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August - September 2008

Political News

Is India Under Siege? When will the country ever emerge out of it?

by Sashanka Sekhar Banerjee

V.S. Naipaul, the Trinidad­born Indian­origin Nobel Laureate for Literature once prophetically said that India is a land of a “million mutinies”. It is sixty years since India became an independent nation and as the country prepares to complete the first decade of the 21st century in less than one and a half years, the “mutinies” seem to have only sharpened and in fact spread further across the land.

There is on the one hand the daily occurrence of calibrated terrorist attacks both on civilian and military targets causing mass murder and mayhem sponsored from across the western borders – which is well documented ­and on the other are the mindless insurgencies run in the north eastern region by myriad separatist elements who have found safe haven across the eastern borders and whose numbers are growing by the day – this too is well established. Then there are the well­orchestrated destabilisation attempts plotted with increasing innovativeness by some of the ideologically motivated mainstream as well as by certain regional political parties who are armed with sinister agendas playing larger than life roles with extraordinary clout built by them within the existing political system, rampant with pettiness, greed and corruption. Can there be any doubt that India is under multi­pronged attack not only internally ­the siege within ­but also externally – the siege without.

The riots in Srinagar Valley in J & K are a notable recent example. The State Governor Mr Vohra allocated 40 hectares of forestland to the famous Amaranth Temple to build temporary lavatories and Dharamshalas ­rest houses ­for the season of the annual pilgrimages. The leadership of the All Parties Hurrayat Conference, said to be a creature of the ISI, decided to oppose the move saying that it was an attempt by the Government of India to change the religious demography of the State of J & K. Several people died in clashes with the police. The J & K Government promptly withdrew the offer to Amarnath Temple. This agitation, which was founded on nothing but lies, heralded the beginning of a sinister new chapter in Kashmir politics. Reacting to it, the BJP said that the time had come to abrogate Article 370 of the Constitution which prevents Indians buying any properties in Jammu and Kashmir State or settle down in the state. Nobody believes that the BJP will ever be able to achieve this goal. The NDA Government, which ruled for 5 years from 1999 to 2004, had proclaimed its intention to remove the Article 370 but miserably failed to do so.

The Amarnath agitation by the APHC only confirmed that India’s ‘siege within’ is being strengthened and fortified with foreign assistance. Why is India unable to come out of the siege? What are the reasons? Is India not a liberal democracy? Is India not a secular polity where every citizen is equal under the law irrespective of what religion he or she professes, practises or even propagates? Is India not a country where fundamental rights under the constitution are guaranteed, where its citizens live in freedom and liberty, where the rule of law reigns supreme?

Yet the country is constantly and endlessly battling against separatist insurgencies either driven by religious fervour or ideological fire. In such a fraught environment the lure of lucre also plays a hugely galloping role in corrupting the powerful ruling class ever more.

The insensitivity of the newly rich and increasingly corrupt political class in India – an unfortunate by­product of India’s parliamentary system of government and the more recent phenomenon of its booming economy ­is such that it has failed to see the existence of 300 million­strong under­class of poverty stricken and illiterate people, living under their very noses, being denied of the benefits of the liberalised economy. Amidst the glittering count of 36 billionaires whose numbers are growing by the hour, India is also the last post of poverty in the world. The existence of such a huge population living in abject poverty has the potential to destabilise the nation. It is unbelievable that such poverty and illiteracy happen to co­exist in a democratic system.

Have the politicians transformed democracy into a dam­mockery? It is for the people to ask the question and punish those who deserve to be punished. Why is the power of the ballot boxes set aside once the elections are over?

India’s parliamentary system of government has failed to deliver in many ways. Thanks to the parliamentary system of government, India had to live with weak coalition governments at the centre for the last 10 years when in 1999 the NDA Government came to power and subsequently in 2004 the UPA Government was installed. Historically India suffered foreign invasions whenever there were weak central governments. If the people of India continue to elect weak central governments, the parliamentary system is likely to degenerate further. The easy route is for the people to choose a two party system where one party is in government with absolute majority and the other sits in the opposition. If that is unachievable, a Presidential system of government will become unavoidable.

There must also be other good reasons why sections of people are not happy to live in India. The people are enfranchised yet they are disenchanted and disaffected? Poverty apart, what, where, when and why have things gone wrong? If the government in India is truly and genuinely accountable to the people as it should be in a democracy, the 650 million voters who put the governments in place through the ballot box, have the right to have proper and convincing answers to these vital questions of national importance?

Indians have so far hardly ever made a purposeful attempt to introspect and come up with answers to these critical questions. Articulating solutions have been a far cry, to say the least. I have argued in my book “A Long Journey Together – India, Pakistan & Bangladesh” which will be sold through from 15 August 2008, that the push and pull of India’s political system ­the bitter tug of war between vested interests ­have never allowed free and constructive thinking on questions of national importance. The US Congress had commissioned more than a decade ago to find out what India’s strategic vision was. The Commission’s report concluded that India had not evolved a long­term strategic vision yet. It expressed the fear that India’s ruling class may never be able to articulate a strategic vision for the nation perhaps for a long time to come. The Commission’s conclusion made nearly 15 years ago may or may not be right but what is apparent is that it has not struck many among India’s “Thought Leaders” ­now that it’s the 21st century ­that India is crying out for innovative systems change not in the distant future but here and now. The socialist mould of thinking still rules supreme among the intellectuals up and down the country. The world is changing fast and India will have to change too and the pace has to be faster than so far achieved. It is important that India does not lag behind other nations anymore. Socialism is not the answer to India’s ills.

In this new paradigm of globalised market economy, is there a role cut out for the overseas Indians – the Indian diaspora? Will the global Indians be able to take up the challenge and contribute to the introspection process and come up with answers and solutions? The answer in my view is: Yes, it is possible but that is a daunting challenge. Is there sufficient high quality leadership potential in store, how much is intellectual capital including academic knowledge, managerial experience and technical know­how available to invest. That the Indian diaspora has significant potential in all these segments and more, nobody would doubt. In addition they have enormous wealth, their numbers ­25 million strong worldwide ­add up to the size of a non­territorial 29th State of India. They have the political will too to invest in their motherland. They are a can­do people.

Economy is only one aspect of the security dilemmas India is facing. The nation faces another daunting challenge and that is the ideological challenge of aggressive militant Islam promoting its secret political agenda to bleed India into submission. The recent suicide bombing outside the gates of the Indian Embassy in Kabul was an attack on the nation. The bomb blast killed 41 people including the Military Attache, the Political Councillor and 4 security personnel. This was the first time the attack was launched on Indian interests outside the country, in Afghanistan where democracy is just beginning to flourish and where India is helping to build its infrastructure and its democratic institutions. In the past, the terrorists have attacked Indians on the soil of India in the Parliament House when it was in session, the Indian Institute of Science, Muslim Mosques and Hindu temples, shopping centres killing hundreds of innocent civilians, commuter trains in busy office time. Hamid Karzai the Afghan President has unreservedly blamed Pakistan Army’s ISI as the source of the attack. The change of political guard has not altered Pakistan Army’s secret security agenda of destabilising India. India needs to take a firm stand on the issue.

On the other side of the nation’s borders is Bangladesh from where according to informed estimates about 25 million illegal immigrants have found their way into India over the last few years. They are refusing to go back. The Dhaka regime is not willing to take them back and certain political parties are opposed to sending them back to where they came from for electoral reasons. The mass influx of illegal migrants from Bangladesh has the potential to change the cultural identity of the nation even unravel it.

The shenanigans of the Indo­US Civilian Nuclear Deal, which the Left Front led by the Communist Party of India Marxist opposed vehemently from being operationalised under the 123 Agreement and the Hyde Act, finally led to the withdrawal of parliamentary support by the Marxist Communists on 7 July 2008 to the Congress­led UPA Government. The deal was claimed to be anti­Muslim and therefore it was unacceptable to the Marxists. The withdrawal of support was timed to coincide with the visit to Hokkaido in Japan of Dr Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister where he had gone to attend the G8 Summit. It was openly meant to insult India and its Prime Minister. There was obviously a secret political agenda at work. It is to be hoped that the people of India would realise the sinister intentions of the Marxists and forcefully bring popular resentment to their notice at the next polls.

Some say that the Marxists are more loyal to the Chinese Communist Party than to India. They have never condemned China for their attack on India in 1962. China has refused to settle the border disputes with India but the Marxists never said a word about it in criticism. Beijing has evolved a policy of strategic encirclement of India with naval bases in Gwadar in Baluchistan Coast in Pakistan, Coco Islands in Burma, in a secret location in Sri Lanka. China claims the State of Arunachal Pradesh describing it as “Lower Tibet”. It illegally occupies large tracts of Indian territory claiming as its own. China’s nuclear missiles are targeted on India. It was no surprise that George Fernandez the Defence Minister of India at the time of the Pokhran II nuclear tests in 1998 said that the tests were in response to the security threats from China. The CPM strongly criticised the NDA Government for the nuclear tests of 1998 describing the BJP as “Barbarian Fascists”.

Gunnar Myrdal, the Swedish economist had said in the seventies that India is a “Soft State”. He regretted that the country does not have the political will to confront the security threats it is faced with, with firm resolve and determination. Over the years it has been complicated by the fact that India’s political class has allowed the country’s “Soft Power” to shield the fact of its being a “Soft State”. India is proud of its religious and cultural diversity, its vibrant secularism – although it has been uncomfortably over politicised ­the fundamental rights guaranteed under the constitution, its democratic institutions, its parliament and its independent judiciary, its cinema, its theatre, its music, its literature, its painting and so. All these add up to its proud tradition of what is known as its vibrant “Soft Power”. So what is the problem?

Ayaz Amir the Pakistani columnist in The Dawn has said that the colourful and noisy song and dance sequences of Bollywood monotonously repeated in the TV screens a million times over have lulled the people of India into a belief that all is well with India, when actually it is not. Irrespective of the giant economic progress underway, India is in trouble, beset by internal problems and external enemies. Let us not underestimate the fury of coming storms.

Taking a cue from that warning, I think it is time for India to reassess its priorities and perhaps allow itself to emerge gradually into a “Hard State”. The enemies of the nation only respect strength not weakness.

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