Tuesday 29 April 2008

Business and Indo-US deal

Power Plays: Business Implications of the Indo-U.S. Nuclear Deal

From: India Knowledge@Wharton Article , Aug 09, 2007 http://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/india/india/article.cfm?articleid=4217


On a flight to India five months ago, Wharton management professor Saikat Chaudhuri's co-passenger was a U.S.-based executive from General Electric, who was headed for talks with government officials in New Delhi. The executive had made numerous trips to India in the previous year, and he was also talking to several Indian states to explore deals to build nuclear and other power plants. "He was preparing for the market that would open up with the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal," says Chaudhuri.

That executive may have congratulated himself earlier this month when the two countries finally signed the deal -- called the "123 Agreement" because it falls under the U.S. Atomic Energy Act section of that number. Others may be cheering as well: Two big U.S. delegations -- representing 180 companies and 38 companies respectively -- visited India in the past year, looking to sell items such as Westinghouse nuclear reactors, uranium from South Dakota and Lockheed Martin fighter jets.

The agreement aims at ensuring U.S. support for India's civilian nuclear power program, with the promise of a significant jump in trade and business relations between the two countries. India will open its 14 civilian nuclear plants -- eight others are for military purposes -- to international inspection. Still, political groups in both countries threaten to block the deal, even as the emerging geopolitical realities and the economic benefits appear to outweigh the concerns. India Knowledge@Wharton spoke to corporate executives, analysts and Wharton faculty members to understand the business ramifications of the deal.

Staying Below the Radar
Initially, it appeared that most of the debates about the U.S.-India nuclear agreement were largely political. A deafening silence marked the business implications -- and with good reason: Many senior executives were waiting for the political clouds to clear and for the final terms of the agreement to be revealed. As GE India's CEO T.P. Chopra told India Knowledge@Wharton in an interview, the final form of the agreement would affect GE's nuclear power strategy in the country. Some business leaders point to other challenges. "First, some hurdles still remain," says the CEO of an Indian company that has been negotiating with U.S. firms for defense joint ventures. "The last thing we want is to give ammunition to the Left-wing parties. They would love to project the U.S. as greedy capitalists selling the country for a few dollars more. Business will keep silent until it's all signed, sealed and delivered." (The Congress Party-led Indian government depends on support from the Left, which has rejected the deal.)

Although the agreement is in its last lap, the consent of lawmakers in both India and the U.S. has to be secured. That is regarded as a formality, but adverse publicity could still affect the outcome. Also, an additional India-specific safeguards protocol will need to be signed with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) will need to approve the deal as well.

By the second week of August, however, a flurry of business moves has become evident. According to an August 9 Bloomberg News report, "Areva, the world's largest maker of nuclear power stations, and General Electric, are among four companies poised to share $14 billion of orders from India as nations led by the U.S. prepare to lift a 33-year ban. Toshiba's Westinghouse Electric and Russia's atomic energy agency Rosatom will probably also win contracts to each build two 1,000 megawatt reactors, according to Nuclear Power Corp. of India chairman S.K. Jain." The report noted India can begin purchasing equipment following NSG approval of the agreement.

Bloomberg added that "the orders will form the first phase of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's plan to build 40,000 megawatts of nuclear capacity by 2020, equivalent to a third of current generation. India needs to add to the 3% of electricity that comes from Russian-designed reactors to meet soaring energy needs and reduce its reliance on coal-fired power plants." The report also quoted one source who said India would "try to diversify its suppliers and it's highly likely all four [Areva, GE, Westinghouse and Rosatom] will win the contracts."

Even so, the going will hardly be easy. Wharton management professor Jitendra Singh says one of the main hurdles the U.S. government faces is to ensure the deal survives any opposition from legislators. "Congress is on a collision course with the Bush administration right now," he says. "The odds are that they are not in a very cooperative state of mind." He feels the Democrats may not support the deal beyond a point. "That still leaves the challenge of getting the NSG to cooperate, and that may prove difficult as well."

A Symbolic Cachet
Notwithstanding the political test, Singh says the deal has "symbolic significance" and that "it may be remembered in time as a watershed event for India." He notes that for all the rhetoric about Pakistan being a major ally in the United States' war on terror, "the U.S. has refused point blank on any kind of parity between Pakistan and India in the nuclear domain." He attributes that stance to the fact that "India has always played by the rules, even though it was not a signatory to the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty), whereas Pakistan has been a nuclear proliferator with supplies to Iran, Libya, North Korea and perhaps others."

Chaudhuri also feels the symbolic value of the deal is significant for long-term planning between the U.S. and India, "whereas in earlier years you had to always include a caveat" about how the relationship would evolve. "In the past, there has always been a certain amount of mistrust between the two countries, which has perhaps prevented closer ties and led to some political uncertainties over the last 20 to 30 years," he says. He now sees clear signals from the U.S. that it "wants to engage India" for both economic and geopolitical reasons.

For U.S. companies, multi-billion dollar opportunities are opening up. "It is not just in the nuclear area," says Shivanand Kanavi, a commentator on technology issues who is currently writing a book on India's nuclear program and is the author of Sand to Silicon, a book on the digital revolution. "There are opportunities at several levels and in several sectors."

One obvious opportunity is that U.S. companies will be allowed to sell both nuclear reactors and technology to India. This is big business -- roughly $150 billion worth, according to estimates from the U.S.-India Business Council (USIBC). The numbers are extrapolated from the Indian nuclear industry's plans to increase nuclear power output from around 3,500 MW now to 60,000 MW over the next three decades. The Atomic Energy Commission has doubled its target for 2024 from 20,000 MW to 40,000 MW. Nuclear energy today accounts for barely 3% of India's total generation of 120,000 MW.

A clear beneficiary of the new regime is the public-sector Nuclear Power Corporation of India (NPCIL) -- the entity negotiating the deals with Areva, GE, Westinghouse and Rosatom cited in the Bloomberg report.

Chaudhuri says that unlike telecommunications, roads and airports where India has been aggressively forging ahead, its energy sector "has not quite had that radical transformation yet." He expects the ramifications for Indian industry to be huge, by lowering infrastructure costs with increased supply of power.

Regulatory Bottlenecks
At the recent annual general meeting of Tata Power, the group's chairman, Ratan Tata, told shareholders: "If the government opens the sector for private investment, Tata Power would be certainly interested in operating a nuclear power plant." A critical challenge for businesses, however, will be securing the government's green light. Today, only companies with a 51% government stake are allowed to generate nuclear energy. In practice, this has boiled down to only NPCIL. Two years ago, the 89.5% government-owned National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) had approached NPCIL with a proposal that it enter the nuclear generation arena. But the talks have not made much headway. (Incidentally, NTPC shares rose on the release of the text of the 123 Agreement; NPCIL is not listed.)

For the private sector to enter the fray, the regulatory environment will need to change. In May, Atomic Energy Commission chairman Anil Kakodkar told a meeting in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) that the Atomic Energy Act would be amended as soon as possible to allow private-sector participation. Draft legislation has already been circulated.

Apart from the Tatas, other interested parties will likely include the Anil Ambani-controlled Reliance Energy, the Essar Group and the GMR Group. Reliance has set up a "New Power Initiative" including senior executives from NPCIL. The Tata Group has also taken on board people with nuclear domain expertise.

Kanavi points out that U.S. companies helping to set up these plants will be looking to work with Indian contractors. Some of the contenders include: Larsen & Toubro (L&T), Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) and Gammon India in civil construction; L&T in reactors; Bharat Heavy Engineering Ltd (BHEL) in boilers; KSB, Kirloskar Brothers, Mather & Platt, Jyoti Ltd. and Bharat Pumps in boiler feed pumps; Alpha Laval, GEI Hammon Pipes, Maharashtra Seamless and Ratnamani Metals in heat exchangers; Honeywell Automation in panels; and Rolta India in consulting and engineering services. Some industry watchers also include Walchandnagar Industries, Godrej & Boyce, Bharat Heavy Plates & Vessels, the Hyderabad-based MTAR (which produces assemblies and precision components for use in space and nuclear applications), and Crompton Greaves.

Over the years that the Indian nuclear industry was shunned by the Western world, many of these companies have built up a good deal of expertise. HCC, for instance, was the first Indian construction company to undertake civil engineering works for pressurized heavy water reactor power projects in India. "HCC has constructed four out of the seven nuclear power plants in India," says chairman and managing director Ajit Gulabchand. Four new plants are under construction, with HCC building two of them.

"It is fast becoming accepted that nuclear energy is 'green' compared to conventional energy sources, and it is also quicker to implement," says Gulabchand. "There is a renewed global focus on building new capacities."

M.V. Kotwal, who heads the heavy engineering division of engineering giant L&T, now sees openings to set up "light water nuclear reactors of the boiling water type or the pressurized water type." He says the technology for such reactors, which need enriched uranium as fuel, is available with the U.S., France, Japan and Russia. Whereas L&T is equipped to manufacture the main reactor vessels as well as steam generators, pressurizers and other critical equipment for such nuclear power plants, "it is a problem at times to source some of the raw material which is manufactured by European, Japanese and Russian companies," says Kotwal. "After the clearance of the agreement, it will be easier to source such material and hence to speed up the Indian program."

Because of their extensive domestic experience and cost advantages, companies like L&T also plan to export nuclear reactor building skills and associated operation and maintenance services once the agreement is finalized.

Meanwhile, the perestroika in the nuclear arena will extend to exploration. The public-sector Uranium Corporation of India will be bidding for mines abroad. Meanwhile, at home, the private sector is being allowed into uranium exploration. For starters, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) will outsource areas like data collection and analysis.

Mega Defense Deals
All of this is, however, small change compared to defense deals, which have U.S. companies waiting anxiously. A conservative estimate says that India will spend $70 billion in defense procurement over the next five years. (The $150 billion estimated for nuclear power projects is spread over 28 years.)

Take just one component: fighter jets. India is in the market for 126 multi-role combat aircraft. At $10 billion, this is one of the world's biggest single-supplier contracts. New Delhi-based defense commentator Siddharth Srivastava wrote in an Asia Times article that the contenders are Boeing's F-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin's F-16 Fighting Falcon, the Russian MiG-35, the Swedish SAAB Group's Jas-39, the Typhoon Eurofighter (the combined effort of British, German, Italian and Spanish firms), and the French Dassault Rafale.

The agreement will have spin-off benefits for Indian companies, as government regulations require foreign suppliers to invest 30% of deal values above $66 million in India's defense industry, wrote Srivastava. He points to Boeing's recent win of a $11 billion order for 68 aircraft from Air India, and its announcement that it would invest $1.7 billion to buy goods and services from Indian companies. Lockheed Martin has approached Hindustan Aeronautics, Bharat Electronics, BHEL, and the Tatas for joint defense projects, he adds.

Today, Russia is India's biggest defense supplier. Israel stands at No. 2, having overtaken France, the U.K. and the U.S., who had been hamstrung by various restrictions but now want part of the action. India this year expects to spend $10.5 billion on military equipment, including $4 billion for the air force, $2.8 billion for the army and $2.5 billion for the navy. Some 70% of those capital needs are met though imports.

The big Indian houses of Tata, Mahindra and Godrej are cobbling together consortia to bid for defense projects that may open up once the nuclear deal takes effect. L&T has already signed up with European aerospace and defense group EADS. Incidentally, L&T is planning to build submarines for the Indian Navy and has produced prototypes of products including missile launchers.

Indian business groups with defense expertise include Tata (electronic warfare systems, embedded software), Mahindra (simulators, surveillance systems), Ashok Leyland (transport/passenger vehicles, light armored trucks), Kirloskar (naval engines) and Bajaj Tempo (armored vehicles, components). Mahindra recently announced a marketing and support deal with Seabird Aviation Jordan to supply Seabird seeker aircraft to India. "This is a natural extension of our activities in the field of surveillance for which we have obtained a license from the government of India," says Brigadier (Retd.) K.A. Hai, CEO of Mahindra Defense Systems.

Another area where the nuclear agreement will make a difference is in space. "The deal will pave the way for lifting technology restriction regimes," says Kanavi. "One example: U.S. satellites or even satellites carrying U.S. components are not allowed to be launched by the Indian Space Research Organization. This might change and lead to India entering the business of space launches and satellite fabrication as a serious player. It has a price advantage of about 30% here due to the availability of high-skilled talent at low cost."

Economic Realities
"Ultimately, economics determines everything," says Chaudhuri, who feels those compulsions will override political opposition to the deal. To support that point, he says that despite widespread criticism of China's political system and its human rights issues, the U.S. business community is "very close to China." He says the Chinese government's investment in New York City-based private equity firm Blackstone "is very telling," as is also the recently embattled financial services giant Bear Stearns's attempt to rope in Chinese partners.

Chaudhuri adds that it is impressive that India "stuck to its guns" in the negotiations leading up to the nuclear deal, and also won the endorsement of its scientific establishment. "What's also interesting is that India is going to keep its options open and engage various countries, including Russia and China, at the geopolitical level," he says. "That's a new reality that has to be accepted by the rest of the world." The deal also sends a clear message to the U.S. that its "unilateral actions are probably bound not to be as effective any more," he says.

"There are some people who look askance at the 'sudden' emergence of India," Singh says. He argues that a longer-term historical perspective is needed, citing William Dalrymple's article in Time magazine's Asian edition on August 13, in which he says the notion of India as a poor country is of relatively recent origin, and that as late as 1700, it was one of the wealthiest regions of the world.

"It may be worth reminding ourselves that at one time India was called Sone ki Chidiya -- the Golden Bird," says Singh. "Maybe that was not just a flight of fancy after all. And India and China are simply heading back, in this post-Cold War, post-imperialism era, to their historically handsome share of world GDP and trade."

Book Review: Sand to Silicon, M V Kamath, Organiser

Veteran Journalist and former Chairman Prasar Bharti, Shri M V Kamath had these kind words to say in his review of my book Sand to Silicon in The Organiser

The miracle of digital tech
M.V. Kamath
Sand to Silicon: The amazing story of digital technology- Shivanand Kanavi, Rupa & Co. Delhi, pp 226, Rs. 395.00

On November 14, 2007 the media carried a story of the fourth fastest computer in the world, made in India. The super computer developed by the Tata Group's Pune-based Computational Research Laboratories (CRL), it was reported, was capable of a sustained speed of performance of 117.9 trillion floating operations per second (teraflops) and a peak speed of 170.9 teraflops and has been rated as the fourth fastest by the internationally recognised TOP 500 listing. This is the first time that an Indian High Performing Computer (HPC) has made it to the top, outdoing countries such as Japan, the United Kingdom and France. Now India joins the United States, Germany and Sweden to the Top Four.

According to a press release "the Super Computer built at the CRL facility marks a milestone in the Tata Group's effort at building an indigenous HPC solution". And Tata Group chairman, Shri Ratan Tata himself said that he is sure "this supercomputer and its successor systems will make a major contribution to India's ongoing scientific and technological initiatives". That was said modestly. May it be remembered that time was when the United States not only refused to provide India with a Supercomputer, but managed to persuade friendly countries not to help out India in its needs. Now India without any outside has triumphed. The Russians had been willing to sell the technology to India and had even signed an agreement with ISRO in 1992, but the US viciously invoked the Missile Technology Control Regime to bring pressure on Russia to deny India the technology. India should be grateful both to the US and Russia. It has learnt to stand on its own feet and thumb its nose at the Super Powers.

On January 21, 2008 India successfully placed an Israeli Spy Satellite in the polar orbit after what a news report said " a text-book launch" at Sriharikota Base. The Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C 10) lifted off flawlessly from its launch pad, to the delight of its scientific fraternity. Now comes a report from Kochi that after the success of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) produced by India, the country has decided to design and produce its own Light Observation Helicopter (LOH). Both the events are in many ways historic milestones in India's progress in the field of Science and Technology, but so little is know about the men who have made it to the top, Indians all, to their great pride.

It is not just in missilery that India is now to be counted. One has to read Shivanand Kanavi's fabulous book Sand to Silicon (Rupa and Co) to realise what fantastic contributions India has made in many other allied fields, but not necessarily within the Indian state boundaries. Think of Rajendra Singh, a wireless engineer and his wife Neera, a chemical engineer, now both living in the States. Singh hailed from a backward village, Kairoo, in Rajasthan which had neither electricity nor telephones. But he studied at Kanpur IIT, took a Ph.D in the States and he and his wife later became, according to Kanavi "the architects of most US cellular networks in the 1980s". In the 1990s, their consulting company spread its wings over 40 countries.
Who invented fibre optics? An Indian called Narindra Singh Kapanny. He was also the first to introduce lasers for eye surgery. Then there is C.K.N. Patel who won the prestigious National Medal of Science in the US in 1996 for his invention of the Carbon Dioxide Laser, the first Laser with high power applications, way back in 1964 at the Bell Laboratories. But how many in India know that? How many, for that matter, know that prototypes of personal computers were being made in India as far back as in the 1970s which were "as sophisticated as those being developed in the Silicon Valley"?

Apparently the Indian Government discouraged development of these PCs for some unknown reason. Kanavi mentions the name of Vinod Dham who led a project that created the Pentium, the most successful Intel Chip today. Then Kanavi mentions other names of Indians who played a pioneering role in developing design tools, names such as Raj Singh, Suhas Patel and Prabhu Goel.

The one dominant feature of Indians, according to educationists, is their grasp of mathematics. Kanavi remembers that on August 8, 2002, Manindra Agrawal, a faculty member at IIT Kanpur and two under-graduate students Neeraj Kayal and Nitin Saxena, hit the headlines in, of all papers, The New York Times, a rare happening for any group of scientists, when they announced a research paper that they had solved the centuries-old problem of a test for the prime nature of numbers. So good are Indians at mathematics.

Actually, in the early 80s, a young electrical engineer at Bell Labs, Narendra Karmarkar was able to find a method, using highly complex mathematics to speed up many problems in linear programming. The Integrated Gate Bipolar Transistors or IGDT had, as a co-inventor, an Indian, Jayant Baliga. Then we have Sorab Gandhi who did pioneering work in Gallium Arsenide in 1960s and 1970s, making compound semi-conductors possible. Umesh Mishra of the University of California at the Santa Barbara is quoted as saying that tomorrow's lighting might come from semi-conductor like Gallium Nitride.

According to Mishra "a normal incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours and a tubelight lasts 10,000 hours but a Gallium Nitride Light-Emitting Diode display can last 100,000, hours while consuming little power. Though many in India have heard of Sam Pitroda, few know that he is the inventor of the digital diary, that handy gizmo which helps one store schedules, addresses, telephone numbers and e-mail addresses. With models available at less than $ 100 each, the Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) are fast proliferating among travellers and executives. These PDAs, according to Kanavi, not only store addresses and appointments, they also contain digital scratch pads and can access e-mail through wireless Internet!

One has to read Kanavi's fascinating account to realise what tremendous scientific progress Indians have achieved. His book is reader-friendly and is written in language that anyone unfamiliar with technical words can understand. That, indeed is its uniqueness. There hasn't been another work like this and it raises our pride in being Indians! It is no easy task to make complex scientific concepts understandable even to the technologically unsophisticated but this is where Kanavi has succeeded. Kudos to him.

(Rupa & Co., 7/16, Ansari Road, Darya Ganj, New Delhi-110 002.)
Courtesy: http://www.organiser.org/, March 09, 2008

Thursday 3 April 2008

Peepul ke Neeche--Conversations

Ghadar Jari Hai, Vol 2, No. 1, Jan-March 2008

Delhi: 1857

We present a freewheeling discussion between Mahmood Farooqui and Shivanand, regarding Delhi around 1857. Mahmood is a historian, who has extensively studied archival material in Urdu regarding 1857 and particularly about the uprising in Delhi. He is currently writing a book on Delhi in 1857. He has also studied the vanished performing art of ‘Dastaangoi’. He has tried to revive the form by putting up a series of performances as well.

Shivanand: Let us start with some basic information about Delhi of those days, like population, geographical extent, political and cultural life

Mahmood Farooqui: By 1857 Delhi’s population was about a lakh of people and it was surrounded by the outer walls of the city built by Shahjahan, that is Shajahanabad, with 12 gates; Ajmeri gate, Kabuli gate, Lahori gate, Kashmiri gate etc. Delhi had many cities before like Mehruali, Kilokari, Tughlakabad etc. A few new settlements had come up. Outside Paharganj thana, subji mandi etc, also near Mehrauli, near Nizamuddin, a settlement near Badarpur etc.
The city was almost equally divided between Hindus and Muslims with some Jains. The court was a centre for certain kind of culture; for production of Urdu poetry, and music. The city had its own autonomous existence not revolving around the court. The king was fondly looked upon. A lot of Urdu poets congregated around him since he himself was one, but it was not as if he commanded the city’s culture and people had mushairas in houses etc.
From 1830-35 there was the experiment of Delhi College which taught European science in Indian language (Urdu), English was a subject they studied. Master Ramachand was a great mathematician of Delhi College who later converted to Christianity. Zakaullah, Sir Syed studied there and so on. There was a rise of a new kind of intellectual in Delhi. In Calcutta also it happened, but in Delhi it was different, because here they were supremely confident of their cultural self. Acquiring new knowledge but confident of what he had already. There was an intellectual efflorescence based on enquiry. Among Muslims there was religious activity based on followers of Shah Waliullah in Madarasa Rahimiya. The English called them Wahabis. However there were no Wahabis in India who were with Abdul Wahab of Saudi Arabia. These were not Wahabis but Waliullahis, who were engaged in resurgence and rebuilding and contesting English claims. Some of them like Syed Ahmed Shahid, Shah Ismail and so on, actually went out to fight a jihad against the English and only against the English not against Sikh rulers or Hindus or anyone else. Rahimiya madrasa was also a new kind of institution because it used print to propagate its views, to debate with English missionaries, to convert etc.

Was it just a theological seminary or were there other braches of knowledge like medicine, mathematics?

Standard madrasa then was based on a watered down Aristotelian system: works of logic based on Greek philosophy, some mathematics etc it was not just theology it depended also a lot on the teachers. It was not standardised and it could vary. So and so might be very good in Arabic theory or Persian prose so people went to study under him. It was like a gurukul, centred around the reputation of the guru. This was the intellectual ferment in the city.
The city had a lot of Muslim Punjabi merchants who had interest in the religious debate that was going on. There were also a lot of Khatris in the city and of course the English presence was there; the magistracy, the courts and the settlement in civil lines, which was coming up and the English were very much at home among the elite society of Delhi. That is why Ghalib had so many English friends and there were Englishmen writing in Urdu etc. This essentially was Delhi on the eve of 1857.

How was the administration organised? Was it mixed British and Mughal ?

I have tried to investigate it but a lot of administrative records of the time are not available in the national archives. For example, I could not ascertain who the police were reporting to? Judiciary was English but with the cooperation of Indians and they were using mixed laws. Criminal law was Islamic and civil was mixed. The postal system was under British control. There was revenue collection from principalities around Delhi by the English. There were seven of them in Pataudi, Dujana, Ballabgarh, Bahadurgarh, Jhajjar and two more. The wider hinterland was governed by tahsildars appointed by the English. The king, Bahadurshah Zafar was a pensioner and had revenues from some villages and rent from some shops in the city.

To give a little background, in 1761 Shah Alam the Mughal prince who was living outside of Delhi (Delhi was in anarchy), fought along with Nawab Shujauddaulah of Awadh, the Battle of Buxar against the English and lost it. So he and Shujauddaulah had to cede some rights to the English. After meandering for sometime in Allahabad etc he came to Delhi. He began to live under the protection of Mahadji Scindia, who was then controlling Delhi, around 1780. Then in 1803 British marched westwards and defeated the Marathas in the battle of Patparganj and the Mughal king came under the protection of English. The King became a pensioner of the English with increasing interference from the English in his rights and privileges. He died in 1837 and Bahadurshah then became the king. By then the English were even trying to interfere with the protocol and who will succeed etc. Clearly, Bahadurshah knew that he probably would be the last in Mughal lineage.

It is said frequently that Zafar was a reluctant leader and it was thrust upon him etc. At the same time the firman issued by Zafar on 12th May displays a lot of sagacity and well thought out statecraft. So what was his role and that of other members of his family?

There was a great deal of commotion in the city on the day that the soldiers arrived from Meerutt. Meanwhile some soldiers reached Bahadurshah and told him ‘come lead us we will win all of Hindustan for you’. His chief advisor, his hakim, was very reluctant and remained sceptical right through. He said, “these soldiers have turned against their masters do not depend on them”. However, the king did not commit to anything. The soldiers were hungry. They did not speak with one voice. Some were even disrespecting. Some pulled his beard and said ‘ye buddhe, come and fight’. They looked down upon royalty. They felt the royalty are useless people, where as soldiers were fighting for the country.

However, what he did the next day is very intriguing. He wrote a letter to all the Rajputana princes to come and help him fight. He would not have done so unless he was sure that these soldiers were going to stick around. If he were taken by surprise, he would wait and see. There is something there, which I have not figured out.

However, the princes were very popular with the army. That tells us something. They would not be so unless they were very much active against the English. Mirza Mughal was made the Commander In Chief at the insistence of the army. He was very influential. There were two or three other princes who were also active. Firoz Shah had gone to Haj and when he came back, he went directly to Awadh and fought. He was not Bahadurshah’s son.

What was the ‘court of mutineers’?

It was formed sometime in early July. I saw a document, which says Court of Administration qayam kiya jaata hai. Then it goes on to explain its composition and constitution (dastavez); two members from cavalry, infantry and artillery and four civilians with the Commander in Chief acting as the president; voting by majority; in case of disputes the matter to be referred to the king. If the king disagrees with the court about any matter then it will be discussed again in the court and if they do not change and decide to stick by their decision then it would be binding on the king and so on. They dealt with administration, finance, everything. Similar courts were formed in Lucknow, Kanpur and even Jhansi. Soldiers insisted on this and even though we only remember the royal leaders, everywhere they were circumscribed by these courts of soldiers. They often mistrusted the old rulers. They did not want the old to dominate. They clearly wanted a consultative role, a republican concept of governance.
Most orders are coming from CIC, but even the CIC is questioned, e.g. there is a note from the accountant to the CIC that how is the expenditure on the elephant used by CIC to be accounted for. He says the court will not accept it as a military expenditure. Then the CIC says do not put that in the account. I will speak to the members of the court and then see who should pay. This is a month later. So obviously the court was very important and hovering behind every order of CIC. For example there is a letter from a spy, which says, ‘the soldier’s court met and they denounced the officers and said these guys do not want to fight, they are pilfering our money and promoting their favourites. Today we are dismissing all of them and taking over and so on.’

What was the role of Bakht Khan?

Before Bakht Khan’s arrival with the Bareily contingent, every new group of soldiers that arrived went to the Ridge first, fought with great valour and then came to the city and settled down. In between there is bhang and courtesans and so on. When Bakht Khan came in early July, he introduced a great amount of vigour. He superseded Mirza Mughal and he was appointed the Lord Governor by the King, since Bahadurshah trusted him. He was close to Moulvi Sarfaraz Ali who was the leader of Mujahideens (they came for jehad against the English and other volunteers). Bakht Khan organised proper battles by turns, he also organised salary distribution, tax collection etc. But there was rivalry between him and Mirza Mughal. In about a month he started losing steam. There was no unified command; soldiers were loyal to their own regiment. There was also a lot of rivalry between the Bareily and Neemuch contingents. Bakht Khan decided to go and attack the English from behind and cut off the supplies from Punjab. It was an obvious thing to do, but no one had thought of it. However, in the battle he refused to help the Neemuch brigade led by Sidhara Singh and Hira Singh for which he was reprimanded by the King. But Bakht Khan said I am not anybody’s naukar to go and help anybody.
There was no proper hinterland for supplies. There is shortage of sulphur of vegetables of atta and almost everything else. The thanedars were then asked to organise supplies and they managed to do so. Over all what is significant is not that they lost but they held out for four months under these circumstances!

What would you consider as the major cause of defeat at Delhi? Also supposedly Bakht Khan asked Zafar to leave Delhi with the soldiers but Zafar refused to do so. Why was that?

You have to see it from Bahadurshah’s point of view. What he saw was infighting and indiscipline. They were not fighting under unified command. A number of times he said “I am leaving Delhi I am going to the shrine in Mehrauli, I will go for Haj, I will commit suicide” and so on. He was trying to use many stratagems to bring them under control. Bakht Khan was brave and a great strategist but had failed to bring Delhi under unified command. He also did not go and help Hira Singh and Sidhara Singh at a critical point. The situation worsened. Soldiers were coming into deewan e khas with shoes on, sometimes with their horses and arms etc. This had not happened even in the times of Nadir Shah or even English.

Therefore, he had many reasons to be unhappy with the soldiers. Zafar fighting from Delhi was potent but Zafar fighting from elsewhere would not matter much. He knew that the dynasty is over. He did not expect to be spared by the British.

What role did religion play in Delhi during 1857?

There was an enormous amount of religious rhetoric. The firmans and the press kept saying ‘protect deen-dharam’. They were openly inciting people against the English using religion. There is nothing wrong with that. I do not know how Prof Irfan Habib says that religion did not play a role in 1857. They were creating a constituency for war in people’s mind. Not that religion was very important to these soldiers, after all they were using the same cartridges which are supposed to be coated with animal fat. Second thing is the appeal for Hindu-Muslim unity. This was the first time that Indians themselves created two categories of Hindus and Muslims. ‘India is where both Hindus and Muslims live’. This is not self evident. It was created in 1857. The whole secular nationalism still talks about unity of Hindus and Muslims. Why don’t they talk of India as a land of taluqdars and peasants or of five rivers etc? The people did not see themselves as Hindus and Muslims but 1857 made them think so. These are not descriptive categories but constitutive categories.
It made everybody into Hindus and Muslims. We should question this construct. While we laud 1857, we should note that it essentialised us as Hindus and Muslims. There are all kinds of ways India can be seen.
After 1857, we started fighting Europe on its terms. During 1857, we fought Europe on our own philosophical and epistemological grounds.

Can you comment on the need to study 1857 today?

There was wide spread resentment against the British and hence there was support for the Ghadar even among those who did not take up arms or contribute monies. That is why we should not study 1857 in terms of victory and defeat but in terms of sentiments. We have only asked nationalistic questions in studying 1857. Do we study 1857 for Indian bravery, for military strategy for nationalism? If we do, we would be disappointed. We will only see English triumphalism. Not all patriotic struggles need be nationalistic struggles. We need to ask more intelligent questions. The soldiers became radical. Why did this not proceed further? Why are there no accounts of julahas (weavers) of Allahabad fighting. What was Kunwar Singh inspired by, what was Tatya Tope inspired by and so on. There should be monographs on Kanpur, on Lucknow or even Deccan and so on. Let us depict what actually happened.

Mahmood, your book on Delhi would be looked forward to and I hope there will be more such empirical studies instead of tepid and simplistic accounts. Thank you.

(Ghadar Jari Hai is a quarterly magazine produced from New Delhi, India. For more information write to S Raghavan, Editor, jaarihai@yahoo.co.in)