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Appeasement of all, justice for none
Ravi Shanker Kapoor
This is how our political class deals with treason. "The government has strongly condemned this dastardly act of violence." Can you count how many times our honourable ministers have uttered this vacuous rhetoric? When terrorists gun down our soldiers in Kashmir, the government "strongly condemns" the attack; when bombs kill people in streets, the government "strongly condemns" the killing of innocents; when some leader is assassinated, it is again the same - strong condemnation. Congress regimes used to strongly condemn terrorist killings; Third Alternative governments also strongly condemned violence; the BJP leaders were no different.
After every condemnation, the morale of the terrorists goes a notch higher. It has been happening since the early 1980s. Government became a lot more receptive to the demands of the terrorist or the political group that adopted violent means, be it Bhindranwale in Punjab, Subhas Ghising in West Bengal, or the goons of the United Liberation Front of Asom (Ulfa) in the North-East. We shall try to understand the genesis, philosophy, and political economy of appeasement.
Philosophy of appeasement? Could appeasement be exalted as a full-fledged philosophy? Isn't it merely a policy that weak-willed and vacillating politicians adopt time and again? These questions are likely to be raised. But we believe that appeasement is more than adhocism in the policy framework; it has become not only systematic but also systemic; it infects the body-politic, paralyses the bureaucracy, afflicts strategic analysis (or whatever passes in its name), and has mortally contaminated public discourse. Indeed, appeasement is the reigning political philosophy of India.
We shall study the Surrendered United Liberation Front of Asom (Sulfa) militants as a paradigm case of appeasement. The Sulfa phenomenon is discussed at length in a paper in a journal, Faultlines, edited by K.P.S. Gill, former Punjab director general of police, and Dr Ajai Sahni, executive director, Institute for Conflict Management (ICM). The article, Sulfa: Terror by Another Name, is jointly authored by Sahni and Bibhu Prasad Routray, a research associate with the ICM, in volume 9 of the July 2001 edition of Faultlines.
According to the paper, there were two 'surrender schemes' devised in Assam, in 1992 and 1998. The first one was launched by the Congress Chief Minister, Hiteshwar Saikia, as the '100 per cent Special Margin Money Scheme' with the objective of rehabilitating surrendered terrorists. The scheme included:
c Benefits up to Rs 2,00,000 per individual, of which Rs 1,00,000 came as a bank loan;
c In case of partnerships, the ceiling was increased up to Rs 1,000,000, of which Rs 2,50,000 constituted margin money and the balance was a bank loan;
c For co-operative societies formed by "misguided youth," the scale of benefits was further enhanced to Rs 2,000,000 with margin money up to Rs 5,00,000, and the rest as a bank loan;
c The state government stood as guarantor against the bank loans;
c After an initial three-year moratorium, the loan repayment was to start in the fourth year, and was to be completed within eight years, including the three-year moratorium;
c The scheme identified rehabilitation including the setting up of industrial, transport, agricultural, veterinary and fishery units, and other business undertakings.
The Faultlines paper quotes the Governor of Assam, Lt Gen S.K. Sinha (retd), as saying that each of the Sulfa cadres "was given Rs 2.5 lakh cash and Rs 1.5 lakh soft loan, which was never returned." This was in a state that was one of the poorest in the country and whose fiscal situation was dismal. Two out of five people lived below the poverty line and the per capita income stood at Rs 4,281 in 1990-91. As many as 4,843 terrorists (3,439 Ulfa and the rest Bodo) surrendered under the scheme till March 31, 1997, at a staggering cost of Rs 99.3 crore. Further, 813 Sulfa men were inducted into government service. There was also a provision for self-employment programmes including pig farming, poultry farming, dairy farming, and mini-tea gardening. The paper says, "The social and economic cost of the creation of the Sulfa were to prove far more devastating."
In 1998, the Prafulla Kumar Mahanta government, too, came up with a modified Sulfa scheme. The implementation of the scheme, however, was dominated by a great deal of symbolism and little substance, the paper notes. "Large 'surrender ceremonies' were a matter of political prestige, irrespective of the tag batches of unemployed hoodlums who were roped in. Large numbers of 'co-operatives' were formed by the surrendered terrorists, but most of these existed only on paper." For, with a few exceptions, "the majority of the Sulfa simply continued with what they were doing before their surrender: extortion, intimidation, crimes of extreme violence, and the terrorization of wide sections of the population." The damage was much more than that; Sulfa cadres entered into active politics and joined the Asom Gana Parishad and the Congress, the two main parties in the state. The entire body politic got infected. All this resulted into, what Lt Gen S.K. Pillai (retd) called, a "stable anarchy." The Faultlines paper elaborates it as: "Here, the rule of law lapses entirely, as the institutions of governance are subverted to serve personal and partisan ends of those who control them-directly, or through such collusive arrangements as may obtain-even while the edifice and processes of governance, including the electoral process and justice administration, remain apparently intact."
D.N. Bezboruah, editor of the influential regional daily The Sentinel, has been quoted as calling Sulfa "a Frankenstein monster." Intelligence and local police reports also found the remedy worse than the malady, but political expediency triumphed over empirical evidence, commonsense, and statesmanship.
In the paper, K.P.S. Gill was quoted, comparing the Sulfa scheme with the Punjab administration's response to terrorism:
In most cases [in Punjab], the surrendered terrorists were simply allowed to return home. Law was allowed to take its own course in … [for] those who were accused of heinous crimes, and police was far from vindictive. Nevertheless, no financial incentives were ever provided, nor did the state act as if it owed a debt of gratitude to these offenders because they had decided to abandon their criminal activities… The lesson has been learned: violence will not pay.
The Faultlines paper is cited not merely to highlight the perils and disastrous consequences of capitulation; the real purpose is to dissect the philosophy of appeasement; for surrender politics is an offspring of the appeasement mindset. That surrender politics did not strike root in Punjab at a crucial point of time is our good fortune; but Punjab has been an honorable exception to the rule, as appeasement has been in the air all over the country for quite some time. All parties practise it.
As we see it, appeasement is the result of four factors-Gandhian sentimentalism, socialism, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the political class, and a perverted public discourse. The four factors are far from mutually exclusive; they often blend together, and the effect is synergistically lethal.
Let's begin with surrender politics. More often than not, the Indian state has acted, to use Gill's words, "as if it owed a debt of gratitude to these offenders because they had decided to abandon their criminal activities"-be it the Sulfa fiasco, the drama of bringing "misguided youth back to the national mainstream" in Kashmir, the laying down of arms by dacoits in the badlands of MP and UP, or attempts to arrange surrender of Veerappan. The Indian state continues to rely on Gandhi's change-of-heart philosophy, which has infinite faith in the corrigibility of human beings. As policy, this is smug optimism that surrender to the state renders the human heart like a tabula rasa, a clean slate, which can be moulded as the socio-economic requirements and moral imperatives-just like the old files on a computer floppy are deleted and new files put on it.
Then there is also that primeval socialist belief that the state has not only a duty to maintain law and order, protect national boundaries, and run administration-the traditional functions of the state since time immemorial-but also provide employment and generally look after the well-being of citizens. In fact, in India over the years the state has been concentrating more and more on non-essential activities, like running banks and hotels and intervening in the market for the sake of "social obligations," while ignoring basic duties like maintaining law and order and protecting national interest. Leftist analysis is correct in as much it lays the blame for separatist movements on poor statesmanship-except Leftist understanding of statesmanship is faulty. The Left would like the state to concentrate primarily on the social and economic change; to monopolize all the resources and distribute them "equitably." In India, the state was not totally socialist, though efforts were made in the direction and institutions (like the Planning Commission) were set up for the purpose. Since in the Leftist scheme of things behind everything in the world there is some economic factor, the secessionist problem, too, revolves around the theme of economic underdevelopment; that is portrayed as the root cause. In other words, the state has failed in its most important duty of providing employment and looking after the well-being of its citizens. Hence terrorism in Kashmir, Ulfa in Assam, and sundry other secessionist movements in the North-East. Needless to say, the pernicious medicine follows erroneous and misleading analysis. Economic development is touted as the cure for all evils, and the result is myriad "packages" for Kashmir and the North-East.
Whenever the Indian state was able to diagnose the problem properly and deal it accordingly, the result has been satisfactory, as in Punjab. But most of the time, the government fell to the Leftist logic that the cure for every ailment is socialism.
As it has happened so many times and at so many places, here also socialist idealism blends beautifully with naked greed: for all these "packages" mean fast buck for those who are in charge of executing these packages. Money is made when state-controlled Doordarshan comes out with its insipid programmes on Kashmir, as also when employment generation schemes are launched in the terrorist affected areas. The Faultlines article did not mention much about the lucre reaped by politicians from the Sulfa scheme, but I am sure that enterprising spirits must have minted money. According to Minister of North-East Arun Shourie, during four years (1998-2002), the Central government spent Rs 48,000 crore in the north-eastern region for the purpose of development-with little effect. This must have helped make a few fortunes. Socialism keeps the idealist and the crook in good humor.
Meanwhile the taxpayer is fleeced and the fiscal situation deteriorates. To be sure, the fiscal situation is pretty bad for the entire country-whether it is the Central government or state governments. In the case of terrorism-infested states, however, it seems to be beyond redemption. Most of them earn much less as revenue than they are expected to pay as salaries to their employees. This despite the fact that most terrorism-infested states enjoy the "special category" status, which means that 90 per cent of the Central assistance for development programmes comes as grant and the rest as loan. In the case of general category states, only 30 per cent of the assistance comes as grant, whereas the 70 per cent component is loan.
Apart from the fact that the political class has found the Leftist analysis of secessionism convenient and profitable, there is also the issue of the moral bankruptcy and intellectual hollowness of those who matter. Nobody has the courage to stand up to the challenge posed by anti-India forces and come up with a proper response, nor anybody has the perspicacity to question conventional wisdom. Appeasement goes on unabated.
When the BJP was in opposition, it was most vocal in denouncing the government's domestic policies, as also its diplomacy and defence, of smacking of "Muslim appeasement." The Congress government did not take a tough line against Pakistan because it was afraid of losing Muslim votes. The government was not vigilant or strict enough with Muslim infiltrators from Bangladesh. The government unnecessarily supported the Arab cause, even though the Arabs showed little concern for India's interests. The government did not strengthen relations with Israel because it feared losing Muslim votes. The BJP would accuse, rightly, the Congress and other governments for such policies.
However, when the BJP came to power it followed the earlier policies without much fuss. Blindly accepting the received wisdom, the BJP never entertained any new idea that might have challenged the presiding deities in the realm of intellect. The BJP, like the Congress, was also convinced that a tough line against Pakistan would anger Muslims in India. So, in July 2001 Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee invited President Pervez Musharraf for talks-hoping, among other things, that this would favorably impress the Muslims in UP where assembly elections were due in the near future.
Similarly, the BJP government showed continuity of Congress policy in its dealing with Bangladesh. In May 2001, as many as 15 men of the Border Security Force (BSF) were trapped by Bangladesh Rifles. The BSF men were barbarically tortured, some of them were lynched, others were murdered in cold blood, all the bodies were mutilated, some of them beyond recognition, and handed over to the Indian authorities. The front pages of our newspapers printed the photograph of a BSF jawan, tied up with a rod as animals of prey are tied, being carried by Bangladeshi nationals. The photograph aroused the indignation of the entire nation; every Indian was shocked and angered. But not Minister of External Affairs Jaswant Singh, who was also holding the additional charge of the defence ministry.
He dissuaded everybody within the government who asked for justice. This was the classic case of not only continuity sans change but also the absolute insensitivity of the political class and the tyranny of conventional wisdom. Singh's argument was that the then Bangladesh Prime Minister, Sheikh Hasina, was pro-India-at any rate, not anti-India-while her main political adversary, Khaleda Zia, was not favorably disposed towards India. Furthermore, elections in Bangladesh would be held in a few months. This barbarous act was carried out by the pro-ISI elements in Bangladesh in order to infuriate India; this would bring violent retaliation from India, leading to Indo-Bangla flare-up in Indo-Bangla ties. And when anti-India elements gain ground in Bangladesh, Zia would gain in the polls. So, in the long run, it would be self-defeating to retaliate.
The long and the short of it is that Singh's situation analysis was faulty and his response was, to put it mildly, disgraceful. To begin with, Khaleda Zia won elections in October 2001 with a comfortable majority, despite India's pusillanimous response. So much for Singh's political shrewdness and understanding of realpolitik. Second, inaction by the government strengthened the impression that India is a soft state, that its soldiers and citizens are fair game; perhaps this is one of the reasons the US did not trust India in its war against terrorism: if you can't fight your own terrorists, how can you fight mine?
At the heart of Singh's disgraceful response were two beliefs: one, that Muslims would feel angry if India retaliates against Bangladesh (despite the fact that there were also a few Muslims among the murdered BSF men); and, two, there might be unpleasant repercussions of the retaliation. In her memoirs, The Path to Power, Margaret Thatcher mentions that the word she detests the most is "repercussions." Here in India, Singh, like every other politician, is worried only about the "repercussions" of any action. Such is the terror of unpleasant repercussions that anything sensible is viewed with suspicion, and anything new with horror, lest it should lead to loss of votes. It did not occur to Singh, or to anybody else in the government, that a vigorous response to Bangladesh could lead to the consolidation of Hindu vote under the BJP.
To understand the BJP's attitude towards Hindus, consider a parable. There was a chap who could not find a bride for himself. Somehow, his family and friends managed to find a girl for him for marriage. This emboldened him. Assuming that his wife is a typical bharatiya naari, who would worship him as pati parameshwar (husband as lord and master), he started flirting with another woman. Disgusted with his betrayal, his wife parted ways; and the other woman spurned his overtures. The BJP's fate may not be any better: Muslims would never vote for it; and Hindus would stop voting for it.
Appeasement soared new heights in November 2001 when the Vajpayee government did not even condemn atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh. According to a report of Press Trust of India (PTI) by Arindam Bandyopadhyay on November 7, thousands of Hindu migrants were crossing the Indo-Bangladesh border. A migrant was quoted as saying: "The true picture is not known to the outside world. It is a free-for-all so far it goes to torturing minority Hindus. Women and property are the prime targets-hundreds of Hindu women are hospitalized, many were killed after being raped." The report said that the "local municipality pretends ignorance as do the police and the administration." A group of migrants told the PTI reporter that it was a "war against the Hindus."
The migrants narrated the horrors of living in Bangladesh. One of them said, "Hindus are not allowed to withdraw money from banks or sell property. You need permission from a BNP [ruling party] minister to sell your land. Any Muslim who buys a Hindu's land is punished." Hindus were made to participate in rallies in support of Osama bin Laden. Another migrant called equated BNP rule as "Taliban raaj."
The atrocities on Hindus in Bangladesh were so horrendous that even the predominantly Left-libber magazine, Outlook (November 19), reported them in full details: "[e]ven a cursory look at developments shows that what happened in Bangladesh was, in effect, a joint operation of the BNP, the Jamaat, the police and some prominent MPs." It was a litany of shame: a man forced to watch the rape of his two daughters, aged eight and nine, and strangled to death when he protested; callousness of the Indian and West Bengal governments; and apathy of intellectuals to the plight of Hindu migrants. An angry activist of the only group looking after refugees from Bangladesh in Calcutta, and himself a migrant, told the Outlook reporter: "The state and central governments treat these people [Hindu migrants from Bangladesh] as aliens to be arrested. They are killed or robbed in Bangladesh and arrested here because they are Hindus! On the other hand, our political leaders… spare no efforts to procure ration cards and official documents to help illegal Muslim infiltrators settle here, regardless of party affiliations. People like us, hounded out of Bangladesh after 1971, are denied citizenship, official documents of any kind which means we can't secure official jobs legally! Local intellectuals, who sign petitions and march for Afghans, haven't uttered a word on behalf of these thousands of people driven from their homes right next door!"
Further, the Outlook reporter, Ashis K. Biswas, wrote: "The reaction of the Bangladesh authorities has been very casual so far. Calcutta-based diplomats say that neither the Indian nor West Bengal governments have taken the matter up yet."
Vajpayee and his cronies in New Delhi, who otherwise vociferously claim to be protectors of Hindus, reacted to the atrocities in Bangladesh with a sickening silence. Obviously, they did not want to displease Muslims in India, especially in Uttar Pradesh where assembly elections were due in a few months' time.
Similarly, when the government somehow garnered courage in October 2001 to ban the blatantly fundamentalist and violent organization, Students' Islamic Movement of India (SIMI), Vajpayee had to explain it to a group of Muslim clergy that there was nothing improper and the action was not against the community. As if the prime minister owed an explanation to them! Whether it was Vajpayee's response to Bangladesh atrocities, call to accommodate "moderate Taliban," or justification of ban on SIMI, the objective was same: appeasement of Muslims. The result is also the same: a soft state.
The political class is as much responsible for the softening of the Indian state as is the intellectual class. The public discourse has been perverted to such an extent that it has become impossible to say or write anything that goes against the conventional wisdom. The edit pages of the mainstream newspapers take a line on almost every issue that is scarcely different from that of the hardcore Leftwing Economic & Political Weekly. In the talk shows on television, too, it is political correctness that pervades all around. In the event of massacre of BSF men, for instance, our edit pages cried for "exercising restraint."
It is a truism that nobody can beat the Indian Left in India-bashing. A prominent Leftist crusader, Praful Bidwai, in an article on the edit page of Hindustan Times on December 20, 2001, nicely defended the position of the Pakistan government. To begin with, India's "case has more holes than a piece of gyuyere cheese." The reason: "we still don't know [who was behind the attack on Parliament]; clinching evidence is yet to come." So, what should India do? Bidwai pontificates on what India should not do. "India can only demean itself by militarily aping Israel or Washington-which three months down the line is still presenting 'clinching' evidence against al-Qaeda." (In other words, the Indian Left does not believe that the mastermind behind September 11 attack was Osama bin Laden, even after his own admission on videotape! The Left believes that the tape was doctored!) The final commandment comes a little later:
It would be utterly suicidal for India to launch military action-'hot pursuit', 'surgical' attacks on training camps, or brief forays across the LoC. Besides being legally dubious, such adventurism gravely risks heightened conflict, leading to war, with possible escalation to the nuclear level. Nuclear wars can't be won and mustn't be fought.
India committed a grave blunder by crossing the Nuclear Rubicon in 1998. It further compounded the mistake by indulging in reckless nuclear threat-mongering during and after Kargil. It must now reverse the damage it inflicted on its own security in doing down the slippery nuclear slope.
In other words, India has no case. Attack on Parliament? There is no "clinching evidence" to prove Pakistan's complicity (as there is no "clinching evidence" to prove bin Laden's complicity in September 11 outrage). From epistemological skepticism, Bidwai moves to pacifist sermonizing. Military action would not only be demeaning but also suicidal. At any rate, the root cause of the problem is India only, for it was India that "committed a grave blunder by crossing the Nuclear Rubicon in 1998." Could any Pakistan spokesman have been more articulate?
Unfortunately, it is not only Leftist intellectuals who want to weaken the nation by their nonsensical and ludicrous pacifist propaganda; often non-Leftist journalists, too, start echoing such rhetoric. When jehadis attacked Indian Parliament and the government decided to recall its high commissioner from Islamabad, a prominent editor-who normally talks sense-wrote that India should be "careful, cautious, firm and conscious." If the tension between India and Pakistan escalates, the mullahs will become powerful in Pakistan. "Once a war begins, they will be in control in Pakistan. Do we want to deal with Pakistan like that?" In other words, do not go to war against Pakistan. "Exercise restraint."
Similarly, another prominent journalist, Prem Shankar Jha wrote in an article, "New Delhi should … leave the world in no doubt that if the Lashkar and the Jaish [the Pakistan-based and -sponsored terrorist outfits suspected of involvement in December 13 attack] continue to mount terrorist attacks, it will respond as and when it considers fit." Though Jha did not offer preposterous and contemptible arguments as Bidwai did, the message was not much different in essence: "New Delhi needs to exercise restraint now in order to give Musharraf a chance to decide which way he will go."
Pakistan-sponsored terrorists bomb our cities, massacre our citizens, butcher our soldiers, attack the legislative assembly in Srinagar and Parliament in New Delhi. We exercise restraint. They beat up our diplomats in Islamabad (in fact, India is the only country in the world whose diplomats are bashed up with frightening regularity). We exercise restraint. Any nation with even an iota of self-respect would have broken all ties with Pakistan. But we exercise restraint.
If anybody utters a single word against the prevalent Left-libber McCarthyism, they are immediately branded as jingoist, fascist, war-mongers. The result is disgustingly familiar: surrender after surrender, the only difference being the increasing abjectness. And everybody is celebrating it: politicians find it convenient and profitable. Intellectuals come up with a howl of protest if any signs of uprightness are visible. So, everybody is strongly condemning dastardly acts of terrorism.
When the BJP was in the Opposition, it coined the slogan, "Appeasement of none, justice for all." It was indeed ironic, and tragic, that having come to power, the BJP followed the policy of "appeasement of all, justice for none." The BJP always rationalized the government's surrender in many ways; a variety of pretexts were used-pressure of the allies, international opinion, economic compulsions. All pretexts nonetheless-in fact, lame excuses most of the time. For there are a million ways to do a thing when you really want to do it, and there are a million excuses if you don't want to do it.
( This is a chapter from the book, Failing the Promise: Irrelevance of the Vajpayee Government, published by Vision Books in 2003 )
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