Editorial/Clarion call to fantasy
Carterpuri revisited
Letters to the Editor

The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh has bared its teeth. The new RSS chief, Mr K.S. Sudarshan, is openly talking about an epic war between Hindus and anti-Hindus, in the speculative description of which he has freely drawn on incidents and characters of the Mahabharata. Such is his teleological awareness, clearly representative of the body he heads, that he has said the “fifth act will explain what this drama means”. The “fifth act”, of course, is the one inaugurated by himself, he being the fifth sarsanghchalak of the RSS. The “drama” is to climax in the “explosion of Hindutva” in the new millennium, the apogee in the series of events which began with the Hindu “awakening” initiated by the first RSS chief, K.B. Hedgewar.

“Let Muslims look upon Ram as their hero and the communal problems will all be over,” said the Organiser in 1971. Nothing has changed in the attitude of the RSS. The “new age” Mr Sudarshan is talking about is the age of the ascendancy of Hindutva, and resonates with all the violence and communal hatred implicit in the comment made 30 years ago. What is at all new about the RSS is its sudden greed for publicity. Historically, the body has always tended to work behind the scenes, like all organizations fired with the dream of silent infiltration and victory, and has sent the young men it trained out into the “front” organizations of which the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, the Bajrang Dal, the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh and the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad are today among the most prominent. The desire for publicity has obviously been prompted by the RSS’s insecurity vis a vis the Bharatiya Janata Party. The RSS’s political offspring has outgrown its parent, prompting it to frantically extend its talons.

What is most revealing about Mr Sudarshan’s aggressive and upbeat rhetoric is the apparently thoughtless destruction of the myth of the RSS’s time-honoured “cultural” agenda. The organization has always insisted that its “work” lies in the propagation of Hindu culture alone, without any political overtones. That is why the nation was forcibly reminded of the prime minister’s ideological roots when he declared recently that the RSS was a socio-cultural organization, not a political one. The RSS’s self-propagated image, of course, depended on a slightly unintelligent play of words. Spreading Hindu culture means building up the notion of a majoritarian and authoritarian Hindu rashtra, where Hindus will lay down the rules and the minorities abide by them. The entire concept of Hindu culture was premised on antagonism towards the non-Hindu. The obvious manifestations of violence against minorities were conveniently given over to the “front” organizations. In his haste to claim the growth of Hindu power and assert the RSS’s supremacy over those branches of the sangh parivar which are now recruiting many more members than the RSS, Mr Sudarshan has made no bones about declaring that they are all in it together. The “culture” myth has gone for a six.

What is amazing about the RSS chief’s dramatic statement is its total lack of political savvy. The power the RSS hankers after will not be achieved without political means. And here the BJP is, ultimately, its only hope. By unmistakeably tarring the BJP with the aggressively communal brush and ripping open the “hidden agenda” a large section of the people are so wary of, Mr Sudarshan is doing the BJP untold harm, not only with sections of the electorate but with a lot of its allies as well. It will become very difficult for the BJP to convince them that it is suffering from such effective amnesia that its RSS trained leaders are finding it impossible to recognize the bases of Mr Sudarshan’s tenets. And the opposition will have a whale of a time thumping the table over always suspected links between every BJP decision and Mr Sudarshan’s apocalyptic vision.    

Bearing in mind that Bill Clinton arrives tomorrow, I drove out some 16 miles southwest of Delhi last weekend to a site in Gurgaon district that was consecrated by the last American president to visit India. Expecting tangible memorabilia in Daulatpur-Nasirabad village, which an enthusiastic sarpanch renamed Carterpuri in 1978, I found only myth and legend. Nothing else survives.

The Clinton visit long ago started to gather its own moss of makebelieve. The favoured version is that if the government signs the comprehensive test ban treaty (which the United States’s Republican congress refused to ratify) India will at once be hailed as the world’s sixth nuclear power. Subcritical testing will ensure that nuclear capability or weaponization are not frozen. At the same time, a grateful US will lift the sanctions imposed after Pokhran II and the ban on the transfer of dual use technology that goes back to Pokhran I.

This is wishful thinking. Of course, India needs the US. Of that there is no doubt. It is the most important source of investment funds; it is the world’s biggest trading nation; its voice is decisive in international counsels, financial and diplomatic. Only Washington can help India cope with hostile neighbours who, too, cannot do without American cooperation. If the US had not also needed India, nuclear-armed, crying out for investment and with the promise of the world’s second biggest market, Clinton would not have been making this trip at all.

But a sober assessment of the likely yield from elaborate preparations for the visit is not encouraging. At one level, moves like lifting quantitative restrictions on imports, a raft of privatization pledges, easing the route for foreign investment and, above all, making it clear that India is prepared to sign the CTBT, flesh out Atal Behari Vajpayee’s telephone promise of a “warm welcome”.

At another, the entire government machinery is in turmoil to honour the guest, his daughter, mother-in-law, possibly his dog, and an entourage of more than a thousand officials, politicians, businessmen, Marines, intelligence personnel and journalists.

Rashtrapati Bhavan, where Jimmy Carter and Queen Elizabeth stayed, is not good enough. Everyone else has been thrown out of the Maurya Sheraton for Clinton’s day and a half in New Delhi. The sanitized security perimeter extends to a kilometre in every direction from the hotel. The Americans have been carrying out bizarre exercises to ensure their president’s safety.

No one will grudge these arrangements. In any case, the economic measures are necessary for domestic growth. But what will signing the CTBT bring us? In spite of some sponsored seminars at the India International Centre — where else since the Sapru House forum is believed to be more sympathetic to Congress these days? — to create the appropriate climate, there is no sign of the national consensus that Vajpayee asked for.

The Bharatiya Janata Party is divided. The Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh opposed the treaty long before its new hardline chief, K.S. Sudarshan, demanded an end to liberalization and a return to swadeshi and Gandhian economics. The left stands with the right so far as testing is concerned. An enfeebled Congress cannot say yea or nay. The scientific community is not sure that India has the technological expertise to continue subcritical tests if it discontinues underground explosions. No one knows what compensation the US can offer.

The treaty is suspended in midair like a mushroom cloud because of India’s vetoes in Geneva and New York. P.V. Narasimha Rao, H.D. Deve Gowda, Inder Kumar Gujral and Vajpayee’s own BJP opposed it. To sign it during, or even immediately after, the visit would look like succumbing to pressure. The Americans are careful to stress that it is a multilateral, not bilateral, issue. They also insist that endorsement must be unconditional.

The plain fact is that whatever the government might fondly hope, the CTBT cannot transform India from de facto to de jure nuclear power. It says nothing about nuclear haves or have nots. It only forbids testing. The nuclear nonproliferation treaty which lists the Big Five is immutable.

Given this regime, which Americans from the president down to Karl Inderfurth, the state department official responsible for south Asia, have repeatedly sworn to uphold, there is no way in which India can come in from the nuclear cold. It will forever remain an outlaw in the eyes of those who got there first and pulled up the ladder after them.Moreover, India’s nuclear achievement will continue to attract punishment under the domestic American legislation that Clinton invoked immediately after Pokhran II without even waiting for the 30 days that the law allows.

Washington’s apologists point to the sanctions waiver that congress granted Clinton, the shortened list of entities singled out for punishment, and the release of multilateral funds for certain purposes. They say that sanctions will gradually be eroded.

Perhaps. But is India’s international standing going to depend on loopholes in the law, diplomatic sleight of hand and the leniency of multilateral institutions? Does the government hope to slip undetected into the nuclear club through the backdoor? Actually, there would be no miraculous rapprochement even if differences over the CTBT were wished away.

For, like those other disputes over matters ranging from tariff barriers to missiles, this is symptom rather than cause. It is fashionable to deplore that both countries are prisoners of a past dominated by Krishna Menon and John Foster Dulles. It would be more accurate to suggest that Menon and Dulles represented national positions that reflected sensitivity to the obligations of history and geography, giving each country its own sense of destiny.

Having realized their historic role, the Americans are more honest than we are. They acknowledge the potential for conflict in the two national positions. General Dynamics’ presentation on handling Kashmir, the Lee Butler report on third world nuclear and missile facilities, and the Pentagon’s highly publicized “lone superpower” position paper articulate a world view based on certain assumptions about India’s aspirations.

Less well known is the report of a congressional commission which argued in 1998 that the “growing missile and weapons of mass destruction capabilities” of countries like India “have direct effects on United States policies, both regional and global, and could significantly affect United States capability to play a stabilizing role in Asia”.

Fanciful some of these war games might be, but they do indicate a major gulf in strategic perception. In word and deed, the Americans still indicate that they expect China to take a supervisory interest in the subcontinent. Americans scornfully dismiss Indian threat perceptions.

Kargil and Pervez Musharraf’s coup have not significantly dented their partnership with Pakistan. The present welcome on fighting terrorism may survive US obsession with Osama bin Laden. The crucial divergence is over Kashmir. Apart from differing views on the state’s accession and status, India sees the dispute as symptom of a deeper Pakistani malaise. For the US, it is the major, if not only, flashpoint so that everything would be hunky-dory if only India allowed Clinton to test his peacemaking talents as in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo and Kargil.

Carter also inspired hopes of a brave new Indo-American world when he spent 45 minutes in Carterpuri, saying “I like it here. I may come back and run for office.” The memory is like Ozymandias’s greatness in the crumbling haveli at the end of a dusty lane amidst the brand new houses of Sector 23, Haryana Urban Development Authority. There lingers only the sad fantasies of villagers who proudly showed me the tiny upstairs room where, they have convinced themselves, Lillian Carter gave birth to the future president.

Carterpuri honours a past that never was. Delhi waits for a future that may never be unless India can come to terms with the hard realities of American self-interest and adjust them to India’s own economic needs.    


Genie in the bottle

Sir — Since when did liquor barons start believing they could “serve the nation” and since when did Indians start assuming they could be of any service besides sponsoring polo tournaments, horse races and fashion shows (“Mallya adds froth to RS fray”, March 15)? India has at least one state entirely under prohibition. In others, as in Haryana and Tamil Nadu, women voters fighting the liquor scourge bring governments to power. Prohibition is as yet a celebrated directive principle of state policy. Could a nation which presumably still swears by M.K. Gandhi, if the protests against Hey Ram are anything to go by, afford to have a dealer in liquor in the august chambers of the Rajya Sabha?

Yours faithfully,
T. Sarkar, Calcutta

Repeating old lessons

Sir — The report, “Teachers’ boycott derails Jadavpur exams”( March 7), reveals how a minister of the state can be duplicitous in dealing with teachers. This proves that the regime of the left can go to any extent to suit its own purposes. Institutions of health, education and so on have all been adversely affected in this state because of the Left Front’s misrule. It is absolutely undesirable that university teachers should be compelled to cease work so that their demands are met.

It is only possible in a state like West Bengal that teachers are being put at the mercy of an adamant government. Arrears that are due to teachers by the Centre’s sanction are unreasonably being held up by the state government. It is but natural that teachers would lose restraint and go on strike even when it is least expected from them.

Yours faithfully,
Anindya Kundu, Calcutta

Sir — The state government has deprived the school librarians of their basic rights, even ignoring courts’ verdicts. Earlier, state-based commissions like the Mudaliar commission , Kothari commission , Mitra commission, had all mentioned the need for good school libraries and librarians. The National Council of Educational Research and Training feels the same way. And the Calcutta high court, in its verdict in 1990, directed the government that the school librarian should be “entitled to enjoy the payscale of an assistant teacher”.

The All Bengal Teachers’ Association, Bengal Library Association, West Bengal Headmasters’ Association have also demanded the same of the government. In the early Nineties, Jyoti Basu had promised in the assembly while accepting the Mitra commission’s report, that there would be the position of a school librarian whose payscale would be at par with that of the teachers. But nothing has yet come of it, resulting in a condition that is detrimental to the interests of both schools and librarians.

Yours faithfully,
Bidyut Pramanik, Nadia

Sir — Since independence, there have been repeated discussions over retaining English as a medium of education. For most, the very idea of educating their children in English means perpetuating the colonial hangover. The only way to get rid of the aftermath of the British rule is to introduce vernacular languages as the only media of education. But it would be more realistic to accept that we cannot do away with English altogether. It has practically become an everyday language of communication for us. English has also helped in uniting people across the nation. Also, English becomes unavoidable in higher studies. It is wise to accept this fact as the basis of our education system.

Yours faithfully,
Somnath Das Choudhury, Kharagpur

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