Thursday, August 30, 2012


While Nehru was making the Tryst of Destiny speech in the hallowed portals of Parliament House the world many believed that this new India would undoubtedly fail. Malthusian theorists had for long argued that India as a concept is too incoherent and it would be a spectacular failure. Cambridge historians during their long discourses in the halls of Oxford and Cambridge further supported these arguments. Yet 65 years later India stands very much as a successful idea.

However to every successful idea there are always challenges. Perhaps this is no different in the case of India and its concept of federalism. In case of Indian federalism the two biggest challengers have been the Kashmiri and the Naga struggle. Yet after 65 years of Independence while the Nagaland crisis has headed for a definitive conclusion the Kashmiri struggle remains in eternal limbo with no way forward. In popular discourse this comparison is often dismissed by constructing the argument that while Kashmir is vital to the interests of India, Nagaland in the faraway east is neither in the politics nor in the popular minds of the people of India. However this is far from the truth if indeed Nagaland or the whole of North East was an aberration in the concept of India why weren’t the Nagas given Independence at the onset? Why Mizos were massacred by fighter planes and why were 5 divisions of army stationed in Assam? Why is AFSPA still in force in Manipur?

These examples point out that contrary to popular expectations like every other part in the country the North East too is vital to the stability of this nation. Abundant mineral resources (uranium in Meghalaya, Shale oil in Arunachal, oil in Assam), proximity to the East Asia and ethnic ties with East Asia alongwith sharing vital border alongside Bangladesh, China and Myanmar makes this region an epicenter of  geostrategic importance. The US interest in Asia Pacific region, the dispute in South China Sea and the “String of Pearls” concept used by China further emphasizes the vital importance of this region. Thus to dismiss the comparison between the Kashmir and the Naga struggle by stating it as imbalanced in terms of importance is naive.

Historical Origins:

The Kashmiri struggle for “Azadi” has centered on a call which perhaps peaked in the 1980’s and 1990’s and has since then lived in the popular discourse of the Indian imagination. If one tracks the historical genesis of this call then one is carried back right to the time of Independence. The indecision of Maharaja Hari Singh the erstwhile ruler of Kashmir in signing the Instrument of Accession, followed by the attack of the tribesmen from Pakistan which eventually resulted in large scare massacre of Kashmiris both Hindus and Muslims is the starting point of the tumultuous period of Kashmir history. Yet modern history perhaps fails to properly shed light between the happenings of post 1950’s and the late 1980’s when terrorism took a ugly shape in Kashmir. History has conveniently forgotten the efforts of Sheikh Abdullah post his release and the demise of Jawaharlal Nehru at a crucial juncture when Shiekh Abdullah was in Pakistan to make a possible settlement. Perhaps history also has conveniently forgotten Jawaharlal Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah two men who could have given shape to the solution of the Kashmir problem.

In comparison the Naga call of separatism started even when the country was being ruled by the Britishers. Although geographically almost inaccessible, small in size and thinner in population the Nagas have always believed in their struggle for existence. After India was independent Government of India tried various measures to solve the Naga issue. Jayprakash Narayan had once famously declared “The Nagas can never be Indians.”The Indian government carried through negotiations right upto the famous meet in Amsterdam which was perhaps nothing short of a spectacle. A sovereign government had to meet rebel leaders and accord them almost equal diplomatic status. In global parlance this was seen as bending over backwards and almost granting secession to the people of Nagaland. And instead a settlement was reached Nagaland today is peaceful and a part of the Indian nation. Yet when closely seen this is only partly the truth. The NSCN-IM for long the torchbearer of the Naga struggle runs almost a parallel government. Replete with its own flag, its own “Foreign Minister”, its own national song and its own icon Phizo Naga...Nagaland is perhaps as close as a sovereign country as it can be.

Comparative Analysis:

So the question is what went right with the Naga struggle and perhaps wrong with the Kashmir struggle that today neither there is peace in Jammu and Kashmir nor even a sense of greater autonomy even after having a separate article and a separate Constitution. This failure stems from shortcomings both at the level of leaders and the subaltern level.

Let us compare the leaders of the two movements. The Kashmiri struggle can perhaps be traced back to the charisma of Shiekh Abdullah while the Naga movement can be traced back to Angami Zapu Phizo. Although both these leaders were charismatic yet fundamentally they were different. While Shiekh Abdullah at the onset desired a diplomatic solution Angami Zapu Phizo was more resolute. While Sheikh Abdullah believed in Nehru and stayed within the borders of the country, Angami choose to direct it from foreign shores. If Syed Geelani is believed to be a present leader of the Kashmiri struggle even if followed by only a section of Kashmiris, then these differences between leaders is even starker. While Geelani responds to Indian government calls for treatment when sick in Mumbai, Thuingaleng Muivah the leader of the NSCN-IM chooses to stay in Thailand and direct the Naga people from foreign shores. This gives certain legitimacy to the Naga leaders while in some circles the Kashmiri leaders are merely perceived as opportunists who live off the same system and merely want concessions in the name of Azaadi. Even among policymakers this creates a certain complacency which is perhaps why never will Syed Geelani be accorded the same status as Thuingaleng Muivah.

A second problem is the basic definition of the word “freedom” for these two sets of people. While the Naga people had a very clear definition of the word freedom in every way this definition is missing in the Kashmiri discourse. There is a clamour for “Azaadi” but the definition of this “Azaadi” is missing. What does this “Azaadi” mean for the poor for the women for the children? Does this “Azaadi” have a clear economic picture? Does this “Azaadi” guarantee freedom against incursion by China or Pakistan? Does these “Azaadi” guarantee that Kashmir will not turn into a second Tibet? Often the Kashmir freedom struggle is compared to the Indian struggle for Independence in searching for legitimacy, but the moot question is that the Indian freedom struggle was not only a victory against oppressors; it was a complete process which involved economic independence among others where political freedom was a culmination of a long drawn process. In the Kashmiri struggle the moot point is to make political struggle the moot point for a complete overhaul and this is perhaps its inherent fault.

In comparison the Naga movement has never identified itself with anything that is remotely Indian even to justify its causes. It has always relied in its Naga identity its historical necessity. It always had a vision and a long term plan down to the payment of taxes in a parallel Naga government. For them political freedom was the culmination of a long drawn process of struggle the roots of which lie in the ethnicity dimensions of the Naga people. It is seen as a war among races the war between the people of the Aryan stock and the Mongoloid stock which is why Thuingaleng Muivah makes a statement by making Thailand his home instead of countries like Pakistan.

A third problem is the composition of the movement. Contrary to popular belief the “Nagas” are not one holistic group of people. The differences between the Angamis and the Ao’s are as stark as perhaps the Hindus and the Muslims in the rest of India. Yet the “Naga” people always emerged as one when the occasion rose. The Kashmiri struggle too initially was founded on the secular concept of Kashmiriyat, the land of the Sufis and the Rishis. Yet with the passage of time this movement turned into a communal movement driven by religion and perhaps hatred. In this process historical injustices committed were barbarically pushed and hidden. While the displacement of Kashmiris Pandits became the focal point of discussion the people choose to ignore the massacre of 1 million Kashmiri Muslims in Jammu as a precursor. Issues like the reservation for displaced Kashmiri Pandits but never reservation for the Kashmiri Muslims who lost almost everything in the tumultuous 1990’s were never discussed.

Kashmiri nationalists often blame the Centre for these injustices but the truth is that the very Kashmiri leaders played into the hands of the divisive powers at work. Instead of holding on to their steadfast ground of Kashmiriyat bred by leaders like Shiekh Abdullah they choose to play along communal lines. In this process they alienated their movement from the rest of Kashmir and in trying to gain sympathy of a growing surge of Islamic solidarity lost their very grounds for “Azaadi’ the Kashmiriyat or their virtues of secularism. They choose to ignore the fact that for leaders like Shiekh Abdullah and people of Kashmir “Kashmiriyat” was the chorus to freedom and not perhaps Shariat. To say that divisive forces didn’t try to divide the Naga forces would be a gross understatement. The differences between the NSCN-IM and NSCN-K the Angami and the Ao Nagas were substantially used by the divisive forces to dismantle the Naga movement. Yet such differences never worked; when the situation demanded the Naga people stood as one. If the Hindus and Muslims are seen as two ethnic or merely two communities this breakage of solidarity among the two chief communities perhaps was another major breaking point of the Kashmiri struggle.

And argument is often put forward that because Pakistan is ready to stroke the fire at the Kashmiris hearts the issue never reaches a settlement. Interestingly however the Kashmiri leadership has always been more accommodating than perhaps the Naga leadership. Yet the Naga leadership has never called for mass strikes or curfews or stone throwing sessions. It is notable that the same AFSPA that is applicable for Jammu and Kashmir is applicable for Nagaland. Army brutalities have taken place in every region where the AFSPA has been applicable. Yet the Nagas have never called for mass strikes. So what is the long term benefit of these measures not being taken by the Naga leadership? In this way they are securing the future of their own citizens. The Naga students are never faced with the closure of 6 months of academic sessions, their future are secure. The Naga fight for rights has never harmed its own citizens but the Kashmiri struggle has.

So in the end what is the meaning of this comparative study? Is it to discuss ways to end India as a concept? The answer is an emphatic NO. A nation lies not within in lands but within its people. As observers it should be our concern to discuss ways to achieve peace and this paper is perhaps a reflection of that road to peace while still perhaps clamoring for the call of greater autonomy a change in the federal structure of India. Nagaland is a prime example of how peace can be achieved even while existing within the shadow of the Indian identity. Perhaps it is time the Kashmiri leadership and people did the same. Enough blood has been spilled in the name of Azaadi in the streets of Lal Chowk. Peace has to be given a chance in this valley of Dreams. The golden dream of “Kashmiriyat” needs to be relieved again. It is perhaps time to achieve independence and peace for each Kashmiri individually and the road to that is for them to walk!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Dear people of Assam,

I grew up in the 1990’s one of the most difficult era of our times. My cousins today don’t realize what a time it was during the 90’s.I grew up hearing stories of how people we knew had been killed by the army. I hear counter stories of how “our boys” combated the Indian army. Sometimes I felt proud and at other times I didn’t know how to respond. I never witnessed an Independence Day a Republic Day function in my life .Those were the days of Doordarshan and it had its staple diet of nationalism, one in which I ended up bathing. And it was in this euphoria that once during the Independence Day I drew an Indian flag on paper and put it atop our house. Immediately I was slapped and brought to senses. Not because my parents were anti-nationals but because they didn’t want to incur the wrath of “the boys” who had eyes and ears everywhere.

As I grew up I was pulled between my national sentiments and my strong sub regional aspirations that began to find expression in my thoughts and my actions. It was perhaps during my 15th or 16th year that I realized that the grandiose dream of India that I had seen in Doordarshan all my life was not true entirely. My history also spoke of the brave Lachit Phukan who trounced the Mughal 16 times. Barring the Palas in Bengal once we were never conquered by the powers in Delhi not even once. I came to know about the brave Ahoms who ruled for 600 years defying historian’s perceptions of “rise and fall of empires.”And yet when I wanted to read more I couldn’t find anything. For all its glossy paper covers the Macmillan history books which spoke so eloquently about Delhi, South failed to mention Assam ,the NE albeit as a distant region of wild animals and wilder people! Those days internet was not in vogue and this predicament of mine tormented me haunted me. I became a staunch subnationalist and I stopped my attachment towards Independence and Republic Day.

And then as I started leaving my teenage years behind and took the first steps towards adulthood I realized that I had to rethink my own subnationalist aspirations once more. I began to understand that how much I wished to live in the past it was not possible for me anymore. In this global era when boundaries are fast disappearing to talk about territorial sovereignty is almost an oxymoron. Between the choices of staying with India, being independent and staying with China (as many in “mainland India” perceive NE to be!!)I preferred staying with India. Not because I had special attachment to Delhi but because the concept of freedom in my mind had changed its definition.

How could I call myself free when there were the poor languishing in my state? What good would freedom do if we were to be hit by floods ever year .What good would freedom do if we saw our young men and women leave their home at the first chance they get lamenting “lack of opportunities” in their home only to never return? I realized all of this meant nothing. It didn’t matter what national colors I wore what mattered was that poor man in the street was he truly free. My guess is no. Freedom as a concept is perhaps a tool of the middle class and the upper class to fuel their own ambitions firing the gun from the shoulders of the masses.In truth perhaps freedom in today’s world is a lie to fuel one’s own gains. Yes some struggles may be legitimate some may have historical connotations but this is not the 1930-40’s anymore where there is a global surge against imperialism.

And thus I was happy to witness the progress Assam had seen in the past 10 years. The Assamese inside me was content. Finally we were reaching out leaving the idiom of freedom a vague struggle behind and concentrating on development one which is a true lofty goal to be achieved. I felt proud when my friends who arrived from every corner of the country and were pleasantly surprised to find KFC in Guwahati. I felt happy when my friends called up to tell me that Assam had scored off the charts in health, education and other parameters. I finally believed our time had come. We had made peace the Bodos, the Karbis, the Misings; the Dimasas had finally come together albeit in some crude form to some understanding. I believed it was time we would work for a common good.

And once again I was proved wrong. Today as Assam burns I ask myself are we going back to the 80’s once more.18000 people lost their lives in that era a whole generation of people were ruined and today we stand at those crossroads again. It’s time we look at the history once more all of us with a pinch of salt. Immigration -illegal or not- is a universal phenomenon and it’s here to stay .We have to find ways to control it we have to find ways of harmonizing but we cannot let ourselves fall headlong into the tumultuous 80’s-90’s once more. It will take back our state 20 years back.

Some would argue that the way forward should be political freedom for us .Delhi doesn’t understand our feelings Delhi is tyrant. But then the question is who has stopped us from making inroads in Delhi. Delhi didn’t debar politicians from joining North Block, from joining national media, from joining administrative services, army services. When was the last time we heard a strong voice from Assam in the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha? Our MP’s mostly sit in the last benches and in my view talk as less as possible so as to attract minimum attention It’s us we who have decided not be the stakeholders for our own future. And now when hell broke loose we all went back to what we know best -Anarchy. It’s time we leave this quality for striving for anarchy behind. It’s time we bring peace, its time we the people of Assam reassess what we want and how we want it. A friend of mine called me and asked “Are you safe. Oh man Assam has gone back to those dark days once more!”

And I stood there shocked, humiliated and most of all hurt.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Pax Indica-an assesment of Shashi Tharoors latest offing

The past year has been one of the best years for commentators and
who have acutely followed Indian Diplomacy.David Malone's Can the 
Elephant Dance?,NAM 2.0 and now Shashi Tharoors latest Pax Indica have delighted commentators and students alike.

Yet there is a fundamental difference in the way "Pax Indica" has been written.Moving away from the usual moorings of discussion of Foreign Policy ,Tharoor has infused a certain reflective style in the workings of this book.And it is this fact that makes this book an interesting and scholarly read.Tharoor immensely benefited from his stint in UN and MEA has quoted numerous incident from his own experiences that have added to its ingenuity.

The book opens with a reflection about where India stands today and its rich historical legacy.Its quite compelling and sets the mood for the rest of the book.Indeed immediately after that the chapter on Pakistan makes for an interesting read.Tharoor takes a line that is distinctly clear and conclusive. Moving away from chest thumping nationalism and unrealistic Aman Ki Ashaism Tharoor has tried to view Pakistan the way is it as a Foreign Policy predicament.He argues in the end that we have no choice but to engage with Pakistan.In between his own anecdotes about how his interaction with a particular Pakistani TV boss revealed why they have upped their anti India diatribe ,makes for some deep thinking for our hysterical media as well.

With regard to China Tharoor has been even more clear.Usually commentators in India are keen to compare themselves with China in every field .Such a form of removed sense of delusional nationalism has been the joke of foreign commentators.Tharoor brings a new discourse in this field.He clearly argues that in dollar terms or in many other metrics we cannot compete with China.Instead of indulging in a hopeless case of India versus China Tharoor views a world where India and China works more on cooperation. In-fact he echoes David Malone in saying that India's relationship with China will be a mix of economic interests and security disturbances.In recent times this has been one of the most informed comments on Indo-China relations coming from an Indian commentator.

The rest of the chapters on Indo China relations,South East Asia,Latin America ,Africa Europe and Russia are pretty well balanced.While most of these chapters present a picture of what is already known and perceived in academic circles ,his injection of personal anecdotes to highlight failures of Indian Diplomacy in some places are enlightening.Timor Leste a newly independent country with tremendous natural resources and willingness to partner India is one such starking example.Tharoor laments that while even neighboring Pakistan has started working on an embassy in Dili the capital of Timor Leste ,Indian authorities have not woken up from their slumber yet.Such incidents show the typical lack of foresightedness of the MEA which Tharoor however rightly attributes majorly to lack of manpower .Other examples of an Indian expatriate facilitating the opening of Chinese embassy in Monrovia makes for fascinating reading.

When however he moves away from country centric relations to what constitutes foreign policy is when Tharoor is at his explosive best.His penchant for engaging the public to foreign policy and various means to do it not only makes for fabulous reading but also should be noted by the mandarins of the South Block.He also leaves no stone unturned to target the failings of the South Block itself including recruitment procedure for IFS officers and suggests measures to improve it.The expert-bureaucratic dichotomy and the need to engage "experts" couldn't have been explained any better.Further the discourses on "public diplomacy","global governance" etc are particularly engaging.

In the end Tharoor truly romps off home in style by explaining his vision of "Pax Indica".His ending truly reflects why Tharoor is one of the best minds available in matters of foreign policy discourses in the country today.He should be engaged effectively much more by the Indian government for he truly reflects a vision .A vision whose key is rise of India to global prominence.

Friday, August 3, 2012

The Assam riots corrigendum

The past month has witnessed Assam riots occupying the central position in the discourse of political circles, media and intellectuals not to mention the average Indian. Media carried reports and pictures of the horrible carnage that was being played out. The fact that Kokrajhar was a vital linking point between North East and the rest of India further intensified the scenario. Thus we need to understand what the underlying principle behind this debate is. Such debates often seem to end in the “illegal immigrants” rhetoric or at times Hindu versus Muslim (which is very much a misnomer).

Let us start with the Hindu-Muslim discourse. We must understand that Bodos are a tribal society where people have converted to Hinduism and further To Christianity over a period of time. Bodos are a holistic pluralistic society and not one colorful banner of Hindu unity as many perceive it to be.Infact the intra war between BLT and NDFB in the early 1990’s had a stronger religious contention to it.Thus there was no Bodo waging a war to save Hinduism.

The Assamese Muslim society like everywhere else is not holistic monolithic structure either. It has its own divisions between miyas,goalporais,khilonjias etc.In India whenever riots have traditionally targeted Muslims the situation in the whole state has remained tensed. For eg whenever riots occur in UP, the Muslim society of the whole state is cautious. No such situation was played out. The Khilonjias in the state elsewhere were neither harassed nor were they tensed either.This very fact speaks out that they themselves knew this was not a Hindu Muslim conflict as media and a section of communalists on both sides of the social media have played it out to be.It is essentially a conflict between two groups which has been further intensified by governance defaults.

This brings us to the question of governance mismanagement and the larger question of illegal immigration. As much as secularists and government would like to debunk the theory illegal immigration did occur in Assam for a long time. It started with Sir Sadullah brining people from the Mymensigh districts to work in the rice fields of Nagaon. And this trend has continued since then. Anyone who debunks this perhaps fails to understand that migration is a human phenomenon. With poverty rung large on the face of Bangladesh it is only natural that its citizens would be forced to look elsewhere. It has happened in Mexico, it has happened in Somalia so why not Assam. It is a simple question of human existence. And anyone who visits the Indo-Bangladesh border will understand how easy it is to cross the border. Thus those who believe that no illegal immigration can occur, are indeed wrong. Historical evidences sociological perspectives are enough to substantiate that migration has occurred and will indeed continue to occur even without bringing the demographics to question.

Coming to the question of demographics and the so called rise of Muslims in the 11 districts which has rung the caution bells for many.A fundamental question is that is Muslim population rising wrong?The answer is no.But then this population rise has to be read in concurrence with fertility rates, IMR and MMR rates. And when these data are compared then indeed a mismatch is found. The answer is migration. People have migrated to these districts. Now the question we have to ask next is that are there so many people in Assam that migration have occurred at such rapid rates .The answer to this lies in the char areas. These small islands on the river Brahmaputra are an enigma of their own. Some lie with India some with Bangladesh and some are not very sure where their nationalities lie. In many cases their plight is comparable with the plight of the people in the enclaves of the Cooch Behar region.

A section of intelligentsia has argued that the migration and flow of people that occur into Assam have flown into these areas. In many ways this is a correct assessment. Since the char areas are regularly hit by the fury of the Brahmaputra Rivers. That they will migrate to the plains of Assam is only understandable. However Sanjoy Hazarika has successfully shown in his classic work “Rites of Passage” that while there has been a steady inflow of people from the Chars to the mainland yet the Chars are not devoid of people either .Thus without doubt migrations has indeed occurred or continue to occur. What has perhaps changed since the 1990’s is the degree in which this migration has occurred.

Yet the root cause of these riots is not migration it is the balant failure of governance. Once BTAD was declared government failed to address the concerns of the non Bodo people living in these areas. The highhandness of the officials in the BTAD councils only complicated matters. For years now intellectuals in Assam with deep sociological understanding had been warning of a impending crisis in Assam in the subaltern level. These riots are a manifestation of that warning in totality.

Smaller states and autonomous councils have not proved to be a solution anywhere in this country. In NE this has held true all the more. Inspite of being smaller states with high human development index on a few parameters the states have not been able to develop on other scales. The aspirations of the people have remained unfulfilled. As many have argued what is needed in NE today is not territorial sovereignty as many tribes seek out but non territorial sovereignty and regions. While this would seek to fulfill the aspirations of the tribes which have hitherto lived in the fringes it would also cease to become a question which is locked in the debate of further state reorganization. Today declaring one more state would create a volatile scenario for the country. Thus the aspirations of the people have to be addressed in a new manner.

Coming to the question of migrants we must understand the economic resources like land water etc are the moot cause of conflict between communities. They often take the cry of religion caste or language but that is merely a rallying war cry. In reality it is fight between two groups to control resources. One of the prime vital resources in land. Encroachment of land especially those like the ones that have happened in and around Kaziranga National Park must be banned. The government must admit that refugees are a problem and plans must be made to settle them in a cohesive manner. Politics, in the name of these citizens -whether doubtful or established -must be stopped. There is no doubt that the rise of Badruddin Ajmal and his AIUDF in the history of Assam politics is a reflection of this trend. This party cannot call itself a “Muslim” party since it has no support whatsoever among the Muslims of Upper Assam. At best it can be called to cater to the aspirations of a certain section of people. At one point of time an MLA of this party had infact demanded a separate state in Assam based on religious lines. What was unfortunate that it even found acceptance among a section of the youth of this region. Such events bring back the pain of partition to our mind. Hence politics in the name of these certain section of people must be stopped.

Towards this the first step the government must take is updating the NRC roll. Inspite of opposition from all sides the government must go ahead and take this step. Secondly the concepts of D voters must be wiped out. The foreigner detection tribunal in Assam is nothing but a joke and the ground realties of today are such that it’s of no use today. Hence it must be immediately scrapped. Further there must be a discussion on whether we can keep 1971 as the cutoff mark. Is it really possible to identify and deport back people? Historically it has never been possible anywhere else in the world; at best it can give us flashes of the horrors of Neyllie massacre.

The thinking in this matter has to be forward looking as well. The UN has predicted that by 2020 a large number of people in the world will be environmental refugees. There is no doubt that a large number of people in low lying Bangladesh will be rendered homeless in the coming years due to rising sea level. And there is little doubt that they will move towards India. Thus it is in India’s own strategic interest that it helps Bangladesh mitigate the effects of climate change and help it in tackling it.

Politicians’ ,student organizations cutting across party lines must sit down and admit illegal immigration has still persisted as a problem. New approach is required to tackle it. This approach has to be holistic and must encompass development as the fundamental principle. The NE requires a new vision and a new approach to stop it from burning once more.