Wednesday, 20 September 2017

No, Mughals didn't loot India. They made us rich

They remained as Indians, not colonists. They had encouraged trade by developing roads, river transport, sea routes, ports and abolishing many inland tolls and taxes. Indian handicrafts were developed, writes Rana Safvi on DailyO. Read on: 

India gained independence in 1947 after a long freedom struggle with British imperialism. Perhaps because of that, lack of historical knowledge and sense we see all conquests as colonisation.

Colonisation is described by professor Harbans Mukhia as "governance of a land and its people, now on behalf of and primarily for the economic benefits of a community of people inhabiting a far-off land".

The Mughals came to India as conquerors but remained as Indians not colonists. They subsumed their identity as well as the group's identity with India and became inseparable from it, says professor Mukhia, giving rise to an enduring culture and history.

In fact, Mukhia goes on to say that this issue of Mughals being foreign was never a discussion point till quite recently, so well had they integrated and assimilated into the country they had made their own.

There was no reason for it either since Akbar onwards all were born in India with many having Rajput mothers and their "Indianness" was complete.

Babur had invaded India at the behest of Daulat Khan Lodi and won the kingdom of Delhi by defeating the forces of Ibrahim khan Lodi at Panipat in 1526 AD. Thus, was laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire.

Most of the Mughals contracted marriage alliances with Indian rulers, especially Rajput. They appointed them to high posts and the Kachhwaha Rajput of Amber normally held the highest military posts in the Mughal army.

It was this sense of identification with the Mughal rulers that led the Indian sepoys who stood up in 1857 AD against the British East India Company in the first war of Indian Independence, to turn towards the aged, frail and powerless Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, coronating him as emperor of Hindustan and fighting under his banner.

From 16th century to 18th century, the Mughal kingdom was the richest and most powerful kingdom in the world and as French traveller Francois Bernier, who came to India in the 17th century, wrote, “Gold and silver come from every quarter of the globe to Hinduostan.”

This is hardly surprising considering that Sher Shah, and the Mughals had encouraged trade by developing roads, river transport, sea routes, ports and abolishing many inland tolls and taxes. Indian handicrafts were developed. There was a thriving export trade in manufactured goods such as cotton cloth, spices, indigo, woollen and silk cloth, salt etc.

The Indian merchants trading on their own terms and taking only bullion as payment, leading Sir Thomas Roe to say that "Europe bleedeth to enrich Asia".

This trade was traditionally in the hands of the Hindu merchant class who controlled the trade. In fact, Bernier wrote that the Hindus possessed "almost exclusively the trade and wealth of the country". The Muslims mainly held high administrative and army posts.

A very efficient system of administration set up by Akbar facilitated an environment of trade and commerce.

It was this which led the East India Company to seek trade concessions from the Mughal empire and eventually control then destroy it.

A very interesting painting in possession of the British Library painted by Spiridione Roma, named The East Offering Her Riches to Britannia, dated 1778, shows Britannia looking down on a kneeling India who is offering her crown surrounded by rubies and pearls. The advent of the famous drain of wealth from India started with the East India Company not the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughals.

Edmund Burke was the first to use the phrase in the 1780s when he said, India had been "radically and irretrievably ruined" through the company’s "continual Drain" of wealth.

Let us examine India’s economic status prior to its becoming a British colony.

The Cambridge historian Angus Maddison writes in his book, Contours of the World Economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in Macro-economic History, that while India had the largest economy till 1000 AD (with a GDP share of 28.9 per cent in 1000AD) there was no economic growth. It was during the 1000 AD-1500 AD that India began to see a economic growth with its highest (20.9 per cent GDP growth rate) being under the Mughals. In the 18th century, India had overtaken China as the largest economy in the world.

The changing share of world GDP 1600–1870 (in million 1990 international $)

Source: Angus Maddison, The World Economy, Paris: OECD, 2001, p. 261, Table B-18
In 2016, on a PPP adjusted basis, India’s was 7.2 per cent of the world GDP.In 1952, India’s GDP was 3.8 per cent. “Indeed, at the beginning of the 20th century, "the brightest jewel in the British Crown" was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income," former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh once said.

Since it's established now that the Mughals did not take away money, let’s talk of what they invested in. They invested in infrastructure, in building great monuments which are a local and tourist draw generating crores of rupees annually.

As per figures presented by the Ministry of Culture in Lok Sabha, just the Taj Mahal built by Shah Jahan has an average annual ticket sale of over Rs 21 crore. (Last year saw a drop in visitors to the Taj Mahal and figures stood at Rs 17.8 crore.) The Qutub Complex generates over Rs 10 crore in ticket sales, Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb generate around Rs 6 crore each.

A beautiful new style known as Indo-Islamic architecture which imbibed the best of both was born.

They invested in local arts and crafts, and encouraged old and created new skill sets in India. As Swapna Liddle, covenor of INTACH, Delhi Chapter, says, “To my mind, the greatest Mughal contribution to India was in the form of patronage to the arts. Whether it was building, artisanal crafts like weaving and metal-working, or fine arts like painting, they set standards of taste and perfection that became an example for others to follow, and brought India the global recognition for high quality handmade goods that it still enjoys.”

Mughal paintings, jewels, arts and crafts are the key possessions of many a western museum and gallery as they were looted in and after 1857. Some can be seen in Indian museums too.

Art and literature flourished. While original work was being produced in the local and court languages, translation work from Sanskrit to Persian was also taking place. Akbar encouraged the translation of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to dispel ignorance, which led to communal hatred.

The Taj Mahal, which was built by Shah Jahan, has an average annual ticket sale of over Rs 21 crore

Dara Shukoh’s Persian translation of the Upanishads named Sirr-e-Akbar taken by Bernier to France where it reached Anquetil Deperron, who translated it into French and Latin. The Latin version reached the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, who was greatly influenced by it and called the Persian Upanishad, "the solace of his life". This awakened an interest in post-Vedic Sanskrit literature amongst the European Orientalists.

It wasn’t only the Mughal emperors who were building, but Hindu mansabdars and traders too were building temples and dharmshalas in many cities, especially Banaras. Madhuri Desai in her extremely well-researched book, Banaras Reconstructed, writes: “The riverfront ghats bear an uncanny resemblance to the Mughal fortress-palaces that line the Jamuna river in Agra and Delhi.”

It’s dangerous to generalise history, especially on communal lines. While economic deprivations for the common man existed, as they did and do in any society, as Frances W Pritchett, professor emerita, Columbia University, says, “The impression one gains from looking at social conditions during the Mughal period is of a society moving towards integration of its manifold political regions, social systems and cultural inheritances.

The greatness of the Mughals consisted in part at least in the fact that the influence of their court and government permeated society, giving it a new measure of harmony.”

Thus, to say that the Mughals looted India is a falsification of facts.

It’s always best to read history in history books where one can get facts not on WhatsApp forwards where people often share false data and information as per their own bias.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple opens its doors to Yesudas

Yesudas, a born Christian, had sought permission to pray on the occasion of Mahanavami or Vijayadasami day.

Born Christian, but also a follower of Hindu religion, veteran playback singer KJ Yesudas applied for permission to pray at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

A meeting of the Executive Committee of the temple has decided to allow the singer to visit the temple on the occasion of Mahanavami or Vijayadasami day which falls on September 29 and 30.

Born in a Roman-Catholic family, the singer had earlier sought permission many times from Guruvayur Sree Krishna Swami temple to pray, but it had been turned down. Yesudas said that despite singing numerous songs on Lord Guruvayoorapan, he is yet to see the deity at the famed Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayoor in Thrissur district, as the temple bars non-Hindus from entering.

But he regularly visits Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Patthanamthitta district and Kollur Mookambika temple in Karnataka without any restrictions.

In 2008, he was denied entry by the Kadampuzha Devi temple in Malappuram district.

“I am deeply pained at the experience I had at the temple. Even cats and rats can go near the God. Why Yesudas is barred?” he had reacted then.

Yesudas has sent the permission request to  the temple authorities through a special messenger.

According to the temple, anyone who believes in Hinduism is given permission to pray. The letter given by the legendary singer affirms that he is a believer of the customs and rituals of the temple.

When TNM reached out to V Ratheesan, the executive officer of Padmanabhaswamy temple on Sunday, he said there were no procedural barriers in giving permission to Yesudas.

"The temple administration has always permitted people who believe in Hindu faith to enter the temple. Yesudas, as we all know, is very vocal about his belief in Hindu faith. A meeting convened on Monday by the temple committee will discuss the matter," Ratheesan had said.

Asked who was the authority to give the final word in the matter, the officer said: "There is no question of who gets to say the final word. Allowing people who believe in Hindu faith is not new to the temple. We already have a procedure that is being followed for so many years."

Govt support for temple entry

Reacting to the matter on Monday, Kerala Minister for Devaswom Kadakampally Surendran said that the LDF government was in support of allowing entry to people to all temples, irrespective of their religion.

"Everyone who believes in the faith must be allowed to enter temple and worship. However, every temple has its own rules and we cannot change them all of a sudden," the Minister said.

Yesudas, in his singing career that has entered its 56th year, has recorded more than 1,00,000 songs in 14 languages.

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1975, Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2017.

(Source: TNM)

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on Rohingya Muslims - here are 10 takeaways from her speech

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said the government is prepared to begin a verification process for those Rohingya Muslims who wish to return. Since August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have reportedly fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday addressed the Rohingya crisis, saying her government was prepared to begin a verification process for those who wish to return to the country.

Suu Kyi, who skipped the on-going UN General Assembly session in New York, delivered a State of the Union address in English on live television. Since August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have reportedly fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 19, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

Meanwhile, the Indian government told the Supreme Court on Monday that there are approximately 40,000 illegal immigrants in the country.

Here are the top quotes from Aung San Suu Kyi’s address:
Our government has not yet been in power for even 18 months; we will complete 18 months at the end of the year. It is too short a time to expect us to meet and overcome all the challenges that we are expected to do. This does not mean we are not ready to overcome the challenges.

I am aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in the Rakhine state. Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny. We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities.

We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict. Those who have had to flee their homes are many, not just Muslims and Rakhines, but also small minority groups. The government is working to restore the situation to normalcy.

Since September 5, there have been no armed clashes and no clearance operations. We are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh. We want to find out why the exodus is happening. We would like to talk to those who have fled, and those who have stayed — more than 50 per cent of villages of Muslims are intact and are as they were before the attacks took place.

The government is working hard to enhance existing relations with Bangladesh. We hope to take forward the arrangements with regard to the security at the border, which we are trying to implement together.

Myanmar is prepared to start the verification process of refugees who wish to return. Those who have been verified as refugees will be accepted without any problems and with full assurance of security and access to humanitarian aid.

There are allegations and counter-allegations. Action will be taken against all people, regardless of religion, race, political affiliation who go against the laws of the land and violate human rights as accepted by the international community. Our government has emerged as a body committed to the defence of human rights.

Myanmar wants peace rather than war, harmony rather than conflict. The government wants to put an end to the suffering to our people as quickly as possible. We don’t want Myanmar to be divided on the basis of religious beliefs or ethinicities or political ideology. We have the right to our diverse identities.

We invite our friends who understand and sympathise with our aspirations and problems to join us to find new paths and answers towards peace, stability and harmony.
We would like to make our country a nation within whose border everybody can live in security and in prosperity.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Cyclist Mark Beaumont breaks around the world record

Mark Beaumont has broken the world record for cycling around the world - by 44 days.

The 34-year-old, from Perthshire, arrived in Paris one day ahead of schedule having cycled the 18,000-mile route in 79 days.

He set a new world record of 194 days in 2008. Since then it has been broken by other riders, with the previous record set at 123 days.

To achieve his goal, Mark needed to cycle an average 240 miles a day.

He was on his bike for more than 16 hours a day and only slept for five hours each night.

Inspired by Jules Verne's classic adventure novel Around The World In Eighty Days, he began his journey in Paris on 2 July and cycled through Europe, Russia, Mongolia and China.

He then cycled across Australia, up through New Zealand and across North America before the final "sprint finish" thorough Portugal, Spain and France.

During the trip, Mark was also awarded the Guinness World Records title for the most miles cycled in a month, from Paris to Perth in Australia, verified at 7,031 miles (11,315km).

On completing the expedition, the Edinburgh-based cyclist, said: "This has been, without doubt, the most punishing challenge I have ever put my body and mind through. The physical and mental stamina required for each day was a challenge in itself, but I had an amazing support team around me.

"The success of cycling around the world in 80 days shows that what seemed impossible is possible and has redefined the limits of endurance sport.

"Each stage brought different challenges including different climates, which I had to adjust to quickly. Stage one through Russia and Mongolia was unknown territory, so to complete this phase and come out with a second Guinness World Records title is a real achievement."

Mark Beaumont on the last leg of his journey
He added: "I am very grateful for the support I've received from people all over the world, from fellow cyclists joining me on the road to messages and wishes online.

"The experience has been incredible, and I'm excited to share this journey for years to come."

During the trip the cyclist was exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the southern hemisphere and smog from forest fires in North America.

He had two falls - one of them in Russia requiring emergency dental treatment from his back-up team - but otherwise everything went to plan.

He said: "Ultimately, the magic ingredient that you need to be able to do something like this is grit, just the ability to suffer.

"Physically, of course, I'm incredibly sore but what you learn very quickly is there's a big difference between hurting and being injured. I'm not injured, although it will take time for the body to recover.

"For one thing, I think I'd struggle to walk up and down a flight of steps at the moment because I've not really walked since 2 July."

A crowd of well-wishers was waiting for the cyclist as he pedalled up to the Arc de Triomphe, completing the 240 miles of this last leg.

Mark began long-distance cycling at the age of 12 when he rode 145 miles across Scotland.

He was supported by a team including a mechanic, nutritionist, physiotherapist and manager.

The adventurer is raising funds for Orkidstudio, which works to benefit communities worldwide through innovative architecture and construction.

Five amazing facts about Mark Beaumont's 80-day challenge:

  • Mark Beaumont has been cycling across the world. He's travelled over 17,000 miles, riding for 16 hours a day, functioning on around five hours of sleep each night. He is on his way to smashing his around-the-world-in-80-days target. Here are some amazing facts about his attempt.

  • It's not all been by bike and it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Mark has taken four flights, been a passenger on a ferry and had two crashes while travelling across four continents.

  • There is a big team behind Mark and they've had to deal with some pretty unusual things. They've been involved in a car crash and had to dig themselves out of sand after getting stuck in it. They even had to try their hand at dentistry after Mark cracked his tooth when he crashed.

  • The route is always changing. When the team plot the journey on a map, they don't know how good or busy the roads are, so the route has to change to make sure that Mark does not have to ride alongside big lorries or on really busy roads. He has to cover 18,000 miles over the course of the whole journey in order for the record to count.

  • Wind is a tool and the weather is very important. If Mark is riding against the wind it slows him down a lot, but if he has a good tail wind it can help to carry him a bit so he rides faster.

  • He's not done it all on his own. At times it's been a really sociable event. Even his friends from his first journey ten years ago have met him at certain points along the way. Mark looks set to smash the current world record and may even beat his own target of 80 days and get to Paris a day earlier than planned.

(Source: BBC)

What the world’s emptiest international airport says about China’s influence

An airport in Sri Lanka is designed to handle a million passengers per year. It currently receives about a dozen passengers per day, writes Brook Larmer on the NYT. Read on: 

The four-lane highway leading out of the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota gets so little traffic that it sometimes attracts more wild elephants than automobiles. The pachyderms are intelligent — they seem to use the road as a jungle shortcut — but not intelligent enough, alas, to appreciate the pun their course embodies: It links together a series of white elephants, i.e. boondoggles, built and financed by the Chinese. Beyond the lonely highway itself, there is a 35,000-seat cricket stadium, an almost vacant $1.5 billion deepwater port and, 16 miles inland, a $209 million jewel known as “the world’s emptiest international airport.”

Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, the second-largest in Sri Lanka, is designed to handle a million passengers per year. It currently receives about a dozen passengers per day. Business is so slow that the airport has made more money from renting out the unused cargo terminals for rice storage than from flight-related activities. In one burst of activity last year, 350 security personnel armed with firecrackers were deployed to scare off wild animals, the airport’s most common visitors.

Projects like Mattala are not driven by local economic needs but by remote stratagems. When Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war ended in 2009, the president at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa, fixated on the idea of turning his poor home district into a world-class business and tourism hub to help its moribund economy. China, with a dream of its own, was happy to oblige. Hambantota sits in a very strategic location, just a few miles north of the vital Indian Ocean shipping lane over which more than 80 percent of China’s imported oil travels. A port added luster to the “string of pearls” that China was starting to assemble all along the so-called Maritime Silk Road.

Sadly, no travelers came, only the bills. The Mattala airport has annual revenues of roughly $300,000, but now it must repay China $23.6 million a year for the next eight years, according to Sri Lanka’s Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry. Over all, around 90 percent of the country’s revenues goes to servicing debt. Even a new president who took office in 2015 on a promise to curb Chinese influence succumbed to financial reality.

To relieve its debt crisis, Sri Lanka has put its white elephants up for sale. In late July, the government agreed to give China control of the deepwater port — a 70 percent equity stake over 99 years — in exchange for writing off $1.1 billion of the island’s debt. (China has promised to invest another $600 million to make the port commercially viable.) When the preliminary deal was first floated in January, protests erupted in response to the perceived sell-off of national sovereignty, a reminder of Sri Lanka’s colonial past under British rule. “We always thought China’s investments would help our economy,” says Amantha Perera, a Sri Lankan journalist and university researcher. “But now there’s a sense that we’ve been maneuvered into selling some of the family jewels.”

As the United States beats a haphazard retreat from the world — nixing trade agreements, eschewing diplomacy, antagonizing allies — China marches on with its unabashedly ambitious global-expansion program known as One Belt, One Road. The branding is awkward: “Belt” refers to the land-bound trading route through Central Asia and Europe, while “Road,” confusingly, stands for the maritime route stretching from Southeast Asia across the Indian Ocean to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Still, the intentions are clear: With a lending and acquisitions blitz extending to 68 countries (and counting), OBOR seeks to create the ports, roads and rail and telecommunications links for a modern-day Silk Road — with all paths leading to China.

This is China’s long game. It’s not about immediate profits; infrastructure projects are a bad way to make money. So why is President Xi Jinping fast-tracking OBOR projects amid an economic slowdown at home and a crackdown on other overseas acquisitions? Economics is a big part: China wants to secure access to key resources, export its idle industrial capacity, even tilt the world order in its favor. But there is also a far greater cultural ambition. For centuries, Western liberalism has ruled the world. The Chinese believe their time has come. “China sees itself as a great civilization that needs to regain its status as leader of the world,” says Kadira Pethiyagoda, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Doha Center. “And America’s retreat gives China the space to do that.”

It’s tempting to see OBOR as a muscled-up Marshall Plan, the American-led program that helped rebuild Western Europe after World War II. OBOR, too, is designed to build vital infrastructure, spread prosperity and drive global development. Yet little of what China offers is aid or even low-interest lending. Much OBOR financing comes in the form of market-rate loans that weaker countries are eager to receive — but may struggle to repay. Even when the projects are well suited for the local economy, the result can look a bit like a shell game: Things are built, money goes to Chinese companies and the country is saddled with more debt. What happens when, as is often the case, infrastructure projects are driven more by geopolitical ambition or the need to give China’s state-owned companies something to do? Well, Sri Lanka has an empty airport for sale.

Sri Lanka may be a harbinger for debt crises to come. Many other OBOR countries have taken on huge Chinese loans that could prove difficult to repay. For example, Chinese banks, according to The Financial Times, recently lent Pakistan $1.2 billion to stave off a currency crisis — even as they pledged $57 billion more to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “The projects China proposes are so big and appealing and revolutionary that many small countries can’t resist,” says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “They take on loans like it’s a drug addiction and then get trapped in debt servitude. It’s clearly part of China’s geostrategic vision.”

This charge conjures the specter of colonialism, when the British and Dutch weaponized debt to take control of nations’ strategic assets. China insists it is nothing like a colonial power. Its appeal to developing countries, after all, is often based on a shared negative experience of colonialism — and the desire to have cooperative “win-win” trade and investment relationships. Unlike Western countries and institutions that try to influence how developing countries govern themselves, China says it espouses the principle of noninterference. If local partners benefit from a new road or port, the Chinese suggest, shouldn’t they be able to “win,” too — by securing its main trade routes, building loyal partnerships and enhancing its global prestige?

The last time China was a global power, back in the early 1400s, it also sought to amplify its glory and might along the Maritime Silk Road, through the epic voyages of Zheng He. A towering Ming dynasty eunuch — in some accounts he stands seven feet tall — Zheng He commanded seven expeditions from Asia to the Middle East and Africa. When he came ashore on Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) around 1406, his fleet commanded shock and awe: It was a floating city of more than 300 ships and some 30,000 sailors. Besides seeking tributes and trade — the ships were laden with silk, gold and porcelain — his mission was to enhance China’s status as the greatest civilization on earth.

After Zheng He’s death at sea in 1433, China turned inward for the next six centuries. Now, as the country has become a global power once again, Communist Party leaders have revived the legend of Zheng He to show China’s peaceful intentions and its historical connections to the region. His goal, they say, was not to conquer — unlike Western empires — but to establish friendly trade and diplomatic relations. In Sri Lanka today, Chinese tour groups often traipse through a Colombo museum to see the trilingual stone tablet the admiral brought here — proof, it seems, that China respected all peoples and religions. No mention is made of a less savory aspect of Zheng He’s dealings in Ceylon. On a later expedition, around 1411, his troops became embroiled in a war. Zheng He prevailed and took the local king back to China as a prisoner.

The unsanitized version of Zheng He’s story may contain a lesson for present-day China about unintended consequences. Pushing countries deeper into debt, even inadvertently, may give China leverage in the short run, but it risks losing the good will essential to OBOR’s long-term success. For all the big projects China is engaged in around the world — high-speed rail in Laos, a military base in Djibouti, highways in Kenya — arguably its most perilous step so far may be taking control of the foundering Hambantota port. “It’s folly to take equity stakes,” says Joshua Eisenman, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “China will have to become further entwined in local politics. And what happens if the country decides to deny a permit or throw them out. Do they retreat? Do they protect?” China promotes itself as a new, gentler kind of power, but it’s worth remembering that dredging deepwater ports and laying down railroad ties to secure new trade routes — and then having to defend them from angry locals — was precisely how Britain started down the slippery slope to empire.