‘The Assault on Mumbai’ by Tariq Ali for Counterpunch, November 27, 2008
The terrorist assault on Mumbai’s five-star hotels was well planned, but did not require a great deal of logistic intelligence: all the targets were soft. The aim was to create mayhem by shining the spotlight on India and its problems and in that the terrorists were successful. The identity of the black-hooded group remains a mystery.
The Deccan Mujahedeen, which claimed the outrage in an e-mail press release, is certainly a new name probably chosen for this single act. But speculation is rife. A senior Indian naval officer has claimed that the attackers (who arrived in a ship, the M V Alpha) were linked to Somali pirates, implying that this was a revenge attack for the Indian Navy’s successful if bloody action against pirates in the Arabian Gulf that led to heavy casualties some weeks ago.
The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has insisted that the terrorists were based outside the country. The Indian media has echoed this line of argument with Pakistan (via the Lashkar-e-Taiba) and al-Qaeda listed as the usual suspects.
But this is a meditated edifice of official India’s political imagination. Its function is to deny that the terrorists could be a homegrown variety, a product of the radicalization of young Indian Muslims who have finally given up on the indigenous political system. To accept this view would imply that the country’s political physicians need to heal themselves. read more
‘Mystic River’, a review by Tariq Ali of Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture and Identity for The Nation, November 17, 2005
The sage of Bengal has pronounced. Pluralism, we are informed, has an ancient pedigree in Indian history. It is embedded in the oldest known texts of Hinduism and, like a river, has flowed through Indian history (including the Mughal period, when the country was under Muslim rule) till the arrival of the British in the eighteenth century. It is this cultural heritage, ignored and misinterpreted by colonialists and religious fanatics alike, that shapes Indian culture and goes a long way toward explaining the attachment of all social classes to modern democracy. The argumentative tradition “has helped to make heterodoxy the natural state of affairs in India,” exerting a profound influence on the country’s politics, democracy and “the emergence of its secular priorities.” This view informs most of the thought-provoking essays in Amartya Sen’s new book, a set of reflections on India written in a very different register from his other books on moral philosophy and poverty. It is designed not so much for the academy but as a public intervention in the country of his birth, to which he remains firmly attached despite the Nobel Prize and his latest posting at Harvard as a Boston Brahman. read more
Published by Picador, 2005
The Nehrus are a dynasty without precedent in the modern world; nowhere else and at no other time in recent history has a single family wielded such enduring and pervasive power over the country—and the electorate—they serve. From Jawaharlal Nehru to his daughter, Indira Gandhi, and from there, via Sanjay and Rajiv to—most recently—Sonia, this remarkable family have consistently established both the parameters and rhetoric of India’s political development.
In the eighties, Tariq Ali made several trips to India, meeting a wide range of political and public figures, including Mrs Gandhi, and leaders of both the Congress and Opposition parties. The Nehrus and the Gandhis, first published in 1985, was the result. Now updated to include the most recent chapters in India’s political history, it remains as relevant as ever, offering an intricate and revealing portrait of power, seen through the continued rise—and eyes—of one family.
‘Enemies of Hindutva’ by Tariq Ali for The London Review of Books, July 8, 2004
The pundits say that the Indian electorate does not cast votes, but votes castes. This is generally true but at key moments in its postcolonial history, the citizens of the world’s largest democracy—India’s population is just over a billion—have acted to punish the ruling elites. It is the subaltern’s revenge, unpredictable and unpredicted. Almost every Indian pollster forecast another BJP triumph before the election results were announced in May. Few believed that the Italian-born head of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty could lead the Congress-dominated alliance to victory. In the 1990s, threatened by a possible challenge from Mario Cuomo, the governor of New York, Bill Clinton declared that the American people would never elect a president whose surname ended with an ‘o’. In India, the BJP ideologues thought the electorate wouldn’t accept an Italian woman. Many others agreed. Several months ago, on a flight to New York, I met someone I had not seen for twenty years. A twig from a minor branch of the old Indian nobility, she said: ‘It’s a national disgrace that the Congress is being run by an Italian au pair.’ I pointed out that since an Englishman had founded the party, the transition to an Italian could be seen as progress and that Sonia Gandhi was surely preferable to the scoundrels in saffron. Conversation dried up. Her liberal days were long over and she was now sympathetic to the BJP: they were the saviours of India. read more