Sunday, November 5, 2017

Legacies of British Slave-ownership: A Review

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Legacies of British Slave-ownership: Colonial Slavery and the Formation of Victorian Britain
Cahtherine Hall, Nicholas Draper, Keith McClelland, Katie Domington and Rachel Lang
London: Cambridge University Press 2016

In 2007, on the occasion of the bi-centineal celebration of the Abolition of the  Slave Trade, or at least the Atlantic Ocean segment of the "nefarious trade" England experience on orgy of triumphalism: chest thumping about its great moral decision and a vindication of Christian commitment to Human Dignity. I agree that MPs like William Wilberforce and the great Edmund Burke did display a deep revulsion toward Slavery and the Edinburgh Review was one of the few journals that worked public sentiment against the Slave Trade. It is important to remember this today as Scotland prepares to bolt from the Union of 1707 and Britain will shrink to the boundries of its Roman past.
The book under review is a prosopographical study of slave ownership in Great Britain in the year 1834 when Slavery was officially abolished in the British territories. Ironically the Abolition of Slavery Act passed by the House of Commons in 1833 was the first legal recognition that slavery, as a form of servitude, existed in British territories. 
Legacies of British Slave Ownership

The abolition of Slavery neccesitated the creation of a Commission to pay compensation to the Slave Owners who stood to gain an enormous sum of 20 Million pounds as compensation for around 28,000 slaves who were freed at least on paper. An Apprenticeship Agreement meant that many had to continue on the estates of their masters for another 6 years. And that too did not mean the end of servitude. William Gladstone's family owned nearly 3000 slaves in British Gyanna and Abolition meant economic disaster to John Gladstone. Fortunately for him, India by that time was sufficiently tamed to supply Indentured Servants to work on the very same plantations which had freed its slaves. Hugh Tinker has rightly called Indenture a "New Kind of Slavery".This book is based on the Records of the Slave Compensation Commission and cover the estates in St Kitts, St Vincent, Jamaica, Trinidad, Tobago, Surinname and a few other places. The transfer of 20 million pounds from the public exchequer to private hands marks an important ship in the social or rather class structure of modern Britain. One can even argue that the social foundation of modern Britain lies in this singular historical event.

The Oxford Dictionary of Nation Biography, the gold standard of British aristocracy and its social legitimacy does not quite reflect the extent to which the ruling political class of England, both of the Victorian Era and of the post World War II Era derived its economic strength from the slave compensation monies. West Indian Merchant Houses, Insurance Companies, Shipping Companies, Trading Houses, Banking Houses were all implicated in this Great Game of slave compensation and the 20 million pounds would be worth nearly 2 billion pounds into todays exchange rate.
The document on the left is a page from the Slave Compensation Commission Records preserved at Kew Archives. From the study of the record of nearly 30,000 compensation paid out the authors estimate that more than 75% of the beneficiaries were from England with Scotland accounting for around 18 to 19% and Ireland a mere 4%. The figures are illustrative of the fact that the Industrial Revolution and the expansion of Britain into Asia, particularly India and other regions was symptomatic of a social order that was changing with the infusion of Capital. Eric Williams did not use these records but his insight into the development of English capitalism as a direct consequence of Slavery seems to be borne out. More interestingly, women figure quite prominently as slave owners who claimed compensation. This was because of the financial insitutions morgating their estates along with slaves and the mortgagee inheriting the property. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

The Life and Times of Dr Subramanian Swamy: Some Glimpses

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Evolving with Subramanian Swamy: A Roller Coaster Ride
By Roxna Swamy
New Delhi 2017.                               

Writing the biography of a major political personality is beeset with challenges. And when a spouse pens the biography, it is likely to be dismissed as laudatory, biased and uncritical. Fortunately the biography of Dr Subramanian Swamy by his wife of over 40 years, the noted lawyer Roxna Swamy is not a wide eyed adulatory account of a major political personality of contemporary India. Of course, she is not overly critical of him but Subramanian Swamy emerges from the pages of the book under review as a determined, courageous, unforgiving and at times vengeful man. At the same time, the tenacity with which Dr Swamy has pursued the powerful and the corrupt is ably documented in the book. If India did not have a Subramanian Swamy, I have no hesitation is saying that the goonds politicians would be running the country with impunity, Single handedly he took on the might of the Indian state has has brought to the bar of justice Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi, Kanimozhi, Raja and scores of other corrupt political figures. It requires immense moral courage to do this and Dr Swamy has demonstrated that.

For persons of my generation, who came of age during the Emergency, Dr Subramanian Swamy will ever remain a Hero. The book gives us details of how he escaped from India during the Emergency and his dramatic reapearance in Parliament disguised as a sardar is legendary. The petty minded Indiara Gandhi and her Congress party expelled Swamy from the Rajya Sabha on patently fraudelent grounds, but Dr Subramanian Swamy reentered the Lok Sabha from the Bombay North East Constituency, the largest Lok Sabha Constituency in India. He had been promised the New Delhi seat, but the machinations of Atal Behari Vajpayee seems to have put paid to the hope of getting that seat. Vajpayee himself contested that seat and I was his booth agent in 1977 in the R K Puram polling booth.  Roxna seems to suggest that Vajpayee was bent on subverting the political carreer of Dr Swamy and ensured his exclusion from the Janata Party Ministry which was formed, The other pet peeve was Rama Krishna Hegde who tried to marginalize Swamy but the great Machiavelian that Swamy is, made Hegde eat crow by getting him to resign following the telephone tapping scandal.

Dr Subramanian Swamy is a towering figure in Indian politics and owes his palce entirely to the splendid intellect that he commands. Indian politics has seen two great intellectuals, Dr Ambedkar and Dr Swamy and both possess a doctorate from US Universities. Dr Swamy was educated at Harvard University from where he received his Ph D under the guidance of Simon Kuznetz. In his political life, Dr Swamy has been faithful to two very important principles: he is a beleiver in Capitalism as an economic system that promises equality and prosperity and he has always advocated a good diplomatic ties with Israel. In the pursuit of these goals he has not sververed during his long years in public life. Dr Swamy has utter contempt for the Nehruvian brand of state socialism which promoted corruption, inequality and mediocrity.

James Joll once wrote a book, Intellectuals in Politics. In India, Dr Swamy is the closest we have ever had of a politician who is highly educated, a power house of ideas, dedicated to the principle of a free society and above all a dogged and determined crusader against the endemic corruption. He is a broad minded individual as his personal life demonstrates his open mindedness.

I enjoyed reading this book.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Frozen Frames by D Vasudeva Rao: Memory and Fulfillment

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Frozen Frames: A Life of  Fulfillment
D Vasudeva Rao
Chennai: 2017
An interesting read

The author of the book, Frozen Frames: A Life in Fulfillemt, has chosen an apt title. Reflecting on his life, Janus like, two generation before him and forward to two generations after him, Vasudeva Rao has charted his professional journey from a professional Chartered Accountant to a highly challenging and rewarding career in the world of corporate institutions, global competition and one that saw the transition of India form a protected licence and quota raj to the fast changing reality of a global India. The fact that an individual's life is caught in the cusp of  major historical and systemic forces over which he/she has little control and the choices that constitute the frozen frames of memory is the stuff of autobiography and the author has traversed this territory with ease and great aplomb.

On page 18 the author sets out the ethnic and linguistic identity of his family in terms of three terms: Marathi, Deshastha and Madhva. A linguistic, regional and a sectarian (Vaishnava Dwaita) describe the matrix within which the life can be structured and situated. Reading Vasudeva Rao's book makes one wonder how the vast tectonic social transformations in South India, the anti brahmin Movement, the triumph of the Justice Party and its later day incarnation, the DMK led to this small community which numbered around 15,000 in the Census of 1911,lose its elan and today is in the danger of losing its identity as it struggles to keep afloat against the rising tide of political, linguistic and ethnic oppression. He is a Marathi speaker and a descendent of Gyano Pant who migrated into South India when the Maratha Empire was at its height. Deshasta, meaning from the Desh as a contrast to Konkanastha, from the coast was a geographical term referring to the plains south of the Ghats and stretching into Bijapur. Madhva, a sectarian affiliation, underscores the importance the Udipi Mutts have had in shaping the collective identity of this small but vibrant community marooned on the shoals of time. The author pays equal attention to all the three aspects of his individual and social history. As the Maratha empire expanded and as there was need to collect revenue from a fragmented and dispersed land holdings from which the Confederacy drew its fiscal resources, Deshesta revenue managers were appointed in different parts of the empire. Modi remained the language of revenue records until 1834 when it was supplanted by the vernacular.

Vasudeva Rao sketches the social horizon of his own family by an extended foray into kinship, both affinal and agnatic. Family ties played an important role in providing security and opportunity. The Marathi Deshastha who settled in Madras, now Chennai, soon adopted the regal functions of patronage of culture and music and in neighbourhoods like Mylapore, Tyagaraja Nagar and Besant Nagar set up Sabhas for musical performances and theatre groups. The Raj was not the least interested in the fragments of South Indian culture that still lingered and Institutions like Music Academy set up by Shri T V Subba Rao and Vani Mahal played a seminal role in the preservation of culture and identity. The author has rightly drawn our attention to these landmark institutions.

The author has leld several senior positions in the Corporate sector and he has given rich and illuminating details of his life, achievements and personal philosophy. Like the Jews the Deshestas are modernizing while simultaneously retaining their religious rituals and performative texts. I enjoyed reading this book and is a rare document of social history as well.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Politics over Death in India: Anita and Gauri Lankesh victims of politics

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

Tamil Nadu is going through it's periodic bout of politically instigated crisis like the Jallikattu Agitation soon after the killing of Jayalalithaa. Anita's death is a tragedy and the mercilessly heartless Tamil politicians are cooking their rice on the funeral pyre of this girl.

The fact is that Tamil politicians find her more useful dead than alive and so her death must be investigated. We know how people whose death is convenient for the DMK like DGP Durai and Bashs of Emerald Enterprises were found dead. More recently the guards at Jayalalithaa,,:s house were killed; one by alleged robbers at the Konsdu estate and the other on a road accident near Salem. I suspect the involvement of politicians in her death and are now milking the tragedy. None of these thugs ever bothered to protest when do dalit girls were forced to commit suicide due to their inability to pay the fees on a non descript college in Villupuram. So the fact is that politicians involved in running self financing medical colleges are threatened by NEET and hence this Agitation. Anita seems to have been a bright student who secure 1186  marks in her Board Examination. However she was able to get only 86 marks in the All India entrance examination for admission to Medical School. She approached the Supreme Court as a petitioner against NEET on the plea that it discriminated against those who studies in the State Board Scheme and favored the CBSE students. The Supreme Court of India did not find merit in this argument at all and made NEET the sole basis for admission to the MBBS course. It is also binding on Minority Institutions.

There is a thriving racket in Medical Education in India and Tamil Nadu is one state in which politicians are financing their elections through "capitation fees" extorted from students. A seat in a Medical College sells for nearly a crore and only the rich and the corrupt can afford to send their wards to medical schools. The NEET was an attempt to bring about accountability and transparency in the system and this process adversely affected the fortunes of the very politicians who were involved in running the Medical Colleges. A cabal of medical educators and their political supporters started a movement against NEET and like the earlier Jallikkattu Agitation soo went out of hand. Students who did not protest when 6 dalit girls committed suicide when the College extorted money in the form of special feels to the tunme of a few thousand rupees started agitating for the abolition of NEET. The hold of the predatory Tamil politicians on the minds of the stdents is rather disturbing. Fortunately the Supreme Court has directed the state govertnments to take firm steps to control the unseely protests.

Gauri Lankesh was killed two days back and the comments of the Clown Prince of the Congress party, Rahul Gandhi and Sitaram, the former General Secretary of the violent and criminal CPM have started a war of words in the Indian Media. The politicians hoping to gain political mileage started the whisper campaignb that the BJP was behind the murder and BJP was quick in its reponse. The fact is that the family of the slain journalist who was convicted for publ;ishing false and slanderous news, has blamed a Naxalite for the killing. It has become fashionable to blame the RSS for everyting. In the earlier muders of Kalburgi and others the RSS was blamed and in one case it was determined that property dispute lay at the root of the crime. A few days back Pankaj Mishra a Hindi journalist was shot for publishing a story on the corruption of Laloo Prasad Yadava and onver the course of the past two years several jouralists have been killed and there was no outrage. The Media in India seems to be embracing selecctive outrage and that is not a good sigh for democracy.

Gauri Lankesh inherited her paper from her father who started the Magazine as a scandal sheet and made a lot of money by practicing the fine art of blackmail, extortion and mixed it with a social agenda of anti brahmanism, Gauri herself was a late advocate of a separate identity for the Lingayats and this may have created ripples. In any event the BJP and RSS had nothing to do with her death and it is upto the state government to investigate and arrst the culprits.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Narendar Modi's Independence Day Address to the Nation

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

On August 15th Narendar Modi addressed the Nation from the ramparts of the Red Fort in Delhi, a ritual that was begun by Jawarlal Nehru. The speech itself, just over fifty five minutes long, was significant for what it said and more significant for want it left out. Cleverly crafted, the speech hit all the right notes: it addressed the pluralistic ethos of India and also underscored the need to reach out to the people of Kashmir. Na Gali se na Goli se, magar gala lagane se: Not with hars rhetoric or bullets but with love can the problem of Kashmir be solved, This is a throwback to the call for Insaniyat made several years back by Atal Behari Vajpayee,

First; let me state what was left out. There was no word on the Agrarian Crisis that is sweeping the country. Everyday more than a dozen farmers are committing suicide all over the country. Modi chose not to address this vital problem. Job creation has not really been addressed. During the run up to the 2014 General Election, Narendar Modi spoke about jobs and development. In thios Speech, three years after coming to power, he remains silent on this vital question. Jobs have all but disappeared and the jobs that have been created are just low skill, low paying jobs in the service sector. With much fan fare Skill India Digital India was launched and the Make in India programme launched a few years back. Today these initiatives reamin just pious hopes, nothing has changed on the ground. Quite wisely, Narendar Modi when he spoke of making a New India wisely kept these initiative out of his discourse. He knows that the ground reality is much different.

On the issue of demonitization, Modi was on firm ground. There is no doubt that the move has led to a vast increase in the tax base and revenue of the Government. The discovery of 300,000 lakh crores of hidden wealth will go a long way in putting an end the the menance of Balck Money. There is no doubt that demoniotization has been a success and the promise of a cash less digital economy has not been realized.

The Government of India under narendar Modi is neglecting the whole Higher Education Sector. I agree that the previous Governm,ents have destroyed the fabric of Indian higher education. However, the present Government has not taken any concrete steps to improve the quality and content of education. It rankels Indian mind that China has atleat 20 Universities in the world's top Universities and India has none. However, the polcies enunciated so far are not conducive to any great change in this arena. The neglected sector of Higher Education is being killed by begeign neglect.

Modi did not mention the tension at the border. This may be a deliberate decision in order to play down the differences with China.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Twenty Fifth Convocation of Pondicherry University

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

This morning Pondicherry University held its 25th Convocation and as usual, it was a grand event. The Lt Governor of Pondicherry and the Chief Minister of the  Union Territory Shri V Narayanaswamy were both present for the occasion. The Vice Chancellor, Professor Anisa Basheer Khan read out the Convocation Report in which the great strides taken by the University were highlighted. Furthermore, the anxious moments of the last few months were momentarily set aside and the dignitaries graced the event with elan. Justice R Mahadevan, High Court of Madras, gave the Convocation Address in
which he stressed the importance of keep an open mind towards learning.

Dr Kiran Bedi had a special message for the teachers and stated very categorically that teachers should be learners first.

Dr Kiran Bedi, Lt Governor of Pondicherry at the 25th Convocation

Dr Kiran Bedi distributing the degree certificates.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Big Data Algorithms, Inequality and World History: Two Books, Two Visions

Writing the History of the Global

WEapons of Mass Destruction
A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books

The two books reviewed in this blog make interesting reading. the Weapons of Math Destruction by Dr Cathy O'Neil, a Ph D in Mathematics from Harvard University is a spell binding account of the misuse of Statistical Big Data in the world today and the consequent rise in income inequality which in turn widens the gulf between the super rich and those struggling to get along in the world. She points out that the growing trend towards using sophisticated algorithms by corporations such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and the like enable advertisers to target their potential clients with a fair amount of precision. There is a fascinating description of the US Educational Ranking system and the calculated manner in which educational ranking is used to extract Federal Educational Loans on the promise that a College Education will increase the chances of getting a secure well paying job. The author also analyses in great detail the smart, highly educated army of Data Analysts sporting fancy degrees from Ivy League Universities who by letting the Algorithms predict the flow of funds and Capital in the highly volatile realm of high finance contributed to the sub prime crisis that engulfed USA in 2008. Even Barack Obama intervention helped only the big companies escape the consequences of their financial profligacy and his bail out package only shifted the burden onto the shoulders of an already weakening Middle Class. This book is an eye opener and for those who believe that technology is a panacea that is creating a safer and a more democratic world. this is a must read text.

Writing the History of the Global by Maxine Berg is an imaginative look at the cross currents of debate in the field of Global History/World History. The fact that Historiography in the modern sense of the term was the out growth of the advent of the Nation State meant that writing the histories of the Nation State was taken to be the real and vital task of the professional Historian. The Nation State dictated its own narrative and Historians had to find justification for their task within the limits set of the Nation State. The contrived debates in India between the Secularists and their opponents is essentially a debate between the political conceits of the Nation State and the Civilizational Ethos of an Old but Wounded Civilization. The disillusionment with the contrived and false pretensions of the Nationalist view of History and the Leftist paradigms led to the rise of the so called Subaltern School. With its marriage of convenience with the post colonial/linguistic approaches to the past, the subalterns lost all credibility leaving behind a wreckage of unreadable prose. The Global History perspective elaborated in this book is an excellent alternative to the procrustean bed of Nation State Histories. Trade, Conquest, Migration have always linked the world and such trend and developments do not adhere to the limits of the present day Nation State.