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Mainstream, VOL LIII No 1, December 27, 2014 - Annual Number

Face of the New World Order / Human Rights: Basic Issues / Prime Minister’s Predicament

Saturday 27 December 2014

From N.C.’s Writings

Face of the New World Order

Turmoil in heaven—the heaven which is presided over by the supreme superpower of the day, possessing History’s largest number of deadly nuclear bombs and missiles, the Cruise to the Patriot, who at the same time lords it over the world’s largest money-lending bank. Yes, in such a country advertised the world over as the ultimate repository of power and affluence—in the mighty United States of America—there has erupted a spate of violence brought about by fierce racial hatred.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rulers of the USA triumphantly claimed that they were the real victors of the Cold War, the doughty upholders of freedom and democracy. Soon after, President Bush flamboyantly talked of building a new world order—of course, under the leadership of the United States of America. Today Bush’s new world order lies in a shambles amidst the debris of the race riot in glittering Los Angeles touched off by the release of the guilty White policemen charged with public brutality upon a Black citizen. The words of Bill Clinton, one of the challengers of Bush in this year’s presidential poll, bring out of the real face of this Market paradise:

The crisis in California is now our fire bell in the night. We are not a community anymore. We have too many people who are totally divorced from life, too many people without a home, a job, without a future. Government of, by and for the American people does not exist for millions of American people.

The magnitude of the sense of shock that the California episode has touched off round the world can be gauged from the fact that President Mitterand of France has taken the extraordinary step of commenting adversely on the sorry state of affairs in the USA with pointedly adverse reference to President Bush’s domestic policy record. France is no insignificant power, nor is the USA an insignificant ally of France. Perhaps this is the first case of a member of the club of the world’s great powers, the exclusive G-7, coming out in open criticism of the internal affairs of another member of the great-power club. The cracks are becoming increasingly difficult to cover up.

Another incident of recent occurrence sharply brings out that everything is not lovely in the garden of the affluent North. Germany, which has emerged as the aspiring superpower dominating Europe, the new burgeoning European Community, is overtaken by an internal crisis. The Foreign Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany, Genscher, has suddenly resigned from the government and has retired. Genscher is no run-of-the-mill politician. He has had the longest innings of all the present Foreign Ministers of Europe. He was the architect of the policy that led to the unification of Germany and the merger of East Germany into the FRG. Although no adequate explanation has been given about Genscher’s resignation from the government, it appears that he stepped down from office because of the mounting criticism of the very act of German unification.

For the last two years, Genscher alongwith Chancellor Kohl basked in the euphoric sunshine as the author of the long-looked-for unification of the German fatherland. This year the sunshine has disappeared, and in its place have come dark, lowering clouds. The prevailing unprecedented strikes and industrial unrest provide a measure of the difficulties besetting the country. The social and economic consequences of the unification have cut heavily into the popularity of the German Government. Not only the updating of East Germany’s economy, but the arrival and merger of the millions from that region into the well-knit German society and economy, could not but have their deleterious impact. Not that this was not anticipated by the more far-seeing in the German intellectual community, but neither the magnitude nor the intensity of the problems thrown up was clearly spelt out by the political leadership, which only sought to cash in on the accomplishment of the unification itself. This is the sombre background of Genscher’s sudden resignation from the German Government.

These two incidents, the California riots and Genscher’s retirement, though far apart, brings home to perceptive observers of the international scene that the end of the Cold War is not going to usher in an era of peace and tranquillity at least in the Western world. Now that the bogey of the Soviet threat can no longer be exploited—the main fare of the Cold War menu—the governments of the North, each of them, will have to face formidable problems at home. It is getting abundantly clear to the public of these countries that with all the excitement about the triumph of democracy over totalitarianism, the problems of socio-economic concern cannot be pushed under the carpet, rather they have to be inscribed on the agenda of the day. If the command economy has collapsed in the vast stretch from Berlin to Vladivostok and from Budapest to Alma Ata, it does not necessarily follow that the Market can bring the manna from heaven.

All this brings out how hollow is President Bush’s new world order. The onset of turbulence in the USA and Europe cannot be dismissed as a passing phenomenon. Rather these are the indicators of the malaise for which the market system has no cure. The entrenched establishments of the North can no longer pass the burden of the market economy on to the back of the underdog of their own countries. The assertion of democracy on a world scale has had its inevitable impact on the common public of the developed world. In this new awakening, the underprivileged and the less privileged are no longer going to take things lying down.

In this predicament, it is but natural that the bosses of the North should turn to the South to squeeze it, so that their own profits, power and affluence may be maintained. It is not without significance that Carla Hills’ bullying against India should come about the same time as the Blacks in anger poured out into the streets of California. It is the same driving force of super-profit that has led Washington to try to blackmail both India and Russia not to negotiate the rocket sale deal, so that our country is compelled to buy the US rocket at a higher price, or close down its own indigenous satellite communication.

The super-profits of the giant multinationals have to be ensured at all costs, and hence an extra dose of squeeze of the developing countries. The design behind the GATT Dunkel Draft and Carla Hills’ Super-301 is the same—how to capture wholesale the market of the Third World while stifling all possibilities of the Third World having a foothold on the world trade.

This is a new variant of the economic strategy behind the East India Company that enabled the financing of the Industrial Revolution right upto the seizing of the market of the colonies whose indigenous industries were exterminated to make room for the super-profit for the British business. The City was the engine of the Raj. It is a similar axis between the Multinationals, the Fund-Bank and the President, all converging on Washington that has been trying to draw up the blueprint of a new world order in the period of the technological revolution.

But if the empires came tumbling down beginning with the one in India, as the unlettered millions were awakened and led to freedom by a frail man whom the imperial ideologue of the day had sneeringly called the half-naked fakir, today too the mighty humanity of the Third World, far more aware than their forefathers in the first half of the century, would give no peace to the descendants of the Raj tradition who occupy the White House and the other power-centres in the North. Compared to those in the imperial era, the great powers of today have to face a far more awakened humanity in the Third World, because it has tasted freedom and would not let it go.

Secondly, in the countries of the North, the public opinion today is much more vigilant in defence of democracy and freedom anywhere in the world. The democratic pretensions of the rulers in the North can be seen through much more easily by their own people as also by the Third World. This can be seen very clearly in the troubles that beset President Bush and his fellow-travelling rulers of the North as they are confronted by the combined stand of the environmentalists in the North with the large contingent of the governments of the South in drawing up the inventory of business for the Rio conference.

All this is bound to have its impact on the vigilant public of our country. The policy of the supplicant with the begging bowl that Manmohan Singh has come to symbolise today, both at home and abroad, will not prevail. Already this policy, dictated by the World Bank, is becoming hard to implement at home. Add to it the pathetic image of the United States as a house getting divided against itself, trying to play the Big Bully abroad. No self-respecting citizen of this great country can be cowed down by such braggadocio, and those who prefer to kowtow to such bullying shall soon find it too hot to run the affairs of this country.

On the other hand, the bonds of common struggle for democracy and social justice shall be forged in no time between the crusaders for a just order in the North, whether they are at Los Angeles or New York, London, Paris or Berlin, or for that matter in Moscow and Tashkent, with the mighty legion of the deprived and the dispossessed in the far-flung Third World. It is a shame that neither our democratically elected government, nor the ruling party that backs it, has uttered, uptil the moment of writing this column, a word of solidarity with those millions in the United States fighting back a new brand of apartheid.

Let us not harbour the servile mentality of a debt slave.

(Mainstream, May 16, 1992)

Human Rights: Basic Issues

The government’s decision to set up a National Human Rights Commission is a significant indication of its being able to read the signs of the times. The Prime Minister has made the eloquent claim about his government’s commitment to upholding human rights: “We must send a clear message that we do not tolerate violation of human rights.” He at the same time conceded that “there is need to identify the weaknesses, the gaps between pronouncements and action, and between legislation and its implementation”.

There is a veritable wave on the global plane today for the assertion of human rights. This is part of the democratic upsurge on a world scale. Long before the present groundswell for human rights in many parts of the world, it is worth recalling that our country has had a long tradition of struggle for human rights. Before independence, this was known as the movement for civil liberties. In fact, this was an offshoot of the freedom struggle, because one of the tenets of the Indian independence movement was that it never deviated in its commitment to democracy, and, therefore, its leaders upheld civil liberties.

In the thirties, Jawaharlal Nehru himself was once the President of the All India Civil Liberties’ Union. This was not a party outfit of the Congress—its separate identity was always respected just as it could attract many personalities of a liberal disposition who would not toe the Congress line at that time. The Civil Liberties’ Union survived after independence though its complexion was perceptibly changed by then; the ruling Congress establishment lapsed into inactivity, while the radical and Left critics of the government became more prominent in it, and only a handful of liberals who could keep their rapport with the radical activists, only they stayed on in the Civil Liberties’ Union. Chakkarai Chettiar, a grand old liberal from the South, was its last President, sometime about 1950-51. After that the organisation was hardly heard of, and it ceased to be even a letter-head organisation.

With the promulgation of the Constitution and the setting up of elected governments both at the Centre and the States, the impression went round that a civil liberties organisation would have little to do in the new democratic dispensation ushered in by the new Constitution. This was not a very far-fetched impression, particularly in the first two decades after independence. There prevailed in the country what can be termed as the Nehru stamp on our political functioning, and this spread over the entire public life. Cases of repression were few and far between in that period.

The scenario changed to a large extent after that period. Roughly it was from the mid-sixties that one could discern a perceptible change. An important area of conflict could be identified in the rural sector. Roughly this was the period of the Green Revolution. Alongwith increased food production, the Green Revolution brought about a significant change in agrarian relations. The increased food production as a result of the new agricultural technique set by the Green Revolution was not evenly distributed. It was cornered by the rich farmer community who owned the land and had the means to exploit the new facilities offered by the intensive cultivation prescribed by the Green Revolution. At the other end, the poor peasant and the agricultural labourer were reduced to the category of wage-earners. The old feudal relations were replaced by the more palpable class antagonism of the modern market. Clashes and tensions spread in many parts of the countryside.

This was the objective backdrop of the wave of militant activism in the rural sector, symbolised by what has come to be known as Naxalism. The rich farmer, more powerful than his effete zamindar predecessor, could afford to keep his armed gang in place of the old lathials, and the militant activist also resorted to the gun—inspired at the beginning by Mao’s teachings and clung on to them even when Maoism was dethroned on its native soil. It is worth recalling that about this time, a Union Home Ministry in-house survey of the new surge of armed conflicts in the countryside, delivered a very significant warning that the Green Revolution “might turn red”.

At the national political level, the scene had changed considerably by then. The old monolith of power that the Congress had been at the time of independence was broken. The party began to lose power in different parts of the country, and with the onset of the seventies, the party itself got split. Followed a new phase of lacerated politics, in which all sorts of permutations and combi-nations among political parties led to almost chronic instability. Regional parties got an opening and the entire political spectrum became a veritable mosaic of motley combinations.

The inexorable climax was reached by Indira Gandhi’s imposition of the Emergency, when democratic liberties were snuffed out and for the first time since independence, an authoritarian rule emerged in this country. The Emergency itself was the barometer of the political insecurity that gripped Indira Gandhi, and it meant the total suppression of all civil liberties. Human rights became an anathema for the new establishment.

The experience of the Emergency made large sections of public opinion aware of the need for a movement of civil liberties and democratic rights, and the collapse of the Emergency provided the necessary fillip for such a movement. That was how there came up immediately after the 1977 general elections, a whole host of organi-sations and initiatives among political workers, social activists, lawyers, journalists and among the youth which led to the formation of active human rights organisations in this country.

It was in this new awareness in concerned sections of the public, coupled with an alerted press, that many of the blatant violations of human rights got exposed. The exposure of the killing of activists in custody with the pretence of their being victims of encounters with the police got widespread publicity and in some cases even judicial strictures. The barbarous torture of suspects in police lock-up; the inhuman incarceration of undertrial prisoners for years, sometimes for decades; the infamous Bhagalpur blinding—all these and many other forms of atrocity, the climax reaching with the pogrom of the Sikh community in November 1984— all these could be highlighted in a systematic manner through the services of human rights organisations.

With the proliferation of social evils like dowry deaths, caste oppression and the revival of some of the superstitious practices, the role and responsi-bility of the human rights movements has grown tremendously in our country.

With the spread of violent confrontation between militant groups and the armed forces of the state involving largely police and paramolitary forces apart from the Army at some places, new challenges confronted the human rights organi-sations. These armed confrontations have inter-national dimension as in the case of Kashmir and Punjab. Naturally, in such confrontations innocent people become the victim in many cases. This raises a very complex question before the human rights activists: should those who observe no human rights principles in dealing with their adversaries in open armed combat, be entitled to the protection of the human rights movement? In other words, should human rights be extended to those who in practice violate human rights in dealing with their adversaries?

This is a question which baffled many a society over the centuries. Much can be said in favour of it or in opposing it, and such debates can go on endlessly until the cattle come home.

There is the more fundamental question which has confronted many all over the world. In a society where there is blatant inequity, and a large section of the population is condemned, for no fault of their own, to a life of persecution and constant deprivation, would not any talk of defending human rights be reduced to a luxury of the rich and the powerful? The Black in the USA or South Africa, the Harijan in India, or the underdog in any of the developed societies—is he or she not entitled to the Right to be Human before one talks of human rights to them? But there is another way of looking at the same question: if human rights are enforced and democratic liberties ensured, that itself helps to a large measure the fight against social injustice.

One hopes that the National Human Rights Commission, when it is set up, will take up its mission with such basic issues in mind, and not reduce itself to a post office for complaints and grievances.

(Mainstream, October 3, 1992)

Prime Minister’s Predicament

Robin Raphel came and went as was expected at the present state of Indo-US relations. The visit of a junior officer of the US State Department was played up by a section of the establishment as if this country has chosen to downgrade itself to the status of a nondescript Timbuctoo, where everything short of a red-carpet and a presidential guard of honour was provided for.

The manner in which she had hit the headlines in the last few months—questioning the very accession of Kashmir to the Indian Union, attacking Indian authorities for human rights violations in Kashmir, and finally equating it with the civil-war crisis in Afghanistan—would normally have got her brickbats more than bouquets. However, despite all this medi-hype, Robin during her New Delhi rounds must have got an idea of the fall-out of her impertinent pronouncements from the entire spectrum of public opinion from the Union Home Minister right upto the corporate sector luminaries like Raunaq Singh, who minced no words in telling her off.

Rabin Raphel on her part tried to be circumspect in New Delhi, avoiding what she called, “to get into history” over the Kashmir dispute, focussing not on how it started but how it can be ended, through negotiations and political process. One got the impression that her provocative statements on Kashmir in the past were as calculated as the sweet reasona-bleness in New Delhi—stoking the confrontation posture and then playing the conciliator.

There is no reason to get excited, one way or the other, over Robin Raphel’s performance in Washington or New Delhi. More important for us is to understand the US strategy in handling the South Asian situation, particularly the Indo-Pakistan crisis. Officially the US position is that it is anxious to defuse the eye-ball-to-eyeball confrontation between the two neighbours as this might touch off a nuclear war. The reality is that the Pakistan military establishment enjoys strong backing from the Pentagon.

Those who held the view that with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Pakistan’s importance in the US strategic map has gone down, are mistaken since the USA needs a strategic foothold in the region to oversee the entire spectrum from Sinkiang in the east to Iran in the west with the newly emerging Central Asian republics with their rich mineral deposits and proximity to the sprawling giant of Russia which might again rise from its present torpor—the new Crescent of Crisis as Olaf Caroe would have called it. Despite the fiasco in Afghanistan where the US operated through its trusted military junta in Pakistan, there is no question of the Pentagon or the State Department abandoning Islamabad. Benazir Bhutto has an effective lobby within the Democratic Party which enabled the silent US mediation to bring about a rapprochement between her and the military junta, so that she could provide the democratic facade of an elected government with the military bosses ruling the roost.

It is in this context that one has to examine the latest US move to supply F-16 aircraft to Pakistan. There is no question that Washington has to placate the military brass at Islamabad. In fact, the morale of this junta needs to be boosted particularly after its failure so far in its active proxy war against India by despatching armed secessionists into the Kashmir Valley. The F-16s are thus very much needed to signal Pentagon’s unwavering support for Pakistan’s military bosses. Senator Larry Pressler has also exposed how the additional imperative of placating the Lockheeds has led the Clinton Administration to arrange for the delivery of the F-16 aircraft to Pakistan.

To cover up this dirty deal and to provide a respectable alibi for violating the Pressler Amendment which debars aid to Pakistan because of its nuclear weapons drive, the State Department argument—which Robin Raphel repeated in New Delhi last week—is that this would enable the USA to presuade Islamabad to abandon its nuclear-weapons programme. How hollow this American plea is can be gauged from the fact that Pakistan’s entire nuclear bomb project—Bhutto’s Islamic bomb—has been conceived and worked out over the years with the government there all the time denying it altogether. Nobody in the wide world—not even the US Administration—can take seriously any commitment by the Pak establishment that it would cap its N-bomb programme in exchange for a fleet of F-16s.

More sinister is the further move that the Clinton Administration is going to make—most likely through Strobe Talbott during his visit to New Delhi next month—that since Pakistan has agreed to cap its N-bomb programme, India must do the same. The Indian position reiterated over and over again is that India cannot abandon its nuclear option so long as there is the potential threat from a whole range of countries from China, Central Asian republics right upto Israel, apart from Paskistan. There could be no discriminatory imposition of the nuclear weapons non-proliferation regime on India which on its part would readily give up the nuclear option the very day that is done by all the other nuclear powers particularly those which fall within the range of potential attack on this country.

So, the turning down of the US proposal by India would be exploited by the US that the Pakistan Government could not be disciplined on the nuclear question because India refused to respond to the US proposal. Thus the tables are likely to be neatly turned against India on the nuclear question. As for Kashmir, it appears that the US strategy now is to force third-party mediation—that is, either Washington staging its own Tashkent (that is, a revised version of Camp David) or the good offices of the UN Secretary General for a new version of peace-keeping.

It is in this background that the question of the Prime Minister’s visit to Washington has to be viewed. Since last year, this question has been hanging fire. Washington put off the question until it found that the Prime Minister has not only survived the ordeal of the mini-general election in December, but is now about to complete three years in office. At the New Delhi end, there is considerable eagerness on the part of a good section of the present establishment that Narasimha Rao should soon pay a visit to Washington and call on the chief executive of the only remaining super-power, particularly in the congenial environment created by India’s economic reforms which has earned a lot of kudos in the US corporate sector. Particularly conspicuous in prodding for this Washington trip by the Prime Minister is a well-known business house whose high visibility could be detected among the politicos since the Bofors scandal came into view. The buzz-word of this lobby is that the access to the White House is easier via the corporate sector than the normal diplomatic channel.

While in principle, a meeting between India’s Prime Minister and the US President is unexcep-tionable—in fact a normal practice in normal circumstances—Narasimha Rao has to take into account its impact on the domestic front. With Washington sending F-16s to Pakistan, and planning to pressurise India to abandon the nuclear option, the Prime Minister’s trip to Washington at this juncture can earn him only negative dividends in terms of the government’s standing before the public of this country. Both these items would help the Opposition to beat the government with. In other words, what can Narasimha Roa get out of the projected trip to Washington apart from political devaluation at home?

An extremely cautions person that he is by nature, and seasoned to sense the public mood, this is indeed a difficult choice for Narasimha Rao.

(Mainstream, April 2, 1994)