Ideologies blowing about in journals

Independent opinion journals and their editorial orientation

Over at The Awkward Corner, Niranjan Rajadhyaksha pays tribute to Sachin Chaudhuri, founder of the Economic Weekly, the forerunner of the journal we now know as Economic & Political Weekly. That venerable institution turns sixty this year, and has undergone both a cosmetic facelift (and one hopes, one in terms of editorial orientation as well) in recent years. It is perhaps the only journal in the world that publishes scholarly papers by eminent members of the Planning Commission and letters to the editor by Naxalite noms de guerre.

Niranjan links to Ramchandra Guha’s 1999 essay on the history of independent opinion journals in India where Mr Guha writes “Verily could (the editors of Seminar and EPW) claim to have followed the Tagore-Gandhi mantra, thus modified: ‘I want the ideas and ideologies of all kinds of Indians to be blown about in my journal as freely as possible. But I refuse to let it be blown off its feet by any.'” That is a lofty objective, and it is arguable whether India’s independent opinion journals were able to avoid the ideological seduction of the socialism that was prevalent in those days.

At The Indian National Interest and Pragati we make no such claims of loftiness. We believe that the Indian republic presents the best hope for the well-being, prosperity and happiness (yogakshema) of all its people, and therefore, its survival and security is supremely important. We advocate economic freedom, realism in international affairs, an open society and a culture of tolerance. But Pragati and INI are both “products of independent minds, who—transcending ideological pigeonholes—are united in our determination to see a better future for our nation.”

Ideologies are important—bad ones can kill, and worse. So allowing all kinds of ideologies to be blown about sounds lofty, but there is hardly any virtue in sitting on the fence in matters of public policy. However, pigeonholing (the pressure to follow and yield to dogma) is dangerous, because it is the first stop on the road to fundamentalism, and public policy—not least in a country as diverse as India—cannot do without pragmatism. But pragmatism itself is rudderless without firm ideological grounding.

One reason I am personally hesitant to describe our political philosophy in a word or two is because doing so runs the risk of getting pigeonholed. I took the risk when in “liberal nationalism” I made an attempt to construct a coherent framework of where we stand. But I refuse to let it blow me off my feet *.

A lesson in statecraft, for Mr Varadarajan

Nepal is Nepal, and India is, well, India

“If the Indian Maoists have something to learn from their Nepali comrades,” Siddharth Varadarajan argues, “the same is true of the Indian establishment as well. While Nepal’s erstwhile ruling parties are building peace with their Maoists, India is stuck with the disastrous Salwa Judum.”

Now the use of Salwa Judum by Chattisgarh is wrong, and is the most obvious indicator of the UPA government’s failure to develop a cohesive strategy towards subduing the Naxalite movement. But it is also important to remember that Salwa Judum is a relatively new phenomenon (India’s Naxalites have been around for almost four decades) and is restricted to just one state. So to equate India’s long war against the Naxalite movement is more misinformation than analysis. Mr Varadarajan ignores the anti-Naxalite strategies adopted in other states and at other times. For instance, under Chandrababu Naidu’s chief-ministership, the Andhra Pradesh police almost broke the Naxalites’ back. That advantage was lost not because the use of force by state authorities didn’t work. It was lost because the Congress Party decided to lower the heat and attempt negotiations. The Maoists used the opportunity to regroup and before long, returned to their armed struggle.

But what of Mr Varadarajan’s lesson in statecraft, from Nepal to India? Well, he argues

“If the Indian establishment wants the Maoists to give up their armed struggle and take part in elections like their Nepali comrades, it will have to rely on more than political osmosis. For the Nepali ‘model’ is not just about the Maoists adapting creatively to changes in the national and international arena; it is equally about the ‘bourgeois’ parties there demonstrating a degree of statesmanship that has so far been completely absent in their counterparts south of the border.

Indeed, so backward is our political culture in relation to Nepal’s that instead of seeking ways of peacefully ending the naxalite insurgency, the Government of India has actually fuelled a new civil war.

In Nepal, the political parties and the Maoist rebels realised that the civil war in their country would not be resolved militarily. The king was the only one who failed to recognise this reality and paid the price for his folly. In India, however, despite the military stalemate which prevails, both the establishment and the Maoists continue to believe in the supremacy of arms.” [The Hindu]

Mr Varadarajan, like some other people who write in the opinion pages of the Hindu betrays a profound misunderstanding of the nature of the Indian state. He fails to understand the fundamental difference between legitimacy of a democratic republic and that of a sometimes-absolute, sometimes-constitutional monarchy. Even if one were to ignore the immense differences in the state’s hard capacity—in the ability to muster up economic and military resources—the government of India enjoys a moral strength (of course, the Naxalites and their apologists will deny this) that no government of Nepal ever had. [See There are alternatives to Naxalism]

In other words, unlike Nepal, the Indian state won’t simply lie down and surrender. Here Mr Varadarajan would do well to learn some lessons from Indian history: in the end, it is the insurgents who cry Momma. The second lesson for Mr Varadarajan is that the democratic nature of the Indian state allows these militarily defeated insurgents to honourably enter mainstream politics.

Indeed, Mr Varadarajan might discover the ultimate lesson of statecraft were he to examine how Nepal’s Maoists came to power. Narratives of Indian pusillanimity apart, does he really believe that Pushpa Kumar Dahal would be so close to political power, and legitimacy, if the ‘Indian establishment’ hadn’t allowed it?

It is not as if negotiations haven’t been tried in India. They have. That they have not led to the Naxalites dropping dogmatic armed struggle and entering mainstream politics tells you where the problem lies. It is understandable that Mr Varadarajan is heady with vicarious triumphalism due to the success of Nepal’s Maoists. He should restrict himself to savouring the moment. As for lessons in statecraft, there’s a lot that Maoists—on either side of the India-Nepal border—have to learn.