Columns | Opinion
The New Dalals
Indiaphobes despise any development that advances the national interest
31 Mar, 2023
(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
IN HIS BOOK, The Anarchy: The Relentless Rise of the East India Company, William Dalrymple writes that the British conquest of India was midwifed by wealthy Indian seths. In the 1757 Battle of Palashee (Plassey), a 31-year-old British Colonel, Robert Clive, with a force of 3,000 men, defeated the Nawab of Bengal’s 50,000-strong army by bribing the Nawab’s general, Mir Jafar, to hold his troops back. Who financed the bribe? The seths, of course.
Nearly 300 years later, not much has changed. The British have left, but the Mir Jafars haven’t. The seths have meanwhile morphed. During the transition of power from the Mughal to the British in the 1750s, the seths and their dalals were wealthy traders seeking relief from Muslim rule. Today, the new seths are not businessmen or traders but a motley group of Indiaphobes who despise any development that advances the national interest.
The Great Nicobar Island is part of the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago. It overlooks the 500-mile-long Malacca Strait through which nearly half of the world’s merchandise trade passes.
In an excellent oped in The Indian Express (March 14, 2023), Admiral Raja Menon (retired) noted: “In a bold, imaginative, and strategic move, the government of India has quietly begun to build a holistic naval base on Great Nicobar Island, which stands squarely overlooking the entrance to the Malacca Strait and is barely 90 miles from the tip of Indonesia. This step, in terms of chess terminology, is like moving the queen out into the open to give the opposing king a direct check.
“For instance, it immediately threatens to bring the shutter down on China’s extended neck stretching far out into the Indian Ocean, far westward to Djibouti and Gwadar. A naval base in the Great Nicobar would be the central piece to an oceanic strategy to offer a counter punch to Chinese aggression in the Himalayas. With a base in the Great Nicobar, the entry to the Malacca Strait would be a hundred miles away while the nearest Chinese base in Sanya would be 1,500 miles away.”
The Wire, too, had noticed the Great Nicobar’s military potential. In the best traditions of Indiaphobia, it proceeded to discredit India’s attempt to use that potential to checkmate China as Admiral Menon had correctly pointed out.
In a long and alarmist piece, The Wire’s MG Devasahayam warned: “The feverish pace with which the ‘holistic development’ of Great Nicobar Island is being pushed and pursued is very much in line with the Narendra Modi government’s agenda of pumping and promoting a bunch of oligarchs by conceiving and offering massive and often predatory projects with attractive real estate and viability gap funding (VGF).”
Indiaphobes are becoming increasingly shrill as the 2024 Lok Sabha election nears. Defeat could lock them out of power for another five years—enough to erode their remaining wealth and purpose. Demeaning India is a proxy for demeaning the Modi government.
Indiaphobes are becoming increasingly shrill as the 2024 Lok Sabha election nears. Defeat could lock them out of power for another five years—enough to erode their remaining wealth and purpose. Demeaning India is a proxy for demeaning the Modi government
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Help comes from overseas. In a recent article in Britain’s The Daily Telegraph, Ben Wright fulminated: “More worrying is the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s tendency to deliberately stoke religious tensions with its anti-Muslim chauvinism and the possibility that Modi’s strongman political dominance will harden into outright autocracy.”
The West knows that New Delhi is a key component of the US-led world order arrayed against the China-Russia axis. Even if India continues to trade with Russia and follows an independent foreign policy, the West will have to grin and bear it. The procession of US leaders who visited India in March 2023—Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo—did precisely that.
Foreign newspapers like The New York Times employ Indian-origin or India-based journalists to carry out periodic hatchet jobs. That inoculates them from the charge of racism. The seths and dalals in India have no such fears. They built their power and wealth between 1947 and 2014 with only minor interregnums. But the past nine years have been intolerable. Another six years would sound like a death knell.
Meanwhile, US investment bank Morgan Stanley cheerfully predicted in a recent research report: “India is on track to become the world’s third-largest economy by 2027, surpassing Japan and Germany, and have the third largest stock market by 2030 thanks to global trends and key investments the country has made in technology and energy.”
The Indiaphobes’ mood has visibly darkened.
About The Author
Minhaz Merchant is an author, editor and publisher
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