Realising fundamental home truths
Across regions of violence in India, a peculiar mindset has taken root: A constant harping on grievances - some real, but many imagined, or at least imagined to be uniquely afflicting a specific people or community - combined with a beggar's mentality and with threats or the exercise of 'righteous violence' by the 'aggrieved people'.
Much of this is simply whipped up by deft political manipulation and an enveloping culture of complaint among people who have been encouraged by successive Governments to believe that this - rather than education, hard work, skills, efficiency, initiative and accountable governance - are the quick route to prosperity, or at least to short-term and personal profit.
As the myth of 'developmental aid' as a panacea for terrorist and insurgent violence is vigorously propagated - against the evidence of history - and money is poured preferentially into States afflicted by violence, this culture becomes entrenched: Political leaders and bureaucrats become enamoured of this free flow of funds and the fact that they seldom have to account for the utilisation of such monies, and a veritable army of accomplices and dependants is established, even as little real benefit flows to the people at large.
None of this, however, awakens these neglected people to the cynicism and corruption of their own leadership - including the militant leadership and its overground 'fellow travellers' who are significant beneficiaries of this 'aid economy' through systems that comprehend extortion, 'leakages' and outlays for covert operations. Indeed, it makes them the more vulnerable to subversive mobilisation as their own continued poverty or relative deprivation becomes the clinching evidence for the indifference and 'oppression' of the distant 'Centre'.
Writing in the context of the Arab world, Fouad Ajami speaks of "a political tradition of belligerent self-pity". It is a description that merits close attention, and that applies equally to many of the cultures of complaint and aggression in India, and particularly to the militant religious and ethnic fundamentalisms that plague Jammu & Kashmir and the States of India's Northeast. For decades, the politics and popular cultures of these regions, as well as the militant movements there, have directed their rage against 'outsiders', demanding the creation of their own exclusionary ghettoes, systematically targeting ethnic and communal minorities, and making the operation of non-local enterprises difficult, if not impossible.
The few industries and enterprises that function, and have functioned in these areas for decades - including, for instance, the tea industry in Assam - are systematically targeted by militant groups, but there is constant breast-beating about the absence of 'investment' by major business houses. Often vicious campaigns of intimidation and violence are carried out against 'outsiders' and minorities in these areas, and large areas in these regions have been 'cleansed' of 'rival' communities, violating the most basic principles of the Indian Constitution and, indeed, of humanity. Yet, at every turn, and in every crisis, it is these 'outsiders' and the 'oppressive' Centre that are the objects of incessant expectations and demands, and, just as incessantly, irrespective of how much they do, are berated for their acts of commission or omission.
The aftermath of the October 8, 2005, earthquake in Jammu & Kashmir produced a case in point, as separatist and terrorist front organisations complained that 'India Inc' and non-governmental organisations had not responded in the same spirit and scale as they had done after the earthquake in Gujarat in 2001, and that "no one seems to be coming to our aid". The whine was quickly picked up by the larger political community and the media, with commentators complaining against the 'compassion fatigue' they claimed had set in.
The truth, however, is that India Inc's responses commenced on October 9 itself, just a day after the earthquake, with some of the Chambers of Commerce making preliminary assessments of the damage and starting the distribution of blankets and relief material. By October 13, corporate houses and various federations had pledged over Rs 25 crore for relief, in addition to the Rs 500 crore that the Prime Minister announced as he declared the earthquake a 'national calamity'.
Further - though there were occasional complaints that they had not reached some of the smaller and far-flung mountain villages - the Army and other security forces had responded with astonishing alacrity, particularly in view of the fact that many of their forward formations had themselves suffered significant damage and casualties. If the presence of NGO activists and corporate officials was thin on the ground, this should hardly be surprising.
The Kashmiris have vigorously opposed the potentially 'exploitative' presence of 'outsider' enterprises and organisations for years with their insistence on separate constitutional protection and, in sharp contrast to Gujarat, where industries had a tremendous operational network, the channels for damage assessment and aid disbursement simply did not exist in Kashmir.
Worse, just two days after the earthquake, terrorists rounded up and slit the throats of 10 Hindus and one Muslim in Rajouri in what was only the most recent of an unending chain of atrocities in the State. 'Outsiders' were more than willing to render aid to the unfortunate victims of the earthquake - the swelling contributions to the Prime Minister's fund and other charities testify to this - but it is absurd to expect them to suddenly rush into a land that has been given over to the murder of innocents for over a decade and a half.
The perils and fruitlessness of isolationism are differently manifested in the Northeast, where insistence on narrow tribal identities and hostility towards 'outsiders' obstructs the movement of educated and skilled human resources, as well as of investment, into the region. The result has been a precipitous decline in the standards of education and acute shortages of skilled manpower in various technical institutions and services, as well as a gaping absence of industrial development - indeed, a significant flight of capital from the region.
And while the narrow-minded advocates of this segregation celebrate their dubious 'successes' in preventing productive 'outsiders' from entering their tribal ghettoes, tens of thousands of illegal migrants from Bangladesh - who bring in little by way of assets or skills, who burden rather than benefit the land, and who create enormous potential for future conflict, indeed, even now drive out native populations from many areas with their incessant acts of petty violence and crime - continue to flow in every year to upset the demographic balance of sparsely populated areas.
Today, globalisation has become everybody's catchword. Even those who oppose it on principal are not averse to enjoying or aspiring to enjoy its fruits. Thousands of young people - students, entrepreneurs, workers, tourists - travel across the country and beyond its borders from Jammu & Kashmir and from the Northeast, and they complain bitterly of the 'prejudice' and 'discrimination' they occasionally encounter in other parts of India. Yet prejudice, discrimination and suspicion of everything that comes from the 'outside' are the essential presuppositions of the primitive isolationism that they seek to impose and return to in their own States.
There is too much of sloganeering and politically correct claptrap strangling informed and reasoned discourse on these crucial issues, and this is doing infinite harm, not only to the country at large, but specifically and overwhelmingly to the very communities and constituencies that such postures pretend to 'protect' and benefit.
The age of isolationism is past; even national boundaries are progressively, though gradually, losing their significance. Those who seek to construct exclusionary ghettoes out of their ideologies of ethnic or religious fundamentalism are out of step with the trajectory of the times and of global developments. They can only weaken and bring harm to their own communities.
(Published in The Pioneer, December 10, 2005)