India’s King Akbar the Great and Malaysia’s Hishammuddin the best-known Malay Supremacists.



The Sydney Morning Herald published an article titled “Extreme airline complaints: Chinese passengers attack flight crews, open plane doors.” The article says “there have been dozens of incidents involving irate travellers on both domestic and international flights this year.”

Second, protests are common in China

There are tens of thousands of protests in China every year.

In February 2012, The Atlantic reported that according to the Chinese Academy of Governance, 180,000 “mass incidents” were reported in 2010.

The Chinese protest for many reasons, but chiefly about corruption, land grabs and environmental problems.

On every trip to China I’ve seen banners, though I don’t know if they’re related to protests. My point is that China has a banner culture.

Third, the Chinese expect comprehensive responses

In high visibility cases, the Chinese government publicly acts against culprits and makes structural changes to prevent re-occurrence.

In the Wenzhou train crash of July 2011, forty people died and there was massive damage to equipment.

At first the authorities tried to do a cover-up – the evidence was quickly buried, damage was repaired; the news shifted from disaster to recovery.

But they soon publicised actions taken against those thought to be responsible for the tragedy.

Two years later, the former Railway Minister Liu Zhijun was sentenced to life in prison for corruption. Prior to his conviction, he was ejected from membership of the Chinese Communist Party.

The evidence against him included the results of audits. The railway ministry was disbanded, according to a BBC report.

Do you think the Chinese are unaware of how the Malaysian government reacts to the Auditor General’s annual report?

Another example to show how good China is at creating and enforcing appropriate laws – although the world has the opposite perception.

In the 2008 Sanlu brand contaminated milk powder scandal, thousands of babies were made ill and 4 babies died.

As with the train crash, it appeared there was an initial attempt to cover-up.

But the people – and New Zealand milk company, Fonterra which partly owned Sanfu – wouldn’t let it pass. Neither would the foreign media.

Soon all milk powder suspected to be contaminated was withdrawn from the market, and “heads rolled”.

A desire not to “embarrass the nation” during the Beijing Olympics spared several heads, according to The Economist report.

Nevertheless, laws were changed and institutions were strengthened.

Fourth, enforcement

Many foreign companies operating in China believe foreign companies are targeted by Chinese regulators and enforcement agencies.

SKII is a line of premium cosmetics made in Japan and marketed to affluent women in China by Procter and Gamble (P&G) since 1999.

In September 2006, SKII ran into trouble in China. Government testing found SKII products contained trace quantities of Chromium and Neodymium, heavy metals which are not permitted under Chinese regulations.

P&G stopped selling in China and offered refunds.

Some Chinese customers were unhappy with P&G’s refund procedure. It escalated, and some SKII customers kicked down the doors of a P&G office.

Eventually SKII products were restored to the China market – after the regulators agreed the product posed no danger to consumers.

The same product was sold globally, including in Japan, with no issues. No formulation changes were made. China did not apologize to P&G or to anyone else.

Another example is that of Evian bottled water.

Evian water is natural spring water from France. It’s natural: no additives, no treatment. It is bottled as-is. Customers worldwide pay premium prices for Evian water.

I am not aware of Evian water failing to meet quality standards anywhere in the world – except China.

Evian water has failed quality inspection by Chinese authorities numerous times. According to Global Times, Evian water has been blacklisted for quality problems 6 times in the period 2006 – 2012.

One Chinese website said “Famous French brand Evian was found again to be exporting sub-standard mineral water to China.”

China is different, so we must respond differently

China is different. On this score, our keris-waving acting Transport Minister and Defence Minister is correct.

What he’s missing is how to respond satisfactorily to the Chinese.

All he has to do is bow deeply, apologize for the delay in speaking the truth, and answer these questions truthfully:

(1) Why did Malaysia take so long to conclude the plane was missing?

(2) What procedures did the Malaysians fail to comply with?

(3) Why does he believe the same failings do not still occur daily?

(4) When will the responsible persons be charged in court?

(5) Why do we not know where the plane is?

Truthful answers to those questions will begin satisfying the Chinese and all others that Malaysia finally gets it. That’s of course only the beginning. The Minister has to show that he considers our expectations reasonable. Now.

China is different. That doesn’t mean the Chinese have unreasonable expectations.

yone who has read MJ Akbar even briefly knows the man is obsessed with history. Even the most inane fact — take for instance Nathuram Godse was a homosexual — becomes his weapon of argument from which his opponents have rarely recovered. In order to prove that the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi was not the great Hindu masculine act it became important for Akbar to prove that Godse’s sexual proclivity was less than masculine. Akbar’s construct is problematic but when his facts – many worth dismissing as trivia – merged with his seamless prose it was worth floating in it, savour it many times and wait for the next wave. Week after week, year after year and for decades he was the pied piper of the printed word whose byline would make you laugh, get serious and even weep, like when he wrote the obituary of his dear friend SP Singh.  His was not the style of looking at things from a vantage position but from within and with eyes that no one else possessed. Those who worked with him swore by Akbar and overlooked his frailties — like every one else he is abundantly gifted with them. He was allowed to make mistakes and indulge in excesses.

Even as Akbar moved base from Kolkata to Delhi, flirted with Congress, got elected to Lok Sabha, started new publication and lost his shine, Akbar’s pen stood by him.  But little over a decade ago Akbar changed or rather he started two-timing history, he was so much in love with. And on March 22 flirtation ended in a marriage as Akbar in full media glare, bhagva angavastram draped around his drooping shoulder and primary membership card of BJP worth five rupees in hand, bowed before Rajnath Singh promising to add chorus to the war cry of har har Modi, ghar, ghar Modi.

Two days later on March 24, Akbar explained in the Economic Times why he did what he did. For the first time there was no mention of history as if his god Herodotus had run away from his stable or did Akbar himself unbolt the doors. A tired, trying piece talked of national mission of recovery, growth and employment as reasons for his switch. Akbar, the master of facts, who would not genuflect before anyone — at least in his writings – was reduced to quoting Narenda Modi, someone whose ideological forefathers he had held in great contempt.

For Akbar, BJP’s ancestry, its ideological lynchpin Hindi-Hindu-Hindusthan became a mere political or electoral whip that secular world brandishes to put them in the corner. Akbar, the new spokesperson of the BJP is convinced that in the age of development, growth, jobs and employment ideologies are meaningless or the new India has become ideology neutral. Or why else will Ram Vilas Paswan, India’s most opportunistic politician, be with Modi’s BJP or why was Nitish Kumar till recently and for long was co-habiting and co-running the state government with them. Or why will Akbar, he equated Modi with Hitler not so long ago, walk into the open arms of the BJP. So enamoured he is of Modi, Akbar even said there should be a moratorium of 10 years for all riot cases. What a fall for a man who made a career by whipping memories of hurt and alienation?

Akbar could have gone on and on with his defence. But deep within he must be confronted with a question that historians often dabble in. It is the question of ‘What If’. The question is not an ‘idle parlour game’ as EH Carr used to say but a tool of historians to understand the past and its consequences on the future in a better way.

But Akbar’s ‘what if’ will be a little different. His counterfactual has to be to himself, not to the facts and events of history that he remembered so well and marshalled even better. Although the list can be literally endless, Akbar should be beseeched with three ‘what ifs’.

What if I had not written India: The Siege Within; Riot After Riots and Nehru: The Making of India? It is also advisable to Akbar’s current political masters, not the greatest patrons of the printed word, to at least flip through the three works to see who have they accommodated in their parlour.

If BJP and RSS read Akbar’s India: The Siege Within they will find how their new spokesperson has lucidly blamed them for the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi. He called Golwalkar ‘one of the most prominent Hindu communalists of this century’ and ‘the organisation which Golwalkar led for many years, the RSS, was the one which inspired the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi.’ In his biography of Nehru, Akbar even established direct and old relation between RSS founder Dr Keshav Balliram Hedgewar and Gandhi’s killer Nathuram Godse. He wrote that in 1932 when the RSS founder, Dr Hedgewar decided to expand the organisation he went on a tour. Godse was one of his aides during the tour.

Those were the days when Akbar did not believe in friendly criticisms. If he did not like the RSS of the colonial times and dismissed it by saying ‘the RSS kept away from the independence struggle’, he was equally scathing of its conduct during Indira Gandhi’s Emergency.

In Siege Within while writing about ban on communal organisations – RSS and Jamaat-e-Islami – during the Emergency, Akbar wrote that though RSS ‘would pretend to have played a very brave role’ the truth was different.

Akbar wrote that the then chief of RSS Madhukar Dattatraya Deoras was arrested during the Emergency but from jail he wrote to Indira Gandhi first praising her speech from All India Radio and pleading to meet her and that ‘it would be a source of immense pleasure.’ Akbar cites another letter from Deoras congratulating Indira Gandhi on her victory in the Supreme Court ‘absolving her of any wrongdoing in the 1971 elections.’ Deoras, Akbar wrote, also offered to ‘put 10, 000 RSS volunteers at the command of Mrs Gandhi so that the nation could prosper.’ The same Akbar who if BJP comes to power might witness the change of brilliant NCERT textbooks lamented RSS attempt to remove books by ‘honest historians like Romila Thapar, from the approved list for educational institutions.’

Instances abound and there is literally a flood of Akbar’s writings that challenged RSS’ idea of nationhood. These three books not only define the secular Akbar but are also going to haunt the saffron-Akbar for life. Even if the marriage ends tomorrow,

As the communally-charged 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign enters its final stretch, it’s time to re-examine one of India’s most misunderstood concepts: secularism. The word has been subverted by political parties to create in Muslims a sense of permanent fear of “communal forces”.

The objective is not to empower Muslims, educate Muslims or modernize Muslims. The objective is to keep them in segregated silos: poor, under-educated and at the mercy of medieval mullahs. Their vote though is thereby guaranteed.

In Varanasi, AAP’s “secular” Arvind Kejriwal tells Muslims not to vote for “communal” Narendra Modi because they will not be safe under him. He does not tell Varanasi’s Muslims how they can better their lives through education, vocational training and social reform.

Like the Congress, SP, NCP, NC and the Congress’ rabidly communal allies AIMIM and IUML, Kejriwal does not address Muslim welfare. He addresses Muslim votes. Meanwhile, emboldened by a fraudulent secular discourse, Congress candidate Imran Masood, handpicked by Rahul Gandhi, threatens to cut Narendra Modi into pieces.

Parties that call themselves “secular” – but in the classical sense of the word are not – such as the Congress, SP, NCP, NC, JD(U), AAP and others, end up dividing communities. They accuse “communal forces” of hate-mongering and divisiveness but are guilty of both to a far greater degree. They hide them under a fabricated veil of secularism.

Muslims must now rise above this perfidy and reject parties which regard them as Muslims first, Indians second. Both are parallel identities. One is not subservient to the other. By falling prey to the fear psychosis “secular” parties create in them, Muslims barter away their real freedom: the right to inclusive growth.

There is, however, as I have written before, a history to communalism in the subcontinent. Rahul Gandhi, Nitish Kumar, Sharad Pawar, Omar Abdullah, Arvind Kejriwal and Mulayam Singh Yadav should understand this history before they damage any further the secular Muslim cause they cynically profess to advance.

                                                  * * *

The advent of British rule in the 1750s gave rise to modern communalism. After a century of military warfare, the British had conquered various bits of India: from Bengal, Madras and Bombay to Sind, Punjab and the Northeast. Following the First War of Independence in 1857 (wrongly termed by British historians as the Sepoy Mutiny), Indian sovereignty passed from the East India Company to the British Crown.

One of the first things the British government did as sovereign ruler of India was to plant the poisonous seed of communalism. That seed has germinated over the last 157 years and grown into a panoply of hatred and mistrust, leading to partition, rioting and suffering on a scale matched only by the Jewish holocaust in World War II.

How did the British set about this task? The army was the first target. Indians were strictly divided into regiments of Sikhs, Gurkhas, Pathans, Rajputs and Marathas. Meanwhile, the British ‘government’ in India removed all import duties on British-made cotton, destroying the infant industry in the subcontinent at a time of famine and widespread starvation-induced deaths in Maharashtra.

Thus while Britain was systematically eroding India’s future industrial and agricultural competitiveness, it was simultaneously injecting calculated doses of communal poison into India’s secular bloodstream.

                                                   * * *

The Congress, like the British, has played a double game. It has appeased Muslims (with promises of job and educational quotas) and at the same time kept them economically and socially backward.

Predominantly-Muslim Turkey and Indonesia have shown how progressively Islam can be interpreted. Iraq, despite its serious ethnic faultlines, has many reformist social laws as do Malaysia and Egypt. Only in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and West Asian Arab monarchies do Muslims remain prisoners of the past.

Double-speaking, double-dealing politicians are largely to blame for this problem. Few Muslims can forget that some of the worst Hindu-Muslim killings took place in cosmopolitan Mumbai (then Bombay) in 1992-93 because of an internal Congress power struggle between Sudhakar Naik, then Maharashtra chief minister, and Sharad Pawar, then union defence minister.

For four days, from 8 to 11 January 1993, as hundreds of Muslims were butchered by Hindu mobs, the Mumbai police stood by watching and (in some documented cases) even encouraging the rioters. The Congress government’s commitment to real secularism was exposed: it did not punish the guilty in a riot which systematically targeted Muslims in India’s financial capital.

And so the teeming cauldron of Indian Muslims, caught in a tight secular embrace, continue to live in abject poverty. They are under-represented in the IAS, in business and in the professions: law, medicine, accountancy, management, engineering. Politicians give them sermons on secularism, not jobs.

To bring themselves into the mainstream, Muslims must see themselves as Indians first. American Jews are an example. They are fiercely proud of their religion but they do not let their Jewishness supersede their Americanism.

Muslims cannot continue allow politicians to set a communal agenda, however secular its grammar.

As we ready ourselves to elect a new government, the message that should go out is this: the time for communal politics and appeasement of minorities is over. Give your vote to the party that will deliver on its promise to embrace the religion-neutral tradition of real, not fraudulent, secularism.


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