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The Hindu Notes for 27th November 2018

Topic Discussed: The Hindu Notes of 27th November 2018

Yet another fiasco in J&K

New Delhi must not allow the downward spiral to continue through to the general election

  • Last week’s dramatic development — of Jammu and Kashmir Governor Satya Pal Malik’s decision to dissolve the Legislative Assembly immediately after rival parties staked claims to form a government — was so patently wrong as to be outrageous. What was Governor Malik thinking?
  • The question is, of course, rhetorical. Mr. Malik’s actions clearly reveal what he was thinking. Having given five months to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to try to cobble together a government, the surprise challenge by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), supported by the National Conference (NC) and the Congress, forced him to reverse course, and hastily dissolve an Assembly that he had kept in suspended animation without once consulting the MLAs.
  • Strange reasons

  • The Governor’s reasons for dissolution are not only disingenuous, they are downright dangerous. The allegation that political parties with opposing ideologies should not come together can more plausibly be levelled against the coming together of the People’s Conference (PC) and the BJP than against the PDP-NC-Congress grouping. The PDP, the NC and the Congress share several common positions, including on confidence-building measures (CBMs), peace talks and safeguarding constitutional rights. As to horse-trading, it was the PC, with the BJP’s support, that succeeded in breaking the PDP and winning over one of the NC’s most articulate spokesmen. Irrespective of who was being targeted, however, if a Governor can decide which parties may ally with each other, or take five months to recognise the horse-trading that was an open secret in the Valley, then we might as well give up the pretence of democracy.
  • More worrying still, what does Mr. Malik mean by the reference to security? Is he suggesting that a PDP-NC-Congress alliance would impact negatively on the “fragile situation” in the Valley? That is a very serious allegation, made even more serious by statements from as senior a BJP leader as Ram Madhav, who also happens to be in charge of Jammu and Kashmir for the party. He tweeted that the three parties received instructions from Pakistan to stake a claim to govern. Absurd as the allegation is, its absurdity does not veil the fact that it is disgusting. What possible grounds can there be for such an accusation, or have we now come to a point where no grounds are required since the purpose is solely to tarnish?
  • The greatest damage done by Mr. Malik has been to strengthen Kashmiri cynicism about New Delhi. Most Kashmiri commentators, in any case, argue that there has never been more than a pretence of democracy on the part of New Delhi when it comes to Kashmir. What happened last week vindicates their argument. Sadly, it also represents a return to the dark days of political meddling by the Centre in State politics, a practice that had been gradually relinquished between 2002 and 2014, a period which saw three of the freest and fairest elections in the State. Those years, of partial peace-building, have been forgotten in the Valley.
  • The the graph has been of rising violence since 2014 not only in the Valley, but in the border districts of Jammu as well. In this volatile situation, the impact of the events of the past six months, from the BJP toppling its coalition government with the PDP to the Governor thwarting the PDP-NC-Congress claim to forming a government, has been disastrous. It has driven even those who sought a peaceful and feasible resolution to the sidelines.
  • By his actions, Mr. Malik has joined a line of Governors appointed by the BJP-led government at the Centre who have skated far too close to constitutional red lines, violating the propriety of their office. As numerous constitutional experts have pointed out, this is a fit case for the Supreme Court to overturn a Governor’s decision, but there are few Kashmiri parties which wish to go to court. The PC might have greatest reason, but it cannot go against the Governor. The NC, the PDP and the Congress all stand to gain from elections.
  • Will the Governor try to postpone elections again, on the pretext of security? Violence has increased under his mandate. Governor’s (or President’s) Rule is rarely more stable than under an elected government, even an unstable coalition as the PDP-BJP combine was. A more coherent coalition – the most likely outcome of Assembly elections – will certainly provide better political conditions for reconciliation than a Governor can, since the latter will have neither the grassroots reach nor the experience of local conditions that the former does.
  • Time to build confidence

  • Meantime, it is worth noting that while New Delhi debates Mr. Malik’s actions, Kashmiri attention has turned to a low-profile visit by former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik, organised by the Art of Living Foundation. Mr. Bondevik met Mirwaiz Umar Farooq and Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and has now travelled across the Line of Control (LoC) to meet local leaders there. Whether the Narendra Modi government will accept inputs from him is unclear. What is clear is that Kashmiris continue to hold hope for the revival of peace initiatives, irrespective of elections.
  • Can we read the opening of the Kartarpur corridor across Indian and Pakistani Punjabs as a sign of other peace initiatives to come, in particular for Kashmir? The Kartarpur agreement has been widely welcomed by India-Pakistan experts, but the hope that peace initiatives on Kashmir will follow could be misplaced. The Modi government’s acceptance of the Kartarpur proposal might have been prompted by the desire to garner credit, especially for its alliance partner, the Shiromani Akali Dal, rather than to pave the way for peacemaking on Kashmir. But in its earlier incarnation, the India-Pakistan peace process combined Punjab to Punjab and Sindh to Rajasthan connectivity with cross-LoC CBMs. Former Army chief General V.K. Singh, who is Minister of State for External Affairs, recently spoke of delinking the Kartarpur corridor from the 26/11 Mumbai attacks case. Why not consider Kashmir CBMs in the same spirit?
  • Think big

  • All the factual information — whether political, security, social or economic — shows that the Modi government’s counterinsurgency-alone policy has gravely damaged the Valley as well Jammu and Kashmir’s relations to the Union. Will the Central government allow this downward spiral to continue through to the national elections next year, with increasing rhetoric on terrorism, anti-national elements and the like, or will it put the interests of the State and the Union first?
  • Preventing another scuffle

    Smooth civil-military relations require delicate oversight through statesmanship

  • In a disturbing incident in Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh recently, two soldiers of the Indian Army were arrested by the local police and reportedly beaten up for alleged incorrect behaviour during a festival, which was then followed by alleged retaliatory high-handedness by their Army compatriots. This is an apt example of the leadership on both sides not using their superior skills to prevent the unsavoury happenings and living up to the requirement of statecraft. In aviation, for example, there is a maxim, ‘a superior pilot is one who uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skills’. The term ‘statecraft’ is important because the leadership at every level of the government is a vital cog in maintaining a harmonious relationship with other arms, all the while respecting the other’s domain specialisation.
  • The Bomdila incident is not the first instance of the civil administration and the military having locked horns. It is just that earlier incidents did not get publicity in the absence of fast communication. Though the issues were “resolved”, tensions have continued to simmer. Social media and near instantaneous communications now amplify the damage, as seen at Bomdila.
  • Here is another example. Last month, a spokesperson of the Ministry of Defence was sent on leave after a tweet from the spokesperson’s official Twitter handle was viewed as an insult by veterans. The controversial tweet, which was in response to a remark made by a former Indian Navy chief, is another example of the attitude of some in the civil administration towards the uniformed forces. The fallout in both cases has been unsavoury to say the least, highlighting the vital intangible called ‘civil-military’ relations.
  • There is a delicate thread that links the uniformed and non-uniformed sections. Pride in one’s job should not translate to contempt for another’s job. The civil administration has challenges that no uniformed person ever faces, such as the pressures from social strife, economic hardships, and law and order. The uniformed services, on the other hand, see themselves as protectors of the nation even at the cost of their own lives. This requires implicit faith of the soldier, the sailor and the airman in their leadership. A commander’s order is sacrosanct and a soldier on the front line follows it unflinchingly despite knowing that he could lose his life the next moment. It is this implicit faith that permeates the psyche of a uniformed person based on the belief that his commander is supreme and will always look after his interests as well as those of his family. This is how the military works, by laying emphasis on the point that military effectiveness requires a military culture that is different from that of a civilian’s. This is the heart of the ‘chip on the shoulder’ feeling that drives a soldier to sacrifice his life at his superior’s command.
  • Core issues

  • So, just as a uniformed force must acknowledge the expertise of the civil administration, so too should the latter respect and ensure that a soldier does feel a bit special. ‘Feeling special’ is not the customary platitudes on television, political rallies and slogans in times of conflict, but in finding solutions to the everyday pressures that a soldier and his family face, such as issues of pay and allowances, precedence with civilian counterparts, a lack of good schooling on account of frequent postings, housing issues, land litigation and the like. This results in healthy civil-military relations.
  • At the heart of civil-military relations are two questions that Professor Mackubin Owens of the Institute of World Politics, poses in an essay. First, who controls the military and how? Is there civilian control or has it degenerated into civilian bureaucratic control? Second, what degree of military influence is appropriate for a given society? While direct intervention in domestic affairs is a big no, on the other extreme is the utilisation of the armed forces in happenings that should logically come under the civilian domain.
  • Here is another example. Worrisome air pollution levels in Delhi have been in the news and a Twitter post focussed attention on the lack of faith in the civil bureaucracy in tackling the issue. ‘Bring in the army,’ said the poster. Not good, I would say, but one can explain this as a follow-up to the Army being called in to construct railway foot overbridges in Mumbai and even clear up litter left behind by tourists in the hills of north India. There are pitfalls when lionising translates to deification.
  • Do not deify the military

  • Deification of the military could lead to resentment among certain sections of society. And here is where the politician comes in: using the armed forces very often as a bulwark to sort out civil issues is detrimental to military philosophy. So also is the absence of oversight to prevent civilian bureaucratic control and delays in resolving the problems service personnel face. The trick is to anticipate and prevent a Bomdila type incident so that ‘superior judgment is not required to firefight something that could have been prevented had those superior skills been used at the right time’.
  • An unequal civil-military dialogue, wherein a soldier begins to doubt his ‘uniqueness’ (not deification) in society does not bode well for good civil-military relations. Similarly, the important role played by the civilian bureaucracy in governance should be acknowledged. Civil-military relations is an art that require delicate nursing through statesmanship. Good leadership from both sides is the key to preventing new Bomdilas.
  • Legacies crucial for the commons

    Why Gandhi and Marx are more relevant now than ever before

  • The 150th birth anniversary year of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and the 200th birth anniversary of Karl Marx went by this year. Such anniversaries can become occasions of tokenism — for instance, the Indian government has set up a committee with more than 100 members to coordinate celebrations of Gandhi’s anniversary, crammed with political bigwigs from various parties, a few academics and Gandhian workers. I am sceptical it has achieved much more than a significantly heightened scale of the hypocritical display that October 2 brings around every year. Hopefully I’m mistaken, but since any meaningful homage to Gandhi would call into question the very fundamentals of today’s political and economic power, and point a sharply critical gaze at the rampant abuse of religion and nationalism, I think I’m pretty safe in being sceptical. And so too perhaps for Marx, at least where the celebrations are being led by so-called revolutionary governments in those parts of the world where Leftist parties still hold power.
  • This does not mean that these two figures are of no relevance now. On the contrary, they are even more so than before. Their legacy is crucial for the majority of the world’s population, marginalised by capitalism, statism, patriarchy and other structures of oppression. As it is for the rest of nature, so badly abused by humanity. And it is a legacy that is still alive and thriving, not so much in the orthodox Gandhian and Marxist organisations and in academic circles where the tussle between the two ‘ideologies’ is more dominant than the urge to make them relevant to the struggles of the marginalised, as in these struggles themselves.
  • Resistance and construction

  • And so we must turn for hope to the many movements of sangharsh (resistance) and nirman (construction) throughout the world. These movements realise that the injustices they are facing, and the choices they must make, are not bound by the divides that ideologues play games with.
  • Let’s take sangharsh. At any given time in India, there are dozens of sites where Adivasis, farmers, fisherpersons, pastoralists and others are refusing to part with their land or forest or water to make way for so-called development projects. One thousand farmers have filed objections to their lands being taken up by the Prime Minister’s pet project, the bullet train. News that is both inspiring and depressing keeps coming from Latin America, of indigenous people standing up for their territorial rights against mining and oil extraction, and all too frequently paying the price when state or corporate forces kill their leaders. Nationwide rallies were organised by the National Alliance of People’s Movements and the Ekta Parishad in October. They involved movements for land and forest rights, communal harmony, workers’ security and other causes that are not so easy to place in any ideological camp.
  • The same goes for nirman, or the construction of alternatives. Across the world there are incredible examples of sustainable and holistic agriculture, community-led water/energy/food sovereignty, worker takeover of production facilities, resource/knowledge commons, local governance, community health and alternative learning, inter-community peace-building, reassertion of cultural diversity, gender and sexual pluralism, and much else.
  • It is in many of these alternative movements that I find inspiration for building on the legacies of Gandhi and Marx (and Ambedkar, Rabindranath Tagore, Rosa Luxemburg and various luminaries) and, equally important, on the many indigenous and Adivasi, Dalit, peasant and other ‘folk’ revolutionaries through history. There are many examples that dot the Indian landscape: the few thousand Dalit women farmers who have achieved anna swaraj (food sovereignty) in Telangana while also transforming their gender and caste status; the several dozen Gond Adivasi villages in Gadchiroli that have formed a Maha Gram Sabha to stop mining, and work on their own vision of governance and livelihood security; a Dalit sarpanch near Chennai who combines both Marxist and Gandhian principles in his attempt to transform the village he lives in. Similarly, there are others across the world: a thousand people have experimented with anarchic community life in the ‘freetown’ of Christiania in Copenhagen for four decades; indigenous peoples in Peru, Canada and Australia have gained territorial autonomy; small peasants in Africa and Latin America have sustained or gone back to organic farming; fisherpersons in the South Pacific have their own network of sustainably managed marine sites.
  • What I find of significance in many resistance and alternative movements is the exploration of autonomy, self-reliance, people’s governance of politics and the economy, freedom with responsibility for the freedom of others, and respect for the rest of nature. While these movements do often call for policy interventions from a more accountable state, there is also an underlying antipathy to the centralised state, as there is in both Gandhian swaraj and in Marxist communism and in many versions of anarchy. Private property is also challenged. In 2013, the Gond village Mendha-Lekha in Maharashtra converted all its agricultural land into the commons. Note that commons here does not mean state-owned, a distorted form of ‘communism’ that has prevailed in orthodox Leftist state regimes.
  • Bridging gaps

  • And while Gandhi was weak on challenging capital, and Marx on stressing the fundamental spiritual or ethical connections amongst humans, these movements often tend to bridge these gaps. Insofar as many of them integrate the need to re-establish ecological resilience and wisdom, some even arguing for extending equal respect to other species, they also encompass Marx’s vision of a society that bridges humanity’s ‘metabolic rift’ with nature, and Gandhi’s repeated emphasis on living lightly on earth. With this they also challenge the very fundamentals of ‘development’, especially its mad fixation on economic growth, reliance on ever-increasing production and consumption, and its utter disregard for inequality.
  • This is not to suggest that Gandhi and Marx can be happily married; there are points of tension (for instance, on the issue of non-violence as a principle). There are points of ambiguity in recognising that indigenous peoples have already lived many elements of their dreams. But I have found enough in grassroots movements to be convinced that there is critical common ground amongst them, if our ultimate goals are well-being, justice, and equity, based on ecological wisdom. We would do well to honour their legacy by identifying such common ground and building on the struggles and creativity of ‘ordinary’ people in communities across the world.
  • Remembering Iravatham Mahadevan

    He knew more about Indian epigraphy and the linguistic aspects of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan than some specialists

  • I heard the news on Monday morning of the passing of Iravatham Mahadevan and was deeply saddened. Mahadevan, or Jani as his friends called him, was a special person of extraordinary talent and a much-respected scholar despite his having worked in administration for most of his professional life.
  • I met him first in 1968. I had received a small book from Asko Parpola of the University of Helsinki: it was his initial attempt at deciphering the Indus script. The news that I had a copy spread quickly and I was inundated with callers asking to borrow the book. One of the calls was from Mahadevan: he introduced himself as the Director of Modern Bakeries in Delhi but added that he spent his spare time working on epigraphy and on the Indus script. He added very quickly that he was not a man of idle fantasies but a serious student of the subject. He said he only wanted to come to my house and sit in a corner and read the book, so I took a chance and invited him.
  • I was startled to discover that he was more knowledgeable about Indian epigraphy and the linguistic aspects of Dravidian and Indo-Aryan than some of the specialists. So we got talking on and off on what he was doing and there were even long telephone calls discussing his theories. This also resulted in a friendship between him and his wife and my mother and myself. He maintained that Gowri made the softest idlis and so she did and we would go to their home for an occasional Sunday brunch.
  • Two interests

  • His main interests were two. One was the study of the adaptation of the Brahmi script to Tamil, what came to be called Tamil Brahmi, which was available in large numbers of short inscriptions scattered in south India. The second was the decipherment of the pictograms from the Indus Civilisation, based on the seals in the main, and found in large numbers at Indus sites — what is often called the Indus script.
  • The first was relatively easier once the language of the inscriptions was recognised as Tamil. It required a few small adjustments which Mahadevan recognised and that he worked out and that enabled him to read them. They had names of people and recorded small gifts. But they were, significantly, the earliest written records in Tamil, dating to a couple of centuries before the Christian Era and continuing for a few centuries. Both the names and the locations of the inscriptions, which were often found on rock surfaces, were important. Mahadevan became quite an explorer of the south Indian landscape in searching for the inscriptions. He published the corpus with readings and annotations in 1966 but the major volume was published as Early Tamil Epigraphyfrom the Earliest Times to the Sixth Century A.D. by Harvard University Press in its prestigious series, the Harvard Oriental Series, in 2003.
  • Deciphering the Indus script

  • The work on deciphering the Indus script was a far more complicated study on which he spent half a century. His was not a hit-or-miss reading of what the symbols might represent. He applied the rules of linguistics and determined by positional analysis what might have been grammatical forms. As in all his work, his essentially rational approach was impressive. He realised that there was a need for an up-to-date concordance of all the symbols, so he spent some years preparing this. It was published by the Archaeological Survey of India in 1977 as The Indus Script: Texts, Concordance and Tables.
  • From this Mahadevan moved to examining individual symbols and testing readings in possible languages. He was initially more inclined to read them as designations. Gradually he arrived at an interesting linguistic relationship where he argued that the Harappans were Dravidian speakers with their own distinctive culture and religion. The presence of the later Indo-Aryan speakers led to some degree of cultural and religious inter-connections that are apparent in the sources of the post-Harappan period.
  • In some ways he continued the earlier tradition of some of the administrator-scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries. What was truly amazing was that he was professionally so good as an administrator and yet, at the same time, was acknowledged as a scholar of a dimension that many of the best scholars would envy.
  • Rules for a resolution

    Ajit Doval’s visit to China presents an opportunity to take stock of the boundary question

  • National Security Adviser Ajit Doval’s visit to China for the 21st edition of Special Representatives talks presents an opportunity to take stock of the dos and don’ts related to the resolution of the boundary dispute.
  • First, China has resolved all its continental land borders, except with India and Bhutan. In those instances, the U.S. was neither an ally nor a key defence partner of that counterpart country. New Delhi’s blossoming maritime ties with the U.S. implies that the India-China frontier will remain an expedient pressure point in Beijing’s playbook, to signal disaffection. Full resolution will have to await that as-yet distant day when New Delhi is willing to elevate its ties with Beijing at par with Washington. Vigilance and patience are counselled in the interim.
  • Second, the lack of a medium-term resolution does not preclude the two countries narrowing their boundary-related differences. Each easing cycle in Indian-China ties, going back to the establishment of the Special Representatives mechanism in 2003, has witnessed an initial focus on repair and stabilisation on the ground followed by a successful effort at narrowing the underlying dispute at the table. With the ‘Wuhan spirit’ as the backdrop, the recent effort to link up military headquarters and regional commands with hotlines bodes well for an intensive phase of settlement-related discussions after the general election next year.
  • Third, none of China’s 12 territorial settlements has been concluded under duress or reflects an obsession with cartographic detail. Rather, an opportunity cost-based calculus tied to good neighbourliness has prevailed. The received wisdom that New Delhi can leverage its American relationship or the Dalai Lama to extract a stiffer bargain on the boundary is wrong. Both recent periods of effusive Indo-American warmth (2007-2010 and 2015-2017) witnessed more, not less, pressure on the boundary.
  • Fourth, while India has been admirably flexible in accommodating a variety of dispute settlement modes, including third-party arbitration, a solitary principles-based package approach has characterised China’s territorial settlements. Mr. Doval’s preference for a bottom-up approach that clarifies specific points of contention along the Line of Actual Control is unlikely to find purchase with State Councilor Wang Yi. That said, it is nowhere written in stone that a package-based settlement must extend across every inch of the frontier all at once. Mr. Doval should aim to realise an early harvest settlement that delimits a substantial portion of the boundary in the east and west, while shelving the most intractable points to a future date when India and China are more geopolitically supportive of each other’s aspirations in Asia and the world.