And then there was Alexander Dubček in the Prague Spring of 1968

From Facebook:

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”
ManandtankWenceslas

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Understanding China

Understanding China

The World Needs to Ask China to Find Her True Higher Self

by Subroto Roy

First published in The Statesman, October 22 2007, Editorial Page Special Article, http://www.thestatesman.net

The most important factors explaining China’s progress since the deaths of Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai have been the spread and quick absorption of modern Western technology under conditions of relative peace and tranquillity. The “capitalist road” came to be taken after all and the once-denounced Liu Shaoqui was posthumously rehabilitated by his shrewd old friend Deng Xiaoping.

To be sure, the new technology itself has combined with democratic hatred felt by young Chinese against the corrupt elitist police-state gerontocracy, and this produced first a Wei Jingsheng and Democracy Wall and later the Tiananmen Square protests. There have been also in recent years many thousands of incidents of peasants resisting State-sponsored brutality, fighting to prevent their lands being stolen in the name of purported capitalist industrialisation, in an economy where, as in India, land is an appreciating asset and the paper-currency remains weak because inflation by money-printing is the basis of public finance. China’s multitudinous domestic tensions continue to boil over as if in a cauldron, and it seems inevitable Chinese Gorbachevs and Yeltsins will one day emerge from within the Communist Party to try to begin the long political march towards multiparty democracy and a free society ~ though of course they may fail too, and China will remain condemned to being a dictatorship of one sort or other for centuries more.

Absence of war

What has been seen in recent decades is the relative absence of war. The last military war the Chinese fought was a month-long battle against fellow-Communist Vietnamese in 1979, after Vietnam had run over and destroyed the Chinese (and Western) backed Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. Before that, fellow-Communists of the USSR were fought in a border war in 1969. Before that was the border-war with India in 1959-1963 and occupation of Tibet 1950-1959.

The really savage, fierce large-scale fighting in 20th Century Chinese history was seen in the Second Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945, the Civil War of 1945-1949 and the Korean War of 1950-1953. The occupation of Tibet and fighting against India resulting from Tibet’s occupation were really, from a Chinese Communist point of view, merely light follow-ups to those major wars of the Mao-Zhou era, especially fighting the USA and UN in Korea. Peaceful Tibet and naïve non-violent India stood no chance against the aggressive highly experienced Mao-Zhou war-machine at the time.

It may even be that Mao could live only with incessant external tumult ~ after fighting military wars, he orchestrated domestic conflicts in the Little and Great Leap Forward of 1949-1963 and Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution of 1964-1969, all among the failures of a cruel ill-educated man who led his people into social, political and economic disaster from which trauma they have been slowly recovering over the last thirty years.

Today, Communist China’s military is geared to fight the non-Communist Chinese of Taiwan in a continuation of the Civil War. It seems unlikely there will be an actual invasion for the simple reason that Taiwan, though much smaller, may not suffer eventual defeat but instead inflict a mortal wound upon invading forces. Mao succeeded in driving Chiang Kaishek across the Taiwan Straits but it is post-Chiang Taiwan that displays the model of how strong, prosperous, democratic and self-confident Chinese people really can strive to be in the modern world. Everyone agrees Taiwan and China must one day unite ~ the interesting question is whether Taiwan will get absorbed into China or whether China shall take Taiwan as its new model! Just as Liu Shaoqi had the last word over Mao on the question of taking the capitalist road, Chiang Kaishek may yet have the last word over Mao on the best constitutional method for modern China’s governance.

Peculiarly enough, China’s Kuomintang and Communists were both allies of Russian Bolshevism (not unlike India’s Congress Party and Communists). Sun Yatsen’s collaboration with Comintern’s founders began as early as 1921. By 1923 there was a formal agreement and Stalin sent Gruzenberg (alias Borodin) to China as an adviser, while Sun sent many including Chiang to Russia on learning expeditions. “In reorganising the party, we have Soviet Russia as our model, hoping to achieve a real revolutionary success”, said Sun hopefully. But by March 1926, Sun’s successor Chiang, had begun purging Communists from the Kuomintang-Communist alliance; in July 1927 Borodin returned to Russia after failing at reconciliation; and by July 1928 Chiang had unified China under his own leadership, and Moscow had repudiated the Kuomintang and ordered Chinese Communists to revolt, starting the Civil War and instability that invited the vicious Japanese aggression and occupation.

China’s problems today with Taiwan and with Tibet (and hence with India) will not come to be resolved until China looks hard in the mirror and begins to resolve her problems with herself. No major country today possesses a more factually distorted image of its own history, politics and economics than does China since the Communist takeover of 1949. “Protect the country, destroy the foreigner” was the motto of the Boxer revolts in 1900, a natural defensive reaction to the depredations and humiliations that Manchu-dynasty China suffered at the hands of the British, French, Germans, Russians, Japanese etc for more than a century. The Boxer motto seemed to implicitly drive Mao, Deng and his modern successors too ~ hence the “One China” slogan, the condemnation of “splittism” etc. But the ideology that Mao, Liu, Deng et al developed out of Stalin, Lenin and Marx seems base and stupid when it is unsentimentally compared to the great political philosophy and ethics of ancient China, which emerged out of wise men like Mo Tzu, Meng Ko (Mencius) and the greatest genius of them all, K’ung Fu Tzu, Confucius himself, undoubtedly among the few greatest men of world history.

Tibet

India has not been wrong to acknowledge Outer Tibet as being under China’s legal suzerainty nor in encouraging endogenous political reform among our Tibetan cousins. The Anglo-Russian treaty of 1907 undertook that Tibet would not be dealt with except through China, and the Indian Republic has been the legal successor of British India. Lhasa may be legitimately under Beijing as far as international relations goes ~ the more profound question is whether Beijing’s Communists since 1949 have not been themselves less than legitimate, and if so whether they can now transform themselves in the post Mao-Zhou era through good deeds towards greater legitimacy.

The root problem between China and India has not been the Tibet-India border which was almost always a friendly one and never a problem even when it remained imprecise and undefined over centuries. The root problem has been the sheer greed and aggressiveness of Chinese Communists ~ who now demand not merely Aksai Chin but also a minimum of some 2000 sq km of Tawang and Takpa Shiri in Arunachal. The CIA’s 1959 map of the region, which would be acceptable to the USA, UK, Taiwan and the international community in general as depicting the lawful position, shows the Communist Chinese territorial claim to be baseless and Indian position to be justified.

Nehru’s India was naïve to approach the Mao-Zhou Communists with the attitude of ahimsa and a common Buddhism. But Mao-Zhou Communism is dead, and the Deng capitalist road itself has lost its ethical way. What India and the world need to do now is ask China or help guide China to find her true higher self. China’s Tibet problem and hence border-dispute with India would have been solved peacefully by application of the ways of great men like Confucius, Mencius and Mo Tzu, who are and will remain remembered by mankind long after petty cruel modern dictators like Mao, Zhou and Deng have been long forgotten. Why China’s Communist bosses despise Taiwan may be because Taiwan has sought to preserve that memory of China’s true higher self.

see also https://independentindian.com/2009/09/19/my-ten-articles-on-china-tibet-xinjiang-taiwan-in-relation-to-india/
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHUhy9pJyys

What To Tell Musharraf: Peace Is Impossible Without Non-Aggressive Pakistani Intentions

What to tell Musharraf:

 

 

Peace Is Impossible Without Non-Aggressive Pakistani Intentions

 

 

First published in The Statesman December 15 2006,

Editorial Page Special Article

 

 

by

SUBROTO ROY

 

 

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.”

 

 

 

International law

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.

 

 

Military de-escalation

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.

India’s Energy Interests

OUR ENERGY INTERESTS
Subroto Roy

First published in The Sunday Statesman, August 27 2006, The Statesman August 28 2006, Editorial Page Special Article, www.thestatesman.net

Americans are shrewd and practical people in commercial matters, and expect the same of people they do business with. Caveat emptor, “let the buyer beware”, is the motto they expect those on the other side of the table to be using. Let us not think they are doing us favours in the nuclear deal ~ they are grown-ups looking after their interests and naturally expect we shall look after our own and not expect charity while doing business. Equally, let us not blame the Americans if we find in later years (long after Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have exited from India’s stage) that the deal has been implemented in a bad way for our masses of ordinary people.

That said, there is a remarkable disjoint between India’s national energy interests (nuclear interests in particular), and the manner in which the nuclear deal is being perceived and taken to implementation by the two sides. There may be a fundamental gap between the genuine positive benefits the Government of India says the deal contains, and the motivations American businessmen and through them Indian businessmen have had for lobbying American and Indian politicians to support it. An atmosphere of being at cross-purposes has been created, where for example Manmohan Singh is giving answers to questions different from the questions we may want to be asking Montek Ahluwalia. The fundamental gap between what is being said by our Government and what may be intended by the businessmen is something anyone can grasp, though first we shall need some elementary facts.

In 2004, the International Energy Agency estimated the new energy capacity required by rising economic growth in 2020 will derive 1400 GW from burning coal (half of it in China and India), 470 GW from burning oil, 430GW from hydro, and 400 GW from renewable sources like solar or wind power. Because gas prices are expected to remain low worldwide, construction of new nuclear reactors for electricity will be unprofitable. By 2030, new energy expected to be required worldwide is 4700GW, of which only 150GW is expected from new nuclear plants, which will be in any case replacing existing plants due to be retired. Rational choice between different energy sources depends on costs determined by history and geography. Out of some 441 civilian reactors worldwide, France has 59 and these generate 78 per cent of its electricity, the rest coming from hydro. Japan has 54 reactors, generating 34% of its electricity from them. The USA has 104 reactors but generates only 20 per cent of its electricity from them, given its vast alternative sources of power like hydro. In India as of 2003, installed power generating capacity was 107,533.3MW, of which 71 per cent came from burning fuels. Among India’s energy sources, the largest growth-potential is hydroelectric, which does not involve burning fuels ~ gravity moves water from the mountains to the oceans, and this force is harnessed for generation. Our hydro potential, mostly in the North and North-East, is some 150,000MW but our total installed hydro capacity with utilities was only 26,910MW (about 18 per cent of potential). Our 14 civilian nuclear reactors produced merely 4 per cent or less of the electricity being consumed in the country. Those 14 plants will come under “international safeguards” by 2014 under the nuclear deal.

It is extremely likely the international restrictions our existing nuclear plants have been under since the 1970s have hindered if not crippled their functioning and efficiency. At the same time, the restrictions may have caused us to be innovative too. Nuclear power arises from fission of radioactive uranium, plutonium or thorium. India has some 8 million tonnes of monazite deposits along the seacoast of which half may be mined, to yield 225,000 tonnes of thorium metal; we have one innovatively designed thorium reactor under construction. Almost all nuclear energy worldwide today arises from uranium of which there are practically unlimited reserves. Fission of a uranium atom produces 10 million times the energy produced by combustion of an atom of carbon from coal. Gas and fossil fuels may be cheap and in plentiful supply worldwide for generations to come but potential for cheap nuclear energy seems practically infinite. The uranium in seawater can satisfy mankind’s total electricity needs for 7 million years. There is more energy in the uranium impurity present in coal than can arise from actually burning the coal. There is plenty of uranium in granite. None of these become profitable for centuries because there is so much cheap uranium extractable from conventional ores. Design improvements in reactors will also improve productivity; e.g. “fast breeder” reactors “breed” more fissile material than they use, and may get 100 times as much energy from a kilogram of uranium as existing reactors do. India has about 95,000 tonnes of uranium metal that may be mined to yield about 61,000 tonnes net for power generation. Natural uranium is 99.3 per cent of the U-238 isotope and 0.7 per cent of the radioactive U-235 isotope. Nuclear power generation requires “enriched uranium” or “yellow cake” to be created in which U-235 has been increased from 0.7 per cent to 4 to 5 percent. (Nuclear bombs require highly enriched uranium with more than 90 per cent of U-235.) Yellow cake is broken into small pieces, put in metal rods placed in bundles, which are then bombarded by neutrons causing fission. In a reactor, the energy released turns water into steam, which moves turbines generating electricity. While there is no carbon dioxide “waste” as in burning fossil fuels, the “spent” rods of nuclear fuel and other products constitute grave radioactive waste, almost impossible to dispose of.

The plausible part of the Government of India’s official line on the Indo-US nuclear deal is that removing the international restrictions will ~ through importation of new technologies, inputs, fuel etc ~ improve functioning of our 14 existing civilian plants. That is a good thing. Essentially, the price being paid for that improvement is our willingness to commit that those 14 plants will not be used for military purposes. Fair enough: even if we might become less innovative as a result, the overall efficiency gains as a result of the deal will add something to India’s productivity. However, those purchasing decisions involved in enhancing India’s efficiency gains must be made by the Government’s nuclear scientists on technical grounds of improving the working of our existing nuclear infrastructure.

It is a different animal altogether to be purchasing new nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis from American or any other foreign businessmen in a purported attempt to improve India’s “energy security”. (Lalu Yadav has requested a new reactor for Bihar, plus of course Delhi will want one, etc.) The central question over such massive foreign purchases would no longer be the technical one of using the Indo-US deal to improve efficiency or productivity of our existing nuclear infrastructure. Instead it would become a question of calculating social costs and benefits of our investing in nuclear power relative to other sources like hydroelectric power. Even if all other sources of electricity remained constant, and our civilian nuclear capacity alone was made to grow by 100 per cent under the Manmohan-Montek deal-making, that would mean less than 8% of total Indian electricity produced.

This is where the oddities arise and a disjoint becomes apparent between what the Government of India is saying and what American and Indian businessmen have been doing. A “US-India Business Council” has existed for thirty years in Washington as “the premier business advocacy organization promoting US commercial interests in India.… the voice of the American private sector investing in India”. Before the nuclear or any other deals could be contemplated with American business, the USIBC insisted we pay up for Dabhol contracted by a previous Congress Government. The Maharashtra State Electricity Board ~ or rather, its sovereign guarantor the Government of India ~ duly paid out at least $140-$160 million each to General Electric and Bechtel Corporations in “an amicable settlement” of the Dabhol affair. Afterwards, General Electric’s CEO for India was kind enough to say “India is an important country to GE’s global growth. We look forward to working with our partners, customers, and State and Central Governments in helping India continue to develop into a leading world economy”.

Also, a new “US-India CEO Forum” then came about. For two Governments to sponsor private business via such a Forum was “unprecedented”, as noted by Washington’s press during Manmohan Singh’s visit in July 2005. America’s foreign ministry announced it saying: “Both our governments have agreed that we should create a high-level private sector forum to exchange business community views on key economic priorities…” The American side includes heads of AES Corporation, Cargill Inc., Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase, Honeywell, McGraw-Hill, Parsons Brinckerhoff Ltd, PepsiCo, Visa International and Xerox Corporation. The Indian side includes heads of Tata Group, Apollo Hospitals Group, Bharat Forge Ltd, Biocon India Group, HDFC, ICICI One Source, Infosys, ITC Ltd, Max India Group and Reliance Industries. Presiding over the Indian side has been Montek Ahluwalia, Manmohan’s trusted aide ~ and let it be remembered too that the Ahluwalias were Manmohan’s strongest backers in his failed South Delhi Lok Sabha bid. (Indeed it is not clear if the Ahluwalias have been US or Indian residents in recent years, and if it is the former, the onus is on them to clear any perception of conflict of interest arising in regard to roles regarding the nuclear deal or any other official Indo-US business.)

Also, before the Manmohan visit, the Confederation of Indian Industry registered as an official lobbyist in Washington, and went about spending half a million dollars lobbying American politicians for the nuclear deal. After the Manmohan visit, the US Foreign Commercial Service reportedly said American engineering firms, equipment suppliers and contractors faced a $1,000 billion (1 bn =100 crore) opportunity in India. Before President Bush’s visit to India in March 2006, Manmohan Singh signed vast purchases of commercial aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, as well as large weapons’ deals with France and Russia. After the Bush visit, the US Chamber of Commerce said the nuclear deal can cause $100 billion worth of new American business in India’s energy-sector alone. What is going on?

Finally, the main aspect of Manmohan Singh’s address to America’s legislature had to do with agreeing with President Bush “to enhance Indo-US cooperation in the field of civilian nuclear technology”. What precisely does this mean? If it means the Indo-US nuclear deal will help India improve or maintain its existing nuclear infrastructure, well and good. There may be legitimate business for American and other foreign companies in that cause, which also helps India make the efficiency and productivity gains mentioned. Or has the real motivation for the American businessmen driving the deal (with the help of the “CEO Forum” etc) been to sell India nuclear reactors on a turn-key basis (in collaboration with private Indian businessmen) at a time when building new nuclear reactors is unprofitable elsewhere in the world because of low gas prices? India’s citizens may demand to know from the Government whether the Manmohan-Montek deal-making is going to cause importation of new nuclear reactors, and if so, why such an expensive alternative is being considered (relative to e.g. India’s abundant hydroelectric potential) when it will have scant effect in satisfying the country’s energy needs and lead merely to a worsening of our macroeconomic problems. Both Manmohan Singh and Montek Ahluwalia have been already among those to preside over the growth of India’s macroeconomic problems through the 1980s and 1990s.

Lastly, an irrelevant distraction should be gotten out of the way. Are we a “nuclear weapons” state? Of course we are, but does it matter to anything but our vanity? Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had control over vastly more nuclear weapons and they declared together twenty years ago: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must not be fought”, which is how the Cold War started to come to an end. We need to remind ourselves that India and Pakistan are large, populous countries with hundreds of millions of materially poor, ill-informed citizens, weak tax-bases, humongous internal and external public debts (i.e. debt owed by the Government to domestic and foreign creditors), non-investment grade credit- ratings in world financial markets, massive annual fiscal deficits, inconvertible currencies, nationalized banks, and runaway printing of paper-money. Discussing nuclear or other weapon-systems to attack one other with is mostly a pastime of our cowardly, irresponsible and yes, corrupt, elites.

Pakistan’s Allies

PAKISTAN’S ALLIES

 

First published in two parts in The Sunday Statesman, June 4 2006, The Statesman June 5 2006, Editorial Page Special Article

 

by Subroto Roy

 

 

From the 1846 Treaty of Amritsar creating the State of Jammu & Kashmir until the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Britain and later the USA became increasingly interested in the subcontinent’s Northwest. The British came to India by sea to trade. Barren, splendid, landlocked Afghanistan held no interest except as a home of fierce tribes; but it was the source of invasions into the Indian plains and prompted a British misadventure to install Shah Shuja in place of Dost Mohammad Khan leading to ignominious defeat. Later, Afghanistan was seen as the underbelly of the Russian and Soviet empires, and hence a location of interest to British and American strategic causes.

 

 

In November 1954, US President Dwight Eisenhower authorized 30 U-2 spy aircraft to be produced for deployment against America’s perceived enemies, especially to investigate Soviet nuclear missiles which could reach the USA. Reconnaissance balloons had been unsuccessful, and numerous Western pilots had been shot down taking photographs from ordinary military aircraft. By June 1956, U-2 were making clandestine flights over the USSR and China. But on May 1 1960, one was shot or forced down over Sverdlovsk, 1,000 miles within Soviet territory. The Americans prevaricated that it had taken off from Turkey on a weather-mission, and been lost due to oxygen problems. Nikita Kruschev then produced the pilot, Francis Gary Powers, who was convicted of spying, though was exchanged later for a Soviet spy. Powers had been headed towards Norway, his task to photograph Soviet missiles from 70,000 ft, his point of origin had been an American base 20 miles from Peshawar.

 

 

America needed clandestine “forward bases” from which to fly U-2 aircraft, and Pakistan’s ingratiating military and diplomatic establishment was more than willing to offer such cooperation, fervently wishing to be seen as a “frontline state” against the USSR. “We will help you defeat the USSR and we are hopeful you will help us defeat India” became their constant refrain. By 1986, the Americans had been permitted to build air-bases in Balochistan and also use Mauripur air-base near Karachi.

 

 

Jammu & Kashmir and especially Gilgit-Baltistan adjoins the Pashtun regions whose capital has been Peshawar. In August-November 1947, a British coup d’etat against J&K State secured Gilgit-Baltistan for the new British Dominion of Pakistan.

 

 

The Treaty of Amritsar had nowhere required Gulab Singh’s dynasty to accept British political control in J&K as came to be exercised by British “Residents” in all other Indian “Native States”. Despite this, Delhi throughout the late 19th Century relentlessly pressed Gulab Singh’s successors Ranbir Singh and Partab Singh to accept political control. The Dogras acquiesced eventually. Delhi’s desire for control had less to do with the welfare of J&K’s people than with protection of increasing British interests in the area, like European migration to Srinagar Valley and guarding against Russian or German moves in Afghanistan. “Sargin” or “Sargin Gilit”, later corrupted by the Sikhs and Dogras into “Gilgit”, had an ancient people who spoke an archaic Dardic language “intermediate between the Iranian and the Sanskritic”. “The Dards were located by Ptolemy with surprising accuracy on the West of the Upper Indus, beyond the headwaters of the Swat River (Greek: Soastus) and north of the Gandarae (i.e. Kandahar), who occupied Peshawar and the country north of it. This region was traversed by two Chinese pilgrims, Fa-Hsien, coming from the north about AD 400 and Hsuan Tsiang, ascending from Swat in AD 629, and both left records of their journeys.”

 

 

Gilgit had been historically ruled by a Hindu dynasty called Trakane; when they became extinct, Gilgit Valley “was desolated by successive invasions of neighbouring rulers, and in the 20 or 30 years ending with 1842 there had been five dynastic revolutions. The Sikhs entered Gilgit about 1842 and kept a garrison there.” When J&K came under Gulab Singh, “the Gilgit claims were transferred with it, and a boundary commission was sent” by the British. In 1852 the Dogras were driven out with 2,000 dead. In 1860 under Ranbir Singh, the Dogras “returned to Gilgit and took Yasin twice, but did not hold it. They also in 1866 invaded Darel, one of the most secluded Dard states, to the south of the Gilgit basin but withdrew again.”

 

 

The British appointed a Political Agent in Gilgit in 1877 but he was withdrawn in 1881. “In 1889, in order to guard against the advance of Russia, the British Government, acting as the suzerain power of Kashmir, established the Gilgit Agency”. The Agency was re-established under control of the British Resident in Jammu & Kashmir. “It comprised the Gilgit Wazarat; the State of Hunza and Nagar; the Punial Jagir; the Governorships of Yasin, Kuh-Ghizr and Ishkoman, and Chilas”. In 1935, the British demanded J&K lease to them for 60 years Gilgit town plus most of the Gilgit Agency and the hill-states Hunza, Nagar, Yasin and Ishkuman. Hari Singh had no choice but to acquiesce. The leased region was then treated as part of British India, administered by a Political Agent at Gilgit responsible to Delhi, first through the Resident in J& K and later a British Agent in Peshawar. J& K State no longer kept troops in Gilgit and a mercenary force, the Gilgit Scouts, was recruited with British officers and paid for by Delhi. In April 1947, Delhi decided to formally retrocede the leased areas to Hari Singh’s J& K State as of 15 August 1947. The transfer was to formally take place on 1 August.

 

 

On 31 July, Hari Singh’s Governor arrived to find “all the officers of the British Government had opted for service in Pakistan”. The Gilgit Scouts’ commander, a Major William Brown aged 25, and his adjutant, a Captain Mathieson, planned openly to engineer a coup détat against Hari Singh’s Government. Between August and October, Gilgit was in uneasy calm. At midnight on 31 October 1947, the Governor was surrounded by the Scouts and the next day he was “arrested” and a provisional government declared.

Hari Singh’s nearest forces were at Bunji, 34 miles from Gilgit, a few miles downstream from where the Indus is joined by Gilgit River. The 6th J& K Infantry Battalion there was a mixed Sikh-Muslim unit, typical of the State’s Army, commanded by a Lt Col. Majid Khan. Bunji controlled the road to Srinagar. Further upstream was Skardu, capital of Baltistan, part of Laddakh District where there was a small garrison. Following Brown’s coup in Gilgit, Muslim soldiers of the 6th Infantry massacred their Sikh brothers-at-arms at Bunji. The few Sikhs who survived escaped to the hills and from there found their way to the garrison at Skardu.

 

 

On 4 November 1947, Brown raised the new Pakistani flag in the Scouts’ lines, and by the third week of November a Political Agent from Pakistan had established himself at Gilgit. Brown had engineered Gilgit and its adjoining states to first secede from J&K, and, after some talk of being independent, had promptly acceded to Pakistan. His commander in Peshawar, a Col. Bacon, as well as Col. Iskander Mirza, Defence Secretary in the new Pakistan and later to lead the first military coup détat and become President of Pakistan, were pleased enough. In July 1948, Brown was awarded an MBE (Military) and the British Governor of the NWFP got him a civilian job with ICI~ which however sent him to Calcutta, where he came to be attacked and left for dead on the streets by Sikhs avenging the Bunji massacre. Brown survived, returned to England, started a riding school, and died in 1984. In March 1994, Pakistan awarded his widow the Sitara-I-Pakistan in recognition of his coup détat.

 

 

Gilgit’s ordinary people had not participated in Brown’s coup which carried their fortunes into the new Pakistan, and to this day appear to remain without legislative representation. It was merely assumed that since they were mostly Muslim in number they would wish to be part of Pakistan ~ which also became Liaquat Ali Khan’s assumption about J&K State as a whole in his 1950 statements in North America. What the Gilgit case demonstrates is that J&K State’s descent into a legal condition of ownerless anarchy open to “Military Decision” had begun even before the Pakistani invasion of 22 October 1947 (viz. “Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, 1-3 December 2005). Also, whatever else the British said or did with respect to J & K, they were closely allied to the new Pakistan on the matter of Gilgit.

 

 

The peak of Pakistan’s Anglo-American alliance came with the enormous support in the 1980s to guerrilla forces created and headquartered in Peshawar, to battle the USSR and Afghan communists directly across the Durand Line. It was this guerrilla war which became a proximate cause of the collapse of the USSR as a political entity in 1991. President Ronald Reagan’s CIA chief William J. Casey sent vast sums in 1985-1988 to supply and train these guerrillas. The Washington Post and New Yorker reported the CIA training guerrillas “in the use of mortars, rocket grenades, ground-to-air missiles”. 200 hand-held Stinger missiles were supplied for the first time in 1986 and the New Yorker reported Gulbudin Hikmatyar’s “Hizbe Islami” guerrillas being trained to bring down Soviet aircraft. “Mujahideen had been promised two Stingers for every Soviet aircraft brought down. Operators who failed to aim correctly were given additional training… By 1986, the United States was so deeply involved in the Afghan war that Soviet aircraft were being brought down under the supervision of American experts”. (Raja Anwar, The Tragedy of Afghanistan, 1988, p. 234).

 

 

The budding US-China détente brokered by Pakistan came into full bloom here. NBC News on 7 January 1980 said “for the first time in history (a senior State Department official) publicly admitted the possibility of concluding a military alliance between the United States and China”. London’s Daily Telegraph reported on 5 January 1980 “China is flying large supplies of arms and ammunition to the insurgents in Afghanistan. According to diplomatic reports, supplies have arrived in Pakistan from China via the Karakoram Highway…. A major build-up of Chinese involvement is underway ~ in the past few days. Scores of Chinese instructors have arrived at the Shola-e-Javed camps.”

 

 

Afghan reports in 1983-1985 said “there were eight training camps near the Afghan border operated by the Chinese in Sinkiang province” and that China had supplied the guerrillas “with a variety of weapons including 40,000 RPG-7 and 20,000 RPG-II anti tank rocket launchers.” Like Pakistan, “China did not publicly admit its involvement in the Afghan conflict: in 1985 the Chinese Mission at the UN distributed a letter denying that China was extending any kind of help to the Afghan rebels” (Anwar, ibid. p. 234). Support extended deep and wide across the Arab world. “The Saudi and Gulf rulers … became the financial patrons of the Afghan rebels from the very start of the conflict”. Anwar Sadat, having won the Nobel Peace Prize, was “keen to claim credit for his role in Afghanistan…. by joining the Afghanistan jihad, Sadat could re-establish his Islamic credentials, or so he believed. He could thus not only please the Muslim nations but also place the USA and Israel in his debt.” Sadat’s Defence Minister said in January 1980: “Army camps have been opened for the training of Afghan rebels; they are being supplied with weapons from Egypt” and Sadat told NBC News on 22 September 1981 “that for the last twenty-one months, the USA had been buying arms from Egypt for the Afghan rebels. He said he had been approached by the USA in December 1979 and he had decided to `open my stores’. He further disclosed that these arms were being flown to Pakistan from Egypt by American aircraft. Egypt had vast supplies of SAM-7 and RPG-7 anti-aircraft and anti-tank weapons which Sadat agreed to supply to Afghanistan in exchange for new American arms. The Soviet weapons, being light, were ideally suited to guerrilla warfare. … the Mujahideen could easily claim to have captured them from Soviet and Afghan troops in battle.… Khomeini’s Iran got embroiled in war (against Iraq) otherwise Kabul would also have had to contend with the full might of the Islamic revolutionaries.” (Anwar ibid. p. 235).

 

 

Afghanistan had been occupied on 26-27 December 1979 by Soviet forces sent by the decrepit Leonid Brezhnev and Yuri Andropov to carry out a putsch replacing one communist, Hafizullah Amin, with a rival communist and Soviet protégé, Babrak Karmal. By 1985 Brezhnev and Andropov were dead and Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev had begun his attempts to reform the Soviet system, usher in openness, end the Cold War and in particular withdraw from Afghanistan, which by 1986 he had termed “a bleeding wound”. Gorbachev replaced Karmal with a new protégé Najibullah Khan, who was assigned the impossible task of bringing about national reconciliation with the Pakistan-based guerrillas and form a national government. Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan in February 1989 having lost 14,500 dead, while more than a million Afghans had been killed since the invasion a decade earlier.

 

 

Not long after Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution, Gregory Zinoviev had said that international communism “turns today to the peoples of the East and says to them, `Brothers, we summon you to a Holy War first of all against British imperialism!’ At this there were cries of Jehad! Jehad! And much brandishing of picturesque Oriental weapons.” (Treadgold, Twentieth Century Russia, 1990, p. 213). Now instead, the Afghan misadventure had contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Empire itself, the USSR ceasing to be a political entity by 1991, and even Gorbachev being displaced by Boris Yeltsin and later Vladimir Putin in a new Russia.

 

 

What resulted for the people of the USA and Britain and the West in general was that they no longer had to live under threat of hostile Soviet tanks and missiles, while the people of Russia, Ukraine and the other erstwhile Soviet republics as well as Eastern Europe were able to throw off the yoke of communism that had oppressed them since the Bolshevik Revolution and instead to breathe the air of freedom.

 

 

What happened to the people of Afghanistan, however, was that they were plunged into further ghastly civil war for more than ten years. And what happened to the people of Pakistan was that their country was left resembling a gigantic Islamist military camp, awash with airfields, arms, ammunition and trained guerrillas, as well as a military establishment enlivened as always by perpetual hope that these supplies, provisions and personnel of war might find alternative use in attacks against India over J& K. “We helped you when you wished to see the Soviet Union defeated and withdrawing in Afghanistan”, Pakistan’s generals and diplomats pleaded with the Americans and British, “now you must help us in our wish to see India defeated and withdrawing in Kashmir”. Pakistan’s leaders even believed that just as the Soviet Union had disintegrated afterwards, the Indian Union perhaps might be made to do the same. Not only were the two cases as different as chalk from cheese, Palmerstone’s dictum there are no permanent allies in the politics of nations could not have found more apt use than in what actually came to take place next.

Pakistan’s generals and diplomats felt betrayed by the loss of Anglo-American paternalism towards them after 1989.

 

 

Modern Pakistanis had never felt they subscribed to the Indian nationalist movement culminating in independence in August 1947. The Pakistani state now finally declared its independence in the world by exploding bombs in a nuclear arsenal secretly created with help purchased from China and North Korea. Pakistan’s leaders thus came to feel in some control of Pakistan’s destiny as a nation-state for the first time, more than fifty years after Pakistan’s formal creation in 1947. If nothing else, at least they had the Bomb.

 

 

Secondly, America and its allies would not be safe for long since the civil war they had left behind in Afghanistan while trying to defeat the USSR now became a brew from which arose a new threat of violent Islamism. Osama bin Laden and the Taliban, whom Pakistan’s military and the USA had promoted, now encouraged unprecedented attacks on the American mainland on September 11 2001 ~ causing physical and psychological damage which no Soviet, Chinese or Cuban missiles ever had been allowed to do. In response, America attacked and removed the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, once again receiving the cooperative use of Pakistani manpower and real estate ~ except now there was no longer any truck with the Pakistani establishment’s wish for a quid pro quo of Anglo-American support against India on J&K. Pakistan’s generals and diplomats soon realised their Anglo-American alliance of more than a half-century ended on September 11 2001. Their new cooperation was in killing or arresting and handing over fellow-Muslims and necessarily lacked their earlier feelings of subservience and ingratiation towards the Americans and British, and came to be done instead under at least some duress. No benefit could be reaped any more in the fight against India over Jammu & Kashmir. An era had ended in the subcontinent.

 

 

(Of related interest here: “Understanding Pakistan”, “Solving Kashmir”, “Law, Justice & J&K”, “History of J&K”, “What to Tell Musharraf”, “Saving Pakistan”, “Pakistan’s Kashmir Obsession”, “Two Cheers for Pakistan!” , “The Greatest Pashtun” .)

Modern World History

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.

Communists and Constitutions

COMMUNISTS & CONSTITUTIONS

By SUBROTO ROY
first published in The Sunday Statesman, Editorial Page, Special Article,

January 22 2006 www.thestatesman.net

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.