India – The Siege Within – by MJ Akbar

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India: The Siege Within: Challenges to a nation’s unity.
Authored by India’s most respected journalist, MJ Akbar, this insightful book systematically analyzes the hidden faultlines threatening unity of India post independence. Divided into 3 parts, it briefly touches upon aspects of birth of Pakistan (and the Indo-Pak conflicts), inter religious & linguistic troubles haunting India, the Punjab problem and finally the Kashmir problem with some interesting anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book.

electionIn the first part, with events leading to the partition in 1947 as the springboard, the author dives into the complexities of the Hindu-Muslim relations from religious as well as political perspectives.

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The author logically explains why Jinnah’s Pakistan has been a failed nation, how Jinnah himself was confused after the partition and how Pakistan has been envious of India’s progress and hence has been resorting to crooked means (including war & terrorism) to hinder India’s progress.

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In the subsequent chapters, the challenges threatening the unity of India have been presented seamlessly with references to events including the fast leading to death of Potti Sriramalu and its political consequences in 1950s leading to new state of Andhra, anti-Hindi agitations in Tamil Nadu during 1960s and more.

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Part 2 explains the Punjab problem in great detail. The author begins with the birth & history of Sikhism along with its evolution and identity crisis which had turned into Khalistan revolution led by Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale.

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The author had been one of the few journalists during 1980s who had personally interviewed the Khalistan movement leader Bhindranwale and has shared several insights related to the character & zealotry of the leader which might give us an idea about why majority of the Punjabis had not subscribed to his ideologies and had even mulled over migrating to some other state if he continued to grow in strength.

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Part 3 is completely dedicated to Kashmir issue. In his signature style of narration, the author takes us back in time to revisit the birth & history of Kashmir and goes on to explain how the valley turned controversial due to its geography and demographics.

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The author describes the issue in great detail outlining Farooq Abdullah’s roller coaster political ride, Nehru’s role in handling the issue, plight of the Kashmiri and his identity crisis (There is no mention of Kashmiri Pandit genocide because it took place after the book was published).

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Although the book was published in 1984, it needs no revision except for addition of few more chapters as the whole book has been jam-packed with facts which anyway do not change over time. The author finally concludes the book with a quick summary and raises some very important question which were relevant in 1980s, and surprisingly, are relevant even today.

I found it be a very well researched book with neutral outlook in which the author has slammed even the most revered leaders irrespective of their party or religion without taking any sides. A highly recommended book for understanding how religions, linguistics, geographies & demographics have been influencing unity and affecting harmony in India.

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