The answer is good governance, not lily livers

Defeatism spreads under ineffective leadership

It is nice to see the Indian Express correctly hold the the nincompoops in the UPA government responsible for allowing the situation to come to such a sorry pass.

Discussions on Kashmir always bring up history. Here’s a little bit of history to help contextualise the current state of state response: probably not since the early 18th-century ruler Muhammad Shah Rangila, who wrote the book on awesomely ineffective security governance, has India had administrators who have been so brilliantly incapable of discharging their basic remit. Needless to say 21st-century India can’t afford Rangilas in government. And all responses to the Kashmir crisis must start with this recognition. Also, let’s ask ourselves: is India to cut and run because of some weeks of violence when years of patient diplomacy, dogged army work and good politics had blunted the hard edges in Kashmir? The country has dealt with violence within before. It has dealt with groups calling loudly for a divorce with the Union. If we decide to take a particular course on Kashmir, what will we do when politicised violence erupts elsewhere? Drawing-room solutions can look pretty and neat. Nation-building, sadly, isn’t always pretty and neat. It calls for clarity and determination. That’s what Delhi — and Srinagar — need. [IE]

Indians should concern themselves with asking who can provide this leadership—and how their current leaders might be persuaded to provide it—rather than boosting the morale of India’s enemies at this time.

By invitation: No time to lose heart on Kashmir

The costs of giving in to separatist demands are exhorbitant

By V Anantha Nageswaran

Pratap Bhanu Mehta has arrived at, in more elegant prose, the same conclusions that Swaminathan Aiyar advocated in the Times of India and Vir Sanghvi did in Hindustan Times.

Dr Mehta asks: “Will (India) live with the permanent rebuke to its democracy that Kashmir represents, or will it risk a new paradigm that might achieve what this endless cycle of mutual suspicion has not?”

The problem with these columns is that they end with a tantalising question and with an implicit answer (explicit in Mr Aiyar’s column) that India let Kashmir go. Go where? To what state? What would be the consequences? Costs and benefits under different scenarios?

It is incumbent on those who advocate change from the status quo to spell out the rationale for change and make a case that it would improve things at the margin from their perspective. One presumes that that perspective is that of the rest of the billion-plus Indians. That the present is unsatisfactory is a necessary but hardly a sufficient condition to recommend change without even attempting to make a case for it.

[Update: Dr Mehta clarifies his position in a comment.]

Continue reading “By invitation: No time to lose heart on Kashmir”

Why giving in to Kashmir-fatigue is not a good idea

There are no easy solutions to the problems in Kashmir. Not least self-determination.

Last week, two leading op-ed columnists argued that current crisis in Kashmir calls for India to yield to the demands of the separatists, hold a plebiscite and accept the verdict of the Kashmiri people, even if that means secession.

Swaminathan Aiyar comes from a liberal perspective: he dislikes “ruling people against their will” and that “India has sought integration with Kashmir, not colonial rule. But Kashmiris nevertheless demand azaadi. And ruling over those who resent it so strongly for so long is quasi-colonialism, regardless of our intentions.” Vir Sanghvi, on the other hand, takes a cost-benefit approach. He argues that the costs of holding on to Kashmir—in economic and political terms—outweigh the benefits.

Both are wrong. Mr Aiyar, who is perhaps India’s best newspaper columnist, misses the nuances of the undeniably complex political-legal history of Partition. But he makes a good point—for all the moralising that the Indian state indulged in, and the legal arguments it used to defend Jammu & Kashmir’s accession, the fact remains that the integration of Indian princely states was a feat of realpolitik. And it was the same on the part of Pakistan. Just as Goa, Junagadh and Hyderabad were made part of the Indian Union by force, so was Kalat (part of modern Balochistan) secured by Pakistan. And Jammu & Kashmir came to be divided along the lines of the balance-of-power then obtaining between the two states.

There’s no need for believers in democracy and liberalism to feel apologetic about the fact that force played a role in forging the Indian Union. On the contrary, democrats and liberals must ask themselves why—for sixty years—they tolerated the fundamental principle of equality of all citizens to be undermined by granting a special status to people of Jammu & Kashmir. The same goes—albeit to a much lesser extent—for the people of the North Eastern states. The constitutional provisions only aggravated the geographical seclusion and the different religious composition to continue, preventing the real integration of Jammu & Kashmir into the national mainstream. Little wonder then, that the Kashmiri people should feel estranged.

Be that as it may, isn’t there a case for giving the Kashmiri people the right to self-determination, through a plebiscite? Here, Mr Sanghvi’s argument suggest that he considers that the problem can be got rid off by allowing Kashmiris to secede. Advocates of a plebiscite and secession though have a duty to articulate what happens next—to Kashmir and to India. Will the Valley’s independence or integration with Pakistan miraculously solve the fundamental problem, or will it merely lead to its reconfiguration? And can any serious advocate of a plebiscite, leave alone secession, plausibly argue that such a move will be free of the immense human tragedy that characterised drawing of new international borders in the subcontinent in 1947 and 1971?

And what next? Kashmir coming under the sway of the Taliban-like forces that hold sway in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal areas; or under a puppet regime that becomes the agent of regional and foreign powers; or under authoritarian rulers like those in Central Asia; or all of the above [See Offstumped]. One thing it will not become is Switzerland. What this implies for India is that the costs will not go away—they will mount. Kashmir is, as Mr Sanghvi puts it, a 20th century problem. But a 20th century solution—for that’s what self-determination is—won’t prevent it from disrupting India’s 21st century future. As for Kashmiris, self-determination is no guarantee that they will not be ruled against their will.

This is not to argue that holding on to Kashmir and its alienated population won’t be costly. It always was, and those costs will inflate. But it is foolhardy to believe that plebiscite and secession will lead to savings. In any case, neither Mr Aiyar nor Mr Sanghvi have even attempted to show why all those affected will be better off if Kashmir were to secede. Mr Aiyar would probably counter by saying that self-determination is an end in itself, and the consequences are immaterial. But Mr Sanghvi can’t take that position.

The reality is this: To ensure the well-being of people in the region, including those of its neighbours, India as a whole, and not just Jammu & Kashmir, needs to place a premium on individual freedoms on the one hand, and on tolerance on the other. Kashmir-fatigue, predictable political opportunism among state and national politicians, Pakistan’s continuing policies of destabilisation, and the failure of the India-Pakistan ‘peace process’ must not distract attention from this. But to move in this direction, India has to climb out of the hole it has dug itself into. That requires a process of national reconciliation.

Three thoughts on Independence Day

On socialism, constitutionalism and curbing intolerance

For contemplation on Independence Day—on the need to expunge socialism from the Constitution in letter and spirit; on the norms of public activism; and how competitive intolerance might be reined in.

Related Links: Three thoughts on Independence Day 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004 & on Republic Day 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

Bottom up advantage

Why democracy in Africa is in India’s interests

Niranjan Rajadhyaksha, Mint‘s opinion page editor, has gotten himself into An Awkward Corner…by jumping in headlong into the blogosphere.

In today’s post Niranjan discusses reports of the increase in the number of Chinese nationals in Africa and the tensions this is causing in many countries. He points out that since Indian firms tend to hire local labour, “we could also be making more friends among ordinary Africans but relatively fewer friends in governments.”

That’s perhaps true.

As discussed in a previous post, democracy, entrepreneurship and free enterprise allows Indian citizens, businesses and institutions to engage Africa at decentralised, non-governmental, broad-based levels. In many cases this engagement proceeds regardless of government’s official engagement policies. For instance, Indian businesses (and the diaspora) were engaged in Africa for a long time. Indian foreign policy has begun to leverage this. But more can be done.

Given China’s investments in resource extraction, development assistance and “non-interference” in their internal affairs, Beijing will have relatively more friends in African capitals. So while the “Coddle Your Favourite Dictator” game goes on—and India can’t entirely refuse to play this game—India’s engagement pattern suggests that it stands to make relative gains under democratic governments than under autocratic regimes. So there is a case for Indian foreign policy to work towards building institutional democracies in Africa.

Framing the Pakistani army’s problem

Saving those who have crossed over

Khaled Ahmed puts it very well:

Today an army built to face India is being asked to retrieve territory lost to the terrorists. Trying to reclaim lost terrain is like invading your own people, but the additional handicap imposed on the army is that it is being sent in without political support. Meanwhile, the anarchists have discovered that when they kill non-Muslims in the West they inspire fear and loathing, but when they kill Muslims in Pakistan it leads to conversion. The army has the impossible task of saving a country of converts to the cause of the enemy. [DT]

Your intolerance is scandalous

India’s First Amendment

A lurker on Atanu Dey’s blog pointed to two fantastic reports from TIME magazine’s archives.

May 28, 1951…Part of the Indian press, said (Nehru), is dirty, indulges in “vulgarity, indecency and falsehood.” To teach it manners, Nehru proposed an amendment to India’s constitution that would impose severe restrictions on freedom of speech and expression. He asked for power to curb the press and to punish persons and newspapers for “contempt of court, defamation and incitement to an offense.” Nehru told Parliament: “It has become a matter of the deepest distress to me to see the way in which the less responsible news sheets are being conducted . . . not injuring me or this House much, but poisoning the minds of the younger generation.”

Nehru said his measure was aimed at Communist and Hindu extremist agitation. His real targets: Atom, Current, Struggle and Blitz, four Bombay-published sensational weeklies which have consistently attacked Nehru’s domestic and foreign policy, scurrilously attacked the U.S. [TIME]

In the event, parliament passed the first amendment that placed curbs on fundamental rights, including on the rights to speech and property.

June 11, 1951…A small but determined parliamentary opposition, led by Dr. Syama Prasad Mookerjee, former Minister for Industry, bitterly attacked the amendment.

Mookerjee (to Nehru): You’ve got 240 supporters in this House, but outside in the country millions are against you.

Nehru (shaking his fists) : [Your] statements are scandalous . . .

Mookerjee: Your intolerance is scandalous . . .

Nehru (shouting): Any person who says that this amendment of mine curbs the liberty of the press utters lies . . .

As Nehru explained it: “We should not only give the press freedom, but make it understand that freedom.” There was a lot of doubt whether Nehru himself understood the meaning of freedom. His excuse for requesting the law: the scurrilous outpouring of Indian scandal sheets. But as the All-India Newspaper Editors Conference pointed out: there was nothing to prevent the government from using its new powers against the legitimate press when & if it chose. [TIME]

Nehru’s followers have been consistent in following in his footsteps. Dr Mookerjee’s modern-day followers would do well to heed the position of their political-intellectual forefather.

Inconsequential?

Mani Shankar Aiyar’s freudian slip

Towards the end of his lecture on “inclusive growth through inclusive governance” (yes, yes, the title tells the tale), Mani Shankar Aiyar says:

I speak for the inconsequential Indian, the unsuccessful Indian, but also for the Indian who crucially determines the outcome of the democratic process. [The Hindu]

The Indian voter, in other words, is inconsequential according to Mr Aiyar, even after ‘crucially determining the outcome of the democratic process’.

Isn’t it at once apt and ironic that Mr Aiyar should say this in a lecture on inclusive governance?

Finding a home for Mushie

…if he does get a ‘dignified’ exit

Pervez Musharraf is toast.

When will he go, in what manner will he go, and where will he go? The first two questions are too complicated. Assuming he does get a ‘dignified exit’ that he now seeks, where will General Musharraf spend the first few years of his retirement?

He has too many enemies in a political culture where vendettas are the norm. So he’ll have to get out of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

He could head over to the New England region of the United States to live in comfortable retirement. But doing so would reinforce allegations that he is an American stooge. So he might spend time in the US on ‘extended’ visits, but is unlikely to want the US to be his country of residence.

The Saudi king reportedly asked Nawaz Sharif to take it easy on General Musharraf. Now it would be delicious irony if General Musharraf became the official Pakistani-leader-in-exile, replacing Mr Sharif, but the general has certain lifestyle choices that would make Saudi Arabia a rather uncomfortable retirement home.

So it is that Turkey becomes a leading contender to host the man who holds it in admiration. It is an American ally, an Islamic country, lifestyle choices no bar, and a place where General Musharraf spent some years as a kid. The plane on the tarmac of Islamabad’s airport might well have filed flight plans for Istanbul.

There are other destinations like Dubai and London, also places that host Pakistani-leaders-in-exile, but then, these locations suggest that the said exile has active politics in mind, not retirement.

And finally, there is the village of Chak 13 BC near Bahawalpur in Punjab province. General Musharraf owns land there. In fact, he is the numberdar there, the person who collects water taxes and land revenues on behalf of the state. They don’t want him as army chief and president. Nobody has said anything about not wanting him as the village tax collector.

Pragati May 2008: Towards liberal nationalism

Issue 14 - Apr 2008

Issue Contents

PERSPECTIVE

Liberals, culture and nationalism Ravikiran S Rao
An opportunity exists for a new politics

Changing the broken wheel Raj Cherubal
The secular-right must champion economic freedom

Towards “that heaven of freedom” Gautam Bastian
A free nation of free citizens

Out of court Rohit Pradhan, Shashi Shekhar & Mukul Asher
Carry on the battle, but respect the court’s verdict

FILTER

India as a rising great power; climate change and national security; India-Iran relations; to the brink; and trade across the Line of Control

IN DEPTH

The new currency of power Nitin Pai & Aruna Urs
A discussion on strategic affairs with K Subrahmanyam

ROUNDUP

Use the Tibet card Zorawar Daulet Singh
To settle the India-China dispute

Consensus must endure Dinesh Wagle
Maoists have the upper hand in the construction of the republic

Bottom-up dynamics Sushant K Singh
What attracts Africa to India and how it can be strengthened

Pressed by inflation Gulzar Natarajan
Easing supply bottlenecks is the right way to go

BOOKS

Memories of 1971 Amardeep Singh
A review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age

Read excerpts | Download