“Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.”
— from “Burnt Norton” by TS Eliot
Indeed humankind cannot bear very much reality! Why else, I wonder, has the “torture” debate not yet mentioned the obvious: sadism and racism? Did the perpetrators of torture experience delight or remorse or both from their activities? Delight during, remorse afterwards? Would they have experienced less delight and more remorse if the victims had not also elicited a race-feeling, a race-consciousness? The victims after all were all “the other”, not one’s own.
One needs to be candid and not pussy-foot around if one wants to comprehend reality.
Twenty years ago, I wrote in Philosophy of Economics (Routledge, London & New York, 1989) quoting from Solzhenitsyn’s experience:
“….the received theory of economic policy… must be silent about the appropriate role of the expert not only under conditions of tyranny (Solzhenitsyn: “The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor only to hear the doctor’s voice: ‘You can continue, the pulse is normal’” ); but also where the duly elected government of an open and democratic society proceeded to do things patently wrong or tyrannical (the imprisonment of the Japanese Americans). Hence Popper’s “paradox of democracy” and “tyranny of the majority”..… A theory of economic policy which both assumes a free and open society and bases itself upon a moral scepticism cannot have anything to say ultimately about the objective reasons why a free and open society may be preferred to an unfree or closed society, or about the good or bad outcomes that may be produced by the working of democratic processes…”
“When the CIA began what it called an “increased pressure phase” with captured terrorism suspect Abu Zubaida in the summer of 2002, its first step was to limit the detainee’s human contact to just two people. One was the CIA interrogator, the other a psychologist. During the extraordinary weeks that followed, it was the psychologist who apparently played the more critical role. According to newly released Justice Department documents, the psychologist provided ideas, practical advice and even legal justification for interrogation methods that would break Abu Zubaida, physically and mentally. Extreme sleep deprivation, waterboarding, the use of insects to provoke fear — all were deemed acceptable, in part because the psychologist said so. “No severe mental pain or suffering would have been inflicted,” a Justice Department lawyer said in a 2002 memo explaining why waterboarding, or simulated drowning, should not be considered torture. The role of health professionals as described in the documents has prompted a renewed outcry from ethicists who say the conduct of psychologists and supervising physicians violated basic standards of their professions. Their names are among the few details censored in the long-concealed Bush administration memos released Thursday, but the documents show a steady stream of psychologists, physicians and other health officials who both kept detainees alive and actively participated in designing the interrogation program and monitoring its implementation. Their presence also enabled the government to argue that the interrogations did not include torture. Most of the psychologists were contract employees of the CIA, according to intelligence officials familiar with the program. “The health professionals involved in the CIA program broke the law and shame the bedrock ethical traditions of medicine and psychology,” said Frank Donaghue, chief executive of Physicians for Human Rights, an international advocacy group made up of physicians opposed to torture. “All psychologists and physicians found to be involved in the torture of detainees must lose their license and never be allowed to practice again.” The CIA declined to comment yesterday on the role played by health professionals in the agency’s self-described “enhanced interrogation program,” which operated from 2002 to 2006 in various secret prisons overseas. “The fact remains that CIA’s detention and interrogation effort was authorized and approved by our government,” CIA Director Leon Panetta said Thursday in a statement to employees. The Obama administration and its top intelligence leaders have banned harsh interrogations while also strongly opposing investigations or penalties for employees who were following their government’s orders. The CIA dispatched personnel from its office of medical services to each secret prison and evaluated medical professionals involved in interrogations “to make sure they could stand up, psychologically handle it,” according to a former CIA official. The alleged actions of medical professionals in the secret prisons are viewed as particularly troubling by an array of groups, including the American Medical Association and the International Committee of the Red Cross. AMA policies state that physicians “must not be present when torture is used or threatened.” The guidelines allow doctors to treat detainees only “if doing so is in their [detainees’] best interest” and not merely to monitor their health “so that torture can begin or continue.” The American Psychological Association has condemned any participation by its members in interrogations involving torture, but critics of the organization faulted it for failing to censure members involved in harsh interrogations. The ICRC, which conducted the first independent interviews of CIA detainees in 2006, said the prisoners were told they would not be killed during interrogations, though one was warned that he would be brought to “the verge of death and back again,” according to a confidential ICRC report leaked to the New York Review of Books last month. “The interrogation process is contrary to international law and the participation of health personnel in such a process is contrary to international standards of medical ethics,” the ICRC report concluded….” (emphasis added)
Twenty-five years ago, the draft-manuscript that became the book Philosophy of Economics got me into much trouble in American academia. As I have said elsewhere, a gang of “inert game theorists”, similar to many (often unemployable ex-mathematicians) who had come to and still dominate what passes for academic economics in many American and European universities, did not like at all what I was saying. A handful of eminent senior economists – Frank Hahn, T W Schultz, Milton Friedman, James M Buchanan, Sidney Alexander – defended my work and but for their support over the decade 1979-1989, my book would not have seen light of day. Eventually, I have had to battle over years in the US federal courts over it – only to find myself having to battle bribery of court officers and the suborning of perjury by government legal officers too! (And speaking of government-paid psychologists, I was even required at one point by my corrupt opponent to undergo tests for having had the temerity of being in court at all! Fortunately for me that particular psychologist declined to participate in the nefariousness of his employer!).
I find all this poignant today as Philosophy of Economics may have, among other things, described the general theoretical problem that has been brought to light today. I was delighted to hear from a friend in 1993 that my book had been prescribed for a course at Yale Law School and was strewn all over an alley in the bookshop.
Separately, I am also delighted to find that a person pioneering the current work is a daughter of our present PM. I have been sharply critical of Dr Singh’s economics and politics, but I have also said I have had high personal regard for him ever since 1973 when he, as a friend of my father’s, visited our then-home in Paris to advise me before I embarked on my study of economics. My salute to the ACLU’s work in this – may it be an example in defeating cases of State-tyranny in India too.
Mr Wolf has pointedly asked a question that many around the world may have half-thought about but not articulated: “Has Barack Obama’s presidency already failed?” It would be a grave and appalling state of affairs if it has, within less than a month of entering office. I am grateful to find in Ms Huffington’s article a reference to an October 2008 Wall Stret Journal interview of Dr Anna Jacobson Schwartz, perhaps the most respected voice in monetary economics today. There have been numerous people claiming to have predicted America’s financial crisis but none may have as much credibility as Dr Schwartz. Six years ago, in a National Bureau of Economic Research study dated November 2002, “Asset Price Inflation and Monetary Policy”,Working Paper 9321 she had said with utmost clarity: “It is crucial that central banks and regulatory authorities be aware of effects of asset price inflation on the stability of the financial system. Lending activity based on asset collateral during the boom is hazardous to the health of lenders when the boom collapses. One way that authorities can curb the distortion of lenders’ portfolios during asset price booms is to have in place capital requirements that increase with the growth of credit extensions collateralized by assets whose prices have escalated. If financial institutions avoid this pitfall, their soundness will not be impaired when assets backing loans fall in value. Rather than trying to gauge the effects of asset prices on core inflation, central banks may be better advised to be alert to the weakening of financial balance sheets in the aftermath of a fall in value of asset collateral backing loans….”
Most poignantly too, Dr Schwartz was present when Ben Bernanke said in a 2002 speech honouring the late Milton Friedman “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.” Dr Schwartz told the Wall Street Journal ‘”This was [his] claim to be worthy of running the Fed”. “He was ‘familiar with history. He knew what had been done.’ But perhaps this is actually Mr. Bernanke’s biggest problem. Today’s crisis isn’t a replay of the problem in the 1930s, but our central bankers have responded by using the tools they should have used then. They are fighting the last war. The result, she argues, has been failure. ‘I don’t see that they’ve achieved what they should have been trying to achieve. So my verdict on this present Fed leadership is that they have not really done their job.'”
President Obama’s economists need to urgently consult Anna J Schwartz.
Subroto Roy, Kolkata
Postscript: My own brief views on the subject are at “October 1929? Not!” dated September 18 2008, and “America’s divided economists” dated October 26 2008. The latter article suggested that playing the demographic card and inducing a wave of immigration into the United States may be the surest way to move the housing demand-curve firmly upwards.
President Barack Obama will be in all likelihood as worthy and competent a head of state and head of government as there has been anywhere, and, as he enters his high office, he deserves the good wishes of the world.
The beautiful State of Hawaii can proudly call him its most famous native son.
South Beretania where he apparently lived some years is a short walk from Punahou Towers at 1621 Dole where I once owned a condo, from which could be seen the school the new President attended for some time. He happens to be the first US President in my lifetime whom I find myself older than in age.
I expect President Obama may well find governance to be much different from the campaign: requiring more truth and less rhetoric, more circumspection and less dogmatism.
“Yes we can” will likely have to give way to something like “Yes we might be able to do that. Perhaps we ought to. But again, perhaps we ought not to. I think I’ll have to think about this one more time.”
Most important might be the words of Oliver Cromwell: “Think it possible you may be mistaken”.
In Parliament not long ago, Defence Minister A K Antony said: “Considering the sensitivity of information contained in the report and its security implications, the report has not been recommended to be declassified in the National Security interest.” This is nonsense. Nothing from as far back as 1962 can possibly affect anything significant to India’s security today. In any case the Defence Ministry’s official history of the 1962 war, though officially unpublished, is openly available.
Even the 2005 Right to Information Act goes against transparency of research into India’s history. Article 8 (1) (a) says, “there shall be no obligation to give any citizen,— (a) information, disclosure of which would prejudicially affect the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security, strategic, scientific or economic interests of the State, relation with foreign State or lead to incitement of an offence.” This can cover all files of the MEA, Defence and Home; there seems to be no right to academic freedom for India’s people to research their own history.
China itself is more open with its archives. Since 2004, the Foreign Ministry in Beijing has begun a systematic process declassifying more than 40,000 items from its diplomatic records for the period 1949-1960. The Cold War International History Project at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington DC has recently published Inside China’s Cold War; the Project Director admits this has been possible due to China’s “archival thaw”.
In the USA, official documents are made available after 30 years or when a reasonable demand is made under the Freedom of Information Act. Numerous groups exist whose only work is to make sure the law is followed. The recently released Foreign Relations of the United States, Volume XVIII, China (1973-1976) published by the American foreign ministry reveals several interesting aspects of the India-USA-China relationship. Last year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) posted some 320,000 declassified cables on-line. The text of once-secret diplomatic cables indexed is today retrievable from the NARA Website. It also includes withdrawal cards for documents still classified, so these can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act. Out of 119,356 documents for 1973 and 200,508 for 1974, some 7,484 were related to India. Indians scholars today have to rely on US documents for their own history!
In an open society, the ordinary citizen has reasonably easy access to any and all information relating to the public or social interest— whether the information is directly available to the citizen himself/herself, or is indirectly available to his/her elected representatives like MPs and MLAs. Different citizens will respond to the same factual information in different ways, and conflict and debate about the common good will result. But that would be part of the democratic process. In an open society, both good news and bad news is out there in the pubic domain— to be assessed, debated, rejoiced over, or wept about. Citizens are mature enough to cope with both— the experience causes a process of social maturation in formulating the common good as well as responses to problems or crises the community may face. People improve their civic capacities, becoming better-informed and more discerning voters and decision-makers, and so becoming better citizens.
The opposite of an open society is a closed society— in which a ruling political party or self-styled elite or ‘nomenclatura’ keep publicly important information to themselves, and do not allow the ordinary citizen easy or reasonably free access to it. The reason may be merely that they are intent on accumulating assets for themselves in the dark as quickly as possible while in office, or that they are afraid of public anger and want to save their own skins from demands for accountability. Or it may be they have the impression that the public is better off kept in the dark— that only the elite ‘nomenclatura’ is in a position to use the information to serve the national interest. Bad news comes to be suppressed and so good news gets exaggerated in significance. News of economic disasters, military defeats or domestic uprisings gets suppressed. News of victories or achievements or heroics gets exaggerated. If there are no real victories, achievements or heroics, fake ones have to be invented by government hacks— though the suppressed bad news tends to silently whisper all the way through the public consciousness in any case.
Such is the way of government propaganda everywhere. Closed society totalitarianism permitted the general masses to remain docile and unthinking while the ‘nomenclatura’ make the decisions. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor said that is all that can be expected of the masses. Open society transparency was instead defined by Pericles for the Athenians: “Here each individual is interested not only in his own affairs but in the affairs of the state as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics— this is a peculiarity of ours: we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.”
The study of the subcontinent’s history using archival material is crucial to disentangle difficult problems like the Jammu & Kashmir issue or the border problem with China. Yet today nobody can access independent India’s primary sources locked in South Block and North Block in New Delhi. Most bizarrely, Jawaharlal Nehru’s papers are under control of his descendants like Priyanka Vadra and Sonia Gandhi, who claim copyright. Someone may need to tell them there is a universal principle that there can be no copyright on the public life-work of historical figures like presidents and prime ministers.
(Or, Let us be clear the Pakistan-India or Kashmir conflicts have not been Muslim-Hindu conflicts so much as intra-Muslim conflicts about Muslim identity and self-knowledge on the Indian subcontinent)
Ill-informed Western observers, especially at purported “think tanks” and news-portals, frequently proclaim the Pakistan-India confrontation and Jammu & Kashmir conflict to represent some kind of savage irreconcilable division between Islamic and Hindu cultures.
For example, the BBC, among its many prevarications on the matter (like lopping off J&K entirely from its recently broadcasted maps of India, perhaps under influence of its Pakistani staffers), frequently speaks of “Hindu-majority India” and “Indian-administered Kashmir” being confronted by Muslim Pakistan.
And two days ago from California’s Bay Area arose into the Internet Cloud the following profundity: “What we’re dealing with now, in the Pakistani-Indian rivalry, is a true war of civilizations, pitting Muslims against Hindus…. the unfathomable depths of the Muslim-Hindu divide….”.
Even President-elect Obama’s top Pakistan-specialists have fallen for the line of Washington’s extremely strong Pakistan lobby: “Pakistan… sees itself as the political home for the subcontinent’s Muslim population and believes India’s continued control over the Muslim-majority Kashmir valley and denial of a plebiscite for its inhabitants represent a lingering desire on India’s part to undo the legacy of partition, which divided the British Indian Empire into India and Pakistan.”
The truth on record is completely different and really rather simple: for more than a century and a half, Muslims qua Muslims on the Indian subcontinent have struggled with the question of their most appropriate cultural and political identity.
The starkest contrast may be found in their trying to come to terms with their partly Arabic and partly Hindu or Indian parentage (the words Hindu, Sindhu, Indus, Indian, Sindhi, Hindi etc all clearly have the same Hellenistic root).
For example, there was Wali Allah (1703-1762) declaring “We are an Arab people whose fathers have fallen in exile in the country of Hindustan, and Arabic genealogy and Arabic language are our pride”.
But here has been Mohammad Iqbal (1877-1938), in his 1930 Allahabad speech to the Muslim League, conceiving today’s Pakistan as a wish to become free of precisely that Arab influence: “I would like to see the Punjab, NWFP, Sind and Baluchistan amalgamated into a single state… The life of Islam as a cultural force in this living country very largely depends on its centralisation in a specified territory… For India it means security and peace resulting from an internal balance of power, for Islam an opportunity to rid itself of the stamp that Arabian Imperialism was forced to give it, to mobilise its law, its education, its culture, and to bring them into closer contact with its own original spirit and the spirit of modern times.”
In an article “Saving Pakistan” published last year in The Statesman and available elsewhere here, it was suggested Iqbal’s “spirit of modern times” may be represented most prominently today by the physicist/political philosopher Pervez Hoodbhoy: in a December 2006 speech Hoodbhoy suggested a new alternative to MA Jinnah’s “Faith, Unity, Discipline” slogan: “First, I wish for minds that can deal with the complex nature of truth…. My second wish is for many more Pakistanis who accept diversity as a virtue… My third, and last, wish is that Pakistanis learn to value and nurture creativity.” He has spoken too of bringing “economic justice to Pakistan”, of the “fight to give Pakistan’s women the freedom which is their birthright”, and of people to “wake up” and engage politically. But Pakistan’s Iqbalian liberals like Hoodbhoy still have to square off with those of their compatriots who sent the youthful squad into Mumbai last week with assault rifles, grenades and heroic Arabic code-names, as well as orders to attack civilians with the ferocity of the original Muslims attacking caravans and settlements in ancient Arabia.
What the extremely strong Pakistan lobbies within the British and American political systems have suppressed in order to paint a picture of eternal Muslim-Hindu conflict is the voice of India’s nationalist Muslims, who historically have had no wish to have any truck with any idea of a “Pakistan” at all.
Most eminent among them was undoubtedly Jinnah’s fiercest critic: Maulana Abul Kalam Azad whose classic 1946 statement on Pakistan is available in hisIndia Wins Freedom, the final version published only in 1988.
“I have considered from every possible point of view the scheme of Pakistan as formulated by the Muslim League. As an Indian, I have examined its implications for the future of India as a whole. As a Muslim, I have examined its likely effects upon the fortunes of Muslims of India. Considering the scheme in all its aspects, I have come to the conclusion that it is harmful not only for India as a whole but for Muslims in particular. And in fact it creates more problems than it solves. I must confess that the very term Pakistan goes against my grain. It suggests that some portions of the world are pure while others are impure. Such a division of territories into pure and impure is un-Islamic and is more in keeping with orthodox Brahmanism which divides men and countries into holy and unholy — a division which is a repudiation of the very spirit of Islam. Islam recognizes no such division and the prophet says “God made the whole world a mosque for me”.
Further, it seems that the scheme of Pakistan is a symbol of defeatism, and has been built on the analogy of the Jewish demand for a national home. It is a confession that Indian Muslims cannot hold their own in India as a whole, and would be content to withdraw to a corner specially reserved for them.
One can sympathise with the aspiration of the Jews for such a national home, as they are scattered all over the world and cannot in any region have any effective voice in the administration.. The conditions of Indian Muslims is quite otherwise. Over 90 million in number, they are in quantity and quality a sufficiently important element in Indian life to influence decisively all questions of administration and policy. Nature has further helped them by concentrating them in certain areas.
In such a context, the demand for Pakistan loses all force. As a Muslim, I for one am not prepared for a moment to give up my right to treat the whole of India as my domain and to shape in the shaping of its political and economic life. To me it seems a sure sign of cowardice to give up what is my patrimony and content myself with a mere fragment of it.
As is well known, Mr. Jinnah’s Pakistan scheme is based on his two nation theory. His thesis is that India contains many nationalities based on religious differences, Of them the two major nations, the Hindus and Muslims, must as separate nations have separate States, When Dr Edward Thompson once pointed out to Mr. Jinnah that Hindus and Muslims live side by side in thousands of Indian towns, villages and hamlets, Mr. Jinnah replied that this is no way affected their separate nationality. Two nations, according to M Jinnah, confront one another in every hamlet, village and town, and he, therefore, desires that they should be separated into two States.
I am prepared to overlook all other aspects of the problem and judge it from the point of view of Muslim interest alone. I shall go still further and say that if it can be shown that the scheme of Pakistan can in any way benefit Muslims I would be prepared to accept it myself and also to work for its acceptance by others. But the truth is that even if I examine the scheme from the point of view of the communal interests of the Muslims themselves, I am forced to the conclusion that it can in no way benefit them or allay their legitimate fears.
Let us consider dispassionately the consequences which will follow if we give effect to the Pakistan scheme. India will be divided into two States, one with a majority of Muslims and the other of Hindus. In the Hindustan State there will remain 35 million Muslims scattered in small minorities all over the land. With 17 per cent in UP, 12 percent in Bihar and 9 percent in Madras, they will be weaker than they are today in the Hindu majority provinces. They have had their homelands in these regions for almost a thousand years and built up well known centres of Muslim culture and civilization there.
They will awaken overnight and discover that they have become alien and foreigners. Backward industrially, educationally and economically, they will be left to the mercies to what would become an unadulterated Hindu raj.
On the other hand, their position within the Pakistan State will be vulnerable and weak. Nowhere in Pakistan will their majority be comparable to the Hindu majority in the Hindustan States. ( NB Azad could hardly imagine even at this point the actual British Partition of Punjab and Bengal, let aside the later separation of Bangladesh from West Pakistan, SR. )
In fact, their majority will be so slight that will be offset by the economical, educational and political lead enjoyed by non-Muslims in these areas. Even if this were not so and Pakistan were overwhelmingly Muslim in population, it still could hardly solve the problem of Muslims in Hindustan. Two States confronting one another, offer no solution of the problem of one another’s minorities, but only lead to retribution and reprisals by introducing a system of mutual hostages. The scheme of Pakistan therefore solves no problems for the Muslims. It cannot safeguard their rights where they are in minority nor as citizens of Pakistan secure them a position in Indian or world affairs which they would enjoy as citizens of a major State like the Indian Union.
It may be argued that if Pakistan is so much against the interest if the Muslims themselves, then why should such a large section of Muslims be swept away by its lure? The answer is to be found in the attitude of certain communal extremists among the Hindus. When the Muslim League began to speak of Pakistan, they read into the scheme a sinister pan-Islamic conspiracy and began to oppose it out of fear that it foreshadowed a combination of Indian Muslim and trans-Indian Muslim States. The opposition acted as an incentive to the adherents of the League. With simple though untenable logic they argued that if Hindus were so opposed to Pakistan, surely it must be of benefit to Muslims. An atmosphere of emotional frenzy was created which made reasonable appraisement impossible and swept away especially the younger and more impressionable among the Muslims. I have, however, no doubt that when the present frenzy has died down and the question can be considered dispassionately, those who now support Pakistan will themselves repudiate it as harmful for Muslim interests.
The formula which I have succeeded in making the Congress accept secures whatever merits the Pakistan scheme contains while all its defects and drawbacks are avoided. The basis of Pakistan is the fear of interference by the Centre in Muslim majority areas as the Hindus will be in a majority in the Centre. The Congress meets this fear by granting full autonomy to the provincial units and vesting all residuary power in the provinces. It also has provided for two lists of Central subjects, one compulsory and one optional, so that if any provincial unit so wants, it can administer all subjects itself except a minimum delegated to the Centre. The Congress scheme threescore ensures that Muslim majority provinces are internally free to develop as they will, but can at the same time influence the Centre on all issues which affect India as a whole.
The situation in India is such that all attempts to establish a centralized and unitary government are bound to fail. Equally, doomed to failure is the attempt to divide India into two States. After considering all aspects of the question, I have come to the conclusion that the only solution can be on the lines embodied in the Congress formula which allows room for development both to the provinces and to India as a whole. The Congress formula meets the fear of the Muslim majority areas to allay which the scheme of Pakistan was formed. On the other hand, it avoids the defects of the Pakistan scheme which would bring the Muslims where they are in a minority under a purely Hindu government.
I am one of those who considers the present chapter of communal bitterness and differences as a transient phase in Indian life. I firmly hold that they will disappear when India assumes the responsibility of her own destiny. I am reminded of a saying of Mr. Gladstone that the best cure for a man’s fear of the water was to throw him into it. Similarly, India must assume responsibilities and administer her own affairs before fears and suspicious can be fully allayed.
When India attains her destiny, she will forget the chapter of communal suspicion and conflict and face the problems of modern life from a modern point of view. Differences will no doubt persist, but they will be economic, not communal. Opposition among political parties will continue, but it will based, not on religion, but on economic and political issues. Class and not community will be the basis oaf future alignments, and policies will be shaped accordingly. If it be argued that this is only a faith which events may not justify, I would say that in any case the 90 million Muslims constitute a factor which nobody can ignore and whatever the circumstances, they are strong enough to safeguard their own destiny.”
Next must be Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s classic February 1948 Speech to the UN Security Council, four months into the initial Pakistani attack on Kashmir:
“Aggression, not accession, is the issue: I have heard with patience, attention and respect the statements made by the representative of Pakistan and members of the Security Council, as well as the statements made on various occasions by the members of my own delegation. The Security Council will concede that I am probably the one man most concerned in the dispute because I happen to come from that land which has become the bone of contention between the two Dominions of India and Pakistan.
I have been quoted profusely on either side, and rightly so, because I have had the fortune-or, should I say, misfortune of leading my countrymen to freedom from 1931 onwards. In this task, I have suffered a great deal. I have been imprisoned not once or twice, but seven times, and the last imprisonment carried with it an aggregate sentence of nine years.
There are many troubles in Kashmir. I have heard patiently the debate in the Security Council, but I feel that I am rather confused. After all, what is the point in dispute? The point in dispute is not that the sovereignty of the Prince is in question, as the representative of Pakistan stated yesterday. After all, I have suffered the punishment of being sentenced to nine years imprisonment for saying what the representative of Pakistan said with regard to the Treaty of Amritsar of 1846. I am glad that he said in the Security Council, where he is immune from any punishment. Therefore, I am not disputing that point and that it is not the subject of the dispute before the Security Council.
The subject of the dispute before the Security Council is not the mal-administration of the Princely State of Kashmir. In order to set right that mal-administration, I think I have suffered the most, and today, when for the first time, I heard the representative of Pakistan supporting my case, it gave me great pleasure.
After all, what is the dispute between India and Pakistan? From what I have learned from the complaint brought before the Security Council by my own delegation, the dispute revolves around the fact that Kashmir acceded legally and constitutionally to the Dominion of India. There was some trouble about the demarcation of the Kashmir administration within the State, and the tribesmen from across the border have poured into my country. They have been helped and are being helped by the Pakistan Government, with the result that there is the possibility of a greater conflagration between India and Pakistan. India sought the help of Security Council so that Pakistan might be requested to desist from helping the tribesmen, and to desist from supporting the inside revolt, should I say, against the lawful authority.
I should have understood the position of the representative of Pakistan if he had come boldly before the Security Council and maintained: “Yes, we do support the tribesmen; we do support the rebels inside the State because we feel that Kashmir belongs to Pakistan and not to India, and because we feel that the accession of Kashmir to India was fraudulent.” Then we might have discussed the validity of the accession of the State of Kashmir to India. But that was not the position taken by the representative of Pakistan. He completely denied that any support was being given by the Government of Pakistan to either the tribesmen or those who are in revolt within the State against the constituted authority.
How am I to convince the Security Council that the denial is absolutely untrue? I am sitting before the Security Council at a distance of thousands of miles from my country. I have fought many battles, along with my own men, on the borders of Jammu and Kashmir. I have seen with my own eyes the support given by the Pakistan Government, not only in supplying buses but in providing arms, ammunition, direction and control of the tribesmen and I have even seen the Pakistan Army forces from across the border.
The denial has come so flatly that it becomes very difficult for me to disprove it here before the Security Council, unless the Security Council accedes to our request to send a commission to the spot and to find out first whether the allegations brought before the Security Council with regard to the aid given by the Government of Pakistan are correct or incorrect. If they are incorrect, the case falls; if they are correct, then the Security Council should take the necessary steps to advise the Government of Pakistan to desist from such support.
But then, this simple issue has been confused. On the one hand, the Pakistan Government says, “We are not a party to the trouble within the State. The trouble within the State exists because the people are fighting against the mal-administration of the Jammu and Kashmir Government.” Yes, we are fighting, we have been fighting against the mal-administration of that State since 1931. We have been demanding democratisation of the Government there. But how is it that today Pakistan has become the champion of our liberty? I know very well that in 1946, when I raised the cry “Quit Kashmir,” the leader of the Pakistan Government, who is the Governor-General now, Mr.Mohammed Ali Jinnah, opposed my Government, declaring that this movement was a movement of a few renegades and that Muslims as such had nothing to do with the movement.
The Muslim Conference, which has been talked about so much, opposed my movement and declared its loyalty to the Prince. The representative of Pakistan now says that Sheikh Abdullah, once the supporter of “Quit Kashmir”, has joined hands with the Maharaja of Kashmir, and that in one of my public speeches I declared that I wanted the Maharaja to be the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir-not the Maharaja of Jammu only, but the Maharaja of entire State.
I should like to correct the misreporting of my speech. I did deliver that speech in Jammu, which is the winter capital of our country, but it was in a different context. As the members of the Security Council have already heard from the head of my delegation, some massacres did occur in the Jammu Province. After the Kashmir Province was raided by the tribesmen, and after thousands of Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from the villages and towns in the Kashmir Province and found their way into the Jammu Province, there was some very bad retaliation. I could not go to Jammu Province to control that situation because I was busy with the raiders in Kashmir Province. However, as soon as I had some time, I flew down to Jammu Province, addressed a gathering of 60,000 Hindus and Sikhs in Jammu city, and gave them some plain advice.
I told them clearly that this policy of retaliation would bring no good to them as Hindus and Sikhs and would bring no good to their leader, because while they could retaliate in one or two districts where they formed the majority, and could even wipe out the Muslim population in these one or two districts, the State happens to have a population which is 80 per cent Muslim, and it would be impossible for them to wipe out the entire Muslim population. The result would be that the Prince, whom they wanted to support, would remain the Prince of only two districts, and not of the entire State of Jammu and Kashmir. I told them that if they wanted him to be the Prince of Jammu and Kashmir, they would have to change their behaviour. That was the speech I delivered, and that was the context in which it was made.
However, I have already stated how this trouble started. It is probable that the representative of Pakistan would admit that when India was divided into two parts, my colleagues and I were all behind prison bars. The result of this division of India was to start massacre on either side. Where Muslims in the West Punjab formed the majority, the killing of Hindus and Sikhs started and this was retaliated in East Punjab. All along our border, massacres of Hindus and Sikhs, on the one hand, and Muslims on the other hand were a daily occurrence. But the State of Jammu and Kashmir, and its people, kept calm. The result was that thousands of refugees, both Muslims and Hindus, sought refuge in our State and we rendered every possible help to all of them.
Why was that so? It was because I and my organisation never believed in the formula that Muslims and Hindus form separate nations. We do not believe in the two-nation theory, nor in communal hatred or communalism itself. We believed that religion had no place in politics. Therefore, when we launched our movement of “Quit Kashmir”, it was not only Muslims who suffered, but our Hindu and Sikh comrades as well. That created a strong bond of unity between all the communities, and the result was that while Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were fighting each other all along the border, the people of Jammu and Kashmir State — Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs alike-remained calm.
The situation was worsening day by day and the minority in our State was feeling very nervous. As a result, tremendous pressure was brought to bear upon the State administration to release me and my colleagues. The situation outside demanded the release of workers of the National Conference, along with its leader, and we were accordingly set free.
Immediately we were liberated from prison we were faced with the important question of whether Kashmir should accede to Pakistan, accede to India, or remain independent, because under the partition scheme these three choices were open us as, indeed, they were open to every Indian State. The problem was a very difficult one, but I advised the people of my country that although the question was very important to us, it was a secondary consideration. The all important matter for us was our own liberation from the autocratic rule of the Prince for which we were fighting and had been fighting for the past seventeen years. We had not achieved that goal, and therefore I told my people that we must do so first. Then, as free men we should have to decide where our interest lay. Being a frontier State, Kashmir has borders with both Pakistan and India, and there are advantages and disadvantages for the people of Kashmir attached to each of the three alternatives to which I have referred.
Naturally, as I have indicated, we could not decide this all important issue before achieving our own liberation, and our slogan became “Freedom before accession”. Some friends from Pakistan met mein Srinagar. I had a heart- to- heart discussion with them and explained my point of view. I told them in plain words that, whatever had been the attitude of Pakistan towards our freedom movement in the past, it would not influence us in our judgement. Neither the friendship of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru and of Congress, nor their support of our freedom movement, would have any influence upon our decision if we felt that the interests of four million Kashmiris lay in our accession to Pakistan.
I requested them not to precipitate this decision upon us but to allow us time, supporting our movement for the while. I added that once we were free they should allow us an interval to consider this all important issue. I pointed out that India had accepted this point of view and was not forcing us to decide. We had, in fact, entered into a standstill agreement with both Pakistan and India, but the leader of the Indian delegation has already explained to the Security Council what Pakistan did to us.
While I was engaged in these conversations and negotiations with friends from Pakistan, I sent one of my colleagues to Lahore, where he met the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Liaqat Ali Khan, and other high dignitaries of the West Punjab Government. He placed the same point of view before them and requested that they should allow us time to consider this vital question, first helping us to achieve our liberation instead of forcing us to declare our decision one way or the other. Then, one fine morning while these negotiations were proceeding, I received news that a full-fledged attack had been carried out by the raiders on Muzaffarabad, frontier town in the Kashmir Province.
The representative of Pakistan has stated that immediately upon my release I went down to Delhi to negotiate the accession of Kashmir to India. That is not a fact. He probably does not know that while in jail I was elected President of the All India States People’s Conference, and that immediately upon my release I had to take up my duties. Accordingly, I had called a meeting of the executive of that Conference in Delhi, a fact which I had conveyed to the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Indeed, I had told the Prime Minister of Pakistan that immediately upon my return from Delhi I should take the opportunity of meeting him personally to discuss my point of view with him. I did not go to Delhi to conclude any agreement on behalf of Kashmir because, although released, I was still considered a rebel.
I might inform the representative of Pakistan that although I am beyond doubt the head of the Administration of Kashmir State, I am not the Prime Minister. I am head of the Emergency Administration, and that not because the Maharaja of Kashmir wished it. In fact, I do not know whether the Maharaja wishes it even now. I hold the position because the people of my country wish me to be at the helm of affairs in Jammu and Kashmir State.
When the raiders came to our land, massacred thousands of people—mostly Hindus and Sikhs, but Muslims, too—abducted thousands of girls, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims alike, looted our property and almost reached the gates of our summer capital, Srinagar, the result was that the civil, military and police administrations failed. The Maharaja, in the dead of night, left the capital along with his courtiers, and the result was absolute panic. There was no one to take over control. In that hour of crisis, the National Conference came forward with its 10,000 volunteers and took over the administration of the country. They started guarding the banks, the offices and houses of every person in the capital. This is the manner in which the administration changed hands. We were de facto in charge of the administration. The Maharaja, later on, gave it a legal form.
It is said that Sheikh Abdullah is a friend of Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru. Yes, I admit that. I feel honoured that such a great man claims me as his friend. And he happens to belong to my own country;he is also a Kashmiri, and blood is thicker than water. If JawaharLal Nehru gives me that honour, I cannot help it. He is my friend. But that does not mean that, because of his friendship, I am going to betray the millions of my people who have suffered along with me for the last seventeen years and sacrifice the interests of my country. I am not a man of that calibre.
I was explaining how the dispute arose—how Pakistan wanted to force this position of slavery upon us. Pakistan had no interest in our liberation or it would not also have opposed our freedom movement. Pakistan would have supported us when thousands of my countrymen were behind bars and hundreds were shot to death. The Pakistani leaders and Pakistani papers were heaping abuse upon the people of Kashmir who were suffering these tortures.
Then suddenly, Pakistan comes before the bar of the world as the champion of the liberty of the people of Jammu and Kashmir. The world may believe this, but it is very difficult for me to believe. When we refused the coercive tactics of Pakistan, it started full fledged aggression and encouraged the tribesmen in this activity. It is absolutely impossible for the tribesmen to enter our territory without encouragement from Pakistan, because it is necessary to pass through Pakistan territory to reach Jammu and Kashmir. Hundreds of trucks, thousands of gallons of petrol, thousands of rifles, ammunition, and all forms of help that an army requires, were supplied to them. We know this. After all, we belong to that country. What Pakistan could not achieve by the use of economic blockade it wanted to achieve by full-fledged aggression.
What do we request? We request nothing more than that the Security Council should send some members to this area to see for themselves what is happening there. If Pakistan comes forward and says, “We question the legality of accession”, I am prepared to discuss whether or not the accession of Jammu and Kashmir to India was legal. However, now they say, “We want a plebiscite, we want to obtain the free and unfettered opinion of the people of Kashmir. There should be no pressure exerted on the people and they should make the free choice as to the State to which they wish to accede.”
Not only this the offer that was made by the people of Kashmir to Pakistan long, long ago, but it is the offer made by the Prime Minister of India at a time, I think, he had not the slightest need for making it, as Kashmir was in distress.
We realised that Pakistan would not allow us any time, that we had either to suffer the fate of our kith and kin of Muzaffarabad, Baramulla, Srinagar and other towns and villages, or to seek help from some outside authority.
Under these circumstances, both the Maharaja and the people of Kashmir requested the Government of India to accept our accession. The Government of India could have easily accepted the accession and could have said, “All right we accept your accession and we shall render this help.” There was no necessity for the Prime Minister of India to add the proviso, when accepting the accession, that India does not want to take advantage of the difficult situation in Kashmir. We will accept this accession, without Kashmir’s acceding to the Indian Dominion, we are not in a position to render any military help. But once the country is free from the raiders, marauders and looters, this accession will be subject to ratification by the people. That was the offer made by the Prime Minister of India.
That was the same offer which was made by the people of Kashmir to the Government of Pakistan, but it was refused because at that time Pakistan felt that it could, within a week, conquer the entire Jammu and Kashmir State and then place the fait accompli before the world, just as happened some time ago in Europe. The same tactics were used.
But having failed in these tactics, Pakistan now comes before the bar of the world, pleading, “We want nothing, we only want our people to be given a free hand in deciding their own fate. And in deciding their own fate, they must have a plebiscite.”
They then continue and say, “No, a plebiscite cannot be fair and impartial unless and until there is a neutral administration in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.” I have failed to understand this terminology with reference to a “neutral administration”. After all what does “neutral administration” mean?
The representative of Pakistan has stated that Sheikh Abdullah, because he is a friend of Jawahar Lal Nehru, because he has had sympathy for the Indian National Congress, because he has declared his point of view in favour of accession to India, and because he is head of the Emergency Administration, cannot remain impartial. Therefore, Sheikh Abdullah must depart.
Let us suppose that Sheikh Abdullah goes, who is to replace Sheikh Abdullah ? It will be someone amongst the 4 million people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. But can we find anyone among these 4 million people whom we can call impartial? After all, we are not logs of wood, we are not dolls. We must have an opinion one way or the other. The people of Kashmir are either in favour of Pakistan or in favour of India.
Therefore, Pakistan’s position comes down to this that the 4 million people of that State should have no hand in running the administration of their own country. Someone else must come in for that purpose. Is that fair ? Is that just ? Do the members of the Security Council wish to oust the people of Kashmir from running their own administration and their own country ? Then, for argument’s sake, let us suppose that the 4 million people of the State of Jammu and Kashmir agree to have nothing to do with the administration of their country; some one else must be brought into the country for this purpose. From where do the members of the Security Council propose that such a neutral individual may be secured? From India? No, from Pakistan? No, from anywhere in the world? No, frankly speaking, even if the Security Council were to request Almighty God to administer the State of Jammu and Kashmir during this interim period, I do not feel that He could act impartially. After all, one must have sympathy either for this side or that side.
If elections were to be held in the United Kingdom sometime after tomorrow with the Labour Government in power, would anyone say to Mr Attlee: “The elections are now going on. Because you happen to belong to Labour Party, your sympathies will be in favour of the Labour vote. Therefore, you had better clear out. We must have a neutral man as Prime Minister until our elections are finished?
However, we have been told that Sheikh Abdullah must walk out because he has declared his point of view in favour of India. Therefore, he cannot be impartial. We must have some impartial man we must have some neutral man.
As I have submitted to the members of the Security Council, Sheikh Abdullah happens to be there because the people wish it. As long as the people wish it, I shall be there. There is no power on earth which can displace me from the position which I have there. As long as the people are behind me, I will remain there.
We have declared once for all, that there shall be freedom of voting and for that purpose we have said, “Let anyone come in, we have no objection. Let the Commission of the Security Council on India come into our State and advise us how we should take a vote, how we should organize it, and how it can be completely impartial. We have no objection.” My Government is ready to satisfy, to the last comma, the impartiality of the vote.
But to have an impartial vote is one thing; to have a say in the administration of the State is a different thing entirely. After all, with what are we concerned? We are concerned only with the fact that no influence shall be exercised over the voters, either in one way or in another. The people shall be free to vote according to their own interests. We are ready to accede to that.
It is then said: “You cannot have freedom of voting as long as the Indian Army remains in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.” It is probably very difficult for me to draw a full picture of what is going on in that country. There is absolute chaos in certain parts of the country, fighting is going on and thousands of tribesmen are there ready to take advantage of any weakness on the part of the State of Jammu and Kashmir.
Once we ask the Indian Army, which is the only protective force in Kashmir against these marauders, to clear out, we leave the country open to chaos. After all, one who has suffered for the last seventeen years, in attempting to secure the freedom and liberation of his own country, would not like an outside army to come in and to remain in the country.
However, what is the present situation? If I ask the Indian Army to clear out, how am I going to protect the people from the looting, arson, murder and abduction with which they have been faced all these long months? What is the alternative? here need be no fear since the Indian Army is there, that this army will interfere in the exercise of a free vote. After all, a Commission of the Security Council will be there in order to watch. The Indian Army does not have to go into every village. It will be stationed at certain strategic points, so that in the event of danger from any border, the Army will be there to protect that border. The army is there to curb disorders anywhere in the State; that is all. The army will not be in each and every village in order to watch each and every vote.
It is then said: “Can we not have a joint control ? Can we not have the armies of Pakistan and India inside the State in order to control the situation ?” This is an unusual idea. What Pakistan could not achieve through ordinary means, Pakistan wishes to achieve by entering through the back door, so that it may have its armies inside the State and then start the fight. That is not possible. After all, we have been discussing the situation in Kashmir. I should say that we have been playing the drama of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The people of Kashmir are vitally interested in this question. Four million people in Kashmir are keenly interested in this entire affair. I have sympathies with the people of Poonch and Mirpur. The representative of Pakistan will probably concede that I have suffered greatly for the people of Poonch as well as for the people of Mirpur. There is no difference on this part of international democratisation of the administration between me, my party and the people of Poonch. We are one, we want our own liberty, we want our own freedom, we do not want autocratic rule. We desire that the 4 million people in Jammu and Kashmir—Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims— shall have the right to change their destiny, to control their country, and to administer it as best as they can. On that point there is absolutely no difference.
However, it is not a question of internal liberation. The Security Council should not confine the issue. The question is not that we want internal freedom, the question is not how the Maharaja got his State, or whether or not he is sovereign. These points are not before the Security Council. Whether Kashmir has lawfully acceded to India—complaints on that score have been brought before the Security Council on behalf of Pakistan—is not the point at issue. If that were the point at issue, then we should discuss that subject. We should prove before the Security Council that Kashmir and the people of Kashmir have lawfully and constitutionally acceded to the Dominion of India and Pakistan has no right to question that accession. However, that is not the discussion before the Security Council.
Indian and Kashmiri forces are ready to deal with tribesmen, to come to an understanding with the people of Kashmir and to establish ademocratic form of government inside the State. We shall do all that. We do not want Pakistan to lend us support to suppress an internal revolt or to drive out the tribesmen. We do not seek any support from Pakistan in that connection. Since Pakistan is a neighbouring country, we desire to remain on the friendliest possible terms with this sister Dominion. But we do ask that Pakistan shall have no hand, directly or indirectly, in this turmoil in Kashmir. The Government of Pakistan has said: “We have no hand in this turmoil.” The only course left to the Security Council is to send out the commission and to see whether or not Pakistan has any hand in this turmoil. If Pakistan has had any hand in this turmoil, then the Government of Pakistan should be asked to desist from such activity. If Pakistan has had no hand in this turmoil, then that can be proved.
This issue has been clouded by very many other issues and interests. I suggested at informal talks that according to my understanding there are two points at issue, first, how to have this neutral impartial administration; second, whether or not the Indian Army shall remain. It is not at all disputed that we must have a plebiscite and that the accession must be ratified by the people of Kashmir, freely and without any pressure on this or that side. That much is conceded, there is no dispute about that. The dispute arises when it is suggested that in order to have the free vote, the administration must be changed. To that suggestion we say, “No.”
I do not know what course future events will take. However, I may assure the Security Council that, if I am asked to conduct the administration of this State, it will be my duty to make the administration absolutely impartial. It will be my duty to request my brothers, who are in a different camp at this time, to come to lend me support. After all, they are my own kith and kin. We suffered together, we have no quarrel with them. I shall tell them: “Come on; it is my country; it is your country. I have been asked to administer the State. Are you prepared to lend me support? It is for me to make the administration successful; it is for me to make the administration look impartial.” It is not for Pakistan to say “No, we must have an impartial administration.” I refuse to accept Pakistan as a party in the affairs of the Jammu and Kashmir State. I refuse this point blank. Pakistan has no right to say that we must do this and we must do that. We have seen enough of Pakistan. The people of Kashmir have seen enough. Muzaffarabad and Baramulla and hundred of villages in Jammu and Kashmir depict the story of Pakistan to the people of Jammu and Kashmir. We want to have no more of this.
In concluding, I again request that in order to settle this issue of Kashmir, the Security Council should not confuse the point in dispute. The Security Council should not allow various other extraneous matters to be introduced. Very many extraneous matters have been introduced. The representative of Pakistan gave us the history of the Jammu and Kashmir State. He read to us some letters from Viceroys of India, asking the Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir to behave, giving the Maharaja good advice, et cetera. However, we cannot forget that these States are the creation of British imperialism in India who has supported these states and this misrule for these 150 years? It is not going to convince me or the world for the representative of Pakistan to say: “These events have happened and these letters were written.” We know how the Princes have acted, how the states were brought into existence, and how the Princes were supported. This was all a game in the British imperialist policy. But this legacy has now fallen upon us. We are not here to discuss whether or not the Maharaja lawfully became the ruler of the State, whether or not there is moral administration in this State, whether or not the Maharaja is sovereign and whether or not Kashmir has legally acceded to India. These issues are not before the Security Council. The only issue before the Security Council is that Pakistan must observe its international obligations and must not support any outside raiders.
Pakistan should not encourage inside revolt. Pakistan has denied that it has in order to verify the statements made by the representatives of India and Pakistan, the Security Council must send a commission to the spot to see whether the complaint brought before the Security Council is valid or invalid. If the Security Council finds that the complaint brought before it by India is valid, then Pakistan should be asked to desist or India should be permitted to use its means to carry out the decision of the Security Council.
As far as I can speak on behalf of India, India does not want the help of the armies of Pakistan. What it wants from Pakistan is that Pakistan should not supply bases to the raiders on Pakistan territory across the border from Jammu and Kashmir State. All along the border on Pakistan territory, there are huge concentrations of these tribesmen who are Pakistani nationals. We request Pakistan not to allow its territory to be used by these raiders.
Pakistan should not provide ammunition, arms, direction and control to these tribesmen. It should stop the passage of these tribesmen through its territory. Pakistan should not supply arms and ammunition to the people who are fighting within the State because all these matters fall under an international obligation. Therefore, Pakistan should desist from that practice. That is all. We do not want any armed help from Pakistan. If Pakistan does what we have requested, the Indian Army, I am quite sure, will be capable of driving out the raiders and tribesmen. If Pakistan does not meddle in our affairs, we will be capable of solving all our own internal disputes with the Maharaja of Kashmir. However, as long as this unofficial war continues, it is very difficult for us to do any thing. Our hands are tied.
What is happening? The raiders are concentrated just across the border. They enter our State in large number—four or five thousand strong. They raid four or five villages, burn them, abduct women and loot property. When our army tries to capture them, they go across the border, and can not fire a single shot across the border, because if it does, there is the immediate danger of a greater conflagration. So our hands are tied.
We do not want to create this difficult situation without informing the Security Council and we felt honour-bound to inform it of the actual position. The Indian Army could easily have followed the raiders across the border and could have attacked the bases, which were all in Pakistan territory, but it desisted. We thought it would be better to inform the Security Council of the situation.
However, I did not have the slightest idea that when the case came before the Security Council, the representative of Pakistan would so boldly deny that Pakistan supplied all this help. Everybody knows that Pakistan is aiding these raiders and tribesmen and the people who are fighting with the State. However, Pakistan chose boldly to deny all these charges.
What is left for me to do? After all, I do not have any magic lamp so that I might bring the entire picture of Jammu and Kashmir State, along with the borders of Pakistan, before the eyes of the members of the Security Council so that they might see who is fighting and who is not fighting. Therefore, somebody must go to the spot. Then at that time it would be for us to prove that the charges we have brought before the Security Council are correct to the last word. That is the only help we want and no other help.”
Thirdly, though by no means lastly, may be placed the 14 August 1951 Memorandum of prominent Muslims led by Dr Zakir Hussain to the UN Representative Dr. Frank P. Graham:
“It is a remarkable fact that, while the Security Council and its various agencies have devoted so much time to the study of the Kashmir dispute and made various suggestions for its resolution, none of them has tried to ascertain the views of the Indian Muslims nor the possible effect of any hasty step in Kashmir, however well-intentioned, on the interests and well- being of the Indian Muslims. We are convinced that no lasting solution for the problem can be found unless the position of Muslims in Indian society is clearly understood.
Supporters of the idea of Pakistan, before this subcontinent was partitioned, discouraged any attempt to define Pakistan clearly and did little to anticipate the conflicting problems which were bound to arise as a result of the advocacy of the two-nation theory. The concept of Pakistan, therefore, became an emotional slogan with little rational content. It never occurred to the Muslim League or its leaders that if a minority was not prepared to live with a majority on the sub- continent, how could the majority be expected t o tolerate the minority.
It is, therefore, small wonder that the result of partition has been disastrous to Muslims. In undivided India, their strength lay about 100 million. Partition split up the Muslim people, confining them to the three isolated regions. Thus, Muslims number 25 million in Western Pakistan, 35 million to 40 million in India, and the rest in Eastern Pakistan. A single undivided community has been broken into three fragments, each faced with its own problems.
Pakistan was not created on a religious basis. If it had been, our fate as well as the fate of other minorities would have been settled at that time. Nor would the division of the sub- continent for reasons of religion have left large minorities in India or Pakistan.
This merely illustrates what we have said above, that the concept of Pakistan was vague, obscure, and never clearly defined, nor its likely consequences foreseen by the Muslim League, even when some of these should have been obvious.
When the partition took place, Muslims in India were left in the lurch by the Muslim League and its leaders. Most of them departed to Pakistan and a few who stayed behind stayed long enough to wind up their affairs and dispose of their property. Those who went over to Pakistan left a large number of relations and friends behind.
Having brought about a division of the country, Pakistan leaders proclaimed that they would convert Pakistan into a land where people would live a life according to the tenets of Islam. This created nervousness and alarm among the minorities living in Pakistan. Not satisfied with this, Pakistan went further and announced again and again their determination to protect and safeguard the interests of Muslims in India. This naturally aroused suspicion amongst the Hindus against us and our loyalty to India was questioned.
Pakistan had made our position weaker by driving out Hindus from Western Pakistan in utter disregard of the consequences of such a policy to us and our welfare. A similar process is in question in Eastern Pakistan from which Hindus are coming over to India in a large and large number.
If the Hindus are not welcome in Pakistan, how can we, in all fairness, expect Muslims to be welcomed in India ? Such a policy must inevitably, as the past has already shown, result in the uprooting of Muslims in this country and their migration to Pakistan where, as it became clear last year, they are no longer welcome, lest their influx should destroy Pakistan’s economy. Neither some of the Muslims who did migrate to Pakistan after partition, and following the widespread bloodshed and conflict on both sides of the Indo-Pakistan border in the north- west, have been able to find a happy asylum in what they had been told would be their homeland. Consequently some of them have had to return to India, e.g. Meos who are now being rehabilitated in their former areas.
If we are living honourably in India today, it is certainly not due to Pakistan which, if anything, has by her policy and action weakened our position. The credit goes to the broadminded leadership of India, to Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to the traditions of tolerance in this country and to the Constitution which ensures equal rights to all citizens of India, irrespective of their religion caste, creed, colour or sex.
We, therefore, feel that, tragically as Muslims were misled by the Muslim League and subsequently by Pakistan and the unnecessary suffering which we and our Hindu brethren have to go through in Pakistan and in India since partition, we must be given an opportunity to settle down to a life of tolerance and understanding to the mutual benefit of Hindus and Muslims in our country – if only Pakistan would let us do it. To us it is a matter of no small consequence.
Despite continuous provocations, first from the Muslim League and since then from Pakistan, the Hindu majority in India has not thrown us or members of other minorities out of Civil Services, Armed Forces, the judiciary, trade, commerce, business and industry. There are Muslim Ministers in the Union and State cabinets, Muslim Governors, Muslim Ambassadors, representing India in foreign countries, fully enjoying the confidence of the Indian nation, Muslim members in Parliament and state legislatures, Muslim judges serving on the Supreme Court and High Courts, high-ranking officers in the Armed Forces and the Civil services, including the police.
Muslims have large landed estates, run big business and commercial houses in various parts of the country, notably in Bombay and Calcutta, have their shares in industrial production and enterprise in export and import trade. Our famous sacred shrines and places of cultural interest are mostly in India.
Not that our lot is certainly happy. We wish some of the state Governments showed a little greater sympathy to us in the field of education and employment. Nevertheless, we feel we have an honourable place in India. Under the law of the land, our religious and cultural life is protected and we shall share in the opportunities open to all citizens to ensure progress for the people of this country.
It is, therefore, clear that our interest and welfare do not coincide with Pakistan’s conception of the welfare and interests of Muslims in Pakistan.
This is clear from Pakistan’s attitude towards Kashmir. Pakistan claims Kashmir, first, on the ground of the majority of the State’s people being Muslims and, secondly, on the ground, of the state being essential to its economy and defence. To achieve its objective it has been threatening to launch “Jihad” against Kashmir in India. It is a strange commentary on political beliefs that the same Muslims of Pakistan who like the Muslims of Kashmir to join them invaded the state, in October 1947, killing and plundering Muslims in the state and dishonouring Muslim women, all in the interest of what they described as the liberation of Muslims of the State. In its oft-proclaimed anxiety to rescue the 3 million Muslims from what it describes as the tyranny of a handful of Hindus in the State, Pakistan evidently is prepared to sacrifice the interests of 40 million Muslims in India – a strange exhibition of concern for the welfare of fellow- Muslims. Our misguided brothers in Pakistan do not realise that if Muslims in Pakistan can wage a war against Hindus in Kashmir why should not Hindus, sooner or later, retaliate against Muslims in India.
Does Pakistan seriously think that it could give us any help if such an emergency arose or that we would deserve any help thanks to its own follies ? It is incapable of providing room and livelihood to the 40 million Muslims of India, should they migrate to Pakistan. Yet its policy and action, if not changed soon, may well produce the result which it dreads.
We are convinced that India will never attack our interests. First of all, it would be contrary to the spirit animating the political movement in this country. Secondly, it would be opposed to the Constitution and to the sincere leadership of the Prime Minister. Thirdly, India by committing such a folly would be playing straight into the hands of Pakistan.
We wish we were equally convinced of the soundness of Pakistan’s policy. So completely oblivious is it of our present problems and of our future that it is willing to sell us into slavery – if only it can secure Kashmir.
It ignores the fact that Muslims in Kashmir may also have a point of view of their own, that there is a democratic movement with a democratic leadership in the State, both inspired by the progress of a broad minded, secular, democratic movement in India and both naturally being in sympathy with India. Otherwise, the Muslim raiders should have been welcomed with open arms by the Muslims of the State when the invasion took place in 1947.
Persistent propaganda about “Jihad” is intended, among other things, to inflame religious passions in this country. For it would, of course, be in Pakistan’s interests to promote communal rioting in India to show to Kashmiri Muslims how they can find security only in Pakistan. Such a policy, however, can only bring untold misery and suffering to India and Pakistan generally and to Indian Muslims particularly. Pakistan never tires of asserting that it is determined to protect the interests of Muslims in Kashmir and India. Why does not Pakistan express the same concern for Pathans who are fighting for Pakhtoonistan, an independent homeland of their own ? The freedom-loving Pathans under the leadership of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan and Dr. Khan Sahib, both nurtured in the traditions of democratic tolerance of the Indian National Congress, are being subjected to political repression of the worst possible kind by their Muslim brethren in power in Pakistan and in the NWFP. Contradictory as Pakistan’s policy generally is, it is no surprise to us that while it insists on a fair and impartial plebiscite in Kashmir, it denies a fair and impartial plebiscite to Pathans.
Pakistan’s policy in general and her attitude towards Kashmir is particular thus tend to create conditions in this country which in the long run can only bring to us Muslims widespread suffering and destruction. Its policy prevents us from settling down, from being honourable citizens of a State, free from suspicion of our fellow-countrymen and adapting ourselves to changing conditions to promote the interests and welfare of India. Its sabre-rattling interferes with its own economy and ours. It expects us to be loyal to it despite its impotence to give us any protection, believing at the same time that we can still claim all the rights of citizenship in a secular democracy.
In the event of a war, it is extremely doubtful whether it will be able to protect the Muslims of East Bengal who are completely cut off from Western Pakistan. Are the Muslims of India and Eastern Pakistan to sacrifice themselves completely to enable the 25 million Muslims in Western Pakistan to embark upon mad, self-destructive adventures?
We should, therefore, like to impress upon you with all the emphasis at our command that Pakistan’s policy towards Kashmir is fraught with the gravest peril to the 40 million Muslims of India. If the Security Council is really interested in peace, human brotherhood and international understanding, it should heed this warning while there is still time.
Dr. Zakir Hussain (Vice Chancellor Aligarh University); Sir Sultan Ahmed (Former Member of Governor General’s Executive Council); Sir Mohd. Ahmed Syed Khan(Nawab of Chhatari, former acting Governor of United Provinces and Prime Minister of Hyderabad); Sir Mohd. Usman (Former member of Governor General’s Executive council and acting Governor of Madras); Sir Iqbal Ahmed (Former Chief Justice of Allahabad High Court); Sir Fazal Rahimtoola (Former Sheriff of Bombay); Maulana Hafz-ur-Rehman M.P.; Col. B.H. Zaidi M.P.; Nawab Zain Yar Jung (Minister Gcvernment of Hyderabad); A.K. Kawaja (Former President of Muslim Majlis); T.M. Zarif (General Secretary West Bengal Bohra Community)”.
Such have been the most eminent voices of India’s Muslims in times past. Sadly, they have no equivalent today when India’s Muslims need them with greater urgency. (Bollywood or cricketing celebrities hardly substitute!) This fault in the intellectual history of the modern subcontinent has been a principal factor causing the misapprehensions and distortions of Pakistan’s and J&K’s political reality to continue worldwide.
Future doctoral theses about the Great Tremor of 2008 will ask how it was that the Fed chief, who was an academic economist, came to back so wholeheartedly the proposals of the investment banker heading the US Treasury. If Herbert Hoover and FDR in the 1930s started something called fiscal policy for the first time, George W Bush’s lameduck year has marked the total subjugation of monetary policy.
In his 1945 classic, History of Banking Theory, the University of Chicago’s Lloyd Mints said: “No reorganisation of the Federal Reserve System, while preserving its independence from the Treasury, can offer a satisfactory agency for the implementation of monetary policy. The Reserve banks and their branches should be made agencies of the Treasury and all monetary powers delegated by Congress should be given to the Secretary of the Treasury…. It is not at all certain that Treasury control of the stock of money would always be reasonable… but Treasury influence cannot be excluded by the creation of a speciously independent monetary agency that cannot have adequate powers for the performance of its task…” Years later, Milton Friedman himself took a similar position suggesting legislation “to end the independence of the Fed by converting it into a bureau of the Treasury Department…”(see, for example, Essence of Friedman, p 416).
Ben Bernanke’s Fed has now ended any pretence of monetary policy’s independence from the whims and exigencies of executive power. Yet Dr Bernanke’s fellow academic economists have been unanimous in advising caution, patience and more information and reflection upon the facts. The famous letter of 122 economists to the US Congress was a rare statement of sense and practical wisdom. It agreed the situation was difficult and needed bold action. But it said the Paulson-Bernanke plan was an unfair “subsidy to investors at taxpayers’ expense. Investors who took risks to earn profits must also bear the losses. Not every business failure carries systemic risk. The government can ensure a well-functioning financial industry, able to make new loans to creditworthy borrowers, without bailing out particular investors and institutions whose choices proved unwise.”
Besides, the plan was unclear and too far-reaching. “Neither the mission of the new agency nor its oversight are clear. If taxpayers are to buy illiquid and opaque assets from troubled sellers, the terms, occasions, and methods of such purchases must be crystal clear ahead of time and carefully monitored afterwards…. If the plan is enacted, its effects will be with us for a generation. For all their recent troubles, America’s dynamic and innovative private capital markets have brought the nation unparalleled prosperity. Fundamentally weakening those markets in order to calm short-run disruptions is desperately short-sighted.”
The House’s initial bipartisan “backbench revolt” against “The Emergency Economic Stabilisation Act of 2008” (ESSA) followed this academic argument and rejected the Bernanke Fed’s advice. Is there an “emergency”, and if so what is its precise nature? Is this “economic stabilisation”, and if so, how is it going to work? The onus has been on Dr Bernanke and his staff to argue both, not merely to assert them. Even if the House “held its nose” and passed the measure for now, the American electorate is angry and it is anybody’s guess how a new President and Congress will alter all this in a few months.
Several academic economists have argued for specific price-stabilisation of the housing market being the keystone of any large, expensive and risky government intervention. (John McCain has also placed this in the political discussion now.) Roughly speaking, the housing supply-curve has shifted so far to the right that collapsed housing prices need to be dragged back upward by force. Columbia Business School economists Glenn Hubbard and Chris Mayer, both former Bush Administration officials, have proposed allowing “all residential mortgages on primary residences to be refinanced into 30-year fixed-rate mortgages at 5.25 per cent…. close to where mortgage rates would be today with normally functioning mortgage markets….Lower interest rates will mean higher overall house prices…” Yale’s Jonathan Koppell and William Goetzmann have argued very similarly the Treasury “could offer to refinance all mortgages issued in the past five years with a fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage at 6 per cent. No credit scores, no questions asked; just pay off the principal of the existing mortgage with a government check. If monthly payments are still too high, homeowners could reduce their indebtedness in exchange for a share of the future price appreciation of the house. That is, the government would take an ownership interest in the house just as it would take an ownership interest in the financial institutions that would be bailed out under the Treasury’s plan.”
Beyond the short run, the US may play the demographic card by inviting in a few million new immigrants (if nativist feelings hostile to the outsider or newcomer can be controlled, especially in employment). Bad mortgages and foreclosures would vanish as people from around the world who long to live in America buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in the most desolate or dismal locations. If the US’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level.
Such proposals seek to address the problem at its source. They might have been expected from the Fed’s economists. Instead, ESSA speaks of massive government purchase and control of bad assets “downriver”, without any attempt to face the problem at its source. This makes it merely wishful to think such assets can be sold for a profit at a later date so taxpayers will eventually gain. It is as likely as not the bad assets remain bad assets.
Indeed the University of Chicago’s Casey Mulligan has argued there is a financial crisis involving the banking sector but not an economic one: “We’re not entering a second Great Depression.” The marginal product of capital remains high and increasing “far above the historical average. The third-quarter earnings reports from some companies already suggest that America’s non-financial companies are still making plenty of money…. So, if you are not employed by the financial industry (94 per cent of you are not), don’t worry. The current unemployment rate of 6.1 per cent is not alarming, and we should reconsider whether it is worth it to spend $700 billion to bring it down to 5.9 per cent.”
Dr Bernanke has been a close student of A Monetary History of the United States in which Milton Friedman and Anna J Schwartz argued that the Fed inadvertently worsened the Great Contraction of 1929-1933 by not responding to Congress. Let not future historians find that the Fed, at the behest of the Treasury Secretary, worsened the Great Tremor of 2008 by bamboozling Congress into hasty action.
Author’s note: March 21 2009: I am glad to see there is new interest in America in this short note I published here back in October. No American or other Western economist concerned with the financial crisis has apparently said the same thing. One factor causing this may be that much of what has been made to pass of as “economic research” in American academic economics departments in the last several decades has effectively amounted to being waste-paper.
America was at its best when it was open to mass immigration, and America is at its worst when it treats immigrants with racism and worse (for seeming “uppity”).
All those bad mortgages and foreclosures could vanish within a year or two by playing the demographic card and inviting in a few million new immigrants into the United States. They would pour in from China, Vietnam, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, Mexico, South America, South Africa, Nigeria, Egypt, Israel, Poland, Romania, Hungary, Belarus, Ukraine, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and yes, Pakistan too, and more. They would happily buy up all those empty houses and apartments, even in all those desolate dismal locations. If the USA’s housing supply curve has moved so far to the right that the equilibrium price has gone to near zero, the surest way to raise the equilibrium price would be by causing a new wave of immigration leading to a new demand curve arising at a higher level. But yes, nativist feelings of racism towards the outsider or the newcomer would have to be controlled especially in employment — racists after all are often rather “sub-prime” themselves and hence unable to accept characters who may be “prime” or at least less “sub-prime” from foreign immigrant communities. Restoring a worldwide idea of an American dream fuelled by mass immigration may be the surest way for the American economy to restore itself.
I have always rather liked Jimmy Carter, who was President of the United States when I first went to Blacksburg from Cambridge in the summer of 1980. It astonished me, perhaps because I was naiive, to find the depth of animosity against him among my American colleagues. For example, I remember the late Wilson Schmidt (in one of several kindly gestures towards me until his untimely death) taking me to my first game of College Football — and there singing the Star Spangled Banner with the words “except Carter” added after “home of the brave”. Of course it was the time of the Iranian hostage crisis which had then seemed to be a debilitating humiliation.
Jimmy Carter will need a good biographer to assess him properly, whether now or in years to come, and he may not get one; objective historians are simply too scarce, especially perhaps in America. Certainly it was undignified of the Democratic Party not to give him any role whatsoever during the recent Convention appointing Barack Obama.
In the International Herald Tribune of September 11 2008, President Carter has said about the India-USA nuclear deal:
“different interpretations of the same pact can lead only to harsh confrontations if future decisions are made in New Delhi that contravene what has been understood in our country.”
“The agreed text of the “treaty” looks, from a legal standpoint, quite sloppily and hurriedly written ~ almost as if each side has cut and paste its own preferred terms in different places with a nod to the other side…. Through the sloppiness comes scope for different interpretations. The Americans have said: try not to test, you don’t need to, we don’t test any more, and you have to know that if you do test, this deal is over, in fact it gets reversed. We have said, okay, we won’t test, and if we do test we know it is over with you but that does not mean it is over with others. Given such sloppy diplomacy and treaty-making, the scope for mutual misunderstanding, even war, remains immense long after all the public Indian moneys have found their way into private pockets worldwide. Will a future President Jeb Bush or Chelsea Clinton send F-22 bombers to bomb India’s nuclear facilities because India has carried out a test yet declined to return American equipment? Riding a tiger is not something generally to be recommended.”
Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP, Sena Etc Reveal Equally Bad Traits
By Subroto Roy
First published in
The Statesman, March 4 2008,
Editorial Page Special Article
A “black” American, born of a black Kenyan father and white American mother, and having a Muslim middle name Hussein though Christian by faith, may become the freely elected President of the USA in January 2009. He has stood up himself and anyone who knows Western cultures will know how hard it would have been to overcome workplace prejudices. Martin Luther King Jr’s dream of America becoming a nation where people “will not be judged by the colour of their skin but by the content of their character” might start to be fulfilled.
Can the same be said of modern India, ever? When will Muslims, Dalits, tribals and whomever become well enough integrated with mainstream Hindu societies ~ and vice versa ~ that we have army generals, fighter pilots, submarine commanders, nuclear scientists, media moghuls, top executives, and yes, freely elected Prime Ministers of India from any externally identifiable group without batting an eyelid? The policies followed by the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc., exemplified by Mr Chidambaram’s pandering Budget-Speech last week, suggest that the answer will be never.
Mr Chidambaram mentioned “Scheduled Caste” six times and “Minority” (meaning “Muslim”) five times in his speech~ if he or the Sonia-Manmohan Government genuinely felt any of the schemes mentioned were in the true interest of these groups, these schemes could have been simply and quietly implemented without fanfare or political advertisement. Making a big deal about them in Parliament during a Budget-Speech precisely reveals the actual underlying cynicism and hypocrisy. The fact may be it is not the schemes themselves that are important but the illusions created and sold about them, illusions that have electoral value because they deceive the purported beneficiaries into thinking that somebody powerful cares about them and controls their well-being.
A quarter-century ago in Pricing, Planning & Politics: A Study of Economic Distortions in India, I applied the arguments of the black American economist Thomas Sowell to the Indian case. I said: “the racial composition of contemporary American society is a complex mosaic, and no-one can say with certainty how it has come to be what it is today. In such circumstances, for the government to try to isolate a single contingent characteristic like “race”, partition society on the basis of census data according to this characteristic, and then construct public policies accordingly, is to introduce an enormous arbitrariness into economic life. By merely defining a group by reference to a single contingent characteristic, which all its members seem to possess, the intrinsic complexity of the individual person is lost or overlooked. Two members of the same race may be very different from each other in every relevant characteristic (income, education, political preference, and so on), and indeed resemble members of other races more closely in them. A policy which introduces a citizen’s race as a relevant factor in the assignment of jobs or college places partitions the citizenry into vague groups: members of groups who are very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race rarely competing with each other anyway, while the burden and beneficence of the State’s policies fall on members of groups who are not very different from members of other groups in characteristics other than race”.
Sowell himself (in Knowledge and Decisions) put it like this: “costs are borne disproportionately by those members of the general population who meet standards with the least margin and are therefore most likely to be the ones displaced to make room for minority applicants. Those who meet the standards by the widest margin are not directly affected ~ that is, pay no costs. They are hired, admitted or promoted as if blacks did not exist. People from families with the most general ability to pay also have the most ability to pay for the kind of education and training that makes such performance possible. The costs of special standards are paid by those who do not. Among the black population, those most likely to benefit from the lower standards are those closest to meeting the normal standards. It is essentially an implicit transfer of wealth among people least different in non-racial characteristics. For the white population it is a regressively graduated tax in kind, imposed on those who are rising but not on those already on top.’”
What Sowell said about American blacks may well apply to India’s religious and caste minorities today. Problems of tribal India are more subtle requiring more technical sociological and anthropological study.
The Leftist idea common to the Congress, Communists, BSP etc has been to perpetuate dependency of Muslims, Dalits, OBCs etc upon the whims of State power (as wielded by such Leftists themselves). By contrast, the Rightist/Fascistic idea of the BJP, its RSS parent, the Sena etc has been to try to bludgeon Muslims, Dalits and everyone else into submission whereby they must adopt majority customs, habits or political beliefs or (in true Nazi fashion) come to be exiled or banned from mainstream society. Both Left and Right in India have also promoted new government-induced “Sex Wars” between males and females ~ passing laws drastically raising the risk and cost of maintaining marriages and family households, which then simply collapse as has happened elsewhere.
In general, the Congress, BJP, Communists, BSP etc have been united in being wholly incapable of seeing India’s people as individuals in their own right in all the diversity and complexity that entails ~ as free citizens who possess individual rights to belief, property, security, privacy etc. Instead the idea has been to politically categorize people as members of mass-groups that may be then manipulated as puppets using State power in one direction or another. The result has been a general failure in the country to develop the notion of responsible individual citizens (hundreds of millions in number) dealing with responsible public and civic institutions including the State.
Citizens and State
Even in nations that are heirs to a long history of democratic political development, the link often has not been made in the public mind between enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of public services, and costs upon individual citizens from whom resources must be ultimately raised. In a fiscal democracy “those who bear the costs of public services are also the beneficiaries” (JM Buchanan); conversely, those who demand public services must pay for them in real resources one way or another. If citizens feel they receive little or nothing of value from government, there is an obvious loss of incentive to be counted as responsible voting members of the same community, and instead reason to evade taxes or flee the country or cynically believe everything to be corrupt.
On the other hand, if citizens demand public services without expecting to contribute private resources for their production, this amounts to being no more than a wish to be free-riders on the general budget. While Indian citizens have been arbitrarilty partitioned by government according to religion, caste etc., widespread cynicism has prevailed about secular provision of public services by government at any level. At the same time the idea is far from understood that beneficiaries of public services must sooner or later expect to bear real resource-costs one way or another. Everyday politics thus becomes highly irresponsible. Political New Delhi has created such a state of affairs over decades and continues to contribute to it.
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.
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?
On US-Iran talks and Sunni-Shia subtleties: Tehran must transcend its revolution and endorse the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions
First published in The Sunday Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article, June 3 2007
By SUBROTO ROY
On Monday 28 May in Baghdad,the American and Iranian Governments held their first official face-to-face talks in some 26 or 27 years. This sheer fact is a good thing. For more than two years there has been incessant sabre-rattling and gunboat diplomacy by the USA against Iran, as well as provocative words and deeds by Iran’s President against America’s Israeli ally (though it is apparently false his words included saying he wished Israel “wiped off the map”). Palmerston said there are no permanent allies among nations. The last unofficial transactions had to do with the notorious “Iran-contra” affair which blighted Ronald Reagan’s second term as President. Iran was sold American weapons from Israel (yes, the same Iran and same Israel) for use against Iraq (the same Saddam’s Iraq which had been Rumsfeld’s friend and which apparently received American intelligence and logistics help against yes, the same Iran); the moneys the Americans received were then used to pay for anti-Sandinista “contra” forces in Nicaragua (so they could, for example, buy American weapons too). Apart from that unofficial and embarrassing “Iran-contra” affair, the American and Iranian Governments had not had face-to-face discussion since diplomatic relations broke in 1980 during the “hostage crisis”.
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.” The title of his 1925 book America’s Task in Persia reflected the old paternalist attitude that an imperialist power must necessarily know better than local people what happens to be in their interest in the way a parent knows better than a child. Even that otherwise great libertarian JS Mill himself once suggested that contact with a “superior people” allowed rapid advancement. India’s “Lenin Peace Prize” winner and Soviet sympathiser KPS Menon Sr (grandfather of our present top diplomat) said the same after the 1979 invasion and occupation by the USSR of Afghanistan. Nationalists of all colours and times ~ from Tom Paine, Patrick Henry (“Give me liberty or give me death”) and George Washington to Bal Gangadhar Tilak (“Swaraj is my birthright and I shall have it”), Ho Chi Minh and Ayatollah Khomeini ~ would disagree.
Indeed, in the Iranian case, the Khomeini Revolution was the antithesis of the imperialist doctrine. But Iranian revolutionaries then seized the American Embassy on 4 November 1979 and took 66 hostages. Thirteen women and black Americans were released two weeks later; one man was released due to ill-health in July 1980. In a failed attempt to rescue the remaining 52, eight American military personnel died on 25 April 1980. The 52 hostages, including two women and one black, were released on 20 January 1981 under the “Algiers Accord”, a day before Reagan became President. Even if the US Embassy in Tehran had been a den of spies, as the Iranians claimed, the Revolutionary Government could have ordered them all to leave and ended diplomatic relations.
Instead hostages were taken in deliberate violation of international law. The United States Government under duress on 19 January 1981 had to sign 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.” That was the “blowback” from the coup d’etat against Iran’s democratic government under Mossadeq in 1953 which the CIA had engineered. Modern US-Iran relations have been about two wrongs ~ indeed multiple wrongs ~ not making a right.
From Algiers until the Baghdad meeting there was no official interaction between the USA and Iran (besides the Iran-contra affair and American relief supplies during an Iranian earthquake). The present US-Iran talks had to do with the catastrophic mess in Iraq, and were held via the current Al-Maliki Government of Iraq which is beholden to both as patrons.
Saddam’s Iraq had been officially secular not an “Islamic Republic”. But its Baathist national-socialism (with yes, a few silly Nazi aspects) had been populated mostly by Saddam’s fellow Sunnis, and there was some vicious anti-Shia persecution.
Doctrinally, the Sunni-Shia conflict may have originated during Prophet Muhammad’s lifetime. “In the words of al-Baghdadi, a Sunni is one who believes in the creation of the universe, the unity and pre-existence of its Maker, the apostolate of Muhammad, recognizes and observes the duties of the five prayers, fast of Ramazan, poor-rate and pilgrimage, and does not adulterate his faith with an abominable innovation which leads to heresy.” (Imtiaz Ahmad in Grewal ed. Religious Movements and Institutions in Medieval India, p.277). Shias claim that exegetical authorities, both Sunni and Shia, record the Prophet on 10 March 632 AD at the pool of Ghadir “while returning from his last pilgrimage to Mecca… delivered his farewell address” in which he declared Ali ibn Abi Talib his successor (S. Ali Nadeem Rezavi, ibid., p. 281). No logical contradiction between Sunnis and Shias seems obvious from this.
But there also have been racial and cultural aspects to the division. Arabs, though not Iraqi Arabs, are mostly Sunni while Iranians are mostly Shia. At the same time, Persian culture and history has had incorrigibly Zoroastrian roots just as Egypt was the land of the Pharoahs and Arabia of Meccan paganism. Mesopotamian culture has had Sumerian and Babylonian roots, and Indian Islam has grown among the cultures of Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and Sikhs. Intra-Muslim conflict will be reduced only when it becomes generally recognised that the House of Islam has had many mansions.
Saddam’s war against Khomeini’s Iran was not a religious war but one between two putative nation-states. In Iraqi junior schools during the war, a class of 40 pupils could be divided by academic merit such that the top 20 would play brave Iraqis in the school-play ~ the hapless bottom 20 had to play the wicked Persians, leaving them in tears as well as in simulated defeat.
What the current US-UK invasion and occupation of Iraq has quite deliberately accomplished is the destruction of Iraq as a putative nation-state and the fanning of mostly suppressed Shia-Sunni differences instead. The idea of “regime-change” in Teheran in the old way of the CIA coup against Mossadeq also has not been far from Anglo-American thinking in the current confrontation with Iran. “Who lost Iran?” was an American political slogan in the 1980s, and there are day-dreamers in Washington think-tanks today who have fantasies of Iran being run by compliant “Iranian-American” émigrés from Los Angeles. But instead the destruction of Saddam’s regime inevitably has led to Iran’s strengthening, as all Iraqi Shia forces made dominant as a result are, at least from a doctrinal standpoint within Islam, united with Tehran to greater or lesser degree. A new Iraq-Iran war is hard to imagine as along as Shias dominate Baghdad’s Government. Iran for its part needs to demonstrate that it has transcended its revolution and that it unequivocally endorses the principle that the House of Islam has many mansions.
The British and Americans are great lovers of sports and inventors of many modern games played on fields around the world, from cricket and soccer to basketball. Their Governments seem to have forgotten in their foreign policy theorising that there is such a thing as “home-team advantage”. Imperialists ultimately can never defeat nationalists, because, at the end of the day, imperialists have to either go home or (as Conrad and Coppola knew) “go native”. In the new Iran-USA talks, both sides may have sensed Iran has the home-team advantage. The most the United States can do to Iran is bomb it and leave.
America’s Presidential Campaign Seems Destined To Be Focussed On Iraq
By Subroto Roy
First published in The Statesman,
Editorial Page, Special Article, June 1 2007
Like baseball and American football, it is not easy to comprehend modern American politics from the outside world. The very idea that most American voters are either “Democrat” or “Republican” throughout or over much of their lives is itself a little odd. In an ordinary social or job-environment, a single Republican in a group of Democrats will feel uncomfortable as will a single Democrat in a group of Republicans.
Typically, each is in favour of some and against other specific “issues”, or, more accurately, specific political slogans. A Republican may be typically in favour of “free enterprise”, “limited government”, “a strong military”, and “family values”. A Democrat may be typically in favour of a woman’s “right to choose” (whether or not to abort a foetus), “gun control”, “universal health care” and tolerance of diversity. Republicans typically charge Democrats with being tax-raisers, profligate spenders of public money, soft on defence and crime, promoters of homosexual rights and generally daffy-headed hippies. Democrats typically charge Republicans with being stooges of the rich, oppressors of middle and working classes, proto-fascists and jingoists, and lunatic religious fundamentalists.
The mood is vicious, and in small social gatherings (even between husband and wife) tempers flare and can only subside by reference to some other neutral subject such as sports or by making a joke. Comedy is a major forum of political discussion and means of tension-release.
Greasy pole of power
A typical politician may rise from being an elected local official to running for the State legislature and thence running to be State Governor or a US Senator from the State, and thence either make a bid for the White House perhaps or fade away as a senior statesman. George W Bush was Governor of Texas, Bill Clinton of Arkansas, Ronald Reagan of California, Jimmy Carter of Georgia. George Bush Sr became Reagan’s Vice President after being a Texas legislator, head of the CIA and UN Ambassador. Gerald Ford went from House Speaker to Vice President and then President due to collapse of the Nixon Presidency. Richard Nixon himself was Dwight Eisenhower’s Vice President and before that an abrasive Senator from California. Eisenhower was not a politician but a retired soldier, the war-hero who led the Allies to victory, and became perhaps the most popular and competent of all modern US Presidents.
In a nutshell, American politics is about the reputations of individuals acquired along the way, which then their friends and allied interest groups seek to publicly enhance and their enemies seek to publicly destroy as they try to climb the greasy pole of political power. The media, especially television in the last fifty years, becomes pivotal, as each side tries to ferret out and expose publicly any dirty deeds of the other, or failing that, at least create a monstrous image based on a voting record in the public domain.
As the 2008 Presidential Election approaches, both major parties will witness ruthless slug-fests as candidates for the party’s nomination battle one another to see who is the last man/ woman standing. That person then gets to choose a Vice Presidential candidate, and the two form the “ticket” which will fight the other party’s ticket. This inter-party contest for the White House (and hence some 4,000 executive jobs in Washington DC for four years) has been compared by astute American observers to a nationwide popularity contest. It is certainly not the most reliable method in the 21st Century by which to find the wisest government of the world’s strongest (and perhaps most aggressive) military power.
The Iraq war has come to wholly dominate America’s current political debate. The number of American soldiers dead in Iraq is now well over 3,400 and climbing quickly; the number seriously wounded by roadside bombs etc is in the tens of thousands.
Among the Democrats, the perpetually ambitious Mrs Hilary Clinton is hard-pressed to explain how she, as Senator from New York State and someone with experience of her husband’s Presidency, backed his Republican successor’s jingoism and chose to be blind to all the official mendacity. She is unable to explain herself. Her rivals include Senator Barack Obama ~ the son of a black Kenyan graduate student in Hawaii and a white woman from Kansas, which, in American terms, brands him as black. He is a Harvard-trained lawyer married to a Harvard-trained lawyer, and though there is glamour and excitement in his candidacy as a young freshman Senator who voted against the Iraq war, it is inevitable many whites will see him as being a black man while at least some blacks will see him as being not black enough in not having been seared by the history of black people in America. His enemies have been already delighted to suggest he is Muslim with a middle name “Hussein” and that Obama rhymes with Osama. Such prejudices may be too much to overcome. The Democrats also include John Edwards of South Carolina, who was John Kerry’s running-mate in 2004, and who presently gains from being neither female nor black. It is not impossible once these and others like Governor Bill Richardson and Senators Joe Biden and Chris Dodd have bruised one another sufficiently, a heavyweight old candidate joins the Democratic race like Al Gore (who likely had beaten Bush in 2000). But Gore is now facing a personal obesity problem.
The leading Republican contenders are trying to outdo each other on harshness towards alleged terrorists trying to attack America (something which can simply mask racial and religious prejudices and sadism). Arizona Senator John McCain’s claim to fame is that he many years ago was a POW who suffered under the North Vietnamese. He was once seen as a reasonable politician but his outright support for Bush’s aggressiveness abroad goes against the 70% of voters who today think Bush has been dead wrong. Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani made his name by apparent efficiency and compassion during the 9/11 attacks. He now seems to see his task as one of outdoing McCain’s jingoism. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney has positioned himself to seem the most “standard” candidate around; but he is a member of the Christian sect known as the Mormons, prejudice against whom remains deep in the country and Romney may eventually face the same uphill task as Obama.
New shoots of life
Surprise factors have been upstart anti-War candidates. Mike Gravel, a principled former Senator from Alaska, forced his fellow-Democrats to face up to their hypocrisy over Iraq and war in general. But Gravel is the longest of long shots, and lacks the power of any of the Democratic special interest groups on his side. Republican Texas Congressman Ron Paul is the dark horse in the entire field at the moment. He is staunchly libertarian or “classical liberal” on principle, believes in a wholly non-interventionist American foreign policy, consistently voted against the Iraq war and has never voted in favour of raising taxes. He is the runaway favourite of the Internet where America’s real political discussion is increasingly taking place, and his grassroots support among both Republicans and Democrats opposed to the Iraq war is swelling fast. An obstetric surgeon by profession, Paul, at age 71, has been and remains married only once (an American rarity), and may well appeal to all sides of the political and economic spectra although his technical monetary economics is weak. What his emergence does show is how American democracy is yet able to spring healthy shoots of new life from within a decaying morass.
Correction : In my previous article “On Indian Nationhood”, it was said Independence came “forty years” after Montagu-Chelmsford when it was thirty years. The error is regretted. I had meant the Morley-Minto period of 1906-1908.
The politics of the United States in the last few decades has become so opaque, it is hard to see what goes on, beyond the banal superficialities. Competitive commercial television, an American institutional invention, is hardly the most suitable keeper of any nation’s historical and political heritage, nor a source of accurate collective political memory, and without political memory it is not possible to understand the present or anticipate the future. Yet most modern Americans are compelled by circumstances to comprehend the national or state-level politics of their enormous variegated land of 300 million people only through the very coarse filter provided by commercial television.
Television obviously demands passivity, dissipating a viewer’s ability to reason about or reflect on any information being offered. A newspaper report “Plane crash kills 120” in a front-page column, causes the information to be absorbed in context along with the rest of the day’s news. If the radio says “An aeroplane crashed today, and all 120 passengers aboard are feared dead”, the same event is felt through the invisible newsreader’s voice, the listener being left to imagine the awfulness of what happened. But for TV to report the same event requires pompous self-conscious studio-anchors, helicopters at the scene, interviews with weeping relatives, and instant analyses of the crash’s causes, all under a banner of “Breaking News”. The average viewer is left not so much sympathising with the victims as feeling enervated and anxious about air-travel and the world in general — besides being left ignorant of the rest of the day’s happenings.
In reaching mass-audiences with advertisements of commercial products, TV quickly obtained the general surrender of radio in American homes, though radio still controls what modern Americans hear in the time they spend in their automobiles (and they spend a larger fraction there than any other people). Newspapers signalled their abject surrender to TV by “dumbing down” their front-pages with large photographs as pathetic reminders of yesterday’s TV events, or headlines that sound racy, sensational, glamorous or with-it. Given the transient nature of all news and expense of printing it on newsprint, actually reading newspapers (as opposed to looking at advertising supplements) has become in the age of TV a minor middle class indulgence, although the editorial pages of a handful of “national” newspapers remains the last refuge of serious political discussion in the USA and elsewhere.
American politics filtered through commercial television has caused all issues and politicians, whether national, state and/or local, to tend to become like products and brands available to be bought and sold at the right price. Yet American television also produced a serious reaction to its own banalities by starting in the early 1980s news-reporting and analysis on “Public Television” and also on “C-Span”. “Public Television” (as opposed to commercial or cable networks) produced what came to be known as the “MacNeill-Lehrer NewsHour”, which set the benchmark for all political news and commentary in the USA and indeed across the globe to this day. C-Span took the unusual step of sending television cameras to silently record all political events, especially the seemingly least significant and most tedious of legislative committee meetings or political speeches, and then broadcasting these endlessly 24 hours a day along with very dry political analysis and comment. Both provided a little (“highbrow”) sobriety to the otherwise drunken political culture created by American commercial television. Along with a small number of newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Christian Science Monitor and USA Today, MacNeill-Lehrer and C-Span and the odd Sunday morning news-show on commercial TV, gave America’s politically conscious classes their access to information and analysis about their own country and what was being done in its name in the wider world. At least that was so until the 2003 attack on Iraq — during which acceptance of the US military procedure of “embedded reporters” ruined America’s traditions of a free press. Since 2003, growth of political coverage on the Internet especially via “blogging” has caused more candour to penetrate American politics and to explode the dissimulations of the “mainstream media”.
Besides politics via television, the other main factor affecting the attention-deficit disorder, short time-horizon and lack of perspective and depth afflicting modern American discourse, has been the rigid time-table of a Constitution written for a long gone era. Every even-numbered year is an election year in America, and that election is held in the first week of November. Hence on 7 November 2006 America will go to the polls, as it did in November 2004 and as it will again in November 2008. Each requires the entire lower legislative house to be newly elected.
Now two years may have been a long time in the late 18th Century when the US Constitution was written, and transport and communications between the Capitol and the new States was hazardous or time-consuming. But in modern times two years are over in the blink of an eyelid. Members of the American House of Representatives must then spend their time either talking about public money and how to spend it (as only they are authorized to do), or private money and how to earn it in order to stay elected and be able to talk about how to spend the public money. Inevitably, these two activities get confused with each other. The two year term of the American lower house may well be the shortest anywhere in the world, and may deserve to be doubled at least.
The upper house elects two senior politicians from each of the 50 States (regardless of its size or importance) for a 6 year term each, with one-third of the house returning to face the electorate at each of the biennial national elections. These 100 Senators at any given time have often constituted a fine deliberative body, and, along with the executive governors of the larger States, the pool from which America’s presidents and vice-presidents get to be chosen. Yet the Senate has also often enough palpably failed in its “advice and consent” role vis-à-vis the American President — whether in the matter of America never becoming a member of the League of Nations because of Senate isolationism despite Woodrow Wilson having invented it (something the British and French found so bewildering and frustrating), or the modern Senate caving in to the jingoism unleashed by the father-son Bush Presidencies only to then say “Oops, we’ve made a mistake”.
Another fundamental institutional problem at the root of modern American politics today is the lack of separation between the Head of State and Head of Government. This not merely causes people with the wrong ambitions and abilities to want to become President (because they lust in juvenile fashion to fire cruise missiles or fly onto aircraft carriers), it also causes the business of serious governance to frequently stop getting done because of endless paralysis between the President and Legislature. Churchill perspicaciously observed: “The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than… by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.” There is an argument to be made for the American President to become more of a constitutional figurehead representing the thoughtful will of the Union and all the 50 States, while an American Prime Minister comes to be elected by the Legislature as a more subdued, sober and competent Head of Government. It would be a healthy development for America’s domestic and international politics, and hence better for the rest of the world as well.
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.
Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws outlined a doctrine that applies to India, the USA and all constitutional democracies: there is no monopoly of political wisdom.
By SUBROTO ROY First published in The Sunday Statesman, The Statesman Editorial Page, Special Article Feb 12-13 2006
The Speaker’s noble office is that of the single member of the House, traditionally chosen by unanimity, whose task it is to self-effacingly maintain order in Parliamentary debate and proceedings, so that the House’s work gets done. C’est tout. Once chosen Speaker, he ipso facto retires from partisan politics for life. The Speaker neither contributes to the substance of Parliamentary debate (except in the rare case of a tie) nor has to feel personally responsible for Parliament’s conduct.
Our Parliament has tended to become so dysfunctional since Indira Gandhi and her sycophants destroyed its traditions 30 years ago, that supervising its normal work is an onerous enough task for even the finest of Speakers to handle.
The Lok Sabha’s incumbent Speaker has tended to see himself as the champion of Parliament. He need not. He does not command a majority in the Lok Sabha; the Government Party does. We have had the oddest peculiarity unfolding in India at present where the person who does command the Lok Sabha’s majority, and therefore who would be normally defined as Prime Minister of India, has chosen to nominate someone who is not a member of the Lok Sabha to act as Prime Minister, i.e. to command the Lok Sabha’s majority. (The Rajya Sabha was and remains irrelevant to most things important to Indian democracy, regardless of its narcissism and vanity). Someone with access to 10 Janpath should have told Sonia Gandhi in May 2004 that if she did not wish to be PM and wanted to gift the job to someone else, she should do so to someone who, like herself, had been elected to the Lok Sabha, like Pranab Mukherjee (elected for the first time) or Kamal Nath or Priya Ranjan (both veterans).
Manmohan Singh, a former Lok Sabha candidate, may as Finance Minister have been able to progress much further with economic reforms. But sycophancy has ruled the roost in the Congress’s higher echelons, and nobody had the guts to tell her that. Indeed as early as December 2001, Congress leaders knew that in the unlikely event they won the polls, Manmohan Singh would likely be PM by Sonia Gandhi’s choice (though he was not expected to last long at the top), and yet he did not contest the Lok Sabha polls in 2004.
The Government of the day, not the Speaker, is Parliament’s champion in any discussion with the Supreme Court over constitutional rights and Separation of Powers. And the Government has in fact quietly and sensibly requested the Supreme Court to set up a Constitutional Bench for this purpose. Such a Constitutional Bench shall have cause to ask itself how far Kesavananda Bharati needs to be tweaked if at all to accommodate the contention that Parliament has a right to judge its own members. The Court may well likely say that of course Parliament has a right to judge its own members but even that right is not an absolute right, (nothing is). Even Parliament’s right to judge its own members must be in accordance with natural law, with principles of justice, with due and clearly defined processes. E.g. the established Privileges Committee and not the ad hoc Bansal Committee had to do the needful.
Imagine a hypothetical case of fantastic fiction where half a dozen independent MPs are elected to a future Lok Sabha, and then take it upon themselves to expose corruption and shenanigans of all major political parties. Our fantastic super-heroes become whistleblowers within Parliament itself while remaining totally incorruptible as individuals — like Eliot Ness’s team who jailed Al Capone and other gangsters, and came to be depicted in Hollywood’s The Untouchables. These Untouchables would come to be feared and despised by everyone from Communists on one side of the political spectrum to Fascists on the other. They would upset everybody precisely because they were so clean and were not purchasable. The Government and Opposition of the day might wellgang up to expel such troublemakers and even fabricate charges to do so. (Now there’s a script for a Bollywood movie!)
What our Supreme Court’s Constitutional Bench decides now in the matter at hand will determine the fate of our super-heroes in such a future fantasia. The present case is a polar opposite — where MPs have been caught on camera with their sordid fingers in the cookie-jar, and then made to walk the plank immediately by their peers. Yet natural law applies here as it will to our fantastic future fighters, and this is what the Bench would have to speak on.
Why the present situation continues to be disconcerting is because the whole country heard all the holier-than-thou protestations, yet everyone continues to take a very dim view of what they see of politicians’ behaviour. There remain strong suspicions that only a few very tiny tips of very large icebergs were or can be caught on camera. Large-scale deals and contracts involve payments into invisible bank accounts, not petty cash into pockets or even suitcases filled with cash sloshing around Delhi.
What we have desperately needed in the situation is modern prime ministerial leadership which could intelligently and boldly guide national debate in the right direction on the whole matter of probity in public life. Why a distinguished parliamentarian like the Speaker has found himself in the limelight is because neither the de jure nor de facto Prime Ministers of India are anywhere to be seen thinking on their feet on these central issues of constitutional procedure and practice. They tend to use prepared scripts and may be temperamentally disinclined to do what has been called for by these unscripted circumstances. (Indeed the much-maligned H. D. Deve Gowda could be alone among the bevy of recent PMs who has been able to think on his feet at all.)
Collapse Before Executive Power
In the meantime, the United States is going through its own Separation of Powers’ crisis. As explained in these columns previously, the American system is distinctly different from the British, and our own system is midway between them. Yet similar principles may be discerned to apply or fail to be applied in all.
Winston Churchill once perspicaciously observed:
“The rigid Constitution of the United States, the gigantic scale and strength of its party machinery, the fixed terms for which public officers and representatives are chosen, invest the President with a greater measure of autocratic power than was possessed before (the First World War) by the Head of any great State. The vast size of the country, the diverse types, interests and environments of its enormous population, the safety-valve function of the legislatures of fifty Sovereign States, make the focussing of national public opinion difficult, and confer upon the Federal Government exceptional independence of it except at fixed election times. Few modern Governments need to concern themselves so little with the opinion of the party they have beaten at the polls; none secures to its supreme executive officer, at once the Sovereign and the Party Leader, such direct personal authority.”
America’s Legislative Branch has, on paper, strong powers of advice and consent to control errors, excesses or abuse of power by the Executive President. But (with rare and courageous exceptions like Sen. Robert C. Byrd of West Virginia) the Legislature cravenly collapsed before the father-son Bush presidencies in regard to the Middle East wars of recent years. America’s once-revered federal judiciary has also tended to lose its independence of mind with overt politicisation of judicial appointments in recent decades.
Bush the First went to war against Saddam Hussein (a former American ally against Islamic Iran) at least partly with an eye to winning re-election in 1992 (which he would have done as a result but for a random shock known as Ross Perot; Bill Clinton became the beneficiary). Bush the Second obsessively wished to follow up on the same, to the point of misjudging the real threat to America from Bin Laden and fabricating a false threat from an emasculated Saddam.
America’s Legislature palpably failed to control her Presidents. Now, late in the day, after all the horses have bolted, the Senate Judiciary Committee began tepid hearings on February 5 2006 into whether the President authorized laws to be broken with impunity in regard to wire-tapping some 5,000 citizens (doubtless mostly non-white and Muslim) without judicial warrants. Republican Senator Arlen Specter, the Committee’s Chairman, has said he believes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been “flatly” violated, and “strained and unrealistic” justifications are now being offered. Bush’s men, from his Vice President and Attorney General to political intelligence operatives, have brazenly placed in the dustbin the traditional principle fiat justitia pereat mundus — let justice be done even if the world perishes — saying that the Sovereign can do just as he pleases to save the realm from external enemies as he might perceive and define them to be.
What this kind of collapse in current American practice reveals is a new aspect unknown at the time of Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws. In the modern world, Separation of Powers involves not merely constitutional institutions like Executive, Legislature and Judiciary but also the normal civil institutions of a free and open society, especially academic institutions and the press. In America, it has been not merely the Legislature and Judiciary which have tended to collapse before Executive Power in regard to the recent Middle East wars, but the media and academia as well.
“Embedded reporters” and Fox TV set the tone for America’s official thought processes about Iraq and the Muslim world — until it has become too late for America’s mainstream media or academics to recover their own credibility on the subject. On the other hand, unofficial public opinion has, in America’s best traditions, demonstrated using vast numbers of Internet websites and weblogs, a spirited Yankee Doodle individuality against the jingoism and war-mongering of the official polity.
Neither the press nor academia had collapsed the same way during America’s last major foreign wars in Vietnam and Cambodia forty years ago, and it may be fairly said that America’s self-knowledge was rather better then than it is now, except of course there were no Internet websites and weblogs.
Our Pakistani Cousins Across the border from us, our Pakistani cousins are, from a political and constitutional point of view, cut from the same cloth as ourselves, namely the 1935 Government of India Act, and the Montague-Chelmsford and Morley-Minto reforms earlier. However, ever since Jinnah’s death, they have refused to admit this and instead embarked haplessly on what can only be called an injudicious path of trying to write a Constitution for a new Caliphate. The primary demand of the main scholars influencing this process was “That the sovereignty in Pakistan belongs to God Almighty alone and that the Government of Pakistan shall administer the country as His agent”. By such a view, in the words of Rashid Rida and Maulana Maududi, Islam becomes “the very antithesis of secular Western democracy. The philosophical foundation of Western democracy is the sovereignty of the people. Lawmaking is their prerogative and legislation must correspond to the mood and temper of their opinion… Islam… altogether repudiates the philosophy of popular sovereignty and rears its polity on the foundations of the sovereignty of God and the viceregency (Khilafat) of man.” (Rosenthal, Islam & the Modern National State, Cambridge 1965.) Pakistan’s few modern constitutionalists have been ever since battling impossibly to overcome the ontological error made here of assuming that any mundane government can be in communication with God Almighty. In the meantime, all normal branches of Pakistan’s polity, like the electorate, press, political parties, Legislature and Judiciary, have remained at best in ill-formed inchoate states of being — while the Pakistan Armed Forces stepped in with their own large economic and political interests and agendas to effectively take over the country and the society as a whole, on pretext of protecting Pakistan from India or of gaining J&K for it. Pakistan’s political problems have the ontological error at their root. Pakistan’s political parties, academics and press, have with rare exceptions remained timid in face of the militaristic State — directing their anger and frustration at an easier target instead, namely ourselves in India. The Pakistan Government’s way of silencing its few political, academic or press dissidents has been to send them into comfortable exile abroad.
Sheikh Abdullah Contrasted Pakistan’s perpetual constitutional confusion deserves to be contrasted with the clarity of Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah’s thinking, e.g. his 5 November 1951 speech to the Constituent Assembly of J&K: “You are the sovereign authority in this State of Jammu & Kashmir; what you decide has the irrevocable force of law. The basic democratic principle of sovereignty of the nation, embodied ably in the American and French Constitutions, is once again given shape in our midst. I shall quote the famous words of Article 3 of the French Constitution of 1791:- ‘The source of all sovereignty resides fundamentally in the nation. Sovereignty is one and indivisible, inalienable and imprescriptable. It belongs to the nation.’ We should be clear about the responsibilities that this power invests us with. In front of us lie decisions of the highest national importance which we shall be called upon to take. Upon the correctness of our decisions depends not only the happiness of our land and people now, but the fate as well of generations to come.”
Contrasting the Pakistani views of constitution-making with those of Sheikh Abdullah may help to explain a great deal about where we are today on the delicate and profound subject of J&K. (See “Solving Kashmir”, The Statesman, December 1—3, 2005)
India’s current debate about Separation of Powers needs to keep at a distance the clear negative examples of our American friends, who have brought upon themselves in recent times a craven collapse of Legislature, Judiciary, press and academia to the Executive President (as Churchill had seemed to predict), as well as of our Pakistani cousins who have continued with general political and civil collapse for half a century. Because our universities are all owned by the State, India’s academics, from Communist to Fascist, have tended to be servile towards it. In respect of the press, the power of independent newspapers has been dwindling, while the new TV anchors have created their own models of obsequiousness and chummery towards New Delhi’s ruling cliques of the day. It thus becomes India’s Supreme Court which remains the ultimate guardian of our Constitution and the safest haven of our very fragile freedoms — besides of course our own minds and hearts.
First published in The Statesman Jan 13 2006 Editorial Page Special Article,
By Subroto Roy
The Speaker does not like the fact the High Court has issued notices questioning the procedure he followed in expelling MPs from Parliament. Sonia Gandhi’s self-styled “National Advisory Council” has demanded control over disbursement of 100,000,000,000 rupees of public money. The Manmohan Singh Government plans to quietly ignore the Supreme Court’s finding that it had breached India’s Constitution in imposing President’s Rule in Bihar. All three issues have to do with application of India’s Separation of Powers Doctrine, i.e. the appropriate delimitation of Constitutional powers between our Legislature, Executive and Judiciary.
A constitutional crime was attempted in India during the Indira-Sanjay Gandhi political “Emergency” declared on 26 June 1975. On 10 November 1975 (a time of press censorship) a 13-judge Bench of the Supreme Court met to hear the Government plead for overrule of Kesavananda Bharati (A.I.R. 1973 S.C. 1461), a landmark Nani Palkhivala once called “the greatest contribution of the Republic of India to constitutional jurisprudence”. Within two days, the Government had failed in the Court, and Kesavananda held. What was upheld? That while India’s Parliament was sovereign and could amend the Constitution, the amending power may not be used to alter or destroy “the basic structure or framework of the Constitution”. And the Supreme Court decides for itself whether Parliament has exceeded its legitimate power to amend.
Basic structure Palkhivala’s description of what constitutes the “basic structure or framework” of India’s Constitution is excellent enough: “the rule of law, the right to personal liberty and freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, the right to dissent which implies the freedom of speech and expression and a free press are… a part of the basic structure of a free democracy, and it is these priceless human freedoms which cannot be destroyed by Parliament in exercise of its amending power. Thus Kesavananda’s case ensures that tyranny and despotism shall not masquerade as constitutionalism.”
Palkhivala argued that, if anything, the aspects of Kesavananda that needed to be set aside were those that had over-ruled Golaknath (A.I.R. 1967 S.C. 1643) which said Parliament should not be held to have the power to abridge any fundamental right, indeed any amended article which abrogates any fundamental right is invalid.
Dicey said “In the principle of the distribution of powers which determines its form, the constitution of the United States is the exact opposite of the English constitution.” Kesavananda Bharati showed the midway point between the two in constitutional jurisprudence anywhere in the world. We are like the Americans and unlike the British first in being a Republic, and secondly in having an explicit written Constitution. We are like the British and unlike the Americans in being a parliamentary democracy where the Executive Branch of Government, namely the Prime Minister and his/her Cabinet is elected from within the Legislative Branch of Government, namely, Parliament, and must at all times retain the confidence of the latter, specifically the Lok Sabha, the House of the People.
The American Executive Branch has a directly-elected President who chooses his administration, and it is commonplace for him to not have the confidence of the Upper or Lower House of the Legislature, to the point that one recent president had to undergo impeachment proceedings and barely survived. There is no constitutional crisis in America if the Legislature loathes the President and wishes him out. The American President and his Executive Branch stay in office until the last minute of his fixed term.
PM answers to Parliament
In our system, the Prime Minister answers at all times to Parliament. Parliament in India’s democracy has normally meant the House of the People — where every member has contested and won a direct vote in his/her constituency. India’s current Lok Sabha has set a constitutional precedent not seen in more than a hundred years anywhere in electing an Executive led by someone not a member. The British Upper House used to have an aristocratic hereditary component which Mr Blair’s New Labour Government has removed, making it more like what the Rajya Sabha was supposed to be — except that by now our Rajya Sabha has tended to become a place for party worthies who have lost normal elections, superannuated cinematic personalities, perpetual bureaucrats still seeking office, and others who really should be at home helping to raise the grandchildren. Parliament may not have fully recovered its health ever since that constitutional crime committed against the Republic known as the Indira-Sanjay “Emergency” (and at least one member of Sanjay’s coterie wields much power today).
Crimes and misdemeanours
The Supreme Court’s finding that the Government breached the Constitution by imposing President’s Rule in Bihar is a finding not of a constitutional crime but of a constitutional misdemeanour. (For reasons given already in these columns on 20 October 2005, it has nothing to do with the President, who merely embodies the sovereignty of our Republic.) For an Executive Order or Legislative Act to be found by a competent Court as being unconstitutional means merely that it does not have to be obeyed by citizens. In the Bihar case, the Supreme Court found this consequence irrelevant because new elections were already in process, the result of which would come from the most authentic democratic voice possible, namely, the same people who elect the House of the People in the first place. India’s Executive has been found to have committed a constitutional misdemeanour, for which it needed to apologise to the Court and Parliament (who are its constitutional co-equals) and then ask the latter to renew its confidence — in which event, life goes on. If confidence was not renewed, the Government would fall and a new Government would have to be formed. But we do not have yet the idea of a backbench revolt —mainly because all the front benches themselves have tended to be in such confusion and disarray with regard to parliamentary traditions, processes and functions.
The Supreme Court as the ultimate protector of the Constitution would be well within its prerogative to oversee whether a Parliamentary Speaker has acted appropriately. Consider a hypothetical case. Once elected, a Speaker is supposed to have no party-affiliation ever more for the rest of his/her life. Suppose, hypothetically, a controlled experiment found a Speaker systematically biased in favour of his/her own former party-members and against their opponents. Where but the Courts could such arbitrariness be effectively remonstrated against? Even if the incumbent Speaker impossibly imagines himself the personal embodiment of the Legislative Branch, he is not beyond the Constitution and therefore not beyond India’s Separation of Powers’ Doctrine.
The Opposition had alleged that the Speaker failed to follow procedure which required the culprits in the expulsion case be referred to the Privileges Committee. But beyond that the Opposition was too confused and guilt-ridden to pursue the matter during the dying moments of Parliament’s Winter Session. In the clear light of day, the issue has now ended up in the Courts. If the Supreme Court eventually rules the Speaker had in fact failed to follow Parliament’s own procedures (and hence breached Constitutional practices), the Speaker would need to apologise to the Courts and the House that elected him, and perhaps offer to fall on his sword.
Finally, for the “National Advisory Council”, a wholly unelected body, to demand a say for itself over spending Rs. 100 billion in State and Union Government budget-making, would be another constitutional misdemeanour — unless its members are merely on the personal staff of the Hon’ble Member representing Rae Bareili, who may of course introduce whatever legislation on money-bills that any other Lok Sabha Member may do.
A note on the welfare economics of regional cooperation
April 22 1988
(Statement at a conference on regional cooperation in Asia and Latin America held at the East West Centre, Honolulu, April 1988)
How should we evaluate the success of efforts at regional cooperation? When we look at different attempts at cooperation around the world, what general principles and observations might we bring to bear from within the discipline of economics? I propose to try to answer this broad normative question, and at the same time to report on certain aspects of the interesting and informative papers given by Dr. Ffrench-Davis, Dr. Wong, and Dr. Bhuyan on Latin America, ASEAN, and South Asia respectively.
It may be helpful to remind ourselves at the outset of the textbook classification of forms of economic cooperation. This usually traces a route from the least orderly and least integrated to the most orderly and most integrated — from the free-trade area to the customs union to the common market to the economic union. The free-trade area has no intra-area tariffs and therefore has a free flow of goods, although each member can have what tariffs it pleases with the rest of the world. The customs union maintains the free flow of goods of a free-trade area and in addition has a common tarriff barrier with the rest of the world. The common market is a customs union and in addition has free flow of factors like labour and capital. The economic union is a common market which in addition has a common currency and a uniform monetary and fiscal policy, and which probably must have a common federal government as well.
Now we learn about one thing through comparison and contrast with other things. Thus efforts at cooperation in South Asia and Latin America and ASEAN are fittingly compared and contrasted both with one another as well as with efforts, say, in post-War Europe. It has been generally believed too that more integration is a good thing. So for instance, while the European Community still remains something between a customs union and a common market, the European experiment as a whole has been motivated by a desire (or perhaps by wishful thinking) to form an economic union like that of the United States. And it is the U. S. — whose Constitution in 1789 started with the words: “We the people…, in order to form a more perfect union….” — which surely remains the best example the world has yet seen of an effective economic and political union. Yet even in the U. S. the process took a hundred years and a lot of bloodshed. In many places in the south today, the Civil War between 1861 and 1865 is still referred to as the “War between the States”. A lesson from the American experience may be that an important and yet intangible benefit of attempts at integration, regardless of how much integration it actually leads to, may be the prevention of unnecessary war. No matter how far the European Community is from its explicit goal of an economic and political union, or how wishful such a goal might be, or how much is wasted in resources by the bureaucracy in Brussells, if European cooperation has helped to reduce to zero the probability of a third European war in the twentieth century, it may have contributed to the economic welfare of Europe.
Now the prospect of pointless war within the European Community has become ludicrous but this may not be so elsewhere. Neither Dr. Ffrench-Davis nor Dr. Wong has found it necessary to say anything about military tensions, so it is possible that the prospect of needless wars within Latin America or within ASEAN has become as ludicrous as in Europe, and it is possible that regional institutions have helped towards that. If so, that should be registered on the credit-side of the balance sheet when we are evaluating the success of LAFTA or ASEAN or the Andean Pact. But certainly the same cannot be said in South Asia, where military tensions between India and Pakistan have seldom been far from the surface.
In fact the South Asian case is interestingly seen from another angle as well. For consider the basic fact that the main economic point of regional cooperation is to improve mass welfare via increasing trade. Yet Dr. Bhuyan reports that trade has yet to be put on the SAARC agenda in any serious way. The leaders of the SAARC nations have been talking about meteorology and drug abuse and the rights of children and science policy and solar technology and all kinds of other worthy issues, but they have not been talking about abolishing quotas and reducing tariffs on one another’s goods. In terms of the textbook classification, regional cooperation in South Asia in the late 1980s has not yet reached even the starting point of discussing a free-trade area. Yet paradoxically just about forty years ago, the same nations which today find it so difficult even to talk about improving trade, were completely united and integrated from an economic point of view — not merely in a free-trade area or customs union or a common market but in a full-fledged economic union. The departure of Britain from the subcontinent and the political partition between India and Pakistan did not logically entail that the economic union which South Asia had been for numerous centuries had to be completely destroyed. Yet that is what happened. The welfare costs of the lack of foresight on all sides at the time have not yet been calculated.
Drawing these thoughts together then, my first general observation is quite an obvious one. Efforts at regional cooperation can lead to more and better contacts, information, and channels of communication – between heads of governments, finance ministers, businessmen, private citizens, and so on. There is, in short, an increase in trust. Or to put it in economists’ language, there is a reduction in transactions costs or an increase in the stock of what may be called the “informational capital” available to traders and potential traders. Regardless of whether tariffs do in fact come to be reduced and trade increased, the stock of trust or informational capital is valuable. The maintenance of this stock may require expenditures on bureaucracies, conferences etc. (expenditures which Dr. Wong reports to be small in case of ASEAN). But if these expenditures have quietly reduced or are reducing the probability of needless wars between the member-states of LAFTA or ASEAN or SAARC (and here we might recall just how many needless wars were fought in European history between countries at the same so-called “stage of development” as those now in Asia and Latin America) then the expected utility of the bureaucracies may be certainly positive and perhaps rising.
Military conflicts or civil wars destroy not only physical and human capital but this kind of informational capital as well. It is this stock of informational capital which was destroyed with the breakup of the economic union in South Asia forty years ago, and which the South Asian nations are now finding so hard to rebuild. The same can be said perhaps of China and Taiwan, North and South Korea, and so on.
Next, I would like to return to the basic rationale of regional cooperation being to increase welfare via increasing trade via lowering tariffs, probably reciprocally but perhaps even unilaterally. It is to encourage as much improved efficiency in production and hence in consumption as possible; or in Jacob Viner’s terms to have as much “trade creation” and as little “trade diversion” as possible. Such a purpose would or should take as axiomatic Adam Smith’s remark: “Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production; and the interest of the producer ought to be attended to, only so far as it may be necessary for promoting that of the consumer.” (Wealth of Nations, IV.viii.49). Yet, at the same time, the fact of the matter is that it is national governments, and not business firms let aside ordinary households and consumers, who are involved in attempts at regional cooperation. Stated in terms of a principal-agent problem, it is governments who are the agents while the mass of individual taxpayer/consumers are the principals.
The situation is such that the agents can probably get away quite well without attending to the interests of their principals in matters of mutual tariff-reduction. But if they do want to attend to the interests of their principals, what Smith’s remark does is give them a simple rule of thumb to apply: does such-and-such a policy proposal have a reasonable chance of helping the ordinary consumer? That is to say, will it enlarge the budget-set of the average household? Or in other words, will it reduce the average household’s expenditures and/or increase the average household’s income?
Improving trade necessarily implies exploiting comparative advantages better, and hence it implies increasing specialization. So if the basic purpose of regional cooperation is indeed to improve economic welfare via more trade, and if this purpose is indeed to be seriously served, then the process of obtaining the greater specialization will necessarily imply the decline of some industries and the rise of other industries in each participating economy.
If country A and country B are both involved in import-substitution, and country A’s industry 1 is relatively less inefficient than country B’s industry 1, then the economic integration of A and B will imply that country A’s industry 1 will rise and country B’s industry 1 will decline, while country B’s industry 2 will rise and country A’s industry 2 will decline.
Again I am saying something which is obvious from an economist’s standpoint. I do so for the following reason. It is clear from Dr.Wong’s paper that the leaders of ASEAN seem to be relatively serious about tariff-reduction. They may not have succeeded as much as they would have liked but they see and understand the fundamental purpose of regional cooperation. The spirit is willing but the body is weak. It would seem from Dr. Ffrench-Davis’s paper too that mutual tariff-reduction has also been a central part of the discussion surrounding Latin American cooperation, and Dr. Ffrench-Davis himself has decried the slowing down of reciprocal trade in the 1980s. However Dr. Bhuyan’s report suggests that, with trade off the SAARC agenda and all kinds of other activities on it instead, SAARC is in danger of becoming merely another vehicle for the ever-expanding role of the State in South Asia. If I might generalize on a remark Sven Arndt made yesterday: if the domestic policies of individual countries are an unsound basis for economic development, then no amount of regional cooperation will have any significant beneficial effect. Indeed it might even worsen things by distracting attention from fundamental problems, increasing centralization and politicization of economic decisions, and so on.
A few small points to end with.
1. Dr. Ffrench-Davis refers, I think in a neutral way but I am not sure, to “regional investment planning” in the Andean Pact. Dr. Bhuyan refers, I think with approval, to “balanced regional industrialization through agreed specialization… the idea is to allot particular industries to particular countries in which they have special interest” (p. 17). I have not been able to see how the increasingly centralised allocation of resources entailed by such a policy is conducive to the basic purposes of regional cooperation. Greater specialization is indeed a natural corollary of economic integration. But the forces of trade, and not the SAARC headquarters in Kathmandu, surely need to be allowed to determine its direction.
2. Both Dr. Ffrench-Davis and Dr. Bhuyan refer to stronger and weaker, or bigger and smaller, members of a regional grouping. And Dr. Bhuyan suggests “that a straightforward liberalization of trade by dismantling all trade barriers may benefit the larger countries more than the smaller ones” (p. 12). I am not at all sure that this is right. For example, in the Heckscher-Ohlin model the scale of an economy is not relevant to the gains from trade — one country may have absolutely greater amounts of every single factor than another, and yet trade may benefit both because they have relatively different amounts of the factors. (Similarly in the Ricardian model, one country may have an absolute advantage in the production of both goods, and yet trade may still be beneficial because the countries differ in the relative advantage of the production of each good.)
Thus, in conclusion, all three reports we have been given of efforts at regional cooperation in Asia and Latin America are interesting and informative. Once again it would seem ASEAN has been leading the way in getting the basic economics as right as possible given what is politically feasible. And here again we have to think not of ASEAN’s absolute success, but its success relative to other attempts, including I would say the European Community). Latin America does not seem to have been very far behind in the matter of getting the basic economics right. While South Asia, which not long ago was in fact the most closely integrated economy of all, sadly seems to lag far behind both in thinking and in achievements.
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