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We Won’t Need To Fight A War If We Can Win The Peace

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By Amit Varma

A month has gone by since the Pulwama attacks, and the initial anxieties have passed. India responded, Pakistan responded back, and we are at a stable equilibrium again, where a war is unlikely. That is a good thing, though the larger problem of how to tackle Pakistan remains. My column today is not about that—though if that interests you, do check out this episode on the India-Pakistan conflict on my podcast, The Seen and the Unseen, with SrinathRaghavan. He gave me a master class on the geopolitics and game theory involved.
This column is not about Pakistan, but about Kashmir. There are two dimensions to the Pulwama attack: the cross-border terrorism sponsored by Pakistan; and the ferment in Kashmir that is fertile ground for our neighbours. If we could solve Kashmir, Pakistan would cease to be such a huge problem. It is my contention that in the last few years, we have mishandled the problem and made it far worse.
I won’t get into debates here around Kashmir’s history or questions of political philosophy. Did we handle Kashmir correctly in 1947? Is there a philosophical case to be made for Kashmiri independence? These are complex and contentious questions, and any discussion on them gets into ‘agree-to-disagree’ territory. Instead, I will put forth a premise I think most readers will agree with: the violent insurgency in Kashmir needs to be brought to an end as efficiently as possible.
Our approach to it is the opposite of what it should be. We are making things worse.
The Fly And The Lion
To explain why this is so, I’m going to write about two important books. The first is Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. The book was written in the early 1960s, and is today considered the bible of how to fight insurgencies. For decades, though, it was ignored, especially in the United States, which blundered through Vietnam and Iraq making all the mistakes Galula warned against – and which we ignore today in Kashmir.
Galula was an officer in the French army who fought insurgencies in China, Greece, Indochina, and Algeria, and was once imprisoned by Mao’s guerrillas in the 1940s. One of his first realisations was that fighting an insurgency was not remotely like fighting the conventional battles that armies had been trained to fight. The nature of the enemy was different, as was the nature of the battle. “In a fight between a fly and a lion,” he wrote, “the fly cannot deliver a knockout blow and the lion cannot fly.” Using conventional methods “have at best no more effect than a fly swatter. Some guerrillas are bound to be caught, but new recruits will replace them as fast as they are lost.”
That last sentence is the whole problem: you kill one terrorist and create three more. There are two reasons why that happens, and both involve the local population. One is a lesson Galula learnt in China from watching Mao’s guerrillas in action. Fred Kaplan, in his book The Insurgents, summed it up: “A Maoist insurgency sought above all to win the support of the people by living among them and gradually supplanting the functions of the government.”
In the language of public choice economics, they aimed to become a stationary bandit instead of a roving bandit. I wrote about this at length in my last column, in the context of India’s Maoist insurgencies. Thus, they gained the sympathies of the people they lived among, and any brutality towards them alienated them, and could drive some of them to terrorism.
Two, even if the insurgents didn’t win the sympathy of the locals, the state could still treat the local population brutally, and turn them to terrorism in their anger and frustration. As I’ll elaborate on later in this piece, that’s exactly what happened in Kashmir.
In both cases, fighting terrorism with a heavy hand just creates more terrorists. What a counterinsurgency force needs to do, therefore, is win the local population to its side. It is not enough for military action to be successful. As one of Mao’s generals said, such warfare is “20 percent military action and 80 percent political.”
20 Percent Military, 80 Percent Political
Kaplan described Galula’s ‘step-by-step process’ of fighting a successful counterinsurgency thus: “First, concentrate enough armed forces to push the insurgents out of the area. Second, keep enough troops there to repel a comeback, eventually turning it over to well-trained local soldiers or police. Third, establish contact with the people, earn their trust or control their movements, and cut off their ties to the insurgents. Fourth, destroy the insurgents’ local political organisation and create new ones. Finally, mop up or win over the insurgency’s remnants.”
This is now known in the literature as “Clear-Hold-Build.” The first element of the three requires military action, the second a combination of military and political, and the third is mainly politics. Kaplan described such warfare as requiring “military, political and judicial operations—and all three were essential. The outcome was a matter not of adding the three elements but of multiplying them: if one of the three elements was zero, the product of all three would be zero.”
TE Lawrence, in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom, wrote: “War upon rebellion was messy and slow, like eating soup with a knife.” That’s a striking image that indicates how difficult it is, and how impotent military action can be, perpetuating terrorism instead of ending it. The American general David Petraeus, who was inspired by Galula and Lawrence, and horrified by how the United States bungled the invasion of Iraq, once said that the key question to ask before a military operation was, “Will this operation take more bad guys off the street than it creates by the way it’s conducted?”
How We Messed Up Kashmir
We know what the answer to that question is in Kashmir. That brings me to the second book I want to focus on in this piece: The Generation of Rage in Kashmir by David Devadas. This is an important book, and one that every Indian should read. It challenges assumptions that all of us who are not in Kashmir make about Kashmir today.
The biggest one of them is that militancy in the valley has been constant from the time it kicked in around 1988. Devadas, a journalist and editor who has lived in and reported from Kashmir since the last millennium, writes in his book that the militancy was effectively over by 2007, which he describes as “a year of endings and beginnings.” A key reason for this was demographic: a new generation had come of age.
“[M]any boys and even more girls of this generation,” Devadas writes, “had become deeply cynical, even contemptuous, of their elders who had taken up arms. They saw militancy as futile and secessionist leaders as self-serving hypocrites.” This was an aspirational generation. They did not speak of azaadi and militancy, and “it had already become clear that a very large number of Kashmiris did not want Kashmir to merge with Pakistan.” Many of them “dreamed of careers in modelling, acting, or singing in Mumbai, or in software engineering in Bangalore.”
The coming-of-age of this generation coincided with India-Pakistan peace talks, starting with AtalBihari Vajpayee and Pervez Musharraf beginning talks in 2003 that also increased chances of peace in the valley. It looked like a perfect storm of circumstances that would bring peace to Kashmir. There was just one problem: even though militancy was effectively over, the apparatus of counterinsurgency remained in place.
To understand this, let’s turn to economics and consider the incentives involved. Certain arms of the state had been given enormous power to fight the militancy of the 1990s. Power corrupts, as the old truism goes, and those who had this power were not about to give it up. Consider some of the different incentives in play.
One, there were direct incentives of ‘kills’ and ‘captures’. In the 1990s, the number of terrorists killed became a metric for the advancement, monetarily and otherwise, of the forces fighting them. “Officers and units sometimes competed to notch up higher numbers,” which led to a “bump-him-off” culture. Suspects were routinely killed in ‘encounters’ and, as Devadas illustrates in his book, innocent people were taken from one area to another, killed, and passed off as terrorists to get rewards. Abduction and murder, in other words, by the state.
Two, the state used its power for extortion. There is a telling story in Devadas’s book:
“Waheed Para experienced this in 2005, when he was in his late teens. A BSF officer accused him of being a militant, dramatically holding a pistol to his head, and then tortured him mentally until he broke down. He was released after a minister in the state government intervened, but the swaggering officer threatened, while letting him go, that he would ‘discover’ weapons from the car and then blow up that car with the boy in it. The boy was studying in Class 11 when he became a victim of such torture and threats. The reason was greed; that officer wanted the boy’s new black Indigo car.”
Three, the state got many more opportunities for corruption. “Vast amounts of cash were available from the sea of corruption that had filled Kashmir,” Devadas writes, “particularly over the three decades since 1987.” He elaborates:
“The army and other forces brought more money into the economy, through supply, construction and equipment contracts, apart from the money that soldiers spent from their salaries. From the mid-1990s, the Indian government stepped up aid to the state, for development and reconstruction —for example, of the very large number of schools that had been destroyed by militants. Many Kashmiris suspected that a vast proportion of that money was siphoned off through corruption.”
Four, this ‘conflict economy’, as Devadas calls it, led to an increase in rent-seeking. He quotes a local leader: “The mindset that has developed in the last 20 years is that we go to the market to buy vegetables, we go to a government department to buy the service we need. People don’t know their rights.” The locals were dependent on the state for everything—and the state extracted a price.
A classic illustration of this is the ‘Non-Involvement Certificate’ that Kashmiris needed from the government. This was a document given by the state that certified that an individual had no past of militancy. Without it, one could not get a job or a passport and so on. The going rate for it was apparently Rs 2,000. A militant could get the certificate by paying the cash. And a non-militant could not get it if he was too poor or too principled to pay.
Corruption and rent-seeking are common in other parts of India as well, but it was worse in Kashmir because there was even less accountability. The local people were treated as subjects, not citizens. The state could get away with anything. And when it had such power, with the incentives outlined above, why on earth would it give it up? It had every incentive to keep classifying the state as a conflict zone.
The state continued its brutal behaviour, as Devadas describes:
“Most men had, at some point, been abused, slapped, or kicked on their way, after a soldier had looked at their [ID] card. Or they had watched a father or an uncle being slapped, or ordered to do squats while holding his ears, or made to stand on his hands with his feet propped against a wall on a public road, while neighbours and relatives passed by. Humiliation was one of the keys to control.”
Also, as Devadas astutely points out, the generation of cops who had entered the force at a time of repression was now in senior positions in the state. Repression was all they knew. In the context of the bump-him-off culture, Devadas writes: “When the forces got used to catch-and-kill executions—and that giddily exciting power, the power over life and death— some among them clung to it even when judicial and prosecutorial systems were back in place.”
There were protests in Kashmir in 2008 and 2010, but these had nothing to do with militancy or azaadi. But for a state that had a vested interest in retaining its power, it was logical to portray all civilian protests as linked to terrorism. “The business of accusing someone of terrorism, militancy, stone-pelting, or anti-national activities,” writes Devadas, “could be used to suppress all kinds of protests, including those that had nothing to do with ‘separatist’ sentiments—such as protests against corruption.”
The clampdown on these protests was brutal. Young men who had nothing to do with militancy were rounded up in hundreds and tortured in prison. Devadas writes in his book of how the police would then use these prisoners to extort money from their parents, demanding they pay to get them released. And when there were protests, pellet guns were used instead of the water cannons used in other parts of India, blinding many people. By the early years of this decade, “rage and repression had become a vicious cycle, with each firing incident provoking fresh ire.”
And that’s when Pakistan re-entered the fray. By 2016, Pakistan-supported cross-border terrorism was on the rise, and many young people in Kashmir no longer wanted jobs and opportunities, but revenge and freedom. It was back to 1990, but even worse, enabled by new narratives of Jihad that found a willing audience, and by the new technology of the 21st century.
As Devadas writes, it was a “Catch 22: insistence on the continued operation of the apparatus of counterinsurgency, even after the 1990s’ militancy had declined, was a major cause for the support the new militancy received in the second decade of the century—which then required increased deployment of the counterinsurgency situation.”
This vicious cycle can still be broken, though. The insurgency in Kashmir can be, and must be, defeated: but it must be defeated in a way that ensures that getting rid of one terrorist does not create three more. The lessons of counterinsurgency that Galula wrote about in his book need to be internalised by the Indian state. We have to realise that just as we must not lose Kashmir, we also must not lose Kashmiris. And that good governance and democratic politics are as important a part of the puzzle as police or military action are.
(Amit Varma is a writer based in Mumbai. He has been a journalist for a decade-and-a-half, and has won the Bastiat Prize for Journalism twice. He edits the online magazine Pragati, writes the blog India Uncut and hosts the podcast The Seen and the Unseen.)
(Source: BloombergQuint)

 

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Opinion

India’s perilous obsession with Pakistan

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By Nissim Mannathukkaren

Come Indian elections, the bogey of Pakistan has overwhelmed the nationalist discourse in the shrillest manner, with the Prime Minister and other Ministers’ relentless branding of the Congress/Opposition as ‘anti-national’ and as ‘agents of Pakistan’. Further, the Prime Minister even made an unprecedented threat of using nuclear weapons against Pakistan.
As a country born of the two-nation theory based on religion, and then having to suffer dismemberment and the consequent damage to the very same religious identity, it is obvious why Islamic Pakistan must have a hostile Other in the form of a ‘Hindu India’. But what is not obvious is why India, a (much larger) secular nation, must have a hostile antagonist in the form of Pakistan.
It is widely recognised that the fulcrum of the Pakistani state and establishment is an anti-India ideology and an obsession with India. But what has scarcely received notice is that India’s post-Independence nationalism has been equally driven by an obsession with Pakistan. Of course, this obsession acquires a pathological dimension under regimes, like the present one, which thrive on hyper-nationalism and a ‘Hindu India’ identity.
But, this hyper-nationalistic urge to ‘defeat’ Pakistan and to gloat over every victory, both real and claimed, is ultimately self-defeating, and comes with huge human and material costs. Much of these costs are hidden by jingoism masquerading as nationalism.
Words often used regarding the Pakistani state’s actions, even by critical Pakistani voices, are ‘delusional’ and ‘suicidal’, and rightly so. For, no level-headed state would seek to attain military parity with a country that is six and half times larger in population, and eight and a half times bigger economically. HussainHaqqani, the Pakistani diplomat and scholar, compared it to “Belgium rivalling France or Germany”. Pakistan’s vastly disproportionate spending on the military has been self-destructive for a poor nation.
In 1990, Pakistan was ahead of India by three places in the Human Development Index. In 2017, Pakistan was behind India by 20 ranks, a sad reflection of its ruinous policies.
More critically, the Pakistani state’s sponsorship of Islamist terror groups has been nothing less than catastrophic. What the world, including India, does not recognise is that Pakistan, ironically, is also one of the worst victims of Islamist terrorism. In the period 2000-2019, 22,577 civilians and 7,080 security personnel were killed in terrorism-related violence in Pakistan (the number of civilian/security personnel deaths from Islamist terrorism in India, excluding Jammu and Kashmir, was 926 in during 2000-2018).
The fact that Pakistan has suffered much more than India in their mutual obsession cannot hide the equally serious losses that India has undergone and is willing to undergo in its supposedly muscular pursuit of a ‘no dialogue’ policy with Pakistan.
Wars and military competition produce madness. Nothing exemplifies this more than India-Pakistan attempts to secure the Siachen Glacier, the inhospitable and highest battle terrain in the world. India alone lost nearly 800 soldiers (until 2016) to weather-related causes only. Besides, it spends around ?6 crore every day in Siachen. Operation Parakram (2001-02), in which India mobilised for war with Pakistan, saw 798 soldier deaths and a cost of $3 billion. This is without fighting a war. Add to this the human and economic costs of fighting four wars.
Granted, the proponents of India’s muscular nationalism who want only a military solution in Kashmir might close their eyes to the killings of some 50,000 Kashmiri civilians and the unending suffering of Kashmiris, but can they, as nationalists, ignore, the deaths of around 6,500 security personnel in Kashmir and the gargantuan and un-estimated costs of stationing nearly 5 lakh military/para-military/police personnel in Kashmir for 30 years?
Ten years ago, Stephen P. Cohen, the prominent American scholar of South Asia, called the India-Pakistan relationship “toxic” and notably termed both, and not just Pakistan, as suffering from a “minority” or “small power” complex in which one is feeling constantly “threatened” and “encircled”. Tellingly, he argues that it is the disastrous conflict with Pakistan that has been one of the main reasons why India has been confined to South Asia, and prevented from becoming a global power.
Here, one should ask the most pertinent question: why does India compete with Pakistan in every sphere, from military to sport, rather than with, say, China, which is comparable in size and population, and which in 1980 had the same GDP as India? (China’s GDP is almost five times that of India’s now.)
Of course, emulating China need not mean emulating its internal authoritarianism or its almost colonial, external economic expansionism. On the contrary, it is to learn from China’s early success in universalising health care and education, providing basic income, and advancing human development, which as AmartyaSen has argued, is the basis of its economic miracle. It is precisely here that India has failed, and is continuing to fail.
Therefore, despite India being one of the fastest growing major economies in the world since 1991 (yet, only ranked 147 in per capita income in 2017), its social indicators in many areas, including health, education, child and women welfare, are abysmal in comparison with China’s. Worryingly, in the focus on one-upmanship with Pakistan, India’s pace in social indicator improvement has been less than some poorer economies too. The phenomenal strides made by Bangladesh in the social sector are an example.
Here, a look at the military expenditures is revealing: while India spent $63.9 billion (2017) and Pakistan $9.6 billion (2018-19), Bangladesh spent only $3.45 billion (2018-19). Only a muscular and masculine nationalism can take pride in things such as becoming the fifth largest military spender in the world, or being the world’s second largest arms importer. The bitter truth hidden in these details is that India, ranked 130 in the HDI (and Pakistan, 150), simply cannot afford to spend scarce resources on nuclear arsenals, maintaining huge armies or developing space weapons. Besides, in an increasingly globalised world, military resolution between a nuclear India and Pakistan is almost impossible.
The more India, the largest democracy in the world, defines itself as the Other of Pakistan, a nation practically governed by the military, the more it will become its mirror. Any nation that thrives by constructing a mythical external enemy must also construct mythical internal enemies. That is why the number of people labelled ‘anti-national’ is increasing in India. India has to rise to take its place in the world. That place is not being a global superpower, but being the greatest and most diverse democracy in the world. That can only happen if it can get rid of its obsession with Pakistan.
(The Hindu)

 
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Symbol of New (Hindu) India?

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By Sanjeev Ahluwalia

BJP president Amit Shah is technically correct to say that SadhviPragya Thakur, one of the accused in the September 2008 Malegaon (Maharashtra) bomb blast case, who is on bail, has a right, under our liberal electoral laws, to contest the elections. It hardly matters that she voluntarily claimed being part of the Hindutava forces which had pulverised the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992 and that an FIR has been registered against her by the Madhya Pradesh police on the orders of the Election Commission.
A galaxy of BJP leaders headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who went on to become deputy prime minister, and Hindutava firebrands Version 1 from the 1990s era — SadhviRithambra, VinayKatiar, Hari Vishnu Dalmia, et al — were criminally indicted for conspiracy but let off by a CBI special court in 2001. The Allahabad high court upheld the order of acquittal in 2010. But curiously, the Supreme Court directed that the case be revived in April 2017, under the NarendraModi government.
To be honest, there was little reason, back then, not to indict both Kalyan Singh, the BJP chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, and P.V. Narasimha Rao, the Congress Prime Minister. Culpability for dereliction of duty runs deep and inefficiencies in the judicial system help gaming transgressors.
Our laws consequently acknowledge this judicial gap and do not bar a candidate from political office, even though serious criminal charges have been drawn up in court against the person and a trial is under way.
But that does not fully explain why the BJP chose her. After all, Bhopal is not just any other seat. It is the capital of Madhya Pradesh and she has been pitted against Digvijay Singh, a former chief minister of the state and a senior Congress leader.
More to the point, isn’t she out of sync with the BJP government’s soothing signature tune of “Sabkasaath, sabkavikas” (with everyone, for everyone)? Does this signal a major change in stance and hitherto is revisionist social policy likely to overshadow the imperative for economic growth?
Pragya Thakur has no qualms about evoking her mystical powers to “damn” (curse) her opponents, demonstrating a conflation between her private well-being and that of all Hindus — a distinction which is necessary in those holding public office. But ascetics and mystics live by the code of “bhakti” — a submersive ecosystem, in which the followers are one with the guru. This leaves no space for the rule of earthly, common law.
Bhakts believe the spiritual power of an ascetic’s curse causes irreparable harm. Such pervasive, blind faith begs the question — should India have lawmakers who exult in evoking their spiritual powrs to shield themselves from the law?
Given these rough edges, what compelled the Modi-Shah team to field SadhviPragya from Bhopal? Two motivations suggest themselves.
First, electoral strength breeds hubris. Nominating Pragya Thakur sends the message that a new, assertively Hindu India is on its way and those with different views should make way.
Hinduism is resilient because it absorbs and subsumes other beliefs. Think Tamil Nadu 70 years ago. Anti-Brahmanism, rationalism and primacy for Tamil culture and language — versus Hindi — drove the atheist Dravida movement to its peak. Today, with political power firmly with the Tamil middle castes, ritualistic Hinduism is resurgent in Tamil Nadu.
Hinduism facilitates Sanskritisation — a religious version of the Stockholm syndrome, where the marginalised empathise with and seek to emulate their oppressors, thereby perpetuating the status quo.
Even the Congress Party has succumbed. The symbols of ritualistic Hinduism — special prayers at temples and endorsements from Hindu religious leaders — are the norm. This is canny, since Muslims and Christians have nowhere else to go, at the national level — though the BahujanSamaj Party and the Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh; Trinamul Congress in West Bengal; TelanganaRashtraSamiti in Hyderabad, the Communists in Kerala and the AamAdmi Party in Delhi offer classically secular, regional alternatives.
An alternative driver behind Pragya Thakur’s nomination could be sheer desperation, in the absence of a NarendraModi wave, unlike 2014. After all, the party lost Madhya Pradesh along with two other cow belt states to the Congress only a few months ago during the state Assembly elections. Fielding the Sadhvi is sure to rake up Hindu resentment against the Congress for subscribing to a counter narrative of “Hindu terror” around the 2008 bomb blasts. The credibility of our police agencies has sunk so low that in the public’s perception, the “caged parrot” syndrome of ruling party capture, overrides the merits of any police action.
But multiple poll surveys, thus far, do not validate significant electoral loss for the BJP. The most recent endorsement comes from SurjitBhalla’s new book Citizen Raj: Indian Elections 1952-2019. He forecasts a simple majority of 274 for the BJP on its own. Lord Meghnad Desai, a British peer of Indian origin, also endorses a clear win.
NarendraModi is no one’s tool. Were he to succeed, his game would be to tame the tiger that he is riding. This is risky. But a more grounded strategy could well emerge, which seeks to rid Hinduism of its caste-based fractures; infuse the religion with modern concepts of universal human rights and worry more about generating income and wealth for all, rather than protecting India from without whilst dividing it from within.
The Modi-Shah duo’s dodgy electoral tactics are not new. Encouraging social divisiveness; kitchen cabinets to bypass government structures; centralisation of authority; a quasi-presidential form of campaigning and the systematic decimation of potential opponents — all these have all been used by other parties in the past. Banyan tree leadership is hardly unique to today’s BJP.
What is new is the blinding speed with which the Modi-Shah team has executed their strategy of building a “New India” — a narrative which promises to change social endowments and norms in ways that have never visualised previously. Status quoists will resist this seismic makeover. Beneficiaries will support it. Make up your mind, dear reader, where you belong.

 
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‘The TINA trick’

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By Anil Dharker

This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted).
Two abbreviations crop up in any conversation about the elections. Both give a dispiriting picture of the mood of the nation. The acronyms are NOTA and TINA, which as we all know, expand to None Of The Above and There Is No Alternative.
This state of despondency arises from many factors, the major one being the disappointment with the performance of NarendraModi’s government (bhakts always excepted). In 2014, there was a genuine Modi Wave caused by disillusionment with UPA’s drift and its alleged corruption; in direct contrast were Modi’s enticing promises of “development” and rooting out corruption and black money. The disasters of demonetisation and GST, rising unemployment and the unaddressed tragedy of agrarian distress has taken the sheen off Modi’s many promises.
NarendraModi knows; everyone in the BJP knows; thinking party supporters (bhakts always excepted) also know, that repeating the same promises again and again doesn’t fulfil them — action does — but implementation has either been negligible, or poor. This is why not one single speech of Modi talks of his government’s performance. It’s a strange thing to hear a prime minister going to the people for re-election without a word about five years of his government. Instead, he talks about his “muscular response” to Pakistan and he talks about Hindutva in a demagogic way reminiscent of Bal Thackeray, using words which a chief election commissioner like T N Seshan would have acted more strongly against.
Sadly, the EC is not the only institution the Modi government has eviscerated. If you really wanted to know what the BJP government has achieved in its five-year term, it’s this: Every institution, the Enforcement Directorate, CBI, the police in BJP-ruled states, the Income Tax department… name them, and they do the government’s bidding, even if many of their actions on the eve of elections are clearly political in nature and meant to influence the electorate.
This is where the TINA factor comes in. Even BJP supporters disillusioned with NarendraModi ask: If not Modi, who will be PM? Rahul Gandhi? Mamata Banerjee? Mayawati? They find all these options unacceptable. Unfortunately, people have short memories. Political turmoil brought in prime ministers as diverse as Morarji Desai, V P Singh, I K Gujral, Chandra Shekhar, DeveGowda and Charan Singh. Not all of them were a disaster. In any case, all of them were in the chair for just around a year each (except Desai, who had two years), far too short a time to judge a prime minister’s performance. More than that, it’s important to note the classic definition of a prime minister in a functioning democracy: He is the first among equals in the council of ministers. Would anyone in the present cabinet dare say that of NarendraModi? No wonder the BJP’s slogan for 2019 is “phirekbaar, Modisarkar”. And its manifesto is replete with photographs of Modi, significantly even on the cover. Apart from re-emphasising that Modi’s council of ministers consists of lightweights; the slogan underlines the fact that the BJP government is Modi, Modi and Modi. That’s how the TINA factor gets reinforced as part of the BJP’s planned campaign strategy.
Contrast that with the Congress’s slogan, “abhoga NYAY’, a play on the Hindi word to mean justice as well as highlight the party’s ambitious social welfare programme, with which it hopes to make an impact on the elections. It also removes any hint of a personality cult in the party, although clearly, Rahul Gandhi is the prime force in the election campaign. Perhaps, it’s also a tacit admission that the public perception of Rahul Gandhi as an unsuitable candidate for prime ministership hasn’t changed, although the man himself has grown impressively into a leadership role. But you need an open mind to notice that, and an open mind doesn’t seem to be a common attribute of our electorate, especially its urban component. The more educated you are, the more you are likely to hold on to your prejudices.
An interesting point to note is that even Indira Gandhi, a towering personality if ever there was one, used the slogan “garibihatao”, and not a personality-centric one. But that concealed the fact that she ruled her government and her party with an iron fist. Another interesting point to note is that in his constant attacks on “The Family” and “Dynasty”, Modi hasn’t said a word against Indira Gandhi. For all his visceral hatred of the Nehru-Gandhis, Modi is strangely silent about Indira: There’s obviously an unspoken and sneaking admiration there. When you think about it, it’s really not surprising. Indira Gandhi was the government, and no one else mattered. NarendraModi is the government, and he has made sure no one else matters. For all those enamoured of strong leadership, it might be salutary to remember its perils: Mrs Gandhi imposed the Emergency, she nationalised banks (a disaster in the long run), she abolished privy purses (a constitutional guarantee), she subverted most of our institutions, including even the judiciary, and she used departments like Income Tax to get even with political opponents. Aren’t the parallels uncanny? On the other hand, low-key, self-effacing personalities like LalBahadurShastri and Narasimha Rao made excellent prime ministers; in fact, the former had he not died so tragically early, may have lived to be our best PM ever.
NOTA, of course, is an expression of dissatisfaction with the whole political process, and who can blame people when we see the way our electioneering has been conducted, with its abuse and personal invective? But NOTA is not an option; the option really is this: Better not the devil we know than the devil we don’t, because the latter may turn out to be not a devil at all.

 
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