Editorial 1/Politics without cadres
Not a zero sum game
Letters to the Editor

At the height of the Cold War, according to John le Carre, it was an accepted code in the British secret service that if an individual really hated communists he was probably in love with them already. The Bharatiya Janata Party hates the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and vice versa because they are so like each other. The similarities have come to the fore in the BJP’s handling of the Water episode in Varanasi which was a replay of the way the CPI(M) had acted regarding the shooting of the film City of Joy in Calcutta. Even the rhetoric used was the same: culture in danger. In both instances, cadres of the two parties or of front organizations owing allegiance to the sangh parivar in one case and to the CPI(M) in the other carried out acts of destruction and vandalism while governments run by the two parties watched. In both instances, this hooliganism was rationalized as expressions of the legitimate anger of the people. Destructive displays of this kind based on blind prejudice are only possible in political formations which function through full time cadres. Both the BJP and the CPI(M) have in them people of various age groups whose entire identity is related to the political party to which they belong. They are much more than mere supporters because loyalty to their party gets priority over all other loyalties. They are prepared to drop everything at the call of the party. Both the parties see their cadres as reservoirs of strength. They do not realize that cadre-based parties represent a dangerous element in a democracy.

Cadres may have their uses for a political party which aims at disruption. But cadres are not by any reckoning the elected representatives of the people. The latter are entrusted, in a democracy, with the task of taking political decisions. Elected representatives, when they speak in Parliament or make decisions, should serve only the interests of those who have elected them. The functioning of democracy in India violates both these tenets. Decisions are thrust upon political parties by the actions of cadres and elected representatives tend to represent their parties rather than the electorate. This is a situation which BJP and CPI(M) leaders find rather convenient. Leaders like Mr Atal Behari Vajpayee and Mr Jyoti Basu, who try to mask the vandal face of their respective parties, blame unruly cadres for violence. They gloss over the fact that both the BJP and the CPI(M), by emphasizing in their ideology the importance of extra-parliamentary politics, have encouraged cadres to cross the line demarcating what is permissible and what is not in a democratic polity. Cadre-based politics has no place in a democracy since Parliament is the only forum for political debates and decisions.

Cadre-based parties have created a situation in which party bureaucrats prevail over members of parliament. Hence, the importance given in Indian politics to bodies like the politburo, the national executive, the working committee and so on. MPs toe the line formulated by these bodies. The MPs have nothing to do with the people. In mature democracies, the head of the parliamentary party is the head of the party. The party outside parliament has little or no existence. Therefore there are no cadres working for political parties. It is significant that the phenomenon of cadres was known to exist on a massive scale only in the old socialist world. There is no need for them in a mature democracy. There exists a good case for the elimination of cadres. Political parties who believe in democracy should demobilize their cadres. This will force parties like the CPI(M) and the BJP to strengthen their commitment to democracy and will drastically reduce instances of vandalism in the name of political action. Indian democracy is 50 years old and fraught with contradictions. Frenzied hordes running behind a flag is one of the contradictions. Its elimination will signal maturity, responsibility, self-discipline and accountability: in short, adulthood. A 50 year old adolescent is intolerable.    

It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t for Bill Clinton. The lobbies for and against including Pakistan in his March itinerary are equally forceful, and whatever decision he takes, he will offend people who are close to him personally and of some value to the United States.

India might reflect whether its long-term interests are served best by helping to place the American president in this no-win situation. Or whether it would not be more practical to encourage the conditions that would give US businessmen, who have a tremendous bearing on Washington’s ultimate policy decisions, a stake in India’s secure survival. As we have seen from China’s case, if anything can dissolve political friction, it is the solvent of commercial self-interest.

Foreign policy is the art of the possible. Just as it will get India nowhere to continue clamouring for the ideal of a world without nuclear weapons, neither does India stand to gain anything by demanding hysterically that the US break with Pakistan. The issue is not morality. The issue is politics. And to use the US state department’s favourite phrase, Washington’s subcontinental policy is not a zero sum game. In other words, friendship with one country does not mean estrangement from the other. After 1981 and up to the Soviet Union’s disintegration, India, too, adopted a similar pragmatic approach to the two superpowers.

That infamous document, the US Defence Planning Guide for the Post-Cold War Era, which the The New York Times leaked in 1992, and which spoke of curbing India’s “hegemonistic” aspirations in south Asia and the Indian Ocean, also set out Washington’s policy with respect to Islamabad. “With regard to Pakistan, a constructive US-Pakistan military relationship will be an important element in our strategy to promote stable security conditions in South-West Asia and Central Asia. We should, therefore, endeavour to rebuild our military relationship, given acceptable resolution of our nuclear concern.”

Karl Inderfurth, the state department official responsible for south Asia, reiterated that view when he announced recently that Washington intends to “stay engaged with Pakistan despite the current difficulties it is facing”.

That was the purpose of waiving the Pressler amendment. The involvement of successive Pakistani regimes with drugs, terrorism, missiles and nuclear development might be deplored and even punished, but as the Americans see it, they cannot afford to write off Pakistan altogether. Indeed, they would lose all influence in that part of the world if they did.

Pakistan has given them listening posts and base facilities and might still do so. It has helped them to cultivate China and now provides similar assistance with the central Asian republics. Pakistan could have a role in the ultimate routing of the oil pipelines from the Caspian Sea region.

Just as in the past Pakistan acted to further the US policy of driving the Soviets out of Afghanistan, it is now seen as a force that might contain the taliban movement. It is, in fact, the US’s most secure foothold in the Islamic crescent. Perhaps they also see it as the most effective point of entry into, or pressure on, what Clinton calls “the most dangerous place in the world”.

It would be calamitous from the US point of view if Pakistan were to descend into militant fundamentalism or dissolve in anarchy. It has tried democracy; it has tried — and is now experiencing again — military dictatorship. Mullah rule remains the only unexplored option, and Washington fears that only American moral and military support for an orderly regime in Islamabad (even if it seized power in a coup) can save Pakistan from either fate.

Nobody takes seriously all that cant about democracy. Pervez Musharraf could be more than the best of a bad bargain if he restores stability and serves US strategic aims.

Such hard calculations are bound to be misinterpreted in India because of our own perceptions of Pakistan and because the US has traditionally played off one country against the other.

Two episodes illustrate the second charge. More than half a century ago, when newly-independent India sought 10 American transport planes to evacuate 50,000 Hindus who would have been massacred if they had tried to leave the North-West Frontier Province and make their way through Pakistani Punjab, the Harry Truman administration dilly-dallied for months, eventually saying that it would consider only a joint request by the Indian and Pakistani governments. Secondly, Jawaharlal Nehru appealed for food aid when India faced a grim famine three years later. Again, the state department brought in the Pakistanis, giving their ambassador the chance to accuse greedy Indians of inviting disaster by converting wheat fields to cash crops like cotton and jute, and to object (even while boasting of Islamic compassion) that US help would only allow New Delhi to spend more on arms.

But historical rivalry would probably have flourished even without external incitement. One need think only of Nehru’s bruised vanity when Liaquat Ali Khan was treated to the same ceremonial honours as he himself had received in New York and Washington on his first official visit only six months earlier. The equation of which the US is accused is constantly in our minds too. Nehru dismissed the Americans as “very naïve or singularly lacking in intelligence” because they had dared to bracket lesser mortals like Khan and the Shah of Iran with him.

Some patriotic souls have suggested that like China, India should also insist on an exclusive presidential visit. If it does, the forum should be discreet backroom diplomacy. Public posturing, as on the demand that Pakistan should be declared a terrorist state, can only invite public snubs and setbacks. After all, two Clinton visits have been cancelled already

No Indian would want New Delhi to kow-tow to the Americans. But the government need not make a song and dance over Pakistan. It should understand that it matters little where a lame duck president with the wanderlust and a fetish for international feathers in his cap goes. As we know from the ease with which Truman shrugged off F.D. Roosevelt’s promises to the Arabs, Clinton’s successor would be under no obligation to abide by any precedent that he sets. But even if Clinton were at the start instead of the end of his career, India would gain little by trying to dictate his itinerary.

The small satisfaction of Musharraf being rebuffed would not achieve the larger purpose of isolating Pakistan. There are lessons to be learnt here from the Chinese experience. Beijing’s seeming success in ensuring a single-destination journey did not make one jot of difference to US-Japan ties.

If anything, the security arrangement is stronger than ever, with American plans for an even more sophisticated missile shield for Japan, South Korea and, possibly, Taiwan. But, at the same time, China’s human rights abuses and proven theft of US atomic secrets (vide the voluminous Cox report) have not seriously damaged a strong and ever-strengthening Sino-American relationship. Too many American jobs depend on trade with and investment in China. Nor can east Asia’s only avowedly nuclear power be ignored.

India now fulfils the second condition for a claim on the US’s serious attention. Let it also live up to the first if it hopes to influence US policy in the region. Above all, let New Delhi end this obsession with messy little Pakistan and think constructively of what can be learnt from the achievements and failures of a China that may not be India’s Enemy Number One, as George Fernandes put it, but is certainly India’s only peer in Asia.    


Hard luck, software

Sir — The arrest of 40 Indian computer programmers who were working under contract with the United States air force in San Antonio was distressing. These computer professionals had been working in the US since 1996, and thus the action taken against them, so late in the day, can only be described as arbitrary and high-handed. Especially since the US as host country had greatly benefited from their skills. Besides, parading them in handcuffs after they were arrested was an act that went against all norms of human dignity. This incident also serves to reveal the extreme discomfort the Americans can feel for technological expertise in developing countries.

Yours faithfully,
N.K. Patnaik, Sambalpur

Nice work

Sir — The Union railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, should be lauded for taking up several developmental projects including two new trains each from Howrah and Sealdah. However, people will greatly benefit if a fast passenger train from Dhanbad to Behrampur Court in West Bengal, via Bandel and Naihati junctions, is provided. This will be especially helpful for the people of Murshidabad, Nadia and North 24-Parganas, who work in the coal belt of Raniganj and Jharia.

Yours faithfully,
Anupam Banerjee, Dhanbad

Sir —The state of cleanliness of the Howrah Station New Complex is very poor indeed. On one occasion, the nauseating smell of rotting flesh on platforms 19 and 20 made it extremely difficult for people waiting for their trains to stand on them. Indeed, this has now become a regular problem since trains arriving at Howrah are perennially late.

The authorities ought to take note of the fact that people using the platforms face this plight everyday. Or is it expected that commuters have to put up with this “sick” feeling that has become associated with travel on Indian Railways?

Yours faithfully,
K. Balasubramanian, Calcutta

Sir — It would be a good decision for the government to privatize some departments of the Eastern Railways and South-Eastern Railways — particularly those in charge of selling tickets and of maintaining platforms. This will improve the service of the department as well as help in keeping platforms clean. One might presume that hawkers, who are mostly responsible for creating a mess on all railway platforms, will be evicted as a matter of course.

Yours faithfully,
B.B. Sengupta, Howrah

Sir — Mamata Banerjee has raised hopes in the hearts of the people of West Bengal through her good work from the moment she took charge of the Union railways ministry. It would therefore be worth bringing to notice how the people of Seakhala, Moshat and neighbouring areas have a very difficult time in reaching their regular destinations after the withdrawal of the narrow gauge line between Howrah and Seakhala.

The journey of merely 25 kilometres takes more than two hours, mostly because of heavy traffic. It also becomes difficult for the farmers to sell their goods for want of easy transport. Work on the Howrah-Seakhala Broad Gauge Railway Project, the foundation of which was laid in 1974 by the then prime minister, Indira Gandhi, is yet to begin. If only the government could do away with the obstructive bureaucracy, the project would have been completed by now.

Yours faithfully,
Shyamal Ghosh, Hooghly

Letters to the Editor should be sent to:
The Telegraph
6 Prafulla Sarkar Street
Calcutta 700 001
[email protected]

Maintained by Web Development Company