Mainstream, VOL LV No 15 New Delhi April 1, 2017
Sunday 2 April 2017, by
From N.C.’s Writings
Bombay is burning. Sopore is burning.
Bombay marks the worst of Hindu-Muslim communal violence since the bloody days of the partition that came with the independence of India. The civil aministration having failed, the Army has been called in to put down killing and looting in the country’s commercial capital famous for its cosmopolitan culture.
And Sopore? The Border Security Force under constant attack from the militants fighting for Kashmir’s secession, allegedly launched an attack against the civilian population setting fire to their tenements, in which nearly a hundred reportedly perished. Whatever news about this ghastly operation that could trickle in beating the official censor has horrified large sections of the public.
At one place, the Army is called to enforce civil order and at the other place, rampage by the security forces infuriates the civilian population against the government. In other words, the very forces that the government summons at one place to maintain its authority, destroys the very same authority at another place. The law of diminishing returns plays havoc upon a government using the armed forces to establish its authority at home.
The hazards of using the armed forces to deal with internal disorder have long been acknow-ledged. Only last year, a warning by the Army chief in a press interview created quite a stir but could hardly be denied. He is not the first Army chief to have advised the civil authority on this score. In fact, such internal emergency assignment deflects the armed forces from their primary responsibility of guarding the frontiers of the country from foreign armed attack. Instead, if the Army is ued as an internal police, its own morale has the danger of being undermined while it usurps to itself the role that rightly belongs to the civilian authority. All this is known to our national leaders, and yet they are compelled to use the armed forces because of their having allowed to develop a situation which in reality brings out the bankruptcy of their own policies.
If violene in all its hideousness has arrived in Bombay, it is entirely due to the failure of the government in facing the Ayodhya crisis which itself shook the very foundations of our demo-cratic, secular society. And this failure at Ayodhya has not only damaged our democracy at home but our standing abroad as well. So much so that India has to bear the odium of having to get the SAARC Summit put off because its own Prime Minister could not attend it for the fear of having to face possible demonstrations against him. And if this is the depth to which our prestige has plummeted in South Asia, one may easily imagine how much this in its turn impairs our standing in the world today.
In terms of the durability of our republic, the Ayodhya crisis has brought to the fore for the first time the serious concern of a large body of opinion in this country whether the enbittered polarisation that has been generated between a large section of Hindus and Muslims could be overcome at all, or whether the poison would spread to the five-and-a-half lakh villages where the two communities have been living for ages in harmony and with honour.
One wonders if the perpetrators of the demolition of the Babri Masjid at Ayodhya realised the full impact of their vandalism when they carried out the secretly planned operation on December 6. Because, they have not only hurt the feelings of a minority community which they hate, but they have also in the process despoiled the Supreme Court and defaced the Constitution. To plead that all this is irrelevant in the urge for worshipping Lord Ram does not carry conviction, because behind the whipping of religious frenzy on the part of the political elements involved in the campaign for building the temple by destroying the mosque has been, in the eyes of the discerning observer, the drive to garner votes for accession to power.
Subsequent measures taken to deal with the Ayodhya crisis has not helped to extricate it from the trivial world of petty politics. Neither the ouster of the BJP Governments in four States and the ban on certain parties nor the ordinance acquiring the disputed area as also the setting up of two trusts for building a mosque and a temple, has helped to reinvigorate a sense of confidence in the Central Government, just as the much published campaign against comm-unalism by like-minded political parties has hardly made any impact on the mass mood. All over the country, a sense of hopelessness has crept in about the efficiency of and intention behind any action by the accredited political parties. In other words, the public impression is fast gaining ground about the bankruptcy of political parties in dealing with problems facing the country today.
As for the gruesome incident at Sopore, its fall-out will be no less calamitous. Whatever may be the claims of the authorities, it is generally known that the continued presence of the security forces to deal with any militancy leads to the alienation of the local populace, as it has happened at a number of places in the Kashmir Valley in the last three years. The Sopore incident, however, has much more disastrous impli-cations. The clash between the militants and security forces, by all available accounts, was turned into an all-out attack against the local population of this important town in Kashmir’s apple country, with the BSF virtually carrying fire and sword against the civilian population.
Apart from this amounting to serious violation of the norms of conduct in any military operations, the horrendous incident indicates that whatever public support the Indian authorities might still be retaining in the Kashmir Valley, even that is being recklessly squandered by the very security forces which are supposed to replenish it. Sopore points to the surest way of losing the Kashmir Valley for good for India. It is true that the government has understood the significance of the Sopore tragedy, as two Cabinet Ministers were despat-ched by the Prime Minister to bring him a first-hand report.
But Sopore is not just an aberration. It is an ominous portent of things to come. The temper in the Valley is turning from alienation to antagonism as the Sopore incident underlines, and with more Sopores to come, the militant base will expand and not shrink in the Valley.
At the present moment, our government is excited over the prospect of the British Foreign Secretary accusing the Pakistani authorities of sending arms to the Kashmir militants. This, however, does not rule out the Western pressure, particularly of the USA and Britain, upon India to talk direct to the militants and settle with them on the basis of conceding the essence of their demand, which of course will mean at least autonomy in the real sense. While New Delhi has so long been unable to declare any concessions to win over the militants or their following, it is clear that unless and until the Centre is prepared to concede what may be called the essence of independence—in the shape of extensive autonomy—the Kashmir Valley would be lost to India forever. Here too is a threat to India’s integrity unless the challenge is met boldly and politically.
Bombay and Sopore—unless we are prepared to handle with courage and statesmanship, what prevents us from going the way of Bosnia?
(Mainstream, January 16, 1993)