Editorial / Borders on two villages
A coup in slow motion
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / BORDERS ON TWO VILLAGES 
 
 
 
 
Two small villages in the Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh border have become the bone of contention between India and Bangladesh. Blood has been shed and lives have been lost. The asymmetry inherent in the situation is striking. For one thing, it is inexplicable that temperatures should rise over two hamlets. For another, the sheer discrepancy in the size and strength of the two sides involved. India, by any reckoning — in size, in military might, in numbers, in economic power and all other known criteria — is the strongest country in south Asia. That it should choose to quarrel with Bangladesh over two villages is a cause for some comment and concern. According to reports that are available, including the official Indian survey, one of the villages, Pyrdiwah, is actually Bangladesh territory in the possession of India. India claims that the other village, Baroibari, belongs to India but is in the possession of Bangladesh. There is also evidence that the flashpoint to the crisis was provided by Indian border forces when they tried to disrupt the status quo by trying to build a footpath connecting the outpost in Pyrdiwah to another one in Meghalaya. It is clear that beyond the niceties and the quibbles indulged in by the ministry of external affairs and the Border Security Force, India has to accept a major share of the responsibility for the totally unwarranted flare-up.

If India accepts that at least one of the two villages belongs to Bangladesh, what have Indian forces been doing there for so many years? What stops India from handing over to Bangladesh what legitimately belongs to Bangladesh? At an even more profound level, why does India squabble with a small neighbouring country which, in fact, it helped form? These are uncomfortable questions which the ministry of external affairs must answer. It has been India’s contention in all important international fora that China and Pakistan are holding on to areas that belong to India. This accusation loses all its moral force if India is seen to be holding on to territories which rightfully belong to Bangladesh. However distasteful it may sound to the mandarins in South Block, India’s policy towards its neighbours does have an ugly face. Events in the Assam-Meghalaya-Bangladesh border are proof of its existence. For obvious reasons, this face is visible first to India’s neighbours. The face is so heavily made up with the rhetoric of “security considerations”, “national interests” and such like that Indians take a long time to recognize it, if they recognize it at all.

Indian foreign policy cannot wish away the way India is perceived by its neighbours. Their reactions will be influenced as much by their perceptions as by official pronouncements. India’s size and strength inevitably make it the object of suspicion. There is always the fear among the neighbours that India’s ambitions — perceived or real — will threaten their sovereignty. India thus has to work twice as hard to convince its neighbours that it has no mala fide intentions. An incident like the one that has just happened on the border with Bangladesh with its attendant stories of butchery, torture and exchange of fire only serves to vitiate the entire process of creating goodwill and fellow feeling among neighbours. It is one of the situations in which India has to climb down from its high horse and apply balm on hurt egos to remove threats to a neighbour’s identity. This may not be acceptable to those who peddle the “powerful India” or even the “greater India” thesis. But this is not the time when India can afford to play games with its neighbours. To force through the most important task, economic reforms, India needs to be free from any kind of distraction and instability. Indian foreign policy is in the middle of changing its bearings. The nose of the ship of state is no lon- ger pointing towards Moscow but is looking towards Washington. In the context of such a shift, border games can only be a bizarre distraction which is best avoided.

   

 
 
A COUP IN SLOW MOTION 
 
 
BY MUKUL KESAVAN
 
 
L.K. Advani’s testimony to the Liberhan commission brought the Babri Masjid-Ram mandir controversy back to the front pages where it belongs. Predictably, Advani denied inciting the demolition, regretted the way in which the Babri “structure” was brought down and described it as one of the sadder days in his life. He simultaneously characterized the political movement that led to the demolition as nationalist, reiterated the old sangh parivar position that there had been a functioning temple within the Babri structure even before the demolition and pointed out that the makeshift shrine rigged up after the demolition was in fact the Ram mandir of Hindu aspiration.

He was saying that the manner in which the present “temple” was brought into being was unfortunate but its reality was irreversible. Building an elaborate superstructure was a matter of time but the deed was done.

In this way Advani wished to take the credit for the demolition of the Babri Mas- jid while avoiding any liability for the illegality of this act or for the violence that fo- llowed. As further insurance, Advani decl- ared that the Ram janmabhoomi issue was not one that the courts could resolve: this could only be done through negotiation or legislation. Before him, Vajpayee had announced that the Ram mandir could be built either through agreement or a favourable judgement, blithely assuming that no other outcome was possible.

There is, in fact, nothing before the courts that will swing the issue one way or the other, but by marking time on the issue while it remains short of a parliamentary majority, the Bharatiya Janata Party hopes that the noise made by the other branches of the sangh parivar will make the inevitability of an elaborate Ram mandir the common sense of Indian public opinion.

Already the Vishwa Hindu Parishad has urged the government to allow the installation of prefabricated parts of the temple all round the site of the razed mosque. The Ram mandir cause has always been advanced by furtively and illegally changing the facts on the ground from the installation of the idols in 1949 to the destruction of the mosque in 1992. The status quo has only ever moved in one direction: the Hindutva way.

I sense Babri Masjid fatigue, even amongst Muslims. In private conversations I have heard Muslims argue that since the mosque is gone, since it wasn’t being prayed in even when it did exist, if they can trade this past tense mosque for a promise of good behaviour in the future, why risk more Muslim lives in a hopeless cause?

I don’t presume to advise Muslims on matters where they have more to lose than I do, but as a citizen, this seems a bad and dangerous position. Apart from the impossibility of finding a representative Hindu party or institution that could give Muslims such a binding guarantee — specially given the artful discordance of the sangh parivar — this concession would formally acknowledge the rightness of the destruction of the mosque, the defeat of the rule of law and the immunity of Hindutva from any republican restraint. It would be tantamount to building the Ram mandir on Raisina Hill.

So long as the temple remains a makeshift affair, the victory of Hindutva, which entails the explicit recognition by the state of the legitimacy of the endeavour, remains incomplete. Once the great temple of sangh fantasists is actually built, it will become a monument to the Hindu nation in the same way as St Paul’s cathedral is a living celebration of British imperialism, crammed with memorials to men killed in colonial wars. The Ram temple will be less a religious shrine than a symbol of the Hindu ownership of the Indian nation. Its walls will be inscribed with the names of Hindu martyrs who died in the struggle and Ayodhya will be the capital of kaliyug’s Ram rajya.

The nationalism of the freedom struggle was deliberately pluralist and inclusive because the Congress needed to persuade both Indians and the raj that it spoke for the nation. It didn’t wholly succeed in this effort and Partition bears witness to that failure. But despite Partition, the inclusiveness of the Congress’s anti-colonial nationalism gave India a secular Constitution. This secularism had one object: it wanted to make the republic credible to all its constituents. Put another way, Indian secularism, which grew out of the nationalism of the freedom struggle, tried to establish a set of norms that prevented any one religious group, regardless of its size or competence or power, from monopolizing the culture and politics of the nation and its institutions.

The campaign for the Ram mandir was (and is) a concerted attempt to rig the republic’s polity in a monopolist way. Hindutva is a bid to take over the state in the name of the Hindu majority, it’s a coup in slow motion. More hinges upon the Babri Masjid dispute and its resolution than the fate of a mosque or even the fate of other mosques like those at Mathura and Varanasi. The real estate in dispute is not the site on which the Babri Masjid once stood, but the constitutional ground on which the our republic is built.

This is an argument about India. When Chamberlain connived at the German annexation of Sudetenland to buy peace, he mistook a preliminary to world-conquest for a border dispute.

We shouldn’t make the same mistake. Every time Advani and his cohorts represent the Ram mandir as a fait accompli, we need to argue back because unanswered assertions have a way of becoming public opinion. To remain silent, or worse, to accept their claims in Ayodhya, is to accept that Hindu grievance takes precedence over the republic’s laws and its institutions.

To be reasonable about locating the Ram mandir at the site of the Babri Masjid would be fatal; we need to be dogmatic in our opposition to this idea.

Political evil generally isn’t spectacular; the demolition of the Babri Masjid (and its attendant horror) was exceptional. The construction of the Ram mandir, where the sangh parivar wants it built, won’t lead to apocalypse. The world will look the same but the common sense of the republic will have shifted. It will begin to seem reasonable that a majority should have its sensibilities respected and in this way we shall have become some other country.

 

mukulkesavan @ hotmail.com

 

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Married to the cause

The head probably won’t roll, but it is unlikely the axe wouldn’t even graze the neck. Lone rebel Ajit Panja might retain his party membership, but there are doubts didi would, after all the theatre, concede to his remaining the party chairman. Reportedly Mamata Banerjee has already chosen her man of the moment. It is Trinamool’s chief whip in the Lok Sabha, Sudip Bandopadhyay. Mamata has apparently already conveyed her decision to some close aides who are keeping a tab on the party’s election process. “Sudipda is very close to didi these days and is going to replace Ajitda in a day or two,” is how a Trinamool leader described the transition. But there is a woman behind the man behind didi. Credit for Sudip’s coup goes to his actress-turned-politician wife, Nayana, who apparently spends most of her time with Mamata nowadays. A Trinamool nominee for the Bowbazar assembly seat, Nayana, is reported to have time and again requested the leading lady to induct her husband into the government when the Trinamool was still married to the NDA. Didi, says an important Trinamool leader, could not do so because of Panja’s resistance. With Panja having fallen out with didi, Nayana seems to have seized her moment. Sudip meanwhile has also risen metres in the eyes of Mamata, having successfully brokered the party’s alliance with the Congress. May the two find true marital bliss in the service of didi.

Face to face with reality

In the service of the Congress as the party’s member of the Lok Sabha from Andhra Pradesh, political heavyweight, Renuka Choudhary, never shies away from a good political duel. Until perhaps this instance. Last week, when the two houses of Parliament were adjourned yet again after the government peremptorily rejected the Congress demand for a JPC on the Tehelka issue, Choudhary accusingly asked the law minister, Arun Jaitley, “How long will you persist with the paralysis of Parliament?” Pat came the reply, “You climbed up the tree. Now you want us to provide you the ladder so that you can climb down? Why should we oblige you?” Renuka apparently made a quick getaway from the central hall of Parliament after this sniper attack. One might remember that the Congress now finds itself isolated on the JPC stand and is looking for any face-saver to resile from its stand. Not much good looking up at the BJP’s face itself, is it Choudhary?

Plans for kitty parties

The Congress might in the end have to depend on its president’s face value. Raising funds for the ensuing assembly polls is turning out to be a nightmare. The nine Congress-ruled states have washed their hands of the matter citing Tehelka as an obvious obstacle to the exercise. Some want madam to organize contributory dinners where guests would be charged thousands of rupees to interact with the Congresswallahs.The idea looks good, but who’ll check the antecedents of those who turn up as guests? After all, if a tainted person is spotted dining with madam, the fund-raising event might attract more spycams than madam would be comfortable with.

Tugged in the war

The battle over the Dalit votebank seems to be getting more and more serious every day. On Sunday, New Delhi’s Vittal Bhai Patel Bhawan is set to witness a titanic tussle among the Mayavati-Kanshi Ram combine, Ram Vilas Paswan and VP Singh-Ram Raj duo. The schedule for the VP House runs like this. At 10 in the morning, it will be Paswan demonstrating his hold over the Dalits. An hour later, it will be Mayavati trying her charm on the votebank. In the evening, Mandal messiah VP Singh will address Dalits in the august company of former civil servant, Ram Raj. On December 6, also famous as the death anniversary of BR Ambedkar, a similar trial of strength had taken place among the BJP-backed Paswan, Ram Raj and Mayavati, trying to pull the weaker sections in all directions. Will they prove strong enough to resist?

Pay your duties

Customsgate is getting sleazier. The CBI believes the arrest of the Uzbek women revealed the biggest prostitution ring unearthed, involving politicians, businessmen and bureaucrats. Accused Bhavna Pandey is singing loud and clear, but that’s no reason to bet on her words. Pandey apparently set the CBI on a wild goose chase recently, claiming a Nehru-Gandhi was involved in a shady deal in Madhya Pradesh. Must have been really bogus. No reason the Nehru-Gandhi should have been spared otherwise in these Tehelka days.

Footnote / Some boys play at night

It takes a lot of hard work to sell a party, as Tariq Anwar of the Nationalist Congress Party found out recently. The NCP gen-sec had a tough time in Calcutta when he had to accompany other leaders of his party to the West Bengal assembly house and the MLA hostel on Kyd Street in search of Congress MLAs. Convinced that the disgruntled Congress MLAs, who had been denied tickets, would be easy meat, NCP leaders hounded them everywhere. “NCP leaders are even knocking on our doors in the MLA hostel at the dead of night with a request to switch over to their party,” says one of the hunted legislators, irritated at having his slumber disrupted. Desperate to rope them in, NCP even offered them party tickets to contest the May 10 polls. Anwar, who was extremely uneasy with the nocturnal activities to begin with, is said to have ended up “wondering” at the way the party leaders of the state had gone about the job. An NCP leader added with great satisfaction, “at least we have been able to establish that the NCP is a party to reckon with in Bengal.” It would probably require more night time outings to keep it that way.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Dramatic differences

Sir — Jayaprada, actress-turned-Telugu Desam Party member-of-parliament-turned-actress, says it gives her a “nice feeling” to be back in Bollywood (“Jayaprada returns to Bollywood”, April 18). Does that mean she wasn’t having a nice enough time in Parliament? Perhaps no, since Jayaprada, in her comeback film, Bharat Bhagya Vidhata, will be playing the wife of the home minister. Shatrughan Sinha, another actor-turned- Bharatiya Janata Party-politician, will be playing her husband. If their parties’ alliance is anything to go by, the film will bring the jingle of money into the box office. Sinha and Jayaprada will also have a chance to find out which is higher on drama, Indian politics or Indian films.
Yours faithfully,
Pritam Sharma, via email

Men are human too

Sir — Dipankar Lahiri, in his article, “Working on the relationship” (April 12), tends to exaggerate. The gender bias in favour of women in the Constitution is impossible to overlook or wish away. But the misery of the men, which Lahiri draws attention to, exists only in the realm of the possible. For, equal rights for women can be conceived of in a limited way in the upper and the upper-middle classes of the country. The vast majority still languish in medieval, male-dominated conditions. It is therefore, only appropriate that at least for the next quarter of the century, Indian legislation should stand by these millions, even at the cost of reflecting an unseemly bias.
Yours faithfully,
Susanta Kumar Biswas, Calcutta

Sir — Dipankar Lahiri has hit the nail on its head by pointing out the anomalies in the proposed bill on domestic violence. At long last, someone has stopped to consider the plight of those men who are oppressed, both physically and mentally, by their wives.

Lawmakers, by definition, should not be biased. Even if the number of men tortured by their wives is negligible compared to the number of women subjected to domestic violence, there should be provisions to protect the men too, to match the laws to protect women. As it is unlikely that a man would seek the help of law or lodge a complaint against his erring wife, women have always had an advantage at home and at the workplace in this.

Such contradictions and anomalies keep plaguing the Indian legal system, which needs to be reviewed and shorn of unfair clauses.

Yours faithfully,
Diptimoy Ghosh, Calcutta

New goal

Sir — If the attitude is positive, then any goal can be achieved. The Indian football team, in carving out a brilliant win against UAE, and a draw against Yemen, have proved this (“Spirited Indians stun UAE”, April 9). The win against UAE has come at a time when Indian football was being considered a thing of the past. All the Indian players excelled in their positions, and the team played with renewed vigour after the arrival of I.M. Vijayan as substitute. And Bhaichung Bhutia, the captain, put his experience of playing in the English league to good use.

If we look at the last tournament the Indians played, the Millennium Cup, the change in the attitude will be evident. India’s aim then was to concede fewer goals. Now it has turned into a more positive and aggressive side. Once the players start believing that they can beat the top teams of Asia, there will be a resurgence in Indian soccer.

Yours faithfully,
Rajarshi Ghosh, Calcutta

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