Friday, June 22, 2012

Politics of deceit and betrayal

(First published in The Pioneer dated June 21, 2012)


The unsavoury drama that preceded the announcement by the Congress of Pranab Mukherjee’s candidature as the next President of the country has left a bad taste in the mouth of even the hardened cynical watchers of Indian politics. There is no disputing the fact that Mr Mukherjee is an excellent choice. He has all the right credentials and the credibility to occupy the post which in the last five years has been demeaned by the incumbent President. So, his likely elevation has to be welcomed. What should be condemned is the deceitful conduct of the Samajwadi Party in the entire episode.
The print and the electronic media have virtually glossed over the brazen betrayal by Mulayam Singh Yadav. Emboldened by the media’s muted criticism, the SP chief has been going around justifying his U-turn. But nothing that he says sounds credible. In fact, Mr Yadav must stop the exercise and admit that he has been true to his image of being a turncoat and an untrustworthy politician. Indeed, it’s better to do business with the devil than with the SP chief.
Look at the sequence of events: First, Mr Yadav and Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee jointly address a Press conference after the latter met Congress president Sonia Gandhi to discuss the presidential candidates. Mr Yadav tells the media that his (and Ms Banerjee’s) first choice is APJ Abdul Kalam. The Trinamool Congress chief informs that Ms Gandhi had proposed Mr Mukherjee’s name as the Congress’s first choice. Now, since both Mr Yadav and Ms Banerjee publicly came out with Mr Kalam’s name after the Congress had offered Mr Mukherjee for Rashtrapati Bhavan, it was clear that Mr Yadav had rejected the Congress’s choice. But, less than 24 hours of that very public and categorical announcement, the SP chief had begun to backtrack. While Ms Banerjee in a principled stand stuck to the position, Mr Yadav abruptly distanced himself from her and fell in line with the Congress’s decision.
Mr Yadav now wants us to believe that he had initially endorsed Mr Kalam’s candidature because the Congress was hesitant to openly name the Union Minister for Finance’s name. That is rubbish. The Congress president had clearly told Ms Banerjee that Mr Mukherjee was her party’s first choice. Mr Yadav was aware of this and he mentioned that in the joint Press conference with the Trinamool Congress leader. Yet he had pitched for Mr Kalam. It is clear that he exploited Ms Banerjee’s anti-Congressism to strengthen his leverage with the Congress. He knew that the Congress would quickly open a channel of communication with him after the Press conference — and the Congress did — and he could then use the occasion to extract his pound of flesh, if not immediately then at a deferred date. We will know soon what the deal is that has been struck between the SP chief and the Congress.
Ms Banerjee may have many faults. She is mercurial and unpredictable. At times she is also unreasonable. But she is certainly not a wily and scheming politician that Mr Yadav is. It is now fashionable to say that the Trinamool Congress chief has been “outsmarted” by the SP chief. But that is an inaccurate assessment because she had never imagined that Mr Yadav would plot an entirely different script behind her back. Had she to know that, had she then to make a counter-move to check him, and had she to fail in that attempt, we could have concluded that she had been outsmarted. Ms Banerjee trusted the SP leader and that trust has been betrayed. This is politics, yes, but not the kind of politics that Ms Banerjee is proficient in. Hopefully, she has learned some lessons from the episode.
Of course, the West Bengal Chief Minister should have known better than to have put faith in Mr Yadav in the first place. A political commentator remarked on a television talk show that anti-Congressism was in the SP leader’s DNA. He was fondly hoping that Mr Yadav would stand by Ms Banerjee in the face of Congress’s pressure on him. But that particular strain in the DNA which he had discovered has not been in evidence in recent years. In 2008, the Samajwadi Party had bailed out the Congress-led UPA Government during the trust vote. Since then, the party under Mr Yadav’s leadership has been extending support to the Government from outside under various — generally dubious — pretexts. Although Congress leaders bitterly opposed the SP in the recently held Assembly election in Uttar Pradesh, calling it names and even tearing the SP’s manifesto at public meetings, Mr Yadav thought nothing of cosying up to the Congress soon after the election result was out. He shared the centre-stage with Ms Gandhi at the dinner hosted by the party to mark the completion of three years of UPA2 in office. And, his party continues to support a Government that by his own admission is mired in scams.
It is a travesty of justice that the media should have been so generous to the disgraceful act of Mr Yadav, with some sections even recording his betrayal as an “astute” political move. On the other hand, Ms Banerjee, who wears her heart and her politics on her sleeve, and whose only fault has been that she trusted the crafty SP leader, has been heaped with ridicule.
The media informed the people that the Congress had “called her bluff” and that she had been “cut to size”. But she had never been bluffing; her stand was for real —like it or not. As for being cut to size, the fact is that she is a formidable politician who will remain strong even if she quits the UPA. Ms Banerjee is a mass leader who cannot be remote-controlled by the Congress high command.
Why did the Congress reach out to the Samajwadi Party chief after the joint Press conference and not to Ms Banerjee, who is part of the UPA? The Congress knew that it was easier to ‘manage’ Mr Yadav. The Congress has no issue to threaten or cajole Ms Banerjee with. She has a starch-clean image and does not need the Congress’s support to run her Government in West Bengal. The only thing the Congress can do to retaliate is to hold back the financial assistance that Ms Banerjee has been demanding from the Centre for her State, and make life difficult for her regime.
But, since Ms Banerjee has demonstrated time and again that she will not be cowed down even by that threat, the Congress decided to work on Mr Yadav who, incidentally, had cases against him of accumulating assets disproportionate to his known sources of income. They can rather easily be reopened by the Congress-led regime if it so wants.

The Saraswati Civilisation

(First published in The Pioneer dated June 6, 2012)


A new study titled, ‘Fluvial landscapes of the Harappan civilisation’, has concluded that the Indus Valley Civilisation died out because the monsoons which fed the rivers that supported the civilisation, migrated to the east. With the rivers drying out as a result, the civilisation collapsed some 4000 years ago. The study was conducted by a team of scientists from the US, the UK, India, Pakistan and Romania between 2003 and 2008. While the new finding puts to rest, at least for the moment, other theories of the civilisation’s demise, such as the shifting course of rivers due to tectonic changes or a fatal foreign invasion, it serves to strengthen the premise that the civilisation that we refer to as the Indus Valley Civilisation was largely located on the banks of and in the proximity of the Saraswati river.
More than 70 per cent of the sites that have been discovered to contain archaeological material dating to this civilisation’s period are located on the banks of the mythological — and now dried out — river. As experts have been repeatedly pointing out, nearly 2,000 of the 3,000 sites excavated so far are located outside the Indus belt that gives the civilisation its name.
In other words, the Indus Valley Civilisation was largely and in reality the Saraswati River Civilisation. Yet, in our collective consciousness, numbed by what we have been taught — and what we teach — we continue to relate this ancient civilisation exclusively with the Indus Valley. For decades since Independence, our Governments influenced by Leftist propaganda, brazenly refused to accept even the existence of the Saraswati river, let alone acknowledge the river’s role in shaping one of the world’s most ancient civilisations. In recent years, senior CPI (M) leader Sitaram Yechury had slammed the Archaeological Survey of India for “wasting” time and money to study the lost river. A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture which he headed in 2006, said, “The ASI has deviated in its working and has failed in spearheading a scientific discipline of archaeology. A scientific institution like the ASI did not proceed correctly in this matter.”
Yet, on occasion after occasion, scientific studies have proved that the Saraswati  did exist as a mighty river. According to experts who have studied the map of all relevant underground channels that are intact to date and connected once upon a time with the river, the Saraswati was probably 1500 km long and 3-15 km wide.
The latest study, whose findings were published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, too is clear on the river’s existence and its role in sustaining the ancient civilisation. The report said that the Saraswati was “not Himalayan-fed by a perennial monsoon-supported water course.” It added that the rivers in the region (including Saraswati) were “indeed sizeable and highly active.”
Will the new findings lead to a fresh thinking on the part of the Government and an acknowledgement that the time has come to officially rename the Indus Valley Civilisation as the Saraswati-Indus Civilisation? But the UPA regime had been in denial mode for years, much like the Left has been for decades. As the then Union Minister for Culture, Jaipal Reddy told Parliament that excavations conducted so far had not revealed any trace of the lost river. Clearly, for him and his then Government, it meant that the river was the creation of fertile minds fed by mythological books with an even more fertile imagination. The UPA Government then went ahead and slashed the budget for the Saraswati River Heritage Project — which had been launched by the NDA regime. The project report had been prepared in September 2003, envisaging a cost of roughly Rs 32 crore on the scheme. The amount was ruthlessly pruned to less than five crore rupees. In effect, the project was shelved.
However, despite its best efforts to do so, the UPA could not completely ignore the facts that kept emerging about the reality of the river and the central role which it had played in the flourishing of the so-called Indus Valley Civilisation. In a significant shift from its earlier stand that probes conducted so far showed no evidence of the now invisible Saraswati river, the Government admitted half-way through its first tenure in office that scientists had discovered water channels indicating (to use the scientists’ quote) “beyond doubt” the existence of the “Vedic Saraswati river”. The Government’s submission came in response to an unstarred question in the Rajya Sabha on whether satellite images had “established the underground track of Saraswati, and if so, why should the precious water resources not be exploited to meet growing demands?”
The Union Water Resources Ministry had then quoted in writing the conclusion of a study jointly conducted by scientists of Indian Space Research Organisation, Jodhpur, and the Rajasthan Government’s Ground Water Department, published in the Journal of Indian Society of Remote Sensing. Besides other things, the authors had said that “clear signals of palaeo-channels on the satellite imagery in the form of a strong and powerful continuous drainage system in the North West region and occurrence of archaeological sites of pre-Harappan, Harappan and post-Harappan age, beyond doubt indicate the existence of a mighty palaeo-drainage system of Vedic Saraswati river in this region… The description and magnanimity of these channels also matches with the river Saraswati described in the Vedic literature.”
Interestingly, the Archaeological Survey of India’s National Museum has been as forthright on the issue. This is what a text put up in the Harappan Gallery of the National Museum says: “Slowly and gradually these people evolved a civilisation called variously as the ‘Harappan civilisation’, the ‘Indus civilisation’, the ‘Indus Valley civilisation’ and the ‘Indus-Saraswati civilisation’.” The text further elaborates on the importance of the river: “It is now clear that the Harappan civilisation was the gift of two rivers — the Indus and the Saraswati — and not the Indus alone.”
There is another interesting aspect to the new study by the group of international scientists that deserves mention. The report has discounted the possibility of ‘foreign invasion’ as one of the causes of the ancient civilisation’s decline. But, long before this report was published, NS Rajaram, who wrote the book, Saraswati River and the Vedic Civilisation, had noted that the discovery of the Saraswati river had “dealt a severe blow” to the theory that the Aryans had invaded India, which then had the Harappan Civilisation. The theory supposes that the Harappans were non-Vedic since the Vedic age began with the coming of the Aryans.
But, since the Saraswati flowed during the Vedic period, the Vedic era ought to have coincided with the Harappan age. Rajaram says in his book that the Harappan civilisation “was none other than the great river (Saraswati) described in the Rig Veda. This means that the Harappans were Vedic.”
Not just that, experts have pointed out for long that there is no evidence of an invasion, much less from the Aryans who ‘came from outside’. Rajaram, like many others had concluded that the drying up of the Saraswati river and not some ‘invasion’ was the principal cause for the civilisation’s decline.
However, the latest study by the international group leaves a question mark on the origins of the river. The report claims that Saraswati was not a Himalayan river. But, several experts believe that the river originated from the Har-ki-Dun glacier in Gharwal. Let’s wait for the final word.