India’s historical battlefields that you can visit

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Panipat is a city in Haryana that bore witness to three significant events. While the first Battle of Panipat was fought between the King of Delhi Sultanate Ibrahim Lodhi and Mughal Ruler Babur, and marked the beginning of Mughal era in India, the second one was fought between King Hem Chandra Vikramaditya and Mughal Emperor Akbar, in which the Mughals emerged victorious. Finally, the third battle was fought between the invaders from Afghanistan and the Maratha Empire. If we go by the records, all these battles played an important role in forming the Indian history. To know more about this battle, you can visit the Panipat Museum and Kabuli Shah Mosque, which was built by Babur.

‘Jai Hind’, ‘Garibi Hatao’ to ‘Khela Hobe’ — slogans show how Indian politics has evolved

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Slogans are the chariot of a political movement that carry politicians to the temple of governance and have been used to sway the mood and opinion of people across the political spectrum worldwide.

Communication has been a key instrument between the people of the land and the aspirants of government formation, and slogans help bridge the gap. The power of slogans arises from the simple fact that a few words can topple governments, inspire masses and bring about a revolution. A slogan crystallises a collective idea that resonates with the people.

They say “action speaks louder than words”, but in politics, slogans have allowed politicians to rephrase it to “words speak louder than actions”.

The word ‘slogan’ is derived from the Scottish Gaelic ‘sluaghghairm’, meaning a clan’s battle-cry. The success of a slogan depends on the emotion it can arouse in the masses.

Another important factor is brevity — the briefer the slogan, the easier it is to remember and repeat. A good slogan perfectly compresses the broad and complex agenda or ideology of a political party into a simple phrase.

The transcendence of slogans beyond their political and personal nature has been a frequent occurrence as the accumulated power exuded by these mere words find deeper and greater assimilation in public life.

How slogans evolved in India

Beginning with some of the most prominent ones from the pre-Independence era, let us understand how slogans have evolved in India.

“Jai Hind” — the battle outcry given by Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose was adopted as a national slogan in India after 1947. Today, the slogan has no political boundaries, as we have grown up hearing it in events ranging from our school functions to political rallies.

Another slogan, “Vande Mataram”, coined by Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, was used as a patriotic salute and a war cry.

Sometimes, it takes more prominent public figures to popularise a slogan. An example is “Inquilab Zindabad”, which was made famous by freedom fighter Bhagat Singh but was originally coined by Urdu poet Hasrat Mohani in 1921.

When you want to challenge an authoritarian figure, a slogan is a chief tool to gather the masses. Lala Lajpat Rai opposed the Simon Commission of 1928 with his slogan “Simon Go Back”, which infuriated the British so much that it provoked them to attack the peaceful rally. Today, people across the political spectrum have adopted the slogan with their own modifications to protest.

In 1965, Lal Bahadur Shastri gave the famous slogan “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan” during the India-Pakistan war, which has been used by the farm law protesters to rally for their demands.

Perhaps, Atal Bihari Vajpayee transformed Shastri’s slogan to its most effective form for “developing India” with “Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan, Jai Vigyaan”.

In 1971, two words — “Garibi Hatao” — by Indira Gandhi saw her gain a sweeping victory, and also sowed the seeds for her version of socialism in India. All these examples clearly demonstrate the long-lasting impact that slogans create, and how they can be easily adapted, adjusted, manipulated, or misconstrued to meet certain political agendas.

Fast forward to 2014, the juggernaut of Modi-Shah got a landslide victory riding on the back of a series of slogans like “Ache din aane wale hai”, “Abki baar, Modi sarkaar”, “Mandir wahi banayenge”, “Naa khaunga, na khaane dunga”, etc.

BJP’s 2019 election rallies also primarily used a rejigged avatar of the 2014 slogan as — “Phir ek baar, Modi sarkaar”. Today, the Opposition uses the altered forms of their slogans to target PM Modi on the failed promises.

Slogans from Bengal

In 2021, the scorching political battle for West Bengal, probably the most intense since the Battle of Plassey, was fought between the BJP and the TMC.

TMC’s slogan for the election — “Khela Hobe” — created shockwaves across the state as well as the country. It proved that proper channelisation of words and planning can perforate Modi-Shah’s unfathomable success mantra.

The “Khela Hobe” slogan has given hope to other opposition parties of India, which is evident from the fact that parties like the Samajwadi Party are using a local translation of the slogan, Khela Hoi, to fight the Yogi government.

Every opposition party in India now wishes to emulate Mamata’s success with this slogan.

This is the power of slogans in Indian political discourse. They have evolved from helping India gain independence to masking real issues like education, employment, poverty, etc., and replace them with futile matters.

India’s journey from “Jai Hind” to “Khela Hobe” is extremely fascinating and shows how Indian politics has evolved.

However, other countries are equally guilty of toxification of the power of slogans. The acceptance of a particular party’s slogan shows which party was able to sway the mood of the people, instead of reflecting what is truly on their minds.

Political slogans were originally supposed to sway people on the basis of emotion, reason, and credibility. Sadly, reason and credibility have been missing. We must file an FIR (Find, Investigate and Research) before it’s too late to find them.

Arghyadeep Das is a student of K.J. Somaiya College of Engineering, Mumbai

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Armenians, Clive and the Battle of Plassey

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The Battle of Plassey was fought on June 23, 1757, exactly 261 years ago. Not many people know that Robert Clive’s victory was eased by support from one very unlikely quarter: the Armenians, a trading community that had fled persecution in Persia and settled in India in large numbers during the Mughal era

On June 23, 1757, the Battle of Plassey led to the unlikely conquest of Bengal by Robert Clive’s army. George Bruce Malleson, in The Decisive Battles of India (1883), described Plassey as the most unheroic English victory. It was “Plassey which necessitated,” wrote Malleson, “the conquest and colonisation of the Cape of Good Hope, of the Mauritius, the protectorship over Egypt; Plassey which gave to the sons of her middle-classes the finest field for the development of their talent and industry the world has ever known… the conviction of which underlies the thought of every true Englishman.”

It was Plassey, however, that exposed the subcontinent’s internal conflicts, destroying the native dynasties then in power and also the economy of imperial Bengal.

In the early 18th century, India was a gigantic cesspool of business interests torn between European powers, native rulers, and the local or migrant merchants — all of them prowling about the hunting grounds of opium, saltpetre, textiles, spices, and bullion. In 1756, anticipating French and Dutch fortifications in Bengal, the English began reinforcing troops at Fort William, their ramparts in Calcutta. Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal, had just succeeded to the throne, after his grandfather Ali Vardi Khan. Infuriated, he asked the English to stop their fortifications, and when they ignored him, Siraj ud-Daulah attacked the fort and its neighbouring church.

On June 26, 1756, the British forces surrendered, Calcutta was renamed Alinagar, and a mosque was ordered to be built inside the fort. The Nawab captured the British enclave in Cossimbazar, near Murshidabad, and imprisoned many British officers, including a young Warren Hastings.

In Fort William, about 70 officers and soldiers of an English company, which included Indian, Portuguese and Armenian soldiers, were herded into the fort’s small prison. Overnight, 43 of them died due to asphyxiation, in an incident that became infamous as the Black Hole of Calcutta.

One year later, Clive exacted revenge at Plassey. With the help of the Nawab’s uncle, Mir Jaffar, and local moneylenders, the Jagat Seths, Siraj ud-Daulah was betrayed. The formidable Bengal army of about 60,000 soldiers, 300 cannons and 300 elephants outnumbered Clive’s forces of 3,000 by 20 times, and yet ended up deserting or surrendering. The battle was lost by soldiers who did not fight and won by generals or subedars, not exactly gallant.

In 1756, as Calcutta burned from Fort William to Fulta, Emin arrived in London, working his way as a lascar

‘The Plassey Plunder,’ as the aftermath of the battle came to be known, had the English navy and army each receiving a tribute of £275,000 (about £32 million today). The Company annually received from Jaffar — who supplanted Siraj ud-Daulah in Bengal — £3 million (about £308 million), between 1757 and 1760. As a clerk in Madras, Clive’s annual salary was £5, with £40 for expenses. When he returned to England in 1767, he was ‘Clive of India,’ with a trade revenue of £4 million, more enormous than any European kingdom then, and had a personal jagir of £34,567 (£3.5 million today). Clive’s father and he purchased seats in the British Parliament, and a peerage in Ireland, where his County Clare estate was renamed ‘Plassey’ for the new Baron Clive.

The Armenians of Bengal

All the histories of Plassey usually only recount Clive’s coalition with Jaffar, the Jagat Seths and Omichand. But another major force to reckon with in Bengal then were the Armenians. Without them, the victory at Plassey would have been a mirage for Clive and the Company, especially after the bedlam of 1756.

Three prominent Armenians of this time were Khoja Wajid, the Bengal merchant who supported Robert Clive but was later arrested on suspicion that he had shown allegiance to the French; Joseph Emin, the adventurer who travelled to London and for a decade remained a talked-about figure among the English nobility, and Khoja Petrus Aratoon, an ally of the English Company, who may well have gone on to succeed Mir Qasim as the Nawab of Bengal but for his assassination in 1763.

A century marked by religious intolerance and forced conversion of Armenians to Catholicism and Islam, exacerbated by the Afghan invasion of the 1720s, and the pillaging armies of Nadir Shah in the 1740s, had led to a mass-exodus of Armenians from Persia, Turkey and Afghanistan into India. Almost every native power or European company of the time strategically ushered Armenians to their side to jointly explore Asian opportunities.

Akbar exempted Armenians from taxes on their trade with the Persian Gulf. The Armenians settled in Surat (Gujarat) in the 16th century, and in Chinsurah (West Bengal) in the late 17th century. In 1665, they were allowed to form a settlement in Saidabad, in Murshidabad district of Bengal, after a royal farmaan was issued by Aurangzeb. Besides Murshidabad, Surat and Benares assumed robust identities as towns of silk crafts due to Armenian trade.

Armenian Street, Armanitola, and Armenian Ghat came up in 18th century Calcutta to the rhythms of Armenian vessels lumbering between India, Persia, Turkey and China. Built in 1734 by Huzoorimal, Armenian Ghat was the site of the first ticket reservation room of the East India Railway Company between 1854 and 1857. Between 1873 and 1902, the Calcutta Tramway Company ran a metre-gauge horse-drawn tram service between Sealdah and Armenian Ghat.

By the 20th century, there were about 25,000 Armenians in India, and about 1,000 Armenians in Calcutta alone, more than one-fourth of the population of 3,200 British settlers in the city.

For Clive and Company

The rise of the Armenians in Bengal was due to their ability to milk the trade conflicts and monopolies between the European and regional powers. They also decided to anglicise themselves to appease the dominant colonial power.

In 1744, Joseph Emin fled with his family — from Persia and later Afghanistan — joining about 4,000 Armenians in Calcutta. Emin wanted to train in the manners, language, arts and science of the English. In 1756, as Calcutta burned from Fort William to Fulta, Emin arrived in London, working his way as a lascar. He happened to meet Edmund Burke, who took him under his wing. Emin later copied Burke’s renowned essay, ‘On the Sublime and the Beautiful,’ among other of his works.

The young man found influential patrons in Mrs. Montagu, Sir William Jones and the Dukes of Northumberland and Cumberland, received military training at Woolwich, and joined the English army against the French. In 1772, Clive, at the behest of Burke, recommended a military promotion for Emin, who returned to Calcutta a little later. With the aid of Montagu, Jones and 73 subscribers, he published his autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Joseph Émïn (1792), at the age of 66.

“Who could have thought,” wrote Burke in a letter to Emin, “the day I met you in St. James’s Park that this kingdom would rule the greater part of India? But kingdoms rise and pass away — emperors are captive and blinded — pedlars become emperors.” Indeed, there were several notorious pedlars and kingmakers in Clive’s Bengal — quite a few of them Armenians. One of them was Khoja Wajid, who held business transactions with the French, English and the Dutch, while trading with Mocha and Basra. Other noted Armenian merchants were Avak di Aratoon and Khachik di Khojamal. Khoja Petrus Aratoon, another leading Armenian merchant, maintained close links with Saidabad and the Mughal durbar in Murshidabad. His two brothers, Khoja Gregory Aratoon and Khoja Barseek Aratoon, were also leading merchants and diplomats in and around Calcutta.

Wajid was the prince of saltpetre trade and trade negotiations in Bengal. Anxious to maintain his monopoly and good relations with the other Europeans, while pretending to act as diplomatic agent, Wajid suggested involving the French in the mediations between Clive and Siraj. But when the British sacked Hooghly in 1757, Wajid’s businesses were destroyed, and his relationship with the English began to decline. Moreover, Clive suspected him of sympathising with Siraj and having a hand in French interventions in Bengal. In 1759, Wajid helped Jaffar plot a conspiracy with the Dutch traders against the English. After the fall of the Dutch at the Battle of Chinsurah, Wajid fell out of favour with all Europeans. He was taken into captivity by Clive, where he conveniently killed himself.

In high places

Wajid’s tumble coincided with the rise of Aratoon, who had been strengthening his English ties, inchmeal, for over a decade. After the Black Hole of Calcutta, Aratoon provided provisions for the East India Company garrison. If not for the “humane Armenians”, wrote Indian-Armenian historian Mesrovb Jacob Seth, “British fugitives at Fulta might have been starved to surrender.” Aratoon was employed by Clive as a secret agent during his negotiations with Jaffar for the overthrow of Siraj ud-Daulah in the Plassey Conspiracy — a job that otherwise naturally belonged to Wajid.

Aratoon’s position and influence with Clive rivalled that of Hastings’, who was merely 19 then, a diplomat and Governor-General-in-the-making. Aratoon became a member of the East India Company’s Council in Madras, and turned into an ambassador for the Armenians in Bengal — henceforth characterised by their philanthropy, piety and steadfast loyalty to British imperial interests.

Before and after Plassey, Armenian aid helped dramatically consolidate British trade and military presence in Bengal. Besides shaping the metropolis of Calcutta, the commercial and diplomatic forays of Indian Armenians also went into rebuilding the colonial epicentre of London, a hundred years after the Great Fire of 1666, with the massive imperial loot of the English Company. Armenian commercial support, for instance, helped build East India House at Leadenhall Street — the headquarters for many years of the world’s first multinational company.

In the many decades of regurgitating our colonial history, we have been guilty of ignoring the very real impact of Armenian influence, trade, diplomacy and culture on the course of events in India.

Armenians in India: A long history

Nearly seven centuries before Vasco da Gama, a merchant-diplomat named Thomas Cana is said to have been the first Armenian to reach the Kerala coast in 780. Cana traded in spices and muslin cloth, and is referred to in local chronicles as Kanaj Tomma or The Merchant Thomas. The Armenians are described as ‘The Merchant Princes of India’, and according to Indian-Armenian historian Mesrovb Jacob Seth, they were not men of letters but shrewd businessmen. “Their only ambition in life was to amass wealth,” he writes. It was in Akbar’s reign that the Armenian’s wealth and influence grew. Akbar is not only believed to have had an Armenian queen, he also had an Armenian doctor and chief justice. In 1715, it was an Armenian in Farrukhsiyar’s court who helped East India Company get the Grand Firman that first granted them duty-free trading rights in Bengal. In 1688, it was again an Armenian who first introduced East India Company to the Mughal Court. In return, according to an agreement signed between the Company and Khoja Phanoos Kalandar, the Armenians would get similar trading rights as the English. The Armenians had settlements in several parts of India, including Agra, Surat, Mumbai, Kanpur, Chinsurah, Chandernagore, Calcutta, Chennai, Gwalior and Lucknow. They also had a presence in Lahore, Dhaka and Kabul. Gauhar Jaan, the famous singer who was one of the first artists to be recorded on a 78 rpm record, was of Armenian origin; her given name was Angelina Yeoward.

The writer is Assistant Professor of English at O.P. Jindal Global University.