Raising the prestige of the Indian Tricolour - GulfToday

Raising the prestige of the Indian Tricolour

Michael Jansen

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

The author, a well-respected observer of Middle East affairs, has three books on the Arab-Israeli conflict.

A girl walks, carrying the Indian flag, along with army soldiers during a ceremony to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence in Mumbai, India.   Associated Press

A girl walks, carrying the Indian flag, along with army soldiers during a ceremony to celebrate 75 years of India’s Independence in Mumbai, India. Associated Press

This morning, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoisted the national flag from the wall of the Red Fort in New Delhi and, in a televised address to his 1.39 billion countrymen and women, eulogised the advances the country has made over the past 75 years. Since independence, India has industrialised, built urban infrastructure, manufactured and exported billions of dollars worth of goods, products and services, become an IT motivator and an influential global actor.

As usual on August 15th in Nicosia, Cyprus, I hung an Indian flag from the railing of the front veranda of my house and my daughter, Marya, will do the same 10 hours later at her home in the US western state of Oregon. My late Indian husband, Godfrey Jansen, was present at his country’s birth, so flying the flag honours both.

On that day of pride, joy, partition and death, Godfrey and his army officer pal Pyara Lal, armed themselves and walked with a Muslim friend through New Delhi’s streets, passing the bodies of slain Muslims, to the railway station to make certain their friend arrived safely and boarded a train to Pakistan.

This, the second leg of their friend’s journey was far riskier than the walk through Delhi since many of these trains were attacked and passengers killed by angry Hindus and Sikhs before reaching the border, which partitioned British India into the dominions of India and Pakistan. Partition produced the world’s largest forced migration. Fifteen million people were displaced and at least two million Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs were killed by partition before British India emerged as a secular republic and Pakistan as an Islamic republic. They have fought three wars since then and relations between their governments remain fragile although there have, over the decades, been family reunions when visas are granted.

While Godfrey served in India’s diplomatic service before becoming a foreign correspondent, Pyara remained in the army, retiring as a colonel. He became the prime mover of the post-independence rejuvenation of India’s United Service Institution and of its library which is named after him.

During a visit to Delhi decades later, Pyara invited the visiting Jansens to dine one evening at an international centre in a Delhi suburb. The surprise guest was the man they had escorted to safety during the massacres. He was then attached to the Pakistan embassy in the Indian capital.

The reunion was joyous and proof positive that Indians and Pakistanis could get along together.

Another proof of this manifest itself in 1979 when Godfrey was invited by Pakistani President Mohammed Zia al-Haq to visit Islamabad. As regional correspondent of The Economist of London, Godfrey had contributed a signed essay on in which he wrote that Islam was in its “vigorous middle age” while Christianity had slipped into weary old age. President Zia called in Foreign Minister Agha Shahi and said, “Do you know Jansen?” He replied, “Yes, we were in school together in Bangalore.” They had been best friends. President Zia ordered, “Get him for me.”

We three Jansens arrived in Islamabad a few days before Pakistan and India celebrated their independence anniversaries. On the morning of the 14th, Marya and I flew to Delhi while Godfrey became the first Indian journalist to interview President Zia before joining us in Delhi.

Towards the end of the interview, he surprised Godfrey by stating, while pounding the arms of his chair with his fists, “You Indians know who you are, we Pakistanis don’t know who we are.”

This statement startled Godfrey who had always identified himself as an Indian although he belonged to the Anglo-Indian community and could have followed his brother and two sisters who set- tled in Britain after independence. His father, Henry St. John Jansen, also stuck with India and is buried in Bangalore.

Godfrey bowed out of his diplomatic career at its high point in Beirut when he liaised with the UN team sent to bring an end to Lebanon’s 1958 civil war. This was precipitated by President Camille Chamoun’s bid to amend the constitution in order to have a second term in office. India’s experienced diplomat Rajeshwar Dyal and Norway’s air force commander Odd Bull were dispatched to Beirut to halt the fighting and stop weapons smuggling to rebels. They succeeded.

Chamoun retreated, the conflict ceased, and Lebanese army chief Fouad Chehab became Lebanon’s most revered president. Godfrey was awarded the Lebanese order the Cedars and was mentioned in parliament as an outstanding diplomat by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Godfrey took the view that he could not do better than this in the foreign service, resigned, and, after a few months, returned to Beirut as the regional correspondent of The Statesman of New Delhi and Calcutta during which time we met and married. In 1970 he joined The Economist where his independent Indian view- point was respected and valued.

During mid-1976, 18 months after Lebanon’s second civil war began, we left Lebanon as refugees for Cyprus and settled in the capital Nicosia. Here India is honoured as a close friend and ally. The country’s first President Archbishop Makarios was a founding member of the non-aligned movement along with Nehru, Egypt’s Gamal Nasser, and Yugoslavia’s Josip Broz Tito. In the garden next to the Cypriot parliament stands a pedestal on which rests a bust of Mahatma Gandhi. The avenue in front of parliament is named for Jawaharlal Nehru while an avenue in New Delhi has been dedicated to Makarios.

During its first 75 years of independence India and Indians have done great and good deeds in a world divided by cold and hot wars, wealth and poverty, sustained development and economic debacle. Jai Hind!

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