The ramifications of India’s America tilt in the run-up to the ‘war’ against Osama bin Laden becomes clearer when read against the backdrop of India’s own encounters with ‘terrorism’ in the past, and the direction of communal politics in the future. Does the ruling establishment of India even realise that it will reap the whirlwind if it uses this as an excuse to forcibly resolve the Kashmir problem? The one country which has the ability to understand the nature and undercurrents of violent politics is India, but because of the perceived power of the dollar, it is willingly following the lead of George W. Bush and his neophyte’s understanding of insurgency, militancy and terrorism. Rather than grieve with the Americans, the representatives of the middle-class in the Indian ruling establishment, bureaucracy and media, have all rushed in to cash in on that tragedy across the seven seas.
When the terror hit the United States on 11 September, while watching the endless reruns of the passenger jets ramming into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Centre, little did one realise that the shock waves would lap against South Asian shores the way they have. Along with the 6000 or so victims of the disaster, a bit of one’s faith in the unity of all humanity got buried there in the debris of a landmark skyscrapers. But before the dust had settled on lower Manhattan, and before the grieving had even begun, the verbal campaign of revenge and eye-for-eye began, and all eyes were immediately on Afghanistan— and South Asia. While the Americans homed in on Osama bin Laden as the unlikely one-stop villain of the piece, South Asia’s leaders rushed to take cover, or to take advantage as the case may be.
Pakistan’s Gen. Pervez Musharraf, found himself the prisoner of history in his country’s support for the Taliban regime which would give refuge to the Saudi rebel, incongruously forced to defend the very process which had been set in motion by the CIA itself during the campaign to oust the Russians from Afghanistan. He turned mullah to his flock, explaining the exigencies that had led him to side with the infidels, appealing via the hadith to the economic and nationalist common sense of the Pakistani-on-the-street.
If Pakistan’s president-general was forced to do a tightrope act between the ulema and the Americans, he was making do as best as he could under the circumstances. It was the reaction of the Indian foreign policy establishment and supporting actors which was more troubling, and which will have longterm repercussions within India as well as in the neighbourhood. Non-violence and non-alignment have been jettisoned at one go, and it required terrorist attacks on the United States to tell us here in South Asia how much economic globalisation and the interests of its burgeoning middle class had distorted India’s view of itself and the world. Gone were the moralistic harangues of the West that the Indians used to conduct from the United Nations pulpit for decades on end. Absent was any sensitivity to the specificities of terrorism, and how the genocidally audacious attacks on the citadels of America’s economic and military might (the WTC and the Pentagon) were quite different from the militancies within—in Kashmir, in the Northeast and in class warfare in the central spine of the country.
And yet, only to spite Pakistan on Kashmir, the Indian leadership, which today speaks more and more for the middle and upper classes and less and less for the rest of the country, was willing to expose its confused and convoluted understanding of politics and geopolitics. It offered the American military its ports and air bases without being asked, it went on a gleeful anti-Pakistan spree as if the American disaster were a godsent opportunity to settle scores on Kashmir.
How can anyone without an understanding of the past seek to chart the future? When the Indian leadership went into paroxysms of anticipation after George W. Bush announced the first war of the new century and millennium, little did it try and understand how the American agenda may differ from what India seeks from its international relations. Most importantly, the Indian politicians, analysts, talking-heads on television, almost to the last one, failed to understand the very history of militancy (and terrorism if you will) within the Subcontinent— how it evolved from pre-independence days and how the reaction of the Centre in New Delhi has helped mould the reaction of the militants themselves. These self-satisfied men so willing to speak the Americanism of defence-analyst talk should have been the first to understand that the harsh hand of military rule does nothing to curb the militant’s desire for recognition.
Taking the cue from the United States is the wrong tack for India’s rulers. It should be the other way around. It is not George W. Bush, Colin Powell or Condolesza Rice who have battled insurgencies, militancies, terrorism over the last half century. It is the rulers of India, and the other countries of South Asia, particularly Pakistan and Sri Lanka. But rather than learn from this long history of confronting militancy and insurgency— from Nagaland to Punjab, and from Kashmir to Andhra Pradesh—and instead of going deep into India’s own history of anti-state and anti-establishment action, what does the Indian leadership do? At the first opportunity that presents itself, and purely to get back at Pakistan— and perhaps even because of the humiliation the Indian foreign policy and defence establishment suffered for their poor showing astride Gen. Musharraf at the Agra summit—the Indian elephant decided to tap-dance to the American tune.
What really took almost everyone by surprise was the pre-emptive way India offered its assistance to the USA in its war against an as-yet unidentified enemy much before the guilt of Black Tuesday had been properly established. It was the submissive tone of the Indian offer of support that offended all in South Asia outside the Bhartiya Janata Party. Asked the urbane Sitaram Yechury of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) most appropriately, “Till now, America has not asked India for anything. They have thought of putting up military bases everywhere except India. So, why go out of the way to tell them we are willing to help?” Gen. Colin Powell, seemed to have similar feelings about the gratuitous offer, and decided to hitch the anti-Taliban offensive with the frontline states of Pakistan and the Central Asians instead—all of them lined up for the US war against the fundamentalist Taliban. The Indian foreign minister and the South Block were left flailing, the non-alignment foreign policy definitively out of the window and nothing else to show for it. Other than a not very convincing anti-terrorist “concert of democracy”.
Jaswant Singh was only representing the New Delhi establishment’s rapidly changed worldview, the first proof of which was in the 180-degree turnaround on matters nuclear after Pokhran Two in May 1998. How else could the foreign minister of a country that has won its independence by practising the nonviolence creed of Mahatma Gandhi say “an eye for an eye” in response to George W. Bush’s declaration to “smoke” the terrorists “out”. Far from the heights in which Mr. Singh and Mr. Bush reside in their respective establishments, Gandhi had said that if everyone went for “an eye for an eye”, the whole world would go blind. Egged on by the jingoism coming from President Bush (such as rabble-rousing amongst the WTC rescue hardhats, atop a mound that had yet to deliver even a fraction of its dead), India is rapidly becoming blind with misplaced rage. Gandhi had gone so far as to even advise Winston Churchill to talk to Hitler prior to the Second World War. Indian decision-makers of the twenty-first century were urging United States of America to wage war on an unidentified enemy believed to be in hiding in a country already ravaged by violence and on the verge of collapse. Up in the sky, Winston must have teased the half-naked fakir at the ways of the world below.
Contrary to the beliefs of market-savvy South Asians of the “Mera Bharat Mahan” generation, Gandhi’s insistence on non-violence in his struggle against the pre-imminent imperial power of the day was not just morality-based. It was eminently practical. Gandhi realised that all violence is unpredictable. Consequences of application of force, power or strength cannot be estimated with accuracy, and nobody can guide or control violence beyond the short term. Over a period of time, violence tends to invent its own justification. Once the downward spiral gathers momentum, checking the slide towards oblivion becomes nearly impossible. Abandoning violence as a tool becomes even more vital when the struggle is between two asymmetrical competitors for political power. Why, then, are India’s current rulers so bent on pursuing the path of violent retribution? In the answer lies the pathetic story of the fatigue that seems to have overtaken the Indian state ruled from New Delhi.
The Indian establishment is so tired of fighting terrorism, it is so fed up with its responsibilities in South Asia, it has been pushed into such a corner by the aspirations of its middle-class, and it is affected so evidently by the post-liberalisation national media that it sees nothing wrong in making that neat 180 degree turn in its international policy. No need, then, even to bother justifying the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal matters of another country, principles whose vanguard in international fora New Delhi’s ambassadors and representatives were till not so long ago. Exasperated by the demands put on it, and aware of its own limitations in meeting them, New Delhi decided to jump when it thought Washington DC was beckoning. It saw the collapse of the Twin Towers as a great opportunity to ride Uncle Sam’s coattails without being seen to have given in to the West. Alas, the realities of geo-politics are not written by the script-writers of Bollywood block busters, and so even though the Indian elephant is willing to dance to the tune of “America the Beautiful”, Uncle Sam refuses to come to the piano.
On satellite television, India’s heavyweight analysts are prone to point at the challenge of cross-border terrorism, training camps producing jihadis, and a proxy war being waged by a neighbouring country. This finger points to the continuing insurgency in Kashmir and Pakistan’s supportive role. But will bringing the Americans into the Kashmir imbroglio solve India’s problems? Ideologues of the Bhartiya Jana ta Party seem to have ignored the risks of inviting the sole superpower of the world to come sniffing into a region that is already volatile and dangerous. “Lay off!” General Musharraf told the Indians in English in his televised Urdu address, whereas there was a time when India, before its elites succumbed to the market, would have been using that expression against the United States if it so much as even indicate an interest in South Asian affairs. South Block may not recognise it, but the reality on the South Asian terra firm remains unchanged if you read General Musharraf’s not-so-subtle reference to “strategic weapons”-nuclear bombs-and Pakistan’s abiding interest in Kashmir stated in cold and calculated words. The “first war of the twenty-first century” may have been declared by a country across the seven seas, but the identity-ridden angst of South Asia’s dispossessed is not going to be dealt with by deploying some aircraft carriers and landing a few cruise missiles.
According to Mahatma Gandhi, the practice of untouchability prevalent in society is a kind of institutional violence. Even state is nothing but a structure given to organised violence. Gandhi’s praxis of Gram Swaraj recognises the evil of violence and proposes to fight it with the rule of truth the Ram Rajya. But just as everything looks like a nail to a person with a new hammer, advancement in technology has apparently changed the world view of Indian establishment. From post-colonial search for peace, India suddenly seems to have taken a myopia-induced leap into the past-to the days of Mauryan glory. So, even when there is a wave of post-modem “a million mutinies now” (in the catchy phrase of V.S. Naipaul) sweeping the landscape of South Asia, there is also an undercurrent of anti-colonialism in the region that exerts its continuing demand for self-rule and group identity a mong variegated communities. That, perhaps, explains the rise of terror ism even in Gandhi’s land. After all, as Carlos Marighella asserts in his Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla t terrorism is an essential component of any kind of insurgency. Unable to understand the complexity of the historical process at work, Indian decision-makers rush in with their military solution (the hammer) and end up further confounding the confusion.
Popular perception notwithstanding, terrorism is not mindless violence. Even those who created the carnage by the Hudson and Potomac rivers had a political purpose, and we already have a faint understanding of what that may have been. As the leaders of India know more than anyone else, terrorism is an integral part of insurgency. Some Indians may blanch if one were to call Bhagat Singh a terrorist, but in purely definitional terms that is what he was. Gandhi had no hesitation in terming all violent expressions of patriotism acts of terror. On the other hand, it has to be said that India’s encounter with insurgency/terrorism is relatively recent. Compared to anti-colonial struggles in other parts of the world, movements for independence in South Asia were relatively a tame affair. Once the British crushed the the Indian mutiny in 1857 with the help of Jang Bahadur’s Gorkhas from Nepal, Indians lost the will to wage an armed struggle with a power that depended upon ‘natives’ to fight their wars in the colonies. The British called their armed forces in India the Indian Army, and it did not give the impression of being an occupation force. For their part, the British looked at the activists of the Indian National Congress with benign indulgence.
At that time, the India which was undivided had the largest Muslim population in the world, and in recognition of the difference that it made to anti-imperial struggles, Gandhi decided to side with the Khilafat in Turkey. Khilafat became a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity, so much so that the word itself came to mean rebellion in Urdu-the lingua franca of the masses in British India. Prolonged fasts, non-cooperation, boycott and civil disobedience were the bargaining tools of Gandhi in his fight against the British. Barring stray incidents of violence, India won its independence without bloodshed. But the post-independence Partition that formed the nation states of India and Pakistan more than ‘made up’ for the lives saved during the independence struggle.
The process of nation formation continued right up to the 1950s as India and Pakistan fought the first of their wars for the Vale of Kashmir. Like other wars to take place later, it did not settle anything. All it did was drive the wedge of partition deeper into the psyche of the survivors. In 1962, India got a drubbing from the Chinese during a series of border skirmishes. Apart from other things, the Himalayan debacle diminished the stature of the Indian military. Barely a year after the death of Jawaharlal Nehru in 1964, India and Pakistan fought their second inconclusive war over Kashmir. A peace brokered by the then Soviet Union took its toll as a crest-fallen prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri died of a heart attack within hours of signing the Taskent Treaty. Shastri could not bear to come back and face his nation with the humiliation of a treaty that once again left the question of Kashmir wide open.
Elsewhere in South Asia, the 1960s were the years of post-colonial nation building based on the resurgence of cultural identity. The movement for self-respect gained momentum in the then East Pakistan and Ekushe became the war cry of Bengalis in memory of the day when language activists had laid down their lives for Bangla. Voices against Tamil domination in education and administration led to Sinhala chauvinism, which in turn sowed the seeds of sedition in a section of Tamil population in Sri Lanka. Within India, language movements erupted in much of the south. Sirdar Pratap Singh Kairon, towering figure of Indian independence struggle and a former chief minister of Punjab, was shot dead in New Delhi as secessionist politics raised its head in his frontier state. All this while, Kashmir continued to simmer on the slow burner of widespread political dissatisfaction on the one hand and a divided
The 1970s began with the birth of Bangladesh after the third war between India and Pakistan. A process that was started by the British with the partition of Bengal into two units of east and west came to an end with the ultimate independence of the eastern flank. The fundamental premise of the partition of India that unity of religion was a strong enough bond to keep cultures as far apart as Bengali and Punjabi together-was blown into smithereens by the surrender of General Niazi in Dhaka. Pakistan now had even more at stake in Kashmir. If it were to forfeit its claim on Kashmir, the very foundation of Pakistan would be shaken.
That was something Pakistanis could never imagine. Till the 1970s, there were still people living in Pakistan who had fought for its formation and remembered the agonies of the earlier life under Hindu domination. It is easy for present-day Hindu scholars in India to question the demands of Pakistan, saying that secular India has the second largest Muslim population in the world, but they can never understand the pain of those who habitually suffered the humiliation of drinking from a different water pitcher marked ‘Muslim’ at railway stations, for example. The relief of being in a country where a Muslim didn’t have to be apologetic about turning west for every azan was worth laying down lives for. It was this sentiment that Zulfikar Ali Bhutto exploited when he ranted about a thousand-year war even as he accepted the unequal terms of the Shimla Agreement in 1972. But Indira Gandhi and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto both lost in the bargain of Shimla, for having left the fate of Kashmir hanging in balance once again.
Terrorism got personal and brutal in the 1970s as leftist extremists commenced their extermination of class enemies in different parts of South Asia. Naxalites in West Bengal. Marxists in Kerala, Marxist-Leninists in Eastern Nepal, Maoists in Andhra Pradesh and Bihar, the Peoples’ Emancipation Forum in Sri Lanka-those were the years of blood- soaked dreams ruthlessly crushed in turn by the state forces.
Repression brutalises the victim as well as the perpetrators of violence. The state got more intolerant as Indira Gandhi suspended fundamental rights and declared a state of emergency in India, Sheikh Mujibur Rehman was assassinated and the military took power in Bangladesh, and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was deposed in a coup and then hanged in Pakistan. It was during this tumultuous decade that super-power rivalry came to the doorstep of South Asia as the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, and the United States came forward to pour money into the Pakistani military and back the likes of Osama bin Laden and other fundamentalists.
It was in the 1970s that Indira Gandhi annexed the quasi-independent mountain kingdom of Sikkim. Curiously, this was also the period when she dismembered Assam and formed the nearby states of Meghalaya, Arunachal, Manipur and Tripura in the Northeast. The 1970s came to a close with the declaration of referendum in Nepal that offered its people a hope of democracy but refused to deliver substantive changes in the status quo.
The following decade of the 1980s were the years of despair. Insurgency erupted with brutal force in Punjab, where Indira Gandhi had nurtured a terror named Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to check the advances of the Akali Dal in the state. Students in Assam started a movement against foreigners that resulted in a carnage of alleged Bangladeshis culminating in the massacre of innocents at Nellie, killed just because they were declared alien by the zealots of All Assam Students Union and Asom Gana Sangram Parishad. Left out of the process of compromises between different interest groups in New Delhi, the Northeast got even more alienated and insurgency spread throughout Nagaland, Manipur and Mizoram. Meanwhile, Kashmir continued to burn.
It was also in the 1980s that the Mohajir Qaumi Movement raised its profile in Pakistan, Chakma tribals rose up for justice in Bangladesh, the Tamils intensified their fight for an independent homeland in Sri Lanka, and Bhutan commenced the persecution and expulsion of its Lhotsampa population. This was the decade when scorpions fatted on the munificence of India’s intelligence agencies became so bold as to bite their own benefactors. Indira Gandhi was shot dead by her own Sikh bodyguards enraged by her assault on the Golden Temple, and her son Rajiv was blown up by Dhanu, a woman suicide bomber of the LTTE.
Before his stint in power was cut short by the Bofors howitzer scandal, Rajiv Gandhi had succeeded in signing a string of peace accords-with the agitating students of Assam, with the Akali Dal in Punjab, and with the government of President Jayawardane in Sri Lanka. But even he could do nothing about the folly of his grandfather in Kashmir, emanating from a moment of weakness when the great liberal decided not to let go of the region for political gain. During Rajiv’s time, the situation in Kashmir got distorted as new militant groups entered the fray. After the retreat of Soviet forces from Afganistan, jihadis funded by Americans and trained by Pakistanis found another fighting frontier in the quiet Vale.
Through these twists and turns of South Asia-wide insurgencies, because of its transnational nature and the depth of feelings it arouses on both sides, it is the continuing militancy in Kashmir that has burdened South Asian history and holds the single largest threat to the future of a by-now-nuclearised Subcontinent. The essential aspects of the problem has remained the same over the years-Kashmir continues to be the unfinished business of the partition of British India. For Pakistan, a claim on Kashmir has become a kind of raison d’etre for its survival. Secure within its military might and ability to let Kashimr bleed, India just cannot fathom the depth of feeling among Pakistanis. India tries to beat Pakistan with the stick of cross border terrorism while the latter fights back with long-forgotten General Assembly resolutions on the Kashmiris’ right to self-determination.
Over the 1990s, the insurgency in Kashmir acquired communal overtones and Islamic fundamentalists of different varieties such as Laskars violently pushed aside the Kashmiri freedom-fighters of the home- grown Hurriyat variety. The blurring of distinction between fundamentalists and insurgents became so complete in Kashmir, especially after the Kargil War, that today India’s Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani can conveniently use the oft-repeated quote of one man’s terrorist being another man’s freedom fighter and in the very next breath ask for the elimination of terrorism in the next breath without noticing any incongruity.
And now, a direct link is sought to be drawn between the American disaster and insurgency in South Asia. By trying to connect the insurgency in Kashmir with the fundamentalism of Osama bin Laden’s global network of Al Quaida, India hoped to get its dirty work done by the Americans. Such was the lack of self-confidence in handling what should have been an ‘internal matter’ that the Indian establishment political, bureaucratic, media and all manner of opinion makers-thought it would utilise this opportunity to clinically excise terrorism from Kashmir, forgetting that first and foremost the wound festers within the Valley. Also, in the rush to applaud the American resolve to fight the war against terrorism and in the unasked offering of all manner of logistical support, India forgot that a miss-step on Kashmir could snowball against all India and the rest of South Asia.
For the Americans, however, the need of the hour was to encircle Afghanistan, and South Block had miscalculated- simple geography and geopolitics showed that Pakistan was a much more suitable ally than India which was a block away. Ironically, too, both Pakistan and India found themselves on the same side-both of them willing to help the Americans, the one willingly and the other under duress, and both being rewarded with the lifting of sanctions. This equidistance must have been galling for the ministers and bureaucrats on Raisina Hill, for the “concert of democracy” seemed harder to achieve than it had seemed at first.
Rise of the bourgeoisie
Indian middle-class kept itself away from the rough and tumble of democratic politics all through the years of Nehru’s socialism. It devoted itself to education and the professions, and prospered from the processes of red-tape even as Indira Gandhi rent the air with .hr socialist call of “Garibi Hatao”. But the bourgeoisie was brought to the centre-stage by Indira Gandhi’s younger son, Sanjay. He was a dread for the masses, but the middle-class flocked to him. He pursued the causes dear to the Indian bourgeoisie- forced vasectomy of the poor to limit their numbers, clearing of slums in the name of urban beautification, and a disregard for the niceties of democratic politics. He made a politician of the stature of Narayan Dutta Tiwari run with his chappals on the Lucknow railway station to the applause of Indian middle-class. Trains ran on time, there were no strikes at educational institutions, and the political leaders opposed to the policies of Sanjay were in jail- the Indian bourgeoisie couldn’t have asked for anything more.
It is difficult to understand why Indira called for an election when the going was so good for both mother and son, but it is likely that her advisors convinced her that she would win the polls hands down. Sensitive to the verdict of history like the power elite everywhere, Indira possibly also wanted to re-establish the democratic credentials of Nehru-Gandhi dynasty so that it could perpetuate itself.
Indira lost, but the chaos of the Janata Party’s years in power frightened the middle-class no end. George Fernanedes expelled Coca Cola and made International Business Machine pull down its shutters in India. The hungry and unwashed masses of Jagjivan Ram and Chaudhary Charan Singh taking over the Ramlila Maidan for days on end in New Delhi pushed the fearful bourgeoisie once again into the close embrace of Indira’s Congress. The coming of age of the Indian middle-class commenced with the entry of Rajiv Gandhi into public life.
Rajiv was a reluctant political prince of the uncrowned Empress of the Indian Republic. After the death of Sanjay in a stunt plane crash, the elder brother declared that all he wanted to do was ‘help Mummy’. His baptism was by way of staging the Asian Games of 1982. Asiad’s mascot was a playful baby elephant named Apu, who became the flag-carrier of the upwardly mobile middleclass. Brick by brick, Rajiv’s friends from his days at the Raj-era boarding school in Dehra Dun began to dismantle the edifice of socialism. Their New Delhi world was one that would have flyovers to ease traffic, five star discos to chill out in, and lucrative government contracts to pad a Western lifestyle-in-a-bubble. The bourgeoisie had truly arrived, and the frenetic building of ‘farm-houses’ in the vicinity of New Delhi was a testimony to the transition from Gandhian abstinence to conspicuous consumption.
Rajiv Gandhi’s Nike led the way for this computer-savvy modernisation brigade. Pepsi made an entry and Coca Cola its comeback. Forced by a balance of payment crisis, P. V. Narasimha Rao who took over from where Rajiv left off, opened the floodgates of market economy. The size of India’s middle-class grew by leaps and bounds. All of a sudden, the consuming classes of India, those with the surplus to spend on non-essentials, became a 100 million strong. The multinational corporations of the long resentful of India for leading the charge against them and on behalf of the world’s poor, suddenly woke up to the fact that the Indian elephant had no memory at all, and was now in fact unbelievably on their side.
Even if it was Rajiv and Narasimha Rao of the Congress that carried out the volte face of the political economy, none benefited more from the burgeoning middle-class than the Bhartiya Janata Party. In its earlier avatar as the Bhartiya Jan Sangh, the BJP had held complete sway over the neighbourhood grocers and petty shopkeepers in the plains of North India. The caste politics of an opportunistic V. P. Singh, epitomised by his attempt to implement the Mandal Commission report, pushed the alienated upper-caste Hindus as well towards the waiting arms of the ‘Hinduvadi’ BJP. The demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya in 1992 and the bomb blasts in Bombay together solidified the support of hard-line Hindus around the BJP, which played up the avuncular personality of Atal Behari Vajpayee as its public face. The supposedly moderate stance of Vajpayee- the same person who wrote tormented verse about Hiroshima but would pull the trigger of Pokharan Two-also helped attract a larger population into the BJP fold. After the assassination of Rajiv in 1991, there was no Congress leader of stature to sway the masses and the BJP made most of that vacuum.
Ironically, in their process of self-perpetuating isolation, the more the Muslim Indians huddled together in the aftermath of Ayodhya, the bigger the distance became between them and the chauvinist Hindu brigade which surged ahead to take power in New Delhi. While pushing their agenda for a Com mon Civil Code the BJP ideologues pretended to be promoting secularism, but were in fact prosecuting minority identities. The BJP also preyed on the Hindus’ fears of India being a country surrounded by aggressive Islamic states, and helped instil a minority complex in the majority population. The BJP pushed and took full political advantage of the bogey of petro-dollars peddling Islam.
Muslim Indians, along with Dalits and tribals, were the main victims of the process of globalisation-the economic liberalisation and privatisation of the Indian economy. Muslims, after all, had no middle-class worth the name in India; their best professionals had migrated to Pakistan and in fact continued to do so right up to the 1960s. The upper class Muslims were the beneficiaries of minority tokenism of the ruling elite in New Delhi, and they did not find it convenient to nurture competitors by promoting the creation of an upwardly mobile class of Muslim Indians.
The mass of Muslims remained at the bottom of Indian economic heap and felt it had even less of a stake in a market-dominant India than earlier in the Nehru-Gandhi socialist era. Hindu ideologues like to blame the orthodoxy of Muslims for their backward ness, but the fact is there is not much of a difference between Hindu Dalits and poor Muslims when it comes to an inability to pick up opportunities in a political economy run by upper-class Hindus. Even in the private sector, no industrial house (that of the Tatas being perhaps the sole exception) would go beyond the symbolic hiring of Muslims. The pre-existing divide between Hindus and Muslims was thus deepened by the market surge benefiting the Hindu middle-class. The BJP and its allies only made matters worse by stressing the differences.
The tolerance level for the Musalmaan is even lower among the refugees who came over to India during Partition. Deep within, they carry the trauma of their loss, and blame the Muslims for their suffering. The most prominent example of such a tormented mindset a name that has to be taken for all the power he has today to destroy the fabric of India-is India’s Home Minister L. K. Advani. A Sindhi survivor who has succeeded in reaching the pinnacle of power in Bharat whose power base is stronger within the party than the Uttar Pradeshi Vajpayee’s-it was Advani who ignited Hindu militancy in its latest wave after going on his Ram Mandir Rathyatra on a gussied-up truck. It is Advani who promotes the Sindhu Darshan by doing puja in Ladakh along the Sutlej, a river that flows into Pakistan. It is Advani who talks of hot pursuit in Kashmir. And it is he again who finds nothing wrong in urging the US to wage war against Islam. The Hindutva of Advani is harsh, non-inclusive and chauvinistic, an attitude that is ripe and ready to countenance the harsh, non-inclusive and chauvinist United States under Bush Junior.
In addition to the congenital hostility of the BJ P towards Muslims, a class has emerged in liberalised India that associates Islam with the burqa and fanaticism. For the lovers of MTV and McDonalds, the madrasa is a places that breeds medieval mullahs bent upon waging jihad on kafirs everywhere. This class of globalised Indians has more in common with Americans of different races in the United States than with the Muslims in the next neighbourhood or mohalla. It shares the fears of Americans, but has no understanding of the frustrations of Asia’s Muslims-either the downtrodden Musalmaan of South Asia or the complex and inter-woven politics of West Asia. This class also happens to be the main constituency of the BJP, and leaders like Advani find that by declaring Osama bin Laden an enemy of civilisation they can enhance the loyalty of their cash-rich supporters.
Closely tied to this class of nouvea-riche Indian Hin dus is the NRI, the non-resident desi who mistakenly believes that he can escape identification as “Paki” in the West if only he could somehow prove his Aryan credentials. The US-based NRIs tend therefore to be natural allies of Hindu nationalists within the BJP, and little wonder then that an attack on the United States now generates such a powerful reaction in New Delhi. Globalisation has liberated the middle-class of India from the suffocating secularism of the Nehru-Gandhi years and it finds that by making common cause with the Americans, it can cosy up to the sole superpower and obtain windfall benefits. Once one understands the political compulsions of the BJP, especially when there is an election in the all-important state of Uttar Pradesh looming, the ‘stoogeism’ of the suave Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh starts to make sense.
Until the 1970s, television and radio were under strict government control and the print media considered itself an extension of the state. It performed its watchdog functions while remaining within the limits set by the government of the day. In a self-important kind of way, Indian journalists believed that they were the guardians of Indian democracy. The “foreign hand” that Indira Gandhi saw behind every other bush was willingly magnified many times over by the Indian press. When Nixon asked the Seventh Fleet to set sail for the Indian. Ocean and the Soviets came to India’s support during the Indo-Pak war of 1971, the Indian press decided that patriotism meant opposing the Americans.
The end of the Emergency ushered a revolution in the ‘language press’, and simultaneously, a clutch of glossy English periodicals hit the stands. Two clear strands of journalism emerged-a language press obsessed about religion and ethnicity, and English press pursuing the mantra of the market. India Today, the newsmagazine that was later to emerge as the trusted vehicle of Hindu chauvinism after the demolition of Babri Masjid, began assiduously to serve the needs of the growing middle class and the NRIs nonresident Indians and to project a better image of India abroad.
The 1982 Asiad introduced colour television to India, and the medium was able to mesmerise viewers with the live-cast view of the stoic Rajiv at the last rites of his mother Indira. Mythological soaps such as Ramayan and Mahabharat psyched Hindus up to stand up and be counted on a massive scale, modem broadcast technology presenting a simplified oneness to a ‘religion’ that earlier knew no definition. The Gulf War brought the satellite channels, and in competition the print too succumbed to the charms of the marketplace.
In a moment of weakness, an editor of The Times of India had once boasted that the editorship of his paper was the second-most important job in the country after that of the prime minister. Perhaps he would say so no longer. The trajectory of degeneration of the Times has been clear for all readers to see, as the publisher, Samir Jain, struggles to make big bucks amidst a market that has no space for serious journalism. As the commentator (and presently minister) Arun Shourie says, the Times has left journalism, to practise infotainment. But if Jain reflects the brand of earthy and pragmatic publisher -a media equivalent of Laloo Prasad Yadav of Bihar state-Arun Purie of India Today is the suave Chandrababu Naidu of the business. Jain comes from a family of industrialists in Bihar and understands the prerequisites of maintaining communal relationships in the country-side. Purie, on the other hand, is a scion of a Punjabi refugee family for whom the Hindu identity is a matter of faith, and personal achievement the sole criterion of belonging to the country of adoption.
Right from the beginning, India Today kept its eye firmly on the Indian bourgeoisie, influencing their opinion as much as reflecting them. The magazine favours the market to such an extent that it leaves even the most ardent supporters of liberalisation gasping for breath. Supporting, and supported by the middle class, the magazine naturally speaks the same chauvinist voice of Advani, and it too would see in the American carnage an opportunity to seek a ‘concert’ against the musalmaan. This was clearly evident on the magazine’s special number after 11 September, which shouts “Jihad against the world” on the cover and is devoted to urging the Americans to wage a crusade. The editorial does not say it in so many words, but it drops fairly loud hints about a possible triad of US, Israel and India with its suggestion that “only collective endeavour of the civilised can take on the millennium evil”. There is no particular emphasis on ‘civilised’, such is the certitude of the editors as to on which side they stand. Cartoons in the issue-always a measure of the hidden agenda of any publication-verge on tastelessness in ridiculing Islam.
Even more than print, it is the news channels that have taken the US president’s developing war to the drawing rooms across South Asia. Before the impact of the American tragedy itself was allowed to sink in, the satellite channels were providing space for the de- fence analysts and the strategic thinkers to repeat what were essentially concerns not of South Block but of Foggy Bottom. None seemed too concerned-not the talking heads themselves, nor the anchors, or the producers -of the implications that a “crusade” in the backyard of South Asia would have on the large Mus- Jim population of the region or the fragile communal relations within and between countries here, including India Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
The United States eagle is blinded by rage and a need to react to the carnage visited upon it. But rather than a calibrated retribution against the criminals who would enact such a crime on innocents, the White House is bent on revenge. The American administration as a whole, has been forced to follow-through on the cowboy talk of a young, brash and inexperienced president. India’s vociferous Hindu middle- class, represented by the politicians, the foreign policy establishment, and the media gatekeepers, finds it convenient for the sake of its own chauvinism to support (even unasked) an American adventure in South Asia. What this crusade might do to America, to South Asia and to the world is too horrendous to contemplate.
Ever since the experimental nukes shook the Thar desert and the hills of Chagai in 1998, South Asia has remained the most “dangerous” place on the planet, by the definition of the immediate-past president of the Unite States. An angst akin to that of Latin American youth, a fundamentalism of the Saudi Arabian variety, a poverty that compares with sub-Saharan Africa, and the cutting edge technology of Silicon Valley-all are brought together to simmer in South Asia, this historic cradle of human civilisation that is home to more than one-sixth of humanity. This is a region that has not yet been able to solve its own problem, and therefore displays the largest population of poor in the world. And the prospects for peace and prosperity in South Asia becomes even more remote as the Indian elephant goes into a trance induced by the hallucinatory power of the dollar.
With 85 percent of South Asia’s landmass and even more than a proportion of its population, the primary responsibility of keeping peace in the region should have rested with India. But the India of today seems to lack the self-confidence as well as the magnanimity. New Delhi perceives little Pakistan as its rival, to the extent that it will gleefully try to corner a reluctant Uncle Sam in its fight against the western neighbour. It lacks in introspection to such an extent that it cannot countenance a Kashmir as anything other than a ‘state’ of the Republic, all promises of the long past meaning nothing. And now, in their obsession with Pakistan, the Indian leadership have indicated an inclination to take on Islam without bothering to ponder its consequences for the region. To borrow the expression used by a neighbouring general in a context quite different and similarly insular, the message for the Indian leadership and all who shape their agenda in the intelligentsia and media should be, “Lay off!”
There are extreme risks inherent in an alliance with the United States to fight a crusade that is perceived to be against Islam, whatever the real intent. It could end up antagonising enduring friendships with the Arab world and Russia, and complicating relationships with China, the powerfully accelerating Asian neighbour and future competitor. All this to be risked for the nightmares that Pakistan gives the Indian ruling class. Even more dangerous than losing friends and making enemies internationally, is the dangers within-the possible fallout in North India of engaging in a crusade with the jihadis of Afghanistan/Pakistan. Given the mix of poor education and poverty that has relegated the Muslims of India into such a large and sullen mass, such a challenge could well lead to the hardening of the Muslim stand, a talibanisation of extreme fringes, a polarisation of politics between hard-line Hindus and all others, aggravation of an already volatile communal relations, and loss of face of the Swadeshi brigade which would lead to god-knows what kind of reaction. But the establishmentarian intelligentsia of India gives no indication of understanding these layers, and chooses to play second fiddle to the talking heads of Western and Indian satellite television.
In the end, India as defined by New Delhi infuriates the rest of South Asia not so much by the wrongs that it commits in the region as in failing to do the right things that it is perfectly capable of doing. More than a political unit, India represents the common cultural identity of the region to the rest of the world, and all South Asians have to face the consequences of New Delhi’s acts and omissions. By refusing to recognise the dangerous face of the American ‘crusade’, New Delhi does injustice not only to its neighbours but also to India’s own diverse population, whose interests have been jettisoned in these globalised times in favour of a select category.
Instead of offering to be a supportive player to possible American (mis)adventures in the Hindukush, the India we all knew till not so long ago would have been raising its voice for moderation. It would have urged for sanctity of United Nations resolutions, and that of Article 2 of the UN Charter that expressly forbids its member countries from “the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state”. It would have suggested that American not be a law unto itself. It would have been worried the moment the Seventh Fleet became visible over the horizon. Trying to cosy up to the United States due to perceived domestic compulsions, New Delhi missed the chance of rising up as a moral force after the debacle of Pokhran II, when it gave up the Gandhian mantle to mouth the language of nuclear-speak. Now, after the American disaster, it has found it easy to proceed in the already defined path.
The bewilderment of the Indian foreign policy establishment is palpable. First, it lost its reliable anchor block when the Soviet Union collapsed. Then it was forced to give up its long-cherished high moral ground in the international arena with the tests and the announcement of a nuclear doctrine. And now, a complete about-turn from non-alignment, and the Bang- dung declaration, already long forgotten, thrown definitively into the dung heap. All of this done on the altar of the market place. While the politicians are savvy and can wriggle out of any situation with the use of words, it is harder for South Block bureaucrats who have to hold to some kind of consistency. This, per haps, explains the low profile of Chokila Aiyer, the Foreign Secretary, and the haunted look of South Block spokepersons. Seeking to join an American solidarity against Osama to spite Pakistan, New Delhi has lost its standing in the Arab nations, as well as its reputation in the Third World. This loss of standing may not be immediately apparent in our increasingly West-dominated media, but it will make itself felt with some strength in the days to come.
Mall vs. bazaar
But all is not yet lost. Despite the demolition of faith in Ayodhya, the destruction of communal harmony in the Bombay blasts, and burning of religious tolerance in the torched jeep of Graham Steins, India remains truly “a secular miracle of the modern world”. Muslims in Hyderabad can dress up their toddlers in the mock army uniform of Pakistan, Khasi Christians in Kohima can swear at “Indians” beyond the Chicken’s Neck, and Shiv Sena shock-troops can ask all Indians Muslims to go to Pakistan and yet all of them can still belong to a nation of one billion that continues to go to the polls at regular intervals. Therein lies the hope for India, the staying power of its mass of people even when the leadership goes astray.
The United States may be the melting pot of cultures, where all comers over time strive for and achieve the generic Americanness that sometimes tends to be as dull as the country’s ubiquitous suburban malls. But the South Asia of bazaars has always been “a garden of castes and races” (and religions, one might add), as the ‘unifier of Nepal’ Prithvi Narayan Shah stated in his Divine Counsel. In a garden, the different species. survive together, but each retains its distinctiveness. The America-bedazzled Indian middle-class, on the other hand, increasingly looks to create an India on the melting-pot- or khichri-mod el. It is an impossible agenda, but one which will fail only after much violence will have been visited upon the population. India, and the region cannot afford to get involved in the war games that are too close to reality. The very premise of the much-ballyhooed war between “Islam versus civilisation” is fundamentally flawed, and the rulers in New Delhi who control the destiny of all of South Asia, must understand that it was proposed as a strategic exercise for the West to tackle Islam. It was never meant to be a model for India and South Asia.
Rather than parrot the theme of “clash of civilisations” that will ultimately benefit others, India needs to heed the lesson of Mahatma Gandhi: an eye for an eye would indeed make the whole world blind. For South Asians in particularly, the words of Bertrand Russel hold truth at times like this: “It’s either co-existence or no-existence.”
Sure, South Asia has its own reasons to oppose the fascist regime of the Taliban in Afganistan. But India will not be doing anyone a favour by supporting the Americans to spite Pakistan, on the excuse of Osama. And this year, when Indians and South Asians celebrate Gandhi Jayanti on 2 October, they will do well to remember the frail old man that gave the world the two creeds really worth having: truth and non-violence.
CK Lal is a writer and columnist based in Kathmandu.