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Mainstream, Vol XLVII, No 2, January 24, 2009

Amid Ominous Forebodings


Monday 26 January 2009, by SC


As we are about to observe the fiftyninth anniversary of an event that consolidated our independence—that is, the transformation of the Indian Union into a Republic simultaneous with the adoption of the Constitution of the free nation on January 26, 1950—and served as a shining example before all newly liberated states as well as those still striving to throw off the yoke of oppressive colonial rule, we are indeed besieged by ominous forebodings.

The security scenario inside the country is undoubtedly a cause for serious concern especially after the daring terrorist strike in Mumbai in late November last year. The metropolis had been witness to more grotesque and gruesome terrorist assaults in the past, especially in March 1993 and July 2006 (when symbols of our commercial capital’s business infrastructure and the railway network were targeted with clockwork precision and deadly results), but from the standpoint of the sheer audacity of the operation Mumbai 11/26 was qualitatively different from the previous terrorist strikes—for more than 60 hours a group of young militants held the city to ransom occupying such posh establishments of south Mumbai as the Taj and Oberio Trident Hotels besides the Jewish Centre of Nariman House. In fact the militants’ emergence of all places in Colaba via the sea-route in itself provided the most eloquent testimony to the complete failure of India’s internal security. This has also reinforced the deep-rooted suspicion among security experts as also government functionaries that such an operation could not have been carried out without the active connivance of sections of the Pakistani security apparatus with the non-state actors; it is conclusively established now that the militants sailed into Mumbai from Karachi guided by their mentors in the Lashkar-e-Taiba operating from Pakistan’s southern port city.

The Mumbai terror attack in late November 2008 has thus resulted in a perceptible deterioration in India-Pakistan relations with New Delhi issuing stern warnings to the authorities in Islamabad urging them to crack down at the earliest on terror outfits openly functioning in that country (and even threatening the very existence of the fledgling civilian government there as witnessed in the massive assault on Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel in the recent past) whereas Pakistan reacted with several flip-flops while refusing to respond to Indian “ultimatums”. This decline in bilateral ties is also the cause for insecurity in our region. At the same time jingoist voices have been raised in both the countries thus escalating the levels of prevailing tension to the utter dismay of the peace activists in both states straining their utmost for more than a decade to improve relations between the two peoples through constructive and meaningful dialogue for peace, democracy, social progress that has substantially contributed to cooperation among the masses including and most notably those of divided Kashmir.

Against this backdrop of terrorist depredations on the one side and India-Pakistan tensions on the other we are approaching our sixtieth Republic Day in a week’s time. An atmosphere of insecurity and uncertainty has enveloped us. This oppressive and suffocating environment should not be allowed to be perpetuated for that will only enhance the present insecurity heightened by the fact that both India and Pakistan crossed the nuclear threshold over 10 years ago to emerge as de facto nuclear weapon powers, a fact increasingly recognised by the outside world as seen from the ongoing hectic Western activity to defuse tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.

Nevertheless, whatever the motivations of the West on this score, it would have been ideal for India to have directly approached the civilian government in Islamabad following the Mumbai terror strike (without using the ’good offices’ of the Western states for the purpose) drawing an analogy between the attack on Marriott and that on Taj to urge for a joint India-Pakistan offensive against terrorism inspired by religious fundamentalism of the Al-Qaeda and Taliban brand. That would have constituted a major step towards removing the trust deficit between the two states—something which has assumed alarming proportions at the moment—and this regardless of the level of association between Pakistan’s ISI and the terror outfits directed against India in Kashmir and elsewhere. However, not only has that not happened, there has actually been a sharp escalation of communalisation of the society in this country leading to a reciprocal stepping up of anti-India sentiments in our neighbouring state. Regrettably the media too has abetted the tensions instead of reducing them.

All this is most depressing for anyone wedded to peace and cooperation in our region, and the positive developments in two other South Asian States (the secular Awami League’s resounding victory at the hustings dealing a heavy blow to fanaticism in Bangladesh and the Sri Lankan Government’s decisive military successes against the LTTE, the most dreadful terrorist organisation in the world, in the north of the island state), apart from the holding of peaceful State Assembly elections with a large voter turnout in J&K, howsoever welcome, cannot lift the spirits in this gloomy setting. It is no use trying to apportion blame at this point in time. Let us not forget that 61 years ago the life of the Father of the Nation was snuffed out by a Hindu fanatic just before he was to embark on a journey to Pakistan aimed at fostering amity between the two peoples who shared a common past in British India.

As dark clouds of uncertainty hover over the horizon prior to Republic Day, our domestic situation is no less discouraging. While internal forces of detabilisation are working at a feverish pace to translate their nefarious designs into reality, our own deficiencies are enfeebling and weakening us. The country has doubtless registered spectacular successes in different realms of science and technology and our GDP growth has of late attracted world attention. Nonetheless the neo-liberal paradigm we have unquestioningly embraced as the only means for development in today’s globalised world, while facilitating the rise of a vibrant and upwardly mobile middle class, has accentuated disparities across the nation with many in the countryside forced to endure persisting penury even as the other India shines brighter than ever before completely unconcerned of the misery of Bharat, representing the bulk of our populace. (The Dalit assertion on the one side and the Maoist onslaughts on the other in large tracts of the deprived landmass are the inevitable consequence of this phenomenon.) These apart, the Satyam fraud has once again focussed attention to the murky misdoings of the corporate houses and no amount of protestation of this being an isolated case of delinquency, as is being propagated by certain elements in government, will sell since Satyam’s similarity with Enron’s fate cannot be concealed by any degree of obfuscation. And such developments have also affected the credibility of the media, whose probing eyes had overlooked the kind of fraud Satyam was indulging in precisely because dominant media conglomerates are intrinsically linked to corporate interests in one form or another.

We have long since given up the idea of a welfare state (not to speak of our socialist goal as spelt out at the Congress’ Avadi session in the mid-fifties) and thus those at the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder are left to fend for themselves without any state assistance. In fact with the market reigning supreme the state is in continuous retreat which is why those in governance have been able to push through the neo-liberal SEZ project across the spectrum with even the Left in power in different States rendering support to it as testified by the events in Nandigram in particular.

What is, however, most striking is the allout resistance to such steps by the common people at the grassroots and the inability of state terror to break this popular resistance which is reminiscent of the all-embracing Gandhian mass movement in the days of our freedom struggle.

Herein lie the seeds of hope for the future. The Indian people have recorded undeniable progress in every sphere thus strengthening our democracy in the last sixty years despite all odds and countless obstacles as well as severe setbacks. (Lately corruption and criminalisation of the polity have scaled astounding heights alongside the phenomenal growth of communalism of the majoritarian variety in large parts of not just northern India; and yet these have failed to stall our overall advance and undermine the basic foundations of our democratic structure.) The current worsening security scenario, triggered by the Mumbai terrorist attack and the shortsighted response to it endangering peace in our region, cannot, therefore, destroy these seeds of hope as we cross yet another landmark in our post-independence tryst with destiny.

January 19 S.C.

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