Friday, January 24, 2014


It has been raining anniversaries. First, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Capital, New Delhi; the 40th anniversary of the 1971 Indo-Pakistani war, leading to the birth of Bangladesh; and the 50th anniversary of the “liberation” of Goa from Portuguese rule.  First, the British. When I was at university, one of the subjects I studied was called “The Expansion of Europe”. It was all about imperialism and dealt with the spread of Spain, Portugal, Britain, France, Holland – even Germany, Japan, Belgium and Italy, later – into the rest of the world. It goes without saying that these imperialist countries went abroad to gain more power and to tap the kind of natural resources they could not get at home. They were stronger militarily than the colonies they took over. That was the basis of imperialism.
However, if one was to put prejudice aside and grade the imperialist powers, the British were the best, or to put it another way, the least worst. In India, they provided education, an efficient administration and an industrial infrastructure. Also, they introduced the English language, which has made India into an information technology (IT) super power. There are many Indians who still have a soft corner for the British, unlike, say, the Vietnamese and Algerians for the French, or the Indonesians for the Dutch.
It was King George V and Queen Mary who announced at a Royal “Durbar” in Delhi in December 1911 the shifting of the Capital, though the main building work was started only two decades later. The chief architect was the incomparable Sir Edwin Lutyens. When I want to impress my visiting foreign friends, I take them for a drive, up what is now Rajpath (earlier, Kingsway), from India Gate, the World War 1 memorial, to Rashtrapati Bhavan (the President’s abode, earlier Viceroy House). 
Then, just before you reach the Secretariat, on an incline on the right and left sides, alongside the wall, there are two alcoves. That is what I show my foreign friends. There, are inscribed the names of those responsible for building the magnificent Secretariat/Rashtrapati Bhavan/Parliament complex, a unique and memorable blend of eastern and western styles of architecture. Most of them are Britishers but two Indians find a place in that distinguished panel: Sir Teja Singh Malik and Sir Sobha Singh. Both happen to be my grandfathers, the first from my mother’s side and the second from my father’s. Both were also knighted by the British. Sobha Singh was the main contractor for the project and Teja Singh, the chief engineer.
Let us move on to the 40th anniversary of the 1971 Indo-Pak was which led to the birth of Bangladesh. This was Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s finest hour. But it was also a triumph of India’s secularism. The Commander-in-Chief of the Indian army was General “Sam” Manekshaw, a Parsi belonging to the Zoroastrian faith, the person who accepted the surrender of 93,000 Pakistani troops, General Aurora, a Sikh, and the man who was the overall commander of the sector, General Jacob, a Jew. From India’s point of view New Delhi also lost a chance to solve the Kashmir problem for good at the Simla summit that followed. Indira Gandhi had a key bargaining chip: the 93,000 Pakistani POWs. But the wily Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto got the better of her. He got the POWs back, without any written reassurance from him on the status of Kashmir.
Finally, the “liberation” of Goa. I have deliberately put it in quotation marks, since I do not believe an Indian armed takeover of the territory was really necessary. India won independence from the British by Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violence. Pondicherry, the last remaining French territory in India, was handed over by France peacefully. The same would undoubted have happened with Goa, after the demise of the Portuguese dictator, Salazar.
Instead, Jawaharlal Nehru, much against his better judgment, and under the malevolent influence of his Defence Minister, Krishna Menon (who was facing a tough election in Mumbai), sent the army in. It was a no-contest. The Portuguese only had a token force in Goa, which had orders to lay down their arms in case of hostilities. The Indian troops went on a looting binge, finding all kinds of imported stuff they were starved of back home. My uncle, a Brigadier who was part of the Indian invasion, came back with a host of goodies.
India lost face and was condemned internationally. Even the Goans, by and large, were none too happy. Guess anniversaries teach us lessons we don’t always remember. – Courtesy Khaleej Times

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