Lahore

It’s unlikely the buried last Sikh king would be exhumed

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

It is no small matter that the last king of the powerful Sikh empire of the 19th century is buried in a small nondescript village of 300 people in eastern England for 125 years now and voice is now being raised in the Indian parliament for it to be exhumed and his remains brought back to India.

It is also no small matter that the buried, Maharaja Duleep Singh, happened to be the son of magnificent one-eyed Maharaja Ranjit Singh who ruled over much of north and north-western India for 38 years, including Afghanistan and Kashmir, and had the ears of Napoleonic forces against the British expansion in India.

There is enough poignancy in the story of a young lad, enthroned as emperor at the age of five, falling to the machinations of British who pounced on his father’s death to usurp his empire, imprison his mother and ship him to England, converted as a Christian, and later denied his wish to return to his homeland as a reborn Sikh, Apparently, he died in penury in 1893 and buried in the premises of a small church of the Elveden village in West Suffolk district of England to this day.

It would appear strange too that neither the Sikhs, adherent to world’s fifth largest religion with 30 million numbers, nor their country of a billion-plus, has made a serious stake to reclaim a glorious symbol of their past even though a noise is often made to retrieve the magnificent Koh-i-Noor, arguably one of world’s most famous diamond, which once adorned his father Maharaja Ranjit Singh and is today part of British crown of jewels in England.

India was jewel in British crown for a reason. It lost precious stones (gold, silver diamonds etc), materials (sculptures, scrolls etc), resources (millions of men fighting their wars or out of famines) and lands (Pakistan and Bangladesh due to the Partition) in decades of rapine and plunder by the British colonialists.  Its’ economy, from a share of quarter of world’s GDP fell to three per cent during this horrific grab of their fortunes by the British.

But the grave of the last Sikh king is not the tomb of Pharaohs, like the one of Tutankhamun, which alone carried a wealth of a billion dollars, including a coffin of gold. Nor his remains could sink a Titanic which the doomsayers assert happened only because the gigantic ship carried an Egyptian Mummy among its cargoes.

The buried Maharaja is also no Christopher Columbus, exhumed multiple times around the world due to various claims on world’s most famous explorer, nor is he a revolutionary like Simon Bolivar whose remains was unearthed from Colombia and transferred to Venezuela in a fully-televised event to ascertain if the great revolutionary had been poisoned. He is also no Abraham Lincoln whose tomb was raided with the idea of holding the corpse to ransom by some horrid grave-diggers.

Neither the last Sikh king is some criminal like the exhumed assassins of Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy, nor akin to a former US president, Zachary Taylor who died in 1850 but his body was disinterred in 1991 to ascertain if he was a victim of arsenic poisoning. He is also no Eva Peron or Oliver Cromwell, two of history’s most recognized names, whose remains met a fate of mystery and macabre.

In making the demand on Mahraja Duleep Singh’s remains, the specific parliamentarian, a member of the opposition, hasn’t probably factored in a few testy details: Should the remains go to India or Pakistan for the throne of the Sikh empire ruled from Lahore; the difficulty of obtaining a licence for exhumation since it’s in a property of the powerful Church of England; wading into the elaborate procedures of Ministry of Justice in England which sits on decisions on non-consecrated grounds. The parliamentarian’s demand though wouldn’t be contested by the lineage of the last Sikh emperor, none of whom are alive today.

There is unlikely to be any serious follow-up on the demands on the Maharaja’s remains. It’s politically hazardous to release a rallying symbol for a community which for over a generation is being baited by the separatists to bolster their demands for a separate Sikh homeland. It’s also unlikely that the honourable parliamentarian of the opposition isn’t aware of the repercussions of his demands. But it would at least add heft to his party’s presence in Sikh-dominated Punjab and show the ruling dispensation of Delhi in poor light which probably is good enough for him.

Death touches all of us at some stage of our lives. In some cases, it does more than once.

(This is a reprint from rt.com)

 

India’s border woes: A legacy of Colonialism, geography and Pakistan

(A reprint from NewsBred).

India is shouting from the rooftop it has made no transgressions across its eastern borders in neighbouring Nepal but it has made no difference to latter whose prime minister KP Oli  has joined his citizens who hit the streets in protest last week.

Nepal’s bitter political rivals, Nepal Communist Party and Nepali Congress, are united in anger and so are the students on the streets who are convinced India has swallowed the long-disputed Kalapani area in its latest map which it released in the wake of reconfiguration of Jammu & Kashmir state early this month.

India, meanwhile, has stressed it’s the same map and same boundaries it has depicted all along for over half a century now, including the other disputed territory of Susta in Nepal’s south which for the time being doesn’t get Nepal’s hackles up.

Blame it on geography’s changing moods and the toxicity of colonialism that India finds itself enmeshed in border disputes with not just Nepal but many others in its neighbourhood, including China.

Kalapani, and Susta are territories around Kali and Gandak rivers. After the Anglo-Gurkha War (1814-1816), Nepal and East India Company signed a treaty in March 1816. The two rivers drew the arbitrary borders between these two long-disputed sites. Territories right of Gandak river, including Susta, belonged to Nepal; those on the left were with India. Since then Gandak river has changed course: Now Susta is on the left of Gandak river and hence with India. As for Kalapani, British kept changing the source of Kali river which has led to rival claims of today.

China: Talks after talks

India’s border disputes with China are one of the most protracted ones in the world. Since the first border talks began in 1981 to the latest, the 22nd round, which is due later this year, solutions have eluded the two Asian giants who fight the legacy of British colonialism and are afraid to upset the domestic audience in a give-and-take eventuality.

The two countries share a 3,488-km long unresolved border but two, the Western and Eastern ones, are particularly contentious. China controls 37,000-square km sized Aksai Chin in the West, a virtually uninhabited high-altitude desert; India 84,000 square km-wide populated Arunachal Pradesh in the East. The two fought for a month in 1962 but since a peace deal was struck in 1993, dialogues have been preferred over violence.

Yet, no solution is in sight. Along vast stretches of the borders between the two, there is no mutually agreed Line of Actual Control (LAC). India follows the Johnson Line in the Western sector, proposed by the British in the 1860s, which allocates Aksai Chin to them. China asserts it never agreed to the Johnson Line and thus Aksai Chin is its own. Aksai Chin is between volatile Kashmir and China’s Xinjiang province which are seen troublesome to the two nations. Then there is MacMahon Line in Eastern sector, initiated in 1913-14 between China, India and Tibet which is disputed.

Fortunately, pragmatism has brought about Border Defence Cooperation Agreement between the two Asian giants. Soldiers patrol their territory but back off when brought face-to-face with each other. Quite often military commanders at the border share a bonhomie, exchange views and sort out local issues.

Pakistan: An intractable issue

The border dispute between India and Pakistan concern Kashmir and are on since their independence in 1947. Pakistan launched a tribal militia in Kashmir on independence and the ruler of Kashmir, Maharja Hari Singh, sought India’s assistance which put a condition on Kashmir first acceding to India. Having duly secured the accession, India airlifted its troops to Srinagar and by the time cease-fire was secured after a year, India controlled two-thirds of the Kashmir while the remaining one-third was possessed by Pakistan. The status-quo has prevailed despite three wars and as many peace agreements (Tashkent, Simla, Lahore) between the two neighbours.

Bangladesh: All quiet at borders

India and East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) became free from the British empire in 1947 but the two retained thousands of citizens in hundreds of enclaves in each other’s territory. These enclave dwellers lived without any rights or papers, virtually stateless and lacking basics in education, health and security. All this changed for the good when the Indian prime minister Narendra Modi signed a historic pact with his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina in 2015. It allowed these thousands of stateless people an opportunity to choose either of the two countries as their own. Land was also swapped between the two nations. The border dispute between the two is settled for good.

Similarly, India had a small dispute with Sri Lanka over an uninhabited 235-acre island, Katchatheevu, which was satisfactorily solved after India formally gifted it to Sri Lanka in the 70s. India has extremely minor border issues with Myanmar and practically none with Bhutan.

The curse of colonialism has left India with border issues which are non-existent, say in a majority of Europe or even between United States and Canada even though the demarcating line between the two countries is a straight one. With strong governments in place, India and China could settle the mutual issues to a great deal. The one with Pakistan though is another matter.