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Home > News > Columnists > Varsha Bhosle


My country, period

May 12, 2003

I want to tell you a story about a British woman called Melita Sirnis. Melita was born in 1912 to an English mother and a Latvian father, a bookbinder who had once been part of the Leo Tolstoy-inspired anarchist/egalitarian movement. Politics was in the family's blood: Her mother was a member of the Co-operative Party; an aunt was one of the first female trade unionists of Britain. Naturally, they all were advocates of Peace. As Melita later said, "Ah yes, they were anti-war all along, the pair of them, father and mother. I suppose I absorbed some of that too."

When Melita finished school, her mother, a staunch advocate of women's education, urged her towards university. She attended Southampton University, where she studied Latin and Logic. But we're talking about a Britain under the Slump of 1929-1932, when more than 3 million people were unemployed: Melita had to leave the university after a year because the family was forced to move to London in search of work. There, she was radicalised by her "poor end" experiences and joined the Communist Party. She also got married to Hilary Norwood, a comrade who'd been commended for his work in the trade union movement as a member of the National Union of Teachers.

In 1932, Melita Norwood got a secretarial job at the British Non-Ferrous Metals Research Association in London and thereafter lived a completely unremarkable suburban life – till 1999. That was the year when Vasili Nikitich Mitrokhin, the former chief archivist of the KGB's foreign intelligence section, published The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. After decades of passing on State secrets to the Soviet Union, and 54 years of living a clandestine life, Mrs Norwood was finally outed.

Actually, the MI6 had known about her treason since 1992, when Mr Mitrokhin had defected to Britain with six trunks of KGB archival material, but had chosen not to confront the octogenarian spy. Perhaps, the secrets weren't vital enough to invite prosecution...? Correct! Mrs Norwood only gave away information that enabled the Soviet Union to build the atom bomb...

David Rose, the first reporter to locate and interview her, obtained "a full-blown confession within approximately 15 minutes." He writes: "The material she supplied was literally earth-shattering: crucial information which fuelled the Soviet ENORMOSZ nuclear espionage programme. By the beginning of 1945, the non-Ferrous Metals Association director, GJ Bailey, had joined the coordinating committee of the top-secret tube alloys project – the British project to design and build an atomic bomb. Most of this research was pooled with the parallel US project based at Los Alamos... [KGB] documents suggest they regarded her contribution as of the highest value, and that it played a significant part in enabling the USSR to detonate its own bomb in 1949 – a few months before a CIA assessment claimed it would not be ready to do so until 1954."

Which explains why Mrs Norwood was awarded the KGB's highest decoration, the Order of the Red Banner. Though supplying the A-bomb plans was the highlight of her espionage career, she continued for 27 years more, providing a steady stream of secrets to her handlers, and recruited at least one more spy...

But, why did Mrs Norwood spy for the USSR?

She says: "I did what I did because I expected them [Soviets] to be attacked again once the war was over. Chamberlain had wanted them attacked in 1939: he certainly expected Hitler to go east. I thought they should somehow be adequately defended because everyone was against them, against this experiment [Communism], and they had been through such hardship from the Germans. In the war, the Russians were on our side, and it was unfair to them that they shouldn't be able to develop their weaponry." Mrs Norwood said that, if she could, she'd do it all over again because "The various countries of this rotten capitalist system with its unemployment, its wars, and making money – I hope it will come to an end."

Ok, forget the espionage thing and focus on Mrs Norwood and her family: A pacifist, liberal, educated, hard-working, progressive people with nothing but the good of their compatriots in their hearts. They fought for the exploited workers and actively worked for an egalitarian world order. And, of course, they were dead set against war. Like most of the "secular," liberal Indian saints we know, they did everything without an eye on personal gain. As Mrs Norwood told a BBC television interviewer, "I did what I did not to make money, but to help prevent the defeat of a new system which had at great cost given ordinary people food and fares which they could afford, good education and a health service."

Ideology, pure and simple. A belief system that postulates that the good of the "ordinary people" is supranational; that the needs of the "ordinary people" are paramount to national security; that sabotaging one's government at the behest of another is acceptable; that revolt against one's government during an external attack could constitute patriotism. That's why Stauffenberg was a German patriot. That's why Mrs Norwood is a patriot. Think of this: It's only because she didn't adhere to the crumbling wasteland of "my country, right or wrong" could she enable the USSR to stand up against the Imperialists and deliver the ordinary... WHOOPS! But that system now exists only in Cuba and West Bengal!

Oh shoot, I've to look for another analogy...

Ok. Read the following excerpts, from the deposition of a man who was hanged in the early hours of a cold November morning of 1948 in Ambala prison. Clutching a map of undivided India in one hand and the saffron flag in another, he walked to the gallows chanting an invocation to his motherland. A few hours later, his body was cremated outside the prison walls and, immediately afterwards, the whole area was ploughed and planted with grass so that no one could identify the spot and build a shrine:

On January 13, 1948, I learnt that Gandhiji had decided to go on fast unto death. The reason given was that he wanted an assurance of Hindu-Muslim Unity... But I and many others could easily see that the real motive... [was] to compel the Dominion Government to pay the sum of Rs 55 crores to Pakistan, the payment of which was emphatically refused by the Government.... But this decision of the people's Government was reversed to suit the tune of Gandhiji's fast. It was evident to my mind that the force of public opinion was nothing but a trifle when compared with the leanings of Gandhiji favourable to Pakistan.

...In 1946 or thereabout, Muslim atrocities perpetrated on Hindus under the Government patronage of Surhawardy in Noakhali made our blood boil. Our shame and indignation knew no bounds when we saw that Gandhiji had come forward to shield that very Surhawardy and began to style him as 'Shaheed Saheb' – a martyr – even in his prayer meetings...

...Gandhiji's influence in the Congress first increased and then became supreme. His activities for public awakening were phenomenal in their intensity and were reinforced by the slogans of truth and non-violence which he ostentatiously paraded before the country... I could never conceive that an armed resistance to the aggressor is unjust... Ram killed Ravan in a tumultuous fight... Krishna killed Kansa to end his wickedness... In condemning Shivaji, Rana Pratap and Guru Govind as 'misguided patriots,' Gandhiji has merely exposed his self-conceit... Gandhiji was, paradoxically, a violent pacifist who brought untold calamities on the country in the name of truth and nonviolence, while Rana Pratap, Shivaji and the Guru will remain enshrined in the hearts of their countrymen forever...

...By 1919, Gandhiji had become desperate in his endeavours to get the Muslims to trust him and went from one absurd promise to another... He backed the Khilafat movement in this country and was able to enlist the full support of the National Congress in that policy... very soon the Moplah Rebellion showed that the Muslims had not the slightest idea of national unity... There followed a huge slaughter of Hindus... The British Government, entirely unmoved by the rebellion, suppressed it in a few months and left to Gandhiji the joy of his Hindu-Muslim Unity... British Imperialism emerged stronger, the Muslims became more fanatical, and the consequences were visited on the Hindus...

The accumulating provocation of 32 years, culminating in his last pro-Muslim fast, at last goaded me to the conclusion that the existence of Gandhiji should be brought to an end immediately... he developed a subjective mentality under which he alone was the final judge of what was right or wrong... Either Congress had to surrender its will to him and play second fiddle to all his eccentricity, whimsicality... or it had to carry on without him... He was the master brain guiding the civil disobedience movement... The movement may succeed or fail; it may bring untold disasters and political reverses, but that could make no difference to the Mahatma's infallibility... These childish inanities and obstinacies, coupled with a most severe austerity of life, ceaseless work and lofty character, made Gandhiji formidable and irresistible... In a position of such absolute irresponsibility, Gandhiji was guilty of blunder after blunder...

...The Mahatma even supported the separation of Sindh from the Bombay Presidency and threw the Hindus of Sindh to the communal wolves. Numerous riots took place in Karachi, Sukkur, Shikarpur and other places in which the Hindus were the only sufferers...

...From August 1946 onwards, the private armies of the Muslim League began a massacre of the Hindus... Hindu blood began to flow from Bengal to Karachi with mild reactions in the Deccan... The Interim government formed in September was sabotaged by its Muslim League members, but the more they became disloyal and treasonable to the government of which they were a part, the greater was Gandhi's infatuation for them...

...The Congress, which had boasted of its nationalism and socialism, secretly accepted Pakistan and abjectly surrendered to Jinnah. India was vivisected and one-third of the Indian territory became foreign land to us... This is what Gandhiji had achieved after 30 years of undisputed dictatorship, and this is what Congress party calls 'freedom'...

...One of the conditions imposed by Gandhiji for his breaking of the fast unto death related to the mosques in Delhi occupied by Hindu refugees. But when Hindus in Pakistan were subjected to violent attacks he did not so much as utter a single word to protest and censure the Pakistan government...

Gandhi is being referred to as the Father of the Nation. But if that is so, he had failed his paternal duty inasmuch as he has acted very treacherously to the nation by his consenting to the partitioning of it... The people of this country were eager and vehement in their opposition to Pakistan. But Gandhiji played false with the people...

...I shall be totally ruined, and the only thing I could expect from the people would be nothing but hatred... if I were to kill Gandhiji. But at the same time, I felt that Indian politics in the absence of Gandhiji would surely be proved practical, able to retaliate, and be powerful with armed forces. No doubt, my own future would be totally ruined, but the nation would be saved from the inroads of Pakistan...

...I do say that my shots were fired at the person whose policy and action had brought rack and ruin and destruction to millions of Hindus... There was no legal machinery by which such an offender could be brought to book, and for this reason I fired those fatal shots...

...I do not desire any mercy to be shown to me... I did fire shots at Gandhiji in open daylight. I did not make any attempt to run away; in fact I never entertained any idea of running away. I did not try to shoot myself... for, it was my ardent desire to give vent to my thoughts in an open Court. My confidence about the moral side of my action has not been shaken even by the criticism levelled of against it on all sides. I have no doubt, honest writers of history will weigh my act and find the true value thereof some day in future.

Absorbed all that? Now consider this:

  • Stauffenberg died because he sought to rid his country of the disease of Nazism; recognised the mortal danger of defeat into which Hitler had led Germany; anticipated the disgrace and punishment that the iniquity of Nazism would bring to his countrymen in its wake. Stauffenberg's motives, therefore, were patriotic.
  • Nathuram Godse died because he sought to rid his country of the disease of Appeasement; recognised the dangers inherent in Gandhiji's Ahimsa-cloaked despotism; anticipated the capitulation to the whims of Pakistan that Gandhiji would force upon an elected Indian government, against the wishes of the people. Godse's motives, however, were vile...

Vile because the ideology espoused by the likes of Mrs Norwood deems so. The same ideology championed by her contemporaries Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, John Cairncross, Klaus Fuchs - all of whom sold their country down the Moskva River...

Stauffenberg and Godse targeted the leader of their respective countries. Both were infuriated by the deaths of thousands of their countrymen. Both did it only to strengthen their countries... So who decides when the sabotage of one's government is justified? The Opposition parties? The historians of the conquering countries? The "ordinary people" who pour into the streets to kick at fallen statues and celebrate by looting museums? Or the people who become "the rabble" during communal strife...? Oh puh-lease, spare me the lecture on patriotism: You wouldn't know it if it bit off your nose.

Varsha Bhosle


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Number of User Comments: 205




Sub: World History

What is the difference between the Hindus And the Buddies. 2. What do they have in common


Posted by Momodou Dia





Sub: My Country, Period

Ha...Very funny. Versha, Do you think you will be able to wake up the dead indians with you this little article? Dr. Savarkar(Veer Savarkar) tried ...


Posted by Gurudaas





Sub: He was the man

Varsha your article is appeals & entertains BUT only IF I have a Hindu-Muslim/India-Pakistan segregation Frame of mind. But if you think of United (India&Pakistan) ...


Posted by Pranav





Sub: My Country, Period.

I have always admired the powerful writing and views by Ms. Varsha Bhosale. This article "My Country, Period." is simply brilliant, and highly informative to ...


Posted by Deodatta Shenai, Massachusetts





Sub: sheer waste of space!

There's something seriously wrong with the writer's sense of logic. I can well understand how a fanatic like Nathuram Godse got blind with rage, given ...


Posted by Seema Kamdar




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