domestic-affairs, politics

A Tale of Two Speeches

‘Cancer’ of partition

Two recent speeches on the partition of India in 1947, one by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and the other by Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP)President Rabindra Narain Singh remind me of the opening words of Charles Dickens’ immortal work A Tale of Two Cities:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Let us attempt a political parsing of the two speeches.

Rajnath Singh asserted that the partition of India on religious lines was a “historic mistake”. “Pakistan”, he said, “wants to break India by terrorism and other anti-Indian activities.” Quoting Martin Luther King Jr., the Defence Minister said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Dear reader, I for one agree entirely with Rajnath Singh. However, political parsing requires us to raise one or two questions. One, who all wanted partition apart from Jinnah? Two, who all fought against partition? We shall answer these questions after looking at the second speech.

The VHP president said that the “cancer” of partition is still there and we need “chemotherapy”. Incidentally, as Rabindra Nath Singh is a medical doctor we should take his prescription seriously.

The partition was meant, Rabindra Nath Singh pointed out, to remove the afflicted part from the body politic. Some Muslim “brothers” remained in India. Hence, the body politic is still not free from cancer.

“The 20 crore” Muslims cannot be asked to leave India. “All I am saying is Muslims should live with us, like several rivers merge into Ganga and then together flow as Ganga only. There is no such thing as Ganga-Jamuni tahzeeb.”

How does chemotherapy work? By attacking churches, Mother Teresa’s Sisters, by staking claim to mosques? Is that what the doctor is prescribing? If not, we shall be glad to hear from him what exactly he has in mind.

The reference to Ganga is intriguing. Does he mean, in plain English, that non-Hindus are second class citizens? If he means that, we should request him to read the Constitution once again.

The first prominent political leader to advocate the partition of India on the basis of religion was Lala Lajpath Roy. In 1925, he wrote to C.R. Das, advocating the division of India on the basis of religion.

“I am not afraid of the seven crores of Indian Musselmans but seven crores plus the armed hosts of Afghanistan and Central Asia, Arabia, Mesopotamia and Turkey will be irresistible.” In fact, Rai uncannily predicted the partition lines two decades before it occurred.

As the historian Tara Chand puts it,” The partition of India was not the product of the fertile imagination of the Muslim undergraduates of the Cambridge University, nor even poet Iqbal’s fancy, but the brainchild of a hypersensitive Hindu stalwart.”

We may add a correction. It is not the partition, but rather the idea of partition, that was the brainchild of the hypersensitive Hindu.

The actual partition occurred because of the given correlation of forces in post-World War 2 India. To put it succinctly, in any triangle any two sides together are longer than the third side. Since the British establishment and the Jinnah-led Muslim League worked together, both publicly and secretly, more secretly than publicly, there was nothing the Congress could have done to stop it.

There is one more point about the partition that is often lost sight of. Jinnah resented Gandhi’s rise in the firmament of Indian politics. When Gandhi declared Nehru as his “political heir”, Jinnah concluded that he would never become the Prime Minister of India. He sulked and went to England. While there, he concluded that by re-entering politics, he could divide India and be the supreme leader of a part of India. Churchill collaborated with Jinnah secretly.

Yet another point is that the British military had identified the Soviet Union as the emerging adversary and concluded that Pakistan would give the West a foothold on its territory to keep an eye on the Soviet Union. As we know the spy plane U-2 flown by Francis Gary Powers working for the C.I.A. took off from Peshawar in May 1960 before it was shot down by the Soviets.

The RSS and the Sangh Parivar did not count politically when India was divided. In any case, Savarkar had pledged his allegiance in writing to the Raj, and he and his acolytes were fighting the Congress and not fighting for independence.

They wanted a carbon copy of Pakistan, they did not get it in 1947 and the 1950 Constitution spelt out an India, secular, modern, with scientific temperament, and deeply committed to promote social harmony, social justice, and holistic development of all cutting across the divide of religion, language, caste, and other barriers.

We should note that in 2021 they are confident of re-writing the Constitution in deeds if not in words and reaching their goals.

With the above background, we understand better the disappointment of the VHP about some “Muslim brothers” remaining in India in 1947. His words about the difficulty of sending away “20 crores” of Muslims validates our statement that the ruling party in India of 2021 had wanted way back in 1947/1950, India to be a carbon copy of Pakistan.

The VHP president’s simile of the Ganga needs parsing. He wants the non-Hindus to submit themselves to be second class citizens, to put it in plain English. He wants Islam, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Jainism to be the tributaries of ‘Hinduism’.

A correction is called for, not of Hinduism, but of Hindutva, a deformed version of the former. In fact, Hindutva has to be surgically removed from Hinduism. Dear doctor, heal thyself first!

Prime Minister Modi spoke in Kashi of Shivaji and Aurangzeb. “Whenever an Aurangzeb comes along, a Shivaji rises.” Modi said that Aurangzeb was an invader from outside India. Little did he know that he and Aurangzeb were born in the same village in Gujarat!

To go back to Dickens. We shall know whether India is going to be a carbon copy of Pakistan when the state election results come out in 2022. It is for the voters to choose.

This article was initially published in The Citizen Credits:-

January 27th, 2022 | category:domestic-affairs, politics |
international-affairs, politics

How China Outsmarted The U.S. At The World Health Assembly

It is now clear that the President of the United States, Donald Trump, has sustained a major diplomatic defeat at the hands of the Chinese President, Xi Jinping. What happened at the 73rd session of the World Health Assembly, the 194-member decision making body of the World Health Organisation (W.H.O.), held virtually on 18 – 19 May 2020, has to be seen from two angles.

First, in the context of President Trump’s unsuccessful attempt at finding a scapegoat as he rightly stands charged rightly for his monumental failure to deal with the contagion and his fear, not entirely unfounded, that he might not get re-elected in November this year. Second, from a more historically relevant perspective of a rising China and a declining U.S.

What is striking is that Trump had good cards, even a few trumps. However, despite having had a weaker hand, Xi Jinping, finessed to perfection in diplomatic bridge, trumped Donald Trump.

The U.S. accuses China of not being transparent – or prompt – in transmitting information on the developing situation. Furthermore, the U.S. also accuses the W.H.O. of being China’s “puppet.” Had China and the W.H.O. acted right, the U.S. argues, the contagion could have been contained before it became a pandemic.

That the U.S. case is strong will be seen from the annotated timeline below:
8 December 2019
Cases of pneumonia of unknown aetiology detected in Wuhan, a city of 11 million.
30 December 2019
Dr. Li Wenliang who raised the alarm on social media was rebuked and, later, silenced by the Mayor.
31 December 2019
China formally informs the W.H.O. of cases of pneumonia of unknown aetiology. China added that “there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission.” Instead of digging deeper into the question of such transmission, the W.H.O. remains unconcerned and uncurious, a dereliction of its responsibilities.
13 January 2020
The first case of infection outside China recorded in Thailand.
14 January 2020

The W.H.O. tweets that there was “no clear evidence” of human-to-human transmission. This was the height of irresponsibility as there was a case in Thailand. What did the W.H.O mean by “clear”? The current entry on the W.H.O. website for 14 January 2020 is disingenuous:

The WHO’s technical lead for the response noted in a press briefing there may have been limited human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus (in the 41 confirmed cases), mainly through family members, and that there was a risk of a possible wider outbreak. The lead also said that human-to-human transmission would not be surprising given our experience with SARS, MERS and other respiratory pathogens.

18 January 2020
The Mayor of Wuhan hosts a banquet for 40,000 families and the virus goes viral. His reason for silencing the young doctor is clear.
20 January 2020
Beijing wakes up and sends Dr. Zhong Nanshan, 83, virologist, to Wuhan. He goes on national television saying there is clear danger of an epidemic, confirming human-to-human transmission.
  Didn’t the W.H.O. Representative in China report this to the Director General in Geneva?
22 January 2020
Lockdown begins in Wuhan. The W.H.O. Emergency Committee meets for two days and decides to meet again after 10 days to consider whether a global public emergency should be declared. This is deplorable abdication of responsibility.
28 January 2020
The W.H.O. Director General visits Beijing. Was he seeking permission before declaring an emergency?
30 January 2020
The W.H.O. declares a global emergency. (It should have declared a pandemic.) Furthermore, the W.H.O. declares there should be no ban on travel to and from China. This is criminal irresponsibility.
11 March 2020

The W.H.O. declares a pandemic. By then, the Hubei province had 67,773 cases and 3,046 deaths; the total for China was 80,955 cases and 3,162 deaths. Was it necessary to wait for the death toll to cross 3,000?

To go back to the diplomatic showdown, all that U.S. had to do was to put out a clear timeline. Instead, Secretary Pompeo stated that he had “enormous evidence” proving China’s culpability. The more he repeated it, without sharing the evidence, the less credible he sounded.

Donald Trump also repeated charges against China, threatened to stop paying the contribution to W.H.O., and wanted an investigation into its handling of the matter. His threat to cut funding enormously weakened his case. We did not hear much from the professional diplomats as the Secretary and the President spoke all the time.

Watching the diplomatic bungling by Washington, Xi Jinping planned his moves. On day one of the Assembly, he addressed the gathering and offered $ 2 billion to support the developing countries, including the ones in Africa, to deal with the contagion. Trump on his part wrote a harsh letter to the Director-General of the W.H.O., giving an ultimatum: Put your house in order or the U.S. might walk out. It was a rambling letter, with hardly any professional input. If he had a case, Trump should have addressed the Assembly.

Trump’s attack on the W.H.O. had an unintended, but easily anticipatable consequence. We do not know for sure, but it is possible that the European Union resorted to Machiavellian tactics. It came out with a draft resolution that called for a “plan for an evaluation, to be conducted in consultation with Member States at the earliest appropriate moment, on lessons learnt from the international health response to COVID-19, addressing the long-term consequences on health, in order to assess, in line with the statement made by G20 leaders, gaps in pandemic preparedness with a view to establishing a global initiative on pandemic preparedness and response capitalizing on existing structures and programmes to align priorities in global preparedness.”

Australia came out in strong support of Trump’s stand and consulted with the EU and stiffened the language by adding the words, “an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to COVID-19.”

China initially opposed the draft resolution, but it joined the growing number of supporters and extracted drafting changes. The word “impartial” is missing from the text as proposed by the Chair and was unanimously adopted. There will be no inquisition into the role of the Director-General as the Assembly “requested” him to conduct the evaluation.

Coming to Taiwan’s request for restoring its observer status, 15 microstates wrote to the W.H.O. proposing discussion on Taiwan’s request. Even before the General Committee was to consider it, realising the lack of support, Taiwan withdrew its request. Everyone noted that though Pompeo had publicly supported Taiwan, Washington did not extend formal support, one more indication of Beijing’s growing diplomatic clout.

In short, Xi Jinping’s victory was complete, and he can address the party congress with enhanced self-confidence, unlike Trump who finds that his rival, Joe Biden, has more support right now.

Coming to the larger question, the United States had seen an adversary in U.S.S.R. even before World War II ended in Europe. Such a perception was partly responsible for the ill-begotten Cold War. When it ended, it was said in U.S. that Japan had won the Cold War, implying that Japan was the new economic adversary. For many years, even before Trump came into office, there had developed a consensus among the U.S. think tanks that China was the new adversary. Incidentally, China could not have risen so fast but for the Nixon visit in 1972.

Coming to China, the Middle Kingdom is convinced of its superiority over the rest of the world. Under Xi Jinping, China has not been reticent about its plans to co-equal U.S. and later to overtake it. Hence, the basic ingredients of confrontation between the two remain. The probability of them dividing the world into two zones is slim, though it cannot be ruled out.

There is a big difference between the Cold War days and now. The Soviet Union had, and its successor Russia, has a MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) relationship with the U.S. Trump is trying to change that and gain superiority, but his chances of success are slim.

Moreover, there is a difference in the new world order. while the Soviet Union was never an economic rival or threat to the U.S., China is.

In conclusion, both U.S. and China know that economically they are Siamese twins. We might see varying degrees of cooperation and confrontation in the future. China is unlikely to have a MAD relationship with U.S. in the near future. But madness on either side could end up destroying the world as we know it.

  The above article written by Ambassador K.P. Fabian was initially published on Madras Courier Credits:-

May 26th, 2020 | category:international-affairs, politics |
book-reviews, books, international-affairs, politics

The Chequered Brilliance by Jairam Ramesh : Book Review

I READ Jairam Ramesh’s The Chequered Brilliance practically non-stop, despite its intimidating length, mainly because of its lucid style, impressive logic and sound chapterisation. As I finished reading, I was reminded of Thomas Carlyle’s (1795-1881) words: “No great man lives in vain. The history of the world is but the biography of great men.” Of course, this view of history is not cent per cent right. One is reminded of Pierre Goubert’s Louis XIV and 20 Million Frenchmen that gives a polar opposite point of view. Reflection will show that both Carlyle and Goubert are partly right.

One can say with confidence that anyone seeking to find out more than what is generally known about India’s march towards independence in 1947 and how India under Jawaharlal Nehru formulated and followed a foreign policy based on a good deal of out-of-the-box thinking should read this book.

The title of the book has been chosen carefully, foreshadowing the ups and downs in the life of an exceptionally gifted human being. When V.K. Krishna Menon started speaking for India on the world stage, the world listened, and therefore, the establishment in the West started a cottage industry of demonising him.

Some in India obediently joined in. Why did the United States want to demonise him? Because he was seen as “dangerously persuasive”. That is what the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) told MI5 of the United Kingdom. The MI5 even seriously considered assassinating Krishna Menon when he was High Commissioner in London and there were hints that he might be called back to New Delhi to join the Union Cabinet. MI5 feared that his entry into the Cabinet would carry enormous risk for the West. Fortunately, the agency reconsidered the matter. This is revealed in the book Defence of the Realm (2009) by Professor Christopher Andrew of Cambridge University.

Prof Andrew was commissioned to write the history of MI5 for its centennial in 2009. He was given complete access to its archives. India’s Intelligence Bureau (I.B.) was established in 1887. Did anyone think of publishing its history in 1987?

As a people, are Indians willing and able to look at their past with a degree of scientific objectivity without falling into the temptation of misusing the past by manufacturing fake history for settling scores in the petty political debates disfiguring the present? A sensitive reader of the book under review cannot but help raise such questions.

Jairam Ramesh has dedicated this book to his wife Jayashree who passed away before it was completed. The author narrates the life story of Krishna Menon with a command over some family issues, all the more remarkable, as we do not know whether the author who was eight years old in 1962 and 20 in 1974 when Krishna Menon died, had ever met him.

The two quotations used before the text opens are the most apposite. The first quote is that of Indira Gandhi: “A volcano has been extinguished.” The second is from K.P.S. Menon, the first Foreign Secretary of free India who had a less than cordial relationship with Krishna Menon: “But, the glow of the lava which poured out so copiously and brilliantly from it… would long remain in the memories of men and annals of history.” Is it not intriguing that Indira Gandhi and K.P.S. Menon, should have both thought of a volcano in their tribute?

Jairam Ramesh has divided the text into two sections, pre-1947 and post-1947, with seven parts, in all 21 chapters, and A Final Word. We start with A First Word, less than four pages, summarising the life and work of Krishna Menon. “He finds significant mention in histories of the negotiations over nuclear disarmament, the struggle against colonial rule in Africa, the emergence of Cyprus, the campaign against apartheid in South Africa and the crisis in Congo.” There is at least one notable omission in this list. Krishna Menon played a pivotal role in the ceasefire in the 1954 Korean War, the 1954 Geneva Conference on Indochina, and the 1956 Suez Crisis, to name a few. However, the omission is not significant as the author has meticulously covered all this in this well-researched book.

The first chapter is about the Vengali family. Krishna Menon was born on May 3, 1896, in Calicut (now Kozhikode), where Vasco da Gama set foot in May 1498, eventually leading to the capture of Goa by the Portuguese. In 1961, Krishna Menon played a crucial role in putting an end to the Portuguese rule in Goa.

Strangely enough, he was fixated on astrology and asked his sister, Janaki Amma, to send him a horoscope reading before he left London in 1952 on completion of his term as High Commissioner. The horoscope said that he would be “mentally agitated”, though there is no “danger of being unbalanced mentally”. For once, astrology was right.

Chapter 2 is titled “Annie Besant’s Protege (1918-1930)”. Krishna Menon got his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics, political science and history in 1918. He joined the Theosophical Society the same year. He taught at the National University in Madras, started by Annie Besant with Rabindranath Tagore as its first chancellor. In 1924, Annie Besant sent him to England where he joined the London School of Economics (LSE), remaining there for 10 years. Frida Laski, wife of Harold Laski, quipped that “Krishna was a chronic [perpetual student] at the LSE.” He got a BSc degree with first class honors in 1927 and later an MA in Industrial Psychology in 1931 from University College, London. He returned to LSE, registered for a PhD, which he did not complete. But in 1935, Krishna Menon got an MSc degree in economics for a thesis on English Political Thought in the 17th century.

Role in freedom struggle

One of the reasons, he did not complete his PhD is that from 1934 Krishna Menon was engrossed in political campaigning in the U.K. for India’s independence. Chapters 4 to 8, in all 258 pages, give us a detailed account of his contribution to India’s struggle for independence. Krishna Menon’s contribution is not all that well known, and the author has made a singular contribution to historiography.

Krishna Menon took over as India’s High Commissioner on August 15, 1947, and held that post until July 15, 1952. We get more than a glimpse of Sardar Patel’s dislike for Krishna Menon. Nehru appointed him as High Commissioner despite Patel’s misgivings. It is not clear why Patel did not like Krishna Menon. But it appears that Patel had, without evidence, concluded that he was close to communists, if not one of them. Patel had wrongly concluded that the U.K. and the U.S. were working at the United Nations against India on the Kashmir issue because they saw India as “too close” to Russia.

Krishna Menon lived an ascetic life even as High Commissioner. He did not draw a salary for more than six months. In April 1948, he wrote to Nehru saying that the annual salary for the High Commissioner was about £ 3,000, but he wanted to take only the living wage, say between £350 and £650. The bureaucracy wanted this matter to drag on and raised the absurd argument about a “constitutional difficulty” in having an unpaid High Commissioner. In December 1950, an exasperated Krishna Menon told Nehru that he would not draw any salary.

Jeep scandal

Everyone must have heard about the so-called “jeep scandal”. But how many of us know that Krishna Menon had not benefited financially from the deal? The transaction was made in 1951. Some persons holding high office, suffering from Krishna Menon phobia, manufactured a “scandal”. On August 24, 1954, R.P. Sarathy, Director of Audit, Defence Services, sent a “most secret” 18-page note to Nehru fully exonerating Krishna Menon. The same Sarathy had signed the 1951 audit report damning Krishna Menon. In any rational polity the matter should have ended. But Krishna Menon’s foes continued with their vicious campaign for years, assisted by a compliant media.

British intelligence, with its visceral hatred for and fear of communists, convinced Prime Minister Clement Attlee that the High Commission was a den of communists and that what the British government told Krishna Menon might reach the communists. Obviously, Attlee, who had known Krishna Menon for years, should have known better. But he swallowed the MI5 capsule hook, line and sinker. (Incidentally, we may recall that Attlee played a dirty role in the partition of India as narrated by Narendra Singh Narela in his book The Untold Story of India’s Partition.) Finally, the British High Commissioner in India conveyed to Nehru that sensitive matters would be conveyed only through him and Nehru accepted. Krishna Menon protested to Nehru and, as Jairam Ramesh says, he was in the right.

On May 14, 1952, Krishna Menon wrote to Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Janaki Amma and some others of his intention to leave this world. The originals of these letters are in the archives and one might assume that they were not dispatched. All this strengthens the view that Krishna Menon was more sinned against than sinning.

Korean War

Jairam Ramesh’s account of his resolution of the prisoners of war issue in the Korean War is a study in brevity and accuracy. At one stage, Dean Acheson of the U.S., accused Krishna Menon of siding with the communists and, four days later, the Soviet Foreign Minister, Andrey Vyshinsky, called Krishna Menon “a stalking horse” for the U.S. Years later, Acheson would write of the “Menon Cabal” that included Lester B. Pearson (Canada), Selwyn Lloyd and Anthony Eden (U.K.), and R.G. Casey (Australia), “making life difficult for him”. As the author points out, Krishna Menon had divided the West.

I have found out, to my distress, that more than one political science faculty member in India is innocent of India’s role in the ending of the Korean War.

Let us look at another of Krishna Menon’s diplomatic triumphs. On April 24, 1954, Nehru read out a statement on the situation in Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos) in Parliament. Nehru rarely read out from a note. Since the matter was important, he read out the note containing a six-point formula that Krishna Menon had drafted.

On April 28, 1954, 19 states met in Geneva, to discuss Korea and later Indochina. India was not among the 19. Two days after the start of the Geneva Conference, Nehru and Krishna Menon went to Colombo to attend a “mini summit” of Asian powers with Burma (Myanmar), Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Indonesia and Pakistan. That summit endorsed Nehru’s six-point formula on Indochina.

The Geneva Conference on Indochina started on May 8 and for a while it was meandering. Krishna Menon reached Geneva on May 23, partly at the invitation of British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, of course with no mandate to take part in the formal sessions. He worked “behind the scenes”. Miraculously, on July 20, an agreement was announced in Geneva based on Nehru’s six-point formula.

Interviewed by the Press Trust of India in Geneva, Krishna Menon said, “I am an old fool. I am here only as a tourist; just a bystander. If people, ask to see me or come to see me, well that’s very nice.” What disarming humility from a man portrayed as arrogant, incorrigibly arrogant, by the media!

Incidentally, hardly any book on India’s foreign policy narrates in any detail this incredible diplomatic tour de force by Krishna Menon. These days, some commentators wistfully speak of India’s mediation between Saudi Arabia and Iran or between Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Is there an equivalent of Krishna Menon? He had a serious shortcoming as a diplomat: He had not mastered the art of invariably suffering fools gladly. After all, there is an abundant supply of them. But seldom was Krishna Menon surpassed in the art of squaring the circle.

In 1961, Krishna Menon took the lead in liberating Goa. In a riveting account, Jairam Ramesh demolishes the myth that Krishna Menon acted without Nehru’s orders and presented him with a fait accompli. However, as regards the timing, Krishna Menon wisely told Nehru only after the action had begun. The U.S. Ambassador, John Kenneth Galbraith, was working overtime to prevent the liberation and meeting Nehru too often.

The year 1962 was crucial. The chapter is correctly titled as “The Glory and the Fall (1962)”. The author gives an exceptionally absorbing account of Krishna Menon’s landslide victory over J.B. Kripalani, president of the Indian National Congress in 1947, in the North Bombay Lok Sabha constituency in March 1962. Krishna Menon called on Kripalani at his residence after the result was declared. The reader will wonder what has happened to good manners these days among politicians.

Fighter aircraft deal

Krishna Menon was the third Indian to appear on the cover of Time magazine after Mahatma Gandhi and Nehru. Despite strident opposition from President John F. Kennedy, who roped in British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, the Air Force and the Ministry of External Affairs, Krishna Menon pressed hard and signed the MiG deal with the Soviet Union, a landmark achievement as it provided for transfer of technology and manufacturing in India. There was a good deal of correspondence between Nehru and his Defence Minister. Once again, the reader will be tempted to think of the ease with which another Prime Minister decided on the purchase of Rafale aircraft from France without the knowledge of his Defence Minister.

The author deals insightfully with the 1962 Sino-Indian war. What is striking is that all those who made a cottage industry of hating Krishna Menon found a heaven-sent opportunity to foist upon him the entire responsibility for the humiliating military debacle. Krishna Menon did make mistakes. He had discounted the threat from China. If the Indian military was caught lacking in arms and equipment, the primary responsibility is that of Finance Minister Morarji Desai who put the Defence Ministry on a tight budget.

Mao Zedong decided to strike taking into account the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. The good work done by Krishna Menon in defence production had not yet borne fruit. He established the Defence Research and Development Organisation in 1958, overcoming opposition from service chiefs. As former President R. Venkatraman, who was Defence Minister from 1982 to 1984, put it, the good work done by Krishna Menon bore fruit in the 1965 and 1971 wars.

When Lal Bahadur Shastri succeeded Nehru as Prime Minister, he wanted to send Krishna Menon as High Commissioner to London. Shastri did not want him in the capital. President S. Radhakrishnan called in the British High Commissioner to find out whether the U.K. would accept him. Prime Minister Harold Wilson was far from willing. Incidentally, the author seems to have taken care not to point out the irregularity, to put it mildly, of a head of state seeking agreement for the appointment of his ambassador.

The last four chapters of the book are devoted to Krishna Menon’s life after resignation as Minister. He tried to get back to Parliament, but the Congress refused to nominate him. He won as an independent candidate with Left support from Midnapore (Bengal) in 1969 and from Thiruvananthapuram in 1971.

Krishna Menon started his legal practice and engaged himself with Bertrand Russell and the World Peace Council. One celebrated case was that of Kerala Chief Minister E.M.S. Namboodiripad who was convicted by the Kerala High Court for saying that “Marx and Engels considered the judiciary as instruments of oppression… and even today… judges are guided and dominated by the class hatred….” Krishna Menon defended the Chief Minister in the Supreme Court, but lost the case. The court held that nowhere had Marx and Engels specifically said that about the judiciary.

The author does not forget to give us a glimpse of the women Krishna Menon was romantically close to. He lists seven.

Krishna Menon, who had advocated nuclear disarmament with religious zeal, was ill and in hospital when Indira Gandhi carried out the the peaceful nuclear explosion on May 18, 1974. He summoned her to his hospital bed and voiced his disapproval of the PNE. He passed away on October 6, 1974.

Indira Gandhi, speaking in Parliament at a meeting in honour of Krishna Menon, went down memory lane. What she said about the boundary dispute with China is significant: Had the solution which he had proposed on behalf of India in the 1950s for the India-China situation been accepted, a great deal of hardship, waste and suffering would have been avoided.

The author elaborates that in the 1950s Krishna Menon advocated a negotiated settlement on the basis of India accepting China’s claim in the West and China accepting India’s claim in the east. Nehru was “broadly supportive” but could not carry some of his senior colleagues with him.

The Jana Sangh’s Motherland saw a Voltaire in Krishna Menon, “full of wit, often pungent… The best-read politician, and with all his faults, a clean man.”

In the last chapter titled “Life after Death (1974-)” we are told about what his contemporaries thought of him, and the biographies and the academic work on him. The reader will be stunned by the Teutonic thoroughness of the author.

The photographs and cartoons add value to this exceptionally well-written book on a personality of abiding importance.

The book ends with “A Final Word’. “I have always believed that a good biographer should, for the most part, ascertain, not assert. Mine was not to vilify or deify” (emphasis added). The author has been true to his word.

Ambassador K.P. Fabian is Professor, Indian Society of International Law, Distinguished Fellow, Symbiosis University.

The above article written by Ambassador K.P. Fabian was initially published on Frontline Magazine


April 09th, 2020 | category:book-reviews, books, international-affairs, politics |
international-affairs, politics

The Spread Of Coronavirus Highlights The Failure Of Global Governance

  Now that India has saluted, as pre-arranged at 5 PM on 22 March, our fellow citizens fighting on the front line against the deadly spread of corona virus, it is necessary to raise another question: Is India on the forefront among the nations fighting this deadly virus that respects no borders? The answer is painfully clear. We need to raise one more question: Have we, as humanity, responded to this crisis intelligently and effectively, utilising all our resources, material and spiritual, at the level of individual governments, the civil society, the corporate sector as well as the international organisations such as the WHO, IMF and UN? There is a general impression that the coronavirus came in without any warning. This impression is wrong. A study done by a virologist at the Wuhan Institute of Virology in 2015 had identified a deadly coronavirus, transmissible to humans from horseshoe bat populations in Wuhan, perhaps with an intermediary such as pangolin. Many virologists and scientists had foreseen and written about the danger of humans catching the virus from bats. A 2017 study found a total of 73 coronaviruses in 1067 bats in China. We might think only virologists knew about the risk. That is not true. This matter was discussed in a meeting convened by the WHO in early 2018. Dr Peter Daszak, a disease ecologist and president of the New York based Eco Health Alliance, present at that meeting held in early 2018 has pointed out that an outbreak of such an epidemic is not only predictable but also preventable. Experts drew attention to the G-20 Health Ministers meeting held in March 2018 to the risk of such an epidemic originating from bats. In a paper in a scientific journal, Zheng-Li Shi, an eminent virologist from China, wrote: "During the past two decades, three zoonotic coronaviruses have been identified as the cause of large-scale disease outbreaks-Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), and Swine Acute Diarrhea Syndrome (SADS). SARS and MERS emerged in 2003 and 2012, respectively, and caused a worldwide pandemic that claimed thousands of human lives, while SADS struck the swine industry in 2017. They have common characteristics, such as they are all highly pathogenic to humans or livestock, their agents originated from bats, and two of them originated in China. Thus, it is highly likely that future SARS or MERS-like coronavirus outbreaks will originate from bats, and there is an increased probability that this will occur in China." Obviously, neither the WHO nor the G-20 paid attention. Neither the Wuhan government nor the central government in Beijing considered closing down the potentially dangerous Huanan Wholesale Sea Food Market in Wuhan selling bats. Nor did WHO raise the matter with China, The market was closed down only on January 1, 2020 If that market had been closed down in January 2019, would we be seeing the death of thousands of fellow human beings in 2020?


Though China informed the WHO on December 31, 2019, scientists have concluded that the disease would have started occurring by the end of November. China could have and should have informed WHO at least six weeks earlier. Dr Li Wen Liang, 34 - who spoke out on the danger before China informed the WHO - was reprimanded by the police. Dr Li died in February. He has been posthumously "exonerated" and action has been taken against two police officials, perhaps no more than a PR exercise. Despite the initial effort to suppress information, after China notified the WHO, they acted with diligence. Consequently, the contagion has now peaked with no fresh cases, except for nationals returning from abroad. But by then it was very late. With a death toll of 3261, the country paid a heavy price, not to mention the heavier price being paid by the rest of the world.


The death toll in Italy, at over 6000, is about to be double that of China's. Per million population the number of cases is 56 for China and 679 for Italy. The first confirmed cases were on 31 January, when two Chinese tourists tested positive. The same day, flights to and from China were suspended. It would appear that the draconian measures adopted by Italy have slowed dowN, but not prevented the community transmission of the disease. It follows that such draconian measures would have been more effective if taken earlier. Is there a point of no return, and if so, how is it to be identified? There is one more factor about Italy worth examining without coming to conclusions in the absence of hard evidence. A certain number of Chinese immigrants, working in the textile and leather sectors, come into northern Italy. They produce textiles and other products cheaper than Italian companies. In some cases, these companies buy Chines-produced goods and sell them as their own. Whether such an arrangement contributed to the crisis or not, some Italians have displayed xenophobia towards individual Chinese or Asians from the Philippines and other countries. Obviously, aproper scientific study has to wait. Though northern Italy has an advanced health care system, the sad situation is that, given the shortage of intensive care units, doctors have to choose who and who dies, We should realise that no country has the capacity to deal with such a pandemic when it has spread to a sizeable section of the population.v There is no real European Union as Italy's request for aid was rejected by the rest of the Union In contrast, China and Russia have come to Italy's aid.

Spain, France, Germany

After Italy, Spain is the worst affected with 35136 active cases and a death toll of over 2300. France has 19856 cases with a death toll of 860. Germany has 29056 cases with a toll of 123. The reader might note that Germany, with half the number of active cases in Italy, has a sharply lower death toll. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, stated on March 11, 2020, that there was reason to fear that 70 per cent of the Germans, equal to 58 million, can get infected.

United Kingdom

After living in a state of denial for almost two months, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson has woken up from his dogmatic slumber, and has started acting. One important feature is the financial assistance to those who lose jobs.

United States

Donald Trump also took time to wake up New York and other big cities are under lockdown. Trump gladly reduced the funds and importance Obama attached to disaster preparedness. There is speculation that the coronavirus might come in the way of his re election.

South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore

These countries neighbouring China have done exceedingly well as compared to the West, in addressing the pandemic South Korea has 172 cases for million population Japan 8, and Singapore 74. Taiwan denied WHO membership by China, is in special case of astonishing diligence and pro active thinking, rapidly recognised the danger despite WHO's misleading pronouncements before declaring them here is a pandemic 11 March. Taiwan started inspecting passengers from Wuhan before deplaning in an informal fashion from early December 2019 and made it formal on 31 January, the day China informed WHO of the disease; they also banned Wuhan residents from coming on 23 January and suspended all tours to China on 25 January. In contrast, Washington banned the entry of passengers who had been in China only on February 2, 2020. Taiwan learned the right lessons from the 2003 SARS crisis, which lead to 1 deaths. It created a Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) which could be activated this time. How many countries have a similar set-up? Taiwan has had only one death so far:

WHO's Failings

It is necessary and unavoidable to point out that the WHO could haye and should have - done more. It proceeded at a snail's pace in recognising the gravity of the epidemie. On 22 January, the Director General (DG) said he was postponing a decision on declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC), a declaration that was finally made on January30, 2020. The WHO chose not to advise any travel restrictions even as it recognised that "human to human transmission has occurred outside Wuhan and outside China." The same erroneous conclusion about travel was repeated on February 27. when WHO held a meeting with WTO (World Tourism Organization). In contrast, India did ban the entry of passengers from China. Why did WHO act in this manner? This requires to be investigated. But it is clear that over the hears the WHO has been losing its leading role in promoting and preserving public health, and in norm setting. One of the main reasons for this sad state of affairs is the funding crisis the WHO has been facing, for years, on two counts. First, the size. Its budget is about 30 per cent of the Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control and Prevention and, even more pathetically, 1 per cent of the money spent on advertisement by the pharmaceutical companies in the US. The second constraint is that only 20 per cent of the WHO budget comes from compulsory contributions from member states and the rest, 80 per cent, comes from voluntary contributions, indeed a sure recipe to make an international organisation weak. There is speculation that the WHO did not want to displease China, a top contributor.

India's Response

India should have declared a lock-down by January February - and that too in a methodical manner. For example, we all know that inter-state trains should not be cancelled without due notice. There are thousands working in Mumbai who would need to go back home if the lock down throws them out of work. Would it have been possible to arrange for trains to run with passengers sitting at the required distance from each other? The Government Of India (GO) made the mistake of announcing that there was no need to test suspected cases unless there was proot of contact with a foreign returned person or had a travel history. The reason was India lacked testing capacity. Moreover, they argued that it was not necessary to test every suspected case. The second mistake was that a group of ministers, chaired by the minister of health, took major decisions of wide-ranging consequences - decisions that should have been taken by the Cabinet or the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs. According to the Rules of Business, the concerned ministry would prepare a cabinet note to be circulated by the cabinet secretary to other concerned ministries for comments. The cabinet secretary is to organise the comments with a forwarding note for the cabinet. He could call for a meeting of secretaries to modify the note so that the cabinet gets a full picture of the options, pros and cons, and more. We are fortunate to have a capable medical doctor as the minister of health. It would have been good if he had constituted an advisory committee consisting of eminent doctors from AIIMS and other hospitals along with outside specialists to advise him. If he had done that, the mistaken argument about restricting tests would not have been advanced.

Negligent Response

Coming to the larger question of humanity's response, the answer is clear. This is a historic failure. A good part of the responsibility for such failure goes to President Trump who was disastrously slow in recognising the gravity of the danger. On February 19, 2020, he said: "I think it is going to work out fine. I think when we get to April, in the warmer weather that has a very negative effect on that type of virus." Let us recall that the WHO had declared a public health emergency nineteen days before Trump spoke and the CDC had voiced concerns about a likely pandemic. What is worse than irresponsible public statements is Trump's failure to listen to intelligence and his own health secretary. By January 31, 2020, over 195 Americans had been evacuated from Wuhan and put under quarantine. Yet, the Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar could not get his President's attention. When Azar wanted to brief the President about the coronavirus, he was more interested in discussing vaping the electronic cigarette. The world being what it is it, when Washington takes note of an issue the rest of the world follows. The European Union could have played this role to an extent. Alas, they did not even try to do it. Coming to civil society, while we do not have adequate information, we know that some NGOs in Malaysia put up stranded Indian students. In Kerala, churches, NGOs, and colleges have made masks and sanitisers and given gratis to those in need.

The Need For Global Financial Support

Coming to the corporate sector, big US companies such as Microsoft, Dell, and Cargill have contributed millions of dollars to China. The Bill and Gates Foundation has also contributed $100 million to fight the virus in the US. It is obvious that the rich corporates can do more, especially in developing countries. Iran, deeply in trouble with an economy destroyed by the totally unjustified sanctions imposed by Trump, has requested the IMF for a loan of $5 billion. This is the first time in sixty years that Iran has sought IMF funds. A spokesperson for the IMF "had discussions with the Iranian authorities to better understand their request for emergency financing and that the discussions will continue in the days and weeks ahead. However, Washington has a veto. In a more rational world, the US sanctions would have been suspended and the IMF would have offered the loan without Iran asking for it. In Delhi there is confusion. Passengers landing at the airport have waited for 8 hours or more for the medical vetting. The DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) issued imprecisely worded instructions to airlines and many Indians on their way to India were refused passage by airlines. This is not the time to find fault. However unless we know what went wrong, we won't be able to fix it. For India, the lockdown should continue with increased testing, and adequate measures to support the poor. There is a need for a united government for national safety. If that is not feasible, given the inability of politicians to work together, the Prime Minister should constitute a core group including the opposition. Globally, the UN Secretary-General should hold a virtual Conference with the G20 at the summit level and work out a scheme to help the non-G-20, especially the countries in the South with money, technical advice, and supplies. Iran should get the support it needs. The IMF has the capacity to lend Si trillion. This should be used as expeditiously as possible Some countries might not have the expertise to make proposals as required by the IMF, and this is the time to help them make proposals and move on a war-footing. I Heard Prime Minister Narendra Modi's second address to the nation a few hours ago. He has announced a 21 day lockdown and pleaded with the citizens of India not to move out of their homes. However, we did not have clarity on how to get food and other essentials or even go to the hospital. In Delhi, many did not wait for the Prime Minister to complete his address as they rushed to food shops and they were emptied in short order. Of course, a few minutes after the speech, I received a text of Home Ministry's Order making it clear that food shops would remain open. Though the media is sharing this news, would it not lead to panic buying? Is this absolute lockdown enforceable without clear guidelines? The above article written by Ambassador K.P. Fabian Credits:-

March 25th, 2020 | category:international-affairs, politics |

The Catastrophic CAA-NRC Imbroglio

The CAA 2019 has weakened India's democracy & diminished the country in the eyes of the international community.
caa_nrc_bill_protestWhat is most striking and heartening about the widespread demonstrations against the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act 2019) and the NRC (National Register of Citizens) is that citizens from practically all walks of life, cutting across many a divide, are united in fighting to preserve the idea of India enshrined in the 1950 Constitution. The young and the old, lawyers and teachers, have come out onto the streets, often ignoring Section 144 prohibiting such gatherings. This shows that many have shed their fear of the police, despite the deplorable brutality exhibited by the latter. This is the case in Jamia Milia University, established in 1920 by a group of eminent Muslim leaders with support from Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. (more…)

December 24th, 2019 | category:politics |
international-affairs, politics

Frank Islam in conversation with Ambassador K P Fabian

June 15th, 2019 | category:international-affairs, politics |
international-affairs, politics

Trump And The Iran Nuclear Deal: Geopolitics And Financial Unipolarity – Analysis

trumpOn 8 May 2018, US President Donald Trump, true to his style and ‘America First’ philosophy, walked out of the Iran nuclear deal, technically known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). A fortnight has elapsed and it would be pertinent to examine the geopolitical implications of Trump’s decision.

The US’ Position

By now it is reasonably clear why Trump withdrew from the deal. He has failed to provide any rational argument against the deal for the obvious reason that there is none. The JCPOA is a 159-page document that prevents Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Trump and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—the foreign leader closest to him spiritually—have argued that unless sanctions are re-imposed, Iran will continue with its ‘destabilising’ policy in the region, and develop missiles endangering Israel’s security—and that therefore it is imperative to keep Iran permanently in a pariah status. (more…)

May 25th, 2018 | category:international-affairs, politics |
international-affairs, politics

Cracks in the council

kuwaitcityThe failed GCC summit points to a stalemate in West Asia that might last for a while, adversely affecting the economies of its members, and only a change in Saudi policy can reunite the squabbling kingdoms. The aborted Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Kuwait scheduled for December 5-6 raises the question whether this regional integration project, until recently one of the more successful of such projects, has collapsed or not. When the GCC was formed in 1981, the main motivation was to address the perceived threat from Iran by raising the level of synergy among the member-states who had much in common. Even without hindsight it can be said that the threat from Iran was exaggerated. It is paradoxical that Qatar, one of the founding members, has been compelled to embrace Iran owing to Saudi Arabia’s actions. In short, Saudi Arabia, while seeking confrontation with Iran in order to weaken its bete noire, has only strengthened it. Let us look at what happened in Kuwait. The Emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah, 88, was working hard to reconcile Saudi Arabia and Qatar even before the blockade against Qatar was announced by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt on June 5, 2017. (more…)

January 07th, 2018 | category:international-affairs, politics |
international-affairs, politics

Qatar deserves kudos for handling crisis with maturity and logic

qatar-doha-1844787_960_720Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain and Egypt had listed 13 demands on June 23, 2017, warning that there would be serious consequences if Qatar failed to yield by July 2. Qatar rejected the ultimatum and the four countries have not yet carried out their threats. Instead, they have softened their stand, vaguely signaling that it might be enough if Qatar were to accede to ‘Six Principles’. In short, there has been no escalation and we can clearly see a degree of de-escalation.

The June 23 demands were handed over in writing to Kuwait, the mediator, which then passed it on to Qatar. After the text of the demands was made public, the international community came to know about their unreasonableness. Doha has so far handled this crisis with admirable maturity and logic, scrupulously avoiding any action that can spoil its case. The world came to realise that the four countries wanted Qatar to surrender its sovereignty not just in the realm of foreign policy but also align its social, political and economic policies with that of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries.


August 21st, 2017 | category:international-affairs, politics |

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