Saturday, October 31, 2009
If so many male members of the Delhi establishment were not irredeemably bald, the loudest sound in the capital would be that of hair being torn in frustration. Those who have rescued their pates with American wigs [probably made with recycled hair from Tirupati] or artificial implants are not going to risk their camouflage by an injudicious display of temperament. So the prevailing noise in Delhi is the sound of gnashing teeth. The despair is over the upsurge of Naxalite violence.
While it is understandable that successful India should get antsy over subaltern anger, perhaps we should pause to consider what the Naxalites have not done; this would shade the focus, which is at the moment concentrated on what they have done. They did not kill the police officer they picked up in Bengal. They released him in exchange for tribal women in Government custody. They did not bargain for the release of their leaders, sending a message to a vast constituency that tribal women were equal, on their scale of values, to the top brass. You can appreciate the electrifying impact on their support base. And while relief will be the overwhelming sentiment among the passengers of Rajdhani, who were unharmed after five hours as captives, they will, on reaching home, search in the debris of memory for some answers. The Governments of Bengal and India were helpless when the train was brought to a halt, and impotent during the hours in captivity. The authorities did not rescue the passengers. The abductors freed them. These Naxalites have decided that their war is against authority and its structures and symbols, and not against the people of India.
This is a significant shift from Naxalite thinking in its first phase, the decade between 1965 and 1975, when the leadership was with Charu Mazumdar, Kanu Sanyal [a tribal leader] and their intelligent, if apoplectic, student comrades like Ashim Chatterjee, hero and scourge of Kolkata’s Presidency College campus. Then they targeted civilians, whether clerks or kulaks, and semi-civilians like constables. For the first time, traffic policemen in Bengal were forced to wear firearms, and all traffic points had to have at two least two men on duty — one to direct the city’s horrendous traffic and the other to guard his partner. This should have led, at least in my view, to learned internal dialectic debate on “Is the constable a class enemy?” I do not know if it did. What I do know is that when dread of Naxalites seeped down from those at the top of the power-pyramid to those in the middle and the base, it fomented a government-people-political parties partnership that destroyed the Naxalites. The state provided ruthless determination; the people gave information; the Congress and the CPI[M] used their cadres in the counter-offensive.
The Naxalites made a second serious ideological mistake, which they have consciously avoided this time around. The walls of Bengal were daubed with the slogan “Chairman Mao is our Chairman”. The Chairman of Beijing may not have been consulted on this honour, but he was not one to kick away a garland strewn in his path. Those were turbulent times in China as well; the Mao-inspired Cultural Revolution was an exercise in havoc, and mesmerised young Chinese waved Mao’s “Little Red Book” as the magical panacea for their myriad problems. No one wanted any little red book in India.
Mrs Indira Gandhi, who was martyred a quarter century ago, was Prime Minister for most of that long decade of insurrection. She did not waste any sentiment while dealing with the Naxalite threat. She gave carte blanche to Bengal’s political leadership [first, the United Front and then Congress Chief Minister Siddhartha Shankar Ray], police chiefs like Ranjit Gupta and finally the armed forces who, under the leadership of Lt. Gen. Jacob, played a decisive role in the state response to urban insurgency.
But Mrs Indira Gandhi addressed the fundamental cause of the revolt through a brilliant, almost instinctive manoeuvre. She realised that you could kill Naxalites, but you could not meet the challenge of Naxalism, unless the government brought the corroding problem of poverty to the top of its concerns. The theme of her re-election and government became “Garibi hatao [Remove poverty]”. She held out the hope that poverty could be eliminated through the democratic process, and was thereby able to convince the base that violence was not an answer.
In the event, Mrs Gandhi was unable to do very much to eliminate poverty — she was partly misled by the “Congress Left”, which was neither Congress nor the Left. But the special place she still retains in the hearts of India’s poor is evidence of her powerful political achievement. The state would not have succeeded as effectively without the parallel political mobilisation by Indira Gandhi.
In 2009, we are not short of Hurray-Henrys who would be happy to mow down Naxalites with blazing submachine guns in order to make India safe for themselves and their self-serving economic policies. They do not realise it yet, but they are going to miss Indira Gandhi.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Sunday, October 18, 2009
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Byline by M J Akbar: The Hope Hype
Diwali! Is The only serious danger in Barack Obama’s Nobel Prize for Peace is that he might take it seriously. The early indications are that he will. Obama might have saved himself a great deal of trouble by saying thanks, but no thanks. But he could not resist an award whose credibility collapsed the moment he got it.
After the obligatory reference to humility, he added, a little more grandly, “I will accept this award as a call to action.” At least he admitted that there had been no action so far. What on earth did the fatuous Nobel Committee see when they surveyed the map of the world in the last six months? Did they find that Mahmoud Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu and Obama had created an independent Palestine while Hamas was engrossed in playing Patience and Hezbollah had gone for a conference in Tehran? Or that India and Pakistan had signed a treaty solving Kashmir while benign Barack hovered gently in the background, always within camera range?
The only substantive decision that Obama has taken in terms of war and peace is to ramp up the war in Afghanistan far above George Bush’s scale of intervention. He is on the point of sending upwards of 50,000 more American troops so that Viceroy-Lord Dick Holbrooke, and his bevy of Pentagon generals, can fight for another decade on the killing rocks of a battlefield that saw serious action during Alexander the Great’s time and has not paused since. If outsiders do not turn up, Afghans simply go to war against one another. Alfred Nobel thought that his Peace Prize should go to leaders who disband standing armies. Obama may be perfectly justified in upgrading the still largely somnolent American presence in Afghanistan into a full-scale fighting force, but the chaps in Oslo might have waited till the shooting stopped. They waited for Nelson Mandela and Mother Teresa to grow old. Why couldn’t they have waited for Obama to become middle-aged?
Their official excuse is that Obama symbolises hope. That’s nice. It broadens the scope for future winners. All you have to do is hope, and possibly pray, that the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba have reinvented themselves into vegetarian Gandhians and your postbox might have a nice letter from Oslo in October 2010.
The big ticket hope is non-proliferation. If you think about it coolly — very coolly — one chap who has done far more than Obama for non-proliferation in the recent past is Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. He actually dismantled a nuclear weapons facility. He may have done so under pressure, but he has done something. Obama has given a few pretty speeches and knocked on the table at the United Nations. Obama has made no effort to rein in the most powerful nuclear weapons power in history, a nation that refused to accept any international control or convention and continues to develop the most sophisticated nuclear weapons technology. That country is, of course, the United States of America. I suppose Oslo did not think of a Peace Prize for Gaddafi for fear of ridicule. Gaddafi does not belong, as it were, to the right sort of country, plus his acceptance speech might have taken a full day. But does anyone have any idea when the ridicule for the Obama decision will begin to ebb?
Obama is too sharp not to understand this, and it will further whet the temptation to lend some substance to the hype. He is not going to withdraw from Afghanistan because of this medal; and climate change is Al Gore’s parish. So his big push is likely to be on non proliferation. He dare not do anything about America’s nuclear muscle; and he has assured Tel Aviv that he will continue the policy of ignoring Israel’s secret cache. There is little he can do about the Big Five, and North Korea is Hillary Clinton’s show. Pakistan is too much of a military pal at a time of dire need, and Pakistan has a good excuse as well, India. So his options boil down to just this: abort Iran’s programme and bully India into as much compliance as possible. If warrior Bush was dangerous for the region between the Nile and the Indus, peacenik Obama could be troublesome for the land of the Ganges.
IS IT possible that the Oslo peace mafia had run out of people to hand this prize to? Not every recipient is going to get a chapter in the history books, even though they might be worthy enough. It is not easy to recall the name of the winner in 2008. But the range of the prize has been expanded from reformed warriors to humanitarians. We all know of course that Mahatma Gandhi was never found worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, but then they would have probably considered Jesus Christ too good to be true as well. [Jesus was a non-violent opponent of European colonisation as well, in his case, Roman.] But we have not completely run out of worthy individuals or institutions. The doctors who do selfless work in conditions of utmost misery, like Darfur or other conflict zones in Africa, deserve both the applause and the money. The Aga Khan might not need the money, but there should be some recognition of the extraordinary restoration work his foundation has done to preserve the great monuments of human civilisation — that too is a commitment to peace.
But there is one good, even great, reason for giving Barack Obama the 2009 prize, although it was omitted from the citation. Barack Obama threw out Bush Republicans, the biggest band of warmongers in recent American history, from power in Washington. This must surely count as a signal contribution to world peace.