Sunday, 29 November 1998

Political Loyalties - the Value of Federalism

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

It is a fact of life that a political party or front can secure less than
a quarter of the votes cast and yet come to office. Despite polling
significantly fewer votes than its Hindutva rival, it is the party of
Mulayam Singh Yadav and not that of Kalyan Singh which is in
power in U.P. today. The SJP-BSIP victory confirms the
fragmentation that has come about in the Indian polity, now
divided nationally into four competing streams—the Congress,
the BJP, the Janata Dal and its left allies, and finally the regional
and sectional parties. Each of the four has to compete with the
other three to retain, or expand, its base.

Feudal Roots
With Indian society moving away from its feudal roots to enter
the phase of commercial capitalism, it may not be inappropriate
to use a marketing analogy for the political spectrum and say
that each political party is attempting to increase its ’market
share' at the expense of its rivals. However, just as a marketing
organisation needs a clear picture of its target, Indian political
parties need to recognise the changing realities in the political
market place.

The first change is a loosening of traditional ’brand loyalties',
to use a marketing term again. So far as the national elections are
concerned, this is a process that picked up speed when Indira
Gandhi unilaterally changed the rules of the political game in
1975 by imposing the Emergency and making organised political
structures (including her own) irrelevant. Her preference for
personalised power, as distinct from the consensus-oriented
Congress formula, led to a shift away from her 'brand' that cost
the Congress its hold on power.

The second major change is an increasing pragmatism within 
the electorate, which votes in accordance with the principles of 
enlightened self-interest. It is not abstruse philosophy or universal 
principle that determines voting behaviour, but the price of 
onions or tomatoes. Behind the caste or other sectional appeal of 
parties such as the BSP, the Telugu Desam or the SJP is the 
message that their coming to power will make a positive material 
difference to the lives of the group whose cause they are claiming 
to espouse. 

It is a fact that any society is divided into groups and classes, 
and it is by recognising and cultivating them that the smaller 
political parties build up bases for themselves, usually at the
expense of the mainstream parties that attempt to appeal to
broad aggregates rather than to segments The best example of
such a mainstream party is the Congress, and its recent electoral
history is proof that, just as in marketing the concept of ’niche'
is driving away strategies based on broad-spectrum markets, in
politics the age of the ’niche' electoral segment has finally
arrived. In other words, political parties will now need to
abandon catch-all strategies in favour of more focused messages.

Both the BJP and the Janata Dal are political parties that at
various stages and locations were able to trounce the Congress
by targeting specific segments of the Congress vote bank. In both
these parties, however, there are powerful groups still in the
thrall of the 'mainstream' Congress culture, which would like to
widen the sectional message. In other words, to quit chasing the
niche in favour of the whole. Within the Janata Dal, Ramakrishna
Hegde and Biju Patnaik can be said to represent such a trend,
while within the BJP, the supporters of Atal Behari Vajpayee are
attempting to push the party closer to the mainstream tendency
represented by the Congress.

Unfortunately for such individuals, recent electoral history
confirms the wisdom of the political 'niche marketeers' over
their universalist colleagues. The danger that these marketeers
face, however, comes not from mainstream parties, but from
smaller parties whose sectional messages are even sharper and
more narrowly-focused than their own. While the BJP has thus
far escaped the divisive tendency seen within the Janata Dal, it
is not improbable that hard-line elements may separate from it
and follow their own course.

Small Parties
Does this mean that Indian democracy is fated to witness a
kaleidoscope of small parties, combining and splitting away
from each other? Does this mean that the stability enjoyed by a
single party will soon cease to operate? It need not, provided that
in place of attempting to impose a kind of universality over a
political party, the political leaders favouring a return to the
mainstream see a party not as a homogeneous entity, but as a
group of disparate elements that combine in the manner of a
many-stranded rope. The V. P. Singh formula of a 'federal'
political party, provides an example.

As the largest political party in the country, and one that has
not yet given up its attempts at fashioning a universal message
strong enough to enable it to fend off its 'niche' competitors, the
Congress has a major responsibility in this regard. In the
Nehruvian era, the different units of the Congress functioned
with a wide degree of autonomy, and were therefore able to
formulate policies that were more acceptable to their respective
areas than a broad-spectrum message would have been. Thus the
Congress in Tamil Nadu remained aloof to Hindi while the party
in Uttar Pradesh demanded the spread of the language to all
regions. It was only when Lal Bahadur Shastri imposed uniformity
in 1964-65 and forced the Tamil Nadu Congress government to
take a hard line on the DMK's anti-Hindi agitation that it was
swept out of power in the state in 1967.

More Liberal
Under Indira Gandhi, the 'federal' character of the Congress
disappeared, and the era of nominations arrived with a vengeance.
Rather than come up through the grassroots, the new leaders of
the Congress came from among those who had mastered the art
of wooing the powers that be in Delhi. If one takes the 1971
(garibi hatao) victory as the first successful exploitation of the
materialist tendency then nascent in the Indian voter, it is no
accident that the 1980 victory came at a time when the Congress
was out of office, out of funds and therefore perforce more liberal
in its attitude to the state units.

Two years ago, the long period of 'nomination raj' in the
Congress was brought to an end by holding elections to all
organisational posts. Today there seems to be a return to the
centralised system of the past. In a polity as complex as India, it
is impossible for a single leader to fashion the many subtle
changes in political strategy needed to take account of variations
within the electorate. Rather than a 'high command' decide
whether the Mandalism of a Veerappa Moily or the business-
friendly pragmatism of a Sharad Pawar is more suited to the
political needs of a particular state, it would be better to let the
'market' (i.e. the local party unit) decide.

This is not a call to anarchy. Each broad-based political party
would have a core set of beliefs, allegiance to which would be a
necessary condition of remaining within it. Thus, for example,
belief in secularism would be essential to any member of the 
Congress or the Janata Dal, while a belief in a uniform civil code 
would be necessary for any member of the BJP. However,
outside such 'core' areas, there is scope for freedom of ideological
and organisational choice, and this freedom should be encouraged
rather than curbed.

The Ostrich Option - Ignoring Jabs at Indian Security

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

In school, it is common for those hounded by bullies to seek to
escape the problem by pretending that the offenders do not exist.
Ignoring them, it is hoped, will turn their attentions elsewhere.
Usually, however, the bully gets encouraged by this ostrich
strategy, and continues the harassment till retaliatory action is
taken. Observing the developments in Indo-Pakistan relations
since 1989, it is clear that those who are masterminding—if one
may use such a word—our strategy towards Pakistan have not
learnt any lessons from school. For each assault on India’s
security interests, the response from this country's side is to
reiterate the faded mantra of dialogue.

The reason why 1989 is significant is that it was in that year
that stable majorities disappeared from the Indian political
lexicon. V.P. Singh's tenure, followed by Chandra Shekhar’s
interregnum, and the assumption of office by the minority
government of P.V. Narasimha Rao, have convinced observers
that the era of single party majorities has ended, and is unlikely
to be resurrected. It is no accident that 1989 was also the year in
which the Pakistan—sponsored insurgency in the Kashmir valley

Curbing Insurgency
In every war fought with Pakistan over Kashmir, it has been
clear to Indian commanders that it is crucial that operations not
be confined to that state, but extended along the entire Indo-
Pakistan border. In the same way, it is clear to analysts—
including those within the government—that success in curbing
the fundamentalist insurgency in that state can be achieved only
if the root of the problem—the involvement of Pakistan—is
addressed. So long as Pakistan feels that it will be allowed to get
away with aiding terrorists in the Valley, the problem will
remain. It is only if the costs to Pakistan of such support are
made intolerably high will its assistance to fundamentalists in
the Valley cease. However, at present every escalation in Pakistani
rhetoric and action is met by the (presumably fearsome) expedient
of an official 'protest'. Even the closing down of an entire
consulate has not been sufficient to jolt the MEA.

Within the international community, Pakistan’s attempt at
annexing Kashmir has its most vocal supporter in Turkey. After
that country's repeated expressions of concern over 'human
rights' violations in parts of India, surely it will not be taken
amiss were India to help generate international attention on the
treatment of Kurds by the Ciller regime. India could also host a
delegation of Kurdish leaders from Turkey, who would no doubt
have much to say about the attention being paid to human rights
in that country. Pakistan too needs to be reminded about its
obligations to its religious minorities, its Mohajirs, and its
Ahmediyas. Careful documentation of the discrimination meted
out to these sections could be carried out and made the subject
of an international campaign. India needs to be at least as active
in ’preventing human rights violations’ in Turkey and Pakistan
as these countries are in India.

Turning the other cheek may be the recommended strategy
for religious reformers eager to establish their moral ascendancy.
International relations, however, is not a contest in public school
manners, but a battle of wills and interests. By refusing to
counter the active Pakistani strategy with a similar initiative, this
country is only encouraging Islamabad to continue with its
covert war in Kashmir. The danger in such passivity is that it
may encourage Pakistan's policymakers to intervene not just in
one Indian state but in several. Such a shift may already be
underway, if reports of ISI activity in Thiruvanathapuram,
Hyderabad and Lucknow are correct. Even an open society
needs to defend itself against those who seek to subvert it
through violence. Not taking precautions against such individuals
would be akin to allowing cancer cells to spread. Despite the
evidence in its possession about subversive activities in India,
the Union home ministry has been coy about sharing this
knowledge, whereas it should be made freely available to the
public. The Indian administration’s long association with the
former Soviet Union has evidently resulted in several key
ministries functioning as though they were in Brezhnevite
Moscow rather than in democratic New Delhi.

Subversive Activities
Popular support is essential for public policy to succeed, and
such support can come only if the public is briefed about
secessionist activities. In this, the government has failed, almost
as much as it has in the international sphere, where it is more
India's economic potential rather than an appreciation of the
justice of its position that has prevented most countries from
supporting the Ankara-Islamabad line. During the time of the
Pakistan army’s war against the population of the then East
Pakistan, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi sent envoys around the
word with full details of the genocide. In comparison, present
efforts to educate world opinion about Pakistani support to
terrorism in Kashmir are anaemic. Not, of course, that much
more can be expected of an establishment which permits its
foreign secretary to greet the expelled staff from the closed
Karachi consulate with the familiar hope that there will soon be
talks with Pakistan.

Indeed, the low-key stance adopted by the Indian government
about major technological achievements such as Prithvi and
Agni fuel suspicions that these may be sacrificed. A country has
no need to feel shy about defending its vital security interests,
and yet the manner in which the PMO and the MEA have been
reacting to Agni and Prithvi suggests almost a feeling of apology,
rather than pride. While supporting any steps to prevent cross
border dissemination of strategic technologies, India should
resist efforts to stifle technological development within. In the
coming millennium, India, Japan and China will compete with
the United States and Russia in developing and deploying
strategic technologies, provided there is no sabotage at home.
India which has suffered numerous invasions and enslavements
in its long history, has particular need to be self-sufficient in
defence. The development of Agni and the deployment of
Prithvi will improve the security environment significantly and
act as a deterrent to Pakistani adventurism.

Separatist Impulses
What is even more disconcerting—viewed from the standpoint
of international security—is that influential circles in the United
States and the European Union are flirting with a policy of
’accommodating’ fundamentalist trends. Such an approach was
first tried out in Afghanistan, where the Reagan administration
created an army of religious extremists, who (after having
effectively demolished the Afghan state) are posing threats to
unity in India, Egypt, Algeria and other countries. Within the
U.S. and the EU foreign policy establishments, various formulae
for 'peace' in Kashmir are regularly churned out, almost all of
which presuppose that the state will detach itself from the Indian
Union. The underlying rationale for this presupposition is that
a 'Muslim’ state has no business being in India. This implicit
fragmentation of a polity on the grounds of religion can pose a
threat to stability not just in this country, but eventually in the
West as well. There are significant Muslim populations in
Germany, Britain, France and even the United States, who
would, by the logic being followed by some western analysts in
Kashmir, be justified in demanding autonomy, if not
independence. The fact is that the detachment of Kashmir from
India would trigger an intensification of religion linked separatist
impulses in many other parts of the globe, a step that would also
affect the security interests of the West.

Rather than be abject and apologetic, India needs to make
clear that its security interests will be vigorously safeguarded. In
particular, that its integrity as a multi-religious state will be
maintained. By its muffled response to jabs at Indian security—
whether in the form of intervention in Kashmir or demands that
crucial strategic programmes be aborted—the political leadership
in this country is encouraging fresh assaults on Indian sovereignty.

Friday, 20 November 1998

Sonia's Game Plan: Can the 'Dynasty' Make a Comeback?

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Since December 1980, when Rajiv Gandhi was given an office in
the Prime Minister’s House and began to be groomed as his
mother's successor, Sonia Gandhi has played a silent role in
governance. An early sign of her influence was the advisory role
given to her brother-in—law Walter Vinci (then married to Sonia’s
elder sister Annouschka) by a blue-chip company. This was
despite Vinci's lack of significant formal qualifications.
Subsequently, an export firm was set up to send abroad Indian V
handicraft. Although allegations were often raised about "art
treasures" being sent out through this route, the charges were
never pursued.

The abrupt transfer of Jose Valdemoro, then married to Sonia
Gandhi’s younger sister Nadia, reflected the new power equations 
after Sanjay Gandhi’s death in a plane crash in June 1980. The
Spanish diplomat was shifted from Lima, Peru to New Delhi by
his government. Subsequently, he too began to devote attention
to economic relations between India and other countries. Along
with a friend from Turin, Ottavio Quatrocchi, he had impressive
success in persuading the India government to see the merits in
the products of companies approved by them. Snam Progetti
and CASA were prime examples.

Despite the Indian government’s expensive presence in over
a hundred world capitals, it has not thus far been able to trace
the whereabouts of Quatrocchi who is wanted for questioning by
the CBI in Bofors, hawala and other cases. As for Vinci and
Valdemoro, both disappeared from the scene after P. V.
Narasimha Rao, strangely, began giving preference to his own
relatives rather than to those of Gandhi. Coincidentally, this shift
in prime ministerial affections was marked by a cooling-off of
relations between Sonia Gandhi and Narasimha Rao, Since
1993—when the then Prime Minister finally shook off the coils
of the past—Sonia Gandhi has seldom hidden her distaste of the

While much of the Indian media has treated Sonia Gandhi
with kid gloves, individuals close to her have revealed what they
claim are details of her political thinking. That Sonia Gandhi is
keenly interested in politics is apparent from her visitors’ book.
Especially during the past three months, she has talked to a
variety of politicians, almost all of whom have given details of
the alleged interactions to their confidants. Piecing together
some of these recollections, and talking to individuals known to
be close to her, the contours of what these sources claim to be the
"Sonia Gandhi game plan" emerge:
(1) The first stage would be the removal of P. V. Narasimha
Rao as the leader of the Congress Parliamentary Party.
In this, all techniques are deemed as fair, ranging from
the allegations of corruption against Rao and his allies
to moves to bring back Rao-baiters into the Congress
party. While Sharad Pawar is now an ally of 10 Janpath,
the preferred choice to replace Rao is Manmohan Singh,
according to these sources.
(2) After installing a Sonia-friendly CPP leader, the next
step would be to intensify the public attacks on the Deve
Gowda government, simultaneously winning over the
TDP, the TMC, the DMK, the SP and influential
individuals inside the Ianata Dal. After a few months,
the time would come for implementation of the second
stage, which is the replacement of the Deve Gowda
government with one headed by the new CPP leader.
(3) Such a government would hold office for around 18
months, during which time Sonia Gandhi would emerge
from her purdah and campaign for the Congress. This,
according to her admirers, would suffice to whip up a
wave of popular enthusiasm for the Congress that
replicates 1971 and 1984. A fresh election would be
called, in which three-fourths of the Congress tickets
would be given to new entrants judged to be responsive
to the wishes of 10 Janpath. After the election, a young
and "dynamic" individual would emerge as the Prime
Minister. If our sources are correct, the first preference
is for Madhavrao Scindia.

There is, of course, a final stage, which is the emergence of
a scion of the Nehru family as the understudy of the Sonia-
friendly Prime Minister. After one or perhaps two terms in office,
he would make way for a better qualified individual, either
Rahul Gandhi or Priyanka Gandhi. Thereafter, India would once
again make stupendous progress, just as it did between 1947-64,
1966-67 and 1980-89.

If our sources (who were so careful to maintain anonymity
that some of the sessions took place in off peak times in public
parks rather than in homes or restaurants) are to be believed,
there is a carefully-crafted strategy behind the sphinx-like silence
of Sonia Gandhi. According to them, the plan is on the lines
sketched above, with the rough timetable for the fall of Rao being
January 1997, and the installation of the new government
following some four months from then. Not entirely accidentally, 
individuals close to Sonia Gandhi have reportedly been briefing
mediapersons on the "imminence" of the fall of the Gowda

While Sonia Gandhi, following the example of Rao, refuses
to communicate with the media, there are others who do so ably.
Apart from Scindia and Arjun Singh, another politician known
to be close to her is P. Chidambaram. Amitabh Bachchan — whose
clout was recently demonstrated during the Miss World contest
in Bangalore — is another close associate. In addition, there are
the numerous trusts and other institutions controlled by her,
which together add up to an impressive public presence. Also,
there is little doubt that many Congress office-bearers have a
reflexive servility to her. This was clear, for example, during last
year’s trip to Amethi, when top politicians such as Digvijay
Singh and N. D. Tiwari waited by the barricades in the hope of
attracting a smile from her. However, there are three reasons
why the game plan contoured above may fail;
(a) The first reason is Sitaram Kesri. The AICC president is
a wily survivor who has at last escaped from
subordination to others. He is unlikely to mortgage this
new-found freedom to any individual, including Gandhi,
and therefore may follow his own game plan.
(b) The second obstacle is P. Vi Narasimha Rao. Despite the
blows he has suffered, he retains substantial strength
within the Congress Parliamentary Party. Thus, while it
is possible that he may have to step down, the
replacement may not be a Sonia nominee but a Rao
favourite such as G. Venkatswamy, a Dalit and former
minister. Should this take place, the desire of the Sonia
camp to install a Congress-led govemment may receive
a setback.
(c) The final obstacle will be Deve Gowda. His rustic
exterior and "humble" mien hides a fierce ambition and
a willingness to do battle that Narasimha Rao has
seldom displayed. The Prime Minister has built a career
out of being under-estimated, and may yet surprise his
foes. Despite the confidence shown by the Sonia camp,
the game may be far from over.

Tuesday, 17 November 1998

Supping with the Devil - Fundamentalists must be Shunned

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Pulp fiction overflows with tales of young ladies seeking to
reform rakes, drunkards and general never-do-wells. Similarly,
leaders of several countries adopt a "reformist" approach to
ideological opposites both in their own and in other countries,
either avoiding the fact that differences exists, or hoping that
sweet words will diminish them.

Such is the minuet being played out between several moderate
states and fundamentalists. Even where the motive was less to
reform than to embarrass an enemy (as in the case of the US
policy in Afghanistan in the l980s), the argument that friendly
contact will temper rough ideological edges is commonly used.
Within countries, leaders whose outlook can be expected to be
secular often don fundamentalist colours, again in an ostensible
effort at lowering the temperature of rebellion against democratic
conduct by endorsing such tendencies rather than opposing

The problem is that such under-playing of the (pardon the
pun) fundamental differences between democratic conduct and
extremist behaviour usually works in favour of the latter, giving
it respectability and legitimacy and enabling it to widen its base
of support. Unless the leaders of democratic parties stress the
contradiction between social calm and militancy, large segments
of the public will be at risk of looking upon such fringe
organisations as legitimate participants in a democratic discourse.

Two Incidents
Two incidents will serve to illustrate this. One was the Muslim
Women's Bill, promulgated by Rajiv Gandhi eight years ago as
a reaction to the Shah Bano judgment. Instead of pointing out
that the judgment, far from being against a particular religion,
merely attempted to protect the rights of women, and that in any
case the proper response for its opponents would have been to
take legal steps to annul the judgment, the Union government
amended the law under fundamentalist pressure. As a
consequence, the moral authority of the regime to fight
fundamentalist tendencies in the majority community got eroded.
The second event was the destruction of the Babri Masjid.

Displaying (an almost unbelievable) naivete in accepting the
promises of a state government whose national masters were
openly calling for the pulling down of the structure, the Union
government declined to take effective steps to protect the
monument, and as a consequence the faith of religious minorities
in its ability—and indeed willingness—to protect their interests
got eroded. Although in secrecy-riddled India, the public is not
privy to the confabulations that preceded the decision to repose
such faith in Kalyan Singh, the argument must have been
advanced that friendly and supportive contact with the then U.P.
government would perhaps reduce the influence of the
'extremists' within the Sangh parivar.

Indeed, this is a common argument that a fundamentalist
organisation is divided into 'moderates’ and ’extremists', and
that support to the former will enable them to eliminate the ,
latter. Such arguments miss the point that the aim of both are
usually the same, and that the differences are present only in the
nuances. Both the ’reasonable’ Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
and the Iranian ’hardliners’ want to make Teheran the political
hub of a world religious movement. Both the ’moderate’ Pakistan
Peoples Party as well as the 'hawks' of the Jamaat-e-Islami are
united in their zeal to enforce religious laws in Pakistan.

U.S. Policy
The United States is another country that has displayed a
propensity to forge alliances with religious extremists. This was
done, for example, in Afghanistan where weapons and manpower
financed by the U.Si are now exported for advancing the
fundamentalist cause in third countries. This is being done in the
case of Pakistan, where the American policy is to support the
'moderate’ Benazir Bhutto to prevent the risk of take-over by
extremists. As a consequence, the denial of rights to minorities
within that country is ignored.

The U.S. - unlike France or Germany - does not as yet face
an internal threat from fundamentalist groups. However, Turkey
does, and it is ironic that one of the strongest supporters of the
terrorists in Kashmir is that country. Evidently, by playing along
with the ISI mujahideen, Tansu Ciller hopes to make herself
more acceptable to the religious fringe, forgetting that not just
her survival but that of Kemalist Turkey depends on the shrinking
rather than the buttressing of this dangerous fringe. However, a
government that swiftly chokes off an Urdu-language broadcast
to reward violent fanatics in Bangalore has little moral authority
to cast stones at her. 

To take the case of Pakistan again, it is in the interests of the
political class in that country to weaken the dominance of the
army over the state. Until this is done, political leaders there will
in effect survive on the mercy of the men in uniform, being
constantly under the threat of being discarded undemocratically
as Bhutto and then Nawaz Sharif recently were. However,
forgetting their common interest in keeping the generals out of
the secretariats, when a Bhutto is unfairly dismissed, a Sharif
exults, only for a Bhutto to repay the compliment when it is her
rival who gets the boot. So long as the political class in Pakistan
takes the help of enemies of democracy in its internal quarrels,
the generals will continue to have the last word, as is evident, for
instance, in the fact that in the ’free’ Pakistan press, criticism of
the army is perforce absent.

The snub administered by president Rafsanjani to this
country—by the last-minute cancellation of his trip—should
make clear the absurdity inherent in a policy of fighting
fundamentalism with the help of fundamentalists. With its
quirky concepts concerning its religious role, Iran is one of the
last countries that should be encouraged to give its views in an
internal matter of India, which is Kashmir.

Indeed, there is a basic contradiction between the Indian
government’s official stand that Kashmir is a domestic dispute,
and its very public efforts at mobilising support within the UN
against Pakistan. Logically, India's public stand should be that
as Kashmir is a domestic issue, the passage of international
resolutions is not relevant. By claiming a 'victory' through
organising the shelving of a particular Pakistani resolution, India
could be exposing itself to the danger of inviting intervention
should another resolution be introduced.

Overt Efforts
Another self-defeating action taken by this country is its overt
efforts at persuading the U.S. to declare Pakistan to be a terrorist
state. Such a step openly acknowledges the American 'right' to
certify a state as being terrorist or democratic, a right that is not
obvious to most. Rather than a reactive strategy that focuses
exclusively on countering Pakistan’s efforts, India needs to work
out a positive strategy of systematically educating international
opinion about the ground realities of terrorism in Kashmir. Proof
of foreign involvement should be freely made available, as also
any facts concerning alleged misbehaviour by Indian troops.

However, rather than evolving out of compulsions based on
ground realities within the state, government policy towards it
appears to be formulated as a response to external or
fundamentalist pressure. A government with a commitment to
defending secularism does not need to be apologetic to the world
outside about the defence of its vital interests in Kashmir. Such
a defence may, for example, involve the use of helicopters to
track down foreign mercenaries operating in the state.

From Ciller to Clinton, the list of democratic leaders believing
in the virtues of alliance with segments of the fundamentalist
fringe is depressingly long. They forget that such a blurring of
the ideological and tactical divide between democracy and its
enemies usually works to the advantage of the more fanatic side.
If the Iranian snub convinces at least some in India of this
dictum, it would have served a purpose.

Wednesday, 11 November 1998

A Misstep on the Brinks of Victory

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

While the "full-blown" version of the Kashmir insurgency erupted 
in 1990, the seeds were sown in 1984. That was the year Valley 
youth began going across the border for training. "Perhaps 
because it thought that a small dose of militancy, would help its 
leverage with Delhi, the National Conference government took
no action against such crossings", a state police officer claimed.

The National Conference, as also the Congress, the Janata
Dal and the CPM, are dominated by the Valley Sunnis, who also
head the pro—militant JKLF, Hurriyat Conference, People's
Conference and People’s League. Since 1947, care has been taken
to ensure that the Valley Sunnis fill most of the government jobs.
Rather than attempt to craft a base separate from the NC, the
state unit of the Congress has also followed the same policy.

Another policy that unites the Congress and the NC is
corruption. According to a senior official, "the Kashmir
administration is even more corrupt than those in the North-
east." Reliable estimates are that less than a third of the Rs.
1,00,000 crore that has been spent by the Centre on Kashmir since
1947 has gone to the intended beneficiaries. The bulk has been
pocketed by politicians, officials and middlemen.

That has been one of the fuses priming the insurgency.
Another is the encouragement given to religious extremism by
the so-called "secular" governments in the state. "During
Congress rule in the 1960s, a chain of religious schools was
encouraged to be set up, in which youngsters were taught to
regard themselves as different from the 'unbelievers' around
them. Subtly, these schools spread a separatist message," said A.
S. Jamwal, a social analyst.

In 1977, soon after the victory of his party in the assembly
polls, Sheikh Abdullah adopted a policy of appeasement of
religious extremists. The essentially secular nature of
"Kashmiriyat” was eroded, and in its place was established a
culture that had much in common with Saudi Arabia and
Pakistan. However, thanks to the NC’s concentration on its
Valley Sunni base, the other Muslim groups—Shias, Gujjars and
Baltis—were left unaffected by this indoctrination. As a
consequence, to this day these groups have refused to join in the
insurgency, which is overwhelmingly a Valley Sunni

While the Hindus of Jammu and the Buddhists of Ladakh
have been opposed to the cry for azaadi of the militants, what is
not so well known is that even in Kashmir proper the Valley
Sunnis are outnumbered by the Gujjars, Shias, Baltis and Hindus.
None of these groups is in favour of “autonomy", which they
interpret as the continuation of Valley Sunni domination. A few
weeks ago, the Shia leader Mohammeddin-Cheetah resigned
from the NC, saying that he opposed its demand for autonomy.
Interestingly, the Saudi and Pakistani-funded Jamaat-i-lslami
evokes no response from either the Gujjars or the Shias.

Just as militancy in Punjab proved a boon to criminal
elements, who indulged freely in smuggling because the attention
of the police was focused on antiterrorist steps, the insurgency
in Kashmir has benefited some. One reason has been the drying-
up of tax payments from the Valley. As against Rs. 77 crore
collected as sales tax from Jammu this year, the Kashmir Valley
contributed only Rs. 12 crore, all of which came from public
sector companies. Income tax collections were almost zero in the
Valley, though normal in Jammu. "It is almost as though we are
being penalised for being loyal to India, while those who subvert
the country are rewarded," said Ram Sahai, president of the
Jammu Chamber of Commerce.

A senior officer in the state administration, who spoke on
condition of anonymity, said that the situation "got out of
control in 1990, when V. P. Singh was the Prime Minister". After
home minister M. M. Sayeed's daughter Rubaiya was kidnapped,
"the minister had two options", the officer said. "He could have
l acted as the custodian of the nation’s security and refused to deal
with the abductors. Or he could have resigned and appealed as
I a father to the Kashmiri people to force the terrorists to release
his daughter. He did neither, instead, the government
surrendered", the officer said.

A senior police officer based in Srinagar pointed out that “ the
credibility of a government is an important factor in controlling
an insurgency. When azaadi euphoria erupted in the Valley after
the Rubaiya fiasco, the state government asked for just six
battalions of CRP to face the mobs. This request was denied by
the VP Singh government. The advice from Delhi was to avoid
any attempt to prevent the azaadi mobs from controlling the
streets. This hesitancy convinced the people of the Valley that
within months the central government would surrender Kashmir
to the militants".

Gulam Sheikh, an apple grower from Sonamarg, claimed
that "most Kashmiris supported the militants because we were
sure they would win, and so if we did not help them, they would
arrest us once they came to power". Karim, a militant from
Rajouri, was succinct: "We were told by our friends in Pakistan
that India would run away from Kashmir the same way the
Russians ran away from Kabul". 1990 saw the flowering of a
Mazhabi Junoon - religious fanaticism in the words of Merajud-
Din, a former militant resident in Srinagar. "We saw ourselves
as part of a new order that would stretch from Kashmir to

By 1991-92, the bulk of the Valley’s Sunni intellectuals-
lawyers, journalists and officials—had got onto the azaadi
bandwagon. The process got a further boost after the destruction
of the Babri Masjid on December 6, 1992. "It was no accident that
1993 was a particularly bad year", said S. S. Bilowria, additional
chief secretary, Jammu and Kashmir. According to adviser to the
governor Goswamy, "the Kashmir police had by then become

However, that was the year that Pakistan overplayed its
hand. In a bid to speed up the timetable of secession, large
numbers of Afghans, Sudanese and Pakistanis were infiltrated
into the Valley. These "guest fighters" imposed themselves on
the Valley, commandeering food, lodging and on occasions,
women. Taxes began to be levied "to finance the liberation war,"
and to wipe out secular infrastructure, schools were destroyed.
Soon, as the state began to resemble Afghanistan, local enthusiasm
for the "freedom struggle" began to wane.

Monday, 9 November 1998

Diplomatic Dinosaurs - Left Behind in a Changing World

(Originally appeared in the 1990s in the Times of India, as published in M. D. Nalapat's book "Indutva", Har-Anand Publications, 1999)

Ten years ago, a young Indian diplomat in a European capital
briefly let fall his mask of official politeness. "Most of our work
is looking after VIP guests", he groused, "our promotions
depend on this, and not on how well we understand the country
and suggest responses useful to India". And because most VIP
visitors would sooner go to floor shows or supermarkets than to
experts in trade or terrorism, a career-minded diplomat quickly
finds out all that is necessary about such locales in order to
entertain a dignitary from home. lf in the process the "training"
of a diplomat resembles a course in hotel management (the guest
is always right), that is bagatelle when compared to the satisfaction
of dozens of VH’s who saunter out of the guest houses that go
by the name of Indian embassies abroad.

In the corporate world of the past, the production departments 
had primacy, with marketing being almost an afterthought.
Today the creation of a need through professional manipulation
of tastes is at the core of the business process. The practitioners
of this skill are usually highly-trained and well-paid, often more
so than those in other disciplines. If we considered that the job
of Indian diplomats is similarly to identify ways in which this
country's capabilities can cater to the perceived needs of other
countries while bringing benefits to India, then it is evident that
the ministry of external affairs is still in the pre-market era,
where form has primacy over substance.

Diplomats' Promotion
Had the criteria for career "progression been based on 
achievements like, for example, an increase in the import of
goods and services from India or changes in a country" policy
in a manner beneficial to Indian interests, many of our diplomats
would perhaps have been tempted to abandon the role of escorts 
and innkeepers for VIP guests. However, the diplomat’s
professional skills are seldom judged relevant when deciding on
promotions. They are done arbitrarily, often a diplomat who has
been given what is termed a "hardship" posting is posted to a 
comfortable western country like Austria or Belgium to
recuperate. If the diplomat’s inability or lack of desire to execute 
his duties has made the country where he is posted currently 
indifferent or even more hostile than before to India's concerns, 
then his promotion to a "soft” assignment is hastened.  

While the pace of change is accelerating the world over, in  
the selection committees for choosing new officers "crass"  
individuals from the world of commerce, journalism or public  
life, are effectively kept out and at best are permitted token  
appearances between the closed ranks of soon-to-be-retired, just-  
retired or long-retired diplomats. Much discussion takes place ,
over the number of prize missions that have fallen to political  
appointees. Naturally any officer with an iota of loyalty to his  
profession will strive to ensure that such appointees trip up and  
eventually fail, so that they can be replaced by civilised persons 
who are well-versed in the use of the appropriate cutlery and the 
choice of the right wine. 

No Reason 
Despite their snooty disdain for "organised labour", most  
administrative fraternities function most effectively in a trade  
union mode, not subject to accountability. This country should  
adopt a system of encouraging movement from fields like   
marketing and communications to die diplomatic corps with  
highly trained professionals working as diplomats for three to   
five year terms. This would help create a diplomatic system 
more relevant to current priorities: enhanced trade and security.  

There is no reason why a "political appointee" should necessarily   
be a politician. He or she could be a scientist (in a country with 
which technological cooperation is significant) or a marketing 
professional (where enhanced trade is sought) or from the 
communications industry (where a change in perception needs  
to be introduced). What is urgently required is a network of  
genuine specialists down the line, serving within the diplomatic 
corps for specified periods or even permanently. Just as war is 
too serious a business to be left to generals, diplomacy is far too
crucial a field to be monopolised by foreign service officers. 

The standard response to most suggestions for substantive 
change is that things are proceeding perfectly at present. Those 
in charge of external relations point with pride to the "improving" 
relations with practically every country. That most such 
"improvements" are a consequence of continuous concessions to 
external susceptibilities is, of course, glossed over. Thus troops
in Kashmir are unable to use helicopters to pursue mercenaries
from Pakistan, Sudan and Afghanistan, because to do so would 
hurt the feelings of these three countries. India has to play down
major technological achievements in the rocket field, because
enhanced activity there would lead to frowns from capitals that
regard bullock carts and camel rides as being more "natural"
fields of activity for a ”backward" country than the launching of
satellites or rockets. Thus the so-called "regional bully" has to
watch meekly while terrorists in our northern states get trained
in Pakistan, and insurgents in north-eastern states get support
from Bangladesh. 'The diminishing significance of India in its 
own backyard is clearly underscored by the fact that two
neighbours are able to foment insurgency at their will in this
country and even countries like Thailand harbour Indian citizens
who are engineering insurgency here by remote control.

There is a clear correlation between the declining effectiveness  
of Indian diplomacy and the increase in externally-backed 
insurgency within our borders. Had this country followed the 
example of China, and developed its defences openly and 
energetically, it would arguably have witnessed an improvement 
in its security environment at a much lower cost than it is 
incurring at present. To accept the western argument that the 
rolling back of India's nuclear and space programme will lead to 
a peace-oriented response from our western neighbour is to
ignore the instability that permeates this region. 

In 1972 major concessions were given to the late Zulifikar Ali
Bhutto in order to prop up a "democratic alternative" to the
Pakistani army. This strategy failed and the concessions went to 
‘ waste, just. as Indian forbearance did in 1948 when the army was
prevented from liberating the whole of Kashmir by Jawaharlal
Nehru. Should Benazir Bhutto make promises that Pakistan will
roll back strategic defence programmes, the situation within that
country makes it probable that she will be ousted by one or  
another fundamentalist group or the army, which will soon 
renege on such promises. In the meantime, India would have lost  
a lot of crucial time.  

Secular Forces 
By flirting with the fundamentalists, Bhutto has strengthened a 
force that has the potential to topple her. Whether in Pakistan, 
Afghanistan or many of the CIS states, there is a need to buttress
secular forces and prevent the movement towards
fundamentalism. A more active Indian diplomacy within this
region—stressing this country’s economic base and secular
traditions—is called for in place of the present passivity. Such a 
policy needs we backed by a credible deterrent force that will
prevent any other spillover of fundamentalist violence into 

In the face of the instability in our neighbourhood, it is 
astonishing that even the proposed national security council has 
not yet been formed. As for introducing basic changes in the 
training and composition of our diplomatic corps, this may 
prove beyond the vision of our MEA that saw nothing wrong 
with functioning without a political head for over a year. The 
price for the present will be paid for by the future.