Worldwide Locations

Worldwide Locations

Lecture Series on Roots of Sectarian Conflict

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June, 1991)

Question
I am a professor from CUNY. You hinted at something very important which is the local government, often called decentralization, but I don’t think that they are synonymous. The local government differs from decentralization and it seems religion-based politics gets worse whenever you have a centralized government. And I come from Bangladesh which is also a multi-religious country and in our Constitution we try to prevent religion-based politics. We had to ban religion based politics. And that would have probably worked for secularism and local governments simultaneously. And also religion based politics, historically, is really colonial because pre-colonial history we have never had religion based politics during the whole of 800 years of Muslim rule in India. Do you think you can prevent it (majority rule) by constitutionally banning political parties based on religion?

Atul Kolhi
Let me take one thought from your question and address it because there are many thoughts there and they are interesting. The one I would like to address has to do with the business of decentralization vs. centralization and how that has something to do with the manifestations of this conflict. I don’t want to be understood as suggesting that decentralization is an easy answer. It really is a very tricky combination of centralization and decentralization which puts successful boundaries on a variety of ethnic conflicts. If you don’t have boundary setting leaders, that you cannot go beyond this… you need both centralization and decentralization. Because in many African situations one notices that the central states does not work, and what do you get? It is essentially decentralized but it is mayhem, or chaos. The success of managing ethnic conflicts in India, especially for the first 20 years of Indian federation, had to do with a more or less with an effective centralized rule of the Congress party plus at least Nehru’s sort of proclivities to be concessionary when demands arose. What changes from the 1970s onwards is Mrs. Gandhi’s reluctance to make those concessions. Her tendencies were merely to centralize and not to make concessions and things basically go haywire from there on.

Question
My name is Arun. I am from India and work in NYC. I just think that since we are all educated people and attending a discussion, the motive should be to find a solution. I have stayed in India for a long time and I don’t find many of the solutions very practical. Let me explain. It is very easy to blame politicians, but that is not going to get us anywhere. What is a practical solution? Is it that educated people like us go to the villages of India and educate people so that there is no mayhem in the cities? (A. Kolhi: Is the assumption that illiteracy is what is behind all of this? That if people were educated, they would not do such things?) Everyone wants to go home, have a meal, see Lord of the Rings, have a good life. I traveled through India from Kashmir down with taxi drivers. The solution is always simple. So if the media focuses on political parties, insurgency and the like, I don’t feel we are going to get closer to a solution. And the solution is much closer to education, food, shelter- people just want a home. I am just venturing a thought here.

Atul Kolhi
Gujarat has higher rates of literacy than Bihar. Gujarat has more income than most other Indian states, Gujarat is ahead on almost every indicator. Why is it so prone to communal violence? If your hunch was right, the poorest and most illiterate states should be highest on violence. But it is just not the case. It is all over the map if you try to map it by income, literacy type of criteria. You won’t get any simple relationship.

Question
I have lived in India for 5 years some years back. Professor Kolhi, I want to thank you for your presentation which was abundantly clear and extremely well put. The problem I have with it is that you put Kashmir and Gujarat as two current examples. Actually, I am not as worried about Kashmir as one should be, perhaps, because as you said the solutions are clear and I think we are moving in that direction. That is my impression. As far as Gujarat is concerned, it’s greatly more serious. And what I want to ask you is whether you think that having missed the opportunity of intervening at the moment after the train caught fire, the government should not move now very energetically there, sending troops in a massive way, preventing completely the contact which results with violence. Gujarat is a very worrying situation because as you say there is literacy and success in the state. To have it blow up is something of a great concern.

Atul Kolhi
I share your concern. I am not sure I would necessarily say that Kashmir is less worrisome, but we don’t have to agree or disagree on that. The question you raised is really quite an important one. I think the BJP, here we have to get into some fine distinctions even within who in BJP is in charge. It is very interesting that army troops moved into Gujarat after the defense minister, Mr. George Fernandes, visited the state and found that the local BJP leader, Mr. Modi, in his assessment was not doing an adequate job. Now, those of you know Indian politics would know George Fernandes is not a BJP man. His political sensibilities are different. He is originally a man of the left, a labor union leader, now part of a right leaning government, that is not uncommon in India. But the fact is that it was his more secular sensibilities which led to the army being moved. Now he is only one minister. In the end, its Mr. Vajpee and Mr. Advani who will make the decision of moving as many troops as you suggest are necessary. And I don’t think they will favor that because that size of troop mobilization will essentially say that this government and the folks who are creating trouble are our enemies. And they are not, they are political allies. The VHP and the BJP are allies. It’s a situation as reminiscent of what happened in Vaspangol when Noxolites were doing all the mischief and CPM was in power. So a reformist communist is in power, extreme left is creating political trouble, and the question is what do you with that. They are your allies? And it’s a very similar situation that they face.