Archive for October, 2010

India misses Pipeline of Prosperity

After fourteen years of delayed negotiations over what started as the Iran – Pakistan – India (IPI) cross boarder gas pipeline project, Pakistan and Iran have finally signed a $ 7.6 billion agreement in Tehran on May 20, 2010. The project termed as the ‘peace pipeline’ by officials of both countries, has been signed in presence of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of the tripartite summit on Afghanistan Security in Tehran. The gas pipeline once operational, is expected to take care of as much as 20 per cent of Pakistan’s energy needs.

According to the initial plan, the 2700 kilometer long pipelines would cover around 1100 kilometers in Iran, 1000 kilometers in Pakistan and around 600 kilometers in India, and the size of the pipeline was estimated to be 56 inches in diameter. The estimated project completion time was estimated to be 5 years. The pipeline will deliver 750 million cubic feet of natural gas a day to Pakistan within four years. The pipeline will connect Iran’s giant South Pars gas fields with the troubled Pakistani provinces of Baluchistan and Sindh.

The IPI project was conceived in 1995 and after almost 13 years India finally decided to quit the project in 2008 despite severe energy crisis in the country. Security consideration and inability to come to an understanding with Pakistan over transmission charges saw India waver time and again over joining the project amid speculation that New Delhi is coming under Washington pressure not to do business with Tehran. Delhi has been reluctant to join the project because of its long-running distrust of Islamabad, having fought three wars since independence in 1947.

News paper reports say Pakistan too was facing severe criticism from the US over any kind of economic deal with Iran. The deal was speculated to be not welcomed by the US – because of Tehran’s suspected ambitions to build nuclear weapons. But the sudden change of stance from Pakistani government is seen as softening of stance by the US. This is perhaps the greatest diplomatic coup d’état Pakistan has pulled off in the recent past.

In the aftermath of signing the landmark civilian nuclear deal between President George Bush Junior and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2008, Pakistan too argued that it too should make a similar deal with US, but Washington had not shown much enthusiasm. But now Pakistan has cheaper source of power compared to India’s investments in civilian nuclear reactors to help fulfill its increasing energy demand.

Photo : Copyright with BBC

Demystifying Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi


Gandhiji or  Mahatma (“Great-Souled”), as he was popularly known, pioneered satyagraha. This is defined as resistance to tyranny through mass civil disobedience, a philosophy firmly founded upon ahimsa, or total non-violence. This concept helped India to gain independence, and inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world. In his autobiography, Dr. Martin Luther King wrote that “Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of non-violent social change”.

Such high level talk and India Government red tape has always mystified Gandhi. So on his 142nd Birth Anniversary thought I will do my bit to demystify this bespectacled old man. He was born in Porbandar, a coastal town of Gujarat in India on 2nd October, 1869. His father, Karamchand Gandhi, who belonged to the Hindu Modh community, was the ‘Diwan’ of Porbander state, in the Kathiawar peninsula of Western India. The Gandhi family as well-to-do by Indian standards and at one stage Karamchand Gandhi owned three houses.

Karamchand Gandhi and his fourth wife Putlibai (other three wives having died at child birth) had three sons and Mohandas was the youngest. His elder brother Laxmidas practiced law and became a government treasury official. His other brother, Karsandas, was a sub-inspector of police.

When he was very young Mohandas and a friend stole money from a servant to buy cigarettes. He felt so guilty about the incident that he admitted to his father and never smoked again. With his mother being very spiritual and with the Jain traditions being prevalent in his region, young Mohandas absorbed early influences that would play an important role in his adult life. These included the compassion to sentient beings, vegetarianism, fasting for self-purification, and mutual tolerance between individuals of different creeds.

As child, Mohandas was inspired by the story of ‘Harishchandra’. He in his autobiography admits that it left an indelible impression on his mind and wrote, “It haunted me and I must have acted Harishchandra to myself times without number”. Mohandas Gandhi’s early self -identification with truth and love as the supreme value is traced back to his identification with these epic characters.

In May 1883, Mohandas, who was 13-years old then, got married to Kasturba Makhanji, who was 14-years old. It was an arranged child marriage, as was the custom in that region during those days. 1885, when Gandhi was 15, the couple’s first child was born, but survived only a few days. The couple went on to be proud parents of four children: Harilal, Manilal, Ramdas and Devdas.

Mohandas Gandhi left for London on September 4, 1888, to study law at the University College, and also to get trained as a barrister at the Inner Temple in London. (The Inner Temple was considered by Indians the most aristocratic of the four Inns of Court in London.) He returned to India after completing Law on June 12, 1891. On his return, he was informed that his mother had passed away. Mohandas’s attempts to establish himself as a lawyer failed when he was practising law in Mumbai. After applying and being turned down for a part-time job as a high school teacher, he ended up returning to Rajkot to make a modest living by drafting petitions for litigants.

Mohandas Gandhi arrived in South Africa in 1893 to handle a legal case in Pretoria. During these 21 years he started of and got fully immersed in agitation on behalf of South African Indians. In 1894 he enrolled as Advocate of Supreme Court of Natal, being first Indian to be so enrolled. The same year he founded the Natal Indian Congress and got more committed to South African Indian cause. He stayed on in South Africa for 21 years before returning back to India. In South Africa, Mohandas faced many discrimination directed at Indians. He was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg after refusing to move from the first class to a third class coach while holding a valid first class ticket. Traveling farther on by stagecoach he was beaten by a driver for refusing to travel on the foot board to make room for an European passenger. These events were a turning point in his life and insisted him to launch the ‘Civil Rights Movement’ in South Africa from 1893-1914.

In between in 1896 when Mohandas Gandhi returned to India and continued his agitation on behalf of South African Indians. He toured Mumbai, Chennai, Poona and Kolkata educating Indians in regard to grievances of South African Indians. In 1900 he sends Dadabhai Naroroji draft resolution on South African Indian problem for Indian National Congress session. By 1901 he sails back to India and by 1902 he had almost set up his practice in Mumbai but was called to South Africa to champion Indians’ cause against anti-Asiatic legislation in Transvaal.

In 1906, after the British introduced a new poll-tax, Zulus in South Africa killed two British officers. In response, the British declared a war against the Zulus. Mohandas Gandhi actively encouraged the British to recruit Indians. He argued that Indians should support the war efforts in order to legitimize their claims to full citizenship. The British, however, refused to commission Indians as army officers. Nonetheless, they accepted his offer to let a detachment of Indian volunteers as a stretcher bearer corps to treat wounded British soldiers.

In 1907 Mohandas Gandhi urged all Indians in South Africa to defy a law requiring registration and fingerprinting of all Indians. For this activity he was imprisoned for 2 months, in 1908 but released when he agreed to the ‘compromise’ – voluntary registration after meeting with General Smuts at Pretoria. He was nearly killed by Pathans who regard the compromise, under which Indians are expected to give their finger-prints voluntarily, as a betrayal of Indian interest.

Mohandas Gandhi was jailed 5 times in South Africa between 1908 and 1914. During his second stay in jail he read Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience” and John Ruskin’s Unto This Last, which left a deep impression on him. He was influenced also by his correspondence with Leo Tolstoy in 1909-1910.  He even sent Tolstoy a copy of Indian Home Rule seeking his comments. The years in South Africa was also momentous to Mohandas’s personal life. He declared disinterest in worldly possessions, takes vow of brahmacharya for life, launched a newspaper ‘Indian Opinion’ and gives up European dress and milk and restricted himself to diet of fresh and dried fruit.

In 1912 Mohandas Gandhi invited Gopal Krishna Gokhale, a respected leader of the Indian National Congress Party during that time, to South Africa. Gokhale was impressed with the young barristers work and he introduced Gandhi to Indian issues, politics and the Indian people. He provided personal guidance and mentor-ship to Gandhi.  He advised Gandhi to travel across India in third class compartment to ‘feel India’.

By 1914 Gandhi felt his job in South Africa was complete, and he made plans to leave the country. He left his passive resistance philosophy in South Africa, which was adopted by the African National Congress, and remained their policy of protest up until the 1960s, when the ANC finally decided to resort to violent means of protest against apartheid.

Gandhi returned to India to further develop his ideology in early 1915. He would take up Gokhale’s advice and used trains to travel the length and breadth of India. Few Indians of his time, or indeed since, acquired the knowledge of India that Gandhi was to gain by his travels, and there can scarcely be any Indian who had criss-crossed the country by train as much as Gandhi had done. In 1915, Gandhi, spoke at the conventions of the ‘Indian National Congress (INC)’, and by 1920 Gandhi emerged as the leader of the Indian Independence Movement.

Despite his deep respect for Gokhale, Gandhi would reject Gokhale’s faith in western institutions as a means of achieving political reform and ultimately chose not to become a member of Servants of India Society which Gokhale founded. During this time Gandhi was also influenced by Bal Gangadhar Tilak, another tall leader of the INC and lifelong political opponent of Gokhale. Tilak’s Swaraj (self-rule) and Swadeshi (self-sufficiency) push influenced Gandhiji.

The ‘Jallianwala Bagh’ massacre in Punjab, in 1919 when the British troops killed about 400 innocent unarmed Indians turned the tide. It caused deep trauma to the nation, leading to an increased public anger and acts of violence. Gandhi criticized both the actions of the British Raj and the retaliatory violence of Indians. The same year Gandhi persuaded the INC to launch a Non-Cooperation Movement (1919 – 22) that soon attracted the support of the Muslim community, triggered by his backing the Khilafat movement to restore the Caliph in Turkey.

By 1920 Gandhi commanded influence hitherto unattained by any political leader in India. He refashioned the INC into an effective political instrument of Indian nationalism and undertook major campaigns of nonviolent resistance. Gandhi employed non-cooperation, non-violence and peaceful resistance as his weapons in the struggle against Britishers who occupied India for 200 years.

At the 1921 Ahmedabad sesssion of the INC, Maulana Hazrat Mohani and Swami Kumaranand of the Communist Party of India (CPI) moved the resolution for complete independence for the first time. The resolution signed by M N Roy and Abani Mukherjee, the manifesto called upon the Congress to adopt complete independence as its mission and render full support to the struggles of the working class and peasantry.  The INC initially opposed the ”Complete Independence” resolution proposed by the CPI, but eventually adopted “Purna Swarajya” as its objective in 1930.

Gandhiji expanded his nonviolent non-co-operation platform to include the swadeshi policy – the boycott of foreign-made goods, especially British goods. Linked to this was his advocacy that khadi (homespun cloth) be worn by all Indians instead of British-made textiles. Gandhi exhorted Indian men and women, rich or poor, to spend time each day spinning khadi in support of the independence movement. In addition to boycotting British products, Gandhiji urged the people to boycott British institutions and law courts, to resign from government employment, and to forsake British titles and honours. Gandhi thus began his journey aimed at crippling the British India government economically, politically and administratively. The appeal of “Non-cooperation” grew, its social popularity drew participation from all strata of Indian society.

The Non-Cooperation Movement snowballed into a country-wide agitation which took a violent turn with the Chauri Chaura incident (1922). Following this incident, Gandhiji  suspended the movement. Gandhiji was arrested on 10 March 1922, tried for sedition, and sentenced to six years’ imprisonment. He began his sentence on 18 March 1922, however he was released in February 1924 for an emergency appendectomy.

With Gandhiji isolated in prison, the INC split into two factions, one led by Chittaranjan Das and Motilal Nehru favouring party participation in the legislatures – Council Entry, and the other led by Chakravarti Rajagopalachari and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, opposing this move. In 1923 Chittaranjan Das, popularly known as Deshbandhu, resigned his Presidency of the INC at the Gaya Session after losing a motion on “No Council Entry”. Along with Motilal Nehru and young Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy (Prime Minister of Bengal during the British Raj and Prime Minister of Pakistan), he founded the Swaraj Party. Furthermore, co-operation among Hindus and Muslims ended as Khilafat movement collapsed with the rise of Ataturk in Turkey. Muslim leaders left the Congress and began forming Muslim organisations. The political base behind Gandhiji had broken into factions.

Gandhiji stayed out of active politics and remained so for most of the second half of the 1920s, preferring to resolve the gap between the Swaraj Party and the INC and expanding initiatives against the evil practices of society like, untouchability, alcoholism, ignorance and poverty.  Gandhiji returned to the fore only in 1928 after successfully bringing the INC and Swaraj Party together. By 1926, Motilal Nehru who had joined Swaraj Party had returned to the INC.

Motilal Nehru chaired the famous Nehru Commission in 1928, a counter to the all-British Simon Commission. The Nehru Report, the first constitution written by Indians only, envisioned a dominion status for India within the Empire, akin to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. In December 1928 at the Calcutta Congress over which Motilal Nehru presided was the scene of a head-on clash between those who were prepared to accept Dominion Status and those who would have nothing short of complete independence. A split was averted by a proposal by Gandhiji, according to which if Britain did not concede Dominion Status within a year, the Congress was to demand complete independence and to fight for it, if necessary, by launching civil disobedience.

The Nehru Report was also rejected by the Muslim leadership of India, specially Muhammad Ali Jinnah, who warned the majority Hindu leadership of “shortsightedness and oppressiveness of commission”. In 1929, Motilal Nehru, with his advancing age and declining health, handed over the INC Presidency to Jawaharlal Nehru. Jawaharlal, who had entered the Indian independence movement in 1916, had opposed his father’s preference for dominion status. He had preffered to stay back with the INC when his  father joined Swaraj Party.

The ‘Salt Satyagraha’ campaign was a non-violent protest against the British salt tax in Colonial India which began with the Salt march on March 12, 1930. Gandhiji led the ‘Dandi’ march from his Sabarmati Ashram with growing numbers of Indians joining him along the way. Several thousand marchers walked 241 miles to the coast, where Gandhiji picked up a handful of salt in defiance of the government. When Gandhiji broke the salt laws at the conclusion of the march on April 6, 1930, it sparked large scale acts of civil disobedience against the British Raj salt laws by millions of Indians. This signaled a nationwide movement in which peasants produced salt illegally and Congress volunteers sold contraband salt in the cities. Nationalists gained faith that they could shrug off foreign rule. The march also made the British more aware that they were subjugating India.

Gandhiji was not opposed to compromise. In 1931 he negotiated with the Viceroy Lord Irwin, a pact whereby civil disobedience was to be canceled, prisoners released, salt manufacture permitted on the coast, and Congress would attend the Second Round Table Conference in London. Gandhiji attended as the only Congress representative, but Churchill refused to see him, referring to Gandhi as a “half-naked fakir.”

In 1932, Gandhiji began a fast to the death for the Harijans, opposing a British plan for a separate electorate for them. In this action Gandhiji confronted Harijan leader Dr. Bhimrao Ambedkar, who favored separate electorates as a political guarantee of improved status. As a result of Gandhiji’s fast, some temples were opened to exterior castes for the first time in history. Following the marriage of one of Gandhiji’s sons to a woman of another caste, Gandhiji came to approve only intercaste marriages.

Gandhiji devoted the years 1934 through 1939 to promotion of spinning, basic education, and Hindi as the national language. During these years Gandhiji worked closely with Jawaharlal Nehru in the Congress Working Committee, but there were also differences between the two. Nehru and others came to view the Gandhiji’s ideas on economics as anachronistic. Nevertheless, Gandhiji designated Nehru his successor, saying, “I know this, that when I am gone he will speak my language.”

In 1938 Congress top brass have locked horns with the British Indian Government over release of all freedom fighters from jail. Hectic parleys go on for a week. Neither side blinks.  The strain exhausts the 70 year-old Gandhiji, his blood pressure shoots up and he is bedridden at Subhas Bose’s home on Elgin Road in South Calcutta. Doctors Nilratan Sirkar and Bidhan Roy lead the medical team that is treating Gandhiji.

A worried Ravindranath Tagore arrives to see the man he had named the ‘Mahatma’. But Gandhiji’s bedroom is on the 3rd floor, and the 78-yr old poet cannot climb the stairs. So a chair is brought and Tagore is made to sit upon it and four men carry him upstairs. The four men who carry the chair up three floors were Subhas Chandra Bose, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sarat Chandra Bose and Mahadev Desai.

By 1939 the bickering and frosty relationship between, once follower, Subhash Candra Bose and Mahatma Gandhi reached a climax, when Bose, now slowly asserting his radical views, was elected Congress President for a second term defeating Gandhi-nominated candidate Pattabhi Sitaramayya. Unable to hide his displeasure, Mahatma commented “Subhash’ victory is my defeat.” But this unhealthy environment within the Congress Working Committee made Bose’s task all the more difficult and soon he resigned from his post.

But in spite of all the differences in ideologies, both these great men admired and respected each other. In 1942 Mahatma Gandhi called Bose the “Prince among the Patriots” for his great love for the country. Bose too admired Gandhi and in a radio broadcast from Rangoon in 1944, he called Mahatma Gandhi “The Father of Our Nation.”

The ‘Quit India Movement’ was a Civil Disobedience Movement launched in India on August 1942 in response to Mahatma’s call for immediate independence. Mahatma Gandhi hoped to bring the British government to the negotiating table. Gandhiji, Nehru, and other Congress leaders were imprisoned, touching off violence throughout India. When the British attempted to place the blame on Mahatma, he fasted 3 weeks in jail. He contracted malaria in prison and was released on May 6, 1944. Mahatma had spent a total of nearly 6 years in jail.

When Mahatma Gandhi emerged from prison, he sought to avert creation of a separate Muslim state of Pakistan which Jinnah was demanding. A British Cabinet mission to India in March 1946 advised against partition and proposed instead a united India with a federal parliament. In August, Viceroy Wavell authorized Nehru to form a Cabinet. Gandhi suggested that Jinnah be offered the post of prime minister or defense minister. Jinnah refused and instead declared August 16 “Direct Action Day.” On that day and several days following, communal killings left 5,000 dead and 15,000 wounded in Calcutta alone. Violence spread through the country.

Aggrieved, Mahatma Gandhi went to Bengal, saying, “I am not going to leave Bengal until the last embers of trouble are stamped out,” but while he was in Calcutta 4,500 more were killed in Bihar. Gandhi, now 77, warned that he would fast to death unless Biharis reformed. He went to Noakhali, a heavily Muslim city in Bengal, where he said “Do or Die” would be put to the test. Either Hindus and Muslims would learn to live together or he would die in the attempt. The situation there calmed, but rioting continued elsewhere.

In March 1947 the last Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, arrived in India charged with taking Britain out of India by June 1948. The Indian National Congress under Nehru by this time had agreed to partition, since the only alternative appeared to be continuation of British rule.

Gandhi, despairing because his nation was not responding to his plea for peace and brotherhood, refused to participate in the independence celebrations on August 15, 1947. On September 1, 1947, after an angry Hindu mob broke into the home where he was staying in Calcutta, Gandhi began to fast, “to end only if and when sanity returns to Calcutta.” Both Hindu and Muslim leaders promised that there would be no more killings, and Gandhi ended his fast.

On Jan. 13, 1948, Gandhi began his last fast in Delhi, praying for Indian unity. On January 30, as he was attending prayers on the grounds of Birla Bhavan in New Delhi, he was shot and killed by Nathuram Godse, a 35-year old Hindu Nationalist and editor of a Hindu Mahasabha extremist weekly in Poona. He held that Gandhiji responsible for the weakening of India.

There are still political parties and people who are not willing to wholeheartedly embrace the Gandhian principles. The Government redtape has either mystified Gandhiji, downplaying the differences he had with Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as well as Netaji Subhash Candra Bose, celebrating he being nicknamed as ‘Bapu’ and honouring him as India’s ‘Father of the Nation’. The Father who didn’t participate in the independence day celebration on August 15, 1947 and cheer the “when the whole world sleeps India awakens” speech.

You may hate him or revere him, despise him or adore him but the best comment on Gandhiji came from Albert Einstine “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth”. Truth for Gandhi was not an abstract absolute but a principle which had to be discovered experimentally in each situation.