Connect with us


Carry on, Sidhu

The Kashmir Monitor





By Manini Chatterjee

Navjot Singh Sidhu has worn many hats. All of them, much like his turbans, have been bold, colourful and flamboyant. Few individuals in India have been quite as successful as Sidhu in turning themselves into an enduring brand. There are others, of course, with greater “brand value” — but they are usually successful movie stars, cricketing legends or mass political leaders.

Sidhu is different. He has straddled many a vocation and brought his inimitable style and irrepressible persona to bear upon them all. He first made his name in the cricketing field as a top order batsman in a career spanning nearly two decades. He captured the imagination of a cricket crazy nation with his sweeping boundaries and came to be called “Sixer Sidhu” by adoring fans.


But it was after he retired from the game that Sidhu gained a much bigger fan club — with his cricket commentary. Even those who seldom follow cricket were tickled by Sidhu’s steady stream of one-liners and no-holds-barred digs that soon came to be known as “Sidhuisms”. A sports channel even launched a website,, and invited fans to choose the best Sidhu one-liner of the day.

From commentary to full-fledged comedy was a short route. Taking advantage of the explosion of television channels, websites and social media, Sidhu became an entertainer par excellence. He participated in the reality TV show Bigg Boss, was a judge on the popular The Great Indian Laughter Challenge show, and became a permanent guest on the even more popular Comedy Nights with Kapil.

His ubiquitous presence on the small screen and his gift of the gab soon led him to the biggest mass platform of them all: electoral politics. In 2004, he contested the Lok Sabha elections from Amritsar on a Bharatiya Janata Party ticket and won with ease. He was forced to vacate the seat after being convicted for a road rage incident that had resulted in a death. When the Supreme Court suspended the sentence, Sidhu won the Amritsar seat again in a by-election. In 2009, he retained Amritsar but had to give up the seat five years later when the BJP chose to field Arun Jaitley instead. Sidhu did not publicly protest the decision but made it clear that he would not contest any seat but Amritsar.

In April 2016, the BJP nominated Sidhu to the Rajya Sabha but he quit the House and the party within months. He went on to join the Congress in January 2017, won the Amritsar East assembly seat soon after and was sworn in as minister for local government, tourism, cultural affairs and museums in the Captain Amarinder Singh-led Punjab cabinet.

Ministerial responsibility has not subdued Sidhu’s ebullience one bit. He is still active as a celebrity-speaker at mass rallies and talk shows alike. Not given to modesty, Sidhu describes himself on his official Twitter handle, @sherryontopp, as “Master of All Trades, jack of none, All-in-One; Proud Indian; Cabinet Minister, Punjab; four-time MP; Cricketer; Commentator; Motivational Speaker & TV Personality”.

But this long list of attributes misses out Sidhu’s latest and most significant avatar: an unabashed champion of peace and brotherhood with Pakistan.

It is easy for critics to dismiss Sidhu as just a comedian who can extract easy laughs by playing to the gallery with his over-the-top witticisms. But in recent months, Sidhu has shown that beneath his cultivated levity lies a generosity of spirit and courage of convictions that has become almost extinct in India’s public life.

This was first evident when Sidhu accepted the invitation to attend the swearing-in of Pakistan’s newly elected prime minister, Imran Khan. His party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, invited only three Indians for the occasion whom they described as “cricket legends from India and Kaptaan’s old friends” (Kaptaan being a reference to Imran Khan from his days as the Pakistan cricket team skipper). The three invitees were Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev and Sidhu.

Given the shrill jingoism that has overtaken India’s public discourse over the last few years, any engagement with Pakistan is pilloried as an act of treachery. Afraid, perhaps, of the troll army that would be unleashed upon them and also to keep on the right side of the powers that be, both Gavaskar and Kapil Dev declined the invitation.

Gavaskar cited “commentary commitments” to duck the invite. Kapil Dev, who initially said he would be more than happy to attend the swearing in, suddenly found “personal reasons” not to do so.

But Sidhu, the only one among them in active politics, did not let career considerations come in the way of an old friendship. That visit generated a huge amount of controversy, especially after Sidhu was caught by the cameras exchanging a hug with Pakistan’s chief of army staff, General Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Back home in India, Sidhu received flak not just from the BJP but also from his immediate boss, Amarinder Singh, for embracing “the enemy”.

An unfazed Sidhu, with typical chutzpah, said, “It was a second-long hug, not a Rafale deal. It’s very common in Punjab. When two Punjabis meet, if they want to express gratitude, they hug each other emotionally. It is a way to show warmth and affection.”

Explaining why he was grateful, Sidhu said the Pakistan army chief had assured him of fulfilling a long pending demand of the Sikh community in Punjab — opening the Kartarpur corridor before Guru Nanak’s 550th birth anniversary next year.

His critics dismissed that claim as just another Sidhuism till Pakistan actually decided to deliver on the promise. For more than two decades, Sikhs have been demanding a three-kilometre long fenced corridor across the India-Pakistan border connecting Dera Baba Nanak in Gurdaspur district with Darbar Sahib gurdwara in Kartarpur where Guru Nanak, the founder of the Sikh faith, spent the last 18 years of his life and breathed his last.

The Narendra Modi-led government, keen to deny Sidhu any credit, now claims that the issue of the corridor had been periodically taken up with Pakistan. But as recently as May 2017, a parliamentary standing committee had ruled out its construction in light of the strained relations between the two neighbours.

The truth is that it was only after Imran Khan assumed power that the Pakistani establishment decided to speed up the issue. Sidhu has reasons to take some credit for the decision too.

It was only natural, therefore, for Sidhu to accept the invitation from Pakistan for the ground-breaking ceremony at Kartarpur on November 28 where Imran Khan laid the foundation stone for the corridor on the Pakistani side of the border.

The Punjab chief minister declined Pakistan’s invitation and gave enough indication that he was not happy that Sidhu had decided to attend, albeit in his “personal capacity”. India’s foreign minister, Sushma Swaraj, also refused the invite, and the government sent two Union ministers instead. But it was Sidhu who stole the show.

And Sidhu did so not because of any clever one-liner but because of his heartfelt and heart-warming paean to the imperative of peace and goodwill between India and Pakistan. Describing Kartarpur as a “corridor of infinite possibilities”, Sidhu heaped praises on Imran Khan for ending a 71-year-long wait, and held out hope that the corridor was only the first step in building a lasting friendship.

Imran Khan painted an equally hopeful picture — underlining that good intentions and determination could resolve all differences since war between two nuclear armed neighbours was an impossible option. “If man can walk on the moon, what problems are there that we cannot resolve — if we are determined to?” he asked.

India, on its part, made it clear that the Kartarpur moment was no breakthrough and repeated the tired line that talks and terror cannot go hand in hand. But if New Delhi can maintain diplomatic ties with Islamabad despite its alleged State-backed terror attacks, this resolute refusal to hold talks and spurn every overture by Imran Khan appears to neutral observers as peevish and petulant.

Perhaps that is why Sidhu’s words in Pakistan came across as both gutsy and sincere. “We hope we don’t have to wait till Sidhu becomes PM before peace talks can happen,” joked Imran Khan.

On this side of the border, all of us who believe that peace with our western neighbour is essential for India’s own prosperity and well-being, can only hope that the Indian establishment will see sense in leveraging Sidhu’s enormous popularity there and use him as a permanent human bridge to reach out to Pakistan…

The Kashmir Monitor is the fastest growing newspaper as well as digitial platform covering news from all angles.



A prayer for our times

The Kashmir Monitor



By Rajeev Bhargava

As all of us ordinary citizens recovered from the carnage in Pulwama, and wondered how the government would respond to this latest instance of cross-border terrorism, one television channel showed us poignant images of grieving relatives of the fallen soldiers. While a few, driven by moral hatred for the perpetrators, were understandably crying for revenge, others, even at this moment of utmost suffering, spoke of the futility of retaliation. “It would only bring similar suffering to fellow humans,” said one widow from the rural hinterland. Hers was a cry for peace, not for vengeful violence. “War can only be the last resort, after everything else has failed,” she wisely counselled.

Yes, war is sometimes necessary, especially in self-defence. But one doesn’t have to be an unconditional pacifist to acknowledge the misfortunes it begets or to decry war mongering. Nor is readiness to go to war the only indicator of patriotism. True, patriots must be prepared to die in defence of their ‘patria’, their mother or fatherland. But one is not any less a patriot if one strives for everyone in his country living peacefully, happily, flourishing, leading life to its fullness. Fighting the daily challenges faced by their countrymen, seeking to improve their lot, always loving them and their habitat, and expressing this love in word or deed as the occasion demands is the everyday vocation of a patriot.


 A country at war is different. War is disruptive, and because it is lethal and involves human sacrifice, a patriot must eschew any bravado about it. This is particularly expected from contemporary leaders, patriots who never themselves go to war; quite unlike the past where the ruler who declared war was expected to always lead from the front on the battlefield. After all, it is our Army officers and jawans who die, not the ones who call for and support war. Our rulers move about with elaborate security to protect their own lives. If they don’t allow others to play with their lives, they must ensure that no one plays with the life of their countrymen, most of all our soldiers. Decisions on war must then be taken responsibly, without haste, not for spectacular effect or as tactical ploys in a game.

The inner workings of the human mind are mysterious, however. For it is not these thoughts that crossed my mind when I saw those moving images on television. This reasoning is retrospective; thoughts that have occurred to me now, post-facto. At that time, a strange melange of emotions — feelings of grief, despair, shame, nostalgia — curdled up and then suddenly, from nowhere, the lyrics of an immortal song by Sahir Ludhianvi, set to tune by Jaidev and sung melodiously by Lata Mangeshkar in the 1961 Dev Anand classic Hum Dono, came unbidden to mind: “Maangon ka sindoor na chhutey, maa behenon ki aas naa tootey (may no one be widowed; may no mother or sister lose hope of their loved one returning).”

In the film, these lines are part of a prayer for peace led by the wife and mother of a Major of the Indian Army missing in action — a prayer not only that their own loved one returns home safe but that no wife, mother or sister may lose loved ones in war. Death in war is an interruption, an anomaly. It takes away from us young, active, lively persons who have not yet lived their full life. When a soldier dies in the prime of life, he leaves many tasks unfinished, many relationships incomplete, millions of desires unfulfilled. And according to popular belief, when a person at the height of his powers meets a bloody, violent, untimely end, his prana or atman remains in limbo, trapped in no man’s land; it leaves the body without reaching wherever it is meant to go and keeps hovering around us. May this never happen to anyone, says the poet. “Deh bina bhatke na praan (may the spirit not abruptly detach from the body and wander restlessly).”

But this mellifluous song is more than a comforting prayer for peace. It subtly points fingers at those who injudiciously push us into war, at the economically strong and politically powerful who bring war upon us for their own benefit, to serve their own nefarious purpose. “O saare jag ke rakhawaale, nirbal ko bal dene waale, balwaanon ko de de gyaan (jnana) (you, who watch over the entire universe, you who empower the weak, may you also grant wisdom to the mighty).”

Jnana here refers not simply to knowledge, but to wisdom, moral insight, indeed to conscience. May the rulers rule with a conscience! May they be able to distinguish right conduct from wrong. Really, only such people should guide us when we are faced with the dilemma of whether or not to undertake morally retributive action.

And this is not all. The prayer then becomes a plea that we all be endowed with sanmati — to put our intelligence to good use, to have sound judgments, that all have a conscience. Why? Because unsound judgments, faulty moral reasoning and suspension of good sense are not the lot of leaders alone but also of those who support them and legitimise their actions. It is after all we, ordinary folks, who are swayed by war hysteria. Those without good sense get the leaders they deserve. May the gift of sanmati be bestowed on us. For only people with sanmati can rein in leaders who have lost all sense of good and bad, right and wrong.

But who is this prayer addressed to? “Allah tero naam, Ishwar tero naam (You, whose name is both Allah and Ishwar). In this, his masterstroke, Sahir invokes not only Gandhi, but an entire, centuries-old religio-philosophical legacy of the subcontinent in which all traditions are believed to share the same semantic universe that enables the god of one religion to be translated into the god of another. This is inclusive monotheism at its best, where god is one but referred to in different traditions by different names. And so, the prayer is addressed to Allah, Ishwar, and implicitly to the god of every religion.

With men spewing venom, not satisfied with fighting a war with their own fellow countrymen, itching to go to war with others, nothing (empathy, reason, dialogue) seems to work. Helpless spectators, no longer in control of their collective life, in sight of a looming disaster on the horizon, often break into a prayer. What else can those stripped of agency do but hope that somehow good sense may prevail, that all of us be delivered from the collective insanity that shows no sign of loosening its grip? Thus, those who believe in one god, invoke him; those who believe in gods and goddesses, invoke them; and those who believe in neither, hope for some good fortune to fall in their lap! This is why this is a prayer for our times: we offer this prayer to you, Allah to some, Ishwar to others, that you miraculously bring an end to needless killings, wisdom and conscience to the rich and powerful, and peace and good sense to everyone.

(Courtesy: The Hindu)

Continue Reading


The ‘Clash of Civilisations’ Thesis Stalks the World

The Kashmir Monitor



By Ram Puniyani

The horrific massacre in Christchurch on March 15 has shaken the world. The killer, Brenton Harrison Tarrant, is an Australian citizen. Nearly 50 people died in the attack in which Tarrant attacked two mosques. Those killed include nine from India.

Tarrant had fixed a camera on his head so as to live stream the massacre. The Christchurch terrorist was consumed by intense racism and hatred of Muslims. He posted a long statement online, a “manifesto” of “white nationalism” before undertaking the dastardly act.


New Zealand Prime Minster Jacinda Ardern, who at 38 years of age is among the youngest heads of government in the world, was the first to term the shootings an act of terrorism. Arden declared that the victims, many of whom may be migrants or refugees, “are us”, and the shooter “is not”. The overriding theme of the Prime Minister’s statements was that her country represents “diversity, compassion and refuge”.

The Pope in a touching speech said, “In these days, in addition to the pain of wars and conflicts that do not cease to afflict humanity, there have been the victims of the horrible attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand… I am close to our Muslim brothers and all that community… ”

As in India, the phobia of Islam and Muslims is founded on the narrow version of history. This phobia against Muslims around the world gained momentum after the 9/11 Twin Towers attack in New York.

This phobia has by now constructed its own History, selective and distorted, that centres around Muslim invaders and their alleged crimes in the medieval past. This History generates endless accusations. It singles out and exaggerates, holding a large and diverse group of people collectively responsible for these acts.

It is tragic that Tarrant’s hateful note is being supported by those who believe in this notion of politics and history. Again, taking revenge for the past is one of the dimensions of the agenda governing these ideologues: “To take revenge on the invaders for the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by foreign invaders in European lands throughout history.”

Again, the radicalisation of the likes of Tarrant is due to the rabid propaganda current in the Western media – and many places besides – where Muslims are constantly presented in a negative light. Many newspapers and media groups – owned by a few – like the Daily Mail in the UK and Fox News in the USA have taken the lead in spreading negative perceptions against Muslims.

Such propaganda, along with many anti-immigrant and xenophobic websites, is spreading hatred against Muslims which in turn is the foundation of the attacks on Muslims. Muslims are also being demonised in terms familiar from anti-Semitism, portraying them as less than trustworthy, lesser citizens and inferior humans or not humans at all.

Many such biases and myths are prevalent in India also. In the Western mode of propaganda Muslims are now being portrayed as people whose wearing of the hijab is sufficient proof that they are against the norms of the West – against the US Constitution, for example. Similarities with prevalent perceptions in India!

One recalls the Norwegian Christian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik at this point of time. In a carefully planned attack in 2011, Brevik killed 69 youth with a machine gun and other assault weapons. He also had issued a manifesto, in which he said his primary goal was to remove Muslims from Europe.

Breivik also called for cooperation between Jewish groups in Israel, Buddhists in China, and Hindu nationalist groups in India to contain Islam. He wrote, “It is essential that the European and Indian resistance movements learn from each other and cooperate as much as possible. Our goals are more or less identical.”

We must note, that there are strong parallels between Tarrant’s and Breivik’s manifestos and the ideology of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, on the question of the nature of Islam: Muslims and coexistence with Muslims. Much like rightwing parties in the European mainstream, the BJP in India does condemn the violence for name’s sake, but participates in spreading the underlying ideology which is based on Islam-phobia.

Worldwide, this despicable politics is in a way the outcome of the ‘clash of civilisations’ thesis propounded by Samuel Huntington. At the end of the Cold War, with the collapse of Soviet Russia, Francis Fukuyama stated that now Western liberal democracy would be the final form of political system.

Building on this, Huntington stated that now the primary conflict would be around civilisations and cultures. Nation-states would remain the most powerful actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics would occur between nations and groups belonging to different ‘civilisations’.

“The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.” As per this manifesto Western civilisation is faced with a challenge from backward Islamic civilisation, providing the basis for the American policy of attack on many Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, Iran among others.

To counter this thesis the United Nations undertook the initiative for an ‘Alliance of Civilisations’ when Kofi Annan was Secretary-General. The high-level committee he appointed gave a report which argues that all the progress in the world has been due to the alliances between different cultures and civilisations.

Today we are facing times where American politics of ‘control over oil wells’ led to the formations like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State. After the 9/11 attacks perpetrated by men whom the US government formerly supported and armed, the US media popularised the phrase ‘Islamic terrorism’. What we are witnessing today is the fallout of this policy, which was pursued simply to control oil wealth.

The Islam-Muslim phobia this generated, in the West and elsewhere, has led in due course to White Nationalism. Like other forms of majoritarianism and violence, this needs to be countered ideologically, by demonstrating the inherent tendency of alliance between diverse cultures found throughout human history in the world.

Continue Reading


The Sikh Empire’s Expedition to Balakot

The Kashmir Monitor



By Ananth Karthikeyan

A few weeks ago, the Indian Air Force’s Balakot air strike using French-built Mirage-2000s bought India and Pakistan to the brink of war, and perhaps changed the regional dynamics forever. Balakot has a history which has been a subject of much interest in the past few days: it was the site of the end of Syed Ahmad Barelvi’s jihad at the hands of the Sikh Empire. Today we look at this history and another curious fact – this was not the first time that French weaponry has been wielded against Islamist fanatics in this region.

Maharaja Ranjit Singh (r. 1801-1839) was aware of the superiority of Europeans in technology and modern methods of war. He sought to close this gap by importing talent and building an indigenous capability. Ranjit Singh welcomed experienced scientists, engineers, mercenaries and officers from European nations to ensure that his kingdom could withstand any threat. Besides, the Afghan kingdom, the Pathan tribes and jihadis were threatening his western borders. French know-how became a major element in the defence of his realm. After Napoleon lost in Waterloo (June 1815) thousands of French and allied European soldiers were dismissed: the governments of Europe, including the new government of France, distrusted those who served under Napoleon. A few settled into civilian life, but most could not: fighting was all they knew, and they did not wish to waste the skills they honed fighting in three continents. Many offered their services to Asian kings who wished to modernize their backward militaries.


At this juncture, Ranjit Singh accepted talented Napoleonic officers such as Jean-Francois Allard, Jean-Baptiste Ventura, Paolo Avitabile, and Claude Auguste Court into his service. Besides such officers, there were chemists, doctors, engineers and soldiers of American, German, Italian, Polish and Irish extraction also. Many foreigners were given plum roles in the Empire. Claude Auguste Court was a product of the Ecole Polytechnique in Paris and apparently knew the science of artillery. Paolo Avitabile also had considerable experience as an artillery officer. Court and Avitabile, along with the Sikh leader Lehna Singh Majithia (who possessed great skill in engineering), overhauled the Sikh artillery. They established the training program for the gunners. Court re-organized the artillery command structure and established arsenals and magazines on European lines. The existing weapon foundries and workshops (established by Ranjit Singh and Mian Qadir Baksh in 1807) were rebuilt with French know-how to manufacture a variety of high-quality guns and artillery. Ranjit Singh soon possessed a formidable artillery of about 500 pieces, including mobile horse-drawn artillery. Court was bestowed large cash awards and titles when he introduced his new shells, fuses and commenced full-scale production.

The meteoric rise of the Sikhs and the decline of the Muslim kingdoms of India had agitated many Islamic fundamentalists. The most influential of them was the popular preacher Syed Ahmed Barelvi, who hailed from present-day Rae Bareilly. In 1825, thousands of his followers from the Gangetic Plains took up his call for jihad against infidel powers and followed him to Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Barelvi’s Jihad was supported by many Afghan chiefs, who were usually suspicious of all outsiders. Barelvi was able to field nearly 100,000 Mujahideen and launched a five-year guerilla war against the Sikh Empire.

However, Barelvi’s orthodox interpretation of scriptures and stern disregard of Afghan tribal traditions soon led to many Afghans leaving his cause. Barelvi suffered a crushing defeat in a battle with the Sikhs near Nowshera in March 1827. Later some Afghan tribes turned on Barelvi and massacred hundreds of his followers in Peshawar in November 1830. Barelvi and his loyalists now decided to move out and try their luck in Kashmir. However, a Sikh army led by Sher Singh surrounded the Mujahideen at a mountain fort in Balakot and annihilated them in May 1831.

Ranjit Singh’s French guns and artillery were widely used in such battles in the turbulent North West frontier. Artillery and firearms which performed reliably enabled the Sikhs to prevail against great odds. Perhaps even more critical was the discipline instilled in the new infantry battalions by the European officers. Officers such as Ventura and Court also led campaigns into the North West frontier. However, after Ranjit Singh died, neither their weapons nor their courage could save the Sikhs from civil war and treachery. During this chaos, the surviving Europeans returned to their homelands. Soon the British defeated the Sikhs and the Afghans also took back some of their lands.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region is still turbulent, and weapons from many nations are still used here in the name of pacification, anti-terror and innumerable internal conflicts. History is repeating in strange ways and there are irony and dark humour in the shadow of the mushroom cloud. India’s French Mirages are the latest entrants in this theatre — let us hope it is not a destabilising element.


Continue Reading

Latest News

Subscribe to The Kashmir Monitor via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to The Kashmir Monitor and receive notifications of new stories by email.

Join 1,000,183 other subscribers


March 2019
« Feb