Sucheta Dalal :The nation and its 40 hectares
Sucheta Dalal

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The nation and its 40 hectares  

September 1, 2008

V.P. Malik, Former Chief of Army Staff


At a time when the national interest should come first, India’s ‘liberals’ turn on their own country and soldiers


On August 8 when Syed Ahmed Shah Geelani was shouting pro-Pakistan and religious slogans in Srinagar, about 100 km to the north, Colonel J. J. Thomas with his quick reaction team was trying to prevent Pakistani terrorists from entering J&K. Thomas and his two colleagues were killed in that encounter. The encounter was reported by a few media channels. There was no reaction by any political leader or a civil rights activist. Three days later, the defiant anti-national veteran and other ‘Azadi’ leaders (one known for murdering air force personnel) were arrested before they could lead another anti-national rally. Everyone screamed ‘crackdown’!


This week, a young fiction-writer-turned-activist writes that ‘denial of Azadi is delusion’. She accuses India of administering ‘military occupation for 18 years’ and causing ‘years of repression in which tens of thousands have been killed, thousands have been disappeared, hundreds of thousand tortured, injured, raped and humiliated’. Political leaders — Abdullah, Muftis, Azad and their colleagues — who were elected and ruled the state during this period and should be answering, let that accusation pass! When our political leaders and administrators convert a 40 hectares land dispute into a ‘secession’ issue in 60 days and award-winning romantic authors rabidly endorse that, I feel it is time to introspect India’s nationhood and governance.


There is too much political infighting and too little political consensus. We are a divided house in almost all essential policies including those of economic development, diplomacy and security. Long-term strategic thinking and the social and political will and determination to set things right eludes us in the kind of coalition politics and governance that exists today.


That the crisis in J&K is a result of crass political opportunism, naivety and administrative procrastination, if not slumber, is well known. The governor, Congress, PDP and NC leaders tried to gain vote banks over the temporary allotment of 40 hectares near Baltal. All of them are sidelined today because the secessionists have taken over the situation. The BJP and some other radical Hindus supported the Shri Amarnath Samiti in Jammu. They have not only lost control of the latter but also considerable credibility with young generation in India.


The naïve political leaders exhorted people to agitate, which resulted in violation of law and order, destruction of public property, chukka jams, economic blockade, and even physical assault on policemen. When the secessionist elements took control, the nation witnessed shouting of anti-India, pro-Pakistan and Azadi slogans, people hoisting Pakistan flags, attempts to cross LoC and so on.


And now, how easy it is for some political leaders, civil rights activists and media persons to shout and discuss secession? Do these people have any idea of the social, political, strategic and economic consequences of secession? If India had followed so called ‘liberal’ advice in the past, we would have not only said good-bye to most parts of India but also created political and economic instability in the region that is frightening to imagine. At the politico-strategic level, one requires a long memory and longer foresight. Unfortunately, people like this are great favourites of TV chat shows and magazines who want to prove their liberal outlook and win media awards. India’s national interest and strategies are offered instant options! Margaret Thatcher, who said that ‘publicity is like oxygen’ seems outdated now.


After messing up the 40 hectare issue, some political leaders, and even administrators responsible for the weak governance are now trying to recover political space by making a scapegoat of the security personnel, raising new issues like demilitarisation and removal of top cops from the scene. It is so easy in India. When security forces personnel waiting in the bunkers for the next round of sentry duty or a quick reaction call read or watch this, they wonder why the government is risking their lives defending the LoC and fighting terrorists. Are they expendable? Why are they deployed during such agitations if law and order is not required to be maintained? I have sworn to the Constitution; I am liberal and have always believed that excessive and prolonged use of army for internal security is neither good for the country nor for the army. I also know the rules of engagement in such situations and do not condone aberrations. And I do not accept innocent soldiers being made scapegoats for others’ follies or in angry writing.


India’s problem is that nationalism and patriotism are forgotten words today. As in our historical past, we remain inward-looking, fixing each other rather than the outsiders. Ernest Renan wrote, “What constitutes a nation is not speaking the same tongue, or belonging to the same religion or ethnic group, but having accomplished great things in common in the past, and the wish to accomplish them again in future.” We, the people of India need to pursue our national interests collectively and passionately, whatever the cost. In the interest of Indian nationalism, regional and communal identities and diversities have to be underplayed, not over-emphasised. We need to be realists; not moralists or pessimists.


The writer is a former Chief of Army Staff and associated with Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi.

-- Sucheta Dalal