Eating is an agricultural act - Wendell Berry

Friday, May 23, 2008

south asia could have been

ramachandra guha has delivered an outstanding lecture titled 'the beauty of compromise'.

i discovered the very excellent himal magazine 6 months ago and lost track of it 5 months ago.
after tons of mind-bending googling, i found it, and assiduously went through the archives and unearthed guha's gem.

it is long and intense and covers history, fantasy and analysis of the last 50 years of south asia in a delectable manner.

am going to put out some excerpts here on the parts which i really loved:
1. on Jayprakash Narayan(JP)
Within India, J P is celebrated for his role in two major movements: the Quit India struggle of 1942, and the ‘Indira Hatao’ movement of 1974-5....In 1942, he was a charismatic young leftist, who sought to throw the British out and rebuild India on socialist lines. In 1974-5, he was a charismatic old radical, who sought to throw Indira Gandhi out in the process of bringing about a ‘Total Revolution’ in India. While in India today J P is remembered for his anti-colonial and Total Revolution campaigns of the 1940s and 1970s, what has been quite forgotten is his equally interesting and, in my view, even more noble work during the 1960s, when he tried heroically – if, in the end, unavailingly – to resolve the two civil conflicts that have plagued the Indian nation state since its inception. At either end of the Himalaya, these were the Kashmir and Nagaland conflicts.
2. what could have been in kashmir
J P spoke out longest and loudest against the illegalities of the Union government in Kashmir. He was a close friend of the popular Kashmiri leader Sheikh Abdullah, who was jailed by the Indian government in 1953. J P called repeatedly for the release of Sheikh Abdullah, and when the Sheikh was finally set free in April 1964, encouraged the idea of sending him over to Pakistan as an emissary for peace. This was originally a proposal of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru...,(but when) Nehru died in May 1964; the peace initiative died with him. The next year, Sheikh Abdullah was put behind bars once again. In June 1966, J P wrote an extraordinary letter to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, asking that the Sheikh be freed in time for the next elections. “[To] hold a general election in Kashmir with Sheikh Abdullah in prison,” remarked J P, “is like the British ordering an election in India while Jawaharlal Nehru was in prison...I cannot see what other device will be left to India to settle the problem. To think that we will eventually wear down the people and force them to accept at least passively the Union is to delude ourselves.

It took another eight years for her to allow the Sheikh to re-enter politics. When Sheikh Abdullah was made chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir in February 1975, J P welcomed the move (despite being, by then, a bitter opponent of Mrs Gandhi). But the concession itself was perhaps eight years too late. For by then the Sheikh had become reconciled to subservience to New Delhi, and in time was to place the interests of his own family above those of the Kashmiri people. What might have been the fate of Kashmir and the Kashmiris, had Mrs Gandhi listened to J P in June 1966 ....

3. On the Nagaland people (JP at his masterly best)

In 1964, after a long decade of civil war, a ceasefire was declared between the NNC and the Indian government. A three-member ‘peace mission’ was formed, consisting of the Anglican missionary Michael Scott, the Gandhian nationalist B P Chaliha, and Jayaprakash Narayan. Sadly, the mission collapsed within a year, due to inflexibility on both sides, and the rebels returned to the jungle. It was at this time that J P wrote an extraordinary if still little-known booklet in Hindi, based on a speech he delivered in Patna on Martyrs Day, 30 January 1965. The booklet is titled Nagaland mein Shanti ka Prayas (The Attempt to Forge Peace in Nagaland).

“In the history of every nation,” began J P, “there have been disagreements among the servants and leaders of the nation. Where democracy prevails, these disagreements are discussed and resolved by democratic means; but where democracy is absent, they are resolved by the use of violence.” However, history teaches us that violence begets counter-violence and, eventually, violence against one’s own comrades. Thus, “when disputes arise, past alliances and friendships are forgotten, and allegations of betrayal, traitorous behaviour, etc are levied on one’s opponents.”

J P proceeded to recount the history of the civil war in Nagaland – the recourse to the gun of one side, the reaction of the other, and the brutalities committed by both. Then, in the spirit of his master, Gandhi, he asked each party to recognise and respect the finest traditions of the other. First, he told the Nagas that, among the nations of Asia, India was unusual in having a democratic and federal Constitution. Were the rebels to abandon the dream of independence and settle for autonomy within the Union, the only control they would have had to give up was over the army, foreign affairs and currency. In all other respects, they would have been free to mould their destinies as they pleased.

Narayan recognised the distinctiveness of Naga cultural traditions. While both East and West Pakistan bore the impress of the Indic civilisation, “what we call Indian culture has not made an entry into Nagaland.” That said, J P thought that the Nagas could not sustain an independent country, what with China, Pakistan and Burma all close by and casting covetous eyes on their territory. Why not join up, therefore, with a democratic and federal India? When New Delhi could not dominate Bihar or Bengal, how could it dominate Nagaland, J P asked rhetorically. If the rebels were to come over-ground and contest elections, said Narayan, they could give their people the best schools, hospitals, roads and so on.

Towards the end of his lecture, J P turned to educating his Patna audience about the virtues of the Nagas. He was particularly impressed by the vigour of the Naga village councils. Anywhere else in India, he said, to construct an airport the “government can uproot village upon village,” whereas in Nagaland this could never be done without the consent of the local people. He was even more struck by the dignity of labour, and the absence of caste feeling. In matters of cooperative behaviour, said J P, the Nagas could teach a thing or two to the people of India. He gave the example of a magnificent church that had been recently constructed in a village near the town of Mokokchung: with a seating capacity of five thousand, it had been built entirely with local material and local labour, much of it contributed voluntarily by graduates and post-graduates. J P contrasted this with the contempt for manual work among the educated, upper-caste elite of the Indian heartland.

4. the bangladesh story
Pakistan was under military rule between 1958 and 1970. Towards the end of 1970, General Yahya Khan called for elections. Apparently, he had expected the ambitious politician from Sindh, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, to become prime minister, allowing him to continue as president. But these calculations went awry. The Awami League, led by Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, won 167 out of 169 seats in the more populous East Pakistan. Playing on the sense of discrimination, Sheikh Mujib’s party achieved a majority in the national Parliament.

Rather than honour the democratic mandate and invite Sheikh Mujib to take office, Yahya Khan postponed the convening of the National Assembly, and in this he was encouraged and abetted by Bhutto. The response was a general strike in all of East Pakistan, and the Pakistan Army decided to settle the matter by force of arms. But with India choosing to ally with the Bengali dissidents, the task was made much harder than the general had anticipated. Eight months of episodic fighting culminated in an all-out war in December 1971, which led to the defeat and dismemberment of Pakistan.

Would Pakistan have remained a single nation state if Yahya and Bhutto had permitted Mujib to take over as prime minister? In asking this question, I certainly do not mean to turn the clock back, or to suggest that the creation of Bangladesh was a mistake. I mean only to highlight how the techniques of suppression, so often used by a state to settle an outstanding conflict, tend mostly to intensify and deepen it.
5. some lessons from rest of the world
...the lesson to be learnt from the most successful peace negotiations of contemporary times, that which led to the demise of apartheid and the birth of a democratic South Africa. Had President F W de Klerk and his National Party not begun a dialogue with the African National Congress, and had Nelson Mandela and his comrades not turned their backs on the gun, there might yet be a civil conflict raging in that country.

One notable aspect of the transition in South Africa was that the reconciliation was racial as well as political. The whites handed over power, but did not relinquish their rights as citizens or professionals. The need for black economic advancement was recognised, but it was not pursued in wanton haste. The comparison with neighbouring Zimbabwe is striking. There, the end of settler colonialism was followed by savage retribution, with the whites forcibly dispossessed of their lands and coerced to leave the country. What was once the breadbasket of Africa has become a basket case.

Looking over to Europe, Southasians may also take instruction from the political transition that took place after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Once run with an iron hand from Moscow, countries such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic have emerged as vigorous democracies. After the hold of the Soviets was loosened – largely through the voluntary abdication initiated by the visionary Mikhail Gorbachev – the different sections of Polish, Hungarian and Czech society eschewed the politics of revenge and retribution. Instead of turning on one another, communists and anti-communists formed political parties of their own and fought elections based on universal adult franchise. Autocrats became democrats, while rebels became governors (most famously, Lech Walesa and Vaclav Havel). Who, in 1960, or even in 1980, would have imagined a transition as painless and productive?

6. on the narmada dam andolan

Between 1989 and 1995, the NBA organised a series of satyagrahas to stop construction of the dam. Their struggle won wide appreciation, both for its principled commitment to non-violence and for its ability to mobilise peasants and Adivasis. By now, several scientific studies had been published calling into question the viability of large dams. These studies adduced environmental arguments, such as the submergence of scarce forests and wildlife; economic arguments, such as the fact that sedimentation rates and soil salinity had greatly diminished the financial returns from such projects; and social arguments, namely the utter despair and demoralisation of the communities that the dams render homeless.

The struggle and the science notwithstanding, the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam proceeded. In 1995, a group of engineers based in Pune advocated a compromise solution. Given that the dam had already come up to a height of about 260 feet, clearly it could not be stopped. But its negative effects could be minimised. The Pune engineers were proposing a model of a dam smaller than that originally envisaged. The reduction in height would greatly reduce the area to be submerged, yet retain much of the benefits that were to accrue in power and irrigation. The drought-prone regions of Kutch and Saurashtra would still get water, while fewer communities would be displaced in the upper catchment.

The compromise formula was rejected both by the Gujarat government and the NBA. The former insisted that the dam had to be built to its originally sanctioned height of 456 feet. The latter insisted that the dam must never be built. The Andolan was continuing with the rallying cry, “Kohi Nahi Hatega! Baandh Nahin Banega!” (No one will leave their homes! The dam will not be built!), even as the construction and displacement continued. A part of the dam was already complete, thousands of tonnes of concrete had already been poured, and no one really expected a reversal of this. On the part of the state establishment, there was not a hint of its willingness to consider a reduction in the dam height.

In retrospect, it is unfortunate that the NBA did not accept the lowered-height proposal. Had the Andolan advocated this alternative energetically, it is just possible that public opinion would have veered more strongly in their favour. The Supreme Court, before whom an appeal was pending, might have given a more favourable verdict.
7. on gandhi as a 'civil engineer'

In many ways, Gandhi was the arch-reconciler, the builder of bridges – bridges between Hindus and Muslims, between India and Pakistan, between high castes and low castes, between men and women, between the coloniser and the colonised. Independent India has had many failures, but also some successes. The most conspicuous of the latter are owed to Gandhi’s political followers having honoured his spirit of compromise. India is not – or, at least, not yet – a ‘Hindu Pakistan’, because its first prime minister followed Gandhi in promoting religious pluralism. The Indian Constitution provided special privileges for Dalits and Adivasis under the inspiration of Gandhi. In fact, the Dalit leader Dr B R Ambedkar was made both India’s first law minister and chairman of the Drafting Committee of the Constitution on the recommendation of Gandhi. It was also Gandhi who first advocated and promoted the idea of linguistic states. All of these initiatives were attempts by Gandhi to reach out to the ‘underdog’ with a hand of conciliation and unforced magnanimity.

Among the all-pervading but little recognised of Gandhi’s successes was the forging of a stable, harmonious and even affectionate relationship between the United Kingdom and independent India. Certainly, nowhere else have Empire and Colony maintained such a friendship after the sundering of the imperial (and essentially inequitable) tie that once bound them. Consider the bitter relations that exist to this day between the French and the Algerians, the Dutch and the Indonesians, the Belgians and Congolese, the Russians and the Poles, the Japanese and the Koreans.

That the citizens of India today do not ‘hate’ the English is owed largely – one might even say entirely – to Gandhi. His closest friend was an Englishman, Charles Freer Andrews. When Andrews died, in 1940, Gandhi wrote that while the numerous misdeeds of the English would be forgotten, not one of the heroic deeds of Andrews will be forgotten as long as England and India live. If we really love Andrews’ memory, we may not have hate in us for Englishmen, of whom Andrews was among the best and noblest. It is possible, quite possible, for the best Englishmen and the best Indians to meet together and never to separate till they have evolved a formula acceptable to both.

In the six decades since the Raj ended, the ‘best Englishmen and the best Indians’ have met regularly and amicably, to their mutual advantage. A spirit of conciliation helped England and India to evolve a powerful friendship, which had myriad benefits for both. The economic benefit to India from this friendship alone will have been enormous.

A truly outstanding piece. please read the whole lecture here.


sameersampat said...

Great link to the JP biography. Can't believe he picked grapes to pay his way through college in the US. Very different from the current Indian academic going abroad, eh?

csm said...

JP is one forgotten hero.
our generation heard bits and pieces of his life and work during the emergency time. thats it.
there is no mention of him in the history books.
the current generations have almost no idea of some of the legendary figures post independence.