Thursday, 22 December 2016

Review: An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India

An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a well researched book that covers all the aspects of the argument against British Raj. There are not only nationalistic arguments, but points against social, cultural, moral, technological, political and utilitarian theories that seek to support the British rule.

Shashi tharoor makes no bones about calling out the people who say that British provided us with democracy, and those who say that they were better rulers because of their liberalism. There are some great data and writing that sum up how British imperialism maimed India badly.

The pages about famine and War efforts make for some really grim reading and out to shut anyone up who plays the utilitarian card. This might very well be Shashi tharoor's first classic.

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Thursday, 1 December 2016

A world without Fidel

A world without Fidel

Maruthan

Fidel won't be able to read the thousands of tributes and eulogies that are being written from all over the world. But he has read many eulogies written for him. He has amused himself over the failure of numerous attempts on his life by the world's prime super power, smiling over a cigar on that tiny island. We do not know if he ever saw the viral video 'Castro's last Journey?!' that was released in 2011. But he smiled saying that he has seen news about his own death on the TV and read about it on Twitter.

From Eisenhower who broke off diplomatic relations with Cuba to Barack Obama who tried to renew the relations, Castro has seen 11 US presidents, and opposed them consistently. Just as he looms into our view as one of the greatest personalities of this century, Fidel Castro also remains the most abused and hated "dictator" for many. His death on 25th of November, 2016 has created a vacuum not only for those who admired him, but also to his haters. The ode by Engels in Marx's grave can be slightly modified for Castro, too. "A great leader has ceased his crusade for equality."

After José Martí who fought for the freedom of Cuba, Fidel has been the only leader to rise from Latin America. "Not only in Cuba, in the entire South America, there is no leader who had created a deep impact like Fidel," says The New York Times. It is of the determining moments in this century that a man from a small island with a population of just 11 million, Fidel has risen to become one of the most popular leaders. Starting with Cuba, Fidel has inevitably modified all of Latin America, North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, and the entire globe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the heart of millions of Leftists shifted to Cuba and started beating from there.

Having become used to doing everything properly, Fidel bid farewell to his people, his partymen and the revolutionary nation at the 7th Cuban communist party Conference that took place in April 2016. The thin old man in his blue tracksuit was shaking. When he spoke, his voice too showed the ravages of age. "I will soon become like all others. Everyone has to meet his end," he said. Before finishing his speech, he made a forceful statement, "But Cuban Communism will definitely live after me."

When Castro met his people after the success of revolution on Jan 8, 1959, he was 32 years old. The regime of Fulgencio Batista, who ruled with the blessings of America, was brought to an end by Fidel Castro. With that, he brought an end to the foreign dominance in Cuba. Intending to create a revolutionary government in it's place, Fidel Castro gave a long speech. With joy and hope gushing, people who couldn't see Castro even after midnight shone bright lights on him. After the speech, pigeons were released to signify that peace had returned. When the one of the flapping pigeons flew and rested on Fidel's shoulders, thousands emotionally chanted "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!"

Even after five years, Cubans shouted with the same enthusiasm whenever they saw him. When Fidel multiplied the light that was shone on him by his people and reflected it back to his people, Cuba slowly crawled out of the darkness to a bright day. Those who remembered Batista's rule remembered clearly saw what revolution had managed to achieve. The fundamental rights of the people will no longer be suspended. There will no longer be deaths of children due to malnourishment. There will no longer be unemployment and illiteracy. You cannot see children begging on the streets. No more racism. There was no place for extreme poverty or extreme wealth in Castro's Cuba.

The Cubans had known known that this Cuba was definitely possible. That does mean that all their needs would be suddenly fulfilled. This is not an angel story (fairy tale?) to say, "Castro came, and people lived happily ever after." In the midst of hard struggles and opposition, he managed to pull this off. Those who were weakened and angered by the revolution began to oppose the beneficiaries of the revolution. Class struggle sharpened. Castro parceled off the American leeches that were sucking the lifeblood of Cuba. Each returned as a thousand-limbed octopus. Slashing with his sword with one hand, he covered and protected Cuba with the other one.

All things said, shouldn't a man who ruled for half a century, a man who held power longest after the second Elizabeth, called a dictator? Castro has answered this question himself. " I don't know how people call me a dictator and George Bush a democrat. I do not take decisions by myself. I never put myself above the law. But Bush has taken worst decisions without involving anyone else. Even the Roman emperors did not wield power the US presidents do. People like Bush wage wars whenever they wish. I cannot do that. We always discuss things, research them. We take decisions collectively. Not just ministers and ambassadors, I don't even appoint the entry level government servants. Am I the dictator?"

That he never amassed wealth using his power is accepted even by his detractors. Spanish writer Ignacio Ramonet, who spent more than a hundred hours talking with Fidel and compiled his biography, says there are no Cuban coins with Fidel's face, no gigantic statues of him in Cuba. From afternoon, the conversations will extend to evenings and continue well into the nights. Sometimes, at 2 in the morning, he will rush out saying, "Please excuse me, I have an important official meeting," much to the amusement of Ramonet. Ignacio has seen 30 year old assistants sleeping on their feet, while the 80 year Fidel would run.

One of the troubles for those who went to interview Fidel was that you would always get more questions than answers from him. For example, a French journalist was asked incessantly about his country's climate, agriculture, cattle, education, industry policy, literature, and folklore. He will be amazed by those who could't give him this information. "Forgive me, I asked all these because you are journalists. It is fine, but don't you have to know these basic things?" Fidel would ask.

But Castro had to know everything. Just as he would spend hours discussing America's economic sanctions against Cuba, he'd spend just as much time discussing Cuba's Sugarcane cultivation, the uniforms for school children, and about ancient literature, with the experts in these areas. When asked how he was able to be so enthusiastic about things, Fidel answered, "Books". The accounts of his friends who had seen Fidel's reading habits are awe inspiring. "There is no telling what was important to Fidel and what was not," his friends say. His comrades would decide that a book on hen rearing was no use for Fidel. But when he encountered a discussion on hen rearing in some report, Fidel would send for that book immediately. Wanting to know few things about tropical farming, Fidel consumed nearly 100 books.

His voracious reading was one of the reasons for Castro brushing off America, which was so close in distance to Cuba, and taking up distant Soviet Union's socialism. He did not directly plant Soviet's socialism in Cuba and let it fester. He shaped it in exclusive ways to suit the ambiance of Cuba and introduced it in small measured steps. Even though he had learnt from Marx to Mao, Castro was the reason Cuban socialism had some unique features.

In fact, his plan was not to introduce changes in Cuba. Cuba was an excuse. Even Latin America was not his goal. Like his comrade Che Guevara, he dreamed for the entire world. Starting with Nelson Mandela, Nehru, Ho Chi Minh, Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar cabral, Allende to all the people who had fought for freedom, equality, and social justice were joined by Castro for the this very dream he had about the world. Wherever suppression of people took place, in whatever form, Castro's majestic voice thundered against it. Fidel Castro proved that Socialism was not a paper tiger and proved it both in action and words. He rose above nations, languages, races and proved to be the friend of global proletariat. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, Bolivia's Evo morales are sparks of this fire that gave rise to brightness.

It also made him the prime enemy of the United States. Cuban revolution forced America to give up it's influence over Latin America. Castro didn't stop there. He gave Moral crises to America too. When African Americans in the US were fighting for the civil rights, he gave equal rights to those in Cuba and became the first Cuban leader to give recognition to the struggles of the African american people as a white leader. When he went to the US to attend the UN summit, in September 1960, he stayed at the slums of African Americans in Harlem and caused awkwardness to the white American government.

America, which had uprooted huge Banyans, wanted to break off this small thorn in its side. America's economic war against Cuba started in 1960 against the UN's protests. The US tried to kill Castro 600 times. Several million dollars were spent on attempts to destabilize the government of Cuba. Cubans who disliked Castro and some extremist organisations helped America in this pursuit. At least a civil war with the help of CIA, they avowed. They made predictions about Castro's death and spread rumors about him having deadly diseases. Every year, a story popped up saying Fidel had died. They went as far as claiming that the pigeon which sat on Castro's shoulder in 1959 was a fake.

The reactions of Castro to all this prove to us that he was not some one who could be destroyed by death. He never allowed the formation of Anti-American groups in his country. He never planned to join hands with powers that opposed America and attack it with violence. He never joined such plans clandestinely either. He mourned in solidarity with the American people during the September 11 attacks. At the same time, he vehemently opposed the unjust war waged by George Bush. When the hurricane Katrina ripped through America, Cuba was one of the first countries to extend a helping hand. "My disagreement is with the American government, not American people", Castro was clear. That is what made Cuba possible.

And because of lack of clarity, America has stayed America all this time. "The tyrant Castro is dead", tweeted Donald trump. He has claimed that now Castro is dead, "New hope dawns. We will stand with the oppressed Cuban people for a free and democratic Cuba. ", he has waxed eloquent. In reality, not just Trump, none of us have to worry about the future of Cuba. After the retirement of Castro in 2008, his 85 year old brother Raul Castro has taken up the responsibility of Cuba. "I am not afraid for Cuba. The third and fourth generation people are more three or four times more intelligent and knowledgeable than us belonging to the first generation. I believe in them", says Castro.

You don't have to worry about the failure of Cuban revolution either, says Castro. "Revolution won't lose by itself. But we can defeat it, with our mistakes and faults. We do not claim to be people with no mistakes. Ours is an experiment. Anyone can copy this experiment. We do not have a patent on it.", says Castro.

When compared to Trump who says he will build a wall along the Mexico border, will deport the Muslims and illegal immigrants, Cuba is a minuscule country. Even then, Castro says he wants to share. "We are ready to help. We want to help third world countries in educating their people. We want to assist in many other areas. We want to make huge leaps on every front". There is no better way to differentiate between a dictator and a democrat than this.

We are stepping into a world without Fidel Castro. Time has come for us to overcome the sadness and grow our faith and fighting spirit. That is what Fidel will want from us. We should call the pigeon that flew off the shoulders of Castro back.

This is a crude translation of an article by Maruthan gangadharan from Ananda Vikatan. With help from Poo Ko Saravanan and Dharini B.

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