Editorial / Advantage India
Morality beyond terror
The Telegraph Diary
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / ADVANTAGE INDIA 
 
 
 
 
In his address to the nation on Friday, the prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, practically put the country on a war footing. Many will feel this was a bit premature since the United States has not made up its mind about the nature and timing of the offensive it will launch against those who attacked New York and Washington. It will not be an exaggeration to say that this human calamity of gigantic proportions is for India a godsend. From the time of the Bombay blasts in 1993, successive Indian governments in every appropriate international forum have been crying themselves hoarse on the oppressive presence of externally sponsored terrorism on Indian soil. There has not been any doubt in the minds of Indian authorities that terrorists with evil designs on India have been trained in Pakistan and have found safe haven there. But international opinion, led by the US, has never taken the Indian allegations very seriously. This response of the US was formed by the Cold War scheme of things, in which Pakistan was seen as an ally. Now, things have taken a full 180-degree turn. It is being made clear that in a world in which even the US can be physically hit by Islamic fanatics, Pakistan cannot be completely trusted. The regime in Pakistan has been put on trial: it has to prove that it is willing to go beyond words in the fight to end global terrorism. This is the context in which India quite rightly sees a window of opportunity.

Mr Vajpayee’s address is an overture to the US. It tries to tell the world’s greatest power that India is willing to extend all forms of cooperation to any military move that the US makes. The US has not asked for any military cooperation from India. But Mr Vajpayee is keen to make India an active participant in the battle against terrorism. This is to India’s advantage. India has been wanting the obliteration of the terrorist training camps that dot Pakistan-occupied Kashmir. Now, thanks to US pressure, Pakistan may well be forced to do so. The belligerence that was so evident in the posture and utterances of the Pakistan president, Mr Pervez Musharraf, in Agra has faded. He is now singing a different and a less strident tune. India would like to cash in on this advantage. It surprised nobody that Mr Vajpayee all but named Pakistan as one of the nations that extended its patronage to terrorists.

The astute Mr Vajpayee cannot be blind to the domestic dividends that can result from a bellicose attitude towards Pakistan. Such an attitude will provide him and the Bharatiya Janata Party with an easy access to the Hindu vote bank in Uttar Pradesh, where elections are forthcoming and where the BJP is predicted to make a poor showing. Moreover, an active role in the war against militant Islamic fundamentalism will enhance Mr Vajpayee’s prestige and standing. The BJP is bound to gain from such a situation. The mention of these considerations should not be interpreted as an attempt to belittle Mr Vajpayee’s commitment to eradicate terrorism from the world. It is one of the conditions where a greater good presents sectoral advantages. Mr Vajpayee can see himself as being specially blessed and fortunate in this regard.

   

 
 
MORALITY BEYOND TERROR 
 
 
BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
 
 
As the grave enormity of the events that have unfolded in New York and Washington sinks in, we are all struggling to find our moral and political bearings. The two most potent symbols of American power in the 20th century, the centres of its commerce and its military, might lie in ruins. The unspeakable suffering and loss caused by these audacious acts of terror make us all feel more vulnerable. And as sadness gives way to the determined desire for revenge, Americans are at a loss about how to respond to this tragedy. Most of us, watching from this distance, share these anxieties.

Whatever our views of American power in the 20th century, we have been profoundly shaped by it. Its symbols are more vividly concrete to us and are the object of a complex set of emotional associations than any other set of symbols. The vulnerability produced by terror, and the insecure paranoia it can produce, are familiar to all nations reeling under the pressures of irredentist forces. And the uncertainties of how to respond still plague our own imaginations and unsettle our moral convictions.

The most lasting good that comes of this tragedy will be if the just desire to punish the perpetrators and all those who harbour them is accompanied by an enduring reflection of what this event means. American leaders have rightly described the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon as an attack on freedom, an attack on civilization and an attack on a whole way of life.

Whatever we may think of the concrete applications of American power, the ideals of an open and free society ought to rally us as it rallies Americans. But it is said that the true line between civilization and barbarism is tested only when civilization is challenged by barbarism. Can civilized nations, free societies respond to these challenges without acquiring the hues of the very barbarism that they deplore? This question has plagued every operation against terrorism. The inability to take this question seriously has often blurred the lines between legitimate states and the violent groups they were combating. This question ought to be uppermost in America’s mind as it seeks to hunt down the perpetrators.

While in the short run, in the face of an assault of this kind, an action signalling a nation’s resolve to not let acts of terror go unpunished is appropriate, America will strengthen its cause if it stands on the high ground that ponders the widest possible meaning of this event. It has been clear to all but the most obtuse, that modern states do not enjoy a monopoly over the means of violence, they are all vulnerable to attacks of the kind we have just witnessed. But the community of nations has been less willing to own up to the fact that states themselves have given such violent groups succour and support.

It would be a comforting fiction if we could all continue to believe that only a few rogue states like Afghanistan or Pakistan harbour and support such activity. But the plain truth of the matter is that many legitimate states, India and the United States included, have, directly or indirectly, created and sustained groups that have come to haunt them. The proliferation of the weapons of destruction, the financial means and resources that sustain terrorist groups, the initial opening of political spaces to their leaders, have all been sustained as much by the imperatives of geo-politics as they have by the commitments of the groups themselves.

We have to recognize not only the need to combat terrorism, but also the merciless logic of violence. Many states have nurtured armed groups for their own strategic imperatives, in the vain hope that they can be controlled. But which group, anywhere in the world, once it has acquired the means of violence, stays within its original bounds?

It is also a comforting fiction to think that only “Islamic” fundamentalists constitute a threat to peace. That abstraction, not only risks misdiagnosing the causes of violence, by indiscriminately drawing into its ambit a wide variety of peoples, it also blocks from view the many forms of violence in which so many states are complicit. From Sri Lanka to Somalia, Pakistan to Colombia, states have abetted the proliferation of small violence that cumulatively comes to haunt the very states that nurtured them.

The lasting lesson to draw from this tragedy is that the proliferation of small violent groups should be discouraged, even if those groups often serve the short-term strategic interests of legitimate powers. They should not become the object of concern only when they turn their violence against you. The global resolve to fight terrorism, if it is to be credible, has to be a resolve to discourage and control a wide range of targets, not just a few select groups. In this century, the mounting effects of decentred violence have torn more modern societies asunder than the devastations of war.

The unprecedented outpouring of support, from allies and former adversaries, for the US, ought to be used to strengthen multilateral security institutions. The US has often been impatient and contemptuous of multilateralism. Given the hesitations and divisions of the international community, and the grand posturing that many nations engage in, such suspicion of multilateralism was not entirely unjustified. But unilateralism in the long run did disservice to the US and the rest of the world. It blurred the boundaries between legitimate and illegitimate intervention, generated resentment at American power and made it impossible for international institutions to be part of anything other than a play of power politics.

American missile strikes against Sudan, for instance, failed miserably to hit their desired targets. But more important, American unilateralism has put the legitimacy of international institutions at risk. In any case, the unilateralism and withdrawal from the world that the Bush administration has so fondly preached are something of a great power’s presumptuous illusion.

America needs allies, it needs the cooperation of many nations, and giving those nations due deference will strengthen both the cause of world peace and American interests. If America operates by seeking the cooperation of multilateral institutions, it will set a healthy precedent. The international community, for its part, will have to put aside their envy of American power and sincerely come together to combat a menace that threatens us all.

There is a danger that a new rhetoric and animus against Islam that this terrorist act will occasion will prove counter-productive. While President Bush has so far been admirable in his resolve not to tar all Arabs, and especially Arab Americans, with guilt by association, American public opinion may be less forgiving. Drawing the boundaries of conflict around Islam and its others is a dangerous way of polarizing the world. It denies the complex complicities that lie behind this violence.

The tragedy of Islam at the moment is that there is no credible group of states that can coherently represent the voices of a moderate and liberal Islam on the world stage. Egypt and Jordan are too weak; Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia too immoderate, Indonesia too multi-cultural. It will fall on the international community to do the difficult work of making sure that whole peoples are not condemned because of the heinous crimes of a few. After all, one of the key distinctions between barbarism and civilization is the ability to discriminate.

Terrorists carpet-bomb the moral landscape by refusing all distinctions: between soldiers and civilians, innocent and guilty, states and their peoples, protest and terror. For the US, or any other country for that matter, to end up with an undiscriminating attitude towards whole peoples because of a few perpetrators of grievous crimes would be to give terrorists the ultimate victory. It would make barbarians of us all.

The author is professor of philosophy, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi

   

 
 
THE TELEGRAPH DIARY 
 
 
 
 

Rise and shine

A bit of mudslinging here. But with a purpose. In the recently released Nayak, beta Anil Kapoor canoodles with Rani Mukherjee, and not always chori chori chupke chupke. But the choron ka raja might not have had this lamhe at all had the director had his way. The ageing actor was asked to do a Mr India, walk shirtless that is. But the star, not a very frequent visitor to the gym, knew he would make a fool of himself if he danced to this chap’s taal. The director, nevertheless, made it clear that Anil had to show his muscles if he wanted to remain in the show. Fair enough. A rigorous regimen after, our bechara could show some of his biceps, but the nice rounded bulge in the middle could still be seen. It was then that our nayak is said to have had this bright idea, “Why not wrap me up in mud?” The distended middle would then never show. The camera rolled thereafter and that is how the mud-caked Anil got pasted on our walls.

What spoilt the show

Inscrutable Indians. The Samajwadi Party leaders are cursing the terrorists who went on a rampage in New York and Washington DC. But not because of their love for the Americans. The World Trade Center collapsed the day the Samajwadi Party members of the Uttar Pradesh legislature resigned to protest against the failure of the BJP government there. Despite their attempts to make headlines, the news of the resignation got tucked into the corner of the inside pages in newspapers. Congresswallahs, otherwise knowing not where to hide their faces, loved every bit of the Samajwadi Party discomfort. The AICC gen-sec, Ghulam Nabi Azad, had one valuable advice to give to his opponents: “Why don’t Samajwadi Party MPs too resign?” That could earn them the front page. But he also had a word caution. It should not be before 9 pm the same day. That is in case there was another air crash and the big news in India once again got huddled to the inside pages. That didn’t cause too much happiness among the mourning Samajwadis.

Crying for Mama

Teething troubles? Sonia Gandhi may have grand plans of making huge inroads into Uttar Pradesh, but the Congress seems to be having some serious logistical problems. Dozens of leaders assigned to go to the grassroots reportedly want to know if there will be laundry facilities in the districts. Born babus, Congresswallahs want chauffeur-driven cars and a nice (preferably air-conditioned) place to stay. Take for example one secretary in the AICC’s human rights department who was heard making enquiries with Ghulam Nabi Azad’s staff about how many clothes he needed to take with him and how he would get them washed. Babes in the wood.

Attention, please

Braveheart chief minister of West Bengal seems to be too preoccupied with securing his seat for eternity. The other day, Maoist leaders from Nepal, India and from elsewhere supposedly met at Siliguri and held their conclave. It was apparently held as a seminar. The outlaws apparently had a six hour long brainstorming session on how to foment trouble in Nepal and along the Indo-Nepal border. When the Union home ministry tried to alert Buddha about the seriousness of the matter, he is said to have told them that it was only a literary meet. A dossier reportedly has been sent to the Writers’ on the matter. Surely a case of the reds overtaking the reds.

Lording over the overlord

Breakdown of communication in Sanchar Bhawan. Pramod Mahajan as the new minister for telecommunications is sending many lines on the blink. The first of his victims were the denizens of Hajipur and Patna who were made members of the telephone advisory panel. These unfortunates are now reportedly getting letters asking for why they think their telephones should not be disconnected on account of non-payment of bills. Since many of the members belong to the Dalit Sena of the former god, Ram Vilas Paswan, the noises in protest are getting louder. Within Sanchar Bhawan itself, those who work in the grievances department are particularly upset. The generous former lord had given employment to some 30 people. Now Mahajan has decided to retrench most of them. Those in this group of mortals who have links with the Dalit Sena are also beginning to get rowdy. Come all ye faithful!

Winner takes him

Time for some very public musings. As before, the prime minister has been selective about those who will deliver his words. The Indian Express is the chosen one (apart from a bunch of Hindi newspapers who were herded together for a chit-chat over chai and pakoras) and it has been granted a series of interviews, much to the chagrin of the Hindustan Times. The favour granted to the former has also seemingly displeased the editor of the country’s largest selling weekly, India Today, which incidentally has been rather critical of AB Vajpayee in the past few weeks. The PMO has another argument. The magazine was apparently trying to “appropriate” the PM exclusively for itself. What poetic justice!

A new business

About a man down and under. The never-to-be-husband of sanyasin Uma Bharti, KN Govindacharya, is apparently on the run. He surfaced weeks ago in Varanasi, but after being hounded by paparazzi, he seems to have gone underground again. Govindacharya now is reported to be contemplating a career as kathawachak or story-teller. A senior BJP leader is supposed to have told journalists how he was trying to persuade the man not to enter the new vocation. Naturally, Govindacharya will have many stories to tell.

Footnote / Find a house for Ms Banerjee

Another problem for Mamata Banerjee. Trinamool is said to be on the lookout for a house for its party office. The party has so long been operating from the residence of didi in which her large family also became part of the deliberations. The meetings often shuffled from one room to another, where muri was being served, family members could butt in and didi could dismiss the meetings at her will. Party leaders have apparently felt long compromised by such a situation. Hence the search. But who will give didi a house? For one, Trinamoolis will never be deemed suitable tenants. There will be trouble and the houseowner can forget the rent. Even if the Trinamoolis were respectable tenants, the houseowner could not risk the ire of the left. Which means didi will have to buy a house. What? And risk being labelled as a materialist person? There is another problem. Let’s suppose a house is bought, where will the HQ be located, south or north Calcutta? There are already allegations of south Calcutta Trinamoolis overshadowing their brothers in north Calcutta. God save the didi.    

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

They are all the same

Sir — The report of minorities being harassed by few aggressive Americans, after the terrorist attack in New York, reveals one of the inevitable consequence of this tragedy (“Turban is bad news in fury zone”, Sept 14). This is a matter of serious concern because the minorities become soft targets of a fanatical patriotism. Similar incidents have occurred in our country, when the Sikhs were victimized after Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Not only are the Muslims facing a threat in the United States, but Asians are also becoming victims of such untoward incidents. Hopefully, those involved in racist attacks will return to their senses and try to live peacefully with the minorities.

Yours faithfully,
Shamik Dasgupta, New Delhi

State apparatus

Sir — The government’s oft-repeated statement that the madrassahs are a breeding ground for “anti-national” elements is a feeble attempt to divert the public mind from the recent crisis plaguing it, such as the Tehelka or the Unit Trust of India scandals. The home minister, L.K. Advani, spared no time in cautioning the West Bengal chief minister, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, on the dangers of “harbouring terrorists” in such institutions. Statistics reveal that since independence, all kinds of educational institutions have mushroomed. To suspect the rise in the number of madrassahs only reveals the mentality of the home minister.

Educational institutions run by the Rashtriya SwayamSevak Sangh are flourishing everywhere in India. Everyone knows that in such places of learning, the students are being indoctrinated with hatred for other communities. Do the alleged sneaking in of a communal agenda in text books, the distortion of history and the attempt to saffronize education, not amount to a nationalistic agenda on the part of the government?

Yours faithfully,
Muhiuddin Shaheen, Calcutta

Sir — Recently, a meeting was organized in New Delhi by the members of the anti-National Democratic Alliance camp to discuss the threat of saffronization of education in India. They also called for a consensus regarding curricula.

The left is not entirely without its own double standards. One only wonders about the appointment of leftist scholars to research and educational institutions in West Bengal. They have opposed the introduction of “Vande mataram”, “Saras-wati Bandana” and are against the idea of Vedic astrology being part of the higher education curriculum. Will the chief minister explain why the Soviet Union collapsed and the east European nations have thrown the communists into the dustbin of history?

Yours faithfully,
Tapan Das Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — In India, where English is not the native language, the issue of introducing English in primary schools has acquired a political colour. Like all political issues, this is also an extension of a social issue. English has become not only a medium of instruction, but also a symbol of social status. Hence, there is a total rejection of all that the language stands for by one section of the society and a persistent attempt by others to monopolize the privileges afforded by English.

It makes more sense that one should be strong in the mother tongue, which in turn helps in the learning of other languages. If language is for communication, it has to be acquired, learnt and practised. It cannot be purchased at institutions and anybody offering to sell it for a premium is only being dishonest.

Yours faithfully,
Uma Maheswari, Durgapur

Sir — For years, the Hindi-medium schools under the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education have been demanding question papers printed in Hindi. The government should be more responsible towards a section of the student community, who find it difficult to work with question papers written in some other language. It is time that this matter is taken seriously by the relevant boards.

Yours faithfully,
V.K. Elsy, Jalpaiguri

Parting shot

Sir — My son has brought to my notice a map of India from Finland. In this, the Jammu and Kashmir region was in a different colour, and marked as “disputed land”. This points out our failure to establish the claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an integral part of India.

Yours faithfully,
Dayal Bandhu Majumdar, via email

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