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Mainstream, VOL LVII No 1 New Delhi December 22, 2018 [Annual Number]

The Valley of Incongruities / Do We Need Nehru Today? / Good-bye Feroze / Grim Warning from Bhopal / India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

Sunday 23 December 2018


From N.C.’s Writings

The Valley of Incongruities

Whatever may be the substance of the much-advertised point of difference between Peking and Washington over the question of détente, it may be safely assumed that Gerald Ford’s talks with Mao Tse-tung and his cohorts explored the further potentialities of Sino-American collusion, particularly in the countries of the Third World. Angola shows the enormity of this entente while the happenings in Bangladesh underscores this danger in our immediate neighbourhood.

The Sino-American understanding is thus no longer a matter of remote contingency but a fact of life in international affairs. In our country, this is admitted on the propaganda level, but mostly on that level alone. The fact that Washington has had to resort to such a strategy is a sign of its weakness—the weakness that has been exposed by the magnificent triumph of the Vietnamese people. For Peking, too, the emergence of Vietnam as a major power on its soft under-belly could hardly be a matter of rejoicing, so engrossed are Mao’s men today in the game of power-politics.

If the Ford-Kissinger diplomacy has been to bolster up America’s global designs with the help of China, then the best antidote for any country in the Third World is to strengthen its own economy in a manner that it is not compelled to stretch the begging bowl to the US, and plug all possible inlets of neocolonialist penetration. It is on this score that there is much that has to be done by New Delhi if it has to effectively ward off this new offensive from outside.

Much has been and is being said by many leaders from the Prime Minister downward, about the danger of internal destabilisation and external encirclement. The campaign is on to make our masses aware of the danger of Fasciam. But the breeding ground of Fasciam in today’s context is provided by the entrenched vested interests in agrarian and industrial spheres which, in the final analysis, prop up Right reaction. If the Emergency is justified on the ground of its necessity to put down the frontal challenge of reactionary forces on the political plane, the Twenty-point Programme, it was claimed, would cripple the economic base of Reaction.

In the five months since its announcement, has the Twenty-point Programme undermined the entrenched hold of reactionary vested interests in urban and rural life? True, bonded labour has been abolished by Ordinance, but has the bonded labourer been rehabilitated in economic life? When rural unemployment shows no sign of decreasing, how can we claim in all honesty that effective agrarian reforms are in the going? On the industrial front, the trade unions are agitated over the bonus cut. But this is not an isolated phenomenon: concessions to private enterprise have come in shoals in these five months of the Emergency. From the old slogan of sugar nationalisation, we have now gone on to cut in sugar excise. Who is afraid of the Twenty-point Programme? Not certainly the FICCI.

Political life in the last few days has been marked by displacement and emplacement of Ministers. Bahuguna’s removal from the office of the UP Chief Minister should not have come as a surprise. What was surprising was that he could survive so long even after annoying Yashpal Kapur for having refused to reserve a Rajya Sabha seat for K.K. Birla last year. That day his fate was sealed, and with all the land distribution and house-sites for the Harijan and fair treatment and security for the Muslim minority, there was obviously no escape from the wrath of the Birlas and the sugar barons.

K.R. Ganesh was obdurate in clutching to the Hathi Report calling for action against foreign pharmaceutical firms, when their con-men have been so affectionately generous to a Congress bigwig in Bombay. And so, if Ganesh had to quit his ministerial post, should it be a matter of surprise?

Bansi Lal brings the Jat muscle to strengthen the Indian Cabinet and Dhillon will now on deal with truck-owners instead of having to pacify law-makers. Umashankar Dikshit’s superan-nuation into Governership is touchingly thoughtful, but one wonders if Sardar Swaran Singh has had to retire because he found it difficult to master the alphabet of the present dispensation.

Editorial commentators, friendly and loyal to the Government, have called the Prime Minister’s exercise in Cabinet reshuffle as a job half-done and are despaired of finding in her latest team of Ministers an improved team of implementers of the Twenty-point Programme. What is missed in this assumption is that there seems to be hardly any compulsion, in the inner consciousness of the Congress leadership, for defying the time-honoured practice of keeping platform promises sacrosanct, not to be defiled by the din and dust likely to be raised by any effort at seriously implementing them. Why go in for the bother when the kharif crop has been so good and rabi is expected to be equally so? Would these not carry the Congress through the election, if there is one?

It is not that the Government lacks the will to exercise authority. Before the dawn broke on the day the two new entrants into the Central Cabinet were sworn in at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Naxalite Bhoomaiah and Kista Gowd were hanged in the distant Secunderabad prison for having done to death two landlords for no personal gains. No doubt the law has meted out justice—an eye for an eye—lex talionis. On that very morning and many before it, one saw Government advertisement plastered all over, announcing “Voluntary Disclosure Scheme Gives You the Best Chance to declare your Undisclosed Income and Wealth: No Penalty, No Prosecution, Reasonable Tax Rates.” No penalty for the black moneymaker, —as for many a landlord guilty of fleecing and even torturing the kisan—certainly no lex talionis in his case. Just a touch of grotesque incongruity.

If President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed has twice rejected the mercy petitions of the two—perhaps the first to be executed in our Republic for political offence—whose life was not spared, it is not because he is personality insensitive; for, has he not opened only the other day, an exhibition of women artists by himself drawing a sketch of abstract art? In withhol-ding clemency from Bhoomaiah and Kista Gowd, he, as the constitutional President, has only asserted the Authority, that is, the Government of India.

Authority tempered with mercy is the prerogative of a far-seeing democracy. 

(Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream, December 6, 1975)

Do We Need Nehru Today?

Twelve years ago Jawaharlal Nehru died is harness on May 27. Inevitably, much has changed in these twelve years among his people and in the humanity at large. He was not the man who would have preferred the status quo to change; and if the landscape and the skyline of his country have changed—at places beyond recognition—Nehru, had he been alive, would have tried to understand them, accelerate the process of change.

What we who belong to the generations after him have to ponder over is whether the legacy left behind by Jawaharlal Nehru is of any relevance at all for the Indian people, or, can we afford to disown it with impunity?

There are many edifices in India’s political, economic and social life that are indissolubly linked with the name of Nehru. From the unfettered functioning of parliamentary democracy to the building of the public sector, from the rearing of nonalignment in world affairs to solidarity with the progressive forces abroad, from the strengthening of a free press to social reforms by consent—there are many aspects of Nehru’s India which today claim our serious attention. And it would be legitimate to pose the question to ourselves if these are mere luxuries which we can ill-afford to maintain in the fast-changing world of today.

In times of emergency, extraordinary measures are naturally sanctioned. They are however taken as temporary arrangements and are not expected to be dovetailed into the system as facets of a permanent structure. Because, new habits tend to grow and new theories propounded which may run counter to the time-tested democratic norms.

Jawaharlal Nehru personally never claimed to be a revolutionary. But by his precepts and practice he tried to instil into the unlettered millions of this great country the democratic temper of a modern parliamentary system, and with it also he tried, in his own way, to bestir them with the vision of building a new India of hope and promise.

Forty years ago when he urged upon a subject nation the need to commit itself to socialism, Jawaharlal Nehru was not indulging in airy-fairy do-goodism. From the platform of the Lucknow session of the Congress, he, as its President, enunciated his understanding of socialism which has become classic for every democrat in this country:

“I see no way of ending the poverty, the vast unemployment, the degradation and the subjec-tion of the Indian people except through socialism. That involves vast and revolutionary changes in our political and social structure, the ending of vested interests in land and industry, as well as the feudal and autocratic Indian states system. That means the ending of private property, except in a restricted sense, and the replacement of the present profit system by a higher ideal of co-operative service. It means ultimately a change in our instincts and habits and desires. In short, it means a new civilisation, radically different from the present capitalist order.”

Nehru was no doctrinaire but he was no opportunist either. Socialism, for him, was not just a case of “serving the poor” as is being made our by a lot of infantile sermonising today. It is worth recalling how he berated such vulgarisation: “A strange way of dealing with the subject of socialism is to use the word, which has a clearly defined meaning in the English language, in a totally different sense. For individuals to use words in a sense peculiar to themselves is not helpful in the commerce of ideas. A person who declares himself to be an engine-driver and then adds that his engine is of wood and is drawn by bullocks is misusing the word, engine-driver.”

The realities of present-day politics, Nehru never ceased to attempt analysing them. It was he, more than anybody else in position of authority, who educated the political workers as also the masses at large, the inevitability of ideological divergence between the statusquoist Right and the forward-looking Left. In a report to the AICC at Haripura in 1938, Nehru warned: “An attempt to drive out the Left, if successful, would be fatal, for it represents a vital part of the movement without which it would lose much of its flair and become increasingly wedded to petty reformist activities. It would spread confusion in the mass mind, more especially among the peasantry, and thus weaken the Congress. I feel that some such attempt has been made during recent months and it has created considerable bitterness.”

Thirtyeight years later, as the members of the AICC meet this week, they need to be reminded of this warning born of wisdom because of the emerging phenomenon of mod-politics which denies this reality—a politics that can only undermine the fibre of the national will for building a new social order.

Many of the institutions that have come up in our country during the nearly three decades of independence need to be thoroughly examined so that we may assess how they, each one of them, help or hinder the process of democracy and social change. Side by side, new ventures have to be boldly undertaken so that the down-trodden may not only get a better deal but also have a sense of belonging and with it our independence can be strengthened.

In this context we cannot help remembering a noble son of India who also gave his life while in harness this week three years ago. To Mohan Kumaramangalam, the need to translate the behest of Nehru in terms of social advance was the highest form of patriotism, and it was this conviction that inspired him to undertake, even during his brief span in office, such courageous measures as the nationalisation of coal-mines, liberating thereby from virtually bonded labour over five lakhs of miners. It is a matter of shame that such a measure of far-reaching national benefit is not defended by Congressmen today from attacks by juvenile politicos, prodded by ignorance or misled by propaganda of the vested interests.

It is no truism to say that this nation faces today the most formidable challenge from political philistinism since the one that faced Jawaharlal Nehru before Lucknow forty years ago. As we pay our humble homage to his undying memory, we are tempted to use the words that one poet wrote two hundred years ago, about another, a fearless crusader: Thou shouldst be living at this hour: India hath need of thee. 

(Editor’s Notebookin Mainstream, May 29, 1976)

Good-bye Feroze

Parliament has just repealed the Parliamentary Proceedings (Protection of Publication) Act which came into force twenty years ago in 1956. Late Feroze Gandhi, who initiated and piloted the Bill in Parliament, made a powerful case which might have been useful for the present Government to bear in mind. Sri Bhupesh Gupta, in his signed article in New Age of February 1, 1976, has recalled Feroze Gandhi’s speech, from which a significant portion is reproduced here below:

“For the success of our parliamentary form of Government and democracy, and so that the will of the people shall prevail, it is necessary that our people should know what transpires in this House. This is not your House, or my House, it is the House of the People....It is on their behalf that we speak and function in this Chamber. These people have a right to know what their chosen representatives say and do. Anything that stands in the way must be removed. The extent to which democracy has succeeded can be judged by the extent to which we have successfully compelled the Government to function in the full limelight of publicty. The entire machinery of Parliament is geared to that effect. Our objective today is a socialist society and it is here that we run into the first hurdle. The newspaper which is the means of conveying and giving expression to our ideas belongs to a sector of economy called the private sector. The second and perhaps the bigger obstacle is that the law of libel hangs like the sword of Democles over the head of every editor and correspondent and keeps impressing on him how precarious his existence is. Any newspaper which today publishes the proceedings of our legislatures does so at considerable risk and throws itself open to both civil and criminal action. The law of libel operates like a kind of silent censor and in a way prevents people from knowing that which they have a right to know.”

(Mainstream, February 7, 1976)

Grim Warning from Bhopal

It was a massacre of innocents by all counts. What happened at the Union Carbide plant at Bhopal in the early morning of December 3 was not just a tragedy but a heinous crime which killed nearly two thousand and hospitalised countless others, brings out something much more ghastly than the hazards of modern industrialisation.

The enormity of the crime—unprecedented in our times—lies not merely in any negligence on the part of the workers and superintending staff behind the leakage of the killer gas that took such an unprecedently heavy toll of human and animal lives. The giant multinational company that the Union Carbide is—once acused by Ralph Nader of “environmental blackmail”—has, all these years, conducted itself with shocking impunity. The very location of the Rs 28-crore plant in a residential area was objected to in 1975 by the then Administrator of the Municipal Corporation, M.N. Buch, the well-known town-planner, who in 1975 issued a notice to the company asking for the removal of the plant to a safer area. But Buch was transferred and not the plant.

It has now come to light that leakage started in 1978 and there were a number of them in 1981-1983, but the Union Carbide seems to command extraordinarily powerful influence in political circles: all the incidents could be hushed up and in 1982, the Labour Minister of the State Government told the Assembly without batting his eyelid: “The factory is not a small stone, which can be shifted elsewhere. There is no danger to Bhopal nor will there be.” One wonders how this gentleman is faring today.

Conscience in politicians often turns to stone, as they are exposed to allurements from the business world particularly an affluent multi-national corporation. The Union Carbide guest house at Bhopal has been playing host to many a Minister, Central and State-level, while a local Congress-I leader is reported to have been engaged as the Company’s legal adviser and its PRO is the nephew of a former Education Minister. There are many other beneficiaries, perhaps less known.

It was meet and proper that the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh has ordered a judicial enquiry into the disaster. However, its terms of reference should include how the Union Carbide operates at the political level to cover up its misdeeds. It is quite obvious that the Company has blatantly violated the guidelines issued by the Department of Environment, and there is no report of it ever having been pulled up on this score. A PTI message datelined Washington says: “Environmentalists assume that the safety standards in the US and India must have been different. They have been warning of ‘double standards’ for quite sometime. Ken Silver, an environmentalist, said that one needs to be on guard to ensure that multinationals did not seek ‘pollution havens’ in the Third World.” A similar case as that of Bhopal, though on a smaller magnitude, took place in Mexico, where a refinery explosion brought out the fact that the building code banning gas tanks in residential areas was not followed, with disastrous results. Sometimes, safety drills enforced in the US are ignored by companies in India.

In the case of the Union Carbide, it is believed that the tank storage arrangements in its Bhopal plant is not upto the mark that is followed by the same company in the United States. With this is linked up the whole question of the code for transfer of technology whose terms, as proposed in UNCTAD, have been persistently blocked by the US on the pressure mainly of the giant multinationals.

The question of compensation to the victims has already come up and the Union Carbide management can by no means get away from it. The danger however lies in their coughing out petty sums for the purpose. On this point, the precedent set in Britain by the famous Thali-domide exposure should be adhered to. It is for the Union Government to take a firm stand both on the issue of punishing the guilty and that of compensation for the victims. Let it not be forgotten that Fortune, by no mens a Commie journal, once described the Union Carbide as “a reactionary ogre obsessed with profits”.

It is also imperative that the Centre should appoint a high-power body of scientists and engineers to immediately look into the state of affairs of every industrial plant and propose steps to eliminate or minimise hazards involved in their maintenance.

Out of this ghastly tragedy let the nation awake to the urgency of taking drastic steps to protect the environment from pollution. The time hs come for something more effective than seminars and discourses on this subject of life-and-death importance. 

(Mainstream, December 8, 1984)

India-Pakistan: Imperative of Amity

The recent incident in Islamabad, when a member of the Indian diplomatic mission, Rajesh Mittal, was brutally assaulted by Pakistani intelligence—violating the norms of the Vienna Convention on diplomatic rights and immunities—has touched off countrywide angry protests. This is nothing surprising, particularly when Indo-Pak relations continue to be fragile, and Pakistan’s help to the secessionist elements in the Kashmir Valley is undeniable.

This provocative action on the part of the Islamabad authorities is ascribed in some knowledgeable circles to be the handiwork of Pakistan’s super-intelligence outfit, the ISI, which presumably may be opposed to the improvement of Indo-Pak relations. Whether this is true or not, the fact remains that the assault on Mittal has not elicited any expression of regret from the Pakistan Government, which has made things worse.

It is no secret that Prime Minister Narasimha Rao has been keen on normalising relations with Islamabad and this he has conveyed more than once to his Pakistani counterpart, Nawaz Sharif. It was as a result of this initiative at the prime ministerial level that the process of dialogue between the two countries has been renewed. To help to accelerate the process in a businesslike manner, a meeting of the Foreign Secretaries of the two countries was scheduled to be held at Mussoorie in the first week of June. Accordingly, the agenda for this meeting was prepared and is reported to have turned out to be substantive.

Just about this time, the Mittal incident came like a shock and the process of improving bilateral relations with Pakistan has been hit by a body blow. At the official level, the usual response was apart from lodging a protest, to throw out in retaliation two Pakistan High Commission officials, declaring them persona non grata. There was no plan of the government to put off the scheduled meeting of the Foreign Secretaries. But the pressure of spontaneous public resentment was so over-powering that it forced the government’s hands.

Apart from demonstrations before the Pakistan High Commission in Delhi, there were angry demands for stern action. Not only the BJP but many in other parties including the Congress joined in this chorus. It was evident that if the Foreign Secretaries’ meeting had taken place, there would have been angry demonstrations which might have turned violent and thereby created a law-and-order situation. This would have defeated the very purpose of the meeting of the Foreign Secretaries, which was aimed at improving relations between the two countries and not to let them worsen. Accordingly, there was a telephonic talk between the two Foreign Secretaries to postpone their meeting for a few weeks to let the tempers cool down.

Meanwhile, Narasimha Rao is due to meet Nawaz Sharif at Rio for the Earth Summit, when it is expected that the process of improving relations could again be resumed, apart from conveying to the Pakistan Prime Minister the danger of any provocative action on the part of any agency in Pakistan which might queer the pitch at the bilateral level.

This brings one to the wider question of how to build the edifice of durable relations with our neighbours. The factor of geography has a bearing on the subject. The fact that all our neighbours have to deal with an unequally pre-eminent power that is India, comes in the way of building up an enduring relationship among the countries of South Asia. If India ignores its neighbours, it can be charged with negligence, an attitude of disdain towards its neighbours. If India tries to be friendly and even bends backward to convey the message of friendship, there is always the danger of being misunderstood as being condescending or patronising towards its neighbours, to trying to spread its network of deceptive friendship over them.

Secondly, there is the basic political handicap of the British partitioning of the subcontinent. This has given rise to an unnatural antipathy between the two largest countries in South Asia, India and Pakistan. Out of this has been born the anti-Indian bigotry in sections of the public in Pakistan and has given rise in India to an equally fanatical communal distrust not only towards Pakistan but the Indian Muslims in general. Parties like the BJP exploit it, while most of the others are not averse to it at times. This by itself has always been vitiating the Indo-Pak relations in the last four decades.

Even when Bangladesh was born, the enthusi-astic support from the Hindu establishments for Indira Gandhi was to a large measure tinged with a sense of triumph that Pakistan had been split. And exactly in the same manner, a good section of the Indian Muslims took the Bangladesh war as dismenbering a Muslim state to which they are closely attached. Such perceptions might give a faulty view of the actual reality that operated behind the birth of Bangladesh, but these perceptions can hardly be denied by any dispassionate observer.

It is this mental approach that turns, almost unthinkingly, every impediment on the way to India-Pakistan understanding into a major roadblock which often touches off a populist hysteria. With parties taking a blatantly communal stand, pushed the same populism against Bangladesh as is witnessed today in the controversy over the leasing out of the small enclave of Tin Bigha; to resist an accord over it, there is even talk of suicide squads. In fact, the Tin Bigha controversy flies in the face of a Supreme Court judgement and thereby tries to scuttle the prospect of improved relationship with Bangladesh.

It is time we seriously pondered over the fact that there could be no enduring understanding between India and Pakistan without discarding the long-standing prejudices, suspicions and misgivings that have beset our two countries during the last four decades. This is true for the Pakistani leadership but more so for our leaders since we are the bigger country and it is our responsibility to set the pace for establishing a regime of friendly relations with our biggest neighbour. If we think that better relations will return if we teach Pakistan a lesson in a combat of arms, we shall be making a serious mistake. For there could be no enduring amity between a victor and a vanquished: rather there is every danger of the urge for revenge taking over.

No doubt the Kashmir issue comes in the way. Here, too, we have to ask ourselves frankly: how is it that the people of the Kashmir Valley, who stood like a rock against the invaders from across Pakistan fortyfive years ago, have today no qualms in taking arms from Pakistan to unseat the Indian presence in the Valley? Does it not impose a renewed responsibility upon us to win them over? Would not that be the most fitting contribution to the building up of a better relationship with Pakistan? Not that this country has always been wrong on this or other count. Indo-Pak amity can hardly be built by condemning India. What needs to be done is a serious engagement at frank introspection on the part of both—preferably together.

Angry demonstrations against Pakistani lapses would lead us nowhere. We have to respond to the challenge with maturity and statesmanship, worthy of a great nation that we are.

(Editor’s Notebook in Mainstream, June 6, 1992)

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