Archive for the ‘India’ category

The month-long 2014 Indian Elections allow ample time for background reading

4 April 2014

An estimated 800 million voters (including approximately 100 million new voters) are eligible to vote in the Indian General Elections for the 543 seats in India’s 16th Lok Sabha (The Lower House). They begin on 7 April 2014, in geographical segments, and will end on 12 May, with the (electronic) results from 930,000 polling booths to be announced on May 16.

The Indian media has been in full cry for many months, and the final weeks are bound to be hectic and even more raucous, but a cornucopia of recent books containing vital background information (especially for outsiders) is available for calmer perusal. Here are some of the principle publications.


Ramachandra Guha, India after Gandhi. The History of the World’s Largest Democracy.Picador India.

Edward Luce, In Spite of the Gods. The Strange Rise of Modern India. London, Abacus.(In the later US edition, ‘Strange’ is omitted.)


Christophe Jaffrelot, Religion, Caste and Politics in India, New Delhi. Primus Books. 2010. (See also this well-known French scholar’s India‘s Silent Revolution. The Rise of the Lower Castes in North India. Columbia University Press, New York 2003 – and other works.)


Ramachandra Guha, Patriots and Partisans. Penguin India.

Arvind Kejrival, Swaraj. [Self-Rule] HarperCollins. (This manifesto is also available in Hindi)

Aseem Shrivastava and Ashish Kothari, Churning the Earth. The Making of Global India, Delhi, Penguin India.

A critique of the serious environmental and human costs of India’s progress so far. (With a 100-page Part 2: ‘DAWN: There is an alternative’)


Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay, Narendra Modi. The Man, The Times. Chennai. Tranquebar Press. (The more or less authorised biography, which apparently ended up with Mukhopadhyay denied further access to Mr. Modi.)

M.V. Kamath and Kalindi Randeri, The Man of the Moment. Narendra Modi. Wide Canvas. Noida. Vikas.

(Note: Only on the publication data page (and on p. xi of their Preface) do the co-authors state that this is an ‘Enriched and Enlarged’ version of their book, first published by Rupa in 2009 as Narendra Modi. The Architect of a Modern State.)        

N.K.Singh and Nicholas Stern (eds.), The New Bihar. Rekindling Governance and Development. New Delhi, HarperCollins India.


Simon Denyer, Rogue Elephant. Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. London. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 978 1 4088 5705 2 [440 pp. hardback. Rs 600 in India] (See my previous detailed blog on this important study.)

John Elliott, Implosion. India’s Tryst with Reality. Noida. HarperCollins India. 2014.

This is an important contribution by an “old India hand” (since 1983) with expertise in business and economic affairs. It is based on his 2007- blog,

Elliott currently writes for Asia Sentinel and blogs on the UK Independent. (Contrasting his approach with Edward Luce’s much earlier work, he favours the idea of ‘Because of the Gods”, “in the broader sense of culture, customs, and habits” (p. viii), rather than Luce’s “In spite of the Gods” approach.

Andy Marino, Narendra Modi: A Political Biography. HarperCollins India.

Amit Sachdeva, The Rise of Arvind Kejrival. The Uprise of a Common Man against all the odds, Gurgaon, Liveweek Business.

Hasan Suroon, India’s Muslim Spring. Why is Nobody Talking about it? New Delhi, Rupa.

Suroon describes the current push by Muslim youth in India to establish a more secular and forward-looking Muslim identity. His aim is to fill the void of (non-academic) reporting on what he sees as a profound change in local Muslim thinking. He also warns that the Indian State must make a better attempt to recognise and encourage such change.

Sankarshan Thakur, Single Man. The Life and Times of Nitish Kumar of Bihar. New Delhi. HarperCollins.

Sudesh K. Verma, Narendra Modi: The Gamechanger. New Delhi. Vitasta.


On the sociological side, the following two works are of ancillary interest.


Wendy Doniger, On Hinduism, New Delhi, Aleph


Ira Trivedi, India in Love. Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century. New Delhi. Aleph. (This analysis is intended to track important changes in Indian society.)




A Useful Briefing on India as it Faces the 2014 General Election – by Simon Denyer

2 April 2014

The doyen of foreign correspondents in India was, and still is, (Sir) Mark Tully, of the BBC (and, subsequently, author of many independent books on India). Then came Trevor Fishlock of the London Times. More recently, we have been especially enlightened by Edward Luce (In Spite of the Gods (The Strange Rise of Modern India), 2007), William Dalrymple (on many aspects of India and Indian civilisation), and Patrick French (India. A Portrait, 2010).

Now, as a lengthy commentary on his two reporting stints in India during the past 10 years, comes a timely and thorough analysis of contemporary India by Simon Denyer, a Reuters and Washington Post correspondent and Bureau Chief. As well as a general background to contemporary India, Denyer offers very close coverage of the past three controversy-packed years of Indian politics and public debate.

Simon Denyer, Rogue Elephant. Harnessing the Power of India’s Unruly Democracy. London. Bloomsbury. 2014. ISBN 978 1 4088 5705 2 [440 pp. hardback. Rs 600 in India]

All of these serious India Watchers are of British origin. In their prolonged scrutiny of India and her people, they have dug much deeper than most other foreign writers and journalists in a search for the realities of this ancient and enigmatic country. A further advantage they appear to share is a practical knowledge of Hindi and the ability to engage with Indians in different walks of life (and often in out of the way places) which has given their reports more authenticity and value, especially for non-Indians. This is surely further proof that although English is the lingua franca of India, Hindi remains the language of power and politics.

For those foreigners wishing to be up to date on the situation in India and to know what is at stake on the eve of the crucial April-May 2014 general elections, which begin in a few days’ time, Denyer’s latest analyses of current issues and problems could prove to be a very useful guide. All the major headlined personalities of the hectic past three or four years in India are covered under Denyer’s wide umbrella:

Bedi, Kiran; Gandhi, Rahul; Gandhi, Sonia; Goswamy, Arnab; Hazare, Anna; Kejrival, Arvind; Kumar, Nitish; Modi, Narendra; Raja, Andimuthu; Ramdev, Swami; Singh, Manmohan; Vadra, Robert; Yadav, Lalu.

The publisher’s comments on the inside front cover are a fair and concise presentation of the book’s contents and an expansion of its eye-catching title. I quote it in toto:

“At the beginning of the twenty-first century, India seemed to stand on the brink of an exciting new era. Second only to China as the fastest growing major economy in the world, gleaming shopping malls were being built around the country to service a rapidly expanding middle class, and mobile phones were reaching even the remotest villages.

“The installation of Manmohan Singh as prime minister in 2004 seemed to promise more good times ahead. Singh had unleashed ‘shining’ India’s potential more than a decade before as finance minister, introducing the liberalising economic reforms that had set the country on a new course towards prosperity.

“Yet a decade later, the dream has crumbled. A series of corruption scandals has badly tarnished the nations image and undermined its self-confidence, while the economy has slowed and violence against women has dominated the headlines. The country is no longer ‘shining’ and Indians are left wondering where the magic has gone.

“Reporting from across India, meeting activists, farmers, bureaucrats, office workers and media figures, and interviewing influential political leaders including Narendra Modi, Rahul Gandhi and Arvind Kejriwal, Denyer exposes the battles taking place between powerful vested interests and those trying to foster change.

“By delving into many of the country’s most troublesome issues, from gender relations to education, from corruption to populist politics, Denyer analyses the Indian malaise and, equally important, discovers signs of new and vigorous life and a deep desire for change. If the world’s largest democracy can control the greed, corruption and bad governance that bedevil it, its future may indeed be dazzling.”

(As the balanced presentation of these 440 pages indicates, this appears to be a big IF.)

The chapters offered by Simon Denyer are listed below. The more explicit sub-headings (usually followed by a quotation) may be especially helpful for potential purchasers. (These sub-headings then become the page headers of the chapters.)

 Asking for It

Gang-rape provokes unprecedented outcry

2. Man out of Time

The silent fall of Manmohan Singh

(The author’s Washington Post article on this topic created quite a stir in India:

‘Indian Leader’s Legacy is Fading, 5 September 2012. See pages 41-45 of this chapter.)

3. Money (That’s what I want)

The battle to rid Indian democracy of criminality and corruption

4. It’s a family affair

How dynastic politics is stifling Indian democracy

5. Is there Something I should Know?

The Right to information returns power to Indian citizens

6. Headline Hustler

The twenty-four hour news television helps awaken a nation

7. This Land is your Land

Farmers stand up for their rights, and politicians look for answers

8. Get up, Stand up

India against Corruption galvanizes the middle class

9. How can you mend a broken heart?

The heart of India’s democracy, Parliament, is barely beating

10. Fight the Power

Arvind Kejriwal launches his political career in uncompromising fashion

11. Hard Times for an honest man

Whistleblowers under attack in India’s bureaucracy

12. Isolation

One woman’s lonely struggle to rein in the powers of the army in India’s remote northeast

13. I want to break free

India’s youthful aspirations threatened by a lack of skills and jobs

14. The Age of Information

Technology empowers India’s people to fight corruption, elect better leaders

15. I’m the Man

Narendra Modi offers himself as India’s saviour

Denyer offers a comprehensive and nuanced 29-page chapter on the man of the moment and the favourite to win the Prime Ministership. In spite of all that detail, the author adds two final personal comments on Modi’s candidacy:

“While Modi promises to cut through much of the tangled mess of governance and unshackle entrepreneurs, he threatens many of the things I love about India. I find Gujarat under Modi to be stifling, a state where cinema owners dare not show films about the riots for fear of violence, where criticism of Modi is interpreted as disloyalty to the state, where some of the oxygen of democracy has been shut off. ” (p. 360).


“Say what you like about Narendra Modi, but he doesn’t lack confidence in his own ability. But in his assault on secularism and the rights of minorities, in his autocratic style, does Narendra Modi threaten the very essence of what makes India great?” (p.365)

16. Hell is for Children

Efforts to protect India’s women and children intensify after the Delhi gang-rape




Denyer’s Notes contain many vital recent bibliographical references, especially to relevant articles by himself and his Washington Post colleague, Rama Lakshmi, and to the work of historian Ramachandra Guha.



On Professor Wendy Doniger’s Professional Reputation as a Scholar of Hinduism

14 February 2014

14 February 2014

As the world’s publishers gather in New Delhi for the beginning of the 41st International Book Fair tomorrow (and until 23 February) at the Pragati Maidaan, many will already be discussing this week’s publishing bombshell news that, under an arcane Indian criminal law, Penguin India has finally acceded to the demands of a powerful group of right-wing Hindu activists in an agreement to recall and pulp all Indian copies of Professor Wendy Doniger’s highly acclaimed 2009 academic work: The Hindus: An Alternative History. (Also published in paperback by Oxford University Press, 2010.)

Media and individual comment is flowing in fast. One useful early comment noted is by G. Vishnu: ‘Pulped, Though Not Fiction’ (Tehelka, 22 February 2014).

At the Book Fair, many fellow publishers from India and overseas will doubtless express their sympathy with Penguin India, who, having lost or given up this long battle, have now expressed their grave concern for the health and continued progress of Indian publishing in the face of such restrictive laws.

With a general Indian election already in virtual full swing, it is to be hoped that this publishing issue, and the principles of freedom of expression, will gain renewed attention during the political debates and that, when the new government coalition is chosen, especially if, as is generally expected, it contains a strong right-wing component or majority, such issues will be fairly considered along with the many other initiatives which need to be put in place to provide India with more efficient and equitable governance and administration.

As a background contribution for new followers of these issues, and for those who may be perplexed in view of the serious charges laid against the author in India, I offer a list of opinions of Professor Wendy Doniger’s work by a distinguished group of reviewers. In my opinion, these amply demonstrate the quality and originality of her edifying (and engagingly written) 700 pages of research, which some have dismissed so lightly – along with her two doctorates, in Sanskrit and Indian Studies, from Harvard and Oxford, and her distinguished academic career dedicated to Hinduism and Indian studies.)


On the back cover of the paperback (2010) (Copyright Oxford University Press)

‘Courageous and scholarly … Doniger exudes an infectious enthusiasm for her subject and ranges with confidence well beyond the Sanskrit corpus at the core of her analysis … The Hindus is a celebration not just of a personal way of seeing Hinduism, but of the boldness and vitality of a textual tradition.’

David Arnold, Times Literary Supplement

‘This is history as great entertainment! Unlike the usual, arid accounts of dynasties. Wendy Doniger’s double vision of Hinduism is about women, merchants, lower castes, animals, spirits and, of course, Dead Male Brahmins. This lively, earthy account explains why ancient India is the world’s richest storytelling culture.’

Gurcharan Das, author of India Unbound

‘Wendy Doniger’s enthralling and encyclopaedic book reveals her vision of a Hindu culture that is plural, varied, generous, and inclusive. Hinduism, in her view, is an intricate weave of the diverse localities and communities of Indian culture. This is a rich text that will encourage dialogue and conversation among a wide range of scholars.’

Homi K. Bhabha, Anne F. Rothenberg Professor of the Humanities, Harvard University

‘With her vast erudition, insight, and graceful writing laced with gentle wit, there is no one better than Wendy Doniger to convey the richness, depth and diversity of Hindu texts and traditions to international audiences. The Hindus is destined to become a classic that will be discussed and debated for many years to come.’

Sudhir Kakar, author of Indian Identity

‘She is the most eminent scholar in the field… I have read her and found her writing an invaluable source.’  Salman Rushdie, India Today


The above are, on their own, quite overwhelming evidence of a very special scholarly (and easily readable) work, but in view of the extraordinary treatment meted out to Doniger’s  chef d’oeuvre in India this week, I feel obliged to add most of the brief comments printed inside the front cover of the 2010 OUP edition of the work, mainly in the hope that some who have misjudged – or may misjudge – her without reading any of her work, will pay a little closer attention to the topic.


Staggeringly comprehensive book.

Pankaj Mishra in New York Times

This tremendously spirited, agile and learned book should be the standard history of Hinduism for many years to come.

Chandrahas Chowdury in Mint

Without doubt a monumental work that is awe-inspiring and humbling in its scale.

Devdutt Pattanaik in Mid-Day

[An] erudite ‘alternative history’… don’t miss this equivalent of a brilliant graduate course from a feisty and exhilarating teacher.

Michael Dirda in Washintgon Post

Wendy Doniger … serves us a feast of tasty historical events and interpretative myths.

Kittye Delle Robbins-Herring in Feminist Review

Doniger is an unstoppable teller of tales and a briloant interprewter of them.

Sunil Khilnani in Outlook  [and author of The Idea of India]

Doniger’s is an amazingly breathtaking book in its sweep. Indeed, before this, one would have thought such a book could never be written.

Bibek Debroy in Indian Express

The narrative sweep is epic… Wendy Doniger, with exceptional brio, tells us how the story of Hinduism continues to multiply.

S. Prasannarajan in India Today

At last, there is a witty, elegant and academically rigorous volume presenting this multi-everything faith in an accessible form.

Salil Tripathi in Tehelka

There is no book like Doniger’s which so meticulously and faithfully interprets the Hindu spirit, which clearly distinguishes itself for its catholicity and comprehensiveness of approach.

A.K Bhattacharya in Business Standard

Doniger’s delightful style makes light work of a substantial subject and weighty ideas.


Doniger’s work, vast in scope, wide in its range, so captures the mind that it is difficult to put it down once one starts reading it.

M. V. Kamath in Sentinel

Masterful study of the evolution of Hinduism

Time Out

Anyone seriously concerned with Hinduism in the contemporary world will be well advised to read, enjoy, engage, and even argue with the book.

A.R Venkatachalapathy in Hindu


Translation 44. Welcome news for Indophiles and language lovers: an abridged version of Hobson-Jobson

4 July 2013

Josephine Livingstone has just written a mouth-watering review of American scholar Kate Teltscher’s most welcome “heroic” new tome, a 570-page (i.e. half size) abridgement of the 1886 classic Hobson-Jobson, the much-quoted glossary of nineteenth century colonial Anglo-Indian “slang”.

Apart from the useful language information quoted by reviewer Livingstone, prepare yourselves to be amazed at the description of a colonial Brit, Arthur Burnell (one of the two authors of Hobson-Jobson), who managed to learn Arabic, Sanskrit, Portuguese, Dutch, Italian, Javanese, Coptic and Tibetan. (Yes!) But before trying to emulate Burnell, bear in mind that he died in India, aged 42, of cholera, pneumonia and “overwork” (and, presumably, of acute polyglottal indigestion as well).

For more details, rush NOW to read Livingstone’s review here.

With many thanks to polyglot friend and internet guru Ronnie R. for the tip-off.

1.For my appreciated faithful readers, please do not be alarmed. The extreme brevity of this “blog” entitles it to the new Internet category of ‘bleet’ (Copyright Brian Steel and family – bless them!).

2. If you have the time, curiosity and patience, skim the Comments on this article by Livingstone in Prospect in order to see the best and the less admirable of Internet democratic participation in full flow.

India and Hindi Portfolio, 2009-2013. Brian Steel

22 May 2013

Updated February  2016

In 2009, Australia was not aware that it needed my assistance. Neither was I. In 2012, however, the government discovered that it has almost half a million Indian citizens and visiting students and, logically if belatedly, it has been trying to encourage its educational establishments and suitable citizens to take up the study of Hindi in order to contribute to the faster growth of existing Indo-Australian links and trade.

Since some of my private Internet contributions relate to both the tenacious study of Hindi by one Australian (myself) and the recent portrayal of India in foreign media and books, I shyly reveal this brief portfolio of offerings to date.

Now, what about a retrospective study grant?


2010 October
Background Reading on Contemporary India

2010 November
Contemporary India. 1. Basic Sources of Information
Contemporary India. 1a. Basic Sources of Information. Catherine Taylor’s Possible Sequel to Sarah Macdonald’s Interpretation of India

2011 January
Contemporary India. Basic Sources of Information. 2. New Books by Patrick French and Anand Giridharadas

2011 August
An Unofficial Analysis of India’s Current Problems

2011 December
The Australian’s interest in Contemporary India. Part 1

2012 February
The Australian’s Interest in Contemporary India. Part 2

2013 March
The Indian Investigative Magazine Tehelka and its Hindi Version


2010 August
Translation 22. Cultural Content of Given Names. The Case of Hindi

2011 January
Translation 26. An Online Hindi & Urdu Glossary of Bollywood films by Volker Schuermann

2011 August
Basic Hindi Vocabulary for English-Speaking Learners

and a shorter version, August 2011:
Basic Hindi Vocabulary for Lucky English-speaking Learners

2011 December
Hindi Acronyms are based on English phonetics

2012 June
Translation 36. Free Internet Translation Software: The Contest between Google Translate and Microsoft’s BING Translator. Russian and Hindi

2012 September
Translation 37. Arvind and Kusum Kumar’s magnum opus: the Bilingual Hindi and English Thesaurus

2012 October
Translation 38. Hindi Learning Shortcuts. Introduction to a New Series

“This new web page reflects the course of my broadening interest in contemporary India as a whole and in one of its major languages, Hindi.”
In October 2012 I have finally felt able to begin to post a series of articles on the Hindi language based on my (determined) 4-year struggle to add Hindi to the list of languages that I can comprehend. I am now comprehending, but still quite slowly!
It is my hope that the series, Hindi Learning Hints, may be of some use to fellow foreign learners of Hindi, in particular to those for whom English is a native or major language. I hope that those who are further advanced in this process than myself, as well as any Hindi-speakers who may chance to see these articles, may be able to favour me with their corrections of my misunderstandings and errors, preferably at ”

2012 November
Hindi Learning Hints. 1. The Versatile vaalaa Suffix (Introduction)

Translation 39. A Short Reference List for Hindi learners & Notes on the suffix vaalaa / ‘wallah’

2013 January
Translation 40. Hindi-English-Hinglish, an Indian ménage à trois
Translation 41. Hindi Learning Hints 4. English Loanwords in Contemporary Hindi

2013 May
Handy Hindi Hints. 2. Selected Prefixes and Other Word Formation Elements
[First Draft]

Click to access hindi2_prefixes.pdf

Translation 42. Learner’s Guide to Hindi Prefixes and word formation. Introduction

* Update:
Handy Hindi Hints. 3. Hindi Suffixes and Word Formation [June 2013]

Click to access bsteelhindi3_suffixes.pdf

Hindi Learning Hints 4. 2,500 English Loanwords in Contemporary Hindi [Unpublished Draft]

Hindi Learning Hints 5. Postpositions
(108+ Hindi Postpositions. A Comprehensive List for HSL Students. Draft.’)

Click to access bsteelhindi5_postpositions.pdf

[December 2013]

Update. February 2016:

30 April 2014  Linguistic Glimpses of the 2014 Indian General Elections Through English Loanwords in Hindi

23 December 2014 Translation 49. French Loanwords in English. Pronunciation Guide for Hindi Speakers. Introduction

27 March 2015  Translation 51. Arvind Kumar’s Word Power in English

21 February 2016. Book: English Loanwords, Abbreviations, and Acronyms in Hindi. A Romanised Guide to Hindi Media Usage.


Translation 53. English Loanwords in Hindi. Lexical References.




The Indian Investigative Magazine Tehelka and its Hindi Version

31 March 2013

As English-speaking businessmen, tourists and spiritual seekers would all agree, one of the special advantages of going to India is that you don’t need to learn one or more foreign languages because they “all” speak, write and communicate in perfect English, whether in the (predominantly Hindi) North or the Dravidian South. Some foreign journalists might agree, although it is likely that those whose reports are most valued overseas have learnt a relevant Indian language, especially Hindi or Tamil. (Like Mark Tully, Edward Luce, Kris Kremmer, Patrick French, etc.)

For English-speaking foreign journalists, one of the most valuable sources of information on life in contemporary India is the highly independent investigative magazine Tehelka, whose dramatic 12-year history of sensational début and (persecuted) decline, followed by a slow but determined and vigorous revival (now including a thriving website) is well documented.

According to several Hindi dictionaries, Tehelka ( तहलका Ta-hal-kaa ) carries semantic content involving sensation, commotion, hubbub or hullabaloo. Tehelka itself clarifies the matter for us by quoting Time Magazine’s absolutely admirable definition:

“Tehelka is a delightful Urdu word, difficult to translate. It refers to that special kind of tumult provoked by a daring act, or a sensational piece of writing.”

Although this forthright intention nearly caused its early demise, the magazine has certainly lived up to its name and orientation, both the inspired creations of Tarun J. Tejpal. The current Internet motto is: “Free. Fair. Fearless”.

On its website Tehelka describes itself thus:
“On January 31, 2004, after more than two years of persecution, Tehelka was reborn as a weekly newspaper committed to constructive, crusading journalism. As a people’s paper geared to take a stand, to follow the hard investigative story. A fearless paper ready to create opinion, and not just remain a passive vehicle of news.
Over the years, Tehelka has firmly established itself as a people’s media choice. With public interest journalism, serious opinion and analysis, Tehelka has earned unmatched credibility and brand recall.”
(More of Tehelka’s amazing inside story is available from its Editor-in-Chief, Shoma Chaudhury, on

Independent writers also confirm and flesh out the Tehelka saga.

Mira Kamdar presents the “Tehelka Tapes” story in Planet India. The Turbulent Rise of the World’s Largest Democracy (Simon and Schuster, 2007,pp. 93-94):
“In March 2001, the fledgling weekly Tehelka rocked the nation when it released tapes secretly made by two of its reporters, Aniruddha Bahal and Mathew Samuel, showing bribes being taken in the ministry of defence at the highest level of the Indian Government.”

Kamdar also describes the retaliation by authorities intent on punishing Tehelka and its staff for the embarrassment caused and she notes the courageous resistance by the editors and reporters. As a result of government action, Tehelka’s staff was reduced from 120 to 4, and their main financial backer, Sharma Mehra, was prosecuted. Kamdar adds the encouraging happy ending by explaining that finally, through sheer determination, and backing from media personalities and others, the editor Tarun Tejpal [and his managing editor, Shoma Chaudhury] managed to reopen the paper in 2004. As a result, of strong support, the printed editions sell well and “The online edition reaches readers around the world. The paper continues to conduct sting operations, exposing corruption at every turn [ …].”

In his acclaimed 2011 study, India. An Intimate Biography of 1.2 Billion People, (London Allen Lane, 2011), Patrick French offers more background on Tehelka as well as specific quotations from the original sensational “Tapes”. In his chapter on wealth, business, politics and corruption in contemporary India, French makes the point that since 2000 the transparency factor has played an increasingly important role in Indian journalism and life:

“One of the strongest weapons against corruption was transparency – or a fear of being caught. Taking bribes was now becoming annoyingly difficult for senior bureaucrats and politicians, such was the fear of spy cameras. The 2005 “Right to Information Act”, combined with the new media’s love of spying and bugging, appeared to be undermining certain types of graft.” The author goes on to give three pages of details about the hazardous Tehelka undercover sting of 2001, involving politicians, military officers and bureaucrats, claiming that this was the incident which “sparked this shift, catching and shaming people for the sort of behaviour that had always been rumoured but never so graphically demonstrated” (p. 217). Be that as it may, after a long quote from the secretly taped Tehelka investigation, Patrick French adds that although the Defence Minister was forced to resign, “the most outrageous thing about this exposé was not the corruption […] but the state’s response to the dishonesty. The prosecution of those involved was half-hearted, and much more effort was devoted to prosecuting Tehelka, which was nearly destroyed by repeated investigations and court cases […]” (p. 219).

So much for the “known knowns” about Tehelka. Less well known outside India, presumably because a (difficult) foreign language is involved, is the fact that since 2008, Tehelka has also published a Hindi version. However, unless you peruse the issues (or at least the Contents pages, you may not realise that Tehelka in Hindi contains much information not printed in its English version. Some of this extra information really needs to be more widely studied and reported on by foreign India watchers, because it is also the fruit of Tehelka’s ongoing commitment to revealing information which the public deserves to know. Another reason for foreign journalists to follow “Tehelka in Hindi” is that writing sensational reports in Hindi is likely to attract less official attention than writing them in English. Yet another positive factor is that India is not yet showing any signs of a decline in newspaper and magazine sales.

To justify my main assertion that a knowledge of Hindi is essential for foreign journalists, I propose to refer to 3 articles published in “Tehelka in Hindi” ( in December 2012 and January and February 2013. I am grateful to my translator colleague Suyash Suprabh for supplying me with these valuable copies of Tehelka.

1. The cover of Tehelka (Hindi) for 31 December 2012 announces the 12-page updated investigation by Brijesh Singh of the decades-long and hitherto intractable question of refugees in Kashmir (pp. 42-53):
Kashmeer kee sautelee saantaaneN (Kashmir’s Step-children)

Tehelka Kashmir Cover

Jammoo: Refugee Capital

2 lakhs [200,000]
Refugees from West Pakistan

10 lakhs [1 million]
Refugees from Pakistan-administered Kashmir

2 lakhs [200,000]
Displaced by the war with Pakistan

3 lakhs [300,000]
Pundits from the Valley of Kashmir

(To my knowledge this article by Mr Singh has not appeared in the English version of Tehelka and although I am aware of an Internet translation, I am not willing to share the URL until I am satisfied it is duly authorised.)

Following the horrendous gang rape in Delhi, the Tehelka Hindi issue for 31 December 2012- 15 January 2013 was devoted to Women’s Issues, including a short article on the positive history of Women’s Movements in India by Priyanka Dubey, Hauslon kaa haasil (‘Courageous Achievements’), in which she makes the point that, in view of their involvement in the decades of struggle for Independence, they were well placed to continue the fight after Independence in 1947.

The cover of Tehelka Hindi for 28 February 2013 announces a long article, by a retired politician, Arif Mohammad Khan, on another sensitive subject. The title given there seems to be ‘Isn’t there any room for change or modernisation in Islam?’ (‘Kyaa islaam meN badlaav aur aadhuniktaa ke lie kaaee sthaan nahee hai?’) The article itself (pp. 36-41), however, has a revised title: ‘Is there any Scope for Change and Reform in Islam?’ Where sudhaaroN (reforms) and gunjaaish (scope) have replaced aadhuniktaa (modernisation) and sthaan (place / room) and the rhetorical negative has been deleted.
(For this article by Mr Khan there is an English translation available on the Tehelka website, dated 7 March.)

The latest Tehelka sting operation in December 2012-January 2013 involved taping conversations by senior Indian police officials. These contradicted official statements on tightening up on attitudes to reported rapes and the way of investigating them.

The Australian’s Interest in Contemporary India. Part 2

16 February 2012

Octogenarian Mr Rupert Murdoch is a global media magnate of Australian birth and adopted American nationality. Since taking over News Limited from his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, he has devoted almost six decades to building up the huge media and publishing empire now known as News Corporation or News Corp. His first major farsighted venture was the creation of Australia’s first national broadsheet newspaper in 1964. The Australian has become the most lavishly staffed, most informative, most prestigious, powerful, and, not infrequently, the most controversial, newspaper in Australia. However, Mr Murdoch’s media interests have multiplied exponentially and the income of this newspaper – like many others in the News Corp stable – is not a significant contributor to the Corporation’s income. (See List of assets owned by News Corporation, on Wikipedia.)

Nevertheless, The Australian, which has a daily circulation of only 150,000 (and 300,000 for the Weekend edition) employs a vast staff of journalists, who produce a very broad variety of quality news and views in all the usual national and international fields. Because the journalists are further indulged by the scope they are given to pursue approved topics, often over long periods of time, The Australian exerts a strong influence on Australian public opinion. In some cases, the newspaper puts both points of view on a controversial topic, although, as in the case of the Climate Change Debate, the balance of its opinion is always on the side of the discussion favoured by the Editor. As an example of the firepower and tenacity of this media organ, in 2007, the Australian government’s (and the Federal Police’s) outrageously unfair treatment of the young Indian doctor, Mohamed Haneef, was vigorously researched and thoroughly reported on by the newspaper, with ultimate success.

For the past eight years (at least), India, as the “up-and-coming giant” and a “very good prospect” for Australia (and the Pacific), appears to have been accorded similar special treatment, with the number and variety of news and views pieces multiplying over the past eight years, and becoming particularly numerous in 2010 and 2011. As with other important topics, the coverage has been reinforced by syndicated republication of essays and op-ed pieces from other “Murdoch” newspapers, such as The British Times and Sunday Times and, more recently the American Wall Street Journal. (The reader is the beneficiary of such unusual largesse.)

In the case of Indian coverage by The Australian, I have cuttings going back to 2004. Between that year and about 2007, there were occasional short articles on India but the major pieces were written by the newspaper’s Foreign Editor, Greg Sheridan. Mr Sheridan is probably the most experienced foreign and geopolitical correspondent in Australia, with several books to his name and a BlackBerry full of important overseas contacts and colleagues, notably in USA and Asia. He is a firm supporter of US geopolitical doctrines and, with India’s rapid evolution, he has strongly advocated its special importance to Australia, as the following articles from The Australian indicate. These are in addition to his other frequent articles and essays on geopolitical matters.

14 February 2004: ‘An Indian Summer’
A 2,500 word essay based on a visit at pre-election time and interviews with prominent Indians. Sheridan’s essay is an enthusiastic recommendation (and plea) for more official Australian action to increase trade and contacts with India at this important phase of its steady development, which he compares to that of China fifteen years previously. He fills in the background history of Indian development, mentions the Indian diaspora of 20 million (with a claimed 150,000 in Australia) and lists important existing contacts in education.
His list of Indian contacts is impressive. (Interestingly, with hindsight, Sheridan informs readers that the favourite to win the 2004 election was Atal Bihari Vajpayee (“a figure of moderation”) and the BJP Coalition, but that general expectation was not fulfilled. Sheridan offers as India’s two main problems Pakistan and Hindu-Muslim hostility.


(On 25 May 2005 The Australian’s Emeritus ‘Editor-at large’, Paul Kelly published an article on ‘[G.W.] Bush’s Indian gambit’, referring to important new US initiatives which were nearing fruition, with India being wooed despite the reservations of some Indians. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met G.W. Bush in Moscow, Condoleezza Rice visited India in March, bringing a draft of a wider strategic relationship “to help India become a major world power in the 21st century.” Manmohan Singh was due to visit Washington in July. In other words, the US was ready to help India achieve its global ambitions, with the subtext of strengthening US strategic power.

23 July: ‘India, US make a tectonic move’
This essay by Sheridan highlighted the significance of the meetings between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and George W. Bush, which Sheridan likens to “one of those moments when you can feel the tectonic plates of geo-strategic power shifting”. In his final sentence Sheridan hopes Australia will be able “to take advantage of the new US-India entente”.
(Related to this important event is Sheridan’s article describing his interview with P.M. Manmohan Singh, ‘East meets East: the Sino-Indian rivalry’, published in The National Interest in 2006 and available here.)

11 March: ‘In our interest to support India’s rise’.
A short piece describing Sheridan’s interview with Dr Manmohan Singh just before Prime Minister Howard’s visit to India. It refers again to the important geopolitical changes indicated by India’s negotiations on nuclear matters. The author highlights India’s strong need for Australian uranium and Howard’s refusal to reconsider the current ban on exporting it to India.

6 October: ‘Powerful dash of new spice’
A long essay introducing the vastness of India, the sheer numbers of its people, and the disadvantages and challenges posed by these, and by the contrasts between rich and poor. Sheridan adds to the impressive economic development story the country’s important ‘soft power’: its democracy, the prosperous diaspora, especially noticeable in USA and UK and the other attractions for foreigners like its “huge cultural presence in the Western imagination” and common denominators like cricket and Bollywood. (He could have added the major plus factor of the widespread use of the English language in middle class Indian life and in business.)

22 October: ‘India’s absence a serious failure’
“Closer ties with the subcontinent are essential to our regional security.”
The reference is to the forthcoming meeting of CHOGM in Perth.
The day before, one of the Australian editorials had been: ‘The Next Big thing. China may be important but is India the better bet?’

Several more of Greg Sheridan’s essays and articles on Indian-Australian relations were to follow in the coming five years. To back up its growing interest in India, The Australian appointed a Correspondent for South Asia in 2006 or 2007, with responsibility for covering news in the vast area of Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Burma (Myanmar), Nepal and the Maldives. The first journalist appointed was Australian veteran Bruce Loudon who reported in 2007 and 2008. In early 2009 the post was taken up by Amanda Hodge, the present incumbent. She has kept up a regular supply of short background and topical articles on India (mainly) and the other countries within her ‘portfolio’. In the last two dramatic and difficult years for India (2010-2011), the frequency of her valuable locally-based reports has increased. (Her less frequent posts about the other countries in the region, notably Pakistan, appear to be very well informed.)


This busy but disastrous year for India is reflected in coverage by The Australian. The year destined to be so globally triumphant with the hosting of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) in September attracted a small army of Commonwealth reporters to India from January onward. These journalists, left to roam freely around India (where language is not a barrier to them), tracked down a succession of negative pieces of news, beginning early in the year, with reports on the unreadiness of the CWG installations and a skyrocketing budget for the Games. From there the stories moved on to possible graft and corruption among the authorities. The very worst story from an Australian point of view was that of several Australian entrepreneurs who were not paid for their work, That controversy is, unfortunately, ongoing.

Coverage in The Australian was very broad. In addition to its many other reports on business and political matters, its resident correspondent, Amanda Hodge, filed frequently. The following short pieces by her were published in April alone:
2 April, Shortage of girls in India
9 April, Superbug rampant in Delhi hospitals
18 April, Delhi denies water dangers
23 April, Human rights abuse (in the small state of Chattisgarh)
30 April, Caste killing

Other reports by Hodge deal with the spate of CWG shortcomings and crises. On 21 September she reported on the use of Gandhi-like public fasting by popular gurus Swami Ramdev and Anna Hazare and by the ascetic Chief Minister of Gujarat State, Narendra Modi, as a form of political protest and pressure.

To the chagrin of the Indian Government and people, foreign journalists were digging deeper into the chaotic final preparations for the Games and the growing hints of graft and corruption. In October come the first reports of action by a highly embarrassed Indian Government. Amanda Hodge filed: ‘Ex-minister charged with graft’ (18 October).

Foreign Editor Sheridan was quiet during these 2010 distractions and during much of 2011, when old and new scandals about rampant corruption and growing public protest by the long-suffering Indian public were the main journalistic and public concern. However, The Australian continued to publish useful reports and comments. For example, on 15 February, a syndicated article from The Times by Rhys Blakely, ‘India corruption scandal deters investors’. Blakely describes how the massive inflow of foreign investment of 2010 has been hit by substantial withdrawals following charges brought against the former Telecoms Minister. (The infamous Y2G Spectrum scandal)

On 27 April, an Australian editorial, ‘Making a start in India’, explains that “There needs to be a wider crackdown on corruption” and sternly lectures that “there needs to be a far wider crackdown to change age-old national habits before India can be accorded the place it believes it deserves in the global market.”

Correspondent Amanda Hodge, meanwhile, was very busy during the whole of 2011, filing articles on the protest fasts by the gurus (6 June and 21 September) and in the final months of the year describing the Government’s embarrassing failure to pass the Lokpaal (Ombudman) Bill and the Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) Bill, designed to fast forward the growth of foreign-run supermarkets. Following the Australian Government’s belated agreement to supply India with uranium, Hodge published two articles in one day (26 November) on popular protests in two regions by locals opposed to new nuclear plants:
‘Heat rises beyond the smog’ and ‘India’s nuclear ambitions face people power’.
“The nuclear debate in India has never been fiercer.”

By the end of 2011, Greg Sheridan returned to the scene with a short warning and then a short series of major articles. While maintaining his basically optimistic outlook, he signalled the existence of important problems and obstacles.

22 October, ‘India’s absence a serious failure’.
The reference is to India’s non-appearance at the Perth CHOGM Meeting, which was taken to be a sign of displeasure that Australia had still not agreed to supply uranium to India.
(The Labor Government finally agreed to do so at a pre-scheduled party meeting in November.)

10 December, ‘India’s Rise as a Superpower has China on edge’. [Dealt with in Part 1]
Sheridan gives an account of his latest visit to India, to attend a conference in Kolkata on the Asian Century, sponsored by the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute. In a blunt 1500 word article with a blunt title, Sheridan proceeds to relay many known but still worrisome revelations by four prominent spokesmen on Indian strategic affairs.

In the following six days Sheridan published two more articles based on his recent visit to India:

15 December 2011, ‘India’s emissions are set to soar’
To highlight the shallow agreement signed by so many countries at the recent Durban conference on Climate Change action, Sheridan describes the lifestyle of the burgeoning Indian middle class(es) and the inevitability of a large increase in Indian emissions to maintain the momentum of development and Indian aspirations.

17 December 2011, ‘India on Highway to Prosperity’
“The country has one of the world’s most impressive economic success stories.”
While pointing to a recent slowing in Indian growth, Sheridan is optimistic about the future, especially because of India’s overwhelming expertise in the field of IT. Nevertheless, he relays the warning of one of his many well-placed Indian informants (interviewees) that “the two greatest reforms India needs are a simpler set of labour laws and more effective anti-corruption laws. These are part of what discourages foreign investment.”

Since the current State elections in a few Indian States are expected to give an idea of the possible outcome of crucial national elections in 2014, further reports from both Foreign Editor Sheridan and on-the-spot Hodge and others at The Australian (or in its stable), should keep us well informed on India as it endeavours to cope with its problems and maintain and consolidate its progress since 1991.

India (and Indian-Australian relations and commerce) has been well served by The Australian in recent years. It is to be hoped that, when she finally leaves her post as South Asian Correspondent, Amanda Hodge will follow the excellent and enlightening example of other expatriate English-speaking reporters and observers, like Edward Luce, Christopher Kremmer and Patrick French – or the legendary Mark Tully, who has spent most of his life in India – by writing a book about her experiences and interviews.

The Australian’s interest in Contemporary India. Part 1.

12 December 2011

On 10 December 2011, Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor of The Australian and a prominent reporter on Asian affairs of many years standing, gave an account of his latest visit to India where he has attended a conference in Kolkata on ‘The Asian Century’, sponsored by the University of Melbourne’s Australia India Institute.

In a blunt 1500 word article titled, ‘India’s rise as a superpower has China on edge’, Sheridan revisits several troubled aspects of China-India relations, as seen by four prominent spokesmen on Indian strategic matters.

Firstly, Sheridan comments on the two themes of the opening speech by M. K. Narayanan, the Governor of Kolkata (and once India’s national security adviser). “One was that Australia had nothing to be concerned about from India’s rise. […] The second notable theme was more blunt. China, he said, was a nation that did not observe international norms. This statement was neither controversial nor emotive. It was matter-of-fact.”

The second reference comes from his interview with Professor Gopalaswamy Parthasarathy, a former Indian ambassador to Australia and to Pakistan and current advisor to the Indian government on security matters. Sheridan reports that Parthasarathy told him that China is “today the greatest proliferator of nuclear weapons technology and missiles” by supplying Pakistan for forty years with “nuclear weapons designs and equipment for enriching uranium”.

Sheridan then visited two more Indian security experts, Ajai Sahni, editor of the South Asian Intelligence Review and director of the Institute for Conflict Management, and Praveen Swami, a strategic analyst for The Hindu newspaper. He relates the anecdotal responses of both experts to the question of possible Chinese involvement with the Maoist groups active in nine states of eastern India.

Sheridan’s final, and perhaps most important source of evidence of “China’s activities to contain or encircle India” is to be found in a recent book, China and India. Great Power Rivals, by the Hawaiian-based think tank scholar, Mohan Malik, whose thesis, according to Sheridan, is that “China is trying to stymie India’s rise”, not only by the nuclear proliferation but by selling arms to five of India’s largest neighbours and by racheting up its decades-long provocative behaviour on the China-India borders, and beyond.

The article ends with some further brief considerations on the relations between USA, India and Australia.

(Part 2 will examine other aspects of The Australian’s (and Sheridan’s) candid pro-India stance in recent years.)

Contemporary India. Basic Sources of Information. 2. New Books by Patrick French and Anand Giridharadas.

31 January 2011

Two more very recent valuable contributions to a wider understanding of contemporary India are briefly outlined and recommended below.

Anand Giridharadas, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking, Times Books, USA [and Black Inc, Australia], 2011. ISBN 9781863955164

This is a valuable book by the son of Indian immigrants to USA. Giridharadas relates how the incomparable combination of an Indian background, frequent visits to India, and a thoroughly American upbringing and education led to his appointment as the first Bombay correspondent for the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune between 2005 and 2009.

India Calling presents the fruits of his keen observation, insight and analysis of Indian realities and the changes that have been happening for the past two decades.

Proof of Giridharadas’s originality and the importance and intimacy of this picture of contemporary India is to be found in the (priceless) recommendations by three eminent writers and scholars which adorn the book’s covers:

Professor Amartya Sen
“One of the finest analyses of contemporary India. This is an engrossing and acutely observed appreciation of a country that is at once old and new – an enormously readable book in which everyone, at home in India or abroad, will find something distinctive, and altogether challenging.”

William Dalrymple
“A memorable debut, full of insights and diversion.”

Edward Luce
“Savvy and often moving, India Calling is for those who prefer the view from the ground than from thirty thousand feet.”

A must for Indiaphiles and for the growing number of India watchers.

Patrick French, India: a Portrait, Allen Lane, 2010. ISBN 9781846142147
[Due for publication by Random House later in 2011]

Patrick French’s writing career has already produced several important books, on the explorer Francis Younghusband (1994), India’s Independence (1997), Tibet (2003) and V.S. Naipaul (2008). The first two of these were awarded prizes and also attracted some polemical attention.

French’s latest work, based on extensive research and recent travels aims to portray the everyday contradictions found in India and to offer background to explain why India is as it is today. As proof of the author’s reputation, many reviews have already been published, among them David Gilmour’s (‘All these Indias’) in The Spectator (19 January 2011) and an anonymous review in The Economist (22 January 2011), ‘A colourful depiction of momentous times in a giant country’, in which the reviewer, although positive about the new book, makes the following criticism: “While presenting few new ideas, Mr French has a sometimes surprising tendency to lay claim to established ones. That Western power will be diminished in relative terms by Asia’s rise, that Indian politics is becoming ever more dynastic and that the country’s Hindu nationalists need to freshen up on their manifesto are all commonplace. Mr French suggests them as insights.”

Although this point needs examining, novelist Aravind Adiga’s review in The Observer (16 January 2011) seems altogether over the top and will not prevent me from buying a copy of French’s interesting-looking book.

“To write well about India, however, one needs more than just affection; and what is missing in this book is evidence, so present in A Million Mutinies Now [by V.S.Naipaul], of a struggle to understand India and one’s own place in it. French never gets much beyond the glib assertion in his preface that the new, cool India is the “world’s default setting for the future” …”

Adiga’s radiator then boils over:
“And this is the main problem with the book: if there is some crisp writing in it, there is not a scintilla of original thinking. VS Naipaul managed to combine a love of Indians with a healthy contempt for the nation’s mostly mediocre intelligentsia; this is something French fails to do. Everything in here is a rehash of the vapid, vaguely liberal orthodoxy that dominates so much of academia in India.”

Why not give Patrick French the benefit of the doubt and visit his website?

Or listen to his 2-minute introduction to his book here.