Posts Tagged ‘Indian Muslims’

Some Comments on Resolving the Kashmir Conflict

January 19, 2011

by Nasir Khan, January 19, 2011

Editor’s Note: Gorki wrote a comprehensive comment on my article ‘Resolving the Kashmir Conflict (Foreign Policy Journal, January 13, 2011 ) in which he offered his perspective and also raised some important questions. In reply, I have written the following remarks. For the sake of convenience, I have split his comment into a few parts followed by my reply:

Gorki:

Dr. Khan I find your article useful because it allows one to hear the views of the Kashmiris themselves regarding the Kashmir imbroglio.

On the face of it your statement “The best course left for India is to make a break with its previous policy, and accede to the right to self-determination of the Kashmiris. This will not weaken India; instead, it will show the strength of Indian democracy as well of the humane aspects of Indian cultural tradition…” sounds reasonable and taken in isolation such views even find many sympathetic listeners in India itself. However the Indians must keep other consideration in mind that cannot be considered imperialistic by any stretch of imagination.

Nasir:

Gorki , thank you for your balanced opinion on a number of points and the important questions you have raised in your comment. I will try to reply to some points.

My roots are in the Indian culture and I am deeply proud of our historical heritage. I am well aware of the Indian Civilisations stretching back to the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation, some five thousand years old. Merely because of the hostile Indo-Pak relations since the partition of India in 1947, the Kashmir Issue has been the main cause of tension between the two states, I have regarded both India and Pakistan as parts of the same body, the body being the subcontinent of India that holds diverse races, cultures and mores showing much diversity while geographically belonging to the same entity. We can compare the subcontinent’s position with the broad geographical areas identified with Europe. In Europe there have been many languages, diverse cultures, political and religious conflicts for well over two thousand years. Despite all that various nations and people of this continent identity themselves with Europe and its civilisations, old and new. In a similar way, as an individual I identity myself with the subcontinent. My regional identity with Kashmir and the historical connection I have with with Kashmir is only natural; it is the affinity of part with the whole. As such they are mutually interdependent, not exclusive of each other.

Gorki:

The reality is that the entire former British India is organically connected and anything that happens in one part has an echo elsewhere in the sub continent. For example when a sacred relic went missing for 17 days from the Hazrat Bal mosque in 1963; there was rioting all over India. Thus any action in or regarding Kashmir cannot be taken in isolation.

While self determination and independence by themselves are honourable goals, anyone arguing for self determination only for the Kashmiris of the valley would either have to argue on the basis of some kind of Kashmiri exceptionalism or else should be willing to accept similar demands for self determination from others such as the Sikhs in the Indian Punjab and the Baluch in Pakistan. Conceding any such demands then would risks major man made disasters like the ethnic cleansing and huge population displacements that occurred in the wake of the partition in 1947.

Nasir:

Here your formulation about the organic connection has the Spencerian undertones! We have histories of India and Indian states before the British came. When the British gradually took over different parts of India by force of arms or by their political skills (and tricks), our people and many of our rulers evinced little concern to what happened to small or big states who were being devoured by the East India Company. Some of them had treacherously sided with the Farangis against those Indian rulers who resisted the British. This is also our history.

The instance of the disappearance of a holy relic in Kashmir you cite has more to do with religious feelings and identities than with the organic connection throughout the subcontinent. Such relics can also be seen as having extra-territorial dimension and impact.

In fact, we have seen major political conflicts and killing of innocent people by the Indian state (and also by Pakistani army in the Northwest Pakistan at the bidding of the United Sates as a continuing policy of crushing and eliminating those who resist and oppose the American wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Pakistan). The vast majority of these countries has not shown much resolve to oppose the policies of their governments. But, a religious relic or what believers may call a ‘religious place’ is something different! That moves our masses, and they do what they think is serving their deities!! We know how the religious passions of ordinary people inflamed by rightist forces in India in which the Indian rulers were implicated, led to the destruction of the Babri mosque by the Hindu mobs and the killing of thousands of innocent Indian Muslims in Gujarat.

But what sort of policies a state formulates and implements has a direct bearing on the political developments of a country. The same is true in the case of India; a wise political lead by responsible politicians influences and shapes the political landscape.

Now the question of ‘Kashmiri exceptionalism’ if India and Pakistan hold plebiscite to meet the demands of the people of Jammu and Kashmir: I myself, do not regard the case of Jammu and Kashmir an exceptional one; but no doubt there is a historical context to it. The circumstances under which India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir is much different from other princely states. At the end of the British rule in India and the partition of India by the imperial rulers, there were 562 princely states, big and small, over which the British held suzerainty or ‘paramountcy’ as in the case of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. We know how these princely states were incorporated into the two new states. How India extended its control over Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) is relevant to the whole question of the Kashmir Issue. After the military conflict and the ceasefire mediated by the United Nations, both India and Pakistan agreed to hold plebiscite that would enable the people of J&K to determine their future. That promise still remains unfilled and the consequences of that denial have been catastrophic for India, Pakistan and especially the people of J&K.

The Kashmir Conflict continues to be the unfinished task of the 1947 partition. This conflict has not disappeared; neither will it go away because the bullet has so far overridden the ballot and common sense.

Gorki:

Letting Kashmir valley join Pakistan OTOH would in essence be conceding the two nation theory; again not without risks. As you rightly pointed out, India remains a home to some 130 million Muslims. Letting the Muslims of the valley to go join Pakistan would in no way enhance the security of the non-Kashmiri Muslims elsewhere in India and if anything would make them even more insecure and strengthen the very forces of Hindutva that you pointed out threaten India’s fragile communal amity. (Ironically this is exactly what happened to the Indian Muslims of UP and Bihar who had allowed themselves to be emotionally led into voting for the AIML’s election plank of a Pakistan in 1946 which then left them high and dry).

Even within the state of Jammu and Kashmir itself, there would be major upheavals in case the current structure is tampered with. What would happen to the minority Muslims in Jammu and Ladakh?
Also if one argues that Kashmir is a homeland for the Kashmiris then what happens to other non Kashmiri populations of the valley such as the Gujjars etc.? Where would their homeland be?

Nasir:

Here you raise some important questions and also some legitimate concerns. First, the ‘two nation theory’. In fact, the partition of India was on the basis of  the two nation theory. For the sake of argument, I will say that if the people of J&K join A or B country, or decide for some other option they should have the democratic right to do so. The organic linkage you seem to emphasise in case the Valley joins Pakistan is worthy of consideration, but what Kashmiri Muslims want is their right to determine their future and to gain freedom. What that freedom entails is the freedom from Indian rule. This is their wish and to crush their aspirations the Indian state has used more than half-a-million soldiers. They have killed more than one-hundred-thousand people. It is military occupation of a country where India has committed horrific war crimes.

Who contributed to such a perspective that shaped the political history of India and led to the division of India by the British? Well, an easy way for amateurs is to have a bogeyman to explain away the historical facts and blame the Muslim leadership for all that! Even before Mr Gandhi came to India from South Africa, one of the most prominent Indian politician at that time was Mr Jinnah, who was commonly known as the ‘ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’. He had the vision of a democratic, united India at the end of the British raj. But alas that was not to happen because this liberal, secularist lawyer was able to see the machinations of the Hindu leadership of the Indian National Congress and other Hindu militant organisations standing for the Ram raj and the Hindu domination of the whole sub-continent.

In my political work, at no time have I ever said what the people of J&K should stand for or how they should decide about their future. Neither have I ever advocated that the people of the Kashmir Valley should join Pakistan. That is something for the affected people to decide.

The Kashmiris’ demand and their struggle for Azaadi (freedom) is not directed against any other people, ethnic or religious minorities, who make up the population of their country. The people of J&K, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc., have traditions of tolerance and inter-religious accommodation. In 1947, I was a six-year-old; I had seen how Hindus and Muslims had a shared and fraternal existence in our area. If the people of J&K are given a chance to live as free human beings and not under the terror of military power of India, then our age-old traditions of mutual respect and acceptance will reassert. That will be a good example for the Hindutva rightist forces that pose a great threat to the Indian democracy and religious minorities, Muslims being their major target.

I am also conscious of the dangers you rightly point to if the ‘current structure’ is changed. But I don’t suppose you offer your solution as the continued rejection of the demands of the Kashmiris because that safeguards some ‘ideal’ unity of India, knowing that India has carried out a militarist solution to crush the demands of the Kashmiri freedom movement. Simply put, it has been state terrorism by an occupying power. This short-sighted policy will fail in the long run as it has failed in the past.

Gorki:

You rightly mention that Kashmir is currently a big source of contention between India and Pakistan. However how certain can anybody be that this will not be the case if this issue is sorted out? Former Pakistani president, General Musharraf once said that India will remain Pakistan’s considered foe even if Kashmir issue is resolved. There are people with strong following in Pakistan who argue for waging a war on ‘Hindu India’ to conquer the Red Fort and restore the Mughal Empire. What of those?

Nasir:

If the main source of conflict between India and Pakistan is resolved according to the wishes of the people of J&K, then we expect the two neighbours will live amicably side by side and their bilateral relations and socio-cultural contacts will increase which will benefit all the people of the region. What Musharraf said is his view and it should not be taken too seriously. Apparently, the climate of hostility and mutual recriminations between India and Pakistan since the partition, people on the both sides have been fed on cheap propaganda. The nonsensical slogans to restore the Mughal Empire is the daydreaming of some Rip Van Winkles who are living in past, not in the twenty-first century.

Gorki:

I agree with you however that the current stifling atmosphere in Kashmir has to come to an end; human rights violations need to be investigated in a transparent manner and the culprits have to be vigorously prosecuted. Kashmiris need to feel that they control their political and economic destiny in their own hands. For this to happen however both the Indian state and the Kashmiri separatists have to demonstrate courage and pragmatic far sightedness.

The state has to take the above listed steps in the short run. In the long run it has not only to deliver on the economic measures promised previously but also to scrupulously avoid the mistakes of the past such as blatant rigging of elections as it did on the 80s in Kashmir and elsewhere in India.
For their part the Kashmiri separatists have to realize that the peaceful and constitutional methods of protest are in the best interest of all Kashmiris and the constitution is their best ally. India is not an empire; it is a Republic and a civic nation.
The constitution does not hold the rest of India in any special position over Kashmir; if anything it is the Kashmiris who hold a special place within the constitution.
Today if the separatists were to come to power via electoral politics, there is absolutely nothing that such a government could not do within the existing framework to better the life (or freedom) of an ordinary Kashmiri that it could do if they had complete ‘Azaadi”.

Nasir:

Some suggestions you make and the prognosis you offer are reasonable. If Kashmiris hold a special place in the Indian Constitution, then obviously Indian control over Kashmir was unlike any other princely state. That also shows that the Indian government had political considerations to accord special status to Kashmir within the Union. But what stops the Delhi government from acceding to the demands of the people of J&K to plebiscite? Why should a great power like India be so afraid to listen to the voice of the people instead of using state terror to crush them?

It is also possible that the vast majority may opt for India. Thus by a generous and courageous political move, India has the power to defuse the conflict for ever. If that happens, then those who stand for separation from India will lose and the consequences will pacify all sides. This can usher in a new era of improved inter-communal and regional relations. Religious fundamentalists and rightist forces on the both sides will not be able to exploit the religious sentiments of the people any longer. That will be a victory of the common sense over emotionalism and communal frenzy.

Gorki:

There is already a precedent of such a dramatic change in political struggle within India. In the 1980s many Sikh leaders were charged with sedition and jailed for demanding a Khalistan and burning copies of the Indian constitution as protest. Today, one of those former separatist is an all powerful Chief Minister in Punjab and there is no opposition because the remaining separatists cannot list a single point in which way the life of an average Sikh would be different in an independent Khalistan.

I do hope to hear form you.
Regards.

Nasir:

In India there are still many regional and ethnic conflicts. I don’t think the Khalistan movement ever had any justifiable political stance and I am happy it reached its cul de sac. But we should be aware of the pitfall of equating Khalistan with the Kashmir Conflict.

Finally, it has been a pleasure to respond to your wise and erudite comment.

Cordially yours

Nasir Khan

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Too Small A Country for One Great Artist

March 2, 2010

By Badri Raina, ZNet, March 1, 2010
Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

“Kitna hai baddnaseeb Zaffar daffn kei liye,
Do gazz zameen bhi na milie kooye yaar mein.”

(Bahadur Shah Zaffar, the last Moghul King of India, (1775-1862); exiled by the British to Rangoon in 1858 after the failure of the revolt of 1857; lines written from exile, and translating somewhat as follows):

“How ill-fated Zaffar,
Denied two yards of ground
For burial back in native soil,
Among native sight and sound.”

I

Zaffar, who knew only India for home, was exiled by the British imperialists at age 83. Since Moslems and Hindus had equally acknowledged his legitimacy and rallied against the colonial power under his uncontested leadership, the British were only too right to think that letting him return home would thwart the new imperial policy of divide and rule.

Thus it came to be that one who had been king was denied six feet of ground for internment in the only earth of his love.

A century and a half later, another iconic Indian, and a monarch in his own right, the renowned painter, Maqbool Fida Husain, has had to exile himself at a still more advanced age, driven this time not by some imperial power from the outside but by self-appointed “cultural nationalists” at home.

Continues >>

India’s Long But Sure Revolution

December 15, 2008

I

Few things about contemporary India have been as consequential as the excruciating churning among Indian Muslims. Consequential, as I suggested in an earlier column, as well for Muslims worldwide (see my “Fatwa Against Terrorism,” ZNet, June 8, 2008).

Remarkably, where vested segments among Hindu organizations have sought to move the majority community towards undemocratic closures, it is the beleaguered Muslim counterparts that have been showing the way to greater democratic consolidations.

Transcending a clutch of grievance and hurt, Indian Muslims are today truly in the leadership of Indian democracy—a day I have been wishing for and writing about for over two decades and now live to see.

And this long revolution that is underway is no sham or tactical occurrence. There is stern substance to the Muslim resolve not merely to appeal to the Constitutional regime as supplicants but indeed to function as its foremost guarantors in close clasp with secular and democratic Indians across communities.

There is to me something heroic in the way in which India’s Muslim citizens have over the last two years especially sought to redefine themselves in relation to the worldwide ummah and the nation at home. All that despite the most irksome provocation.

It is the rigour of that introspection which today translates un-selfconsciously into a rejection of ungodly mayhem carried out ostensibly in defence of the faith, even as Indian Muslims along with millions of other Indians remain cognizant, as they ought to, of the oppressive forces that alternately both create and denigrate religious and cultural reaction—forces that reside both outside India and among comprador social interests at home.

II

If the discovery earlier of terrorist perpetrators with Hindu names had paradoxically helped to relieve the unmitigated odium vented on Muslims, obliging right-wing fascists, rather abjectly, to mirror a helpless Muslim discourse in their defence, the vanguard role played by Indian Muslims in condemning the attack on Mumbai on behalf not just of common humanity but of India has led to a still more far-reaching historical consequence.

This watershed secular assertion has had the effect of taking the stuffing out of what electoral expectations the right-wing Hindu BJP came to harbour in the wake of the Mumbai attack.

Its emphatic losses in the states that went to the polls after the terrorist strike scream a grassroot rejection of its communal politics. And of the ugly callousness that informs it.

However wedded to the BJP, India’s corporate media have had the sense to welcome this occurrence, as it now banners the slogan that terror must never be politicized. Better late than never.

It will not be long before the residual interests of India’s capitalist class and collaborative elites in retaining denominational politics, notwithstanding their often disingenuous noises against communalism, will also have to yield to propagating secular democracy in more convincing ways.

Always wary of class consolidations from “below”, India’s political class will, nonetheless, sooner than later, find it as expedient to be in the forefront of the fight against communalist politics as they are now against terrorism.

And, as these histories ripen and fructify, the credit in overwhelming measure will go to Indian Muslims and to the leadership they are now furnishing.

Prophesies can come good only as products of dedicated human labour. As India’s Muslims now come together with the great mass of other secular Indians, that labour is truly underway and destined to succeed.

III

In the aftermath of the Mumbai attack, this writer, like many others, has received agonizing notes from compatriots in Pakistan.

And they ask the question: can any Pakistanis truly have been involved? Is this again a “nationalist” outcry from India? Do we not realize how wistfully fragile the democratic experiment in Pakistan is, and how ambushed from all ends?

I say to them that Indian Muslims truly show the way as much to Pakistan now as they do to India.

If their leadership in India helps to render toothless and dysfunctional entrenched evils at home, it carries an equally important message to Muslims in Pakistan.

Do not simply jerk into unanalysed, Pavlonian “Muslim nationalist” reactions to what has happened.

Go rather back to the insight that Jinnah had voiced in his address to the very first session of the Assembly of the new nation of Pakistan.

In short, however the partition of India may have been brought about by vested interests on all sides, revisit the “two-nation” theory, revise the Constitution, and be reborn as a secular nation-state. In that future alone resides the well-being of the subcontinent and of much more.

Same must be the counsel for Bangladesh, indeed more especially. Given that the territory could not stay put as part of an “Islamic Pakistan,” it is an irony that upon that severance Bangladesh should still want to espouse a theocratic statehood.

If Nepal could do it why not others?

IV

Meanwhile, it is gratifying that the UPA regime in Delhi has thus far not succumbed to the brainless jingoism of the South Mumbai crowd and those in the establishment who view that jingoism with favour.

There is now a political elite in India that requires ATM-like solutions to historical conundrums. Push in that card and pull out the required political currency, as it were. Drop the bomb and warn them not to drop their’s etc., All very profoundly slick, no doubt, but eminently ignorable. As in money-making, the shortest of short cuts is recommended—and with educated bluster in the English language.

Nonetheless, it is that Dhoni from Jharkhand who may be trusted with bringing victory to India, because less slick and more astute. And more hard-working as well. As much in politics as in cricket.

Luckily, there does exist a constituency in the Indian establishment that truly realizes that every Indians’ best interest is served if India serves the best interests of most Pakistanis. No easy job that, but increasingly both desirable and possible, since answering constituencies also speak up from Pakistan as they did not before with quite the same conviction.

Such a praxis on either side, and conjointly, must seek to isolate from public sympathy, public space, and all kinds of state favour those that find democracy ill-suited to their purposes, but misuse it nonetheless. Or make opportunist disclaimers when it suits them, as Sonal Shah is doing this minute, fearing she may be shunted out of the Obama transition team were she not to do so in time.

And it must equally seek to distance democracy in the subcontinent from superpower interests that work their nefarious way by alternately feeding the cupidities of entrenched classes or threatening disastrous military reprisals.

They ought to be referred back to the problems they have at home, dime a dozen, and indeed encouraged to change course.

In that context, President-elect Obama’s resolve to be sworn in not just as “Barack Obama” but as “Barack Hussein Obama” is a most worthy and visionary step in the right direction.

It is not that in so doing Obama will have become a Muslim; it is that he will be saying that religious denominations are simply the donnee of individual identity, and need have no bearing on our citizenship or entitlements thereof. As Colin Powell was to say honourably enough during the campaign.

The worry is, as John Pilger has pointed out in a recent ZNet article, that Obama’s appointments to the cabinet seem thus far to suggest a pattern of “continuity” rather than “change.” Surprised?

All the more reason therefore for us on the subcontinent to learn to consolidate our own lives and institutions along principles that bring the most benefit in terms of non-sectarian social and cultural cohesion, collective secular endeavour, and enlightened economic democracy spread amongst the widest commonality.

The more we embrace that sort of historical project together, India and Pakistan can begin to draw away from wasteful militarism that feeds the pockets only of those that retain a value for conflict and destruction, and learn to stand up to threats as two nation-states but one people.

And that includes the Kashmiris as well, who have just been demonstrating their allegiance to the principle of democracy in unprecedented ways.

Badri Raina: Mumbai Attacks, Some Questions

November 30, 2008

Enough is Enough

Says who to whom?

The Light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.

(Gospel, Matthew, 6:22)

I

My skimpy acquaintance with the Taj hotel in what was then Bombay goes back to 1962.

I had been selected as a rookie sales executive by the then world’s largest corporate house, Standard Oil, whose Asia division was called ESSO.

Our offices, also then the only air-conditioned building in Bombay, was at Nariman point.

Such was the nature of my job that on two or three occasions I had to be inside the Taj, full of smiles and business.

Some three years later I decided I wasn’t going to sell oil for the next forty years, and I quit cold turkey to return happily to an academic life, liberally enlivened with activist involvements.

In short, the Taj hotel is truly a magnificent structure, although those days it made me happier to look at its magnificence from the outside than wheeling-dealing inside.

Like every other Indian, therefore, I am deeply saddened both by the insane loss of life, notable and ordinary, and by the damage done to this edifice. Especially when I recall that the Taj was the result of a laudable anti-colonial impulse, since Jamshedji had been refused entrance to another hotel reserved exclusively for the British.

II

My thoughts are here occasioned by a programme that one premier English-language electronic channel has been running since last night.

It is captioned “enough is enough.”

As I have listened to the outrage pouring out from a diverse assortment of some celebrity Mumbai citizens whose haunts habitually remain restricted to the affluent South Mumbai—a zone of peace and prosperity that has had its first rite of passage to the ugliness that afflicts the rest of the city, indeed the rest of India, and rest of the world—I find myself asking the question “who is it saying ‘enough is enough’, to whom, and why now”?

And how credible is the slogan of unity-at-any-cost that now so invigorates the fortunate classes in the wake of this traumatic experience?

And why should these imperious syllables calculated to shut off debate be received with unquestioning compliance when the mind is wracked by instances when South Mumbai-India has failed to employ the same “single eye” to pronounce on other murderous and murderously divisive events?

Today, thanks to the exemplary courage and discipline of India’s security forces, the Taj may have been disfigured and damaged, however brutally, but not demolished—something that seemed to have been the intent of the terrorist attack.

But, alas, some sixteen years ago a four-hundred year old iconic mosque was axed and hatcheted out of existence while the forces stood and watched, as did the whole nation on television.

Neither that fateful day, nor once in the last sixteen years, has the cry gone up “enough is enough” on behalf of those that are now so outraged. Educated noises have been made, which is not the same thing as saying never again should this country countenance social forces that brought that watershed calamity about.

Only conscientious citizens have struggled since to bring succour and justice to the victims, often suffering opprobrium from elite India that sees them as busybodies.

Indeed, the worthies that were visibly culpable in inflicting that blood-thirsty catastrophe on the nation continue to remain in good favour with influential sections of the corporate media which may have carried on a debate on the issue but never admonished “enough is enough.”

Some two hundred lives have been lost to the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Yet when, following the demolition of the Babri mosque, our own people killed a thousand or so of our own people in the very same Mumbai, the debate never ceased, and has not to this day.

Nor has the same terminal urgency that is now in evidence informed elite comment as to why those found guilty in that massacre (1992-93) by a high-powered Commission of Enquiry have not been given their due deserts

And what of the Gujarat massacres of 2002? No terrorists from outside there too, but our own good citizens, secure in the knowledge that they had the blessings of the top man in the job. The very top man who continues to be the darling of many elites who do not fight shy of drooling over what a wonderful chief executive he would make for the whole country, full of “development” and profit maximization.

No wonder that Mr. Modi should have been the first to hold a press briefing outside “ground zero” (am I sick of that copy-cat phrase) even while the bullets were flying, making it an occasion to deride no less than the Prime Minister.

The same Mr. Modi who until the other day publicly vented his strongest barbs at the ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) for daring to enquire into cases of Hindutva terrorism.

Narry an “enough is enough” there; only a shamefaced disapproval barely audible on the channels.

Indeed, should you ask me, I might say that the most heroic vignette during the current imbroglio has been the refusal of the widow of the slain Karkare, erstwhile head of the ATS, to accept Modi’s devious offer of money.

As also an SMS doing the rounds, asking where Raj Thackeray, the great divisive champion of Marathi interests, has been while Mumbai was being butchered? And did he know that it was security personnel drawn from all over the country, including overwhelmingly from the north and the south, who were dying to save his Marathi manoos as much as anyone else in the city?

The same Thackeray clan to whom South Mumbai never seems to say “enough is enough,” cannily remembering that in time of trouble they may after all have no recourse but to their lumpen mercy.

And how ironic that we should then lament how the spirit of a grand unity so eludes us ?

In one brief word, why do we not ever hear an unequivocal “enough is enough” in relation to the politics of fascist communalism? Or an unequivocal recognition of its intimate bearing on terrorism? Why do these realities remain subjects of TV debates from endless week to endless week wherein the culprits are afforded more than equal time?

Continued >>

Raina: India’s Failed Secularism

October 8, 2008

A recipe for disintegration

Badri Raina’s ZSpace Page

I

As I suggested in my previous column (“Sweet Time for the Left in India”, ZNet, Sept. 2, 2008) events on Wall Street have shown what a fortuitous circumstance it was that the Indian Prime Minister, in his own words, remained a “bonded slave” to the supporting Left parties until the other day.

Had he had unfettered freedom in matters economic, India would be sinking today faster than a tanker.

Likewise, how fortuitous for India’s beleaguered Christians that the good Prime Minister had to suffer “embarrassment” while traveling Christian lands recently. Think that in France, the spunky Sarkozy called the Kandhamal mayhem a “massacre” to his face.

Thus, superseding the travails of the Christians in Orissa, it was the rebuke to India’s “image” that registered powerfully. A circumstance that makes you think how much “nationalism” is often a matter of image and how little of any actual concern for the people who inhabit the nation.

That “embarrassment” has at least yielded some concrete threats to the BJP/BJD government in Orissa after the many politic secular noises about the arson, rape, and murder there. Will it lead to a constitutional dismissal of the government, though? Think again; elections are round the corner in many states. And, as always, the Constitution must give way to canny political considerations. Remember that Modi was allowed to carry on despite the total and proven complicity of the state in the butcheries in Gujarat in 2002

Speaking of which, how unfortunate for India’s Muslims that no country in the world that the Indian Prime Minister has visited or is likely to visit should want to embarrass him about the excesses committed against Indian Muslims. Something that suggests the colossal helplessness that has become their lot.

II

I have suggested elsewhere that the secular protestations and pretensions of the Republic of India have remained a paper-provision through the years of India’s existence as a sovereign nation-state primarily owing to the failure of the Congress party to honestly and fearlessly embrace and enforce the Republican principle of citizenship.

All its rhetoric notwithstanding, the Congress remains reluctant to transcend the denominational identity of Indians in political and governmental practice.

From day one, its electoral traditions have tended to be guided by considerations of the social identity of candidates—as much as of any other party—with scant effort made to transform the given and inherited biases of the polity.

Just as the Congress incorporated rather than confronted feudal social practices and formations through the “freedom movement,” it has sought to cater to rather than educate out of existence those formations in the electoral career of independent India.

Not surprisingly, this social and intellectual failure has coloured the ways in which India’s law-enforcement and investigative agencies, indeed often its juridical institutions, at lower levels especially, have operated in approaching the culpabilities of the “majority” and “minority” communities variously.

Consider, for example, that the bail plea of under-trials in the matter of the Godhra train burning of 2002 locked away under the draconian POTA (Prevention of Terrorism Act) was heard by the highest court in the land in February-March of this year, but the judgement remains in abeyance. In the meanwhile, one more under-trial, Hussein Mohammed Dhobi, age 65, has died there in custody—the fourth fatality in the matter. Nothing has appeared in public as to how those detainees are treated.

Think also that only the other day a CNN-IBN/Hindustan Times countrywide Poll revealed that 87% of Indians think that the police force is communal (read sectarian on the side of the “majority”). As well as an Amnesty International finding that the most corrupt institutions in India are the Police, the Politicians, and the Lower Judiciary! Why Amnesty should either have not looked into the bureaucracy and the corporate sector, or found nothing there remains a surprise.

These facts taken together help explain why it is that the Congress party which never tires of tom-tomming its role in formulating a secular-democratic republic has never yet given a nation-wide call for mobilization on behalf of the secular principle. Something that contrasts rather tellingly with the preparedness of people in Turkey to congregate in the millions whenever that principle is there seen to be in jeopardy. One would have imagined that,learning from Gujarat, and witness to the “majoritarian” rage now in evidence state after state, now would be a good time.

III

Thus it is that when the local head of the Bajrang Dal in Uttar Pradesh makes the public pronouncement that the strategic objective of this terrorizing arm of the RSS is to transform the secular republic into a “Hindu Rashtra” (Hindu theocratic state; see The Hindu, Thursday, October 2nd,’08) no cognizable offence is seen to have been committed. Not to speak of treason against the state as by law established.

Imagine, on the other hand, a call coming from some Muslim organization that they mean to turn India into an Islamic state. Within seconds, the organization would be banned and its members locked up as jehadi “terrorists.”

The crude and abiding fact is that the Congress party never really internalized the fatal truth of the insight that Jawahar Lal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, had voiced as far back as 1937.

Writing on “Hindu and Muslim Communalism,” Nehru had warned that whereas the communalism of the “minority” is patently what it is—sectarian banding together of a defensive nature—that of the Hindu “majority” is always likely to masquerade as “nationalism.” (See Nehru On Communalism, ed. N.L. Gupta, published by Sampradayikta Virodhi Committee, 1965, p.9). And, needless to say, that is then but a short step to fascism.

It is ofcourse a well-recorded fact that within the Congress leadership of those times, more than a few were not only members of the communal Hindu Mahasabha, but believed at heart that Indian social pluralism of centuries notwithstanding, India was at bottom a Hindu nation.

The penetration of the communal virus of those times must suggest something of the quality of the intellectual, cultural, and political battle that Nehru and a few others that notably included Muslim leaders (Abul Kalam Azad, Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Saifuddin Kitchlu, Asaf Ali, to name but a handful) and organisastions (Jamiat-e-ulema-e-Hind) put up against sectarian obscurantisms that disfigured both communities to ensure the founding of a secular republic.

It is to be noted that secularism was subsequently to be designated by a Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court of India as one of the “basic” features of the Constitution not amenable to amendment by parliament.

Indeed, in an interesting book titled Nehru’s Hero, Lord Meghnad Desai records how during the Nehruvian phase of Independent India, the Nehruvian emphasis on progressive secularism and social pluralism was constantly reflected in the cinematic products of the Bombay Film Industry.

Continued . . .

Indian Muslims

May 2, 2007

Professor Badri Raina contributes articles to ZNet. In the following article, published last August, he analyses Indian Muslims’ situation and suggests ways to improve their political status and their socio-economic conditions within the Indian State.

Net | Activism
Indian Muslims
Prospects and Ways Forward
by Badri Raina; August 16, 2006

My chief concern here is to understand the situation of Muslim’s in India. But, to the extent that the issue is inevitably affected by the condition of Muslims world-wide, it is relevant to take note of factors that impinge upon that condition even at the risk of enumerating a critique that is by now often made and well-recognized. The truth needs as much repeating as the lie, especially when the lie has the backing of imperialist money and muscle.

First a word about the villainous propagation that a “clash of civilizations” is now underway, globally.

Nobody but the indubitably partisan is any more taken in by the reification-in-reverse, as it were, whereby American imperialism, unimpeded by any concerted, state-level opposition, seeks to fetishize its untrammelled material ambitions in the resource-rich middle and west Asian regions principally as a purely ideological crusade on behalf of “freedom.”

This despicable subterfuge requires that Islam be recast as a theoretical breeding ground of “jehadis”; this for the simple enough reason that the preponderant population in these oil-rich regions is Muslim. Thus, nationalists throughout this region engaged in a life-and-death struggle to secure the rights of sovereignty need to be christened “terrorists.” Never mind that both Hamas and Hizbollah owe their political legitimacy to massive electoral victories, duly “certified” by reputed international agencies. Never mind also that American imperialism is hard put to find any “terrorist” Islamism in a Wahabi Saudi Arabia, even though all of the protagonists who brought the twin towers down were of Saudi extraction. Nor, for that matter, are the neocons able to see Pakistan as a centrepiece in the “Islamic” terrorist business. Or Musharraf as a military dictator who seems determined to hijack the promise of Pakistani democracy for ever and ever.

Clearly, for an American President who is widely suspected by his own countrymen of having stolen both his electoral victories, the “democracy” slogan is just one instrument of imperialist designs.

It needs to be recalled that the pioneers in the “terrorist” way of doing things were the Israelis. Scholarship, including the Wikipedia, has given us an elaborate record of the modus operandi of the Zionist Irgun and Stern terrorist groups—spearheaded by such respectable worthies as Menachem Begin, Yatzak Shamir, and Ariel Sharon—in their fight to dislodge the British from their mandate in Palestine. Those modus operandi included the cold-blooded murders of diplomats and United Nations’ officials, not to speak of the bombing of the King David Hotel in which more than ninety innocent people were blown to smithereens and many more maimed for life. Scholarship also records that these terrorists took their stand as much on religion as the jehadis of our day.

Is it also not rather cute that while a prospective Iranian nuclear capability is sought to be sold to the “international community” as the central source of menace for the world community, the well-known Israeli arsenal is never mentioned. Remember that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban were not viewed as “terrorist” material while the principal contradiction of American imperialism was with the Soviets in Afghanistan. Once, however, that contradiction shifted course, yesterday’s “freedom fighters” became today’s’ “terrorists.” Or that the “war on terror” should have been launched in Iraq which was notably the one truly secular state in the whole region. That the invasion of Iraq has now successfully converted that country into a jehadi hub goes of course to speak to the criminal accountability of the Americans in the matter, and to an imperialist folly that bids fair to destroy civilized governance throughout the world. There must some reason after all why already some 85% Lebanese today call themselves Hizbollah as opposed to some 50% before the current Israeli invasion. And that includes the Lebanese Christians as well. Or why Maliki, the puppet prime minister of a “free” Iraq has felt humiliated enough now to take issue with the continuing brutalities of the Bush regime in complete disregard of the so-called Iraqi government.

Having said that, if there is a clash now underway it is between those who advocate adherence to the principles of the Westphalian Treaty (1645) that guarantees the sovereignty of nation-states and non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, and to the United Nations Charter which was drawn up by the world community to establish peaceful co-existence among nations and a non-recourse to violence and war as instruments of the redressal of disputes, on the one hand, and those others whose desire for global domination seeks to make mince-meat of both the Westphalian Treaty and the U.N.Charter.

And this clash today is nowhere more in evidence than within America itself. Never have Americans been as vertically divided—between the reds and the blues—since the Civil War as they are today. By the latest reckoning, some 60% Americans would be considered “anti-national” by the Bush administration! Having now christened the term “Islamic fascism” Bush has had to be at the receiving end of important articles in the American media that have asked whether this may not be a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Same is true of people who inhabit the “Muslim” world. Despite the heinous depredations wrought everyday by the neocon “vision” of a new world order– whereby American Imperialism arrogates to itself the right to preemptive war, to regime changes in other countries, and to full-scale global dominance—in the middle and west Asian region, and wherever else people seek to resist that evil “vision,” Muslims are everywhere divided between those who think such resistance can succeed only through an asymmetrical guerilla war, and those who still wish to adhere to democratic, institutional mechanisms to force reason and sanity upon an imperialism gone berserk, or who desire to see a consolidation of state-level resistance to American imperialism.

On each side, of course, it suits the war-mongers to homogenize disparate, dissident, contentious identities and positions and complex political and intellectual considerations into crusading binaries—the regime, as it were, of a born-again Christianity against the injunctions of Allah. That the vast majority of the world’s population knows this to be, nonetheless, a war, on one hand, for the control of the world’s material resources and, on the other, for resisting that imperial agenda is by now obvious enough.

Indeed, this contention between the homogenizing political project and the concrete pluralities on the ground that demand democratic cognition lies at the root of much that has gone on in India during the last two decades.

Since the implementation of the recommendations of the Mandal Commissiion by the V.P.Singh government (1989)—recommendations that, deriving from the Constitution, recognized caste affiliation rather than an undifferentiated religious one as the basic social unit of identity among Hindus—a crusade on behalf of Brahminical Hinduism ensued.

Clearly, the object of that crusade has been to reconstitute Hindus across social contradictions as the dominant “majority” that then seeks to supplant the notion that a majority in a republican democracy can only comprise franchised “citizens,” a circumstance that then feeds directly into minority-bashing. Thus the Brahminical upper-caste crusade against affirmative action on behalf of deprived castes curiously yields the politics of communalism. This despite the fact that the BJP has never yet polled more than 26% of the national vote at any general election. Considering that not more than 5% Muslims have ever voted for the party, the BJP thus fails to draw the allegiance of some 70% or more of voting Hindus. As in America now, the chief political divide in India has thus been between high-caste Hindus who seek to force their vision of the nation on the Republic and the great majority of Hindus who refuse that fascist imposition. Thus the “cultural nationalism” of the Brahminical minority remains in clash with Hindus whose allegiance to the Constitutional scheme remains in place.

Likewise, despite the beleaguered attempts of religious Muslim leaderships to cast India’s Muslims into a monolithic block, the often peddled notion of a “minority vote bank” remains an interested myth. At no point during India’s political history of the last three decades have Indian Muslims voted en masse for any one single political party. Muslims have tended to vote only for such candidates who they have thought equipped to defeat the BJP. Such a voting pattern has inevitably meant that Muslims have often voted against many Muslim candidates along a diverse spectrum of parties in diverse electoral constituencies.

Post the recent train blasts in Mumbai, majoritarian fascism seeks once again to replicate the imperialist myth that “terrorism” is an exclusively Muslim phenomenon. Note that one has never heard the RSS, which is itself listed as a “terrorist” organization in an important American website, speak of LTTE terrorism as Hindus terrorism. Nor does one ever hear Christian or Jewish terrorism mentioned, although Wikipedia conscientiously records elaborate instances of both. Consider also the deep irony that Independent India’s most memorably high-placed losses to terrorism have all been perpetrated by non-Muslim agents: Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a Brahmin, Indira Gandhi by a Sikh, and Rajiv Gandhi again by a Hindu LTTE assassin. It should also be noted that the many instances of espionage against the nation-state that have come to light in recent years have all involved non-Muslims; surely, treason can hardly be argued to constitute an offence less heinous than a “terrorist” act. Currently, as we know, a nationalist scion of the BJP—an ex-minister several times over—continues his refusal to share his self-confessed knowledge of espionage activity on behalf of the Americans. Yet, nobody seems particularly bothered.

Understandably, Indian muslims once again find themselves under siege, as day in and day out they are hauled up at any odd hour of day or night to answer to the most far-fetched suspicions. Muslim intellectuals, therefore, once again debate among themselves what new political expression the thwarted history of the community should now draw on, given that successive governments, including secular ones, have tended to leave their genuine material aspirations in limbo. Be it education, employment (especially in the army, police and higher bureaucracy) or traditional livelihoods in skills and crafts, or their share in property ownership, Indian muslims find themselves at the bottom of the social rung, just as Gujarat-like episodes that repeatedly bring to light the complicity of official mechanisms, including state-aparatus, with “majoritarian” rioters, city after city, with the honourable exception of India’s southern states, leave them fearing for their life and limb. Consequent ghettoisation of the community, both in terms of living conditions and an ideological inwardness that willy nilly collapses into religious identity causes a paralysis of initiative that is often easy to deride but difficult to redress.

Younger Muslims, not burdened by any direct memories of India’s partition, who aspire to seek for a future as authentic Indian citizens beyond mere physical security chaff at the failure of political choices the community elders have thus far tended to exercise. Even as episodes like the demolition of the Babri masjid and the Gujarat genocide fan the impulse to violent reassertion. That such an impulse has not come to any significant expression is of course a defining tribute to the specific formation of Islam in India, but a circumstance that ought not, however, to lull us into complacence.

What, then, is to be done? Easier asked than answered. The first important thing to recognize here is that whatever it is that ought to be done does not have to be done by India’s Muslims alone. The temptation, therefore, to be holier-than-thou must be resisted because such a frame of reference in itself bespeaks a flawed grasp of what is wrong in the first place.

The doing necessarily must involve the following agencies, at the least:

–various organs of the State;
–English and Hindi media agencies (both print and visual);
–secular Indians across the board (which is to say some three fourths of citizens);
–Indian Muslims, who like Indian Hindus or Sikhs are not a homogeneous monolith.

Briefly, ritual protestations notwithstanding, it remains an ugly fact that the police apparatus in the northern states of India seems invariably to reserve its sub-liminal brutal antipathy for India’s Muslims, a reality that has been repeatedly recorded whenever communal clashes take place. Just to cite one episode, at Hashimpora the Provincial Armed Constabulary (PAC) a decade or so ago shot in the head some forty five Muslims in cold blood and dumped the corpses, one by one, in a canal nearby. It still remains to be seen what punishment the judicial system metes out to these murderers. Even as it is true that working class, factory protesters are also routinely caned and bashed by the PAC, the emotion that informs official violence against Muslim Indians in these states flows out of a mind-set that holds Muslims responsible for the partition of India, and thus regards them as guilty and inauthentic members of the republic, however just their cause.

The larger failure of the State clearly involves the complicity of governments in their disinterest in delivering, and seen to be delivering, the same kind of justice to rioters and killers that are drawn from the majority community as is promptly handed out to Muslims on the instant. There is perhaps no more blatant instance of this from recent history than the contrast in the way the findings of the Srikrishna Commission that enquired into the communal carnage in Mumbai prior to the 1993 bomb blasts, and the subsequent bomb blast accused case have been treated. The Srikrishna report which forthrightly held many senior officers and top-level political leaders guilty has remained rather unheard and shelved, while the State and the media that is equally complicit await with glee the judgement in the bomb blast cases.

Nor should it be overlooked that the massacre that took place in Gujarat in 2002 was followed by the refusal to file FIRs or file them in distorted ways, leading to the closure of thousands of cases even where eye-witnesses were willing to make disclosures. That some of the most gruesome ones were reopened and sent off for trial in other states, unprecedented in itself, testifies of course to the odyssey undertaken on behalf of the victims by civil society organizations like the Citizens for Peace and Justice, led by the outstanding Teesta Setalvad.

This predilection undermines in the gravest extent the faith that Muslims seek to repose in the secular democratic State. Such a collapse of credibility, needless to say, can in time become the prime factor for persuading Indian Muslims that they must seek justice by other means.

Wide interaction with Muslims reinforces the truth that this treatment is not the least of reasons why, unlike other sections of society, Muslim Indians have grave forebodings about mounting any organized public protests on issues of concern. Clearly, given this reality, it is grossly hypocritical and disingenuous to accuse Muslims of shying away from asserting their democratic rights through mass mobilization. Those elements within the State who still refuse equal “citizenship” rights to Muslims are much happier if Muslim demands of the republic turn into a seething cauldron of resentment. Once thus isolated, they can then the more easily be labelled as a potential danger to the nation. It is a remarkable statistic that under the draconian anti-terrorist legislation (TADA, repealed by the UPA government), more than 90% detenues were Muslims; when it is recalled that the total conviction rate under this act was all of 1%, it can be understood what political uses the act was put to.

As to the media, it is a grave indictment that the only time they seem to notice Muslim life in India is when “terrorism” is under discussion. It is an agonized Muslim complaint that even as ignorant anchors and suchlike cavalierly berate Muslims for not standing firmly against “terrorism” they almost never deign to report any one of umpteen instances of common and organized Muslim condemnations of the phenomenon, barring the exception of the Urdu media. Any one who watches ETV Urdu, a profoundly thought-provoking channel that analyses and debates issues that concern the community and the nation in such programmes as Hamare Masail, will know the depths of prejudice and ignorance that vitiate the mainline English and Hindi channels about the lives of some 130 million Indians! Indeed, this writer would make it mandatory for these channels to watch ETV Urdu, and to order back numbers of Hamare Masail for an educative introduction to Muslim life in India.

Thirdly, the most momentous onus of transforming the Muslim and national situation simultaneously falls jointly on the vast and preponderant majority of secular Indians– Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and all others. Indeed, given the failure of both the State and the mainline media to come up-to the stipulations of the Constitution, this onus may be understood to be decisive.

It is not as though some dramatic sleight-of-hand is here either proposed or expected. Indeed, this joint project is a long-term and difficult one, but such as is alone guaranteed to deliver a durable and long-lasting result. Secular Indians across communities must assume as a life-and-death enterprise the battle that the State has largely failed to win even some six decades after Constitutional republicanism. I refer to the battle to deliver an uncontestable Indian “citizenship.”

As a praxis, this project involves nothing less than a people’s democratic revolution that takes in the best lessons of Gandhian tolerance and of Marxian humanism. A revolution that breathes unquestionable life to those articles of the Constitution that guarantee fundamental rights to all Indian citizens regardless of caste, creed, gender, ethnicity, or linguistic practice. And, among those fundamental rights, the rights of minority populations enshrined in Articles 25-30 of the Constitution.

For Indian Muslims this involves the recognition that their well-being is inextricably intertwined with the well-being of the oppressed and dispossessed among all Indian communities. Put more radically, this involves redefining the concept of Ummah to include not just members of the Muslim community but the community of the labouring and suffering among all communities. Were this leftward reorientation to be undertaken, there can be little doubt that, leading such an initiative in close alliance with all struggling Indians, Indian Muslims would be inaugurating a second movement for independence rather than merely be pursuing, or seen to be pursuing, community concerns alone.

Having said that, it is equally incumbent on Left political forces in India—the only ones perhaps whose allegiance to the notion of a non-discriminatory “citizenship” is provenly credible—to provide the sort of leadership that expands the notion of class to include social groups and minorities who have a common stake in resisting class rule, since class rule in India often finds its easiest methodologies in fanning isolated social concerns. Any one would immediately recognize that in West Bengal, Kerala, Tripura these deeply transformative practices have been underway over a long time. The point is for Indian Muslims in the northern states to indicate to the Left that they are prepared to undertake those transformative struggles in the Hindi heartland states to the exclusion of the political options that they have thus far exercised with frustrating consequences.

Finally, and following from the argument thus far, the attempts now underway to forge exclusively muslim fora, it must be said, is an attempt entirely in the wrong direction. Such an attempt, born no doubt of extreme anguish and disenchantment with political options exercised thus far, can have all of the following consequences:

1. further ruinously ghettoize Muslim aspirations and politics;

2. face crushing setback to morale through crushing electoral defeats;

3. help reinvigorate forces that are constantly at work to supplant the very
notion of secular democratic citizenship by a culturally homogenized one.

One look back at the experience of the Majlis-e-Mushawaraat experiment of the 1960s (the Faridi movement) should be enough to bring home the truth that these consequences are inseparable from the very notion of political mobilization along sectarian lines.

Embedded in the very dilemma of Indian Muslims, therefore, there is a call—a call to forge a new consciousness that amalgamates a new future for India with a new effort on their own behalf.


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