Thursday, May 23, 2013


We reached early evening the less crowded cantonment Railway station of India's capital city Delhi for a week long sweep through Rajasthan's historic cities, legendry Forts and magnificent Palaces, bird and tiger sanctuaries, savoring its traditional hospitality and culture capped with a visit to Taj Mahal in our "Palace on Wheels".
At the entrance itself there was festive atmosphere with guests being received with garlands by smiling former khadims of Maharajas. In all about seventy, we were escorted to our decorated air conditioned bedrooms, most with two beds, hot and cold running water, shower, wash basin and WC. We quickly opened out our suit-cases, arranged our things and then strolled along the inter-connected saloons into a period bar where a handlebar mustachioed Raj put offered us a welcome cocktail .After meeting some fellow guests; we spent some time in the library with its many books on travel and then walked over to the period dining car. Most guests were settling down. Yes, there were some Indians too, NRIs, one with his US spouse, and foreign retired Ambassadors, businessmen, executives and others. Making polite conversation and sizing each other up, exchanging information and visiting cards. With whom to group with and spend more time.
Soon the Palace on Wheels (POW) started rolling out towards its first destination ;Jaipur, Rajasthan's pink coloured capital. We settled down to gourmet food, with Indian, Western and Chinese delicacies to choose from and found it better fare than at India's topmost hotels during our stops .Being a little tired but excited in anticipation we returned to the luxury cabin to sleep early to accustom ourselves to early morning schedules. On the way liveried bearers attached to each carriage, with 4 bedrooms and a cozy lounge enquired when could the bed tea be served in the morning -an old Indian tradition. We had to be ready by 0730 hours
                                               2nd Day - Jaipur, the Pink city
After tea in bed at 630 hrs with POW lined on Jaipur station and a quick shower we went to the lounge for breakfast of juice ,omlettes, toasts, butter , jam , with tea or coffee. But at 630 hrs an assistant of the senior most civil servant in the state, Chief Secretary ML Mehta,  had come to fetch us. Mehta and I had spent a year at New Delhi's National Defence College in1976 and have remained friends since then. We passed by the other POW guests being welcomed at the station in the traditional Indian ceremony with shehnai music, garlands and caparisoned elephants .
Mehta's car took us to his sprawling residence for breakfast with him and his family with all build-ings and shops  on the way painted in the regulation rose pink. His son after a business degree exports  Rajasthan silks, handlooms and handicrafts ,famous for its exquisite workmanship and beautiful bright colours. Meeting after 7/8 years we exchanged news and views and after a sump-tuous breakfast left to join the group which after a drive through Jaipur city, planned with straight grid roads in 1727 by Maharaja Jai Singh would have reached Amber Palace, residence of Kachh-waha Rajput rulers since 11th century till the construction of the City Palace.
On the way we passed by Hawa Mahal, ( Hall of breeze and wind), built for the women inside to watch processions outside in privacy .It  photographs impressively but is not so in reality. Because of  advance publicity many monuments do not measure  up to the expectations. Yes , Taj Mahal, Pyramids , Cappadoccia, Nemruh Dag  and Petra the pink Nabattean  city did. But not Abu Simbel,or  London's Thames bridge. Conveniently at Hawamahal there was a monkey dancing and a snake charmer too making a reptile sway to music. My friend was happy with monkeys and siezed the photo opportunity with a snake garlanded around her neck.
On way to Amber we passed by a shallow lake on the right .I first saw the lake and the city in 1967 as we drove down south through the hills from Delhi. It was like passing through the Cilician gates into Cukurova plains or from the Syrian gates onto Issos where Alexander defeated  Darius III. We drove many times from there when our daughter Bulbul was placed in Maharani Gayatri  Devi School, Jaipur and later Tinoo was sent in 1975 from Paris where I was posted ,to Mayo College Ajmer (before that both had studied at British Embassy school in Ankara ) Both the schools were established primarily to educate the children of ruling families. Rajasthan has many other good schools .
Reaching Amber we  mounted the last of the wheeling and swinging up and down elephant to go up to the Palace. Being her first elephant ride Yasemin was excited like a child .The panoramic view from the  Palace , one can see for scores of miles ( enemy approaching )overlooking the lake is fantastic. We visited a replica of Moti Mahal, palace of mirrors with the guide demonstrating  with a candle its  multiimage stars effect. But Yasemin was more excited to see the monkeys all over the Palace.( considered sacred one can see lots of them every where in India, as we see cats in Muslim  countries -late Alpaslan Turkes who was exiled to New Delhi in 1960s by Cemal Gursel remained fascinated with his encounters with monkeys.) After the Palace  many went to the State Handicrafts Emporium for shopping but we drove down to Hotel Ram Bagh Palace , the last of the Royal Jaipur residences , a wing still occupied by the current Maharajah of Jaipur, (whose polo playing father and beautiful step mother Gayatri Devi were popular celebrities on French Riveira and the exclusive salons of Paris and London) We partook from  a lavishly laid out buffet lunch. I found it spicy and hot but many in the group just lapped it up.
After lunch  we saw the observatory, built by Maharajah Jai Singh , a great astronomer and the  City Palace, mostly in yellow and white -an exception to the rule ,which now as a museum displays Royal arms, textiles,  jewellery, carpets  and has the usual shopping center  for tourists. We returned to POW only to freshen up and were driven up to hilltop Nahargarh Fort ,one of the Maharajah's resting places, from where the twinkling lights of the city below enhance the feeling of being in a dreamland. Till 1942 it used to be the treasury and it was rumoured that soon before India's independence  plane loads of jewels were flown out to Europe. While we were having drinks before dinner a programme of folkloric dance, music and fire breathing magic tricks was arranged .The lead dancer thought herself no less than courtesan Umrao Jan from whose film she enacted some dance numbers. By this time everyone looking after us knew about me .The Rajputs were very proud that one of them was India's  Ambassador to Turkey. They refused to accept any money for drinks. We were  happy to meet them. We returned to POW and our beds. It had been a tiring day , but already we were dreaming of the Chittorgarh Fort , with its hoary legends of Rajput valour and sacrifice and the marble palace in Pichola Lake of Udaipur.
                                            Day 3; Chitorgarh Fort and Udaipur.
Another early start. After breakfast we got into buses at 0730 hrs to drive up the hill through the seven massive fort gates( called Pols in Rajasthan ) to Chittorgarh.- a stronghold of Sisodia Rajputs, who established their rule here in 6th cent AD and built up this highest Fort at 500 ft on this  oblong hill .Three times they were attacked ; first in 1303 by the  forces of Turkish Sultan Allauddin  Khilji, then Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in 1534/35 and finally by Moghul Emperor Akbar  in 1567/68 .But each time they refused to submit and tens of thousands died while fighting  to the last man, with their women immolating themselves in fire( called Jauhar). After the last defeat they shifted to Udaipur .
Unlike Jaipur Rajputs they  refused to give their daughters in marriage to the Moghuls (  Byzantine, Serb and other  rulers did  to Ottomans .This was a normal practice in feudal times). So Maharanas of Udaipur Mewar are ranked highest among the Rajputs .Of the many legendry and hallowed spots is the 125 ft high Tower of Victory, a masterpiece in Jain architecture, built to celebrate victory over Gujarat ruler. Here we drank coconut  juice ,visited the Kali temple, which Rana Kumbha had built in 14th century, after the 6th century Sun Temple was destroyed by the Khiljis and the palace of legendry Queen Padmini who had refused to give in to the Khilji Sultan and  instead preferred to immolate herself as had done the women of  Xanthus in Asia minor twice when it was attacked by Persians in 6th cent BC and Roman  forces 500 years later. So the immolation was an older tradition in Asia Minor than in India. After a comfortable but non-descript 110 kms bus drive we reached Udaipur, surrounded by hills providing  strategic protection and artificial lakes dug  for drinking water and agriculture.When hard pressed Maharanas Partap and Udai Singh even left it to subsist on grass leaves but would not submit to the Moghuls even symbolically.
After reaching Udaipur City Palace , one of the largest in India, we saw  marble Jug Niwas Palace floating on lake Pichola , now a hotel, one of the prettiest and most entrancing sights in the world ; its Maharani suite being very popular with honeymooners .We were taken there by a motorboat and received with garlands and Aarti by two comely Rajput maidens in true Rajasthani traditional welcome .The Palace has an atmosphere of langarous haze and relaxation. You feel like doing nothing ,just relax and gaze at the surroundings including another red sand stone Jag-mandir Palace on the lake and the reflection of the City Palace on the shore.
A fabulous buffet lunch was laid out .Hungry, we did justice quickly and rushed to see my elder brother Prof Virendra Singh ,who has been teaching  there since mid 1960s . So whenever I go to India I visit him. We surprised them as the telegram of my arrival had not reached them . His wife Vishya is the daughter of Ramkot Rajah and grand daughter of Dulha House of Jaipur ,where  in 1968, when I first went there I was out drunk by her mother in law and some other ladies, although most ladies do not drink. It was a chastening experience as at that time I could out drink Turks including Mehmet Barlas,  Metin Munir and many Indian, Turkish and even Russian military officers .Vishya was most hospitable and distressed that we would stay but  an hour or so, still she quickly brought out an embroidered  cover for Yasemin , who wanted to see the City Palace  with its terrace gardens and penthouse suites for the Maharanas and their consorts .           
We caught the POW group and went round the city Palace with its long and glorious history, its rulers claiming descent from the Sun god and saw the  costumes , armoury and other belongings of the Maharanas..We then walked over to the neighbouring Palace with Chandeliers and a marvellous view. One of the Maharajahs had ordered from London everything made in crystal; tables ,chairs, sofas and even beds. Some of those Maharajas were really crazy. In the audience hall  sitar and tabla provided soothing music while we had  pastries , sand-witches, pakoras, cold drinks and tea.We went out to the balcony  to watch once again the beautiful ethereal view of the lake Palace as the dusk  was descending. We then rushed to Sahelion ki Bari, a garden created by Maharajah Sangram Singh for his  daughter to stroll around with her friends. There were illuminated fountains, run on water head differential , piped from Fatehsagar Dam, which made it like the Assassins paradise  in medieval times. To please the princess, in one corner the fountain showers created the tip-tip sound on large tree leaves and a feeling of rainfalling ,so rare in desert.
After this we made the return journey back to POW and at a tea stop I could not help but eat some hot crisp Kachchoris risking infection .We were  back into the train , which soon starts rolling. We showered  and had drinks in the bar and  a leisurely dinner with most passengers animated and excited. Next stop was Swai Madhopur, hunting lodge of Jaipur Maharajah with its tiger and animal sanctuary and the tenth century Ranthambore fort , for which we must start early to catch the tigers going to drink  and the birds and animals waking up.
                        Fourth Day ; Sawai Madhopur and Tiger Sanctuary at Ranthambore.
While having bed tea ,through the dark windows of the immobile and stationary POW we could see the still life at Sawai Madhopur station coming into slow animation as if in an impressionist  tableau. People waking up, yawning and  tousling up their hair ,slowing walking to the water hydrant , brushing teeth with neem twigs. A new wave film director would have to just  let the camera roll on. We got up from our reverie , gulped down our tea and were the last to join the waiting jeeps which were  ready to drive us to the sanctuary to look for a tiger. We passed by normal scenes of village life , with people going about their business  leisurely ,  water buffaloes lolling in water ponds,  birds  chirping etc.  After entering through the gates of the sanctuary ,on right hand side 250 mtrs up ,we could see the ruins and  ramparts of the Ranthambore fort. When Alauddin Khilji stormed it in 1303, twenty thousand women committed suicide (jauhar). We drove across the fields along miles and miles of the lake ,hanging onto the jeep railings. We saw various kinds of birds ,deers, chinkaras and other animals. Other groups like us guided us to where a tiger had been spotted. We looked for normal tiger signatures - the panicky reaction of  birds and baying of terrified Sambar deer, tiger's most favourite meal. It appeared to be a wild goose chase going up and down till finally we saw one from quite a distance.(It can be seen in its video captured glory  filmed with  telescopic lense )Everyone was happy and we returned to the POW for a late breakfast.
Our next destination was the golden city of Jaisalmer in the middle of Thar desert, not far from the Pakistani border. I tried to read about  what we had seen and what was to come .We were excited and drawing on our adreline flow, now we realised how fatigued we were  after 3 hectic days of sightseeing ,drinking and eating  well and not getting enough sleep. We had a few pre-lunch drinks in the restaurant car with fields, villages and many forts in distance passing us by .After a  leisurely lunch a hazy languor took  over and we returned for a long siesta. It was Diwali day, the festival of lights to celebrate the victory of virtue over evil ,so as the dusk fell , we could  see fireworks in the sky and lamps and candles being lighted up in the villages and hamlets along the rail track.. Late in night for a little while we stopped at the deserted Jaipur station for the change of the POW service personnel and then proceeded on to Jaisalmer .We needed to sleep well to recuperate ;for the next three days schedule was equally exciting and physically hectic.
                   Fifth Day; Jaisalmer of the golden castle, carved stone mansions and  camel ride
The early morning golden sun , which has inspired poets and laid the foundation of religions through millennia was just bathing the ramparts of  99 bastion massive sandstone castle founded by Rawal Jaisal in 1156 AD, with many additions of later date, making it aglitter like a giant gold jewel. Coming out of the POW we gaped at it, photographed it and continued to gaze at it from the dining car while savouring the special Indian breakfast of puries and curry . In spite of reading and seeing prints the sight was awesome in grandeur. We were given a very a  warm reception, as Jaisalmer located on trade routes in ancient and medieval times has little going for it now except tourists , with tens of thousands coming here every year , charmed by its castle and Havelis doing word by mouth publicity. It enchanted Indira Gandhi when she visited it. It gets attention being near the Pakistani border ; the other reason for its fame is nearby Pokharan, where in 1974 India conducted its first nuclear explosion.
But we first went to Gadi Sagar lake ,fed by rainfed desert river  whose  water sustains the citizens and animals throughout the year .Lack or failure of rainfall can be catastrophic .There are places of worship and pleasure around the lake with their myths and legends ,of a rich courtesan and recalcitrant Rajah. The musicians serenading the guests welcomed us with local tribal women hawking  silver trinkets. We had another magnificent view of the castle looking  like a barnacled Noah's Ark .But first we went to the Havelis ( mansions of rich traders and Viziers, who using local golden yellow sandstone and abundant local artisan talent have constructed beautiful buildings with carved balconies, latticed windows called Jharokas and designer facades..They were just magnificent and  open to public. The bazars were just like my birthplace Bhiwani on the edge of the desert. I had a cold so I bought cough syrup to keep it at bay for a few more days and medicines .I was tempted to eat juicy sweets , but was afraid of getting infection. We then went to the giant castle ,built on a triangular hillock on the advice of an oracle.
My own ancestors although originating from another state  Karauli in Rajashtan  nearer to Delhi belonged to the same clan of Yaduvansi /Jadon Rajputs.( In Saurashtra they are called Jadejas.The bulky Maharajas of Mysore are also Yaduvanshis) We went up  passing by the gates , listening to myths and legends of chivalry and romance .At some spots  young turbaned kids (as also near the Havelis) on the approach of tourists broke into singing and dancing .Cute little boys they were ,joyous and colourfully dressed .We listened to the  history of Jaisalmer and passed by  living quarters, some still being used .At the end we reached a cluster of Jain temples, a pacific vegetarian sect of Budha era vintage but popular among traders of West India , particularly in Rajasthan and Gujarat. Exquisite and intricate carvings of various incarnations of its founder Mahavir Jain could be seen along with his life story depicted in beautiful stone carvings. We had lunch in a newly built modern hotel using local stone  and then some rest in POW.
In the afternoon we drove out  to Sam Sand Dunes 80 km into the desert for the piece de resistance ; a long camel ride. It was fantastic experience for the first timers; the undulating ride , rows of colourful camels riding on pure Sahara like  sand. For real enthusiasts there are camel safaris  all over Rajasthan. At the mid-stop   there were musicians singing and playing on harmonium, Indian version of accordian. Far away from everywhere ,tourists feeling liberated , high spirited  and happy spontaneously broke out into a celebration of dancing . A pure  expression  of joy and abandon. Yasemin was  taken up and danced with gusto. Private enterprise provided  cola and water, even for your camel .By the time we returned to the starting point, a welcome cup of steaming tea was waiting and across miles of  sheer sand horizon the Sun was about to set in. So we  sat down to relax and watch it go down slowly with the sky slowly becoming orange red and crimson. Only a desert sunset can be like that. So different from sunsets of mountain tops , hills, lakes and seas. We returned to POW to wash up and change .Most ladies dressed  to kill and even men were all dolled up for an evening fare of local folk music and dances in the serene surroundings of Moomal Tourist Bungalow under a clear desert sky. We were in a party  mood ; out to enjoy and dance. First some  ladies joined in with  the local dancers and then almost everyone and what an enjoyable evening it turned out to be .In the end it was disclosed that one of the sinuous dancers was in fact a male.  It had been a long and exhilarating but a tiring day. We were awed ,satiated, amused  and entertained and returned to POW to go on to Jodhpur of  Mehrangarh fort, one of the most picturesque forts to be  seen anywhere.
                                 Day 6, Jodhpur , Marwar stronghold of  Rathores.
Today morning we did not have to hurry up, so after a leisurely breakfast, we boarded the bus for the Mehrangarh fort of Jodhpur, founded in 1459 by Rao Jodha , his  dynasty at its zenith of  glory, although it had begun in 1212.. We slowly walked up its various gates , as usual welcomed by groups of musicians . The ramparts and balconies were  high and there are legends of chivalry , love , bravery and sacrifice. In 1679 when Aurangzeb tried to convert its citzens to Islam, Jodhpur with Jaipur which had supported the Moghul dynasty joined up with  Udaipur and successfully defeated his designs. Like  Mediterranean coastal  cities which are white coloured or cream / white stone Amman, Jodhpur buildings and houses have  light blue colour wash. They  must look dreamy on full moon nights. Romantic and ethereal. We saw the private premises of Maharajas , their ornate bed rooms , the creche rooms and other places with fantastic views and a hazy Taj Mahal like silhouette far away of Umaid (Umit) Bhavan Palace, the only palace built in the 20th century.
We were shown  how a Rajasthan turban was tied .It is not easy. I had carried two tied ones to Dakar ( Senegal ) for my  credential ceremonies (also for Banjul,  Bamako, Priaha and Guinea-Bissau).The Rajputana Rifles had sent their professional turnbanmen to do the job. Jodhpur fort even has a mosque. We then drove to white marble Chhatris, the Hindu cremation cenotaph of the Royal family. It was quite something with  the tourist guide exaggerating the similarity between  names Christ and Krishna , the latter propounded Bhagvat Gita, the essence of Hindu philosophy.
Never mind that ,we drove through the city to the Umaid Bhavan Palace, now a hotel with a wing occupied by the Royal family. The Maharani personally ensures the cleanliness and upkeep of the Mehrangarh fort  and when in residence the Maharaja , who  was once  Ambassador in the Carribean, comes down to mingle with the guests and see that they are happy. Umaid Bhavan in light pink sandstone with a beautiful garden at the back and an excellent view of Mehrangarh is massive but modern. Its architect Lancaster was influenced by Lutyens, who designed New Delhi residence of the English Viceroy, now occupied by Republican India's President. It was built as a famine relief project to provide employment to the ryaya/subjects of the kingdom in 1930s. We had an excellent  lunch laid out for us after which we returned to our POW to relax and some  went for shopping.
The train started early to reach at 0600 hrs next day morning at Fatehpur Sikri , the  exquisite capital built by Moghul Emperor Akbar, but he was not destined to stay there. We were very fortunate. The epicenter of full Sun eclipse  was around the nearby Bharatpur bird sanctuary.
                           Day 7;Bird sanctuary, Fatehpur  Sikri, TAJ MAHAL and Agra Fort.
" --Only let this one teardrop, the Taj Mahal, glisten spotlessly bright in the cheek of heaven                                        for ever and ever—"    Rabindra Nath Tagore
It was as well that we had an early night, although being the penultimate day,  beginning to feel nostalgic we had celebrations. After a few drinks , I opened a Champagne bottle and there was a special dinner .We thanked the dining car staff and room attendants .As an Ambassador ,belonging to the Rajput caste I had all along been given great respect and pride of place. I made a short  speech of thanks for the warmth and hospitality of POW staff.
But today the last day was going to be  tough. After quick  bed tea, we got into the luxury bus at Fatehpur Sikri to drive to Keoladeo Ghana National bird sanctuary, excavated out of a swamp to form a large fresh water lake in 1902 by the Maharajah of Bharatpur. Around 350 bird species are sighted every year including during peak winter season  ,Siberian cranes. We reached in time for the eclipse to commence. A large number of people from all over India have come to witness the total Sun eclipse; for this was a rare chance ,as it was for us also. Somepeople  played with deers. We looked at the flights of birds-of so many kinds. This was going to be my first fully photographed and videotaped total eclipse.
How the Sun's rays and light dimmed slowly. The birds started making unusual noises , fearful and uneasy. It was not the usual chirping  we had heard on arrival. This was an unusual change of light for them. Soon it was almost total darkness early in the  morning, around 0830 hrs. It looked weird and I felt weird. No wonder our ancestors thousands of years ago gave such different and  fanciful meanings ,religious imputations and forecasts to such events in which many still continue to believe. Then the Sun emerged slowly from the shadow of the Moon and the Sunlight became normal. Once again peace returned and  the birds were calm  again and chirping quietly resumed. With many hundreds others in the Park we had collectively gone through a unique almost mystic experience.
We realised we were hungry so we were taken to a Garden restaurant and we enjoyed a buffet breakfast and moved on to Fatehpur Sikri, architecturally a beautifully designed city , near a permanent water source, river Jamuna . Begun in 1567 it took 7 years to build but it did not flourish. Akbar had to spend most of his time around Lahore to guard against attacks from the North West. And since then the Jamuna's course shifted away. Now situated in between the towns of Fatehpur (named after Akbar's victory in Gujarat) and Sikri, it is a marvel of city and palace planning. There are separate Mahals and suites for Akbar's many queens from different countries and religions, including one for Rumi Sultana from Turkey ,another for his chief Queen, a Rajput princess, mother of his son and heir ,Emperor Jahangir and a Christian one, all with their places of worship. After him it became a common practice to have Rajput princesses as queens , with in laws playing important role in successions and  holding key posts, like Commanders of Armies and bringing in the fiercely loyal Rajput warrior community into the Moghul fold ,which helped in lay-ing the foundations of the Empire and its expansion .
Yasemin was interviewed about her visit by UP TV and her reaction to the eclipse. She herself is Director/ producer with Turkish TV. We also visited the Dargah of  Shiekh Salim Chisti, who predicted birth of 3 sons to Akbar ;where people still flock to get their  wishes fulfilled. It is located in a large Mosque, whose courtyard of 110 and 140 mtrs can accommodate thousands of faithfuls and is entered through a magnificently carved Islamic styled high gate called Bulend Darwaza. We then drove to Taj View Hotel for lunch.
Taj Mahal was built by Moghul Emperor Shahjahan in memory of his favourite queen MumTAJ ,whose death left him inconsolable and wherein the two now repose in peace. With generations of peace and accumulated wealth ,during his reign, the Mughal Empire had reached its zenith of creativity.  It took two decades and up to 20,000  workers, artisans and artists at a time to shape his dream into an everlasting luminous poetry in marble. The famous Peacock Throne, of which a poor imitation can be seen in Topkapi Palace, Istanbul ,was also created during Shahjahan's reign. First timers have  anticipation of encountering one of the  wonders of the world (I was there  a little earlier with  President Suleyman Demirel in Februaury 1995. A year later when General Ismail Karadayi went to India, he was also charmed by Taj Mahal , Fatehpur Sikri and the Agra fort).
The first dazzling view should be seen from the main entrance and not the side one. We had some argument about taking my cameras inside, but the attendants were dimwitted. So I gave up. I had enough footage from the Turkish Presidents visit when I was able to photograph and video at will inside .The group oohed and aahed and admired it from far and from near, from this angle and that and from all distances  One human  creation which more than fulfills all your expectations and transcends it . It is a different vision at different times of the day and night , month, season and year. It is beyond description .Period .One has to see it to appreciate it and be seduced by its everlasting  rapturous beauty , height of human endevour in architecture  to chizzle an Emperor's dream into a shimmering vision in marble .Shahjahan was perhaps the guiding light as few authentic names of  architects are mentioned ; although among others one Isa Effendi Bey  (possibly a Turk) in Persian accounts is mentioned.
The last visit was to magnificent Agra fort ,built by Akbar in 16th century, Moghul's first opulent residence  before  Aurangzeb permanently shifted the capital to Delhi .It is a marvelous example of Moghul planning , garden landscaping ,architecture and construction with its Jahangiri Mahal , suites and chambers for the queens , concubines , harem girls, khadims and Halls for private and public audiences ,  beautiful pearly Moti Masjid, all framed  among lovely gardens and green spaces. Situated on river Jamuna it has a  panoramic sweep over the river bend  with a clear view of Taj Mahal from a distance .Alas Shahjahan, its builder ,was imprisoned here by his son and successor ,Emperor Aurangzeb and could only philosophise at the tragic turn of events.
Educated ,entertained and dined on gourmet dinners , treated  like a Maharajah for a hassle free  week , but exhausted , we returned to our Palace on Wheels to recall , ponder,  assimilate , think  and savour memories for ever. It was some trip ,to be able to see so much in so little time. To see  what we did will take at least twice the time and twice the money with  the hassles of transferring to hotels and airports , hustling for taxis, queuing for Palace and fort entrance tickets, looking for Tourist Guides or  tea, mineral water or soft drinks and right restaurants for lunches and dinners .
When the Chairman of Indian Railways was planning to bring out the mothballed old Royal rail-way saloons and carriages used by erstwhile Maharajas and Nawabs of the Indian princely states for these travels, he was being so demanding that his adviser on tourism RK Puri, exclaimed "What you want is a Palace on Wheels." And that is what they have created. The  original saloons  having done duty the current ones while less luxurious are  more comfortable and functional with attendants at your service all the time .Tour escorts like Atul Jhala, scions of old ruling families with their grace ,quiet charm, dignity and politesse of nobility ensure air conditioned coaches with professional tourist guides, many professors or experts in arts and culture, awaiting  you, without any worry about entrance fees ; cool drinking water or tea when you wish, escorting you to the best of shopping ; silks ,handicrafts , gifts for the loved ones and souvenirs .The comforts of a Maharajah created in a Republican India. What more can one dream and wish for ?
Amb (retd) K. Gajendra Singh  1997  Ankara ,Turkey
( It was used by Turkey's most popular and only English daily Turkish Daily News  , published from Ankara on two days ,a full page each ,with photo prints taken and supplied by the author. It was free .TDN charged US$ 5000 per page or even more )

Monday, May 20, 2013

Syrian Volcano; Turkey’s other Headache, Alevis

Syrian Volcano; Turkey's other Headache, Alevis
 Do not open the Syrian 'Pandora's box', Iraq is still burning.
"If Syria implodes, the Syrian fire would consume neighboring states," Bashar Assad
 "Ankara is very far out on a limb on Syria," Peter Lee in Asia Times
"The problem with western reporters is that they are past their due date – remnants of an industry we once believed brandished standards of objectivity we never actually witnessed...The Syrian crisis is not about reforms any longer – it has become a geopolitical battle for influence in the Middle East, with NATO, the GCC and BRIC nations taking sides, "Sharmine Narwani, a London/Beirut based journalist.
Western media and Al Jazeera have outdone themselves in destroying the noble profession of journalism since the Arabs revolt against US puppets in the Arab world-author
While posted at Amman (Jordan) in 1989-92, the author motored up to Damascus a few times .He found the Syrian immigration officials at the border very friendly, both during entry and exit. They insisted on serving tea or coffee, even during Ramadan, while the visa formalities took but a few minutes. The author noticed that Turkeys' province of Hatay (Antakya –old Antioch) was shown in the maps on the wall within Syrian borders.
Some two decades earlier while posted first time at Ankara the author had enquired about the problem of Hatay, the Syrian ambassador, a legal luminary, told me that the Syrian province was stolen after a fraudulent referendum in 1939, but Damascus had not filed any legal claims in any international judicial forum .Other Syrian complaint has been Ankara's refusal to discuss sharing of the waters of Euphrates, which originates in Turkey but is the life line of Syria. Turkey has built a massive dam against Syrian protestations, which the latter considers a strategic threat too.
One Turkish prime minister declared that Ankara had full rights over its waters like Arabs have over their oil resources .Euphrates and Tigris , which touches Syria in north-east later flow through Iraq and were the main underpinning of the Mesopotamian civilization , verily the mother of most civilizations including the European  .Mesopotamia or modern Iraq now lies divided and devastated in the wake of US led illegal invasion of 2003  called 'Operation Iraqi Freedom" and its brutal occupation leading to over a million Iraqis dead since then and more killed every day.  
I mentioned in passing Syrian maps at the border when I had gone to express unhappiness and distress to the Director General in the Turkish foreign office in mid 1990s after Ankara had joined a group on Jammu and Kashmir at UN in New York .I was also upset by an earlier statement by the Turkish president during the visit of the Pakistani prime minister , always inflaming hosts with vitriolic ,misleading and false propaganda on J and K .He had said that Ankara would accept an agreement on Kashmir only if Islamabad agreed .This undiplomatic utterance was suppressed in the Turkish media and in the official account of the press conference .This had irritated the leftist Turkish foreign minister present at the meeting .An earlier incumbent I had gone to remonstrate among others regretted the president's remark adding that Kashmir was a very complex issue .I was able to get the exact but unofficial version not made public via a friend , who was close to the president .I had conveyed back a message that what if the people of Kashmir reached a settlement with India .What would Ankara do . I had received many messages indirectly from many Turks including diplomats who did not agree with the Turkish stand. That demarche was perhaps the only frosty meeting with the director general, who was otherwise a good and constructive friend.
Coming back to the present, it seems that AKP prime minister Erdogan and his Foreign minister Davutoglu   are going ballistic, almost crazy with prodding and petrodollars from tiny but gas full Qatar and Riyadh, financiers of ruling Islamist Justice and Development party (APK) and other Islamist groups and even extremists and a declining hegemon, military –Industry complex controlled Washington, now in retreat to neutralize Iran's resistance and power by breaking up its ally Syria. (Note that most Islamist political parties include the word Justice or Salvation)
"A new Middle East is about to be born. We will be the owner, pioneer and the servant of this new Middle East," Davutoğlu told Parliament after attracting criticism from opposition parties over Ankara's Syria policy.
Such statements by Davutoglu would have suited Turkish folk tales hero Hoja Nasrettin (its equivalent in the subcontinent is Sheikh Chilli) but not a Turkish foreign minister .It reminds me of Condi Rice's statement soon after the 2006 Israeli Hezbollah war had begun, when she had described the wanton and illegal destruction of civilian infrastructure in Lebanon as the birth pangs of a new Middle east. Rice's "New ME Birth pangs" Deliver "Daughter of the Mountain" July 31, 2006                                             
They were, but with Hezbollah on top of a chastened IDF
Hezbollah Singes Samson's Locks  22 August 2006                                       
During WWI, Ottoman armed forces fought well at Gallipoli under Kemal Pasha later known as Ataturk, who forged the new republic of Turkey out of the ashes of the Ottoman Empire after its defeat and collapse. Ottoman Turks successfully withdrew from its Arab domains, where the British played foul, as usual, even occupying oil rich Kirkuk in Mesopotamia etc after the ceasefire .In north east, after the revolution in Russia, Soviets withdrew from areas Ottomans had lost. Not keeping the word, the British and the French cheated the Arabs and divided the Arab lands among themselves and created the cancer of Israel.
Under Ataturk, the regulars and irregulars fought gallantly and drove out the British encouraged Greeks who had reached the outskirts of Ankara, back into the sea to Smyrna, now Izmir and forced other European nations like France and Italy to withdraw their forces and saw Britain finally make peace.
Ataturk was one of the greatest of strategic thinkers and commanders but he believed in 'Peace at Home and Peace Abroad' .Seeing WWII clouds in the horizon he even made up with Greek enemy prime minister Venizelos and advised his party and government in Ankara before his death in 1938 to keep out of onrushing war; not to be occupied or destroyed by the Germans and then liberated by the Soviets.
A brigade sent in 1950s to fight in the Korean War till the last men , to get acceptance into NATO did valiantly .Their 1975 invasion of Cyprus was poorly organized when Ankara sank its own naval ship. It was against Makarios police forces, who relinquished even more space than the Turkish armed forces had even planned to take over. Turkish troops stay put on the divided island and the wily British remain masters of the Akriotri base, they ought to have relinquished after the independence of Cyprus .These bases are used for wars of choice in Middle East including the two wars on Iraq and remain lily-pads for US led western aggression in the region.
The record of Turkish armed forces is poor against PKK guerillas in south east Turkey.
In the last few years the top Turkish military leadership has been hounded out and demoralized by AKP leader Erdogan and others .How will the disaffected Turkish armed forces fight? AKP and Riyadh are in hubris .Tehran will exact vengeance if Turkey enters Syria .Fifteen percent  Turks are Alevis , with similar Shia belief  as the ruling Alawite 12% minority ruling elite in Damascus  .Syria has almost 10 % each of Kurds and Christians .Syrian Kurds dominate the Syrian side of the long border with Turkey  where PKK was ensconced .The border  province of Antakya ( historical Syrian Antioch) has very large Alawaite and Alevi population .It has been alleged that the then Sunni ruled Damascus  had not opposed determinedly Antakya's take over by Turkey fraudulent referendum  organised by the West just before WWII as an inducement for Ankara to join UK led Western powers .
I have kept a watch over Turkey since 1967 and was fortunate to be part of the exchange of VVIP visits exchanged between India and Turkey at the level of the Presidents and other such visits during my tenure of 1992-96 , apart from opening the doors for cooperation in the military and defense sectors . I enjoyed my ten year stay and extensive travel around the country, home of over forty civilizations and warm Turkish hospitality .I thus feel saddened at the direction of the Turkish foreign policy of the Islamist AKP in power since 2002 under its acerbic leader PM Erdogan, whose party under the influence of billions of Saudi money in financial gifts and in investments in AKP strongholds of central Anatolia is fast chartering Turkey into dangerous channels. 
Even the Asia Times which generally follows pro-Washington policy has been forced to disseminate two articles against Ankara's policy on Syria in particular and with neighbors in general .It appears that FM Davutoglu's much flaunted policy of zero friction with Turkey's neighours is mutating into hostile relationship with most of them specially on Syria , where  forays into Syria's internal affairs are being carried out from the province of Hatay which the author visited many times both during 1969-73 and 1992-98
From its capital Ankara I made my night halt 700 kms away in South at Antakya (Antioch), capital of Selucus Nikator's empire, Alexander's infantry commander against Porus in India, but when he tried to reclaim Alexander's domains he was defeated and fobbed off with 500 elephants by Chandra Gupta Maurya.
Another extract below
After passing by the modern port of Mersin, come to Tarsus, birth place of St Paul, where Cleopatra seduced Mark Antony. Up north in the mountains are Cilician gates, from where Alexander ( & other conquerors going east or west) passed through to the Cukurova plains, littered with Crusader castles; Issus, where Alexander defeated Darius III in 333 BC. After crossing the Syrian gates and passing by Ottoman mosques and medresses, come to Antakya (ancient Antioch) on river Orantes founded by Sileucus Nikator (who knew well Chandra Gupta Maurya), with its most magnificent collection of mosaics. Here followers of Jesus were called Christians for the first time, St Peter and St Paul first preached here. It changed hands between Persians, Arabs, Byzantines and others. Down south Cleopatra married Mark Antony and there is a village where Moses came to meet prophet Hizir.
Situation in refugee camps for Syrians in Turkey
Two Cairo based free lance journalists, Erin Banco and Sophia Jones reported in Asia Times how like a well-choreographed plays Turkish officials helped form "committees" inside every camp to speak on behalf of the refugees with the press and outside organizations. The story is a simple narrative of suffering Syrian refugees, fleeing the bloody crackdown by President Bashar al-Assad, finding relief, commendable conditions and the chance for a new life. But the government of Turkey is "hiding something", according to a prominent Turkish human-rights lawyer - a sentiment shared by many Syrian refugees inside the camps. 
Meanwhile, analysts are warning of the potential for clashes between locals and Syrian refugees. Huseyin Yayman, an academic and leading columnist on security matters who writes for daily Hurriyet, wrote some time ago that Hatay province, which is currently hosting tens of thousands of Syrian refugees, has "intentionally been turned by provocateurs into a gunpowder barrel ready to explode at any moment."  

Compounding Ankara's dilemma is that it is not only facing the ire of the Assad regime, and Syrian Alawites today, but also the increasing resentment and anger against Turkey among the Middle East's Shiites, who look on the Erdoğan government as one of the principle sponsors of the armed Sunni-led resistance by the Syrian opposition.

Ankara unhappy at Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization
AKP mouthpiece Zaman reported in January that Ankara expressed its discontent to Washington over its listing of Jabhat al-Nusra as a terrorist organization, by arguing that the announcement "was ill-timed." This message was reportedly conveyed during the talks Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu had in Washington .If there was any truth to any of these reports, it indicates that the Erdoğan government is playing with fire in order to force outcomes that suit its own ideological expectations, rather than considering the consequences for Turkey's long-term security interests.
After Iraq, now another Pandora's Box in Syria being opened
When US invaded Iraq ten years ago, which induced sectarian and ethnic conflicts in the state, Jacques Chirac, president of France at the time, had accused the invasion of the U.S. army as opening "Pandora's Box" in Iraq. Now, another box has been opened in Syria.

The Syrian crisis was quickly allied to the geopolitical interests of the United States against Russia and Asia. The unshakeable goal of the United States is to change the Syrian regime, break up Syria- Iran alliance and maintain its leading role in the Middle East.

Changing the regime of a sovereign country by external force has been the consistent foreign practice of the United States since the Cold War ended. The process will be cruel to Syrian people and the consequence will be calamitous to the state and even the world peace.

Yevgeni Primakov on the Conflict
Former Russian Prime Minister Yevgeni Primakov , an expert on Middle East in an interview with Российская газета (Rossiskaya Gazeta: The Russian Newspaper) last year warned , "If the armed opposition topples Assad, a Sunni junta in Damascus would arise, which automatically would entail persecution of the Alawis, who are a significant bloc in the population. Reprisals wouldn't only target the activists of the ruling Ba'ath Party, as some think, rather, they'd strike everyone who doesn't share their religious beliefs".
In his view, much of the Arab League member states support the Syrian opposition because they don't want an Assad victory. They fear that it'd create the ground for the formation of a Shi'a alliance consisting of IraqIran, Syria, and Lebanon. He also noted that Assad's overthrow wouldn't stabilise Syria, pointing out, "All the talk in the West in support of the opposition, claiming that they desire to establish democracy and stability in Syria is absolutely untenable. There will be neither stability nor democracy there [if the opposition wins]".  Primakov opined that Russia's stance on the Syrian question "was the only correct course. If I were head of the government or Minister of Foreign Affairs, then, I'd support the policy that's now in force".
Many political observers believe and I agree that the Gulf monarchies hope that by fully assisting and diverting attention to the carnage in Syria, they will be safe .It is a fatally wrong belief.
Syrian Refugees in Hatay and nearby.
Syrians fleeing their shelled-out homes are finding relative safety in Turkey, but not as refugees. The Turkish government classifies all people who flee from non-European countries as "guests" of the Turkish state. Under this classification, Syrian refugees receive basic protections, but their status is open to revocation. Guest status fails to confer even the minimum guarantees that the 1994 Turkish Asylum Regulations would provide, meaning that Syrians do not have the ability to register as asylum seekers, and do not receive identification cards or residence permits. 

Turkey ratified the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees with a provision that allows them the option only to apply refugee status only to people who have fled Europe. Turkey claims it has no international obligation under the Geneva Convention to provide refugee status to Syrians, and therefore, has no obligation to grant them permanent residency in Turkey, only in another country. 

But according to the August 2011 Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network report, providing full protection to the Syrians seeking asylum in Turkey is "not only a humanitarian imperative but a legal obligation under international refugee law and international human rights law". 

Refugees fleeing the violence in Syria mainly enter Turkey through official border crossings and register with the Turkish authorities before being sent into a camp. Once they enter the camps, Syrians effectively have no access to UN refugee assistance since they are rarely allowed to travel far from the camp perimeter. This gives them no real possibility of travelling to UN refugee agency offices in the cities of Ankara or Van, both far away, to file for asylum status. 

One exception to this rule has been for Free Syrian Army (FSA) members living in the soldiers' camp in Reyhanli (where the blowback has already begun). Not only have FSA members received permission to leave their camp, but the Turkish government has reportedly provided large sums of money for non-essential surgeries they would not have been able to afford in Syria, according to doctors we spoke with. 

Some Syrian activists, as well as other dissident soldiers in Hatay's capital, Antakya, believe payments for these surgeries are being used as a form of bribery. One defector, a former officer in Assad's army, said he thought the Turkish government was paying off people to silence them for fear they would return back to Syria and spread politically damaging information, including the full story of the treatment of refugees in the camps. 
Since Hatay province was, prior to 1939, part of Syria and is home to a large Alawite population, so many support the Assad regime. The majority of the refugees in the camps, however, are anti-Assad Sunnis, creating extreme tension in the region. 

A conversation with Mithat Can - one of the most prominent human-rights activists in Antakya and a man with the power to affect aid flowing into the camps - drove home just how much old enmities are affecting the way supposed advocates are dealing with needy refugees. 

Can, an Alawite, bluntly said: "There is no war in Syria. The conflict in Syria," he said, "is not between the government and the people." According to him, there is an international imperialist plot by "Western gods" to remake the Middle East. He also claimed that the Syrian army was not targeting citizens at all, stating that the turmoil in the country stemmed from the fact that the Syrian government would not allow foreign intervention alter the political and economic landscape of the region. 

Can, whose formal job is to help refugees file for asylum with the UN but whose opinion holds sway over local donors on whose aid refugees depend, stated that he believed that the news coming out of Syria was baseless Israeli and American propaganda and that the Syrian people were "actually okay". This is the other version opposite of what CNN BBC, Al Jazeera dole out.

According to David Zeidan the Alevis constitute the second largest religious community in Turkey (following the Sunnis), and number some 25% (15 million) of the total population (Alevis claim 30%-40 %!). Most Alevis are ethnic and linguistic Turks, mainly of Turkmen descent from Central and Eastern Anatolia. Some 20% of Alevis are Kurds (though most Kurds are Sunnis), and some 25% of Kurds in Turkey are Aleve (Kurmanji and Zaza speakers).
Alevis consider themselves to be part of the wider Shi`a movement, who revere Ali (Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law) and the Twelve Imams of his house. Like all extreme Shia groups, their reverence for Ali verges on deification, for which reason classical Sunni ulama classified them as ghulat (exaggerators), outside the orthodox Islamic fold. Alevis are also called Kizilbash (the name of the Turkmen followers of the Safavid Sufi order of the 15th and 16th centuries), and Bektashi (followers of the Anatolian Bektashi Shia Sufi order founded in the 13th century). Further names used to signify specific tribal and linguistic identities: Tahtaci; Abdal; Cepni; Zaza; or names of great men revered by the Alevis: Caferi; Huseyni.
Alevis are distinct from the Arabic speaking Alawis of Syria and Southwest Turkey (Nusayris). Both are extreme Shia (ghulat) communities with similarities in doctrine and practice, but separate historical developments.
The Alevi liturgical language is Turkish, as opposed to Sunni and Twelver Shia use of Arabic. They thus see themselves as the "real Turks", maintainers of true Turkish culture, religion and folklore in face of the Arabizing Ottoman Sunnis. Some of the differences that mark Alevis from Sunnis are the use of wine for religious ceremonial functions; non-observance of the five daily prayers and prostrations (they only bow twice in the presence of their spiritual leader), Ramadan, and the Haj (they consider the pilgrimage to Mecca an external pretense, the real pilgrimage being internal in one's heart); and non-attendance of mosques.
The central ritual of Alevi religious life is the ayn-i cem (cem for short) celebration that is a replay of Muhammad's legendary heavenly journey (mirac) with the assembly of forty (kirklar meclisi), combined with a memorial to the suffering of the Twelve Imams. A sacrificial meal (lokma), a ritual alcoholic drink, nefes hymns accompanied by music on the saz, dance (sema), and the ritual lighting and extinguishing of candles, are elements of the celebration. The ayn-i cem takes place only when distrusted outsiders are not present, and is held at night under great secrecy - a fact that opened it to Sunni speculations of immorality. Once a year this ritual is held under the leadership of a dede assisted by a rehber in a private house or a communal building (cemevi) attended by women on almost equal footing with men.
They accept Ali as the only legitimate successor to Muhammad and add to the Witness formula (shahade) the words "and Ali is God's Friend". Muhammad and Ali are emanations of the Divine Light - Muhammad is the announcer, Ali the preserver of Divine Truth, and both seem sometimes to merge into one divine figure. The veneration of Ali, approaching deification, is a central marker of all streams and Ali is placed above Muhammad with divine characteristics attributed to him as the gate (bab) to esoteric knowledge. As extreme Shias, Alevis believe in the incarnation of the Divine Light in Ali and his descendants the 12 Imams who are seen as infallible and sinless guardians of true Islam.
Alevis venerate Ehlibeyt - the House of the Prophet (Muhammad, Ali, Fatima, Hassan, Hussein) - seen as transcendent and superior to all others, and offer them love and reverence (sevgi ve saygi). They reject all enemies of ehlibeyt, especially the Ummayads who are seen as the personification of evil: they imposed Sunnism as the dominant orthodoxy to enslave the masses; distorted true Islam; destroyed the original Quran and pro-Alid Hadiths, and persecuted the Imams.
Alevis traditionally inhabit rural Central and Eastern Anatolia, in particular the triangle Kayseri- Sivas-Divirgi. Kurdish Alevis are mainly found in Tunceli, Elazig and Mus provinces. On the Mediterranean coast there are some tribal Alevi settlements of Tahtaci and Cepni. Alevi areas are peripheral and underdeveloped, resulting in the migration of Alevis to the large industrialised cities of western Turkey (and to Western Europe, mainly Germany) in relatively larger proportion than rural Sunnis. Alevis in Europe (especially in Germany), experiencing the freedom of a pluralistic society, stimulated new interest in Alevi ethnicity and culture (Alevilik).
During the Ottoman period , especially after the decimation of the Janissaries , which had gone rogue and who followed the Bekashi order , the Alevis were mostly neglected and even suppressed .Safavids of Persia played a negative role throughout history  by converting more cosmopolitan central Asian Turkish arrivals with their belief in Turkish God Tangri and Shamanistic beliefs and practices and even some strands of Christianity .There fore the Sunni Ottomans massacred the Alevis from time to time .
This antipathy and enmity has continued even in recent times . Much of the violence during the late 70s although presented by state and media as left versus right was in fact Sunni versus Alevi. Ultra-nationalists allied themselves to Sunni fundamentalists in attacking Alevis. Even some communists of Sunni background sided with conservative Sunnis against their political allies of Alevi background. In 1978 in the city of Kahramanras in southern Turkey local Sunnis went on a rampage, slaughtering scores of leftist Alevis from the nearby villages in the worst massacre in living memory.
Renewed inter-communal violence is sadly on the rise. In July 1993 at a cultural festival in Sivas a Sunni fundamentalist mob set fire to a hotel where many Alevi participants had taken refuge and 35 people were incinerated. The state security services did not interfere and the prosecution against leaders of the riot was not energetically pursued.
The author had seen the violence in early 1970s , which led to a soft coup in 1971 .The author was again posted now as ambassador ( 1992-96) when Sunni Turks set fire to the cultural get together of Alevis at Sivas in 1993 .Alevis were protected by the secular armed forces and the Republican People's Party RPP) established by Ataturk . The current leader of RPP is an Alevi .
But the Islamisation and AKP's foolish policy on Syria will open many Pandora's' boxes in Turkey, the Kurds being a complicated and more visible one even violently and the underlying disaffection of Alexis simmering underneath , especially in Hatay and the adjoining areas .
An Alevi revival is now flourishing as young Alevis are for the first time in history willing to openly admit their Alevi roots. Not so long ago, they would have denied their being Alevis if asked. Alevis had always practiced their rituals behind closed doors, but in recent years hundreds of Alevi religious societies have been founded, Alevi monasteries have opened in major cities, and Alevi rituals held in public venues in the large cities.
K.Gajendra Singh .20 May, 2013.Mayur Vihar, Delhi-91

Friday, May 17, 2013

In India, the more it Changes, worse it becomes

In India, the more it Changes, worse it becomes
(Le plus ca change la plus ca la meme chose= (In France) the more it changes the more it remains the same)
After every few years in India, we hope it cannot get worse, it was much better earlier. But we are shocked and surprised every time .See a dysfunctional democracy or increasing anarchy in political action and reaction .A dead parliament , ministers refuse to take responsibility for their crimes .There is no accountability .PM remains mum, hears nothing , apparently sees nothing .Sonia Gandhi's three monkeys in one. The spokesmen and ministers have become brazen and could not care less for any norms or sense of accountability .The system has little moral standing .The opposition especially BJP or SP or even TMC are no better. The British coating of some rule of law has disappeared and the Indian polity had gone back to its end Moghul era feudalism with mediaeval outlook, fast reverting to ancient era tribalism.
We just had elections in Karnataka .Will anything change, unlikely .A piece on elections in 4 Indian states when BJP was ruling at the centre in 2003 written in Bucharest is given below. Things have gone from bad to worse. Judge for yourself.
Take care Gajendra Singh 8 May 2013. Mayur Vihar Delhi

                                                      FOUNDATION FOR INDO-TURKIC STUDIES                         

Tel/Fax ; 0040216374602                                                         Amb (Rtd) K Gajendra Singh                                                       
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Web site.                                                                                          Bucharest (Romania ).                                                                              9 December , 2003 
Something's rotten in the state of India
By K Gajendra Singh                                                                   10, December, 2003

While celebrating the Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP) unexpected victory in three major states last week in the Hindi heartland of India - Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh - the party's jubilant leader, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, asked: "We are called communal and are accused of practicing communal politics. But what about this election?" He then added: "Hum ko bhi aisi asha nahi thi. Hum logone socha tha two-two ayega" (Even we didn't expect this. We thought it would be two-two). As it turned out, the opposition Congress only managed to win in Delhi, of the four states contested, where it had been in power.

In Delhi state, the government obviously won credit for better governance because of Supreme Court-led efforts to control pollution in India's capital, traffic disarray and other such issues as rape. Which begs the question, why have a government in Delhi state when it fails to discharge its functions? The BJP leadership is generally held responsible for the ills of Delhi, made worse during its rule, and the return of its former chief minister would have only made matters worse.
The Congress, India's oldest political party, founded in 1885, and led in the past by Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, has mostly had things its way since 1947 post-independence India, and it still rules in 11 states. Its chief spokesman, Jaipal Reddy, said: "In Madhya Pradesh, we have been in power for 10 long years. And in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh for five years. We see the results mostly as a product of the anti-incumbency factor." Downplaying the debacle, he added that the Congress had been losing and winning in these states in a cyclical manner over the past three decades.

In the phrases "anti-incumbency factor" - invented by ruling parties when they lose elections as a ready excuse - and "losing and winning in these states in a cyclical manner" lies hidden a fast deterioration of Indian polity. The "anti-incumbency factor" phrase is as obscene as "collateral damage" used by militaries in their wars. It is symptomatic of the Indian electorate's loss of faith not only in the so-called leaders, but in the system itself. In protest electorates have even voted for eunuchs against party candidates, a real cultural rebuff in Indian tradition. Other countries don't appear to have this same factor, yet Indians seem to take some comfort in a change of regime.

Perhaps it has to do with the fact that the political elite across the board has imposed an oppressive system, distorting the letter and spirit of the constitution and molded it for its narrow ends. It only serves the political elite and a massive political parasitic service industry it has spawned.

The installation of a Vajpayee-led government and winning the first-ever vote of confidence (274 against 261) in March 1998 brought euphoria. It represented a millennium mark in the evolution of India's fast-churning polity since independence towards its more natural destiny. After Muslim Turks and others from Central Asia had established sultanates in and around Delhi in the early part of the second millennium, for the first time a Hindu government, tolerant and eclectic but espousing the aspirations of the over-whelming majority of the Hindu community, became rulers of Hindustan.

Apart from the BJP (179), the other coalition partners were former fiery socialist and anti-foreign merchandise. George Fernandes of the Samata Dal (12) , itself a splinter from Other Backward Castes (OBC)-dominated secular Janata Dal party; Ram Krishan Hegde's Lok Shakti (3); and Navin Patnaik's Biju Janata Dal (9) ; Mamata Banerjee (7), who left the Congress more for personal than ideological reasons; Surjit Singh Barnala , whose party Shiromani Akali Dal's (8) loyalty to the country was once questioned, and Brahmin autocrat Jayalalitha of the All India Anna Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK-18), an offshoot of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), originally established to counter Brahmin and North Indian domination over the south. The DMK had even threatened to leave the Indian Union in the mid-1960s when Hindi was sought to be imposed on south India.

These heterogeneous groups joined the government for power, but they diluted and kept in check the aggressive Hindutva (Hindu dominance) philosophy as espoused by BJP's fanatic and militant factions, the Rashtryia Swayam Sevak Sangh (RSS), the Vishal Hindu Parishad (VHP) and the Bajrang Dal. They also strengthened the BJP's tolerant mainstream wing, led by Vajpayee, which was quite happy to keep out of contentious issues such as a uniform civil code and the building of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya on the site of a razed mosque. The BJP's alliances and consensual approach highlighted that a coalition sensitive to the diversity of religions and regions, races and languages, castes and cultures, was preferable to an umbrella party like Congress.

But like the Congress party governments, the BJP government also included dynastic progenies, and pragmatic and opportunistic newcomers, while its pre-confidence vote maneuverings proved that the BJP had acquired all the ills and skills of the Congress in political horse-trading. Despite this, the installation of a BJP-led government was a major milestone in the unfolding evolution of Indian polity.

The big question was whether the Hindutva forces would mellow or create total disruption in the generally tolerant Hindu community ethos. The fragility and the future of the BJP-led government today, in spite of its uneven and divisive rule for nearly six years, resides in the persona of Vajpayee himself, as no one else in the party has his stature, credibility and acceptability at the "all India" level.

There was unease and fear among Muslims and even Christians whether the BJP-led government would steamroll their sense of security and interests. After all, the BJP had built up its strength with rathyatras (mobile "chariot" journeys ), including one by now Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani from Somnath to Ayodhya, invoking memories of the desecration, demolition and looting of a Hindu temple at Somnath by Muslim invader Mohammed Gaznavi. Advani's ride ended with the destruction of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya, allegedly built on the site of a temple built for Hindu god Rama.

The rathyatras and the show of aggressive Hindu fanatic force to demolish the mosque were to assert Hindu majoritarian supremacy in the new political arithmetic after independence.

The demolition on December 6, 1992, was followed by serious communal riots all over India, Bombay, now known as Mumbai, being the most affected. Mostly Muslims, who had protested against the demolition, were victims. So they retaliated with revenge bombings in Mumbai, with support from Pakistan, causing the death of hundreds of people and a terrible loss of property. The ruling pro-Hindutva party government in Mumbai, which had won elections by polarizing the masses, later ignored the findings of a High Court judge, who held police officials and others responsible for the killings and arson against Muslims.

Evolution of Indian polity
From the 7th to the 11th century, lack of interaction between Indians and their Iranian cousins and others in Central Asia, conquered and dominated by Arab-led Islamic forces, made India inward looking and fossilized its caste-based polity. Indian polity lost its mobility, resilience and the capacity to synthesize and assimilate new ideas. It went on the defensive against the conquering Islamic religion and Muslim polity. It withdrew into its own shell and became frozen. And so it remained throughout the Muslim rule and British rule over Hindustan. The latter only perpetuated the static nature of Hindu polity, reducing Indian rulers as their aides, notwithstanding some social reform ripples. Indians never had a revolution, like the French, Americans, Russians or the Chinese. The Dharma (religion and duty), put one in one's place. A headman's son could aspire to be a headmen, an untouchable would remain an untouchable.

The process of peaceful massive social engineering through competitive party politics and reservations in favor of the disadvantaged since independence has unleashed social, political and economic forces hitherto unseen in Indian history, in the process rearranging its polity. It shattered the Brahmin-imposed village autonomy based on a rigid hierarchy of priests, landowners, traders, artisans and untouchables, which had survived Muslim and British rule.

Soon, former bus conductors, petty smugglers, village pehelwans (wrestlers), and the progeny of peons could rise to the highest levels of government as chief ministers and cabinet ministers, as shown by the Lals of Haryana, the Yadavs of Uttar Pradesh and others. Imagine the creative and other energies released into the system, with the profession of politics providing an ambitious and determined person, but poor, uneducated, socially and economically disadvantaged, the opportunity to work his or her way up the system.

Unfortunately, in this free-for-all environment, many criminal elements, after first helping the politicians in vote "gathering and controlling", like an Arab's camel, have moved into the tent (of power). And the system's inbuilt resilience for corrective action now appears to have been lost. After watching the slide into dishonesty, chicanery and total disregard for all civic norms, first the Election Commission and then the Supreme Court took some measures to strengthen these independent institutions, but without great success so far.

The "Hindu" perception of Dharma and the rule of law is often quite ambivalent. Hindus believe that by propitiating local deities and gods (now the local politician, now the police sub-inspector), one can escape punishment. It is hoped that recommendations for an independent Vigilance Commissioner, a Central Bureau of Investigation and an Enforcement Directorate will be fully implemented, and that the implementation of the rule of law will be further strengthened, with the proper checks and balances of a truly democratic system. The institutions of the judiciary and the media, so easily tempted by wily politicians, have to be above suspicion and exercise their duties without fear and favor.

Post-independence Brahmin dominance
Soon after independence in 1947, the lawyer-led Brahmin-dominated Congress party, with electoral support from the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (dalits, former untouchables whom Mahatma Gandhi named Harijans - children of God) and post-partition defensive Muslims, ruled India, with the Brahmins monopolizing the levers of power.

Soon the number of Brahmins occupying senior government posts doubled. From the mid-1960s, at the ideological economic level, the new Congress elite was opposed by maharajas, big industrialists, traders, landlords and free marketeers through the Swantantra Party, and at the social level this elite was challenged by Jats, Yadavs, Ahirs and Kurmis, that is, petty landlords and cultivators who had benefited the most from the post-independence abolition of zamindari (tax collection on land).

The challenge was first led by Chaudhary Charan Singh, a Jat, and then by various Lals of Haryana, Mirdhas of Rajasthan and the Yadavs of the cow belt. But this process left the dalits squeezed out. Prime minister Vishwanath Pratap Singh, leading a minority coalition government, panicked in 1990 and resorted to the "Mandal card" (further reservations for other backward classes, OBCs) to outflank his deputy, the overbearing Devi Lal, leader of the Jats (not included in the OBC list). It was a devastating mistake.

The thoughtless reservation for OBCs has done incalculable harm to the Indian polity and the state. But it did initiate the loosening of the heterogeneous OBC grouping. Disenchanted with the "Yadavs only" policies of Laloo Yadav, the Kurmis in Bihar founded their own Samata Party. At the lowest rung of the ladder, the dalits, first organized by B R Ambedkar in the 1930s through the Republican Party of India, gathered under the umbrella of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) of Kansi Ram, and then under Mayawati (one name) in the north. But its leadership is neither astute nor temperate. The dalits are groaning from the weight of the creamy layer of Jatavs, Minas and others who have become the major beneficiary and the "new Brahmins". Non-Brahmins in Tamil Nadu, and land-owning elements in Telgu Desam, Kanara and the Maharathas had already asserted themselves against Brahmin domination. And the process of the heterogeneous and frozen polity being split into myriad pieces of castes and sub-castes still continues.

Is there still some hope? Only if the political class tries to reform the system, which at the moment seems most unlikely. It has itself become the problem. Many people say that MP (member of parliament) stands for maha pindari (big highway robber) or maha pakhandi (big fraud). Many politicians would certainly fit this description. Some say that elections only mean one set of the pindaris replacing another. During the state-supported pogrom in Gujarat in 2002 against Muslims, the ruling BJP would not admit to its crimes. Instead, it brought up the issue of how under Congress rule in 1984, after the assassination (by a Sikh) of then premier Indira Gandhi, many thousands of Sikhs were killed and burnt alive, mostly led by Congress goons who remain unpunished, to justify the murders and killings in Gujarat. And even the Supreme Court did not do its job, with Hindu criminals let off in collusion with a polarized bureaucracy and the police. As a result, many Muslims in India have started joining subversive organizations. The chickens will come home to roost.

It is amazing that Gujaratis have refused to learn from events in Sri Lanka, where similar government-led killings of Tamils led to the creation of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and mayhem. Gujarat borders Pakistan and has a long coastline, traditionally used for smuggling contraband and arms. The Gujaratis have exposed their limited social, cultural and political acumen for short-term gains. They will pay a heavy price, but the politicians now back in power would already have made their millions - a Gujarati obsession. The true nature of Gujaratis has perhaps been hidden too long because of the persona of Mahatma Gandhi, a Gujarati.

The same attitude prevails when the BJP and its allies are caught with their hand in the till. They start accusing the Congress and other parties of corruption in the past, as if to justify their own corruption now. And it continues unabated. The people of India continue to suffer as they have over centuries. The political class and their supporting "industry" have become a burden on the poor masses. Indian democracy has been reduced to ritual festivals and ministry formations, both occasions for free-for-all money exhorting. With many jaded film stars now in the cabinet, the tamasha (play acting ) is now complete. That is all that the electorate mostly gets. During the recent elections, film stars were lured by political parties to gather crowds.

And it should be noted that the recent state election results have nothing to do with the so-called rise of women's power. Both Uma Bahrti and Vasundhara Raje were forced by the BJP to become chief ministers - in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, respectively. During the election campaigns, TV channels were saturated with advertisements projecting Vasundhara as a sincere, attractive and even glamorous chief ministerial aspirant. Uma Bharati was bluntly told by law minister Arun Jaitley to not over-exert herself and be mindful of her appearance. She should not, it was stressed, look either tired or disheveled.

Regardless of whoever is in power, though, the wheel of unending suffering of the Indian masses will continue. And after the next elections, and the next. So apart from defeating the current "rascals" in power, what purpose is served? The political class has totally destroyed the instruments of governance. And no country or corporate organization can last without good bureaucracy or administration. The Ottoman Empire, based on the merit system for recruitment and promotion, lasted for 600 years. When distortions entered the system, the empire rapidly declined and collapsed. The Roman Empire also lasted long because it, too, was initially based on merit. It was possible for a citizen from anywhere to become an emperor. So the attempt by some journalists to compare the US with the Roman Empire is incorrect.

In the Indian system, under the spreading pernicious system of reservations, a variation of the Brahaminical caste system, the Indian political class has institutionalized mediocrity and decay. The loyalty of the bureaucracy and other levers of power is to individuals, families, caste dynasties, and not to the state. In this situation, families and mafia rule.

One minister once even commented that the civilian head of a government department was only a servant of the political minister, who could ask the latter to prepare tea. Sadly, this is what really happens. The political class is delighted at the humiliation of the bureaucracy (but which only weakens the state) which it envies and hates. Now most bureaucrats become handmaidens of politicians and become minor pindaris themselves.

Apart from the judiciary, the media should keep a watch on political parties and the bureaucracy. There may be a free-for-all among the Indian media, but they have largely lost their mission and professional integrity. Many of them are compromised by study grants and well-paid visits to the West for seminars and short courses. Many media barons have an unholy relationship with politicians, not for principles, but for pelf and power. They feed on each other.

It is a matter of national shame that successive prime ministers during the past 30 years have refused to pass a bill to appoint an ombudsman, who would be empowered to look into corruption and other charges against ministers and members of parliament and other politicians. Quite clearly, politicians are not interested in eradicating corruption among themselves. Many corruption trials have been going on for decades, with the courts functioning at a snail's pace as politicians are involved. And these scams are invariably used before elections to throw mud at an opponent.

Any "feel good" atmosphere that there might be in the country is mostly among the ruling political classes, its support industry and allied industrial and trading classes. The poor are still left to the whims and mercy of corrupt politicians and policemen.

The body of the fish rots only when its head gets infected. Unless cabinet ministers, members of parliament and other politicians are brought under the ambit of the law and the guilty punished, their ill-gotten wealth confiscated, there is little hope of India taking its place in the comity of fully-developed nations.

The elite talk of looking at half a glass of water and seeing it as half full, not half empty. Many people do not have a glass, some have never even seen one. Those who celebrated the recent state elections in a five-star hotel should ponder the fact that before the arrival of the British East India Company in the late 18th century, the sub-continent's share in world manufacturing was 24.5 percent in 1750 ( 32.8 percent for China ). But by the time the British had finished with India, the sub-continent's share had fallen to 1.7 percent (in 1900) and that of the British increased from 1.9 percent (in 1750) to 22.9 percent (in 1880) - Rise and fall of Big Powers by Professor Paul Kennedy.

The islands of information technology and call center prosperity in India are like the factories established by foreign companies from the 16th to the 18th centuries. India cannot even assure uninterrupted power supply to the citizens of its capital city Delhi.

Unless India transforms it polity, it will resemble the 11th century at the time of the invasions from the northwest, or during the last centuries of Moghul rule, when every job was for sale and groups of Marathas, Jats, Rohillas, Sikhs and invaders roamed around the country looting and inflicting misery on the suffering masses of Hindustan.

The head of the fish is in danger of becoming seriously infected, after which the body will rot.

K Gajendra Singh, Indian ambassador (retired), served as ambassador to Turkey from August 1992 to April 1996. Prior to that, he served terms as ambassador to Jordan, Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies. Email

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