Monday, March 19, 2018

Roy Moxham's Great Hedge of India: A Review and a reflection on Historical Method

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

Marc Bloch the great French historian published a book that is unfortunately not widely known: French Rural History. In that book he argued that it is possible to look at the cadastral surveys produced during the era of the French Revolution in order to reconstruct the rural history of France. For eaxample why did Brittany and parts of France have an Open Field system and eclosed fields in other parts. Using the documents of a later age to reconstruct the social and economic landscape of an earlier epoch, the regressive method, has become a powerful tool of research. In the Graet Hedge of India, Roy Moxham does something similar. He has used the maps of the first half of the nineteenth century to trace the remanants of the Permit Line or the Custom Line thta separated the territories of the East India Company from those of the so called dependent states that had been brought under the overall suzerainty of the Company.
The Great Hedge of India
A map showing the Custom Line
 The defeat  of the Maharatas in 1818 for all practical purposes left the East Indiat India Companyin a dominant position politically and militarily. From this singular historical fact stemmed a huge atrocity that even the genius, the political genius of Mohandas Gandhi barely grasped: the creation of a salt monopoly that was hugely profitable to the East India Company, but a terrible calamity visited upon the people of India. Maxham, unlike Indian historians, who write modern history with their eyes firmly fixed on the crumbs falling from the polical banquet, is unburdened by any expectation, except the thrill of historical discovery and analysis. From a stray, almost an aside in the Rambles and Recollections of Col. Sleeman, he stumbled upon the refence to the Custom Line or Parmat Lian as the "natives" termed it. Seeking to see if traces of this Custom Line still survived he sets off on a rather uninspiring journey across the badlands of Northern India: Chambal, Jhansi, Etawah, Erich. He even approached the Remote Sensing Agency of India for satellite imagery of the areas he is interested in but the price quoted, US $ 16,000 is way beyond his reach and so he perseveres on until he finally sees for himself a stretch of the anceint hedge near Jhansi.

Roy Moxham is extremely affectionate toward India and in a slightly partonizing tone even wrote his Theft of India as a reposte to the apologists of the Raj of whom we find an ever increasing number, especially after the disease of Postt Colonial Theory hit the Indian academia. He argues that the purpose of the Custom Line was to prevent the smuggling of salt from the Princely territories into the Company possessions. By a historical accident, the major salt producing areas of India, Bengal and Madras fell into the hands of the Company very early and these were the major salt producing territiries of India. Salt was extensively and freely traded all across the land until the East India Company established the Salt Monopoly and created an elaborate officiadom to control the manufacture and exort of salt. In order to prevent the Salt from British territoris from leaving without the collection of a steep tariff, the Custom Line was first established near Allahabad and Benares and soo stretched nealrly 1280 miles up to the North West Frontier Province. The Custom Line was a huge hedge with thory briar trees and thick shrub 20 feet high and 15 feet broad. In 1878 the Custom Line was abandoned after fiece criticism in the House of Commons.

I found the book interesting and will certainly reccomend it to those interested in historical sleuthing.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Killing Fields of Kerala: The lynching of Madhu

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
Add captiMadhu at the hands of his captors

Look at the expression on the man's face: a vacant look of terror. A few seconds after this picture was taken the man died and his only crime was that he was a tribal in a state ruled by the Communist Party of India, the Marxist faction. Madhu was a tribal youth from Attydapy, a palce made famous by the struggle of Janu whose fast highlighted the plight of tribals in Kerala. Since the CPM faction has come to power, killings have become an endemic party of Kerala politics. The CPM has been involved in systematically terrorising its opponents in Kannur and Malappuram districts.Estimates vary. However nearly 40 BJP and RSS workers have been hacked to death since the Marxist faction came to power.

 The Popular Front of India, a radical Muslim outfit has been give a free run and it is suspected that the Marxists have outsourced the elimination of their opponents to the PFI and even mainstream Indian politicians like Hamid Ansari, the former Vice President of India, patronise this outfit. Since prosecution is in the hands of the State Government, there is little fear that there will be justice. And since RSS and BJP cadre are being systematically targeted, it is possible for the Marxists to maintain deniability and claim that it is the usual Hindu/Muslim problem. However, the failure of the state to act and apprehend the criminals is sufficient proof that the CPM organization supports these extra judicial killings.

The rapid strides taken by the BJP is shoring up its support base is causing alarm bells to ring. The BJP even won a seat in the last Assembly election. There is a caste dimension to the violence as well. The backbone of the marxist faction which is entrenched in power is the Ezhava community, a backward caste that is now powerful. The Tiya, are contesting the hegemony of the Ezhavas and they have rallied around  the RSS and the BJP. The Muslims who form a sizable part of the electorate are feeling the heat of the changed political dimension and are resorting to unabashed violence. In fact the majority of the men involved in the lynching of poor tribal, Madu, are muslims. And there is apprehension that the state willgo soft on them for political reasons.

The lynching of Madhu, a poor starving tribal who stole 200 Rs worth of rice exposes the hypocrisy of the Indian mainstream media. The Liberals went ballistic over the killing of Gauri Lankesh and one or two from their fraternity. It now appears that all the killings were in the nature of private revenge and had nothing to do with the Central Government though there were loud protests over the killing of Kalburgi, Dhabolkar and Lankesh all of which took place in Congress ruled states. Now this crime committed by Muslims in a Communists ruled State is proving to be a real dilema. The liberals are brought up to believe that crime with a gree tinge is best swept under the carpet and this has happened.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


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

Election Atlas of India
Datanet India Publication
Election Atlas of India
India, by common consent, the world'sDemocracy
has been condusting perodic Elections from 1952 and the General Elections of 2014 was momentous in that for the first time in 30 years a single National party emerged with a clear majority, albeit a majority of just 10 seats. Elections in India are extrmely complexin terms social, political and legal issues and can be a logistical nightmare in some instances. The use of the Electronic Voting Machine has revolutionized India elections and India can proudly claim that it conducts the fairest and the freest elections in the world. There are serious doubts over the democratic credentials of USA especially when it comes to voting rights for non white citizens. I do not think there is a comprehensive Atlas for US elections and the Book under review is a valuable resource for anyone interested in Election Studies. The organization of Big Data mined form a host of Election Commission Reports and the like is a huge challenge and the Editors have done a great job assembing the complex data in tabular form with accompanying maps.

An iteresting feaure of the Atlas is the use of GIS for generating maps of Indian parliamentary elections.I am sure that political parties like the BJP will find a wealth of information in this Atlas and if integrated with the Census Data and the National Sample Survey data, a political party can generate both the socia-economic profile of the Constitueny as well as its electoral history. Basic political data like total number of electorate and its division, the number of candidates in the constituency, the votes polled, the margin of vicctory, the number of polling station are all visually represnted in the Atlas. Interestingly, the distibution of political parties that came second in each parliamentary constituency across 16 General Elections is also given.Statistically significant data such as the margin of victory as conforming to or deviating from the national median is also given. Section II, entitled Election Timeline and General Info gives us a clear picture of certain sighnificant aspects of each parliamentary poll: the constituencies with the highest and the lowest turnout, the victory margin, the pecentage of votes that resulted in victory etc.

This book is a fantastic excersise in Big Data Anaysis and presnetation. I wish politics departments of Indian Universites teach their students how to use this wealth of information in their anaysis. One fact that emerges clearly, contrary to popular perception is that the BJP out performs all other National political parties in temrs of winning SC reserved seats and ST reserved seats.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Vairamuthu and his Tasteless Rehetoric against Andal: Dravidian Party Ideologues insult Sri Vaishnava Religion

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

Vairamuthu is said to be a "poet" and anyone familiar with the kind of poetry he pens will be aware that he is a past master in suggestive alliterations by which vulgarity masquerades as innocent observation. The more vulgar the better. His value in the wholesale market of politcs increases. In places like Singapore Vairamuthu's poetic excesses are banned. And now his latest outburst agasinst Andal of Srivilliputtur.
The fact is the the Dravidian movement and its ideologues have always had an ambivalent relationship with Sri Vaishana stream of Tamil philosophy. Indeed, the addiction ot the Classical Age notions pertaining to Tamil antiquity may also stem from the fact that the Pure Tamil Movement represented by the likes of Sundara Pillai and Purnalingam were either ignorart of the Vaishnava literature or were committed to Siva Siddantha that the Manipravala of Sri Vaishnavism was anathema to them. Either way, Siva Siddhanta excluded Vaishana literature and Philosophy from being considered as the part and parcel of the inclusive Tamil religious tradition. The Bahkti corpus includes several great pieces composed by Antal. In Nachiyar Tirumoli, Andal writes:
Dark clouds ready for the season of rain,
chant the name of the Lord of Venkatam, who is valliant in battle
Tell him, like the lovely leaves that fall in the season of rains.
I waste away through the long endless years
waiting for the day when He finally sends word.
This blending of Bhakti with the passion of the akam genre of poetry is the unique trait of both Andal and Karaikkal Ammaiyar. And Bhakti is not the erotic fantasy that the darkended dravidian mind makes it out to be. And calling Andal a "devadasi" is not just insulting a vibrant strand 0f Sri Vaishnava thought but a supreme act of ignorance and I am not surprised. 
Dravidian ideologues have consistently insulted Vaishana Religion and indeed the very marker of identity of the Sri Vaishnava, the tiru nammam, is often presented as a symbol of chicanery and fraud. It is time to condemn such intolerance and punish those who have the termity to insult the divine. Vairamuthu has done precicely that: he has insulted Vaishanva tradition deliberately and in a provocative manner and he must be punished. Will the fellow dare to speak of Jesus or Mohammad in this manner.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The perils of Identity Politics: The Koregoan Riots and the rewriting of History

A look at the world of politics, statecraft, diplomacy and books
The Koregoan Memorial
The tall Pillar illustrated above is an unlikely candidate for heroic adulation. However, the riots that have broken out in Maharashtra, in Koregoan in particular, have everything to do about the identiy marinated History that passes off as Historiography in post colonial India. It comes as no surprise to me that JNU is at the forefront of the recasting of the memories associated with the Koregoam Memorial. January 1, 2018 marked the 200 year of the defeat of the Peshwa at the hands of the East India Company and one can expect that the defaet of an Indian ruler will be seen as a tragic act in the long drama of India's decline into servitude. Not so. The defeat of the Maharattas is celebrated by those who make the annual visit to this Memorial which commenmorates the victory of the East India Company over the Mahratta Forces. Like the debate over the statues of dead Confederate soldiers in the American South, the Koregoan Memorial has been appropriated to serve a counter narrative. The contestation of memory engendered by Identity Politics is wholly inappropriate and makes a supreme mockery of the craft of writing History and Memoria.

The defeat of the Mahrattas in 1818 sealed the fate of India as the Nizam of Hyderabad had already joined hands with the Engliah and was brought into the frame work of the Subsidiary Alliance. The Mahratta Confederacy held out but it was weakened by the internal quarrels of the Sardars. The Scindias were the first to join hands with the East India Company and the Gaikwads and the Holkars followed suit. The Peshwa was left without a fighting force and there was hardly any revenue at his disposal. But he happened to be a Chitpavan Brahmin and therefore the defeat of the Peshwa become a victory against "oppressive caste system". The counter narrative that transforms the Peshwa into a symbol of caste oppression and therefore the defeat of the maharttas at the hands of the East India Company becomes a potent symbol of caste liberation. The Independent MLA from Gujarat, Jijnesh Melwani has endored precicely this counter narrative.

The reason for celebartion of Peshwa's defeat is not hard to find. 900 "Mhar" soldiers led by Col. Staunton defeated an army of nearly 20,000 Mahratta troops. The English Parliament was estatic and in the Parlimantary debates of 1818 the battle figured almost as prominently as the one that ended Napoleon's rule in Waterloo in 1815. The Koregoan Memorial was commissioned by the East India Company in the bright afteglow of victory. The participation of "mahar" soldiers in the Battle and the fact that it ended Mahratta Rule made the Koregoab Memorial a potent symbol of Identity Politics. Dr B R Ambedkar visited the Memorail on January 1, 1927 and declared,"We are here to remember that our Mahar forefathers faught bravely and brought down unjust Peshwa rule". It matters little that Peshwa rule by this time had becoem hollow and most of the Mharatta Confederacy was ruled by Maharatta Sardars who were either of Dhangar origin like the Holkars or belonged to lesser castes which are today listed as Scheduled Castes, the Shides, the Gaikwads, the Bonseles etc. I am bringing this point up only to underscore the point that power in the late Mahratta Empire had slipped from the hands of the Peshwas and was firmly in the hands of the Sardars and yet the Chitpavan Brahmins become a convenient whipping boy. This misue of History as a hand maiden of Identity Politics is what makes contemporary post colonial historiography both bad and dangerous.

What is the evidence for concluding that 900 mahars were responsible for the defeat of the Peshwa/Mahtratta Army. The Memorial erected by the East India Company gives us the names of the soldiers who perished in the battle and some of the names end in "nac" and it is therefore concluded that they belonged to an SC caste. Even in the case of the Madras Army the bulk of the recruits came from the so called "paraiah" caste.

The civil conflict that is raging in Mahrashtra is a direct outcome of the Identy Politics grounded in false History as I have shown.

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.