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Mainstream, VOL XLIX, No 1, December 25, 2010 (Annual 2010)

Soap Bubbles in our Security Perspectives

Friday 31 December 2010, by Rakesh Gupta

Any security—individual, societal and state stands on values, structures and processes within a state in a given external environment of hostility. Constitutionalism, democracy, group rights, secularism and justice are the foundational values, as laid out in the Constitution, that would and do form our core values informing the structures of India’s ‘democratic political community’. Every person, group, official, political party, tribe, community and caste are supposed to abide by these values. Commentators on the Indian state call it a soft state, albeit increasingly losing its stateness (military clout to intervene in crisis points). Experts call Indian politics as a unique democracy for its mix of tradition-modernity elements. Constitutional experts call the Indian Constitution a success not in the need of change—amendments notwith-standing.

The problem with these positions is that the democratic political community is an abstraction. As such it stands scrutiny. In reality it is coming closer to becoming a neo-liberal, declining democratic political community. The reasons to say this are many, emanating as these do from the middle class neo-liberal consciousness of making a quick buck. This springs from the tyranny of traditional societal values. These are symbolised by khaps, tribal identities, community and religious juggernaut imposing rigidity towards social mobility which is the core of civic nationalism. The combination of traditional symbols with the perspective of modernity is being eroded owing to insensitiveness at the emotional level about the lack of well-being of the people below the middle classes. Even if one agrees that the middle classes are expanding both horizontally and vertically as is said by some reports of the NCAER, there is ample scope for showing concern for people’s poverty, emotional being and angst that has not turned into revolt. The challenge of the Maoists to the statehood is one example of looking at the abstraction as a soap bubble. The well-being of the individual and society is a national security concept.

THE disjunction between abstraction and reality, tradition and modernity, liberal welfare and neo-liberal outlook causes soap bubbles. A closer look shows them up. First, let us look at the state structures. The making of regimes in the coalition era, beginning with the post-1967 State governments till the recent impasse in Karnataka, is just one example of political chicanery, corruption and Aya Rams and Gaya Rams cutting across States and political parties in our federal polity which becomes a soap bubble. It has nothing to do with centralisation of the federal polity. It is part of the malaise of the democratic political community that is hierarchical, corrupt and consumerist. Second, the onslaught of corruption cases involving a string of Chief Ministers in the same State, apart from other States, as is currently witnessed in the case of Maharashtra, makes the democratic process and values of justice a soap bubble. The last elections there have shown the emergence of the MNS that has nothing to do with secularism. The election campaign in Bihar is about the Laloo-Nitish controversial relationship and similar career graph. Both were friends, both have been Railway Ministers and Chief Ministers. They eat into the campaign for welfare and secularism. The Congress’ comment on development is not far from the truth as it is true for the Red Corridor. The struggle over secularism is absent which is their defining difference. Third, the Nitish-NDA legacy is the other of Bihar’s secular credentials under Laloo.

Fourth, this is also true of the Allahabad High Court’s questioned and shocking verdict on Ayodhya. Fifth, the CPI-M’s rule in West Bengal is marked by its scandalous rape/murder strategies to remain in power. The comment made by Prakash Karat in London on the Indian Left’s adherence to the 1940s’ ideas rightly pricks the Left liberal bubble as well as the Marxist take on it. The emerging alternative to it is a shade of grey both in the neo-liberal agenda and Marxist sectarian agenda. One will have to discover the liberal streak minus the Maoist stake in Bengal. In or out of power, every political party will be interested in escalating violence. A large space was occupied by the Left-of-the-Centre and Communist Parties. That Left liberal space has now been occupied by Maoist sectarianism, violence and the populist campaigns of Mamata Banerjee. Mayawati’s Dalit card is the other of the Maoist politics under Kishenji. One kills and the other makes statutes instead of both seeking structural changes helpful to the Dalits and tribals. This politics is neither liberal nor Marxist. It is populist, medieval and dangerous to democracy and welfare. It is a soap bubble of its kind—opaque, not glistening.

The other political structure is the Central Parliament. The issues with Parliament are far too many. To shorten the list the following recent cases need to be pointed out. First, we have the historic case of the report of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Harshad Mehta scam not being implemented. The regimes of all political persuasions are culpable in this act of omission. Second, during the debate on the US-India nuclear deal the scandalous scene of rupee bundles being brought into the hall and storming of the Speaker’s podium was shameful, un-parliamentary on the part of the main Opposition Party (BJP) swearing by the name of Ram. The entire Opposition was on that side though not together on the act. Third, the worst was still to happen in the Rajya Sabha when the members of the same party and other parties tried to snatch papers from the hands of the Chairman (Hamid Ansari). Both these events cut at the roots of democracy, based on the euphemistic principle of listening to your opponent even when you know he is wrong. This was an attack on the institution which is central to the edifice of the functioning of Parliament. Corruption and un-parliamentary low are no longer shocking. In Tamil Nadu the country had witnessed the way in which recently MLAs came to tearing of attire inside the Assembly hall—a la the style of MLAs tugging at Jayalalitha’s saree.

The Central Government, despite it being a coalition, has not had the kind of hiccups earlier coalitions have had in the States and at the Centre. Ego was a problem. A closer look shows another brew of the party. One wonders what happened to Iftar parties during Ramazan this year. The Hinduised Ayodhya verdict was one communal party. Three issues that have rocked this government raise the problem of corruption in high offices combined with egos. One, the IPL controversy led to resignations by State Ministers and made Sharad Pawar play the ball in the field of world cricket. He left aside his traditional agriculture lobby and domain. This government has had to face the ire of the people in Punjab for not managing the bumper wheat crop that is only good for manure. The second is the case of Commonwealth Games where one witnessed different Ministers speaking in different languages. This happened in the other case of IPL too.

This cuts against collective responsibility—a cardinal principle in any parliamentary democracy. It is reminiscent of the post-modern condition where language games deny the possibility of a political consensus. On a large-scale it is happening in J&K where the meanings of words like cricket, interlocutor (P. Chidambaram), azadi (Gilani) and accession (Omar Abdullah), way of life (Arundati Roy) are being articulated differently. The frenzy of the language games imposes government whip on both cases to Ministers. They need to keep quiet. Mani Shankar Aiyar’s reference to Gandhiji’s three monkeys was a satirical way of saying that the freedom to speak is curtailed. All this does not show that communicative action has taken roots in the same party of the government. If one includes Digvijay Singh’s repartee with P. Chidambaram, the issue becomes more serious with Indian democracy as far as the structural dimension is concerned. Third, the issue of development and poverty projects has its flip side when the Central Government advises its Ministries not to attach the names of former leaders with their schemes. This is so because the schemes are not implemented and only tarnish the image of the great leaders of the nation.

Let us take the last dimension of the declining nature of the democratic culture and secular character. The involvement of serving and former Army officers in the Malegaon terror attacks and involvement of Army officers in the land scams and housing scams may not be a commentary on the civil-military relations in the country. It may ironically be civilianising the Defence land by former officers, Chief Ministers and bureaucrats. They may also not be a commentary on the professionalisation of the Army which is unparalleled in comparison to the other ones in the Third World though various spokesmen of the Army have talked about the need for more equipment to deal with the emerging threats especially from China. As per the Systems Theory any organisation creates values unique to the institution. The Indian Army is instrumental in inculcating among its members the values of the Constitution mentioned above. Purohit’s association with the Malegaon blasts or the now alleged Ajmer blasts shows the persistence of the RSS legacy in the minds of Army officers. One Mr Kaul is the king-pin of the Adarsh Society housing scandal due to the failure of the individuals benefiting from the organisation’s education and training programmes.

EARLIER during the NDA regime the coffin scandal was uncovered. The Army perhaps finds it difficult to achieve its objective in its Officer Corps that is recruited from the middle of the societal tier-perhaps the lower middle classes predominantly. A section of this segment can be highly communal. The social base of recruitment is conservative. Most of it knows the value of money from businesses. So, it could be committed to the liberal economic agenda. It thinks in traditional, closed ways. It could easily orient itself to communal and caste-based politics. It is the same base that supplies men in uniform to the paramilitary forces. We must note in passing that the police force is communalised in many States like UP and Gujarat. The Army is better for its professionalisation of the individual. It needs to do more. This is equally true about other identities in the Army. So, it cannot afford forays into corruption and politics of the traditional process. Already individuals and NGOs question the Armed Forces Special Powers Act both in the North-East and the northwest. The issue is that the earlier consensus on the Act is now showing chinks.

The political process linked to structures plays havoc with values. The rath yatra, the OBC demands under V.P. Singh are new aspects of the communal-caste mix in political mobilisation for the battle of the ballot. They are a direct challenge to secularism and the ideals of liberty, equality and democracy. The issues linked to personal law, temple, Masjid, church and gurudwara tear away the idea of a composite culture. This is brought out by the politics of terrorism and communalism in the political process. Parties pay lip-service to the Constitution and coin redundant expressions like pseudo-secularism to circumvent the Constitution. The Congress has only recently remembered after a long time that Indian secularism is threatened by the RSS and that the SIMI and RSS are the same in terms of the ideological backbone.

The group rights that are enshrined in the Constitution become irrelevant when communal carnage removes the right to life. This is the core of the Indian view on terror after the IC-Kandahar mistake.

The overload of violence in stone-pelting Srinagar shows up the weakness of formal institutions to deal with the issue even when Gilani is allowed more political space to articulate his address in Ranchi. The violence there is not of the absolutely deprived. The street boys may be unemployed but not the leadership that enjoys well-being. It is the poorer families who suffer owing to the indoctrination, poverty and unemployment. No intervention of civil society groups will deliver goods. Constructive state intervention to fight infiltrators combined with developmental funds going to the poor will go a long way in gaining credibility with the emerging youth.

In the absence of the liberal and Left liberal agendas, the only hope is from the neo-liberal slow-changer agenda, that is, the neo-liberal and welfare agenda for hard hit sections of society—like small business and poor and not for the corrupt Satyam corporate world. That may very much be in line with the issues that Obama is struggling with at home. We have to be on the same side. This is near best in the absence of any other agendas—Left, Right and Centre. Indian security is besieged by the neo-liberal and casteist-communalist-terrorist overtake.

The author is a former Professor, Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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