Showing posts with label History. Show all posts
Showing posts with label History. Show all posts

Hyderabad and the Princely States (Guha Part 2)

Part 2 in an ongoing series. Last week we talked about Chapter 2 of Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi. This week's topic is Chapter 3, which deals with the accession of the Princely States. Next week is Chapter 4, on the turmoil surrounding Kashmir in 1947-8

When they think about 1947, most people naturally think about the tragedy of Partition, which left millions of people dead and displaced. Partition resulted in the creation of two states, but what is left out of this story is an alternative history where instead of two new nations, independence might have seen the formation of three, or five, or five hundred independent nations.

For there were more than five hundred Princely States in existence in 1947. Each of these had its own ruler and court, and many had the trappings of fully independent states (such as railroads, currency, and stamps). All the same, they had to pay significant taxes to the British crown, and none were allowed to maintain their own armies. The Princely States were also, one might add, the most backward in India when it came to the situation of ordinary people. While British India had begun to build schools and universities, and develop the foundations of republican governance, the various Maharajahs were perfectly comfortable keeping their subjects in total, feudal subjection.

Very quickly, between the fall of 1946 and the summer of 1947, the vast majority of Princely States signed "Instruments of Accession," whereby they agreed to hand over their sovereignty to India. The chief architects of this development were Vallabhbhai Patel and his agent, V.P. Menon. While Patel and Mountbatten did much of the formal negotiation from Delhi, it was Menon who went to hundreds of different Maharajahs all over India, and worked out agreements. According to Guha, because of his indefatigability and his remarkable competence, Menon is one of the unsung heroes of this story.

After Kashmir (which we'll talk about next week), the state that gave the most difficulty in agreeing to Accession was Hyderabad, which was governed by a Muslim Nizam, but with a Hindu majority.

At 80,000 square miles, Hyderabad was a huge state, bigger geographically than Great Britain. The Nizam of Hyderabad was one of the wealthiest men in the world, and it's not hard to see why he resisted turning over his position of power and eminence to what would surely be a diminished role in a united India. Faced with the request that he integrate Hyderabad with India, he preferred independence, but at various points he suggested he might throw in his lot with Pakistan.

There were pro-Congress/Democracy groups in the state under the Nizam, as well as a significant Communist movement. But the most important group was the Nizam's own Ittihad-ul-Muslimeen, a kind of proto-Islamist movement, led by a radical (fanatic?) named Kasim Razvi (sometimes spelled Qasim Razvi). With the Nizam's support Kasim Razvi organized thousands of armed "Razakars" to protect the Nizam's interests and harrass his opponents.

This Kasim Razvi turns out to be quite an interesting character. Guha describes him as follows:

In April 1948, a correspondent of The Times of London visited Hyderabad. He interviewd Kasim Razvi and found him to be a 'fanatical demagogue with great gifts of organization. As a 'rabble-rouser' he is formidable, and even in a tete-a-tete he is compelling.' Razvi saw himself as a prospective leader of a Muslim state, a sort of Jinnah for the Hyderabadis, albeit a more militant one. He had a portrait of the Pakistani leader prominently displayed in his room. Razvi told an Indian journalist that he greatly admired Jinnah, adding that 'whenever I am in doubt I go to him for counsel which he never grudges giving me.'

Pictures of Razvi show him with a luxuriant beard. He looked 'rather like an oriental Mephistopheles.' His most striking feature was his flashing eyes, 'from which the fire of fanaticism exudes.' He had contempt for the Congress, saying, 'we do not want Brahmin or Bania rule here.' Asked which side the Razakars would take if Pakistan and India clashed, Razvi answered that Pakistan could take care of itself, but added: 'Wherever Muslim interests are affected, our interest and sympathy will go out. This applies of course to Palestine as well. Even if Muslim interests are affected in hell, our heart will go out in sympathy.' (68-69)

I quote this passage about Kasim Razvi because I think it hints at how much worse things could have gone in Hyderabad. By 1948, Razvi's Razakars were known to be harrassing Hindus in some of Hyderabad's larger cities (Aurangabad, Bidar, and the city of Hyderabad); some Hindus were beginning to flee to surrounding regions, causing refugee problems in neighboring Madras. There were also rumors that arms were being smuggled into Hyderabad from Pakistan as well as eastern Europe, which was just recovering from the mother of all wars. While the Nizam resisted acceding to India out of self-interest, Kasim Razvi and his Razakars were resisting out of ideology, and they had the numbers -- and would eventually have the arms -- to pose a threat to a new Indian government with lots of other problems to deal with.

After Mountbatten's departure in June 1948, the Indian union's patience with Hyderabad ran out, and in September 1948, a military force moved in. Within a few days the Razakars were out of business, and the Nizam publicly agreed to accede to India.

Today, I think, few people could seriously imagine a different outcome. But if the Indian government had been less focused on its objective, or if it had decided that military force wasn't necessary, or even if it had delayed further in using force, I think it's a distinct possibility that Hyderabad might have remained free for at least a few years longer, and the story of accession could have been much bloodier.

As to whether Hyderabad could have remained independent forever, it seems like a rather remote possibility -- though it is interesting to contemplate. (Perhaps someone should write a fictional, "bizarro world" version of modern South Asian history, with a massive, independent Hyderabad smack in the middle of the Deccan peninsula...)

[Cross posted at Sepia Mutiny]

A Chapter a Week: Ram Guha's "India After Gandhi"

I've had Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi on my shelf for a couple of months, waiting to be seriously cracked. Why not read it together? It's not a book club that I'm suggesting, or at least, not exactly -- since anyone who proposed an 850 page historical tome as a book club selection would have to be out of his mind.

What I propose is this: we'll look at a chapter or so a week, and go in sequence. In each case, I'll try and present some of the main ideas in each chapter in a blog post, so readers can participate in the discussion even if they haven't read that chapter of the book. The idea is to do a survey of post-independence Indian history with emphasis on the conflicts that have occurred in various states. Guha tends to be much more pro-Nehru than is fashionable these days (since liberalization, many people blame Nehru for keeping India behind; I think this is mistaken). He is also scrupulous in looking at "marginal" communities such as the tribals, who are often left out of major histories. From the chapters I've read, Guha seems to be quite fair in his approach, and his style of writing is accessible without being 'dumbed down' in the least.

Next week's topic will be chapter 3, "Apples in the Basket," where Guha looks at how the Princely States were incorporated into the union -- sort of a neglected topic. For now, however, I wanted to look at a controversy that has come up around one of the earlier chapters (Chapter 2), where Guha talks about the events leading up to Partition.

* * *

Reihan Salam has given his opinion, on the "Partition" chapters, and on the book as a whole, which he disliked. The following is from a blog post Salam did at the blog The American Scene shortly after Tyler Cowen announced he would be discussing the book at his own blog:

Because I hold Tyler Cowen in the highest esteem, so much so that I will buy almost anything he recommends, I purchased Ramachandra Guha's India After Gandhi.

And it's bad. Really, really bad.

Basically, this is a work of hagiography (of Nehru, specifically, who deserves better by dint of having been an actual human being, and a quite shrewd one at that) that reflects an intensely partisan outlook: Guha is a partisan of the India's bien-pensant upper-middle left. You'd be far better served by reading anything by Ayesha Jalal or the Marxist intellectual Aijaz Ahmad. Amazingly, given that Guha is a serious scholar and (supposed) left intellectual who has considerable spent time outside India, he offers a Attenborough-esque portrait of a dastardly Jinnah and he demonizes Pakistan. (link)

I couldn't disagree with Reihan more. First of all, I'm not sure how Ramachandra Guha is "intensely partisan," and I'm not sure exactly what is mean by "India's bien-pensant upper-middle left." If he is referring to Indian leftists who come from privileged backgrounds, I think all leftists who are academics would probably be described that way, including, without question, Aijaz Ahmad. Having been a reader of Ram Guha's essays in magazines like Outlook for the past few years, I'm not even really sure it's accurate to say that Guha is a "leftist" at all -- if anything, his recent opinions have seemed to me to be more centrist than anything else. (We could discuss this.)

I also think Salam is wrong on substance. I don't think Guha demonizes Jinnah or Pakistan, certainly not in the early chapters. In chapter 2, Guha allocates blame for the disaster of the Partition three ways: 1) the Congress Party, especially Nehru, who early on disregarded the demands of Jinnah and the Muslim League, 2) Jinnah and the Muslim League, and 3) the British, who to some extent fanned the flames of communal hatred to protect their own interests.

Here are two paragraphs where Guha gives a brief account of the political break-down between Congress and the Muslim League that led the Muslim League to seek Partition:

It is true that Nehru and Gandhi made major errors of judgment in their dealings with the Muslim League. In the 1920s, Gandhi ignored Jinnah and tried to make common cause with the mullahs. In the 1930s, Nehru arrogantly and, as it turned out, falsely, claimed the Muslim masses would rather follow his socialist credo than a party based on faith. Meanwhile, the Muslims steadily moved over from teh Congress to the League. In the 1930s, when Jinnah was willing to make a deal, he was ignored; in the 1940s, with the Muslims solidly behind him, he had no reason to make a deal at all.

It is also true that some of Jinnah's political turns defy any explanation other than personal ambition. He was once known as an 'ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity' and a practitioner of constitutional politics. Even as he remade himself as a defender of Islam and Muslims, in his personal life he ignored the claims of faith. . . . However, from the late 1930s on he began to stoke religious passions. The process was to culminate in his calling for Direct Action Day, the day that set off the bloody violence and counter-violence that finally made partition inevitable. (41-42)

Jinnah is certainly being criticized here for stoking the fires of communalism to his own advantage. But I think Guha is being fair when he refers to Nehru as "arrogant" earlier on in the process.

Guha argues that partition was inevitable by 1946, and nearly inevitable as early as the 1940s. The Muslim League, which in 1927 was quite small, had expanded rapidly in the 1930s, running largely on a platform of "Muslim Unity," and by 1940 started calling for a separate state. The communal platform worked: Guha points out that by 1944 the party had 500,000 members in Bengal and 200,000 members in Punjab. It was not just Jinnah's ambition -- the Muslim League was a genuine mass-movement.

Guha also looks at the Provincial Assembly elections of 1946, which pretty much sealed the deal for Partition. Again, the Muslim League ran on a Muslim Unity/Pakistan platform, and was highly successful. Of the 492 "reserved" seats for Muslims in 1946, the League won 429 seats. The Congress still had an overall majority (927 seats), but the anti-Pakistan Muslim representatives were effectively swept out of power, leaving the Congress with no negotiating power whatsoever.

As for whether Jinnah was right or wrong, it's now hardly worth arguing over. All but the most extreme religious partisans now accept the division of India as a fact, not likely to ever be reversed.

However, it is interesting to compare Jinnah's account of why he desired Partition with that of a pro-Congress Muslim intellectual, Maulana Azad. Both of these quotes are epigraphs to Guha's Chapter 2, and I find them quite telling:

M.A. Jinnah: the problem in India is not of an intercommunal but manifestly of an international character, and must be treated as such. . . . It is a dream that Hindus and Muslims can evolve a common nationality, and this misconception of one Indian nation has gone far beyond the limits, and is the cause of most of our troubles, and will lead India to destruction, if we fail to revise our actions in time. The Hindus and Muslims belong to two different religious philosophies, social customs, and literature. They neither intermarry, nor interdine together, and indeed they belong to two different civilizations which are based mainly on conflicting ideas and conceptions. Their aspects on and of life are different. (from Jinnah's Presidential Address, 1940)

Maulana Abul Kalam Azad: It was India's historic destiny that many human races and cultures should flow to her, finding a home in her hospitable soil, and that many a caravan should find rest here. . . . Eleven hundred years of common history [of Islam and Hinduism] have enriched India with our common achievements. Our languages, our poetry, our literature, our culture, our art, our dress, our manners and customs, the innumerable happenings of our daily life, everything bears the stamp of our joint endeavour. . . . These thousand years of our joint life [have] moulded us into a common nationality. . . .Whether we like it or not, we have now become an Indian nation, united and indivisible. No fantasy or artificial scheming to separate and divide can break this unity. (from Azad's Congress Presidential Address, 1940)

Again, it probably isn't fair to ask Jinnah to play by today's standards, but I find myself much more in agreement with Maulana Azad's view of history and of the shared, hybrid Indian culture he espouses.

New vs. Old U.S. Citizenship Tests

It's fair to say that we ought to be able to pass the tests we ask other people to take. The U.S. citizenship test has traditionally had enough oddball questions in its question pool that I suspect many citizens wouldn't actually pass. Now it's been revised, and the Times surveys a range of ideological responses to the changes -- some immigrants groups are outraged, etc. However, if you look at the actual exams (the new exam question pool is here; a comparison of the new and old exams is here), it seems clear that the new exam is a huge improvement from the point of view of mechanics: the clarity and phrasing of the questions is now much, much better.

For example, one old question was "Where does freedom of speech come from?" What is that asking, exactly? Another bad one: "Why are there 100 senators in the U.S. Senate?" It's obvious what is meant (50 states X 2 senators per state), but the phrasing is bad. It's now so much why as how you get 100 senators.

Another poorly phrased question from the old exam is "What are some of the basic beliefs of the Declaration of Independence?" Again, it's a bit strange to refer to the "beliefs" of a written document. Better phrasing might be, "What are some of the principles expressed in the Declaration of Independence?"

Among the new questions, there are very few that have these kinds of problems. Admittedly, some of them are a bit more difficult from a straight historical perspective ("What territory did the United States purchase from France in 1803?"), but it's not hard to go learn (and yes, memorize) the answers.

Coolies -- How Britain Re-Invented Slavery

On, the BBC has itself posted a complete one-hour documentary, exposing the 19th-century British practice of Indentured Labour, through which more than 1 million Indian workers were transported all over the world -- only to be told there was no provision to return. They were effectively only slightly better off than the African slave laborers they were brought in to replace. The latter had been emancipated in 1833, when the British government decided to end slavery and the slave trade throughout the Empire.

The documentary is brought to you by... who else? The BBC!

Some of the speakers include Brij Lal, an Indo-Fijian who now teaches in Australia, and David Dabydeen, an Indo-Guyanan novelist who now teaches in Warwick, UK. I've watched about 25 minutes of it so far, and it seems to be pretty well designed -- some historical overview, but not too much. Most of the focus is on the descendents of Indian indentured laborers, who are now trying to work out the implications of their history.

Incidentally, it looks like this video can be downloaded for free to your PC -- in case you're going to be sitting in a train or an airport for an hour sometime this weekend, and wanted a little "light" entertainment. (You will also need to download Google's Video Player application.)

History Lessons: From the Sepoy Mutiny (1857) to Iraq (Today)

I'm sorry I've been a slack blogger of late -- I was finishing up another article for a journal, this time on blogging, anonymity, and the changing concept of "authorship." It would be a shame to neglect this blog just as I'm starting to write professionally about blogging!


At any rate, here's one recommendation: last week's Radio Open Source conversation with William Dalrymple. Many of the points Dalrymple makes will be familiar to people who have been following the reviews of his new book, The Last Mughal. (I blogged about it here)

What is new in this conversation is the attempt to make a direct parallel between the changing behavior of the British in the months and years leading up to the Mutiny, and the attitude of today's neo-conservative Hawks on the policy of "regime change" and "spreading democracy" around the Middle East.

The show was inspired by Ram Manikkalingam's excellent review of the book (along with Imperial Life in the Emerald City) up at 3 Quarks Daily.

Manan Ahmed, ("Sepoy" of Chapati Mystery -- highly appropriate to this topic) also makes an appearance in the last 20 minutes, talking about the work postcolonial historians have been trying to do to bring forward the kinds of stories Dalrymple's book focuses on.

The entire show is available for downloading as an MP3; if you are into downloading podcasts, this might be a good one. Otherwise, if you have 40 minutes, you might just want to listen to it right on the web.

What did Guru Nanak look like? Textbooks in California

In California, the Times reports that the School Board unanimously voted last week to alter a seventh grade textbook image relating to Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh religion (or panth), after protests from the Sikh community.

The controversial image isn't the big one pictured, but the small one (I've added a circle to make it clearer). The image is a 19th century painting of Guru Nanak wearing a crown and what looks like a somewhat cropped beard. Both the crown and the beard shape are troubling to Sikhs, who are accustomed to seeing images of Guru Nanak more along the lines of the bigger image to the right -- flowing white beard, and humble attire.

Though the New York Times has good interviews with community members on this, the Contra Costa Times actually spells out the issue more clearly:

The image is taken from a 19th-century painting made after Muslims ruled India. The publisher used it because it complies with the company's policy of using only historical images in historical texts, said Tom Adams, director of curriculum for the Department of Education.

After Sikhs complained that the picture more closely reflected a Muslim man than a Sikh, Oxford offered to substitute it with an 18th-century portrait showing Guru Nanak with a red hat and trimmed beard. But Sikhs said that picture made their founder look like a Hindu.

The publisher now wants to scrap the picture entirely from the textbook, which was approved for use in California classrooms in 2005. There are about 250,000 Sikhs in California.

Sikh leaders say they want a new, more representative image of Guru Nanak, similar to the ones they place in Sikh temples and in their homes. The publisher has rejected those images as historically inaccurate. No images exist from the founder's lifetime, 1469 to 1538. (link)

All of this raises the question -- what, in fact, did Guru Nanak look like? We don't have any images from his lifetime, and the later ones are clearly products of the values of their eras. What, historically, do we actually know? I went to Navtej Sarna's recent book, The Book of Nanak, to see what I could find out.

First off, I would recommend Navtej Sarna's book -- it's part of a series Penguin is doing, that also includes The Book of Mohammed. It's short, but it's well-written and accessible.

Secondly, Sarna states the obvious problem with any historical account of Guru Nanak: we don't have official (as in modernized, chronological) histories to work with, but rather a series of Janamsakhis, some of which were written down shortly after Guru Nanak's lifetime by personal associates, while others were written down a bit later -- at two or three degrees of separation. Some of the relevant manuscripts are mentioned, sketchily, at the Wikipedia site for Janamsakhis. (This Wikipedia entry could be improved!)

Some professional historians simply opt out of saying anything concrete about Guru Nanak's life. J.S. Grewal, for instance, in The Sikhs of the Punjab, goes right into textual analysis of passages from the Adi Granth, and doesn't mention any Janamsakhis. Sarna, for his part, acknowledges that his own work is based on the Janamsakhi materials, and proceeds on the basis that some of what is described is factual, while some must be under the category of folklore, and educated guesses have to be made. Along those lines, he comes up with a surprising description of Guru Nanak's attire:

Nanak was accompanied by Mardana on his travels, who carried his rabab. He dressed in strange clothes that could not be identified with any sect and symbolized the universality of his mesage. He wore the long, loose shirt of a Muslim dervish but in the brownish red colour of the Hindu sanyasi. Around his waist he wore a white kafni or cloth belt like a faqir. A flat, short truban partly covered a Qalandar's cap on his head in the manner of Sufi wanderers. On his feet, he wore wooden sandals, each of a different design and colour. Sometimes, it is said, he wore a necklace of bones around his neck. (53-54)

Unfortunately, Sarna does not tell us which Janamsakhi this derives from -- and I'm sure people would be interested to know, since this is a bit different from the common image of Guru Nanak. Sarna does later mention that at the end of his travels, Guru Nanak gave up these "travel clothes" and adopted the ordinary dress of a "householder."

At every point, however, what's emphasized is the strength of Guru Nanak's personal humility and his rejection of personal wealth or political power (which is not the same as a rejection of the material world). So the crown that's pictured in the first version of the California textbook is certainly incorrect. The rest, however, is probably open to conjecture and argument.


One other thought: this controversy is obviously part of a new pattern of textbook contestation in California. An earlier chapter occurred last year, when the Hindu Education Foundation and the Vedic Foundation wrote long reports offering their criticisms and suggestions of the representation of Hinduism in California school textbooks. In a post on the subject, I reviewed the details of those reports, and came to feel that some were good suggestions, while others seemed to be cases of whitewashing history. Though some of the dynamics are similar, this is a very different (and indeed, much simpler) case.

Payless Shoes, Lipton Tea.... and the British Empire

A connection made through the magic of semiotics. The following is from an interview in n+1 Magazine:

A.S. Hamrah [ASH]: But you can barely see it [the new Payless Shoes logo] as it is. It’s like the orange from the old logo is haunting the new logo. Payless is haunting itself.

n+1: Is that a term semioticians use?

ASH: It’s a term I use.

n+1: What’s another example of haunting?

ASH: I don’t know if you can picture the Lipton’s tea box. Lipton is named for Sir Thomas J. Lipton, the founder of the company, who was a yachtsman and became a symbol of the British Empire . There’s a tiny picture of him in the corner of the box. He’s all white, not like a white colonialist, but white like a ghost. But no one ever notices that or thinks about Sir Thomas Lipton anymore. In fact he’s not even “Sir” anymore on the box, he’s just Thomas J. Lipton. They made him really small and they pushed him into the corner, where he now haunts his own brand. I guess they don’t want their tea to be associated with imperialism.Payless doesn’t have a figure like Thomas J. Lipton, but they’re haunting their own brand just the same. (link)

You could also reverse this logic: By drinking Lipton tea, the "native" is cannibalizing the colonial master's body, via metonymy. The ghost of Thomas Lipton in the logo is the spectre of colonial history, now reduced to a vestige.

More prosaically, here is some interesting background on the story of the rise of Lipton's tea empire (including the plantations in Ceylon/Sri Lanka).

Can anyone think of other examples of semiotic "haunting," in advertising or elsewhere?

(While you're at n+1, also check out the moving testimonial to the assasinated Turkish journalist Hrant Dink, on n+1's main page)