Editorial / When silence is approval
Strong remedies
Nasty thoughts about America
People / Mohammed Yasin Malik
Letters to the editor

 
 
EDITORIAL / WHEN SILENCE IS APPROVAL 
 
 
 
 
Anger can be theatre; it can also be a very effective instrument to discipline the erring and the insubordinate. The prime minister, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, showed the theatrical aspects of anger in Parliament during the joint session on March 26. In a useless display of emotion, Mr Vajpayee scored a few easy points over Ms Sonia Gandhi, who is still a greenhorn in the art of extempore repartee which distinguishes a good parliamentarian from an ordinary one. This piece of theatre earned for Mr Vajpayee nothing more than a round of applause from the treasury benches. He would have earned more plaudits if he had publicly showed his anger against the chief minister of Gujarat, Mr Narendra Modi. The latter had been summoned to the capital by the prime minister. Nobody knows what transpired during the closed-door meeting between Mr Vajpayee and Mr Modi. What is clear is that in public, the prime minister did not issue a word of criticism or reprimand against Mr Modi, the man who sat back and watched the Muslims of Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat being butchered by hordes claiming allegiance to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and the Bajrang Dal. By common consent, Mr Modi should have been sacked forthwith for having failed to perform his duty as a chief minister.

In fact, Mr Modi should be the first person to be arrested under the new prevention of terrorism ordinance, since under his aegis a reign of terror was unleashed against the Muslims. But the prime minister did nothing save have a one-to-one meeting. Nobody is interested in what Mr Vajpayee said in private to Mr Modi; what India noted was that its prime minister did not reprimand or remove a chief minister who subverted the very spirit and the letter of Indian democracy. Mr Modi should have no claims to strutting around as some kind of hero. Mr Vajpayee has allowed him to do this.

It will remain a mystery why Mr Vajpayee has been so extraordinarily lenient with Mr Modi. Going by Mr Vajpayee’s public pronouncements, it would appear that he has very little time for the extreme elements within his party and within the sangh parivar. It is also true that he has not permitted the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh to exercise any undue influence on his policies. Yet, he failed to take action against Mr Modi. Two conclusions suggest themselves. First, that he does not think that Mr Modi is guilty of dereliction of duty. Second, in this instance, he was unable to override the influence of Nagpur. Mr Modi has been a loyal member of the RSS and derives his position from that support base. He is also not without his advocates within the Union cabinet. Mr Vajpayee, with the electoral setback in Uttar Pradesh behind him and a humiliating defeat looming ahead of him (on Wednesday, when Mr Modi came visiting) in the Delhi municipal polls, could not afford to alienate the parivar.

Mr Vajpayee has claimed that he is the prime minister of India and not of a section of India. He has failed his own standards by lacking the political and moral courage to dismiss Mr Modi. He has shown that when it comes to it, he is partial to those who swear by Hindutva. Mr Vajpayee has also failed all those who expected better from him.

   

 
 
STRONG REMEDIES 
 
 
BY SUNANDA K. DATTA-RAY
 
 
So, the deed is done and not even the most fervent apologist for the bill to replace the prevention of terrorism ordinance, which lapses on April 8, can plead that it is more than an unpleasant necessity. But to denounce it with bell, book and candle as the blueprint for fascism is to overlook the scope for mischief under no less draconian laws such as the Maintenance of Internal Security Act or the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.

As always in India, it’s the singer, not the song. Muslims are alarmed not because the law is communal but because the Bharatiya Janata Party is. They fear that other BJP satraps might be tempted to emulate the despicable Narendra Modi who — together with his sponsors in New Delhi — should be arraigned before a tribunal for crimes against humanity. However, such perpetrators of state terrorism do not need legal sanction. If they did, the armoury of our jurisprudence, from the Indian Penal Code to preventive detention laws, offers enough protection. A once popular Bengali stage play in which the police brand youths they have already decided to get as “wagon-breakers” and “smugglers” was not untrue to life. Monstrous injustice will continue to flourish in the absence of a vigorous civil society.

The Americans who complimented New Delhi on the bill cannot comprehend such misuse. They are flattered and taken in when Lal Krishna Advani parrots their president to declaim that “those who oppose POTO favour terrorism”. Diplomacy demands that Atal Bihari Vajpayee should be petted and America’s global crusade against terrorism highlighted. Terrorists are so important to Pax Americana that, as Voltaire said of god, they would have had to be invented if they did not already exist. Like that old story about Monaco sending an SOS to Paris after World War-II to send some communists because it would not otherwise qualify for American aid, today’s world needs terrorists. Australia, Belarus, China, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Macedonia, Malaysia, Russia, Syria, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe have also boarded the bandwagon.

Our real tragedy is that India’s elected and supposedly democratic governments are incapable of ruling without the big stick. Another administration used the TADA against Gujarati farmers who were agitating for redressal of economic grievances. As with electoral reform or elimination of corruption, vociferous demands for ethical consensual policies are heard only from parties in opposition.

One much-touted justification for the bill is that the rate of conviction under the TADA was so low. Could this not also mean that arrests were made on flimsy grounds? In a land where so many people suffer mysterious, often fatal, injuries in police custody, and so many others are shot dead while allegedly resisting arrest or trying to escape, court trial, conviction and sentences seem like trivial irrelevancies. The TADA’s authors may not have been too disappointed at its operation, for those who fall foul of such laws pay a grim price without ever having to face a magistrate even if they escape with their lives.

There is no guarantee that POTO’s legislative successor will not also be infructuous as a vehicle of justice and effective only as an instrument of coercion. Of course, it is a bad law: presumption of guilt, the vague definition of a terrorist, exclusion of communal safeguards, the longer period in police custody before charges have to be framed, and the ban on anticipatory bail are retrograde features, as the national human rights commission has pointed out. But why did the Congress, so strident in its denunciation, not move an amendment? It knew it could not muster the strength to defeat the measure, but an amendment might have obliged the government to send the bill to a select committee which could have had a humanizing effect. But then, Maharashtra and Karnataka, ruled by the party that spawned MISA and TADA, have enacted even more stringent legislation. If West Bengal hasn’t, it is not for want of trying.

What matters now is how POTO is enforced. Already, Modi’s police have invited opprobrium by first arresting 64 people under POTO after the Sabarmati Express was fired and then switching the charge. Mumbai police have similarly dropped POTO charges against a Muslim with reported al Qaida connections. Was POTO then invoked frivolously? People also want to know why it was not invoked against the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, Durga Vahini and Bajrang Dal thugs who stormed the Orissa assembly or Gujarat’s murderous Hindu mob. Yasin Malik’s POTO arrest in Srinagar is not seen as anything other than a political message to the Centre. For reasons of politics, the People’s War Group, the Maoist Communist Centre and the National Socialist Council of Nagalim (Isak-Muivah) have escaped its clutches. None of this ensures respect for the law or the men who manipulate it.

The fault is not in our stars but in ourselves. Theory (the West’s liberal constitutionalism) says one thing, practice (Hegel’s view that “the orientals knew only that one — the ruler — is free”) another. That point is lost on those who argue that replacing the parliamentary system with presidential governance would wish away our troubles. Without public pressure, it would also be putty in the hands of venal and unscrupulous politicians whose broad purpose and general methods are the same, be they draped in saffron or khadi.

It is largely because of this debasement of every single Westminster concept, and even of the language associated with it, that the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s comment about Muslims earning Hindu goodwill strikes a chill in so many hearts. On the face of it, this is no different from Jawaharlal Nehru saying that majority communalism poses the real threat to secular harmony. Others with equally impeccable credentials have made similar remarks in all good faith, in effect calling on the majority not to insist on foisting the logic of numbers on other communities. The same words sound ominously threatening in the mouth of sangh parivar zealots who hanker to force everyone into the straitjacket of a monocultural state.

Such vehemence on the ground robs the conceptual structure of the Indian union of all meaning. The Supreme Court’s ruling in Indira Gandhi versus Raj Narain that “the major problem of human society is to combine that degree of liberty without which law is tyranny with that degree of law without which liberty becomes license” reflected an American judge’s warning that “it is a delusion to think that the nation’s security is advanced by the sacrifice of the individual’s basic liberty”. But there were enough people to justify even an atrocity like the Bhagalpur blindings on the grounds that the victims were hardened criminals who terrorized the public and bent the justice system to their will.

This brutalization of opinion reflects the law’s failure. Human rights and public interest litigation are the indulgences of the rich. The NHRC has warned of the need for a stronger criminal justice system. “If there are a large number of acquittals today, it is not for the lack of laws, but for the lack of proper utilization of these laws, lack of proper investigation and prosecution, and lack of adequate number of courts to try these offences.” The remedy is in the government’s hands. But like policemen who are entitled to arrest without a warrant only when the suspect is likely to escape but have made the exception their norm, governments prefer strong laws that can be abused to an effective system of dispensing justice that would do away with the need for repressive measures.

Arun Jaitley’s promise of a fair operational framework for the police does not go far enough in countering bad laws in the absence of dilatory and overworked courts, inadequate judges, grasping lawyers and a legal system that is as corrupt as it is inefficient except, perhaps, right at the magisterial top to which only the privileged few have access.

   

 
 
NASTY THOUGHTS ABOUT AMERICA 
 
 
BY GWYNNE DYER
 
 
Ever since the president of the United States of America, George W. Bush, in his remarkable State of the Union speech, named the countries forming the “axis of evil”, political cognoscenti have been puzzling over the question: why were countries like Cuba, Libya and Syria left out? Half of the countries American politicians love to hate were in there: Iran, Iraq, North Korea. What are the others doing wrong?

Now comes an answer, from a most improbable source. Andrew Mariatt runs a service called SatireWire, and disguises his insights as nothing but amusing fictions, but his explanation rings all too true. Recently, he wrote, “Libya, China and Syria...formed the ‘Axis of Just As Evil’, which they said would be way eviller than that stupid Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis....

“Diplomats from Syria denied they were jealous over being excluded, though they conceded that they did ask if they could join the axis of evil. ‘They told us it was full,’ said Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s president.

“‘An axis can’t have more than three countries,’ explained Saddam Hussein, the Iraqi president. ‘This is not my rule, it’s tradition. In World War II, you had Germany, Italy and Japan in the evil axis. So you can only have three. And a secret handshake. Ours is wicked cool.’”

That, god help us, is about the level to which the debate has sunk in Washington, and it is very hard to account for it, because US management of the post-September 11 crisis was well-nigh flawless until about three months ago.

Confronted with a massive attack out of the blue, Bush did not fall into the trap al Qaida had laid. Rather than launching a massive, indiscriminate attack against alleged terrorist targets throughout the Arab world, and thus providing Osama bin Laden with the thousands of innocent Muslim civilians dead that would have fuelled revolutions against pro-American regimes in west Asia, Bush held his fire for twenty days, and then carefully targeted only one country: Afghanistan.

Faced with a similar, though far lesser, provocation in 1998, when al Qaida suicide bombers hit two US embassies in Africa and killed two dozen Americans, Bill Clinton retaliated with 75 cruise missiles fired at west Asian targets, selected on the basis of suspicion, speculation and rumour. Hundreds of innocent people died, and not one of them may have been an al Qaida member. That incident, indeed, is probably what convinced al Qaida that a massive attack on America would trigger a berserk US counter-attack that would kill thousands and serve its own purposes in the Arab world.

Bush didn’t fall for it. All three of his senior foreign policy advisers — the defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, the vice-president, Dick Cheney, and the secretary of state, Colin Powell — are people who know west Asia, having all served Bush’s father in senior jobs during the Kuwait War of 1990-91. They smelled a rat, they advised George W. against lashing out in a spasm of revenge, and he listened to them.

Al Qaida’s attack succeeded to the extent that it obliged Bush to attack some country in revenge for the atrocity Americans had suffered: American public opinion would not have stood for less. But in choosing Afghanistan, he picked a target that the rest of the world would approve (even Russia, India and China backed Washington), and also a target that was very easy to take down: the taliban army was badly trained, poorly armed, and badly led, and the regime behind it was hopelessly naïve and incompetent.

The attack on Afghanistan was a high-speed, low-cost success, and by the end of December, the Bush administration should have been declaring a victory and quietly congratulating itself on its good luck and good crisis management. Al Qaida’s surviving leaders were on the run, the bombing had killed relatively small numbers of Muslim civilians, and no pro-American regime in the Arab world had been hit by serious discontent, let alone a successful Islamic radical revolution. Game, set, and match.

But instead of stopping, the Bush administration plunged ahead with threats to attack other countries that have no known links to the terrorist attacks on the US last September. They are all deeply unattractive regimes, but no more so than they were last year, when Bush had not yet discovered that they were an “axis of evil” — nor have they done anything in the meantime that would explain their change of status.

They are all alleged to be working on weapons of mass destruction, but that is not a new accusation either. Besides, we were being told until recently that the US administration’s beloved National Missile Defence programme would protect us against any threat from these “rogue states”. Now we need “Son of Star Wars” plus actual wars to disarm them?

A conviction that the US is invincible militarily is combining with a heightened sense of vulnerability to produce an astonishingly aggressive policy in Washington. The administration hardly notices that all the friends and allies that backed it in its campaign against Afghanistan — even ultra-loyalists like Britain and Canada — are now urging the US not to attack Iraq or other members of the “axis of evil” without proof of their involvement in the September attacks on America. In the atmosphere of triumphalism and unilateralism that now prevails in Washington, it doesn’t really want the allies’ help anyway.

This will all end in tears, but nobody wants to hear about it, so we might as well conclude with Andrew Mariatt’s account of the frantic geopolitical realignments that followed the nomination of the original “axis of evil”. “Cuba, Sudan and Serbia said they had formed the ‘Axis of Somewhat Evil’, forcing Somalia to join with Uganda and Myanmar in the ‘Axis of Occasionally Evil’, while...Canada, Mexico and Australia formed the ‘Axis of Nations That Are Actually Quite Nice But Secretly Have Nasty Thoughts About America’.”

   

 
 
PEOPLE / MOHAMMED YASIN MALIK 
 
 
 
 

Tiger burning out

Over a decade ago, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) — one of the first militant groups to take up arms against the Indian government — was a feared name in the Valley. Its leader, Mohammed Yasin Malik, ruthlessly determined and outspoken about his demand for an independent Kashmir, lived a dangerous underground life, wanted by Indian security officers for more than one violent offence.

Today Malik, arrested this Monday under POTO, could be just another face of protest in the Valley. Several years of seemingly empty rhetoric, stints in prisons and much change in the JKLF as a militant secessionist organisation, have dulled Malik’s shine.

For a former journalist, now based in London, a recent report on an international news agency website on the arrest of Malik — now also a senior executive member of the Hurriyat Conference — brought back over a decade-old memories of a Kashmir in turmoil, and a very different Yasin Malik, constantly shifting his underground hideouts in fear of police raids. The Malik she met was “a firebrand, a tiger”. “He was underground in those days, and I got to meet him very briefly — his face was wrapped in some dark cloth leaving only his eyes visible, he was surrounded by a few men — all armed,” she says.

The JKLF was in the forefront with an absolute demand for the state’s independence. Malik, who is from Maisuma, in Srinagar’s Old City area, had a groundswell of support both from the Old City area, as well as a large following in other parts of the state. He was implicated in several militant attacks that occurred in the region during the period — including the kidnapping of Rubaiya and the murder of six Indian Air Force personnel on the outskirts of Srinagar, near Rawalpora in 1990. “That localised support is still there in the Old City, but much of the fire has gone from Malik,” says another journalist who covered the region extensively for several years. “In those days, the JKLF was a loud, powerful voice and Malik was seen as a torchbearer of a movement that promised much,” she adds.

Many feel that Malik’s turning point came in March 1993 with the formation of the All Party Hurriyat Conference (APHC). An umbrella organisation of secessionist Jammu and Kashmir parties and leaders, the APHC had its roots in the Tehreeki Hurriyat Kashmir, a separatist political front that was formed in 1989. The JKLF became one of the constituent groups of the AHPC. “With the formation of the AHPC, suddenly a greater number of ‘voices’ emerged from the Valley — with leaders like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Abdul Gani Lone, Malik’s became just another of those voices,” says the journalist.

Despite being “just another voice”, Malik also became the most prominent moderate face of the movement. That was due in some part to his very vocal commitment to Gandhian values: “I believe absolutely in Gandhi and his ideology. We want people to have their right of determination. We will accept the decision of the people...,” Malik said after he was released from Tihar jail in 2000.

It is also due in some part to the controversy which Malik continues to attract. A couple of months after his release from jail two years ago, Malik addressed a lecture organised by the Progressive Students’ Union at the Delhi University. The topic of the lecture was: “Kashmir: 1947-2000.” Among other things, Malik said that the unilateral ceasefire declared by Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee just before Ramzaan was welcomed by Kashmiris and the JKLF. “Every year, for the past 11 years, truce is being declared during Ramzaan. But I welcome it,” he added. He went on to say that genuine political dialogue could not happen unless all parties involved in the dispute are brought to the negotiating table: “I have already said that the Mujahideen leader as well as representatives of the Pakistan government should be called to the negotiating table so that a genuine atmosphere of peace is created,” he said. The lecture had its desired effect — a section of the students, members of the BJP’s student wing the Akhil Bhartiya Vidyarthi Parishad, reacted with slogans and loud protests which finally resulted in clashes on the campus, between the two student groups.

He did it again in December last year. Soon after returning from a three-month-long trip to the US where he underwent a heart surgery, he addressed a press conference where he claimed that the “Kashmir issue was closer to solution”.

He said that post-September 11 he has “no doubt that Kashmir, with its nuclear dimensions and with its strategic location, is being watched very closely and there is serious international concern for peace here.” Many believe that his spells in prison have made Malik a somewhat loose canon — saying things with little substance. And this empty rhetoric is also one of the reasons why the secessionist movement, and leaders like Malik, have lost their former support in the Valley.

During his recent arrest under POTO, Malik was a shadow of his former firebrand self — but the dramatic elements were firmly in place. The arrest happened while Malik was in the middle of a press conference at the AHPC head office in Rajbagh, Srinagar. A group of policemen barged into the room and asked Malik to give himself up. Malik protested shouting that the arrest charges were just “a pre-election dirty trick being played by the state government.” He was then physically removed from his chair, and escorted out of the office and bundled into a waiting police Gypsy.

Perhaps this last arrest will see the resurrection of some of the old Malik fire — though not too many really believe that. The tiger, after all, has been tamed.

   

 
 
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR 
 
 
 
 

Games of legitimacy

Master of the game Sir — It is clear from the report, “Poll panel deals blow to Musharraf” (March 27), that Pervez Musharraf has no intentions of allowing either Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif to contest the general elections in Pakistan in October. Although the chief of Pakistan’s election commission, Irshad Hassan Khan, has said that it is the commission’s prerogative to decide on this, his comment becomes meaningless given that he was part of the supreme court bench that conferred legitimacy to the Musharraf regime. If Musharraf manages to win Khan over, he will not only eliminate further competition, but will also ensure his victory in the polls. Democracy, in the process, will be the casualty.

Yours faithfully,
Sunita Mehta, Pune

What goes UP

Sir — Ashok Mitra criticizes the Uttar Pradesh governor, Vishnu Kant Shastri, for not inviting the leader of the single largest party in the state assembly, Mulayam Singh Yadav, to form the government (“Something’s got to give”, March 15). This is unfair since, both the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Bahujan Samaj Party had refused to support Yadav, and also said that they would not take the initiative to form the government even though, between themselves, they could lay claim to 206 seats, more than half the number of seats in the assembly. Even the Congress with 25 seats had refused to back Yadav.

Under the circumstances, Shastri was right to ask Yadav to produce a list of supporters. But, Yadav was unable to arrive at an understanding with the BSP and Shastri had no choice but to recommend president’s rule. Had the governor invited Yadav to form the government without first asking him to provide a list of supporters, it would have led to horse-trading.

Yours faithfully,
Jit Gupta, Calcutta

Sir — Ashok Mitra rightly criticizes the Centre for failing to rein in the “trishul-wielding, mythology-believing barbarians” who exercise considerable influence over it. But Mitra’s warning that secular and peace-loving citizens might have to resort to the drastic step of walking out of the Indian Union is a bit much. Mitra should not have made such a comment even as a warning to the BJP and sangh parivar. Besides, a walkout would not accomplish anything. Instead, secular parties like the Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) must pressurize the BJP into abandoning its saffron agenda for the good of the country.

Yours faithfully,
Mou Sanyal, Calcutta

Sir — Ashok Mitra violates all norms of decency by describing the Vishwa Hindu Parishad activists as “trishul-wielding, mythology-believing barbarians”. Slander and abuse have always been the sine qua non of communists everywhere. They try to make up for their intellectual pettiness and moral bankruptcy by indulging in mud-slinging. Mitra should know that those “trishul-wielders” have the support of millions of Hindus across India who want the construction of the Ram temple at Ayodhya and have donated freely to the VHP to fund the temple’s construction.

But what are Mitra and his communist friends doing in a country where people still believe in “mythology” and idols are worshipped? What could possibly be keeping them from walking out of the Union of India?

Yours faithfully,
Sambuddha Majumder, Calcutta

Home truths

Sir — In the news item, “Cops arrested on theft charges” (March 20), it has been reported that the two Railway Police Force constables arrested by the Howrah Government Railway Police on a platform on the night of March 18 on charges of snatching money from a Bangladeshi citizen.

The two accused constables, Sajal Chatterjee and Badal Ghosh, were both home guards working under the platform inspector, GRP/Howrah. They were arrested by the GRP in case No 37/2002 dated 18-3-2002 u/s 384 Indian Penal Code.

The report tarnishes the image of the railways and is likely to affect the morale of the RPF. The facts should have been checked before filing the report.

Yours faithfully,
K. Mukhopadhyaya, chief public relations officer, Eastern Railway

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