Development of Linguistic Provisions of the Constitution of India

Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi
Jawaharlal Nehru moves the resolution for an independent sovereign republic in the Constituent Assembly in New Delhi. Source.

First published in Centre Right India.

“There was no article which proved more controversial than article 115 (which deals with the Hindi question). No Article produced more opposition. No article more heat” – Thoughts on Linguistic States, B. R. Ambedkar

Recently a circular was issued by the Raj Bhasha Department of the Ministry of Home Affairs, asking Government officials to use Hindi, or Hindi and English, while communicating on social media platforms.etc The circular is based on a decision taken on March 10 when the Congress was in power and is dated May 27, two days before Mr Rajnath Singh took charge as Home Minister. The circular is meant for officials in Category A States which use Hindi as their official language.

Though the subsequent furore was quick to blame Mr. Modi personally in a rather uninformed manner, the reaction that the issue generated among the common public, and the comments by some of the political leaders from the north and the south demands a relook at the constitutional provisions regarding the Official Languages of India and the debates which preceded their inclusion into the constitution. One will be surprised that the language debate happening at present is not much different in its tone and tenor from the deliberations held among the members of the Constituent Assembly. The importance given to the issue can be gauged from the fact that the language question remained a point of contention during the entire length of the period of framing of the constitution of India.

Constitutional Provisions

Provisions regarding the Official Language are given in Part XVII of the Constitution from Article 343 to 351. It is divided in four chapters – Language of the Union; Regional Languages; Language of the Supreme Court, High Court etc; and Special Directives.

Regarding the provisions, Granville Austin comments that “The members of the CA did not attempt the impossible; they did not lay down in the language provisions of the Constitution that one language should be spoken all over India. Yet they could not avoid giving one of the regional languages special status, so they provided, not that there be a ‘national’ language, but, using a tactful euphemism, that Hindi should be the ‘official language of the Union’”

Issue at Hand

The Constituent Assembly had not been separated into distinct factions in its early days since the general sentiment in favour of an Indian language as opposed to English, the language of the oppressor, blinded all other concerns. Not all the provisions whipped up extreme reactions in the Assembly. Only as they set to work did the difficulties become apparent and the split grew in an unprecedented manner. The Language issue was considered important because it affected everyone with the issues of mother-tongue instruction; question of medium of instruction in universities; language of the civil services; cultural and historical background of linguistic groups; religious sentiments.There were mainly two groups – the Pro – Hindi members unofficially headed by Purushottam Das Tandon and Seth Govind Das and the moderate non-Hindi bloc headed by South Indian leaders.

 

Gandhi to independence

Mahatma Gandhi was pro-Hindustani. Hindustani is a term used for that language which is neither a Sanskritized Hindi nor Persianised Urdu, but a combination of both freely admitting words wherever necessary from different provincial languages and also assimilating words from foreign languages. Jawaharlal Nehru, Vallabhbhai Patel, Rajenda Prasad and Abdul Kalam Azad accepted this. In fact, Rajagopalachari suggested broadening Hindustani even further by writing it in regional scripts. The 1928 Motilal Nehru Report also wanted Hindustani to be the common language. It was Gandhi-ji who initiated the idea of widening the independence struggle by using provincial languages and based on his suggestion, the 1920s saw Provincial Congress Committees being formed along on linguistic lines. In 1934 Congress made Hindustani its official language. During this time when Nehru said that “Hindustani was bound to become the all-India medium of communication”, it did not cause any resentment since not much thought went into the role envisaged for English, the status of regional language, languages of court etc during this period.

This reason why the top leadership Congress preferred Hindustani instead of Tamil or Bengali which were more developed at that time and ‘met the needs of the state’ was because it was spoken widely in the north and also, more importantly, the leaders felt that it bridged the Hindu – Muslim divide. This is not to say that the issue did not attract any criticism at all. When Rajaji made Hindi mandatory in high schools of Madras in 1938 there was a violent reaction with slogans like “Let Hindi die and Let Tamil live. Let … Rajagopalachari die.

Independence to Partition

The first sign that language will be a thorny issue appeared when Rules of Constituent Assembly was being framed. It had been generally accepted that the members can speak in Hindi or English or in their mother tongue. A pro-Hindi member Seth Govind Das, took exception to this and said in Hindustani “I want to tell my brethren from Madras that if after twenty-five years of efforts on the part of Mahatma Gandhi, they have not been able to understand Hindustani, the blame lies at their door. It is beyond our patience that because some of our brethren from Madras do not understand Hindustani, English should reign supreme in a Constituent Assembly assembled to frame a Constitution for a free India.” In response A K Ayyar promptly asked that Seth Govind Das’s speech be translated into English for him since he could not understand the content and that he was too old to learn Hindustani at this point of time. Issue was settled, with the members free to talk in the language of their wish.

Next mention of language was made as part of the Fundamental Rights. The draft Rights said that Hindustani in Devanagari or Urdu scripts will be the national language and English will be a secondary official language. Two members wanted Roman to be made an optional script for Hindustani since South Indians were not familiar with the northern scripts. But Patel dropped the entire clause on language saying that language will be dealt with by a higher committee.

Partition to Bitter Debates

Partition was a watershed moment as far as the language issue was concerned. Hindi-wallahs upped their ante against the impure Persianised Hindustani. The question of Hindustani becoming the national language was effectively closed. All drafts mentioning Hindustani was replaced by Hindi. “Partition killed Hindustani and endangered the position of English and the provincial languages in constitution” noted an observer. K. Santhanam, one of the more influential national politician from Madras said, “If there had been no partition, Hindustani would, without doubt have been the national language. But the anger against Muslims turned against Urdu. Hindustani became a bad word after Partition and the party leaders were reluctant to divide the party over it [despite being proponents of Hindustani]”. The Pro- Hindi group did not just stop with that, but made their attacks on English and Provincial languages bitter, resulting in the alienation of popular support for them. Initially there were two main strands of opposition against Hindi group – Muslims and South Indians. Muslims wanted Hindustani in both scripts did not care about English while the South Indian bloc, who wanted English to be retained, was ready for Hindi with Devanagari script as an official language in addition to English.

Meanwhile even the Congress Presidential campaign acquired linguistic overtones with Telugu speaking Pattabhi Sitaramayya and a hardcore Hindi proponent Purushottam Dad Tandon pitted against each other. Tandon contested in the election despite requests from Prasad, asking him not to do so as it might virtually become a North versus South contest. This did not happen and Sitaramayya later won with a slender margin.

By this time the outline of the general demand of Hindi group was spelled out

  • Hindi in Nagari as Official Language
  • English optional during a transitional period
  • Mandatory knowledge of Hindi for entry in to Civil Services while the Hindi applicants should know a provincial language.

Members like T T Krishnamachari of Madras and L K Maitra of Bengal warned the Constituent Assembly of threats from secessionist groups and accused the Hindi group of displaying linguistic fanaticism and ‘Hindi-imperialism’. Nehru who had become more of an umpire rather than a player after the question of Hindustani was shelved supported the moderates. He was lamenting the fact that issue of Hindi was hijacked by language extremists there by affecting Hindi’s chances of becoming an all-India language. Nehru had a clear belief that Hindi was superior to the provincial languages and this is known from many of his speeches. In one instance he says “Everybody knows that obviously Hindi is the most powerful language of India. But it is misfortune of Hindi that it has collected round it some advocates who continually do tremendous injury to its cause by advocating it in the wrong way.”

Final Debate – Numerals

Towards the final days of drafting of the language provisions, bitterness and fanatical statements started emanating from everywhere. Seth Govind Das, President of Hindi Sahitya Sammellan said that Hindi in Nagari must be made the national language of India and that ‘this arrangement was quite in accordance with the nation’s will’. Purushottam Das Tandon said that “those who oppose acceptance of Hindi as national language and Nagari as the single script are still following a policy of anti-national appeasement and are catering to communal aspirations.

During the assembly proceedings, the pro-Hindi group had a large base from Bihar, Central Provinces, United Provinces, and interestingly several members from the South also. Their amendments which gave predominance to Hindi were flatly rejected by the non-Hindi bloc led by Southern members who fervently refused the clause that provided for the progressive substitution of Hindi during a 15 year transitional period when English is used as the official language. But a consensus was taken in a meeting of all the Congress members of the Constituent Assembly that Hindi in Nagari will be accepted as the official language. The status of Hindi with regards to this was never in doubt again.

The sorest part of language issue was when the representation of numerals was discussed. Facetiously speaking, this reiterated that Indians were obsessive about numbers. Non-Hindi bloc mentioned that Arabic numerals (which had its origin in India) should be used for all official purpose. Hindi group protested furiously saying that Devanagari numerals must be used. The question of numerals was so hotly debated that nearly 3 hours alone was spent speaking about it. The debate ended with a 75-74 vote in favour of Devanagari numerals but it was accepted that such a controversial issue cannot be implemented with such a thin margin. This issue was a turning point in the language debates. Austin observes that “The pressure of the extremists, particularly on the numerals issue drove many Gujarati, Marathi, Bengali and even Bihari assembly members from the Hindi group into the ranks of its moderates.” South Indian moderates scoffed at the intransigent stand on numerals, and The Hindu called the fight over the numerals “stupid and useless”, which on retrospect indeed looks very much so.

At this time Ambedkar came to the fore-front and suggested that a Language Commission formed after the inauguration of Constitution will consider the question of Numerals and the transitional period of English. Munshi – Ayyangar (MA) formula, which later became the basis for the current provisions of our constitution, had its origin in these suggestions from Ambedkar. MA formula was endorsed by even Patel, who had sympathised with Tandon and group, and who had been annoyed by the southern resistance to Hindi. In his suggestions Ambedkar also recommended that all the Indian languages should be listed in a schedule in the constitution. At a superficial level the reason cited for listing languages in a separate schedule is that these languages were supposed to be the sources from which Hindi should broaden itself. But leaders have later on mentioned that it was out of psychological reasons and to give the languages a status that the languages were listed in a Schedule. “We had these languages listed in the Constitution to protect them from being ignored or wiped out by the Hindi-wallahs.” said a leader.

When the MA formula was finally produced Ayyangar rightly pointed out that it was a compromise between mutually incompatible ideas. In response to MA formula Seth Govind Das said that “Indian had had one cultural tradition for 1000s of years. We do not want it to be said that there are two cultures here.” To which Bharatiya Jana Sangh leader from Bengal, Shyama Prasad Mookerjee responded that “If it is claimed by anyone that by passing an article in the Constitution of India, one language is going to be accepted by all by a process of coercion, I say, sir, that that will not be possible to achieve. Unity in diversity is India’s keynote and must be achieved by a process of understanding and consent and for that a proper atmosphere has to be created.

On contrasting this with Nehru’s attitude who said “Although English must continue to be a most important language in India, no nation could become great on the basis of a foreign language. The language India chose for itself must be a language of the people, not a language of the learned coterie. It is the reference to Hindustani that has allowed me to support MA formula. Else it would have been very difficult for me”, it is clear that Nehru had no more interest in provincial languages being given equal treatment than Ambedkar had when he had introduced Sanskrit to be made the national language, so as to douse the ‘jealousies raised by the special status accorded to Hindi’. After much deliberations and resignations from a couple of members including Tandon, M-A formula was passed with 5 amendments among deafening cheer.

Reference

1. The Indian Constitution – Cornerstone of a Nation by Granville Austin

2. India: A History – John Keay

3. The Indian Constitution – Fadia and Fadia

Book Review : Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire

I rewrote the Review for a magazine, which I think is better than the original review. I am publishing it here in my blog.

The book Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire is written by Alex von Tunzelmann, a British historian. Tunzelmann was educated in Brighton and at University College, Oxford. She has contributed to The Political Animal by Jeremy Paxman, The Truth About Markets by John Kay, Does Education Matter? by Alison Wolf, and Not on the Label by Felicity Lawrence. She has been recognized as a Financial Times Young Business Writer of the Year. Most recently she has collaborated with Jeremy Paxman on his book, On Royalty. Recently, she has begun writing a weekly column for The Guardian entitled “Reel history”, in which she discusses and rates popular films for their historical accuracy. India Summer is her first book and was released in 2007. Red Heat. Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean, 2011, covers the relationship of the United States with Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti during the time of the Cold War.

Indian Summer focuses on that period of Indian history when India was fighting a war of its own which had been clouded by the much larger war going on in the world. Our traditional understanding of Indian history is dominated by left – leaning narratives. Most of the books which deal with the ‘Modern History’ of India, usually gains speed with the Battle of Plassey of 1757 which seals the question of Anglo- French rivalry in India. The Battle of Buxar which takes place 7 years later establishes the British as one among top powers in Indian subcontinent. This narrative of Indian history meanders through various ups and downs involving 1st War of Indian Independence in 1857, jumping next to the formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885, the Moderate – Extremist tussle, the Surat split of Congress, the 1916 merger and Lucknow pact, arrival of Gandhi, the Non-cooperation Movement of 1922, Civil Disobedience Movement of 1930, the passing of Government of India act 1935 and subsequent formation of Congress governments in various provinces, the Second World War and Quit India Movement, Arrival of Mountbatten, Partition and finally Independence. Nearly 190 years of history is compressed into books of some 500 pages long and is passed off as a thorough look at the various aspects of history; when the authors and readers themselves know that it is an impossible task to capture in a single book, even the various strands of our national movement, leave alone the entire duration from the arrival of British to their exit. It is one of the reasons, why the division of Indian history into ancient, medieval and modern, following the standard western practice, makes little sense.

Especially glossed over are those final years of Independence when readers are overwhelmed by the countless number of frantic attempts by both the Indian and British sides to reach an amiable solution to the question of Independence and the then elephant in the room, Partition. Hence we see a series of solutions following one after the other in quick succession: August Offer, Cripps Mission, Rajagopalachari Formula, Desai – Liaqat Pact, Wavell plan, Cabinet Mission and finally the Mountbatten Plan which eventually gets converted into Indian Independence Act 1947. But the amount of painful discussions gone into them, the thought process that went behind the decision, the names of those invisible men and women who held the strings of the political puppets, remain unacknowledged and rightly so. After all, the traditional historians are only trying to present the important milestones of our national movement and not write an encyclopaedia. It’s a different fact that those who were indeed entrusted by the government to write encyclopaedias only siphoned off the funds and later turned up empty handed with flimsy excuses. The curious case of how these very researchers ended up publishing many history books on their own is detailed in ‘Eminent Historians’ by the inimitable Arun Shourie.

One of the more famous accounts of those final days is given in the book Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, which is more of a hagiography of Mountbatten than a serious attempt at chronicling the history.

Among such books, Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire, with a better access to resources and a relatively novel attempt at narrating the final days of Independence, does stand out. The book is different from others of the same genre in such a way that it is less about a historical period and more about some of the key personalities – namely India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, the last viceroy of India Louis Mountbatten and his wife Edwina Mountbatten – who shaped those crucial moments of our Independence movement. The author narrates incidents from the protagonists’ early days, leading up to the moment of their meeting, the influences they had on each other, how it continued to influence them even post  Independence and how all this inadvertently shaped India’s destiny.

Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on.

As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also recorded the Mountbattens’ activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a mess wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’

Departing from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book.  She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time”

But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be because they do not have personalities as colourful as Nehru and the Mountbattens; but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. When contacted, she responded that she stands by her views on Patel and Bose. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book.

A book which shares similar topic with Tunzelmann’s Indian Summer is Ramachandra Guha’s voluminous India After Gandhi. Though Guha’s book is a work on the Independent India, topics such as Partition, Kashmir, the influence of Mountbatten, consolidation of Princely states are dealt in both, albeit with varying levels of indulgence. Indian Summer has a slight flair for theatrics while India After Gandhi uses a more tempered language, though it is amusing to note that Guha does not mind peddling half – truths about the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his ‘magisterial work’ . Hence while Guha stops with how the Dewan of Travancore Sir C P Ramaswamy Aiyer ‘used to launch an excoriating attack on Gandhi’, Tunzelmann doesn’t mince any words and quotes the Dewan that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off  young girls. Like India Since Independence by Bipan Chandra, Tunzelmann doesn’t try to present a picture perfect situation and treads the dangerous territory of the internal lives of Nehru and Mountbatten. She leaves the more bromide way of chronicling to other historians and livens up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”

Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a decent effort, but none the less, admirable.

Thoughts on ” Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire “

Lady-Edwina-and-Lord-Loui-001
Edwina Mountbatten, Louis Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru

IN THE BEGINNING, THERE WERE TWO NATIONS. ONE WAS A vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swath of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England.

Thus begins Alex Von Tunzelmann’s amusing work Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire , chronicling the final days of Indian Independence. The book’s cover shows the first Prime Minister enjoying the twinkle in the last Vicerine’s eyes, while a sharply dressed last Viceroy looks the other way. That pretty much sums up the gossip rendered via the book.

Indian Summer is one of those new kinds of history books that tries to present nuggets of tinnient information interspersed along with the actual narrative. Hence we find that during the First War of Indian Independence in 1857, a police constable Gangadhar Nehru and his wife Indrani who were fleeing Delhi, were almost caught because their daughter looked as pale as an English girl; that Winston Churchill had suggested to have Gandhi-ji “bound hand and foot at the gates of Delhi, and let the viceroy sit on the back of a giant elephant and trample the Mahatma into the dirt.”; that Annie Besant had identified Prince Edward as the re-incarnation of Akbar and that the young prince “was not over-pleased at the idea of having been a black man” and so on.

As a departure from the usual historians, Tunzelmann focuses on some of the key female personas of those times – a Lady Macbethesque Fatima Jinnah; the lovelorn Padmaja Naidu, who had smashed the portrait of Edwina on finding out that a visit by Jawaharlal, apparently to propose to her did not turn out quite the way she wanted it to be; the calm, composed and responsible first female Cabinet minister Amrit Kaur; and of course Edwina Mountbatten, who, in a way, is the protagonist of the book.  She writes “Women were prominent in Indian politics, a trend which Edwina Mountbatten, along with many Indian women, attributed to Gandhism. Nonviolence, passive resistance and boycotts were all tactics which could be practiced by women without breaking social conventions. As a result, there were more powerful women in India‘s Congress than there were in Britain‘s Labour Party or in the United States‘ Democratic Party at the time”

Edwina, dressed for the coronation of George VI, 1937
Edwina, dressed for the coronation of George VI, 1937

Edwina comes across as the archetypical heroine struggling with her internal conflicts. She is temerarious, she is magnanimous in charity, a lone rebel in her high society filled with a nimiety of princoxes, she is a passionate lover. Tunzelmann sets aside a considerable portion of the book in psycho-analysing her and her relations with various men including our first Prime Minister while simultaneously showcasing how the Vicerine outshined her husband in issues related to administration and relief work. The author points out how, when Lady Mountbatten noticed that the a refugee hospital camp was devoid of lamps, she had struggled to obtain one from the brigadier in New Delhi; how she took special care to pass the Nursing Council Bill before Partition through lobbying; how her friendship with Nehru boosted her left-leaning political beliefs; how Edwina had “trudged for hours around the grim hovels in which many thousands of the city‘s poor lived” and so on.

At the same time, the author, whose flair for dramatic theatrics is visible throughout the pages, gives rivetting details of Nehru and Edwina’s complex relationship. I leave here a lone paragraph so as not to play a spoil sport. “There is an intriguing tale told by S. S. Pirzada, later foreign minister of Pakistan, that Jinnah had been handed a small collection of letters that had been written by Edwina and Jawahar. ―Dickie will be out tonight—come after 10:00 o‘clock, said one of Edwina‘s. Another revealed, ―You forgot your handkerchief and before Dickie could spot it I covered it up. A third said, ―I have fond memories of Simla—riding and your touch.

The drama doesn’t end with just this curious romance, but inevitably extends to the power politics of the time. The issues of freedom and dominion formation has been explained in a more bromide, but none the less, academic manner in Ramachandra Guha’s India After Gandhi. Tunzelmann has livened up the whole exercise using trinkets of amusing anecdotes. For example we see how Jinnah deliberately turned up late for a party thrown up Mountbatten. When asked about it, he replied ― “My boy do you think I would come to this damn man‘s party on time? I purposely came late to show him I despise him.”; how when the Maharaja of Jodhpur met the ever so percipient V P Menon, he had “pulled out a pistol concealed behind the nib of a very large fountain pen and screamed that he would ―shoot him down like a dog if he betrayed the starving people of Jodhpur.”. Interestingly, she has also included the infamous comment by Travancore Diwan C P Ramaswamy Aiyer when he had met Mountbatten, that he had files which contained cuttings to prove that Gandhi was a dangerous sex maniac who could not keep his hands off  young girls.

As a side track history, Tunzelmann has also tracked the Mountbatten’s activities in London. Louis Mountbatten, known as Dickie to his friends, had been the right hand of Edward VIII. Tunzlemann recounts what an appalling disaster a young Edward’s India visit had been in the 1920s. One is reminded of the Downton Abbey scene where it is told “The Prince did splendidly, sir. He was so popular wherever he went” when in reality the tour was a disaster wherever he went – Bombay, UP, Delhi, Madras. Tunzelmann says ‘the prince‘s tour had revealed the acute unpopularity of the British in India.’

Indian readers may be amused to know that the Duke of Edinburgh, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, is the nephew of Mountbatten and that he chiselled the Duke’s life into what it is now. There is also an interesting note about the later life of the Mountbatten, where a military coup by Mountbatten against the then Labour Government of Harold Wilson was stymied only because of the intervention of Queen Elizabeth, who was greatly influenced by Mountbatten in turn during her formative years. In fact, Prince Charles considered Mountbatten like a father figure to the extent that when Mountbatten was assassinated by the IRA, he had written in his journal that he had lost a “combined grand-father, great uncle, father, brother and friend. Life will never be the same now that he has gone”.

Winston Churchill comes across as a pervicacious blimp and rightly so. An adequate amount of space has been provided to the minimal yet important role Churchill played during the 1940s. In fact, there is ineluctable evidence to show that Jinnah had an active support of Churchill and it was only through Churchill that Jinnah could have been controlled. In more than one instance, it is shown how Jinnah took the advice of Churchill and toned down his demands, thereby making thing easier for the British. On the other side, Mountbatten had a profound influence on Jawaharlal Nehru, and continued to have it, many years post independence, to the extent that when Nehru passed away the British High Commission in Delhi complained ― Now that Nehru is gone we shall no longer have the enormously valuable access to the India Government‘s inner councils which Lord Mountbatten‘s personal friendship with him gave us at crucial moments.

Nehru with Kennedys
Kennedys’ India Visit

Nehru and the Mountbattens shared a very complex relation from what it seems. Louis Mountbatten had immense admiration for Jawaharlal Nehru as a liberal leader and in turn Nehru felt that Mountbatten was India’s true friend in Britain. In a cinematic twist, both the men were madly in love with the same woman – Edwina. In hindsight it can be said that Mountbatten’s love for her was much more intense because he allowed her to carry on the affair with Jawaharlal Nehru and actively facilitated it, by suddenly coming up with reasons to leave home for long hours especially when Nehru visited the Mountbatten residence. Nehru on the other hand, had always been able to find love in almost every corner except in his wife. The author gives an interesting anecdote about Nehru’s US visit in 1961. “Kennedy brought up a range of topics which usually interested Nehru very much—Berlin, Vietnam, nuclear testing, Indo-Pakistani relations—and yet the Indian premier seemed out of sorts and could not be induced to grunt out more than a sentence or two in reply. That evening Nehru dined with Kennedy. During the dinner, Nehru eased up considerably—not least, noted Galbraith, because he ―had sat between Mrs. Kennedy and her sister and with the light of love in his eyes. The rest of the trip went without a hitch.”

But the author loses the plot when it comes to certain details regarding other Indian leaders. It may be perhaps they do not have as colourful personalities like Nehru and the Mountbattens, but much attention has not been given to the details about Bose and Patel. Hence Bose is described as a right-wing leader while Patel is projected as a Hindutva leader who would have been bad choice as the Prime Minister. She also soft-pedals the role played by Pakistan in the Kashmir issue, with the general tone of her writing suggesting that some-how it was the well-intentioned budding nation of Pakistan that was wronged by the arrogant new power India under the strong-man Home Minister Patel, with Nehru unable to do anything since his hands were tied because of public pressure. But then again, her chapter on Kashmir is well worth a read since it explains the circumstances from a British point-of-view and gives some justification for referring the issue to United Nations. The final chapter also seems unnecessary; meandering into territories which do not suit the general setting of the book.

Indian Summer, in fact, is not so much of an extended gossip column as has been advertised in many places. It mainly speaks about the fears, aspirations, indecisiveness and hopes of Mountbatten, Edwina, Nehru, Jinnah and Gandhi during the beginning of a new era in the world’s history. It is a curate’s egg of an effort, but none the less, admirable. I end this review with one of the more lachrymal episodes of the book.

At 7:30 the next morning, the Turners‘ secretary knocked on Edwina‘s door. There was no reply. She opened it to see the Countess Mountbatten of Burma lying on the bed. Her body was already cold. She had suffered heart failure a few hours before. Still one of the world‘s richest women, she had had no splendid possessions with her; only a pile of old letters on the bedside table. She must have been reading them when she died, for a few, having fluttered from her hands, were strewn across her bed. They were all from Jawaharlal Nehru.

Edwina had a horror of being interred in the claustrophobic family vault at Romsey Abbey and had asked her husband to bury her ―in a sack at sea. HMS Wakeful was offered by the Admiralty and sailed from Portsmouth. The coffin was discharged into the waves from beneath a Union Jack. Mountbatten, in tears, kissed a wreath of flowers before throwing it into the sea. The Wakeful was escorted by an Indian frigate, the Trishul. Jawaharlal Nehru had sent it all the way to the English Channel, just to cast a wreath of marigolds into the waves after Edwina‘s coffin.

The Muslim Leadership In India – The Ultimate Sham – Part 1

After a really long time, on a good weekend, finally I reached the fabled Usman Road and Ranganathan Street in T. Nagar. The place was nothing short of a concentration camp (may be a tad too exaggerative). The path leading from the sub-urban railway station to the main road was a suffocating journey. I needn’t have actually walked, I could stay there and the crowd would push me forward. “Soochi kuththan polum idamilla” as the saying goes in Malayalam. You don’t have a place to even stick a needle on the ground. One would assume, the saying was created keeping Ranganathan Street in mind.
And then my mind started thinking something really gruesome – about terror attacks. One assault would have triggered a massive disaster in the place. T Nagar commercial area is the most crowded place in Chennai, where people from all walks of life and economic strata go for their purchase. In Deepavali days, the crowd would be a lot worse. A terror attack would be fatal to one and all present there, considering the number of people who visit the place, the number of shops present there and the swelling crowd which also surrounds the main shopping region. Not only will the crowd be affected in an unimaginably horrifying way, but also the resulting stampede around the commercial area would cause further chaos. I was not able to stay there longer, with all these horrifying thoughts, and I left.
This is just one example, how in a perverse way, the Islamic terrorists have entered the psyche of Indian population. Everyday people are living in fear, if not in a blatantly explicit way, at least in the deep recesses of their minds. As depicted poignantly in “A Wednesday”, those travelling in sub-urban railways do not know if they are going to meet each other the next day. And why do we fear; just because a set of Muslim fundamentalists want to wage Jihad on non-Muslims? Is that it? I find it ridiculous that India, one of the most progressive nations in the world, with as much state welfare-ism and entitlement-based schemes a nation can have; a nation in which the discrimination towards its minorities, if not non-existent, is positively low; is  subjected to such gruesome and inhuman acts. Not one citizen of India finds any justification as to why we, of all the people, who are here in a corner of the world, trying to mind our own business, trying to cope up with our irresponsible politicians, with more than half the population struggling to meet another day’s end; should suffer at the hands of some lunatics, just because they think they have been told to do so by some heavenly ordain. We don’t want yet another burden, thank you, we are miserable enough.
When situation in India reeks of such a terrorist threat at any point of time, is it abnormal that there is a sense of alienation and fear? Let us take RSS as an example. When Nathuram Godse got arrested in connection with Mahatma Gandhi’s murder, it was found that he was a member of RSS. RSS was subsequently banned by Jawaharlal Nehru and Savarkar was politically and socially ostracized by the ruling elites. None of the “national leaders” even attended the funeral ceremony of this nationalist leader. Did we see media preaching to others, asking everyone to be kind to RSS, because although Nathuram Godse may have been a member, he was not one at the time of the assassination and that there is a good possibility that the Sangh may not have had a hand in the Gandhiji’s murder? Did anyone preach that such a phobia is uncalled for? Did someone pinpoint the sheer scale of social work that RSS has been involving it in? Not then, not now. We only have self-indulgent journalists of the likes of Sagarika Ghose, trying to doubt what the Sangh conspires, even when they are helping the terrified North Eastern people to go back home. She asked “Why [is the] RSS [the] self-appointed protector of NE students? Where are [the] law and order, police and state machinery? What’s the hidden agenda here?” The same media shamelessly broadcasted how Muslim clerics and members from Muslim communities were helping these hapless Indians. This is not to be misconstrued that Muslims should not be shown by the media as kind-hearted accommodating people. Focus was not on the fact that North Easterners were leaving because they were being threatened by Muslim fanatics, but that since RSS is doing its very best to help them, i.e. since RSS being “overtly helpful” they must be cooking up some nasty conspiracy inside the Sangh Parivar National Instability and Saffron Terrorism Private Ltd.
 At this point, let us, including the Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians and every other people of all religions, let us ask ourselves as Indians, what is the Muslim leadership doing to allay the fear that they care more about the nation than about Jihad, than about what is happening to Muslims of other nation? Any topic which deals with such a question will be met with the standard response “Why should Muslims prove their patriotism? We need not prove anything to anyone. We are as much Indians as anyone is and we don’t need a certificate of Indian-ness from a bunch of right wingers.” A very admirable defence and it is to be appreciated. But remember that from time immemorial the onus lies on wrong doers to prove that they have straightened themselves. The onus is on Germany to say that they do not hate Jews, it is not the other way round, the onus is on Israel to prove that they don’t have a pathological hatred for Palestinian Muslims instead of other way round, the onus is on the whites to show that they are not racists, the onus is on Muslims to show us that they care for India most and religion later. After all it is not as if Muslims are a historically wronged group like the people from Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes.
The incidents which have been lately cropping up, reminiscent of the 1990s when the appeasement and the concept of Muslim martyrdom were at its peak, show that nothing has changed in 20 years, and if possible, it has worsened with the 8 year rule of UPA. Let us see some example.
1.       Vandemataram 

 Jam ait-e-Ulema Hind or the JEU on Tuesday issued a fatwa against singing national song ‘Vande Mataram’ saying in their resolution that Muslims should not sing ‘Vande Mataram’ as it’s reciting is against the Islam. The resolution, which was passed at the Deoband national convention meet, says that Muslims should not sing ‘Vande Mataram’ as some verses of the patriotic song are against the tenets of Islam. The JEU leader said that the some of the line in the song is against Islam.” said a Times of India article.  The sad part is that Hon. Home Minister of India, Mr. P Chidamabaram was right there on the stage when such resolutions were announced. Congress responded in its ever apologetic tone, reserved for appeasing Muslim anger since time immemorial, “This is a very sensitive issue. It is our national song. And there are also religious sentiments attached. Keeping in mind all these facts, the issue should not be made controversial” Standard argument is as given by Mr. Kamal Farooqui, SP leader and a member of Muslim Law Board: “We love the nation but can’t worship it”, and it follows the same mould as that of the leader of the erstwhile Samata Party, Syed Sahabuddin’s comment “I do not consider it devta.I respect it. I do not worship it.


Written on 2nd October 2012 

Link to other parts

  1. Part 2 – Assam Riots

  2. Part 3 – Ghaziabad Riots

  3. Part 4 – Muslim Youth Radicalisation

  4. Part 5 – “Innocence of Muslims” 

  5. Part 6 – A Chance for Indian Muslims