Wednesday, December 31, 2008

50 Years of Cuban Revolution

The two legendary figures of Fidel Castro’s rebel army – Ernesto Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos was in charge of the two guerrilla columns that attacked the city of Santa Clara, Cuba's third largest city and the capital of Las Villas province. It was the last important bastion of Batista’s defensive strategy where his army had consolidated a huge force to resist the rebels. The rebel army’s plan looked suicidal as it had just 300 men and were comparatively ill equipped in arms and supplies. In contrast, the Batista army had the strength of 3500 soldiers and ten tanks. Also an armored train was on its way from Havana carrying another 400 well-armed soldiers, weapons, ammunition and supplies. Che had chalked out a three tire battle strategy: to keep the Batista troops confined, to stop the armored train and to involve the generally supportive locals to assist the rebel force. All his plans worked perfectly. The locals restricted the movements of Batista army's tanks and armored vehicles by creating barricades all over the city; the supply train was attacked and seized after a part of the railroad track were removed with tractors by the rebels. With considerable firepower at their disposal the rebel army was able to triumph over the already dispirited defenders to surrender. The battle of Santa Clara was the conclusive battle in the Cuban revolution. Less than 12 hours after the fall of Santa Clara, Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba. The day was 31 December 1958, exactly 50 years ago from today when Fidel and his comrades created history.

50 years after the revolution, under half a century of scrupulous blockade and economic warfare, Cuba has attained many considerable achievements to be proud about. It has completely eradicated illiteracy, an unparalleled achievement amongst the countries of Latin America, or even the US. The Cuban government provides free education to all its children up to University level. The country has the highest school retention rate, highest number of teachers per capita and the lowest number of students per classroom among the whole world.

Cuba has also successfully created an incredible ‘cradle to the grave’ national healthcare system that is completely free for its citizens. The infant mortality rate of Cuba is also the lowest in Latin America. Compared with the conditions of 1959, when average life expectancy was just 58 years, figures according to World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that life expectancy in today’s Cuba is 78 years – a remarkable increase of 20 years. Its healthcare system has completely eradicated many infectious and contagious diseases like polio, malaria and dengue from the country. Today, Cuba has the highest number of doctors per capita than any other country in the world. It is also training 76,000 foreign medical students free of charge and is exporting health care facilities to other poor countries. To provide first-rate health care facilities to the underprivileged people all over the third world, in 2008 Cuba has sent 36,500 doctors to eighty one third world nations. It has a flourishing biotechnology and pharmaceutical industry, has developed a vaccine for meningitis B and world-wide exports the world’s best hepatitis B vaccine.

Today, the Cuban people enjoy cent-percent social security covers and the advantages of institutional equality provided by their government. Cuban society is absolutely free from racism and exploitation and has accomplished remarkable success on women empowerment. Cuban women constitute 40 percent of Cubans labor force, 66 percent of the country’s technical and scientific workforce and 36 percent National Assembly Members. It has also attained considerable success in the sporting arena. Today, Cuba has the world’s best environmental record, having increased its forest coverage by over 50 percent, drastically reducing electricity used for lighting, and implementing a revolution in organic agriculture. The World Wildlife Fund has described Cuba as the only environmentally sustainable country in the world.

It is significant to note that all of Cuba’s major social achievements are principally acquired through social solidarity – by the active involvement of the organized Cuban mass under a brilliant and inspiring leadership of Fidel Castro. When a tiny Latin American country provides free health care and education to its people, endows them with full social security and liberates them from the bondage of social injustices – the country and its ideals are certainly dangerous! And when the same country inspires other deprived nations to revolt against imperialists and neo-liberal crooks, stimulates them to contravene the US superpower – it must be considered as a grave threat!

Cuba was the first Latin America country to achieve liberty from incessant imperialist domination through an armed revolt. It was a brilliantly original revolution; passionately inspiring to ignite waves of revolutionary struggles across the globe. It is also an extraordinary revolution in connotation with the fact that none of its leaders were steadfast communists but young radicals with a broad, democratic and anti-imperialist vision. The origin of these radical youths was a popular movement called the 26 July movement which primarily aimed to bring social justice for the Cuban people through its struggle against the despotic and corrupt rule of Fulgencio Batista, an avaricious scrooge and loyal US agent. After the revolution, the ultimate decision-making power of the revolutionary government remained with the guerrilla fighters of Sierra Maestra under the leadership of the young and unorthodox revolutionary leaders like Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, Camilo Cienfuegos, Raul Castro, Celia Sánchez and Juan Almeida. These young leaders represented the true spirit of the revolt, believed in collective struggle and ideological novelty. They did not follow any dogmatic revolutionary recipe to achieve their objective. In their early discourses, words like ‘communism’ or ‘socialism’ was never even uttered by the rebel leadership. But gradually things changed when the ‘naked truths of imperialism’ started to reveal its hideous face. This revelation ultimately enforced the leadership to consciously explore the path of socialism. In April 1961, two years and four months after the victory of the Cuban revolution, Fidel Castro declared the rebellion as a socialist revolution. The US establishment transpired into a state of colossal dismay when Fidel confirmed that he is a Marxist-Leninist.

A commendable aspect of the Cuban revolution is Internationalism, the convenient assistance it provided to countries engaged on processes of radical transformation. Cuba had played a radical role by extending its hand of international solidarity towards the exploited and oppressed regions world over, to abolish the ‘exploitation of man by man’. The Cuban attitude of internationalism is best expressed by Che. In the speech delivered on February 1965 at the Second Economic Seminar of Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria, Che had stated:

There are no boundaries in this struggle to the death. We cannot be indifferent to what happens anywhere in the world, for a victory by any country over imperialism is our victory; just as any country's defeat is a defeat for all of us. The practice of proletarian internationalism is not only a duty for the peoples struggling for a better future, it is an inescapable necessity. If the imperialist enemy, American or any other, develops its attack against the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries, simple logic determines the necessity of an alliance between the underdeveloped peoples and the socialist countries. If there were no other uniting factor, the common enemy should be it. (Emphasis added)

Cuba had extended its support to the Algerian patriots in their struggle against French colonialism. In 1963, when Algeria was attacked by the Moroccan armed forces Cuba shipped a battalion of 22 tanks and several hundred troops to assist the endangered Algerian revolution. In Republic of Congo, Cuba supported the popular leader Patrice Lumumba. After CIA assassinated Lumumba, in 1965, Che Guevara led a group of more than 100 Cuban guerrillas in Congo to help the Simba movement and the Congolese rebels to fight against the US and Belgian colonialists. Cuban internationalism helped to pave way for the independence of Namibia when in 1966 Cuba extended its all-out support to SWAPO and Cuban troops, united with Angolan and Namibian forces defeated South Africa. Between 1973 and 1975, Cuban force aided Syria to guard the Golan Heights from Israeli aggression. In 1975, Cuba assisted Agostinho Neto’s MPLA in the struggle against the US backed racist South Africa in Angola. Thousands of Cuban volunteers participated in defending Angola from the attacks of South African troops. Cuba’s role in Africa is acknowledged by none other but Nelson Mandela when he had remarked that, ‘Cuban internationalists have done so much for African independence, freedom, and justice’. Cubans had extended solidarity with the heroic fighters of Vietnam and fought in Bolivia. Cuba also actively helped the revolutionary organizations in Nicaragua from 1967 and trained the courageous Sandinista guerrilla force to fight the US backed reactionary Contras. When the US troops invaded Grenada in 1983, Cubans fought along with Grenadian soldiers to resist the invasion. Even today, thousands of Cubans are assisting to implement the Barrio Adentro health mission and the Robinson literacy mission in Venezuela. Venezuela's Hugo Chávez, Bolivia's Evo Morales or Ecuador's Rafael Correa would have faced greater difficulty implementing the popular political empowerment projects in their respected countries without the towering inspiration of the Cuban revolution and the vital support of the Cuban leadership. Without Cuba, it is difficult to imagine the rise of the self-respecting Latin American voices, those who are challenging the hegemony of the US imperialism in their unique way today.

The right wing mainstream media was always pejorative about Fidel and his men from the days they took power. In fact it was this propaganda apparatus which the reactionary forces used as their main bludgeon against Cuba for the last 50 years. Instead of looking at the miraculous survival of Cuba under violent economic, military and counter-revolutionary attacks for almost half a century, instead of looking at the triumphs it has achieved with very limited resources, the mainstream media meticulously continues to supply trite observations, spurious news and analysis. Millions of dollars are spend in the name of academic research to prove why the Cuban revolution is a failure. Today when they proclaim that the island is near to bankruptcy, they do not mention about the illegal economic embargo imposed upon Cuba in context. When they mention about the embargo, it is only to mock Fidel and his team for artfully using the embargo pretext to cover-up their 50 years of misdeeds. The ‘most influential’ English-language weekly The Economist embraces high hope that once Barack Obama is in office, he will lift the embargo. Well, this tremendous hope is not because The Economist is a friend of the Cuban people. It is also not because lifting the unlawful economic blockade will provide a mouthful of air to the suffocating Cuban economy. It is because, ‘Cubans would know they had nobody except their rulers to blame for their plight.’ The mainstream media is showing signs of restlessness since Fidel has stepped down and handed over the charge to Raul.

The luminous Cuban revolution has brought sovereignty and dignity to the people of Cuba by ending decades of imperialist exploitation and oppression. From an informal US colony the revolution transformed Cuba into a confident and dignified nation. The Cuban revolution has also in many ways transformed Latin America from the subjugated backyard of the US into a distinguished voice of its own. The US authorities greatly wanted and still want to destroy Cuba because it has become a symbol for others to follow. For 50 long years, Cubans have deeply respected and heroically defended their revolution with admirable courage and dignity from the illegal embargo, forced isolation, aggressive counter-revolutionary military attacks, sabotages, assassination attempts and repeated threats of the US establishment and its lethal foreign policy. Noam Chomsky in a recent interview has accredited Cuba as ‘a symbol of courageous resistance’.

Despite of unbelievable odds, Cuba’s splendid achievements helped to keep a bright beacon of hope alive in the hearts of millions of people all around the globe. Cuba has shown us how to subsist in a better and humane way which is founded on the principals of peace, social justice and human rights. Today, Cuba is the inspiration to millions who keep on believing that an alternative society, a better world is certainly possible.

Hasta la victoria siempre!

Fidel Castro & Che Guevara image courtesy: Elliott Erwitt/Magnum Photos
Camilo Cienfuegos image courtesy:

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It’s Pakistan, Stupid!

The perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks have left ubiquitous Pakistani fingerprints, just like in the other recent incidents of dire terror attacks around the globe. Though groups like the Lashkar-e-Taiba was banned in 2002 by the military dictator Pervez Musharraf to gratify America, the ban actually had little or no effect as the same group changed its name and reappeared as Jama’at-ud-Da’wah to operate openly. Under growing international pressure, even from the allies like China and Iran, the Pakistan authority after the initial hesitance started to react in their trademark way. First was the blatant denial about the presence of extremists in Pakistan and the deceitful demand for valid proof to act against the architects of Mumbai atrocity. Then followed the continuous double-speak and bellicose rhetoric. And finally, in the pretext of ‘threatening statements of the Indian leadership’, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan has started creating a war panic to divert the attention from the real issue, its responsibility to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. The Army Chief, General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani has assured the Pakistani people that his force is ready to mount an ‘equal response within minutes’ if faced with any cross border surgical strike and informed President Asif Ali Zardari that his ‘men are ready to (make a) sacrifice for their country’. The Taliban also responded in a rather extraordinary way. The chief of the Pakistani Taliban Baitullah Mehsud has announced to offer the service of hundreds of its suicide bombers and thousand of its armed militants to fight alongside the Pakistan army if Indian imposed a war. When asked why he wants to support the army that has launched a major assault on them, Mehsud replied, “…the army was acting otherwise (in the past). But now it would fight for the protection and survival of the country, which is why we will support them.” Mehsud has a shrewd strategy. Tension build-up between India and Pakistan suits him and his friends the best as it will shift the attention of the four army divisions of Pakistani force deployed in the western border with Afghanistan towards the Eastern border. Unmistakably, there is a significant number of rogue elements in the Pakistani establishment who also desires the same.

In this whole sequence of events, the role of America is particularly typical. It is trying to pacify India and Pakistan both by playing a balancing act from the sidelines. American diplomats, state department and army officials are paying ritual visits to both the countries and pretending to be genuinely concerned to resolve the crisis. But America’s concerns are fictitious. By counseling the burglar to break the house and simultaneously warning the house-keeper to remain alert, America is playing its well-known game of deceit.

Who is responsible for the steady upsurge of terrorism in Pakistan over the years? Is it the Pakistani military, the ISI or the al-Qaida? What are the underlying reasons that the democratically elected government of Pakistan is visibly shaky to act against their home grown terrorists? A look back at recent history will reveal the truth.

In early eighties, the CIA under Ronald Reagan administration formed a three-part intelligence alliance including Saudi and Pakistani intelligence services to fund, prepare and arm the Afghan and Arab mujahideen to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. The cold war era rivalry had always pushed the two superpowers for a head-on confrontation in almost every place of the globe. The CIA provided the logistics and technological support, the Saudi provided the money and the Pakistanis worked as field agents to run the war on the front lines. Billions of dollars of military aid was secretly pumped in to fund this anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan. Though America never played a direct role on the front lines and instead used the Pakistani agents for the dirty job, it has significantly influenced to build the extensive terrorist bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan soil to train thousands of radical Islamic guerrilla fighters. The Pakistani Army and its military-intelligence outfit Inter-Services Intelligence or ISI, started to nurture and train the most backward elements in Afghanistan, the Taliban, which had subsequently unleashed a series of violent fidayeen attacks against the Soviet backed Nazibulla government. The remote tribal areas of Pakistan abutting Afghanistan, particularly the North and South Waziristan in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) were virtually turned into a haven of cross-border incursions where thousand of Afghan and Pakistani unemployed youths with militants of foreign origin were encouraged to join the ‘holy war’.

The FATA region comprises seven semi-autonomous tribal agencies. It is a remote, extremely backward and poor province filled with complexity and ethnicity. It is considered to be one of the most difficult terrains in the globe and runs along the Afghanistan border known as the Durand line. This border was drawn as part of an agreement signed by the then ruler of Afghanistan and the British colonial administrators on 12 November 1893 to demarcate Afghanistan and the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) and Baluchistan provinces of Pakistan. FATA is inhabited by 3.50 million Pashtun tribesmen. 90 percent of them live below the poverty line.

The ethnic Pashtun tribes of the FATA region never accepted the demarcation of the Durand line as it had artificially segregated them from the Afghan mainland. It is a volatile boundary which continues to be the mainstay of permanent trouble in the region. From both sides of the unguarded border extremists and militants, drug smugglers and arm dealers freely cross the boundary. The Pakistan government has always kept a blind eye about this infiltration as historically its authority over this region is limited. Today, it has turned into a jumble for different jihadi groups comprising Afghan and Pakistan Taliban, Chechens, al-Qaeda and the Uzbek militants those who are taking refuge and getting trained for terror activities in the training camps. A terrible reign of lawlessness with easy availability of sophisticated weaponry and explosives has transformed FATA into a state within a state. Compared to 102 high schools, there are many as three hundred madrasas functioning in this region. Funded by Saudi money, these networks of madrasas are the humble institutions to brainwash the Muslim youths with lethal jihadi ideology. The flourishing madrasa network also reveals the growing power of Islamic extremism in Pakistan.

From the days of the Afghanistan war, the Pakistan military and the ISI allowed the Afghan Taliban to spread deep into this region, particularly in North and South Waziristan province. Soon after the withdrawal of Soviet army in 1989, the bureaucratic-military establishment of Pakistan interpreted the ‘achievement’ in Afghanistan as a model that could be extended against India - the traditional enemy. Apart from supporting the Taliban, other anti-India notorious militant outfits like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohammad were provided a legitimized domestic base and were protected as assets or a reserve force to accomplish the dear to heart agenda of Pakistani hawks – to propping up cross-border proxy war in Indian Kashmir. Money and arms from clandestine donors flowed in consistently and the region emerged as the main refuge and supply-route for Taliban insurgents on both sides of the border. Gradually, their activities are spilling out beyond the tribal areas of FATA to the NWFP areas and elsewhere.

America has seldom hesitated to boaster its military might to ‘resolve’ problems. Therefore after the 9/11 attacks, the whole world knew that an American military invasion is imminent. Where and how it will commence was the only question. Pentagon finally pinpointed Afghanistan as the prime cradle of global terrorism from its conviction that al-Qaeda members including Osama bin Laden has supposedly taken refuge here. America’s bombing campaign of Afghanistan, officially called ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ started in 2001 with the aim to destroy the terrorism source. The attacks distorted the al-Qaeda and Taliban bases in Afghanistan but could hardly solve the problem of global terrorism. The Taliban and al-Qaeda leadership crossed the border into Pakistan, regrouped in the FATA region and facilitated the rapidly growing global anti-state terror network comprising about 14 definable anti-state elements. To seek out and eliminate the shadowy foe, American and the NATO forces continued their highly unpopular and superficial ‘war on terror’ in FATA through air strikes and covert operations but avoided using ground forces to fight the jihadis as it has little or no potential for ground combat.

America was never able to establish any support base in FATA due to its inability to have any direct contact or communication with the local people and their leaders. Bombing a weak country is easy but seeking out terrorists from remote mountainous terrains is a tough and dangerous job. It is also a war against an idea where the solution cannot be achieved through military means alone. The destruction of Afghanistan and the successive atrocities in Iraq has mostly isolated America from the hearts and minds of Muslims. The countless killing in Afghanistan and Iraq has definitely inspired a generation of Muslims to take up arms. Illegal and unjustified invasion against a secular and unfriendly to fundamentalist country like Iraq has further helped to strengthen the hands of Taliban outfits. The Abu Ghraib revelation of American military brutality has also helped to fortify enough sympathy to Islamic fundamentalism.

Therefore, to ‘win’ this complex war that skeptics say can never be won, America needed Pakistan’s help and cooperation. But Pakistan is finding extreme difficulty to motivate its soldiers to fight their own people. The army and ISI also do not like to estrange their ‘special force’ and is reluctant to assail the Afghan Taliban. Yet it cannot refuse helping America. The newly elected democratic government is therefore in a dilemma it is struggling hard to deal with. It wants to change its already squat image but do not have the strength to direct its army or the ISI to behave accordingly. Also in reality, only parts of the country are under its genuine control. Pakistan’s economy is in shambles and hugely depending on American money and benevolence for a massive debt write-off and other economic supports. America is already paying them around 80 million dollars a month to endorse the cost of Pakistani troop deployment in FATA.

Obviously, this dangerous game has its spill-over effects. The persistent Taliban incursions have led to the collapse of civilian and tribal administration in FATA. The sanctuary of terrorism along the Afghan-Pakistani frontier has gradually grown into a citadel of wider jihadi movement and the chickens have started coming home to roost. America and its allies including Pakistan are now being victimized by the Frankenstein it has once created. Today in Pakistan, these ‘stateless actors’ are festered like a malignant tumor that might have reached an incurable advance stage.

The recent Mumbai terror attacks should be analyzed in this perspective. Even under tremendous pressure from the people and media, so far the reaction of the Indian government is praiseworthy. Instead of jumping into the jingoistic bandwagon, it has shown restrain and is acting with prudence. India has considerable reasons to do so. Though weak, the candlelight of democracy that is lit in Pakistan today bears significance. If this sole light is blown off, the vast haunting darkness will be intimidating not only for the future of the Indian subcontinent but also for the entire globe.

To understanding the complex subject from a Pakistani perspective, the blogger is indebted to Irfan Husain. Interested readers can read him here at Dawn.

Image courtesy:,

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mumbai attacks and the 'conspicuous' Indian elite

The recent terror attacks on Mumbai are occupying a central space in the collective mindscape of India. Everyday there are human stories and revelations oozing out from the devastating wound it has created. Newer information is emerging about the callousness of the security setup, about the hidden rivalry between the security agencies. The investigative reporters are busy to unearth unknown brave hearts of those terrible days. There are also the latest exposures of cosmetic faces on TV talk shows - those who are suddenly looking awakened from their habitual socio-political aloofness. There are plentiful of peace marches, candlelight vigils, endless panel discussions and token gestures of unity. These developments are beautiful to see and sweet to hear. But day by day, this indiscreet clamor with risen fists on front of the Taj Mahal hotel and blabbermouth socialites crying hoarse in front of TV cameras – swearing to protest against hideous politicians, delivering precious advice to stop paying taxes and instigating for an American style robust response are getting harder to digest.

Suddenly the elites have become very much conscious about the importance of good politics and started spitting venom against ugly politicians. Suddenly they have metamorphosed and became socially committed. Suddenly they are presenting patriotic overtures and turned into war-mongers. A significant qualitative change indeed! Their mounting conscience is like the froth of cappuccino. After some time it will settle down.

Who are this elite citizenry declaring war against politicians today? These are the same snobs who always felt apathetic to politics and cherished to consider that politics is the refuge for the third-rate Homo sapiens - the rascals and scoundrels. These are the same lot who are always silent during any atrocious communal riot, during the butchery of Muslims in Gujarat, Christians in Orissa or Dalits in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. These are the same people who gladly contribute to fund hate. These are the same people who exhibit their deep love for America but love to hate China, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Venezuela or Cuba. These are the same people who are skeptical about Mayavati and scornful about Lalu Prasad Yadav; bitterly critical about mainstream communists but sympathetic to the brutal Maoists. These are the same people who seldom votes but wishes to maintain their larger influence over the democratic system which they are bitterly denouncing today. These are the same people who are now parroting the stupid concept: to replace the politicians by CEOs to run the country.

But is it really the rage or a raucous cry out of deep fear? It is indeed the first time Indian elites are stunned to find themselves in a situation where their lives are just as insecure as the common masses; their symbols of wealth and power look insecure. This is the first time they saw that their ‘own’ people - the creamy layer of the society can also be robotically targeted and brutally killed.

Why did the proactive reporters could not find a single brave heart among the elites trapped inside the hotels? Why are the brave hearts found only among the ordinary? What are the responses of the rescued elite hostages of Taj, Oberoi and Trident about their saviors - the ordinary hotel staff, the ordinary kitchen worker and the ordinary maintenance worker who took terrorist bullets trying to save and shield them? For a while they will emotionally talk about the sacrifice, eulogize them for their bravery and soon will stop thinking about them.

The media bosses, our conscience keepers, have devoted too much space to illustrate this rage of our phony elites. The electronic media has taken the center stage in this aspect. Serious looking anchors with theatrically modulated voice attempted to accelerate public emotion by adding ingredients of detestation against politics into their recipe. Jingoism was carefully promoted (mainly through readers response section) as the ideal balm to the wound. All politicians are brought under a homogeneous group and mercilessly bashed. Placards with thrilling slogans are shown again and again to demonstrate the public anger. Continuous narratives supported with titillating images were conveyed ceaselessly to help create mass hysteria. In the pretext of voicing on behalf of the people, the Indian media issued a clear verdict to the worried nation: in the wake of the Mumbai attack, politicians have lost whatever credibility they might have had before.

Do the Indian media want the public to believe that their activism will mould the politicians towards morality and decency? Not at all. The media only wanted to grab an opportunity to propagate their social worthiness. In situations, idiocy rules the day where anything and everything can be lambasted in the pretext of patriotism. To acquire public applause, the electronic media therefore chose the dangerous path of cheap sensationalism and in a trendy manner ran the Mumbai attacks on TV like a reality show, continuously flashing unconfirmed breaking news. All news channels were principally acting alike – only the upper polish differed from channel to channel since the targeted audience was different. The class bias of their selective reporting was also blatant in nature. By barely covering the massacre on the Chatrapathi Shivaji Terminus (CST) railway station where more than 50 people were killed or the government run GT hospital, all efforts were focused on the ‘dramatic’ events of the symbolic Taj and the Oberoi and Trident hotels.

Lot of the elites now talks about unity. Unity is a sweet word but does not necessarily suggest a solution. Who knows it better than our elites that unity is warm and endearing when it is selective?

During the eventful days, a section of the media has cleverly pressed another ploy - by labeling the Mumbai attacks as India's 9/11. The reason is simple. They were trying to subtly promote the idea of aping the American way to demonstrate military aggression against Pakistan. The Indian public was asked to restrict their vision like a blinkered horse and consider: why the United States has never suffered a major attack on its soil since 9/11. Because they were tough. Because they do not fear to call a spade a spade. The Indian Government was advised with a warning: be tough like America; learn from them how to respond. Otherwise India will continue to bleed forever. A prominent section of the elitist Indians expressed a similar view. Fools rush in where fools have been before.

America’s post 9/11 ‘tough’ and costly response (the estimated cost of the Iraq war is $ 3 trillion, about three times India's GDP) has turned into multifaceted disasters: it has ruined Afghanistan and Iraq, destabilized the north-west Frontier province of Pakistan and made that territory much more generous to terrorists, killed millions including innocent civilians. Nearly 5000 soldiers of American military are also killed and 100,000 of them has returned home wounded and injured, suffering from serious mental disorders. It has acted as a stimulus for Islamic terror groups and aggravated Islamic fundamentalism not only in the Muslim world but also in countries where the words were unfamiliar before America’s ‘tough’ response occurred. It has substantially increased insecurity and fuelled far more terrorism activities worldwide.

On July 16, 2008, the American government has issued a ‘Worldwide Caution’ that says, “Current information suggests that Al-Qaida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks against US interests in multiple regions, including Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. These attacks may employ a wide variety of tactics including suicide operations, assassinations, kidnappings, hijackings and bombings.” The magnification of worldwide terror attacks is the direct result of America’s ‘War on Terror’ which has gravely angered the Arab and Muslim world. It was not difficult to make out why the terrorists had targeted American and British passport holders in Mumbai hotels and attacked Nariman House, the epicenter of the Jewish community in Mumbai. Israel is a key ally of America and is notorious for their imperious methods of tackling Islamic terrorism.

In the first reaction post after the Mumbai attacks, this blogger had spoken about the need to restrain emotional outbursts and urged to convert the gruesome incidence into a watershed – by looking within to dispose of the enduring vices of this country. There is now an emerging possibility that the incidence could be turned into a watershed of a different kind. The proactive interference of America is showing disturbing signs that the big brother might seize this opportunity and eventually coerce India into their strategic partnership in this subcontinent. They have earlier done the same with Pakistan and the consequences are out in the open. Now it could be India’s turn.

Image courtesy:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The miracle of Diego Maradona

It was the 1986 World Cup quarter-final match in Mexico where the two rival teams Argentina and England met for the first time since the 1982 Falklands war. There was a sizzling pre-match temperament amongst the Argentine team members and according to the Argentine defender José Luis Brown, “Everybody in that squad knew of someone who had been sent to fight for the country and each one of us had our own feelings”. The Argentine captain Diego Maradona scored two memorable goals in the match and permanently imprinted this famous encounter and himself into the folklore of world football. The first one was ‘scored’ in the 50th minute of the match by a punch of his hand - it was the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal. If the Tunisian referee Ali Bin Nasser had properly noticed the action, he would have certainly penalized Maradona and disqualified the goal as a handball. Maradona however, symbolically attributed this goal as a sweet revenge to Argentina's Falklands war defeat in the hand of the British force and remained impenitent about the goal for twenty long years only to coyly admit later that the goal was “A little of the hand of God, and a little of the head of Maradona”. Also in his bestselling memoir Yo Soy El Diego he had confirmed that, “Now, yes, I can say what I could not say before….What hand of God? It was the hand of Diego!”

The second goal was the one cited today as the greatest goal in the history of World Cup and also the ‘Goal of the Century’. This is a goal worth describing. Six minutes after the infamous first, Maradona possessed the ball near the right sidelines in his own half. After gaining control of the ball in the fraction of a second, he masterfully dribbles out half of the England team with eleven virtuoso touches of his foot (he had a miraculous left foot and rarely touched the ball with his right) that apparently made the world-class English players look haplessly naïve. He finally dribbled past the English goalkeeper Peter Shilton to calmly roll the ball into the net. This marvel of 10 seconds was undoubtedly a piece of sheer magic. Gary Lineker, the English striker later recalled that he “…just stood there on the halfway line and thought, ‘Wow’. That could have meant we were out of the World Cup, but it was just breathtaking.” Argentina defeated England 2-1 to enter the semi-final. (See Chris Hunt: The Hand Of God)

In many ways, the 1986 FIFA World Cup will be everlastingly connected with Maradona’s name. Never in the history of the World Cup since 1930 did a single player seen to absolutely dominate the entire tournament as the Argentine jersey number 10 did it in 1986. Maradona was the captain of a relatively weak side, energetically played every Argentine matches in that tournament with a supreme presence on the ground, was the powerhouse behind the game strategy of his side and was singly responsible for converting Argentina from a good team to a great team. Following the quarter-final match against England he netted two more brilliant goals in the semi-final against Belgium. In the final match against the reasonably strong West German side, the German players were by and large successful to pin down Maradona in the entire match by double-marking him except once when Maradona made-up enough space for him to send a lethally accurate through pass to Jorge Burruchaga to score the match winning goal. Argentina lifted the cup beating Germany 3-2. Indisputably, Maradona won the Golden Ball award as the tournament's best player. It is widely accepted today that any participating team on that particular World Cup could have been the champion if they had Maradona on their side.

The legend of Maradona is the universal story of a genius with real hardship behind, a career dotted with momentous highs and lows. Diego Armando Maradona grew up in the working-class barrio of Villa Fiorito located on the southern outskirts of Buenos Aires. The place was poor and troubled; inhabited by paupers, drug addicts, drug peddlers, thieves and stray dogs. Describing the place Maradona once said that “If it was possible to eat, people ate. And if it wasn't, they didn't.” Though Maradona’s family was poor, their condition was not as terrible as some of the other neighboring families as his factory worker father had a job. He spent his childhood in a shack, shared a room with seven brothers and sisters. While rainfall, their beds had to be moved to keep away from the ceiling leakages and regularly walked down the street to fetch water from a community tap for the family’s daily use. (See Matt Dickinson: Maradona, a slum and the birth of a legend)

It is on the same potholed streets of Villa Fiorito where the gifted Maradona started kicking the football along with the local urchins. Lucky for him, his genius was spotted in his early age of 11 while he was playing in the local club Estrella Roja. From then onwards it was a straight rags-to-riches story. His professional career started ten days before his sixteenth birthday in 1976 with the Buenos Aires club Argentinos Juniors, where he played for the next three years and later joined the famous Boca Juniors. At the age of 16 he was selected in the Argentine national team as the youngest player ever. His first World Cup tournament was in 1982 and he continued to play in three consecutive World Cups. He captained his country in 1986 and 1990, winning the first and losing the second in the finals to West Germany. He played his last World Cup in 1994. After the second match against Nigeria he was tested positive for ephedrine doping and expelled from rest of the tournament. He was subsequently banned by a FIFA disciplinary panel from playing nationally or internationally for the next 15 months and was fined $15,400. The whole world was shell shocked by this startling news. The media which always had a love-hate relationship with him was particularly harsh. In response to the ongoing Maradona bashing by the press, Nicolas Michael in a letter to the sports editor of The New York Times wrote:

“Diego Maradona messed up. Diego Maradona is far from perfect. All of these facts have been covered in substantial detail and with much emphasis again and again. There is one other fact that also needs to be covered again and again, with the same amount of emphasis. Diego Maradona was not just a very good soccer player. Diego Maradona was the best player to play this game, with perhaps one exception, that of the great Brazilian player Pele.”

Maradona also had a phenomenal club career. After his initial stint with Argentinos Juniors, from 1981-84 he played for Boca Juniors and FC Barcelona and from 1984-92 for SSC Napoli. It is at Napoli were his professional career reached its zenith and also elevated the Italy club to the most successful era of its history. His Napoli years ended disgracefully in 1992 after he served a 15-month ban for failing a drug test.

It is widely believed that Maradona got addicted to cocaine in the mid 80s during his Barcelona days due to his failure to cope with the pressures of success and his roller-coaster lifestyle. His addiction aggravated while he was with Napoli. In 1991, Maradona was tested positive for cocaine use after an Italian league match and was suspended from professional football for 15 month. Few months later he was arrested for possessing half-kg of cocaine and was slapped with another suspension for 14 months. After the 1994 World Cup disaster, Maradona gradually retired from professional football. Following his retirement, his health condition worsened. He became overweight and suffered increasingly from obesity. In 2000, Maradona went to Cuba for treating his heart problems and cocaine addiction. Wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and a huge Che tattoo on his right arm he commented after arriving at Havana that he ‘chose Cuba because of the dignity of its people.’ He had also donated the Cuban royalties of his memoir to ‘the Cuban people and Fidel’. Maradona returned to Argentina in 2001 after staying for nearly two years in Cuba only to go back again in 2004, after a major heart attack that almost took his life. However, in 2007 he announced that he was finally been able to quit drug and drinking. In 2008, Maradona was handed over the job to coach Argentina’s national team for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.

In the recent years, Maradona has openly displayed his leftist sympathies and anti-imperialist stand. He became a friend of Fidel Castro and Evo Morales, supported Hugo Chávez, declared Che Guevara as his hero and grew more and more anti-American. He posed for the famous photograph wearing a T-shirt labeled ‘STOP BUSH’ and called George Bush ‘human garbage’. In 2007, he stated that he ‘hate everything that comes from the United States’.

During his recent visit at Kolkata, the public was seen to turn almost crazy. Was it due to this leftist anti-American stand of Maradona? Certainly not. What was then the reason? Why the crowd was seen to patiently wait for the entire night at the airport to have a glimpse of him? Was it just because he was a living legend? Why many of their eyes got moistened with joy when they finally saw him? Why were they so emotionally aroused when they touched the famous ‘Hand of God’? A recent article by Nirmal Shekar in The Hindu has incisively described it:

"For a good part of the 1980s and well into the 1990s, no single sportsperson captured the imagination of a greater number of sportslovers all over the world than did Maradona. From the dusty maidans of Kolkata to the village greens of middle England, from the shanty towns of sub-Saharan Africa to the football-crazy Italian cities of Naples and Milan, his was the most readily recognisable name in sport, his was the face that stirred emotions like no other, his were the feet that at once brought back memories of transcendental magic."

Watching Maradona on the field was like looking at a delicate piece of oriental artwork. Every bit and piece of his game was decorated with glittering artistry. Diego Armando Maradona was the artist par excellence who could create extraordinary moments of splendor on the football ground at ease. His outstanding technical mastery with the ball, his marvelous sense of timing, his ability to find out amazing openings between the huddle of players in a very limited space, his high-speed short and long sprints, his incredible dribbling power, his ability to take deadly free-kicks and reverse-cross pass shot behind the leg, his amiable skill of holding the ball for a longer time amid fierce challenges from opponent defenders and intelligently releasing sudden but accurate passes en route for his fellow players to finish – all this has made him the greatest creator of football magic in recent times and an extremely delightful player to watch.

It is heartbreaking to see that most of India hardly recognizes Maradona. It is also a pity that today’s kids do not feel the similar goose bumps their fathers and grandfathers still experience while recalling this miraculous footballer in their minds. But they cannot be blamed for it. They have not seen Maradona playing the 1986 World Cup.

Photo courtesy: Natacha Pisarenko - AP

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

The days after the Mumbai terror attack

For the time being the Mumbai mayhem is over. All ten terrorists except one are killed. The one arrested terrorist is now under interrogation. Indian security agencies are trying to squeeze out maximum information from him to figure out the greater plot. Political heads has started rolling. The central and state Home Ministers has resigned. Maharashtra Chief Minister was forced to put down his papers. With international support, the Indian government is trying to get tougher on Pakistan. The Pakistan government after agreeing to send the ISI chief to India later backtracked fearing the strong repercussion it can create in their own country. Mumbai is slowly getting normal. Politicians after a three day lull are back on their tracks. Full volume allegations and blame games has resurfaced. Too much of bombastic talks on the TV have started to show clear signs of dullness. Debates are turning ugly. Even the best TV anchors, worn out after days of continuous showbiz are facing a hard time to break free the clichés. The whole nation is utterly disturbed and bemused. People came out on the streets in large numbers and demonstrating their rage against the political leadership. In due course the disaster dusts will settle and the real questions will start coming out.

The calculation, precision and audacity of the Mumbai attackers have stunned even the most competent security forces of the world. The nature of the attack was so unprecedented that unless a tip-off is acquired from the source, it was almost impossible to prevent an attack of such magnitude. A terrorist insurgency can be counteracted only through building a network of informants in places from where the terrorists originate and operate. The navy chief has accepted that the Mumbai attack is clearly a systemic failure of India’s intelligence and security agencies. This devastating intelligence failure has quite obviously raised unpleasant questions in front of the government. The now revealed discord between the intelligence and security agencies are alarming. From one side there are allegations about the lack of actionable intelligence. From the other side accuses are hurled that intelligence was passed on timely but was not acted upon. It is also amazing to discover the bungling way in which these agencies are maintained. In addition, the sheer callousness of India’s political leadership is not something the people of this country should ever forgive. Even after nearly 200 civilians and 20 security men have died, the stupid manner in which key ministers has commented and acted is an obvious indicator to this callousness. The UPA government is bearing the maximum brunt and has turned into a sitting duck which they truly deserve but the track record of their loud mouthed opponent group NDA was in no way better. The war on terrorism in India has become a petty political subject in recent years and all major political parties are equally responsible for worsening it.

The Mumbai attacks have dropped a ripe apple in the hands of the RSS-BJP combine. The BJP which was initially hesitant supporting the Malegaon blast accused came out openly to hysterically support the arrested sadhvi and sadhu after the RSS-VHP sponsored Panipath meet on 16 November. BJP’s change of position was clearly read out at Panipath by the RSS which has comprehended that their deceptive campaign against Islamic terrorism might fall flat otherwise. Now, they no longer need to do any rhetorical trickery to score their points. They can notify loudly and adequately that their relentless campaign against the ‘soft on terror’ approaches of the UPA government and Islamic terrorism was hundred percent right. Approaching the imminent general elections they will certainly seize the opportunity through an explicit campaign that the country immediately needs to get rid of the Congress led UPA government with an indication that the solution of terrorism in India lies on the doorsteps of the country’s Muslims populace. With lesser efforts now the RSS-BJP combine could be successful in arousing Islamophobia by exploiting public anxiety. As the nation’s attention has shifted, the Hindutva lobby will also find it easier to suppress public mood on the Hindu terror groups and possibly derail the Malegaon blast investigation.

The problem of terrorism becomes virtually irresoluble with an attitude of being tough on terror without being responsive about its causes or vice-versa. Both the issues are concurrent and must be dealt together. The problem with the two major political forces in India is that each of them had chosen to address one aspect of this two sided problem and neglected the other. Their political compulsions are apparent. But it is high time for the Indian political class to escalate their consciousness on the fact that gaining political mileage by encouraging disparity is ultimately an illusion. Political parties are deeply infected by this terrible disease which it preventing them to unite even when the nation is under severe crisis. This is the vital reason why curbing terrorism has become an unfeasible task in India.

The physiological impact of the Mumbai attack will be far-fetched. It is in fact started showing disturbing signals that could have a devastating effect on the future of an increasingly polarized nation. The heinous attack has stimulated an initial fear psychosis and helplessness among the public which has now been transformed into widespread anger. The anger among the urban Indian upper and middle classes are flaring-up in multifaceted directions. Though at present the politicians are the main targets, it will not be difficult for them to recover their positions soon. But this anger is also having the dangerous undercurrents of deep rooted sectarianism. Without much effort or time, demagogic elements in the society can divert this anger towards familiar targets of class, caste and creed. Anger intensifies emotion and if not restrained can obstruct reasoning and tend towards paranoia. The babble on the TV screens about a robust response could easily get misdirected towards a quasi-chauvinistic leaning.

Many celebrity civilian and media experts are referring to the ‘American response to 9/11’ as a solution. Some of them have even turned into warmongers with bombastic proposals like ‘attack Pakistan’, ‘carpet bomb the Lashkar-e-Taiba camps’ and ‘gun down the jihadi leaders’. Either intentionally or foolishly, these armchair experts tend to forget the fact that in vengeance to the horrific events of 9/11, America had invaded countries like Afghanistan (in October 2001) and Iraq (in March 2003) situated about ten thousand kilometers away from their international border. Due to the huge distance between the countries, the impact of these attacks has never brought any direct retaliatory effect on American soil. Also the military might of America cannot be compared with the weaker countries it had invaded. If India attacks neighboring Pakistan, will the impact be similar? Even if one ignores the fact that Pakistan is a nuclear powered country armed with long distance nuclear missiles, will India really be able to teach Pakistan a fitting lesson without receiving an equivalent lesson in response? Will there not be any civilian casualties? What will India really achieve by raiding Pakistan? Will the country completely get immunized from terrorism? These are pertinent questions that might not have happy answers.

After 9/11, the George W. Bush regime brought on the vague phrase ‘war on terror’ and instigated military invasion on targeted countries. It apparently seems that the main objective of America’s military campaign has succeeded because after 9/11 the country did not face any other terror strikes. However, skeptics believe that the actual purpose of the war on terrorism was to establish the American hegemony and acquire control over Middle East oil. But there are also ample examples and studies that has shown that the enormous destruction and casualties of civilian life caused by the attacks (causalities in Afghanistan is estimated between 1,300 and 49,600 and in Iraq it is between 62,570 to 1,124,000) has been counterproductive in many ways. It has consolidated anti-American sentiments world over, radicalized disillusioned Islamic youths, encouraged them to take refuge under the terrorism fold and increased the possibility of terror attacks against America and its allies. This is the basis why the Mumbai terrorists were after foreigners, looking for British or American passport holders when they have invaded the hotels. In 2006, The New York Times had reported that “American invasion and occupation of Iraq has helped spawn a new generation of Islamic radicalism and that the overall terrorist threat has grown since the Sept. 11 attacks.” In the same report it was also said that the Iraq war has worsened the overall terrorism problem by fueling radicalism. Till now India was keeping a safe diplomatic distance from this ‘war on terror’ agenda. After the Mumbai attacks, there is a dangerous possibility of India falling into the infamous loop. There is a near hand possibility that India might line up as a close strategic and military partner in the region and serve the foreign policy objectives of Washington. Do not forget – the Indo-US nuclear deal is operational now. (See the post India and the Nuclear Deal.)

Therefore, in response to today’s inflammatory circumstances a sensible approach is expected from the Indian government, the Indian media and the people. As several military experts have explained, military action will be the last option for the Indian government in dealing with Pakistan. The democratically elected new Pakistani government has not yet shown any convincing sign about their ability to control the dreaded ISI and the rogue elements of their military establishment. A paradigm shift from the attitudes of previous regimes towards anti-India terrorist groups who are comfortably operating from their soil is also not visible. Yet, the first option of the Indian government is to undertake a tough diplomatic position in cohesion with the global community and force the Pakistan counterpart to act in co-operation. Today Pakistan is also suffering from similar terrorism threats. Pushing themselves in the verge of a full fledged war will therefore not be a pragmatic and desirable option for either side.

Image courtesy: ABC News

Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Mumbai watershed

This is not the time to calmly enjoy the thrill from a continuous supply of exciting TV footage. This is not the time to be involved into sensational discussion sitting in comfy drawing rooms. This is not the time to turn into advisers and dole out prescriptions. This is not the time to turn into blustering patriots. This is not the time to shout ‘Bharat Mata ki Jai’ on the streets and quietly return home. This is not the time to boast about the resilience of Mumbaikars. This is not the time to think like a Congress, BJP, Shiv Sena, CPIM, DMK or BSP partisan. This is not the time to think like a Bihari, Bengali, Maharashtrian, Assamese, North Indian or South Indian. This is not the time to think like a Hindu, Muslim, Christian or Buddhist.

This is not the time to play politics. This is not the time to drag out tooth and nails and pounce on each other. This is not the time to blame and try to prove points. This is not the time to search for scapegoats. This is not the time to deliver rousing speeches. This is not the time to seize political opportunity. This is not the time to calculate or manipulate election results. This is not the time to engage in full volume TV debates. This is not the time to elevate public sentiments on communalism. This is not the time to elevate public sentiments on secularism.

This is not the time to sensationalize. This is not the time to exaggerate. This is not the time to sell breaking news. This is not the time to go for an overdrive to establish nothing out of something. This is not the time to meddle. This is not the time to bash.

This is not the time to fume up against the unashamed Shiv Sena and its mouthpiece editorial that had mocked the Mumbai ATS chief as ‘Mahatma’ and ‘Afzal Khan’ on the same day when this brave and honest police officer took three bullets in his neck and chest and died while confronting the terrorists. This is not the time to argue whether the investigation team he was leading was foul playing or not just because they have arrested some Hindutva fanatics for their alleged terrorism plans. This is not the time to feel happy because the ‘Hindu terror’ outcry might now disappear from the public mind. This is not the time to prepare ground to divide the society. This is not the time to denounce the provincial sentiments fiercely promoted by the nephew of Bal Keshav Thackeray. This is not the time to discuss whether on 1st December a general strike will be called or not. This is not the time to prepare ground for retaliatory onslaught. It is not the time to promote jingoism.

This is not the time to suspect the unforeseen good sense of restrain visible among a section of the political leadership. This is not the time to criticize the merry-go-round ride of celebrity political leaders for their stereotypical urge to sympathize with the victims. This is not the time to ask the Prime Minister about the credibility of his Home Minister and National Security Adviser. This is not the time to demand the removal of an invalid Home Minister. This is not the time to wonder how a Home Minister can pass on information to the media about the movements of the NSG commandos. This is not the time to capture headlines by providing worthy information like ‘terrorists might start using nuclear weapons soon’ and then sit idle. This is not the time to ask why nothing has been done when the Defense Minister knew that terrorists might approach by sea route. This is not the time to recur ‘All Indians love you President Bush’. This is not the time for teeth gnashing at Pakistan and then achieve nothing. This is not the time for attempting to become America or Israel. This is not the time for knee-jerk responses.

This is the time to feel proud about our security forces - those who fought and are fighting on ground and shedding blood. This is the time to comprehend the fact that our policemen are not purchased and reinstate faith on them. This is the time to pay homage to our brave warriors. This is the time to stand beside the family of the martyrs who sacrificed their life to save the others. This is the time to stand beside the family of the innocent victims. This is the time to share their grief. This is the time to maintain silence.

This is the time to feel ashamed about our political class. This is the time to thrash out at the politicians and ask them to stay away from us. This is the time to question Dr. Manmohan Singh and Mr. L. K. Advani why they could not for once display oneness and visit Mumbai together. This is the time to build up public fury against them. This is the time to condemn a flamboyant Chief Minister who offered one crore rupees reward for the dead policemen about whom he was acrimoniously critical only a few days ago. This is the time to slam the hideous whispering campaign deliberately spread amid the public that the ATS chief has succumbed as a result of the Sadhvi curse. This is the time to demand from all politicians to rise above parochial sentiments or permanently get lost.

This is the time to introspect. This is the time to stop complaining about the system and irresistibly plead for a better one. This is the time to grow more responsible. This is the time to cooperate with the country’s security agencies and institutions. This is the time to preserve our rage and employ it for the cause of eliminating future atrocities. This is the time to pledge not to be forgetful.

This is the time to think and act as a nation. This is the time to recognize once and for all the brotherhood of all Indians.

Image courtesy:

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Homage to a fighter extraordinary

The mid eighties were the time when Bengal cricket was eagerly tracking around to find out its representative for the national arena, mostly controlled then by the Bombay lobby. Though Kolkata was famous for its football passion, cricket was not much behind – the city possessed Eden Gardens, a magnificent cricket ground which was also the oldest and biggest in the country, numerous clubs were trying to raise aspirant Bradmans, Trumpers or Larwoods in the vast stretch of the lush green maidan area. Local ‘para’ clubs regularly organized tennis ball cricket tournaments. By and large, the local cricket buffs fulfilled their appetite by involving themselves with devotional affection in this typical ‘goly’ (lane) form of cricket. One day matches (ODIs) were still not so popular and therefore a five day Test match in Eden Gardens was something like a festival. The lucky ones who had managed to grab a day’s ticket packed their lunch early in the morning and floated in the festive wind towards Eden Gardens. The unlucky ones had to keep themselves satisfied with the vernacular newspaper stories which used to devote their entire first page to cover the match and by the passionate radio commentaries. When Doordarshan started telecast Test cricket directly, there were fewer households that had a television set. Those houses which owned one, was invariably swamped by community visitors from 9 o’clock morning to afternoon till the days telecast was over. Fans crowded in front of the majestic Grand Hotel, where the cricketers generally stayed during Test matches to have a glimpse of the celebrity players. While Kolkata had every setting for cricket phobia – all the enthusiasm were falling short because the local heroes were unable to make any visible mark in the national side. After Pankaj Roy, Bengal couldn't produce a cricketer who could wear the India cap for a lengthy spell.

Snehashish Ganguly was a talented cricketer in the mid eighties Kolkata. The elder son of an affluent father – a printer by profession but also a onetime state player and widely known as a cricket enthusiast. Snehashish was a fine left-hander batsman and an occasional right-hand off break bowler. Cricket watchers of Kolkata held high expectation about this local lad. In the 1989-90 seasons, Snehashish played six Ranji Trophy matches, scored 439 runs with two centuries and finished with an average of 73.16. Apart from his father, Snehashish also had an ardent follower in his family – his younger brother Sourav. When Sourav also started playing alongside him in the Bengal team, people used to identify Sourav as the younger brother of Snehashish.

From formation days Sourav was blamed for his arrogance. His teammates of St. Xavier’s School cricket team complained against him to their coach. He grew up in an opulent dwelling where his father had arranged an in-house multi-gym, a batting range and rare cricket videos to watch – a facility most of the budding cricketers seldom get. He was picked for the Bengal team in 1989-90 after his initial stint in the Under 15 tournament where he smashed a century against Orissa. In the next Ranji Trophy season Sourav scored 394 runs with an astonishing near eighty average. In a 1991 Duleep Trophy match against West Zone in Guahati, Sourav hit a tidy knock of unbeaten 124 runs and earned a place in the Indian team under Mohammad Azharuddin for the 1991-92 Australia tour. Quite naturally, his inclusion was ridiculed as a quota selection. Sourav was then 19 years old.

In Australia, Sourav was accused for behaving like a spoilt brat, like a ‘maharaja’ who refused to carry the drinks or baggage of his seniors. Those were the times when a junior member in the side felt obliged to do petty services for the senior members to gratify them. Sourav was definitely not a conventional junior member though there are absolutely no proofs at all that he was ever disrespectful about his seniors. An 'attitude problem' tag was stuck on him from the very beginning of his career. He played one ODI, scored only 3, and failed to impress the selectors for the next four years. Keeping in mind the past treatments delivered to other Bengal players of class – from Shyamsundar Mitra to Sambaran Bannerjee by an extremely politicized and parochial selection process, many considered that Sourav’s international career was finished. But Sourav didn’t think so. The bitter experience of this tour tempered him bit by bit into steel. He had also acquired some basic lessons that he will start implementing eight years later.

His inclusion to the Indian side touring England in 1992 was similarly credited to Jagmohan Dalmiya – the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) strongman from Bengal and the newly emerged Bengal lobby. After the departure of Navjot Singh Sidhu following an ugly spat with captain Azharuddin, Sourav was lucky enough to play his first Test at the Mecca of world cricket – The Lords. The Sourav myth that will rule the mind of millions for the next sixteen years was launched here with a classy 131 and the subsequent century in the next Trent Bridge Test. From 1992 onwards people referred to Snehashish as the elder brother of Sourav. Though Snehashish played 59 first class matches with a near forty average and made 6 centuries, he gradually faded away from the cricket scene.

There is nothing unknown to cricket followers about the controversial career graph of Sourav. The public opinions and emotions about him were always sharp and divided all through his career. But there is a general consensus about one aspect – that this young man had singlehandedly changed the way our national cricket team played its cricket. Only with the exception of the Tiger Pataudi era, the Indian cricket team was universally recognized for its meek and surrendering approach. Indian cricket was mostly observed to follow the achievements of individuals – not for the achievements of a team. Sourav transformed Indian team into a rock solid unit, with a combative and thorny approach which caused lots of uneasiness for many opponent super captains. What cricket journalist Harsha Bhogle observed as the basic persona of Sourav also became the identity of the team he led – not rude and disrespectful but defiant and increasingly confident. This changeover was achieved with a one point strategy that he had picked up from personal experiences of his first tour – nurture young talents, trust their ability and protect them from the parochial trends that have always influenced Indian team building. By doing so, Sourav turned the younger players into daring fighters who in return trusted him deeply. For the next five years after he was named the full-time captain, India played 49 Tests, lost 13 and won 21 which include the 11 wins abroad. Tiger Pataudi, considered by many as India’s finest captain, led in 40 Tests, lost 19 and won 9 including 3 wins abroad. Sunil Gavaskar led in 47 Tests, won 9 and Mohammad Azharuddin captained in 47 Tests and won 14 of them. As a captain, Sourav achieved a winning percentage of 42.86 in Tests and 51.70 in ODIs. In both form of the game Sourav surpassed the achievements of all previous Indian captains.

In his 16 years of international career, Sourav scored 7217 Test runs including 16 centuries with an average of 42.17 and took 32 wickets. He scored 11363 runs in the ODIs including 22 centuries with an average of 41.02 and took 100 wickets. Among those who have scored over 10000 runs in the one day matches, only Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting has a better average than him.

Even after these spectacular successes, Sourav always had to be ‘reselected’ as captain before every series. He was finally sacked in 2005 – first from captaincy and then as a member of the squad. Greg Chappell, the newly appointed coach of the Indian team gradually surfaced to be a manipulative and megalomaniac individual, pooled himself along with the animus administrators like Kiran More and Raj Singh Dungarpur (Dungarpur famously said at that time that, “Chappell is a genius; Sourav is much below him in stature”) and was successful in getting rid of Sourav. Chappell only wanted docile players to maneuver his crummy scheme and his Indian henchmen had to accomplish their personal aversion agenda. Thankfully, it did not take long to prove that Chappell is a total failure. After the disastrous 2007 World Cup performance of India, the scratchy Australian was duly removed from his job. Whereas Sourav, within less than a year after his removal astoundingly bounced back into the team in 2007. He returned with a 98 run ODI score against West Indies, became the top scorer with 534 runs and Man of the Series in the three-Test series against Pakistan. Surprisingly omitted from the ODI side, he scored nearly 2000 Test runs including a double century. He had to prove a point. And he did it in style.

If Sourav had ended his career as soon as he was sacked, he would have been still called a ‘hero’, but apparently a tragic one. History would have looked at him through the ‘great-good-error-downfall’ model of the Aristotelian ‘tragic hero’. But Sourav cannot tend to carry the ‘tragic’ tag along with him for the rest of his life. He has imprinted his own destiny through hard struggle, absolute determination, great courage and outstanding achievements. He has always seized the public imagination as the eternal symbol of the good combating the bad. Why should he like to see his feat as tragic? After the dignified manner in which he drew the final curtain, history will always recall Sourav not as a tragic but a true hero. He leaves behind the legacy of an extraordinary fighter and a wonderful leader who can proudly recall about his team that, “…I know, even when I get it wrong, that my team believes I was wrong in trying to be right.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The tragedy called Assam

On October 30, Assam was trounced by another atrocious serial blast that has killed at least 77 innocent civilians. The media termed it as the ‘worst-ever’ terrorist strike. Once again the Prime Minister and Home Minister delivered their recorded cliché statement; bigwig leaders visited the affected area like tourists and merrily played politics. Minutes after the blasts, Hindu nationalist leader Lal Krishna Advani accused ‘illegal Bangladeshis’ for breeding terrorism and Bangladeshi jihadi groups for triggering the blasts – as if the attackers had taken him into confidence before pursuing the act. Local Hindutva communal groups called a statewide strike. Everything went on as expected. For decades, this ill fated state is passing through a chronic sequence of hatred, suspicion, violence and ethnic division. Today, this once prosperous land is one of the most economically backward and problem-ridden states of India. The gap between Assam and rest of the country in terms of per capita income has been widening continuously during the last fifty years after Independence. The state has a meager economic growth; many areas are still left untouched from development. Maltreatment of consecutive governments has retarded serious and sensitive issues unresolved for decades. This ill treatment has promoted many of the genuine grievances of the Assamese people and helped the continuing conflicts and misconceptions to thrive. As a consequence, people of this region have increasingly grown frustrated and became mentally alienated from the rest of the country.

To form a precise opinion on this terrorist strike, it seems essential to chronologically study the highly complex history of the state. It is also crucial to carefully peel through the many layers of facts and viewpoints to get near the core truth.


The eight states of the North-East region of India comprise over 200 distinct ethnic groups. Assam alone is the home of about 20 large and small ethnic groups. Having ancestral relation with neighbour countries like China, Myanmar, Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan and sharing 98 per cent of its border with them (see map), this land and its ethnic inhabitants has historically remained distanced from mainland India.

Human migration was an ongoing phenomenon in the Brahmaputra Valley for over the centuries. Various immigrant groups, most of them Mongoloids, had entered the region from neighbouring South-East Asian countries. The Ahoms, a Tai-Mongoloid group, immigrated to Assam during 13th century from China and consolidated their position to establish the Ahom Kingdom that ruled Assam for the next 600 years. In 1818, the Burmese invaded Assam and forced the Ahom king to leave the kingdom. Finally, in 1826 the British drove out the Burmese and Assam came under British domination. Although the power of Ahom Kingdom started to decline from the second half of the 18th century, the territory remained mostly unconquered from any exterior power (except for the brief periods between 1663 to 1667 by the Mughals and 1818 to 1826 by the Burmese invasion) till the British took over.

British rule and growth of ‘anti-Bengali’ syndrome

After their takeover, the British revived Assam to one of the wealthier states of their regime with industrial and infrastructural developments. The tea industry was built up; high productive oil fields were discovered. The British brought in English educated Bengali officials to Assam to run the tea plantations and the civil service of the British raj. Since 1826, educated Bengali middle class Hindus held important positions in the colonial administration and other important professions like teachers, doctors, lawyers and magistrates. They also managed to introduce and initiate Bengali as the executive language of Assam. In 1905, the Viceroy of India Lord Curzon divided Bengal Presidency (undivided Bengal) into East and West Bengal (see map). Assam was merged with the new Muslim majority province of East Bengal. However, in 1911 British Government annulled the Bengal Partition due to massive political unrest in West Bengal. Assam was restored to its earlier status as a Chief Commissioner’s Province. But this time the British did another damaging act by integrating Bengali speaking Cachar, Goalpara and Sylhet with Assam province.

The British design to merge Assam with East Bengal had hurt the ethnic pride of local Assamese people. The decision was perceived by them as an indication that the Britishers are adversely treating their homeland as an extension of Bengal. Despite the fact that the middle class Bengali Hindus has made enormous contributions to the development of Assam’s oil wealth, industry and administration, the authority and power exercised by them over the ethnic Assamese and treating them with arrogance and contempt had ensued grave discontentment and a fear of cultural subordination. Moreover, the continuing large-scale influx of lower class Bengali Muslims was perceived as a demographic conquest by Bengalis to overpower local Assamese – those who were either Hindus or animists. As a result, a deep ‘anti-Bengali’ syndrome developed in the psyche of the ethnic Assamese mass. Hostility, mistrust and socio-cultural conflicts aggravated between the two major linguistic groups and have set the fertile ground for a full scale future confrontation.

Muslim immigration and the linguistic conflict

During the British rule, a big mass of Muslims had emigrated from undivided Bengal to Assam. Local Assamese people were living mostly in Upper Assam and cultivating one crop per year. They were less interested about working in the tea gardens or increasing their agricultural productivity. Hence, to work in the tea gardens, the British tea planters started to import labourers from central India – mainly from Bihar. British entrepreneurs had also actively encouraged landless Bengali speaking Muslim peasants to migrate from the populous East Bengal into the lowlands of Assam to work and develop the vast virgin lands. These poor peasant labourers were hardworking in nature and ready to work with minimal wages. They toiled hard on the waste lands of Lower Assam and transformed it into fertile agricultural fields. The influx of peasant labourers increased with the 1941 Land Settlement Policy. A British government 1931 census report stated that only in Nagaon district, the number of Bengali settlers has gone up between 1921 and 1931 by two thirds, from 300,000 to 500,000. The report also observed that places like Nagaon, Barpeta, Darrang, Kamrup and North Lakimpur were ‘invaded’ by settlers coming from Mymensingh district of East Bengal. These peasant Bengali immigrants made Assam their home and made a significant contribution to the agricultural economy of the state.

In the critical months leading up to Partition, Assam was again in the verge of getting merged with East Pakistan. The Congress High Command and the Muslim League agreed on the Cabinet mission proposal for regrouping of Assam with the eastern part of Bengal, which was to go away with Pakistan. The move was fiercely opposed by Gopinath Borodoloi, the stalwart Congress leader of Assam with the backing of Mahatma Gandhi. Borodoloi successfully prevented the regrouping plan and saved Assam from becoming a part of Pakistan. Combined with the present day territories of Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya, Assam sans the pre-dominantly Muslim district of Sylhet, Assam became a state of the Union of India. A July 29, 1947 editorial in Assam Tribune, noted that “…the Assamese people seem to feel relieved of a burden”.

The frustration of this failure to include Assam with East Pakistan left a permanent blotch within a prominent section of orthodox Muslim leadership and reactionary religious groups. This abiding resentment was preserved in their minds as the cherished Islamic design for a Greater Bangladesh which became the major source of future clashes.

Population influx of Bengali refugees, both Hindu and Muslims continued from East Bengal (now East Pakistan) in the post Partition period. It used to accelerate whenever natural calamities, economic or political instability affected East Pakistan. During this time, the ongoing linguistic conflict between the Bengalis and Assamese acquired momentum and turned into a fierce agitation with one side demanding official language status for Assamese and the other side defending the existing status of Bengali. The conflict had a definite political undertone and in 1960-61 burst into violent language riots causing several deaths from both sides. In 1961, Assamese language received the official language status by a legislation passed by the Government of Assam known as the ‘Official Language Act’. However, under pressure from the predominantly Bengali speaking districts of Cachar, Hailakandi and Karimganj in the Barak Valley of southern Assam, the official status of Bengali language was retained there.

After the Indo-China war in 1962, Arunachal Pradesh was separated out from Assam. The state was further Balkanized with the formation of Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland in the years of 1960-70s.

Formation of Bangladesh

With the active help and intervention of the Indian government and army, Bangladesh (former East Pakistan) was liberated from the grip of Pakistan and was established as a sovereign secular republic in 1971. It became a highly emotional event for the millions of Bengalis of India, who during the catastrophic Partition days were forcefully uprooted from their homeland in East Bengal and immigrate to India. The utterly traumatic events of Partition had left a profound effect on their lives. In his sensitive films, Ritwik Kumar Ghatak has brilliantly displayed this emotion, longing and trauma of the refugee Bengali Hindu families. Bengali Hindu refugees and immigrants who came to India before or during or after Partition has always related themselves with East Bengal and never with East Pakistan.

But liberation of Bangladesh also sharply increased a fresh influx of immigrants – thousands of Bangladesh nationals started pouring into the bordering states of Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal. The primary reason of this exodus was economic. Bangladesh was a highly populated country where 60 per cent of the population lived below the poverty line. Devastating natural calamities regularly displace millions. Land alienation, poverty, unemployment and lack of adequate social infrastructure prompted the poor Bangladeshi nationals to immigrate into India for a better livelihood. Between 1970 and 1974, the population of East Pakistan (Bangladesh after 1971) amazingly came down from 7.50 crores to 7.14 crores. Though, calculating by the annual population growth rate of 3.10 per cent, in 1974 it should actually increase to 7.70 crores. It is widely believed that the shortfall of 5.60 million has actually immigrated in India.

Twenty-four years have passed from 1947 to 1971 but the nostalgia and longing for desher bari (homeland) was still alive in the refugee hearts. Bangladesh’s liberation generated a wider hope for reinstating their broken linkage and therefore created an ecstatic feeling among them. Though chauvinist-reactionary groups were present in both the sides to spoil the jubilation, the enormity of the event temporarily demoralized and disbanded them. A general mood of elation and friendship was prevailing among the two countries. Triumphant after the victory over Pakistan and temporarily blinded by its own war success, the Indian government at that point failed to contemplate the consequence of this massive influx from Bangladesh.

However this friendship and goodwill gradually evaporated after the legendary leader and founder of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman was assassinated in 1975. Bangladesh eventually discarded secularism in 1988 and declared Islam as the state religion.

The rise of AASU

In the post-Bangladesh era, the Assamese-non Assamese conflict turned in a statewide turmoil with the rise of the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU). AASU came to prominence in 1979 with their ‘peaceful’ agitation (popularly called as the ‘Assam Agitation’) to uncover all illegal immigrants in Assam, deletion of their names from the electoral rolls and their deportation. Calling their movement ‘the 18th war of independence’, an allusion to the 17 wars fought by Assam’s legendary King Lachit Borphukan, AASU claimed that “infiltration and illegal migration is a potential threat to the integrity and sovereignty of the country as well as a demographic danger to the indigenous communities of Assam”. The movement was actually triggered by the discovery of a sudden rise in registered voters on electoral rolls. In the 1970s, the number of registered voters in Assam jumped from 6.20 million to almost 9 million – the increase was mostly accounted for migrants from Bangladesh. Accusing the Congress party for protecting the migrants as a ‘captive vote bank’, AASU constituted a broader platform called All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP) with representatives of various organizations to augment the agitation against ‘illegal immigrants’.

Taking advantage of the deep rooted sentiments and discontentment of Assamese people against the settlers, AASU and AAGSP successfully transmuted it into a widespread popular movement with the clamoured call of ‘Bideshi Khedao’ (kick the foreigners out). Various social-political groups, personalities and intelligentsia played clandestine or active role in this six year long reactionary agitation. The mood of the agitation was well accounted by journalist Chaitanya Kalbagh: “Aside from the anti-foreigner sentiment, the movement has developed other dangerous strains – anti-Bengali, anti-Left, anti-Muslim, anti-non Assamese, and slowly but discernibly, even anti-Indian.” (India Today, 1-15 May, 1980)

The Nellie massacre

AASU had strongly opposed the 1980 Parliament elections and later the 1983 State Assembly election on the ground that the polls be adjourned till electoral rolls were cleansed of illegal immigrants. Amid the ongoing agitation, the Congress government went ahead for the State Assembly polls in February 1983. During the polls the state witnessed large-scale arson, communal disturbances, group clashes and killings. The violence had no particular pattern – ethnic clashes between Assamese tribal and non-tribal; communal clashes between local Hindus and immigrant Muslims and linguistic clashes between Assamese and Bengalis occurred all over the state.

On February 18, a day after the polling has concluded, the village of Nellie in Nagaon district, 34 miles north-east of Guwahati was virtually turned into a killing field by a horrific and brutal massacre. According to official figures, on a single day, 2191 innocent and very poor Bengali Muslims, mostly women and children, were butchered in broad daylight by Assamese Hindus and Lalung tribals. Twenty-five years have passed but the Nellie massacre still remains an extremely mysterious case where no one claimed responsibility for the massacre, no judicial probe or independent enquiry was ever demanded by the Congress or the AASU, a Commission of Inquiry was instituted but the 600-page report was never made public and not a single person was convicted. The Congress and subsequent AGP government suppressed all information and deliberately tried to rub off the gruesome and shameful episode from the memory of Assam. (For an eyewitness account of the Nellie massacre see: Bedabrata Lahkar, Recounting a nightmare)

Enactment of IMDT Act

Despite the existence of the Foreigner’s Act 1946 which gave the Indian Government certain powers to execute in respect of the entry, presence and departure of foreigners inside the Indian Territory, the Indian parliament in 1983 enacted the Illegal Migrant Determination by Tribunal Act (IMDT). Unlike the existing Foreigner’s Act which was applicable to the whole of India, IMDT Act was solely applicable to the state of Assam and projected as an instrument to detect illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and expel them. There were fundamental differences between the two acts. According to the Foreigners Act, a suspected illegal immigrant has to establish his/her nationality on their own whereas under the IMDT Act, the responsibility of proving the citizenship of a suspected illegal immigrant lay on the complainant. The act was a focused political move initiated by Delhi – to spoil the growing influence of AASU and to protect genuine Indian citizens affected by the Assam Agitation, both religious and linguistic, from the undue harassment of been termed as illegal. Interestingly, the IMDT Act was passed by a Parliament, which had no members from Assam due to a boycott of elections on this issue.

The IMDT Act was challenged in courts by MP Sarbanand Sonowal of AGP. In 2005, a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional and directed to set up fresh tribunals under the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Foreigners (Tribunal Order) 1964.

The Assam Accord

The violent ‘direct action’ agitation of AASU continued for six consecutive years till the signing of the Assam Accord in August 15, 1985. The Assam Accord was a tripartite agreement between AASU, the government of Assam and the government of India. After much debate and negotiations, AASU retracted from its earlier demand of deporting all migrants who came after 1951 as ‘illegal’ and agreed on to recognize March 25, 1971 (the day civil war in East Pakistan began) as the cut-off date to determine ‘foreign infiltrators’ in Assam.

Signing of the Assam Accord was celebrated as a political victory of AASU. The state Assembly was dissolved and Hiteswar Saikia headed Congress government which came to power after the infamous February elections was dismissed. Within three months, AASU was transformed into a regional political party called Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) on October 14, 1985. Fresh elections in December 1985 brought AGP in power. After coming to power the AGP government adapted half-hearted and shortsighted measures to deal with the immigration problem. All cases connected with the Nellie massacre were dropped.

Though the IMDT Act had depraved political intentions and has basic flaws from its inception, it is extremely interesting to recall that AASU or AGP did not raise any uproar about the shortcomings on identification, detection and deportation of illegal migrants in the act, which was enacted just two years before the Assam Accord. It was only after losing power in the 1991 assembly elections to Congress; AGP started a hue and cry about the defects of IMDT Act and demanded for its repeal.

The rise of armed insurgency

The volatile situation in Assam for decades had paved the way for various terrorist-insurgent groups of different scale and size to mushroom and commit scores of violent and mindless incidents like murders, triggering blasts, abductions for ransom, extortions and attacking of economic targets. The South Asia Terrorism Portal website has listed 36 such terrorist-insurgent groups in Assam. Prominent among them are the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), National Democratic Front of Bodoland (NDFB), United Liberation Front of Barak Valley (ULFBV), Dima Halim Daogah (DHD), Kamtapur Liberation Organization (KLO), Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), Muslim United Liberation Front of Assam (MULFA), United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), Black Widow, Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT) and Barak Valley Youth Liberation Front (BVYLF). Many of the smaller groups are actually the offshoots of major groups. The objective of most of the groups is secession from the Indian State. However, except ULFA, most of the secessionist insurgent outfits that had appeared during the turbulent days of 1979-1983 did not survive after the Assam Accord.

By going through the list, one will be startled to find that with the exception of ULFA most of the groups have a specific ethnic-religious representation. It is seemingly obvious that the root cause of armed insurgency in Assam is the widespread and deep rooted ethnic cultural conflict prevailing in the region that is fueled by the failure of subsequent governments and mainstream political parties to understand the local people’s mind. The rise of ethnicity based insurgency and the separatist demand for sovereignty were the direct result of a general feeling of alienation, dispossession and fury among the ethnic community which considered that armed insurgency is the only way to make their voices heard. The presence of about 20 large and small ethnic groups with differing belief systems and way of life and the unique geographical location has facilitated the rapid development of terrorist-insurgent activities in Assam.

There are also roughly 14 Islamist terrorist outfits operating in Assam, those who attempts to mobilize the Muslim youths in Assam to fight for the ‘cause of Muslims’. Pakistan and Bangladesh based foreign terrorist groups like Harkat-Ul-Mujaheedin, Harkat-Ul-Jihad, Jamat-Ul-Mujaheedin and Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami (HuJI) are also reportedly having active presence in Assam. Another militant outfit named Islamic United Revolution Protect of India (IURPI) has been formed recently covering the Muslim dominated districts of Assam.

The menace called ULFA

United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) is a well organized, highly influential, widely connected, enormously funded terrorist group active in Assam. During the height of anti-foreigner agitation, a hard line section parted from AASU to form ULFA. Born on the lawns of the historic Rang Ghar of Sibsagar on 7th April 1979, ULFA leaders Rajiv Rajkonwar alias Arabinda Rajkhowa (chairman), Samiran Gogoi alias Pradip Gogoi (vice-chairman), Paresh Barua (chief of staff) and Golap Baruah alias Anup Chetia (general secretary) declared their aim of “liberating Assam from the illegal occupation of India” and to establish a ‘sovereign socialist Assam’. By describing itself as a ‘revolutionary political organization’, ULFA gave a militant manifestation to the anti-foreigner movement but initially remained concealed by acting along with AASU.

There is a fundamental difference between the ideologies of AASU and ULFA. AASU’s agitation was pointed against ‘illegal immigrants’ whereas ULFA’s struggle is solely against the Indian State: “to overthrow Indian colonial occupation from Assam”. The ULFA does not consider itself a separatist or secessionist organization, as it claims that Assam was never a part of India. Arbinda Rajkhowa, chairman of ULFA once said that, “India has been occupying Assam illegally like Kashmir, which was never an integral part of India”. ULFA claims that among the various problems that people of Assam are confronting, the problem of national identity is the basic, and therefore represents “not only the Assamese nation but also the entire independent minded struggling peoples, irrespective of different race-tribe-caste-religion and nationality of Assam”. It must be mentioned here that ULFA has always refused to admit their involved in any ethnic or communal violence but always admitted their role if the attack was against the Indian security forces or any target symbolic to the Indian State like the state-owned oil pipelines. It is principally a secular outfit and fiercely against Hindu nationalist groups and the BJP, calling it ‘out and out a Hindu fundamentalist party’. After the Babri Masjid demolition in 1992, ULFA was credited for stopping Hindu-Muslim riots ‘by displaying arms openly’ in the Hojai region of Nagaon district.

ULFA’s initial cadre recruits were from AASU. But later they started recruiting cadres directly, particularly from the rural belts. Even after the outfit was banned and Indian Army operations resumed in September 2006, the continuing presence of ULFA suggests that the organization has somehow maintained their rural influences and the pattern of cadre recruits. The outfit has a mixed cadre base comprising Assamese and ethnic tribals – even Bengali peasants. ULFA is believed to have a trained cadre-strength of around 5,000 and possesses a huge cache of weapons for its insurgent activities.

Around the mid-80s ULFA started showing its true face with low-intensity military conflicts, political homicides and economic subversion and was soon recognized as a potent terror organization. By dividing insurgency activities between its political and military wing ULFA started raising huge funds through extortions and threatening rich businessmen and tea estate owners and also looted banks. The outfit’s major operational area was the Dibrugarh-Tinsukia sector, the wealthiest tea-growing and oil producing region of Assam. Almost every tea plantation paid an annual ransom to them. In 1986, ULFA leaders established contacts with National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) of Myanmar to procure arms and arrange for training of its cadres. The Kachins taught them the essentials of terrorist-insurgent tactics. One of its daring attacks was in May 1990 when ULFA cadres killed Surendra Paul, one of the leading tea planters in Assam and brother of famous UK-based businessman Lord Swaraj Paul. The incident caused many tea estate managers to flee Assam. Soon the government sprung into action. The entire state of Assam was declared a ‘disturbed area’ and ULFA was banned on November 1990 as a terrorist group. Since 1990, the Indian security forces are engaged in Assam to stall ULFA activities.

Controlling the ULFA menace became a dilemma for the AGP government as the leaders of AASU-AGP and ULFA were the same lot of people, born from the same arena. “The cynical characterization of the same set of people as ASSU in the morning, Government (AGP) at midday and ULFA at night cannot be just laughed away” (M. Kar, Muslims in Assam Politics - 1946-1991, page 421; quoted in R. Upadhyay, ULFA – A Deviated Movement? ) Taking this advantage, ULFA almost ran a parallel government in Assam, conducting trials of people and black mailing them for extorting money. The AGP government had also encouraged ULFA activities to some extent to keep alive their confrontational politics and pressure over the Central Government. “The reasoning behind the unwillingness on the part of the AGP regime to confront the ULFA lies in its eagerness to keep the terrorists actively alive to retain its anti-centre leverage” (Ibid. page 425). On the other hand, ULFA’s popularity and influence gained a spectacular rise from the rising disillusionment among the Assamese people against the AGP regime.

Contrary to its original ideological position of a revolutionary political organization and dumping its ‘social-reform’ activities, the ULFA leadership has done a complete volte-face when they transformed the outfit into a purely terrorist outfit. Later on, ULFA established contacts with Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) of Pakistan, Defense Forces Intelligence (DFI) of Bangladesh, the Afghan Mujahedeen and other terrorist-insurgent groups of North-East and committed a series of atrocious crimes to create terror in the State. Since 1989, ULFA Chief of Staff Paresh Barua, however, has denied the alleged link of ULFA with ISI as a ‘heinous conspiracy of New Delhi’.

ULFA had put up a number of camps in Bangladesh and also owned several ‘income generating projects’ like media consultancy firms, soft drink manufacturing units, transport companies, schools, three hotels, a private clinic, two motor driving schools, a tannery, a chain of departmental stores, garment factories, travel agencies, shrimp trawlers and investment companies there. ULFA also runs profitable narcotics business in Myanmar and Thailand. Paresh Barua was allegedly involved in smuggling heroin from Myanmar into Assam. ULFA leaders and cadres had reportedly received specialized training on counter intelligence, disinformation, use of sophisticated weapons and explosives from ISI. Two Muslim terror outfits of Assam – the MULTA and the MULFA are their regular arms suppliers through Bangladesh. Routed through Nepal, it has also developed channels for the transfer of funds and arms from Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia.

ULFA continues to be active but has lost its credibility to a great extent due to its involvement in the mindless violence, killing of ordinary people and lumpenization of its cadres. On January 2007, suspected ULFA extremists killed at least 62 Hindi-speaking Bihari daily labourers, workers of brick kiln, petty-traders and roadside vendors in Dibrugarh, Tinsukia and Sibsagar districts of Upper Assam. Its popular support has reduced but not fully erased. There is still an underlying sympathy about ULFA in the greater Assamese society, especially among the underprivileged, middle-class and intelligentsia. “A section of the intelligentsia, however, uses the insurgent influence as a shortcut to secure personal objectives and fame. It is not a rare exception in Assam to find a respected intellectual advocating the insurgent cause, of course from a safe distance and carefully balancing constitutional restrictions and revolutionary babble. Many among the more sober intellectuals in Assam prefer to maintain a deliberate silence on the issue.” (Sunil Nath, Assam: The Secessionist Insurgency and the Freedom of Minds) This sympathy among its home-population is ULFA’s key strength.

Journalist and North-East expert Sanjoy Hazarika has summed up the present status of ULFA and other terrorist-insurgent groups of North-East:

“…it should be clarified that the conflicts in the Northeast, in terms of armed revolts, ethnic struggles or fights against the Indian State, no longer draw on the romanticism and idealism that sustained fighting groups and communities for decades. Dreams have degenerated into nightmares; the fighters have turned on each other and on the people in whose name they claim to speak. The entire network of cadres, recruits, informers and political leaders is based on extortion and extraction: extortion from business houses and petty traders, from professionals, contractors and politicians. Few are spared. The extraction process even involves government officials…”

The HuJI and RSS-BJP factor

Harkat-ul-Jihad-al Islami or HuJI is a fanatic terrorist outfit formed at Pakistan in 1984. It initially operated in Afghanistan, then at Jammu-Kashmir and later was extended to Bangladesh in 1992. Banned in Bangladesh since October 2005, the objective of HuJI is apparent from their one-time slogan: Amra Sobai Hobo Taliban, Bangla Hobe Afghanistan (We will all become Taliban; we will turn Bangladesh into Afghanistan). It is a deadly terror outfit operating from the coastal area of Chittagong south through Cox’s Bazaar to the Myanmar border. In recent years, this Bangladesh chapter of HuJI has been found to be responsible for a number of terrorist strikes in India with the active assistance from ISI.

Since 1998, unconfirmed reports were emerging about HuJI-ULFA links. The connection was proved in 2003 from the confessions of some arrested jihadi militants and reconfirmed recently when members of HuJI were spotted in the Silchar district of Assam along with a few ULFA members. HuJI is reported to have assured co-operation and logistical support to ULFA and help them to find shelters in Bangladesh. Reports has also indicated that HuJI is giving a three months military training to youths and helping them to infiltrate into Indian locations like West Bengal, Assam and other North-East states.

The RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) - BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) combine has built up a wide network in the districts of Udalguri and Darrang in recent years. This combine has influenced a section of the Bodos along with a small section of Assamese, Bengalis and Nepalese to mobilize against the Muslims in many places of the state. In the name of detection of the suspected ‘Bangladeshis’, numerous harassments and atrocities are imposed on those Muslims who had actually settled in Assam long back and became a part of the broad Assamese society. The recent clashes and rampant violence between Bodos and Muslims that has swept across many areas in Udalguri and Darrang districts from October 3, 2008 is the result of this evil design of RSS-BJP. “...the rifts and conflicts engendered by the communal violence among the Bodo and Muslim communities will be sought to be utilized by the divisive, communal and fundamentalist forces to their advantage and thus further endangering the peace and unity among the people.” (Uddhab Barman, Behind the Recent Communal Violence in Assam, People’s Democracy, 19 October 2008) Accordingly, after the October 30 serial blasts, BJP leader L.K. Advani took no time to blame illegal Bangladeshis (read Muslims) as the main reason for breeding terrorism in Assam.

Consistent violent campaign against Muslims with the growth of the RSS-BJP combine in Assam has created enough ground for the growth of communal and fundamentalist forces among the Muslim community (Muslims constitute nearly 30 per cent of Assam’s population). Taking advantage of this chaotic situation, HuJI and other fundamentalist Muslim outfits are gradually penetrating deep into a section of the Muslim inhabitants and brain-washing them towards Islamic fanaticism. ULFA leaders, being pushed to the wall by the mounting emphatic operations of Indian security forces have been coerced to enslave them in the hands of the ISI for survival. Today, ISI has sheltered all the top leaders of ULFA in Bangladesh. The outfit has abdicated its core ideology and acting now as their local agent in Assam and the North-East.


You are walking along the street one day,
chewing cinnamon gum,
and the world is full of cinnamon
when there’s a fireball--
and a blast of gushing air and noise
like the Earth is cracking
and time has exploded. ...

Then ... silence. ...

You think you’re okay, but you look down and your forearm
lies in the street like a dead snake and you collapse.

You are twenty two and you have/had a good job--
you were earnestly trying to help.
But now you think there was no point to your life,
and you remember your mother and father
whose voices are in the sirens.

– Gary Corseri, A Bombing in Assam

Ten days after the recent blasts, the Indian Home Ministry claimed that they have found “…enough evidence that the banned ULFA had carried out the October 30 serial blasts with the help of dominant Bodo militant group NDFB.” NDFB is currently under ceasefire with the security forces and is engaged in peace negotiations with the government. The government sources has expressed their worry about a nexus between local outfits with outsiders in the blasts the fact that ‘northeast militants has started using a deadly mixture of RDX, ammonium nitrate and plasticised explosives’ and neither ULFA nor NDFB has the expertise to carry out such dead explosions. Bangladesh-based HuJI has provided the expertise to ULFA and NDFB. (Indian Express, 11 Nov 2008)

For several decades, Assam is passing through too much of tears and blood. This stunningly beautiful state and its people are struggling hard to come out from the curse of their own history.

Secessionism, insurgency and terrorism are like the mythical Phoenix bird – self destructive but able to resurrect from its own ashes. Assamese people did clutch them all – like a drowning person clutches a piece of straw.

Dealing the problem from a fascistic perspective, the widely spread jingoistic approach of the RSS-BJP combine will be a catastrophe. The problem cannot be dealt as well with a feeble, compromising and brush under the carpet approach – as implemented by the Congress party. The people of Assam are bearing the brunt of this breed of politics for long. It also cannot be dealt with reactionary parochialism – like the provincial politics of ASSU-AGP. The people of Assam have long been disillusioned by them. The distressing reality for Assamese people is, that they do not have any other alternative to choose.

The Indian State should first and foremost study the people and learn how to create a condition that will itself refuse to extend any popular sympathy or support towards the secessionists, insurgents and terrorists. It has to realize that a convincing democratic mechanism that compassionately tries to comprehend the genuine grievances of its own people and works effectively for a tangible solution will definitely win back their support. The same support which is partly enjoyed today by the secessionists, insurgents and terrorists. An unbiased approach towards the political problem of secessionism and a firm determination to strike against terrorism is the correct approach to deal the Assam crisis.