Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Lecture Series on Roots of Sectarian Conflict

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

Question and Answer Session

Question
My name is Nicholi Parker and when you had spoken of some of the uprisings regarding the Muslim region in Kashmir, you had mentioned that it should have stopped there based upon the military action that the Indian government had taken, but that there was some international support for that. And previous to that you had said that the Pakistani intelligence had been built up during the Afghan Soviet conflict by U.S. military intelligence. So when you were saying that there was international support, were you implying that there was U.S. support or support beyond just from Pakistan for the Muslim groups?

Atul Kolhi
I did not mean to suggest that there was support from the United States. I meant much more…I thought I was being explicit that the support was from Pakistan and to a smaller extent from Afghanistan and the Taliban government.

Question
My name is Newton Bowles. I have been with the U.N. since 1945. I am a Canadian. Most of my time has been with UNICEF where I still am for 1 dollar a year. I happen to visit India in March 1947 which was the eye of the storm just before all hell broke loose the following summer. Now my question is this. Why has India never undertaken a national effort to open up the wounds of communal violence which we see many countries trying to do now with these Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. Is this the reason why it is now possible for political parties to manipulate these unresolved wounds and problems that go back to the origin of the country?

Atul Kolhi
That is a good question. Occasionally in the cultural sphere you see efforts to go back and create a film, to create a television show and its enormous popular reaction for people who want to understand what happened during the partition. And why the Indian government has not undertaken it…I don’t know the answer. My guess would be that it’s because they consider it too politically sensitive. India has not gone beyond a point where confidence…where there is an ample confidence that now we can look at the situation in its face. I think especially the Hindu-Muslim problem is far too raw in India, even 50 years later. I don’t think India is ready to investigate it as thoroughly as what you have in mind. It is a good question.

Question
I am Ajoy Bachar. Given that political parties are using religious division for their own benefit and given that the polity in India is relatively fractured at the moment, is the current state of violence something that we should just expect to continue…that things will be relatively calm for periods of time with periodic explosions? Or do you see any ultimate resolution that on a long-term basis would mitigate religious friction in India? Or should we just expect things to continue as they have been?

Atul Kolhi
Well, you know there is an in-between position. I think the last decade…let’s think back to when Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated and how traumatic things had seemed at that point. Punjab was in trouble. Kashmir militancy was unleashed. Caste conflict in Bihar was rampant and then India’s prime minister gets assassinated. And there was a sense that things were not doing very well at all. But over the 1990s, things calmed down considerably, both under Congress and under BJP. So I am not trying to be partisan here in terms of who did right or wrong. But maybe it was in part the trauma of having had Rajiv Gandhi assassinated that set everybody cautious as to how far they wanted to indulge their whims. Or maybe it’s a more structural issue…that government’s ever since then have been much weaker, and they have had to forge coalitions and tread much more carefully. Its an irony of Indian situation that popular leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi unleashed a lot more havoc on the polity than have weaker governments which have had to meander much more carefully and one would have thought that they would be likely to create much more instability which has not turned out. So, some leadership changes and some shift in the structural situation of politics had created the 1990s somewhat better. I still think that’s the overriding trend. Every time elections approach and there is a sense that the ruling coalition is in trouble, I think one can expect more such instances if my analysis is correct. And I think that’s why I was emphasizing it’s the context of the BJP losing power, clearly manifested in the regional elections more recently and overall decline, that one has to view this in that context.