Thursday, November 25, 2010

Reality Check of Bihar's verdict

Understanding Bihar’s verdict

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Bihar polls have brought ‘smile’ to many faces on our TV channels. As Nitish Kumar romp through a landslide victory along with his ally in the NDA, the media started writing obituary of Lalu Yadav as well as Ram Vilas Paswan. I still remember a statement from George Fernandez not to make mistake of writing obituary of political leaders unless they are buried or cremated as they can always bounce back. There is no scientific methodology for people to vote. A middle class hero Man Mohan Singh could be defeated easily from a constituency like South Delhi which is considered to be ‘educated and well off’. Hence it is too much if we think that caste has been eliminated from the minds of people in Bihar in particular and India in general since our TV ‘experts’ wants us to believe so without changing their own caste mind.

Yes, Bihar’s results need more analysis and in-depth reading. Did Lalu and Ram Vilas’s arrogance hurt the voters? Did they take their voters for granted? Is corruption not an issue with the Dalit Bahujan communities? I think one will have to analyse the whole issue. Has Mandal failed or the forces of social justice let down the Mandal revolution in India with their continuously opportunistic and unholy alliances with the caste forces?

Coincidently, when Bihar’s Nitish Kumar government assumes office for second term, a new scenario has emerged for the forces of Social Justice which need to be understood. And it is post modern Mandalism now with most backward communities challenging the status quo and asking for the accountability. That you can not rule over them in the name of Dalit and backward without providing a space for them in the governance structure. If the political class in the name of social justice does not come out of the family business, they will be wiped out as happened in Bihar. The forces of social justice can not have Gandhi family as their idol.

However, these polls also show the inadequacy of political system where a party just getting 39% of the popular votes has got nearly 89% seats in the assembly. Most of the media termed that Bihar has now got rid of caste identities but the fact is that the Maha Dalits and most backward castes are seeking their space and Nitish Kumar should not feel that he can put the upper caste agenda on Bihar to term it as a ‘casteless’ state. How many of them are ready to leave their caste interest aside and speak for a casteless society. Will the forces of Hindutva work for a casteless society? If yes then the annihilation of caste is annihilation of Brahmanism in India which is not really the agenda of Nitish Kumar and his allies.

Nitish Kumar failed in implementing the Bandhopadhyay Commission report on land redistribution. Just a few days before the election results we saw violence against Dalits by powerful Bhumihar community which seemed to enjoy Nitish Kumar’s rule in Bihar. The violence by Bhumihars on the Dalits was because of the land issue in Pathua village of district Lakhisarai in which about 900 bighas of land declared surplus under Ceiling Act was being encroached by the goons of a particular Bhumihar leader as they wanted to uproot the Dalits and most backward communities living on the said land. Land will remain one of the most contentious issue and if Nitish Kumar in the din of the euphoria created by corporate media ignore this issue then he will meet the same fate as Lalu and Ram Vilas Paswan have met with. That the most backward communities and Dalits have signaled to Bihar politicians which largely revolved around powerful OBCs, Bhumihars, Brahmin, Kayasthas and Rajputs that they too are an important segment of state. The Pasmanda Muslims also joined hand with these forces and hence the expectations are high. However, an attempt is being made to convert the entire verdict into so-called developmental frame work. While it is true that people want accountability from their leaders and they want participation in power. They will not be satisfied with the rhetoric of development. We all know Bihar remain peaceful during the past few years as no displacement took place because of so-called industrialization as it did not happen. The first phase of Nitish’s rule was basically roads, electricity and water but big companies are eyeing Bihar now. Nitish Kumar should be careful enough to understand that he can not take away people’s land in the name of development. An image is being created for Nitish Kumar as if he is the replica of Naveen Patnayak of Orissa. Nitish should be careful enough in dealing people’s issues s Bihar is definitely not Orissa and any such displacement of people will come to haunt him and decimate him for ever. We know the media is very happy with ‘merit’ winning in Bihar because they want to push their own agenda and get land for a few corporate houses.

As Nitish takes over the reins of tomorrow, he would probably remember his colleague and senior leader V P Singh’s effort for probity in public life. It is important to understand the importance of VP Singh today and how Nitish could further that agenda of Mandal. The result in Bihar are not end of Mandal politics but as VP Singh often remarked that the Mandal forces have to capture the opposition space also. It is important for the forces of social justice to be free from corruption and family business. Nitish Kumar could do it. Bihar’s voter was very clear this time when they defeated all the major Bahubalis and those who thought politics as family domain. In the realm of social justice politics there are very few who did not leave behind any family legacy for the others.

We know it very well that the corporate run media is hell bent to undo the historical change of the post Mandal era. They do it with all their might. Using every thing under their belt to scuttle all the voices of social justice. It is not for the unknown reasons that V.P.Singh still remains one of the most hated politicians of the country. Lalu and Ramvilas must understand. Nitish and Sharad may understand it even when they are being glorified by the same upper caste media which villainised them in 1990. Is not it a fact that Sharad Yadav and
Ram Vilas Paswan were two most hated face along with V P Singh during those tumultuous years that India faced just because a government dutifully promised to implement the Mandal Commission Report.

It is time to revisit that. It is time for introspection. The political forces of social justice actually betrayed themselves. The issue of corruption may not look important to all those ideologues who are in a comparative mode but it affects the common people. It does not matter whether the corruption involve Karunanidhi, Lalu Yadav or Rajiv Gandhi. It simply means loss of generation for poor in India. It means denial of their right and basic facilities. And people today are judging their political leaders. They understand that the political class is corrupted by the power politics and that is why Lalu and Rabri might not have thought that she will face such humiliating defeat in her own den where Yadavas called the shot. The verdict is clear that you can not take your own community for granted. May be they could have learnt a few lesson from Kanshi Ram who had no family to place over the people. He created a Mayawati and a committed cadre in BAMSEF and among various Dalit communities and people accepted her wholeheartedly. Ofcourse, Mayawati too, should take a few lessons from Bihar verdict even when Bihar and Uttar-Pradesh are quite contrast yet none should take their own community as for granted. Mayawati will have to work for Sarvjan but not at the cost of the Dalits in Uttar-Pradesh otherwise the most loyal voter will ditch her. There is a limit to the people’s patience. That is one big lesson we get from the defeat of close relatives of both Ram Vilas Paswan as well as Lalu Yadav. One can not term mere representation of one’s family as the ‘voice’ of people. You will have to go beyond slogans and create a movement. People are not going to believe in your hollow secularism unless you launch an anti caste struggle. Unfortunately, anti caste movement was never on the agenda of those who claimed the legacy of social justice movement in India. Yes, we need people with clean image and clear ideology to fight against the brahmanical forces who are basking over the glory of Bihar’s rejection to ‘caste’. One hope Nitish Kumar understand that caste is the real cause of poverty in Bihar as well as in India. Mushahars, Dushadhs, Nishads, Chamars, Doms are not poor because of their class only but because they were born in these particular communities. So, he will have to reach them. He formed Maha Dalit to break the greater Dalit alliance and unfortunately none noticed it but the fact is these are the time of alliance building. Nitish’s alliance is still artificial as there can not be any alliance between the exploiters and exploited. Nitish Kumar’s upper caste vote bank will still not want that land reform be implemented and land be redistributed to poor. That Lalu too does not want.

It is important to break the myth of Bihar’s revolution. Bihar actually has little to offer to Dalits as the politics here is very much a domain game of powerful upper castes verses neo powerful OBCs. Dalits and Muslims are just an annexure to their broader agenda. It’s similar to what is happening in Tamilnadu in the name of social justice. It is actually the biggest failure of Ramvilas Paswan and Lalu Yadav as they failed to reach the poorest Dalit and economically backward communities who were feeling marginalized and left out. Nitish Kumar carefully cultivated them along with Muslims and succeeded. Those pretending to lead anti caste forces must unite all such forces victim of caste forces in Bihar in complete harmony and not mere followers of a few individuals and their families.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Legacy of Bhagwan Das

Tribute to Bhagwan Das

A true inheritor of Ambedkar’s mission

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

The passing away of veteran Ambedkarite Bhagwan Das is closure of a great chapter in the contemporary Dalit movement. A close associate of Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Bhagwan Das in every sense of life lived a life of true follower of Baba Saheb. I had opportunities to meet on several occasions and would vouch that I remained highly impressed and in awe with his simplicity and the library of knowledge that he had on Ambedkar’s work and writing. He was not a rebel rouser but proved through his meticulous writings that he was much more concerned and his views were immensely important to the growth of Ambedkarite movement. Those narratives and documented work on the life and mission of Ambedkar are inalienable part of the Dalit movement.

It was a great opportunity for me to have heard his counseling on various occasions. For me, just an association with Dr Ambedkar made him a legend in my eyes. But that was not enough; his association with people’s movement particularly with those who believed in Ambedkarite perspective gave him credibility. He has tremendous knowledge about different caste and their issues. I can say that after Dr Ambedkar, he was the most read person in the community who spoke on the contemporary issues with great passion and with a command and conviction of ideas. Though, he was the most respected Ambedkarite of his time, one does not know why the politicians claiming Ambedkar’s legacy kept away from him. It is ironical that the tallest ambedkarite became victim of his caste identity. Though, he was most concerned about the schedule castes yet he often spoke about the marginalization of ‘Bhangis’. Yet, just usage of the term Bhangi made him unpopular among many of his own folks who started using Balmiki which according to Bhagwan Dasji was a term cleverly used to Hinduise the community. His book ‘ Main Bhangi Hoon’, became popular among people yet the community leaders never ever thought of involving him in their issues. I had put this question to him many times as why there is a perception that Balmikis did not join hand with Baba Saheb Ambedkar. But, Bhagwan Das ji was very clear about this and said that the myth that the Balmikis not being part of Ambedkarite movement was absolutely an attempt to divide Ambedkar’s struggle. . He referred to Baba Saheb and his support to the cause of scavengers in Punjab. According to him, it was the Bhangis who invited Baba Saheb to Punjab. But because of politicization of castes, many among his caste felt otherwise. Similarly, the other communities who felt that he was not from them alienated him. It was most tragic thing that I felt and that Bhagwan Dasji knew but Ambedkarism and Buddhism were his two commitments and he never dithered from that.

The 1990s were turbulent years in contemporary Indian political history. The forces of Hindutva were gaining ground with growing assertion of Dalits and backward communities. The Mandal commission report and its aftermath show how the Indian middle classes and caste Hindus did every dirty trick to thwart the implementation of the report. It also showed how the struggle for implementation of Mandal Commission Report was more carried forward by the Dalits and not by the so-called other backward communities for whom the entire exercise was meant. They bore the brunt of the contempt and violence of these reactionary forces. It was also a period of ascendancy of the Bahujan Samaj Party and its politics. They were becoming a force to reckon with yet Bhagwan Das and many other veteran Ambedkarites kept away from it. One does not know whether they kept away from it or were unwanted in the BSP kind of politics. He always focused to develop an enlightened Dalit community which can respond to the upper caste lies and manipulations through knowledge and arguments. He would go to different parts of the country particularly in organizations like Samta Sainik Dal to strengthen the movement.

It was tragic that the person who was an embodiment of a true Ambedkarite did not get the respect that he deserved. It is an undeniable fact that Bhagwan Das was perhaps the tallest Ambedkarite in the post Ambedkar era. The amount of work that he contributed to explore Ambedkar and his writings is unparallel. He was a living encyclopedia of Ambedkarite perspective on various contemporary issues. I can say without any doubt in my mind that whenever I had any doubt about anything about Baba Saheb’s writing and work, I would first speak to him and try to find the factual position. He had numerous anecdotes about Baba Saheb Ambedkar and how he got influenced with his life and action. Each time, I visited him; I would just listen to his arguments and narratives. With his personal warmth, each narrative was important and that is why I felt that I should record his views and one day I went with my camera to record his views on contemporary issues. It was a seer pleasure to listen his enlightened views.

It was always a sense of deep enlightenment to have met Bhagwan Dasji. A man who saw and worked with Ambedkar was so simple in his personal life. I was fortunate enough to have met him so many times and in our small association he too developed respect of the work that I was doing and hence was always available for the seminars and conferences that we organized on contemporary issues related to Dalits and marginalized. In those days, I was regular in these meetings and listening to him always gave a great pleasure. Anyone, who heard him for one or two hours, could never say that his grasp over the subject was not increased. His understanding of Indian caste system was tremendous. A widely traveled person, Bhagwan Dasji would inform you about the caste and sub caste issues with impeccable knowledge on the issue. That also showed that he was not just a book worm but a widely accessible person to people who understood their feelings and issues.

There was no difference in his personal life and beliefs. I knew many veteran Ambedkarites for whom Ambedkarism was just a political thought but Bhagwan Dasji proved through his life and mission how one can live a life of true Ambedkarite. It is difficult to see that kind of warmth that he possessed when we become machines without emotions and solidarity. As a young activist, I learnt from him so many things that it is difficult to narrate but every time when I would visit him, the first thing he would ask me to relax or take a cup of tea of coffee prepared by him. He would bring himself the tea and ask me to first have it and then discuss any other thing. He would inquire how am coming from a far away place to meet him and he always encouraged my deep sense of commitment to Ambedkarite thought.

Bhagwan Das was the first person who brought the issue untouchables ( I am using his term only as he refused to use the word Dalit) or Scheduled Castes at the international forums, at the United Nations and at various international human rights forums. Today, the Dalit issues have got international recognition and many may claim to have done it but the ground work for it was done by Bhagwan Das when there were not many civil society organizations working for human rights of the Dalits.

It is equally important to know that these Dalit rights organizations never felt to honor him or take his guidance on the issues of the Dalits in contemporary India. Of course, last year a Hindi literary journal devoted to Ambedkarite philosophy carried a special issue on him. It is tragic that a man of his stature remained a person non grata in his own community because he embraced Buddhism and was a true Ambedkarite. He was concerned about the manual scavenging practices in our society and was worried about their conditions and isolation with in the Dalit movement yet he never really supported the sub-caste identities. For him, being Ambedkarite was the most important part of a person life and that is where I felt that he was far above than many of his contemporaries. I understood the politics going in the name of Dalit Bahujan and had his own reservation about them. There were very few like him who could speak of conviction despite the emotional feelings of many. His commitment was to Baba Saheb Ambedkar’s thought and he traveled to nook and corner of the country to spread the message of Dr Ambedkar in true sense.

Today, when the media has been highlighting the ‘Dalit issues’ and some of them have given some ‘space’ to new ‘Dalit’ ‘movement’, yet the harsh reality is that none ever thought to approach him to speak on the contemporary issues. Was it because he did not have JNU tag which our media wants? Was it because he equally condemned the globalization and knew the international instruments of human rights much better and hence would not speak the language of the corporate media for the sake of appearing in their programme? It is shocking that none in the mainstream media thought of writing about the man who was undoubtedly the tallest Ambedkarite amongst us. Like Baba Saheb he reminded us the power of knowledge and self change. That cultural change in self made Bhagwan Das is much bigger than others but alas our political class, self proclaimed messiahs and so-called international activists would have taken a few things from him for the benefit of masses. He never resorted to rhetoric which are the hall mark of today’s literature and politics. He shined through his knowledge, his humility and his convictions. Whether corporatised brahmanical media remember him or not, Bhagwan Das remain am icon for all those who have not compromised on their basic principals and adhered to original philosophy of Baba Saheb Ambedkar of enlightenment through passion and participation. Like Baba Saheb Ambedkar, he left with a rich legacy of enormous material on Ambedkarism, Caste particularly related to Scheduled castes and on Buddhism. Generations will benefit from his work on caste and religion in India particularly those who are the most marginalized and how Dr Ambedkar fought his battle against the status quoits forces. As we grow and face so many challenges of caste, class, imperialism and communalism, Bhagwan Dasji’s writings will be the guide for us to understand Baba Saheb Ambedkar and how Ambedkar could have responded to current crisis. We remain indebted to him for his path breaking work on Baba Saheb Ambedkar and his unquestionable integrity to strengthen an Ambedkarite India where each one of us can live with equality, dignity and self esteem.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

How can we keep Indo-Pak relations free from prejudices

Reproducing from my archive in the interest of a positive India-Pakistan relationship.

Review Article

A Khakhi version of Indo-Pak relations

Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Indo-Pak relations have been subject of intense discussion for many in the subcontinent including the ‘security hawks’ and hate mongering foreign ministry experts. General K.M.Arif held important positions in the Pakistan army under different presidents and was particularly closer to General Zia-ul-Haq. Like many Pakistanis he also think that the stories on the Indo-Pak wars had been a one sided affair so far as only Indian versions have come out and Pakistan government has unnecessarily put restrictions on such publication. This is a lament by no less than a general that Pakistan should be an open society and that military should better concentrate on its professional duties rather then meddling into the political affairs of the country on the regular basis. This will, he argues, affect military capability to fight the external enemy i.e. India.

It is interesting to note the different intrigues that Pakistan polity face and the reasons sited by the General to justify military rule in Pakistan, though he must be complimented to put the internal security situation in Pakistan in a very clear perspective but the general has really been parochial and conventionalist when writing about India. His entire thesis on India shows how military in Pakistan and India both the countries have prejudices and bias about each other. The Pakistan army therefore does not hide its communal leaning in terming India as a Hindu state while Pakistan as a Muslim country. The general terms Nehru as a Hindu leader who had a vision for the country while Pakistan after the first round of leadership of the likes of M.A.Jinnah, Liaqat Ali Khan lacked a second ranking leadership. We sitting in India when analyse the Pakistan situation and its reason of military leadership lack the understanding of internal intrigues of Pakistan army and so-called democracy.

The general says that the 1965 Indo-Pak war was an unintended war in which ‘each side reacted disproportionately to the perceived provocation by the other and in the end lost control’. But he nevertheless blames India for the aggression quoting an known Jansangh leader Mr U.M.Trivedi in the Lok Sabha that the Indian army must go to ‘ right up to Lahore to bring Pakistan to its senses.’ Even the socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia wanted India to over run Pakistan. Of course, many in Indian think the same way as the general says but such opinion exist the other side of the border and it would be better for saner people not to give legitimacy and justification to such rhetoric. The General then pat the novice Pakistan leadership under Ayub Khan and quotes him as saying: If Pakistan wanted to commit aggression it would have chosen a better area than the mud flats and also a better time when the Indian forces were on the run after their defeat at the hands of China.

The author then goes on comment on the crisis that erupted in East Pakistan now known as Bangladesh. Though unlike many other Pakistanis he admit the fault of Punjabi dominated bureaucracy and leadership to ignore the claims of Bengalis in Pakistan’s national-political life. He says that since most of the Punjabi’s and Sindhies were educated enough hence they had a major share in bureaucracy but unfortunately Bengalis did not have the ‘ trained manpower’ and most importantly they were culturally dominated by Hindus who had a grudge against Pakistan. There was a slanderous campaign about uneven treatment given to East Pakistanis. And according to General Khan, Pakistani leadership should have acted in a much-matured fashion to diffuse the crisis. It is interesting to note that the general blames the illiteracy and untrained Bengali leadership for their under representation in the services and leadership and feel that it was overreacted by the Awami League president Sheikh Mujeeb who was conspiring against the Pakistanis with clear support from the Indian ruling establishment.

The process of Bangladesh was very old and began with the opposition of Urdu language in East Bengal where students were adamant that Bangla should be their mother tongue. Here the learned General supports Jinnah for supporting Urdu as the link language of the country and relates Bengali as a clearly Hindu dominated language, which un-necessarily swayed the Bangla Muslims. In the 1970 elections held for Pakistan’s National Assembly, Awami League won 160 seats out of 162 reserved for East Pakistan while Pakistan People’s Party of Z.A.Bhutto won 81 seats from West Pakistan out of 138 seats reserved for them. Clear enough Awami League should have been allowed to form the government but larger than life ego of Bhutto never really allowed this to succeed. According to the General, since both the parties were regional hence they should have formed the government jointly but he did not say that if there was no consensus than the democratically elected largest political party i.e. Awami League should have been invited to form the government in Pakistan. But then the general only justified this by his earlier saying that though East Bengal has a majority of seats and population, it did not have a ‘merit’ like the Punjabis and Sindhies and hence could not be filled in the respective quota. This itself is an argument which many of our upper caste fellows in India gives regarding the Dalits on the grounds that they don’t have required merit and hence they should not be allowed to come up with the general category boys. The argument regarding Urdu language is the same as that we face here in India regarding Hindi when states like Tamilnadu could go the extent of threatening to secede from India but then Nehru has a greater vision to run India and the foundation of Pakistan was on a very dangerous precedent. If Islam were the only thing that united all the Muslims of the subcontinent then Pakistan would not have so many internal problems for which blame is given not to Indian establishment but Hindus. This is a dangerous theory like Islam being presented globally as a religion of sword. The fact presented here reflects clearly that every community wants to preserve its culture and language. Nothing could be far from the truth when we say that religion decide culture. The proximity between Bengali Muslim and Bengali Hindu is much more than a Bengali Muslim and a Punjabi Muslim. It is true for all other cases.

Writing about Mohajir problem in Pakistan the author makes these points: “These people had settled in Pakistan but could not emotionally disengage themselves from the Ganga-Jamuni culture. Instead of merging themselves with the social and cultural environment of Sindh to create a new and enriched blend of distinticitve identity for Pakistan, they endeavored to practice their UP culture in the desert of Sindh and hoped that their cultural identity would also be adopted by the old Sindhis. This attitude brought them in conflict with the local nationalists power centers who were themselves no less possessive and proud of their own ancient language, distintictive dress and rich cultural heritage.” Interestingly, the general does not say that Pakistan itself became a victim of its own identity problem and that Muslim League a party of rich peasantry and migrants from UP had to ultimately bow to the pressure of local ethnic identities, though he suggest that Military interventions in Pakistan came because of a virtually corrupt and defunct political leadership and army being a nationalist organizations could not have allowed the country to go like this. Appreciably, the general still points out that Army is not the final answer for Pakistan’s problems but it is the democracy which will make Pakistan a strong nation and he lament how the vision of a democratic, plural and progressive Pakistan was lost due to the lure of power by the powerful feudal elite in Pakistan who usurped everything in the name of democracy. He says, “ Military dictators were not the sole spoilers of the democratic order. Many elected leaders in the country were in fact only democratic in name but autocratic in their conduct and behavior. They promoted a brand of sham democracy to further their personal interests and for reasons of political expediency. Such persons contributed no less in eroding Pakistan’s nascent democratic order.”

Paying tribute to Nehru as a great visionary, the General has made a post-mortem of Pakistan’s various military juntas who ruled the country under the pretext of democracy. In a remarkable show of clarity and sobriety he says: “ In their respective tenures in office Ayub, Yahya, Bhutto and Zia wore two hats each, one, that of the Chief martial law administrator, and the second, of the President of Pakistan. It was an administrative, legal and diplomatic requirement for the country to have a head of the state. However, in the spirit of law, this designation was misnomer. The four presidents of Pakistan were in reality about absolute military rulers who did not derive their authority either from the constitution, which was abrogated or suspended, or from the Parliament, which did not exist. They ruled by the gun and wielded absolute power without any institutional system of accountability.”

The author must be complimented for bringing out the most intriguing factors of Pakistan polity and its armed forces and he no doubt admits that in the power game it was West Pakistan, which dominated despite East Pakistan’s majority. Terming Z.A.Bhutto, former Pakistan prime minister as ‘ a feudal by birth, a socialist by his own declaration, but a capitalist at heart’, he says that Bhutto’s downfall was ultimately his own creation. The democratic institutions were considerably weakened during his period. That was a fact also in the cased of Nawaz Sharief which paved way for the intervention of army under General Parvez Musharraf. The general gives version of what Musharraf gave to Pakistan and does not try to give the other side of the story. He says that since the Institution of army was under threat hence Musharraf had to intervene. In an interesting inner revelation, the general says that General Zia was not interested to step in when Bhutto’s personalized cult touched a nadir in Pakistan. It was Bhutto, who wanted to divide the army and the army declined to fire on the protesters against the Bhutto administration which Zia feared would divide the only saved institution of Pakistan and that’s why he unwillingly imposed Martial Law in Pakistan. He however could not hide his military bias when he says that it was not military which gave death sentence to Bhutto but the courts and that Zia ultimately gave his consent for final hanging under public pressure. Given the cult of Bhutto in Pakistan, even today, one can only laugh at this that the president did not give pardon to a former prime minister because the people welcomed his persecution. The fact is that Zia went against a very large number of international appeals for an amnesty to Bhutto and hanged him so that he could rule Pakistan uninterruptedly because after Bhutto’s death Pakistan was plunged into a political crisis.

In the Epilogue of the book, the author speak about the Kargil war and how the ‘freedom fighters’ occupied the Kargil-Drass sector and surprised India’s military command. However, if this was the case of ‘freedom fighters’, then one wonder as the why the author is petting the Pakistan army for giving a run to India and finally Pakistan submitted because of the American Pressure.

This book has an interesting narration and many new things for the students of south Asian politics and army interventions in Pakistan. Perhaps, this is for the first time that a Pakistani general has openly given his viewpoint on the polity of the country. It is also good that a general of his caliber support democratic set up in the country and want the army to be out of the day-to-day politics of the country. However, there are many things which need to be introspected by the Indians and Pakistanis both, which is about our shared history and culture. It is here where the army men need more concentration, otherwise how could one justify comment from General Arif about Mohajir’s practicing
‘Ganga Jamuni’ culture in Pakistan was against the new identity of Pakistan. Why the general think that everything that Indian is dangerous for the identity of Pakistan. How could those who created Pakistan ( Mohazirs were in the forefront of it), forget about their culture and language. After all, the same general justify Urdu language as being declared as the national language of Pakistan despite the fact that it was not a language of any province in Pakistan. After all, Urdu itself is a ‘Gangajamnui’ language and has a great cultural legacy. Pakistan and India are two sovereign nation and have to remain neighbor for ever and it is therefore necessary as both work together to achieve peace and prosperity in the region and for this shared cultural legacy must be brought forward, rather than creating a fear psychosis of alien culture in the minds of our people which our political-military leadership had been doing in India and Pakistan. Ganga-Jamuni culture is not a bad culture and would definitely do better for Pakistan society than any other culture, which has divided the society. The hegimonistic Hindu India or Muslim evil Pakistan, as our army men would make us believe should now become a matter of past. This book must be read by all particularly Indians as it gives the ‘other’ side of story. It is an informative work and gives us ample scope to introspect and the author has full marks when he repeatedly speaks of a viable democracy in Pakistan free from religious fanaticism. Such thought gives us hope that military leadership in Pakistan will one day realize that ultimately it is democracy, which will bring laurels to Pakistan and not the army.

Name of the Book: Khaki Shadows: Pakistan (1947-1997)
Author: General K.M.Arif
Published by: Oxford University Press, Karachi
Year: 2001
Price: not mentioned
Pages: 450

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Understanding the Kashmir conflict through the eyes of a British relief workder

Lessons from a relief worker’s diary

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Discussion on the India-Pakistan relations often turned into the historical aspect of the issue namely Partition and we all have our own version of it. The aftermath of partition was equally horrific as migration of the huge population created an unimaginable problem for the government of both the newly independent countries and rumor mills had been working full time and no doubt some of the hardcore elements in both the government were ready to exploit the situation. And soon after independence the issue of
‘Mercenaries tribal’ assault as India wants us to believe or tribal uprising as Pakistan would like us believe, in Kashmir brought both the countries to war. The problem remained unresolved even after 50 years and one of the main reasons of deteriorating relation between the two countries. While Indian considers Kashmir as the symbol of their secular pride, the Pakistanis consider it an unfinished agenda of partition. IN between no body talks of Kashmiri people and how fundamentalism has grown there. The author Richard Symonds was a British officer who worked in different positions in India and a member of Kashmir’s independent Commission form by the UN. He had tried to be impartial though he had admitted that his access to Indian leaders was greater than the access to the Pakistani leaders, some of whom might be arrogant. The author no doubt learn from his Indian experiences and did not just confined himself to the issue of relief issue which he dealt during the famine period in Bengal for which he blamed a lackluster government headed by the Muslim League and the career oriented bureaucrats who were more busy to make happy their bosses then addressing the issues of the people. And see the subcontinent’s bureaucratic structure; it is still following to serve the same interest groups which it was serving during the Raj.

The author has brought many interesting facets about 1942 famine, partition, migration and Kashmir which are essential for students of history and political science who want to understand the core of the problems. The author has brought forward some such issues which have never been highlighted by any one because of his direct access to them and through his own experiences. Unfortunately, very little is available from his book about the people’s version of the Kashmir question, an issue that still haunts the entire subcontinent. Now the issue is not who is right and who is wrong. Who played treachery and who betrayed people’s cause? The issue is much bigger for how long we will continue to divide the same people, who have same cultural legacy, who fought together against imperialism, who contributed immensely for our art, architecture and music. Symonds experienced writing, therefore, should help us resolve our issues amicably rather then making them unrealistic and impossible. It should make our resolve stronger for a peaceful co-existence and must not think it anti-national if we question the wisdom of our leaders. It also reflects that whether demand for Pakistan might have come from communal consideration (this author does not pass any judgment on the issue, as it has both the sides) yet, Jinnah was never a communal man.

After Fifty years now we need to hear those who were fortunate enough to visit both sides of the border frequently and were able to bring the fact which remains tightly gripped in the hands of either Pakistani establishment or Indian bureaucrats because for long, we have left the objectivity to our parochial nationalistic interests. And it seems history for our officials and political leaders means when it suits to their ‘national pride’ or when Prithvi Raj defeated Mohammad Gori or later when Mohd Gori defeated Prithvi Raj Chauhan as both have now become symbol of Hindu and Muslim victory over each other.

So far from this meddling, Richard Symonds has done an interesting work to give us the first hand account of his experiences as a relief worker in India from 1942-1949. Symonds was not only a relief worker as the ‘officer in charge of the Indian section of the ‘Friends Ambulance Unit’, based in Calcutta during the 1943 infamous famine of Bengal. He was the Deputy Secretary to the Government of Bengal’. This book reveals the multifaceted personality of symonds as he not only writes about famine issue but also make critical observation on important aspect of India Pakistan relation.

It is interesting to note the 1942 account that the government was a shaky coalition headed by a former Leaguer Fazal-ul-Haq who formed his Krishak Proja Party and was joined by Forward Block and Hindu Mahasabha. In 1943 another Muslim League government was formed under Nazim-ud-Din with several Hindu and Scheduled caste members. This reflects how the elements of extreme rights were ready to leave aside their mutual hatred for the power politics. Terming the attitude of the bureaucrat in Bengal as pathetic and careerist the author quote an Australian journalist who was in India that time and went back saying that “ It will not be possible for many years ahead for India to do without a large number of British individuals in government service in a wide ranger of administrative, legal, medical, police and other professional and technical appointments.” Though this was a fact yet reflect unnecessary white superiority complex. In the same book the author has compliments two bureaucrats from India and Pakistan M/s H.M.Patel who later became India’s finance minister in 1975 under Morarji Desai’s government and Muhammad Ali from Pakistan for their exemplary work done after the partition.

In September 1947, one month after the partition, hundreds of thousands of people started migrating. There were communal disturbances and tempers were running high. When a communally charged Hindu stood in front of Nehru’s car and said: “they have their Pakistan, we will have our Hindustan”, Nehru got down from his car and caught the person from his collar and shook him. But despite Nehru, two ministers in the cabinet Sardar Patel, and Dr Shyama Prasad Mookerjee, who was the founder of Jan Sangh, were
not at all happy with the creation of Pakistan and issue of Muslims in India. It is important to know for the readers that former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee served as Secretary to Mookerjee, who groomed him as his political heir.

In November 1947 Jammu had seen the communal virus. The situation in Delhi was also grim though the cabinet committee was regularly meeting and Gandhi had strictly asked them to take care of the Muslims. About 1,75,000 refugees had come to Kurukshetra near Ambala and were living in tents. Because of being in a senior position and looking after the refugees work, access to government officials in both the countries was most interesting part of Symonds work. He quotes British Brigadier Collyer of Pakistani army in Sailkot: “War with India would be a folly for Pakistan, his troops are becoming more belligerent. The frontier tribes, he thought, had been let into the Kashmir valley by the Pakistanis as a bridge, a substitute for subsidy which the British used to pay them.”

It is interesting that the author reflect the Pakistani side also on the issue of Kashmir problem though he refuses to take side. He quotes a Pakistani official saying that Mount Batten had influenced Radcliff over the boundary award which had not only opened a possible route between India and Kashmir but had deprived Lahore of its source of electricity. Was it Mount Batten’s dislike for Jinnah because the latter did not make him Governor General of Pakistan as India did? Unfortunately, the issue of Governor General might have come later. It is also interesting to note that until 1941 Poonch had its own Raja and after his death the Maharaja of Kashmir took control over it and imposed severe taxes on his Muslim subjects. Perhaps that was one of the reasons why people stood up against him in revolt.

Very little has been written on the possible role of Gandhi on such an important issue of Kashmir. Had his importance finished after India attained independence from the British? On December 6th 1946 when the author met Gandhi at his house he ‘insisted’, Kashmir must not be partitioned even ‘though the whole of it were to go to Pakistan’. Gandhi felt dejected with the leadership at the end but his human side has also been reflected when he took personal care of Symonds when he almost fainted after meeting with him. Gandhi did not allow him to be admitted at the government hospital but instead insisted him (Symonds) to be shifted at his (Gandhi) house and according to the author he was then able to see Gandhi’s multi faceted personality and his philosophy of life which make him a much towering personality than any other political leader of his time.

When Indian and Pakistani army were fighting with each other over Kashmir in 1947, you call it an irony or paradox, the Commanders-in-chief on both sides were British and were in frequent telephone contact with each others in kind of chess game, implying ‘ if you bomb this, we shall shell that.’ This need to be pondered whether the Kashmir issue is a British creation who never wanted it to resolve? It need to be understood in the international strategy of the former Raj whether division of Kashmir between India and Pakistan have not been a British strategy so that a peace zone is not allowed to grow in the subcontinent. Otherwise who will go to them for assistance and support if there is a peace between India and Pakistan. It is also revealed in this book that Gilgit was always under direct control of the British and that people there were fully in favor of remaining with Pakistan in the very similar way as the people of Ladakh and Jammu were firmly behind India.

Symonds who also authored, ‘The Making of Pakistan”, reflected his experience with Pakistan ruling elite. They are interesting and important for the growth of a secular politics of the subcontinent. If partition is considered as a communal flair up then it is also important for us to reveal such facets of our leadership and people that reflected their broader outlook. The author compliments Jinnah as having understood the contribution of minorities particularly Hindus in the life of Pakistan and that is why, according to him Jinnah insisted, ‘Islamic flag of the state should include a broad white band to represent minorities.’ By explaining the hitherto un-known fact of Gandhi and Jinnah, the author has done a great service for the cause of common cultural legacy of the subcontinent, which is being erased by the war-mongering elite in both the countries. One such issue was assault on minorities in both the countries. On hearing about atrocities on Sikhs and Hindus in Pakistan, Jinnah told the National Assembly: “This is not the moment to go into the origin or cause of the holocaust or to apportion blame as to which community has disgraced itself the most. It will be for historians to give the verdict.” Jinnah’s political heir Liaquat Ali khan was equally committed to the cause of minorities and upliftment of depressed communities when he said in the Pakistan’s Constituent Assembly: “ Adequate provisions shall be made for the minorities to profess and practice their religion and develop their culture and adequate provision shall be made to safeguard the legitimate interests of minorities and backward and depressed communities and said that even a non Muslim could become the head of Muslim state. However, these facts have gone out of the minds of people. Even at the government level it became difficult for Pakistan to find non-Muslim representation
in the government and other semi government autonomous bodies. J.N. Mandal was the only non-Muslim minister that time belonged to Dalit community from undivided Bengal. Unfortunately despite over several millions Scheduled castes in East Bengal, which gave 17 SC members, but none of them was given due representation. The Pakistan government had reserved 6% of its civil services posts for the Scheduled Castes but practically it did not serve any purpose. Mandal feared Dalits might not get their due respect and representation in Pakistan and left for India as he was deeply impressed with the work done by Dr B.R.Ambedkar, the father of India’s Constitution and leaders of Dalits in India, who fought for their equal rights and political representation and reservation in the government services.

In the Epilogue of the book, the author sadly remarks that Pakistan could not provide a credible second ranking leadership after Jinnah and Liaqat Ali Khan and therefore a country which was hailed for high economic growth rate in early 50s and 60s lost its path.

The author has paid rich tribute to Gandhi for his human spirit and his ability to speak truth and admit his faults. He said: “ There is no such thing as Gandhiism. I don’t claim to have originated any new principle or doctrine. I have simply tried in my own way to apply the eternal truths to our daily life and problems. The opinions, I have formed and the conclusions I have arrived at are not by any means final. I may change them tomorrow if I find better ones” And that is one reason why the author says that despite his agreement with Gandhi on many issues he has not accepted anything as Gospel truth even from Mahatma but as he says from giving Gandhi’s example that ‘ there is no shame in admitting to changing an opinion in light of new evidence’. One can only hope that the government of the India and Pakistan will forget their bitterness emanating from the past and work for the people’s wish. Hopefully, we will become countries where people’s wish remains supreme and democratic values and multiculturalism strengthen every passing day and where the rulers are not ‘entrapped by pomp and pageantry.’ It is in this way, this book serve greater purpose if bureaucrats, and those in power, admit their follies, sit together and work on the issues facing their countries rather than fanning communal passion and blaming each others for all the evils they face after independence. Time call for an introspection and action for reconciliation, only then we could say that history is a learning process for civilization and how Jinnah said that it is not up to the political leaders but to the historians to decide as what went wrong. There is a need to spread these words of our visionary political leaders to our masses who have termed them either Pro Muslim or Pro Hindu but nothing as human being. Jinnah’s concern about security of Hindus were no lesser than Nehru’s concern about Muslims in India, hence it is important for us to speak about the issues and not heighten tension on the religious bigotry and communalization process which will ultimately strengthen hate-mongers and war- mongers in our subcontinent. It is also essential that such kind of revealing books must be publicized and probably published in local languages so that more and more people are able to read them and understand the humane nature of their political leaders. More importantly it is important for the current lot of political leaders to read such books and make their vision a little broader in terms of great cultural legacy of the subcontinent.

Name of the Book: In the Margins of Independence: A Relief worker in India and Pakistan: 1942-1949

Author: Richard Symonds

Publisher: Oxford University Press, Karachi,

Pages: 144

Price: not mentioned

Published : 2001