Monday, August 29, 2016

Much narration, less intensification


Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years, by A. S. Dulat with Aditya Sinha, HarperCollins Publishers (India), Noida -201301, Year2015, 342pp, Indian Rupees 599, Hard.

eographic and political inviolability suit a metaphor Big Brother for India among her neighbors—Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar et al. Co-authored by India’s former external spy agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) Chief A.S. Dulat with journalist Aditya Sinha, Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years is an impudent evaluation of South Asia’s biggest ever intelligence exercise on Indo-Pak relations in Kashmir context.

India had a visionary and statesman Prime Minister from non-Congress clout in Atal Bihari Vajpayee. His all-encompassing efforts prepared New Delhi for a political solution of Indo-Pak relations with counterpart Islamabad. Dulat served him in PMO after service to RAW and was assigned on ‘Mission Kashmir.’ This book narrates efforts that paved the way for Kashmir solution but author(s) haven’t projected the strategic plans Vajpayee had envisioned.

Without divulging intensifications on former Prime Minister’s initiatives this book rather emerges into an autobiography of a spy. It explains author’s days in service and has ample details on Kashmir issue by highlighting shortsightedness of politicians after Vajpayee which hampered India’s Kashmir policy. The book has rational description of roles by the consecutive governments to deal with the Kashmir issue that it was often simply managed rather than bringing it into the verge of concrete resolution.

Kashmir connection through regular postings paved the way for Dulat to play strategic roles as an intelligence head. He kept an eye on the troubled region and was vocal about it that had been often used like a pawn without any agency of it. A diatribe on India and Pakistan policies on Kashmir this book critically assesses political sycophancies.

Emphasizing on factors like New Delhi’s unwillingness for change of status quo to snub the perspectives of Jammu & Kashmir’s elected legislatives and leaders for their demands this book presents a valid perspective on significant matters. It raises key question of stances of Kashmiri leaders—from both separatist and mainstream sides. Repeated arrogances from New Delhi and Islamabad further worsened Kashmir conflict. Dulat hints that the issue had often been deliberately tailor-made to keep the conflict thoroughly ensued.    

Offering insights on Kashmir issue this book is incongruously less intensified on Vajpayee. Rather a biographic narration it summaries Dulat’s forays in Kashmir from early 1990s and roles to smoothen dialogues to talks from Vajpayee’s PMO. Besides planning ‘dialogues’ with Kashmiri leadership that included Shabir Shah and many others—separatists to former militants—it sketches politicians like high profile Abdullahs, Mufti and the rest. It becomes a reference literature to learn the Kashmir’s political diaspora.

While sketching Kashmiri politicians of numerous hues Dulat describes the misses of Shabir Shah to stands of Firdous Baba and rest blunders. Obviously, a former intelligence chief had to maintain certain parameters to open up intelligence operations expositions in a book in the context of a troubled neighborhood. He expresses political whammies bringing the mission into standstill time and again. In a placid highlight author(s) bring visions, statesmanship and seriousness of Atal Bihari Vajpayee to bridge Indo-Pak relations for Kashmir solution, albeit cursorily. India had best opportunity for a historic solution while NDA government led by Vajpayee was defeated and Dr. Manmohan Singh became Prime Minister. 

Dr. Manmohan Singh continued for a decade during UPA-I and UPA-II tenures but Mission Kashmir literally messed up due to lack of interest on this vital relationship having been developed earlier. Its prolongation could write the future of South Asia in Indo-Pak ties context. Relationship could mature with counterpart Pervez Musharraf having shown equal interest. Unwillingness by subsequent governments across the borders caused the standstill.
Political consequences from assassination of several Kashmiri leaders to split of Hizb-ul-Mujahideen separatist group besides role of its leaders Abdul Majeed Dar for a peaceful solution until assassination in 2003 have been thoroughly analyzed. Situations, Dulat explains, worsened further once several of Dar’s lieutenants were killed mysteriously.

Former Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao did promise that “sky was the limit” for Kashmir solution. Dulat insisted that Rao aimed to coax Kashmir’s separatist politician Shabir Ahmad Shah to participate in 1996 state assembly elections. He could have emerged into big figure with proposed participation he missed and lost the chance for once and forever.

Likewise, rise and rise of Farooq Abdullah and his son in state’s political spectrum is also projected. This book points out stages of broken promises on state autonomy to Farooq’s promised escalation to the position of country’s Vice President that were not kept. Standing at the crossroads of being cheated he encountered the doldrums. Rejections on autonomy even though state government with ample majority passing resolution has also been debated.

Dulat recounts dialogue initiatives by New Delhi, and his vital roles in formulating them for talks with separatist and mainstream leaders. He confesses that primary motive of such talks were just to tide over the immediate crisis. Farooq, Omar and Mufti couldn’t achieve success in making New Delhi agree to remove the draconian AFSPA that still haunts Kashmir. 

He saw the culmination of a mission proposed by Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 to initiate talks between Hurriyat moderates and New Delhi. Ironically it ended effortless in the absence of substantive willingness. Consecutive governments took Kashmir policy a status quo therefore hollow assurances on Kashmir proved futile.  

This book retaliates that at present New Delhi literally refuses to even acknowledge Kashmir dispute. This issue was taken into account with an extreme interest by Atal Bihari Vajpayee and his all-powerful National Security Advisor Brajesh Chandra Mishra.

As a former intelligence chief of India—the most strategically important South Asian country—Dulat argues that for sustainable growth, prosperity and intelligence coordination between neighbors the need is to initiate regular interactions amongst intelligence chiefs and officers in neighborhoods. He emphasizes for mature relationship between Pakistani and Indian intelligence agencies ISI and RAW for sustainability.  

Logical analysis of Kashmir and its mindset, this book extensively narrates the ground reality of contemporary Kashmir through outlining its history in last three decades. An eyewitness of state’s descent into chaos since 1980s while valley began to burn and Dulat was posted there until asked to monitor it from PMO between 1998 to 2004 he judged ongoing chaos and political gimmicks.

Through this book author(s) daringly expose how separatists were often been used by both India and Pakistan for vested interests. They emphasize that Vajpayee era from 1998 to 2004 was highly productive for Kashmir. Ironically that pace waned thereafter. As visionary Prime Minister Vajpayee laid down the foundation for future peace which hasn’t been sustained by any consecutive Indian and Pakistani government yet.

With the defeat of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2004 General Elections the lasting peace initiative for Kashmir was also lost. Suggested by then Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an out-of-the-box solution in consistency to visionary ideas of Vajpayee was goofed up on the later stages. 

Proposed idea of “making borders irrelevant through allowing free movement of Kashmiris across the LoC (Line of Control); self-governance meant to offer autonomy but not independence; demilitarization and joint management mechanism” went in the back lane.  

The book under review appeared after the second coming of BJP in mainstream politics. With Narendra Modi as India’s Prime Minister now, Dulat fails to answer why the new government even didn’t have a strategic policy plan to revive the old venture which party under Vajpayee had for Kashmir by keeping Pakistan in loop. This book emphasizes on talks with Pakistan but narratives are less intensified on the concrete outcome. It is partial and one-sided hence a New Delhi perspective.

Had we get to hear Pakistan side of story this book would have become a definite reliance. Its current perspective lacks highlights on Indian security forces’ highhandedness in Kashmir. It is least focused on hundreds of missing youths from 1980s besides several other core areas not discussed at all. Indian security forces have often been alleged for indiscreet roles in Kashmir. 

The book has hardly pointed out that. It could aptly reply why sizable section of the Kashmiri population is alienated from the mainstream.

Although Dulat carefully reveals operational details through maintaining consistency of not a ‘tell-all’ approach his recounts offer good sense of tools used in an intelligence mechanism. A self-eulogized documentation with cursory explanation of Vajpayee’s insaniyat (humanity) framework this book fails to highlight the core idea of context.

An empirical account of happenings Kashmir encountered for decades, this book has a rare glimpse of state’s affairs. It therefore still becomes groundbreaking to catch reader attention. 

This review was first published in on August 28, 2016

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Kaleidoscopic tribute to millennium’s Man Friday

Reviewed by Asif Anwar Alig

Dear Kalam Sir, by Saji Mathew and Jubie John, Bloomsbury Publishing India, Year 2016, 224pp, Indian Rupees 1274, Hard

he book Dear Kalam Sir by Saji Mathew and Jubie John seeks broader perspective to suit into a specific genre. A passionate outcome of the duo alongside hundreds of thousands of common men representing different parts of India and world’s distant locations, it is a tribute to 11th President of India late Dr. Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam—the People’s president. The Missile Man—and other metaphors used for him—was a rarity in this millennium.       

Neither thorough biography nor an attempt to elusively eulogize a personality, this book is unique attempt to sum the emotions of millions of admirers in simplistic yet appealing manner. Missionary zeal of the author(s)’ compliment initiative LetterFarms inspired common masses for their incessant involvement and this book saw the light of the day. They raise indisputable question where new generation through ignoring the handwritten culture and for their forced dependency on technology tools—the smart devices.
To translate an idea into reality by heralding everybody especially adolescents, for whom Dr. Kalam is still an icon, LetterFarms offered viable platform for personal tributes. Technically insulating platform offered the masses decisive choice to go back to writing culture to express feelings through postcards. They unquestionably remain ultimate canvases for masses to express emotions. People from all walks of life wrote painstakingly emotional expressions as tributes through sketches, art and letter dedications on postcards. Author(s) meticulously assessed to scrutinize selected ones that find room in this book.

It is rightly said that a picture is worth thousands of words. This book is a fabulous tribute to Dr. Kalam in uniqueness of personalized accolade by thousands remembering him. The idea to stimulate old-fashioned yellow postcards to turn an exemplary source for millions from more than 200 cities, across the length and breadth of India fruition as all joined hand for common perceptive tribute to this public leader. It transformed into a people-powered movement. Arrival of Dear Kalam Sir book is the resurgence from dearkalamsir campaign for a persona extraordinaire which Indian subcontinent produced.  

Dr. Kalam’s simplicity of lifestyle became embodiment of Indian subcontinent’s heritage and diversity. This book uniquely portrays the incessant efforts of Saji Mathew and Jubie John handpicking selected postcards out of hundreds of thousands they received at the LetterFarms. Selected ones added in the book are people’s creative and passionate emotional tributes for a person who still inspires millions.

Creatively compiled postcards in Dear Kalam Sir showcase compelling stories of personal inspirations as reflections by the common masses representing diverse backgrounds. It irresistibly narrates extra-ordinary journey of Dr. Kalam from tiny Rameshwaram town to Rashtrapati Bhavan(President’s Residence). He is most admired icon of the contemporary modern India receiving such unmatched respect.

Dr. Kalam still commands unparalleled admiration from the masses, especially youngsters being inspired from him to dream big. Rare attributes distinguished his personality like personally replying even random letters written by common people. Personal replies to them and the books he authored sill ignite hearts and minds of countless people.   

Sudden demise of Dr. Kalam on 27th July 2015 at the Indian Institute of Management Shillong from an apparent cardiac arrest while delivering a lecture to students was a big shock. World leaders sent tributes and mourned for India’s big loss with the death of a person of such towering caliber.

This book exceptionally tributes to celebrate the life sketch of great scientist and visionary leader. It is an archetypal effort from the author(s) to reprint ordinary masses’ handwritten postcards. Readers assume as if they authored it and so do they realize true reflection of emotional expressions to tribute the person who redefined the concept of Presidency during his tenure as country’s first citizen.

Rise and rise of Dr. Kalam’s personality from a science lab to nation’s topmost scientific establishment and finally becoming the President isn’t a fairy tale. He made us believe that willpower and determination to fulfil dreams can surely bring towering rewards for even a common man. 

Born Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam on 15 October 1931 in Rameswaram Island in now Tamil Nadu state, he was India’s 11th President from 2002 to 2007. A career scientist turned politician served Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for four decades. His valuable contributions for India’s civilian space program to military missile development initiatives were always lauded. 

Denoted with Missile Man of India for contributions to develop ballistic missile and for launching the vehicle technology advancements he was bestowed with several prestigious awards including India's highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna conferred in 1997.

Born in a Tamil Muslim family nearby the Hindu pilgrimage center at Rameswaram on the Pamban Island in then Madras Presidency (now Tamil Nadu) to a boat owner cum mosque Imam Jainulabudeen, he got first lesson of secularism in childhood while his father ferried Hindu pilgrims back and forth between Rameswaram to now uninhabited Dhanushkodi areas. Youngest of four brothers and one sister, Dr. Kalam faced tough phase in early childhood. He had to even sell newspapers to support family to run.  

Eminent Indian Nuclear Program scientist late Raja Ramanna would personally invite Dr. Kalam to witness country's first nuclear test Smiling Buddha as representative of TBRL, even though later didn’t participate in its development. He directed Project Devil and Project Valiant in 1970 to develop ballistic missiles for successful SLV program. Even though Union Cabinet had disapproved, former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi allotted secret funds for aerospace projects through her discretionary powers under his directorship and he played pivotal role to develop many missiles under Agni and Prithvi missions. His rigorous involvement during Pokhran-II nuclear tests conduction is equally lauded.  

Spirituality and religion remained important for Dr. Kalam throughout his life. A proud Muslim he never missed daily namāz (Muslim prayers) and fasting during Ramadan. His father, as an Imam of a mosque in Rameswaram, strictly instilled Islamic customs in him and in his siblings. He would see his father valuing interfaith respects and dialogue. He recalled: “Every evening, my father A.P. Jainulabdeen, an Imam, Pakshi Lakshmana Sastry, the Head Priest of the Ramanathaswamy Hindu Temple, and a Church Priest used to sit with hot tea to discuss issues concerning the island.” Such early exposure to communal harmony proved convincing for him to find answers to India's multitudinous issues in the “dialogue and cooperation” among religious, social, and political leaders in the country.

In addition to Dr. Kalam’s faith in Holy Qur’an and Islamic practices, he obtained extensive knowledge of Hindu traditions. He read Bhagavad Gita and remained strict vegetarian throughout his life. Composing Tamil poetry, playing Veena (a South Indian string instrument) and listening to Carnatic music were his personality’s distinctness.  

Besides receiving 7 honorary doctorates from 40 universities Dr. Kalam was honoured with the Padma Bhushan (1981) and the Padma Vibhushan (1990) by the Government of India. 

Several educational & scientific institutions and or places are now renamed or named to honour Dr. Kalam. Kishanganj, Bihar based an Agricultural College was renamed to Dr. Kalam Agricultural College Kishanganj by the state government on the day of his funeral. Uttar Pradesh Technical University (UPTU) was renamed to .P.J. Abdul Kalam Technical University by that state government. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam Memorial Travancore Institute of Digestive Diseases is a research institute in Kollam, Kerala. Likewise, a national missile test site in Odisha named Wheeler Island was renamed to Abdul Kalam Island in September 2015. The list is too long. 

Dr. Kalam wrote several inspirational books including India 2020: A Vision for the New Millennium; Wings of Fire: An Autobiography; Ignited Minds: Unleashing the Power Within India; The Luminous Sparks; Forge your Future: Candid, Forthright, Inspiring amongst others.
This book’s Foreword by Dr. Shashi Tharoor passionately expresses gratitude for Dr. Kalam in the light of his indomitable contributions which endeared him to people from all walks of life. “Life and works of Dr. Kalam are embodied best of what India can be. India has never had a more beloved President than him,” said Tharoor. Founder of Infosys NR Narayana Murthy writes in Preface that “as an essentially engineering-project manager, Dr. Kalam extensively used scientific concepts to express most humane ideas.” His passion for teaching was irrefutable until he breathed his last.

A seminal book curated like playlists to fill ordinary people’s thoughts and personal reflections on a rare personality in postcard expressions it seeks everybody’s attention. They portray people’s passion for Dr. Kalam’s incomparable commitment.

People-powered anthology of handwritten postcards in book shape, Dear Kalam Sir is a highly appealing tribute for a public leader as first-of-its-kind in the nine languages including two international languages.

This book review was first published in Colombo based Ceylon Today newspaper [] in its August 08, 2016 edition.