Thursday, February 27, 2014

India’s tryst with democracy

Book Review: Non-fiction/Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy by Ashutosh Varshney, Penguin, 415 pp; Rs599 (Hardback)

Ashutosh Varshney has long been considered a formidable scholar of South Asian politics and his latest book is a significant addition to his repertoire, particularly at a point in time when Indian politics is undergoing transformations of an unprecedented nature. Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable

Democracy is a compilation of several pieces that seek to trace India’s political trajectory, from the time of its birth to the modern day. What is at the heart of the book is the idea that India is struggling to establish a deeper, more definitive democracy. Varshney has well-captured the centrist tendency in Indian politics, particularly at the national level.

In the states, he says, identities of various sorts still rule the course of political action and outcome. Great use is made of facts and figures to prop up his ideas, testifying to the author’s skill as a truly effective political scientist.
India is presently at a stage wherein the expectations of the electorate are quite diverse, apropos of how the system and its representatives respond to them.

But still we see a Narendra Modi seeking to make his party, his government in Gujarat, and in imagination, the country, an overt extension of his personality. It was the same mistake, in fact, that Indira Gandhi had committed almost four decades ago, making the Congress party her territory.

For a party that had been shaped by a standard democrat like Nehru post-independence, and still carrying some notional attributes of the anti-colonial movement, this had proved a major setback. Varshney emphasises that without the freedom movement, India’s nationhood would have been inconceivable, which means democracy
too would’ve been inconceivable.

He focuses especially on the consolidation of national democracy after 1947, calling it the next remarkable event after India’s independence—where the decisive leadership of Nehru played a major role. It is appreciable that while doling out these analyses, the author is able to keep his personal biases on hold, one of the many strengths of his writing.

The book touches upon, at one point, Mahatma Gandhi’s Hind Swaraj, a radical piece of work. While stressing on Gandhi’s political preferences, Varshney adds, “It is noteworthy that Gandhi himself was not very fond of representative government, his ideal polity was one that had local village republics, more in line with direct, non-representative democracy.” Does this mean then that the Aam Aadmi Party of today is following Gandhian principle?

I suppose that is unlikely, as the AAP, in core, doesn’t oppose representative politics, nor is it its express objective to make representatives accountable. Rather, what the AAP is pursuing is the ‘trivialisation of representation’, visible in the way it has vested the Mohalla Sabha (meetings among residents of a ‘mohalla’, a smaller partition of a ward) with such supreme power.

Given its heavy-handed political maneuverings so far, the party’s plan to contest the general elections in a big way will be much messier, of course. But its strong emergence in the scene has certainly brought democracy under close scrutiny. Varshney offers substantial space in his book for present-day politics, new bases of coalitions, governance and economic reforms—all elaborated upon in his signature style, now become quite popular through the means of his widely read column in the Indian Express.

Like he tends to do in many his opinionated writings in newspapers and academic journals, his book too draws out the differences between the “quality of democracy and existence of democracy.” He envisions India as a mature democracy that has a deeply unstable core, thanks to the socio-economic inequalities and challenges it has encountered with regards to its territorial integrity, making the battle for “deeper democracy” the need of the hour. And the AAP, for Varshney, is an example of the forces within this battle.

For the most part, Battles Half Won analyses the factors behind the deepening of Indian democracy since 1947 and the challenges these have created. The book broadly traces the forging and consolidation of India s “improbable democracy”. The essays delve into themes ranging from caste politics and ethnic conflict, and Hindu nationalism to the north-south economic divide and the politics of economic reform since 1991—issues that have consistently tested the calibre of Indian democracy.

The book also highlights the adverseness of not relying on “intelligent economics”; AAP ideologue Yogendra Yadav, for instance, has made his party’s intentions clear on that by shifting the political and economic agenda away from the “shackle of isms”.

Of course, this is merely in principle so far, and it remains to be seen what the execution will actually be like. But the potential impact of new politics, championed by the AAP—the way it has encroached on the traditional turf of left or right-leaning forces, by injecting flexibility into economic policies and matters of governance—is something that greatly interests our author.

Given the Anna Hazare campaign, which proved so popular a while back, and now with AAP’s swift rise in the power circle, Varshney feels that the bulk of citizens in India are now eager to participate in the overall political process.

While examining all these changes, the book also indicates the next course of development as far as democracy in India is concerned. In Varshney’s view, Indian democracy is the sort that becomes more progressive the more unsettling changes it comes across. After all, time and again, all kinds of political hiccups in India have been solemnised—although with varying degrees of success.

Then again, the stakes are much higher at the moment, and forward-looking Indians can no longer trust a government that offers less than a two-percent job growth rate, for example. Now is the time for political parties to be as prompt in terms of their actions as their electorates are with their expectations. Overlooking that would be detrimental for success in the political fray as other countries in South Asia have evidenced.

Articulate and authoritative, Varshney’s book offers fresh insights into several crucial areas, elements that have shaped India into what it is today, whether that be the complex set of relations under the country’s federal system, the challenges of territorial/cultural diversities, and the contradictory outcomes of economic reforms, among others. Battles Half Won looks back very diligently on successes and failures of India’s tryst with democracy—which despite having many flaws, is charting its course with no full stop.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kathmandu Post on February22,2014)

UPA plays the numbers game

P Chidambaram may have shown his articulate command over pure economics and political economy, time and again. But his understanding hasn't led to the enhancement of the country’s macro-economic health
The recently presented interim Union Budget is skewed. The Vote on Account gives no space to overhaul the revenue or expenditure sides, and its provisions will haunt the successive Government as the latter seeks to review or implement policy. The last Union Budget of UPA2 lacks serious intents of fiscal consolidation.

The Union Minister for Finance spent his precious time personifying the achievements of his Government as well as his personal wisdom. Unrelated to Indian economy’s woes, the statements irritated the sufferers of the UPA’s macro-economic mismanagement.

The Indian economy has been passing through trying times, with the GDP growth sliding below five per cent and inflation hovering around 7.5 per cent. Consumer price inflation, which affects the common man the most, has been around 10 per cent or more. And food inflation rarely climbs down from the double-digits. Industrial and services growth has dropped and jobs have withered away from the scene. Naturally, the slowdown created by different factors constituted in a big way to the anti-Government mood among the masses.

An election is around the corner and the legions of the UPA have no proper ideas to curb bad governance. They could have moved to the better path when Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi admitted the policy blunders of his Government, but sadly the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister observed that history will be kinder to them than their contemporary critics. Will this be true?

It is unlikely that any proper history-writing will let off the UPA2, characterised by scams and indecision which have lowered the morale of the economy and the people. Recent years have witnessed an erosion of confidence in economic activities at the mass level. The sagging sentiment has taken a high toll on the growth momentum.

UPA2 couldn’t live up to the benchmark set by UPA1. The excuse of the Finance Minister that it still performed better than the six years of NDA rule is an eyewash through data. In the NDA Government, average GDP growth rate and inflation stood simultaneously at six per cent and around 4.5 per cent. Under UPA1, average GDP growth shot higher at 8.4 per cent but inflation too rose to 6.6 per cent, and UPA2 ends with an average GDP growth of 6.7 per cent and inflation surging over eight per cent.

Astonishingly, the UPA2 has no patience to recall the good work of its own preceding Government. Instead it is comparing its performance with the NDA Government even though the fundamentals for it were different compared to the previous decade which was known for the rise of emerging economies like India.

It is undeniable that the global economic crisis of 2007-2008 messed-up the external environment. The economic slowdown has severely damaged the rising momentum in emerging economies but India has suffered more through the sustained high inflation, supported by impractical policy planning.

The UPA’s much celebrated commitment to inclusive growth made on modest gains on the ground. In 2003-2004, Gross Tax Revenues stood at 8.8 per cent of GDP — this figure witnessed a vertical growth under UPA1 to 12 per cent of GDP in 2008-2009 but came down dramatically to near 10 per cent of GDP under UPA2. Capital outlay and subsidies have modestly risen under the UPA rule but whether the funds were delivered for intended purposes remains a concern.

On the public expenditure front, the NDA Government spent around 2.6 per cent and one per cent of the GDP, respectively on education and health. Under the UPA rule, total public expenditure on education and health, respectively stood at 3.3 per cent and 1.3 per cent of the GDP. This clearly marked the violation of Common Minimum Programme of the UPA1 Government, which had promised spending six per cent of GDP on education and three per cent of the GDP on health facilities.

Mr P Chidambaram, who has presented many Budgets, failed to clean up the indirect taxation regime since 1991. Only Messrs Manmohan Singh and Yashwant Sinha, as Finance Ministers, tried to reform import duties and excise. So, Mr Chidamabaram’s claim to be a progressive mover of the public finances seems unbelievable. This last one was an interim Budget and he may have bound by electoral compulsions but the same was not true in previous years.

The interim Budget estimates fiscal deficit for 2013-14 at 4.6 per cent of the GDP, over-performing the target of 4.8 per cent of the GDP and projects next year’s deficit at 4.1 per cent, again better than the projected 4.2 per cent. But these do not including the pain of carrying revenue deficit at 3.3 per cent.

Time and again, Mr Chidambaram has shown his articulate command over pure economics and political economy. However, his understanding hasn’t translated in macro-economic health of the nation.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on February25,2014)

Under-estimating the potential

Monarchy has given way to democracy in Nepal. But the executive head of the world's largest democracy has chosen not to be an enthusiastic enough part of the great political transition taking place right next door

Last month, at a reception at the Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi, I asked Nepal’s visiting interim Minister of Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs, Mr Madhav P Ghimire, if he, on behalf of Mr Khil Raj Regmi, the Chairman of Nepal’s Council of Ministers, had extended an invitation to the Indian Prime Minister to visit Kathmandu. Mr Ghimire said he did, and that he was also visibly impressed with the warmth he received in New Delhi for his handling of the second Constituent Assembly election in Nepal.

Right after his visit, Press reports suggested that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was willing to visit Kathmandu after the new Government there had been formed. This would be a path-breaking step. It would certainly do some long-overdue damage control for India-Nepal relations. India has maintained a long-standing apathy towards its northern neighbour, especially in terms of high-level diplomatic and political engagement.

On occasions, the leadership and citizens of Nepal have wondered when the Indian Prime Minister will make an official visit to their country, otherwise considered to be a most strategic neighbour. For decades, Nepal has awaited a visit by an Indian Prime Minister, but India’s Ministry of External Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office have been slow to respond.

It is also bizarre that ceremonial trips by the Indian President too have been on hold. Yet such visits would have helped give bilateral ties a much-needed level playing field. That Nepal’s own political establishment has been on a roller-coaster ride itself, not to mention is still fragile, has only made the whole scenario more precarious.

In New Delhi, the South Block routes its resources and infrastructure in a manner that overlooks the genuine expectations from its immediate neighbours. This is particularly shocking when one takes into account the fact that Nepal’s front rank leadership has always preferred its southern neighbour as its most trusted destination. It is true that there was an increased favour for China when a radical Government was at the helm in Nepal. This had also evoked some strong reactions in New Delhi. But with the extremist regime now a spent force, the ice has melted in no time.

The visit of Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, to Beijing before he travelled New Delhi, in 2008, offended India and supposedly resulted in his premature ouster from office. He was replaced by his deputy Baburam Bhattarai. An alumnus of an Indian university, Mr Bhattarai did not repeat the follies of his predecessor and brought back the bonhomie back between the two countries.

Sans that one hiccup with Prachanda, Nepal’s Prime Ministers have always naturally leaned towards India. This should have been acknowledged and reciprocated from the Indian side. Inder Kumar Gujral was the last Indian Prime Minister to make an official visit to Nepal in June 1997. In the 17 years since then, no such gesture has been made by his successors. As Prime Minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee also came to Kathmandu in January 2002, but that was to attend the 11th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation.

Yet, as far back as February 1991, during then Prime Minister Chandra Shekhar’s visit to Nepal, both sides had agreed to form a high-level task force to preparing a programme of cooperation under the Nepal-India Joint Commission. But on the unofficial side, this long friend of Nepal also faced the wrath of the masses in the Himalayan nation for his anti-monarchy stand. Still, it must be admitted that Chandra Shekhar had shown enthusiasm on issues concerning Nepal, and this had produced some results. In 1990, though, he was an unpopular person for the average Nepali for whom the king was dear.

Things have drastically changed in the last two decades. The monarchy has given way to a democracy. But the executive head of the world’s largest democracy has chosen not be part of a great political transition taking place right next door. On the contrary, in the past 14 years, all Nepali Prime Ministers except Mr Jhalanath Khanal have visited New Delhi. The former Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Mr Jayant Prasad, termed the long gap in visit by an Indian Prime Minister as unnatural. However, he stressed that the delay could be due to the turmoil and political transition in Kathmandu since 1996.

It is equally surprising that like India, China too hasn’t shown interest in a Kathmandu visit by its Premier. The last Chinese Prime Minister to visit Nepal was Zhu Rongji in May 2001. On this count, China has matched India. When Mr Manmohan Singh received an ailing Girija Prasad Koirala at the airport in 2006, he accorded respect to this towering democrat of South Asia. Mr Singh should come to Kathmandu again, as Nepal is unlikely to have a high calibre leader like Koirala for whom the Indian Prime Minister can softly break protocol.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Pioneer on February10,2014)

Skill Development in India: Big Promises, Tall Failures

The globalised world demands skilled manpower to convert growth opportunities into jobs and stable incomes. With millions of new job-seekers entering the job market every year, skill development has become one of India’s urgent priorities.

The 12th Five Year Plan (FYP) has highlighted skill-building as an imperative need to reap India’s so-called demographic dividend. Indian universities and professional institutions churn out hordes of degree and diploma holders, most of them are unemployable because they lack the skills manufacturing and services industries look for.

The bulk of employment is still being created through agriculture, which is subject to seasonal fluctuations. Even skill-based manufacturing sector is sensitive to these seasonal changes as the processing of agricultural products majorly determines its overall production cycle.

It’s true that India has comparative advantage in terms of having a younger workforce than China and all OECD countries, but the drive to scale-up high on these is missing. The world will witness unprecedented shortage of skilled workforce in coming years, but it’s unlikely that with the existing policy framework on skill development, India will be able to tap this chance.

The 11th FYP’s recommendations on the matter led to a three-tier structure: the PM’s National Council, National Skill Development Coordination Board (NSDCB) and the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC).

The NSDCB has spelt out policy advice, and direction in the form of “core principles” and has given a vision to create 500 million skilled people by 2022 through skill systems (which must have high degree of inclusiveness); it has taken upon itself the task of coordinating the skill development efforts of a large number of central ministries/departments and states.

The NSDC has geared itself for preparing comprehensive action plans and activities which would promote public private partnership (PPP) models of financing skill development. In policy outlook, these changes have made the issue of skill development a vital agenda for the governments. The state governments have clearly given more space to channelize the skill development initiatives and reap its benefits as well.

But the challenges on skill development in the 12th FYP are numerous and those are blocking the developmental spirit: the government’s monopoly over the skill training is foremost of them. Therefore, a greater emphasis on PPP model could have best way forward in achieving the real goal of skill development. Through proactive regulation or leverages, individual employers and various industry associations should be given more space for meeting the mammoth challenges of skill creation.

Besides, the need is for better institutional mechanism to carry out impact evaluation and surveys of actual job aspirants. Even today, only about 8 percent of the total workforce in India is employed in the organized sector. The rest are employed in the informal sector, without social safety nets.

Obviously, the quality of employment is better in organized sector but it has limited capacity to absorb a large number of workforces. So the role of services either in organised tertiary sector or through self-employment is important. In given circumstance, it’s essential to promote a balance between labour and capital intensive sectors. Agriculture, tourism and SMEs would be the areas, where suitable action will bring better results.

The amendments to Industrial Disputes Act, 1947, and Contract Labour (Regulation and Abolition) Act, 1970, and workable social security schemes for both organized (like Rajiv Gandhi Shramik Kalyan Yojna-under ESIC, EPFO etc) and unorganized (like Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna etc) could make livelihood attainable for all citizens.

So far, the flagship government programmes for sustainable livelihoods (such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, Swarnajayanti Gram Swarozgar Yojna and Swarna Jayanti Shahri Rozgar Yojna ) have not only failed to alleviate the poverty but these all have made corruption firmly established at the lower tier of bureaucracy and on the panchayat level.

Ministries such as Labour& Employment, Human Resource Development, Rural Development and the Urban Development& Poverty Alleviation have launched their skill upgrading programmes, but they are not producing desired results.

Creation of National Skill Development Mission in PPP mode was a good move, but its performance is far from satisfactory. The chances of the NSDC setting up 1,500 new ITIs and 5,000 skill development centers in targeted time are bleak, too.

The Modular Employable Skills (MES) and Skills Development Initiative Scheme (SDIS) adopted by the Ministry of Labour and Employment provide the framework for skill development for school leavers and workers, especially in the unorganised sectors, but again, the results are sub-optimal.

The reason why well-meaning government plans on skill development come to grief is that the existing strategic and implementation models of skills development don’t correspond well with the competitive global requirements of skilling. Of course, India’s IT sector is a beacon of hope but lack of skill development explains why manufacturing has not taken off as a major growth component of India’s economy.

Today, the slow employment generation and its inflationary impact haunt badly. The Phillips Curve reveals it: “lower the employment, higher the rate of inflation”.

A report of Boston Consulting Group and the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII) tells that India’s workforce in 2006-07 numbered 484 million: out of this, 273 million were working in rural areas, primarily in agriculture, while 61million were working in manufacturing and about 150 million in services.

The study exposes that 40 percent of the current workforce is illiterate and another 40 percent is represented from school dropouts. Those who have completed formal schooling comprise 10 per cent, meaning that only 10 percent of the overall workforce could be counted as trained.

On the technical front, NASSCOM says that of the 400,000-odd engineering graduates who pass out every year, only 20 percent would meet the industry requirements. The rest would have to go through rigorous training before businesses could find them useful.

However Rita Soni, CEO, NASSCOM Foundation, sees the context in diverse shades: "The role that technology has played in empowering the most marginalized sections in India, be it people from remote areas or persons with disabilities, cannot be completely overlooked. While there are no true silver bullets that the industry can list down as it continues to face challenges, it is encouraging to know that it is already treading the path of inclusive development."

According to the Economic Survey 2011-12, 63.5 million new entrants would be added to the working age group during the period 2011–16. Consultancy majors IMaCS and Aeon Hewitt have added a caveat in this respect: “An incremental shortfall of nearly 350 million people will be surfaced by 2022 in 20 high-growth sectors of the Indian economy, including the infrastructure sector and the unorganized segment.”

Lack of universal access to institutional credit and other financial services is a critical factor that hobbles entrepreneurship in India. The suppressed entrepreneurial impulse adversely impacts skill development.

The problem inherently rests with the financing model of Indian banks, which lays unrealistic emphasis on collaterals or guarantees--the victims of such credit policies are mostly belong to the lower strata. The RBI has to act swiftly on this. But the structural and financial initiatives for the skill enhancement and livelihood would not come into effect until the industry will follow a clearer definition on the employability.

The primary concern of the lending should be to target the prepared individual, who is capable to run a business and nurture entrepreneurship. Though SMEs comes under the priority sector lending tag, it has not obviously helped in big deal by formal lending agencies to assist weaker sections pick their way out of poverty and the aspiring entrepreneurs liberate their animal spirits.

Micro Small and Medium Enterprises Development Act, 2006 became operational with effect from October 2, 2006. The Act replaces the concept of “industry” with “enterprises”. This Act notionally facilitates the promotion, development and enhances the competitiveness of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto.

But the ground reality is stark, as MSMEs have no proper advocacy/industry association (barring few obscure and ineffective organisations, like CIMSME /SME Chamber of India) to look after on their interests. The leading industrial chambers-FICCI, CII or others are mostly run for pursuing the interests of big corporations and their attention on MSMEs comes only for keeping ‘high moral ground’.

National Small Industries Corporation (NSIC) has been working since 1955, and over the decades it has proved itself a big elephant of government. With its over-sized secretarial set-up, but shabbily planned programme structures, NSIC mimics the entrepreneurial aspiration of Indian youths. Its website too appears short on informations and high in offering ‘self help tips’ – it drops the dream liner with no tenability-how to become successful entrepreneur?

FICCI Survey on Labour / Skill Shortage for Industry sings a different escapist tune: “Despite having a favorable demographic profile, labor and skill shortage continues to be one of the key concerns for the Indian industry. This problem has been compounded by the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA). It seems that MGNREGA has made a perceptible difference to the ‘choice of work’ of the casual labor in rural and semi urban areas.”

Though another study done in 2010 by FICCI -IMACS comes with clearer insight: “There is a need for an independent system to assess quality, comprising all elements of the skill development value chain, right from need assessment and student mobilisation up to training and placement. Current systems are primarily oriented towards quality checks (through trade tests) during the phase of assessment and certification.”

CII has launched its own Skills Development Initiative, which shares the goal of the National Skills Development Agenda to skill 500 million people by 2022. In this endeavour, CII, has set up its first skills centre at Chhindwara, MP, to train people in bar bending, grinding, pipe fitting, welding, etc. (although its functional dividends have yet to be visible, which stands opposite of CII’s hyper exuberance).

CII, along with HPCL, have also launched the ‘Swavalamban’ project to train 2,200 youth in multiple trades. The programmes have local concentration, relevance and in-built flexibility. So far, CII has released five sectoral studies on skills requirements in the constructions, auto, retail, healthcare and banking & financial services sectors. CII has also taken skills development initiatives beyond national boundaries (in Afghanistan, South Africa among the others). For the sake of record, these appear impressive, but still they are not changing the course for desirable outcomes.

T N Thakur, ex-CMD, PTC India and former Deputy Secretary, Ministry of Personnel (GOI), looked after training policy, plan and non-plan training programmes-he also spearheaded the major reforms in UPSC in Rajiv Gandhi government, he shares his views:

"India has very large young population, 70 percent of India's 1.2 billion populations is below 30 years of age. Such young population is a great strength if they are gainfully employed, otherwise they will turn to be a great liability. It's, therefore, imperative for India to have massive skill development programme and create employment opportunities through growth oriented schemes. We cannot distribute wealth if we don't have it. Only a balanced growth alone will bring prosperity and equity."

National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) CEO & MD, Dilip Chenoy, puts his perspectives on this with incorrigible optimism:

“For a country keen to make its way in to the league of advanced nations within the next decade by leveraging its favourable demographic profile, skill development offers the best solution to realize this aspiration. In consonance with this philosophy, the National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) through its private sector training partners has been steadfastly engaged in empowering Indian youth by equipping them with the skill sets that would allow them to participate in and contribute to the process of inclusive growth and development.”

He adds: “Till March31, 2013, NSDC Partners-which range from marquee names of corporate India such as NIIT, Future Group, IL&FS, TVS, Aptech, Apollo Hospitals etc to NGOs such as Pratham, and from start-ups such as Empower Pragati and Talent Sprint to educational institutions such as the Centurion Group of Institutions in Orissa-had skilled nearly 6lakh people nationwide. By establishing a presence in 333 districts in 25 states and 2 Union Territories through2, 598 physical and mobile facilities, NSDC Partners have been imparting outcome-linked job-oriented training in a wide array of sectors.”

Many of the NSDC’s Partners such as IL&FS Skills Development (a Special Purpose Vehicle formed between NSDC and IL&FS), NIIT Yuva Jyoti (the NSDC Special Purpose Vehicle with NIIT) or Future Sharp Skills (the NSDC Special Purpose Vehicle with Future Group), for example, have embarked on large-scale training projects capable of training over a hundred thousand or more persons in 10 years either on their own or through consortiums. These could not be said practical, as the big corporations involved with NSDC hardly needs any outside support for their skill needs.

In any case, if NSDC will start thinking for the Infosys or other big corporations’ skill requirements--the rational of its existence would be naturally questioned. A specialized body like NSDC is meant to cater the skill requirements of mass people and small enterprises, which simply cannot afford the professional skill feeding from the open source on commercial rate. A big industry entity should neither seek NSDC’s services and nor NSDC should offer them-MSMEs, must be the vantage point for NSDC.

Presently, its initiatives like: Gram Tarang (Special Purpose Vehicle formed by Orissa-based education major Centurion Group of Institutions), operates in the Naxal (ultra-left wing extremist) belt of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, and Udaan that empowering graduates and postgraduates of Jammu&Kashmir to join the mainstream and find gainful employment opportunities, hold better promises than high shot collaborations with undeserving big companies.

Dr S Ramadorai, Adviser to the Prime Minister in the National Council on Skill Development, Govt. of India in his interview given to The Times of India, on March12, 2013, pressed for a new rational rapproach from industry on skill creation: “the Industry needs to play a major role in the skilling initiative. With a highly demand-driven labour market, apprenticeship with industries is an important way forward. Currently, such ‘earn while you learn' models have been highly under-leveraged. More wages should be paid to highly skilled people, else training is disincentivised.”

To conclude, today the definition of skill development is fast changing. Under the industrial requirements, skills are supposed to be in consistent updation; so, there is a need for re-ordering the priorities and shifting from the one-dimensional model, which has wrongly viewed economic progresses only by statistical growth. Industry and governments must think seriously, why their well carved out plans are not working?

The failures to live on the promises are pathetic and unsustainable; at any cost, the outlays on the skill development initiatives and their outcomes have to be proximate. Unless this is realised, the exuberance on principled structures would not be meaningful. In simpler terms, the poor and the underprivileged have to be protected and involved under the new growth agenda. For that, the livelihood programmes have to be better democratized.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in Governance Now on February17,2014)

Kashmir:A tale of travesty

Discussions on how the Kashmir issue has been represented over the years

The beginning of a new age of violence in Jammu and Kashmir in 1989 took off with the mayhem ensued by the permission of the then Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto, for the intelligence apparatus of her country to export fighters outward from the Kashmir valley. Since then, Kashmir is visible more like a chessboard for a large malicious game of intrigue, where the official truth appears manufactured narrative rather than it should be in its natural shape.

The tug of war between India and the opposition forces from Kashmir along with the clear support of Pakistan and its allies can be understood lucidly through Edmund Burke’s quote conveyed in the House of Commons on April 19, 1774: “The use of force alone is but temporary. It may subdue for moment; but it does not remove the necessity of subduing again; and a nation is not governed, which is perpetually to be conquered.”

History does not flow in straight lines, but in outlines—and in Kashmir’s painful history there are many forgotten references due, to negotiate. Since October 1947, when the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir conditionally acceded to the Government of India, there has been a gap between India’s democratic and secular ideals and the reality of New Delhi’s relationship with Srinagar. This has led to various bouts of disillusionments, the first of them as early as the 1950s—largely in the Muslim dominated Kashmir valley.

Persistent calls for Kashmiri secession only intensified through the next three-and-a-half decades as disenchantment with assertive Indian actions and lures from the unhygienic communal supports from cross of the border mounted and finally took a violent turn in November 1989. Though the Indian state may not always have got it right in Kashmir, the dissent’s tailor made delineation represents intellectually dishonest simplification of the real issues, leaving aside the hazards associated with the intensely aggressive geopolitical forces at work.

The fateful periods of the independence of India on August 15, 1947, and Kashmir’s accession to it on October 26, 1947, is still fogged in mystery. But the most genuine truth at that time was that no one wanted Kashmir’s accession to Pakistan. Majority had a preference for its independence, but for different and complex reasons—Kashimiri Pandits were in favour of Indian state albeit on the covert condition of not losing Kashmir’s unique native identity.

Not even a tint of deviation from syncretism they would like as on line of the rest thinking Kashmiris—so far, there was not much hype of communal programming in the valley, this began and intensified only with the blunder of making Kashmir an international issue by moralistically overcharged Nehru in early 1950’s.

Consolidation of a nation like India had to happen through the diverse maneuverings on endless impediments—then inclusion of independent royalties in India was the most crucial among many citable challenges. Sardar Patel, a straight forward man, had tirelessly succeeded in making India with an impressive geographical size—he made the idea of sovereignty a complete prerogative of this newly born nation. But alas, this man was neither a sage nor an immortal being—so he passed away when the complete inclusion of Kashmir was still in progress. That shrewd political executioner passed away, rest the lead on Kashmir was transferred to Nehru, though as said he was by birth a Kashmiri but hardly a native in typical sense.

He had pious ideas, which were broader in outlook but unfortunately—people with whom he had to deal with on Kashmir—were of dishonest merits. Had he relied on the referendum or on hard action against the first attack of Pakistan in 1947, he could have easily escaped the unfortunate internationalization of Kashmir as a formidable dispute. Moreover, shady and impractical deals with Sheikh Abdullah at wrong times and most importantly the division of Kashmir sabotaged peace forever from these regions.

Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s interview with Mountbatten for their book, “Mountbatten and Independent India” (Vikas; page 37) makes clear the fatal motive of this unholy colonial moron, as in a conversation to Maharaja Hari Singh, he said: “the majority of your populations are Muslim”, but Hari Singh had replied “I don’t want to accede to Pakistan on any account…. I don’t want to join India either, because, if so (sic), I would feel that perhaps which’s not what the people of Kashmir wanted.

I want to be independent." Mountbatten told the authors, “I must tell you honestly, I wanted Kashmir to join Pakistan…(Sir Cyril) Radcliffe (Chairman of the India-Pakistan Boundary Commission) let us in for an awful lot of trouble by making it possible for them to accede to India,” by awarding to India a part of Gurdaspur, which facilitated the land link to Jammu and Kashmir.” Unfortunately those virulent designs were misunderstood by the high ranked and nosed politicians, particularly by Nehru and Jinnah that finally lead the Kashmir to a dangerous trajectory of conflict.

In 1971, India facilitated the secession of Pakistan’s easternmost province (now Bangladesh), which was another turning point that immensely affected any veritable advancement on Kashmir for many decades. India’s strategic win provoked Pakistan’s humiliated army and intelligence officials to pursue a policy of creating ‘strategic depth’ against India by seeking Pashtun clients inside Afghanistan for using them in Kashmir valley—that was not a squeak but a full-fledged design of proxy war directed to Kashmir through multiple active channels, including those of “communal interference”.

In the 1990s, many of the same Pakistani officials who helped supply the Mujahideen during the CIA-led anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan turned to fuelling the popular Islamic insurgency in India-ruled Kashmir—which in turn claimed more than 80,000 lives and exodus of Kashmiri Pandits from the valley since1989. Throughout the last two and half decades, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI, trained and financed militant groups for jihad in Kashmir, even as it settled on the Taliban as its proxy in Afghanistan, which had been abruptly abandoned by the United States following the Soviet withdrawal.

Since then, once known for its opulent beauty and peace, the valley of Kashmir was forced to host the military occupation awkwardly against the theoretical democratic ethos of India. It’s indeed an unfortunate truth; the killings fields of Kashmir supersede those of Palestine and Tibet. Curfews, raids, and checkpoints have been routinely enforced by nearly 700,000 Indian soldiers—the valley's staying populations are harshly exposed to extra-judicial execution and torture. India has contained the insurgency provoked in 1989 but the growing disenchantment of the average Kashmiri from endemic military occupation of India is not comforting in any manner.

The hundreds of thousands of demonstrators that fill the streets of Kashmir's cities today are overwhelmingly young and desperate, most of them in their teens, and armed with nothing more than stones. Yet the spanking goes on, such sneaky approaches must be stopped and the different voices should approach our conscience. It’s true that Pakistan has lost its undeserving war in Kashmir from India and native Kashmiris, so now India must bolster its ties with the aspirations of Kashmiris, like it does with its citizens, atleast notionally.

Looking back on the ‘Chenab model’ would be worthwhile for knowing the conflation that disturbed the lives of Kashmiri Pandits from 1990 onward. This was aimed to partition Kashmir along the river Chenab, was conceived by political leaders, mostly from Pakistan to promote a communal agenda. “Most of the districts in Jammu and on the left bank of the Chenab are Hindu majority in the state of Jammu and Kashmir while in most of the districts on the western side of the Chenab, the Muslims are predominant,” wrote Sartaj Aziz in his book ‘Between Dreams and Reality’ (page 228).

“In short, the River Chenab will form the separation line between the Pakistan and Indian held areas …Since India was no longer willing to go back to the concept of Hindu versus Muslim majority, the Chenab formula basically converted a communal formula into a geographic formula since most of the Hindu majority is east of Chenab and Muslim majority districts are west of Chenab.” Unfortunately, some partial aim of this guff was come into reality through the incessantly untamed involvement of Pakistan and India’s own casing of the burning situation in Kashmir from any constructive public discourse.

The dispute over Kashmir is not just the most enduring flash-point in the relationship between India and Pakistan; it is, equally, the largest question-mark next to India’s claims to secularism and democracy. Nationalist passions, political imperatives, security concerns and emotions of bitterness and distrust (including those between Kashmiris themselves) have undermined much policy-making and scholarship. Kashmir, today, is known through the prism of triangular political relations: between Srinagar and New Delhi; between politicians and the public within Kashmir; and between Kashmir’s different regions and identity groups.

Autumn normally leaves dual effects on mind. This season in Kashmir once used to be the time of rejoice that continuity broken in 1990 with the exodus of Kashmiri Pandits and subsequently with the end of syncretism from valley. Never to forget, that was the culmination of incessant political follies directed towards the Kashmir which distorted the Kashmiriyat from the region where once Lal Ded and Noorudin Reshi were reflexive of all humane convictions in collective lives.

Introspection on the essence of Kashmiriyat could be too deep. It could be looked as far back as the time of Rajtarangini or Akbar’s colonisation of Kashmir, but here the focus should be unanimously channelised to draw the points: how the harmony in collective lives was the essence of Kashmiriyat and how it started losing those specialties of universalism with the partition in 1947? Post partition, Kashmir was one among the many troubled royalties but not most shaky in any terms. Then few would have thought about the evolvement of this paradise, as India’s weakness and centrepoint of notorious cold war politics!

These all developments happened in Jammu and Kashmir after India’s independence, and more resolutely with the most brutal catastrophe took place in the valley with the Kashmiri Pandit’s unfortunate exodus in 1990—down the twenty-four years, hibernation is still going on among the opinion makers and those cry for secularism and human rights for these people who are living outside their homeland. Those who made Kashmir a living ruin are being taken as leaders by the pseudo polemists of high caliber—only solace is such voices is not being taken seriously any longer and their low capacity to interface with the Kashmir’s history is a moving example of persisting ignorance among these noisy New Delhi/Srinagar based intellectual/separatist cohorts.

Over the decades, politics and high class but baseless discourses have produced mostly the trashes on Kashmir—the devoid from realities remains a harmful trend which is yet to be over, but chances are dim for such change. A better part of Kashmiriyat is already extinct from the valley, or it could be said, the loss of Kashmiriyat itself that used to bind together the religious diversities in special fold, caused for the outbreak of communalism in late 1980s.

In the course of time, the soft side of socio-cultural structure gave easy passage to the virulent mix of political-communal beliefs for replacement.

The devastating changes came into existence under the guise of horrible conspiracies from Pakistan. In response, the regime in Delhi and its unworthy ruling puppets in Jammu and Kashmir did alarmingly unwell in getting rid from the third party intervention that was being directed on almost war scale from the fraternity of crooks for their own illegitimate interests.

By playing under-capacity game, India has only become able to weaken the external conspiracies in Kashmir valley but still has to fight hard to foil it from the root—force alone can’t do it, whatsoever may be its might-ultimately, only the radical repulsion of masses from the nasty role of ‘third party’ and belief in their own capacity to negotiate with Indian state can lead to a point of peaceful accord.

It is daunting to take a stand on it, because related issues have been moulded so badly in the last six decades in various policy circles in India and outside that finding genuine ground and its non-categorized expression can be possible only on the self-risk of getting strictly good or bad points from the largely ‘undefined progressive blocks’.

Though those who parted from the valley in unimagined circumstances to save their life, dignity and successors, still carries the native originality alive with them. However, now the young generations of Kashmiri Pandits appear more part of the cosmic world than of those lost interwoven life of valley, Kashmiris’ were entitled for, before the insertion of full scale communalisation.

Still, those lived the community values, earnestly feel the absence of non-existent Pandits in valley and they want returning back of normalcy and calmness of old days. Most of the Kashmiri Pandits too, though settled across the world and leaving their mark in different fields have more sense of disbelief than any consolidated amount of anger for their lost neighbourhood. That’s the most positive social understanding still exists among the Kashmiris—even though they are living in distance through unnatural causes.

Even superlatively, politics can provide at best a kind of “turf” that ends with either the ‘state of solipsism’ or between tussle of stakeholders. This is only the socio-cultural combine that constructs the proper psyche of the social values, but most often they neglected. Not least, because in idealization process, good thoughts hardly considered for practical optimisation.

Low emphasis on the other components such as culture, shared past etc—which formats and strengthens the social order and falls beyond the direct purview of new state could be forwardly termed as contempt against the ancient fabric of old social realities.
Here is need of revisiting the truth: India as a nation is still very young, if comparing it with its very unique continuance as society for long through the stretches of history. In respect of Kashmir, crux of this little bit theorization could assist in forming a new ground of recuperating its socio-cultural distinctness back—and on later stage—coming in terms at collective level to decide on political course, without losing the sight from realities.

The conspiracies of various sorts caused for the turmoil inside once a living paradise, but now need is to look around what forced at social, cultural, psychological level that frozen and broke Kashmir? With impressive past and articulate lifestyle, the land which should have been the role model for peace, how turned to be among the most dangerous places of the world?

After the folly of last six and half decades, Indian side must deal with Kashmir in straight terms—without stretching the existing approaches of public diplomacy, which otherwise will keep downgrading the genuine aspirations in incompetency to engage effectively.

Searching nativity should be the main plank of displaced Kashmiris who tagged for long with an unjust and illogical suffix, Sharnarthi! Never was it justifiable inside a free state like India—only it was an illuminating stance of center’s failure to reach on the basic flaws of Kashmir issues and getting involved for a constructive way out. What we have witnessed rather a consistent derailment of the sensible concern, substituted by Hippocratic rise of local leadership which remains devoid to attain any rational purpose.

For Pakistan, Kashmir is an escape route from its ruined state of affairs—for India, it’s the profound entity of its secular credential—and for the local leadership, Kashmir is nothing more than a survival object. Puzzles are still there, so people must show the temptations of realignment with the Kashmiriyat and to continue their reliance on the democratic values. Circumstances may have made Kashmir a difficult terrain, but still it would be improper comparing it with a place like Palestine on many terms—as whenever something went wrong from the Indian side, public opinion always stood against it from all over India.

The issue of nation and nationalities could not be brokered by sentiments alone, history gives the choices based on facts and those facts are clearly in favour of India on Kashmir. Before Independence, consolidation of Indian territories through such grand centralization was never a reality—it’s not alone Kashmir that lost its royal rule and witnessed a sort of break-up in local rule. Most of India’s princely states merged and aligned in nation-making but the Kashmir took the different route with no clear destination ahead.

Agha Shahid Ali, a Kashmiri-American poet who has written ‘The country without post office,’ died at a young age in the USA. He could be a very apt frame of reference in knowing what the idea of native belonging is. How does it appear from a distant land and in adverse time? Amitav Ghosh’s long essay, The Ghat of the Only World: Agha Shahid Ali in Brooklyn (February 11,2002, The Nation), which he has written as he promised his friend during his last days in Brooklyn provides the intricate details of looking on one’s troubled motherland with vivid charm and apprehensions.

Agha was a believer in composite culture, not surprising, as his drawing room had more Hindu deities than Islamic icons—there was nothing religious about that, rather merely it was a continuance of liberal collective bond. It’s true, Shahid wanted his last days to be spent in Kashmir and that was quite a normal wish for a sensible soul like him. The Pandits, those in forced exile too feel similarly despite having lived away from the valley for a long time. Do the separatists have any answer for such basic needs which a major chunk of Kashmiris lacking badly? Infact not, and why they are they supposed to look into this?

It’s hard to get a forethought on what would be the shape and sequence of separatist politics in Kashmir but it’s an open secret and no conjecture that neither those who left the valley found any political representation, nor who stayed in the valley—from mainstream political parties. From political standpoint, it’s bewildering. A democracy essentially should mean for the people and alongside for its institutions. Over the decades, Indian democracy has stablised well, though fissures are still many and in coping those, the centre has not kept so impressive track record.

Whether in North East or in Kashmir, the major fallout of keeping aside the people’s aspiration proved detrimental in reaching out the right kind of solution. State has primarily to learn how to deal with its citizens uniformly and not by vindictively treating the dissent voices, whose demands otherwise could be considered very benignly. Those throwing stones in valley or updating posts on social media against the state’s repression are not the enemies of the Indian union—rather enemies are those who serve through legitimate channels and consistently betray the real issues related to the fate of Kashmir.

The bone of contention that could be drawn from Kashmir is that those who are in valley are living in quagmire with alienation towards the nation’s progress. They are not being able to entitle with the good dividends that the economic rise of India is giving-up to young population in its rest part. For most of stone palters, life could be more smooth and promising have they provided an alternative way of thinking and opportunity to succeed. Unfortunately state is doing abysmal on this by taking such protests more as ‘security issues’ rather politically-economically generated dissatisfaction.

Over a long debate with one of my journalist friends from Kashmir, he asked me why we should celebrate Sachin Tendulkar’s performance on the cricket ground— though he wished, if he could do it and other matters where India has lead. His point of view was hard to denounce, as he was speaking more clearly from the heart and by knowing the existing situation on ground —but I finally made my point with citing that the same aspiration that is not flourishing today among the young Kashmiris would be not static forever and very soon the change will make it happen that Kashmir may host all the symbols of ‘new mainstream’: from cricket, fashion to industry. Apropos of our statements, we finally agreed that wariness is still high but hope shouldn’t be ruled out from the future either.

The new generations of Kashmiri Pandits are upwardly mobile and whatever was their difficult past, now they are availing the right fruit by converging with the changing times. But naturally they still have quest to involve with the Kashmir, and that’s for good. As the shape of political cunningness is well evident now, there are feeble chances for separatist ideology to remain in mainframe for long in Kashmir. However, the state’s insensitivity would be a big deterrent to thrive on the positive chances. Still, the truth-telling should be wishfully continued and the stunning disclosures too must be acknowledged properly by the concerned affiliates on Kashmir.

Despite the major breakup of opinion, it is still nice to see Kashmiri Pandits more apolitical than falling as piggyback of fundamentalist forces, which plays wrong politics and generates hate on the similar line that Islamic fundamentalists have been doing in clusters. The true justice either for Kashmiri Pandits or for every Kashmiris would only take place with stronger denouncement of communal stands in political negotiation and by searching the true secular ideas, which will make the state and its citizens’ passive with religious over-exhibit.

The issue of Kashmir is indeed political in nature but intensification of all wrong precedents could thrive and strive by the crafted communal agendas—the cold war politics ended long back in 1991, but Kashmir sustained its wounded legacy and India’s weak stand to curb militancy in its early days. Once it reached to the valley, it took time to get solemnised. The barbed wires replaced the scenic beauties of Dal Lake and Nishat Bagh and all the Kashmiri Pandits become homeless overnight—all what communalism has given to the Kashmir.

In post independent India, the forced eviction of Pandits from the Kashmir valley was one amongst the most brutal tragedies. As it happened under a consolidated democracy at that time, the state had lesser excuses than during India’s partition way back in 1947. It is shocking to ponder why their plights are still not part of large secular discourse that makes aghast in calling ourselves a nation with democracy. All humans are equal, as idealist as it may sound but with believing this, the cruel play of communal politics could be halted.

The US realised that terrorism exists, only after the 9/11attack took place on its land. Since then, it played the role of a good consensus ally with India on Kashmir. It is wishful India too should realise though not in the spellbinding influence of USA—but through own approaches that the greater common good is possible, only through practicing secular ideas and not through the hypocritical preaching. Essentially, Kashmir should be taken as a living space which has a recognizable past and many set of people, including Pandits and other suffering masses. With remorse on what happened in 1990s, the valley is waiting for its
Pandits—only the state can make it or not. And the people are waiting for justice, for their voices to be heard.
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla on February24,2014)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Makers of the Modern Maithili Literature

Knowing the modern Maithili literature through the angle of social history has remained elusive so far. This piece(its full version is anthologized in Mithila:Rich Heritage,Proud Identity/edited by Ratneshwar Mishra&Pankaj Kumar Jha,Readers Press2013) attempts to draw the attention back to the five remarkable Maithili writers of the twentieth century, who left deep impressions on Maithili literature and Mithila’s socio-cultural fabric. Five writers viz; Harimohan Jha, Baidyanath Mishra ‘Yatri’, Rajkamal Chaudhary, Lalit and Dhumketu have been chosen for looking on a creatively charged phase that also was a very productive time for Maithili literature

Harimohan Jha: The renaissance man of Maithili Literature
Harimohan Jha, the renaissance man of the language of great Vidyapati and Jyotireshwar Thakur was born on September 18 1908. His father, Pandit Janardan Jha ‘Janshidan’ was a great scholar and had credit of being the first modern novelist in Maithili.

The year 1933, was proved epochmaking for the Maithili literature and for that, big credit goes to Harimohan Jha. This year, his magnum-opus novel, Kanyadan received an unprecedented response from literati as well as from the common folks-later it became a household name. It’s worth noting that, Harimohan Jha has written this book in his undergraduate years in Patna University, and by the time of its release, he was only in his mid twenties.

This novel, Kanyadan, proved milestone of success in Maithili literature with amazing popularity and reach. This book simply attained the scale, which no other literary work in Maithili has succeeded to meet again. Harimohan Jha has chosen satirical expression to lodge his dissatisfaction with the prevailing stark ignorance in the life of Maithili women. The female protagonist, ‘Buchhi Dai’s feeble awareness of worldly knowledge reflects the lack of education and progressive approaches in the contemporary Maithili society.

Her indifference with the expectations of a young university student/groom, C.C.Mishra earmarked the narration of further text to an extent. It was Harimohan Jha’s own experience that compelled him to write for female emancipation.
Only he slightly changed the locale and used Banaras Hindu University in place of Patna University, where he went through the similar feelings and conceptualization of his rock-solid thoughts. Legendary mark of his first work encouraged him for its sequel, Dwiragman, which came in 1949 and proved equally sensational since it was seen as footprint of women’s emancipation.

Harimohan Jha was a focussed multitasker, so he also remarkably contributed to the stream of philosophy; with Nyay Darshan in 1940 and Vaisheshik Drshan in 1943. He kept the flamboyance till 1960 and produced iconic works like-Pranamya Devta (1945), Khattar Kakak Tarang (1948), Rangsala (1949), Tirth Yatra (1953), Charchari (1960), Nigman Tarkshastra (1952), Bhartiya Darshan (Translation, 1953).

He was true repository of verbal intelligence and had equal commitment for verses; he composed numerous meaningful poems to unleash those specialties. His poems like ‘Maach’, ‘Dhala Jha’, ‘Buchkun Baba’, Pundit O’ Mem’, ‘Pundit,’ etc., were vigorously energized. Harimohan Jha consolidated great moments in Maithili literature along with his contemporaries.

He kept his creative fervor till the end of his life-his research work ‘Trends of Linguistic Analysis in Indian Philosophy’ (post retirement) justified his perfect commitment. The only regret of his creative life remained the cinematic adaptation of his representative novel, Kanyadan- its alien direction and cold responses from the viewers further restrained him to allow such more experiments.

This is a less known fact that Harimohan Jha was also an accomplished editor, which he displayed in Jayanti Smarak (Pushtak Bhandar, 1942) along with Acharaya Shivpujan Sahay and Achutanand Datta. This work holds unique position in Maithili language. At the same time he was a great oral traditionist, with amazing command over the Mimansa (a philosophical branch, originated from Mithila). Khattar Kakkak Tarang is the outcome of those experimental metaphors.

To summarize, Harimohan Jha’s literary contributions have relentless universal values and would remain undeniable. In fact, his literary journey was like the soul-searching of his loving region, for that, he precisely tried to cover its intricacies.

The World of Yatri

Baidyanath Mishra, who with his independent and resilient intellect came to known as Yatri, Nagarjun and most remarkably the peoples’ poet, i.e. Jankavi, naturally left overarching effects on the modern Maithili and Indian literature.

Defying all odds, young Baidyanath started learning through traditional Sanskrit and Maithili education in his maternal village and later moved to Kashi in the quest of further knowledge. He was a great informal learner that adaptability might have shaped with the chronic adverseness he faced, but finally that established him as a major scholar of Maithili, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bangla, Pali and Prakrit.

Except of short overtures in family, 1930’s onward, Yatri remained completely align with writing and traveling. He was naturally closer to the instinct, rather than a follower of mechanical cognition order. Here, he was close to Tagore- both valued the natural human instinct in place of surpassable artificial affiliations.

The basic difference between these two great poets were of not world views but of approaches; Tagore with his aristocratic background was obviously an elitist unlike Yatri, whose background and construction of psyche both were akin to people-centric and based on the social realities.

Culturally, Mithila had commonalities with Bengal, but on the socio-economic counts there used to exist a huge drift between them, lack of urbanization and modern temptations were among the foremost reasons of reality check. Although, Yatri was also a keen naturalist like Tagore but again the differences were existing on the institutional levels. If Tagore had vision for an institution like Shantiniketan, and later globally institutionalizing his own literary and artistic works, Yatri, on the other hand had incessant devoid with such possibilities.

Though with his strong standing against the unfortunate social stigmas, he heralded a revolutionary wave of progressivism inside and outside of the Mithila and established himself as first modern Maithil on national and international literary arena.
Meanwhile, in the course of experiments with the knowledge, this freethinker came under the Buddhist influence, though it was short lived as he couldn’t suppress his embedded Maithili progressivism. But before that, Yatri travelled across the Tibet, Central Asia and Sri lanka (Kelania). Even after he left the Buddhist commune, his cult name ‘Nagarjun’ followed him forever, which reminds another contemporary literary figure and also a Buddhist, Rahul Sankritayan.

In the late 1930’s, he again entwined with Communism, though it remained his part of vision throughout the remaining life. He was progressive minded both in life and writing. Yatri had struggled against the authoritative extreme, equally during the independence struggle against British and in post-independent India against the authoritarianism of political classes.

He spent time in Jail in 1939-42 and again during emergency (1975-77). Like a true maverick, he remained attracted with the peoples’ causes for their upliftment as he struggled along with the eminent peasant leader, Swami Sahjanand Saraswati (Founder, Kisan Sabha) during colonial period and later under the Socialist movements including in JP Movement.

Because of such orientation, Yatri was considered one among the finest Bengali Hungry Generation Poets-naturally he is regarded only next to Tulsidas for stellar convictions on mass issues. Yatri’s literary expressions are universal, but whenever he touched the themes of Mithila, a unique and very close affinity came out there. He had in mind the prevailing realities of Mithila’s socio-economic scene and its challenges for an equitable and just society.

With broadness of canvasses and amazing hold over the translation skills, Yatri’s work hardly leaves any technical dialectism between Maithili-Hindi; most of his works are available in both the languages. As a poet, he could visualize beauty in oddness and grief in lavishness, so writing on the jackfruit or icefall at hill stations were equally kin to him.

His collection of poetries Patrahin Nagna Gaachh, Yugdhara, Satrange Pankhon Wali, Taalab ki Machhliyan, Khichhri Viplab Dekha Hamne, Hajaro-Hajaro Banhon Wali, Purani Juliyon ka Koras, Tume Kaha Tha, Aakhir Aisa Kya Kah Diya Maine, Es Gubbare ki Chhaya Me, Ye Danturit Mushkaan, Main Military ka Budhha Ghora, Baadal ko Ghirte Dekha Hai, and Paka Hai ye Kathal introduces to his wider reach among the common folks and intricacies of humanity.

He was never been a subversive preacher despite possessing strong anger against the existing social-political order, instead his progressive stand enabled him to be a rational chronicler. Yatri’s novels Ratinath ki Chachi, Balchanma, Baba Batesar Nath, Nai Puadh or Nav Turia, Barun ke Bete, Dukhmochan, Ugratara, Jamania ka Baba, Kumbhi Paak, Paaro, Aasman me Chand Taare exudes the diversity of Maithil as well as the Indian villages under new set of conditions.

With great exposure to the outside world, his memoirs, travelogue and even hundreds of published letters give delight and zest to the readers, while passing through his writings. His collection of essays-Annan Hinam Kriyanam, a work on culture-Desh Dashkam aa Krishak Deshkam, his travelogue-Baadlo ko Ghirte Dhekha Hai, his satire-Mantra Kavita and Aao Rani Han Dhoenge Palki and many Bangla poetries introduces to his broader conceptual grasp with amazing expressions over the range of themes.

Yatri had a unique credit of making a generation of writers/critics in both the Maithili and Hindi, fortunately that worked out well for literary discipline. Like Phanishwar Nath “Renu”, he never had to face the reckless wrath of preoccupied critics-even
Namwar Singh couldn’t maintain his ‘line of regionalism’ on his writings.

Despite all wandering and fame, he remained essentially a non-possessive man, attached to his route; his village Tarauni remained closest to his heart. In all probability, he would remain a loving ‘Baba’ for many generations.

Geniusity of Rajkamal Chaudhary

Maithili language and literature has been culminating through a long walk in history until it had seen an arrival of a new genre of writers in the mid part of twentieth century. Looking back to that generation and recalling giants like Rajkamal Chaudhary, Baidyanath Mishra ‘Yatri’ (Nagarjun), Harimohan Jha, Lalit, Dhumketu could be awestrucking for literary enthusiasts.

Rajkamal Chaudhary was a stock of genius who led Maithili literature to a new posture, which was dragging previously and largely failing to extrapolate the numerous unconventional approaching problems from the changing social dynamics.
Rajkamal Chaudhary was a doyen of Maithili literature and even one among the doyens in Indian literature, if the barrier of language could be taken lightly, then his work has universal claim with myriad of entrusted broad concerns.

Rajkamal Chaudhary was the most prolific writer in Maithili, here he justified his name. His family members deserves credit for tracing the jewels like quality in an infantile and naming him so meticulously as, Rajkamal, Manindra, Phul Babu (Traditional Maithili call name for loving one), much before he attained the scholarship and fame.
Rajkamal Chaudhary was an articulate user of letters and with amazing farsightedness. Hence he aspired and succeeded in three major areas of literary expressions: novel, story and poetry writings. Comparatively, prose was his major thirst of action, but still he penned numbers of poetries in both Maithili and Hindi-many of them though failed to appear in physical shape.

In spite of concealment, we are presently capable to clasp his six collection of poems, namely as Kankavati, Audit Report, Mukti Prasang, Vichitra, Swargandha and Macchli Jaal, and many more may be in future if proper strive would be made to retrieve those scribbled verses. Rajkamal was a promising creationist who barely allowed any irrational restraint to enter in his writings; his poetry reveals it likewise and its epithet, which consists high sensuality with diverse humane plights, sound immaculately.

Here, it would be quite imperative to recall that Rajkamal Chaudhary had conceited views about his Maithil identity and he never stepped down to derive metaphors for his creative vision from his native milieu. There were many reasons to postulate such affection for strife ridden Mithila through expounding the contemporary harsh realities of the region.

Quite naturally, Rajkamal was closely integrated with that intellectual fraternity, which used to keep eagle watch on the worldwide movements and overtly persuaded to modify the faulty axioms. Rajkamal remained unbeaten from the criticism for his daring and unconventional stand in his life time. He was an astute visionary of his generation, who pronounced inner contradiction of human mind as catalyst for all external complexities of social relationships.

Further, he emphasized on the western way of psychoanalysis and enviously drew points from Freudian psychoanalysis to unleash the unconventional and forbidden relationships. In his personal life and writing, he had upfronted with the elegiac concern for harsh realities besides enjoining to solve the persisting behavioural ills.

Rajkamal poignantly followed and tried to curb the ramifications of such deviations through his novels in Hindi-Machhli Mari Hui and Taash Ke Pattoon Ka Sahar are foremost among them, which tries to contempt the immoral fabrication and illicit relationships in elitist circles. His other novels in Hindi Nadi Bahti Thi, Sahar Tha Sahar Nahi Tha, Agni Snan, Bis Ranion ke Bioscope, Dehgatha (Suno Brijrani), Ek Anar Ek Bimar and Aaranyak similarly resembled his concern for the hippocratic guise of eliteness.

In Maithili, he has written three highly sensible novels: Aadikatha, Patharphul and Andolan- the last one was based on the Maithili language movement in Calcutta which also marked his own involvement in the movement.
Rajkamal was among the finest story tellers of his time, so not surprising, if his writings have been inspiring the succeeding literary generations. It is truly amazing to see the huge number of stories in both Maithili and Hindi he managed, apart from writing many plays and hundreds of essays in his short life.

His first published story, ‘Aprajita’ (Vaidehi, October1954) presents subtle account of perennial natural tragedy of Mithila, i.e. floods and its repercussions on human lives through a desperate train journey; his ‘Andhakar’ (Vaidehi, May1953) tells on contradictory relationship under the shadow of religion, partition and sin. ‘Phulparaswali’ (Vaidehi, August 1955) could be remembered as his magnum opus, which illuminates the moral strength of Maithil women in distressed phase.

Rajkamal reaches to the zenith through depicting Rickshaw puller protagonist, Shadashiv as his cousin and finally weaves a very meticulous set of relationships among them with centralizing the presence of Phulparaswali that symbolizes surviving ethical virtue of Maithil women. ‘Lalka Paag’ (Vaidehi, Katha Visheshank, 1955), which ends with the dramatic realisation, reveals untold moral victory of first wife over heart wrenching male chauvinism.

‘Kirtaniya’ (Vadehi, January1956) sketches the life of beggars; ‘Kopad’ (Vaidehi, May 1956) ends with the progressive ideas of inter caste marriage; ‘Damyantiharan’ (Vaidehi, July1956) comes with a story of conditionally deprived family indulged in flesh trade for survival which strike with similar delineation of east Bengal’s refugees plights in Ritwik Ghatak’s cinema like Bari Theke Paliye.

‘Channar Das’ (Vaidehi, September1956) tells the incarnation of a beggar’s pair for new life out from their existing profession; ‘Kiranmayee’ (Rachna Sangrah, 1956, in first All India Maithili Literary Conference) narrates the premature widowhood, sacrifice and empathies for plight but inability to materialize them in absence of resources.

Rajkamal’s ‘Satti Dhanukain’ (Pallavi May 1957) depicts the betrayal of husband with a commuted wife; ‘Kharid- Bikri’ (Pallav June 1957) raises the concern for immorality of perception with a wretched woman affected by the partition; ‘Babu Sahebak Tik’ (Vaidehi, July 1957) witnesses the metamorphosis of a falling feudal amidst the market pressure and leverages of city life; ‘Sahastra-Menka’ (Mithila Darshan Visheshank 1957) reveals the ill social treatment with helpless widows and wretched of Mithila.

‘Mugdha-Vimugdha’ (Pallav, March 1958) throws light on the debacle of unmatched marriage, ‘Mallhak Tol: Ek Chitra’ (Vaidehi, August 1958) is concerned with the plight of Mallah (fishermen) community, possess an important place in the Mithila’s fish crazy society, in very short space, he captures their actual reality. ‘Yatrak Aant’ (Mithila Darshan 1958) leads to a scenario of impoverished socio-economic structure of Calcutta in which a helpless parent caught in severe daily struggle to save their ill son and dignity of daughter in law.

‘Kamalmukhi Kaniyan’ (Kathaparag 1958) candidly attacks on the pseudo perceptions of dominant male community about women-it’s a frontal attack on the male chauvinism. ‘Aakash-Ganga’ (Mithila Darshan Visheshank 1959) is an account of a falling feudal father and his relationship with estranged daughter, who married against his wishes-the story concludes with his proactive and judicious move, which also marks the inception of flexibility within feudal structure.

‘Kadambari Upkatha’ (Vaidehi March 1960) is based on the frank bearing of humane conviction of a childless widow, who crosses all the artificial boundaries of caste, opportunism, jealousness etc; ‘Panidubbi’ (Mithila Mihir 10th May 1964) reflects the inner state of a newly wedded women during her first journey on steamer, she simply lost in her circle of belongingness, recalls the closed nature of contemporary Maithil women.

His ‘Surma Sagun Bichare Na’ (Mithila Mihir, 9th May 1965) moves around the infatuation for bereaved wife that seems like a dutiful sacrifice and also transcend his honest commitments in relationships; ‘Ghari’ (Mithial Mihir, 30th January 1966) shows the romance in inter religious web which eventually conclude with the interference of domestic compulsions.

‘Maach’ (Mithila Mihir, 30th January 1966) is a spectacular delineation of ‘craze’ for the auspicious fish among Maithil’s, this story is loaded with heavy symbolism and sophisticated representation of Maithil life philosophy for a cross cultural debate. ‘Sanjhak Gaach’ (Mithila Mihir 13th March 1966) is stuffed with the gloomy inferences from its protagonist who caught in wrenched contradiction about his prospective role with belongingness.

‘Samudra’ (Mithila Mihir 11th September 1966) presents the confrontation of female protagonist for her existential being in broad framework, it’s a saga of unmatched matrimonial tie-up; ‘Param Priya Nirmohi Balam Hammar Pranpati’ (Mithila Mihir, 30th October1966) is consist with a marathon letter of newly wedded wife to her husband about her expectations in full sense of humour.

It was the characteristics of Rajkamal Chaudhary to present a serious theme in satirical way. ‘Kichhu Alikhit Patra’ (Maithili Darshan), written with the pseudo name of Anamica Chaudhary in extraordinary and candid craft, exposes the plight of subjugated women of Mithila.

This story touches the ultimate height of realistic fiction. ‘Gamme Rati Rati Me Gam’ (Bharti Mandan) virtually breaks the illusion from village; he found same sinful habitual practices in village too as they were frequent in the urban space. ‘Bahindai, Aspatal, Bangam Aa Kono Ekta Sapna’ (Mithila Mihir, 30th April1967) narrates the story of Bahindai, a young widow faces a new proposal of material life but remains undetermined, this is another jolt on the unmatched matrimony that creates such scene. ‘Ekta Champakali Ekta Vishdhar’ (Mithila Mihir, 15th June 1975) appeared posthumously, which reached to the real causes of improper marriage.

He had chosen a punishing hardship on personnel front, nature too given only its cruel verdict for this epoch maker. The eventuality came with his untimely demise on 7th June1967. Rajkamal or Phool Babu was loved and hated among his folks, but his premature demise, combating with deadly disease left deep strain among the literary enthusiasts in Mithila and outside of it.
Over four and half decades of his death, his works have still not received the deserved prominence and respect.

Lalit: Man of Change in Maithili Literature

Lalit, like his name came out with novelty in Maithili literary scene in 1950’s through his sensible mass concern. Officially, Lalitesh Mishra or affectionately ‘Bachha’ was born on April 6, 1932 in a village of scholars-Chanpura that despite falling in the catchments region of Adhwara river group has unique distinction of intellectual contribution.

Geographically, it is situated in the western side of Benipatti Sub-division (Madhubani district), which was once known as ‘Masco of Mithila’ for its strong Communist base and extensive land reform movements. He intertwined to literature with sturdy enrapture and published his first story in Maithili, ‘Kabula’ (Vaidehi, 1950). Despite sporadic writing, Lalit’s works are insightful for reckoning the Mithila of his time.

Lack of proper documentation and non-availability of older issues of old Maithili magazines restricts a reader to enter in Lalit’s writing. In his total forty-seven published stories, only twelve could be assembled in his lone story collection (Pratinidhi Kahani, Maithili Art Press, Navkiran Prakashan, Calcutta, 1964).

Among his two novels, only Prithviputra was published from Maithili Academy (1984), before that it was appeared serially in a prominent contemporary Magazine, Mithila Mihir (10/05/1960 to 5/7/1964). Also about a dozen of his essays transfixed the enthusiasts of his generation and added new paradigm within existing literary space. His remarkable stories sensibly delineate the socio-cultural intricacies, even within the humble canvasses. Without relying on complex narration, he had vision to entangle with very serious existential issues.

Prithviputra stormed the Maithili literary world with underneath subjectivism. Though the works were quite analomous from Lalit as he had already crossed a long stretch convincing people towards the approaches to see the social change in new light. The plots of the novel were woven in Farbisganj (Kosi belt) as it starts with the impact of social changes on the conventional social system immediately after the independence of India. Consequences of the land reform widely take place in the entire theme.

Lalit had ingenuity for tracing and dwelling on key issues of his time, though he had tenuous hold on his life like every mortal. Merely at the age of fifty-one, he passed away on April 14, 1983 with battling Liver Syrosis in Betia. Prominent weekly Mithila Mihir’s Lalit special (29th May 1983) had awoken the sleeping consine of Maithil society for the illustrating works of this great man. Within two decades, his death was the second traumatic casualty for the Maithili literature followed by the untimely demise of Rajkamal Chaudhary.

Theirs untimely departure left Maithili literary writings less spirited. They both remained very close and heralded a new chapter in Maithili literature. Lalit had translated Rajkamal’s epic story, Phulparas Wali into the Maithili and later written Mukti, which stands opposite and its protagonist is more radical than the woman lead of Rajkamal, who appears moralistic. Lalit remained humble in his relationship with old friends and literary companions. On several occasions, he laid stress that

Rajkamal‘s "Kankavati" was a well articulated poetic work in Hindi.Today, Lalit’s contribution is largely unknown. Proper documentation and translation of his works in other Indian languages would give a new lease to his prolific literary works. Those long waited initiatives must begin now, as any further delay may permanently fix the Maithili literary enthusiasts as ‘Principled forgetter- a dooming zone where creative things ceases to exist!

Dhumketu: An Unexposed Giant of Maithili Literature
On 25th January 1932, Bholanath Jha ‘Dhumketu’ was born in an elite family of village Koilakh. His transformation from Bholanath Jha to Dhumketu was an initiation of his revolutionary journey that furthered his consistent switching in material life.

Dhumketu had enormous impact of Freudian psychology like his contemporary great writer, Rajkamal Chaudhary. Ideologically too, both were very close. Both defied the orthodox patterns of Maithil society and tried to reach in very complex corner of human mind. Dhumketu believed story as a struggle between ID and EGO, so inner conflicts of mind covers his literary themes in big way.

His first published story in Maithili was Didi (1952) which got high acclaim in literary circles that further encouraged him emphatically. Though he was inclined towards the prose, but later he had also found taste to write some great poetry in Maithili like Dak Peen (1956) and Ek Ber Pher Rajdhani Main (1977)-both the anthology deserves better attention.

It was quite unfortunate for a great writer like him to got published only one collection of stories (Agurban, 1980) in his life time, even though he had written more than forty stories, two novels and dozens of poems besides some memoirs, travelogues and articles. One among his novels ‘Sannipat’ serially published in an obscure magazine, Bharti Mandan and his second novel ‘Mor Par’ (2000) could be published only after his death.

His other two works were published posthumously; Udyast (collection of stories, 2002-03) and second was Nav Kavitak Navinta. He has written two memoirs in the fond memory of his contemporary, Rajkamal Chaudhary. First, ‘Vishwasht Avishwashniya’ and second, ‘Suryapatan’ (Sunset) - both were published in Mithila Mihir, just after the premature demise of Rajkamal Chaudhary. Even his two obscure articles posses the qualities of elegant narration.

The stories of Dhumketu, like ‘Manukhak Devta’, ‘Kulta’ and ‘Bihairi’ are genuinely deserve to be compared with Yatri’s Paro (A short novel) and Rajkamal Chaudhary’s Sugna Sagun Bichare. A very minute depiction of relationships, which often crosses the socially approved threshold are unique characteristics of these stories. Dhumketu made scintillating efforts to unravel the ugly orthodox norms of Maithil society.

On some occasions, he even sounded too vocal and impatient about the existing deformities. His less known stories like, Hamara Aaur and Shivir present a very candid delineation of deteriorating moral standard in society. His writings are diverse and sensually very sound; most of his writings justify it.

Stories like, Dansh presents a very complex relationship in a long time frame between male and female protagonist. Sanbandh Bodh and Manukhak Devta present two very different and unusual attitudes towards relationship; Sambandh Bodh visualises lost relationship to an extreme level.

On the other end, Manukhak Devta narrates an awkward relationship between a maritally disturbed daughter and an aged widower father. The story constructed around the ‘social limits’, exposes unpleasant conditions around the corner. Dhumketu with his serious narration tried to assault on the discriminatory matrimonial structure of Mithila.

The story ends with many question marks on the prevailing social conditions. His other story, Pita focuses on the relationship between father and son, in which father ethically supersedes with making a fine balance in family order.

Dhumketu’s following three stories deserve more accolades for the sensible orientation of themes. First, Bauasin shows an acute picture of falling feudal structure of Mithila, where its lone survivor appears a metaphor for the serious deterioration. Second Vightan lucidly visualises the child psychology and further articulate with emphasis on conventions which ends with the honest confessions of prime characters.

Third, Udyast establishes a minute observation of disabled and downtrodden life, which is generally overlooked from the mainframe of social system. Indeed, Dhumketu proved his commitment towards the grave mass issues, which assisted him in broadening of his creative horizons and further allowed in constituting his own desired creative world.

Dhumketu, reached to the zenith of his creativity by writing most comprehensive and detailed novel in Maithili, Mor Par (2000), which is primarily based on the period from 1945 to 1970, though in patches, also consists some pictures of 1942 movements.

The novel emerges from the transformational phase of India’s independence movement and in later course with the politics of development; with well thought out points, it raises questions on the relevance of Independence.

Dhumketu had maximized the limit of literature in inquiring social and individual deformities, and also some goodness. He thoroughly dreamt and struggled for a tolerant and egalitarian socio-economic order and less hippocratic cultural practices.

-Atul K Thakur