakistani military was able to keep its men busy after the 1965 war with India.

In the 1970s, a Pakistani battalion was stationed in Saudi Arabia’s southern border to repulse the Yemenis. Some Pakistani men were also stationed on the border with Israel & Jordan. Nawaf Obeid, a former adviser to the Saudi government from 2004 to 2015 said:

We gave money and the Pakistanis dealt with it as they saw fit… There is no documentation, but there is an implicit understanding that on everything, in particular, on security and military issues, Pakistan will be there for Saudi Arabia.

By the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has become quite wealthy due to oil money. Pakistan, as we know, is naturally great at being nice to the wealthy guys in the gang. After the 1971 war, Pakistani tapped into the Saudi coffers to fund its defence budgets. Whenever it was in economic stress, Saudi Chachu would always come to rescue. Saudis would send massive aid to Pakistan & a large number of military personnel would go the other way. In the 1980s, the Crown Prince Fawad even went on to say that the security of Saudi Arabia was intrinsically tied to that of Pakistan’s.

Pakistan, being too far away, never posed a risk to Saudi’s hegemony in the middle east. So, Saudi Arabia could give massive aid to Pakistan without worrying about the monster getting too large. Add to the equation their relationship with the US; It only reinforced the already great bond. The Saudi-Pakistan relationship has a long history. It’s nothing new.

What should India do?

There’s just one big point where the interest of the two countries diverge— Iran. Saudis hate Iran— they would love if it didn’t exist. Pakistan tries to act with caution in its relations with Iran. They don’t want to get embroiled in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. Iran & Pakistan both have a significant Baloch population & they would like to keep the border as stable as possible so that the Balochis do not start any trouble. In 2012, Pakistan even refused to join an Arab League-sponsored plan against Iran that was promoted by the Saudis.

If Pakistan is forced to give up its neutral stance in the Iran-Saudi rivalry, that can strain the friendship. We, Indians, should be good to Iranians as well as to Saudis. Anyway, Saudis have considerably brought down their rhetoric against India when it is about the Kashmir issue. Saudis have been trying to be good with India for a good amount of time now. So, it’s better we keep in mind the history of Saudi-Pakistan relationship when we read the news of Saudi-Pak bonhomie.