Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Indian Fault Lines: Perception and Reality

Posted by Maloy Krishna Dhar

Published in Opinion and Editorials

We live in an uncertain world, more so, in an uncertain country. Whatever is left of India after 1947 is supposed to be a ‘One India’ united imperishably by all the parameters of nationhood. This philosophical assertion and wishful thinking and perception of oneness have not stood the test of time, since 1947. The emotional oneness that was generated by the by the stalwarts of renaissance, nationalism and independence struggle started developing ideological fissure broadly between the Hindus and the Muslims and at micro level in intra-Hindu approaches to multifarious problems confronting the country. These legacies of widening gulf between perceptions and reality checks have continued to haunt the country since our leaders started experimentation of piloting the affairs of the country in 1937.

It is, therefore, necessary to share with the readers the wide gulf between perceptions of various problems in the country and the real ground situation. It is more necessary because our political course have undergone several dramatic changes and more changes are likely to add stresses and strains on the country’s socio-political-cultural and security environs. Resurfacing of linguistic and ethnic exclusivity discords like slogans of Maharashtra for Marathis alone and outsiders are not welcome there, earlier agitations in Assam, Orissa and Bihar against the Bengali speaking people remind us that for narrow political gains unscrupulous political leaders do not hesitate to divide us and wrest power.

The uncertain conditions have impelled the political and media advisories often sing lullaby that we should learn to live with terrorism; that is the present world order. Such clichés are not tough enough not to ricochet the bullets, to neutralize the IEDs and to persuade the Shahidee dastas sponsored by ideological or religious fanatics. Other insurgents and terrorists stand in the same pedestal. India is perhaps the only country that has simultaneous presence of ethnic insurgency, ideological terrorism and religious jihad sponsored by foreign based tanzeems and sponsor by foreign intelligence agencies and great social divide.
Popular perception in ‘Mainland India’ about terrorism loiter about Muslim militancy coupled with Pakistani and Bangladeshi input and to some extent Maoist terrorism in the Red Belt. In ‘Outer India’ i.e. the Northeast and tribal belts the perception is entirely different. So also is the situation in ‘Also India’ i.e. Kashmir.

Perception varies also on the grounds of political colour of the peoples who represent the People of the Country. Their real or presumed ideological bases recognize acts of terrorism in different lights. Vote bank compulsions prompt parties to sing paean of the entire Muslim community from which most of the religious terrorists and separatists were produced between 1990 and 2009. Even the vast majority in the Muslim community do not tend to recognize that certain segments in their community have been infected by jihadist ideology and they are collaborating with foreign intelligence agencies and foreign based jihadi tanzeems. Evan a daylight incident as was in the Batla House in New Delhi was questioned by eminent Muslim leaders and the ulama community of Azamgarh even organised a mass demonstration in the capital for branding the Azamgariahs as terrorists. Muslim intellectuals and organisations have protested against branding all Muslims as terrorists. The concerns expressed by the later are genuine; all Muslims are not terrorists but some are. This fact of life cannot be ignored. We will come to that in later paragraphs.

Some political outfits described as Hindutwa organisations perceive signals of danger from the alleged accretion in Muslim demography, illegal Bangladeshi infiltration and Muslim separatism as serious threats to national integrity. They, as well as the Muslims, still suffer from the hangover of Muslim separatism and Hindu unity effort as it were before the partition. This fault line, though not classified as terrorism, has the potential of aggravating the national divide; reeling the country between Muslim action and Hindu reaction or vice versa.

It is therefore, necessary to understand, define the fault lines and differentiate between the reality and the perceptions. To start with it should be understood that Perception is a combination of reality, fiction, historical smoke, idiosyncrasy and Group Psychology. Reality, on the other hand is undiluted fact that is visible and that can be analyzed with hard reasoning. This differentiation is necessary to analyze the entire spectrum without hangover of false patriotism.

Starting with the ‘Outer India’ it must be admitted that nearly 90% of the Hindi heartland and the Southern Peninsula are not abreast with the situations prevailing in those remote geographical areas, causations and expected outcome of the chaotic situation, where some kind of electoral democracy coexist with armed insurgency and terrorism. The façade of constitutional unity is maintained more in form than in faith. Delhi relinquishes its duties by pouring money, administrative assistance and by deploying paramilitary and military forces.

The entire ‘Outer India’ is a study in contrast. While the Naga Territory was the first to unfurl the banner of separatism, Assam and Tripura and Kamtapur movement in West Bengal arrived rather late. In between the Lushai Hills (Mizoram) and Manipur had joined the bandwagon early on. The story of Mizoram uprising is juxtaposed with inputs from Pakistan and China and obviously scandalous mishandling of general and developmental administration of the area by Assam and Delhi governments. The violent insurgency ended in a happy note with Rajiv-Laldenga Accord and creation of the Mizoram state. Details of the insurgency movement and peace negations are too varied and cannot be incorporated here.

The Naga Territory was granted statehood in 1963 and from 1964 there has been elected governments in the state. The period between 1964 and 1974 had been the wildest peak of insurgency actively supported and assisted by Pakistan and China. The Shillong Accord between the Government of India and the Naga National Council and the Naga Federal Government ushered in a new phase, though two renegade followers of A. Z. Phizo, Th. Muivah, a Tangkhul Naga and Isac Chisi Swu, a Sema Naga revolted and joined hands with China. They floated the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN). It had an offshoot head by S. S. Khaplang, a Burmese Konyak Naga, has now spread its tentacles all over Nagaland and parts of Manipur Naga areas and NC Hills areas of Assam.

NSCN (I-M) continues to the main insurgent body having off and on peace talks with the government and maintaining nearly a parallel government and army in Nagaland and parts of Manipur. The merits and demerits of the peace talks cannot be discussed in this space. However, several other civil society organisations like the Naga Hoho have come into existence as interlocutors and apparent peace and trouble makers. Peace as such, as the meaning of the word goes, is holding in Kaccha Dhaga, a fragile thread. There are two, if not three distinct governments in today’s Nagaland and both the Indian Army and the Naga Armies are dominating their respective positions. The reality show in Nagaland is does not exude nectar of peace, though perceptions in Delhi and barely in certain quarters in rest of India may paint a very rosy picture. Nagaland is parts of India and, in a sense, perceptions in majority of Naga minds prompt them to claim that Nagaland in the present form is not acceptable, they require a Greater Nagaland and very much special status is a feudatory unit of the Union.

The story about another part of ‘Outer India’-Manipur is rather different. Seen as a pristine land of Manipuri dance the state is in grave crisis. Merged with India in 1949, the princely state was relegated to a part ‘C’ and put under a Chief Commissioner, and after much strife and bitter political struggle was granted statehood only in 1971. Culturally most advanced in the Northeast and with a sizeable Vaishnavite Hindu population the state took to separatist movements in 1968 for bagsful of reasons including political and economic mishandling by Delhi, colonial attitude of the administrators and inferior treatment to the Meitei peoples compared to pampering of the Nagas. Since 1975 Manipur has turned to a virtual minefield with several terrorist and separatist outfits flourishing in the sprawling valley with sanctuaries in Myanmar, and even receiving assistance from Mayanmarese insurgent groups and obviously the DGFI and ISI operators located in Bangladesh. They also obtain support from Mayanmarese rebel groups. The Manipuri youth and gentry in general have opted for Meiteilon script in place of Bengali, Sanamahi religion in addition to Vaishnavism and they want revival of the old glories of the kingdom of Kangla. The Manipuri valley terrorists dominate vast areas, exact taxes from the people and from all government servants and their writ run in the entire valley.

The Naga Hills in Manipur are basically controlled by the NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K) and the Kuki etc tribal areas are dominated by assorted Kuki, Hmar, Zomi etc armed tribal groups.

This is the reality show. The perception show is: there is an elected government, elaborate presence of police, paramilitary and regular army. Why and what went wrong in Manipur have been commented widely by various thinkers and authors, including my two books. These light and shadow regions of Manipur are real and the perception that we have access to the minds of the general Meitei people is a hallucination. Most probably Indians beyond Assam are not aware of this reality show.

The other shadow area of India, Assam presents a story in contrast that betrays Delhi’s attitude towards the peripheral states and peoples of India. Timeless Assam (Pragjyotishpura) witnessed dingdong battle between the Ahom-Bengali speaking people on the one and the Congress and Muslim League on the other. Right from 1916 planned infiltration of Bengali speaking Muslims started in the Barak and Brahmaputra valley. The allegations of collusion between the British rulers and the Muslim League were clearly discernible. However, fear of Bengali speaking Hindu superiority continued to haunt the Assam leaders even to the days of referendum for Sylhet district. The Assam Congress leaders did not want Sylhet’s merger with India; so also the Muslim League. Jinnah was keen for merger of entre Assam with Bengal forming a part of Pakistan. Nehru was not averse to the idea and said that Assam could hang in balance and to decide later if it wanted to be in India or Pakistan. Fortunately some Assam leaders, some leaders of Bengal and Mahatma Gandhi finally settled for Assam’s inclusion in India. According to authorities Pakistan and Bangladesh still nurture the scheme of greater Bangistan as envisaged by Chaudhry Rahmat Ali (1936). This latent dream of Muslims now disturbs the non-Muslim peoples of Assam.

Considered as “Outer India” Assam was not in the radar of Congress’s national developmental policies. Developmental imbalance, perception of treatment of Assam as a raw material extraction zone by rest of India, absence of higher educational facilities, employment generation avenues and treatment of Assamese or East Pakistan Muslim as vote banks by the Congress created cesspool of disaffection in the minds of ethnic Assamese people. It took nearly 30 years for the youth forces of Assam to concretise their anger. The surrounding ambience of tribal insurgency in Nagaland, Lushai Hills (Mizoram), Manipur and brewing separatism in Khasi-Garo Hills (Meghalaya) had infused the bitter juices of defiance of the state and challenging its policies.

This took shape as anti-outsider agitation (Bahiragoto Virodh) mainly directed against Pakistani/Bangladeshi illegal immigrants and other demands for fair deal to Assam. The agitations launched by All Assam Students’ Association (AASU), Assam Gano Parishad (AGP) were not separatist agitations. Near total mass mobilization often leads to state repression and people’s violence. At that critical point of mass agitation violence, individual, group and state level violence cannot be avoided. That is the intrinsic analysis of all mass agitation. Even Mahatma Gandhi’s peaceful stayagrahas mostly ended in violence. Violence in mind cannot be nipped even by a saint.

Whatever official coloration is given to the mass agitation in Assam was not secessionist. Being closely associated with events in Assam at that period I gathered impression that India was bleeding in Assam because the rulers in Guwahati and Delhi treated Assam as a primitive territory not worth investing and improving the conditions there and bring the areas to the level of other developed states.

Amidst these dins and dusts of agitations and countermeasures two important developments took place. Some Mottuk (Thai-Ahom) youths of Upper Assam formed what they claimed as United Liberation Front of Assam (ULFA) allegedly at Rang Ghar near Jorhat on April 7, 1979. The initial top leaders were Paresh Baruah (Commander-in-Chief), Arabinda Rajkhowa (Chairman),Anup Chetia (General Secretary) (in Government of Bangladesh custody) and Pradip Gogoi (Vice-Chairman) (in Government of Assam custody). Most of these youths were related to Congress and Left parties. The allegations that a former chief minister of Assam encouraged the Muttock youth (himself a Muttock) to form the ULFA with a view to belittle and disarray the AASU and AGP cannot be denied as rumors. The history of ULFA’s alleged struggle for liberation of Assam between 1982 and present day has been a unique subject of study by sociologist, economists, political scientists and strategic thinkers.

The ULFA immediately drew attention of Pakistan, Bangladesh and Chinese intelligence agencies and the stories of ULFA’s connectivity with them and the course it traversed cannot be put in few sentences. What was born as a diversionary political move had later assumed the color of the separatist soul of Assam that verged with the revivalist glories of the Muttock kings of Thai-Mongol-Ahom origin. The problem is still festering with active assistance of Inter Services Intelligence of Pakistan and Directorate General of Forces Intelligence and the National Security Intelligence of Bangladesh.

The other development in Assam around 1984-85 was the surfacing of BODO agitations that also took violent shape. The allegations that a former Prime Minister had encouraged the BODOs to start agitation with a view to divide the AASU, AGP and ULFA movements in Assam can also not be ignored. Several shades of BODO agitation have rocked Assam that was also helped by the ISI, DGFI and the NSI. Though the problem has been partially solved certain factions (NDFB) still continues to operate from Bangladesh and carry out violent activities.

Two other reality checks would show that Assam still sits on a volcano. North Cachar Hills is on fire. The dominantly tribal areas is inhabited by kaleidoscopic people belonging to Cachari, Dimasa, Hmar, Zemi, Zeliang etc aboriginal Assamese, Kuki and Naga tribal people.

The Karbi Longri North Cachar Hills Liberation Front (KLNLF), a breakaway group of United People’s Democratic Solidarity (UPDS), was formed in 2004 and its declared objective was to achieve Hemprek Kangthem (self-determination). It was supported by DGFI and often resource support from ISI operatives based in Bangladesh. There are splinter groups like Karbi National Volunteers, Karbi People’s Front. These are basically extortionist groups.

Other important groups are Hmar People’s Convention, Democracy (HPC-D) a faction of Chin origin people, Dima Halam Daoga (DHD) and NSCN (I-M) and NSCN (K). The NSCN factions support the Naga tribes like Zemi and Zeliang etc. They use these areas as a safe corridor to Bangladesh for arms collection and liaison with DGFI and the ISI.

In addition to the above the United Liberation Front of Barak Valley (ULFBV), formed in 2002 wants self determination for the tribal people of Silchar, Karimganj and Hailakandi districts of Assam. It support of NSCN (I-M).

The list is not exhaustive. Assamese and Bengali speaking Hindu people’s relationship have not been historically very smooth. Several “Bangal Kheda” (expel the Bengalis) drives by the Assamese speaking people had generated enough violence. In the Barak Valley there are impressions that the Bengali majority area is given step motherly treatment by the Assamese leaders. Movements like Bengal Tiger Force and Barak Valley Youth Liberation Force are in the forefront of projecting Bengali demands. Though not armed and violent these groups have the capability of destabilizing the region. In addition to the Bengali Hindus, the Muslim underground outfits like the Muslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam (MULTA), Muslim United Front of Assam (MULFA), and Islamic Liberation Army of Assam (ILAA) etc have known connectivity with HuJI, Jamait ul Mujahideen, Bangladesh and the intelligence outfits of Bangladesh.

So? Against this reality check the perspective that Assam is still a ‘Lahe Lahe’ (slow moving) state is not correct. Assam is on the ferment. The ULFA has lost some of its fangs but the ideology of Ahom separatism lit by them is burning slowly. India can only dissipate the situation by fast track actions to remove economic and developmental imbalances, building up employment generating infrastructures and by adopting a nationalist and pragmatic and not vote-bank secularist attitude towards illegal Bangladeshi Muslim infiltration. Assam’s fears about losing territory to Greater Nagalim, as demanded by NSCN factions should also be allayed by unequivocally telling the Naga outfits that no further change in political boundary of Nagaland is possible at the cost of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal.

Delhi is pussyfooting the Naga dialogue that has created several vested interests and the country cannot afford to keep alive a cancerous growth indefinitely. Assam’s woes are also related to welfare of the Plain’s Tribals and Tribals in NC Hills. These problems need immediate firm and wise handling. The basic requirement is removal or neutralization of NSCN incursions in Assam, particularly in the NC Hills. Obviously, pussyfooting the Muslim issue can only aggravate the Bangladesh and Pakistan connected nascent Muslim separatism and desire to form a political block with Bangladesh. See map below.

The story of India’s suicidal goals in Punjab has been told by several writers and in my two books. Fortunately, Pakistan could not exploit the Sikh sentiment beyond a point because of inherent ties of the Hindu and Sikh communities and vivid memory of brutal killings of the Sikh and Hindu Punjabis during partition. However, the perception that heroic police officers and intelligence operatives had succeeded in dousing the fire is only partially correct. Congress and Shiromani Akali Dal were equally responsible for putting fire of fundamentalism in Sikh psyche between 1775 and 1980. Both sides used religion to gain political upper hand which was exploited by the Dam Dami Taksal, Akahand Kirtani Jatha, and other religious outfits. With them joined the highly aggrieved and impoverished cultivators, unemployed youths and remnants of the Naxals. Some Sikh Diaspora, egged on by the ISI and western intelligence agencies, supported the movement. The separatists still rune several web portals demanding secession, Pakistan still harbours over 20 top leaders of the so called Khalistan movement. The ground situation of agrarian impoverishment, unemployment, stinking corruption, lack of avenues to migrate abroad and influx of outside labours and demographic growth of Muslims have generated the conditions again those helped rise of Bhindranwale Frankenstein. Punjab is again on the brink. That is the reality check; political perception is different-all is hunky-dory.

Average literate Indians are generally aware about the Naxal or Maoist movements raging in a well visible Red-Corridor right from West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh and Maharashtra. A map based on data of 2007 is reproduced below. Between last two years more areas in Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu and Kerala have come under Maoist action. We may remember that the districts of Bangladesh bordering India like Rangpur, Jessore, Bogra, Faridpur, Khulna, Kushtia, Dinajpur etc are active operations theatres of Purba Banglar Biplabi Communist Party and Janajuddha (both Maoist). Indian Maoists often procure weapons through them with help of ISI and DGFI operatives.

Courtesy ‘One hundred flowers’ posting in Revolution in South Asia

Some Indians perceive the movement as isolated, some think in terms of Pashupati (Nepal) to Tirupati (AP) being converted as a solid Red Empire under various groups of CPI (Maoist), Janajuddha, PWG etc and later forming an apex body to administer the tract worth lakhs of crores in wealth. This is a Red Dagger thirst in the heartland of India.

It is not necessary to highlight that the Maoists are opposed to parliamentary democracy and they do not believe in change through the ballot box. They believe in arms struggle and physical elimination of the Class Enemy. During last 10 years the Maoists have reached better coordination and ideological cohesion. They have accrued strength, more and better firepower and expanded their supply sources-internal sources, sources in Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. The LTTE also acted as a source of weapons supply to the Maoist groups. The Maoists are now capable of manufacturing rapid firing rifles, grenades and rockets. Their training facilities have been perfected and they have improved communication devices.

It is not that Delhi and the state governments are not having correct appreciation and perceptions. While other state governments have banned the Naxal outfits West Bengal, suffering from ideological hiccup are yet to ban these organizations. The Naxals have reoccupied vast territories in Midnapore, Bankura, Purulia and Birbhum. The nearest Red Fort in West Midnapore is only 90 miles from the heart of Kolkata. The Central and state governments are also adopting police measures and are not implementing economic, social and political measures that are required to bring these ‘peripheral and neglected areas of Indi’ a at par with the developed and fast developing areas of the country. Neglect by the British and the independent country’s governments these areas have become bastions of the Maoist revolutionaries, just like the impoverished areas were exploited by the Nepal Maoists. Neglect and exploitation are now being returned with bullets.

Let anyone not remain under misperception that the Maoists would be defeated by police forces alone. The State is required to pump in more resources in these areas for infrastructure building and reconnecting the neglected proletariats with the mainstream. There cannot be ‘Different Indias’ inside India. Viewing India as different Indias according to the region’s and people’s maximum usability by the ruling classes, exploiters and bureaucrats cannot give us back a ‘United India.’ If the present trends continue we would soon have bigger problems before us to deal with ‘Different Indias’ with different yardsticks. Readers interested in details may peruse my two dissertations in the same portal.

Since our problems are too many, our realities are more complex and our appreciations and perceptions so shallow we need discussing these fault lines in details. However, this portal is not the correct canvas.

The other cancerous reality check pertains to unbiased appreciation of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, contamination of Indian Muslim minds with the poison of jihad and revival of the isolationist separatist tendencies. Let us be clear at the outset that all Muslims are not separatists and jihadists. Most of them are not even fundamentalists. In case a comparative study is made between the 80+ crore Hindus and 15+ crore Muslims it would appear that about 5% Hindus strongly believe in Hindutwa and Hindu fundamentalism. Only a fraction, may be 0.01% think of taking up weapons against the Muslims.

Compared to this about 60% of Muslims can be rated fundamentalists, 35% believe in Islamic resurgence, 30% believe in isolationist separatism and nearly 15% believe that armed jihad, as practiced by Pakistani and Bangladeshi tanzeems can alone retrieve the lost glory of Islam in India. This figure is worrisome. The minorityrian isolationism that is leading to Muslim separatism and majoritarianism of the Hindus are gradually coming to conflict situation. Government’s efforts to remove grievances of the Muslims on the basis of a pro-minority report by Sachar Committee are creating opposite reactions among the majority community. The trend is disturbing and require immediate attention of Central and State governments. If the trend is allowed to drift indefinitely and minorityism is pampered and the seeming cost of the majority community a serious cleavage at perception level might overcome rational thinking.

The visibility factors of spread of jihad philosophy and practice is sporadic and not well researched and never openly discussed. Studies made by the intelligence community present a disturbing picture: innumerable pockets of Muslim population in India, all over the country, have been contaminated by the developments in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh. The ideology of Taliban and al Qaeda like action in Dar-ul-Harb Hindoostan is growing. In the recent past India has had brush with SIMI, Indian Mujahideen etc organisations connected intricately with Lashkar-e-Taiba, HuJI etc terrorist tanzeems promoted by Pakistan to wage Islamist terrorist actions in India.

Hindu reaction to these developments, especially after Pakistan’s open involvement in Punjab uprising and continued proxy-war in Kashmir, have been pronounced. I call it a resurfacing of the communal divide in the country that existed before partition and as reaction explained by Newton’s Third Law of Motion. Majority disaffection to government’ minority policies also explain such reaction considerably. History of communal riots from 1714 to date would clarify the reality story that there has never been an assimilated India. It is a living together separately situation. Since the subject is too big to be discussed in a short essay I prefer to travel to other hotter fault lines that appear to be cool on the surface but which contain gunpowder of near future explosion.

The division of the country on caste lines is not yet complete. The disease of constitutional reservationism that started with 1906 British reforms has continued to dissect the country. Instead of offering constitutional protection to the weaker sections of the society irrespective of caste, ethnicity and religions the government has mindlessly followed the British formula to keep the peoples divided. Such division may give an apparent façade of unity through distribution of equity, but in deeper analysis it is found that in this arena also we live in ‘Many Indias’-India of the Dalit Hindus and Buddhists, India of the Hindu Backward and Other Backward Classes, Upper Caste Hindus, Scheduled Caste Hindus, ethnic tribals, linguistic diversities and of course fresh demands from the Muslims to give general reservation to them or at least to the SC, Dalit and BC, OBC Muslims.

Despite the façade of constitutional unity, the country is divided at the economic and societal levels. The glaring disparity between Urban and rural economies are so acute that these cannot be bridged by marginal non-productive employment guarantee, some housing complexes here, some water supply schemes there, some never-implemented education and health-care schemes cannot connect rural India with urban India that is getting connected with global economy. The distribution of doles is creating large community of non-productive beggars who add up to the miseries of the country.

This divide is as dangerous as the divide between the ethnic tribal dominated areas, now affected by ethnic insurgency and Maoist terrorism and the urban and semi-urban areas. The difference is that the ethnic peoples have unfurled the flag of revolt and the plains people still maintain somewhat faith in constitutional democracy and they are yet to be organised to revolutionary path. This fault line is as difficult to bridge as the other great fault lines we have mentioned in this dissertation. In India, the ruling classes take notice of problems when it is on fire and deploy fire brigades like police and army. Such attitude cannot ensure unified growth of India and birth of ‘One India’ out of ‘Many Indias.’

So, in the final reality count India appears to be compartmentalized seriously as we were well before independence. Perhaps creations of linguistic states and ethnic states have divided us more, besides our failure to reconcile the cultural and religious differences. How we discover the soul of India from the dust bin of fragmented India? Are we in the process of having ‘Many Indias’ and permanently losing ‘One India’ for which the Indians fought against the British? Are we reverting back to an India that was divided into different polities with fragile geographic and cultural bonds in 9th and 10th century? How long the present fragile constitutional bonds would hold together? The perception of ‘Asamudra Himachal’ Bharat appears to be folklore.

These questions should disturb young minds and minds of those who pretend to run the System.

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