India At 60: New Book on Partition of India, First Woman President and A Film on Gandhi's Son

A couple of weeks from now on August 15th and 14th, India and Pakistan will celebrate their 60th year of Independence. What stands out in stark contrast is the differences between the two nations in terms of their forms of government and their nation-building exercise. India went the democratic way and embraced the socialist way to economic growth that slowed the economic growth of the country (to put it mildly). Over in Pakistan the military or defense forces assumed a central role and continue to play a dominant role in the country ever since the country became independent 60 years ago.

UK-based researcher Yasmin Khan has a timely book out titled The Great Partition of India. In this book Yasmin looks at the partition of India by stepping back and looking at the the broader picture of what was one of the most traumatic events in the history of the subcontinent. What led to the quick and bloody partition of India? Is there a myth surrounding the peaceful decolonization of India? We will have to read the book to find out.

The internationally well-known film director Shekar Kapur has a moving blog post about the partition and how his parents, who moved from Pakistan to India in 1947 reacted to the bloody partition. He recounts:

I would often talk to my father about that time, and I would see the pain on his face. About his muslim friends lost in time. Friends with whom he stood shoulder to shoulder as they took the Hippocratic Oath. But the very friends that were too afraid to give him morphine to treat the wounded, just in case the raging, raving crowds found out they were helping the Hindus. And years later as I would go along on my scooter to my University in Delhi, I was shown a spot in Paharganj where apparently muslim women and children were thrown alive in a burning bonfire.

My mother would recoil at talking about that time. Except for the memories of the drains around the houses filled with Kerosene and put on fire. But she would soon escape into the memories of better times. Of when Lahore was the cultural capital of Asia.

From the partition of India, we move to how Web 2.0 tools are changing the notion of citizen involvement in the building of a new India. Bangalore-based Praja is a new colla-blog that plans to “bridge between those who serve us and those amongst us who care and want to participate.”

You can check and track these projects through the latest news, blog postings and other online-based information via Praja. These projects include the metro (railway) project, the new airport project, traffic and other related- projects.

As India turns 60 years old as an independent nation it also gets its first woman president: Pratibha Patil. There is a lot of buzz, including the creative kind about India's first female President. The buzz ranges right from surprise to all the way about why this buzz? India had a woman as a Prime Minister for nearly 15 years. Anyone remember Mrs. Indira Gandhi?

Aparna Ray has a limerick on India's first woman President. In an interesting twist of event Pratibha Patil is supposed to have got an indication from the spirits about her new job and that is the reference in Aparna's limerick.

As predicted by the spirit, through gran*,
We've been given, by some Divine plan,
Our first lady Prez,
Whose resume says,
Under credentials, – “A
Sonia fan

Satish Acharya of Cartoon World has a wonderful cartoon welcoming the first woman President of India as the “Rubber Stamp President of India.” Satish writes:

We, the people of Indian Republic will still miss Kalam more, because Madame Sonia Gandhi's presidential choice is in complete contrast to Kalam's calibre and his values in life. The allegations against our new President may prove to be false. But it's more to do with the image you've lived with. May be Sonia Gandhi wanted a complete rubber stamp who wouldn't question back.

Dilip Krishnan recounts an interesting conversation with his cab driver about India's first woman President. Here is an excerpt:

CD: But Sir-ji, tell me something, what is all this Indian media going gaga about?

Me: Why? What happened?

CD: We had Indira Gandhi as Prime Minister for 15 long years. And that was much before Hillary came to know of hubby Bill’s extra-presidential activities in the White House.

Me: That’s true!

CD: And Indira Gandhi ruled with such authority which not many other Prime Ministers had.

Me: I agree.

CD: So, what’s this talk about women’s empowerment! Indiraji was there as Prime Minster for so long, and so long ago.

Me: What are you trying to tell me?

CD: If we could boast of a woman Prime Minister for 15 long years, and that too starting 1966, what is this tamasha about having a woman President in 2007!

President Patil's nomination was somewhat of a surprise and it turns out that her copybook is not entirely spotless. Visicous Visicous V wonders about the lukewarm response to the election of Pratibha Patil as India's first woman President. She wonders if it is because Pratibha Patil is not a leader who represents women, who continue to be discriminated in India. Visicous Visicous writes:

Despite being touted as an important step for gender equality, Patil's election has elicited only a lukewarm welcome from other women, with many saying her lackluster political career and rocky road to the presidency have given them little more than symbol — and not a leader who represents them.

From the current debate on India's first female President we switch to Mahatma Gandhi, often labeled as Father of the Nation. There is a new Hindi film (or Bollywood film) on Mahatma Gandhi's oldest son Harilal. This film has created quite a bit of stir in the online world. Amrita writes in Indiequill:

But the tag “Gandhi” has been so thoroughly taken over by the Nehru-Gandhis that when one thinks of that name, the Mahatma’s own family plays a distant second fiddle. At the most, we might think of Kasturba Gandhi, a woman who (arguably) chose to live and die by her husband’s principles, but what of his children?

Harilal, the eldest, is the most interesting of the lot.

This new film has not been without controversy. Dance with Shadow writes about the controversy and how some groups want this film on Mahatma Gandhi and his family be banned.

Gandhians have urged President A P J Abdul Kalam, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and Information and Broadcasting Minister Priya Ranjan Dasmunsi to stop the release of Gandhi My Father as it is based on the controversial aspects of the life of the Father of the Nation.


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