Tolstoy on Kaiser William II

September 5, 2020

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

Tolstoy writes this about Kaiser William II of Germany, a good twenty years before the outbreak of the World War I. Sage words of caution from the wise man. Any resemblance to other persons, living or dead, is what it is.

/In Germany, where compulsory service first originated, Caprivi has given expression to what had been hitherto so assiduously concealed–that is, that the men that the soldiers will have to kill are not foreigners alone, but their own countrymen, the very working people from whom they themselves are taken. And this admission has not opened people’s eyes, has not horrified them! They still go like sheep to the slaughter, and submit to everything required of them.

And that is not all: the Emperor of Germany has lately shown still more clearly the duties of the army, by thanking and rewarding a soldier for killing a defenseless citizen who made his approach incautiously. By rewarding an action always regarded as base and cowardly even by men on the lowest level of morality, Wilhelm has shown that a soldier’s chief duty–the one most appreciated by the authorities–is that of executioner; and not a professional executioner who kills only condemned criminals, but one ready to butcher any innocent man at the word of command.

And even that is not all. In 1892, the same Wilhelm, the ENFANT TERRIBLE of state authority, who says plainly what other people only think, in addressing some soldiers gave public utterance to the following speech, which was reported next day in thousands of newspapers: “Conscripts!” he said, “you have sworn fidelity to ME before the altar and the minister of God! You are still too young to understand all the importance of what has been said here; let your care before all things be to obey the orders and instructions given you. You have sworn fidelity TO ME, lads of my guard; THAT MEANS THAT YOU ARE NOW MY SOLDIERS, that YOU HAVE GIVEN YOURSELVES TO ME BODY AND SOUL. For you there is now but one enemy, MY enemy. IN THESE DAYS OF SOCIALISTIC SEDITION IT MAY COME TO PASS THAT I COMMAND YOU TO FIRE ON YOUR OWN KINDRED, YOUR BROTHERS, EVEN YOUR OWN FATHERS AND MOTHERS–WHICH GOD FORBID!–even then you are bound to obey my orders without hesitation.”

This man expresses what all sensible rulers think, but studiously conceal. He says openly that the soldiers are in HIS service, at HIS disposal, and must be ready for HIS advantage to murder even their brothers and fathers.In the most brutal words he frankly exposes all the horrors and criminality for which men prepare themselves in entering the army, and the depths of ignominy to which they fall in promising obedience.

Like a bold hypnotizer, he tests the degree of insensibility of the hypnotized subject. He touches his skin with a red-hot iron; the skin smokes and scorches, but the sleeper does not awake.

This miserable man, imbecile and drunk with power, outrages in this utterance everything that can be sacred for a man of the modern world. And yet all the Christians, liberals, and cultivated people, far from resenting this outrage, did not even observe it./

– Leo Tolstoy, The Kingdom of God is Within You

Coimbatore’s Shaheen Bagh

February 27, 2020

(9.20 p.m., 26-2-2020)
I am at an anti-CAA protest site in Coimbatore, termed as Coimbatore’s Shaheen Bagh. There could easily be around a couple of thousand people…men, women and children. The crowd kept growing since 5 p.m. when I came in. Most of them are Muslims but there are a few from other communities too – some of them from the Communist party and the DK. It is the 8th day of protest here. It is 9:20 p.m. The crowd is staying intact. I am told many of them are staying for 24 hours. Quite a few women gave fiery speeches fluently and passionately. They are clearly not just a front for the men, as some friends accuse. When entire families and especially women are here, children are bound to be here. Many of the elder children are listening intently. The younger children are playing. The crowd is largely composed, clapping occasionally and never once booing anyone even when they spoke some uncomfortable truths.

There were no ad-hoc slogans. They were raised only at specific timeslots. Not all slogans were to my liking but were by and large unobjectionable.

Some of the Muslim youngsters spoke quite well. A young man spoke of the need for a library at the protest site and dialogues on religion and politics for the future. They were all claiming that their religion might have come from outside but they have been on this land from much before those who have brought this act. This assertion of ownership by Muslims over this land and nation is an unintended positive fallout of this sinister move by the government.

I went there to just participate and not to preach, but I was asked if I would like to speak and I gladly agreed. I spoke for about 20 minutes, covering many points I have been writing here. I spoke about my two favorite prominent Muslims in Pakistan who were persecuted there and had to live in prison/exile but would not fall under the ambit of CAA – Ghaffar Khan and Malala. I spoke of the nonviolence of Kudai Khitmatgars and Garhwal Rifles. I emphasized on the need to continue to keep the protests nonviolent, whatever be the provocation. When I mentioned that an unnamed BJP councillor saved a Muslim family, and even to see one such heart transformed is a victory for their peaceful protests, people welcomed it.

People want peace. And they want to assert their rightful claim over this nation and their citizenship in this nation. Any respectable government should reciprocate positively to this fair demand.

As for expenses to keep the protests going, you must be here to see and believe what is happening here. People spontaneously keep donating money. Children come and give away their savings in piggy banks. When the collection buckets were brought around, everyone put in 50s and 100s or what they could. I heard that women dropped their jewels in collection boxes. These are tales out of books on Gandhi though there is no such old man to coax the women and children. There is no greater slander than to say people are at these protests for money.

If we are to save Delhi and avoid Delhi-like violent mob attacks elsewhere, people of all communities should step out of their homes and stand shoulder to shoulder with the protesting people once and you may do it again. Or at least break your silences. Injustice for one is Injustice for all.

One may not agree with all that is said by so many different people with different ideologies in such leaderless mass protests and there are bound to be a few historical/factual errors in such emotional impromptu speeches. But what is important is I could see and sense that this is a determined, disciplined and nonviolent gathering making a just demand. There is no shame for a government in listening to the voice of its own people and rolling back an unpopular and unjust law. It is way better than sending mobs to provoke retaliation and use that as a pretext to destroy them. It will go a long way in creating a harmonious country. Else we will be left with radicalized populations on both sides.

Collective conscience and capital punishment

January 17, 2020

What does the collective conscience of India feel about the (accidental?) arrest of the DSP, Davinder Singh, and Naveed Babu, another ex-policeman and alleged Hizbul militant, who has been accused of killing non-Kashmiri migrants after withdrawal of 370?

Apparently, Afzal Guru had mentioned about the torture he suffered at the hands of Davinder Singh, and how Davinder Singh forced him to take the terrorists who attacked the parliament to Delhi and rent a flat. There is a detailed interview with him in The Caravan on this.

I have no idea if Afzal Guru was a willing participant or forced by Davinder Singh. But he made such an accusation, and now with the arrest of Davinder Singh, the accusation cannot be brushed aside as nonchalantly as it was earlier.

Was/is Davinder Singh acting against the establishment or for the establishment, we may never know. It is as murky as it can get.

Davinder still has a chance to make his defence. Mohammad Afzal doesn’t.

This is one of the reasons why I oppose capital punishment and police encounters and mob lynching, whatever be the nature of the crime and whoever is the accused.

Tolstoy on nationalism

September 1, 2019

Leo Tolstoy, more than Gandhi, Nehru or even Tagore, is the one person whom the nationalists should fear the most. He can be called the Father of anti-nationalism.

This essay by Tolstoy is one that I keep revisiting.

I have shared the first quote before. I am sharing a few more excerpts, though the whole essay is a must read and sounds more relevant than ever.

It definitely challenges the whole world order and sounds too idealistic and impractical. It is difficult for us to imagine an alternative in the foreseeable future. But setting aside our set notions and conditioning, this essay deserves a deep reading from everyone. It challenges and provokes. As he says, humanity is ‘irresistibly moving from lower to higher ideas’. Whether it is true or not, it is a good belief to hold. And it is a warning bell that needs sounding in this self-destructive ultra-nationalist phase across the world.


“I have already several times expressed the thought that the feeling of patriotism is in our day an unnatural, irrational, and harmful feeling, and is the cause of a great part of the ills from which mankind is suffering; and that, consequently, this feeling should not be cultivated, as is now being done, but should, on the contrary, be suppressed and eradicated by all means available to rational men. Yet, strange to say, though it is undeniable that the universal armaments and the destructive wars which are ruining the peoples result from that one feeling, all my arguments showing the backwardness, anachronism, and harmfulness of patriotism have been met, and are still met, either by silence, or by intentional misconception, or by a strange unvarying reply to the effect that only bad patriotism (Jingoism, or Chauvinism) is bad, but that real, good patriotism is a very elevated moral feeling, to condemn which is not only irrational but wicked.

As to what this real, good patriotism consists of nothing at all is said; or, if anything is said, instead of explanation we get declamatory, inflated phrases; or, finally, something else is substituted for patriotism, something which has nothing in common with the patriotism we all know, and from the results of which we all suffer so severely.”

“the maintenance and defence of any nationality—Russian, German, French, or Anglo-Saxon, provoking the corresponding maintenance and defence not only of Hungarian, Polish, and Irish nationalities, but also of Basque, Provençal, Mordvinian, Tchouvásh, and many other nationalities—serves not to harmonise and unite men, but to estrange and divide them more and more from one another.”

“One would expect the harmfulness and irrationality of patriotism to be evident to people. But the surprising fact is that cultured and learned men not only do not notice it for themselves, but they contest every exposure of the harm and stupidity of patriotism with the greatest obstinacy and ardour, though without any rational grounds; and they continue to belaud it as beneficent and elevating.”

The small oppressed nationalities which have fallen under the power of the great States,—the Poles, Irish, Bohemians, Fins, or Armenians,—reacting against the patriotism of their conquerors, which is the cause of their oppression, catch from their oppressors the infection of this feeling of patriotism,—which has ceased to be necessary, and is now obsolete, unmeaning, and harmful,—and catch it to such a degree that all their activity is concentrated upon it, and they, themselves suffering from the patriotism of the stronger nations, are ready to perpetrate on other peoples, for the sake of this same patriotism, the very same deeds that their oppressors have perpetrated and are perpetrating on them.

All the peoples of the so-called Christian world have been reduced by patriotism to such a state of brutality, that not only those who are obliged to kill or be killed desire slaughter and rejoice in murder, but all the people of Europe and America, living peaceably in their homes exposed to no danger, are, at each war—thanks to easy means of communication, and to the press—in the position of the spectators in a Roman circus, and, like them, delight in the slaughter, and raise the bloodthirsty cry, “Pollice verso.”[1]

Not adults only, but also children, pure, wise children, rejoice, according to their nationality, when they hear that the number killed and lacerated by lyddite or other shells is not seven hundred but one thousand Englishmen or Boers.
And parents (I know of such cases) encourage their children in such brutality.

But that is not all. Every increase in the army of one nation (and every nation being in danger seeks to increase its army for patriotic reasons) obliges its neighbours to increase their army, also from patriotism, and this evokes a fresh increase by the first nation.

A government, therefore, and specially a government entrusted with military power, is the most dangerous organisation possible.
The government in the widest sense, including capitalists and press, is nothing else than an organisation which places the greatest part of the people in the power of a smaller part who dominate them; that smaller part is subject to a yet smaller part, and that again to a yet smaller, and so on, reaching at last a few people, or one single man, who by means of military force has power over all the rest. So that all this organisation resembles a cone, of which all the parts are completely in the power of those people, or of that one person, who are, or is, at the apex.

They are afraid of Anarchists’ bombs, and are not afraid of this terrible organisation which is always threatening them with the greatest calamities.


Understand that the question, who manages to seize Wei-hai-wei, Port Arthur, or Cuba,—your government or another,— does not affect you, or rather every such seizure made by your government injures you because it inevitably brings in its train all sorts of pressure on you by your government, to force you to take part in the robbery and violence by which alone such seizures are made, or can be retained when made. Understand that your life can in no way be bettered by Alsace becoming German or French, and Ireland or Poland being free or enslaved;

– Tolstoy

The Thorny Fence

August 26, 2018

(This essay first appeared in Tamizhini e-magazine)


Thoothukudi. A polluting factory. Years of sporadic protest, culminating in a sustained 100-day mass protest, leading up to police firing on the last day. 15 people reported dead. Probably more. With the factory closed, for now, and with all the dead cremated and long gone, we may forget who the protestors were; forget whether they were social or anti-social, national or anti-national; forget what the protests were about; forget the right and wrong of it.  But I cannot yet forget the visuals capturing the sharpshooters in action on a van top. I wonder, did their minds waver? Did their nerves twitch? Did their hearts palpitate? Did their fingers tremble? Did a single thought cross their minds that their targets were people, full of life, not even foes they’ve been trained to hate, but their own people, fathers, mothers and daughters? Did any of them question the order to shoot?

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Farewell to Arms

December 17, 2014

While we rightly denounce the perpetrators of Peshawar crime as inhuman and intoxicated with religion, let us not forget that school killings are not confined to Pakistan.

It doesn’t take such high levels of misguided religious indoctrination to do this unthinkable and unjustifiable act.

In the last 5 years alone, 111 students/staff have been shot dead and 123 injured, in various school shootings in USA. (From wikipedia)

Without brainbreaking analysis, one can see what is common to the random shooters in US and the organized Taliban : GUNS.

Unless the developed and large countries, including India, stop indulging in the arms race, arms manufacturing and arms marketing, we will continue to grieve over such ghastly deeds.

It is not as if there was no violence before sophisticated arms, but if being inhuman is also in the nature of humans, why should our elected governments facilitate such brutality?

We have been hearing many well-meaning but patronizing comments in India, since yesterday. If India can take the lead in this, and announce, unilaterally, a massive cut in its defense budget and divert that money towards education of children in India (and Pakistan, if we can be generous and strategic), India can rediscover its lost moral leadership. Pakistan will reciprocate, and maybe, the world will, in due course. Lack of arms may have hurt us in the past. But arms cannot save us.