November 10, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Subroto Roy recalls that long before Gorbachev and Walesa, there was in the Prague Spring a man named Dubček…. this is a photograph published in his “Hope Dies Last”
April 24, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
It is constantly the task of practical wisdom not to say
“This is good, and I will have it,”
but to say
“This is the less of two unavoidable evils, and I will bear it.”
——— “Address to Working-Men by Felix Holt”,
George Eliot, Blackwood’s Magazine 1868
March 29, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
March 18, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Nine months ago, on June 9 2008, I wrote but did not publish the op-ed article below “Pakistan’s progress” intended for an Indian newspaper. When the Mumbai massacres took place, I was rather glad I had not come to do so because its cheer and optimism contrasted too starkly with the vileness and viciousness of the massacres. Instead I turned to the legal, moral and political implications of the massacres, and several articles are to be found here on Kasab, competing jurisdictions in international law in prosecuting the crimes, and application of the Law of the Sea Treaty (which both countries have ratified) to jointly try and hang the masterminds at sea in international waters. Pakistan’s initial criminal investigation into the massacres received praise here, and I can only trust that both the Government of India and the Government of Pakistan will remain forensically focussed on that case of mass-murder and other heinous crimes until its appropriate conclusion.
Meanwhile, recent political events in Pakistan have made the article below relevant again; when it was written Pervez Musharraf had still not departed from office but the more abstract constitutional question raised in the article had to do with the relative powers of the Head of State and Head of Government in the new Pakistan. With the peaceful restoration of the Chief Justice to his high office, I am glad to say that the question I raised but did not publish nine months ago, namely, “A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough?”, seems to be headed at present to being answered in the affirmative.
March 18, 2009
Pakistan’s progress: A rare constitutional consensus might be developing – can it last long enough? Subroto Roy, dated June 9 2008
The dynamic evolution of politics in Pakistan should be judged not against Indian politics (rotten or exemplary as our politics can be at different times) but against its own initial conditions. It is an unimaginable luxury that Pakistanis in recent months have been discussing such sweet constitutional questions as how to restore judges unseated by soldiers having entered the Supreme Court, what to do with judges who took an oath despite such an abomination, how to maintain diplomatic relations between the PPP and PML(N), and most important of all, whether the military with its nuclear assets should report to the PM or President – in other words, is the Head of Government or Head of State the Chief Executive? It is a luxury too that Pervez Musharraf has become almost a distraction in Pakistani politics, that he himself indicates he may be running out of dramatic lines and may be getting ready to exit his country’s political stage, that the Pakistan Army is shocked by its realisation of its loss of prestige in society, that the Ex-Servicemen’s Society thinks Musharraf deserves punishment for having caused such a state of affairs. Dr Ayesha Siddiqa has pointed out that every Pakistani military strongman has been eventually removed, and has been removed not by democratic forces alone but by intra-military pressure.
It is likely we are at present witnessing such a critical moment, and it is naturally fraught with danger for any civilian prime minister and parliament because any intra-military conflict can descend into mutiny or worse. Pakistan Army officers have been deeply divided for years over Islamicisation already — onto which is now compounded the issue of loyalty to Musharraf (mostly paid for in American dollars) versus the urge to remove him in the best future interests of the military. Musharraf himself, with his usual braggadocio, has been claiming fealty to constitutional principles as well; so at least there is agreement on all sides that matters should proceed in an orderly and dignified manner and not by nefarious means.
The relevant comparison of the present situation is with the recent past. Let us look back just a few years, say to the autumn of 2005 when the initial post 9/11 Western backlash against Pakistan had been renewed after the London Underground bombings. On 1 September 2005, during the scheduled Islamabad visit of the Indian Foreign Secretary, the PAF launched massive month-long war-games against an assumed Indian enemy. It involved “the entire fleet, including US-made F-16s, French Mirage fighter aircraft and Chinese-built jets” and “using all assets” in an exercise “closest to war you can get in peacetime”; from the Hindu Kush to the Arabian Sea “8,200 operational sorties” would be flown, Shaukat Aziz witnessing the start, Musharraf the finish. Hardly had this orgy of militarism concluded when northern Pakistan and parts of J&K were hit by the devastating earthquake; Musharraf visited quake-hit areas still dressed in battle gear down to his para wings.
Pakistanis of all classes were appalled at the ineptitude of their government in face of the earthquake and it was inevitable the military would be held responsible. What had been the opportunity cost in fungible resources of those “8,200 operational sorties”? The military’s extremely expensive “assets” were designed for war with India and had bankrupted the country but ordinary people had been left utterly helpless in a natural calamity. Future historians of Pakistan may well see the 2005 earthquake as a critical turning point in their political development just as the 12 November 1970 cyclone was in the history of Bangladesh.
A modern war between Pakistan and India, even a non-nuclear one, would be like a hundred earthquakes. Indians have not been so jingoistic as to contemplate such an exchange of destruction but less than a decade ago Gohar Ayub Khan, as Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, was boasting how India would surrender within a few hours in the next war – which was presumably a threat to unleash missiles, even non-nuclear ones, as a first resort against Indian cities and civilian populations. That such abominable Pakistan-India tension has today come to vanish might have been indicated during the recent IPL cricket final when Kamran Akmal jumped onto Yusuf Pathan or crashed into Mohammad Kaif as commercially driven team-mates led by an Australian captain and associated with what used to be Hindu Rajputana. So much for the “Two Nations Theory” in the 21st Century. Maulana Azad seems to have been proven right and MA Jinnah proven wrong after all.
The Pakistani state had become an oppressive war-machine solely guided by anti-Indian paranoia even while ordinary Pakistanis, through modern communications and technology, knew fully well India and Indians were not nearly as bad as the Pakistan Government was making them out to be. From an official Pakistani point of view, a nuclear bomb (even a purchased and assembled one) was needed out of fear India intended to destroy what remained of West Pakistan – a theory that could arise only from the delusion that Bangladesh had been caused by Indian intrigues. The Pakistan Army has been reluctant for more than a generation to face up to the reality of its behaviour in East Pakistan and the consequences that resulted; it has been far easier to blame India instead.
Yet Pakistan’s national hero, AQ Khan himself, born in Bhopal and extremely bitter at modern India as many former Indian nationals tend to be, has now said “Never! Never!” will there be an exchange of destruction in nuclear warfare between India and Pakistan. It may be a wise Indian diplomatic move to invite Dr Khan, stricken with cancer as he is said to be, to make a quiet private visit to his place of birth if he wished to (perhaps followed by a courtesy luncheon at BARC on the way home).
Of course Indians cannot forget the destruction that has been wrought in this country in recent years by our old Bogeyman, the ISI. Yet it is a fair bet that not only do we not comprehend the workings of that particular bureaucracy, nor do Pakistanis themselves, indeed the ISI itself may not comprehend itself in the sense that different ISI sections have been and may remain at cross-purposes or conflict with each other as has become apparent in the ongoing official attempts to suppress the new “Taliban”. Proper civilian control of the ISI is part of the same process as the proper civilian control of the Pakistan military as a whole, and what we are witnessing is nothing less than the first serious constitutional attempt in Pakistan’s history for that to take place. The whole subcontinent is hopeful and watching Pakistan’s transition. In the meantime, a milestone was certainly reached on 25 May when Pakistan’s young and brilliant sufi rock band *Junoon* performed in beautiful Srinagar to the delight of thousands of Kashmiris. The “United Jehad Council” and Syed Ali Shah Geelani had denounced them; in reply the band’s lead guitarist Salman Ahmed had the courage to say: “I want them to join us in the musical *jehad* for peace and ring the bells of harmony.” For peace to break out will of course require India’s participation and willingness as well.
February 9, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
The Government of Pakistan is said to be due to release its initial report on the involvement of Pakistanis in the Mumbai massacres. It is reportedly expected that the G o P will partly if not mainly or wholly attribute responsibility for the planning of the massacres to expatriate Pakistanis in other countries, perhaps in Europe and Britain. If so, a fact the Government of India might find prudent to recall is that the Government of Pakistan in bygone decades did deny citizenship to Rahmat Ali himself (who invented the acronym “P, A, K, I, S, T, A, N” ) and even deported him back to Britain from where he had carried out his vituperative and bigoted campaign against Hindus.
Rahmat Ali’s British grave has become a site of pilgrimage for expatriate Pakistani extremists and his ignorant hate-filled ideology from the 1930s has been inspiring their modern manifestos. I said this in an article published in Karachi’s Dawn newspaper in 2005, which also pointed to Iqbal and Jinnah’s disdain for Rahmat Ali’s views (see “Iqbal and Jinnah vs Rahmat Ali” republished here). American nationals and British subjects of Pakistani origin inspired by Rahmat Ali’s ghost are spreading theories of Pakistani territorial expansionism at the cost of the destruction of the Indian Republic and many other countries.
The fact that at one such website recently I myself, presumably because of my Hindu name and Indian nationality, have been referred to as a “monkey- or donkey-worshipper” 😀 may speak to the somewhat rabid nature of such ideologies. (Drat! And there I was expecting some elementary Pakistani courtesy and acknowledgment let alone gratitude for having created, at great personal cost at an American university twenty years ago, the volume with WE James titled Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s with its mundane chapters on agriculture, macroeconomics, education etc!)
Incidentally, British newspapers are reporting today that America’s CIA has been deeply concerned about British subjects of Pakistani origin being a source of international terrorism. It may be pertinent to recall that terrorism in India’s Punjab had much support among numerous Sikh expatriates and immigrants in North America and Britain, and the same kind of thing may be true of Tamil expatriates from Sri Lanka. Being isolated and alienated as immigrants in a foreign country may lead to psychological conditions that contribute to such phenomena, whereby political and other events in the faraway country-of-origin take on exaggerated proportions in an individual’s mental make-up. Certainly Rahmat Ali himself was a rather tragic lonely figure who wasted his own potential to properly contribute to Pakistan’s political history through his own self-blinding hatred of Hindus.
January 18, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Satyam may be able to summarily solve the problems caused by its high-level corporate fraud by transforming itself into a “Labour-Managed Firm”.
One of the new Government-appointed board members has stated publicly today that the company has little or no debt. If this is true it would be interesting because not only were the vast cash-assets non-existent, the liabilities-side of the balance-sheet also may be small, which could mean the company was simply far smaller in terms of value than it had made itself out to be. In a bankrupt firm, the remaining assets normally come to belong to the creditors but what if the main creditors happen to be the work-force? If that is in fact the situation in this case, Satyam may be a prime candidate to be transformed into a “Labour-Managed Firm” of the sort discussed by Jaroslav Vanek (The General Theory of Labour Managed Firms and Market Economies, 1970) and James Meade (The theory of the labour-managed firm and profit-sharing, Economic Journal 1972), and surveyed by e.g. Louis Putterman in the New Palgrave Dictionary and by Martin Ricketts in The Economics of Business Enterprise 2003.
As I had briefly mentioned earlier here, the transition could be made by Satyam’s existing technical and other staff being allowed to participate (with their personal savings and claims to future income) in any auction of the “works-in-progress” that constitute the client contracts the company presently has around the world and which constitute its major intangible asset. This may be the single best way to preserve the firm’s value as well as the income-streams of its staff.
The staff would have to make a transition from being employees to becoming self-managers which may not be easy in practice, although in theory the information-technology industry may be well-suited to labour-managed firms given the peculiarly intangible nature of their products. The marginal cost of production of (true) information is typically very high but the marginal cost of dissemination of information is near- zero.
If this happened and a corrupt bankrupt Satyam-I transformed itself into a viable Labour-Managed Satyam-II, the newly appointed board would become redundant even more quickly than it would have done otherwise — though this board may be even less likely to know of Vanek and Meade than to be familiar with modern corporate finance. Time perhaps to hit the textbooks, gentlemen, and burn that midnight candle! Is that something we can expect from some of the key lobbyists of India’s organized business sector?
Postscript 1 : Of course if the asset-side has been fraudulently exaggerated while the liabilities-side has been small, the fraud has been directly perpetrated on equity-holders who held stock that was overvalued by the market as a direct result of the fraud.
Postscript 2: I find (grotesquely) amusing the new found emphasis on “Independent Directors” in view of the obvious fraud in the advertised biographies of some rather notorious Independent Directors in the IT-business and other sectors of corporate India and the higher bureaucracy! There seems in fact to have been a wild hyperinflation of reputations generally, especially in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Pune and other such hip with-it places — people claiming to have earned PhDs when they have none, people calling themselves “Dr” on the basis of some defunct Soviet management institute having once paid them off, people claiming to be Harvard postgraduates on the basis of some outsourced executive development programme of a few weeks’ duration, people claiming academic publications and academic affiliations which are non-existent, etc etc. All that for another day! (But any former students of mine who may find the above pertinent to themselves may please know their old prof is cross with them! Tsk tsk!) (And then there was the one of the senior government economic planner who told his astrologer on the telephone his correct date of birth but had lied to the Government of India by a couple of years…. clearly he did not want to get his own Ptolomaic horoscope wrong even if his plans for India in the Copernican world went awry!)
January 14, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Mr Wei Jingsheng, Citizen of China
I am delighted to know from news reports today that you are well and active.
This short note is merely to tell you that some 28 years ago, your name entered my doctoral thesis submitted to the Cambridge University Faculty of Economics & Politics, titled “On liberty & economic growth: preface to a philosophy for India”.
On page 23, the thesis said:
“We know such conversations should not be forcibly silenced, which is why it is wrong that Dr Sakharov is banished, or that Mr Wei Jingsheng is gaoled for a decade, or that Dr Tomin is brutally assaulted and not allowed to lecture on Aristotle.”
And again on page 104:
“A disciplined and united oligarchy can with careful planning maintain its rule indefinitely over an amorphous and anonymous citizenry. The only thorns in its side will be men like Sakharov and Wei Jingsheng and Tomin whose courage is somehow signalled to the outside world and who thus become recognisable names. But even these men can be exiled or gaoled or thrashed into silence, so extinguishing the small chance left of the the truth being told and the Leadership’s claim to unique wisdom being exposed for the sheer humbug it is.”
With my continuing admiration, I remain
January 8, 2009 — drsubrotoroy
Corporate Governance & the Principal-Agent Problem
for a conference on corporate governance
I am most grateful for this opportunity to speak at this distinguished gathering. I have to say I have had just a day to collect my thoughts on the subject of our discussion, so I may be less precise than I would wish to be. But I am delighted I have a mere 7 minutes to speak, and I will not plan to speak for a second more!
I would like to ask you to consider the following pairings:
SHAREHOLDER: DIRECTORS & MANAGERS
You will recognize something in common to all of these pairings I am sure. A patient goes to a doctor with a problem, like a swelling or a stomach ache or a fever, and expects the doctor to do his/her best to treat it successfully. A client goes to a lawyer with a problem, of a contract or a tort or a criminal charge, and expects the lawyer to represent him to the best of his ability. A student attends a University or higher educational Institute, and expects the professors there to impart some necessary knowledge, to explain some difficult or complex natural or social phenomena, to share some well-defined expertise, so the student too may aspire to becoming an expert.
In each case, there is a Principal – namely the patient, the client, the student, — and there is an Agent, namely, the doctor, the lawyer, the professor. The Agent is not acting out of charity but is someone who receives payment from the Principal either directly through fees or indirectly through taxes.
The Agent is also someone who necessarily knows more than the Principal about the answer to the Principal’s problem. I.e. there is an asymmetry in the information between the two sides. The Agent has the relevant information or expertise — the Principal needs this information or expertise and wishes to purchase it from him one way or another.
A company’s Board of Directors and the management that reports to it, may be similarly assumed to have far greater specific knowledge than the company’s shareholders (and other stakeholders) about the state of a company’s operations, its finances, its organisation, its position in various input and output markets, its potential for growth in the industry it is a part of, and so on. Yet the shareholders are the Principal and the directors and managers are their Agents.
And indeed the Government of a country, i.e. its political leadership and the bureaucracy and military that are reporting to it, also have much more relevant decision-making information available to them than does the individual citizen as to the economic and political direction the country should be taking and why, and again the body of the ordinary citizenry of any country may have a reasonable expectation that politicians, bureaucrats and military generals are acting on their behalf.
In each of these cases, the Principal, having less information than the Agent, must necessarily trust that the Agent is going to be acting in good faith on the Principal’s behalf. There is a corporate governance problem in each case simply because the Agent can abuse this derived power that he acquires over the Principal, and breach the contract he has entered into with the Principal. Doctors or lawyers can practise improperly, professors can cheat their students of their money and teach them nothing or less than nothing, boards of directors and managers can cheat their shareholders and other “stakeholders” (including their workers who have expectations about the company) of value that should be rightfully theirs — and of course politicians, bureaucrats and military men are all too easily able to misuse the public purse in a way that the public will not even begin to know how to rectify.
In such situations, the only real checks against abuse can come from within the professions themselves. It is only doctors who can control medical malpractice, and only a doctor can certify that another doctor has behaved badly. It is only lawyers who can control legal malpractice, and testify that yes a client has been cheated of his money by some unscrupulous attorney. It is only good professors and good teachers who can do what they can to stand out as contrasting examples against corrupt professors or incompetent teachers.
In case of managerial malpractice, it is only fellow-managers who may be able to comprehend the scam that a particular CEO has been part of, in stealing money from his shareholders. And in case of political malpractice, similarly, it is only rival political parties and when even those fail, rival political institutions like the courts or the press and media, who can expose the shenanigans of a Government, and tell an electorate to throw the rascals out in the next election.
In other words, self-policing, and professional self-discipline are the only ultimate checks and balances that any society has. The ancient Greeks asked the question “Who guards the guardians”, and the answer has to be that the guardians themselves have to guard themselves. We ultimately must police ourselves . I think it was William Humboldt who said that a people get the government they deserve.
In India today, indeed in India in the last thirty or forty years, perhaps ever since 1966 after the passing away of Lal Bahadur Shastri, we may be facing a universal problem of the breach of good faith especially so perhaps in the Government and the organised corporate sector. Such breaches occur in other countries too, but when an American court sends the top management of Enron to jail for many years or a Korean court sends the top management of Daewoo to jail for many years, we know that there are processes in these countries which are at least making a show of trying to rectify the breaches of good faith that may have occurred there. That is regrettably not the situation in India. And the main responsibility for that rests with our Government simply because our Government is by far the largest organised entity in the country and dwarfs everyone else.
As an economist, I have been personally intrigued to realise that Government corruption is closely caused by the complete absence of serious accounting and audit norms being followed in Government organisations and institutions. Get control of as big a budget as you can, is the aim of every Government department, then spend as little of it as is absolutely necessary on the publicly declared social or national aim that the department is supposed to have, and instead spend as much as possible on the travel or personal lifestyles of those in charge, or better still transform as much as possible into the personal property of those in charge – for example, through kickbacks on equipment purchases or building contracts. For example, it is not unknown for the head of some or other government institution to receive an apartment off-site from a builder who may have been chosen for a major construction project on site. This kind of thing has unfortunately become the implicit goal of almost all departments of the Government of India as well as the Governments of our more than two dozen States. I have no doubt it is a state of affairs ultimately being caused by the macroeconomic processes of continuous deficit-financing and unlimited printing of paper-money over decades. For the first two decades or so after Independence, our institutions still had enough self-discipline, integrity, competence and optimism to correct for the natural human instincts of greed and domination. The next four decades — roughly, as I have said, from the death of Shastriji — there has been increasing social and political rot. I have to wonder if and when a monetary collapse will follow.
December 12, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
The crime of murder is that of deliberate homicide, that of mass-murder is the murder of a mass of people. There is no doubt the lone captured Mumbai terrorist, “Kasab”, has committed mass-murder, being personally responsible for the murder of probably 20 or 30 wholly innocent people he had never met. He killed them by machine-gun fire and grenades at CST/VT railway station on November 26 2008 before being shot and captured by police. He is also a co-conspirator in the mass-murders carried out by his associate at the railway station and those elsewhere in Mumbai. There is no doubt he should serve rigorous imprisonment for life in an Indian prison for his crimes.
And yet…. And yet…
If the Government of India is sensible, it needs to describe and comprehend the moral subtleties of the circumstances surrounding Kasab’s life, especially during the last year. Here was a stupid, ignorant, rather primitive youth misguided by others first into becoming a petty robber, later into becoming a terrorist-trainee in hope of advancing his career in thievery!
Bakri-Id 2008 has just occurred – it is on Bakri-Id a year ago in 2007 that Kasab reportedly first ventured into volunteering for terrorist training as a way of learning how to use firearms! It is almost certain he had never met a Hindu or an Indian in his life before then, that he knew absolutely nothing about the subcontinent’s history or politics, that he would be ignorant about who, say, Iqbal or Jinnah or Maulana Azad or Sheikh Abdullah or Mahatma Gandhi ever were. Within less than a year, that same youth had been brainwashed and trained adequately enough by Pakistan’s terrorist masterminds to become a robotic mass-murderer in Mumbai’s railway station. Now having been caught and treated humanely by his captors, he has confessed everything and even expressed a wish to write a letter to his father in Pakistan expressing remorse for his deeds.
If I was the judge trying him, I would sentence him to a minimum of twenty or thirty years rigorous imprisonment in an Indian prison. But I would add that he should be visited in jail by a few of India’s Muslim leaders, and indeed he should be very occasionally allowed out of the prison (under police supervision) in a structured program to offer Namaz with India’s Muslims in our grandest mosques. He should learn firsthand a little of the lives of India’s Muslims and of India’s people as a whole. Perhaps he will become a model prisoner, perhaps he may even want to become in due course a potent weapon against the terrorist masterminds who ruined his life by sending him to murder people in India.
It bears to be remembered that in an incredible act of Christian forgiveness, the widow of the Australian missionary Graham Staines forgave the cold-blooded murderers who burnt alive her husband and her young sons as they slept in a jeep in Orissa. The family of Rajiv Gandhi may have done the same of those who assassinated or conspired to assassinate Rajiv Gandhi. This is the land of Mahatma Gandhi, who had woven a remarkable moral and political theory out of the Jain-Buddhist-Hindu doctrine of ahimsa as well as Christian notions from Tolstoy and Thoreau of forgiving the sinner.
Of course there cannot be forgiveness where there is no remorse. Kasab’s behaviour thus far suggests he will be remorseful and repentant; there are many other thieves and murderers in the world who are not.
Reported statement of Mohammad Ajmal Amir ‘Kasab’, 21, to police after arrest: “I have resided in Faridkot, Dinalpur tehsil, Ukada district, Suba Punjab state, Pakistan since my birth. I studied up to class IV in a government school. After leaving school in 2000, I went to stay with my brother in Tohit Abad mohalla, near Yadgar Minar in Lahore. I worked as a labourer at various places till 2005, visiting my native once in a while. In 2005, I had a quarrel with my father. I left home and went to Ali Hajveri Darbar in Lahore, where boys who run away from home are given shelter. The boys are sent to different places for employment. One day a person named Shafiq came there and took me with him. He was from Zhelam and had a catering business. I started working for him for Rs120 per day. Later, my salary was increased to Rs200 per day. I worked with him till 2007. While working with Shafiq, I came in contact with one Muzzafar Lal Khan, 22. He was from Romaiya village in Alak district in Sarhad, Pakistan. Since we were not getting enough money, we decided to carry out robbery/dacoity to make big money. So we left the job.
We went to Rawalpindi, where we rented a flat. Afzal had located a house for us to loot… We required some firearms for our mission… While we were in search of firearms, we saw some LeT stalls at Raja Bazaar in Rawalpindi on the day of Bakri-id. We then realised that even if we procured firearms, we would not be able to operate them. Therefore, we decided to join LeT for weapons training. We reached the LeT office and told a person that we wanted to join LeT. He noted down our names and address and told us to come the next day. The next day, there was another person with him. He gave us Rs200 and some receipts. Then he gave us the address of a place called Marqas Taiyyaba, Muridke, and told us to go to there. It was an LeT training camp. We went to the place by bus. We showed the receipts at the gate of the camp. We were allowed inside… Then we were taken to the actual camp area. Initially, we were selected for a 21 days’ training regimen called Daura Sufa. From the next day, our training started.
The daily programme was as follows: 4.15 am — Wake-up call and thereafter Namaz; 8 am — Breakfast; 8.30 am to 10 am — Lecture on Hadis and Quran by Mufti Sayyed; 10 am to noon – Rest; Noon to 1 pm – Lunch break; 1 pm to 4 pm – Rest; 4 pm to 6 pm – PT; instructor: Fadulla; 6 pm to 8 pm – Namaz and other work; 8 pm to 9 pm – Dinner
After Daura Sufa, we were selected for another training programme called Daura Ama. This was also for 21 days. We were taken to Mansera in Buttal village, where we were trained in handling weapons. The daily programme was as follows: 4.15 am to 5 am – Wake-up call and thereafter Namaz; 5 am to 6 am – PT; instructor: Abu Anas; 8 am – Breakfast; 8.30 am to 11.30 am – Weapons training; trainer: Abdul Rehman; weapons: AK-47, Green-O, SKS, Uzi gun, pistol, revolver; 11.30 am to Noon – rest; Noon to 1 pm – Lunch break; 1 pm to 2 pm – Namaz; 2 pm to 4 pm – Rest; 4 pm to 6 pm – PT; 6 pm to 8 pm – Namaz and other work; 8 pm to 9 pm – Dinner.
After the training, we were told that we will begin the next stage involving advanced training. But for that, we were told, we had to do some khidmat for two months (khidmat is a sort of service in the camp as per trainees’ liking). We agreed. After two months, I was allowed to go to meet my parents. I stayed with my parents for a month. Then I went to an LeT camp in Shaiwainala, Muzaffarabad, for advanced training… We were taken to Chelabandi pahadi area for a training programme, called Daura Khas, of three months. It involved handling weapons, using hand grenade, rocket launchers and mortars.
The daily programme was as follows: 4.15 am to 5 am – Wake-up call and thereafter Namaz; 5 am to 6 am – PT; instructor: Abu Mawiya; 8 am – Breakfast; 8.30 am to 11.30 am – Weapons training, handling of all weapons and firing practices with the weapons, training on handling hand grenade, rocket-launchers and mortars, Green-O, SKS, Uzi gun, pistol, revolver; trainer: Abu Mawiya; 11.30 am to 12 noon – rest; Noon to 1 pm – Lunch break; 1 pm to 2 pm – Namaz; 2 pm to 4 pm – Weapons training and firing practice; lecture on Indian security agencies; 4 pm to 6 pm – PT; 6 pm to 8 pm – Namaz and other work; 8 pm to 9 pm – Dinner
There were 32 trainees in the camp. Sixteen were selected for a confidential operation by one Zaki-ur-Rehman, alias Chacha, but three of them ran away from the camp. Chacha sent the remaining 13 with a person called Kafa to the Muridke camp again. At Muridke, we were taught swimming and made familiar with the life of fishermen at sea… We were given lectures on the working of Indian security agencies. We were shown clippings highlighting atrocities on Muslims in India. After the training, we were allowed to go to our native places. I stayed with my family for seven days. I then went to the LeT camp at Muzaffarabad. The 13 of us were present for training. Then, on Zaki-ur-Rehman’s instructions, Kafa took us to the Muridke camp. The training continued for a month. We were given lectures on India and its security agencies, including RAW. We were also trained to evade security personnel. We were instructed not to make phone calls to Pakistan after reaching India.
The names of the persons present for the training are: n Mohd Azmal, alias Abu Muzahid n Ismail, alias Abu Umar n Abu Ali n Abu Aksha n Abu Umer n Abu Shoeb n Abdul Rehman (Bada) n Abdul Rehman (Chhota) n Afadulla n Abu Umar. After the training, Chacha selected 10 of us and formed five teams of two people each on September 15. I and Ismail formed a team; its codename was VTS. We were shown Azad Maidan in Mumbai on Google Earth’s site on the internet… We were shown a film on VT railway station. The film showed commuters during rush hours. We were instructed to carry out firing during rush hours — between 7 am and 11 am and between 7 pm and 11 pm. Then we were to take some people hostage, take them to the roof of some nearby building and contact Chacha, who would have given us numbers to contact media people and make demands. This was the strategy decided upon by our trainers. The date fixed for the operation was September 27. However, the operation was cancelled for some reason. We stayed in Karachi till November 23. The other teams were: 2nd team: a) Abu Aksha; b) Abu Umar; 3rd team: a) Abdul Rehman (Bada); b) Abu Ali; 4th team: a) Abdul Rehman (Chotta); b) Afadulla; 5th team: a) Abu Shoeb; b) Abu Umer.
On November 23, the teams left from Azizabad in Karachi, along with Zaki-ur-Rehman and Kafa. We were taken to the nearby seashore… We boarded a launch. After travelling for 22 to 25 nautical miles we boarded a bigger launch. Again, after a journey of an hour, we boarded a ship, Al-Huseini, in the deep sea. While boarding the ship, each of us was given a sack containing eight grenades, an AK-47 rifle, 200 cartridges, two magazines and a cellphone. Then we started towards the Indian coast. When we reached Indian waters, the crew members of Al-Huseini hijacked an Indian launch. The crew of the launch was shifted to Al-Huseini. We then boarded the launch. An Indian seaman was made to accompany us at gunpoint; he was made to bring us to the Indian coast. After a journey of three days, we reached near Mumbai’s shore. While we were still some distance away from the shore, Ismail and Afadulla killed the Indian seaman (Tandel) in the basement of the launch. Then we boarded an inflatable dinghy and reached Badhwar Park jetty. I then went along with Ismail to VT station by taxi. After reaching the hall of the station, we went to the toilet, took out the weapons from our sacks, loaded them, came out of the toilet and started firing indiscriminately at passengers. Suddenly, a police officer opened fire at us. We threw hand grenades towards him and also opened fire at him. Then we went inside the railway station threatening the commuters and randomly firing at them. We then came out of the railway station searching for a building with a roof. But we did not find one. Therefore, we entered a lane. We entered a building and went upstairs. On the third and fourth floors we searched for hostages but we found that the building was a hospital and not a residential building. We started to come down. That is when policemen started firing at us. We threw grenades at them.
While coming out of the hospital premises, we saw a police vehicle passing. We took shelter behind a bush. Another vehicle passed us and stopped some distance away. A police officer got off from the vehicle and started firing at us. A bullet hit my hand and my AK-47 fell out of my hand. When I bent to pick it up another bullet hit me on the same hand. Ismail opened fire at the officers in the vehicle. They got injured and firing from their side stopped. We waited for a while and went towards the vehicle. There were three bodies in the vehicle. Ismail removed the bodies and drove the vehicle. I sat next to him. Some policemen tried to stop us. Ismail opened fire at them. The vehicle had a flat tyre near a big ground by the side of road. Ismail got down from the vehicle, stopped a car at gunpoint and removed the three lady passengers from the car. Since I was injured, Ismail carried me to the car. He then drove the car. We were stopped by policemen on the road near the seashore. Ismail fired at them, injuring some policemen. The police also opened fire at us. Ismail was injured in the firing. The police removed us from the vehicle and took us to the same hospital. In the hospital, I came to know that Ismail had succumbed to injuries. My statement has been read to me and explained in Hindi, and it has been correctly recorded.”
December 11, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
Muslim graveyards in Mumbai have evidently refused to allow the burial of the nine Pakistani terrorists killed during the Mumbai massacres. This causes a problem of international law to arise. (Had the graveyards allowed the burial, the dead would have been disposed of presumably under domestic law applicable to unclaimed bodies of dead criminals.) Now by the Hague Conventions on the Laws of War:
“1 The laws, rights, and duties of war apply not only to armies, but also to militia and volunteer corps, fulfilling the following conditions: To be commanded by a person responsible for his subordinates; To have a fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance; To carry arms openly; and To conduct their operations in accordance with the laws and customs of war. In countries where militia or volunteer corps constitute the army, or form part of it, they are included under the denomination “army.”…”
On the basis of the facts presently known about the origins of the Mumbai terrorists, it appears an argument may be made that, in law, they were an unauthorized or rogue squad of Pakistani volunteers who, directly or indirectly, had received some amount of assistance by way of material or financial resources arising from Pakistan’s public exchequer. Certainly they were “unlawful combatants”, did not carry any “fixed distinctive emblem recognizable at a distance” , hid their weapons when they embarked on their unlawful activity and entered India in the manner of spies and not soldiers. Even so, all things considered, the Pakistan Government’s first act of cooperation with the Government of India should be to accept at the Wagah border the bodies of the nine dead terrorists for burial in their home-towns.
During the Kargil war of 1999, Pakistan had been greatly reluctant to accept bodies of its dead soldiers.
Let us hope that will change in this case. Misguided as they were and evil as their deeds have been, the nine dead terrorists should have their remains suitably disposed of. Doing so speaks to civilised behaviour on the part of the living.
December 10, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
The State of Illinois’ Governor being charged by the US Justice Department on grounds of fraud and bribery is something to cheer about for everyone who may have faith in the Rule of Law.
As has been outlined elsewhere here, while in the United States I became a victim of demonstrated fraud on the court (bribery and perjury) at the hands of a different State’s government attorneys. In the summer of 1992, staying with family friends at Broad Branch Terrace in Washington DC, I was told by an attorney neighbor who lived opposite of the name of Patrick Fitzgerald, the present prosecutor in the Illinois case. I think I managed to speak to Mr Fitzgerald on the phone for a few minutes and I think it was from him that I received the name of a renowned Washington attorney who did in due course provide me assistance in the complex matters involved in my case. About May 1996, several US Supreme Court Justices decried “attorney-fraud” publicly in the press, coinciding with the Clerk of that Honorable Court advising me on the phone and by letter to return to the district federal court for rectification. A decade later, one of the attorneys involved pleaded guilty in that district court to having defrauded a different client. In August 2008, an attorney with the US Justice Department in his personal capacity invited me to lay out the matter before him which has been done, and I am fully hopeful the Obama Administration’s new Attorney-General will see things through to have justice delivered in my case. There is no time limit under Fed Rule 60(b) for rectification of fraud on the court.
August 28, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
I got to Washington from my Hawaii experience in the summer of 1992, and I remained there through 1993, the first year the Clinton couple came. I am afraid I have never liked the Clinton couple much, for a mixture of objective and subjective reasons. I also think Mrs Clinton’s bid for the Presidency may have been constitutionally barred by the 22nd Amendment as she has been married to a two-term President and may have been considered the same legal person by the authors of the 22nd Amendment. (Suppose Barack Obama becomes a two-term President; can his wife then run on her own and have him campaign for her? Before his term ends or even after?)
But I did hear Mrs Clinton’s speech at the Denver convention the other day, and I was grateful to hear her quote the fine words of Harriet Tubman about slaves running to freedom:
“If you hear the dogs, keep going.
If you see the torches in the woods, keep going.
If they’re shouting after you, keep going.
Don’t ever stop. Keep going.
If you want a taste of freedom, keep going.”
Harriet Tubman (c. 1820-1913)
That is indeed what the individual must do in face of all tyrannies: keep going.
Postscript: February 10 2009. I think Mrs Clinton has been very sporting since her loss to Barack Obama , and that she may become as good a foreign minister for the United States as there has been. Hence the cancellation of the sentence above.
August 3, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
In Chapter 6 of my Philosophy of Economics, is to be found a quote from Solzhenitsyn: “(Also Solzhenitsyn: “Fastenko, on the other hand, was the most cheerful person in the cell, even though, in view of his age, he was the only one who could not count on surviving and returning to freedom. Flinging an arm around my shoulders, he would say: To stand up for truth is nothing! For truth you have to sit in jail!”)”.
Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn, along with Andrei Dmitrievich Sakharov, were heroes of mine after I had left school in India in December 1971 and reached Paris where my father was with the Embassy. My father had purchased Solzhenitsyn’s books and these I devoured eagerly at our then-home at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel, during breaks from my pre-University education at Haileybury College, across the English Channel. We had been in Odessa before Paris, and in Stockholm before Odessa. In 1969, we had travelled by ship and train from Stockholm via Helsinki to Leningrad, Moscow and Odessa. In December 1967, my father had gotten me to fly to Stockholm through Moscow and stay for a day or two with a colleague of his during my winter holidays from India. Moscow in December 1967 was celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution — I recall what the city felt and seemed like to me as a 12 year old: foreboding, awesome, intimidating.
Now in 1972-73 in Paris, the works of Solzhenitsyn and the example of Sakharov explained to me that brief boyhood experience of the USSR and a great deal more.
As it happens, the present PM of India, as a friend of my father’s, visited us at 14 Rue Eugene Manuel in the summer of 1973 at my father’s request to advise me about studying economics (I was on my way to the London School of Economics as an undergraduate). He stayed about 40 minutes during his busy schedule as part of an Indian economic delegation. I was 18, he was about 41. We ended up having a tense debate about the merits (as he saw them) and demerits (as I saw them) of the Soviet influence on Indian economic “planning”. He had not expected such controversy from a lad but he was kindly disposed and offered when departing to write a letter of introduction to a well-known Indian professor at the LSE for me to carry, which I did.
The works and example of Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov built my youthful understanding of the USSR at age 17-18. This contributed to my libertarianism at Cambridge University and later in America (until my experience of the American federal judiciary at age 37 or so).
When I mentioned my admiration for Solzhenitsyn’s work to Milton Friedman at a memorable luncheon at his San Francisco home in 1989, he said that they had been neighbours in Vermont though they had not interacted because of Solzhenitsyn’s desire to be reclusive.
Solzhenitsyn and Sakharov symbolised shoots of new life in the swamp that had been Soviet totalitarianism.
January 15, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
Prefatory Note: This is part of a series of articles published in The Statesman since October 2007 and republished here, viz., Understanding China, India-USA Interests, China’s India Aggression, Surrender or Fight?, China’s Commonwealth, Nixon & Mao vs India, China’s India Example and China’s Force and Diplomacy. See https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/
Lessons from the 1962 War
Beginnings of a solution to the long-standing border problem: there are distinct Tibetan, Chinese and Indian points of view that need to be mutually comprehended.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, January 13 2008, Editorial Page Special Article
WAR is an existential experience from which nations emerge altered, reflective and sometimes more mature. Germany tried to purge anti-Jewish hatred, Japan to adopt pacifism, Britain to break class-structures, Russia to explode Stalin’s cult. America learnt little from its Vietnam debacle, creating new tactics and technologies to reduce American casualties in war but not showing any improved capacity to comprehend the world beyond its shores and borders.
India after the 1962 defeat by Mao’s China learnt less than was possible and necessary to do. The Government’s official history concluded: “In a fundamental sense, the origins of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict lay in Chinese expansionism and occupation of Tibet. The issue got further aggravated due to failure of the Chinese to win over the Tibetans. Indian asylum to the Dalai Lama raised Chinese suspicions about ultimate Indian intentions. On the other hand, India, while tacitly accepting the Chinese occupation of Tibet through a treaty in 1954, failed to obtain any quid pro quo on the border issue.” This is true enough but a deeper probe is also possible.
India’s 20th Century political and intellectual leadership may have grossly failed to comprehend critical world events in a realistic manner, specifically Vladimir Ulyanov’s German-assisted Bolshevik coup d’etat, the Kuomintang and Maoist takeovers in China, as well as India’s own struggle for Independence. After BG Tilak, Annie Besant, GK Gokhale and other founders of Indian nationalism passed from the scene, leaders arose like MK Gandhi, MA Jinnah, SC Bose and J Nehru who tended to be consumed, to lesser or greater extent, by their own hubris and were less able to see India’s fortunes and capacities in context of a larger world. None had military, administrative or public finance experience needed for practical government; instead there arose almost a new hereditary caste of the “professional politician” who has no other vocation or anything better to do in life. Nazi-admirers like Mashriqi and Rahmat Ali among Muslims and the Mahasabha and RSS among Hindus also lent mainstream Indian nationalism a harsh distasteful colouration.
Czechoslovakia’s great nationalist Masaryk (who famously denounced Austro-Hungary as a “corrupt, pretentious, senseless relic”) was said to be “a leader who planned further ahead than his contemporaries, understood the corroding effects of power, the vital need of restraint in the ruler, and above all the need for taking the nation into his confidence, educating it in the sense of drawing out all its innate qualities and sharing its manifold aspirations” (Seton-Watson). India’s clear-headed statesmen of that calibre were not among its most visible or ambitious. Vallabhbhai Patel, MAK Azad, C Rajagopalachari and others were left on the sidelines of free India’s politics ~ as Plato predicted, the genuine pilot of the ship of state will be hardly invited to take its wheel nor even want to do so.
Nehru alone, as chosen by Gandhi, came to wield actual power in the 1950s, having maneuvered Rajendra Prasad to being President. And Nehru, besotted in middle age with a married British woman, seemed awestruck by appearance of a victorious Maoist communism in China just as he had been adoring of Stalin’s Russia two decades earlier. The Congress’s friends among India’s official Communists and fellow-travelers never had much original indigenous grassroots support and always looked abroad for guidance. Non-alignment needed to be made of sterner stuff.
Nehru’s flawed management of the relationship with Communist China included not merely choosing a favourite like Krishna Menon to head India’s military, but also imagining himself a competent world diplomatist. Girja Shankar Bajpai would have been far superior as India’s first Foreign Minister. In 1952, Bajpai, then Governor of Bombay, wrote to Nehru saying India should inform Zhou Enlai the McMahon Line was firm in law and non-negotiable.
Was the McMahon Line firm and just? Nehru was no Curzon but it was as a Curzonian imperialist that Mao and Zhou saw him. All Chinese, whether Communist or Nationalist, chafed at the way the Manchu-dynasty’s Empire had been carved up. “China is our India” was Czarist Russia’s intent towards China itself. China had an awful political and military history from when foreign depredations began in the 1840s all the way until the Mao-Zhou era ended in the 1970s. Indeed China’s polity between the 1840s and 1940s suffered far greater chaos and anarchy than India’s in the same period.
From a Chinese standpoint, Younghusband’s diplomatic and military invasion of Gyantze and Lhasa in 1903-1904 was an insult they had been unable to militarily confront. Curzon sent Younghusband’s expedition because there appeared to be Russian intrigues with the Dalai Lama via the Russian/Mongolian agent Dorjiev who had transmitted Russian ideas of extending its new Siberian railway to Lhasa and posting Cossack soldiers there. The Russians seemed to want to adopt the Dalai Lama given his religious influence over Mongolia. The British were alarmed and determined to annihilate the influence of Dorjiev which they did. Thence came the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907 which specified British and Russian spheres of influence in Iran and Afghanistan, and stated Tibet would be dealt with internationally only through the Chinese Empire. The McMahon Line, as a recognition of the traditional boundary, flowed naturally from the legitimacy of the Anglo-Russian Treaty. As for Sinkiang, though a Chinese province since 1884 it came to be ruled by warlords under Russian influence.
The Mao-Zhou war machine was determined to take over and militarily hold both Sinkiang and Tibet as an assertion of new China’s self-definition against Russia and Britain; hence their denunciation of Nehru as a pawn first of Britain and then of Russia. China building a road surreptitiously between Sinkiang and Tibet through Aksai Chin was reminiscent of Russia’s coercive behaviour against China in building the Trans-Siberian Railway through Chinese territory to Vladivostok. At worst, the Indians would have to admit that erstwhile J&K State since October 1947 had become an ownerless entity whose unclaimed territory had been carved up by force by the new Pakistan, new India and new China.
From an Indian standpoint, the traditional recognised boundary placed Aksai Chin clearly in Ladakh and not Tibet. Aksai Chain is a salt pit without “a blade of grass” but for all anyone knows, it could be rich in minerals. Karakorum Pass is also newly valuable to the Chinese as they seek to develop a land-route from Baluchistan’s Gwadar Port through Pakistan to China. If India has lost Aksai Chin and Karakorum Pass by force of arms without compensation, force of arms may be the only means of retrieval. Due compensation from China could be Chumbi Valley between Sikkim and Bhutan, and China seems once to have mentioned mutual perpetual lease of Aksai Chin and Chumbi Valley.
From a Tibetan point of view, the Amban representing the Chinese Emperor was driven out of Lhasa in 1912 and Tibet was independent of China for 38 years. Tibet has as much of a claim to be independent of China as Poland or Ukraine have had to be of Russia. As for the McMahon Line, it is indeed legally non-negotiable between China and India as it flowed directly out of the Anglo-Russian Treaty of 1907, and it was under that Treaty that China received international recognition of its formal suzerainty over Tibet since 1720 until that time. Mao once likened Tibet to the palm of a hand with Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and Assam as five fingers. Modern China must decide between such a metaphor of Maoist expansionism (which India would have to militarily resist) and joining the world of international law created since Grotius. Democratic conditions in Tibet would also have to be insisted upon so the Dalai Lama and other Tibetans may return home from India in peace and freedom.
January 7, 2008 — drsubrotoroy
Nixon & Mao vs India
How American foreign policy did a U-turn about Communist China’s India aggression. The Government of India should publish its official history of the 1962 war.
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Jan 6 2008, The Statesman Jan 7 2008
Editorial Page Special Article
THE 1972-74 conversations between Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger on one hand and Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping on the other, especially about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have been public for a few years now. They make disturbing reading for Indians and Bangladeshis, and for Pakistanis too who may be concerned about the political health of their country. Yahya Khan, Pakistan’s debauched military dictator, made the Nixon-Mao meeting possible and received much praise from Zhou and support from Nixon and Kissinger. Pakistan’s official assessment of Yahya following the 1971 military defeat and secession of Bangladesh was far more candid and truthful, giving the lie to the praise bestowed upon him by Nixon and Zhou in their conversation.
Nixon and Kissinger were decidedly second-rate intellects in political power who believed themselves first-rate ~ a dangerous circumstance. Their policy caused Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China to be expelled from the UN, its veto-wielding seat taken by Mao’s People’s Republic. The Government of India, under influence of communist sympathisers like Krishna Menon, KM Pannikar, KPS Menon et al, had been pleading the same case at the UN since 1949/1950, rebuffed each time by American veto. Now Nixon and Kissinger yielded to the idea to the delight of Mao-Zhou, and ganged up with Pakistan’s military against democratic India and the new Bangladesh.
Nixon went to Beijing at a time the catastrophic American involvement in Vietnam had reached a peak ~ something that itself was an outcome of the Dulles-Nixon doctrine of a “domino effect” in South East Asia. The Americans failed to comprehend Vietnamese nationalism against France or recognise how that had been historically directed at imperial China. Nixon’s carpet-bombing of Cambodia in needless extension of the Vietnam conflict was to cause the rise to power of Pol Pot and his vicious Khmer Rouge (to remove whom Vietnam attacked, causing China to attack Vietnam in 1979).
Nixon was in Beijing in February 1972 ostensibly to seek Chinese cooperation in ending the Vietnam War, as well as opening an Eastern Front in the Cold War against the USSR. Nixon fancied himself a Metternich-like statesman whose wisdom and brilliance would redesign the international order for a century. What was plain to unsentimental observers was that his underlying purpose was greedy and hardly statesmanlike, namely, winning re-election in November 1972 by outflanking domestic left-wing criticism using photos of having been toasted by Mao himself. That Nixon was no Machiavelli, Metternich or Bismarck but more likely just delusional and paranoid came to be revealed in his subsequent political debacle over Watergate.
The US attitude towards China’s 1959-1962 aggression against India changed drastically because of Nixon’s Beijing visit. Tibet’s people and culture had not been attacked and brutalised by Chiang Kaishek’s Nationalist Army nor by India’s soldiers ~ the Mao-Zhou Communist war machine, fresh from their Korean adventures, did that. There would have been no border conflict between China and India today in 2008 if Communist China had not first invaded and occupied Tibet.
All such fundamental facts used to be perfectly clear to the Americans as to everyone else. India’s Defence Ministry’s excellent official history of the 1962 war acknowledges the vital aid sent by President Kennedy with the help of Ambassador Galbraith. Ten years later, in 1972, Nixon and Kissinger in Beijing changed all that completely and did a U-turn against India using the dubious book of a single journalist as cover for their dissimulation:
“ZHOU: …. Actually the five principles (of peaceful coexistence) were put forward by us, and Nehru agreed. But later on he didn’t implement them. In my previous discussions with Dr Kissinger, I mentioned a book by Neville Maxwell about the Indian war against us, which proves this.
NIXON: I read the book.
KISSINGER: I gave it to the President.
NIXON: I committed a faux pas ~ Dr Kissinger said it was ~ but I knew what I was doing. When Mrs Gandhi was in my office before going back, just before the outbreak of the (1971) war, I referred to that book and said it was a very interesting account of the beginning of the war between India and China. She didn’t react very favourably when I said that. (Zhou laughs)
ZHOU: Yes, but you spoke the truth. It wasn’t faux pas. Actually that event was instigated by Khrushchev. He encouraged them. In looking at 1962, the events actually began in 1959. Why did he go to Camp David? In June of that year, before he went to Camp David, he unilaterally tore up the nuclear agreements between China and the Soviet Union. And after that there were clashes between Chinese and Indian troops in the western part of Sinkiang, the Aksai Chin area. In that part of Sinkiang province there is a high plateau. The Indian-occupied territory was at the foot of the Karakorums, and the disputed territory was on the slope in between.
KISSINGER: It’s what they call Ladakh.
NIXON: They attacked up the mountains.
ZHOU: We fought them and beat them back, with many wounded. But the TASS Agency said that China had committed the aggression against India…..They just don’t want to listen to reason. Anyway, the TASS Agency account had the effect of encouraging India. And also Maxwell mentioned in the book that in 1962 the Indian Government believed what the Russians told them that we, China, would not retaliate against them. Of course we won’t send our troops outside our borders to fight against other people. We didn’t even try to expel Indian troops from the area south of the McMahon Line, which China doesn’t recognize, by force. But if (Indian) troops come up north of the McMahon Line, and come even further into Chinese territory, how is it possible for us to refrain from retaliating? We sent three open telegrams to Nehru asking him to make a public reply, but he refused. He was so discourteous; he wouldn’t even do us the courtesy of replying, so we had no choice but to drive him out. You know all the other events in the book, so I won’t describe them, but India was encouraged by the Soviet Union to attack.
NIXON: I would like to ask the Prime Minister a question with regard to Bangladesh recognition. We have delayed recognition though Britain and other countries have done so.
ZHOU: France has also recognised Bangladesh.
NIXON: Before we make a decision on that, we have tried to find the attitude of (Zulfikar Ali) Bhutto. And Bhutto indicated he does not object to recognition. In fact he could see that we would have some advantage in not leaving the field clear to the Soviet Union in that region. It is our understanding that India is supposed to withdraw all its forces from Bangladesh by the 24th of March. And based on what we have for consideration, we have for consideration the possibility of recognising Bangladesh about that time….”
“ZHOU: …. we truly wish to see (India) truly withdraw their troops in East Pakistan, now called Bangladesh. We wish to see them truly do this and not just with words. Of course they can only do that superficially, because if they get some Bengali forces to remain and join Mujibar Rahman, there would be no way to be sure because the Bengalis all look the same. But that would trouble to the future of India and Mrs Gandhi herself. The Indians said they have no territorial ambitions, but the development of events is that they have remained in their place and refused to withdraw. Once again we can only cite the events of Indian aggression in the 1962 war. At that time our troops pressed to the foothills quite close to Tezpur in Assam, and when they reached that place, Chairman Mao ordered that all troops should turn back. We turned back to the Indians ~ this is in Maxwell’s book ~ and we withdrew all troops back north of the so-called McMahon Line because one must show one can be trusted and must not wait for others to act…. India should withdraw its troops from the areas it is occupying in West Pakistan, and Pakistan should also withdraw from the lesser areas it occupies in India. Bhutto agrees. These two things, at least, the Indian side should abide by. If the US recognises Bangladesh after this situation is brought about, then we believe this would raise the prestige of the US in the United Nations.
After all, what you want is to bring about the withdrawal of all troops from Bangladesh and West Pakistan. Also, you will be able to encourage Mr Bhutto and give him some assistance. That is what they need. You said your actions should be parallel to ours, and we don’t mind that. We said this both to Yahya, the former President, and to the present President. Both of us owe something to Yahya, although he didn’t show much statesmanship in leading his country, for (bridging) the link between our two countries.
NIXON: He is a bridge.
ZHOU: We should not forget and we cannot forget, especially that Dr Kissinger was able through him to come secretly for talks here. And when a man makes a contribution to the world, we should remember him.
KISSINGER: Actually the President sent a message to Bhutto that he should treat Yahya well in retirement and we would not look favourably on any retribution. It was a personal message from Pakistan.
ZHOU: …. At the time of the ceasefire they (the Pakistanis) still had 80,000 troops in East Pakistan. It was not a situation in which they couldn’t keep fighting….. Yahya should have concentrated his troops to win a victory, and once the Indians had suffered a defeat they would have stopped because West Bengal was not very secure either. So at that time even our Vice Foreign Minister still believed they could win the war. Bhutto too…. .
KISSINGER: (Reading from a cable) Mr President, you were speaking of military shipments. We have information that the Soviet Union has shipped since November 150 tanks from Poland and 100 armored personnel carriers from Czechoslovakia. They were shipped in two ships each month in November and December. In January a third ship was to bring military equipment to India.
NIXON: To India?
KISSINGER: To India.
NIXON: The problem is to find some way that West Pakistan can find some military equipment and assistance. On our side, what we will do is to supply substantial amounts of economic assistance to West Pakistan. That would enable West Pakistan to ~ we would think in the interest of its defence ~ to acquire arms from other sources. As a matter of fact, that is the tragedy of our policy in India. We supplied almost 10 billion dollars in assistance to India in the last 20 years ~ very little was military assistance, it was economic ~ and that relieved India so it could purchase very substantial amounts of arms from the Soviet Union, and also manufacture arms. That was not our intent, but that’s what happened. With regard to our aid to India on this point ~ economic assistance ~ we are going to move in a very measured way. I am resisting considerable pressure from the public and the press to rush in and resume economic assistance at former levels. We are going to wait and see what India does with regard to the border problem and our relations generally.
ZHOU: And India actually is a bottomless hole. (Nixon laughs)
NIXON: When the Prime Minister referred to the problem India has with Bangladesh, as I look at India’s brief history, it has had enough trouble trying to digest West Bengal. If now it tries to digest East Bengal it may cause indigestion which could be massive.
ZHOU: That’s bound to be so. It is also a great pity that the daughter (Madame Gandhi) has also taken as her legacy the philosophy of her father embodied in the book Discovery of India (in English). Have you read it?
KISSINGER: He was thinking of a great India empire?
ZHOU: Yes, he was thinking of a great Indian empire ~ Malaysia, Ceylon, etc. He would probably also include our Tibet. When he was writing that book in a British prison, but one reserved for gentlemen in Darjeeling. Nehru told me himself that the prison was in Sikkim, facing the Himalayan mountains. At the time I hadn’t read the book, but my colleague Chen Yi had, and called it to my attention. He said it was precisely the spirit of India which was embodied in the book. Later on when I read it I had the same thought.
NIXON: …. Germany and Japan, received US aid…. why (they) have done so well, it is because they have qualities of drive and are willing to work hard, whereas some other countries we have helped do not have this quality. This brings me to the point: it is not the help that is provided a country that counts, it is whether the people of that country have the will to use this help. If they don’t have that, the money just goes down a rathole. A pretty good example is aid to India. (Zhou laughs)… India is not able to do much with aid because as compared with Japan, it does not have the drive, or the spirit of determination that the Japanese people have…..”
Every Bangladeshi knows the causal role Z A Bhutto had in Pakistan’s civil war yet it is upon the word of such a man that Nixon’s recognition of their nation seemed based. The famous “Archer Blood telegram” by the American Consul-General in Dhaka reporting the genocidal Yahya-Tikka assault on East Pakistan starting March 25 1971 meant nothing to Nixon and Kissinger. Benazir retained her charm in Washington’s power circles because she was Bhutto’s daughter. Similarly, as recently as the 1999 Kargil conflict, Bill Clinton flatteringly referred to China for advice on how to deal with India and Pakistan.
Perversely enough, many in New Delhi, Kolkata etc express so much confused love for both China and the United States that they have accepted as their own the biased baseless opinions about India expressed by Nixon, Kissinger and the Communist Chinese. They would do well to read instead the Defence Ministry’s excellently researched historical account of the 1962 war, which the Government of India should not only publish properly at once but have translated into Mandarin as well.
Dr Manmohan Singh has as recently as 29 November 2007 expressed the opinion: “The type of leadership that China has produced since the days of Deng, I think, is the greatest asset that China has”. Dr Singh might have said, but did not, that China’s greatest asset has been in fact the preservation of Confucian values despite decades of communist tyranny and destruction. With such deep misapprehension about post-1949 China on the part of India’s present Head of Government, it may be unlikely that New Delhi or Kolkata acquires a realistic view of our neighbour or of a healthy China-India relationship in the 21st Century.
November 5, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
China’s India Aggression
German Historians Discover Logic Behind Communist Military Strategy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Nov 5 2007
There are four main aspects to the China-Tibet-India problem over the last century, some of which are only now becoming apparent. The first is historical prior to the 1949 Communist takeover, in which the British, Tibetans and Kuomintang were participants in background discussion and events. The second is historical too, namely, the appeasement by Nehru and his diplomats of the Mao-Zhou Communists and betrayal of normal Tibetan and Indian interests in the period 1949-1959. The third is political, to do with reaction, confusion and conflict among Indian Communists leading to the CPI/CPI-M split in response to Communist attacks upon Tibet and India. The fourth is military, to do with the 1962 war itself, the nature of the surprise Chinese attack and Indian defeat.
A 1954 Beijing publication not only claimed Tibet but alleged vast areas of Asia to be Chinese: Ladakh, Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan, NEFA (Arunachal), Assam, the Andaman Islands, Burma (Myanmar), Malaya, Singapore, Thailand, Indo-China, the Sulu Islands, the Ryukyus, Korea, Formosa (Taiwan), the whole of East Turkestan (Sinkiang), Kazakhstan, Siberia west of the Amur River, maritime provinces east of the Amur down to Vladivostok, and Sakhalin (viz., Coral Bell in FS Northedge (ed) Foreign Policies of the Powers, 1973).
America’s CIA reported in a secret 1962 analysis, declassified in May 2007, that the Left faction of India’s Communists had been repeating what Mao Zedong said to Ajoy Ghosh: “that Tibet, Sikkim, Bhutan, and NEFA are provinces peopled by the same race, that China had a historic right to these territories, that the McMahon line was not valid, and that the Indian government’s raising of ‘the bogey of Chinese aggression’ had resulted from its realisation that Nepal, Sikkim, Bhutan and India would be deeply affected by the social and economic revolution in Tibet” (CIA The Indian Communist Party and the Sino-Soviet Dispute, Feb 1962, page 76). Referring to Chinese designs on Mongolia, Kruschev’s USSR condemned its fellow-Communists: “… The true schemes of the Chinese leaders (are) obvious. They are permeated through and through with great-power chauvinism and hegemonism”, Pravda 2 Sep 1964, quoted by Bell, op.cit.
China’s 1962 India war was rationally consistent with carrying out precisely such an expansionist policy in Sinkiang and Tibet. As the German historians Hermann Kulke and Dietmar Rothermund have stated most succinctly, the NEFA conflict was merely a deliberate diversionary tactic which has worked brilliantly for decades:
“The consolidation of the Chinese hold on Tibet, as well as on other areas of Central Asia… (required military infrastructure) to maintain it and a ring road was constructed which led from China to Tibet and from there via the Karakorum Range to Sinkiang and Mongolia and then back to China. At a crucial point some Indian territory (Aksai Chin) obstructed this connection. Beyond Aksai Chin was the terrible desert, Takla Makan, which was a major obstacle. Faced with the dilemma of violating Indian territory or getting stuck in the desert, the Chinese opted for the first course and quietly built a road through Aksai Chin. In the meantime, they provoked incidents on the northeastern border so as to divert attention from their real aims. They also published maps which showed the border in Assam at the foot of the mountains rather than on the watershed. The watershed line had been settled by the McMahon border commission, which had also included a Chinese delegate who initialled the protocol, although it was not subsequently ratified by the Chinese government. Actually, there was no disagreement about the watershed line at that time when debate was focused on a different line, supposed to divide Tibet into an Inner and Outer Tibet on the same pattern as Inner and Outer Mongolia. Inner Tibet was to be under Chinese influence and Outer Tibet under British influence. But Communist China made use of the fact that the agreement had not been ratified and accused India of clinging to the imperialist heritage with regard to the Himalayan boundary. This harping on the legal position in the northeast was a tactical move made in order to build up a bargaining position with regard to Aksai Chin where the Chinese could not raise similar claims… Finally, a border war broke out in October 1962. It was a typical demonstration war conducted with great finesse by the Chinese. They completely perplexed the Indian generals by pushing a whole division through the mountains down to the valley of Assam and withdrawing it again as quickly as it had come. The Indian strategic concept of defending the Himalayan boundary by cutting off the supply lines of the enemy if it ventured too far beyond the border could not be put into operation: the Chinese were gone before the supply lines could be cut. But why did they do this? They wanted to divert attention from their moves in the northwest, where they did reach the Karakorum Pass in a swift offensive and did not withdraw as they had done in the east.” (History of India, 1998, pp 321-322).
Chinese casualties were some 1,460 dead, 1,697 wounded, Indian casualties some 3,128 dead, 3,968 captured, 548 wounded, each as reported by itself. JK Galbraith, the friendliest and fairest observer India may have hoped for, found our Army populated by “tragically old-fashioned” peacetime generals full of bluster, while brave soldiers under them remained woefully ill-equipped and came to be outgunned and out-manoeuvred.
Mao Zedong’s racist reference to the people populating NEFA being of Chinese origin was misguided, even nonsensical. On such a basis, China might claim Japan or Korea next, as might West Africa claim sovereignty over North and South American blacks or Mongolia over Turks and Afghans. NEFA’s five administrative divisions ~ Kameng, Subansiri, Siang, Lohit and Tirap ~ are populated by indigenous animistic tribes including the Momba, Mishmi, Abor, Miri, Dafla and Aka, each with defined areas. The 1883 Survey of India showed these areas administered de facto by British India from Assam. The 1908 Edinburgh Geographical Institute’s map by JG Bartholomew showed most of the same to be part of Bhutan, a British Indian protectorate, as did earlier 18th Century maps.
Less than legitimate
Communist China’s claims of sovereignty over NEFA (Arunachal) in any case derive from its claims of sovereignty over Tibet. Britain, India and other nations guided by international law have allowed that Lhasa, though long independent, may acknowledge Chinese suzerainty ~ but only subject to the condition of traditional autonomy. The 1907 Anglo-Russian Treaty stipulated Tibet would be dealt with officially through China, leading to the Henry McMahon Commission of 1914 which followed the normal international cartographic practise of the watershed defining the boundary in NEFA. That came to be generally followed by British and Indian maps of NEFA since. The CIA’s official 1959 map of the region concurred and the United States Government explicitly instructed Galbraith, its New Delhi Ambassador during the 1962 war, that the American position was the same as the British and Indian. There appears to be no record of any serious Chinese cartography of the region ever ~ Chinese maps prior to 1935 agreeing with the British Indian position but disputing it afterwards, placing Tibet’s boundary along the margin of the Assam plain. China was ravaged by war, civil war and revolutionary excesses during much of the 20th Century and hardly had well-preserved national archives at a time when its own capital and central government was changing several times.
China’s Communists, being themselves in political power for decades somewhat less than legitimately as a one-party dictatorship, have been loath to admit all such inconvenient facts, and instead continue in their hegemonic mode. A new liberal democratic China guided by law on the Taiwan pattern may have to be awaited before this conflict comes to be resolved.
October 30, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
India-USA interests: Elements of a serious Indian foreign policy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Oct 30 2007
If there is a “natural alliance” between India and the United States, it arises to the extent that both are large democracies and more or less free societies that happen to be placed half way across the globe and pose no perceptible military threat to one another. The real long-term strategic and political dimensions of such an alliance are quite independent of the business interests driving the “nuclear deal” or selfish interests of the few million “elite” Indians who have fled to the USA as immigrants in recent decades. The interests of Indian immigrants in the USA and interests of the vast masses in India are, after all, quite distinct. Also, America derives most if its own energy not from nuclear reactors but from abundant hydroelectric resources. If the nuclear deal has been ill-conceived and fails in implementation at any stage, India will not import expensive nuclear reactors but can still learn much from the USA in developing hydroelectric power which constitutes India’s greatest energy potential as well.
China and Pakistan
Key strategic interests of India and the USA are fully convergent in East Asia, especially in respect of Communist China. But in West Asia, American attitudes and actions towards the Muslim world, specifically the invasion and occupation of Iraq and now a possible assault on Iran, have been deeply disconcerting for India which has some 120 million Muslim citizens.
It is not a coincidence that Pakistan, an overtly religious Muslim state, has had a marriage of convenience with Communist China, an overtly atheistic anti-religious state. Both have been militarist dictatorships that have seen democratic India as a strategic adversary, especially over territorial claims. It was Pakistan that facilitated President Nixon’s desired opening to Communist China and later permitted President Reagan’s attack on the soft underbelly of the USSR in the Afghan civil war (an attack in which China participated too). With the USSR’s collapse, the USA removed its main strategic adversary only to be left with two new adversaries: Islamic fundamentalism in the short run and China in the long run!
Indian diplomacy can credit a rare (indeed exceptional) success in having warned the USA from the early 1990s onwards of the dangers brewing in the jihadist camps in Pakistan sponsored by the ISI. The US Government has now declassified its assessments of those dangers and what it tried to do as early as 1995 and as late as 2000 through the Saudis with the Taliban’s Mullah Omar ~ who refused to hand over Osama Bin Laden to Saudi Arabia and openly spoke of plans for revenge against American interests. With a continuing Cold-War mindset, US policy-makers thought state-actors like Saddam Hussein were a graver risk to Israel than non-state or pan-state actors like Osama could be to the American mainland. Having distracted itself with Saddam, the US Government’s response to Osama has been far too much far too late ~ the maddened bull chasing the matador’s cape, in Stephen Holmes’s recent metaphor.
Pakistan’s consistent motivation was one of gaining advantage with the Americans in the hope of undermining India, and indeed the nexus created in Washington by Pakistan’s bureaucrats, politicians and military over decades has been the envy of all lobbyists. But Pakistan overplayed its hand, and once the 9/11 genie was let out of the bottle it could not be put back in again. Meanwhile, Pakistan allowing Gwadar port to become a haven for China’s Navy would have obvious new strategic repercussions.
American interests in West Asia are to protect Israel, to protect trade-routes and to defend against non-state or pan-state terrorism. American interests in East Asia are to protect Japan, South Korea and Taiwan from communist attack, to protect trade-routes and to defend against new terrorism arising from places like Indonesia or the Philippines. All American interests in Asia would be facilitated by appearance of genuine multiparty democracy and free societies in China and Pakistan.
China as a two-party or multi-party democracy and a free society, even on the Taiwan-model, is unlikely to be an expansionist militarist aggressor in the way it has been as a dictatorship and unfree society. Communist China in the early 21st Century makes the same outrageous unlawful claims on Indian territory as it did half a century ago. Only the USA came to India’s assistance in a tangible way when Communist China attacked in Ladakh and Arunachal in the late months of 1962. John Kenneth Galbraith was President Kennedy’s Ambassador in New Delhi and his memoirs tell the tale of the landings of C-130 aircraft in Kolkata carrying infantry weapons, light artillery and quartermaster stores for the beleaguered Indian Army in Tezpur and Leh.
Nehru, Krishna Menon and India’s whole political and diplomatic leadership revealed gross incompetence as did the Army’s top brass. Indian Communists virtually betrayed the country. The Chinese massed in the Chumbi Valley near Nathu La, and had they attacked all the way to Siliguri, India’s North East would have been cut off. As a demonstration, the Chinese in division strength took and held the whole of Arunachal for a month, withdrawing before there could be anyIndian attempt to retaliate or cut supply lines. The geography has not changed in fifty years. What can yet change is the ideology, away from the communism that has ruined China’s great people, to a new and bold commitment to liberal democracy and the Rule of Law.
As for Pakistan, its people under crude military rule have hardly allowed themselves to become the source of Muslim culture that Iqbal had dreamt of. Pakistan today is not a place even the most ardent pro-Pakistani person in Jammu & Kashmir can find very appealing or inspiring. If there was multiparty democracy and a free society in which the military had a normal small role of defence (as opposed to a large purportedly offensive role against India), Pakistan could calm down from its neuroses and become a normal country for the first time~ one in which the so-called “extremists” of today are transformed into a politically legitimate religious conservatism, who could seek to take power responsibly through the ballot box.
India should be a friendly neutral in the conflict between the West and Muslim world, doing whatever we can to bring better understanding between the two sides. Both have been invaders in Indian history, bringing both evil and good in their wake. India’s culture absorbed and assimilated their influences and became more resilient as a consequence. India also was a haven for Jews and Zoroastrians fleeing persecution. India as a country must condemn fanatical terrorist attacks on the West and bizarre reactionary attempts to return to a caliphate in the world of modern science. Equally, India must condemn vicious racist bombing and warfare unleashed by technologically advanced countries upon ancient societies and cultures struggling to enter the modern world in their own way.
As for the central issue of Israel in Palestine, Martin Buber (1878-1965), the eminent Zionist scholar and philosopher of Judaism, said to Rabindranath Tagore in 1926 that the Jewish purpose should be one of “pursuing the settlement effort in Palestine in agreement, nay, alliance with the peoples of the East, so as to erect with them together a great federative structure, which might learn and receive from the West whatever positive aims and means might be learnt and received from it, without, however, succumbing to the influence of its inner disarray and aimlessness.” If India could guide the region towards such a “great federative structure” of reason and tranquillity, while encouraging democracy in China and Pakistan, the aim of our “natural alliance” with the United States half way across the globe would have been fulfilled.
October 16, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Iran, America, Iraq: Bush’s post-Saddam Saddamism — one flip-flop too many?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, October 16 2007
All cultures generally, and Eastern cultures invariably, require utmost politeness towards an invited guest.The behaviour of the President of New York’s ColumbiaUniversity on 24 September was thus inexplicable when he gratuitously insulted his guest Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran, even before allowing him to deliver the speech he had been invited to give at the university.Iran’s President has become the new hate-figure of choice in the popular American media ever since 2005 when he was mistranslated as having said he wished Israel “wiped off the map”.He has chosen to contribute to his own predicament by seeming to associate with and encourage those known as “Holocaust-deniers” – people who stretch from those who deny any systematic mass-murder took place of Jews by Nazi Europe to those who want evidence for the number of six million such victims that has passed into school textbooks.
Modern Iran’s foreign policy should not have come to depend on the precise history of the atrocities against Jews by Christendom over the centuries. But that is what President Ahmadinejad has now, rather ineptly, made it depend on, jeopardising the lives of tens of thousands of his fellow-citizens from destruction caused by a massive and unlawful American, British, Israeli and possibly French attack. He has been quite needlessly provocative enough to allow himself to be painted by the American popular media, unscrupulous and unthinking as that can be, as some kind of Hitler-figure who plans some day to use nuclear bombs on Israel. Iran has been plaintively pleading in official circles that it wishes to use nuclear-power generated electricity at home while exporting its petroleum, that it has a right to do so as a member in good standing of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and that it has neither wish nor capacity to develop nuclear bombs. But no matter the merits of its position with the IAEA, Iran has succeeded in isolating itself and seems to have almost no official allies on the world’s stage (though China, Russia, Royal Dutch Shell etc all have large investments there!).
The US has detailed contingency plans to attack Iran though no American official or military officer has admitted or stated that any such intention exists. The outlines are an open secret. There would be sudden massive bombing of Iran’s military and general infrastructure, including its assumed nuclear installations. US Marines would make seaborne assaults on Iranian islands to prevent Iran from mining or closing the Straits of Hormuz or from attacking American bases or interests in the Gulf. US Army forces based in Iraq would launch massive long-range artillery and rocket attacks preventing Iranian ground forces attempting to manoeuvre or approach them. There may be an amphibious Anglo-American attack from the Caspian Sea towards Tehran. “Special Forces” by way of spies, saboteurs and agents provocateur would have already been placed within Iran to help targeting and other war-aims.
One aim would be to permanently cripple Iran’s nuclear industry.A second aim would be “regime change” though without any attempt at a large-scale ground occupation of Iran which is recognised as impossible to achieve.The more extreme members of the Bush Administration led by Vice President Cheney aim to see Iran becoming a “failed state”, reversing whatever has taken place by way of nation-building, leaving an emasculated Iran, like an emasculated Iraq, that poses no threat to Israel for the next century and more.
The traditional Christian ethics of a just war are planned to be practically ignored by the United States, and there would not be any formal declaration of war. America’s people either have barely heard of Iran as a place on the map and will mostly continue with their usual lives, or have no idea of the intricacies of the US-Iran relationship in the last 80 years, or have no wish to support their Government machinery’s intent to go to war but have no control over its behaviour.
Three factors have held back an American attack though forces apparently can be made ready within days if not hours of a Presidential order. One has been top military officers, including Admiral Fallon, the head of US Central Command, who have said that Iran’s attempted retaliation on the ground could jeopardize 160,000 US troops now in more than a dozen bases spread across Iraq (besides Israel being threatened by Iran’s Hezbollah ally in Lebanon). A second factor has been the American Jewish community, who have apparently warned that a large bloody counterproductive war against Iran may have negative repercussions on their standing in American society. A third factor has been America’s foreign ministry which knows enough international law, politics and history to realise such aggression would be wholly unlawful, widely condemned by the world, and return the international system to the pre-1914 days of an imperialist free-for-all or destroy it altogether. The UN system would permanently end, and all methods and precedents of international cooperation, law and diplomacy would have been rendered irrelevant and deserving only to be flushed away and forgotten. The UN today seems to be led by an incompetent unknown who will produce even less of a squeak in protest than did his predecessor. Imperialism and Colonialism would return formally except in an age of advanced technology in which some nations have a right and ability to use nuclear weapons in pursuing dominance. The Geneva Conventions and even a medieval right like habeas corpus have already seen breaches; the Vienna Convention and other similar treaties and norms would all be effectively over.The international retrogression may be not merely back to 1914 or 1907 but to the tumult and savagery of Napoleon’s wars which ended with the Congress of Vienna in 1815.
War-planning aside, what is most interesting is that in recent months the USA has apparently gone back to developing, as an alternative, something like Saddam Hussein’s own strategy for containing Iranian influence! Iraq’s Anbar province sits on vast oil reserves which are not going to be pumped as that would lower the price of oil from its current high near $83 a barrel. It is a Sunni-majority area which has now made its Shias refugees, just as Shia-dominated areas of Baghdad have seen forced evictions of Sunnis. The Sunni tribal chiefs of Anbar are now having their loyalty purchased by the Americans just as Saddam had once done, especially by playing an anti-Iran card as Iran is a common enemy. At the same time, the Bush Administration is hard-pressed to try to persuade Iraq’s Shia majority to resist what might seem the inevitability of Iranian hegemony — which can only be done by reminding them of their Arab anti-Persian roots again just as Saddam had tried to do. Anglo-American policy once was to build up the Arabs against the Turks, then the Pehlavis against the Arabs, then Saddam against the Ayatollahs who had toppled the Pehlavis. Saddam himself was then toppled and killed and now post-Saddam Iraq is being built up against an Islamic Iran that may be struggling in its own way to enter the modern world. Perhaps the 2003 invasion of Iraq has been one flip-flop too many for the USA and UK to cope with over the last century.
July 3, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Has America Lost?
War Doctrines Of Kutusov vs Clausewitz May Help Explain Iraq War
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article, July 3 2007, http://www.thestatesman.net
By Subroto Roy
Has the United States lost the war in Iraq? How would we tell if it has or not? If American commanding officers of general rank, once they go into retirement, say the Iraq war is lost or if the vast majority of the American people say it is not worth fighting, does that mean the USA has lost? When someone loses someone else wins ~ there are no “draws” or runners-up in war. If America has lost, does that mean Saddam won? How can a man who was hanged in sight of the whole world win a war from beyond his grave? It is all very strange in this most abominable of all wars.
Battle of Borodino
In the Battle of Borodino in 1812, the Russians under Marshall Mikhail Kutusov withdrew and the French held the field of battle at end of day ~ the single bloodiest day of warfare in modern times with between 66,500 and 125,000 casualties including several dozen generals. Though the French won, it signalled the end of French power and fall of Napoleon. Borodino was a Pyrrhic victory.
Marshall Kutusov, against his generals’ advice, and courting extreme unpopularity with St Petersburg, continued to withdraw after Borodino and declined to give battle to defend Moscow itself. His remaining forces and most of the civilian population withdrew beyond Moscow. The city was emptied and allowed to burn. The French took it without a fight, Napoleon entered and tried to feel himself its ruler, his generals tried to create a cooperative local government from among the remaining residents.
Kutusov waited, waited and waited some more without giving battle. Then one day, some months later, just as Kutusov had been praying, news came that Napoleon and the French had gotten up and left. Napoleon’s retreat was the biggest catastrophe his Grande Armée suffered, and they were harassed by Russian attacks all the way to the border.
Saddam was reported to have had two Russian generals advising his army, who quietly left before the Anglo-American attack occurred. Russian generals learn about Kutusov on mother’s knee. Even Stalin invoked Kutusov’s name when his 1939 pact with Hitler had failed and Hitler attacked Russia on 22 June 1941. (Iraq had both Nazi and Soviet influences: Stalin tried to appease Hitler in June 1941 by recognising the then pro-Nazi Government of Iraq.)
Saddam’s propaganda spokesmen in the early stages of the March 2003 invasion alluded to a Kutusov-like defensive doctrine: “the US and British administrations have depended on their strategy and planning based on the information obtained from the traitors, whom they call opposition, and from some intelligence services of some Arab countries…. They said: ‘Let some missiles be fired for the maximum of three days and then everything would be over.’ Therefore, we find them in a state of confusion. They prevent the media from having access to the facts about the military operations under security pretexts. They say that they are heading towards Baghdad and that they covered more than 160 or 180 km towards Baghdad. I would like to tell them, that in the course that they are following, let them continue up to 300 km and let them mobilise all the tanks and marines they have, and we will not clash with them soon. We will give them enough time. However, in any contact with any Iraqi village or city, they will find what they are now witnessing in Umm Qasr and Suq al-Shuyukh.” Iraq’s Army did a vanishing act, men and materials disappeared, Baghdad fell without fighting.
By contrast, the USA has followed textbook doctrines from Baron Clausewitz’s On War ~ a work influenced by Napoleon’s successful campaigns though Clausewitz himself fought at Borodino as part of Kutusov’s armies. Like Napoleon and now the Americans, Clausewitz was unable to reconcile his notion of war as aggression and destruction with his notion of war as a means of politics. Clausewitz’s “Absolute War” is “an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfil our will…as each side in war tries to dominate the other, there arises a reciprocal action which must escalate to an extreme”. Hence “disarming or destruction of the enemy … or the threat of this…must always be the aim in warfare”. But Clausewitz’s “Real War” sees war as “a political act… an effective political instrument, a continuation of political commerce and a carrying out of this by other means”
What we may have been witnessing ever since the Bush/Blair attack on Iraq is the outcome of a clash between the doctrines of Clausewitz on the American side and Kutusov on the Iraqi/ Russian side.
American forces began with “Shock and Awe”, followed by disbanding Iraq’s Army and banning the Baathists. Then came “Light Footprint” or “War Tourism”, where American forces left their bases only for specific jaunts outside, while attempting to create a new “Iraqi” Army in an American image. Recently, the purported strategy has changed again to “Clear, Hold, Build” requiring the current infantry “surge” of 30,000 extra troops to try to pacify specific Baghdad neighbourhoods and then “build” political institutions.
Thirty years ago, Professor WB Gallie pointed to the contradiction Clausewitz had been unable to reconcile: “All commentators are agreed that Clausewitz’s greatest difficulty was to explain the relationship between (Absolute War and War as a Political Instrument)”, Philosophers of peace and war, Cambridge Univesity Press 1978. War-making as destruction and war-making as politics are incompatible. The cruelties of Iraq may explain and demonstrate the root of this contradiction most clearly: defeated, disarmed and destroyed victims of an Absolute War are hardly going to feel themselves agreeable to then being manipulated into any political institutions or agreements designed by the perpetrators of the violence. You cannot declare “Absolute War” on Fallujah, kill or arrest every able-bodied male citizen there, and then expect Fallujah’s women, children and old people to participate happily in town hall meetings you wish them to hold. “America has lost because it has not behaved like a great nation”, said one ordinary Iraqi initially in favour of Saddam’s overthrow. America’s retired generals are saying Iraq has been America’s greatest strategic defeat.
The result of the clash between the two doctrines of war has been 30,000 American casualties (dead and wounded at about 1:8), while Iraqi dead exceed 650,000 with millions more wounded, rendered homeless or made refugees. Future historians may speak of a genocide having occurred in Iraq.
Did Saddam win if the Americans have lost? Of course not. Iraq had its Mir Jafars, and Saddam was at most a Shiraj, not even that given his odious past. Iraq now has its Tippus, Bhagat Singhs and Khudi Rams as well.
“The Resistance is the natural reaction to any occupation. All occupations in history faced a resistance. Occupation is not for developing people and making them better. It is for humiliating people, and chaining them and taking their freedom and fortunes away. These are my convictions which make me feel that this occupation is an insult to me and my people.” Such was what an anonymous Resistance officer told the Australian journalist Michael Ware.
It seems impossible for one nation to govern another in the 21st Century. The cycle of imperialism followed by nationalism and socialism/ communism may merely restart. What Iraq needs urgently is for its Tilaks, Gokhales, Jinnahs, Gandhis, Jawaharlals and Vallabhais to arise, or it may be condemned to extinction and being consumed by its neighbours. As for the United States, its military may find a need to revise its war doctrines.
June 18, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
American Turmoil: A Vice-Presidential Coup – And Now a Grassroots CounterRevolution?
First published in
The Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article June 18 2007
The Cold War was lost by Soviet and East European communism, and the laurelled victor was the USA along with its loyal allies. Russia and East Europe then transformed themselves. Once there had been Dubcek in the Prague Spring and Sakharov in his apartment. Then there was Lech Walesa the electrician, who, on 14 August 1980, climbed over a fence and led an 18-day strike from which arose the first independent trade union ~ Walesa said “the very basic things: he stood on the shipyard gate and called things by their real names”. Then came Gorbachov and Yeltsin. The despised Berlin Wall was smashed into small saleable bits in November 1989 and people just walked across. That was the end of communism. An unknown student stood down the tanks in Tiananmen Square — though a dozen years earlier the death-watch of Chinese communism had begun with Wei Jingsheng’s “Democracy Wall”. Communist apparatchiks everywhere (except New Delhi and Kolkata) started to unlearn communism; communist societies and economies began to be placed on a road to health and taken off the road to misery.
What happened to the victors? Germany quietly unified. Italy’s politics stabilised a little. France achieved its wish of being undominated in Europe. Britain, already forlorn from loss of empire, was left trying to arbitrage between Europe and America (though there too there was new competition from the Irish Republic).
Some political learning, reconciliation and growth took place in Europe but there was none in America ~ the biggest victor of all, the one country but for whose efforts all of Europe might have become and remained communist. Instead, the USA chose to gorge itself on self-accolades, bloated, then started to choke on its own hubris.
The result is that as the 2008 Presidential election campaign gets underway, and the Second Iraq War is at its peak, America’s polity at its highest level may be in turmoil of a sort not seen since the student revolts at the peak of the Vietnam War.
Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter were an interregnum after the Vietnam and Watergate traumas. It was during the Reagan “restoration” that communism collapsed and Osama bin Laden was befriended. Carter’s military mission to rescue American hostages in Iran notoriously failed; Reagan restored American pride by sending in the US Army’s crack Rangers to defeat an almost non-existent enemy ~ in Grenada. It was the first successful American military action in a long time. But there was also failure in Beirut where Reagan withdrew after 241 US soldiers were killed by a suicide-bomber.
George Bush Sr glided into the Presidency in Reagan’s wake. He felt sure of being re-elected when Saddam’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait gave him a war with which to seal his chances. For his part, Saddam had primly and properly called in the US Ambassador to Iraq, the top career diplomat April Glaspie, and told her he had accounts to settle with Kuwait over the Iran-Iraq war. Glaspie, under instructions of the Bush-Baker State Department, famously told him the USA had no opinion on inter-Arab conflicts. Saddam took this to be a green signal, or at least not a red signal, from America and went ahead with his attack on Kuwait.
The American President worked himself into an angry indignation ~ and soon there were large numbers of American troops in Saudi Arabia, soon Iraq was forced to retreat with thousands slaughtered in a turkey-shoot from the air, soon there would be severe sanctions and bombings by the USA and UK. Bush was sure he would be re-elected in 1992, and indeed he led all the polls ~ except an oddball surprise Ross Perot pulled away his votes, and caused the third man running, a young governor of a minor State, to push through to victory instead. Bill Clinton was as surprised as anyone that he was President of the USA in 1992. Dissimulation and mendacity reached new heights during his time yet he came to be re-elected in 1996.
Osama bin Laden started to rant against his former ally. Remove your troops from our holy land, he said. Clinton and Madelaine (“It’s worth it”) Albright continued to bomb Saddam instead ~ who after all had launched a few backward Scuds at Israel during the First Iraq War of 1991. Somehow or other, Osama and/or someone else then designed the destruction of Manhattan’s tallest buildings on September 11 2001; it remains unclear what projectile hit the Pentagon or exactly what happened over a field in Pennsylvania the same morning. The mass murder of thousands remains unsolved.
America, under Bush’s elder son, attacked Osama’s hosts in Afghanistan (but not so as to upset their common Pakistani friends too much), then turned their really motivated firepower against their old foe, Saddam Hussein. Iraq by the summer of 2003 was destroyed as a nation-state, and today in 2007 under American occupation has been almost wholly destroyed as a culture and a society. The new US Embassy in Baghdad is as large as the Vatican. Fourteen permanent American military bases have been built. The US Government has spoken of moving troops from Saudi Arabia to Iraq, and of being in Iraq for ever on the Korean pattern.
United States history and political culture had never seen a Vice President as being anything more than an invisible silent shadow of the President of the land. That has changed drastically. Indeed in recent months there has been much serious Washington talk of the incumbent Vice President having unlawfully usurped political power from the President himself. Cheney’s people throughout the Bush Administration have been in almost open battle against the official foreign and diplomatic policy of Condoleeza Rice and the professional military represented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before the attack on Iraq they had overturned the CIA’s official intelligence assessments. There is a general perception that Cheney’s people have been far shrewder and more experienced of the Washington Beltway than Bush’s.
Attack on Iran?
Now the central issue has been whether to attack Iran, and if so how and when. Cheney’s people and their think-tank friends are determined America must do so, perhaps with a new Netanyahu Government in Israel early in 2008 or sooner. The President was apparently warned by his generals in December 2006 that such an attack would gravely endanger the supply lines of US troops who would face a Shia insurrection in Iraq; that may have been the sole reason no attack occurred, and also one reason for the present infantry “surge”. Three aircraft carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf indicate a potential strike, and that level of force has been coming and going from there for months.
The main Democratic Presidential candidates, especially Mrs Clinton, have said nuclear weapons are “not off the table” in reference to striking Iran without provocation. Nine out of ten of the Republican Presidential candidates agree. The exception is Ron Paul who has recognised the United States was not intended by its founders to be launching aggressive nuclear war against non-nuclear countries in the 21st Century. The Reagan-era economist Paul Craig Roberts has said such war will leave America more reviled than Hitler’s Third Reich.
A grassroots democratic counter-revolution could be starting to overturn the elitist coup d’etat that may have occurred in Washington. “People power” beat organised State power in many times and places. Can it win here? Or could there be tanks in Dupont Circle forty years after the tanks in Wenceslas Square?
June 11, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
When will normal political philosophy replace personality cults?
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, June 11 2007,
A decade after Solzhenitsyn’s classic 1962 memoir One day in the life of Ivan Denisovitch, an ambitious young Delhi photographer published a hagiography called A life in the day of Indira Gandhi. Indira was shown gambolling with her little grandchildren, guiding her dutiful daughter-in-law, weeping for her father, greeting her loyal subjects from around India, reprimanding her ingratiating sycophants, imperiously silent during political meetings, smiling and scolding alternately at press conferences, and of course standing in victory at Shimla beside the defeated Bhutto. “Indira is India” the sycophantic slogan went, and the cult of her personality was one of showing her as omniscient and omnipotent in all earthly matters of Indian politics.
She had indeed fought that rarest of things in international law: the just war. Supported by the world’s strongest military, an evil enemy had made victims of his own people. Indira tried patiently on the international stage to avert war, but also chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to fight if it was inevitable and how to win. Finally she was magnanimous (to a fault) towards the enemy ~ who was not some stranger to us but our own estranged brother and cousin.
It seemed to be her and independent India’s finest hour. A fevered nation was thus ready to forgive and forget her catastrophic misdeeds until that time, like bank-nationalization and the start of endless deficit-finance and unlimited money-printing, a possible cause of monetary collapse today four decades later under Manmohan Singh whose career as an economic bureaucrat began at that time.
Hitler, Stalin, Mao
Modern personality cults usually have had some basis in national heroism. In Indira’s case it was the 1971 war. Hitler, Stalin and Mao were seen or portrayed as war heroes too. Because there has been leadership in time of war or national crisis, nervous anxious masses extend their hopes and delusions to believe such a leader has answers to everything. The propaganda machinery available as part of modern state apparatus then takes over, and when it is met on behalf of the citizenry with no more than a compliant docile ingratiating mass media, the public image comes to be formed of a parental god-like figure who will protect and guide the community to its destiny.
Beneath this public image, the cunning play of self-interest by anonymous underlings in the allocation of public resources continues unabated, and so it is possible some truth attaches to the idea that an individual leader is not as responsible for evil misdeeds or depredations done by “the party” in his/her name.
In the Indian case, hero-worship and ancestor-worship are part of the culture of all our major religions. Hence we have parades of parliamentarians garlanding or throwing flowers and paying obeisance at this or that statue or oil-painting or photograph regularly ~ though as a people we have yet to produce rigorous intellectual biographies of any major figures of our own modern history, comparable to, say, Judith Brown’s work on Gandhi or Ayesha Jalal’s on Jinnah.
Indira continued to dominate our political culture until her assassination more than a decade later, but there was hardly a shred of political or economic good in what she left the country. Her elder son (leaving aside his blunders in Sri Lanka, J&K etc.) did have the sense to initiate fundamental change in his party’s economic thinking when he found a chance to do so in the months before his own assassination.
Rajiv was the son of Feroze Gandhi too and a happy family man; he seemed not to have psychological need for as much of the kind of personality cult his mother clearly loved to indulge in. It is not clear if his widow is today trying to follow his example or his mother’s ~ certainly, the party that goes by the name of Indian National Congress would like to relive for a second time the worst of the Indira personality cult around Sonia Gandhi. And Rahul Gandhi, instead of seeking to develop or display any talent as befits a young man, has shown disconcerting signs of longing for the days of his grandmother’s personality cult to return. He may have been more effective pursuing a normal career in the private sector.
The Congress’s perpetual tendency towards personality cults has extended by imitation to other political parties in New Delhi and the States. Atal Behari Vajpayee at his peak as PM did not find it at all uncomfortable to be portrayed by his sycophants as a wise, heroic and loving father-figure of the nation ~ an image shattered when, immediately after perfunctorily commiserating the Godhra and post-Godhra horrors, he was pictured fashionably on a Singapore golf-cart sporting designer sunglasses.
India’s organised communists make a great show of collective decision-making since they most intimately followed the details of Kruschev’s denunciation of Stalin’s personality cult. It has not stopped them routinely genuflecting to China’s communists. There also has been a communist tendency to deny individual merit and creativity at junior levels and instead appropriate all good things for the party bosses. New brilliant faces will never arise in the Left and we may be condemned to see the usual characters in perpetuity. If personality cults around Jyoti Basu or Buddhadeb Bhattacharya have failed to thrive it has not been through lack of trying on part of the publicly paid communist intelligentsia and their docile artists, but rather because of resistance from Bengal’s newspapers and a few clear-headed journalists and well known opposition politicians.
Tamil Nadu has seen grotesque rivalry between Karunanidhi and Jayalalitha as to whose personality cult can alternately outdo the other, supplanting all normal political economy or attempts at discovery of the public interest. In Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, J&K, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh (but not Gujarat or Rajasthan lately), two-party democratic politics has succeeded in limiting tendencies for personality cults to develop. The North Eastern States have had inadequate coverage by modern media, which, fortuitously, along with tribal traditions, may have restrained personality cults from developing.
Facts explode cults
Facts are the most reliable means by which to explode personality cults. It is not a coincidence that facts are also the source by which to develop modern political philosophies, whether conservative, classical liberal/ libertarian, or socialist. Facts have to be discovered, ferreted out, analysed, studied and reflected upon by those civil institutions that are supposed to be doing so, namely university social science, economics and related departments, as well as responsible newspapers, radio and other mass media. Julian Benda once titled a book The Treason of the Intellectuals. India will begin to have a normal political philosophy when the treason of its modern intellectual classes begins to be corrected.
It is not a treason in which the state has been betrayed to an enemy. Rather it is one in which the very purposes of public conversation, such as the discovery of the public interest, have been betrayed in the interests of immediate private gain. This may help to explain why there is so little coherent public discussion in India today, and certainly almost nothing on television, or in the business papers or what passes for academia.
April 2, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
First published in slightly abbreviated form as “A scam in the making” in The Sunday Statesman April 1 2007, Front page comment
A gigantic financial scheme is in the making. Will it come to be seen in future years as having been in fact a scam – indeed India’s scam of the 21st Century for which India’s unknowing masses will be made to pay for many generations? The scheme is mind-boggling in size as well as its sheer audacity. Bofors, Quattrochi etc amount to peanuts in comparison.
No less a personage than the Finance Minister of India, P Chidambaram, has openly praised the potential of this financial scheme. And he has done so in no less an open and transparent place than his latest Budget Speech to Parliament last February.
It is a scheme openly advocated and currently being developed by our Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh’s closest acolytes, Planning Commission head Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia and HDFC head Mr Deepak Parekh, in collaboration with Reserve Bank Governor Dr YV Reddy and the Finance Ministry’s top bureaucrats. The PM himself has come close to endorsing it explicitly. And this PM is not an elected member of the Lok Sabha but holds office and acts as the executive agent of the UPA Chairperson and Lok Sabha Member from Rae Bareilly, Sonia Gandhi.
I hasten to add nobody in the BJP has objected to this financial scheme — in fact had the BJP been in power today instead of Congress, they would have been likely even more agreeable to the scheme given their close proximity to business lobbies and organized capital. As for the Communists, none of their JNU economics professors is technically competent enough to comprehend or recognize what is going on.
The scheme involves private companies “borrowing” India’s foreign exchange reserves from the Reserve Bank of India, allegedly for purpose of “infrastructure” creation — in collaboration with the American bank Citigroup, the American financial business, Blackstone Group, and possibly the American giant, GE Capital too. Mr Chidambaram took the unprecedented step of naming Mr Deepak Parekh as well as Citigroup and Blackstone in the text of his Budget Speech.
To begin to comprehend the nature of this scheme, we need to recall an earlier case.
Foreign exchange reserves of countries typically include foreign currency holdings as well as gold stocks. One of the biggest Wall Street scams of the 1980s-1990s involved private companies borrowing not countries’ foreign currency reserves but their gold reserves.
In that scam, it was not the Reserve Bank of India that was cheated but the Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia. The New York financial company involved was a subsidiary of the Drexel Burnham Lambert Group. The Drexel parent went bankrupt on February 13 1990 and its subsidiary followed on May 9 1990.
A report on June 4 1990 by Leah J. Nathans (now Leah Nathans Spiro) in New York’s highly respected Business Week magazine said: “Central banks, those pillars of monetary virtue, lost $219 million ($21.9 crore) to an obscure commodities subsidiary called Drexel Burnham Lambert Trading Corporation”. The sum was small by American standards but it was “a big, big number” for the countries involved at the time.
What had these national central banks done? They had been lured into becoming greedy. They had been sitting on stocks of gold as part of their national reserves which they felt “just collect dust”. So they yielded to the temptation offered by the Drexel subsidiary of leasing the gold to private parties.
In Ms. Nathans’ words, “By leasing gold, a central bank earns a modest interest rate, ranging from less than 0.5% to 2.5%. Typically, the central bank consigns the gold to a dealer – say, for 90 days. The dealer can then lend the gold to a customer, at a higher interest rate. It may be a speculator, who hopes to repay the borrowed gold when the price falls, or a gold mine that wants to repay the broker with gold produced later.”
But the Drexel parent and subsidiary went bankrupt through bad financial decisions. Drexel’s Michael Milken went to jail. The Central Banks of Poland, Malaysia, Portugal and Yugoslavia were left empty-handed – and had to sue as creditors in New York’s courts trying desperately to get back the gold they had been lured into parting with. It would be unwise to take bets on how much of their gold they ever got back.
All the present PM’s men — Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh, Reddy et al in collaboration with one or two American financial companies – now have a scheme that will use not the RBI’s gold but its foreign currency reserves.
Mr Ahluwalia and Mr Parekh have made the outlandish claim that “India needs US$320 billion” (US 32,000 crore) by way of “investment for physical infrastructure” during the so-called “Eleventh Five-Year Plan”. (How many so-called “Five Year Plans” is India going to have incidentally? We had our “First Plan” when Manmohan Singh was a student at Punjab University. Stalin, who invented the “Five Year Plan”, died during that time, and even his old USSR has ceased to exist, let alone its “Five Year Plans”.)
That vast amount of “investment for physical infrastructure” is what Mr Ahluwalia says he knows India needs for his purported “9% growth rate” to be achieved. Where are the macroeconomic models and time-series data sets from him or his friends to back such assertions? There are none. None of the PM’s men, no one in the Finance Ministry or RBI or Planning Commission, nor any of their JNU economics professor friends or anyone else in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc have any such models or data with which to back such assertions. Nor do the World Bank etc. It is all sheer humbug – all a lie. It is part of the mendacity and self-delusion that our capital city has been floating upon.
In any event, the RBI reportedly has “opposed the idea of deploying forex reserves for infrastructure development on the grounds that it will create monetary expansion”. But Mr Chidambaram’s Finance Ministry owns the RBI, and the Ministry has said “the RBI’s concerns had been taken care of, as the investments would be deployed only through a structured mechanism”. (Business Standard 23 March 2007, p. 3)
What is a “structured mechanism”? Mr Chidambaram, mentioning Citigroup and Blackstone Group specifically, said in his Budget Speech that Mr Deepak Parekh has “suggested the establishment of two wholly-owned overseas subsidiaries of India Infrastructure Finance Company Ltd with the following objectives: (i) to borrow funds from the RBI and lend to Indian companies implementing infrastructure projects in India, or to co-finance their External Commercial Borrowings for such projects, solely for capital expenditure outside India; and (ii) to borrow funds from the RBI, invest such funds in highly rated collateral securities, and provide ‘credit wrap’ insurance to infrastructure projects in India for raising resources in international markets. The loans by RBI to these two subsidiary companies will be guaranteed by the Government of India and the RBI will be assured of a return higher than the average rate of return on its incremental investment.”
You do not understand? Well, no one is supposed to. The most exquisite thievery occurs after all not in darkness but in broad daylight with everyone watching but no one able to see or comprehend anything. So let us return to elementary first principles.
What are foreign exchange reserves and why do countries hold them? It is quite simply answered. Consider the USA and Canada, each with its own dollar. Canadians want to purchase American goods and services, give gifts and make loans to American residents, and make investments in the USA. Americans want to do the same in Canada. Each has to use the domestic money of the other when it does so. If an American wishes to lend money to a Canadian or to purchase something from him, he receives Canadian dollar notes from the Canadian Government to make his Canadian transactions, handing over his American dollar notes instead. The American dollar notes he hands over become part of Canada’s foreign exchange reserves, held by its Central Bank. Roughly speaking, a country’s foreign exchange reserves are the residual foreign currency assets its central bank holds after all these transactions are carried out on both sides of the border.
In the US-Canada case, neither Government prevents its citizens from exchanging domestic money for foreign money. In India, our rupee has been inconvertible since about 1940. The average Indian cannot freely exchange his/her rupee-denominated assets for foreign exchange denominated ones even if he/she wished to. There has been some import-liberalisation in recent years but only someone with the political access of Mr Tata or Mr Birla can purchase foreign assets and foreign companies using their Indian money – because the rupee is inconvertible, any bad financial decisions they make in using their foreign assets will be implicitly paid for by the Indian public.
Now a country’s central bank, such as our Reserve Bank, is the custodian of its foreign exchange reserves. India’s reserves are supposed to have reached $195.96 Billion ($19,596 Crore) as of March 16 2007. Keep in mind we do not know why they have risen: they can rise merely because foreigners (including NRIs) have lent us more of their money, not because foreigners have bought more of our goods and services. In fact Business Standard yesterday 31 March 2007 said on its front page “external commercial borrowing” was “a major source of accretion” of India’s reserves.
Also keep in mind that the Reserve Bank has the duty to manage these foreign-denominated assets against which it has already issued Indian rupees. It might receive a small conservative income from the cash-management aspect of this but it may not risk them or place them in any jeopardy!
Yet the whole idea behind the Chidambaram-Ahluwalia-Parekh-Reddy scheme under discussion by the Sonia-Manmohan Government is that the RBI will “lend” some of the billions of Americans dollars in its custody to overseas subsidiaries of Indian companies – say, for example, to the Tatas who have now bought foreign “capital assets” of some US$ 12 Billion ($1200 Crore) from Corus without having anything near that kind of foreign income.
Such favoured Indian companies might then use these “borrowed” funds as collateral for other borrowings. In exchange, they will go about undertaking purported “infrastructure” projects in India. So much for the “structured mechanisms” being touted by Messrs Chidambaram, Ahluwalia, Parekh et al.
Before India’s public understands it, the schemers will shout (as they have done with the SEZ Act) that Parliament has passed it. The BJP will applaud with envy. The Communists might uncomprehendingly complain a little, and then be bought off with a sop or two that they do understand, like a little pro-China rhetoric or being let off lightly on Nandigram.
Now international institutions like the International Monetary Fund and the Bank of International Settlements officially exist to advise central banks to stay along the straight and narrow and to avoid all such mischief. Here is what the IMF explicitly warned about such schemes in its Guidelines for Foreign Exchange Reserve Management dated September 20 2001:
“Liquidity risk. The pledging of reserves as collateral with foreign financial institutions as support for loans to either domestic entities, or foreign subsidiaries of the reserve management entity, has rendered reserves illiquid until the loans have been repaid. Liquidity risks have also arisen from the direct lending of reserves to such institutions when shocks to the domestic economy led to the borrowers’ inability to repay their liabilities, and impairment of the liquidity of the reserve assets.
Credit risk. Losses have arisen from the investment of reserves in high-yielding assets that were made without due regard to the credit risk associated with the issuer of the asset. Lending of reserves to domestic banks, and overseas subsidiaries of reserve management entities, has also exposed reserve management entities to credit risk.”
Dostoevsky believed man could have evil intent. Socrates was more generous and said man does not do wrong knowingly. It is not impossible our Indian schemers have innocent intent and do not even realize how close they are to becoming scamsters, or are already in the grip of scamsters. But at least we are now forewarned: India faces a clear risk of being swindled of its foreign exchange reserves. Prevention is better than cure.
January 14, 2007 — drsubrotoroy
Dr Singh’s India, Buddhadeb’s Bengal, Modi’s Gujarat have notorious US, Soviet and Chinese examples to follow ~ distracting from the country’s real economic problems
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article, Jan 14 2007
AT a business meet on 12 January 2005, Dr Manmohan Singh showered fulsome praise on Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee as “dynamic”, “the Nation’s Best Chief Minister”, whose “wit and wisdom”, “qualities of head and heart”, “courage of conviction and passionate commitment to the cause of the working people of India” he admired, saying “with Buddhadeb Babu at the helm of affairs it appears Bengal is once again forging ahead… If today there is a meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata, it is because the ideas that I and Buddhadebji represent have captured the minds of the people of India. This is the idea of growth with equity and social justice, the idea that economic liberalization and modernization have to be mindful of the needs of the poor and the marginalized.”
With such support of a Congress Prime Minister (as well as proximity to Pranab Mukherjee), Mr Bhattacharjee could hardly have feared the local Congress and Trinamul would pose any threat in the 2006 Assembly Elections despite having more potential voters between them than the CPI-M.
Dr Singh returned to the “needs of the poor and the marginalized” at another business meet on 8 January 2007 promising to “unveil a new Rehabilitation Policy in three months to increase the pace of industrialisation” which would be “more progressive, humane and conducive to the long-term welfare of all stakeholders”, while his businessman host pointedly stated about Singur “land for industry must be made available to move the Indian manufacturing sector ahead”.
The “meeting of minds between Delhi and Kolkata” seems to be that agriculture allegedly has become a relatively backward slow-growing sector deserving to yield in the purported larger national interest to industry and services: what the PM means by “long-term welfare of all stakeholders” is the same as the new CPI-M party-line that the sons of farmers should not remain farmers (but become automobile technicians or IT workers or restaurant waiters instead).
It is a political viewpoint coinciding with interests of organised capital and industrial labour in India today, as represented by business lobbies like CII, FICCI and Assocham on one hand, and unions like CITU and INTUC on the other. Business Standard succinctly (and ominously) advocated this point of view in its lead editorial of 9 January as follows: “it has to be recognised that the world over capitalism has progressed only with the landed becoming landless and getting absorbed in the industrial/service sector labour force ~ indeed it is obvious that if people don’t get off the land, their incomes will rise only slowly”.
Land is the first and ultimate means of production, and the attack of the powerful on land-holdings or land-rights of the unorganised or powerless has been a worldwide phenomenon ~ across both capitalism and communism.
In the mid-19th Century, white North America decimated hundreds of thousands of natives in the most gargantuan land-grab of history. Defeated, Chief Red Cloud of the Sioux spoke in 1868 for the Apache, Navajo, Comanche, Cheyenne, Iroquois and hundreds of other tribes: “They made us many promises, more than I can remember, but they never kept any except one: they promised to take our land, and they took it.”
Half a century later, while the collapse of grain prices contributed to the Great Depression and pauperisation of thousands of small farmers in capitalist America in the same lands that had been taken from the native tribes, Stalin’s Russia embarked on the most infamous state-sponsored land-grab in modern history: “The mass collectivisation of Soviet agriculture (was) probably the most warlike operation ever conducted by a state against its own citizens…. Hundreds of thousands and finally millions of peasants… were deported… desperate revolts in the villages were bloodily suppressed by the army and police, and the country sank into chaos, starvation and misery… The object of destroying the peasants’ independence…was to create a population of slaves, the benefit of whose labour would accrue to industry. The immediate effect was to reduce Soviet agriculture to a state of decline from which it has not yet recovered… The destruction of the Soviet peasantry, who formed three quarters of the population, was not only an economic but a moral disaster for the entire country. Tens of millions were driven into semi-servitude, and millions more were employed as executants…” (Kolakowski, Main Currents of Marxism).
Why did Stalin destroy the peasants? Lenin’s wishful “alliance between the proletariat and the peasantry” in reality could lead only to the peasants being pauperised into proletarians. At least five million peasants died and (Stalin told Churchill at Yalta) another ten million in the resultant famine of 1932-1933. “Certainly it involved a struggle ~ but chiefly one between urban Communists and villagers… it enabled the regime to obtain much of the capital desired for industrialization from the defeated village… it was the decisive step in the building of Soviet totalitarianism, for it imposed on the majority of the people a subjection which only force could maintain” (Treadgold, 20th Century Russia).
Mr Bhattacharjee’s CPI-M is fond of extolling Chinese communism, and the current New Delhi establishment have made Beijing and Shanghai holiday destinations of choice. Dr Singh’s Government has been eager to create hundreds of “Special Economic Zones” run by organised capital and unionised labour, and economically privileged by the State. In fact, the Singur and Nandigram experiences of police sealing off villages where protests occur are modelled on creation of “Special Economic Zones” in China in recent years.
For example, Chinese police on 6 December 2005 cracked down on farmers and fishermen in the seaside village of Dongzhou, 125 miles North East of Hong Kong. Thousands of Dongzhou villagers clashed with troops and armed police protesting confiscation of their lands and corruption among officials. The police immediately sealed off the village and arrested protesters. China’s Public Security Ministry admitted the number of riots over land had risen sharply, reaching more than seventy thousand across China in 2004; police usually suppressed peasant riots without resort to firing but in Dongzhou, police firing killed 20 protesters. Such is the reality of the “emergence” of China, a totalitarian police-state since the Communist takeover in 1949, from its period of mad tyranny until Mao’s death in 1976, followed by its ideological confusion ever since.
Modern India’s political economy today remains in the tight grip of metropolitan “Big Business” and “Big Labour”. Ordinary anonymous individual citizens ~ whether housewife, consumer, student, peasant, non-union worker or small businessman ~ have no real voice or representation in Indian politics. We have no normal conservative, liberal or social democratic party in this country, as found in West European democracies where the era of land-grabbing has long-ceased. If our polity had been normal, it would have known that economic development does not require business or government to pauperise the peasantry but instead to define and secure individual property rights and the Rule of Law, and establish proper conditions for the market economy. The Congress and BJP in Delhi and CPI-M in Kolkata would not have been able to distract attention from their macroeconomic misdeeds over the decades ~ indicated, for example, by increasing interest-expenditure paid annually on Government debt as a fraction of tax revenues (see Table). This macroeconomic rot originated with the Indira Gandhi-PN Haksar capriciousness and mismanagement, which coincided with the start of Dr Singh’s career as India’s best known economic bureaucrat.
December 15, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
What to tell Musharraf:
Peace Is Impossible Without Non-Aggressive Pakistani Intentions
First published in The Statesman December 15 2006,
Editorial Page Special Article
In June 1989 a project at an American university involving Pakistani and other scholars, including one Indian, led to the book Foundations of Pakistan’s Political Economy: Towards an Agenda for the 1990s published in Karachi, New Delhi and elsewhere. The book reached Nawaz Sharif and the Islamabad elite, and General Musharraf’s current proposal on J&K, endorsed warmly by the US State Department last week, derives from the last paragraph of its editorial introduction: “Kashmir… must be demilitarised and unified by both countries sooner or later, and it must be done without force. There has been enough needless bloodshed on the subcontinent… Modern Pakistanis and Indians are free peoples who can voluntarily agree in their own interests to alter the terms set hurriedly by Attlee or Mountbatten in the Indian Independence Act 1947. Nobody but we ourselves keeps us prisoners of superficial definitions of who we are or might be. The subcontinent could evolve its political identity over a period of time on the pattern of Western Europe, with open borders and (common) tariffs to the outside world, with the free movement of people, capital, ideas and culture. Large armed forces could be reduced and transformed in a manner that would enhance the security of each nation. The real and peaceful economic revolution of the masses of the subcontinent would then be able to begin.”
The editors as economists decried the waste of resources involved in the Pakistan-India confrontation, saying it had “greatly impoverished the general budgets of both Pakistan and India. If it has benefited important sections of the political and military elites of both countries, it has done so only at the expense of the general welfare of the masses.”
Such words may have been bold in the early 1990s but today, a decade and a half later, they seem incomplete and rather naïve even to their author, who was myself, the only Indian in that project. Most significantly, the position in international law in the context of historical facts had been wholly neglected. So had been the manifest nature of the contemporary Pakistani state.
Jammu & Kashmir became an entity in international law when the Treaty of Amritsar was signed between Gulab Singh and the British on March 16 1846. British India itself became an entity in international law much later, possibly as late as June 1919 when it signed the Treaty of Versailles. As for Pakistan, it had no existence in world history or international law until August 14 1947, when the British created it as a new entity out of certain demarcated areas of British India and gave it the status of a Dominion. British India dissolved itself on August 15 1947 and the Dominion of India became its successor-state in international law on that date. As BR Ambedkar pointed out at the time, the new India automatically inherited British India’s suzerainty over any and all remaining “princely” states of so-called “Indian India”. In case of J&K in particular, there never was any question of it being recognised as an independent entity in global international law.
The new Pakistan, by entering a Standstill Agreement with J&K as of August 15 1947, did locally recognise J&K’s sovereignty over its decision whether to join Pakistan or India. But this Pakistani recognition lasted only until the attack on J&K that commenced from Pakistani territory as of October 22 1947, an attack in which Pakistani forces were complicit (something which, in different and mutating senses, has continued ever since). The Dominion of India had indicated it might have consented if J&K’s Ruler had decided to accede to Pakistan in the weeks following the dissolution of British India. But no such thing happened: what did happen was the descent of J&K into a condition of legal anarchy.
Beginning with the Pakistani attack on J&K as of October 22 upto and including the Rape of Baramulla and the British-led Pakistani coup détat in Gilgit on one side, and the arrival of Indian forces as well as mobilization by Sheikh Abdullah and Bakshi Ghulam Mohammad of J&K’s civilians to repel the Pakistani invaders on the other side, the State of Jammu & Kashmir became an ownerless entity in international law. In Roman Law, from which all modern international and municipal law ultimately derives, the ownership of an ownerless entity is open to be determined by “military decision”. The January 1949 Ceasefire Line that came to be renamed the Line of Control after the 1971 Bangladesh War, demarcates the respective territories that the then-Dominions and later Republics of India and Pakistan acquired by “military decision” of the erstwhile State of J&K which had come to cease to exist.
What the Republic of India means by saying today that boundaries cannot be redrawn nor any populations forcibly transferred is quite simply that the division of erstwhile J&K territory is permanent, and that sovereignty over it is indivisible. It is only sheer ignorance on the part of General Musharraf’s Indian interviewer the other day which caused it to be said that Pakistan was willing to “give up” its claim on erstwhile J&K State territory which India has held: Pakistan has never had nor even made such a claim in international law. What Pakistan has claimed is that India has been an occupier and that there are many people inhabiting the Indian area who may not wish to be Indian nationals and who are being compelled against their will to remain so ~ forgetting to add that precisely the same could be said likewise of the Pakistani-held area.
Accordingly, the lawful solution proposed in these pages a year ago to resolve that matter, serious as it is, has been that the Republic of India invite every person covered under Article 370, citizen-by- citizen, under a condition of full information, to privately and without fear decide, if he/she has not done so already, between possible Indian, Iranian, Afghan or Pakistani nationalities ~ granting rights and obligations of permanent residents to any of those persons who may choose for whatever private reason not to remain Indian nationals. If Pakistan acted likewise, the problem of J&K would indeed come to be resolved. The Americans, as self- appointed mediators, have said they wish “the people of the region to have a voice” in a solution: there can be no better expression of such voice than allowing individuals to privately choose their own nationalities and their rights and responsibilities accordingly. The issue of territorial sovereignty is logically distinct from that of the choice of nationality by individual inhabitants.
Equally significant though in assessing whether General Musharraf’s proposal is an anachronism, is Pakistan’s history since 1947: through Ayub’s 1965 attack, the civil war and secession of Bangladesh, the Afghan war and growth of the ISI, the Kargil incursion, the 1999 coup détat, and, once or twice removed, the 9/11 attacks against America. It is not a history that allows any confidence to arise in Indians that we are not dealing with a country misgoverned by a tiny arrogant exploitative military elite who remain hell-bent on aggression against us. Like the USA and USSR twenty years ago, what we need to negotiate about, and negotiate hard about, is an overall mutual military drawdown and de-escalation appropriate to lack of aggressive intent on both sides. Is General Musharraf willing to discuss that? It would involve reciprocal verifiable assessment of one another’s reasonable military requirements on the assumption that each was not a threatening enemy of the other. That was how the USA-USSR drawdown and de-escalation occurred successfully. If General Musharraf is unwilling to enter such a discussion, there is hardly anything to talk about with him. We should wait for democracy to return.
December 10, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Mob Violence and Psychology
Mob violence remains a monthly occurrence in modern India; it gives the lie to our claims of political maturity and democratic development.
By SUBROTO ROY
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page Special Article December 10 2006
Mob violence certainly signals collapse of the Rule of Law and absence of normal political conversation and decision-making. Mob violence in modern India remains a monthly occurrence: a child is killed by a speeding bus, the driver if he is caught is thrashed to death by a mob of onlookers and the bus burnt down; a factory closes and workers go on a rampage; a statue or political personality or religious figure is perceived to have been insulted or desecrated, and crowds take to the streets to burn vehicles and cause mayhem; a procession is said to be insulted, and rival mobs go to battle with one another. (In fact, elected legislators in Parliament and State Assemblies frequently conflate mob behaviour like slogan-shouting with political conversation itself, carrying into the House the political methods they have learned to employ outside it. And contrary to what our legislators may suppose, they do need to be constantly lectured to by the general citizenry whose paid servants they are supposed to be).
Such may be relatively simple cases to describe or diagnose. More complex cases include the deliberate burning alive of Graham Staines and his two young sons by a mob in 1999 as they slept in their vehicle in rural Orissa, or countless deeds of similar savagery during Partition and the innumerable other riots we have seen in the history of our supposedly tolerant and non-violent culture.
We are not unique in our propensity for evil. French women knitted and gossiped watching the guillotine do its bloody work during the Jacobin terror. Long before them, as the Catholic scholar Eamon Duffy reports in Faith of our fathers, Pope Gregory IX in 1233 had initiated the “Inquisition”: two anonymous witnesses could cause any person to be arrested as a heretic, tortured and then burnt alive. In 1484, Pope Innocent VIII endorsed “witches” to be burnt, causing “deaths of countless thousands of harmless or eccentric women over the next 300 years. In all, as many as 25,000 people, most of them women may have been burnt as witches in Germany” alone. American history has seen countless cases of mob violence, from witch-burnings and other religious violence to cold-blooded lynching on trees of individual black men by white mobs, black mobs looting inner cities, street clashes between political groups etc. Soviet Russia and Maoist China saw systematic ideologically driven violence by Party cadres and “Red Guards” against countless individuals ~ forced to confess to imaginary misdeeds, then assaulted or shot. Nazi Germany, Czarist Russia and many other countries saw mobs attacking, dispossessing or killing individual Jews and innumerable others, again in systematic ideologically motivated pogroms. Indeed as Hannah Arendt and others have noted, the similarities between totalitarian regimes as outwardly different as Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia or Communist China included the ideologically driven targeting of identifiable small minorities for systematic violence by majorities in power. Even Tony Blair’s supposedly Cool Britannia today, besides having the most notorious soccer hooligans in the world, is also a place where no individual, non-white or white, will pass a drunken mob of adolescent school-children on the streets on a Friday night without trepidation.
Every case of mob violence is different; yet what could be common is a temporary, if deliberate, suspension of the normal human sense of responsibility on part of a mob’s individual members. Reason and responsibility return if at all only after the evil has been accomplished ~ whether it is killing or assaulting someone or destroying something ~ and it can be accompanied by a sense of remorse and regret. Even where mob tyranny has been systematic, long-term, ideologically-driven and state-sponsored, as with the Inquisition or French Revolution or Nazi, Soviet or Chinese terrors, future generations look back at the past misdeeds of their ancestors and say: “That was wrong, very wrong, it should never have happened”. Moral learning does take place at some time or other, even if it is long after the evil has occurred. It is as if, when sobriety and rationality return, an individual participant in a mob realises and recognises himself/herself to have revealed a baser ignoble side which is shameful.
“Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole ~ mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control ~ that’s the id ~ sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him ~ that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super- ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…” Such was the description the Cambridge philosopher John Wisdom gave in Philosophy and Psychoanalysis in the 1940s and 1950s, when he translated into normal idiomatic language some of the difficult technical findings and theories of the mind propounded by Sigmund Freud in the previous half-century.
When the mob forms itself, its members individually choose to suppress their normal rational personalities and sense of adult responsibility, and permit instead their cunning animal or babyish instincts to take over and reign supreme within themselves. It must be a collective decision even if silently taken: for one person to behave in such a manner would look identifiably stupid and criminal but for him/her to do so in a group where everyone has simultaneously decided to abandon reason (whether spontaneously or shouting slogans together) allows the loss of individual responsibility to become hidden in the mass, and the collective to take on features of a hydra-headed monster, capable of the vilest deeds without the slightest self-doubt. The victim of their violence or abuse will often be an individual who stands out in some way ~ perhaps by natural or social attributes or even by heroic deeds: indeed Freud suggested that primitive tribes sometimes engaged in parricide and regicide, cannibalising their individual heroes in the belief that by consuming something of the hero’s remains those attributes might magically reappear in themselves.
In modern India, the presence of mob violence on a monthly basis somewhere or other in the country gives the lie to our claims of maturity of our political and democratic development. Those posing as our political leaders may make as many foreign trips and wooden prepared speeches on TV as they wish to, but their actual cowardice is manifest in having failed to address the real disjunction that exists in this country between political interests and political preferences at the grassroots on the one hand, and the lack of serious parliamentary conversation addressing these within our representative institutions on the other. The reliance by the Executive on often brutal police or paramilitary forces reflects failure of the Legislative and Judicial branches of our Government, as well as a lack of balance between them arising from our political and constitutional immaturity.
October 14, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Justice & Afzal
first published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page October 14 2006
There is a difference between law and equity (or natural justice). The power of pardon is an equitable power. Commuting a death-sentence is a partial pardon
By SUBROTO ROY
“Fiat justitia pereat mundus” ~let justice be done even if the world shall perish ~ is a maxim only Immanuel Kant among the great philosophers may have wished to maintain. Yet it serves to remind us that there exist wrong reasons for carrying out as well as wrong reasons for not carrying out the death-sentence on Afzal Guru. Wrong reasons for carrying out the death-sentence include saying that only by his death will families of the victims of the Parliament attack receive satisfaction (justice is hardly the same thing as revenge) or that only thereby can the Indian Republic show itself to be standing up to terrorism. Wrong reasons for not carrying out the death-sentence include saying Afzal’s death would be seen as unjust by many people in J&K and result in further civil or political turmoil there or elsewhere, or that more terrorism will result.
Justice should be done and be seen to be done to Afzal by the Indian Republic ~ here as elsewhere, justice is a matter between an individual and the State. The question remains open whether such justice involves his death or his imprisonment for life or even his being paroled in due course. Unlike Praveen Mahajan for example, Afzal has not committed premeditated first-degree murder or parricide. He is from an Indian State where there has existed some separatist sentiment for decades, and evidently he has been an accomplice to an act of war against India involving attempted kidnapping or mass murder. If he is an Indian national, he may have been treasonous and seditious; if he is a Pakistani national or wishes to be treated as such, he may have been some kind of spy, agent provocateur or saboteur, or an accomplice of such people. The moral question before India today has to do with what precisely is the nature and quality of justice to be dispensed in this particular case, in these particular factual circumstances as far as presently known, given all the principles, precedents, rules and laws available.
Someone may fairly wonder how or why it is possible the President of India has any discretion at all left to commute a sentence of death once the judiciary up until the Supreme Court of India has spoken. The answer has to do with the subtle distinction that is still made in common law countries like Britain, the USA and India between law and equity or “natural justice”. Britain ever since the 13th Century has had an institution known as “Lord Chancellor” in whose person came to be combined the highest judicial and executive roles (Tony Blair’s New Labour Government is due to abolish it). “Chancery” or courts of equity traditionally were parallel to courts of law, recognising that normal legal processes may cause justice to sometimes fail (especially in corrupt times) and hence require direct executive intervention. In the United States today, equity is embodied in Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules, and federal courts are empowered to oversee all other courts including themselves for violations of natural justice.
By way of example having nothing necessarily to do with capital punishment, “solicitation of counsel, clerks or judges” is embracery curialis, recognized as extrinsic fraud and subversion of justice since Jepps 72 E R 924 (1611), “firmly established in English practice long before the foundation” of the USA, Hazel Atlas, 322 US 238 (1943). “Embracery is an offense striking at the very foundation of civil society” says Corpus Juris 20, 496. A court of equity has inherent power to investigate if a judgement has been obtained by fraud, and that is a power to unearth it effectively, since no fraud is more odious than one to subvert justice. Cases include when “by reason of something done by the successful party… there was in fact no adversary trial or decision of the issue in the case. Where the unsuccessful party has been prevented from exhibiting fully his case, by fraud or deception practised on him by his opponent, as … where an attorney fraudulently or without authority assumes to represent a party and connives at his defeat; or where the attorney regularly employed corruptly sells out his client’s interest to the other side ~ these, and similar cases which show that there has never been a real contest in the trial or hearing of the case, are reasons for which a new suit may be sustained to set aside and annul the former judgment or decree, and open the case for a new and a fair hearing….” Hazel Atlas. Fraud on the court includes that “perpetrated by officers of the court so that the judicial machinery cannot perform in the usual manner its impartial task of adjudging cases that are presented for adjudication” Moore’s Federal Practice 60-360.
Equitable action under Rule 60(b) can vacate judgment whenever such action is appropriate to accomplish justice. (In contemporary American federal judicial processes at least in the present author’s experience over two decades, this rather subtle branch of jurisprudence may have become known, however, more in its breach than fulfilment).
The power of pardon is one such supra-legal equitable power of the executive authority. For a state’s chief executive to pardon a crime is to release someone of guilt or to remit punishment. In Britain, the power is with the Government’s Home Office and in the old Commonwealth it was delegated to the Governor-General. In the USA it is a power of the President or State Governors to pardon crimes, and the most famous case was that of President Gerald Ford pardoning his predecessor Richard M. Nixon. Pervez Musharraf recently pardoned A Q Khan. Both highlight the fact the power of granting a full pardon is to be exercised rarely, and may be justifiable only on grounds of “Reasons of State” where someone has done something unlawful which the State is willing to condone for sake of some greater good in the national interest. But a pardon also can be partial, requiring the offender fulfil a condition such as serving a lesser substituted punishment. Commuting a death sentence by requiring the offender to serve life in prison is this sort of conditional pardon.
In India today, the President under Article 72 of the Constitution is empowered “to grant pardons, reprieves, respites or remissions of punishment or to suspend, remit or commute” a sentence of death and also intervene in other cases. Article 161 gives a lesser power to State Governors. These are singular examples of the acknowledged presence of equity in modern Indian jurisprudence, though our customary laws remain a vast untapped source of natural justice, (viz. Tagore Law Lectures 1905-1906 by SN Roy). Just last week, a Supreme Court bench of Justice Arijit Pasayat and Justice SH Kapadia ruled the power of reprieve, pardon or remission of sentence may not be exercised for “political considerations or on the basis of religion, caste or other extraneous factors”. There must be bona fide valid reasons. The bench set aside an Andhra Pradesh order passed by a Governor from the Congress Party remitting the sentence of imprisonment awarded to a Congress leader in a murder case involving a Telegu Desam Party victim. In an egregious violation of his discretion, the Governor had said the sentence already undergone was sufficient and directed release, but the Supreme Court in November 2005 admitted a petition challenging the order and stayed it. The Court has now held that exercise of the power is subject to judicial review and it may not be exercised for extraneous, political or mala fide reasons. The Court has thereby enlarged its role in equity (or natural justice) similar to that which American federal courts have had under Rule 60(b). There is also an argument for abolishing Article 161.
In cases of equitable treatment of capital punishment in India today like that of Afzal (or Dhananjay before him), the fact the Executive has notoriously starved our Judiciary of adequate resources ever since Independence (The Statesman, 26 February 2006) also may not be something irrelevant to evaluating the likelihood of a mistake having been made. All things considered, if justice is to be done and seen to be done in Afzal’s case, the Indian Republic should be in no hurry whatsoever in deciding to either execute him or to even release him.
From Facebook 31 March 2014
Why was Afzal hanged in such a hurry and almost in secret? Why did the BJP bay for his death so loudly every day, getting the Congress scared they would lose an election if they did not? Competitive foolishness just as over Telengana. Afzal had not pulled any trigger. That it was an avoidable injustice is made apparent by the Supreme Court commuting the death sentences of other political murderers, including Rajiv Gandhi’s killers and now Bhullar…
From Facebook 24 November 2012
I did not think Kasab should have been hanged principally as it was on the basis of his evidence that India cracked the case and he deserved some jurisprudential credit for that. He was the star witness for the prosecution against the terrorist masterminds who had sent him. Separately, I also do not believe, all things considered, that Afzal should be hanged, though there may be nothing defective in law against his conviction and sentence and he has had some legal bad luck. The law of pardon or commutation is of an equitable nature, beyond the normal law itself…His cooperation with the police would be the reason for his life to be spared — besides the fact that he pulled no trigger to kill anyone himself nor caused anyone else to do so.
From Facebook August 12 2011:
Subroto Roy has now for the first time been able to read the Supreme Court judgement affirming Afzal Guru’s death sentence, commuting Shaukat’s, and affirming the acquittal of Gillani. It does not seem defective in law. Afzal Guru was perhaps misrepresented by lawyers or misled himself into confessing his crimes very early on. But hand-in-glove with the murderous terrorists he certainly appears to have been. The fact he helped the police with his confession may be the only equitable reason for the President to commute the sentence.
July 3, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
LAW, JUSTICE AND J&K
by SUBROTO ROY
First published in two parts inThe Sunday Statesman, July 2 2006 and The Statesman July 3 2006 Editorial Page Special Article
For a solution to J&K to be universally acceptable it must be seen by all as being lawful and just. Political opinion in Pakistan and India as well as all people and parties in J&K ~ those loyal to India, those loyal to Pakistan, and any others ~ will have to agree that, all things considered, such is the right course of action for everyone today in the 21st Century, which means too that the solution must be consistent with the facts of history as well as account reasonably for all moral considerations.
On August 14, 1947, the legal entity known as “British India”, as one of its final acts, and based on a sovereign British decision made only two months earlier, created out of some of its territory a new State defined in international law as the “Dominion of Pakistan”. British India extinguished itself the very next day, and the newly independent “Dominion of India” succeeded to all its rights and obligations in international law. As the legal successor of the “India” which had signed the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 and the San Francisco Declaration of 1945, the Dominion of India was already a member of the new UN as well as a signatory to many international treaties. By contrast, the Dominion of Pakistan had to apply afresh to sign treaties and become a member of international organisations. The theory put forward by Argentina that two new States, India and Pakistan, had been created ab initio, came to be rejected and was withdrawn by Argentina. Instead, Pakistan with the wholehearted backing of India was made a member of the UN, with all except Afghanistan voting in favour. (Afghanistan’s exceptional vote signalled presence of conflict over the Durand Line and idea of a Pashtunistan; Dr Khan Sahib and Abdul Ghaffar Khan were imprisoned by the Muslim League regime of NWFP which later supported the tribesmen who attacked J&K starting October 22, 1947; that conflict remains unresolved to this day, even after the American attack on the Taliban, the restart of a constitutional process in Afghanistan, and the purported mediation of US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.)
Zafrullah Khan, Pakistan’s distinguished first ambassador to the UN, claimed in September 1947: “Pakistan is not a new member of UNO but a successor to a member State which was one of the founders of the Organisation.” He noted that he himself had led India to the final session of the League of Nations in Geneva in 1939, and he wished to say that Pakistan had been present “as part of India… under the latter name” as a signatory to the Treaty of Versailles. This was, however, logically impossible. The Treaty of Versailles long predated (1) Mohammad Iqbal’s Allahabad Address which conceptualised for the first time in the 20th Century a Muslim State in Northwest India; (2) Rahmat Ali’s invention of the word “PAKSTAN” on the top floor of a London omnibus; (3) M. A. Jinnah and Fazlul Haq’s Lahore Resolution; and (4) the final British decision of June 3, 1947 to create by Partition out of “British India” a Dominion named Pakistan. Pakistan could not have acted in international law prior to having come into being or been created or even conceived itself. Zafrullah Khan would have been more accurate to say that the history of Pakistanis until August 14, 1947 had been one in common with that of their Indian cousins ~ or indeed their Indian brothers, since innumerable North Indian Muslim families came to be literally partitioned, with some brothers remaining Indians while other brothers became Pakistanis.
Pakistan was created at the behest of Jinnah’s Muslim League though with eventual agreement of the Indian National Congress (a distant ancestor of the political party going by the same name today). Pakistan arose not because Jinnah said Hindus and Muslims were “two nations” but because he and his League wished for a State where Muslims would find themselves ruled by fellow-Muslims and feel themselves part of a pan-Islamic culture. Yet Pakistan was intended to be a secular polity with Muslim-majority governance, not an Islamic theocracy. That Pakistan failed to become secular was exemplified most poignantly in the persecution Zafrullah himself later faced in his personal life as an Ahmadiya, even while he was Pakistan’s Foreign Minister. (The same happened later to Pakistan’s Nobel-winning physicist Abdus Salaam.) Pakistan was supposed to allow the genius of Indo-Muslim culture to flourish, transplanted from places like Lucknow and Aligarh which would never be part of it. In fact, the areas that are Pakistan today had in the 1937 provincial elections shown scant popular Muslim support for Jinnah’s League. The NWFP had a Congress Government in the 1946 elections, and its supporters boycotted the pro-Pakistan referendum in 1947. The imposition of Urdu culture as Pakistan’s dominant ethos might have come to be accepted later in West Punjab, Sindh and NWFP but it was not acceptable in East Bengal, and led inevitably to the Pakistani civil war and creation of Bangladesh by Sheikh Mujib in 1971.
In August 1947, the new Dominions of India and Pakistan were each supposed to protect their respective minority populations as their first political duty. Yet both palpably failed in this, and were reduced to making joint declarations pleading for peace and an end to communal killings and the abduction of women. The Karachi Government, lacking the wherewithal and administrative machinery of being a nation-state at all, and with only Liaquat and an ailing Jinnah as noted leaders, may have failed more conspicuously, and West Punjab, the Frontier and Sindh were soon emptied of almost all their many Sikhs and Hindus. Instead, the first act of the new Pakistan Government in the weeks after August 14, 1947 was to arrange for the speedy and safe transfer of the North Indian Muslim elite by air from Delhi using chartered British aeroplanes. The ordinary Muslim masses of UP, Delhi and East Punjab were left in danger from or were subjected to Sikh and Hindu mob attacks, especially as news and rumours spread of similar outrages against Pakistan’s departing minorities.
In this spiral of revenge attacks and counter-attacks, bloodshed inevitably spilled over from West and East Punjab into the northern Punjabi plains of Jammu, though Kashmir Valley remained conspicuously peaceful. Zafrullah and Liaquat would later claim it was this communal civil war which had caused thousands of newly decommissioned Mirpuri soldiers of the British Army, and thousands of Afridi and other Frontier tribesmen, to spontaneously act to “liberate” J&K’s Muslims from alleged tyranny under the Hindu Ruler or an allegedly illegal Indian occupation.
But the main attack on J&K State that began from Pakistan along the Manshera-Muzaffarabad road on October 22, 1947 was admittedly far too well-organised, well-armed, well-planned and well-executed to have been merely a spontaneous uprising of tribesmen and former soldiers. In all but name, it was an act of undeclared war of the new Dominion of Pakistan first upon the State of J&K and then upon the Indian Dominion. This became obvious to Field Marshall Auchinlek, who, as Supreme Commander of the armed forces of both India and Pakistan, promptly resigned and abolished the Supreme Command in face of the fact that two parts of his own forces were now at war with one another.
The invaders failed to take Srinagar solely because they lost their military purpose while indulging in the Rape of Baramula. Thousands of Kashmiri women of all communities ~ Muslim, Sikh and Hindu ~ were violated and transported back to be sold in markets in Peshawar and elsewhere. Such was standard practice in Central Asian tribal wars from long before the advent of Islam, and the invading tribesmen shared that culture. India’s Army and Air Force along with the militias of the secular democratic movement led by Sheikh Abdullah and those remaining loyal units of J&K forces, fought off the invasion, and liberated Baramula, Naushera, Uri, Poonch etc. Gilgit had a British-led coup détat against it bringing it under Pakistan’s control. Kargil was initially taken by the Pakistanis and then lost by them. Leh could have been but was not taken by Pakistani forces. But in seeking to protect Leh and to retake Kargil, the Indian Army lost the siege of Skardu ~ which ended reputedly with the infamous communication from the Pakistani commander to his HQ: “All Sikhs killed; all women raped.”
Now, in this grave mortal conflict, the legal theory to which both the Indian and Pakistani Governments have been wedded for sixty years is one that had been endorsed by the British Cabinet Mission in 1946 and originated with the Butler Commission of 1929. Namely, that “Lapse of Paramountcy” over the “Indian India” of the “Native States” could and did occur with the extinction of British India on August 15, 1947. By this theory, Hyderabad, J&K, Junagadh and the several other States which had not acceded to either Dominion were no longer subject to the Crown’s suzerainty as of that date. Both Dominions drew up “Instruments of Accession” for Rulers to sign upon the supposed “Lapse” of Paramountcy that was to occur with the end of British India.
Ever since, the Pakistan Government has argued that Junagadh’s Ruler acceded to Pakistan and Hyderabad’s had wished to do so but both were forcibly prevented by India. Pakistan has also argued the accession to India by J&K’s Ruler was “fraudulent” and unacceptable, and Sheikh Abdullah was a “Quisling” of India and it was not his National Conference but the Muslim Conference of Ibrahim, Abbas and the Mirwaiz (precursor of the Hurriyat) which represented J&K’s Muslims.
India argued that Junagadh’s accession to Pakistan or Hyderabad’s independence were legal and practical impossibilities contradicting the wills of their peoples, and that their integration into the Indian Dominion was carried out in an entirely legitimate manner in the circumstances prevailing.
On J&K, India has argued that not only had the Ruler requested Indian forces to fight off the Pakistani attack, and he acceded formally before Indian forces were sent, but also that democratic principles were fully adhered to in the unequivocal endorsement of the accession by Sheikh Abdullah and the National Conference and further by a duly called and elected J&K Constituent Assembly, as well as generations of Kashmiris since. In the Indian view, it is Pakistan which has been in illegal occupation of Indian territory from Mirpur, Muzaffarabad and Gilgit to Skardu all the way to the Khunjerab Pass, Siachen Glacier and K2, some of which it illegally ceded to its Communist Chinese ally, and furthermore that it has denied the peoples of these areas any democratic voice.
In June 1947, it was uniquely and brilliantly argued by BR Ambedkar in a statement to the Press that the British had made a catastrophic error in comprehending their own constitutional law, that no such thing as “Lapse” of Paramountcy existed, and that suzerainty over the “Native States” of “Indian India” would be automatically transferred in international law to the successor State of British India. It was a legal illusion to think any Native State could be sovereign even for a single logical moment. On this theory, if the Dominion of India was the sole successor State in international law while Pakistan was a new legal entity, then a Native State which acceded to Pakistan after August 15, 1947 would have had to do so with the consent of the suzerain power, namely, India, as may be said to have happened implicitly in case of Chitral and a few others. Equally, India’s behaviour in integrating (or annexing) Junagadh and Hyderabad, would become fully explicable ~ as would the statements of Mountbatten, Nehru and Patel before October 1947 that they would accept J&K going to Pakistan if that was what the Ruler and his people desired. Pakistan unilaterally and by surprise went to war against J&K on October 22, declared the accession to India “fraudulent”, and to this day has claimed the territory of the original State of J&K is “disputed”. Certainly, even if the Ambedkar doctrine is applied that no “Lapse” was possible under British law, Pakistan did not recognise India’s jurisdiction there as the suzerain power as of August 15, 1947. Altogether, Pakistan’s sovereign actions from October 22 onwards amounted to acting to annex J&K to itself by military force ~ acts which came to be militarily resisted (with partial success) by India allied with Sheikh Abdullah’s National Conference and the remaining forces of J&K. By these military actions, Pakistan revealed that it considered J&K territory to have descended into a legal state of anarchy as of October 22, 1947, and hence open to resolution by “Military Decision” ~ as is indeed the just outcome under Roman Law, the root of all municipal and international law today, when there is a contest between claimants over an ownerless entity.
Choice of nationality
Hence, the present author concluded (“Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman December 1-3, 2005) that the dismemberment of the original J&K State and annexation of its territories by India and Pakistan that has occurred since 1947, as represented first by the 1949 Ceasefire Line and then by the 1972 Line of Control, is indeed the just and lawful outcome prevailing in respect of the question of territorial sovereignty and jurisdiction. The remaining “democratic” question described has to do with free individual choice of nationality by the inhabitants, under conditions of full information and privacy, citizen-by-citizen, with the grant of permanent residency rights by the Indian Republic to persons under its jurisdiction in J&K who may choose not to remain Indian nationals but become Afghan, Iranian or Pakistani nationals instead. Pakistan has said frequently its sole concern has been the freedom of the Muslims of J&K under Indian rule, and any such genuine concern shall have been thereby fully met by India. Indeed, if Pakistan agreed to act similarly, this entire complex mortal problem of decades shall have begun to be peacefully resolved. Both countries are wracked by corruption, poverty and bad governance, and would be able to mutually draw down military forces pit against one another everywhere, so as to begin to repair the grave damage to their fiscal health caused by the deleterious draining away of vast public resources .
May 7, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Inder Malhotra’s Indira Gandhi : A Review Article
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman May 7 2006
Indira Priyadarshini Nehru was fortunate to have been a handsome woman born to an eminent and indulgent father and grandfather. Despite her lack of higher education or significant worldly wisdom or experience, she acquired enough of an aura of being born to rule that she became Congress Party President in 1959 at age 41, and India’s most dramatic Prime Minister from 1966-1977 and again from 1980-1984 when she was assassinated. She was lucky too that the Zoroastrian man she married did not have one of the many long and colourful surnames Indian Zoroastrians can have, but coincidentally shared the same surname as modern India’s founder. Hence arose the iconic name and personage known as Indira Gandhi.
“The evil that men do lives after them, the good is often interred with their bones”, said Shakespeare. Indira Gandhi’s one and paramount good deed as India’s leader and indeed as a world leader of her time was to have fought a war that was so rare in international law for having been unambiguously just. And she fought it flawlessly. The cause had been thrust upon her by an evil enemy’s behaviour against his own people, an enemy supported by the world’s strongest military power with pretensions to global leadership. Victims of the enemy’s wickedness were scores of millions of utterly defenceless, penniless human beings. Indira Gandhi did everything right. She practised patient but firm diplomacy on the world’s stage to avert war if it was at all possible to do. She chose her military generals well and took their professional judgement seriously as to when to go to war and how to win it. Finally, in victory she was magnanimous to the enemy that had been defeated. Children’s history-books in India should remember her as the stateswoman who freed a fraternal nation from tyranny, at great expense to our own people. As a war-leader, Indira Gandhi displayed extraordinary bravery, courage and good sense.
Unfortunately, this was the only arena in which these virtues of hers came to be expressed. India’s serious history-books, beyond those written for or read by children, need to record that her sheer ignorance of the fundamentals of domestic statecraft as well as her caprice, arrogance and hubris caused permanent harm to India’s polity in innumerable dimensions from which we have yet long to recover. On advice first of her childhood acquaintance, the proto-communist P. N. Haksar, and later of her ruffian unprincipled younger son Sanjay, she single-handedly destroyed India’s nascent parliamentary traditions, federalism, the Rule of Law, and its most important political party; the integrity of the civil services, judiciary, police, intelligence services and other public institutions; as well as monetary and fiscal prudence Beside this, she and her younger son Sanjay contributed to destroying communal harmony and political stability in the Punjab, while she and later her older son Rajiv contributed to do the same in Kashmir. She exulted in the personality cult, courtier culture and durbar politics of her father and grandfather.
Many pertinent questions about the personal and political life of Indira Gandhi have remained to be answered by any serious modern biographer. Her relationships with her husband and his rival for her time and affections, her father, remain in darkness, as does, after their deaths, her relationship between 1967- 1974 with Haksar, her key adviser. Her capacity and her failures as a mother to two very different sons also remain unclear. Her own lack of education was transmitted to them and neither succeeded at what he studied to be, though at least Rajiv became a gentleman. Her father had been an indifferent husband to Kamala and she an indifferent wife to Feroze — the most important thing her sons may have done with their lives was to have married women she did not choose for them, and then to have become well-loved spouses themselves. As mother-in-law, her petulant bullying of the young Sikh widow of Sanjay, mother of an infant child at the time, remains to be contrasted with her apparent warmth and generosity towards her Italian-born elder daughter-in-law. All such questions would be ones of feminine gossip or TV-soap operas in case of any ordinary woman but assume political significance for Indians because of the inordinate impact she, her father, her sons and their widows have had on India’s modern history. Why all of India’s national-level politics have acquired a gossipy joint-family tone about them is because she projected onto them no high and universally known political principles whatsoever, but merely her own personal experiences and desire for popularity.
The book at hand provides almost no new fact or insight on any relevant extant personal or political question about Indira Gandhi at all. The one exception has to do with a brief discussion of her relationship with Lal Bahadur Shastri which reveals her naked ambition most clearly, though the author is too ingratiating to wish to draw such a conclusion himself. He meekly deflects blame for her faults onto exogenous random shocks like monsoon failures, the rise in petroleum prices or other uncontrollable international events, or the ill-will of others. The most fawning apologists and cultists are quoted with approval: Sanjay was merely “inept”, the Emergency was brought on by its victims and not such a bad thing really, the Shah Commission resembled “a Chinese people’s court”, Maneka was a “rebellious chit of a girl”, etc. Two decades later, we must expect the greatest detachment and calm objectivity in any serious treatment of this complex stateswoman’s life. What we have instead received — at a time when Rajiv’s widow is in power in Delhi and Haksar’s protégé is her PM, while The Mitrokhin Archives II are published — is a clear attempt at revisionist flattery, complete with Indira’s face smiling at us at the start of every chapter and old propaganda photos from the PIB. This is deeply unfortunate coming from the National Book Trust. Indeed, neither she nor her father deserve further inquiry and reflection today more than do their respective spouses, Feroze Gandhi and Kamala Nehru, both of whom died prematurely.
May 7, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
MODERN WORLD HISTORY
by Subroto Roy
First published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page Special Article May 7 2006
MUCH as we in India might like to think we were the central focus of Britain’s national life in the 19th and 20th Centuries, we were not. India’s matters were handled mostly by a senior cabinet minister to whom the governor-general or viceroy reported. Though possession and control of India gave the British a sense of mission, self-importance and grandeur, and events in India (mostly bad ones) could hog the newspapers for a few days, it was never the case that India dominated Britain’s political consciousness or national agenda for any length of time. British prime ministers and diplomatists, from Pitt through Canning, Palmerston, Peel, Gladstone, Granville, Disraeli and Salisbury, mostly had other concerns of foreign policy, mostly in Europe and also in the Americas, Africa, and the Near and Far East. India was peripheral to their vision except as a place to be held against any encroachment.
A French historian used to begin lectures on British history saying “Messieurs, l’Angleterre est une ile.” (“Gentlemen, Britain is an island.”) The period of unambiguous British dominance of world diplomacy began with Pitt’s response to the French Revolution, and unambiguously ended in 1917 when Britain and France could have lost the war to Germany if America had not intervened. Since then, America has taken over Britain’s role in world diplomacy, though Lloyd George and Churchill, to a smaller extent Harold Wilson, and finally Thatcher, were respected British voices in world circles. Thatcher’s successor Major failed by seeming immature, while his successor Blair has failed by being immature to the point of being branded America’s “poodle”, making Britain’s loss of prestige complete.
Between Pitt and Flanders though, Britain’s dominance of world affairs and the process of defining the parameters of international conduct was clear. It was an era in which nations fought using ships, cannon, cavalry and infantry. The machine-gun, airpower and automobile had been hardly invented. Yet it is amazing how many technological inventions and innovations occurred during that era, many in Britain and the new America, vastly improving the welfare of masses of people: the steam-engine, the cotton gin, railways, electricity, telecommunications, systems of public hygiene etc. The age of American dominance has been one of petroleum, airpower, guided missiles and nuclear energy, as well as of penicillin and modern medicine.
It was during the period 1791-1991, between the French Revolution and the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, that world diplomacy created the system of “Western” nation-states, from Canning’s recognition of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Colombia etc to the emergence of the European Union. There is today peace in Europe and it has become unthinkable there will be war between e.g. France and Germany except on a soccer pitch. Even the unstable Balkans have stabilised. The transition from British to American dominance occurred during and because of the 1914-1918 World War, yet that war’s causes had nothing to do with America and hence America’s rise has been somewhat fortuitous. The War superficially had to do with those unstable Balkans in the summer of 1914 and the system of alliances developed over the previous 100 years; beneath was the economic rise of the new Germany.
Austro-Hungary went to war against Serbia, causing Germany its ally into war with Russia, Serbia’s ally. Belgium’s neutrality was guaranteed through British diplomacy by the Treaty of London in 1839 signed by Austria, France, Britain, Russia and Prussia. This “scrap of paper” Germany tore up to invade Belgium on 4 August 1914, because it was easier to attack France through Belgium than directly as most French generals had expected. Though Germany had no dispute with France, France was Russia’s ally, and the Germans had long-feared fighting on two fronts against larger but more slowly mobilising forces. Violation of Belgian neutrality caused Britain into war with Germany. So all Europe was at war from which it would fail to extricate itself without American intervention. This arrived in 1917 though it too had been provoked by German submarines sinking American ships in the Atlantic. The actual impact of American forces entering the battlefields was small, and it was after the Armistice, when the issue arose of reparations by Germany to everyone and repayments by Britain and France to America, that America’s role became dominant. New York took over from London as the world’s financial capital.
Woodrow Wilson longed to impose a system of transparent international relations on the Europeans who had been used to secret deals and intrigues. He failed, especially when America’s Senate vetoed America’s own entry into the League of Nations. America became isolationist, wishing to have nothing more to do with European wars ~ and remains to this day indifferent towards the League’s successor. But the War also saw Lenin’s Bolsheviks grab power after Russia extricated itself from fighting Germany by the peace of Brest-Litovsk. And the Armistice saw the French desire to humiliate and destroy German power for ever, which in turn sowed the seeds for Hitler’s rise. And the War also had led to the British making the Balfour Declaration that a Jewish “National Home” would arise in Palestine in amity and cooperation with the Arabs. The evolution of these three events dominated the remainder of the 20th Century ~along with the rise and defeat of an imperialist Japan, the rise of communist China, and later, the defeat of both France and America in Vietnam.
Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, and Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September. The next day in faraway India, the British in a panic started to place Jinnah on an equal footing as Gandhi ~ astounding Jinnah himself as much as anyone since his few supporters had lost the 1937 elections badly, especially in the provinces that today constitute the country he wished for. After the defeat and occupation of Germany and Japan, America’s economic supremacy was unquestionable. Utterly exhausted from war, the British had no choice but to leave India’s angry peoples to their own fates, and retreated to their fortified island again ~ though as brown and black immigration increased with the end of Empire, many pale-skinned natives boarded ships for Canada, Australia and New Zealand. America came to have much respect for its junior British ally during the fight against Hitler and later in the political battle against the USSR. It was Thatcher who (after battling Argentina in the South Atlantic) led Reagan to make peace with Gorbachov. With the end of Soviet communism, Germany would be unified again. All across Christendom there was peace for the first time ever, and a militarily powerful nuclear-armed Israel had been created too in the old Palestine. In this new period of world history, the Security Council’s permanent members are the modern version of the “Great Powers” of the 19th Century. The American-led and British-supported destruction of Baathist Iraq, and threatened destruction of Khomeinist Iran mark the final end of the League of Nations’ ethos which had arisen from the condemnation of aggression. In Osama bin Laden’s quaint idiom, there seems a battle of “Crusaders” and “Zionists” against Muslim believers. Certainly Muslim believers (which means most Muslims as there are relatively few agnostics and atheists among them) think that it is obvious that the Universe was created, and that its Creator finally and definitively spoke through one human being in 7th Century Arabia. Many people from North Africa to the Philippines are not often able to conceive how things might have been otherwise. The new era of history will undoubtedly see all kinds of conversations take place about this rather subtle question.
April 6, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
Is America close to breaking its pledged word?
First published in The Statesman Editorial Page, 6 April 2006
Ayatollah Khomeini was the Ho Chi Minh of Iran. Ho was both a communist and a Vietnamese nationalist, but America’s Presidents from Eisenhower to Nixon failed to see the latter. Khomeini was both a devout Shia Muslim and an Iranian nationalist yet America’s Presidents from Carter to W. Bush refused to see his Revolution being as much about Iranian nationalism as about creating an Islamic Republic. As a general rule, Western countries allow for nationalism among other Western countries but not among non-Western countries. Immanuel Kant’s dictum of treating everyone as an end in himself/herself and not as a means towards one’s own ends, is applied in intra-Western international relations but often not when the West deals with others. But Indians did not have to be communists to sympathise with Vietnam’s struggle against first France and then America, and Indians do not have to be Shia Muslims to sympathise with Iran’s struggle against an impending Anglo-American aggression. The opaque Manmohan- Montek deal-making with America on behalf of India’s people may need to be set aside in such a context — while it might benefit several dozen businesses on both sides and several hundred bureaucrats may become even fatter with bribes, it may have next to nothing to do with any dimension of India’s national interests.
US pledge 1981, policy 2006
On January 19 1981, the Government of the United States signed what came to be called the Algiers Accord, the first point of which stated: “Non-Intervention in Iranian Affairs: The United States pledges that it is and from now on will be the policy of the United States not to intervene, directly or indirectly, politically or militarily, in Iran’s internal affairs.” This was part of a comprehensive truce between Khomeini’s Iran and the USA in regard to the war-like conditions then prevailing between them. That pledge now seems about to be broken. British newspapers reported on April 2 2006 that the Blair Government is holding “secret talks” with its own Chief of Defence Staff, Chief of Defence Intelligence and others to discuss “an American-led attack, designed to destroy Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear bomb… if Tehran’s leaders fail to comply with United Nations demands to freeze their uranium enrichment programme.” This is despite the British foreign minister saying last month “that a military attack against Iran was ‘inconceivable’”. America’s “National Security Strategy” dated March 16 2006 states the policy clearly: “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran. For almost 20 years, the Iranian regime hid many of its key nuclear efforts from the international community. Yet the regime continues to claim that it does not seek to develop nuclear weapons. The Iranian regime’s true intentions are clearly revealed by the regime’s refusal to negotiate in good faith; its refusal to come into compliance with its international obligations by providing the IAEA access to nuclear sites and resolving troubling questions; and the aggressive statements of its President calling for Israel to ‘be wiped off the face of the earth’. The United States has joined with our EU partners and Russia to pressure Iran to meet its international obligations and provide objective guarantees that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes. This diplomatic effort must succeed if confrontation is to be avoided. As important as are these nuclear issues, the United States has broader concerns regarding Iran. The Iranian regime sponsors terrorism; threatens Israel; seeks to thwart Middle East peace; disrupts democracy in Iraq; and denies the aspirations of its people for freedom. The nuclear issue and our other concerns can ultimately be resolved only if the Iranian regime makes the strategic decision to change these policies, open up its political system, and afford freedom to its people. This is the ultimate goal of U.S. policy. In the interim, we will continue to take all necessary measures to protect our national and economic security against the adverse effects of their bad conduct. The problems lie with the illicit behavior and dangerous ambition of the Iranian regime, not the legitimate aspirations and interests of the Iranian people. Our strategy is to block the threats posed by the regime while expanding our engagement and outreach to the people the regime is oppressing.“
In one scenario, America will make a surprise cruise-missile attack on Iranian buildings “suspected” of producing biological weapons. If the Iranians respond in any way other than total submission, it will be sufficient to launch a major bombing of Iran’s military facilities using B-2 bombers based in Diego Garcia, England and other American bases, possibly using nuclear “earth penetrating” weapons to attack underground facilities. Of course it is not impossible the British and Americans are merely setting up a bluff to scare the Iranians into complying without a fight, but the existence of aggressive war plans and preparations cannot be doubted.
Now it is possible the Americans will say they are not bound by the pledge made in the Algiers Accord in January 1981 to not intervene in Iran’s affairs. In breach of all diplomatic law, 66 Americans had been taken captive by Iranians seizing the American Embassy on November 4 1979. Six others escaped with the help of the Canadian and Swedish embassies. Of the 66, 13 women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. The remaining 52 including two women and one black American were released on January 20 1981 by the terms of the Algiers Accord just before Ronald Reagan took over as President of the United States. Eight American military personnel were killed on April 25 1980 in a failed attempt to rescue them. The official designations of the 52 (who had been held captive for 444 days) included 10 military attachés; 6 “communications and electronics specialists”; 8 political and administrative officers, and 12 diplomatic/consular staff. In addition there were 12 guards and 4 others. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran was a den of spies as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and to have ended diplomatic relations in accordance with international law. What explained Iranians’ anger for them to have violated international law so brazenly? That was the age before terrorism, and nor was Iran a player in the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.
Iran’s anger stemmed from having felt being used by Britain, America and Soviet Russia for half a century before the 1979 Khomeini Revolution – from having been merely means towards their ends in violation of the Kantian dictum. It was almost as if Britain and America had said to Iran and the entire Middle East, “We invented the internal combustion engine and the automobile which uses it, and we also discovered the petroleum that runs it; the mere fact you happen to sit on this petroleum does not make you own it; we own it too and we will take it by force whenever necessary.” During the Cold War, the USSR followed suit, and now after the Cold War has ended, the new Russia is a Western ally in the same kind of attempted domination over non-Western countries like Iran (or Pakistan and India, who get sold a lot of useless weapons to fight each other with).
Mossadeq the democrat
Specifically, if the January 1981 Algiers Accord was signed by the USA under duress, the Iranians could say that Iran had been cheated into signing the 25 year agreement of September 1954 with an international oil consortium led by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Iran would receive 50% profit on all Iranian oil exported, after paying the AIOC ₤25 million in compensation for having nationalised it in 1951 under the democratic government of Mohammad Mossadeq which had broken off diplomatic relations with Britain. Mossadeq was overthrown by an Anglo-American coup détat in August 1953, and replaced by the compliant General Fazlollah Zahedi and Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. Arthur Millspaugh, an American invited by the Iranians to help their public finances, once wrote: “Persia cannot be left to herself, even if the Russians were to keep their hands off politically. …Persia has never yet proved its capacity for independent self-government.” Millspaugh’s 1925 book titled America’s Task in Persia seems to have remained the handbook of Western policy towards Iran. Khomeini’s Revolution was its antithesis.
January 31, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
by Subroto Roy
Editorial page, The Statesman, January 31 2006
Indian diplomacy has, almost accidentally, shown some wisdom. The King of Saudi Arabia should have been long ago invited to be Chief Guest on Republic Day. His Majesty immediately reciprocated with the most gracious words possible: “I consider myself to be in my second homeland. The relationship between India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is an historic one, we have been old friends and, God willing, this visit will renew these historic ties”. Indeed the King should be invited to make a full State visit in the near future travelling all over India, including Srinagar Valley ; where Khruschev and Bulganin went in 1955!
India has the second largest population of Muslim believers in the world after Indonesia, and it is only right the Keeper of the Holy Places of Islam should see for himself that India is indeed dar-ul-aman, not the dar-ul-harb that the propaganda of the Pakistanis and their terroristic protégés have made it out to be in Saudi and Gulf power circles.
Kalam and the King
The Vajpayee Government deserves a little credit for the present success, because it was they who caused the fact that His Majesty Faisal Ibn Abdullah Ibn Muhammad Al-Saud was hosted by an Indian rocket scientist born in a Muslim family in an impecunious fishing village of Tamil Nadu. The King and his princes would not have failed to feel the poignancy in that. India is also the second largest country of Shiá Islam after Iran, and Ayatollah Khatami was Chief Guest a few years ago when he was President of Iran. It has been argued in these columns (“Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1-3, 2005) that the solution to J&K requires Indian diplomacy with Iran and Afghanistan as well ; which, incidentally, will make the hollowness of Pakistan’s claims in J&K most obvious.
Now the President of the United States is due to visit India shortly. George W Bush is the third Republican President to come to India after Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. His predecessor Bill Clinton came as a single man at the end of his second term, on holiday from a rocky marriage, to dance with Rajasthani women and indulge his love of Indian food. Before Clinton in 2000, the last American President to visit was Jimmy Carter in 1978, who gave a stirring speech to Parliament about democracy after Morarji Desai had defeated Indira Gandhi’s Emergency. George Bush, also in his second term, will come to India amid controversy.
“You’re a good man”, Bush condescendingly said to Manmohan Singh in Washington, half-remembering that morning’s intelligence briefing memo. Had our PM been more experienced of the world he could have replied equally loudly: “Thanks, you’re not so bad yourself. Let’s chop some wood next time”. It is almost definite there will be no agreement on the nuclear collaboration deal, and that the dispute erupting over Iran may have enlarged itself. Platitudes will be exchanged but the fact that the President has chosen to combine his visit to India with a visit to his buddies in the Pakistani Government will not go unnoticed in the MEA.
“Balance of power” has been the motif of Anglo-American foreign policy in Asia at least ever since the Arabs were induced to revolt against the Turks by Allenby and Lawrence, followed by pitting Iran and the Arabs against each other. The same goes for India and Pakistan. Also, our rather uncouth Communists have vowed to make their presence felt in street-protests and boycotts of Parliament when Bush comes.
FDR & Martin Luther King Jr
In this tense atmosphere, where the summit may actually falter rather badly on substance, Manmohan Singh will need to make some important symbolic gestures. Going to meet the Saudi King at the airport was an appropriate gesture. Clinton had expected the Indian PM to meet him too, and was visibly disappointed to land in the middle of the night only amidst the lights of the TV cameras. The Bushes should be met at the airport by our PM and his spouse. The President is our honoured guest and guests are to be treated like gods.
In the same vein, four boulevards across India’s largest cities deserve to be named after four American heroes: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King Jr., Dwight D. Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln. The first two were Democrats, the latter two Republicans.
Naming a boulevard in New Delhi after FDR would belatedly acknowledge his small, spontaneous yet critical and principled role in support of Indian independence that, shockingly, remains unrecognised in India. Britain could not expect American support against German and Japanese imperialism while expecting the Americans not to support Indian aspirations for national freedom. India’s own academic historians, mostly under influence of either Communist or RSS methodologies, have failed even to produce objective biographies of major national leaders, let aside candid accounts of British rule, the development of the Indian nation-state, the Transfer of Power or Partition.
The same intellectual sloppiness has extended to economics too, and underlies the gross misunderstanding of India’s monetary and fiscal histories as was outlined recently in these columns. It has required a young American scholar, Dinyar Patel, writing in an official American Government publication to outline Roosevelt’s role during India’s independence (Span, March 2005).
Where FDR helped India’s struggle for freedom, Martin Luther King Jr adopted India’s method to lead America’s blacks (“Negroes” and “coloureds” as they were then called) to freedom within their own country. MK Gandhi had corresponded with Tolstoy after beginning his campaign of passive resistance to unjust South African laws, and he read Henry Thoreau’s essay on civil disobedience when he was already in jail for that very same offence. Many years later, the young Alabama preacher put to use Gandhi’s example of courageous peaceful defiance of injustice in his own sweet land of liberty. On receiving the Nobel Peace Prize on 10 December 1964, King said: “Non-violence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time – the need for man to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilisation and violence are antithetical concepts. Negroes of the United States, following the people of India, have demonstrated that non-violence is not sterile passivity, but a powerful moral force which makes for social transformation”. Of course, King like Gandhi would have been appalled by the religious, colour, caste and racial prejudices of contemporary Indians, Pakistanis etc today, and naming a boulevard in King’s name may do more for our own moral well-being than anything else.
Eisenhower and Lincoln
As for Dwight Eisenhower and Abraham Lincoln, the former may well be seen in later centuries as the greatest of 20th Century American Presidents as the latter was of the 19th. Though they had nothing to do with India, naming boulevards after them would remind Indians of the existence of great men in world history.
Jyoti Basu’s Communists once named streets in Kolkata after Lenin and Ho Chi Minh, and still pay annual obeisance at Lenin’s statue with clenched fists and garlands. Ho Chi Minh was a great nationalist and may have deserved an Indian street but it was a cheap and gratuitous insult by the Communists to name the very street on which the American Consulate stood after the Vietnamese leader who was then their enemy. The Americans were mature enough at the time to ignore it and not pull out their Consulate from Kolkata — the very same Consulate that is so highly in demand with Basu’s successor, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.
Under influence of the well-known academic apologists for Communist China, Bhattacharjee has been recently extolling the virtues of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai too – apparently ignorant of the 40 million Chinese that Mao killed and apparently forgiving Zhou’s hatred of and perfidy against India. Before any further such nonsense occurs, we should name roads after FDR, King, Eisenhower and Lincoln, and the time to do it would be when George W. Bush makes his visit.
January 22, 2006 — drsubrotoroy
COMMUNISTS & CONSTITUTIONS
By SUBROTO ROY
first published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article,
January 22, 2006
Constitutions and communists do not go together. The most glaring example comes from Russia — the Motherland not only of modern communism but also of great brave individual souls like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, and the many other men and women who struggled to defeat communism there over seven decades. Before Russia managed to liberate herself from communism — i.e. before the Communist Party of the Soviet Union began under Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin to liberate itself from itself in the late 1980s — the only genuine elections that ever occurred in the country were to the Constituent Assembly of November 1917.
That Constituent Assembly was a multiparty legislative body and it happened to have a large anti-Bolshevik majority. It met only once in January 1918 and was destroyed under Lenin immediately because it quite naturally refused to adopt Bolshevik proposals. Under the Czar, the “Constitutional Democratic Party” (the “Cadets”), formed in 1905, “constituted the most dangerous ranks of revolution”. Under the government of the proletariat, the very same Cadet Party represented “the most dangerous ranks of reaction” (Solzhenitsyn). Constitutionalists inevitably end up battling both the Fascists of the Right and the Communists of the Left. As Hannah Arendt made clear, the organisation of totalitarian governments whether of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s USSR or Mao’s China were remarkably similar in nature. Upon seizing power in November 1917, Russia’s Bolsheviks attacked the constitutionalists first, outlawing the Cadet Party and arresting its members, and doing the same to students, workers and soldiers associated with the “Alliance for the Constituent Assembly”.
This is not a coincidence. Communists and fascists are powered by instincts of grabbing State political power for themselves any which way they can, in order to impose by brute force on everyone else the rather shoddy obsolete ideologies they subscribe to themselves. Karl Marx himself most famously said the words “I am not a Marxist”. Communists and fascists cannot stand the idea of the anonymous individual citizen standing up on his or her own; their instinct is one which cannot attribute credit to the individual person for any good that may be done, instead purloining it into a fake “collective” effort. Similarly, errors cannot be simply acknowledged, and instead responsibility is diffused all around until nobody remembers who said or did what or when, and all history becomes a jumble.
Every great scientific and artistic achievement has been an expression of individual genius, often against the reactionary collective will. And constitutions from Magna Carta onwards have been built on the idea of protecting the anonymous, powerless individual citizen against the violent arbitrary power of the established State and its comprador organisations. Britain and America may have contributed their share of evil to world history but they have made up for at least some of it by pioneering Anglo-Saxon constitutional jurisprudence. It may be no coincidence Britain and America have been home to the greatest outpourings of human creativity and invention in modern times, from the steam engine to the Internet.
In fact it has been a singularly American contribution to pioneer the very idea that parliamentary majorities themselves need to be restrained from their own baser proclivities. In 1767, before America had herself become free from British rule, the British Parliament once issued a declaration that a parliamentary majority could pass any law it saw fit. It was greeted with an outcry of horror in Britain’s American colonies. Patrick Henry of Virginia — later famous for his cry “Give me Liberty or give me Death” — led the battle for the anonymous free individual citizen against the arbitrary power that comes to be represented by the herd or mob instincts even of elected parliamentary majorities. Constitutions are written to protect parliaments and peoples from themselves.
The philosopher John Wisdom, who translated the subtle work of Wittgenstein and Freud into normal idioms, once said: “Sometimes a society acts as if all power lay in the hands of the most babyish and animal members, and sometimes as if all power lay in the hands of strict old men, and sometimes it acts more as a whole — mostly when there’s a war on. Sometimes a man is not himself and acts as if a babyish or cunning animal had gained control — that’s the id — sometimes as if an exacting parent, a sarcastic schoolmaster, or an implacable deity possessed him — that’s the super-ego. Sometimes a man is more himself and acts more as a whole, a new whole which is not a combination but a synthesis of the id and the super-ego. Some are constantly at the mercy of the id, some are slaves to the super-ego, and in some first one and then the other gains an unhappy victory in a continual struggle, and in some conflict and control have vanished into cooperation…”
Similarly, we may say that political processes in any country appear to often give play to the most “babyish” and “cunning animal” instincts of the society, while at other times the “strict old men” or “exacting parent” take over. The constant struggle of political reasonableness is to find the rational, normal national self that rests in between.
India at present has been set upon an unproductive and pointless course of inevitable Constitutional collision between Parliament and the Supreme Court. That course has been singly set by the present Speaker even though every attempt is being made now to diffuse his responsibility for the situation that has arisen, so that soon nobody will be able to remember exactly what happened or why. The incumbent Speaker, instead of being wholly self-effacing as called for by the job-requirements of the high and grave office he holds, has remained too much of a normal parliamentary advocate. Before grave irreparable damage comes to be done to India’s Parliamentary and Constitutional traditions, he needs to return at once to the Front Benches of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) as a distinguished senior Member of the House, and from there make whatever arguments he wishes about Parliament’s rights under the Constitution. The high self-effacing office of the Speaker is not from where such arguments as he has been making should be made — unless India’s Parliament and Constitution are soon to be thrown into the dustbin for ever (as has similarly happened for half a century across the border with our Pakistani cousins).
The incumbent Speaker is right that the Supreme Court does not oversee Parliament. The Supreme Court oversees something greater than Parliament, namely, India’s Constitution. Parliament, its Speaker, its Prime Minister, the President of India, and the Supreme Court itself are all creatures of the Constitution. However, the Constitution of India that was adopted on 26 January 1950 is not sui generis a creature of itself. It is the outcome of a clear and well-known constitutional history which has among its modern milestones the Government of India Act of 1935, and thence all the ancient milestones of Anglo-American constitutional jurisprudence going back to Magna Carta. And India’s Supreme Court — sitting not in any of its normal division benches but as a Constitutional Bench — does indeed have jurisdiction, indeed it has sole jurisdiction, over whether India’s Constitution is being made to suffer crimes or misdemeanours at the hands of India’s Government or Parliament of the day. For the Speaker to decline to receive a notice from the High Court is an irrelevancy; many people who are served notices ignore them; it does not reduce jurisdiction by an iota. An “All-Party” meeting of MPs can rail all it wants against the Supreme Court — even the whole of the present Parliament can pass as many unanimous resolutions as they want against the Supreme Court. They will only make themselves look silly and petulant in the eyes of history. As for the BJP Opposition in particular, the present situation may make it perfectly clear that there is not among them a single, principled, liberal constitutionalist hidden in their proto-fascistic ranks.
December 22, 2001 — drsubrotoroy
The Case For and Against *The Satanic Verses*: Evaluating Diatribe and Dialectic as Art
by Subroto Roy
June 2001, Kolkata, India. First published at www.chowk.com on December 23 2002. First appearance in print in The Statesman Festival Volume, October 2006. (Note, April 2007: this article is an example of how the Internet age has transformed meanings: before the Internet, to be published and to be printed referred to practically simultaneous events; but this article was published on the Internet almost four years before it came to be republished in print.)
Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses is a manifold document; in reading it more than a dozen years after publication, what is brought to mind is the relation between art and criticism described by Lawrence and advertised by Leavis: ”We judge a work of art by its effect on our sincere and vital emotion, and nothing else. All the critical twiddle-twaddle about style and form, all this pseudo-scientific classifying and analysing of books in an imitation-botanical fashion, is mere impertinence and mostly dull jargon. A critic must be able to feel the impact of a work of art in all its complexity and its force. To do so, he must be a man of force and complexity himself, which few critics are. A man with a paltry, impudent nature will never write anything but paltry, impudent criticism. And a man who is emotionally educated is rare as a phoenix…”
The sincere and vital emotions most obviously provoked by Rushdie’s book are nausea, anger and irritation.It appears at first sight an abusive, incoherent masquerade of a novel with little artistic value, a mere moneymaking vehicle for a preening, self-seeking author and his publisher.The decisions of the Republics of India and Pakistan to ban it for being gratuitously offensive to the religious sentiments of millions of people, or the finding against it of blasphemy by the Islamic authorities of Iran seem understandable.
Yet such an initial response may be followed by another very different set of sincere and vital emotions. Upon reflection and a second reading, it is possible to feel exhilaration, delight, even the calm of a Shia Muslim spiritual experience from the book. These may be accompanied by a conviction that Rushdie has produced a significant work of art even if he himself remains unaware of its nature. This kind of unusual and dichotomous critical experience needs to be explained. College professors around the world have been writing theoretical essays portraying Rushdie as a “magic realist” or some such oxymoron. The truth may be more prosaic: The Satanic Verses is nothing if it is not a second, perhaps definitive, autobiographical experiment in which Rushdie has attempted to reconcile himself with his own experiences, a task in which he has achieved at best partial success. It is as if he has tried to comprehend his own life as an English-speaking Indo-Pakistani Muslim in the Western world, and in that process the words of The Satanic Verses just came tumbling out.And there is little even a bitter enemy can say about one’s search for self-knowledge, especially on matters of religious belief.
The cover says The Satanic Verses is a novel; what may be called its superficial plot amounts to something a giggling adolescent might have written for an undergraduate essay. Here is its outline:
Once there were two young Muslim boys of Bombay, Najmuddin and Chamchawalla. N. is born poor and raised in the slums; from delivering tiffins he becomes a small-time and then a major screen idol of Hindi cinema, a kind of Muslim NTR/Bachan mixture. In his profligacy he has an affair with R. who later murders her young children and commits suicide because of her unrequited love for him; N. travels in an aeroplane to England which is blown up midair by Sikh hijackers at 30,000 ft; he falls unharmed to the ground, is found on the English coast by an old woman whose lover he becomes until her death; then he returns to a lovely Jewish girlfriend who seems to have no reason to want to be with him, he returns to India, murders the Jewish girlfriend and kills himself, all along being tormented by a notion he may have invited divine wrath for having wilfully eaten pork. In parallel, the other young Muslim boy, C. grows up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, is sexually molested by a dhoti-clad street-vendor, has peculiar and perverse parents and servants, is sent to a public school and University in England, ends up in London advertising, is on the same aeroplane which explodes in the sky, also falls unharmed to the ground and is found by the same old woman, but is taken in by British police and immigration authorities, and, most oddly, finds himself transmogrified gradually into a goat like being and then Satan himself, is forced by British police to eat his own goat-pellets, escapes to find refuge among a generous Bangladeshi family in London’s immigrant ghettos, is re-transformed into a human being again after his hatred becomes focussed on a single individual, his fellow Mumbaikari, Najmuddin. C attempts to avenge himself on N. for no particular reason except jealousy, yet N. saves his life and there is supposed to be a moral of good and evil there. C. also at some point acquires a splendid English wife who divorces him — again a woman whom we see no reason to want to be with a jerk like him (though we are not told he might have wanted her for the British passport). C. finally returns to Bombay, is reconciled with his dying father, meets up with an old girlfriend, and the book ends with these two being together.
This is not “magic realism”, it is palpably poor writing. If the superficial plot suffices to make The Satanic Verses a novel, then your or my singing in the shower suffices for us to be in grand opera.
Seen as an autobiographical experiment, however, the superficial plot begins, ever so slightly, to make sense as Rushdie appears himself as both Muslim boys whose lives are traced from Bombay to London and back. He is Najmuddin to the extent he torments himself throughout for having willfully violated Muslim practice
“his mouth full of unclean meat ”(p. 31);
in his relationship with at least one of Najmuddin’s three women, the Jewish girlfriend Allie; and perhaps more generally in his having
”managed to bury his greatest talent so deep that it might easily have been lost forever, his talent, that is, for loving genuinely, deeply and without holding back, the rare and delicate gift which he had never been able to employ” (p.26)
Rushdie is Chamchawalla more obviously in having grown up in a privileged Bombay neighbourhood, been sent to school and university in England, gotten married to and divorced from an English woman named Pamela. Both Najmuddin and Chamchawalla are left with their fathers after their mothers’ early deaths, and Rushdie is original and most authentic in describing these father-son relationships where he appears to draw deeply on his own emotional life. There is a short delightful scene of him teaching his own son to ride a bicycle. Then he makes rare records of the terrible conflicts possible between fathers and adult sons:
(N.) “would understand how much the older man had resented him, and how important it was for the father to defeat the son and regain, thereby, his usurped primacy in the affections of his dead wife”. (p. 19)
(C.) “wrote his father a letter full of cruelty and anger, whose violence was of the type that exists only between fathers and sons, and which differs from that between daughters and mothers in that there lurks behind it the possibility of actual, jaw-breaking fisticuffs. “(p.47)
The son returns to India to be tenderly reconciled with the emaciated dying old man from whom he has been estranged:
”Abba, I came back because I didn’t want there to be trouble between us anymore.
That doesn’t matter any more. It’s forgotten, whatever it was.”
Whatever it was. Death makes family feuds seem petty and inconsequential in retrospect. The old man is just happy to see the boy, his own life, once again. The son unexpectedly finds in himself love, devotion and respect for the old man whom he had long feared and despised:
”First one falls in love with one’s father all over again, and then one learns to look up to him, too…. He is teaching me how to die… He does not avert his eyes, but looks death right in the face…” (pp. 543 et. seq, italics original)
A child sees his parents initially as God-like beings said Sigmund Freud; an aspect of maturity arrives when the child begins to see them no longer as deities but as humans, warts and all. When Rushdie has applied himself to his own inner life and relationships with his father and his son, he delves into a vast pool of expressiveness, and, ever so briefly, discovers and establishes his artistry. His poignant reconciliation with a dying father is a small treasure.
Another episode worth notice in the superficial plot of The Satanic Verses has to do with the growth to maturity of the character of the young Bangladeshi-British adolescent, Mishal Sufyan, and her marriage to the white-fathered, Pakistani(?)-mothered Hanif Johnson. Their love signals fresh hope and new life in Britain’s grim immigrant neighbourhoods filled with fear and hatred. The race riots in England in 2001 could have been taken from a chapter of The Satanic Verses.Rushdie has been a self-conscious observer here as nice boys from RugbySchool don’t normally go slumming even if they are wogs themselves, yet even so the Indian preppie from Rugby or Harvard must still reconcile the continuous threads which bind him to the people cleaning the lavatories at Heathrow or pumping gas or running motels in America.
In parallel with this superficial plot, The Satanic Verses contains a theological dialectic mostly on the origins, beliefs and practices of Islam, the faith in which Rushdie was born and raised. This is practically independent of the superficial plot, or at best the two have been clumsily pasted together. The link is once more Rushdie himself. While he appears as the main protagonists Najmuddin and Chamchawalla in the superficial plot, he makes a triple appearance in the theological treatise, at three different levels of Muslim doubt or faith.
At the greatest level of scepticism, Rushdie appears as the infidel poet and satirist Baal who gives his life to the cause of an absolute artistic and intellectual freedom, mocking Prophet Muhammad and The Quran, saying he recognizes no authority except his artistic Muse:
”A poet’s work (is to) name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world and stop it from going to sleep. “(p. 100)
Under the sword of his Muslim captors, Baal ends with “I’ve finished. Do what you want”; he is beheaded but dies a spiritually free unbroken man. Rushdie may have relied on Islamic legend here though his fellow Anglo-Pakistani, the social anthropologist Akbar Ahmed, has apologetically said that as a matter of historical fact: “The conquest of Makkah cost less than 30 lives…. The charge of those critics who accuse the Prophet of the (death) of a poet who wrote satirical verse… will not hold. An over-zealous Muslim infuriated by his verses set out to silence the poet.”
At a lesser level of scepticism or a greater level of Muslim belief, Rushdie appears in the theological dialectic as a fictional Salman Farsi, supposed to be the “calmest” (p. 107), and “most highly educated” (p. 377) of the Prophet’s intimate disciples. This character becomes in course of time a drunken apostate after starting to doubt the authenticity of The Quran as Divine Revelation, as well as the transcription of the Hadith. As a safety measure perhaps, Rushdie put in
”Where there is no belief, there is no blasphemy” (p. 393).
But in real life the authorities of contemporary Iran were not amused or impressed by legal niceties as to whether young Salman sitting in England had renounced Islam or his Pakistani passport for a British one. In 1989 they roundly pronounced The Satanic Verses to be blasphemous to Islam and sentenced Rushdie to death in absentia, causing as we know a significant recent incident of international law.
Ironically, Rushdie`s experience since might have been scripted by himself:
”Your blasphemy, Salman, can’t be forgiven.”
In response, Salman Farsi is
”unable to muster the smallest scrap of dignity, he blubbers whimpers pleads beats his breast abases himself” (p. 387)
and escapes death only by promising to denounce Baal, the idolatrous satirist. In real life Rushdie blubbered, whimpered, pleaded and abased himself to win a reprieve without avail. If the Iranian authorities have since reduced their hatred of him, it seems because they became bored and found him less consequential as time went by, not because of anything he said or did in repentance. In June 2001, Ayatollah Khatami, then President of Iran, said the blasphemy case was “closed”, and that Iran had always seen Rushdie`s book as part of a modern Western assault on Islam.
Yet one must be grateful the Iranian death sentence did not get carried out because there is evidence to reasonably conclude that, all things considered, Rushdie may well be innocent of blasphemous intent. Though he may be guilty of several literary crimes and misdemeanours, he may have been wrongly placed on Iran’s death row for a dozen years. The evidence suggests that what The Satanic Verses has attempted to be is a genuine Muslim dialectic between faith and doubt — albeit one not expressed in Arabic, Farsi or Urdu to attract serious Islamic scholars, but one done in English in the manner of a Hollywood screenplay designed to attract as much hard currency as possible for Rushdie and his publisher. Commercial English comedy as hermeneutics you might say: Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad.
That Rushdie has lacked blasphemous intent is evident from his third appearance in the theological treatise, this time as the secular Indian Muslim, Mirza Saeed Akhtar, who loves and lusts after both his sick wife, Mishal, and her new friend, the epileptic orphan woman Ayesha.The two women are dogmatic Shia Muslims, who insist on leading a vast, pious pilgrimage from central India into the Arabian Sea in the belief their faith will miraculously make the waters part and allow them to walk to Mecca.
Rushdie does not identify them as Shia Muslims but the story is based on actual events in 1981-1983 in the Naseem Fatima “HawkesBay” case in Pakistan.
According to the sociologist Akbar Ahmed,Naseem Fatima, “a shy, pleasant looking girl with an innocent expression on her face, who had a history of fits,” after a series of miraculous religious experiences which were scorned by Sunni Muslims but were not inconsistent with Shia doctrine, led 38 people into the Arabian Sea at Karachi believing the waters would part and they would be transported miraculously to Shia holy sites in Karbala in Iraq.
“(The women and children locked) in five of the six trunks died. One of the trunks was shattered by the waves and its passengers survived. Those on foot also survived; they were thrown back onto the beach by the waves… The survivors were in high spirits — there was neither regret nor remorse among them. Only a divine calm, a deep ecstasy. The Karachi police in a display of bureaucratic zeal arrested the survivors. They were charged with attempting to leave the country without visas…. Rich Shias, impressed by the devotion of the survivors, paid for their journey by air for a week to and from Karbala. In Iraq, influential Shias, equally impressed, presented them with gifts, including rare copies of the Holy Quran.”
In The Satanic Verses, Rushdie has altered and transformed these facts into a rich allegorical dialectic between rationalism and scepticism on the one hand, and dogmatic faith and ecstatic religious experience on the other. The husband Mirza Saeed, representing Rushdie himself, condemns what he says is the foolishness of the faith-filled women, begs them, pleads with them to change their minds, and finally when they cannot be stopped, follows behind them in his Mercedes, collecting stragglers, hypocrites and apostates on the way. The intellectual and spiritual tension between the rationalist and believer is built up excellently. The reader is finally certain that Ayesha and the other pilgrims walk to their earthly deaths in the Arabian Sea, but is left uncertain whether the miracle may have in fact occurred even so, whether they have in fact walked into Paradise itself on the strength of their faith. It is a splendid, exhilarating and unexpected spiritual experience emerging from the book. Moreover, the Rushdie-character, though he survives the pilgrimage, tempers his scepticism by the end of his life, and eventually dies in fusion with the ghost of his love, the believer Ayesha, and, we are led to think, is finally absorbed with her into the Paradise described in The Quran.
Thus in the attempted theological treatise that is contained within The Satanic Verses,
(i) as Baal the disbelieving, mocking, satirist who gives his life for artistic freedom;
(ii) as Salman Farsi the Muslim believer who turns to apostasy; and
(iii) as Mirza Saeed Akhtar, the rationalist and sceptic who turns eventually towards Muslim faith and belief.
In making this triple appearance, Rushdie has tried to construct a genuine Muslim dialectic between scepticism and dogmatism; if the sceptical parts have outraged Muslim believers, some of his descriptions of Muslim belief and practice might do no less than add new sympathisers or converts to Islam among the heathen and infidels. It is a creative achievement for a modern English-speaking Muslim, perhaps unintentionally, to try to turn the tide of hostile opinion that exists against Islam in the English-speaking world, through a sympathetic rendering of aspects of Islam. E.g., a practice like halal, which seems cruel or at least pointless to the non-Muslim, is given new meaning by Rushdie, and made into a point of existential philosophy:
”(The Prophet)… required animals to be killed slowly, by bleeding, so that by experiencing their deaths to the full they might arrive at an understanding of the meaning of their lives, for it is only at the moment of death that living creatures understand that life has been real, and not a sort of dream. “(p. 376).
It is only at the moment of death that life may make its fullest sense. Such would be to look back at life from the point of death; T. S. Eliot in Burnt Norton seemed to speak of looking forward at life all the way to the point of death:
“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
…Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.”
Leavis drew attention to the religious meaning assigned to these lines by the criticD. W. Harding:
“For the man convinced of spiritual values, life is a coherent pattern in which the ending has its due place, and, because it is part of a pattern, itself leads into the beginning.”
The Satanic Verses is preoccupied with the possibility of such patterns of birth, death and rebirth, conflict and its resolution, tension and its relaxation. “To be born again … first you have to die” (p. 1) Rushdie was raised a Muslim exposed to the university of critical thought and dialogue; as such he owed himself a responsibility to examine Islam to determine whether he would render it his individual allegiance, not by fiat or blind faith but by the canons of reasonableness. In The Satanic Verses he has traversed a range of logical possibilities between disbelief, doubt and faith in Islam. On the strength of the Mirza Saeed Akhtar character in the book, he may have been truthful in declaring himself a genuine believing Muslim who was innocent of the charges of blasphemy against him. He needs to be absolved of the charges, and his conviction by the Iranians set aside, as in effect has been done by Iran’s President Ayatollah Khatami in June 2001. Here ends the case for The Satanic Verses.
The case against Rushdie however must continue.
He has produced a few ounces of artistic and philosophical gold but these are contained in mountains of muck, which remain to be disposed of.Rushdie shows himself emotionally alive and expressive as a son to his father and a father to his son, as well as a keen social observer of Britain and a thoughtful and philosophical Muslim believer;but at the same time he also reveals himself immature, dishonest and cowardly as a writer.These aspects are summarily revealed in Rushdie’s desire to be gratuitously abusive or offensive towards a wide range of chosen targets, from the memory of Prophet Muhammad to the innocuous Chinese.For example, for no discernible reason except to show that little Salman can say bad words and get away with it,a Mallory-like ghost on Mt.Everest is made to converse about“Goddamn Chinese” and “Little yellow buggers”.Then an implausible Sikh woman terrorist (named after the Delhi journalist Tavleen Singh though reminiscent more of Leila Khaled, the pioneer Palestinian hijacker) leads Khalistanis to hijack an Air India jumbo (numbered 420) and explode it mid-air.
In June 1985 an Air India jumbo did explode mid-air killing all 329 lives on board, and it took painstaking work by the Canadian police to arrest and prosecute (unsuccessfully) the major suspects who were Canadian Sikhs. The victims’ families whose tragedies are trivialised in The Satanic Verses join the list of people Rushdie has wished to pointlessly upset by his personal fantasy of two survivors falling unharmed from that aircraft. Then, Rushdie’s Khalistanis go about yelling
”those mother-f…..g Americans and sister-f…..g British”,
when in fact Khalistan seemed plausible mostly to North American and British Sikhs in Vancouver or California who (unlike perhaps Rushdie himself at the time he authored the book), tend not to be abusive of America or Britain in that kind of way. The cursing merely shows how our purportedly great British writer keeps despoiling the possibility of his own artistry.
Hindus and India come in for special abuse in Rushdie’s worldview. India is that rather amusing and grotesque country
”of hundreds of millions of believers…. in which, to this day, the human population outnumbers the divine by less than three to one,”
where a Muslim NTR/Bachan cinema star can become “the most acceptable, instantly recognisable, face of the Supreme” (p. 17). A Hindu character
”coming as she did from a polytheistic tradition”
”plainly… incapable” (p. 334)
of comprehending the scriptures of the Semitic faiths. Rushdie reveals himself incompetent here in his purported role of theologian, as he has failed to see that the secular outlook of Hinduism and its heterodox descendants like Buddhism does not imply belief in more than one god. Rushdie is not alone in this prejudice for the most venerable Oxford English Dictionary itself announces “Hinduism is the polytheistic religion of the Hindus”.
In fact, Indian traditions always have freely allowed questioning whether there is any God at all, let alone whether there is one God or many gods. I.e., there always has been space freely available within orthodox Hinduism and its heterodox offshoots for all manner of religious scepticism, including nihilism and pyrrhonism. This is highly problematic for a believing member of any of the Semitic faiths like Rushdie, or the author of the entry on Hinduism in the Oxford English Dictionary.Thus even Pope John Paul VI said Buddhism is not a religion in his sense of what a religion must be, namely, a doctrine entailing belief in God.
The Hindu, or at least the philosophical Hindu, is very troublesome to all others because he is somehow able to accommodate all of them within his own folds. “You want to worship the sun, the seas, the mountains, rivers, trees, snakes or stones as God Immanent?; that’s fine with me,” he says to the animist. “You think there is no God as such?; that’s cool”, he says to the Buddhist. “You’re telling me Jesus of Nazareth was God’s incarnated Son?; okay that’s great, I like that,” he says to the Christian. “You’re telling me the Holy Quran was revealed by Al-Lah to Prophet Muhammad near Makkah?; I’ll accept that,” he says to the Muslim. And so on. The Hindu’s all-inclusive catholicity can drive other believers up the wall, especially those closest to him like Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs who may most urgently want to differentiate themselves from Hindu practice.
Rushdie momentarily accepts the Hindu view when Najmuddin
”is often filled with resentment by the non-appearance, in his persecuting visions, of the One who is supposed to have the answers, He never turns up, the one who kept away when I was dying, when I needed needed (sic) him. The one it’s all about, Allah Ishvar God. Absent as ever while we writhe and suffer in his name” (p. 113)
Here Rushdie momentarily acknowledges his secular Indian childhood as well as his Christian schooling about Christ on the Cross.But mostly he has taken the easy path of branding the Hindu a rather silly polytheistic idolater or animist.There is a reminder of the destruction of religious idols by the new Muslims in pre-Islamic Mecca (Jahilia).Then there is a long development of the wickedness of the character of the chief idolater, the female Hind.The real Hind was a foe turned convert of Prophet Muhammad; Rushdie’s Hind converts, is forgiven by Prophet Muhammad, then secretly continues as an idolatrous witch who plots and causes the Prophet’s demise.Her name “Hind” is the Urdu/Persian name for India and the root of “Hindu”, so it is possible Rushdie’s years as a Pakistani have led him to absorb some of the views prevalent in that country about Hindus and Hindustan being implacable foes of Islam.
Then, Rushdie makes pornographic allusions to Ganesh and Hanuman, and a pointed reference to ”these Shiv Sena bastards in control” of contemporary Bombay. A Brahmin and an “Untouchable” (there can be no Harijans or Dalits in Rushdie’s British world) seem to convert to Islam only to retract, while pious Muslim pilgrims are attacked by the wicked VHP and RSS in scenes Rushdie might have lifted from Attenborough`s Gandhi. No mention here of East Pakistan, Yahya Khan, Tikka Khan or Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto — just “Bungleditch” for Bangladesh. In Rushdie`s view, the ominous forces of Hindu nationalism (the folks who gave him a visa to finally visit India in 2000) are to be kept at bay only by arm-in-arm socialism. It all amounts to a rather stale politically correct ideology fashionable in the 1970s, which crashed with the Berlin Wall one year after The Satanic Verses was published. Rushdie, a one-time child citizen of India, knows in his middle age next to nothing about modern Indian society or its political economy, yet apparently longs to prove his correct Limousine Socialism credentials to his Western publishers and clientele. He keeps putting his thumb in the pan.
He also has been cowardly. Living in Britain, he did not set out to write a modern diatribe against all religious traditions he had encountered which might have amounted to a nihilism or pyrrhonism worth examining. Jews and Christians are conspicuous by their absence from his target-list, allowing him to duck away from the savage criticism he would have received from within the Judeao-Christian countries where he has led his adult life. The Satanic Verses has been received with considerable applause there, and earned him a lot of money.The few characters identified as Jews in the book (Mimi, Cohen, his wife, and daughter) are all normal and sympathetically drawn (Cohen is even made a Holocaust survivor who survived Nazi “monsters” but now commits suicide).There is one identified Christian, who, consistent with Rushdie’s ideology of Limousine Socialism, is made a comical American creationist who bites off his own tongue in fear during the hijacking.
The Satanic Verses was banned in India and Pakistan after its publication; but had Rushdie attacked Jewish or mainstream Christian beliefs and characters with the same kind of parody he hurls at Muslim and Hindu beliefs and practices, he likely would not have been published at all in the West, drying up his dollar-income.
It was simply too risky for Salman Rushdie to be as offensive towards Jews and Christians in Britain or America as he has been to Muslims and Hindus in India or Pakistan. Much easier and more lucrative to write “Monty Python meets Prophet Muhammad” or some Peter-Sellers pidgin Indian English dialogue or dig up some dowry-deaths from reading the Indian newspapers. Goes down well with the people who matter. Fits in with their own post-Imperial pretensions about the state of the wogs today. Even better that the Chief Wog himself is saying so. That has been the principal point made by the Iranian authorities against Rushdie, as for example when Ayatollah Khattami said in June 2001 in “closing” the blasphemy case, that Iran always took The Satanic Verses to be a part of the Western assault on Islam.
Indeed Rushdie’s single worst and most pointless example of offensiveness has to do with his distortion of the memory of Prophet Muhammad himself.
Muhammad (572-632 AD) was without doubt one of the greatest men of history, as may be measured by his vast impact on human civilization. His greatness was marked by a magnificent humility; at his death, it was famously said: “If you are worshippers of Muhammad, know that he is dead. If you are worshippers of God, know that God is living and does not die”; indicating the total self-effacement of the man to his mission. Arabic is the language of Islam, but even in Rushdie’s chosen language of English there has been a vast literature over the centuries on Prophet Muhammad’s life and example. One of the best known is Carlyle’s fully sympathetic 1842 account , which made the message of the Prophet’s religious experience one of universal import well beyond Muslim ontological beliefs:
“The great Mystery of Existence… glared in upon (Muhammad), with its terrors, with its splendours; no hearsays could hide that unspeakable fact , “Here am I!”. Such sincerity… has in very truth something of divine. The word of such a man is a Voice direct from Nature’s own Heart. Men do and must listen to that as nothing else; all else is wind in comparison.”
Carlyle quoted Goethe: “If this be Islam, do we not all live in Islam?” And Carlyle told the stories of how Muhammad could not abide by his own severe faith when he wept over the dead body of an early disciple: “You see a friend weeping over his friend”; and of how the young beautiful Ayesha once tried to get Muhammad to compare her favourably to his deceased wife and first disciple the widow Khadija, and how Muhammad had denied her:
”She believed in me when none else would believe. In the whole world I had but one friend and she was that!”
In face of such an enormous wealth of rich legendary material to select from to write about Prophet Muhammad, what does Salman Rushdie, purportedly a major British-educated 20th Century Muslim novelist, choose to do? He invents a pointless sequence of pornographic allusions and events to do with how a Mecca whorehouse increases its business! It makes highly offensive reading, not just to Muslim believers but to decency and the truth of Muhammad’s life; rather like the person who associated Christ on the Cross with a urinal and claimed artistic freedom for himself, outraging Christian opinion in the United States of America a few years ago. Why do it, one may ask? Where is the art in it? Where could the art in it possibly be? Why should it not be seen as merely base and revolting?
In putting together then, the case for and against The Satanic Verses, it may be seen how Rushdie’s artistry might have made him a great writer and also how his vast incorrigible faults have kept him permanently from becoming one. To draw a contrast, in The Brothers Karamasov one hundred years ago, Dostoevsky wrote perhaps the definitive internal critique of Christianity, of how Jesus Christ had made true Christian practice impossibly difficult, of how Christianity demanded too much of mankind, more than man’s nature could possibly achieve. Lawrence said of it:
“As always in Dostoevsky, the amazing perspicacity is mixed with ugly perversity. Nothing is pure. His wild love for Jesus is mixed with perverse and poisonous hate of Jesus: his moral hostility to the devil is mixed with secret worship of the devil. Dostoevsky is always perverse, always impure, always an evil thinker and a marvellous seer.”
Rushdie would have liked a similar comparison in respect of Prophet Muhammad and Islam; but he does not deserve it because he lacks the honesty possessed by the great writers while he possesses a greed and cupidity they disowned. As a novel, The Satanic Verses is about as far from The Brothers Karamasov as the music of David Bowie or Boy George or Madonna is from the music of Tchaikovsky or Beethoven.Superficially, it paints nauseous grotesque absurd accounts of incoherent events, mostly with cartoons and caricatures where real people should have been, forcing the reader to take a most unpleasant journey largely because Rushdie`s deliberately cultivated notoriety pleads for his book to be read. The nausea comes to be suspended for a page here, a handful of pages there, when Rushdie demonstrates that a splendid artistry does exist within him even if he finds it impossibly difficult to muster enough discipline to maintain it.That other Indian writers have been imitating his style in the last few decades often without his substance may merely go to show how far critical editorial standards have collapsed in the book-publishing industry.
It is only when The Satanic Verses is seen as a tortured self-exploration by Rushdie to reconcile his Western life with his Islamic upbringing that it begins to become sensible and comprehensible.Madonna or Boy George’s music is not that of Beethoven and everyone has forgotten it already while no one forgets Beethoven, but it is still a kind of music. Similarly, no one forgets Anna Karenina or Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor and everyone will forget Salman Rushdie, but even so his work still needs to be tested for the presence of significant art.That there is some art in it,perhaps hitherto undiscovered, has been the purpose of this essay to reveal.
Akbar Ahmed, Discovering Islam; Pakistan Society
Thomas Carlysle, Heroes and Hero Worship
D. H. Lawrence, Phoenix
F. R. Leavis, The Living Principle; Valuation in Criticism (G. Singh ed.)
Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses
SUBROTO ROY’s works include Philosophy of Economics: On the Scope of Reason in Economic Inquiry (Routledge, London & New York, International Library of Philosophy, 1989, 1991).