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Mainstream, VOL LV No 1 New Delhi December 24, 2016 - ANNUAL 2016

Nehru for Today / India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity / We Must All Resist BJP’s Two-Nation Theory / Relevance of Gandhiji’s Message Today

Monday 26 December 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty


From N.C.’s Writings

Nehru for Today

More than twentyone years after his passing away, Jawaharlal Nehru remains a colossus in the eyes of his countrymen and of the world abroad. Age has not withered his memory nor customs stale it. If Nehru has not become outdated, it is not becuse of any sentimental attachment in which the nation holds him. For, he really belongs to the generation that has literally disappeared from the stage of History. By the very law of life and living, others have come on the stage. For them, he is but a distant figure whom they hardly knew nor have they seen him in action.

And yet, as one looks around, one cannot help conceding how relevant Nehru still is, and there is every reason to believe that he will be more so as the nation approaches the threshold of the Twentyfirst Century. This is no wishful thinking of an inveterate adulator of Jawaharlal Nehru. If one catalogues the major problems that confront Rajiv Gandhi after he has completed one year in office that was once manned by his grandfather, one is struck by the fact that on everyone of these, Nehru’s imprint can hardly be effaced.

In the last few days, the National Develop-ment Council has approved of the Seventh Five Year Plan. The perspective held out by the Seventh Plan is the one that was set by Nehru himself, while the problems that beset Rajiv today are more or less those that were envisaged in Nehru’s time but have been left untackled since then. Particularly serious has been the neglect of resource raising from the Haves, while the lengthening shadow of unemployment can hardly be chased away despite all the heroic assurances so far made by the Prime Minister.

The mixed economy that Nehru had permi-tted has moved at a snail’s pace towards the goal of social justice, which despite all the electioneering rhetoric persists being elusive. Rather the disparities have grown making a mockery of the call for a socialistic pattern. Thus, in any discussion on planning today, this lopsidedness brings out its inherent weakness which Nehru did not or could not anticipate and today poses as a major challenge for his grandson in office: a challenge which has become more and more formidable with every passing year.

The last two years of Jawaharlal Nehru saw how he was shattered by China’s military aggression upon India’s border. His critics and adversaries pounced on him like a pack of hyena. And what was Nehru’s fault? Till the very last, he sought peaceful negotiation to armed conflict. He was actually trying to prepare the nation for a give-and-take settlement as he began to describe the Aksai Chin plateau as barren space where “not a blade of grass grows”. Strange as it may seem, those very ladies and gentlemen shrieking at the time against Nehru, are today pressing the government for a settlement with the Chinese—a metamorphosis which became unashamedly conspicuous with Kissinger’s secret air dash to Peking, ushering a new era of Sino-US entente.

This legacy of the border dispute faces Rajiv Gandhi today, as he has correctly indicated its priority in any endeavour at Sino-Indian rappro-chement. While the latest round of official-level talks, just concluded in New Delhi, has clearly brought out the wide discrepancy in the respective claims of the two countries—the Chinese by some strange logic have pitched their claim of 90 thousand square kilometres in the eastern sector embracing the entire Arunachal Pradesh, as against India’s claim of 38 thousand square kilometres in the western sector in physical occupation of the Chinese forces—leading inexorably towards a political approach at the highest level. How stiff has been the Chinese position so far is clear from the fact that it has not yet recognised Sikkim’s accession to the Indian Union. A political settlement with the Chinese, however, can hardly be brought about by any dramatic gesture in the form of an air dash, but would demand careful preparations spread over a reasonable length of time. What is, however, immediately needed is a dispassionate assessment of the Chinese scene with the marks left behind by many upheavals of the last three decades, coupled with an objective review of India-China relations in the background of Bejing’s foreign-policy priorities. Thus, the task left incomplete by Nehru confronts his grandson today. In other words, there can be no viable settlement without reference to the experience gained from our relations with China in Nehru’s time and afterwards.

In another field, there is much that Rajiv Gandhi can gain from the rich experience accumulated during Nehru’s days. This is with regard to Pakistan. The nexus between the US Administration and the military junta in Pakistan is more than three decades old. What Nehru had to face when this link was forged has a pointed relevance today. The only difference in the present scenario is that the presence of the Soviet troops in Afghanistan is being publicised as the immediate imperative for massive deposit of highly sophisticated American weapons in Pakistan, in contrast to the more general alibi of those days for the building of a military alliance to cordon off the Soviet Union. Both then and now, nobody takes it seriously that Pakistan at any time is in a position to withstand in the event of a Soviet military offensive, and all the experience has shown over the years that this over-abundance of US arms has repeatedly tempted the dictators in Pakistan to go in for military adventurism against India. Nehru’s famous rebuff to Eisenhower when the US President offered arms to India on the same terms as given to Pakistan has a pointed relevance today. The US Adminis-tration never tried to control or discipline its Pak client just as President Reagan has refused to halt General Zia’s nuclear weapons programme—which provoked Rajiv Gandhi to expose the “contradiction”—a polite euphemism for falsehood—in the Reagan reply.

Those who were elated in June—or felt disturbed—at the prospect of an Indo-US entente will now realise the basic irreconcilability between the so-called strategic imperatives of the US and India’s perception of its national interest. Herein lies the enduring foundations of India’s non-alignment which Rajiv Gandhi has readily committed himself and his government to uphold. On the other hand, India’s time-honoured commitment to actively support the movement of human rights in Southern Africa—concretised in the struggle against apartheid—has found no response from Washington.

Perhaps the issue that makes Jawaharlal Nehru acutely relevant today is the one that Rajiv Gandhi has correctly characterised as the central issue of our time. And this is the menace of nuclear holocaust. Although the menace was still in its incipient form Nehru had the foresight to tirelessly warn against it throughout his career. And it was largely his initiative that led the first Summit of the Nonaligned Movement in Belgrade in 1961 to make the stand against the nuclear threat the principal issue before it. In keeping with the same tradition, Rajiv Gandhi has not only been working against Pakistan’s nuclear bomb programme but has been engaged in mobilising world opinion against the nuclear war menace and its extension to the outer space in the form of the so-called Star War that Reagan has been itching to launch. The activisation of the Six-Nation initiative, support to the Gorbachov proposals for a moratorium on nuclear test, the appeals to President Reagan to respond and finally his repeated underlining of the importance of next week’s US-USSR Geneva Summit—all these steps by Rajiv Gandhi are in the highest tradition of Jawaharlal Nehru’s insatiable quest for world peace through nuclear disarmament.

Despite all the traducers that he had to face in his life-time and in the two decades after his passing away, Jawaharlal Nehru’s relevance today is being confirmed by his grandson as he journeys through the minefield of formidable problems, both at home and abroad, as the Prime Minister of this great country of ours. 

(Mainstream, November 16, 1985)

India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

The recent incident in Islamabad, when a member of the Indian diplomatic mission, Rajesh Mittal, was brutally assaulted by Pakistani intelligence—violating the norms of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic rights and immunities—has touched off countrywide angry protests. This is nothing surprising, particularly when Indo-Pak relations continue to be fragile, and Pakistan’s help to the secessionist elements in the Kashmir Valley is undeniable.

This provocative action on the part of the Islamabad authorities is ascribed in some knowledgeable circles to be the handiwork of Pakistan’s super-intelligence outfit, the ISI, which presumably may be opposed to the improvement of Indo-Pak relations. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that the assault on Mittal has not elicited any expression of regret from the Pakistan Government, which has made things worse.

It is no secret that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has been keen on normalising relations with Islamabad and this he has conveyed more than once to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. It was as a result of this initiative at the prime ministerial level that the process of dialogue between the two countries has been renewed. To help to accelerate the process in a businesslike manner, a meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries was scheduled to be held at Mussoorie in the first week of June. Accordingly, the agenda for this meeting was prepared and is reported to have turned out to be substantive.

Just about this time, the Mittal incident came like a shock and the process of improving bilateral relations with Pakistan has been hit by a body blow. At the official level, the usual response was apart from lodging a protest, to throw out in retaliation two Pakistan High Commission officials, declaring them persona non grata. There was no plan of the government to put off the scheduled meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. But the pressure of spontaneous public resentment was so over-powering that it forced the government’s hands.

Apart from demonstrations before the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, there were angry demands for stern action. Not only the BJP but many in other parties including the Congress joined in this chorus. It was evident that if the Foreign Secretaries’ meeting had taken place, there would have been angry demonstrations which might have turned violent and thereby created a law-and-order situation. This would have defeated the very purpose of the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, which was aimed at improving relations between the two countries and not to let them worsen. Accordingly, there was a telephonic talk between the two Foreign Secretaries to postpone their meeting for a few weeks to let the tempers cool down.

Meanwhile, Narasimha Rao is due to meet Nawaz Sharif at Rio for the Earth Summit, when it is expected that the process of improving relations could again be resumed, apart from conveying to the Pakistan Prime Minister the danger of any provocative action on the part of any agency in Pakistan which might queer the pitch at the bilateral level.

This brings one to the wider question of how to build the edifice of durable relations with our neighbours. The factor of geography has a bearing on the subject. The fact that all our neighbours have to deal with an unequally pre-eminent power that is India, comes in the way of building up an enduring relationship among the countries of South Asia. If India ignores its neighbours, it can be charged with negligence, an attitude of disdain towards its neighbours. If India tries to be friendly and even bends backward to convey the message of friendship, there is always the danger of being misunderstood as being condescending or patronising towards its neighbours, to trying to spread its network of deceptive friendship over them.

Secondly, there is the basic political handicap of the British partitioning of the subcontinent. This has given rise to an unnatural antipathy between the two largest countries in South Asia, India and Pakistan. Out of this has been born the anti-Indian bigotry in sections of the public in Pakistan and has given rise in India to an equally fanatical communal distrust not only towards Pakistan but the Indian Muslims in general. Parties like the BJP exploit it, while most of the others are not averse to it at times. This by itself has always been vitiating the Indo-Pak relations in the last four decades.

Even when Bangladesh was born, the enthusi-astic support from the Hindu establishments for Indira Gandhi was to a large measure tinged with a sense of triumph that Pakistan had been split. And exactly in the same manner, a good section of the Indian Muslims took the Bangladesh war as dismenbering a Muslim state to which they are closely attached. Such perceptions might give a faulty view of the actual reality that operated behind the birth of Bangladesh, but these perceptions can hardly be denied by any dispassionate observer.

It is this mental approach that turns, almost unthinkingly, every impediment on the way to India-Pakistan understanding into a major roadblock which often touches off a populist hysteria. With parties taking a blatantly communal stand, pushed the same populism against Bangladesh as is witnessed today in the controversy over the leasing out of the small enclave of Tin Bigha; to resist an accord over it, there is even talk of suicide squads. In fact, the Tin Bigha controversy flies in the face of a Supreme Court judgement and thereby tries to scuttle the prospect of improved relationship with Bangladesh.

It is time we seriously pondered over the fact that there could be no enduring understanding between India and Pakistan without discarding the long-standing prejudices, suspicions and misgivings that have beset our two countries during the last four decades. This is true for the Pakistani leadership but more so for our leaders since we are the bigger country and it is our responsibility to set the pace for establishing a regime of friendly relations with our biggest neighbour. If we think that better relations will return if we teach Pakistan a lesson in a combat of arms, we shall be making a serious mistake. For there could be no enduring amity between a victor and a vanquished: rather there is every danger of the urge for revenge taking over.

No doubt the Kashmir issue comes in the way. Here, too, we have to ask ourselves frankly: how is it that the people of the Kashmir Valley, who stood like a rock against the invaders from across Pakistan fortyfive years ago, have today no qualms in taking arms from Pakistan to unseat the Indian presence in the Valley? Does it not impose a renewed responsibility upon us to win them over? Would not that be the most fitting contribution to the building up of a better relationship with Pakistan? Not that this country has always been wrong on this or other count. Indo-Pak amity can hardly be built by condemning India. What needs to be done is a serious engagement at frank introspection on the part of both—preferably together.

Angry demonstrations against Pakistani lapses would lead us nowhere. We have to respond to the challenge with maturity and statesmanship, worthy of a great nation that we are.

(‘Editor’s Notebook’, Mainstream, June 6, 1992)

We Must All Resist BJP’s Two-Nation Theory

Ayodhya has become the epicentre of a cyclone that threatens to spell disaster for the political fabric of this country. For the fourth year now, it has virtually taken over the centre-stage of national politics.

What has been achieved so far is that actual confrontation is averted almost at the very last moment by a desperate move to buy time, so that a little more space may be available to tackle the dispute over the question of the proposed Ram Mandir, requiring the pulling down of the Babri Masjid structure. The strategy so far pursued has been the insistence on the part of the government—initiated by Chandra Shekhar and pursued meticulously by Narasimha Rao—for dialogue between the two contending parties which, if fruitless, would be referred to the judiciary for the final verdict. As a part of this exercise, the government arranged for the meeting between the representatives of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the All-India Babri Masjid Action Committee alongwith some of the Ministers, which took place twice in October, and for the last time on November 8.

However, this approach could not be pursued because of the intransigence of a section of the militant Hindu camp represented by the VHP and its allies threatening to resume kar seva from December 6, which would have meant the defiance of the existing court ban on all construction in the area under dispute.

On the issue of leaving the entire question to a judicial verdict, the BJP has so far taken an ambivalent position. Without categorically stating whether it would either accept or reject any court verdict on the dispute, it raises the point that in matters of faith, one cannot take the court as the final arbiter. The VHP goes further and makes it clear that court verdict or not, it would not budge from its clamour to pull down the Babri structure. In recent days, some of the pronouncements of the VHP leaders have a disturbing ring—neither the tenets of the Constitution nor of any verdict by the judiciary could come in the way of faith. In other words, they insist on having their way without any compromise.

The Prime Minister’s position so far has been unexceptionable in upholding the role of the judiciary as the arbiter of disputes between citizens, and reminding the country about the injunction of our democratic Constitution guaranteeing the rights of the minorities. He reiterated this in Parliament on July 27, 1992, and repeated it in his address to the nation on August 15, that his party and government stood “for the construction of the temple without dismantling the mosque” at Ayodhya. Here is the precise parameter of any and every initiative for the settlement of the dispute at Ayodhya.

Rich Coexistence

If one were to present the reality that India is today, it is not the Ayodhya dispute or the historicity of any particular structure. The fact of the matter is that in thousands of villages and towns of this country, millions of people belonging to different communities, Hindus and Muslims, have since centuries lived and still live together in peace and amity.

Neither our politicians nor our media brings out this abiding reality. Only when there is tension or a clash does it become news. What is very often forgotten is that in the rich soil of our motherland there has sprouted a remarkable unfolding of a composite culture as the fruit of a thousand years of Hindu-Muslim encounter and the coexistence of these alongwith other faiths. There are countless symbols, rituals, shrines, epics and poems underlining this rich coexistence.

If one goes to the Sabarimala temple in Kerala, one of the most important centres of pilgrimage in south India, before one approaches the deity, Lord Ayappa, one visits the shrine of Vavar Sami, a Muslim saint, where a Muslim priest applies vibhuti on the foreheads of pilgrims destined for Sabarimala. Pilgrimage to Amarnath in distant north is made possible by the ready hospitality of Muslim villagers all along the route, while one-third of the proceeds from the temple goes to the family of Adam Malik who, hundreds of years ago, found the holy cave.

Turn to literature. The first great epic in Avadhi, the language in which Tulsidas wrote his Ramayana, was by Malik Mohammad Jaise. Ostensibly, it is a love story of Ratan Sen and Padmavati, but actually full of mystic thoughts and images like those of Krishna and Arjun recurring in the text. Abdul Rahim Khanekhana was in continuous correspondence with Tulsidas and the two influenced each other considerably. Abdul Rahim’s Sanskrit verses in praise of Lord Rama remain the high point of devotional poetry. Even a Persian poet like Ali Hazeem loved Benaras so much that he settled there and wrote gloriously of our composite culture. Poet Iqbal described Rama as the “Imam of Hindustan”. Greater devotional poetry was seldom written than by Syed Ibrahim Raskhan in Brajbhasha. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the whole school of Vaishnav saint poets influenced many Muslims to write in their idiom. To this day, Oriyas sing Muslim poet Salbeg’s lyrics to welcome Lord Jagannath.

There’s Much that Binds

Turn to music, Alauddin Khan was Ali Akbar Khan’s father and Ravi Shankar’s father-in-law. His house in Maihar has images of Saraswati. He regularly visited the nearby Sharada temple. Visit Mallikarjun Mansur’s house in Dharwad and the most prominent picture adorning the walls is that of his guru, Alladiya Khan. Gangu Bai Hangal in Hubli has Abdul Karim Khan’s picture next to her pooja. Here again the interaction is continuous and the list could fill many pages.

At the level of popular religions, visit Goga Merhi in Ganganagar, Rajasthan—the structure is both a temple and a mosque. “Praise be to Allah” is carved on the gate of the temple and an idol in the inner chamber of the mosque. The pujari of this temple-mosque is Khushi Mohammad. At Pirana, 18 kilometres outside Ahmedabad, is the shrine of Imamshah Baba looked after entirely by Hindu Patels. Imamshah Baba preached that Mohammad was an incarnation of Krishna.

Not just shrines; what about the living traditions? The Manganiar singers of Jaisalmer are Muslims but to this day they sing Meera Bai, Balleh Shah and Shah Abdul Latif in the same concert. Meos of Bharatpur are Muslims tracing descent from Arjun and Bhim. When they sing of Ali, the Prophet’s cousin, Ali emerges as a folk hero from Alwar-Bharatpur.

There is too much that binds us. We have to keep constantly reminding our people of these wonderful symbols of our unity, defying all philistinism. A glimpse of all this, incidentally, I have learnt from a rather underplayed Doordarshan programme produced by the very perceptive media practitioner, Saeed Naqvi. But curiously, the Doordarshan authorities did not care to pursue this programme with all their loud talk of national integration.

Nor have our political parties been campai-gning on a national scale for Hindu-Muslim amity. Barring Mani Shankar Aiyar’s solitary venture of Ram-Rahim yatra—which also did not get the publicity it deserved—why is it that no political leader has undertaken a pilgrimage for communal harmony? If the venom of the so-called two-nation theory led to India’s partition, let not the hangover of the same pernicious theory lead to the desecration of the very integrity of our motherland. Ashok Singhal and his comrades in VHP will resent, but the fact of the matter is that what they are trying to enforce today is the assertion of that same two-nation theory. 

(The Pioneer, November 25, 1992)

Relevance of Gandhiji’s Message Today

On October 2 this year India is celebrating the hundred and twentyfifth birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi. The Government of India has set up a special committee studded with VIPs of different denominations and is chalking out an extensive programme of functions which will spread over a whole year.

The Congress party is holding a meeting of its highest organ, the Working Committee, the very same week at Belgaum, at the border of Karnataka and Maharashtra—this again to mark the Gandhi homage festival as it was at this very city that the Congress session was held in 1922 over which Gandhiji had presided. No doubt there will be functions galore in the months ahead which will pay fulsome allegiance to the memory of the one who had steered the freedom struggle to victory and thereby right-fully earned the love and gratitude of his coun-trymen for which they called him the Father of the Nation.

Leaving aside all the glittering functions to mark the sacred occasion, this is the time for reflections—to ponder over in our mind how relevant is Gandhi today for our country beset as it is with a thousand problems—some of them are intractable and almost seem to defy any solution while others are formidable enough to baffle even the tallest of our national leadership, not to speak of the hollow men who strut about today claiming to be their political heirs.

To begin with, Gandhiji had strong objections to the partition of India. Although he had never sharply criticised the decision of the Congress High Command of those days to accept the Mountbatten Plan of partitioning India as a concomitant condition to the transfer of power from the British to Indian hands, he had no doubt that the partitioning of India would create more problems than solving any. In fact, two days before the announcement of the Mountbatten Plan in June 1947, Gandhiji noted in his own diary that both Sardar Patel and Pandit Nehru were unhappy that he had gone and told the Viceroy that he was opposed to the partition, particularly under the aegis and control of a third party (that is, the British). He noted that he could foresee dark forbidding clouds gathering, but both Patel and Nehru thought that the partition would bring peace, tranquillity and well-being of all. As it turned out, Gandhiji was proved right when the blood-soaked victims of the partition crossed the border on both sides. While he could not avert the partition, Gandhiji tried to minimise its fall-out as far as he could by undertaking that hazardous crusade for communal amity into the distant corners of Noakhali and was planning to do the same in Pakistan. But his life was cut short in a fit of anger by a fellow-countryman who did not spare Gandhiji.

What is important to bear in mind is the fact that Gandhiji understood the real implications of the partition—that it could perpetuate mutual hostility between the Hindus and Muslims as the gift of the partition. Because, the minority community in both the neighbouring countries—the Hindus in Pakistan and the Muslims in India—became suspect in the eyes of their respective majority communities—the Muslims in Pakistan and the Hindus in India. It is this factor which has kept up the accursed communal divide even to this day. Fortyseven long years after Mountbatten’s partition was accepted by the national leaders, the question of repudiating it does not arise, but that communal antipathy could be brought down by fostering good and friendly relations between India and Pakistan. In the brief few weeks that he survived after independence, he devoted himself to this question. It is worth recalling in this context that one of his last political acts was to direct Nehru and Patel not to withhold the financial dues of Pakistan even though the Pak-sponsored tribal invaders were devastating the Kashmir Valley.

Today when communal hatred between Hindus and Muslims has been widely conceded even by the ruling establishment, it would certainly be wise to pay heed to Gandhiji’s prophetic warning—that the Hindu-Muslim problem would always beset us so long as we do not trace its origin to the partition, and find its solution by cementing Indo-Pak goodwill.

In many other spheres of our national life, Gandhiji’s relevance abides even today. He understood the baneful impact of the caste system on our social life. Although he did not denounce the caste system as such in the style of a modern-day rationalist, he took up the most inequitable feature of the caste system—oppression of the untouchables—and carried on a tireless campaign to rectify such vicious aspects as the ban on temple entry. He understood the inequity and suppression in public life of the so-called backward communities. Hence came the provision for reservation in our Constitution.

Gandhiji seriously believed that it would not be correct to whip up caste antipathy as that would destablise the entire social structure, but was concerned how to rouse the whole society and act as a trust for a better deal for the underpriviliged. Here lies the difference between Gandhi’s line and that of other leaders who have been campaigning for the promotion of the backward castes and the untouchables. Gandhiji did not live to see his endeavours come true, while the others who have taken up the cause of the underpriviliged castes and communities are realising today the dangerously sensitive nature of the problem which threatens to create bitter antipathy and virtual anarchy in the social and political set-up.

In the sphere of economic rebuilding, Gandhiji’s views were widely known. His insistence was on expanding the domestic market by large-scale promotion of khadi and village industries to meet the demands of the huge rural market. He then did not really oppose the introduction of heavy machine and heavy engineering based industries, but stood for the harmonious blending of the two streams of economic thinking. However, in our enthusiasm to build a strong economy befitting a powerful country, Gandhiji’s mandate of strengthening and expanding the village industries was nearly forgotten with emphasis on giant machines both for the production of heavy industries and the major consumer goods.

As this approach of a mixed economy is today nearly forgotten, the country is in the excitement of a free-market dispensation reducing the role of the state in economic activity to the minimum. Gandhiji’s prescription for the vast rural economy becomes all the more valid for a country like ours. With the introduction of new technology and the enthronement of the ideology of the market, our country faces the prospect of an affluent elite at the top and a vast ocean of the underprivileged at the base. This will increase disparities—social and economic—and that in turn will accentuate social tension which is likely to threaten the very foundations of political stability. It is in this context that one has to take into account the validity of Gandhiji’s economics for the vast rural hinterland. It is not that Gandhiji glorified poverty and condemned the rich. He himself used to camp in Birla’s mansions and had no hesitation in persuading the rich to donate openly for the causes he espoused. The culture that he promoted upheld the self-respect of the humblest citizen of independent India.

In Gandhiji’s design for a good society, the poor are to inherit the earth and the rich to hold their affluence as a trust to society. In the culture shock that the so-called globalisation is bringing to our society, the need for Gandhiji’s message has become all the more relevant and imperative if India has to retain its identity as a great country with a rich culture. If anything, Gandhiji is remembered today by his country-men more insistently than at any time since his final departure fortysix years ago.

(Mainstream, October 1, 1994)

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