Admiral Arun Prakash: Who cries for India?

Admiral Arun Prakash, former Chief of Naval Staff, was born in Anantnag, J&K, in 1944, and lived his early life in the now troubled state. He has kindly sent us this piece, originally contributed to FORCE magazine. It's difficult not to finish what the Admiral writes, once you start reading:

Who cries for India?

Churchill’s Prescience

Winston Churchill imprinted himself in the Indian psyche as the quintessential racialist-imperialist, and earned our everlasting dislike for his infamous remark to Secretary of State for India, Leo Amery, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people…” And yet, one must acknowledge the man’s perspicacity in a comment regarding Indian politicians in the House of Commons in 1947 when he said: “In handing over the governance of India to these so called ‘political classes’, we are handing over to men of straw, of whom in a few years, no trace will remain…”

While Jawaharlal Nehru and his contemporaries, by their strength of character and impeccable conduct, did turn Churchill’s prediction on its head, many of those who followed in their footsteps have proved him to be prophetic. The most egalitarian democracies of the world go to extraordinary lengths to ensure that they are ruled and administered by the intellectual elite of the nation. But we in India have distorted democracy beyond recognition and ensured that our lawmakers and rulers include the dregs of society, some of whom are barely literate, while many others are guilty of serous transgressions of the law of the land.

Our Politicians

It is no secret that, with some honourable exceptions, our polity today is replete with “men of straw”. Since their own livelihood and the fortunes of their families depend on the profession of politics, it should not surprise anyone that these men place themselves, their financial well-being and their political survival, well above the nation in their list of priorities.

The electorate reposes huge faith and trust in the representatives whom it elects to the Parliament of India, in the hope that they will participate in enlightened debate and discussion on serious issues affecting the suffering masses. But what do they do instead? With their screaming, shouting, haranguing, and now waving wads of currency notes at each other, they incessantly disrupt the functioning of Parliament and thus render it totally ineffective and impotent. For all this they draw princely allowances, and enjoy perks and privileges undreamt of by the ordinary Indian.

Our politicians have not only effectively stymied Parliament, but managed to displace “national interest” with emotive issues of religion, caste, region or language, which can be used to inflame passions instantly. They have also taken the political process to the streets, and any issue is good enough to organize illegal dharnas, bandhs and chakka-jams. All they achieve by this is to disrupt normal life and business, destroy public property, and cause losses worth crores to the exchequer. Life is already hell for the common man, and every bus burnt, railway line uprooted or service denied, just adds to his misery. Why have a Parliament if this is how democracy is meant to function?

The police force, which in other countries is a source of reassurance, support and comfort to the citizen, is unable to uphold law and order in India because the same politicians have subverted, corrupted and misused the force to such an extent that it is of little use to civil society.

India’s Shame

Millions of right thinking and concerned Indians felt disgust and dismay as they watched the farcical antics of our MPs on 22nd July 2008, making a mockery of Parliament and our democracy during the vote of confidence. A foreign journalist has likened the scene to a stock exchange!

A fortnight later, with anguish in our hearts, we watched TV footage of Jammu and Srinagar burning while the Neros in New Delhi fiddled. As they traded charges and counter-charges with each other, myopic and unscrupulous politicians concentrated on scoring electoral points, and achieved what they do best; arouse the worst kind of passions for short-term gains with the elections in sight.

With the Government having decided for some strange reason, to adopt a “hands off” policy in this national crisis of serious proportions, TV channels tried to jump in as arbitrators. But even in TV studios, one did not hear many voices of sanity, because most participants had their eyes firmly glued to the vote banks, and they were convinced that even the slightest sign of moderation, reasonableness or concession to national interest would lose them votes in their constituency. And that was a price no one was willing to pay. That such intransigence may lead to the country’s disintegration did not seem to bother anyone.

Playing into ISI’s Hands

The unholy mess created by Kashmiri politicians out of the holy Amarnath Yatra land issue defies comprehension. However, one wishes that Kashmiri hot-heads had paused to contemplate the spirit in which the Indian State continues to subsidize the Hajj pilgrimage for its Muslim citizens, and recalled the iron-clad protection accorded to J&K by Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, before toying with Hindu sentiment.

The wild allegations about “demographic change” being attempted by India in the icy wasteland of Baltal, and comparisons with Palestine were as ridiculous and uncalled for as they were inflammatory. One does not expect maverick organizations like the Hurriyat to lose sleep about India’s sensitivities, but responsible people should have remained alive to the repercussions of such rhetoric, on India’s delicate secular fabric.

South of Banihal, why grievances concerning the alleged “neglect of Jammu” going back decades, should have surfaced as an issue at this particularly delicate juncture, is another mystery. Getting ordinary folks out on the streets, and even inciting them to irrational behaviour in a tense and polarized environment is a simple task for accomplished political agitators. Having driven home its parochial agenda forcefully, the Sangh Parivar should have shown some concern about the larger national interests, and counseled restraint on its acolytes .

Having lit these fires, and vigorously fanned the flames, the politicians sat back to watch the fun. It is really immaterial whether the people of Jammu actually organized an economic blockade or just held up traffic for a couple of days; Pakistan was delighted at this turn of events, and exploited it to the hilt. A beleaguered Musharraf who should have been worrying about his impending impeachment was handed the opportunity to sermonize about India’s human rights violations in Kashmir.

As a horrified nation watches the situation steadily spiraling out of control, Government functionaries as well as opposition politicians seem to be capable only of mouthing smug inanities. Had the best brains of the ISI sat down to craft a plan that would inflict the maximum damage to India’s integrity, secular structure and international standing, and strengthen the Pakistani cause, they could not have concocted anything better than what our small-minded politicians have wreaked on this country.

Strategic Myopia

PM Narasimha Rao’s is credited with having coined the phrase that “not taking a decision is also a decision”. It is perhaps true that since the politician has a short “shelf-life”, he is interested only in what is happening till the next election, and considers long-term projections a waste of time. Strategic myopia is an old and well known Indian malady, but when coupled with blinkered-vision and indecision or inertia, it sends wrong signals all round.

In a few days from now, it will be 61 years since Maharaja Hari Singh signed the Instrument of Accession which legally and constitutionally brought the whole State of J&K into the then Dominion of India. What made a complete mockery of Jinnah’s “two-nation theory” was the fact that at partition there were more Muslims in India than in their putative new homeland, and that these Muslims were full and equal citizens of a secular democracy; unlike the victimized minorities who remained in theocratic Pakistan. And yet, for these 61 years we have allowed Pakistan to harass, intimidate and bleed us over Kashmir through overt aggression and covert terrorism on the specious grounds that as a Muslim-majority state Kashmir belongs to them.

India is not alone in having dissidents with secessionist inclinations at home; UK has the Irish, Spain the Basques, Turkey the Kurds, Russia the Chechens and China the Tibetans and Uighurs. Of course these nations are fortunate in not having a malign neighbour actively aiding insurgency. But all of them have well planned out long term strategies to tackle such vital issues, and to safeguard their national interests. To take a (bad) example; witness the clarity and resolve with which China has set about integrating Tibet, and built the US $ 4 billion Qinghai-Lhasa rail link in a record time.

Kashmir: the Bitter Harvest

Kashmir is the bitter fruit this nation is harvesting for the myopia, mendacity and incompetence of its political classes. I would like to add a few comments on Kashmir, but before I do so, I would like to offer a small explanation lest the reader wonders how 40 years of service in the Navy qualify me for this.

Two days after my third birthday, on the 30th of October 1947, my mother, two teen-aged brothers and I were huddled under some bushes, as .303 bullets fired by Pakistani raiders ricocheted off the tin roof of our home in Badgam, about 20 km from Srinagar. Badgam lay on the Pakistani raiders’ route from Baramulla to Srinagar airport; a key objective they desperately sought, in order to cut off Kashmir from India.

Earlier that evening, fearful of the timber house catching fire, my father had hustled the family out into the garden, while he went to parley with Major Somnath Sharma, commanding “D” Company of 4 Kumaon deployed in Badgam, to halt the raiders’ advance. As the local revenue officer, my father was responsible for the government records and treasury, and he sought Major Sharma’s help in safe-guarding them. Anticipating a fierce fire-fight, the gallant Major, who was just hours away from earning a PVC and immortality, advised him to leave the battle-zone at the earliest.

After a tense night under the bushes, we piled into the family tonga, and were driven to Srinagar airport where my father bundled us, with just the clothes on our backs, into one of the IAF DC-3 Dakotas that were shuttling between Srinagar and Delhi. That night he watched helplessly, in Badgam, as the raiders set our house and all our possessions aflame.

We returned to J&K after about six months of nomadic existence, and I spent the next decade or so, in different parts of the state; Jammu, Srinagar, Baramulla, Sopore, Anantnag, Doda, and finally Leh (in Ladakh) from where I took my high school examination in 1959, and left for college and later join the Navy.

Growing up in the Valley in the 1950s and 60s, my neighbours and playmates were all Kashmiris; of Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faith. Our parents were friends, we ate in each others’ homes, and celebrated all festivals together. But even as children, we clearly understood that Kashmir was not India, and that the average Kashmiri’s attitude towards India was at best ambivalent, while he definitely had an empathy for Pakistan.

Food in Kashmir was heavily subsidized, education was free, right through college, and India provided huge financial assistance to the state. The Kashmiris took all that was offered, but every evening tuned in to Radio Pakistan to listen to a programme called “Kashmir ki Awaz” which spouted propaganda about Indian army atrocities and heaped scorn on the Bharati occupation of Kashmir. One often heard strains of the Pakistani Qaumi Tarana which announced the end of the programme.

By 1953 Pakistan had become a SEATO ally of the US and it was rumoured that the Americans had offered to make Sheikh Abdullah the king of an independent Kashmir. The tallest Kashmiri figure, and a staunch secularist, the Sher-e-Kashmir was arrested as he was on the verge of crossing the border, allegedly, to collect his crown. Kashmir erupted in protest, and with a sense of déjà vu I recall, as a 9 year old, seeing Baramulla go up in flames as agitators waved Pakistani flags and shouted pro-Pakistan slogans. The army opened fire and many were killed before the Valley relapsed into sullen silence.

Ironically, the crores that India blindly poured into Kashmir, were the biggest cause for resentment against it amongst the populace. The reason was simple; the state was a nest of corruption and nepotism, and possibly up to 95% of Indian funds went to line the pockets of the ruling politicians. The average Kashmiri farmer lived in abject poverty, and come winter, it was common to see an exodus of Kashmiri labourers all over North India; trying to eke out a livelihood carrying head-loads.

The corrupt politicians and the incompetent administrators of Kashmir were perceived as Indian stooges and exploiters, and this impression gradually gained strength as successive elections were seen to be blatantly rigged. By simply throwing money at the problem, and backing the wrong people to rule Kashmir, India steadily alienated its people. Thus, instead of crafting a national strategy for winning over Kashmir, we created the fertile ground in which the ISI repeatedly sowed the seeds of discord, dissension and sedition, till young Kashmiris started picking up Kalashnikovs.

How to Lose Friends

The recurring successes of the ISI in J&K were due, as much to its own strategic acumen and planning skills, as to the short-sighted and blinkered vision of our political leadership. Just as India finished fighting one fire, another would break out; the theft of Prophet Mohammad’s sacred relic, kidnapping of Rubayia Sayeed, seizure of Hazaratbal Shrine, capture and burning down of Charar-e-Sharif, persecution and exodus of Kashmiri Pundits from the Valley, hijacking of IC-814; all followed each other in a depressing sequence. They clearly pointed to the ineptness of our intelligence agencies, a lack of civil-military coordination and the complete absence of a cogent Kashmir strategy in New Delhi.

This is not meant to be a history of Kashmir’s travails, but merely a reminder to those who profess shock and horror at the recent happenings in the Valley, that since 1947 we have not been entirely successful in convincing the Kashmiri that he was an Indian. The struggle for Kashmiri hearts and minds was at best, “work in progress”, while they sat firmly on the fence.

Common sense should inform us that while you do not need to appease people to win them over; but you have to be good and kind to influence them. Events like the demolition of Babri Masjid, the Gujarat pogrom and periodic communal riots certainly could not have won over any Kashmiris. The recent economic blockade, if there was one, must have only confirmed the worst fears of Kashmiris.

Let Us Talk About Kashmir

As the recent crisis shows: our political classes have learnt nothing from history, and given their ineptitude, the Kashmir imbroglio could carry on forever. The Kashmiri leadership, on their part have displayed insensitivity and opportunism of the worst kind. We need to acknowledge that Kashmir has indeed suffered due to the games that the politicians have been playing since 1947, but the Kashmiris cannot deny that much Indian blood has been spilt on their soil, and the nation has lavished huge resources on the State for the betterment of its people.

In the din of political rhetoric, we will never come to know whether or not, “azadi” is what the ordinary Kashmiri wants; and if he does, what exactly he means by it. Meanwhile, the so called Kashmiri leadership can use this slogan to whip up passions in the Valley and thus provide fodder for the Sangh Parivar to do likewise in Jammu.

Perhaps as soon as things calm down in J&K, and Pakistan knows which way it is going, the first thing on everyone’s agenda should be to sit around a table and talk about the options available for finding a just and honourable resolution to this problem which has dragged on for far too long.

Conclusion: How Many More Kashmirs?

But there is a larger issue before us: how do we know that there are not many more Kashmirs in store for India? We have inflicted on ourselves, and we will bequeath to succeeding generations, a political system which makes effective governance virtually impossible. With un-governed areas in the country expanding, it now appears that the integrity and cohesion of the nation may also be in peril.

It is the elected representatives of the people, the law-makers of the land, who should bring about necessary reforms in the system. It is tragic that they will not raise a finger to make the slightest change that will rock the happy boat that they are riding in, at the peoples’ expense.

One wonders if there may, perhaps, be a small ray of hope for the country in the interregnum between the dissolution of the 14th Lok Sabha and the convening of the 15th . Is there a window of opportunity to formulate some reforms, vital to the proper functioning of democracy? Like:

· Reasonable qualifications to be drawn up for a candidate who wishes to stand for elections as a representative of the people, including education, a clean police record and financial probity.

· A stringent code of conduct to be laid down for the elected representatives of the people, including the right to recall, for misconduct, defection or non-performance. There should be no immunity for misdemeanours inside or outside parliament.

· Rules for attendance, participation and conduct of business in the houses of Parliament by MPs to be laid down, and penalties for violating the dignity and decorum of the legislature be stipulated. The “no work no pay” rule be invoked for our representatives.

· Use of religion and caste, as well as violent demonstrations for political ends, and destruction of public property be designated as serious anti-national crimes, inviting heavy penalties.

· Implementation of police reforms, outsourcing of VIP security and according of immunity to the police, from political intimidation and interference.

Perhaps the President of India should think about convening a committee of constitutional experts to give their attention to these issues, and then consult the Prime Minister about the possibility of issuing a Presidential Ordnance after declaration of the election schedule.

©Copyright & Courtesy FORCE Magazine / Photo ©Shiv Aroor/LiveFist - Army jawan on the Srinagar-Jammu Highway during the snow-tsunami in early 2005

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,