Territory is not a big deal

People are.

From a liberal nationalist perspective, it is impossible to agree with Jaswant Singh’s judgement that territorial integrity of pre-Partition India was worth preserving at the cost of having “Pakistans within India”. His praise for Mohammed Ali Jinnah and his criticism of Jawaharlal Nehru and Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is based on this notion. Yet a constitutional arrangement where citizens come in different types based on their religion and where different types of citizens have different rights and entitlements might not even preserve the territorial unity it set out to preserve. It would be impossible for such a state to achieve stability in its domestic politics and consequently, it would be impossible for such a state to operate with the unity of purpose necessary to protect its geopolitical interests. Indeed, it would be difficult to pin down a definition of its interests in the first place.

Territorial unity is meaningless unless it defines a state that realises individual rights and freedoms—the foremost among them being equality. Nehru might have had his faults—but his uncompromising stand on a liberal democratic constitutional structure was not one of them. If anything, his fault was that his liberalism didn’t go far enough to respect fundamental rights when they got in the way of his social reform project. [For a more detailed response to Mr Singh’s contentions, see GreatBong’s post]

Should this warrant Mr Singh’s summary expulsion from the BJP? Well, that’s the BJP’s call. It is entirely within its rights to take action against a member who it sees has having strayed from its values. Of course, you would expect the biggest opposition party in the world’s biggest democracy to do this with due process, decorum and dignity. That it didn’t speaks of the type of office-bearers it has. It also begs the question of the kind of values the BJP has when you consider that it stood behind a thug who spewed communal venom but thought it fit to expel an urbane statesman who expressed a heterodox intellectual opinion. If the BJP’s leaders wish to face the electorate with such a prospectus, then it is entirely their call. [See Rohit Pradhan & B Raman on this]

But nothing justifies the Gujarat state government’s decision to ban the book. That it is silly and impractical should not subtract from the fact that it is an assault on the freedom of expression. Under Narendra Modi, Gujarat has been among India’s better governed states. Even so, it is presumptuous for Mr Modi to impose his likes, dislikes and political compulsions on the the aesthetic and intellectual life of Gujarat’s residents.

Unlike Mr Singh’s expulsion, the Gujarat government’s ban is not an internal matter of the BJP. It must be challenged in court. If the ban is symbolic, its revocation will be more than that. It will set a precedent.

Finally, let’s be clear—as The Acorn wrote in 2005, Jinnah doesn’t matter (and there’s some empirical evidence too). The debate over Jinnah’s legacy is taking place on the wrong side of the border he created. For India, the question of whether or not he was a secularist is pointless—Pakistan is an Islamic republic. Besides, Jinnah’s fear of majoritarian rule was hardly based on principle—if it were, his Pakistan wouldn’t deny its own minorities the protection against majoritarianism that he sought in pre-Partition India.

Unsurprisingly, it is in India that fundamental rights—equality of all citizens the first among them—provide a bulwark against majoritarianism. This hardly means that the situation is perfect. Rather, it tells you how important it is to be intolerant to any attempt to erode, abridge or subvert those rights for reasons of low politics or high policy.

That’s why those who disagree with the argument in Mr Singh’s book must oppose any attempt to ban it.

Pragati November 2008: The Sri Lanka dilemma


Don’t abandon the Tiger
A Sinhala-dominated Sri Lanka is not in India’s interests
T S Gopi Rethinaraj

The moment of truth on the LTTE
The decimation of the Tamil Tigers is a good thing
Subramanian Swamy

Tuning a new balance
China’s military transformation and the implications for India
Arun Sahgal

Looking back at Amarnath
India must seize the opportunity that has come in the wake of the crisis
Raja Karthikeya Gundu

The strategic imprint of India’s presence
A discussion on strategic affairs with Jaswant Singh
Nitin Pai & Prashant Kumar Singh

In tandem: military and civil bureaucracy
Differentiating military advisors and military commanders
Sushant K Singh & Rohit Pradhan

Faith in the system
The state must not restrict religious freedoms
Rohit Pradhan & Harsh Gupta

Rajiv Gandhi’s last manifesto
The Congress Party must rediscover its 1991 vision
V Anantha Nageswaran

The end of financial capitalism: what now?
Competent economic management has become all the more important
Mukul G Asher

Not a moment of boredom
Reviews of Pallavi Aiyar’s Smoke and Mirrors and Praveen Swami’s India, Pakistan and the Secret Jihad
Nitin Pai

Download it from here

BJP is tying itself in knots

…and making avoidable mistakes

The worst type of errors are the unforced ones. And the BJP’s leaders are making them. Sushma Swaraj’s ill-considered accusations gave pause to anyone who thought that the BJP might take internal security a little more seriously than the UPA. And it was followed by Manvendra Singh’s op-ed, of all places in The Hindu, that demonstrates the bind the party has gotten itself in in view of its partisan opposition to the nuclear deal. It is all the more surprising that such an article should come from Mr Singh, who is considered one of those rare politicians who have a good grasp of geopolitical and national security issues.

It is hard to understand why Mr Singh should dismiss India’s sense of confidence because it has “come from an access to markets, from an acquired sense of belonging” and “not from earning the seat or the role”. To the extent that this is true, it confirms the view that India’s foreign policy is lagging behind its actual geopolitical status. And that the nation and the economy have left the political class behind.

It is also hard to understand why Mr Singh should worry about “some fairly simple and laudable foreign policy intransigents” that we have jettisoned. He cites “From its stated position of a multi-polar world, India is now a practitioner of uni-polar politics.” He doesn’t support this assertion with any argument, other than contend that India would require Washington’s approvals to import South African, Russian, French or Japanese civilian power reactors. To the extent that this is true, isn’t it better to have a reactor—albeit one that comes with strings—than no reactor at all? Now, it would perhaps be cause for worry if these reactors accounted for a huge fraction of India’s energy supply, but he himself contends that at 40GW they won’t amount to more than 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy mix in 40 years. Surely, needing Washington’s approval for a mere 1 single-digit percent of India’s energy requirements isn’t something to lose sleep over?

Given its significance for party politics, it is understandable that Mr Singh should seek to justify his party’s position on the deal. But what is more worrisome is the underlying thinking that comes through in the op-ed.

The entire thrust of the deal is to secure for India technology from global civilian nuclear vendors. All of it depends on import. And how imports could make the country more secure is an oxymoron of the most perplexing kind. The only route India has to greater energy security is by implementing efficiency standards and building up on its abundant renewable resources…
What it needs is a re-working of the development vision for the country. Mega-projects and other big-ticket items are politics of the 20th century. India is a country that still refuses to urbanise at the global pace. All that it requires is to implement the panchayat level of thinking. Encourage, and allow, the development of renewable energy projects that are community-based, and sustained. Plan India, and implement village. This is the future, and there are ample examples of its success around the world. But it requires a change of mindset, shifting of gears, from Delhi to the districts. It is there that politics is played out, and there that energy security is available aplenty. [The Hindu]

Here Mr Singh is tossing out some simple and laudable intransigents of his own. The path to energy security—ask anyone in India’s nuclear power establishment—is the exploitation of abundant thorium resources. Some criticise Homi Bhabha’s vision as a chimera because it has proven so elusive. Yet the stakes are high enough not to abandon the project.

Now investment in renewable energy is a good idea. But just because India doesn’t have to import wind, water and sunlight it does not follow that renewable energy will not depend on imports—unless Mr Singh believes that all that technology will be developed and manufactured in India.

That brings us to his most perplexing statement: his contention that imports don’t make the country more secure. Unless Mr Singh is arguing that renewable energy will be sufficient to sustain 8 to 10 percent economic growth over the next two decades, India will have to import fuel: oil, natural gas, coal or uranium. Given this situation, India’s energy security lies in diversity: multiple sources of fuel from multiple countries such that no single source or country is large enough to cause trouble. That’s where nuclear power makes sense. Until the time thorium or renewables take us to the promised land, every kilowatt of nuclear power reduces India’s dependence on oil-producing countries of the Persian Gulf.

Decentralised power may be the answer for towns and bigger villages (see Reuben Abraham & Atanu Dey’s piece in the August 2007 issue of Pragati). India’s pace of urbanisation might be slower than China’s, but 300 million people live in cities today. This number is expected to increase to 900 million (55 percent of the population) by 2050. Empowering them will need more than panchayat thinking.

Lotus Message

Taken by surprise

Vijay Vikram writes in to inform that the June 2008 issue of Kamal Sandesh, the BJP’s house magazine has reprinted the op-ed that I wrote for Mail Today (based on this post).

While it is good to know that Kamal Sandesh‘s editors found the article worthy of dissemination, it must be put on record that this was done without asking for or receiving my consent. (Content on this blog is published under Creative Commons Attribution license, so prior permission is not required. Also, they might have an arrangement with Mail Today.)

Non-opposition is costly

The BJP didn’t forcefully counter the UPA government’s communal socialism. It’s paying for it in Rajasthan

Let there be no mistake: those who organised the violent mass agitation demanding entitlements that go with a scheduled tribe (ST) status, including its leader Kirori Singh Bainsla, are responsible for the deaths and injuries that resulted. Surely in a country where Chauri Chaura is taught in history textbooks, public protests involving burning down police stations and public transport buses can’t be called non-violent protests? Mr Bainsla’s claim to a Gandhian parallel—he was fasting while blocking railway traffic—is a macabre parody. The Gujjar riots are not about non-violence. They are about cynical use of violence and the threat of violence to press political demands.

And let there also be no mistake that even ‘non-violent’ tactics that disrupt normal life—blocking railways and holding up traffic—have no place in a constitutional democracy. As B R Ambedkar said, such methods are the “grammar of anarchy“. The political demands that the Gujjar protesters had should have been pressed in constitutional ways: through electoral politics and the judicial system. Arson and vandalism are crimes. Nothing in the Gujjar agitation must desensitise us from seeing them for what they are.

The police and law-enforcement authorities acted correctly. The loss of lives is unfortunate. But the police were not firing on a group of peaceful satyagrahis, but rather, on mobs that were resorting to mass violence. Mr Bainsla and his colleagues cannot escape moral responsibility for these deaths. They also cannot escape responsibility for diminishing the legitimacy of whatever genuine grievances some in the Gujjar community might have had.

These riots have come at a time when tensions between the BJP government in Rajasthan and the UPA government at the centre came to the fore after the terrorist attacks in Jaipur. The Congress Party is revelling at the Vasundhara Raje government’s discomfiture, at the hands of a monster that the UPA government nursed back to health.

It’s useful to be blunt about it. The rhetoric of ’social justice’, ‘reforms with a social face’ and ‘inclusive growth‘ is largely about doling out entitlements based on group identities. The prize—the status of ‘backwardness’, with its attendent benefits in terms of reservations in educational institutions, government jobs, and if the UPA government were to have its way, in the private sector too. The designation of backwardness was subject to electoral promises, not hard-data or economic rationale. Do this long enough and you run into the Gurjjar-Meena clashes in Rajasthan and the Dera Sacha Sauda tensions in Punjab. Continue to persist along this path, and such incidents will be repeated in hundreds of places. [The Acorn, 4 June 2007]

Dr Frankenstein will face his creation eventually, but the BJP cannot escape its share of blame for failing to prevent, or at least draw attention to, the UPA’s larger project of divide and rule. It did complain when entitlement were sought to be handed out along religious lines, calling it minority appeasement. But it remained cynically silent when entitlements were handed out along caste and ethnic lines.

A party claiming to represent the whole of India should have protested loudly inside and outside parliament when the UPA government began its divide and rule project. Why, even a party claiming to champion the interests of the Hindu majority should have protested loudly when its base was being vivisected. If the Congress Party has succeeded in pulling the rug from under the BJP it is only because the latter could not muster up the leadership and courage to speak out against entitlements. As the Gujjar riots indicate, it will have to play the game by the rules set by its opponents.

My op-ed in Mint : Ten years after Pokhran-II

The payoffs are clear, unambiguous and long-term

In an op-ed to mark the tenth anniversary of India’s second round of nuclear tests, I argue that they made India a far more credible international actor. And that while India is reconciled to the ownership of nuclear weapons but remains unclear what they are for. I also point out that the conventional military balance remains as important despite nuclear deterrence being in place; and that our political leadership needs an altogether different level of skill to translate the nuclear advantage into foreign policy outcomes.


“Real strength lies in restraint,” Sonia Gandhi said ten days after India conducted its second series of nuclear tests on May 11th and May 13th 1998, “not in the display of shakti.” She could not have been more wrong.

At the time of Mrs Gandhi’s speech, India had spent a decade fighting a proxy war against a Pakistan that China had brazenly armed – with American connivance – with nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. India’s protestations that it is a victim of both cross-border terrorism and illegal nuclear and missile proliferation got nowhere. The nuclear powers had perverted the entire edifice of nuclear disarmament by legitimising their own nuclear arsenals in perpetuity. They were coercing India to constrain and give up its nuclear weapons programme. It was abundantly clear that India’s display of restraint was being exploited as a sign of weakness.

Pokhran-II changed that. Because it demonstrated to the world that India was ready to incur costs in the defence of its national interests. [Mint]

Thanks to Kedar Wagle, Anand Sampath & V Anantha Nageswaran for providing inputs and comments

BJP and the nuclear deal

Still blind to the political advantage

The BJP’s position on the US-India civilian nuclear agreement can be described in three words: “Oh, come on!”

Having painted itself into the anti-deal corner, the BJP finds itself incapable to climb out of the hole despite the many lifelines it has been thrown. First L K Advani appeared to signal that the party might find a way of supporting the government on the deal. Then came Brajesh Mishra’s remarks and the subtle manner in which Jaswant Singh distanced the party from them. What is unfortunate is that the BJP leadership appears to be content taking the apparently less risky way out, rather than distinguish itself through a bold move in the national interest.

It appears to be blind to the political advantage it can acquire by going to the electorate as the party that first set the stage for and then saved the deal. It appears to have underestimated the political advantage of demonstrating that it is not on the same side as the anti-national Communists.

Arundhati Ghose hopes that “it should not be beyond the abilities of our politicians too to find a political solution out of the present logjam.” The BJP leadership appears blind to the political advantage of proving her right.

Do you smile when thugs wreck your car?

Comrade Yechury does

Photo: Subhav Shukla/PTI/TheHindu

He’s probably smiling because the patently idiotic BJP party workers who stoned the Communist Party headquarters in New Delhi handed the comrades just the kind of publicity they like—that of being victims. He’s also smiling because that’ll distract attention from what the Communist thugs are doing in Kerala. With activists like these, does the BJP really need enemies?