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<<August 2015>>
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Viewing: Blog Posts Tagged with: Asia, Most Recent at Top [Help]
Results 1 - 25 of 78
1. How well do you know Lao Tzu? [quiz]

This August we are featuring Lao Tzu, the legendary Chinese thinker and founder of Taoism, as Philosopher of the Month. He is best known as the author of the classic ‘Tao Te Ching’ (‘The Book of the Way and its Power’). Take our quiz to see how much you know about the life and studies of Lao Tzu!

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2. Commemorating Sri Aurobindo’s anniversary, the birth of a nation, and a new world

The fifteenth of August commemorates Sri Aurobindo’s birthday, and the birth of independent India, a historical landmark where he played a significant role. Aurobindo, the founder of Purna, or Integral Yoga, is a renowned and controversial poet, educationist, and literary critic, a politician, sociologist, and mystic whose evolutionary worldview represents a breakthrough in history. Nevertheless, what is the relevance of Aurobindo nowadays?

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3. The future of development – aid and beyond

Just over a year ago, in March 2014, UNU-WIDER published a Report called: ‘What do we know about aid as we approach 2015?’ It notes the many successes of aid in a variety of sectors, and that in order to remain relevant and effective beyond 2015 it must learn to deal with, amongst other things, the new geography of poverty; the challenge of fragile states; and the provision of global public goods, including environmental protection.

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4. India’s unique identification number: is that a hot number?

Perhaps you are on your way to an enrollment center to be photographed, your irises to be screened, and your fingerprints to be recorded. Perhaps, you are already cursing the guys in the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) for making you sweat it out in a long line.

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5. What can we expect at Japan’s 70th war commemoration?

As we approach the 70th anniversary of the end of Japan's War, Japan’s “history problem” – a mix of politics, identity, and nationalism in East Asia, brewing actively since the late 1990s – is at center stage. Nationalists in Japan, China, and the Koreas have found a toxic formula: turning war memory into a contest of national interests and identity, and a stew of national resentments.

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6. Philosopher of the month: Lao Tzu

Lao (Laozi) Tzu is credited as the founder of Taoism, a Chinese philosophy and religion. An elusive figure, he was allegedly a learned yet reclusive official at the Zhōu court (1045–256 BC) – a lesser aristocrat of literary competence who worked as a copyist and archivist. Scholars have variously dated his life to between the third and sixth centuries BC, but he is best known as the author of the classic Tao Te Ching (‘The Book of the Way and its Power’).

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7. A Kim Jong-Il Production

Just when you thought the news about North Korea and the movies couldn't get any weirder, here comes a spectacular account of the real-life kidnappings of South Korea's biggest film stars by the late Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. The central story is thrilling, but Fischer's narrative really shines in its stranger-than-fiction descriptions. Books mentioned in [...]

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8. Clinical placement in Nepal: an interview with Ruth Jones

In May last year, Oxford Handbook of Clinical Medicine, in partnership with Projects Abroad, offered one lucky medical student the chance to practice their clinical skills abroad in an international placement. The winner was Ruth Jones from the University of Nottingham, who impressed the judging panel with her sincerity, dedication, and willingness to become the best doctor she can be.

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9. Vergil in Russia: milestones of identity

In 1979, one of the most prominent Russian classical scholars of the later part of the twentienth century, Mikhail Gasparov, stated: "Vergil did not have much luck in Russia: they neither knew nor loved him." Gasparov mostly blamed this lack of interest on the absence of canonical Russian translations of Vergil, especially when it came to the Aeneid.

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10. A woman’s journey in Kashmiri politics

Nyla Ali Khan’s recent book The Life of a Kashmiri Woman: Dialectic of Resistance and Accommodation, though primarily a biography of her grandmother Akbar Jehan, promises to be much more than that. It is also a narration of the story of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah, the charismatic political leader who is still recognized as the greatest political leader that Kashmir ever produced.

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11. The evolution of Taiwan statehood

Taiwan easily satisfies the traditional requirements for statehood: a permanent population, effective control over a territory, a government, and the capacity to interact with other states. Yet the realities of global power politics have kept Taiwan from being recognized as such.

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12. Destination India

What would it be like driving overland from London -- East of Suez and over the Khyber Pass -- to India ? Day by day and mile by mile, we found out, recording our impressions and experiences of people, landscape and encounters as we drove a 107" wheel base Land Rover from London to Jaipur.

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13. What is ‘Zen’ diplomacy? From Chinese monk to ambassador

In 1654, a Chinese monk arrived in Japan. His name was Yinyuan Longqi (1592-1673), a Zen master who claimed to have inherited the authentic dharma transmission—the passing of the Buddha’s teaching from teacher to student—from the Linji (Rinzai) sect in China. This claim gave him tremendous authority in China, as without it a Zen teacher cannot be considered for leading a Zen community. Considering the long history of interactions between China and Japan, Chinese monks arriving in Japan with teachings, scriptures, relics and such were very common, and were welcomed by Japanese monks and rulers.

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14. Echoes of caste slavery in Dalit Christian practices

In the mid-twentieth century Dalit migration from the villages of southern princely State of Travancore to the villages in the Western Ghats hills in the north was reminiscent of Exodus, although we are yet to have substantial narratives of the difficult journeys they undertook.

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15. The economic consequences of Nehru

As Nehru was India’s longest serving prime minister, and both triumph as well as tragedy had accompanied his tenure, this is a fit occasion for a public debate on what had been attempted in the Nehru era and the extent of its success. I must per force confine myself to the economics. This, though, serves as a corrective to the tendency of political historians to mostly concentrate on the other aspects of his leadership. For instance, Sarvepalli Gopal’s noted three-volume biography bestows a single chapter on Nehru’s economic policy. However, reading through the speeches of Nehru we would find that the economy had remained his continuing pre-occupation even amidst the debates on social policy in the Lok Sabha or on de-colonisation in the United Nations. Reading these speeches is indeed advisable, as strongly held positions on the economy in the Nehru era have often been crowded in by ideological predilection when they have not been clouded over by ignorance.

The objective of economic policy in the 1950s was to raise per capita income in the country via industrialisation. The vehicle for this was the Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy, the decision to this end having been taken as early as 1938 by the National Planning Committee of the Congress constituted by Subhas Chandra Bose during his all-too-brief and ill-fated presidentship of the Party. The Committee was chaired by Nehru. The cornerstone of the strategy was to build machines as fast as possible as capital goods were seen as a basic input in all lines of production. While a formal model devised by Prasantha Chandra Mahalanobis had lent a formal status to the strategy it was the so-called ‘plan frame’ that had guided the allocation of spending. In retrospect, the allocation of investment across lines of production in the Second Five-Year Plan was quite balanced with substantial attention given also to infrastructure, the building of which, given the state of the economy then, the public sector alone would have initiated.

The Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy had attracted criticism. I discuss two of these criticisms at this stage and turn to the third at a later stage. Thus, Vakil and Brahmananda argued that the Mahalanobis model neglected wage goods, being those consumed by workers who were the majority of the country. While important per se, in practical terms, this criticism, turned out to be somewhat academic, as the plan frame – as opposed to the model – had given due importance to agriculture. In fact, the Green Revolution which is dated from the late 60s cannot entirely be divorced from the attention paid to agriculture in the Nehru era. The Grow More Food campaign and the trials in the country’s extended agricultural research network all contributed to it. Next, B.R. Shenoy had written a note of dissent to the Second Five-Year Plan document which queried the use of controls as part of the planning process. Shenoy’s is a well-known position in economic theory that the allocative efficiency of the competitive market- mechanism cannot be improved upon. While this is a useful corrective to ham-handed government intervention it was known even by the 1950s that a free market need not necessarily take the economy to the next level. The Pax Britannica had been a time of free markets, though coated with political repression, and this had not helped India much during the two centuries since Plassey. Moreover many of the extant controls were war-time controls that had not been rescinded. Investment licensing though was a central element in planning in India and Shenoy was right in identifying it as such.

As the maxim ‘the proof of the pudding lies in the eating’ must apply most closely to matters economic, the Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy can be considered only as good as its outcomes. It had aimed to raise the rate of growth of the economy. With the distance that half a century affords us and the aid of superior statistical methods we are now in the position to state that its early success was nothing short of spectacular. Depending upon your source, per capita income in India had either declined or stagnated during the period 1900-47. Over 1950-65, its growth was approximately 1.7 percent. India’s economy, which was no more than a colonial enclave for more than two centuries had been quickened. It is made out that this quickening of the economy in the fifties was no great shakes as the initial level of income was low and a given increase in it would register a higher rate of growth than at a later stage in the progression. This confounds statistical description with an economic assessment. It is a widely recognised feature of economic growth that every increase in wealth makes the next step that much easier to take due to increasing returns to scale. The principle works both ways, rendering the revival of an economy trapped at a low level of income that much more difficult. It is worth stating in the context that the acceleration of growth achieved in the nineteen fifties has not been exceeded since. Also, that India grew faster than China in the Nehru era.

So if the Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy had led to such a good start, why were the early gains not sustained? The loss of the early vitality in the economy had to do partly with political economy and partly with a flaw in the strategy itself. The death of Nehru created a crisis of leadership in the Congress Party which was transferred to the polity. It took almost a decade and a half for stability to be restored. The consequence was felt in the governance of the public sector, and public investment which had been the engine of growth since the early fifties slowed. Additionally, the private corporate sector, which contrary to conventional wisdom had flourished under Nehru, was initially repressed by Indira Gandhi. Private investment collapsed. This held back the acceleration of economic growth.

Even though we now have reason to believe that the mechanism of long-term growth that remains to this day, which is that of cumulative causation, had been ignited by the Nehru-Mahalanobis strategy, the strategy itself was incomplete. This is best understood by reference to the Asian Development Model as it had played out in the economies of east Asia. These economies had pursued more or less the same strategy as India in that the state fostered industrialization. But a glaring difference marks the Indian experience. This was the absence of a serious effort to build human capabilities via education and training. In the east this had taken the form of a spreading of schooling, vocational training and engineering education. In India on the other hand public spending on education had turned towards technical education at the tertiary level too early on. The slow spread of schooling ensured that the growth of productivity in the farm and the factory remained far too slow. Now the pace of poverty reduction also remained slow, and via positive feedback slowed the expansion of demand needed for faster growth of the economy.

It is intriguing that the issue of schooling did not figure majorly among India’s planners, especially as it was part of Gandhi’s Constructive Programme. This had not gone unnoticed even at that time. B.V. Krishnamurthi, then at Bombay University, had pointed out that the priorities of the Second Five-Year Plan undergirded by the Mahalanobis model were skewed. He castigated it for a bias toward “river-valley projects”, reflected in the paltry sums allocated to education. But it was the argument advanced by him for why spending on schooling matters that was prescient. He argued that education would enable Indians to attend to the question of their livelihood themselves without relying on the government, thus lightening the economic burden of the latter, presumably leaving it to build more capital goods in the long run as envisaged in the Mahalanobis model. But this was not to be, with enormous consequences for not only the economy but also the effectiveness of democracy in India.

While the failure to initiate a programme of building the capabilities of the overwhelming majority of our people is a moral failure of colossal proportions, we would be missing the wood for the trees if we do not recognize the economic significance of the short Nehru era in the long haul of India’s history. A moribund economy had been quickened. This would have been the pre-condition for most changes in a country with unacceptably low levels of per capita income. It is yet to be demonstrated how this could have been achieved in the absence of the economic strategy navigated through a democratic polity by Jawaharlal Nehru.

Reprinted with the kind permission of The Hindu, where an expanded version of this note had appeared on 16 October 2014

Headline image credit: 1956: U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower welcomes Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru to the White House in Washington, D.C. CC BY-ND 2.0 via U.S. Embassy New Delhi Flickr.

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16. Death of a Democrat

On 17 and 18 December 1961, on Nehru’s orders, Indian troops marched into Goa, an area of about 1,500 square miles on the country’s western coast, to ‘liberate’ it from the Portuguese, who had ruled the territory since 1510. Condemnation was swift, both from critics at home and abroad.

In the election campaign that took place immediately after the invasion Nehru was able to strike a patriotic chord, capitalising on ‘restoring Goa to the Motherland’. His ruling Congress party was re-elected in 361 out of 494 parliamentary seats and was back in power for a third successive term. Yet, in spite of the criticism, no one could foresee that the triumphant note sounded over Goa also marked the countdown to the end of Nehru’s leadership. The military conflict with China that broke out in full force in October 1962 would be momentous for India, bringing about extraordinary tribulations for Nehru. In its aftermath came growing tensions with Pakistan, political unrest in the Kashmir valley and domestic criticism and challenges to his political authority.

In November 1961, just before the Goa campaign, in response to stinging criticism in parliament, Nehru and his defence minister, V.K. Krishna Menon, had taken steps to reclaim from the Chinese some territory by setting up forward posts. Arguably, this much debated ‘forward policy’ inflamed the situation. In August 1962 Nehru informed parliament that Indian soldiers had re-occupied around 4,000 sq km of some 19,000 sq km of territory that the Chinese had taken.

Yet, when the Chinese strike came on 19 and 20 October, the Indian leadership called it an unprovoked and sudden offensive, a ‘Himalayan Pearl Harbor’. A month later, on 21 November, a unilateral ceasefire was called by the Chinese; by then they had wrestled over 23,200 sq km of territory from India, retaining 4,000 sq km in the Ladakh region.

The Himalayan War was a dramatic turning point for Nehru’s leadership. Although India and the Soviet Union had signed a deal in August 1962 for MiG-21 fighter planes, these never materialized during the hostilities, leading to speculation that the Soviets would not permit the use of their weapons against another Communist country.

Nehru was upset that US and British offers of military help came with strings attached. India was now forced to accept outside mediation and to open a dialogue with Pakistan over the highly contentious issue of Kashmir. Both the US and UK governments had used the Himalayan crisis to put pressure on India to make concessions to Pakistan and to settle the Kashmir issue. Nehru’s carefully nurtured policy of non-alignment suffered a setback and India’s stature on the global stage, which he had worked so hard to build, diminished.

In April 1963 the Congress Party lost three critical parliamentary by-elections. In parliament’s monsoon session Kripalani moved a motion of no confidence, the first such challenge to his leadership Nehru had faced since 1947. Although defeated, the motion was deeply symbolic of the shifting political dissatisfaction with the government.

Anxious stirrings within the Congress party reflected the mood. The Congress party heavyweights realised that they had to face up to the inevitable question: ‘After Nehru Who?’ The party had to survive, take care of its electoral interests and move on in uncertain times. Some of these men, including Kamaraj, met quietly in October 1963 in the temple town of Tirupati in southern India to form what came to be known as the ‘Syndicate’, an informal leadership collective to manage the question of political succession.

The outbreak of war with China brought another hopelessly tangled issue to Nehru’s urgent attention, that of Kashmir. Talks began between the Indian minister Swaran Singh and the Pakistani foreign minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. Held over six prolonged rounds between December 1962 and May 1963, the talks proved unproductive and only hardened attitudes on both sides. American and British diplomatic efforts now turned to getting Nehru and Ayub Khan to accept third party international mediation to solve the Kashmir deadlock, a proposal that went against the grain of Nehru’s creed of non-alignment.

Meanwhile, in Kashmir – from where Nehru’s ancestors came and a region with which he identified strongly – the political crisis deepened. People regarded the detention of Abdullah, imprisoned for 11 years without trial, as being part of a political vendetta. To aggravate the situation, on 26 December 1963 a crisis arose due to the mysterious theft of a relic of the Prophet Muhammad from the shrine of Hazratbal in Srinagar.

The Hazratbal incident had far-reaching consequences. Sectarian violence broke out Nehru dreaded the vicious cycle of Hindu-Muslim violence, with its inevitable displacement of people from their homes. He had lived through the horrors of Partition. To his distress it had begun once again.

Through these turbulent months, Nehru kept his nerve. Even in the gloomiest moments of the war he did not seek scapegoats. Neither did he conceal his grief for the loss of Indian soldiers. In January 1963 he is said to have been moved to tears before more than 50,000 people when the singer Lata Mangeshkar performed the patriotic Hindi elegy ‘Aye Mere Watan Ke Logon!’ (Oh the People of My Country!). During this time he continued to seek the counsel of President Radhakrishnan and of close Cabinet colleagues such as Shastri, T.T. Krishnamachari and Y.B. Chavan, who took over the defence portfolio from Menon.

On 7 January 1964 Nehru suffered a mild stroke at Bhubaneswar in eastern India. Arrangements were now made to lighten Nehru’s responsibilities. Lal Bahadur Shastri was appointed to the Cabinet as minister without portfolio. Shastri was to ‘look after’ Nehru’s work relating to foreign affairs, planning and atomic energy, besides handling all important matters requiring the prime minister’s attention. Nehru soon recovered and from March onwards resumed attending parliament.

On the morning of 27 May after returning in apparently good health from a few days’ holiday at Dehra Dun, Nehru suffered a sudden heart attack. He died later that afternoon.

Among the mourners was a tearful Sheikh Abdullah, who, on learning of Nehru’s death, had cancelled his tour of the Pakistani-held ‘Azad Kashmir’ and rushed back to Delhi.

Deeply respectful of the norms and processes of a young democracy, Nehru always believed that the question of succession should be decided by the party and the people after he was gone. The political transition that followed his death was remarkably smooth. With the support of the Syndicate, Lal Bahadur Shastri was unanimously elected Nehru’s successor.

Shastri’s unexpected death in January 1966 brought about yet another political succession. This propelled to the fore Nehru’s daughter Indira Gandhi – the beginning of a political dynasty, of which Nehru would have strongly disapproved for a democratic country such as India.

A version of this article originally appeared in History Today.

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17. Jawaharlal Nehru and his troubled legacy

Jawaharlal Nehru’s contribution would have had a much longer life had not members of his family systematically tarnished it. From breaking the Congress organization in 1969, to the declaration of Emergency, to the initiation of caste wars, to the encouragement of Sikh militancy, to the decision on Shah Bano, to the opening of the Babri Masjid, and the list goes on, it was Nehru’s bloodline that most effectively downgraded his memory. Experts and commentators connived in this for they were blindsided by the family connection and failed to see the break that was being repeatedly wrought on Nehru’s memory first by his daughter, then his son and then his daughter-in-law and great grandson. So when the time came, and come it would, the haters and baiters of the first Prime Minister easily positioned his memory in the short hairs of their blunderbusses and shot it down.

As it is, Nehru tripped himself up on a number of policies he had staked his reputation on. In times of economic crisis or border threats — as from China — he sidestepped non-alignment and turned to America first. Or, when it came to socialism, he made it known that he would never stand for the Soviet model and preferred the mixed economy instead. That this position was supported by India’s fledgling entrepreneurs of the time only made Nehru’s claim to be a socialist”’ somewhat contrived. Even if socialism were to be interpreted as “welfare statism”, he did precious little on issues like universal health and education.

Nehru, however, played a sterling role in keeping India together in its most critical years after Independence. He was not alone in this, but without his whole hearted support to the making of the Indian Constitution, we would have been a poorer Republic. He weighed in heavily in favour of anti- untouchability, minority rights, and the abolition of feudal privileges which, together, make our Constitution so outstanding. India was a young Republic in 1950, but it looked, talked and walked like a seasoned democratic nation-state. True, he was not alone in this, but as Prime Minister, it was Nehru, more than anybody else, who fleshed out these most singular aspects of our Constitution. It would have been the easiest thing to renege on them given the tensions and uncertainties India faced in the early post- Independence years, but Nehru remained firm.

What made Nehru stand out was his insistence on the principle of fraternity. Unfortunately, it is not difficult to undermine him on this score as fraternity is fashioned on intangibles; it is not made of brick and mortar, nor can it be measured monetarily. Yet, without this all important attribute, neither liberty nor equality makes much sense- they actually ring hollow. Nehru’s contribution to fraternity came through in his insistence on secularism which went all the way from anti-casteism to anti religious sectarianism. He made no compromises on any of these but, unfortunately for him, these can easily be shafted in the name of political expediency. And this is exactly what his daughter, grandson and the succeeding generation did. Secularism has been the single greatest casualty in the five decades of Congress rule after Nehru. It is for this reason that ‘secularism’ today has become the butt of ridicule, and even half literates have a field day in mocking it.

US President John F. Kennedy speaks with Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru at the White House, 1961, from the US Embassy new Delhi. CC-BY-ND-2.0 via Flickr.
US President John F. Kennedy speaks with Prime Minister Jawarharlal Nehru at the White House, 1961, from the US Embassy New Delhi. CC-BY-ND-2.0 via Flickr.

Nehru’s industrialization programme required a long gestation period which people, with a limited time horizon, found difficult to accept. Further, for the mixed economy to succeed, state enterprises had to be super efficient in infrastructure creation. Without laying out this groundwork it would be difficult for the other half of the mixed economy to come of age. This was the true meaning of self-reliance as Nehru saw it and all autarkic versions of it put out by his enemies, and some admirers too, are contrary to this vision. None of this could be accomplished overnight by token gestures and oratorical flourishes; they all required careful calculation, and hard core research and development. Mistakes were made, plans recalibrated, Constitutional impasses overcome and before any of these could be firmed up, Nehru was gone.

Perhaps his record as Prime Minister would have been different had he lived longer. True, he had set himself a gigantic task by standing up for India’s economic sovereignty and battling ceaselessly against traditional prejudices. Yet, sadly and oddly, he failed most monumentally in his lifetime not so much on these grounds as he did because he was an extremely prickly nationalist. Whenever India’s physical integrity faced a threat, even imaginary ones, he was unable to take a proper democratic decision. He blundered on Kashmir and we are still paying for it; he totally miscalculated on China; he did not understand the Sikhs or the sentiments that had been stirred up in the North-East. One could possibly excuse him for these sins for India had just emerged as a Nation-State and the fear of Balkanization was very real in the minds of many. In fact, he feared the breakup of India so profoundly that he was even against the formation of Maharashtra and Gujarat as well as the unilingual state of Punjab.

That is not quite all. Nehru could have set an example and kept his daughter out of politics instead of making her the Congress President. This was the first big nepotistic step in Indian politics which was later justified on all kinds of specious grounds by many Nehru acolytes. The other unpardonable thing he did was to choose Teen Murti, the biggest house in the capital, as his official residence. This encouraged pomp and splendour among ministers and bureaucrats, and this strain has only become worse over time. The subsequent conversion of Teen Murti as Nehru Memorial Museum and Library has also set up a negative precedence. Since then, children of many departed Prime Ministers and political heroes have turned their dead ancestor’s home into public monuments.

In balance, Nehru’s legacy is on its way out. It is, however, in our national interest to keep alive his devotion to the cause of “fraternity”. This can best be done if we do not see the regimes of Indira or Rajiv or Rahul as a continuation of what Nehru stood for. If ever fraternity truly becomes relevant in our country again, nobody will remember that Jawaharlal Nehru was its prime mover once upon a time.

Headline image credit: Lord Mountbatten swears in Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru as the first Prime Minister of free India at the ceremony on August 15, 1947. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

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18. Jawaharlal Nehru, moral intellectual

In his famous essay, French philosopher Julien Benda indicted intellectuals for treason to their destiny, and blamed them for betraying the very moral principles that made their existence possible. Nehru was not one of them. His avowedly cultural and intellectual orientation is sufficiently well-known. His father had refused to perform a purification ceremony on his return from England and had been ostracised by the Brahman orthodoxy. Nehru too didn’t submit to irrational authority, be it religion or dogma, though he went along with certain social customs. He did not approve of his father’s shraddha ceremony, but took part in it for his mother’s sake.

Religion and atheism, remarked his niece Nayantara Sahgal, lived lovingly together in Anand Bhawan and both were aspects of India’s enquiring and assimilative mind. The daily life of the Nehrus was a seamless blend of tradition and modernity. This is best exemplified by Nehru’s mother and wife Kamala. Both were religious, and yet they lived with Motilal’s intellectual modernism and Nehru’s scepticism on matters of religion and faith. But in the end their influences prevailed.

Nehru once said to a distinguished author-journalist that the spirit of India was in the depth of his conscience while the mind of the West was in his head (by virtue of what he studied in Harrow, Cambridge, and all over London). He was, thus, driven or dominated by the urge to see reason in people’s thinking and action. Sometimes he’d convince them to narrow their differences by concentrating on the “economic factor”, but the upsurge of religiosity or the assertion of communitarian identities weakened or nullified his efforts.

Nehru’s distance from the masses is too readily assumed. The fact is that he spent years not in comfortable and argumentative exile, but in India itself where he led the life of an activist with its attendant challenges and hazards. There is a tale, perhaps apocryphal, yet poignant, to the effect that, upon being released from prison after long confinement for speeches he had made, Nehru went directly to a large meeting, stood up and stated quite unaffectedly, “As I was saying…”

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Digital ID: 1702981. New York Public Library.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. Digital ID: 1702981. New York Public Library.

Nehru placed jail-going as a “trivial matter” in a world that was being shaken to its foundation. His first confinement was in the Lucknow district jail from 6 December 1921 to 3 March 1922; the second from 11 May 1922 to 31 January 1923. In 1930, it was 180 days; in 1931, 99 days; in 1932, 612 days; and in 1934, 569 days. By March 1938, he had actually spent five-and-a-half years in prison. On 13 March 1945, he had completed over 31 months in Ahmadnagar Fort. From there, he was “repatriated” to Bareilly Central prison after nearly 32 months. He complained of the typical jail atmosphere — the slow, stagnant and rather oppressive air, the high walls closing on him, iron bars and gates, and the noise of the warden at night as he kept watch or counted the prisoners in the different barracks.

All these years, Nehru was moved from one jail to another — to Naini, Lucknow, Bareilly, and Dehradun. Was it worthwhile? In the last paragraph of the Autobiography, he explained: “There is no hesitation about the answer. If I were given the chance to go through my life again, with my present knowledge and experience added, I would no doubt try to make many changes in my personal life.”

To begin with, the young Nehru had no idea what happened behind the grim gates that swallowed any convict. But soon enough he managed to overcome the nervous excitement and bear an existence full of abnormality, a dull suffering, and a dreadful monotony. His inspiration came from Gandhiji. He had for company his father, who was tried as a member of an “illegal” organisation of Congress volunteers.

One of his fellow inmates commented later that it was ironic that, from an early age, people had started looking upon him as a desh bhakt, and he sacrificed his youth and its charms to satisfy public expectations. With arrest and prosecution becoming a frequent occurrence, jails turned into places of pilgrimage. Sometimes he felt as if he richly deserved a spell of jail to make quiet his excitable nature. Sometimes he felt almost cut off from the outside and longed for a quick return. More often than not, he’d wait for a tomorrow to bring deliverance to his people. To Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit, he wrote: “Without that steel frame of the mind and body, or spirit if you will, we bend before every wind that blows and disintegrates.”

This said, Nehru bore the petty tyrannies of life. With about 50 persons in the barrack, their beds were just about three or four feet apart. The lack of privacy was difficult to endure. “It was the dull side of family life magnified a hundred-fold with few of its graces and compensations and all this among people of all kinds and tastes,” Nehru aptly remarked. Nights in prison were dreadful, more so with a prisoner snoring, “a gigantic disharmony of ugly noises — grunt, groan, growl, howl, whine, whistle, hiss, etc. etc.”

All day he sat or lay under the neem trees spinning, reading, or writing. At night he’d sit under the starry canopy. Thus when one of his comrades was promoted to Class A, Nehru felt relieved: “Man is a social animal and too much solitude is not good.” But he felt lonely after another friend from Cambridge days moved to Gonda jail. His passion was to spin, so he asked for a new charkha from Sabarmati Ashram. To write in Urdu, he asked his father to send him an Urdu dictionary. He read newspapers and wrote letters, though he preferred not to read about the battles of his comrades when forced to be idle himself.

Given his sense of movements and changes in history, Nehru agreed that one must follow them without losing sight of the main trend, and that some day, as if by the stroke of a magician’s wand, India and the world may be transformed.

Headline image credit: President and Mrs. John F. Kennedy greet Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and Mrs. Gandhi on the North Portico of the White House, as the visitors from India arrive at the Executive Mansion to attend a dinner given in their honor. US Embassy New Delhi. CC BY-ND 2.0 via usembassynewdelhi Flickr.

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19. What to expect on your 19th century Indus river steamer journey

Congratulations on your new posting in the Punjab. Rather than riding eight-hours-a-day on horseback, suffering motion-sickness on a camel’s heaving back, or breaking your back sitting on hard wooden boards in a mail-cart, you’ll be travelling on the Bombay Government Flotilla, one of four flotillas that carry thousands of Europeans and Indians up and down the Indus.

While you may question the expenditure of a government flotilla, we assure you it’s a lot simpler than loading a squadron onto a small fleet of country boats, with indifferent crews, in varying states of repair, which might never reach their destinations. On board we’ll keeping the regiment together arriving as it started out — in one piece and maintaining proper discipline in transit.

So what can you expect on this exciting journey?

1.   Expect sun and swelter. Everything you touch will be red hot. You won’t be able to go below in the daytime, but the thin awnings on deck will do little to relieve you in the 115 degree heat. Many soldiers ask whether they should sleep with a berth next to a furnace or choose a wall of heat on deck. With dry winds that come down from the ‘burnt-up hills’, laden with fine sand, everything and everyone will be covered in a layer of fine grey grit. And don’t forget the sand-flies — they bite hard.

2.   Expect an uproarious time. Remember that you’re travelling on white man’s mastery of nature, so don’t expect to be the most important thing afloat. Your accommodation will be conveniently crushed between the machinery of furnaces, boilers, pistons, transmission, and paddle-wheels. Passengers trapped in close proximity to the machinery enthuse about the clamour of pistons ‘working up to four or five hundred horse-power’, the splash of paddle-wheels beating the river-water into foam, and the deafening hurricanes when engineers blow off the boiler’s steam ‘half-a-dozen times a day’. And if you’re lucky enough to have the wind blowing in your direction, look forward to being choked by the smoke, singed by the sparks, and splattered by smuts from the funnels.

3.   Expect to get intimate with your fellow passengers. When moving to a theatre of war, you’ll be squashed together on the decks ‘like pigs at a market in a pen at night’. Your comrades may jostle to get enough space to lie down; the top of a hatch is a prize reserved for the best bare-knuckle fighter. Never mind about a restless colleague, you’ll be packed so tight in the gaps between the baggage, that once you’re settled down it’ll be impossible to move until the morning.

4.   Expect cool nights with fresh dew. As you lay on deck with only a thin cotton awning over your head, gather round the funnel to get a little warmth. Be sure to hang on to your guttery [very thin duvet stuffed with raw cotton] as there will be no great-coats among the soldiers. Not to worry, the women and children suffer most.

5.   Expect to be out of your element and out of sorts. Feeling exposed? Living on the open decks for weeks on end in the winter will reduce your resistance to all common Indian diseases. Should you be lucky enough to get an attack fever and dysentery, you’ll lay stretched upon the hard planking without anything under or over you. The sepoys’ conditions, as one would expect, are the best of all. It will be impossible to cross the deck without walking on sick and dying invalids. If they die in the night, they will be ‘instantly thrown overboard’. And after the steamer arrives in the delta, the survivors are off-loaded into sea-going ships destined for Bombay.

Image credit: A daguerreotype of a typical river paddle steamer from the 1850s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.
A daguerreotype of a typical river paddle steamer from the 1850s. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

6.   Expect unbelievable meals. Passengers praise our ‘coarse and unpalatable’ food. Everyone from the boat captains to the cooks have their special arrangements with prices too high for poorer travellers and meals ‘so indifferent’ that passengers who had paid for them refuse to eat them. Even the water is undrinkable! Perhaps your whole regiment will be reduced to foraging in the villages along the banks. Sheep and cows can be bought for a few rupees; Muslim butchers slaughter them; and you can enjoy broiling away till midnight.

7.   Expect a tranquil environment. It takes a month or more to get up the whole navigable length of the Indus and they’ll be nothing to see on long stretches of the rivers, except ‘a vast dreary expanse’ of desert stretching out to the horizon, or an endless belt of tamarisk trees running along the low, muddy banks. Many villages are miles from the river to escape the floods, so it’s possible to sail all day without seeing another human being. Throughout the journey you’ll receive small stimulations from a native boat spreading its sail to taking pot shots at the largest living creatures to hand. Never mind the cost of the cartridges: simply steal rounds from the pouches of sick sepoys.

8.   Expect a friendly drink or two. Fed up with watching the ‘dreary wilderness’ floating slowly past? Drink yourself stupid. As a hundred soldiers boarded the Meanee en route to the siege of Multan, one of them – delirious from drink – ‘slipped from the men who led him and fell overboard’, a second died of delirium tremens during the voyage, and a third ‘was expected to do so’. En route they ‘lost three or four in the river from drowning’. Worried the military authorities will restrict the sale of alcohol on the boats? Buy country liquor from the villagers – it has roughly the same side-effects.

9.   Expect genuine thrills. The most intense excitement on a voyage on the Indus is the occasional shipwreck. Test your phlegm, and proof of national identity. Charles Stewart dismissed the danger of drowning with the utmost nonchalance on his sinking vessel. The really serious inconvenience was the interruption to his meals. React with that much aplomb, and we’ll know you’re British.

10.   Expect to see people working together in new ways. Watch every latent animosity in race relations come to the surface. British captains beat Indian pilots every time a boat runs aground; engineers beat the lascars feeding logs into the furnaces if the steam pressure falls; and soldiers beat the cooks if they make a mess of the grub. Passengers straight from England are often shocked.

Remember, in an alien and often threatening environment, it’s worth paying a premium for the reassurance of a European-style cocoon: a steam-hotel, albeit a poor one, gliding along the river while the guests sit on the decks.

Headline image credit: Indus Sunset by Ahmed Sajjad Zaidi. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

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20. The “comfort women” and Japan’s honor

Tan Yuhua was sixteen when the Imperial Japanese Army raided her hometown in Hunan Province in 1944. Her father, unable to move quickly because of a disabled leg, was easy prey. Forcing him to kneel, the soldiers threatened to kill him with a sword. Tan Yuhua couldn’t help crying out from her hiding place, so she too was caught. Locked in a military “comfort station” in the nearby town of Zhuliang-qiao together with other abducted girls and women, Tan was forced to service a Japanese officer as his sex slave.

In 2008, I met Tan Yuhua, then eighty, in Shanghai. Recounting her brutal abduction, Tan’s small body visibly trembled. “One of my aunts died during that attack,” she recalled. “The soldiers arrested my father and forced him to work for them, but he was unable to perform hard labor due to his disability, so the Japanese soldiers killed him.” She paused, her face frozen in deep sorrow.

Tan Yuhua was one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese women kidnapped by Imperial Japanese forces during the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945). Her abduction and sexual servitude exemplify the experiences of many other comfort women drafted from regions under Japanese occupation across Asia. Because these women were nationals of imperial Japan’s enemies, they suffered unimaginable brutality in the military comfort stations. And, as in the case of Tan Yuhua, torture and murder of their family members frequently occurred alongside abduction and sexual violence.

Tan Yuhua, in 2008, in front of her home. Images reproduced with permission of the Publisher from Chinese Comfort Women by Peipei Qiu with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei © University of British Columbia Press 2013.
Tan Yuhua, in 2008, in front of her home. Images reproduced with permission of the Publisher from Chinese Comfort Women by Peipei Qiu with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei © University of British Columbia Press 2013.

Although a large number of survivors’ testimonies and ample historical evidence have come to light since the 1990s, steadfast denial of the Japanese military’s involvement in forcing women into sexual slavery continues. In recent months the government of Japan launched another campaign to whitewash the history of Imperial Japan’s wartime “comfort women.”

On 14 October 2014, a Japanese official was sent to New York to ask Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, former United Nations Special Rapporteur, to reconsider her 1996 report on Imperial Japan’s coercion of women and girls into sexual slavery. A week later, the Chief Cabinet Secretary of Japan charged that his predecessor, Yôhei Kôno, created a “major problem” for the country with his 1993 statement that admitted administrative and military involvement in recruiting comfort women.

This tide of denial rose higher after Asahi Shimbun’s retraction of articles on “comfort women” in August 2014. The retracted articles, published by Asahi two decades ago, cited former Japanese soldier Seiji Yoshida’s fictitious account of forcibly rounding up Korean women during World War II. Researchers have long pointed out the fabrication in Yoshida’s account, which has not been cited by the scholarly community in determining that the comfort women system was sexual slavery. Nonetheless, historical revisionists seized upon the newspaper’s retraction to repudiate Japanese military involvement in setting up the comfort women system, and they pressed the news media to muzzle their reporting. Earlier in October Japan’s public broadcaster, NHK, banned any reference to the infamous Nanking Massacre and comfort women. By the end of November, the Daily Yomiuri had also issued an apology for having used “sex slave” and “other inappropriate expressions” from February 1992 to January 2013 in reporting on the comfort women.

Ultranationalists in Japan present the denial of war crimes as a patriotic act to protect Japan’s honor. They regard the recognition of comfort women’s sufferings as damaging to the nation’s international image. However, denial only makes Japan look worse. As Keio University Professor Eiji Kojima points out, “their efforts to rectify the recognition of historical facts have no prospect of winning approval in the global community and will only backfire if they are accompanied by intentions to restore the honor of the former Axis power and deny the postwar international order.”

Contrary to ultranationalist rhetoric, throughout the postwar era, Japanese citizen groups, researchers, lawyers, intellectuals, and lawmakers who care about humanitarian principles and the long-term prosperity of their own country have confronted Imperial Japan’s past wrongs. They have also played a crucial role in the international movement of redress for comfort women of all nations.

Japanese attorney Noriko Ômori, who has worked devotedly since the early 1990s to represent comfort station victims in China in their litigation for redress, sees the Japanese government’s failure to take responsible action to help heal the victims’ wounded hearts as unacceptable. “If we truly care about Japan’s future,” she writes, “we must ensure that Japan can obtain full trust from the world in terms of moral principles, and particularly, that Japan can form a truly friendly relationship with Asian countries.” Advocates like Ms. Ômori reflect the true honor of humanity, and they deserve the world’s trust and respect as the campaign for redress continues.

Featured image: A cave dwelling in Yu County, Shanxi Province, used as a “comfort station” by the Japanese troops. Images reproduced with permission of the Publisher from Chinese Comfort Women by Peipei Qiu with Su Zhiliang and Chen Lifei © University of British Columbia Press 2013.

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21. Bob Hope, North Korea, and film censorship

Seth Rogen isn’t the only actor to have a film about North Korea nixed: A script helmed by Bob Hope met a similar fate in 1954.

If US government sources are correct, North Korea cowed Sony Pictures into withholding a bawdy comedy about assassinating supreme leader Kim Jong-Un. Sony’s corporate computers were hacked and many bytes of tawdry Hollywood secrets were disgorged. The technical achievement lent credibility to the hackers’ threats of mass murder in theaters if Rogen’s The Interview was released. (Editors’ note: The Interview is currently in limited release and no attacks have been reported.) Governments can be expected to decry movies about murdering sitting presidents, but the bombast of Pyongyang’s apparent reaction lacks proportionality and appreciation of blowback from global audiences, which are sure to make Kim Jong-un a universal punch line. This cluelessness no doubt derives from the cultish isolation of Pyongyang, but it is not the first comedy set in North Korea to discomfit officials.

In 1954, the military-friendly jokester Bob Hope dropped plans for a screwball comedy on the Korean peninsula after the US Army refused to support it. The similarities and differences from the current episode tell us something about government influence over cinema, a vital conduit to the mass mind.

Only months after the end of the Korean War (1950-1953), Hope pitched a film to the Army’s Motion Picture office for approval. The military routinely lent expensive war equipment and technical advice to movie studios in return for a veto over scripts. Hope’s timing was awful. The “sour little war” was so unpopular it ended the political career of President Harry Truman and prompted years of soul searching into the American character and its failure to vanquish the enemy. The Army was touchy about cinematic portrayals of anything Korea, so much so that it reversed itself on a Ronald Reagan movie it had previously supported.

The Interview movie poster. Sony Pictures via WNPR.

In March 1954, the same month Hope’s proposal was under consideration, the Army yanked approval of MGM’s P.O.W. Military bands had to cancel plans to play at premiers and all Army commands were ordered to cease publicizing the film. This was curious since the Army Motion Picture office had assisted P.O.W. throughout production, providing a former prisoner as consultant and requesting and receiving four pages of script revisions. The problem? Image management. The hastily-made movie was coming out at the same time the Army was beginning prosecutions of former prisoners accused of collaborating with their captors. The Chinese ran the prison camps in North Korea and persuaded some inmates to assist them on shortwave radio and other propaganda tasks. Collaboration became a big stir in the United States, especially after 21 American POWs defected to China after the war. Court martials of repatriated prisoners were part of a Cold War panic that the nation’s youth had gone soft, unable to resist Chinese indoctrination.

The difficulty with the Reagan film P.O.W. was that it was relentlessly brutal, even by today’s standards. Prisoners were subjected to awful tortures that were sure to arouse audience sympathy just when court martials were underway. Movies too heavy on torture or brainwashing would seem to excuse the behavior of soldiers who were now facing years at hard labor. Hence the Army bands repacking their instruments.

The delicacy of national morale helps explain the Army’s discomfort with the Bob Hope proposal. Donald E. Baruch, head of the Motion Pictures office, wrote Hope’s agent that the Army valued its previous work with the comedian:

However, in this instance, we believe no military purpose would be served in the production of this story. When Mr. Hope called while recently here, I did not react negatively because all he mentioned was that the story was about a U.S.O. tour to Korea and the repatriation of a prisoner. The subject is considered of too great importance and seriousness especially at this time to be treated in the farcical manner indicated by the outline. Other basic story objections are ‘stealing’ of the helicopter, Jane, Jimmy and Bob in North Korea, and the rescuing of Lloyd.

A serious prisoner of war movie that did get Army approval was MGM’s The Rack (1956) with Paul Newman. This courtroom-bound film was a psychological exploration of an officer’s conscience and why he failed to resist collaboration. However, The Rack was broody and talky and made no impression on the box office. The same occurred with Time Limit (United Artists, 1957), another courtroom film approved by the Army that failed to move audiences. To get a Pentagon subsidy and imprimatur, POW films set in Korea could not follow the tried and true formula of action and escape; collaboration was too imposing an issue. The small sub-genre of Korea POW films was steered into amnesia.

US Army influence on Korea POW films was gentle. Studios wanted subsidies and association with the military brand, so they were usually cooperative. In itself, Rogan’s The Interview has little in common with the patriotic cinema of the 1950s, but the apparent reaction of North Korea provides an interesting contrast. Some pundits have been quick to accuse Sony of letting Pyongyang become a censor by holding the film industry hostage. With this one film, they might have a point. But Pyongyang’s method of influencing movie content is really one of weakness. The Pentagon, neither today nor in the 1950s, has to threaten Hollywood, it simply waits for producers to come to it for set pieces and shrouds of official martial aura. In contrast, Kim Jong-Un’s royal court is so isolated and unable to shape the narrative that it resorted to the threats of a desperate loner. If North Korea’s apparent intervention in Hollywood still has an effect two years from now, it will only serve to focus more attention on the regime worldwide. Look for more hidden camera documentaries. Any other lasting influence is unlikely, since Kim Jong-Un can’t open a Hollywood office or even do lunch.

Featured image: Bob Hope (center) and other guests salute while “The Star Spangled Banner” is played during a ceremony to award Hope the Distinguished Public Service Award. Jan. 31, 1971. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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22. A brief history of Data Privacy Law in Asia

The OECD’s Guidelines on the Protection of Privacy and Transborder Flows of Personal Data (1980) were an early influence on the development of data privacy laws in Asia. Other bodies have since also been influential in the formulation of data privacy laws across Asia, including the 1981 Council of Europe Data Protection Convention, the United Nations Guidelines for the Regulation of Computer Data Files, the European Union’s Data Protection Directive, and the APEC Privacy Guidelines.

This timeline below shows the development of data privacy laws across numerous different Asian territories over the past 35 years. In each case it maps the year a data privacy law or equivalent was created, as well as providing some further information about each. It also maps the major guidelines and pieces of legislation from various global bodies, including those mentioned above.

Featured image credit: Data (scrabble), by justgrimes. CC-BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.

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23. Ping and Po-Li take children ages 5 - 8 on a Tropical Rainforest Adventure.....

Coming Soon from Halo Publishing

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24. A timeline of the Reformation

The Reformation was a seismic event in history, whose consequences are still working themselves out in Europe and across the world. The protests against the marketing of indulgences staged by the German monk Martin Luther in 1517 belonged to a long-standing pattern of calls for internal reform and renewal in the Christian Church. But they rapidly took a radical and unexpected turn, engulfing first Germany and then Europe as a whole in furious arguments about how God’s will was to be discerned, and how humans were to be ‘saved’. However, these debates did not remain confined to a narrow sphere of theology. They came to reshape politics and international relations; social, cultural, and artistic developments; relations between the sexes; and the patterns and performances of everyday life.

Below we take a look at some of the key events that shaped the Reformation. In The Oxford Illustrated History of the Reformation Peter Marshall and a team of experts tell the story of how a multitude of rival groups and individuals, with or without the support of political power, strove after visions of ‘reform’.

Featured image credit: Fishing for Souls, Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne, 1614. Rijksmeseum, Amsterdam. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

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25. A Kim Jong-Il Production

Just when you thought the news about North Korea and the movies couldn't get any weirder, here comes Paul Fischer's spectacular account of the real-life kidnappings of South Korea's biggest film stars by the late Supreme Leader Kim Jong-Il. The central story is thrilling, but Fischer's narrative really shines in its stranger-than-fiction descriptions of North [...]

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