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Development will have 0 effect on separatism

By Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)
June 09, 2015 11:48 IST
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Protests in Srinagar


'Our experience in Nagaland and Kashmir for the last 60 years has shown our insanity, defined by Albert Einstein as doing the same thing again and again and yet expecting different results,' says Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

The last several weeks have seen repeated instances of Indian citizens in Kashmir raising Pakistani flags at public meetings. Some months ago there was the case of lynching of a non-Naga Indian, who was pulled out of prison, in Dimapur, Nagaland, on a mere suspicion that he was involved in a rape. These events on the northern and eastern periphery bring home the stark fact that India indeed is a soft State.

Whatever the apologists may say, these two events showed the country in very poor light. In case of the lynching in Nagaland it was clear case of Naga xenophobia to which the Indian State surrendered. In J&K it was political expediency as well as mistaken generosity towards criminals and anti-nationals at whose instigation there were riots that led to death of several children in police firing.

The two-and-a-half decade study of insurgency in India has shown that the cases of Nagaland and J&K are indeed very similar and run parallel. In both the cases the issues are neither socio-economic nor of repression but clearly political.

Neither the rebel Nagas nor Kashmiri separatists accept that they are Indians. Yet in an atypical fashion we, the tax-paying Indians are expected to keep showering economic goodies on to the adamant and turbulent populace.

In Delhi 'group think' and denial has long replaced hard-headed analysis and it has become a mantra to harp on economic development as 'the' solution to the insurgency problem. Our experience in Nagaland and Kashmir for the last 60 years has shown our insanity, defined by Albert Einstein as doing the same thing again and again and yet expecting different results.

Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw is reported to have once said that insurgency in Nagaland will be over the day Nagas begin to wear shoes, clearly linking economic development with ending unrest. If he were to be alive today, he would have certainly revised his opinion.

True that there was an element of economic deprivation in the unrest, but having addressed that issue over time, we seem to have forgotten that there is a clear 'political' dimension to the insurgency.

The latest estimates on poverty levels show that both Nagaland and J&K at 10 per cent and 18 per cent are way below the national average of 21 per cent. Given the fact in these poorly administered states, the statistics are notoriously unreliable and that there is great incentive to magnify poverty, the actual levels are much less.

To put it mildly, for being anti-national and troublesome the populations of both these states are being rewarded handsomely with more and more aid.

Even the otherwise pragmatist Prime Minister Narendra Modi could not help but harp on the economic development of these regions. The harsh truth is that no amount of economic development is going to make any dent in the separatism in these states.

One is not relying merely on statistics, but an extensive visit to these two states some years ago showed clear signs of a prosperous population. Yet the 'Soft State' that we have continues to treat them as 'Jamai or Jamaat states,' a phrase frequently heard from soldiers who have been battling separatism in these areas. Soldiers like me and others who have spent decades in these states have a far better understanding of the ground situation than parachuted 'experts'.

Anyone who doubts the truth of the above assertions has just to take a trip to these border states where some development work like road construction is going on. S/he will discover that virtually the entire labour force is from outside the state, generally from Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. No local is prepared to do the backbreaking work involved as there is no real need. It will not be an exaggeration to say that but for the hard labour put in by these Indians from the plains, there would be no roads in these states.

These weaknesses are endemic and defy a simple explanation. One is the pernicious influence of the electronic media. The 24/7 electronic media has the knack of projecting a micro-issue as a macro problem. It is this tendency to magnify an event that has so stymied governance that any action to enforce the law is taken as an atrocity.

The media effect gets further magnified by the fact that the Indian criminal justice system is close to collapse. Justice in India has become technical. The Anglo-Saxon system of jurisprudence that we follow has become flawed. We have managed to throw the baby with the bathwater.

But even these are minor issues compared to the 'elephant in the room' and that is the transition from social control to State control of society. In India traditionally peace was maintained by strong social pressures and norms rather than the letter of law. Being a continuous civilisation, these traditions and norms go back thousands of years.

Yes, the caste system and social stagnation as well as oppression of the Dalits was one of the consequences of this. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar was right in denouncing this stagnant social order that was inherently inequitable and unjust to Dalits.

It is nobody's case that the same social norms should prevail. But once political and social circumstances have changed and society is in a churn, a strong State based on the rule of law must replace the older system of traditional controls. It is this fact that while the old order is dead and gone, the new order is yet to be born that is at the root of myriad problems faced by the country.

A similar transition seems to occur in the case of Naxalite problems as well. It is absolutely correct that the initial impetus for the tribal support to Naxals came from economic exploitation and lack of development. But over the last decade or so that has been addressed to a great degree. Yet the Naxal problem seems to linger on.

For now the issue is no longer economic but political as the Naxals vow to overthrow the State. The Naxals have also made it clear that they are fighting a 'war.' But the Indian State continues to believe that it can win this 'war' using the police.

Once we move away from social control and accept the State monopoly of force and rule of law, we have to also accept that the State has a right to use coercion to run its writ. It is the reluctance of Indian intelligentsia to accept this change that is at the root of a weak Indian State. It is a social weakness that gets reflected in politics as a weak State.

Till the time we understand these fundamental issues and change accordingly, stone-pelters and lynch mobs will not just continue, but will grow in number in the near future.

Image: Protesters attack a police vehicle during the clashes in Srinagar in April. Photograph: Umar Ganie

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Colonel Anil A Athale (retd)