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Mainstream, VOL LIV No 33 New Delhi August 6, 2016

The Unconquerable Spirit of 1942 / Kashmir: Long Haul

Wednesday 10 August 2016, by Nikhil Chakravartty

From N.C.’s Writings

August 9 this year marks the 74th anniversary of the ‘Quit India‘ movement also known as the August Revolution. On this occasion we reproduce the piece that N.C. wrote in Mainstream on the golden jubilee of the movement in August 1992.

The Unconquerable Spirit of 1942

A grateful nation is celebrating the golden jubilee of the ‘Quit India’ movement which, fifty years ago, marked the final glorious phase of our freedom struggle.

With Gandhiji‘s clarion call of ‘Do or Die’, it was undoubtedly the most determined nation-wide upheaval in which not thousands but millions participated. When the historic ‘Quit India’ resolution was passed on August 8, 1942 by the AICC at its memorable session at Bombay’s Gowalia Tank Maidan, few could anticipate the tremendous momentum of mass action it would unleash in a few weeks—largely a spontaneous upsurge of unarmed people inspired by the mandate that the British Raj must end for good.

Those who were witness to those unfor-gettable days are now a fading generation: only a few are left of narrate their uplifting experience. It is only to be hoped that in the year-long celebrations of the golden jubilee, reminiscences of eye-witnesses would be forthcoming. In this context, one recalls that the fiery and striking beauty who hoisted the tricolour amidst police attack on August 9 is fortunately still in our midst. Aruna Asaf Ali, frail in body but finest tempered steel in courage and determination, became a legend as she eluded the police and moved in the underground for four long years.

There are countless heroes who are unknown to the present generation—the old village lady of Midnapore, Matangini Hazra, who fell to police bullets as she defied the ban and marched bravely with the Tricolour in hand. Satara, Ballia and Tamluk became household names of liberated pockets where the Raj had ceased to exist. And not these three alone, many more all over the country—where common humanity defied the foreign ruler. What was remarkable was that although most of the front-rank leaders were swiftly arrested, the British could not put down the massive movement. Men and women, unknown and untested, came forward to hold high the banner of freedom. As official reports, later disclosed, confessed, the writ of the Raj had ceased to run in many parts of the country as the mighty avalanche of people’s anger nearly overpowered the foreign regime. This way they fulfilled the sacred injunction of the ‘Quit India’ resolution:

Every Indian who desires freedom and strives for it must be his own guide urging him on along the hard road where there is no resting place and which leads ultimately to the independence and the deliverance of India.

The British desperately tried to keep open the life-line of the supplies so badly needed for the War which was nearing India’s eastern frontier. But there was little doubt that they got a beating they never had faced before. Had the Nazi divisions not been halted on the blood-soaked terrain of Stalingrad, the collapse of the British imperial power in India, then and there, would have been inevitable. It was, however, crippled sufficiently in 1942 never to recover.

Regrettably, the Communists in our country kept away from the August Revolution. Normally they belonged to the militant fringe of the broad national front that the Congress represented; but in 1942 the Communists—under the mistaken notion that any hampering of the War effort as a result of a mass movement against the British Raj at that particular moment would objectively help the fascist powers and endanger the Soviet Union—opposed the mighty movement and thereby engineered their own isolation from the national mainstream. This grievous mistake cost the Communists heavily as it tarnished their political credibility, and the price they had to pay for this in later years was not inconsiderable.

It is significant that in the years immediately following independence, many of the staunch stalwarts of the August Revolution were disillusioned with the new ruling establishment after independence, and veered over to the Left, searching for militant allies in the new struggle for the India of their dreams. It was no accident that most of the heroes who had held the cita-dels of the August Revolution—the same Tamluk, Ballia and Satara—counted the Communists as their close allies, and a number of them even joined their ranks. Aruna Asaf Ali herself spent the first decade of independence groping in the Left camp, and she was not the only one of the August heroes who did so.

As we fondly look back, those heroic days come alive and a sense of pride naturally overwhelms many of us. And with it comes the unanswered question: why and how has that unconquerable spirit of 1942 disappeared? In the building of free India, why can’t we revive that ‘Do or Die’ determination? We had great leaders among us, though the greatest of them all was slain by one of his countrymen in less than six months of independence. Gandhiji’s martyrdom symbolised, in a flash, the very tragedy that dogged our independence—namely, the blood-stained partition of our motherland. The tallest of our national leaders could not accept it, and yet, in one of the poignant ironies of history, he was killed by the bullet fired by a young man who in anger blamed him for the country’s partition.

And out of that partition was reborn in a more hideous from the demon of communalism. If the British engineered Hindu-Muslim animosity, they left by partitioning the country which sought to perpetuate that bitter animosity. How else can we explain the tussle over a mosque, which houses a Hindu deity, that rocks the nation on this day and age?

When the famished and the unlettered in thousands came out of their homes and joined the August Revolution, they had a vision of the motherland in which poverty would be chased away and the well-being of the common humanity would be ensured. But those very millions of our countrymen and women have seen in these fifty years that the wealth of the nation having grown many times over has helped the rich to become super-rich, while they, who have toiled to produce that wealth, are left in a state of penury and deprivation.

These are the twin curses that undermine today the very foundations of our Republic—horizonatally between the two major commu-nities, and vertically between the affluent and the deprived. Our democracy has certainly endured, but has yet to insure itself against petty politicians whipping up communal tension for narrow partisan ends. Our economy has advanced in strength but has provided no safeguard against the widening of disparities. Here lies the threats to the democratic fabric of our Republic.

During the coming months of the golden jubliee celebrations, there will of course be a spate of generous homages to those who had participated in the August Revolution. Many honours to the heroes would be announced and memorials set up. But the true homage to August 1942 shall come not by profusion of histrionics but through a determined nation-wide struggle for cleansing our public life from cant and hypocrisy, from the pollution of the political process by greed and venality and narrow grooves of pettiness and caste and communal prejudices.

After fifty years, we have to fight for this second and more difficult war of liberation. Then and then only shall we be entitled to be the true heirs of the great August Revolution.

(Mainstream, August 8, 1992)

o o o

Kashmir: Long Haul

Can the light be at last seen at the end of the tunnel in Kashmir? This question has now come up with the statement by the Union Home Minister that the time to resume the political process in Kashmir has arrived and with the report that Farooq Abdullah has been called by the government to return home from abroad and he has agreed to respond.

It was obvious when Jagmohan was sum-marily removed from the post of the Governor of Jammu and Kashmir that the government would now proceed along a different line from the one of unredeemed repression which came to be associated with his name. At the same time it would be unsafe to share Mufti Sayeed’s rather glib assumption that the political process could be initiated here and now. One wonders whether he has taken into account all the factors that need to be checked when a political process is set in motion. It is not as easy as rushing an armed police picket to bring back order. It is more difficult to start a political process than opening a stengun to fire a few rounds, to shoot to kill. This is unfortunately more true in Kashmir today than at any time in the past.

It is to be frankly admitted that all these months, the levers of the political process were thoughtlessly broken in Kashmir. The appoint-ment of Jagmohan as the Governor was done by the government without taking into account its immediate fall-out on the political sphere. No doubt a strong Governor was needed at that moment to avert an imminent disaster—and there was hardly any immediately available to stick his neck out as Jagmohan did—but there was no reason for the Union Home Minister not to anticipate that Jagmohan going as the Governor would lead to the instant resignation of Farooq Abdullah as the Chief Minister. No doubt Farooq had considerably lost his former standing in the public eye in his home State for his misrule and acquiescence in corruption, but even with all that, Farooq quitting the Chief Ministership and the coalition Ministry formally resigning meant that one plank of political functioning was removed.

Next came Jagmohan’s extraordinary action in dissolving the Assembly and that too without the clearance of the Centre—recall the Prime Minister’s reported umbrage which in normal circumstances might have led to the instant recall of the Governor. The argument in support of the dissolution of the Assembly trotted out at that time—that it woiuld have helped to assure the public in Kashmir that the discredited Ministry and its hangers-on would not be brought back to rule over them—was hardly convincing.

In reality, this step only brought fresh impetus for the militants that their line of total polarisation between themselves and the security forces had succeeded, and from now on only armed confrontation would prevail, thereby demolishing one more means to resume the political process.

The third factor that had the possibility of keeping up the political process was George Fernandes’ appointment as the Minister-in-charge of Kashmir Affairs. From the very beginning he made it a point that the militants at different levels must be talked to. What he did was just to listen to them, and to persuade them to talk and to help them to see that there was another path for civilised argument than the violent confrontation of Kalashnikovs. When Fernandes was appointed, the expectation was fairly widespread that perhaps the exploration would now begin for political contact and dialogue which have to precede the resumption of the political process. Unfortunately Fernandes’ mission was sought to be thwarted at every step by the Home Minister, and the Governor on his part could not have possibly taken a shabby attitude towards a Cabinet Minister without a nodding acquies-cence from the Home Minister. It, therefore, speaks volumes of Fernandes’ steadfastness that he adhered to his mission without falling a prey to the provocations that came from both the authorities and the secessionists. This sabotage of Fernandes’ initiative was one more example of the government’s abandonment of the political process.

Again, the announcement of the disbandment of Fernandes’ charge together with the uncere-monious burial of the all-party team attached to it, was one more unthinking move that could possibly have convinced even a moderate militant that the government was leaving no point unplugged in abandoning the political process. As this came almost simultaneously with Jagmohan’s recall, the government seemed to proclaim that it has no policy whatsoever in Kashmir, that while the symbol of all-out repression was removed, the channel for dialogue was also being shut. The government also made no effort to help the minority Pandit community to stay on in the Valley nor handle them with care and understanding when a good section of them left the Valley. In other words, no clear policy on the Kashmir crisis.

With such a sorry background of gratituously tampering with the political process, it is ironical on Mufti Sayed’s part now to talk about beginning the political process immediately. In this context, the invitation to Farooq Abdullah to return marks the long-delayed turning-point in the government’s pllicy towards Kashmir.

While Farooq’s return is to be welcomed and the government’s decision to mobilise him for the purpose of starting the political process is a wise step, one has at the same time to guard against any exaggerated optimism that he would be able to pull off a miracle. Both he and the government have to realise that Kashmir is a long haul and it will not be easy to take the iron out of its soul. The bitter anger coupled with intense antagonism that all-out repression has brought upon the Kashmiri mind has only helped the confirmed secessionist. It is not going to be easy to win over such an embittered people. There are of course redeeming features too. The human rights groups’ exposure of repression in Kashmir—particularly the fact that they are Indian activists—would enable the Kashmiri to undertand that there is an India beyond the muzzle of the security forces’ gun—an India that is friendly and understanding —and that if a ceasefire comes, it would help to sort out problems by means of dialogue. When guns are silenced on both sides only then can one talk. Farooq’s return to his homeland has to act as the signal to the Kashmirs, including the militants, that the time has come for talks, and the guns must stay silent.

A new opportunity but no easy path ahead.

(Mainstream, June 23, 1990)

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